BBC’s Lyse Doucet reports election campaign speculation as fact

On December 26th 2018 an overwhelming majority of MKs voted to dissolve the 20th Knesset and go to elections just over three months later.

“The bill for the dissolution of the 20th Knesset was given final approval by the plenum Wednesday night. The government-sponsored dissolution bill was merged with private bills submitted by MKs Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beitenu), Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Ayman Odeh (Joint List).

The bill, which passed by a vote of 102-2 in its third (final) reading, also sets early elections for April 9, 2019. The MKs who voted against the bill were Yehuda Glick (Likud) and Yaron Mazuz (Likud).”

Two days earlier the BBC had correctly told visitors to its website that:

“Israel is to hold a general election in April, the ruling coalition has said.

The political partners decided to call the poll after failing to resolve a dispute over a draft conscription bill for ultra-Orthodox Jews. […]

The ruling coalition was recently reduced to holding a one-seat majority in the Knesset (Israeli parliament) after the then-defence minister resigned in protest over what he said was a weak approach towards dealing with attacks from Gaza, the Palestinian enclave bordering Israel.

By Sunday night it was clear the government faced collapse after ultra-Orthodox parties threatened to withdraw over the draft conscription bill.”

Listeners to two editions of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour’ on April 9th however heard a completely different account of those events from the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet.

In the programme’s afternoon edition presenter James Coomarasamy introduced an item (from 18:37 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Coomarasamy: “Now another election now and it was an early call but was it the right one for him? Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be finding out whether his decision to hold an early election today will secure him his record-breaking fifth term in office.”

In contrast to Coomarasamy’s claim that the decision to call an election was made by Mr Netanyahu alone, it was actually taken by the heads of all five coalition parties and – as seen above – endorsed by a majority of Knesset members from parties across the entire political spectrum.

After listeners had heard recordings of statements made by Netanyahu and the Blue and White list leader Benny Gantz at their polling stations, Coomarasamy brought in “Newshour’s very own Lyse Doucet who’s in Jerusalem for us”. Having mentioned the weather and voter turnout percentage, Doucet went on:

Doucet: “There’s a bit of apathy this time round because in effect this election campaign is about only one issue and that is Benjamin Netanyahu. Will he get that fifth term in office and put himself in the history books as Israel’s longest serving prime minister? So the question in this whole election is will Bibi, as he’s known, win and is Bibi good for Israel.”

Seeing as the BBC’s coverage of the run up to the election totally ignored the topic of what concerns the Israeli voter, it is of course hardly surprising that Doucet would come out with that inaccurate and superficial claim. Coomarasamy went on to suggest yet again that Netanyahu had called the election alone.

Coomarasamy: “And at the moment, I mean, he…he’s sounding confident. He sounds as though he made the right decision. I suppose, you know, this early election is…was a gamble. He’s made a gamble before and it didn’t pay off.”

Doucet: “He called early elections – eight months earlier – because he was trying to get in ahead of the attorney general but the attorney general got the best of him and has already indicated that charges are pending – corruption charge, fraud, breach of trust – and so there’s criminal investing…there’s criminal charges pending against Benjamin Netanyahu and he was hoping that he would call these elections and secure his fifth term before the attorney general filed. So this cloud is hanging over his head and what he would like to do is first of all get the high…get his Likud party to get the highest number of seats tonight – but remember: no party in Israel has ever ruled on its own – that he would then be chosen by the president to try to bring…to forge a governing coalition which will be comprised of not just Right-wing parties but far Right-wing racist parties – ah…and that’s causing some concern here – and then be able to pass a new law in the Israeli Knesset which says you can’t be charged when you’re a sitting prime minister. Israel doesn’t have that yet. So that’s the gamble really that he’s dealing with now.”

Until that point the BBC had confined itself to categorising one party – Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) as racist but apparently the BBC’s chief international correspondent sees no problem in branding more than one Israeli political party in that way.

Coomarasamy: “That’s his personal gamble. What’s at stake for the country as a whole would you say, Lyse?”

Doucet: “Well that is the big issue. I mean one Israeli commentator was saying that it’s not just fateful issues on the agenda, it’s the fate of the country which is on the agenda. Israel has been moving steadily to the Right over the past decades, largely fuelled by the failure of peace making with the Palestinians. It’s noticeable that that simply wasn’t an issue at all in these elections. And look at what has happened in the past year thanks to Mr Netanyahu’s greatest champion in the White House, Donald Trump. The Americans have moved their embassy to Jerusalem, they’ve recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – effectively trying to take that issue off the table. They also have recognised the Golan as part of…under Israeli jurisdiction – not Syrian. So in some ways they’ve been trying to move toward resolving these issues and Mr Netanyahu even threatened or even indicated – again, in a bid to get those far Right-wing votes – that he would annex large parts of the West Bank, which takes another issue off the agenda.”

As we have regrettably had cause to note here before, despite the best efforts of BBC journalists to ignore it, the US announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city specifically stated that it had no bearing on negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, noting that “the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties”.

The evening edition of ‘Newshour’ on the same day – presented by Tim Franks – also included a contribution from “our very own Lyse Doucet” (from 45:05 here) in which she again paraphrased anonymous Israeli commentators.

Doucet: “…but I have to say, Tim, that the Israeli analysts are already saying this is a message to Benjamin Netanyahu that you may have snuck in again but your days are numbered.”

Franks: “Right and I suppose there would be a question also, were he to get in, just how long he might be in for because there are these corruption allegations hanging over him.”

Doucet again promoted the falsehood that Netanyahu had called an election all on his own.

Doucet: “He called this election eight months earlier than he had to. He was hoping to get a new mandate before the attorney general published or finished his investigation. The attorney general preempted him. The charges have been published – he’s facing possible indictment on three major corruption, bribery, breach of trust charges. What he wants from…if he does form a new government he will want that government to bring in new legislation which means a sitting prime minister cannot be indicted. He wants legal cover for those charges. It’s…this is quite clearly being discussed here. So it’s not just about winning these elections; it’s about winning his personal freedom as well.”

The as yet non-existent legislation touted by Doucet is known in Hebrew as ‘the French Law’ after similar legislation in France. Four days before Doucet laid out her theory according to which Netanyahu had dissolved the Knesset and called elections all on his own in order to get such a law passed, the Times of Israel reported that:

“Several political allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday they would not back an effort to pass a law giving the premier immunity from prosecution. […]

…several senior ministers said they would not back the law, including Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan from Netanyahu’s Likud party.

“He [Netanyahu] promised he wouldn’t try, and if a proposal like this comes up from others in the Knesset, I’ll oppose it,” Erdan told Army Radio.

Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, who helped torpedo a bid in 2017 by a Netanyahu ally in the Likud to pass an immunity bill, said he would continue to oppose it. “Everyone is equal under the law,” he told Army Radio. […]

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who is also seen as a likely coalition partner for Netanyahu should he be tasked with forming the next government, also said he was against a retroactive measure.

He blamed speculation about Netanyahu seeking a measure on “the media.””

Indeed speculation on that topic was rife during election campaigning but senior BBC journalist Lyse Doucet did not report it as speculation: she reported it as fact – even constructing a supporting story about a one-man deliberate dissolving of parliament and subsequent election – without providing any concrete evidence to support her claims.

So much for BBC accuracy and impartiality.

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Inaccurate and misleading BBC WS radio report on Hamas rocket attack

The March 25th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ purported to inform listeners “Why tensions in the Gaza Strip are rising again”.

“Hours after a rocket hit a house near Tel Aviv and injured seven people, Israel is carrying out strikes on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. Could this be the start of a full-scale conflict?”

