BBC portrayal of attacks on synagogues differs according to location

The day after the terror attack in Germany on Yom Kippur both domestic and worldwide BBC radio stations continued to cover the story.

The October 10th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included an item (from 34:31 here) in which presenter Nick Robinson discussed the story with security correspondent Frank Gardner. During that conversation, the previous day’s events were accurately described as terrorism. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Robinson [36:18]: “And a reminder too that a growing number of terrorist attacks do come from the far-Right.”

Gardner: “Yes, ah…and in fact Germany’s interior minister said only last month that the danger of far-Right extremist attacks is now every bit as big as Jihadist. I mean this is extraordinary when you think that of all the attacks that Europe has suffered, you know, in Nice, in Barcelona, in Sweden and of course in Britain and here in the UK the authorities have said that the threat from far-Right extremism is the biggest growing – the fastest growing – security threat to this country.”

The BBC used the term terrorism in its reporting on all those previous attacks in the European locations mentioned by Gardner.

On the same day an edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ also included an item about the Halle attack which was introduced by presenter Tim Franks (from 45:05 here) as follows:

Franks: “Wednesday was the holiest day of the Jewish calendar; the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. In the German town of Halle it was also a day of terror as a gunman sprayed fire on the closed doors of the synagogue inside which about fifty Jews were praying.”

Once again we see evidence of the BBC’s double standards on ‘language when reporting terrorism’: when a gunman motivated by a particular political ideology attacked a synagogue in Germany, the BBC accurately described that act as terrorism.  

But when similarly motivated gunmen attacked a synagogue in Jerusalem in November 2014 the BBC avoided describing the incident as a terror attack in its own words and compromised its own impartiality by refusing to discuss the blatant discrepancy it perpetuates between reporting on terror attacks against Israelis and coverage of attacks in some other locations.

Related Articles:

The BBC and definition of terrorism

BBC senior editor defends double standards on terrorism

Radio 4 gives insight into BBC avoidance of the use of the term ‘terror’ in Israel

BBC News website does ‘one man’s terrorist’

BBC Complaints: terror attacks in Jerusalem and Tunisia are “very different”

 

BBC double standards on terrorism persist

The introduction to the BBC’s guidance document on ‘Language when Reporting Terrorism’ states:

“Terrorism is a difficult and emotive subject with significant political overtones and care is required in the use of language that carries value judgements.  We try to avoid the use of the term “terrorist” without attribution.  When we do use the term we should strive to do so with consistency in the stories we report across all our services and in a way that does not undermine our reputation for objectivity and accuracy.”

As documented here extensively, the BBC adheres to that guidance when reporting on terror attacks against Israelis. However when reporting on terrorism in some other locations, the BBC displays markedly less commitment to avoiding “value judgements” and maintaining “consistency”.

The following headline appeared in a report published on the BBC News website’s ‘Africa’ and ‘Middle East’ pages on February 9th:

“Tunisia attacks: Militants jailed over 2015 terror”

As readers may recall, the BBC made appropriate use of the word terror in its 2015 reporting on the second of those attacks. However when BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning the inconsistency between that reporting and previous coverage of a terror attack at a synagogue in Jerusalem, the BBC claimed that the two attacks were not comparable and described them as “very different” stories.

When BBC Watch submitted a follow-up complaint we were informed that the BBC was not prepared to engage in any further correspondence on the matter.

This latest headline once again demonstrates that the BBC does not apply its own editorial principles in a uniform and consistent manner. When the corporation wants to use words such as ‘terror’, ‘terrorism’ or ‘terrorist’, it does. When it wants to make “value judgements”, it does and in fact what dictates the BBC’s choice of terminology is “a political position” of precisely the type it claims to try to avoid.

Related Articles:

The BBC, terrorism and ‘consistency’

BBC Complaints: terror attacks in Jerusalem and Tunisia are “very different”

BBC News finds terror (without quotation marks) in Europe

BBC finds a ‘working definition’ for terrorism in Europe

Radio 4 provides more evidence of BBC double standards when reporting terrorism

 

The BBC uncritically amplifies Corbyn’s PFLP and ‘platform’ denials

Four days after he attended the controversial wreath-laying ceremony in Tunis in October 2014, Jeremy Corbyn had an article published in the ‘Morning Star’ in which he described that event, an additional one and the conference which had preceded them.

“A one-day conference was held under the auspices of the Centre for Strategic Studies for North Africa, just north of Tunis, near Carthage, attended by all Palestinian groups. […]

The conference was welcomed by the President of Tunisia Dr Moncef Marzouki and heard opening speeches from Palestinian groups including Fatah, Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine as well as solidarity from the Turkish parliament and international support. […]

In my own speech to the conference there was great enthusiasm for the prospects of a British parliamentary vote on October 13 on Palestinian statehood.”

In other words, Corbyn was fully aware of the fact that members of at least two proscribed terrorist organisations – Hamas and the PFLP – were at that conference and was perfectly happy to share a platform with them.

However, when The Times published a photograph of Corbyn standing next to PFLP leader Maher al Taher at that wreath-laying ceremony, the BBC’s domestic audiences heard reports which made no mention of Corbyn’s 2014 article in the ‘Morning Star’.

