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

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One to listen out for on BBC Radio 4

This week BBC Radio 4 launches a new series of programmes titled “Neither There Nor Here“.

“David Dabydeen recalls five different stories of mass migration from around the world, exploring the forces that help and hinder integration.”

The first of those programmes – to be broadcast on Monday, February 27th at 13:45 UK time – is titled “A Troubled Homecoming” and it relates to the Ethiopian community in Israel.neither-there-nor-here-r4

“Writer, academic and diplomat David Dabydeen recalls five very different stories of mass migration from around the world.

They move in times of crisis, fleeing war or instability, poverty or corruption. And then they face a new challenge – how to find a way to survive and prosper in new, often unfamiliar environments.

David considers to what extent were these migrants were affected by the circumstances of their departure – by the violence they may have witnessed or the economic and political stresses they endured – and who bore the responsibility for their integration. Many different approaches have been tried, from large-scale mobilisation of official institutions to an almost total disengagement by the state. And the results are equally variable, suggesting that there are no easy solutions to this increasingly important dilemma. What does emerge clearly is that race, education and language all play a vital role.

In this first programme, we hear the story of the Ethiopian Jews. Persecuted in the 1980s, tens of thousands have been airlifted to Israel under that country’s Law of Return. Housing, healthcare and education were all provided under a meticulous assimilation plan. Yet Ethiopian Jews remain the most disadvantaged group within the Jewish population. Many have been victims of racism and tensions have boiled over, resulting in clashes in with the police.

Why has the homecoming to Israel been so troubled for the first generations of Ethiopians? And are there signs that younger members of the community are determined to improve their circumstances?”

The programme will be available here after broadcast. 

BBC sidelines accuracy in rush to promote another ‘racist Israel’ story

On August 31st the BBC News website chose to publish on its Middle East page an article about a wholly domestic Israeli story. Misleadingly headlined “Israel police chief: ‘Natural’ to suspect Ethiopians of crime“, the report opens:Alsheich art

“Israel’s police commissioner has been criticised for suggesting it is natural to suspect Israelis of Ethiopian descent of crimes more than others.”

Readers have to proceed to paragraph seven of the article to get past that sensationalist framing and find out what was really said by the police commissioner trying to combat the phenomenon of over-policing which is of course evident in many democratic countries, including the UK.

“At a meeting of the Israel Bar Association in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Mr Alsheich was asked why Ethiopian-Israelis appeared to be singled out by his force.

“Studies the world over, without exception, have shown that immigrants are invariably more involved in crime than others, and this should not come as a surprise,” he responded.

Research had also shown that young people in general were more involved in crime and that “when the two come together, there’s a situation in which a given community is more involved than others in crime, statistically speaking”, he added.

The commissioner said this had been the case “in all the waves of immigration” to Israel, and “also with regard to [Israeli] Arabs or [Palestinians in] East Jerusalem”.

“When a police officer comes across a suspicious person, his brain suspects him more than if he were someone else. It’s natural,” he continued.

“We know this. We have started to deal with this.””

In addition to providing extensive amplification of reactions to the police commissioner’s words, the article tells readers that:

“Last year, thousands took to the streets to protest against alleged police abuses after a video emerged showing two officers beating an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier.”

Underneath that paragraph (with its redundant link) appeared another link titled “The plight of Ethiopian Jews in Israel” which leads to a BBC article with the same title published in May 2015. There audiences are told that:Mekelberg art

“The unprovoked beating up by policemen of Demas Fekadeh, an Ethiopian Israeli soldier in uniform, could well serve as a much necessary wake-up call for Israeli society to change, quickly and radically, its treatment of the 130,000 Israeli citizens and their descendants who immigrated from Ethiopia.” [emphasis added]

That article has not been updated to clarify that the incident was the subject of a subsequent investigation which indicated that the BBC’s use of the word “unprovoked” is inaccurate.

“Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said Sunday he will close the criminal investigations against both the police officer who manhandled Ethiopian-Israeli soldier Demas Fekadeh and against Fekadeh himself. The incident in early May was caught on CCTV and sparked angry protests by thousands of Israeli Jews of Ethiopian descent in Tel Aviv and elsewhere.