While able to inform audiences who was carrying out strikes in the Gaza Strip, the ‘Newshour’ team evidently chose not to clarify who had fired the rocket that brought about those strikes.  

Presenter James Coomarasamy’s introduction at the start of the programme included the following:

Coomarasamy: “Tensions rise in the Middle East as President Trump recognises Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights and rockets are fired in both directions between Gaza and Israel.”

Not only do we see a specious suggestion of linkage between the US president’s signing of a proclamation and a rocket fired by terrorists hours earlier but Coomarasamy also promoted false equivalence with the inaccurate claim that rockets were being fired from Israel into the Gaza Strip.

Introducing the item itself (from 00:54), Coomarasamy added the topic of the upcoming election in Israel to his mix of ‘explanations’. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Coomarasamy: “First though to the Middle East and with Israel’s general election just a couple of weeks away, are we seeing the start of a major conflict in the Gaza Strip? A rocket strike from that territory injured several people and destroyed a house today in a neighbourhood [sic] north of Tel Aviv – the furthest that a rocket fired from Gaza has reached since Israel’s last war with the group – the militant group – which controls the territory, Hamas, five years ago. Spokesperson for the Israeli Defence Forces Captain Libby Weiss said there was no doubt who was to blame.”

After listeners had heard a recording of Captain Weiss explaining that the rocket in question was produced and launched by Hamas, Coomarasamy went on:

Coomarasamy: “In the past few hours Israel has closed all [sic – actually two] crossings with the Gaza Strip including access to the sea and has launched a series of retaliatory airstrikes.”

The relevant announcement from COGAT actually referred to “a reduction of the fishing zone in Gaza” rather than closure of “access to the sea” as claimed by Coomarasamy, who then changed the subject.

Coomarasamy: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cut short his visit to Washington to oversee the operation but not before President Trump had officially broken with the international consensus and recognised Israel’s claim to the occupied Golan Heights. The Arab League has condemned this move as illegitimate. At the White House Mr Trump said the attack near Tel Aviv today showed how important it was for Israel to be able to defend itself.”

After listeners had heard a recording of the US president’s remarks, Coomarasamy went on to introduce the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman (from 02:51) with “the latest”.

Bateman: “What’s happened tonight is that the Israeli military has carried out now numerous airstrikes in locations in the Gaza Strip. There have been powerful explosions seen and heard in Gaza City, in the centre of the Strip in Khan Younis, in the south. The Israeli military says that one of its targets has been a headquarters for Hamas, the militant group that runs Gaza, which housed, it says, its general security forces and general intelligence, also military intelligence: the place where it believes that military sites in Israel are gathered by Hamas’ intelligence forces. And it’s also now reported that the offices of Ismail Haniyeh – who is the political leader of Hamas – have been targeted in an Israeli airstrike as well.”

Did “the Israeli military” really say that it believes that those targeted Hamas headquarters are “the place” where the terror group’s military intelligence gathers information on “military sites in Israel”? Here is the relevant IDF Tweet in English, stating only that “Hamas collected intelligence for planning attacks against Israel” and with no mention of “military sites”.

Here is the equivalent Tweet in Hebrew. It states that “Hamas’ military intelligence department is responsible for gathering and studying intelligence against the State of Israel”.

Again we see no evidence to support Bateman’s claim that the IDF said that Hamas’ military intelligence gathers information exclusively about “military sites in Israel”. Moreover, another IDF statement clarified that:

“In response to the attack, the IDF has begun striking Hamas buildings which were utilized to plan and carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. The IDF has struck Hamas’ previously secret military intelligence headquarters, its Internal Security Service offices, the office of Hamas Chairman Ismail Haniyeh, and a number of other military compounds.” [emphasis added]

That unsupported claim from Bateman is particularly pernicious given that not only does the BBC refuse to use the words terror and terrorist when describing Hamas, but Bateman has now implied that its targets are – as Hamas itself often claims – exclusively military rather than predominantly civilian.

No less significant is the fact that an hour before Bateman came on air, the IDF had already reported some 30 rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip against civilian communities in the border region (with a further 30 later on through the night). Bateman however elected to erase that deliberate targeting of civilians from view.

Bateman went on to describe the rocket attack on the house in Moshav Mishmeret early the same morning before once again bringing up the topic of the April 9th election in Israel.

Bateman: “This kind of strike, which hasn’t happened since the war between Hamas and Israel of 2014 and comes at a very sensitive time because there are Israeli elections due to take place in two weeks’ time. Some of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rivals have been saying that he hasn’t taken a forceful enough approach in the last year or so when it comes to Gaza and so there has been political pressure on him.”

Coomarasamy: “Meanwhile, he’s been getting political support from the US president.”

Bateman once again told listeners about the US president’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and “criticism” from Syria “as well as other Arab and Muslim states” before Coomarasamy asked whether the US decision is “likely to have an impact on the election”.

With Bateman having replied that “it gives prime minister Netanyahu an electoral lift” and “it does help him to some degree”, the item closed.

With a very significant proportion of this item having focused on the Israeli election and the US proclamation concerning the Golan Heights, BBC World Service radio audiences could be forgiven for arriving at the conclusion that the answer to the programme’s question of “why tensions in the Gaza Strip are rising again” (rising tensions in southern Israel were obviously considered to be of less interest) lies in those two topics rather than in the deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians by terrorist organisations armed with military grade projectiles.

Related Articles:

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BBC Radio 4 tells listeners that Gaza rioters were ‘innocent civilians’

As we saw in a previous post, a BBC News website article uncritically amplified the findings of a UN Human Right Council inquiry into the ‘Great Return March’ while portraying violent rioting as “protests”, failing to explain the aim of the demand for ‘right of return’, refraining from noting the long-standing UNHRC bias against Israel, failing to clarify the inbuilt bias of the inquiry’s mandate, ignoring the fact that a significant proportion of those killed in the violent rioting have been shown to be linked to terror groups and promoting the false notion that under-18s, paramedics and journalists are exclusively ‘civilians’.

Listeners to BBC Radio 4 also heard reports on the same story – but were they any better?

The February 28th edition of ‘The World Tonight’ included a news bulletin (from 03:45 here) in which audiences were told that: [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Newsreader: “Israel has rejected a UN report which found that the country may have committed crimes against humanity when its soldiers fired on Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip last year. In nine months of demonstrations 189 people died including 35 children. Investigators said there could be no justification for killing children and people clearly marked as journalists and medics. The Israeli government described the document as a new record of hypocrisy and lies.”

In addition to failing to clarify that the report was commissioned by the partisan UNHRC, that portrayal once again frames violent rioting as “demonstrations” and the people taking part as “protesters”. As in the BBC’s written report, the investigators were blindly quoted with no clarification of the fact that some of those “children and people clearly marked as journalists and medics” have been shown to have links to terror groups.

Later on in the same programme (from 20:35), presenter James Coomarasamy interviewed one of the report’s authors in relation to what he began by describing as “a highly critical report by the Human Rights Council”.

Coomarasamy: “It examined the deaths last year of nearly 200 people who were shot by Israeli soldiers during protests along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip. The Bangladeshi lawyer Sara Hossein is one of the report’s authors.”

Coomarasamy did not clarify to listeners that none of the report’s three authors have any expertise in military operations.

Following an overview from Hossein of the inquiry’s findings, Coomarasamy noted that:

22:14 Coomarasamy: “You call them civilian protests. You acknowledge though that there were militants among the protesters. They were organised by Hamas.”

Hossein: “We don’t actually say that the protests were purely organised by Hamas. We say that Hamas as a political body had involvement in the organising and that Hamas members did take part in the protests as well.”

