BBC News inaccurately reports an Israeli story from the sixties

On January 19th an article written by the BBC Hindi journalist Zubair Ahmed was published on the BBC News website’s ‘India’ and ‘Middle East’ pages under the title “Israel’s Indian Jews and their lives in the ‘promised land’“.

The article relates to one of the communities of Jews who immigrated to Israel from India – Bene Israel – and readers are told that: [emphasis added]

“…the biggest crisis faced by the community was in 1962 when the chief rabbinate prohibited Bene Israelis from marrying Jews from other communities.

Dr Weil said the community was up in arms. “They used to conduct sit-in strikes outside the chief rabbinate’s office saying they were Jews for more than 2,000 years and had the right to marry who they wanted.”

It took two years, but they finally succeeded in seeing their demands fulfilled.”

But is that account accurate? Did Israel’s Chief Rabbinate really ban members of the Bene Israel group from marrying other Israeli Jews in 1962?

Here is an article published in the ‘Herut’ newspaper on October 20th 1961 under the headline “The Chief Rabbinate rules: ‘Bene Israel’ from India are Jews and marriage with them is permitted”.

As the Jerusalem Post recounts: [emphasis added]

“Despite the fact that Sephardic Chief Rabbi Itzhak Nissim stated in 1961 that there was no foundation to prohibit marriage between Bene Israel and other Jews, and that “the sect of the Bene Israel in India is of the seed of the House of Israel without any doubt,” several rabbis in Israel still refused to marry Bene Israel to other Jews.

In 1962, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate appointed a commission of four rabbis to meet with representatives of the Bene Israel to research their customs. Apparently concerned about previous intermarriage and mamzerut, the committee learned that divorce was not an aspect of their culture at all, and they did not permit widows to re-marry, as per Indian customs at the time. This also meant that any concerns regarding the practice of levirate marriage (man’s duty to marry brother’s widow if she is childless) or halizah (ceremony to avoid levirate marriage) were not relevant.”

In late February 1962 the JTA reported that:

“The Chief Rabbinate was accused this weekend by Indian Jews settled in Israel with having “reversed” a ruling which ended a lengthy dispute over the status of such Jews in regard to marriage with other Jews in Israel.

The Chief Rabbinate had ruled last October that members of Indian Jewry, known as Bene Israel, were full Jews and could therefore wed other Jews. The Actions Committee of Bene Israel, charged that new directives for such marriages were a reversal of the October ruling.

The charge was based on the fact that the new directives required Israeli rabbis to ascertain whether Bene Israel applicants for marriages had parents and forebears who were Jews and also instructed rabbinical registrars to refer the applicant to the district rabbinical court “where doubts existed.”

Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim issued a statement in reply, expressing surprise about the Actions Committee charge. He said that similar regulations applied to all marriage applications in Israel.”

A few days later the then President of Israel – Itzhak Ben-Zvi – issued a statement on the topic.

“President Ben-Zvi came out vigorously today in support of the recent Chief Rabbinate’s decision permitting marriages with the Bene Israel immigrants from India. He declared that the decision should be welcomed by all leaders and members of the Bene Israel community in Israel.

The President made his statement in a comment on criticism of recent directives given by the rabbinate to marriage registrars concerning inquiry into the Jewishness of parents and grandparents of Bene Israel marriage applicants. He hailed the decision recognizing Bene Israel members as full Jews. He expressed the hope that the directives would not be misinterpreted to the extent that such criticism might negate the decision.

The President also said that he felt that the leaders of the Bene Israel community had no justification for objecting to the questions since rabbis had a complete right to question all marriage applicants concerning such Jewish matters. His statement was expected to sooth the controversy and serve as a cue for moderation both for rabbis performing such marriages and for Bene Israel members.”

‘Herut’ August 1964

That statement from the president did not however succeed in calming tempers and the Bene Israel group launched a series of protests and hunger strikes, culminating in a resolution passed by the Knesset in 1964.

