Five years of BBC reports on one story show impartiality failure

For the past five years the BBC has been reporting on a proposed housing project in the south Jerusalem district of Givat HaMatos.

Givat HaMatos

In December 2012 BBC audiences were told that:

“…on Wednesday, Jerusalem’s planning committee granted approval for 2,610 homes in a new settlement in East Jerusalem called Givat Hamatos – the first to be built in the area since 1997.”

And, quoting the EU:

“If implemented, these plans would jeopardise the possibility of a contiguous, sovereign, independent and viable Palestinian State and of Jerusalem as the future capital of both Israel and Palestine”.

In October 2014 the BBC told audiences that:

“Israel has been criticised this month for approving new settlement construction in Givat Hamatos neighbourhood in East Jerusalem”

Two months later, in December 2014, the BBC’s Tim Franks revisited the same story.

“When I was posted here a few years ago as Middle East correspondent, one of the dominant stories was over the expansion of Jewish settlements on territory which Israel had occupied in the aftermath of the 1967 war. Undesirable if not downright illegal, said the rest of the world. Israel, for its part, said that the status of the territory was a matter of dispute and in the meantime it needed a place for its burgeoning population to live. So much might be familiar but in the last couple of months the announcement of a big new building development in occupied East Jerusalem has been described as a game-changer and brought furious international criticism. Why?”

Audiences heard just one view on the topic from a representative of the political NGO ‘Ir Amim’ which has received funding from foreign sources – including from the EU.

In late January 2017 Tim Franks returned to the same location and BBC audiences again heard one view of the story; this time from the inadequately introduced founder of that same political NGO.

Franks: “This is Givat HaMatos – an area of scrubland really – on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Just a couple of kilometres behind me to the south is the Palestinian city of Bethlehem. And I’m here with a man called Danny Seidemann – he’s an Israeli attorney and specialist on the mapping of Jerusalem.”

Seidemann: “Givat HaMatos is pretty unique. It’s one of two or three schemes that we call a Doomsday settlement. These settlements are in and of themselves capable of making the two-state solution impossible.”

None of the BBC’s various reports on Givat Hamatos has informed audiences that part of the planned housing units have been ear-marked for Arab residents of the adjacent neighbourhood of Beit Safafa.

To date, not one brick has been laid in the proposed project on which the BBC has already produced four reports and the JCPA recently published a backgrounder that explains why that is the case.

“The plan to build a Jewish residential neighborhood in Givat Hamatos in southern Jerusalem was already approved by the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee in 2014. However, it has been frozen for four years.

Under pressure from the United States, Germany, and other European Union countries, the issuing of the construction tenders has been suspended time after time. […]

Germany is playing a central role in pressuring Israel not to build Givat Hamatos; other European countries oppose it as well. In October 2014 French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the decision to build homes in Givat Hamatos threatened the two-state solution: “One cannot claim to support a solution and at the same time do things against without consequences being drawn.” In October 2017, the European Union requested clarifications from Israel about plans for housing units in Hamatos, saying that such building “is likely to harm severely the continuity and the existence of a future Palestinian state.””

While the views of representatives of an EU funded political NGO have been amplified in half of the BBC’s four reports on the story and the EU itself quoted in one other, audiences have not heard any alternative views whatsoever.

BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality state:

“We must apply due impartiality to all our subject matter.  However, there are particular requirements for ‘controversial subjects’, whenever they occur in any output, including drama, entertainment and sport. […]

When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.  Opinion should be clearly distinguished from fact.” [emphasis added]

Obviously BBC reporting on the proposed housing project in Givat HaMatos throughout the past five years has not complied with those guidelines. Rather, it has exclusively promoted monochrome framing of the story that has denied audiences access to information and perspectives that contradict the BBC’s chosen narrative.


Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2017

As has been the case in previous years (see related articles below), Israel related content produced by the BBC during 2017 frequently included contributions or information sourced from NGOs.

BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality state:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

However, in the vast majority of cases audiences were not informed of the political agenda of the organisations and their representatives promoted in BBC content and on some occasions the connection of an interviewee to a particular NGO was not revealed at all.

For example, an interviewee who was featured on BBC World Service radio at least three times between September 3rd and December 7th (including here and here) was introduced as “a mother of two” from Gaza but audiences were not informed that she works for Oxfam.

Similarly the founder of Ir Amim and Terrestrial Jerusalem was introduced to BBC audiences in February as “an Israeli attorney and specialist on the mapping of Jerusalem” and in June as “an Israeli lawyer specialising in the geo-politics of Jerusalem”.

In September a BBC World Service history show featured an interviewee without mentioning her significant connection to Medical Aid for Palestinians and related anti-Israel activism. In October the same programme featured a sole interviewee whose connections to the NGO Euro-Med Rights were not revealed to audiences.

Interestingly, when BBC radio 5 live recently conducted an interview concerning a UK domestic story with a political activist who was inadequately introduced, the corporation acknowledged that “we should’ve established and made clear on air this contributor was a political activist”. 

On other occasions, while contributors’ connections to NGOs were clarified, the political agenda of the organisations concerned was not.

In October, when an interviewee from the Amos Trust appeared on BBC Radio 4, the NGO was inadequately described as “a Christian organisation working in the West Bank and Gaza” with no mention made of its anti-Israel activities.

A TV debate concerning the BDS campaign that was aired in February included representatives of War on Want and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign with no background information concerning the rich history of anti-Israel campaigning by both those organisations provided to viewers.

In September the BBC World Service interviewed the director of ‘Forward Thinking’ which was described as a “mediation group” while listeners heard no clarification of the relevant issue of the interviewee’s “particular viewpoint” on Hamas.

Audiences also saw cases in which BBC presenters amplified unsubstantiated allegations made by political NGOs during interviews with Israelis. In June, for example, while interviewing Moshe Ya’alon, Stephen Sackur invoked Human Rights Watch and Breaking the Silence.

