Reviewing BBC coverage of 2017 anniversaries

2017 was a plentiful year for Middle East related anniversaries but BBC audiences did not see reporting on all of them.

In June the BBC gave generous coverage to the fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War – often without provision of relevant context but with uniform promotion of the BBC’s chosen narrative.

BBC WS tells a context-free tale of Egypt’s Six Day War ‘naksa’

BBC’s Bateman erases history and context from his account of the Six Day War

BBC’s filmed Six Day War backgrounder falls short

Jeremy Bowen promotes political narrative in BBC’s Six Day War centrepiece

BBC Arabic’s Sally Nabil promotes more uncorroborated Six Day War hearsay

A third feature promotes the BBC’s chosen Six Day War narrative

Radio 4’s Hugh Sykes joins the BBC’s ‘it’s all down to the occupation’ binge

BBC’s Six Day War messaging continues on R4’s ‘Today’

BBC News endorses its Six Day War narrative by celebrity proxy

BBC World Service history programmes on the Six Day War – part one

BBC World Service history programmes on the Six Day War – part two

In contrast, later the same month the tenth anniversary of the violent take-over of the Gaza Strip by the terrorist organisation Hamas did not receive any BBC coverage whatsoever.

BBC bows out of coverage of 10 years of Hamas rule in Gaza

Neither the 120th anniversary of the first Zionist Congress nor the 40th anniversary of President Sadat’s historic visit to Israel received any BBC coverage.

In contrast, copious cross-platform coverage was given to the Balfour Declaration centenary throughout October and November. While much of that coverage focused on the promotion of a particular political narrative, the question of whether Britain fulfilled the pledge made in that declaration was largely ignored.

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part one

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part two

BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part one

BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part two

MEMO Balfour event participant hosts BBC Radio 4 discussion on Balfour Declaration

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part one

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part two

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part one

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part two

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

BBC News portrays propaganda installation as a “museum”

BBC report on UK Balfour dinner follows standard formula

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part two

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part three

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part four

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part two

BBC’s Balfour Declaration centenary programming continues

With the exception of one Radio 4 item aired in June, the 70th anniversary of the UN Partition Plan in November did not receive any BBC coverage.

No Partition Plan anniversary coverage from the BBC

The BBC produced one item relating to the 30th anniversary of the first Intifada in December.

BBC News gives a sentimental account of the first Intifada

As we see, the BBC chose to focus on just two of those 2017 anniversaries, producing reporting that primarily promoted specific political narratives rather than providing the full range of information and historical background that would enable audiences to put the events into context.

With the seventieth anniversary of Israel’s independence on the horizon, we can no doubt expect that the coming year will see similarly politicised messaging promoted under the banner of ‘history’.

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What does the BBC tell audiences about the first Zionist Congress?

August 29th will mark the 120th anniversary of the first Zionist Congress in Basel. So what information can BBC audiences find online concerning that historic event and its background? The answer to that question is very little.

Still available online is an undated page in a backgrounder called “A History of Conflict” that appears to have been published over a decade ago. Titled “First Zionist Congress“, that backgrounder (a version of which also appears in Turkish) provides the following information:

“The First Zionist Congress met in Basle [sic], Switzerland, to discuss the ideas set out in Theodor Herzl’s 1896 book Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). Herzl, a Jewish journalist and writer living in Vienna, wanted Jews to have their own state – primarily as a response to European anti-Semitism.

The Congress issued the Basle [sic] Programme to establish a “home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured by public law” and set up the World Zionist Organisation to work for that end.

A few Zionist immigrants had already started arriving in the area before 1897. By 1903 there were some 25,000 of them, mostly from Eastern Europe. They lived alongside about half a million Arab residents in what was then part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. A second wave of about 40,000 immigrants arrived in the region between 1904 and 1914.”

Another piece of BBC content still available to audiences is an item in the BBC World Service archive dating from 1997 which is titled “Theodor Herzl and the Jewish State“.

“Basel, Switzerland was the venue for the first Zionist Congress in 1897. It was called to campaign for a land which Jews could call their own, and where they could be safe from persecution.”

The unidentified presenter of that programme rightly tells listeners that:

“What spurred Herzl on was antisemitism. The Jewish State was to be a refuge from it.”

Bernard Wasserstein is then heard saying:

“He tried to find the most realistic solution and the most realistic solution as he saw it was not integration in states which did not want to have Jews as integrated elements. It was not the dissolution of Jews in an international socialist revolutionary movement. No; he saw the separating out of the Jews in a state of their own through which they could become part of the modern world.”

Presenter: “They weren’t part of the modern world where antisemitism was worst; in eastern Europe.”

The next contributor is Noah Lucas.

“The Jews had been impoverished and viciously persecuted. The persecution of the Jews was pretty endemic in eastern Europe. Of course in today’s terms, following the Holocaust, the extent of persecution and its severity was really almost trivial. I mean you’re talking about scores – sometimes at most hundreds – of Jews perhaps being killed in the entire continent. But nevertheless; persecution and impoverishment and cruel official antisemitism very often in the case of Russia.”

Presenter: “In western Europe, by contrast, the spread of liberal ideas had enabled Jews to advance in society as never before. But this inspired antisemitism in those who saw them as rivals or just too pushy.”

Later on (10:46) the presenter tells listeners:

“And it didn’t seem to occur to Herzl that the Arabs living in Palestine could possibly object to his plans.”

Lucas: “He saw the Jews as people who would bring beauty and light to the country. They would build and there would be an economy in which everybody there would thrive and everybody would be brothers and there was no sense of an impending conflict with the indigenous population of the country. This was a very typical attitude of course. The Palestinians living there were some half a million perhaps in number. They had no national consciousness at that time. They didn’t themselves exert a claim to statehood in Palestine as it was. Palestine was a political vacuum in that sense.”

Other than those two items, members of the BBC’s audience would have difficulty finding any available information concerning the birth of political Zionism and its context. Given the way in which Zionism and the birth of Israel are often presented in contemporary BBC coverage, accurate and impartial information on that topic is clearly lacking.