Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day website reports

In addition to running a live page titled “Israel election results: as it happened” on March 17th, the BBC News website also published its main article on the topic of election day in Israel under the headline “Israel election: Netanyahu seeks new term in tight race“. The report underwent many changes throughout the day but a couple of points appearing in most versions are worthy of closer examination.Main art 17 3

The article opens with clear signposting for readers:

“Millions of Israelis are voting in what is expected to be a close race between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party and a centre-left alliance.

The centre-left Zionist Union promises to repair relations with Palestinians and the international community.

Mr Netanyahu, whose party has trailed in opinion polls, vowed on Monday not to allow the creation of a Palestinian state if he wins a fourth term.”

Later on in the article readers are told that:

“On Monday, he [Netanyahu] made his pledge to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state in a speech at the Har Homa Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem.”

But is that an accurate representation of what Netanyahu actually said in his March 16th interview with NRG? When asked if it was correct to say that “…if you are prime minister a Palestinian state will not be established”, Netanyahu replied “indeed”. Before that, however, he gave context which this BBC article does not provide to readers.

“I think that anyone today going to set up a Palestinian state – anyone going to evacuate territory – is simply giving extremist Islam territory for attacks against the State of Israel. That’s the reality which has emerged here in the recent years. Whoever does not understand that is simply putting…burying his head in the sand. The Left does that – it buries its head in the sand time after time.” [translation: BBC Watch]

We know that the BBC is aware of those words because it reported them, partially, in a previous article.

“Mr Netanyahu said that ceding lands to the Palestinians would risk leaving Israel open to attacks by Islamists.

“Whoever ignores that is burying his head in the sand. The left is doing that, burying its head in the sand time after time,” he told the nrg news website.

When asked if that meant a Palestinian state would not be established if he is elected, Netanyahu replied “indeed”.”

In this article, however, the BBC elected to remove that very relevant context from the account it presented to its audience and – coming on top of the fact that the BBC rarely reports on internal Palestinian affairs anyway – that further reduces their ability to understand the background to Netanyahu’s statement.

Another section of the article states:

“He [Netanyahu] also posted a video message on his Facebook page, saying: “Right-wing rule is in danger. Arab voters are going to the polls in droves. Left-wing organisations are bringing them in buses.”

He later took the unusual step of calling the media to his official residence to issue a statement while voting was under way, to repeat his concerns about the opposition winning.”

In the next line of that Facebook post, Netanyahu referred to the V15 organisation but seeing as the BBC had avoided the topic of that group’s campaign in all of its election coverage up to that point, readers were unaware of its existence.

“The model V15 tried to implement here was the system that brought Barack Obama to the White House in the United States: a campaign to encourage voter turnout with personal appeals, through telemarketing or by going door-to-door, based on precise statistical segmentation and with an emphasis on areas that leaned toward the preferred camp – all in an effort to convince despairing voters to vote. V15, short for “Victory 2015,” also hired Jeremy Bird, the national field director of Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, to help organize its efforts. […]

The main element of the funding came from a hook-up with the OneVoice Movement – an organization founded in 2002 by the Mexican-born, U.S.-based businessman and philanthropist Daniel Lubetzky. OneVoice describes itself as “an international grassroots movement that amplifies the voice of mainstream Israelis and Palestinians, empowering them to propel their elected representatives toward the two-state solution.”” 

BBC audiences therefore also remained in the dark with regard to the way in which that foreign-funded campaign was viewed by some Israeli voters, just as they lacked insight into the perception of some voters concerning the fact that the Joint Arab List includes anti-Zionist parties such as Balad.

“…the catchy slogan that launched V15 – “Just change” – was a good fit with the feelings on the street and the flattering polls for Herzog. However, the underlying tectonic changes were actually going in the opposite direction, it turned out: the louder the “Anyone but Bibi” cry sounded, the more voters returned home to him.

“I don’t think we ran a campaign that was based totally on ‘Anyone but Bibi,’” said Weizmann, the morning after Election Day, ignoring the fact that the group’s campaign directly called for Netanyahu’s head.”

In contrast, readers of this article were presented with the following information:

“Zionist Union leader Yitzhak Herzog said his rival represented the “path of despair and disappointment”.

Mr Herzog told the BBC that his government would work to “correct the unfairness in [Israel’s] economy”, strengthen the country’s relationship with the US and revive negotiations with the Palestinians.

He expressed support for a two-state solution, saying: “It’s very important for the future of Israel that we separate from the Palestinians.

“We must find the right partners to negotiate with them.””

The BBC’s superficial black and white portrayal of the choices facing Israeli voters is cringingly transparent in this report. Its failure to provide readers with adequate context and background information on factors which did affect the results of the election (together with the notable absence of any reporting whatsoever on additional ones such as the speech by a participant at the Left’s rally on March 7th attended by Kevin Connolly) means that audiences were presented with a caricature view which did nothing to contribute to their real understanding of the subject. 

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day WS radio reports

The BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ devoted part of its March 17th afternoon edition to the subject of the elections being held in Israel on that day.Newshour 17 3 aft

In the first part of the programme (from 00:45 here) listeners heard from Tim Franks talking briefly to voters at a polling station in the Kiryat Yovel neighbourhood in Jerusalem before conducting interviews with Yitzhak Herzog and Likud campaign manager Aron Shaviv.