In November Andrew Marr employed the same tactic during an interview with the Israeli prime minister, amplifying allegations from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International without informing viewers of the political agendas of those NGOs.

BBC audiences also saw Human Rights Watch quoted and promoted in various reports throughout the year including:

BBC promotes political NGO in coverage of Azaria verdict

BBC’s Bateman shoehorns anti-Israel NGO into hi-tech story

Political NGO gets unreserved BBC amplification yet again

Additional NGOs promoted by the BBC without disclosure of their political agenda include Adalah and the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (see here) and UJFP.

Material produced by the UN agency OCHA was promoted in BBC content without that organisation’s political stance being revealed and audiences saw a partisan map credited to UNOCHA and B’tselem used on numerous occasions throughout the year.

The political NGO Peace Now was frequently quoted and promoted (including links to its website) in reports concerning Israeli construction plans – see for example here, here and here – as well as in an amended backgrounder on the subject of ‘settlements’.

In April the BBC News website described Breaking the Silence and B’tselem as “human rights activists” without fully informing audiences of their records and political agenda.

B’tselem was by far the BBC’s most promoted NGO in 2017 with politically partisan maps it is credited as having produced either together with UNOCHA or on its own appearing in dozens of BBC News website reports and articles throughout the year, including the BBC’s backgrounder on ‘settlements’.

Mapping the BBC’s use of partisan maps

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge

BBC Watch prompts amendment to inaccurate BBC map

BBC audiences were on no occasion informed that the organisation from which that map is sourced engages in lawfare against Israel and is a member of a coalition of NGOs supporting BDS.

The NGOs quoted, promoted and interviewed by the BBC come from one side of the spectrum as far as their political approach to Israel is concerned and some of them are even active in legal and propaganda campaigns against Israel. Yet the BBC serially fails to meet its own editorial guidelines by clarifying their “particular viewpoint” and – as in previous years – in 2017 audiences hence remained unaware of the fact that the homogeneous information they are receiving about Israel is consistently unbalanced.

Related Articles:

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred Middle East NGOs

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2014

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2015

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2016

BBC bases rejection of complaint on word of anti-Israel NGOs

Radio 4’s Hugh Sykes joins the BBC’s ‘it’s all down to the occupation’ binge

On June 8th BBC Radio 4 listeners heard two reports from the latest BBC correspondent on a flying visit to Israel – Hugh Sykes.

The first of those reports was broadcast on the “World at One’ programme (from 14:30 here). Presenter Mark Mardell gave an introduction devoid of any context concerning the reasons for the outbreak of the Six Day War.

Mardell: “Now it’s…in Israel it’s 50 years since two major events which changed the history of the region. On the 5th of June 1967 a war began between Israel and Syria, Jordan and Egypt. Six days later Israel emerged victorious. At the end of that war a half a century ago, Israel’s occupation and settlement of Gaza and the Palestinian West Bank began.”

The 19 year-long Jordanian occupation of what Mardell terms “the Palestinian West Bank” is clearly not deemed relevant to the story. Mardell continues:

“The Gaza settlers were evacuated in 2005. Those in the West Bank – more than half a million now – are still there. Our correspondent Hugh Sykes is in Jerusalem for the World at One.”

After a recording of music playing, Hugh Sykes begins his item. Curiously (but, given BBC editorial policy, predictably) Sykes’ descriptions of the second Intifada do not include any mention of the word ‘terror’. [all emphasis in italics in the original]

Sykes: “A saxophone player on Jaffa Street [sic – Jaffa Road]. People sitting at café tables under parasols on a sunny spring day here in Jerusalem. The first time I walked here 15 years ago the shops had security guards with automatic rifles checking your bags. There was a wave of almost routine suicide bombings, many of them killing dozens of people on buses here in Jerusalem. Between 1989 and 2008 across Israel altogether 800 people were killed by Palestinian suicide bombers.”

Sykes’ information – apparently gleaned from Wikipedia – of course does not tell the whole story. In just five of the 19 years cited by Sykes – 2000 to 2005 – 1,100 Israelis were murdered in terror attacks that included – but were not limited to – the suicide bombings on which he has chosen to focus. He continues:

“Since then the security barrier – the walls and the fences and the extensive checkpoints –have been put up, cutting off the West Bank; the main source of the suicide bombings. Though the counter argument is that the bombings have stopped because the Palestinians have largely stopped trying to send suicide bombers here, partly because it led to the security barrier being put up and their lives being made much more difficult. So, it’s calm here now. But this is an illusion Daniel Seidemann tells me. He’s an Israeli lawyer specialising in the geo-politics of Jerusalem.”

Of course BBC regular Daniel Seidemann is not just a “lawyer”: he is also the founder of two politicised campaigning groups – ‘Ir Amim’ and ‘Terrestrial Jerusalem’ – both of which receive foreign funding including, in the case of the latter, from the UK tax payers listening to this programme. Despite the existence of BBC editorial guidelines stating that the “particular viewpoint” of contributors should be made clear in advance to audiences, Hugh Sykes makes no effort to clarify Seidemann’s political agenda and links to politicised campaigning NGOs to listeners before they go on to hear that contributor’s cliché-ridden statements.

Seidemann: “I consider the greatest threat to the Jewish people in this generation to be perpetual occupation and Israelis are in a state of clinical denial.”

Sykes: “Why is occupation a threat to Israel?”

Seidemann: “We are sipping cappuccino on the edge of a volcano. Go to my friends in Tel Aviv and ask them about occupation. They’ll say ‘occupation – what occupation?’ We live in a bubble and bubbles burst. Israel has no future if we continue to occupy. It may take 50 years, it may take a hundred years.”

Sykes: “What’s the mechanism that brings Israel to an end if you don’t disengage from occupation?”

Seidemann: “Decay, isolation, ahm…”

Sykes: “That’s all psychological.”

Seidemann: “No, no it’s not.”