Coomarasamy failed to challenge Hossein’s absurd claim of a distinction between ‘political’ Hamas and its ‘armed wing’.

Later on in the interview (23:50) Coomarasamy did raise the topic of UNHRC institutional bias against Israel but despite acknowledgement of that issue by former UN officials, presented it using the BBC’s favoured ‘Israel says’ formula.

Coomarasamy: “The Israeli government says that you have […] an obsessive hatred of Israel, essentially saying that you single out Israel for these kinds of investigations and other countries in the region simply do not get the same kind of scrutiny.”

Hossein responded with the claim that “we’ve carried out the task that was given to us”, to which Coomarasamy replied:

Coomarasamy: “You don’t accept that Israel gets singled out, that it gets far deeper and closer scrutiny than other countries in the region?”

Hossein: “We interpreted our mandate as being to look at all parties and to look at their responsibility in the context of the protests.”

Coomarasamy made no effort to clarify to listeners that the mandate predetermined that the ‘Great Return March’ events were “civilian protests” and instead moved on to the question of “what do you expect Israel to do with this?” to which Hossein replied:

Hossein: “We have said they should cease the killings of civilians. I cannot see why that is not an acceptable recommendation to make. Why is the killing of an 11 year-old or a 13 year-old or a 14 year-old or a double amputee or a paramedic or a journalist – why and in what context can that be justifiable?”

Rather than informing listeners of the numerous cases in which under-18s, journalists and paramedics have been shown to have links to terror organisations and asking Hossein why the commission ignored Hamas’ own statements regarding the affiliations of many of the dead, Coomarasamy closed the conversation there.

That crucial omission was likewise relevant in Coomarasamy’s subsequent interview with Israel’s representative at the UN in Geneva, Aviva Raz Shechter. During that conversation Coomarasamy repeatedly promoted the UNHRC’s talking points.

Coomarasamy: “But in the context of what happened – the deaths for example of the children, of people in wheelchairs – how can you justify using live ammunition against them? Was it a mistake by the Israeli Defence Forces? Were they following the rules of engagement?”

Coomarasamy: “…but the question that this report is posing is why did Israeli soldiers fire live rounds at people who were identifiable as children. That must be a question that Israel needs to ask itself.”

Coomarasamy: “So are you disputing that children and people with disabilities were killed by fire from the Israeli forces?”

Coomarasamy: “Is Israel looking into those deaths though of the children and others – innocent civilians.”

As we see, Coomarasamy promoted the absurd notion that minors, people with disabilities (the UNHRC report includes one example of a deaf person, though how IDF forces were supposed to know that is not made clear), paramedics or people wearing ‘Press’ vests are automatically “innocent civilians” regardless of their affiliations or actions at the time.

Previously the same day Radio 4 listeners had heard another dose of unchallenged UNHRC messaging – although significantly, that body was not mentioned by name – in the ‘World at One’ news bulletin (from 05:14 here).

Newsreader: “A UN investigation into the deaths of nearly 200 Palestinian protesters on the border with the Gaza Strip last year has concluded that war crimes may have been committed. 35 children were among the dead. Israel has rejected the report as a theatre of the absurd. Imogen Foulkes reports from Geneva.”

Foulkes: “The investigators say there are reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, health workers and children even though they were clearly recognisable as such. Israel has always said its actions were a defence against terrorism but the UN report concludes the protests were civilian in nature with clearly stated political aims. The report does however criticise Hamas for failing to stop some of its supporters using incendiary balloons which caused fear and some damage to property in southern Israel.”

Once again we see uncritical and unquestioning amplification of the UNHRC report, including the term “war crimes” which, as NGO Monitor explains, is inapplicable given the legal framework selected by the commission.

“…according to the Commission, the violence along the Israel-Gaza border was not a “military” or “combat” situation and therefore human rights law was the appropriate standard. Therefore, its conclusion that “human rights violations may also constitute “war crimes” is baseless, since war crimes can only where the laws of war are applicable.”

BBC coverage of the ‘Great Return March’ has been highly unsatisfactory over the past eleven months, meaning that audiences come to this latest story without the background information necessary for its proper understanding. As we see, rather than try to make up for the serial failure to clarify that what it uniformly portrays as “protests” and “demonstrations” is actually violent rioting which has included hundreds of petrol bomb attacks, IED attacks, grenade attacks and shooting attacks as well as infiltration attempts, the BBC elected to unquestioningly amplify the UNHRC report which dovetails with its own existing politically motivated narrative.

Related Articles:

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BBC WS radio’s Newshour invents an Israeli ‘ban’

Listeners to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on September 2nd heard presenter James Coomarasamy introduce an item (from 18:56 here) as follows:

Coomarasamy: “When a classical music radio station plays the music of Richard Wagner it’s not usually a problem – unless, that is, the radio station is in Israel where Wagner’s music is banned from broadcast or being played in public because of the composer’s links to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. On Friday night a programme on Israel public radio broke that boycott, playing part of Wagner’s Goetterdaemmerung opera and the complaints inevitably flooded in. Israel public radio has now apologised and said that it won’t happen again.” [emphasis added]

That highlighted claim from Coomarasamy is inaccurate: there is no ‘ban’ on playing Wagner’s music in public in Israel.

In 1938 the Palestinian Symphonic Orchestra (which later became the Israel Philharmonic) decided to exclude Wagner’s works from its repertoire following the Kristallnacht pogroms. That evolved into a long-standing and broad consensus that public performances of the composer’s music would offend many members of the public – especially Holocaust survivors – and so radio stations and orchestras generally refrain from playing Wagner’s works.

In the rest of the programme’s coverage of that story listeners heard one perspective: that of the founder (in 2010) of a group called the ‘Israel Wagner Society’.

The same Jonathan Livny was quoted in a BBC News website report on the same story which appeared on September 3rd under the headline “Israel public radio apologises for playing Richard Wagner music“. That article, however, managed to present the story to audiences accurately:

“In its apology, the broadcaster said the editor had erred in his “artistic choice” and Wagner would not be played.

The Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation added that it recognised the pain such a broadcast would cause among Holocaust survivors. […]

Wagner’s music is not banned in Israel but is not played due to widespread public opposition.”

Oddly, the same minor domestic Israeli story was also featured (from 2:06:33 here) in a news bulletin aired in the September 3rd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme. In contrast to the BBC World Service, reporter Steve Jackson managed to accurately describe a “long-standing convention that his [Wagner’s] music is not played in Israel”.

Amplification of Assad propaganda on BBC World Service radio

As documented here previously, after the IDF announced on July 22nd the completion of the overnight evacuation of hundreds of Syrian ‘White Helmets’ personnel and their families from southern Syria, through Israel and into Jordan, the BBC News website published two articles amplifying Syrian regime and Russian propaganda concerning that group.

BBC promotes what it described in April as ‘conspiracy theories’

BBC News website readers get yet another dose of Assad’s propaganda

Yet more amplification of that propaganda was seen in one version of an article on a different topic published two days later.

Similarly, listeners to the July 22nd afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ heard presenter James Coomarasamy introduce its lead item (from 00:01:01 here) as follows:

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

Coomarasamy: “We begin though in Syria where the rescuers – or some of them at least – have been rescued. According to the Israeli and Jordanian authorities, an international operation has managed to evacuate hundreds of members of the volunteer civil defence force known as the White Helmets and some of their family members from the country. The White Helmets have become a familiar presence at the scene of attacks in Syria but the Assad government and its Russian allies have condemned them as terrorist sympathisers.”

Coomarasamy then went on to report that Western diplomats had been commenting on the rescue operation and read out a Tweet from the British foreign secretary, before introducing (at 01:57) journalist Paul Ronzheimer of ‘Bild’ who had witnessed and reported the event.