“The series of demonstrations spurred the Knesset to take action, passing the Bene Israel resolution on August 16, which was read in an emergency Knesset session the next day. The resolution stressed the equal rights of Bene Israel, condemned the Chief Rabbinate and called upon it to dispel any feelings of discrimination among Bene Israel and the general public. It passed with a 43 to 2 vote. […]

“The Israeli government reiterates that it sees the Bene Israel community from India as Jews… without any restrictions or differences, equal in their rights to all other Jews in all respects, including matters of matrimony,” then-prime minister Levi Eshkol stated at the special Knesset session.” […]

The Chief Rabbinate responded to the Knesset resolution, revoking all references to the Bene Israel in the directive and substituting it with a general order which was made applicable to anyone whose family status was in doubt. […]

In other words, while the Bene Israel community doubtless suffered discrimination and some individual rabbis did for a time refuse to perform marriage services, the BBC’s claim that in 1962 “the chief rabbinate prohibited Bene Israelis from marrying Jews from other communities” is inaccurate and misleading.

 

 

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.

Related Articles:

Why was the word terror removed from the BBC’s report on reopening of Nariman House?

BBC News changes its description of 2008 Mumbai terror attack

 

BBC News changes its description of 2008 Mumbai terror attack

In August 2014 the BBC News website published an article about the re-opening of the Chabad centre in Mumbai that had been closed for almost six years after it was targeted in a terror attack in 2008.

As was noted here at the time, some four hours after its original publication the article was amended and the word ‘terror’ was removed from its opening paragraph.

Version 1:

“A Jewish centre in the Indian city of Mumbai is due to reopen, nearly six years after it was attacked by gunmen in terror attacks on the city.”

Version 2:

“A Jewish centre in the Indian city of Mumbai has reopened, nearly six years after it was stormed by gunmen who attacked the city.”

An explanation for that change in wording was never forthcoming but on July 4th visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page came across that article again in the form of a link in a report concerning the visit of the prime minister of India to Israel – “Narendra Modi to become first Indian PM to visit Israel“.

In this latest article, however, the 2008 attacks in Mumbai are accurately described as terror attacks.

The BBC claims that:

“Our policy is about achieving consistency and accuracy in our journalism.”

And:

“We also need to ensure that when we report acts of terror, we do so consistently in the stories we report across our services.” 

As regular readers know, that policy is not upheld and the terminology used by the BBC to describe and categorise attacks varies according to perpetrator and geographical location. But as this small example shows, consistency can even be lacking when the same story is reported on the same BBC platform.

BBC News recycles Iranian terrorism blur

On December 30th a report titled “Israel warns of New Year terror threat in India” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.terror-threat-india-art

After telling the story described in the headline, the report went on to inform readers that:

“In 2012, the wife of Israeli diplomat stationed in India was critically wounded in a car bomb attack along with her driver and two others.

The incident sparked diplomatic tensions when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of being behind it – a charge strongly denied by Tehran.”

Well over three years ago, in August 2013, another BBC report included a similar statement concerning that same attack in New Delhi in February 2012:

“The blasts came a day after two bomb attacks targeted Israeli diplomats in India and Georgia.

Israel has accused Iran of orchestrating the attacks, a charge which Iran denies.”

As was pointed out here at the time:Interpol

“The BBC neglects to inform its readers that the police investigation into the attack in New Delhi – in which the wife of an Israeli diplomat, her driver and two bystanders were injured – resulted in India’s police concluding that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards were behind the attack or that US counter-terrorism officials have reached the same conclusion as their Israeli counterparts.  

The BBC also omits any information regarding the related Red Notice put out by Interpol in March 2012.

Hence, BBC audiences are herded towards forming the mistaken impression that the two claims – accusation and denial – are of equal weight, whilst the fact that evidence gathered by other bodies supports the Israeli assessment is concealed from them.”

Three years on, those observations obviously also apply to this latest BBC report. 

BBC India provides another example of BBC double standards on terrorism

h/t J

Last month we noted on these pages that whilst in its coverage of the June 26th attacks in Tunisia, France and Kuwait the BBC made ample use of the word terror, that term was absent from its coverage of the November 2014 attack on worshippers at the synagogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem – as is generally the case in BBC reporting on terrorism in Israel.

Despite the professed policy of “achieving consistency and accuracy in our journalism” which appears in the BBC’s Guidance concerning “Language when Reporting Terrorism“, there is in fact a lack of consistency in the corporation’s coverage of that subject, as has been recorded here on numerous occasions.

And whilst the guidance claims that “[w]e try to avoid the use of the term “terrorist” without attribution” and “we don’t change the word “terrorist” when quoting other people, but we try to avoid the word ourselves” on the grounds that “[t]he word “terrorist” itself can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding”, the BBC’s coverage of the recent memorial services for the victims of the 2005 London terror attacks rightly did not “avoid the word”.

