A BBC Jerusalem reporter’s framing of protests against Hamas – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, on March 18th the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell reported on terror attacks in Samaria, rocket fire on Tel Aviv and recent demonstrations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip for BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme. All those separate events were framed as being linked to the upcoming election in Israel and Knell rounded off that report by quoting unnamed “Israeli commentators” who turned out to be one journalist writing at Ha’aretz.  

Later the same day a very similar written report by Knell appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page under the title “Gaza economic protests expose cracks in Hamas’s rule”. That article ended with the same curious framing of those domestic protests.

“Israeli journalists have observed that right now their country faces a paradox.

Usually, Israel would be pleased to see an uprising against Hamas in Gaza, hoping this could lead to the group’s downfall.

But in the run up to April’s general election in Israel, the country worries about turmoil and what other diversions Hamas might have in mind.”

Knell’s written report opened thus:

“In Gaza, it is no surprise to hear complaints about the terrible living conditions – after all, the World Bank describes a local economy in “free fall” with 70% unemployment among young people.

However, what has been extraordinary in recent days is that large crowds of Palestinians have been turning out on the streets to voice their frustration and even criticise Hamas – the militant Islamist group which rules the strip with an iron fist.”

The explanation given by Knell for those “terrible living conditions” read as follows:

“At the heart of Gaza’s economic woes is a blockade by neighbouring Israel and Egypt – restricting the movement of people and goods – which was tightened after the Hamas takeover. Hamas is designated a terrorist group by Israel, the US, EU and UK.

In the past two years, the PA has piled on financial pressure as it has tried to reassert its control over the strip. Cash-strapped Hamas has recently hiked taxes, raising prices and pushing many people in Gaza to the brink.”

As we see Knell claimed that Israeli and Egyptian counter-terrorism measures are “at the heart the heart of Gaza’s economic woes” but without telling readers of the Hamas terrorism which made those measures necessary.

While describing Hamas as “cash-strapped”, Knell made no effort to explain why one of the richest terror organisations in the world could be in that position despite generous hand-outs from countries including Qatar, which gave Hamas $200 million in 2018 alone.

She erased from the picture Hamas’ spending of hundreds of millions of dollars on cross-border attack tunnels and weaponry. She ignored the cost of Hamas’ efforts to build terror networks in the Palestinian Authority controlled areas and its financing of nearly a year of ‘Great Return March’ weekly rioting, including payments to the families of those injured or killed in the provocations it initiated.

Obviously Knell’s minimalist explanation of Gaza’s “economic woes” is distinctly unhelpful to BBC audiences trying to understand the real background to the situation which has brought demonstrators onto the streets.

No less unhelpful is her bizarre insistence on linking those social protests and acts of terror alike to next month’s elections in Israel.

Related Articles:

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A BBC Jerusalem reporter’s framing of protests against Hamas – part one

On March 18th the BBC got round to telling listeners to one of its radio stations something about the demonstrations against Hamas which have been taking place in the Gaza Strip since last week.

That day’s edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme included an item (from 37:47 here) by Yolande Knell in which – oddly – those and other recent events in the region were framed as being connected to the upcoming general election in Israel.

Presenter Nick Robinson began by referring to the terror attacks that took place the previous morning in Samaria which had hitherto been ignored by the BBC.

Robinson: “Tensions are rising ahead of Israel’s elections. The Israeli army says that a person has been killed and two seriously injured in a shooting near the Ariel settlement on the occupied West Bank. We can talk to our correspondent Yolande Knell. Tell us more about that incident, Yolande, please.”

Knell began by giving an account of the incident which – predictably – did not include the words terror or terrorist.

Knell: “Well the Israeli military is still searching this morning for a Palestinian man who was…ehm…this attacker yesterday in the West Bank. He killed an Israeli soldier of 19 years old and then wounded badly two other people. Basically he stole the gun of the soldier after stabbing him and then started firing at cars heading towards the nearby settlement. He took one of those cars, having injured a man inside, and then drove it to another nearby junction where he shot and badly injured a second soldier before he drove off. So I mean really Palestinian attacks with guns, knives, car rammings; they have continued to occur sporadically in the West Bank but really the frequency of such attacks has decreased a lot from back in 2015 and 2016 when there was a real series of them. But this in very worrying for the Israelis as they head towards the April 9th general election where the prime minister wants to run for his fifth term. He’s really brandishing his credentials as Israel’s Mr Security.”

As recently reported at the Times of Israel, Knell’s portrayal of “decreased” terror attacks since 2015/16 does not tell the whole story.

“…Israeli officials say that slightly more than 200 terror attacks were prevented in 2015, about 350 in 2016, roughly 400 in 2017, and almost 600 in 2018. So far in 2019, there have been almost 100 thwarted terror attacks — and these are only of the kind defined as severe: shootings, explosives, vehicle-rammings, and the like. In other words, terrorists are attempting to perpetrate more terror attacks each year, and their motivation remains high.”

Robinson continued with further reinforcement of that questionable framing.

Robinson: “I talked of increasing tensions ahead of those elections. There were rocket attacks on Tel Aviv from Gaza and retaliatory strikes on Gaza by the Israeli armed forces.”

