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.

Related Articles:

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

Reviewing BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians in Q4 2017 – part two

 

 

 

 

 

BBC reframes a story about a man denied entry by his own country

On February 18th an article by the BBC’s Addis Ababa correspondent Emmanuel Igunza appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Africa’ and ‘Middle East’ pages under the headline “Niger man deported by Israel marooned in Ethiopian airport”.

“A Niger national who was expelled from Israel has been stuck at the international airport in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, since November after his home country refused to take him back.”

Igunza’s account of the story of “24-year-old Eissa Muhamad” went as follows:

“He had been living in the Middle Eastern state since 2011, having left Niger’s north-western Tilaberi region as a 16-year-old in search of a better life.

He said he paid traffickers to take him across Libya and Egypt before he entered Israel by foot.

Once in Tel Aviv, Mr Muhamad survived by doing odd jobs in hostels and in a sweet factory until April 2018 when he was arrested for being in Israel without proper documents.”

In other words, it is patently clear to the BBC’s correspondent that Eissa Muhamad entered and remained in Israel illegally. He continued: 

“After several months in detention, Israel issued him an emergency travel document and put him on an Ethiopian Airlines plane, via Addis Ababa, to Niger in November. But on arrival in Niamey, Niger’s capital, he was refused entry by Niger’s authorities who alleged his travel document was false.

“They didn’t want me in Niger. They didn’t accept me,” Mr Muhamad said.”

Igunza did not bother to inform readers of the relevant fact that Niger severed diplomatic relations with Israel in 2002 before going on:

“After more than a week of being detained in Niger he was deported back to Israel. But Israel refused to accept him and detained him again for several weeks.

“They tied my hands and legs and forced me into a plane back to Niger which refused to accept me again,” the 24-year-old said.

Then the travel document issued by Israel expired when he was stuck in transit at Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport after Niger refused to accept him for a second time.”

A month before this BBC article was published Eissa Muhamad told a somewhat different story to another journalist. [emphasis added]

“Muhamad tells me he has been deported twice from Israel in 2018. When he returned to Niger the first time, Muhamad’s Israeli travel documents were still valid, so he turned around and booked another flight back to Israel. When he arrived in Israel, authorities confiscated his travel documents and deported him again back to Niger. When Muhamad returned to Niger the second time, authorities requested proof of citizenship but he failed to produce valid documents, either Israeli or Nigerien, to support his citizenship.

Muhamad remained in Nigerien custody for eight days before being deported back to Israel via Ethiopia on an Ethiopian Airlines flight. When he arrived at Bole International Airport in Ethiopia, Ethiopian authorities, in collaboration with the Israeli government,  prevented him from boarding his connecting flight to Israel. They informed him that Israel was not willing to accept him, and since then, he has been stranded inside the airport, stuck between Niger and Israel.”

Whichever of those versions of the story is more accurate, obviously the core story here is about a man from Niger refused entry by his own country. That story received just one sentence of treatment in Igunza’s report:

“The BBC has repeatedly tried to contact Niger’s foreign ministry and its embassy in Ethiopia without success to ask why their authorities believed the document was false.”

In comparison, the country which Muhamad entered and remained in illegally got four paragraphs of coverage:

“Israel’s immigration department defended itself, saying in a statement issued to the BBC that Mr Muhamad had been deported because he had been in the country illegally.

“He is a citizen of Niger. It has nothing to do with us because he was expelled from here and when he arrived in Niger, he refused to co-operate with the authorities. How is Israel connected? He is not an Israeli,” the statement said.

It rubbished [sic] allegations that the emergency travel document was a fake.

“The Laissez Passer is a transit document for foreigners. It was legally designed precisely for such cases,” the statement said.”

In addition, Igunza gave generous promotion to the view of a campaigning NGO which the BBC has quoted in the past in stories relating to African migrants.

“An Israeli non-governmental organisation working with migrants and refugees said Mr Muhamad’s case was similar to that of other migrants expelled from Israel.

“Other migrants deported from Israel with the Israeli travel document have been refused entry to their countries of origin, or other countries en route, because the authorities claim the Israeli travel documents are false, ” the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants said in a statement.

“In 2016 we published a report, Forgotten in Prison, which details the cases of migrants who are faced with the same problem,” it added

It also wants Israeli officials to investigate Mr Muhamad’s allegation that he was brutally assaulted while in detention.

“What is required now is that Eissa Muhamad be returned to Israel so that his accusations of brutality at the hands of Israeli immigration authorities can be investigated, and a solution found so that he may return to Niger,” said Shira Abo, [sic] the organisation’s spokesman [sic].

Additional signposting to readers of this article comes in the form of an embedded video dating from March 2018 titled “The Eritrean runner fearing deportation from Israel”, an image captioned “Many migrants who enter Israel illegally end up in detention centres” and a link to a report from February 2016 by Kathy Harcombe titled “Israel’s unwanted African migrants”.

It is hence amply clear that BBC audiences were steered towards the view that it is yet another story about Israel’s treatment of African migrants rather than one about Niger refusing to give entry to one of its own citizens following his deportation from a country which he entered illegally.

