What was missing from a ‘not to be missed’ report on BBC Two’s Newsnight?

The July 3rd edition of the BBC Two programme ‘Newsnight’ included a report by the Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman which was described by the BBC as “not to be missed”.

As well as being shown on the programme itself, a clip from the report was posted on the Newsnight webpage under the title “Growing tensions between West Bank Palestinians & Israeli settlers”.

“The fate of the two state solution between Israelis and Palestinians is looking bleaker than ever.

The Americans now barely mention the term; their envoy in Jerusalem speaks instead of Israel’s “right” to sovereignty in parts of the occupied West Bank and UN figures suggest growing cases of violence by settlers amid a recent spike in bloodshed by both sides.”

Neither in that synopsis nor the report itself were audiences told which UN agency produced those figures but it is more than likely the highly partisan UNOCHA which produces regular reports based on information provided by political NGOs, some of which are involved in ‘lawfare’ campaigns against Israel.

Bateman opened his report with an incident which took place in Yasuf in early June, telling viewers that:

“The Israeli police say they are searching for the suspects but so far they’ve found no-one: a common outcome in these kinds of cases.”

After giving air-time to unevidenced claims from another interviewee from the same village, Bateman told viewers that:

“These villagers grew up under military occupation. Now their children see the Israeli watch towers too. Reported hate crimes against Palestinians doubled to nearly 300 last year says the UN. Villagers must ultimately turn to the Israeli army for protection, with all the complexity that entails. A military drawn from one people among two hostile populations.”

Having spoken to the deputy mayor of Yasuf, Bateman told BBC audiences:

“I think the main thing is that this is not just about isolated incidents. When you come here and you speak to people, you’re really struck by how this is a way of life: a low-level conflict. People feel intimidated, under threat. And at the end of that really you have two sides, both seeking control of the same land.”

By now at the half-way point in his report, Bateman told viewers that “the village [Yasuf] looks out onto several settlements – and they’re growing” and then went on to interview an Israeli couple from Tapuach West, promoting the BBC’s partisan international law mantra en route.

“Rivka took me to see the settlement outpost her family built. Like most Israelis she rejects the view of international law that sees the settlements as illegal. She is among the most ideological supporters. But an anti-occupation group recently petitioned the Israeli courts and her home was demolished.”

While Bateman did not identify that “anti-occupation group”, he was apparently referring to the political NGO ‘Yesh Din’. He told viewers:

“They talk of a constant threat. Late last year there was a surge of violence in the West Bank. In a matter of months five Israelis were killed by Palestinians and alleged attacks by settlers saw at least two Palestinians die.”

Between October and December 2018 inclusive five Israelis were murdered in terror attacks perpetrated by Palestinians. We have been able to find record of one Palestinian fatality during the same period of time. Bateman did not inform viewers that a suspect has been charged in connection with that case.

As regular readers will be aware, the BBC has a long record of under-reporting Palestinian terrorism, particularly when attacks do not result in fatalities. In 2018 the BBC News website reported at most 30.2% of the terror attacks that actually took place and 93.3% of the resulting fatalities. Throughout the whole of 2017 the BBC News website reported a total of fourteen incidents – i.e. 0.92% of the terror attacks which actually took place –  and 89% of the total fatalities.

Quoting anonymous “campaign groups” but providing no evidence to support the claim, Bateman closed his report by telling viewers that:

“Settler violence reinforces the goals of the state, say campaign groups, to take as much land as possible.”

He did not bother to clarify that such attacks have long been publicly and repeatedly condemned by Israel’s prime minister, leaders of the communities in Judea & Samaria, security officials and the Israeli public.

Bateman concluded with two further claims:

“Israel routinely says it investigates these cases but conviction rates are extremely low.”

“…the settlement movement is arguably enjoying more support than ever…”

The most notable aspect of this “not to be missed” report from Tom Bateman is, however, the part of the story that he chose to leave out. Throughout the entire item, no effort was made to inform BBC audiences of the differences between the policies of the Israeli authorities – investigations, arrests, and legal action taken against those suspected of carrying out attacks – and the approach of the Palestinian Authority to those of its citizens carrying out violent attacks against Israelis: glorification of the acts and their perpetrators and financial rewards

That is obviously a very serious omission, particularly given that the BBC’s record of reporting on PA incitement, glorification of terrorism and payment of salaries to terrorists means that audiences would be unlikely to be able to fill in the gaps for themselves.

Related Articles:

BBC Complaints clarifies discrepancies in terminology when reporting terrorism

Reviewing BBC News website follow-up reporting on terrorism in Israel

 

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BBC widens its ‘illegal under international law’ mantra to include people

A filmed report titled “Is peace between Israel and Palestinians out of reach?” appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on June 24th. Narrated by the Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell, the video does not appear to have been filmed recently if the winter clothes worn by Knell and other people appearing in it are anything to go by.

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

Against a background of archive footage from the September 1993 signing of the declaration of principles – Oslo I – at the White House, Knell opened the report by asking:

“How did we get from this…to yet more of this?”

The second “this” was spoken as viewers saw footage of an air-strike in the Gaza Strip.

One answer to that question is the fact that such air strikes come in response to acts of terror by Hamas and other factions which were never included in the Oslo peace process but viewers of Knell’s report were not informed of that fact at any point and she went on to promote the misleading notion that “the Palestinians” as a whole were party to the Oslo Accords, continuing:

“It’s more than 25 years since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to make peace. But right now, as many see it, actual peace seems more out of reach than ever.”