Sykes: “The rest of the world doesn’t care anymore. Sympathy for the Palestinians was pretty much lost when they mounted the second Intifada and started blowing up children with suicide bombers on buses here in Jerusalem. And the rest of the Arab world doesn’t care about the Palestinians, do they? So Israel is secure, isn’t it?”

Seidemann: “Both Israelis and Palestinians are deeply traumatised people and we’re living something on an emotional overdraft. I am not telling you what will happen tomorrow morning. Look out the window, OK? In that city there are 850,000 people. 37% of them are Palestinians. This is a bi-national city and in this bi-national city one national collective has all the power and the other is politically disempowered.”

Of course even those Arab residents of Jerusalem who chose not to exercise their right to apply for Israeli citizenship (and hence the right to vote in legislative elections) are entitled to both run and vote in municipal elections in the city. Hugh Sykes however does not bother to clarify those facts relating to people who have just been inaccurately described as “politically disempowered” before continuing:

Sykes: “And more than half a million settlers now live in the West Bank. If there’s ever going to be any progress towards agreeing two nations here, a plan that’s often been discussed is land swaps, allowing more than 400,000 Jewish settlers to remain in what are now substantial high-density suburbs of Jerusalem. But this would leave 156,000 settlers in settlements which would have to be evacuated, as all the settlements in Gaza were 12 years ago but that was just 8,000 people.”

Seidemann: “It can be done. If Israel has the will and the capability to relocate 156,000 settlers, the two-state solution is alive. If we don’t – it’s dead. Israel needs and deserves recognition in order to assume our rightful place among the family of nations. And that will happen when a Palestinian embassy opens down the street here in West Jerusalem and an Israeli embassy opens in East Jerusalem. That provides as much security as another brigade of tanks.”

Obviously any serious examination of this topic would at this point go on to address the issue of what happened after those 8,000 Israelis were uprooted from their homes and livelihoods in the Gaza Strip (along with residents of four communities in northern Shomron which Sykes and his guest appear to have forgotten) twelve years ago. Such a discussion would have to address the fact that the move did not advance peace and in fact the number of terrorist missile attacks on Israeli civilians increased. It would also have to address the fact that international bodies and nations which lauded the Gaza disengagement, promising understanding should Israel subsequently have to act against terrorism in Gaza, quickly swapped that pledge with condemnation.

Sykes, however, chooses to ignore those inconvenient facts, opting instead to reinforce his messaging.

Sykes: “Daniel Seidemann. And the recent retired director of the Mossad – Israel’s equivalent of MI6 and the CIA – Tamir Pardo, said last month that the occupation and conflict with the Palestinians was – as he put it – Israel’s one existential threat; a ticking time-bomb. But there are non-negotiable absolutists on both sides here. Palestine is Palestine from the River Jordan to the sea. And this is Jewish land: God gave it to us.”

Remarkably, only the Jewish “absolutists” in Sykes’ portrayal are religiously motivated.

Sykes’ last contributor is Jerusalem Post journalist Amotz Asa-El. During their conversation listeners hear the following:

Sykes: “Does the compromise include having Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and of Israel?”

Asa-El: “I can envisage splitting it, which I’m told is simpler to do than to share.”

Nevertheless, at the end of the item Sykes inaccurately sums up that response as follows:

Sykes: “Amotz Asa-El raising the possibility that Jerusalem could be the shared capital of Israel and of a new state of Palestine.”

Obviously this report is yet another contribution to the campaign of opportunistic politicised messaging already seen on the BBC News website. It too advances a narrative according to which the modern-day conflict is exclusively rooted in the outcome of the inadequately explained Six Day War – in particular the ‘occupation’ and ‘settlements’ – while erasing from audience view the underlying and far older refusal of Arab states and Palestinian leaders to accept and recognise the existence of the Jewish state.

Sykes’ second report of the day will be discussed in a future post.


Another BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Israel special – part one

Just over two years have gone by since Tim Franks did a special feature on Jerusalem (see ‘related articles’ below) for the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ in which he went to visit the Givat HaMatos neighbourhood, where he discussed what was inaccurately represented as a ‘new’ development project with a representative from the political NGO ‘Ir Amim‘.

The January 30th 2017 edition of ‘Newshour’ found the same BBC reporter revisiting the same location with the founder of that same NGO.newshour-30-1

Franks’ very long report – over twelve and a half minutes – was billed by presenter Razia Iqbal as follows at the start of the programme:

“In about half an hour we’ll be live from Jerusalem with Newshour’s Tim Franks discussing settlements, the two-state solution and the impact of President Trump.”

The report itself (from 30:12 here) commenced with Franks explaining its rationale as being based on things “some say”:

Iqbal: “Let’s go now to Newshour’s Tim Franks in Jerusalem.”

Franks: “Razia, I’ve been coming to Jerusalem a fair bit over the last ten years. I used to live here as the BBC’s Middle East correspondent and there’s one refrain I’ve heard ahead of this trip which it feels like I’ve heard pretty much every time I’ve been back: nothing’s changed – it’s all just a bit worse. So is that right? Are we in a slightly dispiriting holding pattern or are we, as some say, at a tipping point? A moment when the reality on the ground, the new administration in Washington, mean that the stalemate between Israel and the Palestinians is going to enter a new, decisive phase? It’s a question we’re going to look at through the week in strikingly different locations across this small patch of land that Israelis and Palestinians share.”

First, the city that means so much to so many. We’re going to begin in the religious, the historical, the emotional heart of it all: in Jerusalem. I say Jerusalem; the Old City is about six or seven kilometres up the road from here. This is Givat HaMatos – an area of scrubland really – on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Just a couple of kilometres behind me to the south is the Palestinian city of Bethlehem. And I’m here with a man called Danny Seidemann – he’s an Israeli attorney and specialist on the mapping of Jerusalem. And Danny; Givat HaMatos matters in what way?”