Related Articles:

BBC Africa misrepresents campaigning reports as ‘scoop’

 

 

 

 

BBC ignores developments in story it reported in 2014

Nearly five years ago a filmed report titled “Ethiopia’s Jewish community divided“ was broadcast on BBC World News television and promoted on the Middle East and Africa pages of the BBC News website. 

“As Jewish people around the world marked the festival of Passover, thousands of Jews living in northern Ethiopia, did not have much to celebrate.

Many have been left disappointed by an Israeli government decision to end a 30-year-old programme that saw tens thousands of Ethiopian Jews airlifted to the Holy Land.

And many families are grappling with being separated from their loved ones, as Focus on Africa’s Emmanuel Igunza found out in the north-western city of Gondar.”

As was noted here at the time, the BBC’s correspondent left out some very critical details in his story about “the last Jews of Ethiopia” – the most obvious one being that the Falash Mura are Christians whose Jewish ancestors were converted by Western missionaries from around the end of the nineteenth century.

BBC audiences have not seen any follow-up reporting on that story despite the fact that following a 2015 change in government policy, 1,300 Falash Mura immigrated to Israel in 2017. In October 2018 the Israeli cabinet authorised a plan to bring a further 1,000 members of the community to Israel and the first group arrived this week.

“The first 83 immigrants from Ethiopia, out of a total of some 1,000 approved last year for entry into Israel, arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport on Monday night after waiting in Gondar for an average of 15 years.

In October, the government approved for immigration 1,000 members of the Falash Mura community in Ethiopia who have children currently living in Israel. […]

The immigrants were welcomed by Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog and Aliyah and Integration Minister Yoav Galant, as well as by several well-wishers, including a delegation from the Jewish Federation of Chicago.”

The BBC has to date not found those developments in the story it reported in 2014 worth covering.

Related Articles:

In which the BBC’s Addis Ababa correspondent decides who is Jewish

In which the BBC’s Addis Ababa correspondent decides who is Jewish

Here’s a heart-breaking story which was broadcast on BBC World News television and promoted on the Middle East and Africa pages of the BBC News website on April 24th under the title “Ethiopia’s Jewish community divided“.

Falash Mura

Presenter Emmanuel Igunza reports:

“Shouts of praise for the holy scrolls but make no mistake; this is not Israel. Welcome to Gondar – an ancient historic city in northern Ethiopia and home to the Falash Mura: the last Jews of Ethiopia.  

They spend their days living according to Jewish tradition, passed onto them over hundreds of years. The tranquility here betrays the emotional turmoil that many feel, not able to join their families in Israel. Stories of siblings separated, children allowed to settle in the Jewish homeland while their parents remain behind. Under the Israeli government criteria, only those Falash Mura who can show evidence of Jewish ancestry on their mother’s side are allowed into Israel and granted citizenship.

The Jewish community here is big, numbering thousands, and right now they’re having one of their prayer sessions. But there has been disappointment in Gondar. Many hold the cherished idea of travelling to Israel but have not. But there is also a strong sense of determination to keep their faith strong and to make their lives much better.

Abamesh Takiv [?] is a project manager with a local NGO helping poor Ethiopian Jews. Like many who she lives and works with, Abamesh wants to join her family in Israel.

‘Our family was registered fifteen years ago to go to Israel. My entire family from my father’s side has gone and it is only me and my father who have remained. We really, really want to go. We have not given up hope. We continue to live in hope.’

More than five thousand Ethiopian Jews living in Gondar say they have relatives in Israel, but their attempts to go back to what they call their spiritual home have been futile. Last year Israeli authorities announced that they had completed the last major airlift of Ethiopians seeking a new home in Israel. But many here still pray for divine intervention for that day when they will be reunited with their families.”

The problem with Emmanuel Igunza’s story is that he has left out some very critical details, the most obvious one being that the Falash Mura are Christians whose Jewish ancestors were converted by Western missionaries from around the end of the nineteenth century.

Notably, in past articles concerning the Falash Mura, the BBC has reported the issue accurately. In this article from 2000, it states:

“They belong to the Falash Mura community – Jews who converted to Christianity generations ago.”

A BBC report from 2010 states:

“The Falash Mura’s ancestors converted to Christianity under pressure in the 19th Century and so are not eligible to emigrate under Israel’s Law of Return.”

Another article from 2013 states:

“The Falash Mura’s ancestors converted to Christianity under pressure in the 19th Century.”

Emmanuel Igunza, however, chooses to conceal from audiences the very issue which is at the root of the whole story and even takes it upon himself to define the religion of the people who are the subject of his report.

That enables him to turn the story into one of poor Ethiopian Jews rejected by Israel: an obviously superficial portrayal of a much more complex issue with which Israel has been wrestling for many years.

The framing of this story is of course particularly notable in light of other BBC reports on the Ethiopian community in Israel, not least the one by Paul Bakibinga which preceded Igunza’s item by a mere five days. Past BBC reports have not infrequently used the topic of the Ethiopian community as a hook upon which to hang none too subtle insinuations of Israel as a racist society which discriminates against immigrants from Ethiopia – see for example here and here. Now Emmanuel Igunza shows us that even Ethiopians in their native land can be used for the purpose of similar framing – just as long as certain crucial facts are made to disappear.