Inaccuracies unchallenged in BBC ‘Hardtalk’ interview on UN ‘apartheid’ report

The April 17th edition of the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk‘ was devoted to an interview with Rima Khalaf – the former head of UN ESCWA.

The programme was broadcast on BBC television channels (available to UK-based readers on iPlayer here) and a clip from the filmed version was promoted on the BBC World News website under the title “Non-Jewish Israelis ‘cannot challenge’ their status”.

“The former head of a UN agency has said that under current laws, non-Jewish citizens of Israel “cannot challenge their subordinate status”.

Rima Khalaf was the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) until March 2017.

She resigned in March 2017, after the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres asked her to withdraw a report categorising Israel as an apartheid regime.”

An audio version of the interview was also broadcast on BBC World Service radio.

“Why did a UN agency publish a report that categorised Israel as an apartheid state? Rima Khalaf was Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia until March 2017. She commissioned a report which accused Israel of systematically implementing apartheid policies and promptly resigned from her UN post when the Secretary General refused to accept the work. What were her motives?”

Audiences certainly did not hear an honest account from Khalaf of her own motives or those of the member states of the UN agency she headed. They did however hear presenter Stephen Sackur challenge her robustly on that topic as well as on the issue of the controversial choice of authors for the report and on the use of the term ‘apartheid’ in connection with Israel.

However, Sackur was apparently less able or willing to challenge the numerous falsehoods promoted by Khalaf throughout the interview, with the result that audiences were highly likely to go away with numerous inaccurate impressions.

On more than one occasion Khalaf brought up the subject of the legal system in Judea & Samaria.

“I mean in the West Bank you have a dual legal system; one that applies to Jewish settlers and one that applies to the Palestinian inhabitants of the occupied territory.”

“When Richard Falk said that there is a dual legal system applied in the West Bank, there is a dual legal system.”

“…the apartheid problem emerges not from the occupation but from the fact that you have two populations on the same land and you have two different laws applying to the two populations.”

Audiences were not informed that the legal system that exists does so because Israel has not annexed the area and that certain elements of that legal system – e.g. Ottoman law (1517-1917), which regulates property and lands; British law (1917-1948), which regulates defense; Jordanian law (1948-1967), which regulates planning, construction and parts of the penal code – pre-date Israeli control over the territory. Neither were they informed that the vast majority of Palestinians – who reside in Areas A and B – are subject to the legal system of the Palestinian National Authority under the terms of the Oslo Accords.

Khalaf’s false claim that Israel “sends” civilians to live in Judea & Samaria was not challenged.

“…this is a case where Israel sends its population to settle in the West Bank, to colonise the West Bank…”

Khalaf’s false claims concerning the rights of Israeli citizens were not challenged at all.

“… in Israel there is a differentiation between nationality and citizenship – and this is very strange by the way – and that you have to be a Jew in order to be a national. And there are lots of rights that are associated with nationality. So you can be a citizen but you cannot have those other rights. And this is extremely important. You cannot discriminate between your citizens.”

Likewise, her misrepresentation of land related issues – further amplified in the promoted clip – went unchallenged.

“In Israel, I’m sure you know that 93% of the land is owned by the state. And land laws allow agencies to develop and sell land to Jews only. So you talked about 20% of the population who are non-Jewish; fine. But they’re not allowed to buy land in Israel except the lands that stayed with them after Israel was established…”

While it is true that the Israel Land Administration does administer around 93% of the land, it is not true that land is only sold to Jews – as explained in this backgrounder produced by CAMERA.

“In 1960 under Basic Law: Israel Lands, JNF-owned land and government-owned land were together defined as “Israel lands,” and the principle was laid down that such land would be leased rather than sold. The JNF retained ownership of its land, but administrative responsibility for the JNF land, and also for government-owned land, passed to a newly created agency called the Israel Land Administration or ILA.

Today, of the total land in Israel, 79.5% is owned by the government, 14% is privately owned by the JNF, and the rest, around 6.5%, is evenly divided between private Arab and Jewish owners. Thus, the ILA administers 93.5% of the land in Israel.

Statements that Israel refuses to sell state-owned land to Israeli Arabs are extremely misleading, since, as stated above, such land is not sold to Israeli Jews either, but is instead leased out by the ILA and is equally available to all citizens of Israel.”

Khalaf also misled audiences – unhindered – on the topic of political parties and that misinformation was further amplified in the promoted clip from the programme.

“But you mentioned also political parties. Do you know that it is unlawful in Israel to establish a political party that questions the nature of the state as a Jewish state. So basically you’re telling the non-Jewish citizens of Israel you can vote but once you’re elected you cannot…you cannot question your subordinate status. OK; you can lobby for better budgets, for municipal services, for better health and better education. But the basic laws that discriminate against you and that establishes [sic] inequality are beyond your reach because if you do, you’re illegal as a party.”

In fact, the establishment of such a party is not illegal as Khalaf claims but it might be prevented from running in elections as explained here:

“According to the Basic Law: The Knesset, the Central Elections Committee may prevent a candidates’ list from participating in elections if its objectives or actions, expressly or by implication, include one of the following:

  • negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people;
  • negation of the democratic character of the State;
  • incitement to racism.”

That clause was applied in 1988 in the case of the ‘Kach’ party. In contrast to the impression given by Khalaf, the anti-Zionist party Balad has been continuously represented in the Knesset since 1996 and one would of course expect a seasoned interviewer such as Stephen Sackur to know that and to ensure that audiences were provided with that information.  

Khalaf invoked UN GA resolution 181 but the fact that the Arab states rejected that recommendation was not clarified to BBC audiences.

“I suggest you and probably the audience they go back to the UN resolution that establishes Israel: the Partition resolution. That resolution was very clear: there is a Jewish state and there is an Arab state. But neither of the two states – neither the Jewish state nor the Arab state – can have laws that discriminate between people based on religion, sex or race. So that was the condition for establishing the state. Actually the declaration of independence for Israel does not discriminate based on any of those factors. But then later on, laws that discriminate based on religion and ethnic origin crept into the legal structure of Israel.”

Khalaf’s suggestion that peace in the Middle East depends on Israel was not questioned and her deliberate misrepresentation of the words of the Israeli prime minister was not challenged or clarified.

“What I am saying is, if we want peace in the region, we really need to address those laws, particularly now that we’re talking about recognising Israel as a Jewish state. My reference is the prime minister of Israel. When asked what do you mean by a Jewish state, his response was a state for the Jewish people and for the Jewish people only.”

In fact, while referring in 2014 to a proposed bill, Netanyahu said:

“The State of Israel provides full equal rights, individual rights, to all its citizens, but it is the nation-state of one people only – the Jewish people – and of no other people. And therefore, in order to bolster the status of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, I intend to submit a basic law that will anchor this status. The new law will be formulated in dialogue with all components of the coalition so that the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state are preserved.”