Knell: “That’s right. Quite a lot of unusual things happening in Gaza in just the last few days. Last Thursday night, as Hamas leaders sat down with an Egyptian security delegation which has been trying to mediate a longer-term ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, there were two longer range rockets fired from Gaza at Tel Aviv. That’s something that has not been seen here since the 2014 full-scale armed conflict…ahm…between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza. Then the Israel military responded with airstrikes on dozens of Hamas targets.”

Notably Knell failed to inform listeners that residents of communities close to the border with the Gaza Strip had also been targeted with several barrages of rocket fire overnight and the following morning. However we discover that – in contrast to her colleagues at the BBC News website – Yolande Knell was able to tell ‘Today’ listeners who is behind the weekly rioting along the border fence.

Knell: “There was then this insistence from Hamas and the Egyptians that the rocket fire was some kind of mistake and as Egypt tried to broker calm, Hamas called for the cancellation of its demonstrations along the boundary fence last Friday. That’s the first time that’s really happened since those protests began nearly a year ago.”

Knell moved on to another topic:

Knell: “The other thing that’s caught us somewhat by surprise…erm…is…several days of protests in Gaza by another group calling itself ‘We Want to Live’ and they’re really protesting – defying the tight control of the Hamas authorities – protesting about the rising cost of living and high taxes in Gaza. And that’s led to dozens of arrests, people being beaten up by the Hamas security forces including journalists and human rights workers.”

Failing to mention the reports of Hamas’ use of live fire against the demonstrators, Knell then rounded off her report with more dubious framing relating to the upcoming election.

Knell: “And Israeli commentators writing in the papers this morning that there’s kind of a paradox here. Normally Israel would be very pleased with the kind of public protest in Gaza, seeing it as proof that its closure policy in Gaza, which often says could lead to Hamas’ downfall, is working. But right now this is the kind of turmoil that will be more worrying for Israeli officials. It doesn’t want to see some kind of disintegration in Gaza – possibly even leading to another full-armed conflict – just ahead of those elections.”

Despite Knell’s use of the plural, one Israeli commentator wrote one piece in one newspaper claiming a “paradox” on that day. The paper is Ha’aretz and the commentator is Zvi Bar’el. This is what he wrote:

“The paradox is that under other circumstances, Israel would be pleased with the public protest in Gaza and see it as proof of the success of the closure policy, which it believes could lead to Hamas’ downfall. But the turmoil Hamas is experiencing worries Israel too. It needs a partner to take responsibility for running the Strip, stop a disintegration that could lead to a large-scale armed conflict on the eve of the election, and serve as an address for mediation. Suddenly it turns out that the confrontations at the fence are a marginal threat, if at all, compared to the risk of instability of the Hamas government.”

Leaving aside the fact that what Knell and her unnamed source describe as “closure policy” primarily came about because of Hamas’ terrorism against Israeli citizens, the BBC’s domestic audiences now know that their obligatory licence fee goes towards paying for Yolande Knell to sit in a Jerusalem studio and recite almost word for word selected passages from a publication read by less than 4% of the Israeli public which they could actually have found online for themselves.

Knell also used Bar’el’s commentary in a written report published later in the day on the BBC News website as we shall see in part two of this post.

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BBC News tells only part of an Israeli elections story

On the evening of March 17th the BBC News website published an article headlined “Israel elections: Court bans far-right candidate Ben-Ari” in which readers were told that:

“Israel’s Supreme Court has disqualified the leader of the far-right Jewish Power party, Michael Ben-Ari, from next month’s elections.

In doing so, it overturned an earlier decision by the electoral committee.

Mr Ben-Ari has faced criticism over his comments about Israeli Arabs. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has said they amount to “incitement to racism”.”

Under the sub-heading “What did the court rule?” the BBC provided readers with further information about the comments which led to Ben Ari’s disqualification.

“The court backed an appeal from left-wing politicians who argued that Mr Ben-Ari had made racist remarks.

The Times of Israel website reports that the appeal cited Mr Ben-Ari from August 2018, saying: “We have to change the equation regarding anyone who dares to speak against a Jew.

“[Such a person] is a dead man. He must not come out alive. No expelling him, no stripping him of his citizenship. He does not live! A firing squad takes him out as the Arabs understand [best].”

Mr Ben-Ari has claimed that he was referring to Hamas leadership – not all Arabs.”

Only readers who bothered to click on that promoted link would learn that:

“Michael Ben Ari, party leader of Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), has faced multiple appeals to outlaw his candidacy under Article 7A of the Basic Law: The Knesset, which lists “incitement to racism” as one of three actions that disqualify a candidate from running for Knesset.”

In addition the BBC’s report told readers that:

“The court also reinstated Israeli Arab parties previously banned from contesting the 9 April poll.

They had been barred from standing for their critical remarks about the state of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces.”

Notably those “Israeli Arab parties” were not named by the BBC and no further information was provided concerning their prior disqualification by the Central Elections Committee on the basis of what the BBC chose to euphemistically portray as “critical remarks”.