Following that conversation Coomarasamy introduced (at 06:30) the founder of the ‘White Helmets’, James Le Mesurier, who explained that the group’s members “are under extraordinary threat” because “they have been – and continue to be – witnesses to the regime and Russian atrocities on the ground”.

When Mr Le Mesurier mentioned “the evacuation of fighters in buses, including those terrorist organisations that the regime claims to be fighting”, Coomarasamy interrupted him (at 10:58):

Coomarasamy: “And of course…yeah and of course the regime would say that the ‘White Helmets’ are a front for some of those organisations.”

Mr Le Mesurier explained the different conspiracy theories promoted by the Assad regime and Syria.

Le Mesurier: “Inside Syria they very much push the narrative that the ‘White Helmets’ are a Western organisation, that they are a front for the intelligence services, to create divisions inside the country and to make life more difficult for them. And at the same time externally in Europe they push the narrative that the ‘White Helmets’ are Al Qaeda and are terrorists. And at the same time they say that the ‘White Helmets’ don’t exist, that all of the rescues are filmed and so on. This is clearly propaganda.”

Coomarasamy nevertheless persisted with his theme (11:51):

Coomarasamy: “But I wonder, does this operation – the fact that it was Western-led – will that not only add credence to some of the arguments that the Assad government tries to make about the ‘White Helmets’?”

The same story was also the lead item in the later edition of the same programme (from 00:00:57 here) and was introduced by Coomarasamy as follows:

Coomarasamy: “We begin though in Syria and a rare example of international cooperation successfully coming to the aid of people apparently under threat from the Assad government. They are people who are used to coming to the aid of others – members of the civil defence force known as the ‘White Helmets’: Western backed and Western trained volunteers who help civilians in rebel held areas. Well overnight more than 400 ‘White Helmets’ and members of their family were brought out of southern Syria in an Israeli-led operation.”

After listeners had heard a voiceover translation of a statement from the Israeli prime minister on the operation, Coomarasamy continued:

Coomarasamy: “The ‘White Helmets’ are viewed by Western governments as life-saving humanitarians but the Syrian authorities and their Russian allies insist that they are a front for terrorist groups.”

Listeners heard (from 02:10) an edited version of the previously aired interview with the ‘Bild’ journalist Paul Ronzheimer and (from 06:14) an edited version of the interview with ‘White Helmets’ founder James Le Mesurier. The editing included repetition of Coomarasamy’s prior amplification of Assad propaganda.

Coomarasamy: “And of course…yeah and of course the regime would say that the ‘White Helmets’ are a front for some of those organisations.”

Coomarasamy: “But I wonder, does this operation – the fact that it was Western-led – will that not only add credence to some of the arguments that the Assad government tries to make about the ‘White Helmets’?”

Although in the previous edition of the programme Le Mesurier had clarified that the operation was led by the UK, Canada and Germany and supported by the US, Israel and the UN, at 08:58, Coomarasamy next chose to focus on just one of those countries, posing the following bizarre question:

Coomarasamy: “So, what does Israel get out of its role in this rescue operation?”

Notably, the person brought in to answer that question – described by Coomarasamy as “Joshua Landis…a Syria expert who heads the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma” – is renowned for his portrayals of the Assad regime as ‘the good guy’ in the enduring conflict (and before it) and has himself amplified propaganda pertaining to the ‘White Helmets’. It therefore came as little surprise to hear Landis – unhindered by Coomarasamy – promote some Assad-style propaganda in his own more subtle style.

Landis: “They’re doing a big favour for the United States and for the European powers in carrying out important humanitarian work and we’ve noticed that throughout the war, Israel has taken in a number of Syrian rebels as well as their family members and civilians who’ve been wounded, treated them in its hospitals, has tried to do humanitarian work in Syria. Of course Israel has been bombing Syria at the same time, attacking Iranian emplacements, Syrian emplacements, shooting down the odd Syrian plane. But for Israel this is about doing a good deed.”

Failing to clarify to audiences that Israeli strikes have targeted Iranian weapons transfers to the terror group Hizballah, Coomarasamy went on:

Coomarasamy: “But as you allude to, it’s something that’s happening on Israel’s doorstep and is very much a military conflict that Israel is getting involved in as well.”

Landis: “Yes, Israel has increasingly become involved in the Syrian civil war. It has supported a number of rebel groups, helping to build a small buffer zone. That has collapsed now, so Israel is going back to dealing with the Assad government and particularly through the Russians and this means that the rebels are collapsing and some of them are seeking asylum, through Israel, to the West.”

Landis’ roundabout portrayal of the ‘White Helmets’ as “rebels…seeking asylum” unsurprisingly went completely unchallenged by Coomarasamy as did his false claims that Israel is “involved in the Syrian civil war” and “has supported a number of rebel groups”.

As we see, the UK’s publicly funded public service broadcaster continues to amplify conspiracy theories no different from those put out by the regime controlled news agencies of Syria and Russia.

BBC’s special report on Palestinian refugees avoids the real issues

Ever since the BBC began covering the media-orientated ‘Great Return March’ at the end of March it has avoided providing its audiences with a clear picture of the bodies behind its conception and organisation.

BBC audiences have however heard repeated promotion of the theme of Palestinian ‘ancestral lands’ and that was again the case in the introduction given by presenter James Coomarasamy to a report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell which was aired in the May 9th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ (from 14:08 here). [emphasis in italics in the original]

Coomarasamy: “Protests along Gaza’s border with Israel are expected to reach their peak in the coming week as Palestinians mark the 70th anniversary of what they call the catastrophe – the displacement of more than 700 thousand people following the creation of the State of Israel. At least 40 Palestinians have been killed and thousand [sic] injured during five weeks of demonstrations. Israel says that many of the dead were members of armed groups. Palestinians want the right to return to their ancestral homes which are now in Israeli territory. Israel rejects that demand, saying that it is a threat to its Jewish majority. Well, in the first of three reports about the key issues in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell considers the future of Palestinian refugees.”

Coomarasamy’s use of the euphemism “armed groups” obviously did not adequately clarify to listeners that some 80% of those killed during the six weeks of violent rioting to date have been shown to be linked to terror organisations.

Knell’s opening description of the ‘Great Return March’ agitprop severely downplayed its violent nature.

Knell: “A young Gazan man is shot by an Israeli sniper and raced to hospital. Palestinians have been hurling stones at soldiers across the border here and launching kites carrying fire bombs. Israel’s army says its troops open fire to stop anyone trying to cross the perimeter fence illegally and to protect Israelis living nearby from possible attacks. I’ve come to find out what’s driving these deadly demonstrations.”

Obviously after making that latter statement any serious journalist would have clarified the involvement of various Gaza Strip based terror factions in the organisation of the weekly rioting but Yolande Knell instead uncritically painted precisely the picture that the agitprop’s organisers wish to promote.

Woman: “We want to go back to our land. Those are our lands that the Jews took and this is our right.”

Knell: “In the protest camp I meet Najla. Like most of Gaza’s 2 million residents, she’s a refugee.”

Woman: “We have to return to al Aqsa Mosque and all our lands. All of the land is Palestine.”

Failing to explain which party initiated the “Arab-Israeli war” or why, so many decades later, Palestinian refugees are deliberately kept in that status and in refugee camps, Knell went on:

Knell: “In 1948 hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes as the Arab-Israeli war began. Today many of their descendants still live in refugee camps. Past peace deals promised a fair solution but there are questions about what President Trump will now put forward in his promised peace plan. Another protester, Mohamed Rantissi, says this Gaza action sends a message.”

