BBC’s WHYS discusses Israel’s ‘moral compass’

In recent weeks the BBC News website has published a variety of articles on the topic of political trends in Europe and the United States which include:

Is Europe lurching to the far right? Katya Adler, April 28th 2016

Guide to nationalist parties challenging Europe May 23rd 2016

Widespread revolt against the political centre Gavin Hewitt, May 24th 2016

However, BBC audiences have not been invited to ponder the question of whether the citizens of Austria (or America, Hungary, France, Switzerland, Finland or Denmark) have lost their moral compass en masse.  

That question was posed –literally – in relation to a country which the BBC has long portrayed as ‘lurching’ to the right of the political map – regardless of the inaccuracy of that framing.WHYS 20 5

The May 20th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘World Have Your Say’ (titled “Has Israel Lost its ‘Moral Compass’?“, from 00:48) based its discussion around the resignation of Israel’s Minister of Defence on the same day and presenter Anu Anand was joined by four telephone interviewees.

In contrast with usual practice, the BBC ‘World Have Your Say’ Facebook page did not run a parallel discussion and so members of the public were spared the antisemitic discourse which all too often accompanies WHYS Israel-related programmes.

Presenter Anu Anand chose to open the item with a particularly long introduction which included some interesting terminology. [emphasis added]

“But first, in Israel a political drama that cuts to the heart of the country’s troubles. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – a hawk whose coalition has a one-seat majority in the Knesset – seeks to shore-up his political strength. He’s invited an ultra-nationalist to join his cabinet, creating what many are calling the most extreme administration in Israeli history. The re-shuffle was already contentious and then today his current Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon decided to resign rather than stay in government. At a press conference today he didn’t mince his words. ‘I’m resigning both from the position of Defence Minister and as a member of parliament’ Moshe Ya’alon told the nation. He said ‘I fought with all my strength against the phenomenon of extremism, violence and racism in Israeli society. In general Israeli society is sane and seeks a Jewish, democratic and liberal state without distinction of religion, race, gender, ethnic origin or sexual orientation. But to my great regret’ he went on, ‘extremists and dangerous forces have taken over Israel and the Likud movement. The general public needs to understand the serious consequences of this take-over by an extremist minority and needs to fight this phenomenon’. So; very strong words indeed from Israel’s outgoing Defence Minister. And the man who could replace him – although this hasn’t been confirmed – is Avigdor Lieberman; a former nightclub bouncer from Moldova and today one of Israel’s most outspoken and divisive figures.”

Anand did not clarify the relevance to the discussion of a job Lieberman did for one year whilst he was a student at the Hebrew University but apparently she believes that it is more important for listeners to know about that than his previous positions as Minister of National Infrastructure, Minister of Transportation, Minister of Strategic Affairs, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister.

Throughout the technically challenged discussion, three of the four interviewees – including the Jerusalem Post’s political analyst Gil Hoffman – tried to explain Israeli politics in general, the context of the broadening of the coalition government in particular, the previous negotiations with the Zionist Union party for the same purpose, the background to Ya’alon’s statements and the myth of a ‘move to the right’. Anand, however, could not let her hyperbolic headline go.

“…to help our listeners understand what’s going on. We heard there the words of Moshe Ya’alon. These are pretty strong words coming from a pillar of Israeli society. He’s the head – or he was the head – of the armed forces. What’s been the reaction?”

“But some of his words are really, really strong. For example ‘has Israel lost its moral compass?’. I mean he’s talking about the country losing its moral compass. Is there any sympathy for those words, any agreement?”

“Michael, I want to put to you the outgoing Defence Minister’s words. He accuses Israel of losing its moral compass. […] What do you think about his words today in his speech?”

(In fact, Ya’alon’s reference to a ‘moral compass’ was not made in his resignation speech, but the previous day.)

“I want to steer the conversation back to the issues that Moshe Ya’alon has raised. Whether or not, you know, he’s being political – the words themselves; he’s talked about Israel losing its moral compass, about the government being hijacked by an extremist minority.”

“We’re discussing the comments of Israel’s outgoing Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon. He resigned this morning. He had some very, very strong words for Israel’s politicians. He talked about fighting against extremism, violence and racism. He said that extremists and dangerous forces had taken over Israel and the Likud movement and were destabilizing the country.”

Towards the end of the item, as Gregg Roman tried to provide listeners with insights into the Israeli political scene, Anand interrupted and refocused the discussion on the programme’s real topic:

“But can I just move you guys back to the…the….you know, the talk about how Israel is losing its values. I do understand there are heavy politics involved, but perhaps for a global audience…”

The last word was given to Anat Hoffman of IRAC when Anand asked her:

“When you talk about the erosion of values, what specifically – quickly – in your day-to-day life do you feel is being eroded?”

