US Taylor Force Act not newsworthy for the BBC

Those getting their news from the BBC News website will not be aware that late last week the United States passed legislation relating to the Palestinian Authority’s payment of salaries to convicted terrorists and the families of terrorists.

“The Taylor Force Act, legislation that cuts American funding for the Palestinian Authority over its payments to convicted terrorists and their families, officially became a law on Friday evening, after President Donald Trump signed a large budget bill that the act was a part of. The PA protested the passage of the legislation, which is named after Taylor Force, an American citizen murdered in a terror attack in Tel Aviv two years ago.

The bill was first introduced by Republican lawmakers in March of last year. Over the last 12 months, it has gone through a modification process that produced wide bipartisan support for it. The final version that became part of the wider budget bill includes a number of exceptions for projects that will continue to receive American funding, such as hospitals in East Jerusalem, wastewater programs and child vaccination initiatives.

It should be noted that the legislation will not affect the budget that the United States provides to the Palestinian Authority’s security and intelligence forces, which is separate from funding that goes toward dealing with civilian issues within the PA. […]

In a statement it [the White House] said that it “commends the Congress for including the Taylor Force Act, which prohibits most U.S. foreign assistance that directly benefits the Palestinian Authority (PA) until the PA ends the abhorrent practice of providing payments to terrorists and their families in reward for acts of violence.””

Visitors to the BBC News website have to date not seen any reporting on that topic either on the US or Middle East pages. Even the predictable reaction from BBC regular Husam Zomlot did not receive any coverage.

“The PLO excoriated Congress on Friday for passing the Taylor Force Act, a law that threatens to freeze State Department funds to the Palestinian Authority unless it ends its longstanding practice of compensating terrorists and the families of terrorists convicted in Israeli courts.

The PLO envoy to Washington, Husam Zomlot, dismissed the effort as politically motivated. The pressure “does not work, and severely damages the prospects for peace in the Middle East,” he said. […]

The bill, Zomlot said, “punishes” the PA, “which is the only agency committed to peace and nonviolence, and undermines the American-Palestinian bilateral relationship and decades of US investments in the two-state solution.

“The Taylor Force Act represents the most recent effort in this 30-year-old trend of legislations that deliberately targets the Palestinian people,” Zomlot continued, accusing the US Congress of “flagrant bias.””

As regular readers know, the subject of the PA’s payment of salaries to terrorists is one that the BBC more often than not chooses to avoid, despite its relevance to members of the public in the many countries which donate aid to the Palestinian Authority – including of course Britain. Although familiarity with this issue is also key to BBC audience understanding of both the eternal PA budget deficit and the background to Palestinian terrorism, as we see the corporation continues to under-report the topic.  

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BBC News reports one story about a PLO envoy, ignores another

On December 31st 2017 an article was published on the BBC News website’s main home page, its ‘World’ page and its ‘Middle East’ page under the headline “Palestinians recall envoy to US“. BBC audiences found just 46 words relating to that headline’s subject matter.

“The Palestinians have announced they are recalling their envoy to the United States for “consultations”, weeks after President Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. […]

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki was recalling the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) envoy Husam Zomlot, Palestinian news agency Wafa said.”

The rest of that 228 word article included a one-sided view of the US announcement:

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he would not accept any US peace plan in the wake of Mr Trump’s move.

Protests and clashes broke out in the Gaza Strip after the announcement.

A UN resolution calling on the US to cancel the decision was backed overwhelmingly by the General Assembly.

Thirteen Palestinians have died in violence since Mr Trump’s announcement, most killed in clashes with Israeli forces. […]

On Sunday Mr Abbas called Jerusalem the “eternal capital of the Palestinian people”.

The BBC did not inform readers that Abbas’ remark was made at a rally marking the anniversary of the founding of Fatah in 1965. 

In addition, audiences found the standard context-lite BBC background on Jerusalem:

“The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel occupied the east of the city, previously occupied by Jordan, in the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital.

The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state and its final status is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks. […]

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally, and all countries currently maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv. However, President Trump has told the US state department to start work on moving the US embassy.”

Although the PLO envoy’s recall was from the outset described as temporary, the very next day – January 1st 2018 – the BBC News website published another article relating to the same topic under the title “Trump’s Jerusalem move: Palestinian envoy sent back to Washington“.