After a heading reading “Why has it got harder to make peace?”, Knell went on:

“Politics has shifted on both sides. In recent years, Israeli coalition governments have been increasingly dominated by right-wing, nationalist and religious parties that are more hard-line and don’t believe giving up land will bring peace.”

Knell made no attempt to explain that such views are the result of Israel’s experiences after having withdrawn from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Neither did she bother to point out that the thirty-third Israeli government conducted negotiations in 2013/14 despite including the types of parties she specifies.

“During the campaign for the last election, won by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, there was little talk of the two-state solution. Public support has fallen for this idea of creating an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Among Palestinians, a deep political split has left the nationalist project in disarray. On one side you have the Islamist movement, Hamas, widely seen as a terrorist group. It doesn’t recognise Israel’s right to exist.”

Viewers then saw an interesting portrayal of the violent coup conducted by Hamas in 2007 – and its result.

“Hamas won the last Palestinian parliamentary election in 2006 but after in-fighting, ended up just governing Gaza.”

Knell went on:

“Then there’s the Palestinian Authority which governs parts of the West Bank. It’s headed by Mahmoud Abbas, the ageing president. He’s led past peace talks with Israel. Nowadays, many Palestinians feel disillusioned with their leaders.”

Viewers were then led to believe that Palestinians have been “promised” a state.

“Palestinians say their promised state is becoming less viable because of a big increase in the number of Israeli settlers living in occupied areas. There were just over 200,000 in 1990. Now the number is three times bigger.”

Next viewers discovered that the BBC’s long-standing and partial mantra on ‘international law’ has been expanded to include not only places but people.

Settlers are seen as illegal under international law but Israel rejects that.”

Apparently the BBC has no qualms about portraying over half a million Jewish Israelis as “illegal”.

Knell went on:

“Palestinians say they won’t return to peace talks without a freeze on settlement building.”

Knell did not bother to tell viewers that when such a freeze was imposed in 2009/10, the Palestinians refused to “return to peace talks” for nine out of ten months or that they rejected another offer of such a freeze in 2013.

While showing viewers only parts of the mostly wire-mesh anti-terrorist fence constructed from concrete, Knell then promoted the “land-grab” fiction seen in so much past BBC reporting.

“And here’s something else that’s changed since the 1993 peace deal – this wall is part of Israel’s West Bank barrier. Work on it started during the second Palestinian uprising. Israel said it was to protect Israelis against attacks but the Palestinians see it as a land grab as it encroaches on land they want for their future state.”

Knell then promoted equivalence between Israeli victim of terrorism and Palestinian casualties resulting from either responses to terrorism or rioting and attempted attacks.

“Of course violence increases mistrust and thousands of people have been killed in this conflict in recent years. Many weren’t soldiers or militants. Israeli civilians have been killed and injured by Palestinians in suicide bombings and rocket attacks and in stabbings, shootings and car rammings. On the Palestinian side, many civilians have been killed and injured in Israeli air strikes or have been shot by Israeli security forces mostly during operations or clashes.”

Knell did not bother to clarify that the “Israeli air strikes” come in response to the rocket attacks.

“For a long time, the US had the job of peace mediator. But the Palestinians cut off ties with the Trump administration saying it was biased towards Israel. They’re furious at its decision to recognise contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and open this embassy here and with the issue dropping down the agenda for Arab states, there’s now no peace broker trusted by both sides.”

Once again we see that in the run-up to the Bahrain economic workshop, the BBC’s pre-emptive framing of the topic does little to contribute to in depth audience understanding of the issues at hand.

 

 

 

 

The BBC’s ‘international law’ mantra goes north

Shortly after 8:45 p.m. on the evening of June 1st, two projectiles were fired from Syria towards the Golan Heights with one landing in an open area and the other falling short of the border.

Some 18 hours later the BBC News website published a report with a headline that told readers only of the Israeli response some seven hours after that attack – “Israel strikes Syrian targets near Golan Heights”.

The attack which sparked the incident was given barely half a sentence of coverage, with no details provided.

“Israeli aircraft have struck Syrian army targets after rockets were fired at the occupied Golan Heights, the Israeli military says.”

The report did however include a Tweet giving details of the targets in Syria later struck by Israel.

A previous incident which the BBC did not report at the time – May 27th – was also mentioned.

“On Monday, IDF said it had attacked a Syrian anti-aircraft system that fired on one of its warplanes. Syrian state media said one soldier had been killed in that incident.”

However readers were not informed that this is the second time this year that missiles have been fired from deep inside Syria at the northern Golan Heights – perhaps because that previous incident in January received scant and belated BBC coverage.

The majority of this report (69% of its total word count) is devoted to background including a lengthy section headed “What are the Golan Heights?”.

As usual, the BBC’s accounts of history begin in June 1967 with no mention of what happened before “Israel seized the Golan” or why it did so.

“Israel seized most of the Golan from Syria in the closing stages of the 1967 Middle East war, and thwarted a Syrian attempt to retake the region during the 1973 war.”

A photo caption tells BBC audiences that “Syria will not agree a peace deal with Israel unless it withdraws from the whole of the Golan” and the article goes on to state that:

“Syria has always insisted that it will not agree a peace deal with Israel unless it withdraws from the whole of the Golan. The last US-brokered direct peace talks broke down in 2000, while Turkey mediated in indirect talks in 2008.”