Rantissi: “It came in the critical time when the world neglected our rights of return back. They are trying their best to dissolve this Palestinian issue by what is called the Trump [unintelligible].”

Listeners then heard a relatively rare mention of the topic of Jewish refugees from Arab lands

Knell: “Well I’ve moved now to Jerusalem’s bustling Mahane Yehuda market to get an Israeli perspective. Long before the country was founded this was a popular spot for Jewish stall holders who’d come from other parts of the Middle East but many more arrived in 1948 and the years that followed. They were Jewish refugees escaping persecution.”

Man: “We have the Kubeh soup which is sort of dumplings stuffed with meat in a vegetable soup. This is the most popular food because you have many Jewish Israelis that come from Iraq, Syria, Turkey, the Kurds Jewish; this is the traditional food.”

Knell: “Moshe Shrefler works in his father’s restaurant Azura.”

Man: “My father was born in Turkey and was having a problem with the Turkish people because they didn’t like their Jewish neighbours and my mother she came from Iran with all the family. They left everything over there and they came here just to save their lives.”

Knell: “Jewish refugees left behind land and property in Arab countries and were absorbed into the new Israeli state along with Holocaust survivors from Europe. Like many Israeli politicians former deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon argues that Arab states must now assimilate Palestinian refugees, making them citizens – as most aren’t at present – and he questions the way the refugees have inherited their status.”

Ayalon: “If really there is an earnest and honest will to bring about peace in the Middle East, I think there is only one humane, fair and logical solution for the Palestinian refugees and this is either to absorb them where they are – remember, we are talking about second, third, fourth generation, you know, so they should be Lebanese, Syrians or whatever – or, if there is a Palestinian state, these refugees, if they want to leave their host countries, should go into this Palestinian entity.”

Knell then revisited a subject that was covered very generously by the BBC back in January and February but yet again BBC audiences heard no in-depth reporting on the issue of UNRWA’s purpose, its agenda, its record or its efficiency.

Knell: “Here in Amman there’s a rally in solidarity with the protesters in Gaza. Across the Middle East there are 5 million Palestinian refugees supported by the UN agency UNRWA. This year UNRWA’s biggest donor, the US, cut the donations it planned to give, saying it needed to make reforms and now in Jordan there’s concern about what that could mean financially and symbolically. Muhammad Momeni is the information minister.”

Momeni: “We have more than 2 million Palestinian refugees living in Jordan and hundreds of thousands of students in UNRWA schools.”

Knell: “So how worried is Jordan about this big hole in UNRWA’s finances?”

Momeni: “We’re very worried. Not only because it will immediately reflect on the type of services but also because it’s a political commitment by the international community to resolve the issue of the Palestinian refugees. If you stop financing UNRWA, basically you are telling the world that you are not committed to this issue any more and according to international resolutions, this is a final status issue and it must be dealt with through negotiation and in a way that will bring justice to them.”

Knell refrained from making any effort to clarify to listeners to which so-called “international resolutions” Momeni was referring – and whether or not they actually exist.

Knell: “Back at the Gaza protest camp there’s traditional Palestinian dancing. Here the case for right of return is uncompromising but Israel rejects that demand, pointing out it would destroy its Jewish majority. Leaks on previous peace talks suggest they focused on compensation for Palestinian refugees and return for just a token number. It remains to be seen what Washington will propose on one of the most painful issues in this long-running conflict.”

As we see, notwithstanding that rare mention of Jewish refugees, Knell’s report was essentially superficial. She failed to clarify that the whole point of the demand for ‘right of return’ is the destruction of the Jewish state and that Palestinian refugees have for decades been used by their leaders as pawns to further that aim. UNRWA’s role in keeping millions of Palestinians in refugee status was not explained to listeners and neither was that of the Arab League.  

While giving the impression of balance with her visit to Mahane Yehuda and interview with Danny Ayalon, Knell nevertheless managed to both avoid the real issues behind the topic she ostensibly set out to ‘consider’ and promote a portrayal of the topic that amplifies the messaging of the ‘Great Return March’ organisers.

Related Articles:

Hamas agitprop requires BBC journalists to brush up on UN resolution

British connections to upcoming Gaza agitprop ignored by BBC News

BACKGROUNDER: The Palestinian Claim to a “Right of Return”  (CAMERA)

 

 

 

BBC radio portrayal of the ‘right of return’ – part one

As previously documented, BBC News website reporting on the violence and rioting on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on March 30th failed to provide audiences with a clear view of what the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ means in terms of the two-state solution, that its real intention is to threaten the existence of Israel as the Jewish state or what the non-binding UN GA resolution upon which that demand is supposedly based actually says.

BBC News claims Gaza stone throwers engaged in ‘peaceful demonstrations’

BBC again fails to adequately clarify Hamas’ role in Gaza border agitprop

Seeing as the agitprop organised by Hamas and other terror factions such as the PIJ and DFLP that is dubbed ‘the Great Return March’ uses that issue as its justification, it is obviously necessary for BBC reporting on the topic to provide audiences with that essential context and background.

So did BBC radio programmes do any better than the corporation’s website?

Among the BBC Radio 4 programmes covering the story on March 30th was ‘The World Tonight presented by James Coomarasamy.

In the news bulletin at the start of the programme (from 01:34 here) listeners heard the following from newsreader Kathy Clugston: [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Clugston: “Palestinian officials say at least 15 people have been shot dead and hundreds wounded during a mass protest on the border between Gaza and Israel. Thousands of demonstrators gathered for the start of a six-week campaign for the right to return to homes that are now in Israel. The Israeli military said it had fired weapons to disperse rioters. The UN Security Council is meeting tonight to discuss the situation.”

Later on (from 07:42) listeners heard Coomarasamy claim that Israelis will be celebrating Independence Day in May – rather than on April 18/19th as is actually the case – and give a context-free portrayal of the circumstances under which Palestinians became refugees when Arab armies invaded the nascent Jewish state while portraying (as he also did right at the top of the programme) the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “the Middle East conflict”.

Coomarasamy: “When Israelis celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of their state in May, Palestinians will be commemorating what for them is known as the Nakba or catastrophe: the point in history when hundreds of thousands of their forefathers became refugees. Today marked the beginning of six weeks of protests across the Palestinian territories in the lead-up to that date with thousands of people heading towards Gaza’s border with Israel chanting slogans on what is known as Land Day – the anniversary of the killing of six protesters by Israeli security forces in 1976. The demonstrators said they wanted to send a clear message that they have a right to return to what used to be Palestinian land: one of the major issues of contention in the Middle East conflict.”

Listeners then heard a voice-over translation of the words of an unidentified (and severely factually challenged) speaker, with no clarification of the fact that the Gaza Strip has not been ‘occupied’ for nearly 13 years.

V/O: “We need to change the way we deal with the Israeli occupation. Every peaceful and non-peaceful way has failed. We must find a way to go back to our homeland. It’s been 100 years now and Palestinians are stranded while all other nations of the world are enjoying peace and democracy.”

Coomarasmay: “Well despite calls for today’s protest to be peaceful it ended with some of the bloodiest confrontations in recent years. As the marchers moved towards the fortified fence separating Gaza and Israel, Israeli forces fired tear gas and bullets at the crowds just across the border after what they described as riots broke out. By nightfall at least 15 Palestinians had died and hundreds of others were injured and in the last hour the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas blamed Israel for the deaths of the demonstrators and called on the United Nations to provide protection to the Palestinians.”

Coomarasamy did not bother to clarify to listeners that the casualty figures he quoted come from the same terror group which organised the ‘Great Return March’ publicity stunt.