“The Palestinian envoy to the United States says he is returning to Washington after just one day of “consultations” over President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Husam Zomlot said he met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas privately.

He was instructed to return to Washington “immediately”, he said. […]

In a Facebook post on Monday Mr Zomlot, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) envoy, said he would be returning to the US after spending time “with loved ones”. […]

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki said on Sunday that talks between Mr Zomlot and Mr Abbas were arranged to “set the decisions needed by the Palestinian leadership … regarding our relations with the US”.”

Readers again found one-sided presentation of the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“On Sunday, Mr Abbas said he would not accept any US peace plan following Mr Trump’s announcement.

The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the US announcement on 6 December led to protests and clashes in the Gaza Strip.

A UN resolution calling on the US to cancel the decision was backed overwhelmingly by the General Assembly. […]

Thirteen Palestinians have died in violence since Mr Trump’s announcement over the US view of Jerusalem, most killed in clashes with Israeli forces.

The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state and its final status is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.

Mr Abbas has called Jerusalem the “eternal capital of the Palestinian people”.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally, and all countries currently maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv. However, President Trump has told the US state department to start work on moving the US embassy.”

Husam Zomlot was however not the only PLO envoy to be recalled at the end of December. According to the PA’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the envoy to Pakistan was recalled following protest from India after he appeared at a rally on December 29th.  

“The Palestinians have withdrawn their envoy to Pakistan after he appeared at a rally with a radical cleric linked to the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Palestinian envoy Walid Abu Ali shared the stage with Hafiz Saeed, the head of the hard-line Jamaat-ud-Dawa movement, at Friday’s rally, which was held to protest US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. […]

Jamaat-ud-Dawa is believed to be a front for Lashker-e-Taiba, a group that fights Indian troops in the disputed region of Kashmir, and which was blamed for the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people, including Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg. […]

In a statement Saturday addressed to India, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the envoy’s participation “in the presence of individuals accused of supporting terrorism” was “an unintended mistake, but not justified.” It said the envoy has been recalled.

India had lodged a protest with the Palestinians earlier Saturday, calling the envoy’s association with Saeed “unacceptable.””

In contrast to the generous coverage of the temporary recall of the PLO envoy in Washington, visitors to the BBC News website did not find any reporting whatsoever on the story of the recall of the PLO envoy in Pakistan on either general or relevant regional pages.

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Palestinian falsehoods on Christianity amplified by BBC’s Plett Usher

On December 7th the BBC News website published an article by Barbara Plett Usher on its ‘US & Canada’ page and the same article appeared on the website’s Middle East page as ‘related reading’.

Titled “Trumplomacy: Key takeaways from Jerusalem policy shift“, the article begins with a subheading informing readers that the US president has ruined Christmas for Palestinians:

“A blue Christmas for Palestinians”

Readers then discover that the first “key takeaway” proffered by Plett Usher is that the PLO has cancelled a party.

“Less than a month ago the Palestinians’ top diplomat in Washington was telling me he thought President Trump might succeed at peacemaking where others had failed.

In every meeting Trump confirmed he would “give his heart and soul” to this process, said Husam Zomlot, the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) representative.

It was an optimistic reading of a frequently rocky process. But there was enough in the efforts of Mr Trump’s peace envoys to give the Palestinians a sense that their relationship with the White House was on an upward trajectory.

Building off the momentum, Mr Zomlot organised a Christmas party on Capitol Hill with a guest list that included members of congress and government officials.

The idea was to live-stream Bethlehem Christmas celebrations into the political heart of America.

When the PLO mission got a late-breaking heads up about the decision on Jerusalem it cancelled the event, saying it would be unsuitable after an “announcement that runs counter to the message of peace”.”

Interestingly, the topic of recent PLO threats to freeze ties with the US – made weeks before the latest story concerning the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem broke – apparently did not come up during Plett Usher’s chats with Husam Zomlot.  

Erasing the fact that the US president had spoken to Mahmoud Abbas and other Arab leaders on the phone prior to his announcement concerning the US embassy and recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Plett Usher continued:

“The fact that the Palestinians, and reportedly Arab leaders, were largely taken by surprise is only one sign that the decision was not part of a wider Middle East strategy.”

