Israeli election coverage continues to advance a new narrative

In a previous post we saw how a September 18th edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newsday’ promoted the claim that “Arab Palestinian parties” had run in the recent Israeli election.

We also saw how two written reports published on the BBC News website on September 21st and 22nd described Arab Israelis as “Israel’s Palestinian citizens”.

In a later September 18th edition of ‘Newsday’, presenter Karnagie Sharp interviewed Israeli journalist Lahav Harkov (from 00:42 here) and one of her questions (at 03:34) was phrased as follows:

Sharp: “OK but we also saw another interesting development here. The Arab Palestinian parties, they did really well, didn’t they? The third…now forming the third largest party in the Knesset.”

Harkov explained:

Harkov: “Yeah, they’re Israeli. These are Arab citizens of Israel.”

In its coverage of previous Israeli elections in 2013 and 2015 the BBC described the Joint Arab List as being comprised of “Israeli Arab parties” and used the term “Israeli Arabs” to describe that list’s target electorate. So why has the BBC now taken to inserting the confusing term “Palestinian” into its reporting? A clue may be found in a conversation aired (from 23:03 here) in the September 18th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ programme.

After having inaccurately claimed that “for a fifth of its existence Israel has had Benjamin Netanyahu as its prime minister”, presenter Evan Davis brought in the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.

Davis [26:05]: “Ahm, Jeremy, tell us about the Arab Israelis because as I understand it their turnout in this election rose pretty significantly compared to the last one which was, what, back in April.”

Bowen: “Yeah, ahm, 20% of the citizens of Israel are not Jews. They’re Arabs, or more specifically, they’re Palestinians. Not the Palestinians of the West Bank or of Gaza, though related of course, but Palestinians who are Israelis, who have an Israeli passport and are supposed to have full rights though in practice they don’t.”

In fact, as of May 2019, 25.76% of Israel’s population are not Jews. 20.95% are Arabs and 4.81% are ‘others’ including non-Arab Christians and non-Arab Muslims. A poll conducted in April 2019 indicated that 46% identified as Arab Israelis with the pollsters commenting that when compared to a previous poll from 2014:

“…the findings in the current poll show that the number of respondents self-identifying as “Arab-Israeli” has risen, and the number of those identifying only as “Palestinian” dropped.”

While other polls may give slightly different results, one thing is clear: the BBC’s Middle East editor has apparently adopted the political narrative according to which all Israeli Arabs are Palestinians – regardless of how they actually chose to self-identify – and that patriarchal approach is increasingly finding its way into BBC reporting.

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BBC R4’s ‘PM’ presents one-sided comment on MP’s suspension

The February 27th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ – presented by Evan Davis – included quite a lot of content relating to the suspension of Labour MP Chris Williamson following the emergence of footage of a speech he made to Momentum activists in Sheffield.

Nineteen seconds into the programme (available here) Davis told listeners that: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Davis: “The Labour MP Chris Williamson has just been suspended. We’ll talk to someone who defends him.”

At 02:48 listeners heard a news bulletin.

Newsreader: “In the past few minutes the Labour MP Chris Williamson has been suspended. He’d already apologised for saying his party gave too much ground in its handling of complaints of antisemitism. Mr Williamson said he deeply regretted the comments he made at a meeting of activists.”

Following a report from the BBC’s assistant political editor Norman Smith in which listeners were told that “Mr Williamson’s fate is being cited by some Labour MPs as a test case for the Labour leader to demonstrate he takes seriously the issue of antisemitism”, Evan Davis gave an overview of the story – from 5:23 – which included the following:

Davis: “But for Labour if Chris Williamson is a problem, then so must be his supporters and there are many of them, at least judging by the reaction on his Facebook page to his earlier apology.”

Listeners then heard four selected comments read out – all supporting Williamson and with one promoting a conspiracy theory.

Woman 1: “I’m beginning to think you’re the only Labour politician with any real integrity and the guts to stand up for truth and justice. Hashtag I stand with Chris Williamson.”

Woman 2: “I understand your reason for this but as far as I’m concerned what you said was right. Tom Watson is a huge disappointment. I voted for him once but never again.”

Woman 3: “Corbyn has met with the Board of Deputies and other Jewish groups to address the antisemitism issue. He has bent over backwards and every time it’s not enough. The fact of the matter is their plan is to destroy the Labour party. Chris has had the courage to speak out and should be commended.” [emphasis added]

Man: “Nothing to apologise for. There may well be some incidents of antisemitism by members but it is only a small minority. I don’t believe it to be widespread.”

Davis next brought in the BBC’s political correspondent Ian Watson to report on “what has been happening behind the scenes today”.

If listeners were expecting to hear a different perspective on the story than that reflected in those reactions from Williamson’s supporters – in accordance with BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality – they would no doubt have been surprised when Davis then introduced (from 09:45) yet another commentator of the same stripe.