Sackur made no comment when Khalaf invoked the Livingstone Formulation.

“Look, and I know that there are lots of laws where criticising Israel will lead to defamation and to labelling you as an antisemite….”

Moreover, Sackur himself contributed to the misinformation relayed to audiences in this interview by referring to “roads that are specifically for Jewish settlers”.

Sackur [13:21]: “Of course the Israelis say that so many of the conditions they impose on Palestinians in the occupied territories in the West Bank are connected to security. It is security, they say, that led them to build that barrier fence or wall – whatever you choose to call it. It is security that leads them to have roads that are specifically for Jewish settlers to get them safely to their settlements. And that is not about a racial theory; that is about the practicalities of security.” [emphasis added]

Such roads of course do not exist: while vehicles with PA plates have been restricted from travelling on a small number of roads (a total of 40.22 kms according to B’Tselem) in Judea & Samaria for security reasons, non-Jewish Israelis and tourists were always free to use them. CAMERA has secured numerous corrections in the past from media outlets that have promoted the same falsehood.

Stephen Sackur’s robust questioning on the topic of the intentions behind the ESCWA report, its author and the use of the ‘apartheid’ smear was a refreshing novelty on ‘Hardtalk’ and particularly important seeing as previous BBC coverage of the story (see ‘related articles’ below) refrained from addressing those issues. Unfortunately, his failure to challenge Rima Khalaf’s misleading claims equally robustly and his own promotion of inaccurate information detracted from the interview and made it highly likely that uninformed members of the public would go away with multiple misconceptions.   

Related Articles:

BBC News erases identity of authors of UN ‘apartheid’ report

Opportunistic recycling of anti-Israel ‘apartheid’ slur on multiple BBC platforms

The death of South African anti-apartheid campaigner Ahmed Kathrada on March 28th was covered on a range of BBC platforms, including World Service radio programmes, television news and the BBC News website.

The BBC also saw fit to recycle its 2014 ‘Hardtalk’ interview with Kathrada on multiple platforms. The audio version of that programme was rebroadcast in full on World Service radio on March 29th and on the same day the filmed version of the interview was re-shown on BBC World News and the BBC News Channel and re-promoted on BBC iPlayer.

The BBC News website promoted clips from that 2014 ‘Hardtalk’ interview on March 28th, including one titled “Kathrada: I can never be anti-Jewish” which is described as follows in the synopsis:

“But he has never stopped campaigning for the ideals of freedom on which the anti-apartheid movement was based.

Speaking to Hardtalk in 2014 he gave his whole-hearted support to the Palestinians but made clear he was critical of Israel but not anti-Jewish.”

As was noted here when it was first aired almost three years ago, in that interview Kathrada expressed unequivocal support for the practice of indiscriminate killing of Israeli Jews by Palestinian terror groups. He also promoted the false notion of ‘apartheid’ in Israel.

Ahmed Kathrada: “My own view is I keep on supporting the Palestinian struggle once they have decided on the…Palestinian leaders have decided….this is the road we’ll take, I support them.”

Sarah Montague: “Even if that route involves violence?”

AK: “But I’m not going to prescribe to them what they should…”

SM: “Is their use…is their use of violence justified?”

AK: “If, under the circ…that’s not for me to say. But if they, in their wisdom, resort to violence as the only method, I’ll support them. I’ve been to Palestine. I have seen what is like. Is the only colony in the world today; a colony of Israel. We have seen – I have seen in Palestine what didn’t exist under apartheid in the worst days of apartheid.”

SM: “So your support is unconditional?”

AK: “My support is whole-hearted. I take my cue from what they do. I don’t prescribe to them. So far there is no reason for me to criticize the Palestinian leadership.”

SM: “But the South African Zionist Federation says [Marwan] Barghouti is not a political prisoner but a terrorist guilty of multiple crimes against humanity.”

AK: “I’m not surprised at them. And they have tried to turn…let me take it as an individual because I have been outspoken on Palestine. They’ve been trying to misinterpret us as being anti-Jewish; antisemitic. We’re not.  We are critical of Israel. That does not make us anti-Jewish.”

Interviewer Sarah Montague failed at the time to challenge BDS supporter Kathrada’s mendacious use of the ‘apartheid’ smear or his absurd claim that his support for the indiscriminate targeting and murder of Israeli Jews in acts of terror is not antisemitic, but mere ‘criticism’ of Israel.

Now, with Kathrada’s death, the BBC has chosen to opportunistically and widely re-amplify those falsehoods.

 

 

 

Challenged and unchallenged claims in a BBC ‘Hardtalk’ interview – part two

In part one of this post we looked at the claims and topics on which presenter Stephen Sackur chose to challenge Fatah’s Husam Zomlot during a ‘Hardtalk’ interview broadcast on BBC World News on March 2nd. In this post we will look at the claims and statements that Sackur chose to let stand by failing to use his role as interviewer to intervene and clarify issues to BBC audiences.

For example, Sackur made no effort to challenge Zomlot’s inaccurate and misleading portrayal of the Oslo Accords, failing to point out that they do not include the stipulation that Israel should withdraw from “all the territories” which came under its control following the Six Day War and that they do stipulate that the issue of borders is to be determined in final status negotiations. Neither did Sackur bother to remind viewers that Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip in 2005 or to clarify that the territory is not ‘besieged’. Likewise, he refrained from clarifying that the 1949 Armistice lines are not borders and that definition of the two-state solution as meaning “a State of Palestine on the 1967 borders” is merely the PLO’s interpretation of the term.

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

Zomlot: “…you know I also witnessed the Oslo process as a young man, you know, witnessed the demise of the implementation of the peace process. I think if you are talking about the process itself, yes, it has been discredited. All along since 1997 we should have had a state. According to the Oslo Accords Israel should have withdrawn from all the territories it occupied in 1967 and in fact what happened after was the deepening of the occupation and the spread of colonial settlements and the besiegement [sic] of the people in Gaza and what have you and therefore, yes; you’re right – the process has failed miserably to deliver the outcome. And to many people it was a process actually designed to prevent the outcome; a process that was going in the opposite direction. But the hope and the aspiration and the goal of two states – of a State of Palestine on the 1967 borders – the hope for two states…”

Zomlot’s whitewashed and misleading portrayal of the PLO charter went unchallenged by Sackur with no effort made to clarify that Jews in Zomlot’s “egalitarian” Palestinian state only include those “who had normally resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion”.

Zomlot: “The PLO official…the Palestine Liberation Organisation official platform until 1988 was a one democratic state for all its citizens in the historic land of Palestine for Muslims, Christians and Jews but that platform had to be compromised simply because there was a condition by the international community – in fact by Reagan, the Reagan administration – on the PLO that we must abandon our dream of one democratic, egalitarian state, diverse and respecting the rule of law for all of its citizens, to a two-state solution.”