Weinstein’s decision comes on the recommendation of the state prosecutor and Justice Ministry investigators, who determined that Fekadeh initiated the clash with the policeman, and that the policeman’s handling of the confrontation was “impeccable.”[…]

Justice Ministry investigators say Fekadeh attacked the policeman first and disregarded the officer’s instructions. “From the investigative material, including the film that documented the incident, which was studied extensively, including in slow motion, it emerged that after the police officer asked the soldier repeatedly to leave the scene because of a suspicious object nearby, and the soldier did not do so, and pushed the policeman, the policeman used tangible force to distance the soldier from the scene. In response, the soldier struck the policeman with his fist and in response to that, the police officer struck the soldier with his fist. In the end, the two police officers overpowered and restrained the soldier.””

In the same 2015 BBC article readers are told that:

“One of the early incidents that exposed this approach was the revelation in the 1990s that the Israeli national blood bank had routinely destroyed blood donated by Ethiopian Israelis for fear of HIV.

It sent a message of exclusion from the rest of the Israeli society.”

Three years ago BBC audiences saw Yolande Knell promote that same inaccurate claim and as was noted here at the time:

“…had Knell bothered to read the 1996 report by former Israeli president Yitzhak Navon into that incident before putting finger to keyboard, she would know that the disposal of those blood donations was the result of a failure by the blood services (which are run by Magen David Adom – not “the Israeli authorities” as Knell states) to update an earlier directive from 1984 (at the time of Operation Moses) which related not to HIV, but to Hepatitis B, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The Navon report stated:

“Contrary to the public impression, there is no connection between the decision made in 1984 and AIDS.”

“At the time the health services were worried by findings connected to the prevalence of diseases such as Malaria, Tuberculosis and Hepatitis among the Ethiopian immigrants from ‘Operation Moses’.”

To remind readers, the risk of the transmission of HIV through donated blood was first recognized in 1983 and standardised testing of blood donations for HIV and the then newly identified Hepatitis C virus began around 1992. Whilst the disposal of those blood donations from members of the Ethiopian community in 1996 was undoubtedly insensitive, it was not founded in racism but based on the very real problem which existed worldwide at the time concerning the possibility of the transmission of infectious diseases via blood transfusions. To this day – regardless of skin colour – one cannot donate blood in Israel if one has lived in a country in which Malaria is endemic until three years have passed by since leaving that country.”

Once again we see that in its haste to promote a story which portrays Israel as a country rotten with racism, the BBC has sidelined editorial standards of accuracy.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Knell regurgitates Ha’aretz slurs

Three year old allegations from BBC’s Yolande Knell shown to be untrue

BBC reporting of Tel Aviv demonstration neglects important background

BBC Radio 4 promotes Nazi analogy in a discussion on antisemitism

BBC Radio 4 promotes Nazi analogy in a discussion on antisemitism

BBC Radio 4’s programme ‘The Briefing Room’ describes itself as follows:

“Series looking at important issues in the news. Presented by David Aaronovitch.”

The May 19th edition of that programme (available here) purported to address an issue which has indeed recently been making headlines in the UK.Briefing Room R4

“Labour activists, councillors, an MP and a former Mayor of London have all been suspended for comments which many regard as anti-Jewish. But why might a left of centre, progressive, pro-minority party have a problem with Anti-Semitism?”

Serious discussion of that topic would obviously not be enhanced by having one-third of the invited panel taken up by a person who subscribes to the view that it is no more than a “scam to smear Labour activists” and who has in the past collaborated with notorious propagators of conspiracy theories in order to promote her anti-Israel propaganda.

Nevertheless, the programme’s production team saw fit to give Kerry-Anne Mendoza a platform – and the results were entirely predictable. Having presented her ‘credentials’ (“half of my family are Jewish”) Mendoza went on to address:

“…the comparison – which I completely understand why it’s offensive – the comparison of Israel to Nazism or the atrocities of the Third Reich. I say well; what evidence is there for that?”

Listeners then heard the following:

“And so, well, what other state in the world do I know of in the present day who’s [sic] been behind the forced sterilization of Jewish women? That would be Israel. It was applying Depo-Provera – long term contraceptive injections – to Ethiopian Jewish women. I think that’s an anti-Semitic act. I think it has horrific echoes…eh…of some of the atrocities – not all of them – some of the atrocities perpetrated by the Third Reich and I think it’s right to call that out. I would call that out in any state, anywhere in the world where Jewish women or any other group of women were subject to forcible sterilization to prevent some sort of racial dilution which was the theory behind that process.”