Davis: “Let us talk to Jenny Manson – co-chair of a group called Jewish Voice for Labour. Now that is an organisation that describes itself as an organisation of Jews with a socialist tradition who tend to be on the Left of the party and support Jeremy Corbyn.”

Listeners were then given to understand that the interview with Manson had been set up before the news of Williamson’s suspension broke.

Davis: “Jenny thank you very much for joining us. Obviously we’d planned to talk to you not knowing that Chris Williamson had been suspended but what’s your reaction to the suspension tonight?”

Following some technical problems, listeners heard Manson’s response.

Manson: “I’m very upset. I think that there is a terrible injustice happening to Chris Williamson. He is a remarkable anti-racist. At that meeting he may have spoke a bit outspoken. People speak like that when they’re speaking at a public meeting. What he said as far as I understand was that antisemitism is terrible but it is not a Labour party problem and that’s what Jewish Voice for Labour have been arguing for a long time now and many ordinary people…”

At that point Manson was cut off again and Davis brought in the newsreader to give another summary of the news while communication was being re-established.

11:57 Davis: “I really want to hear what she wants to say because many people in the Labour party obviously feel that Chris Williamson was out of order and was completely inflaming the situation.”

He then asked Manson to “finish your point about why it’s unfair”.

Manson: “Well as far as I understand it this is on the basis of a speech that Chris made in this last week. All that Chris was saying – and I’ve listened to the account and I’ve read the accounts – was that antisemitism is a terrible thing but that the Labour party hasn’t particularly got a problem of antisemitism and that’s my understanding. We’ve looked at this issue for the last few years very carefully at Jewish Voice for Labour. We’ve discovered that antisemitism is not greater in the Labour party than in other political parties…”

Davis then interrupted her to challenge that claim.

Davis: “Can I suggest though that there’s a sort of intensity of feeling that spills into antisemitism among some activists and some Labour members that is different to what you would find among average people in society, that Labour does have a problem and most…many people in Labour do regard it as a problem.”

Manson’s response included the claim that “in 50 years as a member of the Labour party, at meetings I’ve never met it [antisemitism] and that’s a very, very common statement”. She went on to claim that “there seems to be problems on social media” and – having pointed out that she doesn’t ‘do’ social media – to claim that” it often turns out not to be a Labour party member. Some people infiltrated websites and pretended to be Corbyn supporters”.

She went on to promote a blatant falsehood: [emphasis in bold added]

Manson: “But a lot of groups within the Jewish community do not consider it’s a major problem, including for example the Haredi Jews who have written letters supporting Jeremy Corbyn and who I speak to quite frequently who’ve met antisemitism all their lives but not from people in the Labour party.”

Davis did not bother to clarify to listeners that Manson was apparently referring to the tiny, fringe anti-Zionist sect Neturei Karta and that over 85% of British Jews “see antisemitism as having significantly infiltrated all levels of the [Labour] party”.

Proposing that “you have a different threshold for antisemitism than other people”, Davis then brought up the Naz Shah story which Manson dismissed as “a joke made by an American Jew” before coming up with her own erroneous definition of antisemtism.

Manson: “Antisemitism broadly is hatred of Jews […] it’s hatred of Jews with – I’m told by lawyers I’ve talked to about it – with a sense of impending violence. Something very, very nasty. And it’s being stretched to be criticisms of Israel that people don’t like, criticism of Zionism that people don’t like and in some cases just quick unthinking talk.”

Failing to challenge that inaccurate definition of antisemitism – and to remind listeners that there is one accepted definition used by their own government – Davis tried to put the point that stereotypes of Jews are tolerated in a way that stereotypes about other groups of people are not. However the broadcast again ran into technical difficulties and the item was brought to a close.

As we see the producers of ‘PM’ apparently thought it satisfactory to provide audiences with an entirely one-sided view of this story based on comments on Facebook from Chris Williamson’s supporters and a representative of a tiny, extremist political group which in no way represents mainstream Jewish opinion in the UK.

That point was made by several listeners on Twitter.

One Radio 4 journalist – Chris Wimpress – responded with the claim that no-one else was available.

However, as Davis made clear at the beginning of his conversation with Manson, the interview with the JVL co-chair had in fact been planned in advance.

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Mainstreaming the eradication of Israel concept on BBC Two

On October 17th the producers of the BBC Two programme ‘Newsnight‘ thought it would be a good idea to bring a person the BBC knows to be a terror supporter into the studio to talk about the Khashoggi affair.

At 3:05 minutes into the interview with Azzam Tamimi, presenter Evan Davis widened the topic of discussion: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Davis: “I hear everything you’re saying but the standards of the region are not high, are they? And there are people on your side of the argument – you support Hamas, you’re a member of the Muslim Brotherhood – people on your side of the argument of course who do cruel things, assassinations. These are not techniques that are kind of, you know, unique to the Saudis.”

Tamimi: “Are you accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of doing this?”