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Six O’Clock News’ on August 16th were told (from 23:30 here) that: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Newsreader: “Jeremy Corbyn has told BBC News he didn’t know anything about the background of a senior figure in a banned Palestinian militant organisation that he appeared alongside in 2014. He shared a platform with Maher al Taher in Tunisia. Our political correspondent Susana Mendonça reports.”

Mendonça: “Maher al Taher is a senior figure of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine which has been linked to a terror attack on a synagogue complex in West Jerusalem in 2014, where a British rabbi was among those killed. It’s emerged that the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was pictured alongside him at a memorial event at a cemetery in Tunis as part of a Palestinian rights conference. Mr Corbyn has been coming under criticism for attending a wreath-laying there which took place near memorials for people who were accused of having links to a terrorist attack at the 1972 Olympic Games. But he has said that he was there to honour innocent people killed in a 1985 Israeli airstrike and has denied having any knowledge about who he was sharing a platform with.”

Recording Corbyn: “I don’t share platforms with terrorists. I don’t believe in killing people. I have attended memorial events for those that have died in the sadness of all these conflicts and that is my position.”

Mendonça: “The Labour Party has complained to the press watchdog IPSO about newspaper coverage of the visit to Tunisia.”

The PFLP was not merely “linked” to the Har Nof terror attack (which the BBC refrained from describing as such at the time) in which six people were murdered: it claimed responsibility for it.

Once again BBC audiences were not told that the context to Corbyn’s statements is the fact that the 1985 Israeli airstrike on the PLO HQ in Tunis came in response to a Palestinian terror attack against Israeli civilians in Cyprus.

On the same evening listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ were informed by newsreader Neil Nunes (from 05:23 here) that:

Nunes: “Jeremy Corbyn said he didn’t know anything about the background of a senior figure in a Palestinian militant organisation that he appeared alongside in 2014. The Labour leader attended a memorial event in Tunisia with Maher al Taher from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The group has been linked to an attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem in 2014; a British rabbi was among those killed. Mr Corbyn rejected any suggestion that he condoned violence.”

Recording Corbyn: “I don’t share platforms with terrorists. I don’t believe in killing people. I have attended memorial events for those that have died in the sadness of all these conflicts and that is my position.”

Interviewer: “And the person they’re talking about: did you knowingly share a platform…”

Corbyn [interrupts]: “No, I was unaware of any of his background.”

Once again the BBC refrained from informing audiences that the PFLP has not just “been linked to” the Har Nof attack but actually issued a formal statement stating that the two terrorists belonged to its ranks.

The same omission appeared in an article published on the BBC News website’s ‘UK Politics’ page on August 16th under the headline “Jeremy Corbyn ‘unaware’ of militant group figure“.

“Jeremy Corbyn has said he did not know that a man he stood next to at a wreath-laying ceremony was a senior member of a militant Palestinian group.

Maher Taher, of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP), was pictured alongside the Labour leader at a 2014 event in Tunis.

The PLFP was later linked to an attack on an Israeli synagogue. The US and EU consider it to be a terrorist group.

Mr Corbyn told the BBC: “I was unaware of any of his background.””

Readers of that report also found the quotes from Corbyn promoted in the above two news bulletins.

“I don’t share platforms with terrorists,” Mr Corbyn said. “I don’t believe in killing people.

“I have attended memorial events for those that have died in the sadness of all of these conflicts, and that is my position.”

Failing yet again to provide audiences with the relevant context, the report continued:

“Mr Corbyn has said that his attendance at the wreath-laying was to honour innocent people killed in a 1985 Israeli air strike on the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) headquarters in Tunis.”

The report went on to provide readers with a link to a profile of the PFLP which was first published by the BBC following the Har Nof attack. Nearly four years on, that profile – previously discussed here – is still illustrated with an inaccurate photograph and has still not been updated to reflect the correct number of victims murdered in that attack.

“The PLFP was formed as a resistance movement after the occupation of the West Bank by Israel in 1967. It is treated as a terrorist organisation by the US and European Union.”

It is therefore unsurprising to see that this article also gives readers an inaccurate account of the number of people killed in that terror attack.

“In November 2014, two members of the group armed with axes stormed a synagogue complex in West Jerusalem and killed four rabbis – including British-born Avraham Shmuel Goldberg. According to reports at the time, it was not clear how involved the PFLP leadership had been in the attack.”

As we see, while domestic BBC audiences saw and heard multiple uncritical amplifications of Corbyn’s denials concerning Maher al Taher and his disingenuous claim that he does not share platforms with terrorists, the BBC made no effort to inform them of Corbyn’s October 2014 ‘Morning Star’ article in which he clearly stated that he had appeared at an event together with representatives of two proscribed terrorist organisations.

Related Articles:

BBC R4 listeners hear more ‘contextualisation’ of Corbyn wreath-laying

Reviewing BBC Radio 4 coverage of Corbyn wreath laying story – part one

Reviewing BBC Radio 4 coverage of Corbyn wreath laying story – part two

Over a third of BBC website’s Corbyn wreath laying report allocated to denials 

 

 

 

 

 

Revisiting the BBC News website’s PFLP profile

Following the terror attack at the Kehilat Ya’akov Synagogue in the Har Nof neighbourhood of Jerusalem on November 18th 2014, the BBC News website produced a profile of the organisation with which the two terrorists were affiliated.Pigua Har Nof PFLP art

Two years later, that profile remains online with its inaccurate main illustrative photograph. The article’s presentation of the number of Israelis murdered in the Har Nof attack is also inaccurate: [emphasis added]

“It was also not clear how involved the PFLP leadership had been in the attack in November 2014 that saw two members of the group armed with axes storm a synagogue complex in West Jerusalem and kill four rabbis in the middle of their morning prayers.