The more notable part of the programme however came at 26:40 when the focus switched from the subject of the people contending and voting in the election to a topic the BBC has stubbornly shoehorned into a great deal of its election coverage, with presenter Razia Iqbal saying:

“Let’s hear now about a group often at the centre of the debate in any Israeli election, though not this one. Whilst much of the focus this time has been on internal social and economic issues and the perceived security threat from Iran, there’s been relatively little debate about the conflict with the Palestinians. From Ramallah in the West Bank, Yolande Knell reports now on the Palestinian view.”

Knell’s report was in fact just a version of her filmed report from Ramallah which had been slightly modified for radio and it included the same inaccurate claim about the voting rights of some Jerusalem residents and the same misleading propaganda from Fatah’s Husam Zomlot.

But that obviously did not satisfy the BBC’s urge to make this story about something it was not and so Iqbal then conducted a lengthy interview with Raja Shehadeh whom she described merely as an “award-winning Palestinian writer and human rights lawyer”, without making the required effort to inform listeners of Shehadeh’s political activities which are obviously very relevant if audiences are to be able to put his contribution into its correct context.

Predictably – and with more than a little help from Razia Iqbal – Shehadeh painted a picture in which Palestinians were portrayed solely as passive victims.

RS: “Unfortunately the Palestinians in the past used to hold their breath when there were Israeli elections and hope for a more moderate party or unity government. But they’ve hoped so often in the past and been disappointed…”

Iqbal made no attempt to remind listeners that, for example, the Palestinian Authority initiated the second Intifada during the office of a Labour government headed by Ehud Barak and following the Camp David talks.

RS: “Well you know the problem is that Israel has moved to the right and so even the Herzog party – the Zionist Unity [sic] party – doesn’t offer the minimum that Palestinians look for in order to have hope because they do not promise to remove any settlements, they do not promise to share Jerusalem as a joint capital for the Palestinian state and the Israeli state. The minimum that they are willing to offer comes below the minimum that Palestinians believe is necessary to move forward in the peace process.”

In addition to failing to challenge the chimera of “Israel has moved to the right”, Iqbal also refrained from questioning Shehadeh with regard to the results of the 2005 removal of all Israeli villages from the Gaza Strip and some in Samaria – a move which clearly did not prompt the Palestinians to make any “move forward in the peace process”.

In relation to the Joint Arab List, Shehadeh claimed:

“But they have problems of their own and the system in Israel does not give them much leverage over what they can do in terms of policy….that will affect the Palestinians in the occupied territories.”

Iqbal failed to clarify to listeners that the Joint Arab List had already ruled out joining a coalition government – and hence having any input “in terms of policy” – before the election even took place. She also failed to remind listeners that it was Netanyahu’s government which froze building for ten months in Judea & Samaria in an attempt to kick-start talks in 2009/10 and released dozens of convicted terrorists in 2013/14 for the same reason when Shehadeh said:

“…my view is that Netanyahu has been such a negative person – a negative approach and impact on the whole atmosphere in the region – that perhaps if he goes there might be a little more hope even though the policies of the parties who are expected to win are not much better.”

Neither did she challenge this fanciful statement:

“…the Palestinian Authority certainly has indicated over and over and over again that they are willing to make peace on the basis of a two-state solution but the Israelis are not listening at this point.”

In other words, the entire five-minute interview with Shehadeh was – like Knell’s interview with Husam Zomlot – no more than opportunistic use of the Israeli election to promote political propaganda which steers BBC audiences towards an inaccurate view not only of the election itself, but of the wider issue of the Palestinian Israeli conflict.

The evening edition of ‘Newshour’ on March 17th (from 00:30 here) also featured contributions from Tim Franks in Jerusalem focused around the topic of the exit polls which had just been announced. Listeners heard from Kevin Connolly and Yolande Knell at the Likud and Zionist Union HQs respectively as well as short interviews by Mark Lowen with two Israeli voters in a Tel Aviv pub. Franks was joined by Israeli journalist Emmanuel Rosen but, despite the opportunity that presented to finally inform listeners about the background to the main issues of the election, Franks yet again (as we have already seen in much of the BBC’s other coverage) brought the focus back to the topic the election was not about.Newshour 17 3 evg

“The rest of the world cares about Israel not because of the economy – which has been a central issue in this election – but because of its regional relations and of course its relations with the Palestinians. Were there to be a national unity government – as some people, including you, suggest could well be a possibility – will that just mean that there is no chance of any political breakthrough one way or the other with the Palestinians?”

When Rosen pointed out that the fate of negotiations “depends on the Palestinians” too, Franks responded:

“Indeed, but in terms of a new initiative from the Israelis?”

Later on in the programme (from 26:30) Franks interviewed candidates from the Labour and Likud parties. Like Emmanuel Rosen before him, Nachman Shai noted the “deciding power” of Moshe Kahlon and his Kulanu party in the formation of any coalition, but Franks again passed up on the chance to finally provide BBC audiences with some background to that new party, despite the fact that the BBC had barely covered the topic. Notably, Franks cut off Sharon Haskell as she spoke about a factor which had important influence on the election results: the intervention of foreign funded interest groups. Hence, BBC audiences did not get to form any understanding of how the final results of the election were affected by that factor.

From 33:20, Franks once again took the focus away from the issues upon which the election was fought.