Readers are not told that Syria was offered precisely that in the 1990s and once again we see that the BBC has adopted the Syrian narrative, according to which demilitarised zones established under the 1949 armistice agreement are part of “the whole of the Golan”. 

Since the US recognised Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights earlier this year, the BBC has taken to using the same ‘international law’ mantra that it promotes concerning Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem also in relation to communities on the Golan – see previous examples here and here

“There are more than 30 Israeli settlements in the Golan, which are home to an estimated 20,000 people. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

The report closes with a claim also seen in previous reports:

“The settlers live alongside some 20,000 Syrians, most of them Druze Arabs, who did not flee when the Golan was captured.”

Obviously most of those people were not around 52 years ago “when the Golan was captured” (the total population of the four Druze communities in the northern Golan was around 7,400 in 1967) and so the sloppy claim that twenty thousand people “did not flee” is inaccurate.

Notably, we see that the BBC presumptuously portrays the Alawite residents of Ghajar – who are Israeli citizens – and the Druze residents of the northern Golan who have chosen to take Israeli citizenship as “Syrians”.

Related Articles:

Slapdash BBC News reporting of events in northern Israel and Syria

BBC News framing of Iranian activity in Syria continues

BBC’s Golan Heights profile misleads on water and borders

 

BBC News plugs PA rejection of US peace initiative

On May 17th the BBC News website published an article headlined “US Israel-Palestinian peace plan ‘a surrender act’ – Palestinian FM” on its ‘Middle East’ page.

The article is based on a speech given by Riad Malki at an event organised by the Chatham House think tank on the same day.  

“The Palestinian foreign minister has branded the anticipated US plan for ending the Israel-Palestinian conflict an unacceptable “surrender act”.

Riad Malki said the plan that Donald Trump calls the “deal of the century” was in fact “the consecration of [Palestinians’] century-old ordeal”.”

The BBC’s account of Malki’s speech circumvents the majority of his falsehoods and offensive remarks, with one exception: [emphasis added]

“Speaking at Chatham House think tank in London, Mr Malki said all the indications were that “this [US] administration is preparing to give its stamp of approval to Israel’s colonial policies” [punctuation in the original]

The BBC found it necessary to ‘contextualise’ those remarks as follows:

“The Palestinians often describe Israeli settlement and other activity in the occupied territories as a form of colonialism, a characterisation which Israel strongly rejects.”

The BBC did not however find it necessary to explain to its audiences why that description is not correct and how it is invoked for political purposes.

As is the case in much BBC reporting relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict, readers found the usual BBC mantra on ‘international law’ and the inevitable erasure of all history before June 1967.

“Israel has built about 140 settlements, home to more than 600,000 Jews, in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since it occupied them in the 1967 Middle East war.

Palestinians claim the territories for a future Palestinian state.

The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

Near the beginning of the article readers were correctly told that:

“No confirmed details have been revealed of the plan, which Washington says could be unveiled next month.”

Despite that, the BBC had no qualms about later amplifying what are clearly no more than speculations on Malki’s part.

“Mr Malki said the Trump administration’s plan offered “no independence, no sovereignty, no freedom and no justice – and if [the US] do not think that this situation will have an impact on the future of Israel and the region one way or another, they are the ones that are delusional and not us”.”

In paragraphs six and seven of this article the BBC recycled some very problematic framing that it has been promoting for the past two and a half years.

“It is unclear whether the plan will be based on the so-called “two-state solution” – a long-standing formula for resolving the conflict by creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel, with Jerusalem a shared capital.

The Palestinians and most of the international community support this approach in principle, while the Israeli leadership is cooler towards it.”

In addition to avoiding the obviously inconvenient fact that the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected offers based on the two-state solution which the BBC claims they “support”, the BBC’s implication that there is one unified Palestinian voice which supports the two-state solution is clearly inaccurate and misleading.

Factions such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas – which the BBC repeatedly reminds us won the majority of the popular vote the last time elections were held – obviously do not support the two-state solution or any other formula short of the destruction of Israel. Other factions, including the PFLP for which Malki was formerly spokesman, set themselves up as ‘opposition’ to the Oslo Accords negotiation process at the time.  

In addition, the BBC’s wording does not inform readers that an essential part of the two-state solution is the concept (repeatedly endorsed by the Quartet) of ‘two states for two peoples’ – a definition which would require Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state – and that Fatah and the Palestinian Authority have repeatedly refused to do so.

The article’s claims concerning ‘East Jerusalem’ conceal the fact that – as the BBC itself reported in 2003 – the text of the ‘Roadmap’ compiled by the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia (the Quartet) defines the two-state solution as including:

“…a negotiated resolution on the status of Jerusalem that takes into account the political and religious concerns of both sides, and protects the religious interests of Jews, Christians, and Muslims worldwide…”

Given that it rejected complaints on this issue over two years ago, we should of course not be surprised that the BBC continues to promote its inaccurate narrative concerning Palestinian support for a two-state solution (along with a portrayal of entirely passive Palestinians devoid of agency or responsibility) as part and parcel of its framing of anticipated events relating to the ‘peace process’.

