BBC audiences materially misled by inaccurate claims from ‘Hardtalk’ host

Earlier this month we noted that the BBC had ignored a protest march organised by teenagers living in communities close to the border with the Gaza Strip.

“Since the BBC began reporting on the ‘Great Return March’ violent rioting over seven months ago, BBC audiences have seen the grand total of one minute and twenty seconds of coverage reflecting the point of view of residents of the Israeli communities close to the Gaza Strip-Israel border who are affected by the violence.”

That particular protest did eventually get a very brief mention in one radio programme over a week later but BBC audiences have heard nothing of the many additional protests organised by those affected by terrorism from the Gaza Strip, both before and after the last serious incident in mid-November.

“Residents of the Gaza border and their supporters protested in Tel Aviv on Saturday night [August 18th 2018 – Ed.], demanding the government to “restore the sense of security.”

The protesters called out “We’re not cannon fodder” and “Bibi, Bibi, wake up, the south is burning”—referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his nickname.

They carried signs saying: “The south is on fire” and “We’re tired of burned fields and weeping children.””

And:

“Hundreds of residents from southern communities, which were battered by recent rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, protested in Tel Aviv on Thursday [November 15th, 2018 – Ed.] against a truce reached with the Hamas terror group and called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign. […]

It followed two days of protests in which southern residents burned tires and blocked the entrances to cities battered by Gaza rocket fire in protest of the ceasefire, which they say has left Hamas poised to renew attacks at will. […]

The truce prompted Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to resign on Wednesday and has drawn criticism from some residents of southern Israel who accuse the government of being soft on Hamas.”

That serially withheld context is critical to audience understanding of the subject matter of an edition of ‘Hardtalk‘ that was aired on the BBC World News and BBC News channels on November 23rd (available in the UK here) and on BBC World Service radio on November 26th.

“Israel’s seemingly indestructible Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dodged another political bullet. After the recent flare up of violence in Gaza, his defence minister quit and another key cabinet hawk- Naftali Bennett, said he would go too if he wasn’t given the defence portfolio. The prime minister called his bluff, and Mr Bennett, who speaks to HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur has decided to stay put after all. What’s behind the chaos in Israeli politics? Are the right wing factions putting their own interests before those of the nation?”

A similar introduction was given by presenter Stephen Sackur. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Sackur: “Israeli politics is always fractious but the last few days have taken the plotting and manoeuvering to another level. The spark was a major flare-up of violence in and around Gaza. An Israeli Special Forces raid [sic] was followed by a sustained volley of militant rockets fired into Israel, with Israeli bombers then responding from the air. The violence ended in an uneasy ceasefire which the hawkish defence minister opposed and prompted his resignation. Another key Israeli cabinet hawk said he would go too if Prime Minister Netanyahu didn’t give him the defence job. The PM called Naftali Bennett’s bluff. Rather than prompt a government collapse, the education minister then backed down. So what on earth is causing this political chaos in Israel? Why is there so much mutual mistrust and loathing on Israel’s right-wing? Well the man at the centre of recent storms, Naftali Bennett, joins me now from Jerusalem.”

The programme followed the usual format employed by Sackur when interviewing an Israeli official or public figure in which he lays out pre-prepared lists of things he considers to be wrong with Israel based on quotes from usually predictable sources – in this case mostly the UN. The opening third of the programme was devoted to domestic Israeli politics: a topic which to most viewers and listeners would be unfamiliar and of little interest.

At 08:15 minutes into the interview, Sackur posed a question-cum-monologue which promoted inaccuracies that are materially misleading to audiences.

Sackur: “You’ve decided to stay in the government. You’ve said – and I’m quoting you again – ‘the ship of Israel’s security has sailed in the wrong direction’. It seems to me that what you’re saying is that – particularly with regard to Gaza – what Israel has done in recent years – including, let us not forget, several wars, the last of which in 2014, Protect…Operation Protective Edge, killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, the UN says at least 65% of those Palestinians were civilians and we know that hundreds of them were children – you’re saying that Israel’s besieging tactics in Gaza – the fact that Gaza doesn’t really have power supplies that work, it doesn’t have clean water, it has a jobless rate of 60% or more – you’re saying all of this isn’t tough enough; that Israel should be hammering Gaza harder. Is that it?”

As long-time readers know, the BBC has made absolutely no effort to independently verify the casualty figures and the debatable civilian-combatant ratios that it has been quoting and promoting for over four years, despite their dubious and partisan sourcing.

Notwithstanding the BBC’s efforts to persuade audiences otherwise, the Gaza Strip is not subject to “besieging tactics” and – as the BBC well knows – the chronic shortages of electricity and potable water in the territory have nothing to do with Israel’s counter-terrorism measures but are the result of internal disputes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Equally misleadingly, Sackur presented the youth unemployment rate (age 15 to 29) as the general unemployment rate, which is actually lower.

After his interviewee had clarified that his calls for firmer action relate to Hamas rather than the people of the Gaza Strip, Sackur interjected with a re-run of his questionable statistics.

Sackur: “Just look at the record, Mr Bennett. I don’t want to repeat myself but the last big assault on Gaza killed more than two thousand Palestinians, most of whom were civilians. We see in our media every week the images of the stand-off between Palestinian protesters who have…sometimes they have stones, sometimes they have flaming torches. They go to the fence. They are shot by Israeli service personnel. We have seen hundred…more than a hundred killed, thousands wounded. And you’re telling me that you want the Israeli army and the Israeli air force to up the ante and kill more people? That’s what you’re saying.”

Readers may recall that just two months ago in an interview with another Israeli official, Sackur used a very similar and equally inaccurate portrayal of what he – and the BBC in general – portrays as ‘protests’, thereby erasing both the severity of the violence and the fact that a significant proportion of those killed had links to the Gaza terror factions which initiated, organise and facilitate the violent rioting. The conversation continued:

Bennett: “I have a better suggestion: that the Palestinians stop shooting rockets at Israel.”

Sackur: “I’m…I don’t know if you’re maybe not understanding my question but when you respond to the rocket fire that we saw as part of that recent flare-up in Gaza, you respond with your air force. Sometimes you respond with troops on the ground. But the reality is – and the record shows it – that the people who suffer are the civilian population, including children. That is the reality. And you want more of it.”

Sackur later pursued his chosen theme further:

Sackur: “Let’s talk about the reality of the UN reaction. We’ve seen the recent – now he’s retired – but the recent UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Zayd Raad al Hussein, say that Israel’s response is suggestive of something entirely and wholly disproportionate and he looks at the casualty figures on the Palestinian side. We also know that the International Criminal Court is still investigating what you did in Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Do you understand that the scrutiny being brought to bear upon Israel goes right through the international community and runs the risk of tarnishing Israel’s reputation in a very significant way?”

Further on in the programme audiences heard Sackur misrepresent Bennett’s proposals concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before claiming that “if Israel pursues your vision it will end up being an apartheid style state”. When Bennett noted the failure of the 2005 Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip to bring calm, Sackur retorted with yet another inaccurate and misleading reference to a ‘siege’ which does not exist.

Sackur:”If, if you intended to besiege…if you intended to lay siege to the West Bank as you did to Gaza, there might be some relevance to that but of course that’s not on the table because you’ve got all these Jewish settlements which you intend to annex…”

photo credit: Sderotnet

Leaving aside the issue of Sackur’s style of interviewing, it is perfectly obvious that his aim in this programme was not to provide BBC audiences with insight into the context to the defence minister’s resignation, not to explain the differences between the approaches of different Israeli politicians to the 17 year long plight of Israeli civilians living under the shadow of terrorism that includes attacks using military grade projectiles and not to answer the questions posed in its own synopsis:

“What’s behind the chaos in Israeli politics? Are the right wing factions putting their own interests before those of the nation?”

Rather – as usual – Sackur was intent on promoting his own agenda: in this case primarily to focus audience attentions on civilian suffering in Gaza and allegedly ‘disproportionate’ Israeli actions. In promoting that agenda, Sackur tossed accuracy and impartiality out of the window, citing dubious casualty ratios, promoting the notion of a non-existent ‘siege’, distorting unemployment figures and falsely claiming that Israel’s actions have brought about power and potable water shortages.  

So much for the BBC’s obligation to provide audiences with “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards…”

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The Gaza related protest the BBC ignored

BBC’s Hardtalk presenter claims Israel ‘slaughters civilian protesters’

 

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BBC’s Hardtalk presenter claims Israel ‘slaughters civilian protesters’

The September 5th edition of the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk‘ was devoted to an interview with Israel’s ambassador at the UN, Danny Danon.

“In the turbulent recent history of the Middle East, has there ever been a time when Israel has seemed more powerful – militarily, diplomatically and economically? Israel has the fulsome support of the Trump Administration and also has common strategic interests with Saudi Arabia and Arab nations preoccupied with perceived threats from Iran. HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur speaks to Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon. Is Israel making wise choices from its position of strength?”