“Well, given that this election was in large part about the economy but it did also turn on differing visions of whether there should be a Palestinian state at all, what’s the view from Ramallah – the Palestinian city of Ramallah? Sabri Saydam is an advisor to the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.”

Saydam presented the following uninterrupted monologue:

“It’s obvious that we’re repeating history now. We’re seeing the old lessons being repeated again where there is no bloc that’s to lead Israel. If anything, whether Right or Left, we’re talking about a Zionist movement in Israel that’s picking up momentum. We see the resurrection of Barak’s ‘no promises to the Palestinians’ now being resurrected with Herzog. We see Netanyahu moving to the right or centre right by saying there will be no Palestinian state, so there is no mood of celebration for the Palestinians. The only glimpse of hope is the united front of the Arab parties that have now formed the third bloc in Knesset and can veto any government that comes into being: that’s the only hope. Other than that there is no excitement here and there is no hope in any future government that comes into the scene. Only one indication in the Palestinian street that says maybe the comeback of Netanyahu will be an excellent thing to have because Netanyahu is the only person that can make a blunder out of PR and can really misrepresent Israel in every possible way that serves the Palestinians.”

As readers have no doubt concluded from these and other reports already covered on these pages, the BBC has insisted upon dragging the focus of much of its coverage of the Israeli election away from the issues it was actually about and deflecting audience attention to the topic of its choosing. Back in December 2014 when the election was first announced Tim Franks said to an Israeli interviewee:

“You make Israel sound like a normal country when you’re talking about economic problems, about value added tax, housing and so forth. But of course the reason the outside world is so interested in Israel is because of the wider issues with the conflict, with the Palestinians and so forth.”

Three and a half months later we hear him saying:

“The rest of the world cares about Israel not because of the economy – which has been a central issue in this election – but because of its regional relations and of course its relations with the Palestinians.”

In other words, members of the BBC’s audience who perhaps thought they would gain some insight into what this election was all about, what worries Israelis and the complex political system in Israel had no chance of their expectations being fulfilled because the BBC decided long ago that the story itself would not set the agenda. Instead, it chose to devote its coverage to the issue upon which it thinks audiences should be focusing. The result of that is that more airtime was given to ‘views from Ramallah’ than to informing audiences about the views of the people who actually determined the result of the election in places where the BBC rarely treads such as Kiryat Shmona, Shlomi, Sderot and Arad. 

Remarkably – as readers have no doubt already noticed for themselves – despite the plethora of Palestinian interviewees seen and heard in BBC coverage of the Israeli election, at no point did any BBC journalist raise the topic of the absence of democratic elections in the PA controlled areas during the last decade and how that factor – and the underlying reasons for it – might be having an effect on the peace process. 

Related Articles:

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – the run-up

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day filmed reports, part one

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day filmed reports, part two

 

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day filmed reports, part two

In addition to Yolande Knell’s propaganda laden view of the Israeli election from Ramallah, March 17th saw the appearance of several filmed reports for television news programmes from various BBC correspondents.

Lyse Doucet produced a report titled “A closer look at Israeli politics and the election” in which viewers were told that:

“Likud is hawkish on security and critical of the nuclear negotiations with Iran.”

Audiences reading, viewing and listening to content on other BBC platforms on that day would have noticed that the adjective ‘hawkish’ – defined as “advocating an aggressive or warlike policy, especially in foreign affairs” and “supporting the use of force in political relationships rather than discussion or other more peaceful solutions” –  was very popular with BBC correspondents, despite the fact that the outgoing Likud-led Israeli government engaged in nine months of negotiations with the PLO and went to considerable lengths to try to avoid all out conflict with Hamas and other terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip last summer.

Another filmed report was produced by BBC Arabic’s Issam Ikirmawi under the title “Israel elections: Voting in Nazareth“.Bowen filmed 17 3

BBC television audiences also saw a filmed report by Jeremy Bowen which purported to enlighten them on the topic of “What do Israeli voters want?” and opened with the sarcastic quip:

“Not the drums of war – for once. These were beating time at the Jerusalem marathon.”

Bowen’s suggestion that the previous government had put “expensive Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory ahead of the cost of living” failed to clarify to BBC audiences that the status of Area C (in which all Israeli towns and villages are located) is in fact subject to negotiation according to the terms of the Oslo Accords and his categorization of that land as “occupied Palestinian territory” is hence misleading. Similarly, on a helicopter ride Bowen purported to show viewers “…the barrier that separates Israel from the Palestinian West Bank…” without any mention of the issue of final status negotiations and with no clarification of the reason why that anti-terrorist fence had to be built. According to Bowen, the anti-terrorist fence”…shows Israel’s security preoccupation with the Palestinians…” but again, no effort was made to explain to viewers what that actually means, or why.

Whilst he acknowledged that economy related issues were of prime importance to Israeli voters in this election, Bowen failed to provide audiences with any meaningful factual background on that topic, instead – like so many of his colleagues – constantly bringing the focus of his reporting back to the issue upon which Israelis did not go to the polls to decide.

“…but in the election the political future of that relationship [with the Palestinians] has not been a big issue. House prices are much more important and that’s because Israelis – like Palestinians – have got very cynical about the chances of a peace agreement. Up to now the negotiations have failed.”

A more accurate word than ‘cynical’ to describe the approach of a nation which still overwhelmingly supports a two-state solution in theory but cannot see a partner for that aspiration on the horizon, would have been ‘realistic’.