Davis: “No, but Hamas certainly.”

Tamimi:  “The Muslim Brotherhood today is paying for defending democracy. We have today forty thousand prisoners in Egyptian jails because they stood for democracy.”

Refraining from challenging Tamimi’s absurd portrayal of an Islamist movement as ‘defenders of democracy’, Davis went on:

Davis: “And Hamas of course, in its struggle against Fatah and against Israel…”

Tamimi: “No; Hamas is a national liberation movement. Hamas is struggling for liberation of Palestine which is occupied by the Zionists. But that’s a different issue. Let’s not confuse issues.”

Davis: “Well I don’t want to…I don’t want to get in there but I was just wanting to make that point.”

Not only did Davis not “make that point” but his introduction of the unrelated and irrelevant topic of Hamas actually served no purpose other than to provide Tamimi with a cue for an inaccurate portrayal of Hamas and its aims which went completely unquestioned by Davis.

Like Hamas, Azzam Tamimi’s definition of ‘occupation’ includes every square metre of Israel. And thus – with no challenge whatsoever from the BBC’s presenter – an extremist terror supporter got a free pass to mainstream the concept that the eradication of the Jewish state is ‘liberation’ on prime time British television.

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Inaccuracy, partial language and speculation on BBC WS ‘Newshour’

As we saw in an earlier post, viewers of ‘Newsnight’ saw the Israeli prime minister being interviewed by Evan Davis on June 7th. However, BBC World Service radio listeners heard extracts from that interview several hours before it was broadcast on BBC Two in the afternoon edition of ‘Newshour‘.

“During his trip to the UK the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, tells the BBC recent protests in the Gaza Strip were violent riots aimed at killing at Israelis.”

Presenter Razia Iqbal began (from 01:08 here) by giving an account of the purpose of the Israeli prime minister’s visit to Europe which was soon shown to be inaccurate by Netanyahu himself.

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

Iqbal: “We begin though with a visit by the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the UK. London is the last stop in a series of meetings he’s had with European leaders about the Iran nuclear deal. Mr Netanyahu has always opposed the deal and was delighted when President Trump decided to pull out of it. The Israeli prime minister has made it his business to persuade the other signatories to follow suit – especially since they have all said they will continue to see if it’s possible to keep the framework of the deal intact despite Washington’s departure. Today in an interview with my colleague Evan Davis of the BBC TV programme ‘Newsnight’, Mr Netanyahu said the Iran nuclear deal is dead. He said he would do everything in his power to stop Iran getting nuclear weapons.”

Netanyahu: “…pressure can be of various kinds and I’ve seen in the past that when Iran faced very strong pressure – yes, a credible military response too but also by primarily paralysing sanctions – they came to the…”

Davis [interrupts]: “You’re not going to get the world behind sanctions.”

Netanyahu: “It’s already happened, Evan. I didn’t come here – contrary to news reports on another network that I’m going to try to persuade the E3, the Europeans, to leave the deal. That wasn’t my discussion. I said the deal is dead. It’s done; because of the force of the economic sanctions…”

Unsurprisingly (particularly given the fact that Iqbal allowed herself to shout inaccurate claims at an Israeli MK during live coverage of the rioting on the Gaza Strip-Israel border) listeners were not told that 53 of the people killed on May 14th were claimed by terror groups. Audiences did however hear Evan Davis’ editorialising.

Iqbal: “Well Israel has of course also been recently criticised internationally after more than 60 Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers on one day on the border between Israel and Gaza. The shooting happened on the day the US opened its embassy in Israel in Jerusalem. Mr Netanyahu described that moment as a glorious day. Evan Davis asked him, given the deaths of so many Palestinians, would he still use the words it’s a glorious day.”

Netanyahu: “On the moving of the embassy; for sure. Look…”

Davis [interrupts]: “Well, both things were happening…both things were related, weren’t they? It was the moving of the embassy that caused the protests in Gaza.”

Netanyahu: “It was glorious in Jerusalem and it was regrettable in Gaza…”

Davis [interrupts]: “Regrettable? It was tragic. Absolutely tragic. Your troops killed sixty-one…”

Netanyahu: “Tragic sounds like almost some force of nature. It wasn’t a force of nature. It was a deliberate policy of Hamas to push people into the line of fire, to try to kill Israelis and to present it as though this is Martin Luther King Day. It wasn’t Martin Luther King. It wasn’t Mother Theresa. These were not peaceful protests. This was violent riots directed at killing Israelis.”

Using an obviously partial term to portray the Israeli prime minister’s description of the events of May 14th, Iqbal then brought Lyse Doucet into the discussion.

Iqbal: “Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, speaking to Evan Davis. Let’s talk now to our chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet. Lyse – not in the least bit surprising that Benjamin Netanyahu should be defiant about what happened on that day on the border between Gaza and Israel.”