As was the also case when Franks provided Seidemann with a platform in the programme from just over two years ago, that introduction is inadequate. Once again Franks failed to inform audiences that Seidemann is the founder of the foreign government funded (including the UK) political NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem and that he also founded Ir Amim.  That context – had it been supplied with an explanation of the political agenda of the organisations to which Seidemann is linked – would have better allowed BBC audiences to put his ensuing words – including his interpretation of the two-state solution – into their appropriate context.

Seidemann: “Givat HaMatos is pretty unique. It’s one of two or three schemes that we call a Doomsday settlement. These settlements are in and of themselves capable of making the two-state solution impossible. Why? The heart of the two-state solution is a very simple deal: end of occupation in exchange of a recognized border, legitimacy and security. End of occupation means that in any permanent status agreement, no Palestinians in East Jerusalem would be left under Israeli rule. And what that means is that all of East Jerusalem – the Palestinian built-up areas – will become part of the Palestinian state: a contiguous and viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and with all of the Palestinians in East Jerusalem no longer living under Israeli rule.”

Franks: “Danny, can I just interrupt you. How does that square with the avow by this government, by the mayor of Jerusalem, by countless generations of Israeli politicians, that Jerusalem will never be divided again?”

Seidemann: “I assert that the only place that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel that will never be re-divided is in the fertile imaginations of Right-wing ideologues. Jerusalem is a bi-national city. It is de facto a divided city and it is a hotly contested city. The question that remains is is it possible to take a pen and draw a line on a map that will carve out a viable and contiguous Palestinian city and leave in its wake an equally robust and viable Israeli city? Today that is possible. Once Givat HaMatos will be built it will no longer be possible. This can take place without further warning. As early as tomorrow morning the tenders for the construction of the first 1,500 units can be issued.”

Franks refrained from informing listeners that there is nothing remotely new about the plan to build housing in Givat HaMatos and that the neighbourhood was the site of temporary housing for new immigrants from the former USSR and Ethiopia from 1991 onwards, with initiatives to replace caravans with proper housing having first been proposed over a decade ago. He continued:

Franks: “What’s to stop, in that case, the Israeli government or the mayor of Jerusalem deciding that they do want to build here? There’s a terrible housing shortage in Jerusalem. Prices are through the roof. You’ve got a friendly administration in Washington. Why not build?”

Seidemann: “The popular image that Netanyahu has is that he is impervious to engagement and is not deterred. I disagree with that. There is a…has been…a wall to wall consensus internationally that there will be serious consequences in relations between Israel and the rest of the world should we pursue this and this has clearly deterred Netanyahu from doing so. Having said that, for the first time since 1967 and for the past ten days, we have a situation where there is an administration in Washington that apparently does not oppose settlements and some of the key people in the administration embrace settlements. And that means that the discreet mechanism that has applied the brakes on some of these detrimental developments is now gone. And nobody knows what the dynamics is going to be. The eventuality of construction in Givat HaMatos is greater today than ever it was in the past and its impact will be devastating.”

The BBC has been reporting on the Givat HaMatos project since 2012. Tim Franks should therefore be aware of the fact that since the beginning, half the proposed housing units there have been ear-marked for Arab residents of the adjacent neighborhood of Beit Safafa. However, he chose not to inform listeners of that fact before providing the next cue for his interviewee.

Franks: “What’s to say that – if there were building here in Givat HaMatos – that it would be, as you describe it, Israeli building? I mean the mayor of Jerusalem says ‘look, we build for Arabs, we build for Jews’. There’s not going to be any flags on the building saying ‘Jews only’.”

Seidemann: “As a rule that claim is entirely disingenuous. Israel built 55 thousand homes on lands expropriated from Palestinians and on paper it’s…”

Franks: “In East Jerusalem.”

Seidemann: “In East Jerusalem. On paper it’s available to everybody. The patterns of life are that Israelis and Palestinians live in separate areas and there are very, very few Palestinians residing in these areas and it is false innocence to claim otherwise.”

The interview with Seidemann ends there, with Franks failing to question the basic assertion which the BBC has been dutifully repeating and amplifying since 2012: that development of the Givat HaMatos neighbourhood would mean an end to the two-state solution. Likewise, Franks made no effort to challenge the assumption of ‘Palestinian land’ and failed to provide the all-important historical context of the 19-year Jordanian occupation of Jerusalem or the expulsion of Jews from parts of Jerusalem in 1948.

The inadequate introduction of Seidemann as “an Israeli attorney and specialist on the mapping of Jerusalem” breaches BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality which state that:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

Clearly audiences should have been informed of Seidemann’s links to NGOs with a very clear political agenda on this topic and the fact that they were not means that this item steered audiences towards viewing particular and partial political claims as fact.

The rest of this audio report will be discussed in part two of this post.  

Related Articles:

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

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

BBC promoted NGOs and a question in Parliament

Back in December we noted that our colleagues at CAMERA had secured corrections to inaccurate information appearing in an article published by Associated Press which was largely sourced from an employee of a political NGO previously quoted and promoted in BBC content.

“”They (Israelis) are trying to uproot us from Jerusalem, they are stealing the houses, the trees and the stones of the city,” laments Nura Sub-Laban, a Palestinian woman featured in The Associated Press article today by Karin Laub and Mohammed Daraghmeh (“Palestinian eviction case spotlights Jerusalem settler push“).

Set against the backdrop of the disputed “gold-topped Dome of the Rock,” AP’s account of the looming eviction of Sub-Laban from their home in Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter reflects a narrative of supposed Jewish encroachment in the holy city at the expense of dispossessed Palestinians, blameless “victims of discriminatory use of Israeli property law.” 

It is also fundamentally wrong, based as it is on a grossly misrepresented basic facts about the Sub-Laban case, initially ignoring critical essential information and falsely casting it as part “of a wider settlement campaign.””

The subject matter of that AP article cropped up again last week during Prime Minister’s Questions in the UK Parliament. The ‘BBC Parliament’ TV channel of course broadcast the February 24th session which included a question from the MP for Bradford East (available in the UK only from 29:22 here).

Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab): Last week, together with several of my hon. Friends, I visited Palestine, where we went to the home of Nora and her family, who have lived in the old city of East Jerusalem since 1953. Israeli settlers, however, are now trying to force Nora from her home of over 60 years. There are many other cases like that. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that illegal settlements and constructions are a major roadblock that hinder peaceful negotiations? What are this Government doing to help prevent these infringements into Palestinian lives and land?”

Mr Hussain and additional Labour MPs did indeed visit the region earlier in February on a trip organized by the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU). As readers may recall, MAP has been used by the BBC in the past as a source of information and a BBC reporter showcased one of its projects in 2014. CAABU’s director Chris Doyle and other representatives are frequent contributors to BBC content.

According to CAABU’s Joseph Willits, the part of the trip which involved a visit to the Sub Laban family was facilitated by the foreign funded political NGO Al Haq which is of course active in the ‘lawfare’ campaign against Israel and is from time to time promoted in BBC content.

“They are Nora Gheith Sub-Laban and her family in Jerusalem’s Old City who are battling an eviction because illegal settlers want to move into their home. They also face constant intimidation from settlers and the Israeli army. Thanks to Al-Haq Organisation for arranging these visits to see the impact of illegal settlements and the Wall that destroys lives, livelihoods, families, and a person’s psychological make up.”

Willits tweet Sub Laban

MAP described that visit as follows:

“On Thursday, the MPs met Palestinian communities living in the shadow of Israel’s 440km-long separation wall, and heard from the Gaith-Sub Laban family who have threatened [sic] with eviction from their home of 62 years in East Jerusalem.”

Unsurprisingly given the agendas of all the groups involved in organising this visit, the British parliamentarians were obviously not told the entire story.

“…the Sub-Labans were never the owners of the property, but rather enjoyed “protected tenant” status. That status can be lost if the tenant abandons the property without intention of returning – and it is irrelevant whether the tenant is Jewish or Palestinian. […]

…before the 1948 war, the building was “owned by a trust for Kollel Galicia, a group that collected funds in Eastern Europe for Jewish families in Jerusalem.” When Jordan occupied Jerusalem in 1948, the property fell under the control of the Jordanian administration and was rented to the Palestinian Sub-Laban family in 1953. Following the 1967 war, when Israel gained control of eastern Jerusalem, the property was, according to the AP,

‘handed to an Israeli government department, the General Custodian. Palestinian residents were recognized as “protected tenants,” provided they continued to live in the apartments and pay rent to the Custodian.

[Ahmed] Sub-Laban said his family was forced out of the apartment between 1984 and 2001, but did not lose their protected tenancy during this period.’ […]

But the article’s underlying flaw is that initially nowhere did it state that at that point, in 2001, the family failed to move back into the property, which is the crux of the legal argument against them.

The magistrate court (34656-11-10) (in a decision upheld by the district court (28083-12-14) found that the family had not returned to the apartment in 2001. According to the court from 2001-2010 (when the property was transferred to the trust) the family did not live in the apartment. From 2010 until 2014, they had only “pretended” to live in the apartment.”

In other words, the claim made by Mr Hussain in Parliament that “Israeli settlers, however, are now trying to force Nora from her home of over 60 years” is inaccurate not least because two  courts of law have established that she did not live in that rented apartment for thirty of those years. Naturally, Mr Hussain’s amplification of that political propaganda in Parliament was appreciated by his hosts.

Willits tweet 2

The problematic aspects of the relationship between the media and political NGOs have previously been raised on these pages.

“As time goes by the mutually beneficial relationship between the traditional media and NGOs flourishes and expands and news consumers find that more and more of their news comes or is sourced from agenda-driven organisations which make no claim to provide unbiased information and are not committed to journalistic standards.

When political agendas and reporting meet, questions obviously arise concerning accuracy, impartiality and reliability. Whilst the BBC – like many other media organisations – has addressed the topic of ‘citizen journalists’ providing user-generated content (UGC), much less attention is given to content sourced from NGOs.”

One result of the BBC’s unchallenged promotion of information provided by NGOs often portrayed as ‘human rights groups’  is the ensuing ‘halo effect’ which leads members of the public and politicians alike to refrain from critical examination of the facts behind claims made by campaigning groups with a clear political agenda – as, sadly, the above example shows only too well.

Related Articles:

British MP’s query on Jerusalem prompting David Cameron’s ‘shock’ is based on lie (UK Media Watch) 

A BBC interviewee resurfaces as source of inaccurate news-agency report

Our colleagues Tamar Sternthal and Gidon Shaviv recently prompted corrections to an article produced by Associated Press.

“”They (Israelis) are trying to uproot us from Jerusalem, they are stealing the houses, the trees and the stones of the city,” laments Nura Sub-Laban, a Palestinian woman featured in The Associated Press article today by Karin Laub and Mohammed Daraghmeh (“Palestinian eviction case spotlights Jerusalem settler push“).

Set against the backdrop of the disputed “gold-topped Dome of the Rock,” AP’s account of the looming eviction of Sub-Laban from their home in Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter reflects a narrative of supposed Jewish encroachment in the holy city at the expense of dispossessed Palestinians, blameless “victims of discriminatory use of Israeli property law.” 

It is also fundamentally wrong, based as it is on a grossly misrepresented basic facts about the Sub-Laban case, initially ignoring critical essential information and falsely casting it as part “of a wider settlement campaign.””World Service

The main source of the inaccurate information originally appearing in that AP report is one Ahmed Sub-Laban and if the name rings a bell for BBC Watchers, that is probably because the partisan testimonies of that employee (and others) of the foreign-funded political NGO ‘Ir Amim’ have also been used by the BBC in the past – but without the necessary “summarising” of his “standpoint” demanded by BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality.

As this AP story clearly shows, transparency concerning the affiliations of NGO employees used as sources or interviewees and accurate presentation of the political agenda of such sources of information is paramount if the BBC is to be able to claim that the news it provides to its audiences is impartial. 