She went on:

“There’s been speculation that Mr Trump was trying to shake things up as a tactic to prepare the ground for peace talks.

But there’s far more evidence he was simply focused on keeping a campaign promise to pro-Israel American Jews and evangelical Christians in his political base.”

Under the sub-heading “It’s a Christian thing” Plett Usher then unquestioningly amplified historically illiterate Palestinian claims concerning Christianity. [emphasis added]

“The face of Mike Pence beaming over Mr Trump’s shoulder during the announcement said it all.

The vice-president was an influential voice in convincing Mr Trump to follow through on his campaign promise, and this illustrates the political power of hardline Christian evangelicals who fervently support Israel.

That was not lost on Palestinian legislator and Christian Hanan Ashrawi.

“My god did not tell me what his god tells him,” she spat out in an interview with the BBC.

We are the original Christians, we are the owners of the land, we are the people who’ve been here for centuries. How dare they come here and give me biblical treatises and absolutist positions!”

Incidentally, the enterprising Mr Zomlot tried to play the Christian card with his Bethlehem-themed Capitol Hill reception, and has told activists the motto “Jesus is a gift from Palestine” might help translate the Palestinian message to Christian America.”

Palestinian officials of course have a long record of falsifying history in order to negate Jewish connections to the region and the ‘Jesus was a Palestinian’ canard is just one of the themes used to promote that narrative, particularly at this time of year.

Does the BBC really believe that amplifying the blatant falsehoods of professional PLO propagandists such as Ashrawi and Zomlot contributes anything of value to its audiences’ understanding of this story?

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Weekend long read

1) MEMRI has produced a report reviewing “statements by Palestinian officials threatening to sue Britain for the Balfour Declaration and urging it to apologize for it, as well as the articles in the Palestinian press on this issue and the popular campaign that has been launched to promote the lawsuit.”

“In comments to the website of the satellite television channel Al-Mayadeen on February 11, 2017, PA Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki said that, during a visit to London last year (on October 31-November 1, 2016) he had told his British counterpart, Boris Johnson, that the British government and all its institutions must avoid participating in any events related to the Balfour Declaration and that any celebrations of the declaration’s centenary would have a negative impact on Palestinian-British relations. He also demanded that Britain acknowledge its historic responsibility for the declaration, apologize to the Palestinian people, and issue a new declaration recognizing a Palestinian state.”

2) At the end of last month the JCPA held a conference marking 100 years since the Balfour Declaration. Videos of lectures given by speakers at the conference can be found here.

3) The ITIC has produced a profile of frequent BBC interviewee Husam Zomlot in light of his appointment to a new post.

“On March 8, 2017, Mahmoud Abbas appointed Dr. Husam Zomlot as chief of the PLO delegation to the United States, in effect representing Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (PA). He will replace Maen Erekat, who has held the post since 2009. Erekat will be appointed to represent the PA in London. Since May 2016 Husam Zomlot has been advisor for strategic affairs to Mahmoud Abbas.”

Related Articles:

Balfour Declaration

 

 

 

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.

 

Shaun Ley’s multiple Middle East mangles on BBC Radio 4

An item in the December 28th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ related to the speech given by the outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry on the same day. Throughout that item (from 07:59 here), host Shaun Ley promoted several inaccuracies. [all emphasis in bold added]twt-28-12

Ley told listeners that:

“Last week President Obama authorised a change of tactics towards Israel. The US opted not to deploy its veto on a Security Council resolution condemning building by Jewish settlers on what had been Palestinian land until the Six Day War.”

Prior to the Six Day War Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem came under Jordanian occupation following that country’s attack on the newly declared Israeli state in 1948. That occupation was not recognised by the international community. Before the Jordanian invasion, the same areas were administered by Britain under the terms of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine. Prior to British conquest during the First World War, the areas were controlled by the Ottoman Empire for some 500 years. Nevertheless, Ley promoted the totally inaccurate claim that Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem were “Palestinian land” until 1967.

Ley continued:

“It was a war which lasted less than a week yet the territory seized by Israel then is still de facto controlled by Tel Aviv today.”

Referring to “Gulf Arab states like Saudi Arabia”, he later told listeners that:

“They also share Tel Aviv’s anxiety about the growing importance of Iran in the region.”