Doucet: “No; he has said it time and again. For him, of course, and for many who watch these events unfold, who watch the years of tensions between the two sides, that Israel has a right to protect its own security. It has a right to stop people from penetrating the security fence.”

Doucet then backed up her messaging using a quote from a German media interview with a disgraced former Israeli PM trying to make a political come-back and promoted some old BBC favourites: ‘disproportionate’ and the ‘Gaza prison’ theme.  

Doucet: “But what people are questioning – and even today the former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert – and I’ll tell you what he said when he was interviewed about it. He says ‘I have doubts and questions over the use of lethal weapons against protesters near the Gaza border fence’. When you have that many people including children approaching the fence, what kind of force you use and it’s the question of disproportionate force and the fact that yes, of course Hamas was part of it and yes, Hamas militants did get killed but there are also peaceful activists including so many people, so many young people who are basically imprisoned in the Gaza Strip and see no hope.”

Apparently it has not occurred to Lyse Doucet that genuinely “peaceful activists” would most likely avoid mixing with terrorists committing attacks and infiltrations at a border fence, especially in light of seven weeks of prior experience. Doucet next promoted an anecdote from an anonymous source.

Doucet: “I was recently speaking to someone who has been working for years in the Gaza Strip trying to bring about a peaceful negotiation between Israel and Hamas and he said decades ago when he would speak to the young Gazans they would all say when we grow up we want to be teachers and doctors and lawyers. Now he said they all say we want to be martyrs; suicide martyrs.”

Perhaps if Lyse Doucet had carried out a more in-depth investigation into Gaza terror groups’ indoctrination of children when she had the chance, she would be able to report to BBC audiences on how the anecdote she chose to recount is connected to over a decade of Hamas rule in Gaza.

Razia Iqbal then made the following claim:

Iqbal: “Lyse, the United Kingdom has asked Mr Netanyahu to open an independent inquiry into those deaths in Gaza. Earlier this month the British government abstained from a UN Security Council resolution which called for an inquiry into the deaths. I mean, one wonders if Mr Netanyahu would have responded in the affirmative to the prime minister Theresa May.”

According to both the UK government announcement and media reports, Theresa May did not repeat the call she made on May 15th  for an ‘ independent inquiry’ (ironically while standing next to the Turkish president) during Netanyahu’s visit.

Doucet: “I think historically Israel has investigated its own incidents. It has not wanted international involvement. It believes that…you know Israel has always been regarded as having very strong judicial institutions. Of late questions have been raised about that but it has investigated and at times has been found to be wanting and fault has been found with the way Israel has responded to incidents like this. So I think it’s very much in keeping with how Israel responds to it. It is interesting the United Nations tried to introduce a new resolution at the UN Security Council last week and the only one who voted for it was the United States.”

Iqbal then gave Doucet the obviously pre-arranged cue for promotion of some remarkable speculation:

Iqbal: “Let’s talk in the brief time that we have left about the Iran nuclear deal which the BBC also asked Benjamin Netanyahu about. When Netanyahu says that the sanctions are already going to be put in place, that the deal is dead and that that isn’t going to change, do you think that the ultimate goal here of the United States and Mr Netanyahu is regime change in Iran? To put so much pressure on the country…because there have been appeals to the Iranian people by…specifically by the Secretary of State Pompeo and Mr Trump.”

Doucet: “Israel has never hid its desire to see regime change in Iran. Prime Minister Netanyahu has always seen Iran as an existential threat to Israel. That hasn’t been helped by some of the comments that come out of some of the more radical politicians and clerics in Iran. And what you have now in power is you have Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel, you have Donald Trump in the White House, you have Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia. They want to see an end to the theocracy in Iran. President Trump’s…his national security advisor now, John Bolton, has for the years he was out of power been associating with groups which are bent on regime change in Iran. There were speeches about how he wants to see regime change in Iran. That is widely seen to be the real agenda behind trying…proclaiming the nuclear deal is dead. The nuclear deal is all but dead but the European…European powers who also signed the deal – Russia, China – they are trying to save the deal but there is a real worry that without the United States and with not just US sanctions but the secondary sanctions against any other companies who do business in Iran, it will be all but impossible to save the deal.”

John Bolton does indeed have past associations with anti-regime groups but he also stated last month that regime change in Iran “is not the Trump administration’s current policy”. As for Doucet’s claim that “that is widely seen to be the real agenda”, she does not inform listeners that “widely seen” in fact means a theory bandied about by some journalists, pro-regime lobbyists and commentators including Stephen Walt of ‘Israel lobby’ infamy.

The use of partial language and editorialising together with the promotion of inaccurate claims, one-sided quotes, anonymous anecdotes and unsupported speculation clearly signpost the overt bias in this relatively long item.   

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Editorialising, omission and inaccuracies from BBC’s Evan Davis

 

 

 

Editorialising, omission and inaccuracies from BBC’s Evan Davis

The June 7th edition of BBC Two’s main news programme ‘Newsnight‘ included an interview conducted by presenter Evan Davis with the Israeli prime minister – available here in the UK or here.