Sackur failed to challenge the falsehood promoted by Zomlot according to which the current economic situation in the PA and Hamas controlled areas is “unprecedented” and refrained from clarifying that GDP is currently significantly higher than was the case during the second Intifada and in 2006. Neither did Sackur challenge Zomlot’s bizarre claim of a Palestinian population of 12.7 million or the falsehood that Palestinians are ‘coerced’ into working in Israel.

Zomlot: “The socio-economic situation in the West Bank and Gaza is simply unprecedented in terms of how deteriorated it has been. All economic indicators show some sort of an economic – what’s the word? – slaughter-house, actually. Let me give you some numbers very, very quickly about the economic disparity because of us having to work in Israel – not, by the way, by choice but by coercion. You know our population is around 12.7 million. We have 95% literacy and we have 70% under age of 29. This is a very youthful, very educated society. And we have very wealthy natural resources yet GDP – our GDP – I’m talking about 2015 – just a quick number – is $12 billion compared to $305 billion in Israel. Our per capita is 2,800 compared to 36,000 in Israel. Our unemployment rate…”

Sackur failed to inform viewers that Zomlot’s claims that the Israeli government seeks “full annexation of the West Bank” and that such a move is ongoing “on a daily basis” are false.

Zomlot: “…in our situation, given the calamity of the Israeli agenda now – the current government – and it’s very clear: they want full annexation of the West Bank. This is not what I’m saying; this is what they’re saying and doing on a daily basis. You’ve just quoted some of their bills passed in the Knesset and we are witnessing on a daily basis here in the West Bank and Jerusalem of course – East Jerusalem. Now if this is their agenda…by the way part of them pushing Gaza out of the equation so their annexationist agenda can prevail.”

Zomlot’s denial of Jerusalem as the capital – and seat of government – of Israel, his ridiculous claim concerning water consumption and his use of ‘apartheid’ and ‘colonisation’ tropes went unremarked by Sackur.

Zomlot: “Steve, the whole situation here is that of a system of entitlement. These people – some people in Tel Aviv right now – the government, the Right-wing extreme government, wants to keep a system whereby there is a group that are privileged as per these numbers. It’s our own water that they consume, most of it. Some groups that are privileged and others that are disprivileged [sic] and discriminated whether by means of occupation or by means of colonisation or by means of apartheid.”

Even the ridiculous claim that Palestinians are “treated as slaves” and use of the ‘chosen people’ trope produced no reaction from the BBC interviewer.

Zomlot: “Does this mean ending Israel’s occupation and establishing a State of Palestine? We are happy to proceed with you as partners. But if this means we will continue to be treated as slaves in our own land and we continue to put up against some people who argue that God is estate agent and God chose some people at the expense of others.”

In addition, on several occasions Sackur himself failed to adhere to the BBC’s own style on the use of the term ‘Palestine’ which states “in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank” – for example:

Sackur: “I’m going to stop you because you’re raising so many different points, all of which are important, about internal politics in Palestine.

As we see, while Sackur challenged Zomlot repeatedly and rigorously on claims concerning internal Palestinian affairs during this interview, the same standard was not applied when Zomlot was speaking about other issues. The result of that discrepancy is that Zomlot was allowed him a free hand to mislead BBC audiences by propagating blatant falsehoods, delegitimising tropes and inaccurate anti-Israel propaganda.

 

 

Challenged and unchallenged claims in a BBC ‘Hardtalk’ interview – part one

The March 2nd edition of the BBC World News programme ‘Hardtalk‘ aired an interview with Fatah’s Husam Zomlot which was billed as follows:

“Stephen Sackur speaks to Husam Zomlot, a senior adviser to the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Does the Trump era signal the end for the Palestinian dream of statehood?”

The programme – also broadcast on the BBC News Channel – is available to UK-based viewers here and a clip from the interview was promoted on the BBC News website.

Presenter Stephen Sackur introduced the interview as follows, promoting the BBC’s now well established narrative of a ‘shift’ in US policy regarding the two-state solution.

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

Sackur: “For years the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been stuck, condemned to repeat itself year in, year out but now something has changed. The two protagonists remain deaf to each other’s demands but there is a new US president who seems to care little for Washington’s long-established quest for a two-state solution. So what does that mean? Well my guest is Husam Zomlot, advisor to the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Does the Trump ers signal the end for the Palestinian dream of statehood?”

A significant proportion of the interview related to the Palestinian Authority’s relationship with the new US administration and additional topics included internal Palestinian politics and economy. While some of Zomlot’s claims and statements were challenged – at times vigorously – by Sackur, others were not challenged at all.

Part one of this post will look at the subjects on which Sackur did chose to use his role as interviewer in order to clarify points to BBC audiences and part two will examine the claims and issues on which he refrained from challenging Zomlot.

When Zomlot claimed a “national consensus” regarding the two-state solution, Sackur intervened to clarify to audiences that the claim is inaccurate, although he did not similarly challenge the myth of Israel being on ‘Palestinian land’ or point out that – crucially to the issue under discussion – the PA and Fatah refuse to recognise Israel as the Jewish state.

Zomlot: “And, you know, it took us so many years to get to that national equilibrium here in Palestine; to establish a national consensus on the two-state solution and on accepting, recognising Israel on 78% of our land. […]

Sackur: “…you claim you’ve reached a consensus, which of course you haven’t because that’s why Gaza and the West Bank are so deeply divided politically so we’ll get to that later.”

Sackur challenged Zomlot repeatedly and vigorously with regard to his claims of communication with the new US administration.

Sackur: “That must worry you; that the Trump team do not seem to be interested in talking to you Palestinians.”

Sackur: “Hang on, hang on ‘cos this is important. Hang on, this is important. You’re telling me oh yes, don’t worry; we’ve got the contact. Look, the truth is Binyamin Netanyahu has already had a very cosy meeting with Donald Trump at the White House. Just tell me; what’s the extent of the direct, personal contact between Mahmoud Abbas and Donald Trump?”

Sackur: “Yeah but I asked you a direct question. What’s the direct answer? What’s the direct answer?”

Sackur: “All I can say is you do seem to me to be a wild optimist ‘cos you seem to think that, you know, the Americans are in listening mode and they’re waiting to talk to you.”

Zomlot was challenged extensively on the topic of security co-operation (as laid out in the Oslo Accords) between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, although his false claim that the PLO represents “all Palestinians” was not.

Sackur: “Your boss Mahmoud Abbas said many weeks ago, he said that if Israel pushes ahead with this legislation to legalise settlements built on private Palestinian land, then he would cut security co-operation with Israel. Well of course that bill has now passed through the Knesset but as far as I can see it, Mahmoud Abbas has no intention of making good on that threat. Or am I missing something?”