Despite being aware that “polls aren’t reliable” – as he noted at the end of his report – Bowen nevertheless earlier promoted the notion that “Yitzhak Herzog of the new centre Left alliance Zionist Union has turned the polls around…”.Bowen filmed 17 3 exit polls  

Soon after voting came to an end at 10 pm and the first exit poll results became available, Jeremy Bowen produced a report titled “Israel election: No clear winner, exit polls suggest“. Once again, his reliance on informal polls – coupled perhaps with over-confidence in his own understanding of the Israeli political system and Israelis – caused him to provide BBC audiences with inaccurate information.

“In a country where it’s possible to live very well, economic pressures became the most potent issue in the campaign. Never mind the pursuit of the high life: falling living standards for many Israelis took votes away from the prime minister.”

“Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Zionist Union alliance, did not let up on social and financial issues and led the polls through the last weeks of campaigning.”

“The Israeli people have not voted for any kind of radical change but they haven’t given Mr Netanyahu a resounding vote of confidence either.” [all emphasis added]

Part of Bowen’s report focused on the Joint Arab List and residents of Jerusalem, Acco, Jaffa, Ramla, Lod, Ma’alot-Tarshiha and elsewhere might have been surprised to hear that:

“One significant development came from Haifa in the north: about the closest Israel gets to a mixed city where its Jewish and Arab citizens can live in relative harmony.” [emphasis added]

He continued:

Ayman Odeh […] heads the Joint List – an alliance of parties mainly representing the 20% or so of the Israeli citizens who are from Palestinian families who didn’t flee or get expelled when Israel was created in 1948. He told me this day would be historic as his party would push the Right Wing off into opposition. That might not happen. But the Joint List has shown that Israel’s Arab citizens are ready to flex some new political muscles, potentially providing crucial support for the centre Left.”

In fact, by the time Bowen made that declaration the Joint Arab List had already indicated ten days previously that it had no intention of supporting any shade of the Israeli Left when it refused to collaborate even with Meretz on a surplus vote sharing agreement.

“Last week, Herzog and Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On tried to broker a deal by which the Zionist Union would sign a vote-sharing agreement with Yesh Atid, and Meretz with the Joint List.

Herzog called all the heads of the Arab parties that make up the Joint List, but Balad leader Jamal Zehalka refused to pick up the phone.

Joint List head Ayman Odeh was in favor of signing the deal with Meretz, but Balad ruled it out because it did not want to cooperate with a Zionist party in any way. Zehalka even threatened to remove Balad from the Joint List, a threat that at this stage is not permitted by law.”

The Joint Arab List secured 13 places in the Knesset in this election (just two seats more than the combined number secured by its component parties running separately in the previous one) indicating that Bowen’s prophesy of “new political muscles” was – like much of the rest of his analysis – based more on his own ideas of how Israel should be than on objectively viewed reality. 

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day filmed reports, part one

By far the strangest choice of location for a filmed BBC report on the topic of the Israeli elections was Ramallah, from where Yolande Knell reported for BBC television news on March 17th in an item titled “Israel election: The view from Ramallah“. Knell opened that report as follows:Knell filmed 17 3

“I’ve just crossed into the occupied West Bank through the Qalandiya checkpoint which is manned by Israeli soldiers and this is part of Israel’s separation barrier. For Palestinians living here these have become symbols of the decades-old conflict with Israel. And while those in the West Bank, in East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip don’t get to vote in the Israeli elections, they are watching them closely.”

Knell’s claim that “those…in East Jerusalem…don’t get to vote” is of course inaccurate. Residents of East Jerusalem are entitled to apply for Israeli citizenship and those who do so successfully have the right to vote just like any other Israeli. Those who chose not to exercise their right to apply for citizenship obviously voluntarily forgo the right to vote in national elections, although they are still eligible to vote in municipal elections. This is not the first time that the BBC has promoted this inaccurate portrayal of the voting rights of East Jerusalemites.

Knell also fails to inform viewers that residents of PA controlled areas A and B and residents of the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip do of course have the right to vote in Palestinian Authority elections. That perhaps not accidental omission sets the stage for the next part of her report, in which BBC audiences are encouraged to believe that relevant commentary on the topic of the Israeli election is to be had from someone who not only does not participate in them, but represents the largest faction in a body which has not held democratic elections for seats in its own parliament for over nine years and which is governed by a president whose term of office expired years ago.

Knell: “Palestinian officials say the peace process is being ignored by the [Israeli] political campaigners – and it shouldn’t be.”

Fatah’s Husam Zomlot then says:

“You decide, the Israelis, what is it exactly. Are you occupying us? Then it’s too long an occupation – you have to end it. Or do you consider the West Bank and Gaza your territory? Then you want us either citizens or you want us actually being discriminated against. But in all scenarios, it’s your moment of choice and unfortunately I don’t see the Israeli society now debating this.”

This is of course blatant exploitation of the occasion of the Israeli elections for the propagation of unrelated political propaganda and whilst that comes as no surprise, nevertheless it misleads BBC audiences.

Israelis debated these issues over two decades ago and that debate culminated in the Oslo Accords which led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, the relinquishment of Areas A & B (and the Gaza Strip in 2005) to its control and the framework of final status negotiations to determine the future of Area C. The PA’s decision to scupper those final status negotiations by means of terrorism, its refusal to accept any of the subsequent offers made to resolve the situation and its newer policy of avoidance of face to face negotiations in favour of activity in the international arena do not of course get any mention in Knell’s own little campaigning video.