The parties concerned are Ra’am-Balad – currently running on a joint electoral list. BBC audiences were not informed that the Central Elections Committee had also earlier in the month “voted to disqualify Ofer Kasif, a Jewish member of the other Arab-Israeli party, Hadash-Ta’al”.

“The petition against Balad-Ra’am was filed by the Likud, Yisrael Beytenu and Otzma Yehudit parties, which claimed that the Arab-Israeli party is “seeking to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state, and supports the violent Palestinian resistance and Hezbollah, and most of its members are supporters and backers of terror.” […]

In addition to Ra’am-Balad, the committee accepted a petition to disqualify Kasif of Hadash-Ta’al, citing provocative comments he has made in the past, including calling the justice minister “neo-Nazi scum.”

Along with his comment against Ayelet Shaked, Kasif in the past was accused of comparing Israel and the IDF to the Nazi regime, of calling to fight against “Judeo-Nazis,” and voicing support for changing the national anthem.

Last month, in an interview with Haaretz, Kasif said Israel was carrying out a “creeping genocide” of the Palestinians.”

Kasif is also on record as having “voiced support for cancelling the Law of Return”.

In addition to incitement to racism, Israel’s election law – Basic Law: The Knesset – forbids any person or list that promotes “negation of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state” and/or “support of armed struggle, by a hostile state or a terrorist organization, against the State of Israel” from running in elections.

The Balad party rejects the existence of the Jewish State, promotes the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees and aspires to a bi-national state.

However, while the BBC did provide its audiences with details of the racist comments which led to Ben Ari’s disqualification in this report (tagged, inter alia, racism) it chose not to supply an explanation of the background to the Central Elections Committee’s decision – later overturned by the Supreme Court – to ban other candidates, while euphemistically framing their negation of Jewish self-determination as mere “critical remarks”.

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BBC News employs omission to further a narrative on Israel

The BBC News website recently created a tag called ‘Israel Elections 2019’ which to date includes just five items. Members of the corporation’s funding public could be forgiven for arriving at the conclusion that there is only one newsworthy name in that election campaign.

The latest BBC News website report appearing with that tag was published on March 11th under the headline “Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot wades into Netanyahu row over Israeli Arabs”.

The report opened with a confused introduction. [emphasis added]

“Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot has become embroiled in a row with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the status of the country’s Arab minority.

“Love your neighbour as yourself,” the Israeli actress said, amid wrangling over the role of Israeli Arab parties in upcoming polls.”

So which is it? “The status” of the 20.9% of the Israeli population with Arab ethnicity or “the role” of the two Arab lists running in the April 9th election?

Only in the article’s thirteenth paragraph did the BBC bother to clarify that in a post replying to another Israeli actress, Netanyahu commented:

“As you wrote, there is no problem with Israel’s Arab citizens. They have equal rights and the Likud government has invested more than any other government in the Arab population.” 

Clearly then this story is not about “a row with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the status of the country’s Arab minority” as claimed in the article’s opening line.

The report continued:

“Mr Netanyahu caused a stir when he said Israel “was not a state of all its citizens”, referring to Arabs who make up 20% of its population.

He cited a “nation-state” law.

The legislation sparked controversy last year.

Arab MPs reacted furiously in July when Israel’s parliament approved the legislation, which says Jews have a unique right to national self-determination in the country and puts Hebrew above Arabic as the official language.”

That link leads to a BBC report dating from July 2019 which was amended after publication to clarify that the legislation “ascribes Arabic “special status” and says its standing before the law came into effect will not be harmed”. As was the case when the BBC first reported on the Nation State Law last July, no comparison between that legislation and similar laws and constitutions in other countries was provided to readers.

Readers had to go down to paragraph twelve in order to find out the reason why the opening paragraphs of article referred to the Nation State Law:

“On Sunday, Mr Netanyahu responded with an Instagram post of his own that referred to the “nation-state” law.

“Dear Rotem,” he wrote. “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people – and only it.””

The BBC’s article went on to provide background to the story in a section headed “How did the row start?”.

“The spat began on Saturday, when Israeli actress and TV presenter Rotem Sela challenged comments made by Culture Minister Miri Regev in a TV interview about the role of Arab parties in the 9 April general election.

Ms Regev repeated a warning by her and Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party that voters should not choose its main rivals because they might form a governing coalition that included Arab MPs.”

The BBC did not however adequately clarify the highly relevant point that Ms Regev in fact referred to non-Zionist or anti-Zionist Arab parties rather than “Arab MPs” but did go on to amplify claims allegedly made by anonymous “critics”:

“Mr Netanyahu’s critics say comments like those made by Ms Regev are part of a bid to court right-wing voters.”

The report continued:

“At the last election four years ago, Mr Netanyahu apologised after warning that “right-wing rule is in danger” because “the Arabs are voting in droves”.”

That link leads to a BBC report from March 2015 relating to a story the corporation had earlier failed to report properly. As the BBC well knows, the part of the quote it has edited out reads “Left-wing organisations are bringing them in buses” and it continues with a reference to the V15 organisation.  