Zomlot: “No you are missing something because that decision was made and it was made even by the PLO central council and now it’s been approved by this very legitimate sort of parliament for all Palestinians, [it’s] for the executive branch to decide on the timing. Remember, Steve, the issue of security is not just an Israeli demand; it’s not just an Israeli interest. It’s also a Palestinian interest and we don’t want to see a situation here where we…we have groups and agencies from all over the region – and you know what is happening around us, just 300 kilometers all around – and we want to make sure that we deliver such a policy on the right time.”

Sackur: “Well that’s the point, isn’t it? If I may – forgive the interruption – but if I may tease out what you seem to have just said to me, your priority is more in keeping a lid on Hamas in the West Bank than it is in ending security co-operation with Israel.”

Zomlot: “That’s not what I said. No, no. That’s not…we have no lid on Hamas whatsoever. Hamas is in Gaza and has staged a coup d’etat and it’s in full control of Gaza. No that’s not what I said. What I said is that we…”

Sackur: “No but it’s the West Bank we’re talking about. You need the Israeli security co-operation in the West Bank to help you keep yourselves – Fatah – on the top in the West Bank. Israel is your ally in that.”

Sackur went on to challenge Zomlot on the topic of one aspect of the PA economy.

Sackur: “I want to talk economy just briefly if I may. You say yes, we are going to end security and economic co-operation with Israel. I would put it to you; you can’t afford to. First of all you need the Israelis to hand over the customs and the border revenues that come to you through the Israelis and if you lose that, you’re in even worse economic circumstances than you’re in right now. And also the tens of thousands of Palestinians who either work inside Israel – on the other side of the green line – or, you know, frankly, let’s be honest, thousands of Palestinians work on building sites and construction building the very Jewish settlements that you say are the chief obstacle to peace. If you stop all those people doing those jobs, you economy’s going to fall apart.”

Zomlot was also challenged on a topic much neglected by the BBC: internal Palestinian politics.

Sackur: “Why is it that President Mahmoud Abbas has so little credibility? Palestinian opinion polls show that the majority of Palestinians want him gone. He hasn’t won an election for – what is it? – at least a decade. His mandate has run out. Most Palestinians see the Palestinian Authority as corrupt. You are doing yourselves no favours.”

After Zomlot cited in his reply the rescheduled municipal elections as “a pillar of our democratic process” – without either he or Sackur informing viewers that they will not be held in the Gaza Strip – and described the PA as “one of the very few nations in this region that really do adhere to the democratic processes”, Sackur interrupted:

Sackur: “When your mandate lasts four years… when your mandate lasts four years and it was achieved thirteen years ago, you don’t have any legitimacy anymore.”

Zomlot went on to give a bizarre interpretation of democracy which English-speaking BBC audiences would of course have had difficulty following given that the corporation chose not to report on the 7th Fatah party congress.

Zomlot: “Allow me…no, we do have legitimacy because President Abbas is the president of the PLO – of the Palestine Liberation Organisation – which is much, much higher even than the PA. The PA was only established to fulfil our responsibilities under Oslo which Israel has failed miserably. He does have the national legitimacy and he was elected. […] In the end he was voted by Fatah only two months ago in such a democratic process.”

Sackur: “Hang on, hang on, just a moment. Hang on, hang on. You’ve just said something outrageous. You had a chance to answer.”

Sackur raised another topic serially under-reported by the BBC.

Sackur: “That might be a bit more convincing to the outside world if Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank didn’t keep locking up opponents, didn’t keep depriving people like Mohammed Dahlan who is an opponent within the PLO [sic] of…[…] You know Dahlan and his people say that it’s time for new leadership, new leadership and you guys refuse to countenance new leadership in your own organisation.”

He did not however react when Zomlot told him that internal Palestinian politics are “even not for the BBC to discuss” – although that approach from a senior Fatah and PA official does perhaps go some way towards explaining why BBC correspondents in the region serially avoid reporting on internal Palestinian affairs.

 

Are BBC audiences positioned to ‘judge’ Iranian denials of antisemitism?

The January 16th edition of ‘Hardtalk’ was devoted to an interview with two people described as “respected political analysts” from Iran and Saudi Arabia. The programme is available in the UK on iPlayer here and an audio version broadcast on BBC World Service radio is available here.

“There’s a faultline that lies beneath much of the current turmoil in the Middle East, and it runs between Riyadh and Tehran. Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran are locked in a series of conflicts by proxy. It’s a dangerous and costly struggle for regional supremacy that weaves from Lebanon to Yemen by way of Syria and Iraq. Stephen Sackur talks to Mohammad Marandi in Tehran and Jamal Khashoggi in Jeddah. Is there any way to take the heat out of the Saudi-Iranian confrontation?”

Oddly for a programme with that synopsis, at around seven minutes or so in, the discussion took another turn.

But does host Stephen Sackur’s claim that audiences listening to that Iranian propaganda from Marandi can “judge for themselves” really hold water? In order for that to be the case, the BBC would have had to report, for example, on the subject of this year’s Holocaust denying cartoon contest.Hardtalk 16 1 filmed

“Iran has announced that it will be holding a cartoon contest aimed at creating caricatures denying the Holocaust. This year, the contest’s grand prize has been increased from $12,000 to $50,000.

The contest, organized by the Teheran municipal authority, is calling for cartoonists worldwide to send in works denying and satirizing the Holocaust. Unlike previous contests of this kind, this one is especially significant due the fact that it is organized by official authorities of the Iranian capital, and has an international emphasis. The prize money is also several times what it was before.”

Not only has the BBC not covered that contemporary story but in the past it has downplayed similar events.  It has also distorted the results of a poll on antisemitism in Iran, promoted the false notion of ‘moderated’ Iranian Holocaust denial, airbrushed statements concerning the Holocaust made by Rouhani and in general done its level best to promote the chimera of a ‘moderate’ Iranian regime.

Contrary to Sackur’s claim, it is therefore highly unlikely that BBC audiences would be able to “judge for themselves” the authenticity of the claims made by the gently spoken Mr Marandi because the BBC has for the past two and a half years consistently avoided fulfilling its obligation to “keep them in touch with what is going on” in that field.

BBC Hardtalk host tells viewers Temple Mount is ‘the holiest of places for Muslims’

Earlier this month the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, was interviewed by Stephen Sackur for ‘Hardtalk‘. The filmed version of the programme (broadcast on BBC World News on January 5th) is available to those in the UK on iPlayer here and can also be found here. The synopsis to the filmed version reads as follows:Barkat clip

“Stephen Sackur talks to Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, about his ambitious plans to turn his city into a top global city hosting 10 million tourists a year.”

An audio version of the interview was broadcast on BBC World Service radio on January 6th and the synopsis to that item reads as follows:

“The Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, has grand plans to turn Jerusalem into a world city but is his vision far removed from the reality on the ground? He talks to Stephen Sackur about his aspirations.”