Leaving aside Mendoza’s medically ignorant and obviously inaccurate portrayal of (temporary) contraception as “sterilization” (a procedure designed to be permanent), the fact is that her completely baseless slander – which has unfortunately appeared in BBC content before – was disproved in a report published by Israel’s State Comptroller in January of this year.

“There is no evidence that Ethiopian women who immigrated to Israel were required to take birth-control shots against their will, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira wrote this week in a letter obtained by Haaretz.

Shapira wrote that he had concluded his investigation into the allegations, which surfaced in December 2012, and that “no evidence could be found for the claims raised that shots to prevent pregnancy were administered to Ethiopian women under pressure or threats, overt or covert, or in any way that was improper.””

So how did the programme’s host David Aaronovitch react to that very transparent promotion of a Nazi analogy based on what is known to be a blatant lie? He allowed her to continue unchallenged.

KAM: “Do I think it’s helpful for people to go around willy-nilly attempting to bait Jewish people by calling them Nazis? Absolutely not. But do I think there is some evidential case for saying there are echoes here of some of the worst behaviour that we have committed in Europe? Yes I do. Ahm…and actually that was an opinion that was actually [laughs] given to me originally by a Jewish Israeli. I was reporting from Gaza during Operation protective Edge. I was there and witnessing it. Do I think it’s wholly comparable? No – but I don’t think any situation is. But to dismiss out of hand those concerns as intrinsically anti-Semitic – I would disagree with.”

Listeners do not get an answer to the curious question of how Mendoza managed to find “a Jewish Israeli” in the Gaza Strip nine years after all the people answering that description were evacuated from the territory, but they do get to hear David Aaronovitch pass the buck to David Hirsh.

DA: “David, how do you respond to that?”

DH: “Well, I think we need to talk about what the Nazis did. The Nazis created a racial categorization of human beings. They created an industrial network in order to round up, identify and gas and murder all of the Jews of Europe. Now, Kerry-Anne’s story about…ehm…one incident in which some people were given long-term contraception is a really good example of how particular incidents are used to kind of demonise Israel. The claim that there was a campaign to stop black people from breeding in Israel is just appalling actually. It’s not true, when in fact black people have been brought and rescued and brought to Israel and are part of Israeli society – a half of Israeli society….

KAM: “But they are not brought and rescued by Israel. They’ve been treated abysmally…”

At that point Aaronovitch interrupts and redirects the discussion elsewhere.

The question which must be asked about this particular segment of the programme (which includes additional material no less worthy of comment) is what impression the average listener would have taken away. On the basis of past evidence one can well assume that the BBC’s response to any complaint on this issue would be to claim that Mendoza’s allegations were rebutted by David Hirsh.

However, listeners would not have understood from David Hirsch’s response that an official investigation had taken place or that it found no evidence of the administration of Depo-Provera to Ethiopian women against their will. In fact, Hirsch’s reference to “one incident in which some people were given long-term contraception” would have prompted the average listener to go away with the mistaken idea that there is a factual basis to Mendoza’s deliberate smears. Moreover, the BBC itself – in the form of its presenter – made no effort to ensure that audiences were made aware of the facts behind that slander and actually left listeners to make up their own inadequately informed minds with regard to who is telling the truth – Mendoza or Hirsh. 

Any serious examination of the question of “why might a left of centre, progressive, pro-minority party have a problem with Anti-Semitism?” would necessarily include recognition of the fact that a major contributing factor to that phenomenon is the deliberate demonisation and delegitimisation of Israel by far-Left activists.Briefing room tweet

In other words, by failing to adequately challenge Mendoza’s mendacious propaganda, this programme – which is also being promoted by the BBC on social media as a podcast – lent a helping hand to the spread of the blight of anti-Jewish racism it purported to discuss.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Knell regurgitates Ha’aretz slurs

Three year old allegations from BBC’s Yolande Knell shown to be untrue

Times of London revives anti-Israel smear over Ethiopian blood donations (UK Media Watch)

Email suggests Times of London journo misrepresented museum exhibit he reviewed (UK Media Watch)

Resources:

BBC Radio 4 contact details

 

 

Three year old allegations from BBC’s Yolande Knell shown to be untrue

Nearly three years ago, in February 2013, the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell produced an article which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Israeli Ethiopian birth control to be examined“.Knell Depo Provera

As was documented here at the time, Knell’s report was actually no more than a rehash of an article which appeared on the same day in the Ha’aretz newspaper.