A statement by the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades praised the “heroic operation” by Ghassan and Uday Abu Jamal, but did not specify whether the cousins had been instructed to carry out the attack.”

In fact, five people (four worshippers and a policeman) were killed during the attack and one additional victim succumbed to his wounds a year later but the BBC’s article has not been updated accordingly.

The article refrains from describing the PFLP as a terrorist organisation in the BBC’s own words, with that definition attributed to Israeli authorities in quotation marks:

“The PFLP leader was subsequently sentenced to 30 years in an Israeli prison for heading an “illegal terrorist organisation”…” 

Readers of the profile are not informed that the PFLP is defined as a proscribed terror organisation by the United States, Canada, Israel and the EU.

NGO Monitor recently produced a report concerning the financial support provided to various NGOs linked to the PFLP.

“Many European countries fund a network of organizations, some of which are directly affiliated with the PFLP, and others with a substantial presence of employees and officials linked to the PFLP. The non-governmental organizations (NGOs) include Addameer, Al-Haq, Alternative Information Center (AIC), Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P), Health Work Committee (HWC), Stop the Wall, Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC). […]

Donors to the NGOs include the EU, the governments of Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Norway, Ireland, UK, Netherland, Germany, Belgium, France, and Switzerland, and the United Nations. Continued funding raises serious questions about due diligence and evaluation on the part of the governments and the UN, as well as compliance with domestic and international laws.”

Some of those NGOs have been directly or indirectly quoted and promoted by the BBC in its Middle East coverage – for example Addameer, Al Haq, Defence for Children International – Palestine and of course the PCHR, which received particularly extensive exposure during the 2014 conflict between Israel and terror organisations in the Gaza Strip and which was one of the sources behind the casualty figures amplified by the BBC at the time.

Related Articles:

BBC Complaints: terror attacks in Jerusalem and Tunisia are “very different”  

Reviewing the BBC’s use of a Hamas interviewee

Our colleagues at CAMERA note that:

“A top operative of Hamas and news media favorite named Ghazi Hamad has recommended “small stabs to all parts of Israel” as a strategy against the Jewish state. Hamad is currently the deputy foreign minister of Hamas, the U.S.-designated terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip.

According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a non-profit organization that translates Arab and Persian media, Hamad suggested a war of attrition against Israel in an Op-Ed he wrote for the Alwatanvoice.com, an online Palestinian news outlet based in the Gaza Strip.

Hamad—a former spokesperson for Hamas—has frequently been treated as a credible source by many media outlets. A Lexis-Nexis search showed that The New York Times alone quoted Hamad—often uncritically—no less than 18 times between 2006 and 2016. Despite, or perhaps because of the frequency with which he has been quoted, some U.S. news outlets seemingly have been taken in by the Hamas operative.”

Ghazi Hamad has also been a fairly frequent BBC interviewee. For example, he appeared on the self-described “hard-hitting flagship news programme” ‘Hardtalk’ in May 2011 and in July 2012. In August 2013 Hamad was quoted by Yolande Knell in an article about Egypt’s closure of the Rafah crossing.

“Cairo has repeatedly accused Hamas of interfering in Egyptian affairs and has accused Palestinians of supporting Islamist militants in the increasingly restive Sinai region.

“They have a plan in order to distort the image of Gaza in order to start propaganda and media campaign against Gaza, against Hamas, in order to show Gaza is like a devil and Hamas is like a devil,” Mr Hamed [sic] said.

“I think they succeeded to do this on the Egyptian street, in the Egyptian society.” “Pigua Har Nof int Hamad

BBC coverage of the terror attack at the Synagogue in Har Nof in November 2014 included an interview with Hamad in which he was given an unchallenged platform to promote inflammatory falsehoods, including the baseless accusation that “settlers” killed a Palestinian bus driver who committed suicide.

“…every day Jerusalem is boiling. Every day there is a new crime in Jerusalem. Every day there is a crime against the Palestinian citizens, either in the Al Aqsa Mosque or in Jerusalem as a city.”

“We did not see any effort, any action from the Israeli government in order to stop the settlers; not to stop the radical religious men when they decided to attack Al Aqsa Mosque, attack the Palestinian, to kill the Palestinians. Yesterday they killed a Palestinian driver. I think that they all should open their eyes. There’s a revolution in Jerusalem. There’s uprising, there is tension and they did not take any action in order to stop this, to protect the Palestinians. But they did everything to protect the settlers.”

In February 2015 Hamad appeared in a filmed report by Lyse Doucet. As was noted here at the time:

“Doucet then gets Hamas’ Ghazi Hamad on camera but, instead of posing any incisive questions about his organisation’s responsibility for the conflict and its aftermath, she merely provides him with a stage from which to promote the usual propaganda unhindered.

Hamad: “Main reason for all this catastrophe is the occupation. Now Gaza’s turned to be like a big prison. There’s no exit, no import, no export.”