Notwithstanding the fact that he spent a significant proportion of the interview interrupting his interviewee, Davis’ questions related to three topics: the JCPOA deal between the P5+1 and Iran, recent events along the Gaza Strip-Israel border and the ‘peace process’.

On the first topic BBC audiences heard Davis repeatedly opine that “military action” against Iran is inevitable – but ineffective. Notably, when the subject of Iran’s financing of regional terror was raised by Netanyahu, Davis quickly changed the subject. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

[3:40] Davis: “Let’s move on and talk about events in Israel, around Israel and in the Middle East. May the 14th was a really interesting day for your country, It was the day the American embassy in Jerusalem opened and a lot of people were watching literally television news programmes split screens of the celebrations you were having and attending over that and at the same time shooting of protesters on the Gaza border. How many died that day?”

Netahyahu: “Sixty-two – fifty of which were Hamas terror fighters according to the Hamas….”

Three more of those killed in the pre-planned rioting were claimed by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad – as the BBC is no doubt aware – but Davis proceeded:

Davis [interrupts]: “So a dozen, a dozen, a dozen civilians.”

Netanyahu: “But they weren’t protesters. They weren’t protesters.”

Davis: “A dozen, a dozen civilians.”

Netanyahu: “Wait a minute….”

Davis: “You called it a glorious day. Do you still think that was a glorious day?

Netanyahu: “I think it’s a historic day.”

Davis [interrupts]: “You [unintelligible] glorious day.”

Netanyahu: “For the moving of the embassy to Jerusalem – of course it was; it was great.”

Davis [interrupts]: “You didn’t seem to show much concern for the dozen or so civilian deaths.”

When Netanyahu began to speak about the non-lethal means of riot control employed along the Gaza Strip-Israel border, Davis cut him short again:

Davis [interrupts] “You’ve made this point many times and I just wonder…I still wonder whether you would use the phrase it’s a glorious day.”

Netanyahu: “On the moving of the embassy; for sure. Look…”

Davis [interrupts]: “Well, both things were happening…both things were related, weren’t they? It was the moving of the embassy that caused the protests in Gaza.”

Davis can of course get away with that latter statement because for three months the BBC has avoided providing its audiences with details of the background to the pre-planned agitprop and its instigators.

Netanyahu: “It was glorious in Jerusalem and it was regrettable in Gaza…”

Viewers then witnessed some classic editorialising from Davis:

Davis [interrupts]: “Regrettable? It was tragic. Absolutely tragic. Your troops killed sixty-one…”

Davis next moved on to the topic of the ‘peace process’ – ignoring the fact that Hamas has no intention of making peace with Israel and Fatah (in its own words) “categorically rejects the idea of a Jewish Israel”.

Davis: “Well tell me what is on offer? What is on offer to the Palestinians if they do everything that you say in terms of recognition of the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state?”

At 7:36 viewers heard the following:

Davis: “So tell me…so just…because I think the really important thing – who is the obstacle to peace. And in terms of how the world sees the division of terrain, your position is your security is paramount, your security cannot be achieved without occupying their land and anyway, by the way, they can’t even have all their land because you’re taking some of it.”

Later on Evans made the following claim:

[9:25] Davis: “The American general John Allen organised a security plan for Israel. It wasn’t dependent on what the Palestinians say: it was dependent on American troops in the Palestinian territory so they can have their country and you can have your security and you rejected that – not the Palestinians.”

As Netanyahu subsequently clarified, Davis’ presentation of who rejected the Allen plan is inaccurate. Presuming to speak for the US general, Davis however retorted with the claim that “John Allen would argue that politics got in the way”.

When Netanyahu brought up the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands, Davis again cut him short.

[11:46] Davis: “But do you…do you understand why there’s grievance in your region? Do you see it from the other point of view? Because you often come across as not understanding or listening to the other side.”

Prior to ‘Newsnight’ viewers being shown this interview, selected parts of it were used by the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – as we shall see in an upcoming post.

 

BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ gives a stage to Galloway’s conspiracy theories

Following the publication on January 21st of the results of the inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, the producers of BBC Two’s flagship current affairs programme ‘Newsnight‘ apparently reached the bizarre conclusion that their mission of providing audiences with “comprehensive coverage of the day’s important national and international news stories” could best be met by bringing George Galloway into the studio.

During that interview, Galloway made the following statement:

“Look, I know Plutonium [sic] 210. I was at Yasser Arafat’s bedside in France when he died from Polonium 210, so I know how foul a murder this was.”

Despite the fact that the conspiracy theories concerning Arafat’s supposed poisoning with Polonium were laid to rest months ago, presenter Evan Davis made no effort to relieve viewers of the inaccurate impression created by Galloway.

At one point during the conversation with Galloway, Evan Davis remarked:

“Well we can be sceptical and we can be super sceptical and then we can end up as conspiracy theorists.”