As pointed out by our colleagues at CAMERA in relation to a correction secured from AP (and additional outlets) on the same issue earlier this month:

“This is a case of an error in the journalistic practice of naming a nation’s capital as shorthand for the country’s government. For instance, “Washington” is shorthand for the U.S. government because it is the capital. […]

But Israel’s capital is Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv. The Prime Minister’s bureau is located in Jerusalem, next to the Foreign Ministry, the Bank of Israel, and across the street from the Supreme Court and the Knesset. While Israel’s Ministry of Defense is in Tel Aviv, the U.S. Department of Defense is in Arlington County, Virginia and yet the AP does not refer to “Arlington County” selling F-35s to Israel, for instance.”

As we know, the BBC presumptuously refuses to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but nevertheless, Ley’s choice of wording leads listeners to believe that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital – which is clearly inaccurate.

Ley also told audiences that:

“The attitude of Gulf Arab states like Saudi Arabia has become more ambiguous since they fought with Israel in 1967. Whilst continuing to make the case for a separate Palestinian state, most now accept the existence of the Jewish state.”

The Gulf Arab states are Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. None of those countries recognises or has diplomatic relations with Israel and all but one forbid entry to Israeli passport holders, meaning that Ley’s claim that “most” Gulf states “accept the existence of the Jewish state” is unsubstantiated. With the exception of Iraq and some minor air support from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, his claim that the Gulf Arab states “fought with Israel in 1967” is also misleading.

Later on, Ley managed to introduce an apartheid analogy into his commentary while implying the existence of some mysterious additional unpopulated “occupied territories”.

“If the occupied territories, as they’re called, including the populated ones – the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – were formally absorbed into a single Israeli state, Mr Kerry suggested people would be separate and unequal – a phrase bound to anger many Israelis because of the implication that this is something similar to the racial segregation once practiced in South Africa and the United States. Israel insists that it treats all its citizens equally…”

Subsequently listeners heard an interview with the PA’s Husam Zomlot in which a reference to Israeli “tanks that is [sic] besieging entire communities” went unchallenged by Shaun Ley.

Part of the BBC’s public purpose remit is to “[e]nhance UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues” in its domestic content – which includes Radio 4. Shaun Ley’s commentary is so ridden with inaccuracy and incompetency that it clearly does not meet that remit.

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day WS radio reports

The BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ devoted part of its March 17th afternoon edition to the subject of the elections being held in Israel on that day.Newshour 17 3 aft

In the first part of the programme (from 00:45 here) listeners heard from Tim Franks talking briefly to voters at a polling station in the Kiryat Yovel neighbourhood in Jerusalem before conducting interviews with Yitzhak Herzog and Likud campaign manager Aron Shaviv.

The more notable part of the programme however came at 26:40 when the focus switched from the subject of the people contending and voting in the election to a topic the BBC has stubbornly shoehorned into a great deal of its election coverage, with presenter Razia Iqbal saying:

“Let’s hear now about a group often at the centre of the debate in any Israeli election, though not this one. Whilst much of the focus this time has been on internal social and economic issues and the perceived security threat from Iran, there’s been relatively little debate about the conflict with the Palestinians. From Ramallah in the West Bank, Yolande Knell reports now on the Palestinian view.”

Knell’s report was in fact just a version of her filmed report from Ramallah which had been slightly modified for radio and it included the same inaccurate claim about the voting rights of some Jerusalem residents and the same misleading propaganda from Fatah’s Husam Zomlot.

But that obviously did not satisfy the BBC’s urge to make this story about something it was not and so Iqbal then conducted a lengthy interview with Raja Shehadeh whom she described merely as an “award-winning Palestinian writer and human rights lawyer”, without making the required effort to inform listeners of Shehadeh’s political activities which are obviously very relevant if audiences are to be able to put his contribution into its correct context.

Predictably – and with more than a little help from Razia Iqbal – Shehadeh painted a picture in which Palestinians were portrayed solely as passive victims.

RS: “Unfortunately the Palestinians in the past used to hold their breath when there were Israeli elections and hope for a more moderate party or unity government. But they’ve hoped so often in the past and been disappointed…”

Iqbal made no attempt to remind listeners that, for example, the Palestinian Authority initiated the second Intifada during the office of a Labour government headed by Ehud Barak and following the Camp David talks.