Notably the BBC avoided the topic of that group’s campaign in all of its coverage of the 2015 election. The following year the BBC likewise ignored the findings of the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations concerning US State Department grants which “were used by to build infrastructure that was subsequently turned into an anti-Netanyahu apparatus for Israel’s 2015 elections, in contravention of State Department practice”.

This BBC report closed with amplification of unverified claims:

“Israeli Arabs, descendants of the 160,000 Palestinians who remained after the State of Israel was created in 1948, have long complained of being treated as second-class citizens.

They say they face discrimination and worse provision than Israeli Jews when it comes to services such as education, health and housing.”

As we see, by means of omission the BBC News website has turned a story about an actress and a prime minister posting at cross purposes on social media (as a result of the use of the phrase “a state of all its citizens” which – crucially – is not explained to readers) into yet another politically motivated portrayal of Israel as an undemocratic, discriminatory and indeed racist state.

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Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – February 2019

Throughout the month of February 2019, seventeen items relating to Israel and/or the Palestinians appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page, some of which also appeared on other pages.

(dates indicate the time period during which the item was available on the ‘Middle East’ page)

One item related to security issues:

Gaza protest deaths: Israel may have committed war crimes – UN (28/2/19 to 2/3/19) discussed here

Two items related to aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict:

Hebron: One Street, Two Sides (18/2/19 to 22/2/19) discussed here and here

Hezbollah to be added to UK list of terrorist organisations (25/2 19 to 26/2/19) discussed here

One item related to Palestinian affairs:

US stops all aid to Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza Yolande Knell (1/2/19 to 4/2/19) discussed here

Of the reports concerning Israel, three articles concerned foreign and diplomatic relations:

Warsaw summit: Why Iran is the elephant in the room Jonathan Marcus (12/2/19 to 19/2/19)

Poland PM cancels Israel trip after Netanyahu’s Holocaust comment (17/2/19 to 18/2/19) discussed here

Holocaust: Israel summit scrapped in ‘racism’ row with Poland (18/2/19 to 21/2/19)

One item related to trade:

US to buy Israeli Iron Dome missile defence system (6/2/19 to 9/2/19) discussed here

One report concerned the upcoming general election:

Israel elections: Netanyahu challengers Gantz and Lapid join forces (21/2/19 to 25/2/19)

Three reports related to legal/criminal cases in Israel:

Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel PM faces corruption charges (28/2/19 to 1/3/19) discussed here

Benjamin Netanyahu: What are the corruption allegations? (28/2/19) discussed here

Netanyahu and the allegations of corruption Tom Bateman (20/2/19 to 28/2/19) discussed here

One item related to historical subject matter:

A 2,000-year-old biblical treasure BBC Travel (25/2/19 to 27/2/19)

One item related to science:

Israel’s Beresheet Moon mission gets under way Jonathan Amos (22/2/19 to 25/2/19)

One item concerned social issues:

Why I use a Jewish ritual bath after my period Erica Chernofsky (10/2/19 to 14/2/19)

Two additional items did not actually relate directly to Israel:

Niger man deported by Israel marooned in Ethiopian airport Emmanuel Igunza (18/2/19 to 19/2/19) discussed here

Argentina’s Chief Rabbi Gabriel Davidovich attacked during break-in (26/2/19 to 27/2/19) discussed here

As has been the case in previous years (see ‘related articles’ below), the BBC News website continues to cover Israeli affairs far more extensively than it does internal Palestinian affairs.

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Ten days, four reports on the same story on the BBC News website

On February 28th the BBC News website published two reports pertaining to the anticipated announcement from Israel’s attorney general that the prime minister would be charged, pending a hearing, in relation to three separate cases.

February 28

The first of the two reports – titled “Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel PM faces corruption charges” related to the attorney general’s announcement.

In addition to details of the allegations in the three cases (which had previously been reported in an article published on December 2nd), the article included the first brief reference to the factual background concerning relevant Israeli legislation and procedures that audiences have seen in all the BBC’s generous coverage of this story. 

“A final hearing, probably after the election, will determine whether the charges go forward. The prime minister will have an opportunity to make his case then. […]

Mr Netanyahu is presumed innocent unless proven otherwise and there is currently no legal barrier to stop him staying in office if he’s re-elected – even if the attorney general makes a final decision to charge him after a hearing due in the coming months.”

As pointed out at the Times of Israel, “the coming months” is more likely to be early next year.

“Legal officials have taken pains to point out that the hearing is not a simple technical matter but could have significant bearing on the case. Only after a hearing can formal charges be filed.

The right to a hearing is anchored in Israel’s Criminal Procedure Law, which states that “the suspect will be entitled to apply in writing to the prosecution authority… and to make a reasoned petition to abstain from the filing of an indictment.”

Under the law, this request can be made within 30 days of the suspect receiving  notification of the intention to indict him. […]

Mandelblit, in his written statement Thursday, promised to examine the defense team’s arguments “willingly and with an open heart.” His final decision on whether to indict Netanyahu is unlikely to come before early 2020.

February 28

The reasons for the delay are manifold. For one, the attorney general has decided not to release all case files until after the Knesset election, lest they be used for political purposes and campaign propaganda.