The interview – which was aired on the BBC World News channel, the BBC News channel and on BBC World Service radio, with a clip also posted on the BBC News website – followed the usual format employed by presenter Stephen Sackur in which he lays out pre-prepared lists of things he considers to be wrong with Israel in front of an Israeli official or public figure based on claims from a particular brand of sources – in this case including Michael Sfard, UNRWA’s Chris Gunness, the EU, Amnesty International and the FMEP‘s Lara Friedman.

However, one section of this programme is particularly noteworthy because it once again provides evidence of the BBC’s efforts to rewrite the narrative concerning one particular recent news story in the minds of its audiences.

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

[03:37] Sackur: “Yeah but…but of course many of the engagements and conflicts that we see Israel…ah…occupied with are actually not about Israel in an existential struggle for survival – in fact, quite the contrary. Since March of this year we’ve seen 5 months of the Israeli military lining up along the border with the Gaza Strip using live fire ammunition against Palestinian protesters. More than 165 have been killed including 23 Palestinians under the age of 18. I guess Mr. Netanyahu just regards that as proof that the Middle East is, again, quote ‘no place for the weak. The weak crumble and are slaughtered’. And that’s what Israel’s doing.”

As Danon then tried to explain, the out of context and edited quote employed by Sackur in fact related to Iranian threats against Israel. Interrupting him, Sackur however persisted.

Sackur: “No, no Ambassador. With respect my question…my question is not about Iran. My question is about civilian protesters in the Gaza Strip who for many months have been protesting along the border fence. They do not carry guns. Admittedly some of them throw stones; they even fly kites with flaming torches on them at times. But what they do not have is guns and the Israeli military responds with live fire.”

After Danon had noted that the ‘Great Return March’ is “orchestrated by Hamas”, that violent rioters have indeed used guns and Molotov cocktails and tried to infiltrate Israeli territory and that calling the events of the past five months a peaceful demonstration “is a lie”, Sackur retorted:

Sackur: “You’re sitting in New York. I’m sitting in London. I’m inclined to take the word of a very experienced Israeli human rights lawyer, Michael Sfard, who has looked at cases where the Israeli military opened fire in the last five months and he says it is quite clear lethal force against unarmed civilians who do not pose a danger is illegal and this is the crux of many cases there on the Gaza border.”

Sackur of course did not bother to inform BBC audiences of the fact that the “human rights lawyer” whose word he is “inclined to take” and the political NGOs cast as ‘human rights groups’ which Sfard represents come from a very specific side of the political spectrum.

As regular readers know the BBC refrained from providing its audiences with information concerning the organisations and motives behind the ‘Great Return March’ events that have been staged since March 30th – even though that information was publicly available in advance.

The BBC has repeatedly whitewashed the links of terror factions to the weekly agitprop, downplaying and erasing their role in its encouragement, organisation, financing and facilitation.

The fact that a significant proportion of those killed during the violent rioting – including under 18s – have been shown to have links to Gaza Strip based terror factions has been downplayed and ignored by the BBC.

Violent incidents have also been serially ignored and the BBC’s editorial approach to this story has been to repeatedly portray it as one that is about ‘peaceful protesters’ killed by Israel’s armed forces.

As we see, Stephen Sackur has fully taken that editorial policy onboard. Carefully avoiding mentioning the name of the pre-planned violent rioting – the ‘Great Return March’ – he inaccurately told BBC audiences that a project with the self-proclaimed aim of having millions of people categorised as Palestinian refugees ‘return‘ to Israeli territory is “actually not about Israel in an existential struggle for survival”.

Describing violent rioters and would-be infiltrators – including proven members of terror factions – as “Palestinian protesters” and “civilian protesters” who are being “slaughtered”, Sackur twice inaccurately told BBC audiences that they “do not carry guns” while making a facetious reference to “stones” and “kites“. In order to present that distorted picture, Sackur deliberately ignored numerous border infiltrations, hundreds of petrol bomb attacks, scores of IED attacks, dozens of shooting attacks, at least nine attacks with grenades.

It is all too obvious that Sackur’s inaccurate portrayal is not merely the product of months of shoddy news reporting or uninformed discussion of current affairs. It is part and parcel of the BBC’s creation and promotion of a politically motivated false narrative which does nothing to serve its public purpose of helping audiences understand this story.

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Palestinian envoy’s falsehoods go unchallenged on BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ – part one

 

 

 

 

Palestinian envoy’s falsehoods go unchallenged on BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, in the first part of the July 19th edition of ‘Hardtalk‘ (aired on the BBC News channel and the BBC World News channel and available to viewers in the UK on BBC iPlayer for the next eleven months) BBC audiences were exposed to a series of falsehoods, distortions and whitewashing of the ‘Great Return March’ violence that has been taking place throughout the past four and a half months.

After presenter Stephen Sackur had allowed his guest the PA envoy Riyad Mansour to get away with pretending not to have heard violent threats against Israelis from Hamas’ top man in the Gaza Strip, he changed the topic of the conversation.

Sackur: “You earlier referred to Gaza as a prison. You talked about the desperate conditions – humanitarian conditions – that people live in; pretty much 2 million people inside the Gaza Strip. In that circumstance, why is it that over recent months the Palestinian Authority has been imposing its own financial punishments and sanctions on the people of Gaza?”

Mansour retorted “I would not use, you know, these words that you are using” before going on to state that the Palestinian National Council had authorised the payment of salaries to employees of the Palestinian National Authority in Gaza.

Viewers were not told that those employees – who have not worked since 2007 – have repeatedly had their salaries cut and withheld by the Fatah dominated PA since April 2017. Instead, interrupting Mansour, Sackur went on:

Sackur: “Well forgive me Ambassador; maybe it’s slipped your mind but you know in recent months, after the failure it seems of the last reconciliation deal between Hamas and Fatah, what we’ve seen is Mahmoud Abbas – the president of the Palestinian Authority – impose different punishments on Gaza including holding shipments of medicine, cutting payments for Gaza’s electricity; all sorts of different ways in which the people of Gaza are suffering – not at the hands of Israel or even Egypt which closes its border crossing with Gaza – but at the hands of fellow Palestinians.”

As regular readers will be aware, BBC audiences have not been informed of the PA’s cuts of medical supplies and treatment referrals to Gaza Strip residents. Moreover, since that PA policy began, the BBC has continued to mislead audiences with regard to the background to the chronic crisis affecting healthcare in the Gaza Strip by leading them to believe that it is connected to Israel’s counter-terrorism measures.

Similarly, with the exception of one report on the BBC News website, audiences have been repeatedly led to mistakenly believe that the chronic electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip is also related to those same counter-terrorism measures. It is therefore highly unlikely that viewers of this programme would be able to recognise Mansour’s denial as the falsehood it is.

Mansour: “I don’t think that this is accurate but if you’re saying that there is much more that can be done to help our people in Gaza, that is true. And the Palestinian government – including President Mahmoud Abbas – is trying with many parties, including the Egyptians and the United Nations and other parties, to alleviate the situation, the difficult situation of our people in the Gaza Strip.”

Sackur then asked:

Sackur: “I mean you say you represent all Palestinians: have you seen the various protests and demonstrations by Palestinians against the policy of the Palestinian Authority inside Gaza? Have you also heard another senior Palestinian – I’m sure a man you know well; Mohamed Dahlan – who has called the PA government corrupt, fascist for punishing the Palestinians of Gaza. He says ‘I can understand the hardships facing the Palestinians. I cannot understand that the Palestinian leadership is imposing additional burdens on the people of Gaza’.”

Seeing as the internal Palestinian power struggles that are the background to Sackur’s chosen quote have been completely concealed from BBC audiences, it is highly unlikely that viewers would be able to put Mansour’s reply into its appropriate context.

Mansour: “Well I wouldn’t use quotation from the individual that you refer to. He used to be representing the Palestinian National Authority in the Gaza Strip. If he is referring to his conduct at that time then one can talk more of that. But he cannot speak with authority or respect about the behaviour of the Palestinian National Authority and the leadership of the Palestinian people, whether in the Gaza Strip or other parts of the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Sackur went on to pose two questions relating to Hamas-Fatah reconciliation and viewers heard Mansour state that the PA’s top priority is reuniting the “land of the State of Palestine”, even though no such state currently exists. Despite the BBC’s style guide recognising that fact – “There is no independent state of Palestine today” – viewers then heard Sackur use the same term.

Sackur: “There is another development which may or may not come to fruition in the next few weeks and that is the grand plan, the ultimate deal, the deal of the century that Donald Trump and his team say they’re going to put on the table to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict. Jared Kushner, his son-in-law is in charge of it. He said recently after a trip to the Middle East where he saw the Israelis, he saw the Saudis, he saw the Gulf leaders – he didn’t see any Palestinians ‘cos you appear to be absolutely unwilling to talk to the Trump team – Kushner said this: ‘the Palestinian leadership is scared that we will release our peace plan and the Palestinian people will actually like it’. Are you scared?”

