Following the election in Israel in April of this year we noted that viewers of the BBC News Channel programme ‘Dateline London’ were exposed to a series of inaccurate claims and outright falsehoods from panellists discussing that topic which went unchallenged by the presenter and hence impeded the BBC’s obligation to providing current affairs programming which builds “people’s understanding” and helps them engage as “informed citizens”.
The lead item (from 01:00) in the September 21st edition of the same programme related to last week’s election in Israel, with presenter Shaun Ley asking:
“…is this the beginning of the end for Israel’s longest-serving prime minister?”
Ley continued: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Ley: “Now Israel’s newspaper front pages this weekend are not the ones Binyamin Netanyahu was probably expecting. After the second indecisive election in just five months, power is described as slipping away. ‘Himself alone’ and ‘political death spasms’ are among the headlines. Prime minster for the last ten years with a three-year stint before that in the 1990s, Mr Netanyahu has been reduced to urging Benny Gantz, the ex-army chief who leads the newish centrist party Blue & White – the largest in the Knesset after Tuesday’s poll – to join a unity government. Gantz told him to push off.”
Mr Gantz of course did not use those words and in the meantime, discussions concerning such a possibility have been held. Ley went on to ask panellist Jonathan Sacerdoti “Do you think we are now witnessing the end of the Netanyahu era?” and viewers then heard an explanation of the Israeli system and the post-election situation.
That was followed by remarks from another panellist – UK journalist Yasmin Alibhai Brown – who managed to deliver an entire monologue concerning Netanyahu without uttering his name.
Alibhai Brown: “It’s so complicated. It is so utterly…but I have to be honest: I look forward to the day when we don’t…you know…he goes because he has been…I just think he’s been such bad news. It’s taken him to really bring deep pessimism to that area – almost irrecoverable pessimism – and I think that’s a tragedy. You know people don’t even talk about a two-state solution anymore. He’s taken away some hope and I can never forgive him for that so I hope it’s not him, whoever it is.”
Ley made no effort to balance Alibhai Brown’s diatribe with information concerning the Palestinian Authority’s repeated rejections of peace offers or by pointing out that the faction which won the last Palestinian election – Hamas – does not seek a two state solution at all.
Another panellist – Maria Margaronis – chipped in with a completely unevidenced assertion.
Margaronis: “Would a Benny Gantz led government be very different or much better? I mean it seems to me the campaign has been largely about who can be tougher on the Palestinians.”
Alibhai Brown: “Well yes and no, I think, because I mean a lot of Palestinians are already saying ‘at least we know the devil in Netanyahu’. We don’t know what…and the campaign has all been about expanding territory, which again…”
Ley made no effort to relieve audiences of the inaccurate impression that the recent election campaign in Israel was “all about expanding territory” or to clarify that Netanyahu’s statements concerning the potential application of Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley were in fact made just six days before the poll.
Following a comment from Ley that the Blue & White party “did appear from almost nowhere” before the April election, Alibhai Brown took another gratuitous swipe at ‘he who shall not be named’.
Alibhai Brown: “Yeah but I still think the presence of this particular individual – taking into account all the up and down of politics in Israel and Palestine – has been considerably destructive.”
When Jonathan Sacerdoti pointed out that Israeli voters view Netanyahu’s record differently and take into account issues such as his good relations with the Trump administration, Alibhai Brown retorted:
Alibhai Brown: “But that’s the problem, isn’t it?”
Interrupting another panellist, she went on:
Alibhai Brown: “And one must not forget…it becomes so normative but what’s been happening in Gaza in the last three or four years is unspeakable.”
Sacerdoti interjected to point out that “what’s been happening in Gaza” includes the launching of rocket attacks against Israeli civilians, to which Alibhai Brown retorted with a dog whistle reference to the IHRA working definition of antisemitism.
Alibhai Brown: “It’s horrible and we are not talking about it here, partly because of this ridiculous definition that was forced upon us that we may not discuss some issues.”
The IHRA definition of course says nothing of the sort but Ley made no effort to intervene and clarify the matter to audiences. As Sacerdoti pointed out that the Gaza Strip is controlled by a terrorist organisation, Alibhai Brown interrupted:
Alibhai Brown: “But you don’t punish the people. You don’t shoot twelve-year-olds.”
That context-free allegation also failed to prompt a reaction from Ley.
Maria Margaronis then commented that:
Margaronis: “But in the kind of wider picture, unless there is a settlement, a just settlement for the Palestinians, both Israel and the Palestinians face a future much like the past or worse and if we have both potential prime ministers – that is Netanyahu and Gantz – both promising to annex the Jordan Valley, the Area C of the West Bank ahm…which makes a two-state solution extremely difficult because it is the main agricultural area for the Palestinians, where does that leave us?”
Ms Margaronis has apparently never visited the Jordan Rift Valley in summer: had she done so she would have refrained from making that specious claim concerning agriculture. Ley failed to clarify that Gantz has not ‘promised’ to annex the Jordan Valley – rather he has stated that it should remain under Israeli control – and viewers saw no explanation as to why he and other former senior members of Israel’s security establishment view that region as being “of vast strategic importance”.
As Jonathan Sacerdoti pointed out that the Palestinians have in the past refused all offers of a permanent settlement to the conflict, Alibhai Brown came up with another unevidenced allegation.
Alibhai Brown: “The annexation is not a kind of side product of what’s going on. It is an ambition. And it is an ambition that they are pushing and the world is allowing this to happen.”
Ley: “Is that just electoral politics?”
Alibhai Brown: “No I don’t think so. No I don’t think so. It’s been going on for a long time. And the criticism has vanished, actually, of those ambitions.”
The conversation then moved on to a different topic, with Ley making no effort to clarify that annexation has not “been going on for a long time” at all and in fact the status of the area has not changed since the Oslo Accords were signed over a quarter of a century ago.
Once again we see that viewers of ‘Dateline London’ are fed false claims and downright falsehoods by under-informed commentators touting a clear political agenda while the programme’s presenter sits by and allows inaccurate allegations concerning Israel to go unchallenged.
How many falsehoods did BBC ‘Dateline London’ viewers hear in 13 minutes?