Related Articles:

BBC News silent on Abbas’ rejection of Jewish state

BBC News amplifies PLO’s interpretation of the two-state solution

BBC News website’s explanation of the two-state solution falls short

BBC Complaints: inaccurate portrayal of Palestinian leadership is not a ‘significant issue’

 

 

 

 

 

BBC’s peace plan framing and speculations – part one

As we have most recently seen in BBC coverage of the Israeli election and in an article by the BBC’s US State Department correspondent, the corporation’s framing a US administration peace plan which has not yet even been made public continues.

That framing has included the failure to clarify to audiences that the Palestinian Authority has already rejected the US initiative even before its publication, the failure to clarify that, significantly, the Palestinian Authority does not represent all the Palestinian factions and a total absence of information concerning Palestinian rejection of past peace proposals.

Additionally, BBC audiences have seen the two-state solution presented as “the formula for peace negotiations” but with that term only partially explained: the all-important phrase “two states for two peoples” is consistently absent from BBC presentation.  Instead, audiences repeatedly see the two-state solution defined according to the Palestinian interpretation of it as meaning a Palestinian state on all of the territory occupied by Jordan and Egypt between 1948 and 1967.

Unsurprisingly, the BBC’s framing portrays the success of the as yet unpublished peace plan as dependent upon Israeli actions alone, with the Palestinian side reduced to a passive entity.

That pre-emptive framing continued in two items aired on the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme on April 16th. Listeners first heard a report (from 37:28 here) from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell introduced by co-presenter Justin Webb.

Webb: “Israel’s political parties meet the president today following the election of course. Yolande Knell is our correspondent in Jerusalem. What happens then, Yolande?”

Knell gave an explanation of the process of the president’s consultation with the heads of the parties which gained seats in the recent election in order to decide which party leader will be tasked with trying to form a new government before going on:

Knell: “…it’s extremely likely that it will be Benjamin Netanyahu that’s allowed to form the new government because he did win the greatest number of seats in the new parliament [not accurate – Ed.] and because he has support, we know, from the smaller Right-wing and pro-settler parties, he’ll be able to control the majority seats. And Israelis saying this is most likely to be the most Right-wing government in Israeli history. That was also the boast of the last government too. And of course this new government will be put in place – he’ll have 28 days to decide – Mr Netanyahu – if he can put…how he’ll put his government together…ahm…but this will come at a really important time.”

The item continued with pure speculation based partly on an article in a newspaper.

Webb: “Well an important time because Donald Trump says he has a peace proposal and a peace proposal that is acceptable to…ahm…err…the Netanyahu government potentially. In that case, if that were to be announced relatively soon, what would it be?”

Knell: “Well we’ve been looking for a lot of clues. Ahm…of course the big question is could the US abandon the two-state solution: this long-time international formula for peace that envisages the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. It’s been written up in UN resolutions and it’s also been the cornerstone of US policy for over two decades now. But we had yesterday the Washington Post reporting that the US proposal probably wouldn’t include a fully sovereign Palestinian state and then the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo giving a series of congressional hearings over the last two weeks and in questioning he didn’t give too much away for sure ahead of the publication of this long-awaited Trump administration peace plan but he did say that…or he seemed to imply that the idea of the two-state solution was bunched in with what he called ‘a failed old set of ideas not worth re-treading’ and he kept talking, as we’ve heard before, about recognising realities.

What’s also been pointed out really importantly is that the Trump administration and Mr Pompeo didn’t speak out against a campaign promise that was made very controversially by Mr Netanyahu in the last days of the election campaign where he promised to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank where there are Israeli settlements…ah…put them under full Israeli control. And…err…of course settlements seen as illegal under international law but the Palestinians say that would leave them with no contiguous territory for a Palestinian state.”

As we see Knell’s speculative portrayal adheres to the BBC’s standard framing seen to date. The second item on the same topic in this programme will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Plett Usher continues to promote her Israel narratives

BBC News amplifies PLO’s interpretation of the two-state solution

BBC News silent on Abbas’ rejection of Jewish state

BBC Radio 4’s peace process tango for one – part one

BBC Radio 4’s peace process tango for one – part two

Why is the BBC’s failure to properly report the Jewish state issue important?

 

 

Inaccuracies in BBC WS ‘Newsday’ report on Israel election

Listeners to the later edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ on April 9th heard a five-minute item replete with factual errors and misleading claims.

The item was introduced (from 04:23 here) by a presenter who managed not only to pronounce the Israeli prime minister’s first name in three different ways in 44 seconds but also inaccurately described him as Israel’s “longest-serving prime minister”. In fact, only if Netanyahu is still prime minister on July 17th 2019 will he overtake David Ben Gurion – currently Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

The presenter also failed to note that whether or not what she described as “imminent criminal indictments” against Netanyahu will be filed depends upon hearings to be held in the coming months. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Presenter: “Let’s take you to Israel now…eh…Israelis are going to the polls today as the country’s longest-serving prime minister Benyamin [sic] Netanyahu faces his toughest challenge yet. Plagued with controversies and under the shadow of imminent criminal indictments for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, many are still tipping him to win. Let’s speak now to our Jerusalem correspondent Tom Bateman. Tom, it’s been described as almost a referendum on Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule but now he has a real contender and a challenger…eh…in the former…general – or retired general – Benny Gantz. Let’s talk about Benny Gantz for a minute. What’s he promising and why has he proven such a strong challenger to Binyamin Netanyahu?”

Bateman: “Well Benny Gantz was a chief of the Israeli army. He was actually in position under Mr Netanyahu’s leadership when he was prime minister in this last term.”