Did the ‘Newsnight’ production team’s pre-broadcast research really fail to turn up the fact that on the topic under discussion (and many others) the man they invited to contribute has long been situated in that latter category – as shown, for example, in one of his appearances (apparently from 2013) on the Iranian regime’s ‘Press TV’?

Yes; that is the caliber of populist commentator the ‘Newsnight’ production team apparently thought could contribute to meeting their remit of enhancing UK audiences’ understanding of international issues.

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BBC’s ME editor fails to deliver in ‘Newsnight’ item on Jerusalem terror attacks

h/t @SussexFriends

October 13th (a day designated in advance as one of the proverbial ‘Days of Rage’ by Hamas and other Palestinian groups) saw two major terror attacks in Jerusalem and two stabbing attacks in Ra’anana – which was inaccurately described by the BBC as being “in the north of the country” (as well as “near Tel Aviv”) in a written report on the incident which appeared on the BBC News website.

Raanana stabbing

In the later BBC News website report on the Jerusalem attacks, audiences were told that the neighbourhood of East Talpiot is a “Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem” whilst in fact the area was defined as ‘no-man’s land’ under the terms of the 1949 Armistice Agreement.

Bus attack East Talpiot

BBC audiences saw the 1949 Armistice Lines bizarrely portrayed as the “pre-1967 ceasefire line” in a map inserted into the report and as ever, no effort was made to inform readers that the Armistice Agreement specifically defined the ceasefire line as not constituting a border.

bus attack East Talpiot map

On the evening of October 13th, an item concerning the day’s events was broadcast on the flagship BBC Two news programme ‘Newsnight’, with presenter Evan Davis speaking to the BBC’s Middle East editor.

As readers may recall, the rationale given for the creation of the post of ‘Middle East editor’ a decade ago is as follows:

“The challenge for our daily news coverage is to provide an appropriate balance between the reporting of a ‘spot news’ event and the analysis that might help set it in its context.

This challenge is particularly acute on the television news bulletins, where space is at a premium, and because the context is often disputed by the two sides in the conflict. To add more analysis to our output, our strategy is to support the coverage of our bureau correspondents with a Middle East editor. 

Jeremy Bowen’s new role is, effectively, to take a bird’s eye view of developments in the Middle East, providing analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience, without the constraints of acting as a daily news correspondent. His remit is not just to add an extra layer of analysis to our reporting, but also to find stories away from the main agenda.”

However, in this interview Jeremy Bowen actively hindered the provision of analysis and context which would have helped audiences comprehend the day’s events and their wider background.

Evan Davis’ introduction to the item included a presentation of the first Intifada which once again misled audiences by stating that the violence was directed exclusively at soldiers and erasing Israeli civilian casualties from the picture.  

Davis: “Well, they’re using the word Intifada again on the West Bank and in Israel. Attacks by Palestinians on Israeli Jews have increased in recent days – from the sporadic to the frequent. The first Intifada ran from 1987 to 1993 and mainly consisted of young people throwing stones and Molotov cocktails…ah…at Israeli troops. The second Intifada ran from 2000 to 2003 and involved suicide bombings and gun battles. Is the current wave of violence a third Intifada?”

Downplaying the pre-issued call for a ‘Day of Rage’ and the incitement and encouragement of violence that obviously produces, Davis went on:

“Well today was labelled a ‘Day of Rage’ by Palestinian groups. Attacks came thick and fast. This was the scene in central Jerusalem where a Palestinian ran his car into a queue at a bus stop, crushing some bystanders, attacking others with a meat cleaver. In a separate attack a sixty year-old Rabbi was killed while riding a bus. He was buried by his grieving community shortly afterwards.”

One might have thought that the BBC would at least have made an effort to report those details accurately. In fact Rabbi Yeshayahu Krishevsky was murdered in the first attack described by Davis in Makor Baruch and not in the scantily portrayed attack on the bus in East Talpiot in which two other people were also murdered and fifteen wounded. Davis continued:

“Anger is building in Gaza and on the West Bank where parts of Bethlehem have resembled a battle ground. Ah…just before we came on air I spoke to the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen and I asked him if these Palestinian attacks are just the work of individuals or if there’s something more organized going on.”

Despite Hamas having rushed to clarify its association with one of the two terrorists who carried out the attack on the bus in East Talpiot and despite information concerning the fact that the second perpetrator of that attack was affiliated with Fatah and the terrorist who attacked Rabbi Krishevsky and others was the cousin of one of the terrorists who carried out the Har Nof attacks last year already being in the public domain by the time Bowen went on air, ‘Newsnight’ viewers heard the following uninformative reply from Bowen.

“There’s obviously a lot of people talking about what’s going on. Everybody is aware of what’s happening. It doesn’t seem to be organised. Eh…and I think the seemingly random nature of it is a major reason why the Israelis are finding it hard to combat it; to come up with an answer.”