How a BBC WS News bulletin misled on Jerusalem Day

Those who happened to be listening to the BBC World Service at 2 a.m. GMT on May 18th will have heard the following item in the news bulletin (from 03:40, available for a limited period of time only) read by Fiona MacDonald.World Service

“Israeli police have clashed with Palestinians protesting against a march by Jewish nationalists to mark Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in 1967. Palestinians threw stones as Israelis bearing flags marched through the predominantly Muslim old walled city. A Palestinian activist, Ahmad SubLaban, said the march was a provocation.

[voiceover] During the march the Old City gets closed and its residents are forbidden from entering or leaving. They say that day for them feels like a prison, keeping them inside their houses. They’re forbidden to go in and out of the Old City. They’re also attacked; some of their properties are destroyed. The shopkeepers are forced to close their stores.”

The Israeli prime minister said Jerusalem would always be the capital for the Jewish people alone.”

MacDonald is of course describing Jerusalem Day or Yom Yerushalayim – the national holiday marking the reunification of the city after nineteen years of division due to the occupation by Jordan between 1948 and 1967. That context is glaringly absent from her distorted description of the purpose of the event.

Among the numerous events taking place on May 17th to mark the occasion was the traditional march to the Western Wall, which for geographical reasons obviously has to pass through what MacDonald bizarrely finds necessary to describe as “the predominantly Muslim old walled city”.

Not unrelated to the content and style of this news item is the fact that this year, two political NGOs unsuccessfully petitioned the High Court in an attempt to prevent the march (now in its thirtieth year) from passing through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter. One of the political NGOs which filed the rejected petition was the foreign funded Ir Amim.

One of Ir Amim’s employees is Ahmad SubLaban – apparently the same inadequately introduced man given a platform by the BBC World Service from which to promote political propaganda.

BBC Watch enquired about SubLaban’s claims that “residents are forbidden from entering or leaving” the area and that “shopkeepers are forced to close their stores” and was not informed of any restrictions imposed on movement or commerce, although according to the Israeli police force, some shopkeepers do chose to close earlier than usual on that day. We were also informed that there were no reports of damage to shops or properties and that two police officers were lightly injured by participants in an illegal protest at Damascus gate in which stones and bottles were thrown.

And what of MacDonald’s claim that “the Israeli prime minister said Jerusalem would always be the capital for the Jewish people alone”? According to the Times of Israel, what Netanyahu actually said in his Jerusalem Day address was:

“Jerusalem was only ever the capital of the Jewish people, not of any other people,” […] “Here our path as a nation began, this is our home and here we shall stay.”

Interestingly, a strikingly similar interpretation of those words to the one presented by the BBC is to be found in the headline of an article appearing in Ha’aretz which reads “Netanyahu: Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people alone”. Whilst the Ha’aretz article supplies context to that misleading headline, the BBC World Service appears to have further garnished it in such a way that listeners would inevitably misunderstand the meaning and intention of the words spoken. 

Were the BBC to expand its news gathering beyond one Israeli newspaper of a specific political stripe and beyond inadequately introduced representatives of political NGOs of a particular genre, the accuracy and impartiality of its reports on events in Israel would of course be vastly improved. However, as this example of a supposedly factual item in a news bulletin once more indicates, the BBC’s reliance upon sources promoting a distinct political view defines, restricts and shapes the objectivity and accuracy of information passed on to audiences worldwide.


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

The second part of Tim Franks’ ‘Newshour’ special broadcast from Jerusalem on December 5th (available here from 00:30:00, part one discussed here) began with the following introduction from Franks:Newshour 5 12 Jerusalem special

“When I was posted here a few years ago as Middle East correspondent, one of the dominant stories was over the expansion of Jewish settlements on territory which Israel had occupied in the aftermath of the 1967 war. Undesirable if not downright illegal, said the rest of the world. Israel, for its part, said that the status of the territory was a matter of dispute and in the meantime it needed a place for its burgeoning population to live. So much might be familiar but in the last couple of months the announcement of a big new building development in occupied East Jerusalem has been described as a game-changer and brought furious international criticism. Why?”

Franks’ next interviewee is introduced as follows:

“And the south [of Jerusalem] is where I am now with Aviv Tatarsky. He’s with the think-tank and advocacy group Ir Amim which plots the changes to Jerusalem.”

Ir Amim of course does a lot more than just ‘plot changes’: it is an NGO with a clear political agenda which should have been clarified to BBC audiences before they were exposed to its researcher’s unchallenged claims.

Tatarsky: “Right, so we’re just on a lookout very close to Bethlehem on the southern perimeter of Jerusalem where right now it’s open land – open space – but Israel has published the official approval of a plan for a completely new neighbourhood – 2,600 housing units – called Givat HaMatos; that’s the name. And the significance is not only this big move to construct a neighbourhood and – for the world, for the Palestinians – a new settlement beyond the Green Line, but actually that this would really bring together Gilo and Har Homa and together with Givat HaMatos you would have continuous Israeli bloc that would finally separate Bethlehem – the south of the West bank – from East Jerusalem. I think everyone understands – the international community, certainly the Palestinians, also the Israeli government – to end the conflict, to arrive at a peaceful resolution of the conflict, there will be a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. Now when you decide to cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, actually what the Israeli government is saying: this will not happen; there will not be a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. Basically we don’t want one and we’re actually interested in keeping the situation as it is.”

Contrary to the statement made by Franks, the plan to build housing in Givat HaMatos is not “new” and it certainly is not from “the last couple of months”. In fact, the BBC has been misreporting that topic since December 2012 – a full two years before Franks’ report went on air – and since that date the BBC has also been claiming that new apartments in Givat HaMatos (around half of which are ear-marked for Arab residents of nearby Beit Tsafafa) would “cut Palestinians in East Jerusalem off from their West Bank hinterland”, just as Tatarsky does.