RS: “Well you know the problem is that Israel has moved to the right and so even the Herzog party – the Zionist Unity [sic] party – doesn’t offer the minimum that Palestinians look for in order to have hope because they do not promise to remove any settlements, they do not promise to share Jerusalem as a joint capital for the Palestinian state and the Israeli state. The minimum that they are willing to offer comes below the minimum that Palestinians believe is necessary to move forward in the peace process.”

In addition to failing to challenge the chimera of “Israel has moved to the right”, Iqbal also refrained from questioning Shehadeh with regard to the results of the 2005 removal of all Israeli villages from the Gaza Strip and some in Samaria – a move which clearly did not prompt the Palestinians to make any “move forward in the peace process”.

In relation to the Joint Arab List, Shehadeh claimed:

“But they have problems of their own and the system in Israel does not give them much leverage over what they can do in terms of policy….that will affect the Palestinians in the occupied territories.”

Iqbal failed to clarify to listeners that the Joint Arab List had already ruled out joining a coalition government – and hence having any input “in terms of policy” – before the election even took place. She also failed to remind listeners that it was Netanyahu’s government which froze building for ten months in Judea & Samaria in an attempt to kick-start talks in 2009/10 and released dozens of convicted terrorists in 2013/14 for the same reason when Shehadeh said:

“…my view is that Netanyahu has been such a negative person – a negative approach and impact on the whole atmosphere in the region – that perhaps if he goes there might be a little more hope even though the policies of the parties who are expected to win are not much better.”

Neither did she challenge this fanciful statement:

“…the Palestinian Authority certainly has indicated over and over and over again that they are willing to make peace on the basis of a two-state solution but the Israelis are not listening at this point.”

In other words, the entire five-minute interview with Shehadeh was – like Knell’s interview with Husam Zomlot – no more than opportunistic use of the Israeli election to promote political propaganda which steers BBC audiences towards an inaccurate view not only of the election itself, but of the wider issue of the Palestinian Israeli conflict.

The evening edition of ‘Newshour’ on March 17th (from 00:30 here) also featured contributions from Tim Franks in Jerusalem focused around the topic of the exit polls which had just been announced. Listeners heard from Kevin Connolly and Yolande Knell at the Likud and Zionist Union HQs respectively as well as short interviews by Mark Lowen with two Israeli voters in a Tel Aviv pub. Franks was joined by Israeli journalist Emmanuel Rosen but, despite the opportunity that presented to finally inform listeners about the background to the main issues of the election, Franks yet again (as we have already seen in much of the BBC’s other coverage) brought the focus back to the topic the election was not about.Newshour 17 3 evg

“The rest of the world cares about Israel not because of the economy – which has been a central issue in this election – but because of its regional relations and of course its relations with the Palestinians. Were there to be a national unity government – as some people, including you, suggest could well be a possibility – will that just mean that there is no chance of any political breakthrough one way or the other with the Palestinians?”

When Rosen pointed out that the fate of negotiations “depends on the Palestinians” too, Franks responded:

“Indeed, but in terms of a new initiative from the Israelis?”

Later on in the programme (from 26:30) Franks interviewed candidates from the Labour and Likud parties. Like Emmanuel Rosen before him, Nachman Shai noted the “deciding power” of Moshe Kahlon and his Kulanu party in the formation of any coalition, but Franks again passed up on the chance to finally provide BBC audiences with some background to that new party, despite the fact that the BBC had barely covered the topic. Notably, Franks cut off Sharon Haskell as she spoke about a factor which had important influence on the election results: the intervention of foreign funded interest groups. Hence, BBC audiences did not get to form any understanding of how the final results of the election were affected by that factor.

From 33:20, Franks once again took the focus away from the issues upon which the election was fought.

“Well, given that this election was in large part about the economy but it did also turn on differing visions of whether there should be a Palestinian state at all, what’s the view from Ramallah – the Palestinian city of Ramallah? Sabri Saydam is an advisor to the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.”