In practice, that means that Netanyahu’s lawyers will only be able to view all the charges against their client after April 9. They then need to be given enough time to review the entire material and properly prepare their counter arguments. Given the complicated nature of Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000, it appears reasonable to grant them several months to do that.”

The second article published on February 28th is titled “Benjamin Netanyahu: What are the corruption allegations?” and it purports to provide audiences with details of the three cases.

Readers may recall that just days earlier the BBC News website had published a similar filmed backgrounder by Tom Bateman of the BBC’s Jerusalem bureau and that report still appeared on the website’s Middle East page on February 28th.

February 20

The following day, March 1st, an article by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell appeared in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page under the headline “Netanyahu charges: Is Israel PM in more trouble now than ever before?”.

March 1

A significant proportion of that article comprised material recycled from an audio report by Knell that had been aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on February 6th.

Radio, 6/2:

Knell: “Ha’aretz journalist and Netanyahu biographer Anshel Pfeffer sees the PM on the attack.”

Pfeffer: “He’s very much under pressure, he’s very much acting impulsively. The more time passes, the more these indictments will create more problems for him and these challenges on the political scene with a new party like the Gantz party and with rivals within Likud perhaps starting to speak out against him, we’ll see less the statesman and more the local politician fighting a very dirty battle of survival.”

Written, 1/3:

“He’s very much under pressure, he’s very much acting impulsively,” says Anshel Pfeffer, a Haaretz journalist who wrote a recent biography of the prime minister.

“The more these indictments create problems for him and the more the challenges on the political scene with a new party, like the Gantz party – and with rivals within Likud perhaps starting to speak out against him – we’ll see less the statesman and more the local politician fighting a very dirty battle of survival.”

Radio, 6/2:

Knell: “Grass roots Likud voters strongly support their leader.”

Unidentified Man: “Currently there is no-one that is nearly as strong or as intelligent or as experienced as Netanyahu is.”

Unidentified Woman: “Netanyahu I think is the best prime minister we had here, not just for security – also for the economic situation.”

Written, 1/3:

“Likud members firmly back their leader.

“Currently, there’s no-one that’s nearly as strong or as intelligent or as experienced as Netanyahu is,” Zohar Tal, a candidate, told me at a Likud primary event last month.

“Netanyahu, I think he’s the best prime minister we had here,” added Iris, a grassroots supporter. “Not just for security but also for the economic situation.””

Radio, 6/2:

Knell: “Guy Lurie of the Israel Democracy Institute says it’s not clear what happens next.”

Lurie: “No prime minister in Israeli history has been indicted while in office. It’s really difficult to see how he could conduct himself in court facing serious potential multiple corruption charges and continue to conduct government. We are in uncharted waters. We don’t know how that will take shape.”

Written, 1/3:

“This is the first time that a serving prime minister has been put on official notice of planned prosecution. While there are currently no legal barriers to him staying on, it creates an uncertain situation.

“We’re in uncharted waters. We don’t know how this will take shape,” says Guy Lurie, a legal expert at the Israel Democracy Institute.

Mr Netanyahu is presumed innocent unless proven otherwise. However, if he is re-elected, indicted and then refuses to resign, it is thought likely that the Supreme Court would rule on his position.

“It’s really difficult to see how he could conduct himself in court facing serious – potentially multiple – corruption charges and continue to conduct government,” Mr Lurie notes.”

Radio, 6/2:

Knell: “Here on a main road by the Likud polling station you can see how Mr Netanyahu is building his campaign around that belief. There’s a huge billboard showing him with President Trump, beaming and shaking hands. ‘Netanyahu – a different league’ reads the slogan. The prime minister is stressing how his close relations with this White House has helped deliver a tough approach on Iran and the Palestinians as well as US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”

Written, 1/3:

“Recently, huge billboards were put up in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem showing the prime minister with President Trump, beaming and shaking hands. “Netanyahu: a different league” read the slogan.

The prime minister aims to show how his close relations with this White House have helped deliver a tough approach on Iran and the Palestinians as well as US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”

In summary, throughout all of the ten days between February 20th and March 1st, the BBC News website’s Middle East page carried at least one of four different but remarkably similar reports on this story.

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Weekend long read

1) The ITIC has a review of “Palestinian Violence and Terrorism Against Israel, 2018”.

“The ITIC’s annual study indicates that in 2018 there were two main trends prominent in Palestinian violence and terrorism: in the Gaza Strip there was a sharp increase in the level of violence and terrorism, after about three and a half years of relative quiet after Operation Protective Edge. One of the manifestations was 1,119 rocket and mortar shell hits in Israeli territory, the highest annual number in the past ten years (with the exception of Operation Protective Edge). In Judea and Samaria popular terrorism continued in its various forms, primarily stabbing, vehicular and shooting attacks. After popular terrorism peaked in 2015 its scope decreased, but in the last months of 2018 there was an increase in the number of attacks.

In addition, a large number of popular terrorism attacks were also prevented. According to the head of the Israel Security Agency, 480 significant terrorist attacks were prevented, that is, close to nine significant terrorist attacks were prevented for every one carried out. The preventive activities and detentions carried out by the Israeli security forces indicates, according to the head of the Agency, the great potential for terrorism simmering under the surface.”