Referring to Kushner, Mansour claimed “He is on one hand talking tough and on the other hand he is begging for us to engage with him” before going on:

Mansour: “For us if Jerusalem is off the table, refugees off the table and those who say that they are concerned about our people in the Gaza Strip they cut off $300 million from the budget of UNRWA, so how could you be helping the people in the Gaza Strip by depriving them of this large sum of money that helps 1.2 million Palestine refugees in the Gaza Strip? And also they say settlements now is not objectionable and they don’t refer much to the occupied Palestinian territories. What is left on the table to talk about?”

Sackur “Why are the Saudis, the Gulf State leadership, the Egyptians and the Jordanians all very happy to talk to the Americans and appear to be involved in trying to figure out how a peace plan might work? It seems you’re dangerously isolated.”

Mansour: “We are not isolated. They are engaging them for their own reasons including things related, you know, to the role of Iran in the region.”

Mansour went on to state that the PA wants to convening “an international conference” of “all relevant parties including the Americans, including the Europeans, the Russians, the Chinese, the Japanese and others” while claiming that the Americans “disqualified themselves from being honest broker”.

Sackur pointed out that there “won’t be a process without the Americans”, asking:

Sackur: “Are you Palestinians seriously saying that as long as Donald Trump’s in the White House you will not in any way whatsoever engage with the Americans?”

Mansour: “We will engage with them in collective process, through an international conference.”

Mansour then claimed that the UN Security Council had “legislated a decision to call for an international conference to be convened in Moscow”. Sackur did not clarify to viewers that he was apparently referring to the decade-old UN SC resolution 1850 which Abbas tried to resurrect in February of this year.

Sackur next raised the subject of opinion polls showing dissatisfaction with Palestinian leadership, stating “more than 60% of Palestinians…think Abbas should resign” and pointing out that he has “no obvious successor”.

Unchallenged by Sackur, viewers heard Mansour promote the fiction that the Palestinians have been ‘peacefully’ negotiating with Israel “for more than 20 years”.

Mansour: “One cannot blame the Palestinian people for their frustration. We tried the peaceful negotiation process for more than 20 years after the Oslo agreement and instead of putting an end to this occupation and enjoying independence, the reality on the ground moved from bad to worse, especially in the field of settlements. So one cannot but, you know, understand this frustration and the negative feeling among the Palestinian people.”

In response to Sackur’s statement that a generation of Palestinian leaders have failed, Mansour claimed “we assume our share of the responsibility” and went on to say that as a result the Palestinian National Council decided “to dissociate ourselves from the occupation and also not to continue on the path that did not lead us to the end of occupation, meaning the old style of negotiation.”

When Sackur again asked why Mahmoud Abbas has no obvious successor his guest replied:

Mansour: “I am confident that the Palestinian people will be able to elect the appropriate leader to lead us for the ongoing stage.”

Refraining from pointing out that the Palestinian people have not been able to elect their leaders for over twelve years, Sackur ended the interview there.

As we see, BBC audiences did not see any serious challenge from Stephen Sackur in response to Riyad Mansour’s lies about the ‘Great Return March’ and although Sackur twice insisted in the course of the interview that it was his job to ask ‘hard questions’, he continued to allow him to promote falsehoods on numerous other issues and to whitewash Palestinian violence.

It is of course difficult to see the point of an interview which includes questions relating to topics which the BBC has serially seriously under-reported (such as internal Palestinian power struggles and corruption) or inaccurately reported (such as medical supplies and electricity shortages in the Gaza Strip) – meaning that viewers do not have the basic knowledge necessary to understand the background to the question or form an opinion on the answer.

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Palestinian envoy’s falsehoods go unchallenged on BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ – part one

 

Palestinian envoy’s falsehoods go unchallenged on BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ – part one

As we have sadly had cause to note here on countless occasions over the past four and a half months, the BBC’s coverage of the ‘Great Return March’ propaganda stunt has not included providing audiences with details of the terror factions involved in its planning and organisation.

The BBC has repeatedly and exclusively promoted Hamas-sourced casualty figures while failing to clarify that the terror group is one of the factions involved in financing and facilitating what it repeatedly blandly describes as “protests”.

Many of the BBC’s reports have ignored or severely downplayed the violent rioting which has included hundreds of petrol bomb attacks, IED attacks, grenade attacks and shooting attacks as well as infiltration attempts and for three months the BBC ignored the issue of the arson attacks launched as part of the weekly agitprop. When it emerged that a significant proportion of those killed during the violent rioting were linked to various Gaza based terror factions, the BBC did a disappearing act.

Those editorial policies were on display once again in the July 19th edition of ‘Hardtalk‘ aired on the BBC News channel and the BBC World News channel, which will remain available to viewers in the UK on BBC iPlayer for the next eleven months.

“There have been three costly spasms of violent conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza over the last 11 years. In the past week, a fourth seemed dangerously close. HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur speaks to Palestine’s Ambassador at the United Nations, Riyad Mansour. With the Trump administration claiming a new US peace plan is coming soon, is there any prospect of change in the grim status quo?”

The programme commenced with presenter Stephen Sackur asking Riyad Mansour the same question three times while quoting Hamas sourced casualty figures and portraying violent rioting as ‘protests’.

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

Sackur: “Let me begin with a very grim figure. It now seems 140 Palestinians at least have been killed by Israeli forces during protests that began in March along the Gaza-Israel border. Is it not time now for senior Palestinians such as yourself to make a clear call to all Palestinians in Gaza to stop those protests in the interests of saving life?

Mansour: “Well I think you have it the wrong way. It is in the interest of saving lives that Israel should stop killing Palestinian civilians and injuring more than 15,000 since March 30th. And the international community is on the side of this kind of articulation because when we went to the Security Council seeking protection for the civilian population from Israeli attacks and aggression against our civilian population, the great majority of members of the Security Council endorsed the draft resolution which was denied by casting one single vote. And then we went to the General Assembly and we have a resolution that was adopted by 120 countries versus 8 calling for providing international protection for the civilian population in the occupied Palestinian territory and the Secretary General was asked to submit a report with recommendations and suggestions to provide protection for the civilian population – the Palestinian civilian population – including international protection mechanism and he has until the 13th of next month to submit that report. We are engaging his teams with ideas and suggestions to fulfil such a demand for providing protection for the civilian population under Israeli occupation.”

Sackur did not bother to clarify to viewers that the UN GA resolution to which Mansour referred is non-binding.

Failing to challenge his guest’s repeated inaccurate and misleading portrayal of those involved in the ‘Great Return March’ as exclusively ‘civilians’ Sackur went on:

Sackur: “There is no doubt that governments and human rights groups as well have issued words of condemnation of the way Israel’s forces have handled this on the border.”

He then repeated his question while severely downplaying the violence, attacks and border infiltrations which have characterised the weekly events since their inception.

Sackur: “Is it not time for Palestinian officials to tell all of those who gather at the border – including those who go with Molotov cocktails and those who go with the kites and the balloons which carry those firebombs over the fence and onto Israeli farmland – is it not time for you to call a halt to all of that?”

Mansour: “I think that when you have people living in that huge prison in the Gaza Strip – 2 million of them – for a long period of time, there is a tremendous amount of poverty, a dire situation and frustration. So when the civilian population decided from the 30th of March to peacefully protest against that miserable, disgusting situation why is it that, you know, that somebody to suggest for the Palestinian civilian population to stop, you know, their civilian activities, peaceful activities against this occupation, to lift the blockade and to allow the Palestinian civilians to enjoy in the Gaza Strip the access and movement…”

With no challenge to his guest’s inaccurate description of the violent rioting and attacks as ‘peaceful protest’ and making to effort to remind viewers that the Gaza Strip has not been ‘occupied’ for thirteen years, Sackur interrupted Mansour in order to pose his question for a third time.

Sackur: “Whatever the situation in terms of Israel’s open fire policy on that border, you know and Hamas leaders in Gaza know that if people go down to that border – particularly if they go with an intent to throw Molotov cocktails or fly their kites – they are going to be targeted and in the interests of saving life, is it not time for this to end?”

Mansour: “I think that it is in the interest of saving lives to do the following: one, for the Israeli armed forces not to be trigger happy to aim at civilians and to shoot them. Secondly, if international presence to get closer to the borders – whether UN international presence or Red Cross teams – I think that that would lead to saving civilian lives. It is the right of not only the civilian Palestinian population but all civilian populations in any corner of the globe have the right to peacefully protest against certain issues that are influencing them in a very negative way. That is also including the Palestinian civilian population in the occupied territory including in the Gaza Strip.”

Sackur: “Things have escalated in the last week or so as you know. Last weekend we saw roughly 200 rockets and mortars fired towards Israeli territory from positions inside Gaza. Sderot – one Israeli town – was hit. In return the Israelis used their war planes to bomb targets across Gaza. What is your message to those inside Gaza who resumed the rocket and mortar fire?”