Not only does Doucet fail to clarify to viewers that the Gaza Strip has not been under “occupation” since August 2005, she makes no effort to correct the inaccurate impression received by audiences as a result of Hamad’s lies. […]

Doucet continues:

“But there are reports – credible reports – that Hamas is again digging tunnels, that Hamas has been test-firing missiles in preparation for the next war.”

Hamad: “Look, I think this time – that’s right – but I think that Hamas is doing this in order to protect our people here. We don’t want to be surprised with a new war – a new aggression against us.”

In addition to displaying no interest whatsoever in questioning Hamad about where the money and materials for rehabilitation of Hamas’ military capabilities are coming from and why Hamas is doing nothing to improve the lives of the ordinary people it holds hostage, Doucet also makes no attempt to enlighten viewers with regard to the fact that Hamad’s faux victimhood is mere propaganda.”

In March 2016 Yolande Knell once again interviewed Ghazi Hamad on the topic of Hamas collaboration with the branch of ISIS active in the Sinai Peninsula.

Knell: “Palestinians are also alleged to have treated injured IS fighters. I cross into Gaza where Hamas officials strongly deny the claims.”

Hamad:  “We will not allow for anyone from Gaza now to do anything against or to damage or to harm the national security of Egypt and we will not allow for anyone from Sinai to come to use Gaza as a shelter.”

Clearly the BBC’s use of Ghazi Hamad as a source of information on that particular issue and many others has not only done nothing to contribute to meeting its remit of building an “understanding of international issues” but has actively hindered the achievement of that aim.

Related Articles:

Years of BBC amplifications of Hamas denials unravel

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ cuts number of Har Nof terror attack victims by a third

The January 10th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included a discussion (from 44:43 here) about punitive demolitions of the houses of terrorists.Newshour 10 1

Presenter James Coomarasamy introduced the item as follows:

“Now…eh…one response by the Israeli authorities to the recent raft of so-called ‘lone-wolf’ attacks by Palestinians wielding knives, guns, even cars has been to reintroduce a policy of demolishing the homes of family members of those who perpetrate violence. It’s a divisive tactic; it was condemned by many Western governments as collective punishment and in 2005 a report by the Israeli Defence Forces concluded it wasn’t an effective one. That led to an almost total halt in demolitions for nearly a decade. So, has anything changed? Well in a moment we’ll hear from two Israelis with differing points of view. First let’s hear from someone directly affected by the policy. Muawiya Abu Jamal is a Palestinian construction worker. His brother and cousin killed four Israelis in an attack on a synagogue in November 2014. Although he has never been investigated in connection with that crime, his home was among those belonging to the family that were destroyed last October.”

Ghassan and Uday Abu Jamal in fact murdered six Israelis in their attack on the synagogue in Har Nof – not four as Coomarasamy inaccurately states.

Coomarasamy’s final sentence in that introduction clearly leads listeners to believe that Muawiya Abu Jamal’s house was deliberately – and unjustifiably – demolished and his interviewee’s account supports that allegation.

Muawiya Abu Jamal (voiceover): “After the operation by my brother Ghassan and cousin Uday on the 18th of November 2014 an order was issued to destroy their houses. This was implemented in October 2015. The Israeli forces used large enough quantity of explosives not only to destroy Ghassan and Uday’s houses but to destroy my own house nearby as well, plus the homes of my two other brothers.”

Let’s take a closer look at the facts behind that portrayal. The demolition orders for the houses of Ghassan and Uday Abu Jamal were issued in November 2014 and the family exercised its right of appeal, leading to a temporary court injunction on the order. The High Court of Justice eventually rejected the appeal. Contrary to the impression given in this item, the order on Uday Abu Jamal’s house was not carried out at the same time as that on the house of his cousin and explosives were not used when, on July 1st 2015, the house was sealed.  

On October 6th 2015 the demolition order on the house of Ghassan Abu Jamal was carried out. What is not clarified by the interviewee is that his own house is situated next door to that of his brother and in the same building as the apartments of additional members of the family. Whilst unintentional damage did apparently occur to those adjacent structures during the demolition process, James Coomarasamy’s inference that Muawiya Abu Jamal’s house was intentionally demolished despite his “never [having] been investigated in connection with that crime” is inaccurate and materially misleading.

Muawiya Abu Jamal continues:

“What can you say to a child when he asks you where is my toy? Where is my book? By demolishing homes they think other people will be scared. Also the Israelis think that demolishing homes is a deterrent but on the contrary; people have increased their attacks. I give you an example in my own family. After destroying the houses of Ghassan and Uday and the other houses nearby, my cousin Alaa Abu Jamal was there. He watched what the Israelis were doing – the force they were using – and then he went out a week later and committed another attack against the Israelis.”

Listeners are not informed that Rabbi Yeshayahu Krishevsky was killed and five other people wounded in the terror attack carried out by Alaa Abu Jamal on October 13th 2015.  Interestingly, when Muawiya Abu Jamal was interviewed by Jeremy Bowen just days after that attack, he provided a different ‘explanation’ for his cousin’s actions, claiming that he was “ground down by the occupation”. No mention is made of the fact that following the terror attack at the Synagogue in Har Nof carried out by his relations, Alaa Abu Jamal publicly praised their acts as being:

“…”something normal which could be expected from anyone who is brave and has a feeling of belonging to his people and Islam.