Coomarasamy: “Well Issam Hamad is the vice-chair of the international coordinating committee of the ‘Great Return March’ – the six-week series of protests.”

Hamad: “We have been waiting 70 years for the right of return to be implemented and also the Palestinian-Israeli issue and we have to rise up for our rights and try to draw a new line in the Palestinian era requesting the rights to be implemented.”

Coomarasamy: “But what has been achieved today is the deaths of more than a dozen Palestinians. That could have been avoided, surely?”

Hamad: “They have shoot by snipers 16 people; unarmed civilians as declared their intention earlier that they are going to be peaceful. It just ensures again towards the international community that this country [Israel] is working above the law.”

Coomarasamy: “The Israelis insist that amongst civilians there were armed members of Hamas who were using the civilians as cover.”

Hamad: “Today Gaza has received hundreds of journalists and has media coverage, satellite coverage, that has never been in Gaza since the day of the prophet Adam. Also we are in 2018: people have their mobile phones. If there is a single seen between those hundreds of thousands of civilians there was a rifle or a gun or anything, that can be easily seen. We have not seen today any arms – only civilian people.”

Failing to challenge Hamad’s inflated portrayal of the number of people taking part in the publicity stunt Coomarasamy went on:

Coomarasamy: “But amongst those crowds there were many children. Surely that was irresponsible to bring children to a march like this when you could have foreseen what was the expected Israeli response?”

Hamad: “We will continue calling on the Palestinian refugees to be present in these camps over the coming weeks and it is the responsibility of Israel to keep their safety and not use these tools and snipe the people and kill them because this is not in accordance with the international law and the camera can look…”

Coomarasamy [interrupts]: “So just to be clear, what’s happened today is not going to stop these marches: they’re going to continue for several more weeks.”

Hamad: “Today is a celebration [sic] of Land Day. This Great Return March will start tomorrow and it will continue until we go back to our lands and homes and property that was confiscated from us and we were expelled out of Palestine in 1948.”

Coomarasamy: “When the Israelis hear that they hear a threat to their security.”

Actually, when Israelis hear that they understand that the intention of Issam Hamad and his fellow march organisers is to destroy the Jewish state but Coomarasamy did not clarify that point to Radio 4 listeners.

Hamad: “This is our land. We are going to go back to our land no matter who is ruling, no matter who’s in the political parties or leading the country.”

Coomarasamy: “But you have to deal with the leadership of the country, don’t you? You can’t simply demand this right in a vacuum.”

Hamad: “This debate you are talking about, this is a political debate. This is we are not interested in. We the refugees have been thrown in the diaspora. Now in Gaza is not suitable for dogs to live so why should we stay in Gaza while we have a resolution calling that we return to our land? Why if we are registered by the United Nations and we carry registration number and each one has his name written on it and the place he should return to – why should we wait? Why should the people in Syria now suffer from the war – the Palestinian? Why should they? They were thrown in 1948 and the resolution say they must be allowed to return. So they should return. It’s the problem of Israel how to manage this return journey.”

Making no effort to relieve listeners of the erroneous impressions created by Hamad’s deliberate misrepresentation of UN GA resolution 194, Coomarasamy changed the subject.

Coomarasamy: “But at the moment Israel is adamant that what’s happening is sponsored by Hamas and it is a threat to the Israeli state.”

Hamad: “They say this. The cameras have seen, have shown today hundreds of thousands of people coming: children, babies, pregnant women, elderly, men, youth, girls. Every kind of the society today were. There was not a single flag of Hamas. There’s only the Palestine flag.”

Coomarasamy: “The other thing that is said by the Israeli army is that people were throwing stones, firebombs and that there was rioting.”

Hamad: “Today they used snipers to kill people and to injure them. If this is according to the international law, then they can claim this. But today the Palestinians are talking peace and law. People did not like rockets, did not like war, did not like that way. Now we are showing a new way. This is our right. It’s a legal right. It’s a humanitarian right. They cannot deny it. They have accepted. The only thing they can do now is implement it. It’s over. The Palestinian people have taken their decision. If we want to create a third World War now we can go ahead and do it. But halass [enough] it’s over. The people have decided. We are fed up now. It’s over.”

Coomarasamy ended that five-minute long interview at that point and went on to speak to former IDF spokesperson Avital Leibovich about the day’s events. However, the item closed without listeners being informed that UN GA resolution 194 is non-binding, that it does not specifically relate to Palestinian refugees (despite long-standing BBC claims to that effect) and – contrary to often heard assertions – neither does it grant any unconditional ‘right of return’.

Neither did Coomarasamy bother to clarify to listeners that the vast majority of the people his interviewee termed ‘refugees’ are in fact descendants of refugees condemned to that status by the fact that the UN agency responsible for their care does not have an active program for “local integration” of refugees where they now reside (even if that is under Palestinian rule) nor resettlement in third countries.

Once again we see that while the BBC provides a platform for exactly the type of media coverage that this publicity stunt was intended to garner, it fails to provide its audiences with the background information necessary for full understanding of this latest Hamas campaign to delegitimise Israel. 

Related Articles:

Hamas agitprop requires BBC journalists to brush up on UN resolution

British connections to upcoming Gaza agitprop ignored by BBC News

 

 

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ framing of Iranian activity in Syria – part two

As we saw in part one of this post the lead story in the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on February 18th focused on the Israeli prime minister’s speech at the Munich Security Conference earlier in the day, with listeners hearing remarkably little about the relevant topic of Iranian activities in Syria and the broader Middle East while contributor Laleh Khalili promoted a grotesque caricature of Israel.

The evening edition of the programme also led with that same story.

“Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a stinging verbal attack on Iran, telling a Munich Security Conference Iran is the “greatest threat to our world”.”

Presenter James Coomarasamy introduced the first item on the subject (from 00:45 here), yet again implying to listeners that the incursion of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace on February 10th is a matter of opinion: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Coomarasamy: “We begin though at the Munich Security Conference – a forum for discussing global security threats – where the talk today came with added props and the sense that a conflict between Israel and Iran could be getting closer. A week after the Israelis lost their first fighter jet in more than a decade, in military action which followed what they say was the incursion of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu used his appearance at Munich to deliver a message to Tehran. And it was a none too subtle one: here he is, prop in hand, sending his rhetoric hovering over his fellow conference participant the Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif.”

Listeners once again heard recorded excerpts from the Israeli prime minister’s speech and the Iranian foreign minister’s speech at that conference before Coomarasamy went on:

Coomarasamy: “So, how does Israel’s closest ally the United States stand on this issue? Well just have a listen to the US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster speaking during Saturday’s question & answer session in Munich.”

Recording McMaster: “What Iran is actually doing is applying the Hizballah model to the greater Middle East in which they want weak governments in power. They want the Arab world to be perpetually weak and they have weak governments in power that are dependent on Iran for support while they grow terrorist organisations, militias, other illegal armed groups that are outside of that government’s control, that can be turned against that government if that government acts against Iranian interests. So that the time is now, we think, to act against Iran.”

Coomarasamy then introduced his contributing guest: a conspiracy theorist who has in the past suggested that chemical weapons used against civilians in Syria may have been an Israeli “false flag” operation aimed at implicating Bashar Assad’s regime.

Coomarasamy: “Now we’re joined now by Lawrence Wilkerson: retired US army colonel who was Chief of Staff to the US Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005. And you see echoes in what Colin Powell said and did in the run-up to the Iraq war and what you’re seeing and hearing now.”

Wilkerson: “Yes I do and I kind of chuckled to myself when H.R. said what he said because – let’s face it – he was describing Saudi Arabia far more precisely than he was describing Iran. And I had to chuckle when Netanyahu said what he said to Zarif about the drone because as the Lebanese foreign minister said recently – I’m sorry: the Lebanese defence minister said recently – he has an Israeli drone over his head almost 24/7.”