Sackur failed to clarify that those events in fact began when an Israeli officer was wounded in a grenade attack during what only seconds before had been portrayed to BBC audiences as ‘peaceful protest’, thereby paving the way for Mansour’s subsequent distortion of events.

Mansour: “Well first of all I’m not so sure that, you know, that this cycle of violence was initiated by the Palestinians. I think it was initiated by the Israeli aircraft and their bombardment, by their artillery in which a number of children were killed – at least four – and more than 65 have been injured through this violence from the Israeli side. I don’t believe that there is, you know, but maybe one or two from the Israeli side that were injured through this cycle of violence. From our position that we declare very repeatedly, we are against the killing of innocent civilians from any side and under any conditions.”

Failing to ask Mansour exactly how that ‘position’ aligns with the Palestinian Authority’s provision of financial rewards for terrorism, Sackur allowed Mansour to claim that an “international presence” would “provide protection for our people and would put an end to any justification from the Israeli side to unleash its massive military and armed fire against the civilian population.”

Quoting a speech made by Yahya Sinwar in April, Sackur went on:

Sackur: “One more question about Hamas. Obviously you represent the Palestinian Authority as the ambassador at the United Nations. Hamas – not the Palestinian Authority – is in control in Gaza and the leader of Hamas – I think he’s styled the prime minister – Yahya Sinwar, he said of the continued protests ‘we will ultimately take down the border and we’ll tear out their hearts from their bodies’. Of course he’s talking about Israelis – Israeli citizens. What is your view of language like that?”

Mansour: “First of all, I am the representative of the State of Palestine at the United Nations and I represent not only the Palestinian National Authority – I represent all Palestinians inside the occupied territories and outside the occupied territories.”

Sackur: “So you represent Yahya Sinwar?”

Mansour: “I represent everyone.”

Sackur: “So tell me what is your message to Yahya Sinwar?”

Mansour: “I represent all the Palestinian people, including those in the Gaza Strip, here at the UN. With regard to the statement that you refer to, I did not hear it – I am a man of peace, I work under international law, I promote and uphold international law at the UN. In defending the interests of the Palestinian people I do not advocate war. I stand against aggression against all people including the Palestinian people who live under the Israeli occupation including in the Gaza Strip.”

Sackur: “It’s not so much a question of what you advocate it’s a question of what you’re prepared to unilaterally and categorically condemn. Will you condemn those words that I quoted to you?”

Mansour: “I condemn all words that harm civilian populations, whomever they’re emanating from and whomever they’re directed against.”

Refraining from exploring the obviously interesting topic of Hamas being represented at the UN according to the Palestinian envoy and ignoring Mansour’s convenient side-stepping of the issue of Hamas’ blatant agression, Sackur then changed the subject – as we will see in part two of this post.

BBC presenter objects to anti-extremism campaigner’s description of Hamas

h/t JS,VG

The May 30th edition of ‘Hardtalk‘ featured an interview with Ed Husain.

“Zeinab Badawi speaks to the British writer and commentator Ed Husain, who believes the gulf between Islam and the West is widening and that westerners see the religion as something to be feared rather than understood. He spent several years as a radical Islamist and then turned his back on jihadism and has written about his own personal journey as well as trying to explain why people join extremist groups. Now he is calling on moderate Muslims to reclaim their religion from the extremists. But is he oversimplifying a complex issue and playing into the hands of Islamaphobes?”

An audio version of the programme was aired on BBC World Service Radio and a filmed version shown on the BBC News Channel. The programme is also available as a podcast.

No less interesting than some of the views put forward by the programme’s guest were those promoted by its host Zeinab Badawi.

For example, following a question from Badawi as to whether he had contemplated violent acts himself during his jihadist years, Husain answered:

02:32 Husain: “Personally I didn’t walk the violent pathway but I remember raising funds for extremist organisations, for terrorists. Today I look back and I wonder why was I in – for example – the East London Mosque raising funds for Hamas because we saw that as the right thing to do. Now millions of…”

Badawi immediately interrupted him:

Badawi: “Hamas isn’t quite equated though with the so-called Islamic State, is it?”

Husain: “I accept that it’s not the Islamic State but it is an extremist group with a terrorist agenda and it does want to bring an end to Israel’s existence and we were supporting its martyrs who were in fact murderers and it was that, that area that was blurred from any of us and it shouldn’t be. So my concern is that many, many young Muslims are today exposed to those kinds of extremist interpretations of Islam that are taking them away from leading a peaceful, normal, coexistence-based live-and-let-live life.”

Badawi: “Yeah. We won’t talk about Hamas but of course there are many Palestinians who support it because they see it as a legitimate voice in their struggle for…erm…you know, reclaiming their territory.”

Hamas of course makes no secret of its intention to take over the whole of Israel and destroy the Jewish state. One must therefore assume that the BBC is at ease with the presentation of that as “reclaiming their territory”.

Throughout the rest of the interview audiences heard some equally notable statements and opinions from Badawi and some interesting replies from Husain – not least in response to her portrayal of the Muslim Council of Britain.

 

 

 

 

 

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ hosts Ahmad Tibi – part two

In part one of this post we discussed the first half of a ‘Hardtalk’ interview with Israeli MK Ahmad Tibi which was aired on a variety of BBC platforms on March 7th.

Tibi next brought up the subject of the October 2000 incidents. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

AT “Thirteen of us, Stephen, were shot by snipers and killed in 2000 – citizens of the State of Israel – because we just demonstrated against Ariel Sharon getting into Al Aqsa Mosque. Thirteen of us. From that point, until today, 55 Arab citizens were killed by the Israeli security authorities without being prosecuted. We are in danger because of the way Israeli police is dealing with us as enemies – not as citizens. But I am not in a position to preach Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank how to resist. It is the natural way people, nation, under occupation are resisting…” 

Sackur failed to inform audiences that Ariel Sharon did not ‘get into’ Al Aqsa Mosque at all but made a visit to Temple Mount that had been pre-coordinated with Palestinian security forces. Neither did he bother to tell BBC audiences that Tibi’s claim that those killed in October 2000 were “just” demonstrating is not supported by the findings of the official investigation into those incidents:

“The events of October 2000 shook the earth. The riots in the Arab sector inside the State of Israel in early October were unprecedented. The events were extremely unusual from several perspectives. Thousands participated, at many locations, at the same time. The intensity of the violence and aggression expressed in the events was extremely powerful. Against security forces, and even against civilians, use was made of a variety of means of attack, including a small number of live fire incidents, Molotov cocktails, ball bearings in slingshots, various methods of stone throwing and the rolling of burning tires. Jews were attacked on the roads for being Jewish and their property was destroyed. In a number of incidences, they were just inches from death at the hands of an unrestrained mob.” 

Sackur also refrained from asking Tibi how many of the Arab-Israelis he claims were “killed by the Israeli security authorities without being prosecuted” were at the time involved in acts of terrorism.

SS: “It’s not…it’s not your fight, really it’s not your fight, is it?”

AT: “It’s my nation fight. I am a Palestinian also and I… “

SS: “Well but you’re also an Israeli. You happen to have the vote. You happen to have a seat in the Knesset. You know this…there is a distinction between you and those Palestinians who live on the West Bank, who live under military occupation and of course we can talk about the subset – the other Palestinians living in exile beyond the borders…”

AT: “They are suffering much more…”

SS: “Yes but I’m interested in the position of the Arab Israelis and it seems to me amongst Arab Israelis, the overwhelming feeling is one of weary acceptance. If you look at opinion polls – and there have been several in the last year which show that actually a clear majority of Arab Israelis have a positive feeling about their lives in Israel. A positive feeling.”

AT: I am smiling because I am living there. Arabs – Arab citizens of the State of Israel – are discriminated in all field of life and in polls – scientific polls; not polls of Israeli rightist newspapers – they are saying that they feel second or third degree. Not only they are feeling the discrimination in land allocation but budget, employment, agriculture, no industrial zones. We are discriminated in all fields of life.”

All Israeli citizens are of course entitled to equal rights by law. To take Tibi’s claim that Arab citizens of Israel have “no industrial zones” because of discrimination as an example – the Ministry of Economy and Industry lists at least eighteen industrial zones in Arab, Bedouin and Druze communities – from Rahat in the south to Sakhnin in the north. Once again, however, Tibi’s falsehoods went unchallenged by Sackur.

SS: “Well the Israel Democracy Institute ran a major poll last year. Most Arab-Israelis – 60.5% – describe their personal situation as good or very good. It doesn’t seem to match what you’re saying at all.”

AT: “I don’t agree with these results. We are living there but there are other points that you are not bringing here saying that at least 75% of the Arab citizens are saying that they do believe the state is dealing with them as enemies not as equal citizens.”

Sackur then promoted a partisan view of ‘international law’ as fact.

SS:” Why do you think thousands of Arabs living in Jerusalem – and they have a very difficult grey area status because of course under international law East Jerusalem is occupied territory – but they are regarded, since the annexation by Israel of East Jerusalem, as people with rights to residency and, indeed, the right to apply for citizenship in Israel and thousands have indeed applied for citizenship. What does that tell you?”