 “This act was carried out because of the pressure placed on the Palestinian people by the Israeli occupation government in Jerusalem, as well as the continued acts of aggression against al-Aqsa,” he continued.

Following the axe attack that killed four worshipers and a policeman, Abu Jamal said: “People reacted with cries of joy when we received word of their death. People here handed out sweets to guests who came to visit us, and it was a great celebration for our martyrs.””

Neither are audiences told about the wider Abu Jamal family’s approach to the terror attack at the Synagogue – including Uday’s father’s claim that “this is a religious war” and his mother’s praise for the attackers – or about the reaction from broader Palestinian society. Listeners are hence left with the highly questionable take away message that the only possible and relevant background to Alaa Abu Jamal’s actions was the demolition of his relative’s house. 

The item continues with a conversation between Yisrael Medad and Jerusalem council member Laura Wharton. Surprisingly, Dr Wharton did not tell listeners about the recently published study by some of her colleagues at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem which shows that “punitive house demolitions (those targeting Palestinian suicide terrorists and terror operatives) cause an immediate, significant decrease in the number of suicide attacks.”

Resources:

BBC World Service contact details   

 

 

BBC Complaints: terror attacks in Jerusalem and Tunisia are “very different”

On October 24th a sixth victim of the Har Nof terror attack succumbed to wounds sustained eleven months earlier. The death of Rabbi Haim Rothman did not receive any BBC coverage despite the incident having been widely reported by the corporation at the time.

As readers may recall:

“One outstanding – although predictable – feature of the BBC’s coverage is that despite the fact that the core story was about a terror attack perpetrated on the congregation of a synagogue, in all of the above reports the word terror and its derivatives were never used directly by the BBC. References to terrorism came only in the form of quotes from Israeli officials (placed in inverted commas by the BBC), from Israeli interviewees or from the US Secretary of State in the filmed report of his statement to the press.”

However, when fatal attacks took place in France, Kuwait and Tunisia on the same day in late June 2015, BBC coverage did define those attacks as terrorism.

In July 2015 BBC Watch submitted a complaint on the topic of inconsistency in the corporation’s use of the word terror.  

“The BBC’s guidance on “Language when Reporting Terrorism” states: “Our policy is about achieving consistency and accuracy in our journalism” and “We also need to ensure that when we report acts of terror, we do so consistently in the stories we report across our services.”

In BBC coverage of the terror attacks which took place in Tunisia, Kuwait and France on June 26th 2015 the word terror was rightly and appropriately used on a variety of BBC platforms including BBC television news and social media. However, in coverage of terrorism against Israeli civilians in general – and the attack in a synagogue in the Har Nof area of Jerusalem in November 2014 in particular – the BBC refrains from using the word terror except when quoting others.

This clearly contradicts the claim made in the Guidance that the BBC’s policy is to achieve consistency and further highlights another section of the guidance which states: “The value judgements frequently implicit in the use of the words “terrorist” or “terrorist group” can create inconsistency in their use or, to audiences, raise doubts about our impartiality. [….] We also need to ask ourselves whether by using “terrorist” we are taking a political position, or certainly one that may be seen as such.”

For consistency, accuracy and impartiality to be achieved, terrorism in Israel must be reported in the same language as terrorism in Tunisia, Northern Ireland or the UK. That is currently not the case.”

The reply received stated:

Complaints reply 1

We were of course unable to understand why the BBC does not “believe the Har Nof murders are comparable to the recent attacks in Tunisia and Kuwait” or in what way those stories are “very different” and so we submitted a further complaint asking for clarification of that point.

No response was forthcoming within the designated time-frame, and so a third complaint was submitted. Over two months after the original complaint was made, we received a response which opened as follows:

complaints reply 2

That response obviously does nothing to clarify the grounds upon which the BBC’s claim that terrorism against Israeli civilians is “very different” from terrorism against British holidaymakers in Tunisia or against worshippers in a mosque in Kuwait is based. We can however discern that the BBC has a two-tier system for reporting acts of terror which clearly contradicts its own editorial guidelines on that issue.

The fact that the BBC is obviously not prepared to engage in discussion of this issue is particularly unfortunate given that its policy of refusal to describe the murders of Israelis as terrorism provides ample evidence of “value judgements” made on the basis of “a political position” which do indeed call into question its impartiality. Whilst the BBC apparently believes that is not a “significant issue”, its funding public may of course believe otherwise. 

BBC framing continues to erase Fatah and PA glorification of terrorism

BBC reporting on the terror attack at the synagogue in the Har Nof neighbourhood of Jerusalem in November 2014 included numerous references to a statement issued by the PA’s president Mahmoud Abbas condemning the attack.

For example:

Jerusalem synagogue: Palestinians kill Israeli worshippers BBC News website, 18/11/14

“Earlier, the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued a statement saying: “The presidency condemns the attack on Jewish worshippers in their place of prayer and condemns the killing of civilians no matter who is doing it.””

Synagogue attack: Netanyahu vow in ‘battle for Jerusalem’  BBC News website, 18/11/14

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also issued a condemnation of “the attack on Jewish worshippers in their place of prayer and [of] the killing of civilians no matter who is doing it”.”

Newshour  BBC World Service radio, 18/11/14

Razia Iqbal: “The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the attack and also called for an end to what he called Israeli provocations.”