Coomarasamy: “So when you see what the Israeli prime minister did in Munich and hear what he said, what sort of intent do you think is behind it?”

Wilkerson: “This is all propaganda. It’s all bombast, it’s all bellicosity on Netanyahu’s…Netanyahu’s part at least aimed at deflecting some indictments that might remove him from office at any time, reminding me of a mantra that’s going around in the rumour channel inside the Beltway right now here in Washington: will Trump start a war to save his presidency? I think there’s some of that; that’s the political aspect of it. But I understand Prime Minister Netanyahu – just like Israeli prime ministers from the past – has to seem as if he is ten feet tall in order to dissuade those who are arrayed around him from testing him.”

Coomarasamy made no effort to clarify to listeners that no indictments have been issued against the Israeli prime minister to date or that even if they had, the notion that they would be ‘deflected’ by a speech made at a conference is just plain ridiculous. Neither did the BBC’s presenter bother to point out the relevant fact that the source of ‘rumours’ concerning the US administration’s supposed intention of starting a war with Iran is Wilkerson himself and that he published an op-ed promoting such claims (which has been called out for its antisemitic undertones) in the New York Times less than two weeks before this ‘Newshour’ appearance took place.

Coomarasamy: “But the presence of Iran and the influence of Iran in the region; that’s a real concern – isn’t it – to those countries?”

Wilkerson’s reply revealed the redundancy of soliciting military analysis from a former soldier in an army that does not fight wars on its own territory and does not have to defend its own civilian population at such a time.

Wilkerson: “Well it is a concern to the Arab countries to be sure. It should not really be of much concern to Israel because the Israel Defence Force, as I well know, is competent sufficiently to defeat all of them in combination were it to have to do so. Now I’m sure Mr Netanyahu doesn’t want to have to exhibit that competence but he’s gonna play with it as much as he can. If you put the Quds Force, the IRGC, the Syria regular army and every other element that Iran and Syria could marshal, Israel would still outdo it and if that weren’t true it has 200 nuclear weapons to back that up. So this is really a lot of bombastic rhetoric to try and get the other side scared, try to get the other side to do what you want it to do. The real issue here is what are the United States’ interests in this area? And I’m really worried because I see absolutely – and this includes McMaster’s just now uttered statements – I see absolutely no real strategy from the United States. I see a muddling through and I see remarks by H.R. McMaster and others in the administration to be demonstrative of that lack of a strategy.”

Coomarasamy: “Isn’t muddling through better though than all-out confrontation?”

Wilkerson then promoted – as he has done in the past – a context-free caricature of prior conflicts:

Wilkerson: “Well it just depends on what you mean by all-out confrontation. I don’t think…I don’t think we’re looking at an all-out confrontation here. If we’re looking at anything we’re looking at Israel getting ready to do what it does about every six to ten years and that is bomb the bejesus out of Lebanon and maybe bomb the bejesus out of Hizballah in Syria and Lebanon and maybe a few other things. And it feels like it has to demonstrate once again that it can obliterate the rest of the region should it chose to do so.”

Coomarasamy: “But it has lost a fighter jet over Syria [sic] and you know that hasn’t happened for some time.”

Wilkerson: “That actually hadn’t happened for about thirty years but I mean you do lose implements of war when you fight.”

Coomarasamy closed the interview at that point but Wilkerson’s baseless claim that “Israel getting ready to do what it does about every six to ten years and that is bomb the bejesus out of Lebanon” was aired again later on in the programme when Coomarasamy returned to his “top story” at 44:00. Listeners also then heard a repeat broadcast of much of the interviews with Giora Shamis and Laleh Khalili which had been aired in the earlier edition of the programme, including the allegation of “constant fear-mongering” by Israel and the redundant linkage between this topic and the domestic issues facing the Israeli prime minister.

It is of course abundantly clear that when ‘Newshour’ invited Lawrence Wilkerson to comment on this story its producers knew exactly what kind of ‘analysis’ they were going to get. That of course raises the same question that was posed by Liel Leibovitz when the New York Times recently published Wilkerson’s op-ed:

“Why the paper of record would give such a man a spot in its vaunted op-ed page is anybody’s guess, though it’s hard to believe that kooks of other stripes would’ve been welcomed so warmly.”

The answer of course is disturbingly obvious. ‘Newshour’ did not seek to meet its obligation to provide audiences with accurate and impartial information which would enhance their understanding of the background to this highly promoted story. Instead it invited a discredited conspiracy theorist and an activist academic to advance narratives of Israeli ‘aggression’ and ‘expansionism’ and promote the baseless notion of linkage to domestic Israeli politics, all the while downplaying Iran’s actions in the Middle East to the level of a sideshow that distracts from what ‘Newshour’ would have its listeners believe is the ‘real’ story.

Related Articles:

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ framing of Iranian activity in Syria – part one

BBC’s Bell finds conspiracy theorist “interesting”

By His Own Admission, Wilkerson Cannot Be Trusted (Gatestone Institute)

 

 

 

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ framing of Iranian activity in Syria – part one

The lead story in the February 18th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ was described as follows in the synopsis:

“Israel’s prime minister launches a stinging attack on Iran, telling a security conference in Munich the country is the “greatest threat to our world”. Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would “not allow Iran’s regime to put a noose of terror around our neck”.”

Presenter James Coomarasamy opened the item (from 00:45 here) by insinuating that an Iranian drone may or may not have breached Israeli airspace the previous week. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Coomarasamy: “We begin now at the Munich Security conference – a forum for discussing security threats but today it put a case of insecurity very firmly on display. The conference became the backdrop to a rhetorical clash between Israel and Iran a week after the two countries’ militaries came into conflict over Syria. Well Israel lost a fighter jet in that clash which followed what it said was the interception of an Iranian drone which had crossed from Syria into Israeli territory. It was the first time an Israeli war plane had been downed in more than a decade.”

After listeners had heard excerpts from the Israeli prime minister’s speech and the Iranian foreign minister’s speech at that conference, Coomarasamy introduced his two guests – Giora Shamis of the controversial Debkafile website and Iranian-American SOAS professor Laleh Khalili.

So what did BBC audiences worldwide learn about the activities of Iran and its proxies in Syria and the wider Middle East or why Israel views the Iranian presence and influence on its borders as a threat? The answer to that question is not much. Listeners did however hear quite a bit of dubious, politically partisan analysis from Khalili – none of which was challenged by the BBC presenter.

Khalili: “There are obviously three elements about what is going on at the moment that makes it all a bit scary, the first of which is that the Trump administration is in place which is probably more likely to give a green light to conflict by Israel, although the Trump administration itself is quite divided on this issue with some of the higher echelons of the military not wanting to cause further conflict in the region. The second element is of course the major rapprochement between Israel and the Gulf Arab states and especially Saudi Arabia. The third thing which I think makes things particularly dangerous is the fact that Netanyahu has over the course of his entire rule in Israel been accused of corruption a number of times but now the police have referred him to the attorney general in Israel and of course the wag the dog situation [laughs] is extremely relevant here and could potentially result in further conflict, which is what Netanyahu would want: the more conflict there is in the region, the better it benefits the Israeli security establishment if not the Israeli people.”

Coomarasamy made no effort to question that ‘theory’ or to remind listeners that it was Iran that sparked the recent clash by infiltrating Israeli airspace. After Giora Shamis had mentioned the establishment of Iranian military bases in Syria and additional factors, Coomarasamy asked Khalili about “events on the ground” – meaning the drone infiltration – but allowed her to avoid the question and instead promote more unchallenged propaganda aimed at downplaying Iran’s activities.