Hoffman’s answer included claims of “ethnocentrism, chauvinism, racism”: labels which might equally be found in any discussion of contemporary European politics.

The point is, of course, that the BBC has not to date seen fit to superficially promote to its audiences worldwide the notion (based on the words of one politician) that citizens of a rather large number of nations in Europe are losing their values or their ability to judge what is right and wrong.

Now why would that be?

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BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ resuscitates a two month-old story

Back in March, the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ produced a report about a woman who is suing the El Al airline after having been asked to move to a different seat.

At the time, presenter Razia Iqbal chose to frame the story as being indicative of negative trends in Israeli society as a whole but failed to provide any factual evidence to support her anecdotal assertion.

“Noa, I wonder if you would care to comment on what you think has shifted in Israeli culture and society that has made this sort of encounter that Renee has had more frequent.”

“Renee, when you listen to Noa put this into the context of this having been a shift that’s taken place over the last 15 to 20 years […] what are your reflections on that cultural shift that’s taken place?”

In April the BBC World Service promoted on social media a section from the radio programme ‘Newsday’ ostensibly relating to a story from Switzerland about male Muslim pupils refusing to shake hands with female teachers. However, almost half that promoted item was devoted to the same El Al story.PM R4 13 5

On May 13th the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ included an item (from 44:40 here) about the same story. Following an interview with the woman suing El Al, presenter Eddie Mair told listeners in the UK:

“If you have experience in the same area, you know our e-mail address.”

Considering that this is a two month-old story about an Israeli woman suing an Israeli airline in an Israeli court, the editorial decisions behind BBC’s repeated promotion of it – particularly on a domestic radio station – are decidedly curious.

Another ‘dark Israel’ story from BBC World Service’s ‘Newshour’

The afternoon version of the March 7th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included a story (from 14:13 here) about a woman who is suing the El Al airline after having been asked to move to a different seat.Newshour 7 3 El Al story

“Renee Rabinowitz, an 81-year-old resident of Jerusalem who fled the Nazi-occupied Belgium in 1941, told The New York Times in an interview published this week that an ultra-Orthodox passenger on her flight from Newark to Tel Aviv in December didn’t want to sit beside a woman. A flight attendant offered her a different seat in the business class section to accommodate the man’s religious beliefs.”

‘Newshour’ presenter Razia Iqbal spoke with both Ms Rabinowitz and Noa Sattath, director of the inadequately introduced Reform Movement’s Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) which is acting on her behalf. Interestingly, in an earlier interview with Ha’aretz on the same topic, Ms Sattath stated that the issue is not confined to El Al or Israeli airlines.

“A religious advocacy group in Israel has launched an initiative to tackle the controversial issue of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men refusing to sit next to women on airplanes.

In a newsletter dated January 5, Anat Hoffman, the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, which describes itself as the public and legal advocacy arm of the country’s Reform Movement, told recipients that if action is not taken soon, “we may find ourselves going down a dangerous slippery slope.”

Hoffman is one of the leading figures behind Women of the Wall, the Jewish feminist prayer group. […]

According to its January newsletter, IRAC has contacted some 19 airlines this month that fly to and from Israel, and “invited them to meet with us so that we can help them “evolve their positions on this issue.” […]

“We know that for our public this is a big issue, and our public is Reform Jews, the biggest stream in the U.S.” IRAC is in discussions with a number of American organizations who are interested in joining the campaign, too, Sattah said.”

Razia Iqbal however chose to frame the story as being indicative of negative trends in Israeli society as a whole.

“Noa, I wonder if you would care to comment on what you think has shifted in Israeli culture and society that has made this sort of encounter that Renee has had more frequent.”

“Renee, when you listen to Noa put this into the context of this having been a shift that’s taken place over the last 15 to 20 years […] what are your reflections on that cultural shift that’s taken place?”

Neither Razia Iqbal nor her interested party interviewee from IRAC provided any factual, quantified evidence to support that anecdotal assertion of a “shift” in Israeli society and neither bothered to inform listeners that Israel’s High Court of Justice has ruled gender segregation unlawful. That of course means that listeners were herded towards accepting the claim put forward as fact.

Notably, when the BBC has reported on stories concerning gender segregation in the UK – for example at universities and political meetings – audiences have not been told that this is indicative of a negative cultural and social shift in British society as a whole.

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