“In fact, this story has been around for some time, after Ha’aretz first latched on to a programme  made by Israeli journalist Gal Gabai which was broadcast in December 2012 on Israeli television and which asserted that some Ethiopian immigrants had been given the contraceptive Depo-Provera against their will. The original Ha’aretz article embroidered the already problematic television programme and the exaggerated story took on a life of its own in many foreign media outlets, with Ha’aretz later finding itself dealing in damage control.” 

In the same article Knell also misrepresented another much older story connected to Israel’s Ethiopian community in order to pad out her insinuations of racism.

““The issue is extremely sensitive in Israel where the population of about 120,000 thousand Ethiopian Jews sometimes complains of discrimination. There have been several scandals in the past. In 1996, for example, the Israeli authorities admitted they had secretly disposed of blood donations given by Ethiopian Israelis because of fears about HIV/Aids.”

Instead of blindly repeating things she reads in Ha’aretz, had Knell bothered to read the 1996 report by former Israeli president Yitzhak Navon into that incident before putting finger to keyboard, she would know that the disposal of those blood donations was the result of a failure by the blood services (which are run by Magen David Adom – not “the Israeli authorities” as Knell states) to update an earlier directive from 1984 (at the time of Operation Moses) which related not to HIV, but to Hepatitis B, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The Navon report stated:

“Contrary to the public impression, there is no connection between the decision made in 1984 and AIDS.”

“At the time the health services were worried by findings connected to the prevalence of diseases such as Malaria, Tuberculosis and Hepatitis among the Ethiopian immigrants from ‘Operation Moses’.””

Ha’aretz subsequently corrected the article upon which Knell’s report was based but no amendment was made to the BBC’s article, which still remains available online.

Israel’s State Comptroller (Ombudsman) has now completed an investigation into the allegations.

“There is no evidence that Ethiopian women who immigrated to Israel were required to take birth-control shots against their will, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira wrote this week in a letter obtained by Haaretz.

Shapira wrote that he had concluded his investigation into the allegations, which surfaced in December 2012, and that “no evidence could be found for the claims raised that shots to prevent pregnancy were administered to Ethiopian women under pressure or threats, overt or covert, or in any way that was improper.””

Yolande Knell’s ugly smears never had any verified, factual basis but nevertheless the BBC allowed her inaccurate article to become “historical record“. Obviously, it is high time for the BBC to make amends by appending a note to the article which explains that its content is inaccurate and misleading. 

Resources:

BBC News website contact details

BBC One comes up trumps with documentary on Ethiopian Jews

It is always a pleasure to be able to document some good BBC reporting on an Israel-related story – especially when the subject matter has been the topic of less than satisfactory journalism in the past.Saving the Forgotten Jews

On December 13th BBC One screened a documentary titled “Saving the Forgotten Jews“.

“In the 1980s and 1990s a Manchester textiles merchant, a Mossad spy and a seasoned diplomat saved the forgotten Ethiopian Jewish community in two unprecedented and record-breaking airlifts. Flying out of Sudan and war-torn Ethiopia, they went undercover and negotiated with dictators to save the forgotten Jews in peril.”

The Jewish News reports:

“Describing the rescue mission as “impressive and admirable”, producer Richard Pearson said he was intrigued by “how far people would go in rescuing others at a time when East Africa was not the top of people’s agendas.”

He added: “It’s a very poignant story given the severe refugee issues we are witnessing at the moment.””

The programme is available in the UK on iPlayer or here.

BBC’s Knell raises an opportunistic stink

On September 12th the ‘Magazine’ section of the BBC News website published an article by Yolande Knell titled “Who, What, Why: What is skunk water?“.Knell Skunk

The hook for Knell’s article is evident in the article’s opening paragraph.

“Police departments in the United States are reported to have bought a foul-smelling liquid developed in Israel to repel protesters. What is “skunk” and how is it used, asks Yolande Knell.”