Netanyahu’s latest term in office began in May 2015 following elections in March of that year. Benny Gantz retired from army service in February 2015 and so – while Gantz was chief of staff during parts of two of Netanyahu’s earlier terms in office, Bateman’s claim that he was “in position” during “this last term” of Netanyahu’s office is clearly inaccurate.

Bateman went on to promote false equivalence while describing a Hamas rocket attack on a moshav in central Israel last month.

Bateman: “He oversaw the military operation – the all-out conflict between Hamas in Gaza and Israel – in 2014 so he is an experienced general. He entered the race after…they have to have a three year…ah…period of rest away from the military or politics because former generals in Israel are usually pretty hot stuff when it comes to Israeli politics and they can be very popular. He entered this race and he has put up a very serious challenge to Benjamin Netanyahu who, remember, likes to portray himself as the guarantor of Israel’s security. That has been his number one pitching point to the Israeli public and so to have this former chief of staff to come in and who has said that in his view Mr Netanyahu has not been effective on the security front. There has been a military flare-up again between Hamas and Israel during the election campaign and Mr Netanyahu’s rivals, including Mr Gantz, were quick to jump on that and say that he should have been tougher.”

Presenter: “And Mr Netanyahu has been appealing to the Right-wing voter base. How and…and…will that make a difference in the way that people vote given how close the challenge is?”

Once again avoiding the topic of the effects of Palestinian terrorism on Israeli public opinion and the tricky question of how a two-state solution could come about under Palestinian leadership split between Fatah and Hamas, Bateman promoted PLO messaging on the topic of ‘settlements’.

Bateman: “Well the Israeli public has shifted to the Right over the decades, particularly since the Left in Israel saw its last high-water mark in the 1990s in the Oslo peace accords – the peace process with the Palestinians – which has very much been frozen and in many ways begun to fall apart since then. Particularly the Israeli youth are…many of them vehement supporters of the Right wing and Mr Netanyahu. And I think even during this campaign we have seen him tack further to the Right and in the closing days of the campaign he said that he would phase the annexation of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, so extending Israeli sovereignty formally over those settlements which have grown in number since he was last elected into office. They’re illegal under international law although Israel disputes this but fundamentally they are seen by the Palestinians as the single biggest obstacle to them establishing a future state. And so what we have seen in this election, I think, with that further appeal to the Right wing is the prospect of the internationally held formula – a two-state solution with Israel and the Palestinians – really moved even further to the margins.”

In addition to Bateman’s promotion of the BBC’s standard partial mantra on ‘international law’ we see that he also promotes the inaccurate claim that the number of what the BBC chooses to call ‘settlements’ has “grown” since Netanyahu was “last elected into office” – i.e. since the previous election in March 2015.

In June 2017 the BBC itself reported that work had begun on what it described as “the first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank for more than 20 years”. That community – Amichai – will house former residents of Amona which was evacuated in February 2017. No additional new communities have been built by the Israeli government in the past four years and proposals to legalise outposts built without government consent have not progressed. It is therefore unclear on what evidence Bateman bases his assertion that “settlements…have grown in number” since March 2015.

The item continued:

Presenter: “And I mean we…we talk about Mr Netanyahu of course facing a tough challenge but he’s also, you know, facing…ehm…he’s…he could be removed from office under criminal indictments. Mr Netanyahu still faces charges of corruption. How is that affecting, you know, his campaign and how’s that affecting the support for him?”

Bateman: “Well among his most loyal supporters, I mean they’re…they’re…they’re fiercely loyal of [sic] him. They know about the allegations – some might even believe them – but they really don’t care.”

Presenter: “Hmm.”

Only at that point in the item did listeners hear an accurate portrayal of “what will happen next” in relation to the repeatedly referenced legal cases involving Netanyahu but no information was provided concerning Israeli law in such a situation.

Bateman: “I think it possibly has had some effect and it has allowed Benny Gantz to pick up some votes from the Right wing although most of the votes he has taken seem to be coming from the Left. As for what will happen next, well we’re due at some point later this year – the Israeli attorney general – to give Mr Netanyahu a hearing and then those charges could be formally laid against him so you will then have a sitting prime minister with a formal indictment against him which would be a rare or unprecedented situation in Israeli politics and what may happen over the coming days, if he wins the election he has to put together a coalition government. Perhaps there will be a price to membership of the coalition in that parties and their leaders will have to say that they would support him through that process and not resign from government which would then precipitate a collapse of the government and then potentially another general election.”

Once again we see that the profuse amount of BBC coverage of Israeli affairs and the permanent presence of BBC staff in Jerusalem does not preclude shoddy and inaccurate reporting which misleads audiences around the world.  

Related Articles:

Another Israeli election, another BBC claim of a ‘shift to the right’

BBC News report on Airbnb backtrack follows usual recipe

Back in November 2018 the BBC News website published no fewer than three reports (see ‘related articles’ below) concerning an announcement from the American company Airbnb concerning its intention to remove some 200 listings in Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria.

All three of those reports – two written and one filmed – promoted the corporation’s standard mantra concerning ‘international law’ with the BBC electing once again to ignore its editorial obligation of “due impartiality” by erasing from audience view the existence of legal opinions which contradict its chosen narrative.

The two written reports uncritically amplified statements made by the political NGO ‘Human Rights Watch and the second article even provided a link to a problematic report produced by that NGO and another called ‘Kerem Navot’ which was actually a political campaign focusing exclusively on Jewish Israelis.