What no BBC report so far – including this one – has told audiences is that Givat HaMatos is in an area which, under any realistic scenario of a peace deal, would remain under Israeli control. What has also not been made clear is that it would be perfectly possible – and even logical – to construct a road leading from Bethlehem to, say, the Palestinian Legislative Council building in Abu Dis without passing through Givat HaMatos.

Rather than informing audiences accurately about this issue, however, Tim Franks, elects to give a platform to politically motivated sloganeering which does not even hold geographical water. 

Map Givat HaMatos

Next Franks goes to Issawiya to interview one Naim Hamdan whose nephews built a house without planning permission and are apparently now upset that the municipality has since demolished the structure, just as would be the case in any Western country. Franks grants Hamdan a platform to promote an egregious and redundant comparison between the demolition of a structure lacking planning permission and a hypothetical armed mugging in London.

Franks: “What do your nephews think about this?”

Hamdan: “What you will think? When someone stronger than you in the middle of London and hold a gun to your head; give me your money. What you will think when someone come to demolish your home? Are you gonna be happy? I don’t think so. I don’t think so.

Following that listeners hear an unidentified voice say:

“Today we are divided physically, we are divided geographically and we are divided by walls of fear and in many ways a more endemic and more personalized hatred.”

As Franks then informs listeners, that voice belongs to Daniel Seidemann who is introduced as “a lawyer and activist” and who has appeared with similarly inadequate introduction in several recent BBC reports. Franks fails to inform audiences that Seidemann is the founder of the foreign funded political NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem and that he also founded Ir Amim.  That context – had it been supplied with an explanation of the political motivations behind the organisations to which Seidemann is linked – would have allowed BBC audiences to put his ensuing uninterrupted monologue into context.

“We had the horrendous murder of a teenage Palestinian boy Mohammed Abu Khdeir who was abducted and burned alive. You had the outbreak of violence in Gaza. So the only place where Israelis and Palestinians have enough of an interface is Jerusalem and it erupted here. Underneath all of this is a big question. What possesses thirteen, fourteen, fifteen year-old kids – who are the leaders of this uprising – to go out on a nightly basis for five months and clash with the police? They’re not being sent by their parents. They’re not being sent by some sort of authoritarian leader. They’re doing this spontaneously and that’s a huge question and I think the answer to that is they sense they have no future.”

Tim Franks clearly embraces Seidemann’s simplistic and cherry-picked narrative which completely erases from audience view recent Palestinian terrorism (including the kidnapping and murders of three Israeli teens in June) and Hamas’ instigation of the summer conflict whilst simultaneously failing to ask why parents and community leaders have made no discernible effort to put an end to such violent rioting or how the background of official PA incitement and glorification of terrorism legitimizes and encourages such acts. He then goes on to reinforce Seidemann’s spurious conjecture by promoting his own, similar picture.

Franks: “That level of disaffection spikes in places like this one: it’s the busy Palestinian neighbourhood in the north of the city called Shuafat where some of the sharpest clashes of recent months have erupted. Shuafat is the place also where the new light railway runs up to from the south of the city. This railway was designed by the city authorities to be – as far as they were concerned – a symbol of how Jerusalem is one united city. But here in Shuafat the train carriages have also been seen by many as a further intrusion from the other side: a target also for teenage stone-throwers. I’ve come to meet three of them.”

Obviously, Jerusalem’s light rail system was designed primarily to provide transport for all the city’s inhabitants rather than for the reasons of symbolism dubiously attached to its construction by Franks. He then goes on to allow his three anonymous teenage “stone-throwers” an unhindered platform to make the unverified claim that they were “imprisoned” because they are relatives of Mohammed Abu Khdeir and fails to make any effort to dig deeper into the kind of mindset which prompts statements such as “his cousin’s blood won’t go just like this without having any revenge” and “throwing stones feeds you dignity”. In fact, the main factor evident in this part of the programme is Franks’ attempt to impose his own Western standards and cultural relativism on the phenomenon of violent rioting by Palestinian teenagers.

Franks continues with an interview with the headmistress of a school in Jabel Mukaber and another with the mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barakat. Interestingly, he chooses to round off the special broadcast with an interview with the former British consul general in Jerusalem, Vincent Fean, who – as readers familiar with his record whilst he was in that position will not be in the least surprised to learn – is “now spending some of his time working to promote the international recognition of the Palestinian state”. Fean uses his unhindered platform to promote an inaccurate portrayal of the reasons for the failure of the last round of negotiations between Israel and the PLO.

Fean: “The reason why he [John Kerry] didn’t do it [reach a peace agreement] last time round is because Israel didn’t want it.”

In his introduction to this special edition of ‘Newshour’, Tim Franks outlined its purpose as follows:

“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.”

So what did BBC World Service listeners learn about the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ in that statement? They were told in the first part of the programme that one cause of tensions is Temple Mount, but provided with an inaccurate portrayal of the background to that topic. In the second half of the programme the focus was on ‘settlements’ and ‘disaffected’ youth with much misinformation and politically motivated manipulation of both those issues.

Listeners were not, however, told anything about the incitement focusing on Jerusalem and Temple Mount in particular coming from the Palestinian Authority and the topic of how that incitement serves the PA’s current strategies was not explored at all. Moreover, Tim Franks provided Fatah official Husam Zomlot with a platform from which to downplay that crucial factor.

The sole achievement of this special programme was in fact to reinforce the same mantras and narratives promoted by other BBC correspondents on other platforms so many times in the past. As usual, only things attributable to Israel are presented as factors contributing to ‘tensions’ and ‘division’. And as usual, Palestinians have no agency and no responsibility in the BBC’s chosen narrative. The very fact that Tim Franks managed to make an entire programme about Jerusalem without even once mentioning the recent terror attacks in that city speaks volumes about the motivations behind its production. 