AT: “Only thousands. We are talking about almost 300,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem; you are talking about thousands. And it says a lot. Those Palestinians in East Jerusalem are facing strangulation policy, deportation, revoking their identity card, sending them out of Jerusalem – thousands of them. It is to say that the education system in East Jerusalem is one of the worst education system conditions led by the Israeli authorities. It is to say that those in East Jerusalem – Palestinians – not all of them are free to get into Al Aqsa Mosque. Demolition orders in East Jerusalem, but more also in other villages, in Arab villages inside Israel, because of lack of planning and housing. Do you know, Stephen, that there is a law called community villages law forbidding, preventing me, Ahmad Tibi, as an Israeli citizen, Arab citizen, from living in 800 community villages. I can live here in London or in Manhattan but not in these areas.”

Sackur failed to note the context of security considerations which sometimes limit access to the Al Aqsa Mosque to males under a certain age. He refrained from asking Tibi whether his claim that residents of East Jerusalem are being ‘deported’ or having their ID cards ‘revoked’ in fact relates to a small number of terrorists, their accomplices and family members of terrorists. Curiously – considering that between 1967 and 2014, the percentage of Arabs making up Jerusalem’s population rose from 26% to 37% – Sackur did not ask Tibi to provide evidence to support his claim that “thousands” have been ‘sent out’ of Jerusalem.

The law Tibi describes as “community villages law” is the Cooperative Associations Law and it relates to fewer than five hundred – not “800” – small communities of up to four hundred families that are situated in the Negev or the Galilee. Such communities are entitled to have an admissions committee which can screen potential residents. In contrast to the impression given by Tibi, all applicants of any creed or ethnicity meet with the admissions committee and the law expressly states that communities cannot reject applicants for reasons of race, religion, gender or nationality. Stephen Sackur, however, made no effort to relieve audiences of the false impression deliberately propagated by Ahmad Tibi.

Making no effort to explain to audiences what Zionism actually is, Sackur went on:

SS: “Are you saying – and using the words of that resolution from the United Nations in 1975 – are you saying that you still regard Zionism as racism?”

AT: “The practice of Zionism daily is to say that Jews are superior to non- Jews in Israel.”

SS: “Well answer this because it is a very famous UN resolution and it was repealed…repealed…one of the only UN that has ever been repealed 16 years later because consensus across the world that that language was unacceptable and wrong. I’m just asking you whether you actually still use that phrase.”

AT: “We Palestinians – mainly Palestinians inside Israel or outside the Green Line, [are] victims of Zionism because of racism of many aspects of Zionism against non- Jews, mainly original or indigenous Palestinians.”

Sackur then turned the conversation to the topic of elimination of the Jewish state.

SS: “You see I think this debate is important because right now there is a discussion both inside Israel, amongst Arabs outside of the territories but also amongst Palestinians and Arab Israelis, about what is going to happen if the two-state solution is dead. And we’ve discussed Donald Trump and we’ve discussed the current political situation and nobody would pretend that the two-state solution looks alive right now. So there is a unitary state solution and if there is to be a unitary state, do you believe it would be acceptable for the Jewish Israeli population to be in a minority?”

AT: “The speech of Mr Trump adopted the Israeli narrative and it was a bullet in the head of the two-state solution, of the two-state vision. Instead of two-state solution it became two-state illusion. That’s why there are more and more talk about one state solution.”

SS: “You’ve talked about it.”

AT: “I’ve talked about it.”

SS: “You even posited the notion that you might run for Prime Minister of a unitary state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River and you said ‘if it was a run-off between me and Mr Netanyahu, I would win, no doubt about it’.”

AT: “If this will be the case, and equal right will be there between Jews and Arabs from the sea to the river, a Palestinian will win the post of the Prime Minister.”

SS: “I very advisedly asked you, can you countenance…do you think it is in any way realistic to think that the Jewish population of Israel will ever accept a situation in which they are in a minority? This is the country that was set up under a UN resolution as the homeland for the Jews after the Second World War. You understand that, I believe, better than most Arabs because you made a very famous speech understanding the impact of the Holocaust on the Jewish people and on the creation of the state of Israel. So I put it to you again; can you imagine a unitary state where the Jewish population is in a minority?”

AT: “”We, I, as a victim of the victim in that speech, can tell you that I know, I realise that for the Israelis, it’s a nightmare to talk about equal one democratic state. That’s why, when you are giving two choices for them, two-state solution or one-state solution, they are immediately choosing the third choice, which is not there, the status quo. That is why I am saying two-state solution is the optimal solution that the international community is supporting. But the condition is immediate ending of the occupation and Israel is rearranging the occupation.”

SS: “Yeah, but you don’t just say that. You say very inflammatory things. In an interview not so long ago, you allowed your imagination to run. You said ‘we will, if there is to be a unitary state, we will annul the declaration of independence from 1948. In its place, we will write a civil declaration that represents all citizens – Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze’. You said ‘it is untenable for a democratic state to have a declaration of independence that is fundamentally Jewish’. You were asked what would the country’s name be? You said ‘I don’t know: its Parliament will decide’. What about the flag? You were asked and you said ‘yes, that will have to change’. Now when you say these things, how do you think Israelis – Jewish Israelis – respond?”

Sackur could also have raised the no less relevant point that in the same interview, Tibi declared that the Law of Return “would automatically be annulled, because the country would no longer be a Jewish state as it is today”.

AT: “When Israelis are killing Palestinians, how we would react? It is a democratic vision. I think that any democratic in Europe, in the international community, should respect my vision of democracy if there will not be a two-state solution. Yes, I want to be equal with Israeli Jews. I want to be equal with anybody in Tel Aviv and Tayibe, Nazareth and Hadera. But I will never accept to be inferior to any Israeli Jew just because the state is defining itself as a Jewish state. Because defining yourself as Jewish and democratic, it’s an oxymoron, Stephen and this is an oxymoron that we are fighting against day by day.”

SS: “If I may say so, it seems to me your speech was based on empathy and a genuine effort to understand the Israeli mindset. One aspect of the Israeli mindset is that they see more than a decade ago when the Palestinians had a free election, that a majority, at least in Gaza, voted quite clearly for Hamas – a movement that is dedicated in its original constitution to the destruction of the State of Israel.”

AT: “Stephen, do you want new rules for democracy? It’s election. It’s democracy. Palestinian people, like in England, like in Germany, like in France, like even in the United States – who just elected very bizarre president – we Palestinians are free to elect exactly what the Palestinians want. Once it is Fatah, once it’s Hamas.”

SS: “And you think the Israelis are going to listen to this and your belief that, oh, the Palestinians can choose Hamas if they want to and still believe that there is any possible reason why they should listen to you talking about unitary state?”

AT: “They can listen to me talking about two-state solution. They are not listening. Neither for that, nor for that. And what is Netanyahu proposing for Israelis and Palestinians? More and more war, more and more confrontation, more and more friction, more and more bloodshed. I am proposing peace. I am proposing freedom for Palestinians and peace for Israelis and Palestinians. It is challenging.”

Sackur then brought up a topic which audiences would no doubt have had difficulty understanding seeing as the BBC has studiously avoided reporting it.

SS: “It is. If you wanted to build some bridges and build some confidence, there are certain things you could do. I mean for a start, you could denounce your fellow Arab-Israeli member of Knesset who is now in prison because he was smuggling telephones to Palestinian prisoners – Mr Ghattas. What did you make of what he did and how disappointed were you in him?”

AT: “The 13 MKs of the Joint List, all of us, are not using this way of struggle in order to act as parliamentarians. It is not the way. He said so. His colleagues in Balad said so. We, myself and others said so, and he is paying the price in the jail.” 

Sackur failed to inform audiences that, despite Tibi’s claims to the contrary, neither Ghattas nor some of his Joint List former colleagues have shown any sign of having reached the conclusion that “it is not the way”.

SS: “And why did you boycott Shimon Peres’ funeral?”

AT: “Because…I carried my condolences to his daughter…”

SS: No, you didn’t go to the funeral. Even Mahmoud Abbas went to the funeral. I’m just wondering again what kind of signal you are sending to the Israelis.”

AT: “Am I obliged to act exactly as the consensus – the Israeli consensus – is demanding from me? There is historical problem. I can understand Israelis when they cannot do something that hurt their feelings. Please understand our feeling as national leaders.”

SS: “I just wonder whether you pay heed to the words of the first Arab-Israeli to be a Supreme Court justice – and that in itself tells you something about the Israeli system. Salim Joubran, you know, he served in the Supreme Court, he was proud to do so, and toward the time he was leaving, he said, ‘yes, I complain a lot about the State of Israel’s treatment of Arab Israelis, but I am also complaining about us – leaders of the Arab community. We must take responsibility and handle problems’. Hasn’t got a point there? That you spend so much time grandstanding about the long-term prospects for a peaceful solution between Arab… between Palestinian and Israeli, you don’t spend much time trying to deliver a better life for your constituents.”