After having found two people on the streets of Ramallah to endorse her claim that “many believe it doesn’t even matter if the next Israeli prime minister is Left or Right wing”, she closes by promoting the debatable notion that “the Palestinian president says he’ll work to revive peace talks with Israel”.

In less than two months’ time, the British public will also be going to the polls. It is highly unlikely that the BBC’s election coverage will include “UK election: The view from Buenos Aires”, reports in which Spanish officials bemoan the fact that the issue of Gibraltar is not on the British voters’ agenda or interviews with IRA officials claiming that the ‘occupation’ of Northern Ireland has gone on “too long”. Were the BBC to indeed produce such reports, British voters would no doubt question its editorial priorities – and perhaps its collective sanity.

The decision to allow the broadcast of this piece of blatant political propaganda from Yolande Knell, which actively detracts from accurate audience understanding of the topic she is supposed to be covering (as well the broader subject of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in general), should likewise be questioned. 

Related Articles:

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – the run-up

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – the run-up

The information below – provided by the Israeli MFA’s Paul Hirschson – will not come as a surprise to readers.

Hirschson jlists tweet 1

Among those foreign journalists who arrived in Israel especially for the election were the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, its chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet and Turkey correspondent Mark Lowen.

Of course an inflated number of journalists means a high volume of coverage and the BBC is no exception to that rule. However, quantity is not necessarily a guarantee of accuracy or impartiality.Connolly filmed 16 3

In the days running up to the election the BBC News website’s Middle East page published four items, beginning with an appeal to Israeli voters for interviews on March 6th which later produced an article titled “Israel election: What do voters want?” – previously discussed here. On March 13th Kevin Connolly asked “Israel election: Will outcome revive peace process?” (discussed here) which focused on the topic of the potential effect of the elections on talks with the PLO, despite the fact that Israeli voters had repeatedly made it clear that was not the main election issue. On March 14th the BBC News website finally got round to providing some very limited background information on the leaders of six of the 26 lists running for election in an article titled “Israel election: Who are the key candidates?“.

The day before the election – March 16th – viewers of BBC television news (and visitors to the website) saw a short item titled “Israel election in numbers – 60 secs” and a filmed report by Kevin Connolly titled “Israel elections: Final day of campaigning” which, interestingly, included footage of Connolly at a rally held in Tel Aviv on March 7th – ten days before the “final day of campaigning” – along with footage from the set of the satirical TV programme ‘Eretz Nehederet’ (‘Wonderful Country’) which was actually filmed nearly two months before the elections.  Interviewed at the time, Connolly told an Israeli journalist from Channel 10:Connolly eretz nehederet

“When we report elections in foreign countries of course we’re always looking for ways to bring them alive and I think nothing brings Israeli politics alive more dramatically than ‘Wonderful Country’. I wouldn’t claim to understand every subtlety of the language but it makes me laugh and that’s the only test it really has to pass.”

 Connolly’s two month-old visit to the set of an Israeli TV programme did not only feature in that filmed report: it also cropped up in his report for BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on March 16th (here from 2:49:25) along with audio from that same March 7th rally.

“The satirical Israeli TV show ‘Wonderful Country’ portrays Benjamin Netanyahu as a kind of song and dance man. The actor who plays him is slick and polished – blue rinse, comb-over and all. Stories alleging extravagance at the taxpayer’s expense get a nod too. Cartoons of giant pistachio ice creams dance along on the screen. The Netanyahus once reportedly got through $3,000 worth of it in a single year.”

But licence fee payers might be relieved to learn that the incisive analysis they received from the BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent on the topic of the Israeli elections was not entirely based on his impressions of a satirical TV show he admits he does not fully understand. Listeners to the March 16th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ (available here from 47:10) also learned that Connolly had been watching party campaign videos (including this one) on the internet when he went through the rather pointless exercise of describing those visual films made in a language the vast majority of his listeners would not understand.

Both internet videos and ‘Wonderful Country’ cropped up again in an article by Connolly published on the BBC News website on March 16th under the title “Israel election: An end or new era for Netanyahu?“.Connolly written 16 3

“But other video visions of Mr Netanyahu are available too.

To the producers of the waspish satirical TV show Wonderful Country he is a rather slick song and dance man.

In one of their most memorable programmes the actor portraying him (complete with luxuriant comb-over) mugged his way through a big production number in which giant cartoon pistachio ice-creams appeared on screen dancing along.

That was a not-very-subtle reference to persistent stories that the Netanyahus have something of a taste for high-living at the taxpayer’s expense.

The bill for pistachio ice-cream at an official residence was much-discussed for a while.”

And – as was the case in his radio and TV reports – Connolly relied on the notoriously unreliable Israeli opinion polls as the basis for his informing BBC audiences that electoral change seemed likely to be just round the corner.

“The coming week promises to be one of the most eventful and most unpredictable in the long and bumpy political life of Benjamin Netanyahu.

The man revered by his supporters as a global statesman and sniffily dismissed by one Israeli newspaper as “former furniture salesman” will know by the end of it if he is to remain prime minister of Israel. […]

The final polls before voting day suggest that things may not be going to plan.