Had Tim Franks’ trip to Jerusalem culminated in some serious reporting on the issue of PA incitement – which has been conscientiously swept under the carpet by the BBC for the past two months – the exercise would have been justified. As it is, the people who funded Franks’ trip actually gained very little new information which could enhance their understanding of the real background to this issue.

Related Articles:

 Slogan rich, evidence free: BBC’s Plett ‘analyses’ Israeli planning decisions

BBC’s Knell turns planned mixed Jerusalem neighbourhood into ‘Jewish settlement’



BBC coverage of Har Nof terror attack: World Service’s ‘Newshour’ – part one

The BBC World Service’s news and current affairs programme ‘Newshour’ began its coverage of the terror attack which had taken place at the Kehilat Ya’akov Synagogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem earlier in the day on November 18th in the afternoon version of the programme – available here from 00:45 to 12:50 and from 30:00 to 39:00.Newshour 18 11 early

Presenter Razia Iqbal’s short introduction was followed by an eye-witness account from paramedic Akiva Pollak who was one of the first to arrive on the scene. Next came a recording of a statement by the Israeli Minister for Internal Security, Yitzhak Aharonovich, after which Iqbal told listeners:

“The synagogue attack comes a day after a Palestinian bus driver was found hanged in his vehicle in Jerusalem. Israel says this was a suicide but his family says he was murdered. Hamas said the attack was retaliation for the death of the bus driver.”

That was followed by a recording of Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri saying:

“The Hamas movement praises the attack in Jerusalem and considers it a normal reaction to the killing of Yusuf al Ramouni and repeated Israeli crimes at the Al Aqsa Mosque. Hamas confirms how important it is to avenge Israeli crimes.”

This of course was not the only occasion on November 18th upon which the BBC – despite the scientific evidence provided by senior pathologists – elected to amplify a dangerous narrative based entirely on evidence-free Palestinian incitement. That same propaganda was promoted on BBC television news and on the BBC News website – see here and here.

After informing listeners that Mahmoud Abbas had condemned the attack – adding “and also called for an end to what he called Israeli provocations” – Iqbal introduced the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly who claimed that:

“..quite a lot of violent incidents in the past few weeks appear to have been the result of individuals acting alone with no planning and no preparation…”

Connolly did not inform listeners of the very relevant fact that many of those perpetrators belonged to assorted terrorist organisations or that some of the attacks were later claimed by such groups. Later on in the conversation, Connolly presented audiences with his menu of ‘contributing factors’ to the surge of terror and violence over the past few weeks.

“I mean we would say that washing around in the background of what is a palpable increase in tension in Israeli society are a couple of issues. There was the summer conflict in Gaza; there is continued Jewish settlement in an Arab district of East Jerusalem called Silwan.”

Yet again we see inaccurate BBC portrayal of the summer hostilities as having taken place exclusively in the Gaza Strip, along with another politically motivated presentation of the legal purchase of properties in a certain Jerusalem neighbourhood by people of a specific ethnic/religious group as “settlement”. Connolly goes on:

“But the key to all of this, we think, is this ancient dispute about rights of worship at the Al Aqsa Mosque – which is called Temple Mount by Jews of course. Now that is a site sacred to both faiths – to Muslims and to Jews. Muslims believe Mohammed ascended to heaven from that very point. Jews believe that it’s where their ancient Temple – destroyed by the Romans – stood; where the Holy of Holies of the Jewish faith is. Now by a very long tradition, only Muslims are allowed to pray at that site. Jews can go there but they may not pray. Now in recent years a Jewish religious movement has grown up arguing the right of prayer should be extended to Jews. Any attempt to tinker with the status quo is regarded as an incendiary issue – not just in Palestinian society but in the wider Arab and Muslim world – and I think it’s almost certainly that issue much more than the others which is fuelling, as I say, what is a very, very noticeable increase in tension, not just in Jerusalem but also in the occupied West Bank as well. So the atmosphere is changing here for the worse and of course you know the lesson of history here is that cycles of violence like this one are much easier to start than they are to stop. You know, Israel says it has no plans to change that status quo whatever religious Jews argue but that assurance is simply not believed in sections of Palestinian society.”

As has been noted here before, the status quo on Temple Mount actually relates to additional issues besides prayer rights for non-Muslims (Connolly failed to inform listeners that the site is also holy to Christians, who are not allowed to pray there either) and other changes have been made to aspects of the status quo over the years which have not been regarded as an “incendiary issue”. Interestingly, despite its being defined by Connolly as a “key” issue, at no point in its extensive coverage of the topic of Temple Mount has the BBC made any attempt to address the subject of why the egalitarian idea of equal prayer rights for members of all faiths at a site holy to three religions should produce such a violent reaction in the “Arab and Muslim world” or how that issue has been employed over the years as a catalyst by leaders with political interests, just as it is being used now.

Kevin Connolly did, however, respond appropriately in this item to Razia Iqbal’s following statement:

“And the attack at the synagogue has provoked extremist views on both sides and there have been calls for all sorts of reactions to it today. Has there been any reaction on the street?”

Connolly: “There have been small gatherings of people on the streets and I think I’d be cautious of the word extremist in terms of the reaction here. People here are very shocked by the scale and the nature of the violence. A lot of pictures are circulating here on social media of bloodstains on the floor of the synagogue, of bodies of the dead covered in prayer shawls, so there’s a real sense of shock here.”

Later on in the programme, listeners heard a recording of the US Secretary of State’s condemnation of the terror attack before Razia Iqbal introduced two interviewees from Jerusalem – presented as giving an Israeli and an Arab view of life in the city. However, in breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality (as was also the case on the BBC News website’s live page of the same day), the Israeli interviewee – Daniel Seiderman – was presented only as “a lawyer” and not as a political activist with the NGOs ‘Ir Amim’ and ‘Terrestrial Jerusalem’, meaning that audiences were not able to place his contribution in its correct political context and to understand that they were actually hearing two views from the same school of thought rather than differing ones.

The evening version of the November 18th edition of ‘Newshour’ will be discussed in a later post.