Saydam presented the following uninterrupted monologue:

“It’s obvious that we’re repeating history now. We’re seeing the old lessons being repeated again where there is no bloc that’s to lead Israel. If anything, whether Right or Left, we’re talking about a Zionist movement in Israel that’s picking up momentum. We see the resurrection of Barak’s ‘no promises to the Palestinians’ now being resurrected with Herzog. We see Netanyahu moving to the right or centre right by saying there will be no Palestinian state, so there is no mood of celebration for the Palestinians. The only glimpse of hope is the united front of the Arab parties that have now formed the third bloc in Knesset and can veto any government that comes into being: that’s the only hope. Other than that there is no excitement here and there is no hope in any future government that comes into the scene. Only one indication in the Palestinian street that says maybe the comeback of Netanyahu will be an excellent thing to have because Netanyahu is the only person that can make a blunder out of PR and can really misrepresent Israel in every possible way that serves the Palestinians.”

As readers have no doubt concluded from these and other reports already covered on these pages, the BBC has insisted upon dragging the focus of much of its coverage of the Israeli election away from the issues it was actually about and deflecting audience attention to the topic of its choosing. Back in December 2014 when the election was first announced Tim Franks said to an Israeli interviewee:

“You make Israel sound like a normal country when you’re talking about economic problems, about value added tax, housing and so forth. But of course the reason the outside world is so interested in Israel is because of the wider issues with the conflict, with the Palestinians and so forth.”

Three and a half months later we hear him saying:

“The rest of the world cares about Israel not because of the economy – which has been a central issue in this election – but because of its regional relations and of course its relations with the Palestinians.”

In other words, members of the BBC’s audience who perhaps thought they would gain some insight into what this election was all about, what worries Israelis and the complex political system in Israel had no chance of their expectations being fulfilled because the BBC decided long ago that the story itself would not set the agenda. Instead, it chose to devote its coverage to the issue upon which it thinks audiences should be focusing. The result of that is that more airtime was given to ‘views from Ramallah’ than to informing audiences about the views of the people who actually determined the result of the election in places where the BBC rarely treads such as Kiryat Shmona, Shlomi, Sderot and Arad. 

Remarkably – as readers have no doubt already noticed for themselves – despite the plethora of Palestinian interviewees seen and heard in BBC coverage of the Israeli election, at no point did any BBC journalist raise the topic of the absence of democratic elections in the PA controlled areas during the last decade and how that factor – and the underlying reasons for it – might be having an effect on the peace process. 

Related Articles:

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – the run-up

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day filmed reports, part one

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day filmed reports, part two

 

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day filmed reports, part one

By far the strangest choice of location for a filmed BBC report on the topic of the Israeli elections was Ramallah, from where Yolande Knell reported for BBC television news on March 17th in an item titled “Israel election: The view from Ramallah“. Knell opened that report as follows:Knell filmed 17 3

“I’ve just crossed into the occupied West Bank through the Qalandiya checkpoint which is manned by Israeli soldiers and this is part of Israel’s separation barrier. For Palestinians living here these have become symbols of the decades-old conflict with Israel. And while those in the West Bank, in East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip don’t get to vote in the Israeli elections, they are watching them closely.”

Knell’s claim that “those…in East Jerusalem…don’t get to vote” is of course inaccurate. Residents of East Jerusalem are entitled to apply for Israeli citizenship and those who do so successfully have the right to vote just like any other Israeli. Those who chose not to exercise their right to apply for citizenship obviously voluntarily forgo the right to vote in national elections, although they are still eligible to vote in municipal elections. This is not the first time that the BBC has promoted this inaccurate portrayal of the voting rights of East Jerusalemites.

Knell also fails to inform viewers that residents of PA controlled areas A and B and residents of the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip do of course have the right to vote in Palestinian Authority elections. That perhaps not accidental omission sets the stage for the next part of her report, in which BBC audiences are encouraged to believe that relevant commentary on the topic of the Israeli election is to be had from someone who not only does not participate in them, but represents the largest faction in a body which has not held democratic elections for seats in its own parliament for over nine years and which is governed by a president whose term of office expired years ago.

Knell: “Palestinian officials say the peace process is being ignored by the [Israeli] political campaigners – and it shouldn’t be.”

Fatah’s Husam Zomlot then says:

“You decide, the Israelis, what is it exactly. Are you occupying us? Then it’s too long an occupation – you have to end it. Or do you consider the West Bank and Gaza your territory? Then you want us either citizens or you want us actually being discriminated against. But in all scenarios, it’s your moment of choice and unfortunately I don’t see the Israeli society now debating this.”