However, only those 31 words and a further 39 towards the end of the article relate to the reported purchase of the riot control method by US police departments. The report’s remaining 627 words are employed by Knell for more of her signature political campaigning.

One of the article’s notable features is the language used by Knell to describe the circumstances in which the Israeli security forces use Skunk spray.

Having already informed audiences in the opening paragraph that the substance is used “to repel protesters“, the article also states: [all emphasis added]

“Invented by Israeli firm Odortec, skunk water was first used by the Israeli military against demonstrators in the occupied West Bank in 2008.” 

And:

“In the West Bank village of Kafr Qaddum, skunk has been used to break up weekly rallies against Israel’s closure of a nearby road.”

“Protesters, demonstrators, rallies”:  none of Knell’s chosen terminology contributes to audience understanding of the fact that Skunk and other methods of crowd control are in fact used against violent rioters. The only hint concerning that comes in a quote from the IDF but Knell herself refrains from clarifying the issue to readers, leaving them with the mistaken impression that Skunk is used against people marching quietly with placards.

“A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) told the BBC that skunk is “an effective, non-lethal, riot dispersal means” that can reduce the risk of casualties.” 

Knell promotes statements from two political NGOs but – in breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality – refrains from providing audiences with any information on the obviously relevant topic of their political agenda. The foreign funded NGO ACRI is quoted as follows:

“Israeli security forces have been accused of misusing the stinking liquid.

Last year police sprayed large quantities of it in East Jerusalem neighbourhoods, at a time of widespread unrest.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel complained that this was “disproportionate“, affecting the lives of tens of thousands of Palestinians.

It documented cases where homes, shops and schools were hit with the foul liquid long after rioters had left the area.” [emphasis added]

The local NGO most quoted and promoted by the BBC in its Israel-related content in 2014, B’Tselem, provides the video embedded in the article – and apparently the source of an unverified allegation – as well as a quote.

“In the West Bank village of Kafr Qaddum, skunk has been used to break up weekly rallies against Israel’s closure of a nearby road. The protest organiser claims his home has also been singled out.

“Several times they purposefully targeted my house,” says Murad Ishtewe. “Once the high pressure of the jet broke the window so the water came inside. All my furniture was ruined.”

The IDF said it was not aware of such an incident.

“For us it’s a complex picture,” says Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem.

“The authorities ought to find non-lethal ways of maintaining law and order. The problem is the way Skunk is used. Very often it is a form of collective punishment for a whole area.”” [emphasis added]

The inclusion of the terms “disproportionate” and “collective punishment” – both of which have legal connotations not relevant to this story – is of course particularly notable given the BBC’s similar misuse of legal terminology during Operation Protective Edge, often whilst amplifying the agendas of political NGOs engaged in lawfare.

Knell also throws in inferences of racism:

“Many Palestinians view the offensive smell as a humiliation, as skunk is used almost exclusively against them. Exceptions are rare. One came in April this year, when it was sprayed (possibly diluted) at Ethiopian-Israelis protesting against what they saw as racially motivated police violence.”

She neglects to inform readers that the use of Skunk in Jerusalem on April 30th came about after the protest turned violent and does not disclose her source for the claim that in that case the solution was “possibly diluted”.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to find any Israel-related report by Yolande Knell which does not promote her embarrassingly transparent political agenda. Not infrequently her work (and that of other BBC journalists too) relies on contributions from a selected group of political NGOs, without any effort being made to duly inform BBC audiences of the agenda which lies behind their claims and statements. Yolande Knell clearly has no qualms about acting as a medium for foreign funded Israeli NGOs but that of course is not the same as accurate and impartial reporting of the news – which is, after all, what licence fee payers are entitled to receive.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

BBC News compromises impartiality with link to website of political NGO

BBC News amplifies political NGO in inaccurately headlined report

BBC’s Knell flouts impartiality guidelines with failure to inform on Susiya interviewee’s day job

 

BBC reporting of Tel Aviv demonstration neglects important background

BBC coverage of the protest by members of Israel’s Ethiopian community in Tel Aviv on May 3rd has included the following reports:Demo TA 1

A written article on the BBC News website’s Middle East page now appearing under the title “Israel police clash with Ethiopian Jewish protesters” – originally headlined “Teargas used as Ethiopian Jews protest in Israel”.