AT: “You are mistaken, Stephen, because according to the statistics and numbers of the Knesset activity, 85% of our activity is focused on social and economical issues of our community. And there is misleading coverage of our activity. Yes, we are responsible for the well-being of our community. We should be much more interested, focusing, acting in the issue, for example, of violence in our community, which is almost devastating.”

SS: “It’s a scourge – particularly violence against women inside Arab-Israeli communities.”

AT: “And who is taking part in every demonstration against that? Who issued a motion against that? Who issued a motion against using weapons in community events? Myself.”

SS: “And I guess that what the Israelis – I can hear the voices in my head – the Israelis watching this will say yes, and you are much freer to make those sorts of protests and to demand better from the community inside Israel that you would be if you were living in a village in the West Bank or indeed a different Arab country.”

AT: “Say it; in Syria or in Libya. Say it.”

SS: “Well, you can say it.”

AT: “It is a racist notice. You know why? Because to tell me, Ahmad, that because I am Arab that I should move to Syria, as they are demanding day by day in the Knesset, or I should compare myself to Third World countries, non-democratic, totalitarian regimes, when Israel is claiming it is democracy. The control group and the control states, Stephen, should be Sweden, France, England – not Libya, not Syria, not third states…Third World states in Africa or south America. I want to be equal, exactly like citizens in Kochav Yair, in Tel Aviv and I do not want to be compared with totalitarian regimes, but with democratic states. It is the test. Can you accept the idea that an Israeli citizen who is Arab is willing to be equal? “

SS: “It’s a good way to end this interview. Ahmad Tibi, thank you very much for being on Hardtalk.”

The people referred to by Sackur as “Israelis watching this” are of course not in need of a BBC programme to enlighten them on the topic of Ahmad Tibi’s record, views and agenda: they have after all spent nearly two decades watching him function as an anti-Zionist MK in their own parliament – perhaps the best refutation of his claims of ‘discrimination’ that there could be.

While it can be said that Stephen Sackur did question Ahmad Tibi on some of the positions he holds, the fact remains that BBC audiences around the world watching or listening to this programme went away with a plethora of inaccurate impressions about Israel due to the fact that Sackur refrained from challenging any of the multiple smears, falsehoods and distortions promoted by Tibi in this interview.

Related Articles:

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ hosts Ahmad Tibi – part one

 

 

 

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ hosts Ahmad Tibi – part one

Israeli MK Ahmad Tibi from the Joint List travelled to London earlier this month to speak at a conference organised by the pro-Hamas organisation ‘Middle East Monitor’ (MEMO).

While in the British capital, Tibi also gave an interview (available here to UK audiences and also here) to the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk‘ which was aired on March 7th on the BBC News Channel and the BBC World News Channel. A clip from the interview was promoted on the BBC News website under the title “Ahmad Tibi: Trump ‘promoting anarchy’ in Middle East” and an audio version was broadcast on BBC World Service radio (and also made available as a podcast) where it was presented with the following synopsis: 

“Stephen Sackur speaks to Ahmad Tibi. He is a veteran Arab Israeli MP and one time adviser to Yasser Arafat. President Donald Trump claimed he could broker the deal of the century between Israel and the Palestinian. Instead he seems to have entrenched the hostility after recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Is the Arab-Israeli experience a sign that the status quo is the only viable response to the conflict between Jews and Arabs?”

Stephen Sackur gave a very similar introduction to the filmed version of the interview but the audio version had a different introduction: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Sackur: “My guest today is an elected politician who insists that his is a life stripped of genuine freedom and democracy. Ahmad Tibi is a member of the Israeli Knesset – one of its deputy speakers in fact. He leads the Arab Movement for Change party and is a familiar figure to Israelis making impassioned speeches on the floor of the chamber in fluent Hebrew. Roughly a fifth of Israel’s population is Arab. They have citizenship, they can vote, but according to Tibi they remain second-class citizens in a state that he likens to apartheid South Africa. His parents were originally from Jaffa but fled during the war of 1948 and made a new home in the area of Israel known as the Arab Triangle. He is a trained gynecologist. But he became a prominent political figure who was a close advisor to Yasser Arafat during the Oslo peace process. Now of course that process is lifeless. President Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and suggested he isn’t committed to that old trope the two-state solution. So where does that leave the Arabs – both inside Israel and those Palestinians outside? Well Ahmad Tibi joins me now.”

Predictably, given the BBC’s intense focus on that topic in recent months, Sackur began with the subject of the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – also the topic of the MEMO conference attended by Tibi.

SS: “I think we have to start with the impact of the Donald Trump presidency on relations between Palestinians and Israelis. Would you agree that it has fundamentally changed the dynamic in the region?”

AT: “Yes, for the negative. I think that Trump and his administration promoted and promoting anarchy in the region and anarchy in the world by supporting, enhancing, encouraging, violation of international law and adopting one side on behalf of another. President Trump via his speech about Jerusalem, he totally adopted the Israeli narrative and the occupation narrative. To say that he and his Three Musketeers – advisors who are great supporters of the settlements – adopted the talking points of Benjamin Netanyahu…”

Far from challenging Tibi’s specious claim concerning ‘international law’, Sackur endorsed it.

SS: “Well, you can…you can make your point about international law but surely what Donald Trump has actually done is recognise reality in perhaps a more honest way than previous US presidents because the truth is it’s obvious to everyone that the Israeli capital is in Jerusalem.  That’s where the prime minister’s office is, it’s where the cabinet meets, it’s where the government buildings are and Donald Trump has said enough with this nonsense; let’s just recognise reality.”

AT: “That’s nonsense. Because 1967 – East Jerusalem was occupied in 1967, this is the reality. And if there is a thief in the area and he stole your house, it is a reality but you’re not supposed to accept reality as it is legitimate fact.”

Sackur refrained from reminding audiences that parts of Jerusalem were occupied before 1967 – by Jordan.

SS: “Sure but Trump did say in the course last December of announcing that he would move the embassy to Jerusalem – and we understand it may happen quicker than we thought this year – he did say look I’m not prejudging what the two parties finally agree on Jerusalem; they can do what they want, they can divide it in the future as they wish. We are simply recognising what we now see to be Israel’s capital.”

AT: He said more than that. In 1980, there was a motion, a law in the Knesset, saying exactly what he is saying in his speech. He adopted that law of unified capital of Israel, containing Supreme Court, government, parliament. He adopted that phrasing, even. He did not say that East Jerusalem is an occupied area. He did not say that East Jerusalem can be the capital, or should be the capital, of the Palestinians. He – and this is the most dangerous thing – he is dealing with the issue of Jerusalem as it is internal of the Israelis – and it is not.”

SS: “The fact is, he remains the most powerful man in the world – you could perhaps argue about that, China is the rising power – but none the less, Donald Trump when it comes to the Middle East is the most important man in the world. He has made a decision which reflects the fact that, frankly, many Palestinians would now acknowledge; you’ve lost. You have lost in the sense that your interests are never going to be achievable.”

AT: “I do not agree with you totally.”

SS: “You do…in part you do?”

AT: “It is one of the most toughest and difficult areas for the Palestinian people, I agree with that. But we had much more difficult phases in our history…of the Palestinian history. This nation, the Palestinian people, is very much insisting in implementing and achieving his national rights and it is rights of the people under occupation seeking to be free, to be independent, to be sovereign, alongside the state of Israel. And Mr Trump is saying to Palestinians…and to Israelis, you will take it all and to Israelis, you will take nothing. That’s why he has disqualified himself as a broker.”

SS: “But I suppose what I’m wondering is what you as an Arab – and let’s not forget, you’re an Israeli citizen, you serve in the Israeli Knesset, the Israeli parliament, you represent the interests of the Arab Israeli population in Israel. I wonder what you make of the reaction from Hamas leaders like Ismail Haniyeh saying things like, you know, ‘we would not allow Trump’s declaration to pass even if we lose our heads in the process’. All the talk of a new intifada, all the talk of Palestinians putting their lives on the line to protest, we have been here so many times before. Is there not now a weary resignation that says to you, in the privacy of your own mind, there is no point anymore to this sort of talk of laying down our lives, new Intifadas. It’s gone.”

AT: “I am representing the Arab Palestinian minority in Israel. We are part of the Palestinian people. There are three parts: Palestinians inside Israel, Palestinians in ’67 areas and Palestinians in the diaspora. But we are also citizens of the State of Israel.”

SS: “That’s right.”

AT: “We are supporting Palestinians self-determination and this right is not negotiable. And we are, as citizens also, saying in the Knesset, from the podium, I am saying in Arabic, in English, in Hebrew that we are promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace. We are not supporting violence – we said it in the past always – I am supporting nonviolent popular resistance. It succeeded in the last year when the magnometers [metal detectors] were put in the Al Aqsa Mosque and it succeeded when the church closed…the church because the government official tried to impose taxes on the Christian church in Jerusalem.”