This is of course blatant exploitation of the occasion of the Israeli elections for the propagation of unrelated political propaganda and whilst that comes as no surprise, nevertheless it misleads BBC audiences.

Israelis debated these issues over two decades ago and that debate culminated in the Oslo Accords which led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, the relinquishment of Areas A & B (and the Gaza Strip in 2005) to its control and the framework of final status negotiations to determine the future of Area C. The PA’s decision to scupper those final status negotiations by means of terrorism, its refusal to accept any of the subsequent offers made to resolve the situation and its newer policy of avoidance of face to face negotiations in favour of activity in the international arena do not of course get any mention in Knell’s own little campaigning video.

After having found two people on the streets of Ramallah to endorse her claim that “many believe it doesn’t even matter if the next Israeli prime minister is Left or Right wing”, she closes by promoting the debatable notion that “the Palestinian president says he’ll work to revive peace talks with Israel”.

In less than two months’ time, the British public will also be going to the polls. It is highly unlikely that the BBC’s election coverage will include “UK election: The view from Buenos Aires”, reports in which Spanish officials bemoan the fact that the issue of Gibraltar is not on the British voters’ agenda or interviews with IRA officials claiming that the ‘occupation’ of Northern Ireland has gone on “too long”. Were the BBC to indeed produce such reports, British voters would no doubt question its editorial priorities – and perhaps its collective sanity.

The decision to allow the broadcast of this piece of blatant political propaganda from Yolande Knell, which actively detracts from accurate audience understanding of the topic she is supposed to be covering (as well the broader subject of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in general), should likewise be questioned. 

Related Articles:

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – the run-up

BBC’s Yolande Knell ditches any semblance of impartiality

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ special edition from Jerusalem – part one

On December 5th the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ broadcast a special edition from Jerusalem, presented by Tim Franks. Titled “The push to increase access to the Temple Mount”, this programme obviously presented an opportunity to provide some much-needed background information and context on a topic with which the BBC has been dealing very unsatisfactorily since late October.Newshour 5 12 Jerusalem special

The parts of the programme relating to the declared subject matter were presented in two segments – available here from 00:04 and from 30:00. In the first segment listeners heard from two Israelis and two Palestinians and Tim Franks opened the programme by explaining why the BBC World Service was devoting a special broadcast to the topic.

“Welcome to this special edition of Newshour from the BBC World Service with me, Tim Franks, live in Jerusalem. We’re here because…well, because this city has been in the news for most of recorded human history but in recent months, residents here – you’ll hear from them in this programme – they’ll tell you that an edge, a fear, a sense of division has sharpened. Why and how and what it means for any political resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we’ll be exploring.”

Having gone up to Temple Mount, Franks lets his first interviewee introduce herself.

“My name is Abir Zayad [phonetic]. I’m now working inside Al Aqsa Mosque as an archaeologist. I’m coming here almost on daily basis for the whole of my life.”

TF: “And do you also now have a job here as a…as a guardian of the compound?”

AZ: “Yes. As part of a person who grow up in the place, I feel like other people as a responsibility for protecting the Al Aqsa Mosque. If you hear what the settlers are saying, all the time they are saying that they want to demolish especially the Dome of the Rock.”

TF: “But the Israeli government has made it very, very clear that it does not want to change the status quo up here.”

AZ: “The difference is in many things. First we are not controlling the gates. We used to control the gates. Tourist; we was controlling the tourists. Now we are not controlling the tourists. They can anytime close Aqsa Mosque and tell us it is not allowed for Muslims to enter. They take the identity card – our identity card – before we enter to pray. They allow for settlers to pray inside Al Aqsa Mosque. So all this is a new things which is not accepted on us. So you are speaking about a new status. He is playing with the words, Netanyahu.”

So what would Tim Franks have had to insert into his report at this point in order to avoid listeners being misled by Zayad’s inaccurate claims? He would of course have had to point out that not only do “settlers” not pray “inside Al Aqsa Mosque” but that non-Muslims – Jews and Christians – are not allowed to pray anywhere on Temple Mount at all. He would also have had to clarify that Israel has been responsible for the site’s security ever since 1967 – including the gates – so the claims of changes made by Israel to the status quo (at least during the past 47 years) are inaccurate. He would also have had to inform listeners that closures of the compound to Muslims are extremely rare (twice in the last 14 years) and that such measures are only implemented in extreme security situations.