Jeremy Bowen obviously had no intention of clarifying to viewers that a declaration of a ‘Day of Rage’ is an organized call to Palestinians to commit acts of violence. Davis then asked:

“I mean, what about average opinion in the Palestinian community – communities? Do they feel they are heroes or do they feel these people are just stirring up trouble inappropriately? What is the mood?”

That question of course presented Bowen with an ideal opportunity to inform BBC audiences about the incitement and glorification of the terrorists by Hamas, Fatah, the PLO, Palestinian Authority officials and related media outlets and the effects of those factors on the mood on the Palestinian street. He could, for example, have mentioned the martyrdom posters bearing Fatah insignia and Mahmoud Abbas’ photograph. He could have reported Abbas’ statement that “Every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem is pure, every shahid [martyr] will reach paradise, and every injured person will be rewarded by God” and his remarks about Jews’ “dirty feet”.

But the man whose job description specifically obliges him to provide BBC audiences with analysis and context side-stepped that question, instead framing of the story to focus audience attention on a politically partisan narrative which erases the religiously themed incitement fueling this latest wave of terror from audience view.

“I think there’s a lot of worry, actually, about where this is going. I think that there is…err….there’s a lot of anger and rage at the continuing occupation and the fact is that the underlying context of all the violence that really ever happens here to do with the conflict is the conflict itself and the almost fifty year occupation of the Palestinian territories by the Israelis and that generates a sense of hopelessness, of hatred and – in some people as well – murderous rage. But among the Palestinians I’ve spoken to on this trip since I’ve been here, there’s a lot of worry about just where this is going.”

No less obvious framing appeared towards the end of the item when Bowen promoted the notion of equivalence between Israeli victims of terrorism murdered whilst going about their everyday business and Palestinians engaged in violent rioting.  

“The British have put out a statement today saying that…err…condemning, of course, the Palestinian attacks but also saying to the Israelis show restraint in terms of dealing with demonstrations because there have been a lot of people killed as well – including children – on the Palestinian side as the Israelis moved to…err…to err…respond to the kind of things that have been going on.”

Once again, BBC audiences have been sold short by the man whose job it is to ensure that they have the background information and context necessary for them to understand events in the Middle East.

BBC’s Evan Davis misleads on BDS, proportionality in warfare

On June 16th Israeli MK and former minister Tsipi Livni was interviewed on BBC Two’s flagship news programme ‘Newsnight’ and – not for the first time – presenter Evan Davis’ lack of Middle East proficiency was on show, along with some typical BBC attention to accuracy.

Photo credit: Eylon Aslan-Levy

Photo credit: Eylon Aslan-Levy

Davis introduced the interview with the following statement:

“Israel is viewed negatively in much of the world and certainly so in the UK.”

Davis of course did not reveal the source of the factual information (if there is any) which led him to that sweeping assumption but, as a poll carried out for Chatham House in August 2014 at the height of the conflict between Israel and Hamas showed (page 5), the majority of respondents did not describe themselves as viewing Israel “unfavourably”.

Davis continued:

“The international image certainly worries the country and Prime Minister Netanyahu said the campaign to delegitimise Israel must be fought. In his sights was the BDS movement – Boycott, Divest and Sanction [sic]. The last thing Israel wants is that any comparison to apartheid South Africa to catch on.”

Not only do we see that – once again – the BBC made no effort to provide audiences with the full range of information concerning the aims of the BDS campaign, but in the course of the conversation with Tsipi Livni, Evan Davis actively misrepresented its agenda.

Livni: “Basically, it’s [the BDS campaign] not for two states for two peoples – it’s basically against the State of Israel. They are not talking about two states living in peace in the Middle East but they are basically against the State of Israel.”

Davis: “I think many in the BDS movement are in favour of the two state solution – aren’t they?”

Having devoted the first part of the interview to the topic of BDS, Davis came up with a question for Livni in which he interestingly managed to get past the BBC’s professed aversion to making “value judgements”: 

 “Would you describe your parents as terrorists?”

He then went on to introduce the topic of ‘disproportionality’ but, rather than using the opportunity to relieve audiences of some of the misinformation on that topic propagated by BBC journalists during last year’s conflict and others, Davis added to it. It is embarrassingly obvious that Davis (apparently along with his editors, who surely must have vetted the questions before they were asked) either has absolutely no idea what that term really means in the framework of the Laws of Armed Combat or elected to mislead viewers on the topic.

Davis: “The UN, others, plenty, think there is disproportionate force used by the Israeli army for the threat against Israeli civilians.” […]

Davis: “What is the ratio of the families losing children?”

Livni: “We are not targeting civilians.”

Davis: “I know you’re not targeting but what is the ratio of civilian to… untargeted killed by the Israelis relative to those killed in Israel by Hamas?”