In fact listeners and viewers heard nothing about Nir Barkat’s plans to develop tourism in his city – not least because Stephen Sackur spent almost as much time talking as did his interviewee. Just under ten minutes of the airtime of a programme 23 minutes and 51 seconds long (including opening title and closing credits) were taken up by Sackur himself as he repeatedly interrupted Barkat’s answers in order to pursue his own agenda.

As is not at all unusual to see in his ‘Hardtalk’ interviews with Israeli politicians, Sackur ascended his pulpit and proceeded to ensure that what audiences took away was not insight into how the Mayor of Jerusalem plans to develop his city or what special challenges he faces, but politicized preaching on the topic of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The tone was already set in the introduction.

“Israel declares Jerusalem to be its undivided capital but the physical evidence inside the city points to a different reality. Jerusalem is a city of checkpoints, security barriers and constant tension between Jews and Arabs.”

That theme was further promoted by Sackur several times throughout the interview.

“If we as outsiders look at the city today it seems more tense, more full of fear and – frankly – full of division than ever before.”

“It’s a division. It’s a division. It’s a myth this idea of an open undivided Jerusalem.”

“Well as it happens…yeah Mister Mayor…as it happens I know Jerusalem quite well. I’ve lived there for several years myself [1995 to 1997 – Ed.]. It’s changed a lot since I lived there – not least because there are new security barriers, there are new checkpoints in place. This idea that you peddle that Jerusalem is an open and undivided city is patently not true. It is more divided – by armed checkpoints and the security wall and everything else – than it’s ever been before.”

Naturally viewers heard nothing about the nineteen years during which the city really was divided because part of it was under Jordanian occupation. As Nir Barkat pointed out, the vast majority of the checkpoints put in place in late 2015 in order to curb terrorism by attackers from Arab neighbourhoods of Jerusalem have since been removed: obviously Sackur failed to check the facts before employing that subject in his sermon. 

Another theme seen in this interview – that of irresponsible, trigger happy Israeli politicians – was also found in a previous one with Yair Lapid.

“You are the very mayor who, in the autumn of last year, advised all Jerusalem…Israeli Jewish Jerusalem residents…to carry a pistol. I mean, what kind of message is that sending?”

“…what do you feel about senior Israeli politicians like Yair Lapid who we had on this programme saying that in his view, if anybody was seen to pull a knife or even a screwdriver – to quote him – don’t hesitate; shoot to kill. Do you think that was the right, responsible message to send?”

“It’s not for you as politicians to inflame emotions and get involved in this sort of way, is it?…”

The perennial theme of Israeli racism was also promoted.

“You said ‘I’m a strong believer in profiling’. ‘Profiling’, you said, ‘helps keep the citizens of Jerusalem safe’. What do you mean by profiling? Who are you profiling?”

“I appreciate that answer but with respect, mister mayor, I don’t think anybody in the outside world really believes that the Shin Bet spends as much time profiling and seeking out Jewish extremists as it does Muslim Arab extremists. So I’m very struck by what Binyamin Netanyahu said just the other day […]. He talked about enclaves. He clearly meant Arab communities – Arab enclaves with – quote – Islamist propaganda, plenty of weapons, constant crime. This wasn’t pointing to individual threats and dangers. He was tainting an entire community. Do you do the same?”

“So do you disown the words of your own prime minister? […] Do you think – in the words of Ha’aretz newspaper – that what he said was very close to outright racism?”

Netanyahu’s words were as follows:

“There are many among Muslim Israeli citizens who have come out against the violence and are crying out for full law enforcement in their towns. At the same time, we all know that there is wild incitement by radical Islam against the State of Israel in the Arab sector. Incitement in mosques, in the education system, on social media,” he said, vowing to continue efforts to stop the incitement.

The prime minister said he is unwilling to have a state within a state in Israel, in which some citizens live in “enclaves with no law enforcement, with Islamist incitement and an abundance of illegal weapons that are often fired at happy events, weddings, and during endless criminal incidents.”

Sackur – who only minutes earlier claimed to “know Jerusalem quite well” – came out with the following inaccurate and materially misleading statement:Barkat audio

“Yeah, you’ve raised one particular grievance, one area of tension, which is access to the holiest of places for Muslims – they call it Haram al Sharif – it’s holy for Jews too; you call it Temple Mount…” [emphasis added]

Politicised messaging continued with repeated portrayal of Arab residents of Jerusalem as “second class citizens” and depiction of Jerusalem neighbourhoods as “settlements”.

“Yeah, but you know what Mister Mayor? What you haven’t mentioned at all are the realities about, for example, housing, planning permits construction. Look at the reality. Even today thousands of new housing units have been sanctioned by your municipality and the Netanyahu government for a whole bunch of Jewish settlements – as the international community still calls them – on occupied land in East Jerusalem. At the very same time we see that 14,000 Palestinians have had their residency revoked since 1967. It’s almost impossible for most Palestinians to get permission to build new housing on empty land in East Jerusalem. The reality of the situation is that, again, they’re second class citizens.”

Sackur is apparently convinced that he knows more than the Mayor of Jerusalem about construction statistics in that city.

“Are you telling me…are you telling me that the UN and others who have looked at the stats and say that more than three times as many housing permits, construction permissions, are given to Jews in East Jerusalem than to Arabs – Muslim Arabs in East Jerusalem – are you telling me that’s just plain wrong?”

Promotion of the PLO talking points put out a while ago by ‘Hardtalk’ frequent flyer Saeb Erekat was also evident.

“…but I spoke not a long time ago to Saeb Erekat […]. He almost cried with frustration when I put it to him that Israelis see ideological reasons behind the incitement – as you put it – of young Palestinian men. He said look don’t they understand that as long as Israel refuses to engage on the question of settlements, on the question of realistic negotiation of a two state solution, these people, the anger, the hate, will continue. Do you not get that?”

“Are you comfortable with the fact that unless you and other Israeli politicians recognize that in the end there has to be a sharing of the sovereignty of Jerusalem for a two state solution to work, if you’re not prepared to accept that then there can never be meaningful peace negotiations, can there? Are you comfortable with the position that you and your city are in?”

Sackur also came out with this gem:

“Prime Ministers Rabin, Peres, Barak, Olmert: all were prepared as realistic, pragmatic politicians to accept that there would have to be some sort of deal with the Palestinians over Jerusalem – some sort of symbolic shared sovereignty and internationalization of the holy places. Why won’t you?”

Leaving aside the fact that there is no evidence to support Sackur’s highly dubious claim that Yitzhak Rabin embraced the idea of “shared sovereignty” of Jerusalem, it is notable that he has obviously failed to ask himself why – if it is indeed the case that four Israeli prime ministers have offered to compromise on the issue of Jerusalem – have the Palestinians not seized any of those opportunities to make a peace deal during the last two decades.