Sackur provided no context to either of Tibi’s examples, meaning that audiences remained unaware that metal detectors were not “put in the Al Aqsa Mosque” at all but at the entrance to Temple Mount following a terror attack at the site by three Arab-Israelis. Neither were they told that the “taxes” are not “on the Christian church” but on church-owned properties that are not used for worship – just as in the UK.

Neither did he question Tibi as to how his claim that “we are not supporting violence” squares with the fact that members of his Knesset list paid a condolence visit to the families of terrorists in 2016.

Sackur then brought up the Ahed Tamimi case – but failed to inform BBC audiences that the charges against her include incitement to violence: again a relevant topic given Tibi’s claim to support exclusively non-violent protest.

SS: “Yeah, one could say it is easy for you to talk about protests; the usual words in the Knesset. But if you live in the occupied West Bank, the reality of protest is much more dangerous. I mean we have in our minds perhaps right now the case of Ahed Tamimi – the young girl, teenage girl, in the West Bank village who struck out at an Israeli officer because she was so angry at what the Israeli troops were doing in and around her village. She is now in a court facing serious charges and may well end up in prison. You know, it is easy for you as an Arab-Israeli to say this but much more difficult for protesters in the West Bank not to jeopardise their own security in this call for civil disobedience.”

AT: “First of all I am accompanying Ahed Tamimi in her military court. She’s courageous…”

SS: “You can walk away at the end of the day. She can’t.”

The second half of the interview will be discussed in part two of this post. 

 

 

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ presenter vilifies Israeli soldiers – part two

In part one of this post we looked at a ‘Hardtalk’ interview with a representative of the political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’ that was aired on the BBC World News TV channel on February 15th (available in the UK here) as well as on BBC World Service radio on February 16th.

From the start of the programme presenter Stephen Sackur refrained from sticking to asking questions, instead indulging his own political pronunciations. However, BBC audiences next heard the following mini-monologue from Sackur. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Sackur: “Yeah and I want to come back to the politics of this in some detail but just to stick for now with testimony, because ‘Breaking the Silence’ is all about gathering together the voices of soldiers – former soldiers – who are no longer prepared to be silent about what they have seen. I just want you to be very clear with me about some of the other behaviours because you’ve talked about the day-to-day dull routines of the occupation but the other behaviours like for example testimony about looting, stealing, Israeli soldiers stealing from inside Palestinian homes. Other testimony about deliberate acts of violence, striking youths, striking people in their own homes, beating them. Also firing rubber bullets, transgressing the limits that are supposed to be imposed on the firing of those bullets and undoing the packaging so they do more damage. All of these aren’t just about the occupation. They suggest to me an army that has within it significant numbers of soldiers who want to do bad things.”

Gvaryahu: “I mean you could choose to look at it like that.  I think it’s more complex.”

Sackur: “But isn’t it important to be honest that there are Israeli soldiers, if this testimony is true – many say it’s not – but if it’s true there are people in the IDF doing very bad things.”

Those four words – “many say it’s not” – were Sackur’s only allusion throughout the whole programme to the fact that many of the frequently anonymous testimonies published by ‘Breaking the Silence’, including Gvaryahu’s own, have been disputed by fellow soldiers and disproven by investigative journalists. Sackur also failed to inform audiences that the IDF Military Attorney General examines all allegations of improper conduct by soldiers and conducts a criminal investigation where necessary – but that ‘Breaking the Silence’ refuses to cooperate with such investigations.

Similarly, Sackur’s sole vague allusion to Palestinian terrorism throughout the whole programme came in the following question:

Sackur: “Can you afford the luxury of this delicate conscience of yours when there is – whatever you say – there is a struggle; a struggle which involves violence on both sides between Israel and the Palestinians?”

When – in response to a question from Sackur about “threats” – Gvaryahu cited “an individual who was caught with about 20 gallons of gasoline trying to burn down our offices”, Sackur did not clarify to BBC audiences that the individual concerned was not in fact “caught trying to burn down” the ‘Breaking the Silence’ office but was indicted for intent to commit arson.

Despite providing a platform for Gvaryahu’s claim of a “smear campaign led from the highest echelons of the Israeli government” against his organisation, significantly, at no point in this interview did Sackur bother to ask Gvaryahu about the highly relevant topic of the considerable amounts of foreign funding accepted by ‘Breaking the Silence’ or the agenda behind that funding.

There is of course nothing remotely novel about the BBC providing a friendly platform for the amplification of politically motivated messaging from ‘Breaking the Silence’ – it has been doing so at least since 2009. It is however interesting to see once again that despite the existence of BBC editorial guidelines stating that “minority views should not necessarily be given equal weight to the prevailing consensus”, the corporation’s generous promotion of this political NGO – that was accurately classified in this interview by Stephen Sackur as “a fringe” and “an extreme” which influences “only a very tiny minority” – continues.

No less remarkable was Stephen Sackur’s own departure from editorial guidelines stating that “our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal prejudices of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters” in his lengthy promotion of the notion of “soldiers who want to do bad things” and his repeated amateur diagnosis of Israel’s moral health.

Related Articles:

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ presenter vilifies Israeli soldiers – part one

The context of the BBC’s promotion of ‘Breaking the Silence’

Investigative report highlights BBC’s NGO impartiality fail

 

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ presenter vilifies Israeli soldiers – part one

In the past we have documented several cases in which the BBC has amplified the messaging of what it labels an “Israeli activist group” or a “human rights” group but failed to comply with its own editorial guidelines on impartiality by informing audiences of the agenda and ideology that lies behind the political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’.

BBC editorial guidelines flouted in promotion of ‘Breaking the Silence’ booklet

Another breach of editorial guidelines in yet more BBC promotion of ‘Breaking the Silence’

BBC’s ME Editor gives unchallenged amplification to Palestinian defamation

What the BBC World Service edited out of a ‘Boston Calling’ report

BBC News portrays political NGOs as ‘human rights activists’

Last July, during a ‘Hardtalk‘ interview with Israel’s former minister of defence, BBC presenter Stephen Sackur used allegations made by that political NGO to advance the notion of moral failures in Israeli society.

“I’m trying to dig to something deeper about the morals, the values, the cohesion of an Israeli society that has always prided itself on having the very best of humane values. And I’m putting it to you, if you listen to Israeli soldiers who have served the occupation like Yehuda Shaul of ‘Breaking the Silence’ – a group that is now opposed to the occupation of former IDF soldiers – he says this is the moral consequence of prolonged occupation of the Palestinian people; that is, the corruption of young Israelis who serve that occupation.”

Sackur returned to that theme in another ‘Hardtalk’ interview which was aired on the BBC World News TV channel on February 15th (available in the UK here) as well as on BBC World Service radio on February 16th. The programme was also made available as a podcast.

“The Israeli Defence Force sees itself as an institution that binds the nation together. Most young Israelis serve in its ranks after leaving school. It claims to combine defence of the state with a sense of moral purpose. Avner Gvaryahu served in the IDF but he sees an institution in denial – corroded and corrupted by the military occupation of Palestinian communities over a fifty year span. Avner Gvaryahu and like-minded soldiers turned dissidents say they are breaking the silence. Are they patriots or traitors?”

In his introduction, Stephen Sackur told audiences that Israelis ‘enroll’ for military service rather than being conscripted. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Sackur: “My guest today is a young man whose experiences as a soldier changed his life in ways that have severely tested his ties to family, community and nation. Avner Gvaryahu was brought up in a suburb of Tel Aviv; an ordinary Israeli in an Orthodox household who, like pretty much all young Israelis, enrolled for military service after leaving school. He served as a sergeant in a unit of paratroopers deployed in the northern West Bank. He was part of Israel’s five decade-long military occupation. What he did and saw on active duty deeply disturbed him. After leaving the army Gvaryahu shared his feelings about the occupation and its corrosive impact on the Israeli army with other former soldiers. They formed a group – ‘Breaking the Silence’ – which gave voice to the troubled consciences of soldiers who recounted stories of harassment, intimidation and violence. It was time, they said, for Israel to confront the corrosive reality of the occupation and end it. The Israeli government reacted with fury. The dissident soldiers have been called traitors, puppets of anti-Israel interests, even aiders and abeters of terrorism. Avner Gvaryahu broke his silence but has it made any difference?”

Sackur’s framing of the story is of course patently obvious in that introduction – and it continued with more promotion of Sackur’s basic – but unquestioned – premise of Israeli wrongdoing.

Sackur: “I think it’s fair to say the IDF is probably the most sacrosanct institution in all of Israel. Was it hard for you to cross a line, to break the taboo and speak out against what the IDF is doing?”

Sackur: “Are you saying that the very act of going into the house of an innocent Palestinian family to you was, and is, totally unacceptable and corrosive and doing serious damage to the sort of moral values of Israel’s army and indeed the nation-state? Or are you saying that that’s just the tip of an iceberg of behavior, much of which is worse than that?