Newshour  BBC World Service radio 18/11/14

Tim Franks: “The President of the Palestinian Authority Abu Mazen – Mahmoud Abbas – has condemned the killing and yet the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu equates the actions of Hamas and Mr Abbas. He says that they are both responsible for incitement. That’s not true, is it?”

Anger in Jerusalem after deadly synagogue attack  BBC television news, 19/11/14

Quentin Sommerville: “Mahmoud Abbas condemned the violence.”

Abbas:  “We strongly condemn this kind of incidents. We categorically reject attacks against civilians. At the same time I would like to say that while we denounce these acts, we also condemn attacks against Al Aqsa Compound and other holy places.”

However, no BBC coverage whatsoever was given to the conflicting messaging in the form of glorification of the terrorist attack which came at the same time from Abbas’ own Fatah party, from Fatah MPs and from Abbas’ advisor.

The BBC has also refrained from reporting the fact that both Abbas’ party Fatah and the PA’s official news agency have more recently glorified the two terrorists who carried out the attack as ‘martyrs’ with Fatah claiming that it took place “at an occupation synagogue in occupied Jerusalem”.Fatah FB

The way in which journalists choose to frame a story obviously influences the way in which it is perceived and understood by their audiences and the BBC’s selective representation of the president of the Palestinian Authority disconnects him from the organization he heads, including his own political party. Mahmoud Abbas does not of course operate in a vacuum: now long since unable to claim that his hold on power derives from any elected mandate, his position and title depend upon support from those around him. The fact that the Palestinian people are consistently exposed to incitement and glorification of terrorism from official sources such as Fatah and the PA which are headed by Mahmoud Abbas is very relevant context in a story to which the BBC devotes a considerable amount of column space and air time. That context, however, is studiously withheld from BBC audiences by means of journalistic framing.

Were officials from a British political party to engage in repeated incitement and glorification of violent acts against a specific group of people, the BBC would be highly unlikely to adopt a policy of refraining from reporting on the topic and it certainly would not give that party’s leader a free pass by negating his or her responsibility for the actions of party officials. When it comes to the Palestinian Authority and Fatah, however, the BBC has glaringly different standards which actively prevent its audiences from being able to reach informed opinions on one of the BBC’s most promoted stories.  

Related Articles:

BBC ignores Fatah’s anniversary incitement

A round up of BBC coverage of the Har Nof terror attack

The BBC’s coverage of the terror attack in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Har Nof on November 18th provides us with an opportunity to take a closer look at how the corporation framed this story across a variety of platforms.

Below is a sample of BBC coverage: obviously it does not include all of the content broadcast across the range of BBC platforms on the two days upon which the story was run.Pigua Har Nof 2

November 18th:

BBC News Website:

Written:

Jerusalem synagogue: Palestinians kill Israeli worshippers    

Profile: Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)  (both above are discussed here)

British-born man named as Jerusalem synagogue victim

Jerusalem synagogue: Three victims were US rabbis

As it happened: Jerusalem synagogue attack  live page

Jerusalem attack reflects rising Israeli-Palestinian tension   Jeremy Bowen

Synagogue attack: Netanyahu vow in ‘battle for Jerusalem’ (all of the above are discussed here)

Filmed: (the reports also appeared on BBC television News programmes)

Synagogue victim ‘concerned about radicalisation’  An interview with the cousin of Avraham Goldberg

Israel: ‘No justification for this wanton violence’  Mark Regev

‘Chaotic scenes’ after Jerusalem synagogue attack  Yolande Knell

Jerusalem synagogue attack: ‘We heard a flurry of shots’  Eye witnesses

Israeli Police: ‘Terrorists killed in gun battle’  Micky Rosenfeld

 John Kerry on Jerusalem attack: ‘An act of pure terror’

Hamas spokesperson: ‘Every day Jerusalem is boiling’  Ghazi Hamad (discussed here)

Mustafa Barghouti: ‘Occupation responsible for attack’  (discussed here)

Synagogue attack: Months of tension and revenge attacks  backgrounder  (discussed here)

Television:

Interview with Naftali Bennett (discussed here)

Jerusalem synagogue attack ‘followed months of tension’  Jeremy Bowen

Radio:

BBC Radio 4 – ‘PM’ (discussed here and here)

BBC World Service radio – ‘Newshour’  (edition 1 discussed here, edition 2 discussed here)

November 19th:

BBC News Website:

Written:

Jerusalem attack: Synagogue reopens for worshippers  (discussed here)

Regional media trade blame for Jerusalem attack

Filmed: (also on appeared on BBC television news programmes)

Anger in Jerusalem after deadly synagogue attack  Quentin Sommerville (discussed here)

Synagogue attack: Eyewitness describes shootout

Palestinian intifada ‘dangerously close,’ warns former US envoy

Radio:

BBC World Service radio –’Newshour’ (discussed here)Pigua Har Nof 1

One outstanding – although predictable – feature of the BBC’s coverage is that despite the fact that the core story was about a terror attack perpetrated on the congregation of a synagogue, in all of the above reports the word terror and its derivatives were never used directly by the BBC. References to terrorism came only in the form of quotes from Israeli officials (placed in inverted commas by the BBC), from Israeli interviewees or from the US Secretary of State in the filmed report of his statement to the press.