2) At the JCPA, Yoni Ben Menachem documents a story so far unreported by the BBC – “The Golden Gate: A New Focus of Tension on the Temple Mount”.

“The new Islamic Waqf Council on the Temple Mount, headed by Sheikh Abdul Azim Salhab is striving to change the status quo on the Temple Mount. The Council was recently expanded to include officials from the Palestinian Authority and Fatah movement, Fatah officials say that the battle against Israel on the Temple Mount will escalate toward the expected publication of President Trump’s “deal of the century” plan.

On February 19, 2019, Sheikh Salhab told Palestinian Ma’an News Agency of the council’s intention to renovate the Golden Gate structure within the Temple Mount plaza and reopen it as a place of prayer for Muslims, as well as Waqf offices.”

3) At the INSS, Raz Zimmt takes a look at “The Khamenei Roadmap on the 40th Anniversary of the Islamic Revolution”.

“On February 13, 2019, Iran’s Supreme Leader published a roadmap on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, in which he detailed the revolution’s achievements, and offered advice to Iranian young people for realizing the next stage of the revolution. The roadmap reflects Khamenei’s determination to maintain the values and basic principles of the revolution, both internally and with respect to foreign policy. It does not show any willingness on his part to adapt the revolutionary ideology to the changing reality and the demands of the public, and does not provide practical solutions to the hardships of Iran’s citizens. Khamenei’s uncompromising positions strengthen the assessment that it is not possible to promote significant change in Iran, at least not as long as he continues to hold the reins of power. At the same time, at this stage his refusal to move away from the revolutionary dogma does not pose an immediate threat to the regime’s stability.”

4) Writing at the Tablet, the Jerusalem Post’s Knesset correspondent Lahav Harkov looks at the latest news in the election campaign in Israel.

“Israel’s election campaign began in earnest yesterday, 47 days before the polls open, when former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and MK Yair Lapid merged their parties to form the Blue and White Party. The political map has organized into what seems like the natural order of things in Israeli politics: A large right-wing party, Likud, a large left-wing party, Blue and White, and their satellites on each side. […]

For those keeping track at home, that makes three former top commanders of the Israeli Army in one party: Gantz, Ya’alon, and Ashkenazi. That in itself presents a strong front on security issues, although Likud has been working overtime to try to poke holes in Gantz’s record. Ashkenazi, who is widely respected for having rehabilitated the IDF after the Second Lebanon War, may be the wild card in the race. He’s the rare politician associated with a left-leaning party who has the popularity and security credentials that polls have shown specifically attract right-wing votes.”

 

BBC News Israel election coverage limps on

The latest contribution to the BBC’s coverage of the upcoming election in Israel came from Tom Bateman in the form of a filmed item titled “Netanyahu and the allegations of corruption” which appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on February 20th.

“Final lists of candidates will be drawn up in Israel this week ahead of the country’s general election in April.

It’s an important moment in the run up to the ballot – giving a clearer picture about how the political parties are positioned. Fighting to hold on to the premiership, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been trying to delay any decision over whether he should faces [sic] charges over allegations of corruption – claims he categorically denies.

A decision by the country’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit could take place in the coming weeks.

Tom Bateman, our Middle East Correspondent in Jerusalem, explains the cases.”

Visitors to the BBC News website had already been provided with a more detailed explanation in writing just two months earlier in December 2018. The first two sections of Bateman’s filmed report – headed “what are the corruption claims against Benjamin Netanyahu?” and “what exactly is he alleged to have done?” – added nothing new to the story.

Section three of the item – headed “so…what next?” – did not bring BBC audiences any information they have not already heard from Bateman’s colleague Yolande Knell.

In section four – headed “but wait, aren’t there Israeli elections on the way?” Bateman told viewers:

Bateman: “There are elections coming. They’ve been called early with Mr Netanyahu’s agreement. And he wants any hearing on all of this postponed, turning it, basically, into an election issue.”

With the justification for his use of the phrase “with Mr Netanyahu’s agreement” unclear, Bateman went on to describe Netanyahu’s reactions to the allegations – a topic BBC audiences have also previously heard about in recent weeks – before coming to section five of the item – headed “does anyone care?”.

Bateman: “Opposition parties certainly do care. They say that there is no way Mr Netanyahu should carry on as prime minister if he is facing criminal charges.”

Bateman did not bother to inform viewers that one of the two people whose photograph was used to illustrate that statement had the previous day announced that she would not be running in the upcoming election – as the BBC obviously knows given its use of the word ‘former’. Neither did he make any effort to inform viewers with the factual background concerning relevant Israeli legislation. 

Bateman closed the item:

Bateman: “But, despite all of this, the opinion polls suggest that his party is still on course to become the biggest after the election. And when you speak to his most loyal supporters, people in his Likud party, the people that like to refer to him by his nickname “Bibi”, they’ll hear absolutely none of it. They repeat his claim that this is all fake news.”

So as we see BBC coverage of the April 9th election limps on with yet more reporting on topics already covered but virtually no information which would contribute to audience understanding of the new players on Israel’s political scene and the issues that concern voters.