After Gvaryahu had cited “the flying checkpoint or entering houses for searching or checkpoints or making our presence felt” as additional examples of what he described as “instilling fear into the Palestinian population”, Sackur moved from asking questions to making pronunciations.

Sackur: “It’s the imposition of a basic power dynamic, the message being we are in control, we’re in charge of you and your lives and we, in essence, can do what we want.”

While mirroring Gvaryahu’s messaging – with which he clearly sympathises – Sackur made no effort to introduce audiences to the history and context of ‘the occupation’. Neither did he bother to remind them – or his guest – of the pertinent fact that when Israel withdrew all its forces and civilians from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Palestinian terrorism did not come to an end.

Sackur: “… what you’re outlining as your critique of what is happening in Israel and that the IDF, as the agent of occupation, is doing, is essentially political. I mean you’re saying, if I understand you correctly, that the very act and policy of occupation is corroding Israel’s values and must end. But the truth is time after time the Israeli public votes in elections for parties which sustain and believe in that occupation.”

Gvaryahu: “That’s true but when you look at this democracy, it’s basically a democracy that is controlling and ruling millions of people that don’t have a right or a say in that democracy. So between the river and the sea we have about 13 million people where half of them do not go and elect anyone. So a big part of our mission – and that’s where we spend as ‘Breaking the Silence’ the vast majority of our energy and our time – is speaking to our fellow citizens all across Israel.”

Sackur made no effort to challenge that latter claim from Gvaryahu by asking him why his organisation has been conducting foreign speaking tours since shortly after its founding or why 40% of its activities in Israel are with non-Israelis.

Sackur also did not bother to point out to BBC audiences that Gvaryahu’s claim that Palestinians “do not go and elect anyone” is misleading because the vast majority of them have lived under Palestinian Authority or Hamas rule for over two decades and have the right to vote in PA elections which have nothing to do with Israel at all. He did, however, go on to promote at length his own ideas about Israeli soldiers – as we shall see in part two of this post.

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The context of the BBC’s promotion of ‘Breaking the Silence’

Investigative report highlights BBC’s NGO impartiality fail

Hamas ‘Hardtalk’ interview rebuts BBC messaging, perpetuates inaccuracies – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the January 8th edition of ‘Hardtalk (aired on the BBC World News channel, the BBC News channel and on BBC World Service radio) was devoted to an interview with Hamas’ Mahmoud Zahar in which some of the messaging audiences have previously received from the BBC was contradicted.

Throughout the interview Zahar also promoted numerous falsehoods, smears and inaccuracies which went unchallenged by presenter Stephen Sackur – thereby leaving audiences with misleading impressions and false information.

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

1) Despite Hamas’ known misappropriation of thousands of tons of building materials intended for the repair and reconstruction of civilian homes damaged during the 2014 conflict and its spending of millions of dollars on tunnel construction and missile production rather than on public services for the impoverished residents of the Gaza Strip, Sackur failed to challenge Zahar’s claim that the poor quality of life in Gaza has nothing to do with Hamas “management”.

Zahar: “Yes, our life is very miserable – not because of bad management on our side but because of the crime committed by the Israeli occupation and by the cooperation of the Palestinian Authority with them and lastly by the impact of the international community, represented mainly by Mr Trump, against our human rights in the most important third shrine in Islam, al Aqsa Mosque.”

2) Sackur also refrained from questioning that claim from Zahar that the “human rights” of Muslims at al Aqsa mosque are being abused and failed to clarify to BBC audiences that in fact Muslims alone are allowed to pray there.

3) Zahar’s inaccurate claim that the Gaza Strip is under “siege” went unchallenged, as did the false allegation that the problems plaguing medical services in the Gaza Strip are the result of Israel’s counter-terrorism measures.

Zahar: “The siege for a long time destroyed our medical, our social, our economic life and nobody is interested about human rights where 2 million Palestinian people are living in this area.”

4) The issue of discrimination against Palestinians in some Arab countries was not raised by Sackur when Zahar mentioned refugee camps and neither was the subject of the deliberate perpetuation of their refugee status.

Zahar: “Add to that our miserable life in the West Bank in addition to the very distress life in the refugee camps outside Palestine, whether in Jordan, especially in Lebanon and Syria. For this reason I think it’s a big crime. It’s a big crime against the Palestinian human rights.”

5) Zahar’s repeated claims of “occupation” since 1948 were not challenged by Sackur even once and neither was his inaccurate characterisation of the British mandate administration.

Zahar [04:00]: “…we are living under occupation since many, many years. Since 1948 they occupied what is now called Israel and after that at ’67.”

Zahar [14:36]: “We are here speaking about national interest. Our interest is our land. Our land well-known occupied at ’48.”

Zahar [19:50]: “Listen, listen: this [Israel] is Palestine. This is Palestine occupied ’48. Occupied by ’48 by the support and by a built by the British occupation.”

6) Zahar’s repeated portrayal of Palestinian terrorism as “self-defence” went unquestioned.

Zahar [04:00]: “But lastly, lastly by our method of self-resistance, self-defence against the occupation in Gaza we succeed[ed] to eliminate the occupation in Gaza.”

Zahar [05:36]: “The people in the West Bank have their right to defend themselves by all means. […] We have to defend ourselves by all means in the West Bank in order to avoid the expansion of the settlement not only on Jerusalem but also on the rest of the West Bank.”

Zahar [12:19]: “We are not a terrorist and we are not launching rockets against Israel randomly. But we are defending ourself against the fifth…the Phantom fifty-five. […] You [are] speaking [about] us as we are launching rockets against Israel as terrorist. We are not terrorist. We are freedom fighter.”

Zahar [16:51]: “We practiced as a Palestinian people all the peaceful methods in order to achieve our right as a homeland and now we see no square meter for the Palestinians except Gaza – liberated by armed resistance. […] We are insisting to defend ourself by all means including the armed resistance […] people are admiring to sacrifice [i.e. suicide bombings] in order to achieve their homeland.”

Zahar [14:36]: “Humanitarian aid [from foreign donors] is our right whether we are fighting as a freedom fighter or living in prison.”

Zahar: [21:43] “Why you describe it as violence? This is not a violence. This is one of the methods to have a self-defence.”

7) When Sackur raised the issue of missiles launched from the Gaza Strip at Israeli civilians, Zahar’s claim that they “are not citizens” [from 05:36] went unchallenged by Sackur, as did his repeated inaccurate and bigoted portrayal of all Israelis as ‘foreigners’ and his portrayal of Israel as a colonial implant for which Europeans are to blame.

Zahar: “First of all these are citizens…are not citizens. These are settler. These people left their homeland from America, from Russia and come. For this reason we are against foreign people took our land, violated our rights.

Zahar [14:36]: “I’m asking just simple question: what moral principle justify Netanyahu to come from America and while his father is still there and to occupy our land? What justified for Lieberman coming from Russia to be in our land?”

Zahar [12:19]: “We are occupied by foreigner, dismissed all through your history. You as European people and Americans are particularly the people responsible about the disaster of the Jews when you destroyed […] the existence of the Jews in your country and dismissed these people to our people as part of the occupation.”

Zahar [14:36]: “Do you believe that your capital [Jerusalem] can be occupied by a foreigner and the price will be material aids [aid]?”

Zahar [19:37]: “It is not a matter of destroying Israel. It is a matter of liberation of our land occupied by a foreigner, by people from America…”

8) Zahar’s repeated airbrushing of the long history of suicide bombings by Hamas and other terror groups went without comment from Sackur.

Zahar [05:36]: “We started by throwing stones, using knife and lastly at a time used guns against the Israeli.”

Zahar [21:43]: “We practice…we practiced all, all methods. Since the occupation we practiced several different self-defence and in the first Intifada we threw stones, we distributed leaflets and we [unintelligible] and the result was more Israeli aggression […] and the people were enforce [forced] at that time to use violence – throwing the stone and after that using knives and after that when they succeed to have guns, they use guns and by these guns the Israelis came from Gaza.”

9) Even Zahar’s dog-whistle remarks concerning Temple Mount produced no reaction from Sackur and at no point was the significance of Jerusalem to Jews and Christians clarified to audiences.

Zahar [14:36] “Our interest is our holy place al Aqsa mosque which is the most important third shrine in Islam, not only for Hamas but for every Muslim – even the British Muslim.”

While there may of course be those who argue that it is useful for BBC audiences to hear the type of extremist views espoused by Hamas straight from their source, the fact that Zahar’s lies, omissions, distortions of history and blatantly bigoted messaging falls on ears which for the most part have a poor understanding of the history of the region and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict should have been reason enough for Stephen Sackur to challenge his remarks and at least set the historical record straight for viewers and listeners.

As we see, that did not happen and so BBC audiences around the world went away having been fed an unhealthy dose of standard Palestinian propaganda that erases Jewish history and portrays Jews as a foreign colonial implant in the region.  

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Hamas ‘Hardtalk’ interview rebuts BBC messaging, perpetuates inaccuracies – part one