Like so many others who adopt the messianic far-Left approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict whereby if only Israel did this, that or the other, then salvation would be instantly at hand, Sackur strips Palestinians of all agency or responsibility for the ongoing conflict. Hence, whilst able to admonish Barkat for his allegedly ‘unrealistic’ views on the subject of the division of the city, he is also able to ignore the fact that the “realistic, pragmatic” approach he holds up as the gold standard has been repeatedly rejected by the Palestinian side to the dispute. Likewise, that same cognitive dissonance enables Sackur to rebuke Barkat (and by extension, Israel) for the implementation of measures designed to cope with repeated waves of terrorism whilst exonerating those actually carrying out the attacks.

Obviously Stephen Sackur’s aim in this programme was not to provide his audiences with the opportunity to learn more about Jerusalem, the man who runs it or his plans for the city’s development. Instead, yet again, ‘Hardtalk’ audiences simply heard a so-called ‘interview’ with an Israeli public figure which is nothing more than a sermon based on Sackur’s weary – and by now decidedly dog-eared – charge sheet.

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BBC Hardtalk host fails to challenge Saeb Erekat’s claim on ’74 Palestinians killed’

Back in June, Hadar Sela reported on a Hardtalk interview with Saeb Erekat, in which host Zeinab Badawi failed to challenge the Palestinian chief negotiator as he recycled old statements, and reverted to talking points and anti-Israel agitprop in lieu of substantive responses.

A few days ago, Erekat again appeared on the BBC flagship programme – a show hosted this time by Stephen Sackur.

To his credit, Sackur asked some genuinely provocative questions, such as ‘Why are so many mostly young Palestinians intent on killing Israeli Jews?’, which, under different circumstances, may have elicited an interesting give and take.  However, Erekat largely succeeded in evading Sackur’s questions.                                                                                              

Further, the Hardtalk host allowed his Palestinian guest to misrepresent the facts regarding the Palestinian death toll since the latest wave of attacks began last month. Erekat claimed (at the 18:40 mark of the video) that 74 Palestinians were killed by Israelis.  

However, Sackur didn’t tell viewers that, of those 74 killed, the majority (48) were terrorists killed while involved in attacks or attempted attacks. 

Of course, BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality require such misleading or questionable claims by guests to be challenged.

Here’s the entire interview:

BBC Hardtalk for Israel, Softchat for Palestinians

This is a guest post by Aron White.

In his October 21st Hardtalk interview, Israeli MK Yair Lapid turned the tables on presenter Stephen Sackur and made the following remark:Hardtalk logo

Yair Lapid: “I have been watching the show. Whenever a Palestinian is on, you don’t ask the questions that are that difficult.”

Steven Sackur: “Well you haven’t been watching the show enough then, because the Palestinians say exactly what you just said, “Oh, you are tougher on me than you are on him (the Israeli).”

An objective analysis will show that Yair Lapid is totally correct – Israeli guests on the show face a tough grilling whereas Palestinians and their supporters get basically a free pass.

Here is the introduction Stephen Sackur gave Yair Lapid last week:

“The latest paroxysm of violence between Israelis and Palestinians has conjured up a wave of horrifying images. Israelis stabbed in random street attacks, Palestinian suspects shot dead by Israeli police when seemingly no longer a threat, an innocent bystander beaten to death by an incensed Israeli crowd. Well, my guest is Yair Lapid, former finance minister, and leader of the Yesh Atid party. He has called on Israelis to”shoot to kill” at the first sign of danger. Will that kind of language enhance anyone’s security?”

This is a genuinely harsh introduction – and considering that Sackur draws no distinction between the Israeli victims of terror attacks and Palestinian attackers killed by policemen, it maybe is too harsh. But let us compare this with the opening Hardtalk laid out for Saeb Erekat during an interview in February 2014.

“What does the new right-wing Israeli coalition government under Benjamin Netanyahu mean for the Palestinians? The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has made moves recently to win international backing for his cause, particularly through the United Nations. Will this strategy help or hinder their aspirations for statehood? My guest today is the Palestinian veteran chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat. Can they isolate Israel, and achieve recognition of a Palestinian state through international diplomatic channels?”

This is not the opening to a difficult interview in which Palestinian intransigence, rejectionism, incitement, corruption and human rights violations will truly be open for discussion. The question on the table is how best can the Palestinians isolate Israel: instead of asking hard-hitting questions, the BBC is merely asking whether the Palestinians can achieve their goals.

The Hardtalk bias was open for all to see during last summer’s conflict between Israel and Hamas. Hardtalk conducted two interviews on consecutive days – the first interview, on July 24th, was with Danny Danon, a former Israeli government minister, and the second interview the next day was with Khaled Mashal, leader of Hamas.

Here is the introduction to the interview with Danny Danon:

“Israel says its current campaign in Gaza is in response to rocket strikes from Hamas militants, and is aimed at destroying its illicit tunnels Hamas uses to smuggle arms. In more than two weeks of conflict, more than six hundred Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed, and nearly four thousand wounded. The U.N. Human Rights Commission (sic.) says Israel may have committed war crimes. About thirty Israeli have died, nearly all of them, soldiers. My guest today is Danny Danon, a member of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, He was dismissed as deputy defence minister earlier this month, for accusing the prime minister of being too weak in his Gaza campaign. How does he justify the high Palestinian death toll?”

Compare this to the introduction to the interview the very next day, with Khaled Masha’al.

“My guest today is Khaled Masha’al, the political chief of the Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas, which is currently locked in a grim and costly military confrontation with Israel in Gaza. Right now, the pressure on Hamas is immense, military, political and diplomatic. So, is the showdown in Gaza a battle for Hamas’ survival?”

Masha’al is not being asked any hard questions at all – no question about Hamas rockets, human shields, human rights abuses, or its openly jihadist constitution. Rather than hard questions, sympathy for Hamas simply oozes from the description of a “costly” conflict with Israel that may be a battle for Hamas’ very survival.

This highlights a further point: not only does Hardtalk ask Israelis far tougher questions than Palestinians; the interviewers openly display sympathy for Palestinians and their supporters. 

During his interview with William Schabas, initially appointed head of a U.N. Human Rights Council commission of inquiry into the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas who resigned from the post due to concerns about his objectivity, Stephen Sackur asks:

“You have talked about the campaign against you. We remember the full-page ads in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal condemning you, talking about your bias, I believe also, you had personal emails. You had threats. Did it get to a point where you could just stand it no longer?”

Yet when he interviews Yehuda Glick, the man who was shot four times because of his activism to allow Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, Stephen Sackur never asks him how he felt, but instead offers this musing:

“I am guessing, Yehuda Glick, that what happened to you wasn’t entirely a surprise to you. You have been a controversial figure described by many Israelis, indeed many Israelis in the Israeli government and security establishment as a provocative figure and as an extremist for years. You have known that there have been threats upon you for years too. So although it was awful, it wasn’t really a surprise was it?”