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Keeping Knell’s crystal ball gazing alive on BBC Radio 4

BBC domestic radio would not usually bother to report on closed primary elections held by one of tens of parties set to run in a foreign country’s general election that is two months away.  

That, however, is exactly what listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme heard on February 6th and to understand why, it is worth recalling Jerusalem correspondent Yolande Knell’s crystal ball gazing on the same radio station in late December 2018.

Knell’s predictions for the year ahead in the Middle East focused not on Syria, Iran, Yemen or the embattled Kurds but on a story much closer to her own office’s back yard.

Knell: “In terms of new names I mean I’m going to say the Attorney General here in Israel. Avichai Mandelblit. I mean he’s very well-known here but I really think he’s going to be internationally sort of known in the months ahead because he has to make this big decision about whether to charge the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in these public corruption cases. And there’s real drama here because Mr Mandelblit was Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary. When he was appointed originally he was accused of being too close to the prime minister and now he could become the man who takes down the prime minister after a decade in power. And if Mr Netanyahu can stay in office until the middle of next year he would actually be the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history, taking over from the founding father David Ben Gurion so there’s a real legacy issue here. Ahm…the BBC did get to ask Mr Netanyahu about all of this at an end of year journalists’ event and we just got his usual mantra which is nothing will come out of this because there’s nothing in it and I think this is going to be a fascinating year for Israeli politics. I mean certainly that is something that his party supporters believe that this has been some kind of witch hunt and just to go back to Mr Mandelblit, I mean this man many journalists remarked how he’s gone from having red hair to turning grey in the few years he’s been in his job, having to make lots of tough decisions. He already, I think, lost his invitations to go to the prime minister’s luxury private residence in the north of Israel because he charged his wife Sarah in a case about misusing state funds for catering when she has a cook paid for by the state. So I’m foreseeing lots more political drama here in the months ahead.”

Many of those themes were recycled in this latest report from Knell which was introduced by presenter Mishal Husain (from 2:41:17 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Husain: “In Israel the Likud party of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been voting on its list of candidates to contest April’s general election. While it faces new competition, polls suggest that Mr Netanyahu is best placed to lead the next coalition government, putting him on course to become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister this summer. But he might also become the first sitting Israeli leader to face a criminal trial. There’ll be a decision soon on possible corruption charges. He denies any wrongdoing. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell reports from Jerusalem.”

Knell: “There’s a big effort here in Jerusalem to put on a positive show as the Likud faithful vote for their preferred candidates in a primary election. But there’s no disguising that the upcoming general election is going to be tough for the party leader Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s facing possible corruption charges and his most formidable political rival in years, a former general, Benny Gantz. Ha’aretz journalist and Netanyahu biographer Anshel Pfeffer sees the PM on the attack.”

Pfeffer: “He’s very much under pressure, he’s very much acting impulsively. The more time passes, the more these indictments will create more problems for him and these challenges on the political scene with a new party like the Gantz party and with rivals within Likud perhaps starting to speak out against him, we’ll see less the statesman and more the local politician fighting a very dirty battle of survival.”

Knell continued with portrayal of daily videos posted on Facebook as a television channel.

Knell “And as part of that battle, this week Mr Netanyahu launched Likud TV – his own channel to counter what he describes as fake news. He’s furious at the media coverage of three criminal investigations against him, calling it a witch hunt and insists he won’t step down. Before the election Israel’s attorney general has said he’ll announce whether he intends to prosecute. Guy Luria of the Israel Democracy Institute says it’s not clear what happens next.”

Luria: “No prime minister in Israeli history has been indicted while in office. It’s really difficult to see how he could conduct himself in court facing serious potential multiple corruption charges and continue to conduct government. We are in uncharted waters. We don’t know how that will take shape.”

Knell: “At a recent press event the BBC asked the prime minister about his legal predicament.”

Recording Netanyahu: “I believe nothing will come of it because there’s nothing in it. And it doesn’t affect me, it doesn’t affect my support because people believe what I just said and they also believe that we’re doing the right things for the country.”

Knell: “Here on a main road by the Likud polling station you can see how Mr Netanyahu is building his campaign around that belief. There’s a huge billboard showing him with President Trump, beaming and shaking hands. ‘Netanyahu – a different league’ reads the slogan. The prime minister is stressing how his close relations with this White House has helped deliver a tough approach on Iran and the Palestinians as well as US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Grass roots Likud voters strongly support their leader.”

Unidentified Man: “Currently there is no-one that is nearly as strong or as intelligent or as experienced as Netanyahu is.”

Unidentified Woman: “Netanyahu I think is the best prime minister we had here, not just for security – also for the economic situation.”

Knell: “If, as polls predict, Mr Netanyahu is set to win his fifth election, this summer he’ll take over from the founding father David Ben Gurion as Israel’s longest ever serving prime minister. But he could also make another record: as the first sitting prime minister to fight criminal charges. The coming months will define his legacy.”

As we see, while this item used the previous day’s Likud primaries as a hook, BBC audiences actually heard nothing at all about the results.  Neither – once again – did they get any information about the policies of the party described by the BBC as “new competition” headed by a “formidable political rival” or news about any of the additional parties which have so far registered.