Not only did Tim Franks make no effort to inform listeners that his interviewee’s claims were false, he also failed to counter her inaccurate and stereotypical claim that half a million people – according to the BBC’s own definition of “settlers” – intend to destroy the Dome of the Rock. It is worth remembering that this programme was broadcast to audiences worldwide – including countries in which the amplification of such a defamatory allegation can have potentially dangerous effects.

And whilst he was at it, Franks should also have clarified to listeners that the female “guardians of the compound” (whose main activity is to hassle non-Muslims visiting Temple Mount), among whom his interviewee is apparently to be counted, are paid by the Hamas-affiliated Northern Islamic Movement with the funds often coming from Gulf countries.

After additional interviews with architect Gideon Charlap and MK Tsipi Hotovely, Franks goes to Ramallah to meet Fatah’s Husam Zomlot. In recent weeks the BBC has amplified Zomlot’s falsehoods and propaganda on at least two separate occasions – see here and here – and yet someone at the ‘Newshour’ production team apparently thought that audience understanding of this complex topic could be enhanced by providing that propagandist with a platform yet again.

Even more significant is the fact that Tim Franks passed up the opportunity to present audiences with a clear and accurate view of the crucial issue of Palestinian incitement which has up to now been whitewashed and ignored by the BBC.

Franks: “How concerned are you that the language of negotiation, the language of territory, the language of the United Nations may become redundant as we see increasing levels of anger and increasing levels of a more sort of religious nature to this war; to this conflict? Ahm…especially in light of what’s happened in recent weeks?”

Zomlot: “You’re absolutely right and this is a very alarming development thanks to the Netanyahu government. Not only the Netanyahu government have been murdering the two state solution via this phenomenal expansion of settlements everywhere in the occupied Palestinian territory…state. But also they have been shifting the identity of the conflict from a national one that could be resolved to a religious perpetual confrontation.”

The adjective phenomenal of course means very remarkable or extraordinary. Not only have Israel’s current and previous governments of course not been building housing “everywhere” in Judea & Samaria as Zomlot inaccurately claims, but the rates of construction – as has been pointed out here in the past – can in no way be accurately described as “phenomenal” in comparison to those under prior administrations. Tim Franks, however, allows Zomlot’s misleading propaganda to be heard unhindered.

Franks: “You talk about the radicalization on the Israeli side. What about on the Palestinian side where you have the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas condemning acts of violence but you also have senior figures in Fatah and elsewhere who praise the actions, for example, of those cousins from Jabel Mukaber who killed four rabbis who were praying in West Jerusalem. That sort of language – calling these…those cousins martyrs for example – what good does that do for the Palestinian cause?”

This is not the first time that we have seen Tim Franks downplaying Mahmoud Abbas’ incitement and trying to create a faux separation between the PA president and incitement coming from the PA officials and Fatah officials he controls. Whilst Abbas himself did issue a form of condemnation of the Har Nof terror attack, he has publicly praised others. Zomlot does not miss the open goal provided for him.

HZ: “What we need to hear is always from the head of the state and from the president of the people. He is the one – or she – would represent the people.”

TF: “But do you deplore that?”

HZ: “Let me tell you: you ask a question and I’ll answer it. So when the head of the state come and condemn this in a very clear language I think this is really the most serious and the most expected outcome. We hear so many voices – individual voices – and if I want to get into that argument and tell you about the Israeli argument, some of it is sub-human…”

TF: “But I’m not asking you about the Israelis. I’m asking you about your fellow Palestinian politicians.”

HZ: “Where I am getting. I don’t want to quote you the hundred Israeli politicians so I don’t think, again, what is missing is our part of the story – condemnation. I believe the majority of Fatah would want to see a non-violent resolution to this.”

And that is that. Listeners to this BBC World Service special edition of ‘Newshour’ remain none the wiser about the scope and nature of incitement and glorification of terrorism from official Palestinian sources such as the PA and Fatah. Moreover, they are misleadingly led to believe by Tim Franks that Mahmoud Abbas has no part in that incitement.  

The second part of this programme will be discussed in a later post.