BBC ignores second Jerusalem embassy announcement

The US announcement in early December 2017 relating to its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the relocation of its embassy to that city has been the topic of dozens of BBC reports, the most recent of which concerned the US State Department’s February 23rd announcement that an interim embassy will open in Jerusalem this coming May. 

The BBC described the December 6th US announcement as “controversial” and claimed that it put the US “out of step with the rest of the international community”. It also told audiences that the May opening of the new embassy “has been seen by some as a deliberate snub to Palestinians” and amplified Palestinian statements on the issue.

In contrast, a similar announcement by Guatemala in late December received much less coverage. The BBC News website correctly noted at the time that the President of Guatemala “did not say when the [embassy] move would happen”.

That, however, is no longer the case.

“Guatemala’s president told the AIPAC Policy Conference on Sunday night [March 4th] that he will move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem in May, and that the relocation will take place two days after the United States moves its embassy to the holy city, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding.”

According to Reuters the Guatemalan ambassador to Israel has already begun to look for a suitable property and Palestinian officials have been issuing predictable statements.

“A top Palestinian official on Monday condemned Guatemala’s “dangerous and provocative” announcement that it would relocate its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales had “partnered with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump in violating international law and undermining the chances of peace.”

She called on the global community to “intervene and hold the Israeli occupation and its partners to account for such flagrant violations and provocative actions that fuel the flames in an already volatile situation.””

To date BBC audiences have not been told of Guatemala’s latest announcement and are hence unaware that two embassies are scheduled to open in Jerusalem in May.

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On December 25th the BBC News website published a report titled “Jerusalem: Guatemala follows US in planning Israel embassy move” which opened as follows:

“Guatemala is to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, becoming the first country after the US to vow to do so.

It was one of only nine to vote against a UN resolution which in effect repudiated the US’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Israel’s PM thanked Guatemala’s president, but Palestinians branded the decision “shameful and illegal”.

Donald Trump’s controversial declaration on Jerusalem has been widely spurned around the world.”

Under the sub-heading “Why is Guatemala doing this?” readers were told that:

“President Jimmy Morales made the announcement on Facebook, noting the “excellent relations” between Guatemala and Israel.

He did not say when the move would happen.

Guatemala, along with 12 other countries, had their embassies in Jerusalem until 1980, when they moved them to Tel Aviv after Israel annexed East Jerusalem, in a move not recognised internationally. All other countries still have their embassies in Tel Aviv.

Guatemala and Israel have a long history of political, economic and military ties. The Central American country is also a major recipient of US aid – something which Donald Trump threatened to cut to states that voted in favour of the UN resolution.”

Guatemala’s embassy in Israel is currently in Herzliya rather than Tel Aviv but the same erroneous statement also appeared in a report aired on BBC World Service radio programme ‘OS‘ on December 25th. Presenter Ben James told listeners (from 05:35 here) that:

James: “We’re going to talk more about Guatemala’s decision now to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, backing the US president Donald Trump’s controversial announcement that the US recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, expressing that through the location of the embassy.”

James then introduced his colleague Arturo Wallace from the BBC World Service’s Spanish language service BBC Mundo.

Wallace: “A lot of it has to do with, you know, what the United States wanted and Guatemala trying to prove that they are, like, reliable allies from [of] the United States. You know it’s always been a very, very strong relationship. United States is the biggest foreign investor, you know, huge provider of foreign aid. Guatemala, I believe, is the fourth country in the whole world in terms of foreign aid from the United States.”

After telling listeners that a lot of people from Guatemala live in the United States, Wallace seemed to suggest that repercussions against those people could occur if Guatemala did not follow the US’ lead, saying:

“…policies regarding immigration from that would have a big effect on Guatemala’s economy.”

He continued:

Wallace: “But funnily enough Guatemala also has a very strong relationship with Israel. […] Guatemala was actually the second country in the world to vote for the recognition of Israel at United Nations and ever since they have had diplomatic relationships. It was the first country ever in having an embassy in Jerusalem and they kept it there till 1980.”

BBC World Service Middle East analyst Alan Johnston then joined the conversation but had little to add other than more promotion of a now well-established BBC mantra:

Johnston: “…There’s a huge amount of tension on the city [Jerusalem] as a result of President Trump’s move…”

As we see, both these BBC reports steer audiences towards the view that Guatemala’s decision was dictated by its relations with the United States. Guatemala’s foreign minister has rejected such claims.

“The United States did not pressure Guatemala into announcing it will move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, the Central American state’s foreign minister said Wednesday.

“There wasn’t any pressure. There wasn’t any overture from the United States to make this happen. This was a decision by the government, the state and the foreign policy of Guatemala,” the minister, Sandra Jovel, told a news conference in Guatemala City. […]

Jovel said the plan to put the embassy in Jerusalem “had been considered for the past five months, and things just lined up in a certain way and also the resolutions in the UN and everything contributed to saying that now was the right time.”

Guatemala’s assertion that it decided the move alone, without being pressed by the United States, follows criticism from the Palestinian foreign ministry and a focus on how reliant the country is on US aid and trade.”

Notably, in contrast to its copious portrayal (including in these two reports) of the December 6th US announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as “controversial”, the BBC did not use that term to describe the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s December 13th declaration of “East Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Palestine”. And when Iran’s parliament declared Jerusalem “the everlasting capital of Palestine” on December 27th, the BBC did not even report that development, let alone brand it as “controversial”.  

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