On April 10th the BBC News website published a report titled “Airbnb reverses ban on West Bank settlement listings” which opened by telling readers that:

“Airbnb has reversed its decision to remove rental listings of homes located inside Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.”

The background to that reversal was portrayed by the BBC as follows:

“Israeli lawyers filed a class action suit, which is when a group of people with similar claims sues the defendant in one action.

The suit sought 15,000 shekels ($4,200; £3,200) for each host of the 200 homes that were due to be deleted from Airbnb’s listings.

Airbnb said that under the terms of a settlement it would “not move forward with implementing the removal of listings in the West Bank from the platform”.”

However the BBC did not inform its audiences of the basis for that class action suit.

“The suit was filed under the Fair Housing Act, which was meant to prevent discrimination against minorities in the United States. Because Airbnb is based in the United States, it must adhere to the act in all its listings worldwide.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed that Airbnb was discriminating against them for being Jewish, given that it still allowed listings by Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the West Bank.

“The policy Airbnb announced last November was abject discrimination against Jewish users of the website,” Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the president of Shurat Hadin, said in a statement. “Whatever one’s political view, discrimination based on religious affiliation should never be the solution.””

Readers would hence no doubt have found it difficult to understand why one of the people quoted in a section of the report sub-headed “What’s the reaction been?” used the term “discriminatory”.

“Eugene Kontorovich, director of international law at the Kohelet Policy Forum in Jerusalem, told AFP news agency: “Airbnb has realized what we have long argued – that boycotts of Jews anywhere, even just in the West Bank, are discriminatory.”

That sub-section went on to uncritically amplify statements from two of the BBC’s most quoted and promoted political NGOs – Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – while making no effort to adhere to the corporation’s own editorial guidelines by informing audiences of the political agenda of those organisations.

“But Arvind Ganesan of Human Rights Watch said: “Donating profits from unlawful settlement listings, as they’ve promised to do, does nothing to remedy the ‘human suffering’ they have acknowledged that their activities cause.

“By continuing to do business in settlements, they remain complicit in the abuses settlements trigger,” he added.

An Amnesty International report published earlier in the year argued that Airbnb was among the digital tourism companies profiting from “war crimes” by offering services in West Bank settlements.” [emphasis added]

As usual, readers of this report were presented with the corporation’s chosen one-sided narrative on ‘international law’ – “the settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this” – without the existence of alternative opinions even being acknowledged.

And so once again BBC audiences got a carefully framed portrayal of this story which, while promoting an anti-Israel NGO’s “war crimes” hyperbole, failed to adequately present the whole picture.

Related Articles:

BBC News website framing of the Airbnb listings story

More inadequate BBC reports on the Airbnb story

The NGOs and Funders Behind Airbnb’s BDS Policy (NGO Monitor)

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2018

 

Another Israeli election, another BBC claim of a ‘shift to the right’

On April 8th a filmed report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman was posted on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page under the headline “How far will Israel shift to the right?”.

The accompanying synopsis tells BBC audiences that:

“Israelis go to the polls on Tuesday to choose a new government.

It has come down to a race between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, a former military chief of staff.

Mr Netanyahu has faced accusations that he fostered racism in the campaign, after he oversaw the creation of an electoral alliance involving a party that calls for the expulsion of most Arabs from Israel.

Our Middle East Correspondent Tom Bateman reports, starting in the divided city of Hebron, in the occupied West Bank.

Within the city of about 200,000 Palestinians, a few hundred Jews live in settlements that are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

Like that synopsis, the report itself – introduced as “Israel’s election and the far right” – made no effort to explain to BBC audiences that Jewish residents of Hebron live there under the terms of a twenty-two year old internationally supervised agreement between Israel and the PLO under which the then Israeli prime minister – one Binyamin Netanyahu – agreed to redeploy Israeli forces from 80% of the city and hand control over to the Palestinian Authority, thus making the city “divided” with Palestinian consent.

Lacking that essential background information, the view audiences got from Bateman’s report was inevitably distorted. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

“Last month, settlers celebrated the Jewish holiday of Purim in the divided city of Hebron, in the occupied West Bank. Several hundred of Israel’s most ideologically driven settlers live here, guarded by soldiers, in the city of 200,000 Palestinians.”

Bateman: “I mean on one level it’s just a party, it’s people dressing up and having a good time. But like so many things here, it just takes on a different meaning because this is so contested, this is such a tense place, it becomes about an expression of identity by people who feel that they under siege. For the Palestinians it feels like a complete provocation.”

Having heard from a man in a van that “again and again, every generation, there are nations that are trying to destroy the Jews”, Bateman went on to opine on “religious resolve (whatever that may be) and nationalism”.

Bateman: “That explains why religious resolve and nationalism are so much on display here. Those things are a powerful part of Israeli politics. And in this election, the extremes have been courted by the Israeli prime minister. An anti-Arab party called Jewish Power. They didn’t want to talk to us.”

Having tried to talk to a man in the street, Bateman went on:

Bateman: “His party wants to annex the occupied West Bank and also expel what it calls ‘enemy Arabs’ from Israel. Some of the Israelis dress up as Palestinians. So this lady here is wearing a Palestinian [sic] head scarf and carrying a plastic AK-47.”