They give the Zionist Union – an alliance of Yitzhak Herzog’s Labour Party and the Hatnuah movement headed by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni – a clear lead over Mr Netanyahu’s Likud.”

That theme also appeared in another article published on the BBC News website on March 16th under the headline “Israel election: Netanyahu vows no Palestinian state“.elections written 16 3

“The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has said he will not allow the creation of a Palestinian state if he is re-elected in Tuesday’s vote.

He was attempting to shore up support with polls putting his Likud party just behind the centre-left opposition alliance, the Zionist Union. […]

Opinion polls published before the weekend suggest that the centre-left Zionist Union is likely to win the most seats.”

The statement which is the subject of the headline to that article was made in an interview (available in Hebrew here) given by Netanyahu to the Israeli website NRG. Whilst the BBC’s representation of the statement is reasonably accurate in this article, the writer obviously intends to suggest to readers that electoral victory for the Zionist Union would bring about a very different approach to the issue of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

“The centre-left alliance has promised to repair ties with the Palestinians and the international community. […]

Mr Netanyahu has consistently accused his centre-left challengers of being willing to relinquish Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its indivisible capital in peace talks with the Palestinians.

Also on Monday, Mr Netanyahu spoke at a settlement in East Jerusalem and said he was the only person who could ensure the city’s security.

Palestinians seek East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war – as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The Zionist Union party co-leader Yitzhak Herzog, visiting the Western Wall on Sunday, one of the holiest sites in Judaism, pledged to “safeguard Jerusalem and its residents in actions, not just words, more than any other leader”.

In fact – as the Jerusalem Post has documented – the Zionist Union’s declared policy is not vastly different from that of previous Israeli governments or from the terms of offers already refused by the Palestinian leadership.

“Zionist Union calls for two states for two peoples and a final-status agreement for a two-state solution that would have the support of the Arab world. Israel’s final borders would include the settlement blocs. Palestinian refugees could not return anywhere within Israel’s final borders and should return instead to the future state of Palestine.

Jerusalem would be strengthened as Israel’s eternal capital, according to the party platform.

It does not mention if Jerusalem would be united or divided, although party leader Isaac Herzog has spoken of a united Jerusalem during the elections. He has also spoken in support of freezing building in isolated settlements to halt Israel’s isolation in the international arena and to allow for the conclusion of a final-status agreement with the Palestinians.

Restitution for Jewish refugees for Arab lands would be included in such an agreement.”

The March 16th edition of BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newshour’ included coverage from Tim Franks in Israel who, unlike most of his colleagues, was wise enough to take opinion polls with the pinch of salt they deserve. In that item (available from 26:38 here) Franks spoke with Israeli journalist Tal Schneider once again and conceded that her assessments in the interview she gave him last December were – in contrast to his own reading of the issue – accurate.

“She’d pretty much nailed it last time I’d seen her […] when she said that this vote would be about a referendum on Mr Netanyahu and also turn on his handling of the economy.”

Nevertheless, Franks again brought up the topic which was by no means the main issue in this election at the end of his report:

“One thing we haven’t really mentioned so far is how far this election could change the course of possible political negotiations with the Palestinians in the decades-long conflict. And the opinion polls suggest that a healthy majority of Israelis don’t really think that whatever the outcome of the election that will change much.”

The reason for that, of course, is that most Israelis realise that whichever government they elect it will not – in contrast to the impression consistently promoted by the BBC – be capable of resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict alone.

So as we see, in the run-up to the Israeli election BBC journalists across the board were promoting the idea of a change of government in Israel based on opinion polls whilst continuing to steer audience attentions towards the subject of the election’s effects on negotiations with the Palestinians – despite the fact that the issue was not high up among voters’ priorities.

In subsequent posts we will look at BBC coverage on election day itself and after the results were announced. 

Elections 2015: the BBC’s obsessive compulsive ‘peace process’ disorder

BBC News website coverage of the upcoming election in Israel continued on March 13th with an article by Kevin Connolly which appeared in the Middle East page’s ‘Features & Analysis’ section under the title “Israel election: Will outcome revive peace process?“.

Oddly, the main photograph chosen to illustrate that article has nothing to do with the Israeli election, as can be seen in its original description.

Connolly art elections photo

The BBC however replaced the original caption with one of its own:

“Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been shelved for nearly a year”

No attempt was made to remind readers that the previous round of talks came to an end because the Palestinian Authority chose to form a ‘unity government’ with Hamas.Connolly elections art main

Connolly’s article frames the fate of the ‘peace process’ as being entirely dependent upon political developments on one side of the negotiating table. That portrayal is not only obviously absurd but it actually hinders audience understanding of the fact that the reason why that topic is not a major campaign issue in this election is precisely because the majority of Israelis understand that progress on that issue is not dependent on their government alone.

“Outsiders, though, might be surprised that the moribund state of the vexed peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has never felt like a major campaign issue.

It is there in the background all the time, of course, as the central historical and strategic issue that his faced this country since the Middle East war of 1967 when it captured Gaza from Egypt and the West Bank from Jordan.”

Connolly claims that:

“Voters know that the Zionist Union – the name chosen for the alliance between Yitzhak Herzog’s Labour Party and Tzipi Livni’s movement Hatnuah – would approach the prospect of talking to the Palestinians about a “land-for-peace” deal with more enthusiasm than Mr Netanyahu.”