So one man who actually got shot four times (for campaigning for what he sees as religious freedom) should have seen it coming because he received threats but another man who received threats (though admittedly, by “personal email,” no less) deserves our deepest sympathy. I mean, how bad are four bullets compared to an advertisement in a newspaper?

Hardtalk is deeply biased. It challenges Israelis about how they defend themselves, but poses no hard questions to the inciters, jihadists, rocket launchers and terrorists. For Israelis, an appearance on the show is a hard talk. For Palestinians and their supporters, it is merely a soft chat. 

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Selective framing, inaccuracies and omission of context on BBC’s Hardtalk

Israeli MK and leader of the ‘Yesh Atid’ party Yair Lapid appeared on the BBC World News and BBC News Channel programme ‘Hardtalk‘ on October 21st. Readers in the UK can find the programme on BBC iPlayer here and a clip also appeared on the BBC News website.Hardtalk Lapid

Many of the questions posed by presenter Stephen Sackur during the interview provide an opportunity to look at the way in which inaccuracies, falsehoods and selective framing can be casually promoted by an interviewer.

In his introduction, Sackur frames audience views of the programme’s subject matter by depicting a wave of terror attacks carried out by Palestinians on mostly civilian Israelis as equivalent violence “between Israelis and Palestinians”, whilst portraying attacks in which people were deliberately sought out because of their ethnicity as “random” and their perpetrators as “suspects”. [all emphasis in bold added]

“The latest paroxysm of violence between Israelis and Palestinians has conjured up a host of horrifying images. Israelis stabbed in random street attacks. Palestinian suspects shot dead by Israeli police when seemingly no longer a threat. An innocent bystander beaten to death by an incensed Israeli crowd.”

In that last sentence Sackur refers – as is evident later on in the interview – to Haftom Zarhum who was killed during a terror attack at the main bus station in Be’er Sheva on October 18th. As the post-mortem showed, Zarhum’s death was actually caused by bullet wounds sustained when members of the security forces shot him after mistaking him for a second terrorist – but that does not prevent Sackur from promoting an inaccurate and context-free version of the story.

Sackur steers viewers towards a specific view of the cause of the current wave of terrorism in several ‘questions’, whilst again promoting the notions of equivalence and random attacks:

“Are you suggesting that the violence coming from the Palestinian side; that is the random stabbings we’ve seen – primarily stabbings – are you suggesting that it has nothing to do with the realities that Palestinians have to live with?”

“Of course that narrative may suit you but the Palestinians are quite clear. As Mahmoud Abbas has said, you know, ‘we are living’, he says, ‘under unbearable conditions’. And when that is the case, you get the kind of desperation – particularly amongst nihilistic young people – that results in the violence on your streets.”

Sackur manages to insert several ‘questions’ relating to a particular incident without providing viewers with a particularly important piece of context.

“Are you saying that some of the videos we have seen uploaded onto Youtube and elsewhere of Israeli police appearing to shoot in cold blood young Palestinians who appear to present no real and present threat – are you saying that those must be investigated and the police must be punished?”

“Have you seen the videos? Have you seen the killing of Fadi Aloon? You used the word justification earlier; are you saying to me that in the case of the young teen Fadi Aloon who was running toward the police, trying to get away from a mob who were baying for his blood and when the police apprehended him he ended up shot dead – are you telling me that was justified?”

Crucially, Sackur neglects to clarify to audiences that nineteen year-old Fadi Aloon had just stabbed a fifteen year-old boy when he was shot.

Sackur goes on to deliberately conflate terrorism with crime and imply Israeli institutional racism.

“But the bottom line is when people are committing crimes you don’t necessarily know whether they’re Jewish, whether they’re Muslim – whatever they are. Coming back to the words of the police chief; he says anyone who stabs a Jew is due to be killed. I mean, let’s face it; there are serious crimes in Israel that doesn’t involve Muslims. […] Do you think that the police chief would have said of a Jewish criminal that as soon as he commits any sort of crime like that he is due to be killed?”

The actual words of the Jerusalem police chief were spoken immediately following yet another terror attack – which Sackur again refrains from mentioning.

“Police said officers who ran to the scene “saw two Jewish men with stab wounds to their upper bodies. The policemen saw the terrorist with a knife in his hand and called on him to halt. The terrorist ran towards them with his weapon and the two cocked their weapons, fired at him and neutralized him.” […]

Jerusalem Police chief Moshe Edri praised the officers’ actions, and warned that anyone attacking civilians faced a similar fate.

“Policemen carried out their duties and arrived quickly. The terrorist was killed in under 90 seconds. Anyone who stabs Jews or hurts innocents — his due is to be killed,” Edri said.”

Sackur promotes the notion that Israeli politicians are to blame for “fear and anger” among the population while again inaccurately describing 29 year-old Haftom Zarhum as having been killed “by a mob” and giving a very tepid account of the terror attack in the bus station in which Sgt Omri Levy was killed:

“Did it give you any sort of pause when the young Eritrean man in Be’er Sheva was beaten to death by a mob who thought, wrongly, that he was involved in the shooting of an Israeli soldier? Did that make you wonder whether your message to the Israeli people was perhaps inflammatory and dangerous?”

“Senior politicians like you help to establish that fear and anger.”

Although he categorically states that Israelis have ‘dehumanised’ Palestinians (with no factual evidence provided for the claim), Sackur has nothing to say on the topic of whether those who shoot, stab or deliberately run over identifiably Jewish people have dehumanised their victims.

“Why do you think that – you called it a lynching – that kind of incident can happen in today’s Israel? Why is it, do you believe, that some Israelis have dehumanised the other – the Palestinians – to the point where they are prepared to engage in that sort of behavior?”

Viewers are told by Sackur that the “Palestinian leadership” (he doesn’t clarify whether that includes Hamas) is “committed” to the two-state solution.

“Of course the Palestinian leadership is committed to a search for a two-state solution. They say the problem is that Binyamin Netanyahu and his government have no intention of delivering a two-state solution and they say Netanyahu’s own words prove that because during the election campaign he made it quite plain: under his watch there would be no two-state solution.”

That very selective presentation of course fails to inform viewers that following the March 16th interview with NRG, Netanyahu later clarified his stance.

When Lapid tries to explain the significance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people, Sackur interrupts:

“Jerusalem is also the site of the third holiest religious site in all of Islam. […] Palestinians see what has happened; they see the facts of the last ten years. Used to be only hundreds of Jews every year would make the ascent up onto the top of the Haram al Sharif, Noble Sanctuary, the Temple Mount – call it what you will. Now it is thousands. They see that the Ministry of Religious Affairs in your government is now offering prayers of service guidance to people for the top of the esplanade. To Palestinians it looks as though this idea that the government of Israel will guarantee the status quo as was is no longer true.”