Viewers were then told that:

“Benjamin Netanyahu wants to be elected for a fifth term. He faces corruption claims and a serious challenger: former military chief Benny Gantz. Mr Gantz is leading a political alliance in the centre ground. It accuses Mr Netanyahu of dividing Israelis and says he hasn’t been tough enough on security.”

Bateman then refocused audience attentions on Hebron, again failing to provide relevant context such as the consequences of Palestinian terrorism on freedom of movement for both Palestinians and Israelis.

Bateman: “Virtually all of the Palestinians are staying indoors while the parade goes on. Palestinian movement is heavily controlled in this part of the city, especially around the parade.”

Woman: “I feel like their lives are much more relaxed than ours. Apart from that, you can see they can do what they like. They have total freedom in the area and in all the areas that are shut down like this one. We feel sad.”

Bateman: “So what’s happened to Israel’s left wing? Well we found some of them in the market in Tel Aviv. […] I followed around the Labour Party leader Avi Gabbay. They can drum up a bit of a crowd in the market here. But the problem for the Labour Party leader is he could be looking at Labour’s worst poll ratings in this country’s history.”

Making no effort whatsoever to give viewers a real explanation of why that is the case, Bateman went on to push the core agenda behind his report.

Bateman: “After a decade in office, Benjamin Netanyahu has changed the conversation in Israel. For example the two-state solution with the Palestinians is off the agenda for either party that can win.”

In other words, Bateman would have BBC audiences believe that disillusion among Israeli voters and politicians alike with the belief that a two-state solution can be achieved is entirely down to Netanyahu having “changed the conversation” since 2009 and has nothing whatsoever to do with years of Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli citizens, Palestinian Authority glorification and rewarding of terror, Palestinian refusal to accept numerous previous offers of precisely such a solution or the Hamas-Fatah split which for over a decade has made any agreement “with the Palestinians” impossible.

Following a conversation with Ayelet Shaked of the ‘New Right’ in which she apparently did not succeed in persuading Bateman that Israeli democracy is sufficiently robust to include a broad range of opinions across the political spectrum, he continued with promotion of unsupported claims from unidentified commentators.

Bateman: “Israel has been taking a look at itself in this election. Some see the move rightwards over the last decade as decisive now. They see ideas that were once on the margins a few decades ago becoming more and more mainstream. Like the possibility of Israel annexing parts of the occupied West Bank.”

Bateman has apparently never heard of the ‘Alon Plan’ proposal of annexation of parts of Judea & Samaria devised by a Labour movement leader shortly after the Six Day War.

Finally, BBC audiences learned that even if Netanyahu does not win this election and even if a centrist/left coalition forms the next government, Israel has – according to the BBC – nevertheless shifted to the right for one reason alone.

Bateman: “Regardless of the result, there has been a marked shift to the right during Benjamin Netanyahu’s time in office.”

Of course this is by no means the first time that the BBC has used coverage of an election in Israel to promote the notion of a lurch to the right. Once again the lack of understanding by BBC reporters of the inapplicability of their own Eurocentric interpretations of terms such as Left and Right to the Israeli political scene is in evidence. But this time Bateman has managed to avoid any reference to Palestinian actions and choices which have made many Israelis more sceptical of their supposed peace partner’s commitment to the process while squarely placing the blame on the shoulders of the Israeli prime minister.  

Related Articles:

Not Right: why did the BBC get the Israeli elections so wrong?

Reviewing the BBC’s record of reporting on Israeli elections

 

Partial portrayals of international law in three BBC reports

In recent days visitors to the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page have found three reports relating to the US president’s announcement of the intention to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

One of those reports was written by the BBC’s State Department correspondent Barbara Plett Usher and the other two included inserts of her analysis. All three promoted specific messaging on the topic of international law.

1) Trump: Time to recognise Golan Heights as Israeli territory March 21st:

“Richard Haass, a former senior US state department official who is now president of the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, said he “strongly disagreed” with Mr Trump. He said such recognising Israeli sovereignty would violate a UN Security Council resolution, “which rules out acquiring territory by war”. […]

So critics have concluded this was a blatant attempt to give Mr Netanyahu a boost in a hotly-contested election.

If so, it’s one that violates important principles of international law, they say: Mr Trump has endorsed the seizure of territory, and will have no moral authority to criticise Russia for doing so in Ukraine’s Crimea.”

2) Golan Heights: Syria condemns Donald Trump’s remarks March 22nd:

“Richard Haass, a former senior US state department official who is now president of the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, said he “strongly disagreed” with Mr Trump and that the decision would violate a UN Security Council resolution “which rules out acquiring territory by war”. […]

Critics have concluded this was a blatant attempt to give Mr Netanyahu a boost in a hotly-contested election. If so, it’s one that violates important principles of international law, they say: Mr Trump has endorsed the seizure of territory, and will have no moral authority to criticise Russia for doing so in Ukraine’s Crimea.”

3) Trumplomacy on Golan Heights: What it all means March 22nd, Barbara Plett Usher:

“First and foremost is one of international law: in recognising Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, Mr Trump is in effect endorsing its seizure of the territory. By what moral authority then could he challenge others who do the same, such as Russia’s annexation of Crimea?”

As Professor Eugene Kontorovich pointed out in testimony given to the US House of Representatives last year:

“The widely-repeated view that recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights would be contrary to international law is based on one fundamental assumption: that at least since the adoption of U.N. Charter, international law prohibits any acquisition of foreign territory by force. While such a formulation of the rule is largely accurate, it omits crucial exceptions quite relevant to the case of the Golan Heights.