What Davis is doing here is promoting the false notion that ‘proportionate’ means equality in death or suffering. That, of course is not the definition of the term in the context of war and the fact that he makes no effort to inform his audiences what the term really means is ample indication that the simplistic take-away message audiences are intended to receive is that Israel must be in the wrong because fewer Israelis die.

When such shoddy and blatantly partial ‘journalism’ is broadcast on prime time British television it is once again patently obvious that the BBC’s lack of commitment to its legal obligation to “[e]nhance UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues” is precisely one of the factors contributing to the existence of UK residents’ negative views of Israel touted by Davis in his introduction.

BBC’s Evan Davis promotes the chimera of ’67 borders

Over the years we have taken note here of numerous instances (see some examples here, here and here) in which the BBC has misled its audiences by inaccurately referring to the 1949 Armistice Lines (also known as the ‘Green Line’) as ‘the 1967 border’.

As readers are no doubt aware, the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan specifically states that the ceasefire line – which is what the ‘Green Line’ is – is not a border.

“Article II

With a specific view to the implementation of the resolution of the Security Council of 16 November 1948, the following principles and purposes are affirmed:

  1. The principle that no military or political advantage should be gained under the truce ordered by the Security Council is recognized;
  2. It is also recognized that no provision of this Agreement shall in any way prejudice the rights, claims and positions of either Party hereto in the ultimate peaceful settlement of the Palestine question, the provisions of this Agreement being dictated exclusively by military considerations.”

“Article VI

  1. The Armistice Demarcation Lines defined in articles V and VI of this Agreement are agreed upon by the Parties without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either Party relating thereto.”

Moreover, the point is made abundantly clear in the BBC’s ‘style guide’.  

“The Green Line marks the boundary between Israel and the West Bank. It is properly referred to as the 1949 Armistice Line – the ceasefire line of 1949. […]

In describing the situation on the ground, take care to use precise and accurate terminology. The Green Line is a dividing line or a boundary. If you call it a border you may inadvertently imply that it has internationally recognised status, which it does not currently have.” 

Nevertheless – and perhaps precisely because this frequent error is rarely if ever corrected – the organization supposedly committed to building “a global understanding of international issues” continues to allow audiences to be misled and misinformed through the repeated use of inaccurate terminology.

The latest example of the use of the inaccurate term “’67 border” came in the May 18th edition of BBC Two’s flagship news programme ‘Newsnight‘ which the corporation has claimed is “routinely being watched by more than 700,000 people”.Newsnight

Whilst interviewing Shimon Peres, presenter Evan Davies asked:

“Can you imagine now any situation – anything the Palestinians could do – in which Israel would agree to go back to this newly defined ’67 border.”

And no – we have no idea what “newly defined” means in this context either.

Also notable is Davis’ promotion of the notion that “it’s warranted to say that [the first Lebanon war] created Hizballah” – with no mention of no less relevant factors such as the Iranian revolution, Iranian policy or the Lebanese civil war.

In response to Shimon Peres’ assertion that “the chances for a two state solution exist”, Davis retorts:

“It doesn’t seem like it from the Israeli government though. Netanyahu didn’t mention it in his opening statement.”

As our colleagues at Presspectiva have pointed out (in Hebrew), none of the Israeli governments during the past two decades have specifically mentioned the two state solution in their founding guidelines. The new Israeli government’s founding guidelines do, however include the following:

“The government will advance the political process and aspire to a peace agreement with the Palestinians and with all our neighbours…”

One might assume that a reasonable level of proficiency in the subject matter – including the use of accurate terminology – would be a fairly basic requirement for an interviewer on a flagship news programme. These and other questions posed by Evan Davis raise the issue of whether the purpose of this interview was in fact to inform viewers or to promote the BBC’s own ‘world view’. 

 

 

Tonight: two to watch out for on BBC 2

On Saturday October 11th BBC Two will screen ‘The Gatekeepers’ at 21:45 UK time. The programme’s synopsis reads as follows:

“For the first time ever, six former heads of Israel’s domestic secret service agency, the Shin Bet, share their insights and reflect publicly on their actions and decisions.

Since the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel has been unable to transform its crushing military victory into a lasting peace. Throughout that entire period, these heads of the Shin Bet stood at the centre of Israel’s decision-making process in all matters pertaining to security. They worked closely with every Israeli prime minister, and their assessments and insights had – and continue to have – a profound impact on Israeli policy.

The Gatekeepers offers an exclusive account of the sum of their successes and failures. In the process it sheds light on the controversy surrounding the occupation in the aftermath of the Six-Day War.”

Gatekeepers on BBC 2

Following that, at 23:20, BBC’s Two’s ‘Newsnight’ will be hosting a discussion on the topic with a group of as yet unidentified guests.

“Evan Davis presents a discussion in which a panel of guests debate the issues raised by Dror Moreh’s documentary about Israeli secret service Shin Bet, which features interviews with six of the agency’s former heads.”

As readers are no doubt aware, this is by no means a new topic for the BBC.

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