Another remarkable fact is that in seven of the above reports and despite the existence of a pathologist’s report, the BBC nevertheless amplified or allowed the amplification of baseless Palestinian claims that a bus driver who committed suicide the day before the terror attack took place had been murdered by Israelis and presented that as a background factor for the attack.

On the day of the attack itself the BBC saw fit to broadcast interviews with Palestinian officials from several factions – Ghazi Hamad from Hamas, Mustafa Barghouti from the PNI and Hussam Zomlot from Fatah – all of whom were given free rein to promote falsehoods and propaganda, including claims of “attacks” on the Al Aqsa Mosque by Israelis.

The terror attack was presented across the board as being the result of “rising tensions” between Israelis and Palestinians and those tensions were attributed by the BBC to a variety of factors, with more than one usually proffered in each report and some factors emphasized multiple times in a particular item.

Two of the reports suggested that tensions could be explained by “discrimination” against Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and the issue of their right to Israeli citizenship was inaccurately represented. In three reports audiences were told that rising tensions were the result of “a cycle of violence” which, according to the BBC, began with the kidnappings and murders of three Israeli teenagers in June (not stated by the BBC as having been carried out by a Hamas cell) and the later murder of a Palestinian teenager from Shuafat.Pigua Har Nof filmed backgrounder

On five occasions tensions were attributed to the fact that no peace negotiations are currently underway and six reports cited the Palestinian death toll in the summer conflict between Israel and Hamas as a contributing factor but with no information provided to audiences with regard to Hamas’ instigation of that conflict or its strategies – such as the use of human shields – which contributed to the civilian death toll.

The campaign by some Israelis for equal rights of worship for non-Muslims on Temple Mount was cited on ten occasions as causing “tensions” but the BBC elected not to explore the topic of why that should be the case. On five occasions Temple Mount was described by the BBC as a “disputed site” and viewers of BBC television news were even told by Jeremy Bowen that Palestinians are “enraged” by “fears about the future of Aqsa Mosque”, with no attempt to put those “fears” in their correct and factual context.

But the factor most frequently promoted as a cause of “tensions” which purportedly led to the terror attack was what the BBC termed “settlements” or “settler homes”, with that factor being cited on eleven occasions and the district of Silwan once again being specifically named in two reports.

Clearly most of the factors presented were framed as Israeli actions. The overall impression received by audiences therefore was that the “tensions” which lead to Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis are Palestinian reaction to Israeli action.

Another interesting aspect of the BBC’s framing of this story relates to the issue of Palestinian incitement. That factor was mentioned directly in two reports (John Kerry’s statement to the press and the interview with Mark Regev), but not by BBC correspondents. In two additional reports the BBC quoted the Israeli prime minister on the issue of Palestinian incitement. Incitement coming directly from the president of the Palestinian Authority was downplayed and dismissed by Jeremy Bowen and Tim Franks. In the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ listeners heard Yolande Knell paraphrase a supposed Palestinian claim that “Israel is also inciting the violence”.

As has been noted here on numerous occasions, BBC audiences have not been informed at all about incitement and glorification of terrorism on the part of PA and Fatah officials (see recent examples here, here and here) and official Palestinian Authority media and institutions (see recent examples here, here, here, here and here). The sole reference to the issue of incitement to appear on the BBC News website in recent months has been an article by BBC Trending titled “The Palestinians calling for the ‘car uprising’” which appeared on November 13th and related to a social media campaign rather than to incitement from official PA sources.

So, whilst BBC audiences were repeatedly told that the “rising tensions” which supposedly led to the terror attack in Har Nof can be attributed to a variety of factors which are mostly – according to the BBC’s portrayal – attributable to Israeli actions, they remained completely ignorant on the issue of the crucial factor of the atmosphere being engineered by the Palestinian Authority and its main party Fatah – also headed by Mahmoud Abbas.

That glaring and continuing omission in BBC coverage can only be attributed to a politically motivated narrative being allowed to trump the corporation’s public purpose remit. 

 

 

 

Religion, political narrative and BBC Radio 4’s ‘Sunday’

On November 23rd the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Sunday’ – which claims to address “the religious and ethical news of the week” – included an item (available from 36:45 here) presented in its synopsis as follows:Sunday 23 11

“In the aftermath of the attack on a synagogue in West Jerusalem, some politicians have warned against the Israeli-Palestinian conflict developing into a ‘religious war’. This week’s presenter William Crawley examines the latest wave of violence in the region. We also hear from Cardinal Vincent Nichols who has spent the last week on pilgrimage in the Holy Land.”

William Crawley introduced the item thus:

“On Tuesday two young Palestinian men armed with a gun, knives and meat cleavers went on a killing spree in a Jerusalem synagogue, leaving four rabbis and a police officer dead in their wake. Murder and brutality are tragically commonplace in the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and atrocities have been committed by both sides. But the unavoidable conclusion to be drawn about Tuesday’s attack, in the judgment of the Israeli Justice Minister, is that this conflict over land rights and political identity is now poised to become a full-blown religious war. We’ll explore that claim in a moment.”

After a conversation with Cardinal Vincent Nichols in which the professed subject matter was not ‘explored’, Crawley (at 40:34) moves on to his next guest.

“The Cambridge University historian Dr Wendy Pullan is the author of ‘The Struggle for Jerusalem’s Holy Places’. Wendy – good morning to you.”