Whatever the current status of an absolute prohibition on territorial change resulting from war, there was certainly no such blanket prohibition in 1967, when the territory came under Israeli control. At the time, international law only prohibited acquisition of force in illegal or aggressive wars. This is evident from the source of the prohibition in the UN Charter, post-Charter state practice, and the understandings of international jurists at the time. There is simply no precedent or authoritative source for forbidding defensive conquest in 1967.

The U.N. Charter prohibits war for most purposes. When the use of force is illegal, it is natural to conclude that any territorial gains from such aggression cannot be recognized as well. Thus the illegality of conquest arises from the presumptive illegality of the use of force. But crucially, the U.N. Charter does not make all war illegal. Indeed, it expressly reaffirms the legality of a defensive war. Since defensive war is not illegal, it follows that the defender’s territorial gains from such a war would not be illegal.”

Notably, readers of the first report were also told that:

“In 2017, Mr Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordered the relocation of the US embassy to the city from Tel Aviv. The decision was condemned by Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, and the UN General Assembly demanded its cancellation.”

The second article likewise stated:

“In 2017, Mr Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordered the relocation of the US embassy to the city from Tel Aviv.

The decision was condemned by Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, and the UN General Assembly demanded its cancellation.”

Under the heading “How will this affect the West Bank?” readers of the third article were informed that:

“The occupied West Bank is different from the Golan Heights. It was also captured by Israel in the 1967 war, from Jordan.”

As usual the BBC’s presentation of history commences in June 1967 with no mention of the relevant fact that in 1948 Jordan launched an attack on the regions included in the Mandate for Palestine which the BBC terms “the West Bank” and “East Jerusalem” and subsequently illegally annexed both areas.  

Predictably, while amplifying Palestinian claims to parts of Jerusalem which were under Jordanian occupation for 19 years, the BBC has nothing at all to tell its audiences about the legality of that particular case of seizure of territory by war.

No surprises in BBC News website report on US Consulate closure

A move that had been anticipated since October 2018 was reported on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on March 4th in an article headlined “US consulate general in Jerusalem merges with embassy”. The story was summed up in the article’s opening paragraphs:

“The US has closed its consulate general in Jerusalem, which covered Palestinian affairs, folding its operations into the new embassy to Israel in the city.

The state department said the merger was made for efficiency reasons and did not signal a change of policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or Gaza.

The consulate had acted as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians.

A Palestinian official called the move “the last nail in the coffin of the US administration’s role in peacemaking”.”

That unnamed “Palestinian official” was the PLO’s Saeb Erekat, who is of course rather fond of the ‘nail in the coffin‘ metaphor.

In addition to a 146-word section quoting (and linking to) the US State department deputy spokesman’s statement on the merger, readers found an unquestioning 126-word account of the less extreme parts of a statement from the PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi, with a link provided.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), said: “The Trump administration is intent on leaving no room for doubt about its hostility towards the Palestinian people and their inalienable rights, as well as its abject disregard for international law and its obligations under the law.”

“Merging the US consulate in Jerusalem with the US embassy to Israel, which is now illegally located in Jerusalem, is not an administrative decision. It is an act of political assault on Palestinian rights and identity and a negation of the consulate’s historic status and function, dating back nearly 200 years.”

Ms Ashrawi said such actions “preclude any possible positive role for the current US administration in seeking peace and stability” in the region.”

Ms Ashrawi and her colleagues have of course been boycotting the US administration since December 2017 and have repeatedly expressed their opposition to a peace proposal which the US has not even yet made public. Apparently though the BBC did not see the irony in the second quote from Ashrawi which it chose to highlight.

Readers of this report also found the following:

“The BBC’s Tom Bateman in Jerusalem says the merger marks a significant downgrade of the US diplomatic mission to the Palestinians.”

Bateman did not however clarify why any foreign “diplomatic mission to the Palestinians” should be located outside territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority, in a place to which the Palestinians ostensibly do not lay claim.  

Unsurprisingly, the recycled background history presented in BBC’s article made no mention of the unrecognised Jordanian occupation of the city between 1948 and 1967.

“Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war – as the capital of a future Palestinian state. […]

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

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally, and according to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.”

Obviously if the BBC’s audiences are to fully understand the background they need to be told of the inclusion of Jerusalem in the territory assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland. They likewise need to be informed of the belligerent Jordanian invasion and subsequent ethnic cleansing of Jews who had lived in Jerusalem for generations from districts including the Old City in 1948, together with the destruction of synagogues and cemeteries, as well as the fact that the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan specifically stated that the ceasefire lines were not borders.

Readers also found the BBC’s usual partisan mantra on ‘international law’ and ‘settlements’ with no mention of the fact that some of the Jerusalem neighbourhoods it chooses to define as such were inhabited by Jews until the Jordanian occupation.

“Since 1967, Israel has built a dozen settlements, home to about 200,000 Jews, in East Jerusalem. These are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

Since the BBC began covering stories concerning the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2016 – and particularly since the US announcement concerning its embassy’s relocation in December 2017 – the comprehensive background information which would enable BBC audiences to fully understand these stories has been serially withheld. As we see in this latest report, that editorial policy continues.

Related Articles:

Reviewing the BBC’s presentation of Jerusalem history

An overview of BBC News website coverage of the US embassy story