He neglects to note that a no less enthusiastic Tzipi Livni was Israel’s chief negotiator under the Netanyahu government during the last round of unsuccessful talks. His trite presentation also fails to take into account that Herzog’s vision (including on Jerusalem) is not vastly different from that proposed during the previous negotiations under the Likud-led government or that offered by Ehud Olmert in 2008.

“Herzog said he would try to reignite a process using Egyptian and Jordanian support but that ultimately he wants to negotiate directly with the Palestinians, and that he is ready to go to Ramallah to try to reach a deal.

“It will be my role to change the lack of trust between the leaders and peoples,” he said. “I don’t believe in any unilateral withdrawal. The lessons from Gaza are learned.”

When asked what land he would keep, he said that “in the ideal world, I would like to keep it all.” He said he would keep the Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim and Ariel blocs, and that the Jordan River would be his security border.”

Towards the end of his article Connolly introduces his readers to the Joint Arab List.

Connolly art Arab list

In fact, the Joint Arab List is made up of four parties – not three as Connolly claims. Brought about by the new regulations concerning the electoral threshold, the combined list includes representatives from the Jewish/Arab far Left party Hadash, the anti-Zionist Balad party, the Ta’al party and the United Arab List (Southern Islamic Movement). Whether or not that unlikely alliance of communists, Islamists and Palestinian nationalists will indeed have the effect of raising the turnout among Arab-Israeli voters (a topic on which Connolly has been wrong before) remains to be seen.

At the end of his article Connolly stubbornly returns to the subject this election is not about with the following statement:

“How quickly the issue [the peace process] re-asserts itself will depend on whether victory goes to the left or to the right.”

Beyond the fact that his claim is debatable if only for the simple reason that Israel is not the only party upon which negotiations depend and the PA has shown in the past year that its strategy has shifted to the international arena, it is revealing to see yet another example of the BBC’s obsessive-compulsive focus on a topic which Connolly himself admits – in an article ostensibly about the Israeli elections – is not on the electorate’s agenda. 

Elections 2015: more BBC confusion on 1949 Armistice Lines

After the last election in Israel in 2013 we discussed “why did the BBC get it so wrong?” on these pages.

“Collective perceptions of Israel and Israelis – perhaps coupled with over-confidence in their own expertise – meant that BBC reporters did not even try to find out which issues were important to the Israeli electorate: instead they produced material which supported their own preconceived ideas […]. In addition, a marked lack of understanding of the inapplicability of their own Eurocentric interpretations of terms such as Left and Right or “nationalist” to the Israeli political scene was very evident – especially in relation to the subject of traditional support from specific socio-economic groups for certain parties. […]

Most blatantly obvious is the fact that the BBC’s insistence upon framing this election almost exclusively in terms of the potential effect of its results on ‘the peace process’ reflects its own institutional attitude towards that subject, both in terms of its perceived importance and in terms of the curious notion that only what Israel does has any effect upon that process’ chances.” 

To date – less than a week before the March 17th elections are to be held – BBC coverage of the topic has been relatively thin on the ground, although early reporting on the subject stuck to the old BBC format of ‘a swing to the right’ and inaccurate portrayal of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as the main topic of this election.  

Perhaps in an attempt to avoid recycling the mistakes of its disastrous 2013 coverage, the BBC News website’s Middle East page put out an appeal to Israeli voters on March 6th.

elections call

Six days later an article apparently based on the response to that appeal appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Israel election: Views from the voting booth“.

Whilst Israelis will have no problem understanding the various views put forward by the five voters profiled in that feature, given that the BBC has not provided its audiences with any information on how the Israeli electoral system works or which parties are contesting this election and what political stance each of the 26 competing lists represents, it is highly unlikely that audiences outside Israel will find much value in the article.

No less confusing is the BBC-added insert to the words of one of the contributors:

elections art 12 3

Once again we see that despite the very clear advice given in the corporation’s ‘style guide‘ – “It is properly referred to as the 1949 Armistice Line – the ceasefire line of 1949” – BBC journalists (in this case Richard Irvine-Brown) continue to have difficulty when it comes to providing its audiences with accurate representation of that very simple subject.  

BBC’s promotion of linkage between Congress speech and Israeli elections falls flat

One of the themes promoted by the BBC in its coverage of the Israeli prime minister’s recent address to the US Congress was that the speech was connected to the upcoming elections in Israel.

On the day before the event – March 2nd – the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly told audiences that:

“At the White House they will probably be watching in spite of themselves – but through gritted teeth.

Back home in Israel Mr Netanyahu’s rivals in this month’s parliamentary elections will be watching too – and in a similar frame of mind.”

Connolly was, however, honest enough to include the following information in his report:

“One of Mr Netanyahu’s advisors, Dore Gold, says the timing is nothing to do with Israel’s election – it is just that Iran is an important issue on which Mr Netanyahu has important things to say.

“March is a crucial month,” he said. “Unfortunately we have elections this month but he needs to tell his version of his understanding of the dangers of this agreement because Israel will be the first country to be affected.””

Nevertheless, another BBC News article from the same day informed audiences that:

“The speech comes two weeks before Israeli elections, with his Likud party under pressure in domestic polls.”