A filmed report by Kevin Connolly which, in addition to appearing on BBC News programmes, was also publicized on the BBC News website under the title “Israeli police use tear gas during Ethiopian Jewish protest“.

A report by BBC Arabic’s Michael Shuval on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Newsroom‘.

An item on the BBC World Service programme ‘Newsday‘.

Another written article which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on May 4th under the title “Israeli Ethiopian protests ‘reveal open wound’, president says“.Demo TA 2

All in all, the reports are reasonably balanced and accurate but a few points are worthy of note.

The BBC does not inform audiences that the May 3rd demonstration followed an earlier one in Jerusalem on April 30th in which major roads were also blocked and violent incidents were also reported.

“The protest started with a few hundred protesters and grew to around 1,000 by the evening, moving from the police HQ to the center of the city, a short distance from the Prime Minister’s Residence. Later in the night, the protesters blocked the intersection between King George St. and Jaffa St.

Israel Police said that forces tried to disperse the protesters, who they said threw stones and bottles. There were also reports of protesters throwing fire bombs.

Medical teams treated 10 protesters and three police officers for injuries. Two police officers and seven protesters were rushed to Jerusalem hospitals for further treatment. Two protesters who tried to attack police were detained.”

The BBC also does not clarify that neither of the two protests had been authorized by the police. Despite that fact, the police allowed the Tel Aviv demonstration to continue as long as it remained peaceful.

The BBC’s first written report includes the following:

“Tel Aviv police chief Yohanan Danino told Channel 10: “The use of violence by a small minority of the many protesters does not serve their struggle.

“Whoever harms police or civilians will be brought to justice.””

However, the BBC did not report that both police and the protest’s organisers noted the influence of outside groups on the turn of events. For example:

“Brig. Gen. Yoram Ohayon, deputy commander of the police’s Tel Aviv district, accused social activists and organizations of “inciting members of the community to keep protesting after the police has already reached understandings with them.””

And:

“Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino said on Sunday evening that the police will bring to justice anyone who hurt civilians and policemen, adding that the rally “was not a legitimate protest in a democratic state” and blaming a handful of agitators for harming the Israeli Ethiopians’ struggle.” 

And:

“The commander of the North Tel Aviv precinct, Chief Superintendent Nissim Daoudi, claimed that “anarchist groups” had taken advantage of the protest to clash with police.

“At some point the demonstrators crossed a boundary that cannot be crossed in a democratic state,” he said. “The demonstrators started throwing bricks and bottles at police.””

One of the demonstration’s organisers, Gentu Mengisto (head of the Ethiopian students’ association), told Channel Two that “groups took advantage of the protest for their own ends” and “we were joined by all sorts of organisations that provoked everything”.

A former member of the Knesset gave a similar account:

“Everyone was doing their job: the demonstrators as well as the police,” said former MK Shimon Solomon, who immigrated from Ethiopia at age 10 and who attended Sunday’s protest. At Rabin Square, suddenly “anarchic interest groups that jumped on the bandwagon did almost everything to bring about violence,” he recalled. “Someone threw a water bottle toward the policemen and that incited the entire story.”

Clearly this is a relevant aspect of the story which has been omitted from the BBC’s many reports.

 

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.  

The messaging in a BBC World Service programme on Africans in Israel

Last month we noted the then imminent broadcast of an edition of the ‘Documentary’ programme titled “Africans in the Holy Land” on BBC World Service radio. Since that post was published, the grammatical error in the picture caption on the programme’s webpage has been corrected.

click to enlarge

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Paul Bakibinga’s fifty-three minute programme begins with a short introduction, after which he informs listeners:

“I start my journey in the coastal city of Tel Aviv. It’s home to most of the 56 thousand Africans who’ve arrived in Israel in the past six years or so. Most are from Eritrea and Sudan, seeking asylum from the human rights atrocities in Eritrea and war in the Darfur region of Sudan. But Israel has granted refugee status to only a handful and says the rest are illegal economic migrants.”

The next fifteen minutes or so of the programme are devoted to the stories of three migrants living in the Tel Aviv area – two from Eritrea and one, Oscar Oliver of the ARDC, from the Democratic Republic of Congo. In addition, listeners hear the words of two more migrants at the Holot detention centre.