BBC Watch has been unable to find any factual information pertaining to that claim that the Ministry of Religious Services – as it is actually titled – “is now offering prayers of service guidance to people for the top of the esplanade”. The Israeli government, as Lapid notes, has repeatedly clarified that there is no intention of changing the status quo on Temple Mount. 

Once again donning his Palestinian advocate hat, Sackur also misleads viewers on the topic of construction.

“Let’s talk about settlements too because you say, you know, what’s happening today has nothing to do with the facts on the ground but the Palestinians beg to differ and they point to the massive growth of settlement activity over the last decade. Now, most of their towns across the West Bank, ringed by Jewish settlements.”

Had Sackur consulted the BBC’s favourite Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, he would know that:

“In fact, since Netanyahu became prime minister in 2009, there has been less construction activity in the settlements than under any other prime minister since 1995.

According to data from the Housing and Construction Ministry, an average of 1,554 houses a year were built in the settlements from 2009 to 2014 — fewer than under any of his recent predecessors.

By comparison, the annual average was 1,881 under Ariel Sharon and 1,774 under Ehud Olmert. As for Ehud Barak, during his single full year as prime minister, in 2000, he built a whopping 5,000 homes in the settlements.”

So Sackur’s claim of “massive growth of settlement activity over the last decade” is as inaccurate and misleading as his claim that most Palestinian towns are “ringed” – i.e. surrounded – by “Jewish settlements” and that has happened within the last ten years.

During this interview, Sackur claims that Palestinian interviewees on Hardtalk are ‘challenged’.

“Believe me; we challenge the Palestinians on the language they use….”

Readers wishing to judge for themselves whether that claim is true can find several interviews with figures such as Saeb Erekat and Suha Arafat here. Notably, Erekat was not challenged when he told ‘Hardtalk’ audiences that there is such a thing as “the ’67 borders” and Stephen Sackur had nothing to say about Erekat’s claim to be “a Canaanite”. 

So, while this may have been an interview with an Israeli politician, BBC audiences were also treated to selective framing, omission of relevant context and the promotion of inaccurate information which was not only materially misleading but would clearly influence their views of the subjects selected for discussion and the wider topic in general.

 

 

 

Arafat ‘poisoning’ case closed: an overview of 3 years of BBC News coverage

On September 2nd an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Arafat poisoning inquiry dropped by French prosecutors” and a similar report appeared on the BBC Arabic website.

Although this report is about the closure of an inquiry opened three years ago in August 2012 after Suha Arafat filed a civil suit at a court in the Paris suburb of Nanterre claiming that her husband had been murdered, the caption to the main photograph illustrating the English language article continues to infer foul play.Arafat art 3 9 15  

“Swiss tests found abnormal levels of polonium on Yasser Arafat’s body”

That theme is also promoted in the body of the report:

“Arafat died in Paris in 2004, aged 75. His wife says he was poisoned, possibly by highly radioactive polonium.

The claims were seemingly backed up by tests carried out in Switzerland.”

Later on readers are informed that:

“Three teams of French, Swiss and Russian investigators were allowed to take samples from Arafat’s tomb in Ramallah.

But, earlier this year, one French prosecutor said the polonium samples were of an environmental nature.”

Readers are not told that the Russian investigation also ruled out poisoning.

As we know, the BBC’s editorial guidelines state that its content must achieve both “due accuracy” and “impartiality over time“. The BBC’s coverage of this story over the past three years presents an opportunity to examine its adherence to those editorial standards.

The story began in July 2012 when an Al Jazeera ‘documentary’ claimed that Swiss experts had found “significant” traces of Polonium 210 on some of Arafat’s personal effects provided by his widow.

In August 2012 Suha Arafat filed her suit in Paris and BBC coverage at the time informed audiences that:

“…many Palestinians continue to believe that Israel poisoned him. Israel has denied any involvement.”

In November 2012 Arafat’s remains were exhumed. The BBC’s Jon Donnison had already prepared the scene with two reports on Arafat’s ‘legacy’ – here and here – and a filmed item in which he promoted the notion that Arafat was “killed at the hands of Israel”. Additional filmed and written coverage by Richard Galpin also promoted the PA’s conspiracy theory of Israeli involvement in Arafat’s death. The exhumation itself prompted no fewer than five reports on the BBC News website’s Middle East page, three of which again promoted conspiracy theories about Israel.

A year later, in November 2013, the appearance of a Swiss report with findings described as “moderately” supporting the poisoning theory prompted the BBC news website to produce no fewer than thirteen different reports, nine of which amplified conspiracy theories concerning Israel’s involvement in Arafat’s death.website 6 to 8 11

In December 2013 a leaked French report stating that Arafat was not poisoned was covered in two reports on the BBC News website, both of which included repetition of Palestinian conspiracy theories which accuse Israel of being responsible for Arafat’s death.

Later on in December 2013, the Russian team also announced that its findings ruled out foul play and that news was covered in one report on the BBC News website, which again promoted Palestinian conspiracy theories concerning Israel. By this time the website had promoted four times more reports promoting the Swiss report which “moderately supported” the poisoning theory than it had devoted to the French and Russian findings which determined that Arafat died of natural causes.

In January 2015 the BBC’s flagship interview programme ‘Hardtalk’ produced a special programme to “mark the anniversary” of Arafat’s death in which Suha Arafat was provided with a platform to further promote the notion that Arafat was murdered.

In March 2015 French experts officially announced that they had ruled out foul play and that “the polonium 210 and lead 210 found in Arafat’s grave and in the samples are of an environmental nature”. There was no coverage of that announcement on the BBC News website.

In July 2015 the French prosecutor “said there is no case to answer regarding the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat”. The BBC News website’s one report on that announcement promoted the ‘Israel killed Arafat’ conspiracy theory no fewer than three times.

In August 2015 the BBC found it appropriate to rebroadcast its January 2015 ‘Hardtalk’ interview with Suha Arafat despite the fact that it was obvious that the case was heading towards closure.

In this latest article concerning the French authorities’ decision to close the case from September 2015, the Swiss results are once again promoted as noted above.

So has the self-styled “standard-setter for international journalism” covered this story with “due accuracy” and “impartiality over time”? Well, for a start, the fact that the BBC’s backgrounder on the topic has not been updated since December 2013 does not enhance the impression of commitment to accuracy.

The repeated – if not obsessive – amplification of a baseless conspiracy theory even after two teams of experts had ruled that Arafat died of natural causes certainly cannot be said to contribute to the impression of accuracy in BBC reporting and licence fee payers may well be asking themselves how the BBC can possibly justify the use of resources, air time and column space to repeatedly propagate fact-free myth-cum-folklore and why it has spent three years lending an air of plausibility to this particular conspiracy theory.

As for impartiality, the volume of coverage of the Swiss results which “moderately” supported the poisoning theory has clearly been much greater than the BBC’s reporting on the results produced by the other two teams and their continued amplification even in this latest report suggests that “impartiality over time” was not a priority in coverage of this story.

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