BBC 7 7 tweet

On July 27th the BBC India Twitter account promoted an article about that day’s attack in Gurdaspur, Punjab with the following oddly worded Tweet.

BBC India tweet Punjab

The dozens of angry replies to that Tweet are worthy of note.

According to the local police:

“….the attackers first targeted a roadside eatery and took off in a white Maruti 800 with Punjab registration number. They shot dead a roadside vendor near Dinanagar bypass.

They opened fire on passengers of a moving Punjab roadways bus before targeting a community health centre adjacent to Dinanagar police station.

The gunmen barged into the Dinanagar police station and opened indiscriminate fire. The terrorists also targeted another part of the complex where the families of police personnel reside and hurled grenades.” 

In other words, the attacks on civilian targets including a bus, an eatery and a health centre indicate that the method used to carry out this attack was terrorism.

Once again we see that the BBC fails to distinguish between method and aims and as has been noted here previously:

“The result of that is that when a perceived cause is considered acceptable and justifiable, the description of the means is adjusted accordingly.

Until BBC editors do indeed begin to separate the means from the ends, it will of course be impossible for the corporation to present a consistent, uniform approach to the subject of terrorism, to adhere to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality and to fulfil its purpose to educate and inform.” 

Related Articles:

BBC News website does ‘one man’s terrorist’

The BBC, terrorism and ‘consistency’

Why was the word terror removed from the BBC’s report on reopening of Nariman House?

On August 26th the BBC News website’s Asia page ran a story about the reopening of Nariman House in Mumbai: the Chabad centre which was the target of a terror attack in November 2008 in which six people were killed including four Israelis.

The BBC’s description of the 2008 events in the article originally titled “Mumbai Jewish centre to reopen six years after attack” was as follows:

“A Jewish centre in the Indian city of Mumbai is due to reopen, nearly six years after it was attacked by gunmen in terror attacks on the city.

Six Jews died at the centre, which was one of several places targeted in the November 2008 attack.

Indian forces eventually regained control of the centre and killed several gunmen.

Attacks on a railway station, luxury hotels and the centre claimed 166 lives. Nine gunmen were also killed.”

Later on readers were told:

“In 2012, India executed Mohammad Ajmal Amir Qasab, the sole surviving gunman from the 2008 attacks.

Qasab was part of a heavily armed and well-drilled, 10-member militant unit which arrived in Mumbai by sea on 26 November.

The men split into groups to attack various targets. Their assault on the Taj Mahal Hotel, Oberoi Trident Hotel and the Jewish centre went on for more than two days.”

Whilst the attacks were correctly described as “terror attacks”, readers will note that in the original version of the report the terrorists were described exclusively as “gunmen” from an anonymous “militant unit”. BBC audiences were not told the name of the terrorist organization to which they belonged or informed that it is proscribed by numerous bodies and countries including the UN, India, Pakistan, the US, the UK, the EU and Australia.

Some four hours after its initial publication the article was updated and its title changed to “Mumbai Jewish centre reopens six years after attack“. Notably, the phrase “terror attacks” was expunged from the amended report’s introduction.

“A Jewish centre in the Indian city of Mumbai has reopened, nearly six years after it was stormed by gunmen who attacked the city.

Six Jews were killed at the centre, which was one of several places targeted in the November 2008 attacks.

Indian forces regained control of the building after several days and killed two gunmen there.

The attacks at a railway station, two hotels and other landmarks claimed 166 lives. Nine gunmen were also killed.”

Nariman House both

At the bottom of that later version of the report the following sentence was added:

“Pakistan-based banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba was blamed for the attacks, which soured India-Pakistan ties.”

Readers are still not given any information concerning a topic highly relevant to this particular story about the Chabad Centre in Mumbai: the ideology of Lashkar-e-Taiba.  

“…LeT’s professed ideology goes beyond merely challenging India’s sovereignty over the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The LeT’s agenda, as outlined in a pamphlet titled, “Why are we waging jihad,” includes the restoration of Islamic rule over all parts of India, it says. The pamphlet also declares the United States, Israel, and India as existential enemies of Islam…”

Even the BBC’s own tepid profile of Lashkar-e-Taiba which has not been updated since 2010 is not included as a link in this report.

The BBC cannot claim to meet its obligation to “[b]uild a global understanding of international issues” as long as it continues to pussyfoot around the topic of Islamist terrorism, be it in Asia, the Middle East or anywhere else.