Bakibinga makes no substantial attempt to find out whether or not the migrants are indeed refugees or economic migrants and fails to clarify to audiences that approximately 85% of those who have entered Israel since 2006 are males between the ages of 21 and 40. He dwells on the subject of “the language that the politicians are using”, but fails to clarify that his reference actually relates to a small number of Israeli politicians rather than all of them, as implied. Whilst blaming tensions between migrants and local residents in south Tel Aviv upon the language used by unnamed, unquantified politicians, neither Bakibinga nor his interviewees make any attempt to inform listeners of other very relevant issues such as the crime in those areas. Likewise Bakibinga makes no attempt to correct the inaccurate impression given by Oscar Oliver that all the migrants “are put in this same place, in this same neighbourhood”.

Some six minutes of the programme are then devoted to statements from the deputy spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry and Professor Amnon Rubinstein. Bakibinga fails to make any attempt to explore the subject of why only 1,800 of the migrants have actually applied for asylum.

Listeners are left with a clear take away message in Bakibinga’s conclusion to this part of the programme:

“All [the migrant interviewees] talk about how hard life is for them in Israel and how they feel stuck in a legal limbo amid growing hostility from politicians and local residents.”

MK Pnina Tamano-Shata

MK Pnina Tamano-Shata

After some four minutes of news and promotions, Bakibinga turns his attentions to the subject of Ethiopian Jews in Israel in a section lasting just over thirteen minutes.  His interviewees are Ester Rada (whom he describes as having grown up in “an Israeli settlement…in the occupied West Bank”) and Shira Shato, along with Shira’s husband Shlomi Assoulin. During the conversation with the latter – the son of immigrants from Morocco – listeners are told that Zionism is a European phenomenon and encouraged to view Israel as a society in which there is discrimination and prejudice against Ethiopians and “Jewish Arab people”.

The next ten minutes of Bakibinga’s programme are located in Jerusalem and are dedicated to Mahmoud Salamat and others “who are Palestinian, but have their roots in Africa”.  

Salamat says:

“I’m from the Old City of Jerusalem but originally from Chad. My father came pilgrimage here and he set up in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 20th century.”

Bakibinga: “And you were born here?”

Salamat: “Yes I was born here during the war of 1948 and we were kicked out of the city from there to Jordan.”

Bakibinga makes no attempt to clarify why – or by whom – Salamat’s family were “kicked out” of an area conquered by Jordan and occupied for the next nineteen years. The conversation then continues to a decidedly curious portrayal of the Entebbe hijacking.

Salamat: “I belong at that time to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. That time they hijacked the plane and they went to Uganda in 1972…”

Bakibinga: “1976. So that was when I think there was an Air France plane that was captured by the Popular Front and taken to Entebbe and there was an Israeli raid on Entebbe.”

Salamat: “Yes and they killed many people.”

Bakibinga: “And your friend was killed as well.”

Salamat: “Yes my friend at that time.”

Bakibinga goes on to ask:

“So your friend was with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which you were a member of. Did you meet any consequences as a result of being a member of that group?”

Salamat replies:

“Yes, I was in prison in 1968 and I was sentenced to 25 years. I was released later on prisoner exchange, exactly on twentieth of May 1985.”

Bakibinga makes no attempt to clarify whether Salamat’s 17 years in prison were actually “as a result of being a member” of the PFLP, or whether in fact they were the consequence of terrorist activity.

The final three minutes of Bakibinga’s programme are dedicated to a conclusion which promotes the message of discrimination against an Eritrean woman who gave birth in an Israeli hospital, a man from the DRC who is “still without refugee status” and Ethiopian Jews who do not “feel at home” and are not “part of this society”.

As has been the case in previous BBC coverage of the topic of African migrants, no attempt is made to place the stories promoted to listeners within the context of the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers in other countries. Neither is any attempt is made to place the experiences of Ethiopian-born Israelis within the context of the experiences of other immigrants to Israel (or indeed to other countries) from non-African countries.

Instead, Bakibinga opts to focus on the emotional aspects of the stories he elects to tell and listeners are clearly intended to take away a message of across the board prejudicial and discriminatory treatment of people of African descent in Israel, regardless of how they happen to have arrived there. That message is particularly relevant in light of another BBC report which appeared just a few days after Bakibinga’s programme: more on that in an upcoming post.