The March 3rd article titled Israel’s “Netanyahu warns US against ‘paving way to Iran bomb’” told readers that: “The speech comes just two weeks before a closely fought election in Israel” and included the following insert of analysis from Kevin Connolly which clearly ties the topic of Netanyahu’s speech to Congress with the Israeli elections.

Connolly Congress speech elections

That same insert of analysis also appeared in the report titled “Obama says Netanyahu’s Iran speech contains ‘nothing new’” published on March 4th.Indyk int

Viewers of BBC World News America on March 3rd saw Katty Kay open her interview with Martin Indyk (whose credentials were only partially disclosed) with the question “Was it useful for Mr Netanyahu to come to address Congress like this?” to which Indyk replied:

“Well, I think it was very useful for his own…err…err…reelection campaign. Two weeks off before the voters in Israel make a decision. He’s actually this week trailing in the polls behind his main rival, Isaac Hertzog, and he’s got a problem with the president of the United States which normally the Israeli voters don’t like: a prime minister who can’t handle his relationship with the president. But now he’s got a photo – and it was streamed live to Israel – of ‘the Congress has got our back and I know how to talk to the Congress and everything will be alright’.

So if – as the BBC’s theory goes – Netanyahu’s appearance in Congress was in part intended to improve his chances at the ballot box, we would expect to see a subsequent significant boost in his party’s ratings in opinion polls. That, however, has not materialized – as the Washington Post reports:

“According to polls carried out by Israeli TV news channels Wednesday, the day after his high-stakes speech to Congress, Netanyahu’s address had only a modest influence on the Israeli electorate.

Israel’s Channel 2 news said Netanyahu’s Likud party had increased its likely support by one seat in the parliament. On rival Channel 10, Likud had gained two seats to tie its main challenger.

In answer to Channel 2’s question — “Did the speech strengthen or weaken support for Netanyahu?” — 44 percent of those surveyed said it strengthened support, 43 percent said it had no influence and 12 percent said it weakened support for the premier.”

A later poll by the Jerusalem Post indicates that:

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress did not help his Likud party cut the Zionist Union’s two-seat lead, according to a Panels Research poll taken on Wednesday and Thursday forThe Jerusalem Post and its Hebrew sister publication Maariv Sof Hashavua.

If the March 17 election were held now, the Zionist Union would beat the Likud, 24 Knesset seats to 22, the poll found. In last week’s survey, the Zionist Union received 25 seats and Likud 23.”

It is worth remembering that this is not the first time that the BBC has misled its audiences by fabricating connections between elections in Israel and separate events.

Watching the BBC’s Israel election coverage

There are 5,881,696 people in the world who might have a practical interest in the subject matter of the article published on February 17th on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Israel PM Netanyahu criticised for ‘excessive’ spending“.Expenses art  

Those five million and some people are Israeli citizens with the right to vote in the upcoming elections and estimates of how many of them are native English speakers vary, with the more generous appraisals putting the number at around 200,000. Of course even they can hardly be said to be in need of a BBC report on the topic because their local media has covered it (to put it mildly) extensively, including the English language version of Ha’aretz which coincidentally produced a similar article on the same day, along with the Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post to name but some.

45.9% of the BBC News website’s visitors come from the UK, 14.5% from the US, 3.6% from India, 2.6% from Russia and 1.8% from Brazil. In other words, the editorial decision to publish a four hundred and nineteen-word article about a report by Israel’s State Comptroller and Ombudsman on the subject of expenses at the Israeli prime minister’s official residences cannot be said to be based either on the degree of relevance that subject has to the website’s audience or the importance of the story in the overall framework of major news events in the Middle East.

Related articles:

BBC News, impartiality and the Israeli elections

Tim Franks on BBC WS Newshour: ‘you make Israel sound like a normal country’

What makes a story newsworthy for the BBC?

BBC News, impartiality and the Israeli elections

Since its brief – and revealing – dabble with the topic of the pending general election in Israel at the beginning of December, the BBC has to date refrained from producing any further content on that topic.elections

However, we can of course expect that as the date of the election (March 17th) approaches the BBC will be producing no small number of reports on the subject. We can perhaps also assume that its Hebrew-speaking staff based in Israel will have a part to play in helping their colleagues who do not speak the language in which the election is being conducted to make sense of it all, and that those understandings will then be passed on to BBC audiences worldwide.

As Israeli readers cannot have failed to notice, one election-related topic currently featuring prominently in the country’s media is that of assorted allegations concerning the wife of the current prime minister and among the plethora of articles, reports and op-eds on that subject is a scathing item written by Israeli journalist Ben Caspit which appeared in Ma’ariv Online on January 26th  under the title “Silence of the lambs: when the truth about Sara Netayahu will come to light”.

BBC News producer Michael Shuval saw fit to promote that article to his followers on Twitter in Hebrew on January 28th, together with the added comment:

“An important document, and if there is no truth in it, let the prime minister’s office sue Ben Caspit and the paper Ma’ariv Online.”

Tweet Shuval Netanyahu

BBC Editorial Guidelines on impartiality state:

“Presenters, reporters and correspondents are the public face and voice of the BBC – they can have a significant impact on perceptions of whether due impartiality has been achieved.  Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal prejudices of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any other area.  They may provide professional judgements, rooted in evidence, but may not express personal views in BBC output, including online, on such matters.”

It will be worth remembering that Tweet when we read, watch and hear the ‘impartial’ BBC coverage of the Israeli elections just around the corner.