Dr Pullan’s title could have more accurately been presented to listeners as “Senior Lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Architecture“. Significantly, she is also the “principal investigator” at “Conflict in Cities and the Contested State” (a body funded by the ESRC) which, despite its broad title, focuses its attentions mainly upon two cities: Jerusalem and Belfast. Past readers of the Guardian may be familiar with the Israel-related political opinions of Wendy Pullan’s “Conflict in Cities” colleague Mick Dumper and Dr Pullan is apparently also not averse to co-opting the halo of ‘impartial’ academia in order to promote a political narrative, as can be seen in her signed support for the BDS campaign at her university and, for example, her erroneous claim in an article published at ‘Open Democracy’ in 2013 that Israeli construction in the area known as E1 near Ma’ale Adumim “would cut the West Bank in two”. That inaccurate claim was also repeated in a paper presented by Pullan in Ankara in May 2014 within the framework of the UN’s “International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People”, in which the anti-terrorist fence constructed to curb suicide bombings and thus save Israeli lives was described by Pullan in the following words:

“In recent years the world has been transfixed by the extent and audacity of the separation barrier (wall). While not to diminish the extent of the human misery the wall has caused the Palestinians, it is worth noting that this structure is only part of a much larger system that keeps the occupation in place, resulting from harsh closure policies that have cut off Palestinian Jerusalem from its natural hinterland in the West Bank. Effectively, the wall is a very visible ‘tip of the ice-berg’. Although the introduction of an eight-metre high wall that separates mostly Palestinians from Palestinians is a shocking spectacle repeatedly used in the media, we know from Berlin that walls can come down.” [emphasis added]

The conversation which took place in the Radio 4 programme is therefore best taken in the context of Wendy Pullan’s obvious political motivations. They, however, were not revealed to the programme’s listeners – in breach of BBC Editorial Guidelines on impartiality.

Crawley: “Let’s go to this claim of a developing religious war; to what extent to you buy into that analysis?”

Pullan: “Ahm…I don’t buy into it in the way it’s being portrayed by the various political leaders and then picked up by the press. I think that religion has played a role in this conflict for many decades but its role is not particularly new at this point.”

Crawley: How do we separate out a conflict with religious dimensions from a religious war? What’s the definition of that?”

Pullan: “Ahm…I think that the many different aspects to this conflict that have a lot to do with national identity and a very prolonged occupation and that these will always figure in the conflict itself. It’s over land, it’s over rights, it’s over identity. Now religion obviously has a role in all of that but I don’t think it’s the only role. Whereas a religious war will normally be fighting only in the name of religion; where all of the other aspects just fall by the wayside.”

Crawley: “So you’re calming down the rhetoric but let’s come to Jerusalem – a city you know very well; you lived there yourself for thirteen years. That city is so key to the peace process at this point. Why is it always such a sticking point?”

Pullan: “Well it’s a sticking point because it’s coveted by many different groups of people. And the…in a lot of ways the occupation comes to a head there. Jerusalem is highly symbolic. I mean when I say this isn’t a religious war, it doesn’t mean that religion is unimportant. It is the centre for three major monotheistic faiths. So it’s the natural place to play out the conflict. On the other hand, it’s coveted as a capital for both the Palestinians and the Israelis.”

Crawley: “And the fact that it has so many sacred sites is significant because sacred sites don’t cease to be sacred for future generations.”

Pullan: “No, the sacred sites…once a sacred site is numinous it usually continues to be numinous and certainly the area that the Jews know as Temple Mount and the Muslims know as Haram al Sharif is an area that’s gone back and forth in different hands and so on. But it’s remained holy, although this has been manifested in different sorts of ways.”

Crawley: “Very briefly, Wendy, what do you think it would take to calm down some of these tensions at the minute?”

Pullan: “Ahm…I think it needs political savvy and sensitivity. I mean one of the things that we find over the years in Jerusalem is that political expression for a long time was not tolerated. Religious expression was.”

The conversation ends there, but obviously the take away message for audiences is that there is no need to worry about a religious war in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict. That clearly erroneous conclusion ignores both history and current events, as Dr Jonathan Spyer noted in a recent article well worth reading in full.SONY DSC

“An oft-repeated sentiment currently doing the rounds in discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian issue is that it is imperative that the conflict not become a “religious” one. This sentiment, guaranteed to set heads nodding in polite, liberal company, stands out even within the very crowded and competitive field of ridiculous expressions of historical ignorance found in discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

This sentiment is connected to the recent wave of terror attacks in Jerusalem, which are the result of Palestinian claims that Israel is seeking to alter the “status quo” at the Temple Mount. As this theory goes, up until now this conflict had mainly been about competing claims of land ownership and sovereignty, but it is now in danger of becoming about “religion,” and hence turning even more intractable. So this must be prevented.
In objective reality, the conflict between Jews and Arab Muslims over the land area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea has been, from its very outset, inseparable from “religion”.”

So why did a religious affairs programme on BBC Radio 4 seek to brush aside the veteran religious component in the Arab-Israeli conflict? Well, clearly one answer to that may be that the promotion of a ‘black and white’ political narrative of the kind advanced by Dr Pullan and her colleagues becomes significantly more complicated if Western audiences are informed of the conflict’s religious dimensions.