Rather, the BBC continues to focus audience attention on Yolande Knell’s speculations concerning an indictment which may or may not be issued and a court case which may or may not take place – all the while failing even to provide audiences with relevant factual background

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BBC R4’s ‘Today’ airs second item in five days on Israel election video

As noted here earlier in the month, the BBC’s record of reporting on the past two Israeli general elections shows that it has serially ignored the economic and social issues which have been high up on the list of priorities for Israeli voters. A report from Tom Bateman which was aired in the January 30th edition of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme suggests that coverage of the election due to be held in April is unlikely break that mould.  

The subject of Bateman’s report is former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz who previously got an anonymous mention on the same programme on January 18th and whose campaign videos were mentioned in an ‘alternative news bulletin’ by John Simpson in the January 25th edition of ‘Today’.

The item (from 2:41:36 here) was introduced by presenter Nick Robinson.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Robinson: “Israelis go to the polls in the Spring to choose a new government. Last night the campaign launch took place on Tel Aviv of Benny Gantz – a former chief of the Israeli military who believes he can unseat Benjamin Netanyahu – now into his tenth year as prime minister. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

If his first term in office is taken into account, Netanyahu is actually well beyond hid “tenth year as prime minister”.

Bateman’s report began with sounds from an event held the previous evening and an inaccurate portrayal of the colour of IDF uniforms.

Bateman: “A man previously seen in khaki holding binoculars. Tonight it’s a suit, a microphone and an adoring crowd. Benny Gantz launched his campaign and a broadside at Benjamin Netanyahu who he suggested was like a king sowing incitement and division. Israeli elections are usually decided on the issue of security and so former generals ooze with potential political capital. But Benny Gantz’s story goes up against an incumbent prime minister seen by his base as Mr Security.”

Bateman then interviewed a man who was Gantz’s radio operator in the paratroopers brigade thirty years ago and his one question was:

Bateman: “As somebody who knows him well, can you give us a clue about his politics? What’s your impression?”

Voiceover: “My impression…eh…he…”

Bateman quickly stepped in:

Bateman: “The policies haven’t been pouring from Benny Gantz. Some observers have little to say other than the fact that he is tall with unusually blue eyes. Although even then he was out-polling most other parties.”

Listeners then heard some in part tongue-in-cheek commentary from Gil Hoffman – political correspondent at the Jerusalem Post.

Hoffman: “So because Israelis are voting on security, that gives anyone with a security record a great advantage and Gantz has one more added plus which is this lack of an opinion on anything. […] There will be efforts by Right-wing politicians to show that Gantz is not this security messiah but that he is a weak Leftist and prevent him from being this alternative to Netanyahu. They’ve just started and there are 72 days left.”

Bateman next turned to the same campaign video which ‘Today’ audiences had heard about just five days earlier.

Bateman: “So Gantz – trying to burnish a strongman image – released a video showing flattened buildings in Gaza when he was chief of staff in the war of 2014. It boasted of sending parts of the Strip back to the Stone Age and thirteen hundred terrorists killed. Human rights groups castigated the apparent disregard for civilian casualties. An Arab Israeli MP said he watched it and felt sick.”

Like Simpson before him, Bateman refrained from reminding listeners that the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas and other Gaza Strip based terror groups began because attacks from the Gaza Strip against Israeli civilians escalated with 52 missiles fired during June 2014 and 237 missiles and dozens of mortars fired in the first week of July – eighty of them on July 7th 2014 alone. Also like Simpson, Bateman failed to clarify that the video he described as showing “flattened buildings in Gaza” in fact shows one specific neighbourhood in which the fighting was particularly fierce because of Hamas’ placement of military assets in civilian residential areas.

Bateman continued with commentary on ‘leadership’ from a soon to be former MK.

Bateman: “Hilik Bar, a Labour party MP, said Gantz had fallen into a populist trap – a clumsy imitation of the hawkish right.”

Bar: “If you will test his ideas one to one you will see that he is a Leftist. OK by the way he’s…”

Bateman [interrupts] “That’s become really a term of abuse. I mean the Right are using that as a way of attacking him.”

Bar: “People who are afraid to belong to the Left or to [be] called Leftist are either a coward or not leaders enough.”

Bateman closed his report with yet more military motifs.

Bateman: “As his launch packed up last night Gantz began his campaign on a battlefield strewn with political casualties. Many an Israeli general has tried to reach the top of government. Few have succeeded.”

Among Israel’s twelve different prime ministers to date – some of who served more than one term – three (along with one acting prime minister) have held the rank of general or above.

Of all the new political lists which have emerged since the announcement of the upcoming election, BBC audiences have so far heard only this very sketchy portrayal of this one party, with no reporting whatsoever on its stated policies. Interestingly, the fact that Gantz’s new party has teamed up with a party led by another former chief of staff, Moshe Ya’alon, did not make it into Bateman’s report.

So while BBC audiences have yet to hear any reporting on topics not connected to security and the ‘peace process’ which will be issues in the upcoming election, they did hear two reports concerning the same ‘Stone Age’ campaign video in the space of five days.

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