Khalili: “The fact is that there are confrontations, whether by proxy or directly, happening between Israel and Iran for decades now and what Netanyahu does – and in fact actually most of the conservative Israeli security establishment do – is constant fear-mongering. The problem is really not with whether or not there are other threats or real threats or real clashes. The problem is with Israel’s militarist, expansionist policies that have essentially become more and more entrenched and more and more fired up whenever Netanyahu feels his own power domestically threatened.”

After Khalili had referred to Netanyahu as “preening quite a bit and posturing quite a bit”, Coomarasamy asked Shamis for his “response to the idea that what is happening now is in part the prime minister of Israel trying to divert attention from his own domestic challenges”, to which Shamis replied that in his opinion, the current Israeli government will be in power for at least another year.

Coomarasamy next asked Khalili about Javid Zarif’s “dismissive” response to Netanyahu and “how worried are the Iranians?”.

Khalili: “They have to consider this but also I’m sure the dismissiveness comes from the direction of remembering how much Netanyahu is into these kinds of theatrics. I mean we haven’t forgotten his UN presentation which was of course the subject of much mirth and mockery later. […] But it is also really important to know that it’s not just the Iranians that are being dismissive. I just have been looking on Twitter and all the people who are at the actual security conference, a lot of the Europeans who are Tweeting are also being in equal measures concerned about Netanyahu’s posturing and also dismissive of, again, its theatrical elements.”

She went on:

Khalili: “…this conflict has been on a low simmer for decades. It’s not new. I mean the fact that the Israeli security establishment have been assassinating Iranian scientists inside Iran and Iranian military people outside of Iran, it’s not like there’s been all love and roses [laughs] for the past few decades and yet this conflict has been going on. But the fact is that the conflict has been ongoing so its being ratcheted up is perhaps what’s interesting, dangerous and worrying.”

Without questioning or qualifying Khalili’s allegations or even reminding listeners of, for example, the relevant topic of Iranian military activities along Israel’s border with Syria, Coomarasamy closed the item there.

The BBC’s public purposes oblige it to “provide accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”. The unchallenged efforts of activist academic Laleh Khalili to frame the story as being about “theatrics”, “fear-mongering” and Israeli domestic politics – while completely erasing Iran’s activities from the picture – are of course not in the least surprising.  However, such blatant propaganda obviously contributed nothing to BBC audience understanding of the serious topic of Iranian expansion and belligerency in Syria and the Middle East in general or of Israel’s position on that issue.

However, Newshour’s partisan framing of that story was not over yet – as we will see in part two of this post.

BBC radio’s inconsistent coverage of charges against Ahed Tamimi

As was noted here last week, an article published on the BBC News website on January 1st failed to inform BBC audiences that, in addition to charges of assault and stone-throwing, Ahed Tamimi was also charged with incitement.

“Among the charges against Ahed were aggravated assault of a soldier, threatening a soldier, preventing soldiers from carrying out their duties, incitement, disturbing the public peace and stone throwing.

Regarding the incitement charge, the MAG [Military Attorney General] cited a statement given by Ahed to her mother, who was filming the December 15 incident on Facebook Live. Immediately following the squabble, Nariman asked her daughter what kind of message she wanted to convey to viewers.

“I hope that everyone will take part in the demonstrations as this is the only means to achieve the result,” she said. “Our strength is in our stones, and I hope that the world will unite to liberate Palestine, because [Donald] Trump made his declaration and [the Americans] need to take responsibility for any response that comes from us,” Ahed added, apparently referring to the US president’s decision last month to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“Whether it is stabbings or suicide bombings or throwing stones, everyone must do his part and we must unite in order for our message to be heard that we want to liberate Palestine,” she concluded.”

That video can be seen here.

However, an item (from 17:55 here) broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on the same day – January 1st – shows that the BBC’s Yolande Knell was already aware of the charge of incitement.

After having told BBC audiences that Tamimi is a “star on social media”, seen as “a symbol of resistance”, “a Palestinian hero” and that she is “very brave, it seems”, Knell stated:

Knell: “Now there are 12 charges against Ahed Tamimi. She’s appeared before a military court. These relate to six different incidents. She’s charged with 5 counts of assaulting soldiers, also with throwing rocks, incitement to violence…”

Two days later, on January 3rd, BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today‘ programme also aired an item on the same subject. Presenter Carrie Gracie opened the item (from 02:32:15 here) by telling listeners that:

Gracie: “A 16 year-old Palestinian girl who has a history of protesting against Israel has been charged with assaulting Israeli soldiers near her home in the occupied West Bank and she has appeared in a military court.”

No mention of the additional charges of rock-throwing and incitement was made throughout the item, which included interviews with Israeli MK Dr Michael Oren and B’tselem’s research director Yael Stein. Neither were listeners told that Ahed Tamimi’s mother Nariman has collaborated (along with additional members of the family) with B’tselem’s ‘armed with cameras’ project.

On January 8th BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme aired yet another item (from 45:16 here) on the same topic. Presenter John Humphrys introduced it as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Humphrys: “Confrontations between young Palestinians and Israeli soldiers are almost daily occurrence in the occupied West Bank but since last month one case has been the subject of intense public debate. Ahed Tamimi, who is 16, was filmed slapping and kicking two soldiers outside her home. She has now been charged with five counts of assault. Today she’s going to appear at an Israeli military court for a remand hearing. As Yolande Knell reports, many Palestinians see her as a new hero of their nationalist struggle while Israeli politicians accuse her family of staging anti-Israeli propaganda.”

Listeners were not told that the video concerned was filmed and distributed by Ahed Tamimi’s mother. After describing the video, Knell again told listeners that:

Knell: “Last month Ahed was arrested. She’s been charged with assault.”

Listeners then heard from the girl’s lawyer, Gabi Lasky, who ascribed extra significance to the case.

Lasky: “Not only is this a regular criminal case in the occupied territories but it has a lot of weight on it regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Notably, that theme that was repeated by Knell when she later closed the report:

Knell: “Their case will be watched closely – not just for its legal outcome but for all that it’s seen to symbolise.”

After the interview with Lasky, Knell brought in a recording from a television programme in Hebrew.

Knell: “On Israel’s Channel 10 the presenter asks if the soldiers hit by Ahed were cowardly or showed exemplary restraint. A military expert points out that they were in her village to deal with Palestinians throwing stones. An Israeli peace activist explains how Ahed’s cousin had just been badly injured – shot in the face with a rubber bullet.”

So who is that “peace activist” and is he a reliable and objective source that can be unquestioningly amplified by the BBC?

The interviewee concerned is Yonatan (Jonathan) Pollak – a founder of ‘Anarchists Against the Wall’, a BDS campaign supporter and a regular participant in the weekly rioting in Nabi Saleh organised by Ahed Tamimi’s father.

Knell continued:

Knell: “But this isn’t the first time Ahed’s actions have sparked debate. Two years ago she was the blonde curly-haired child filmed biting an Israeli soldier trying to detain her brother. In an earlier video she threatens to punch a soldier.”

Knell of course did not bother to tell listeners that Tamimi’s then 12 year-old brother was throwing rocks at the time. She then went on to say:

Knell: “While Palestinians liken her [Ahed Tamimi] to Joan of Arc, Israel’s media calls her Shirley Temper.”

In fact the bizarre Joan of Arc comparison was first made by Israeli activist Uri Avinery in an article published in Ha’aretz.

Following an interview with Israeli MK Anat Berko, Knell went on to present Ahed Tamimi’s father Bassem – inserting the BBC’s standard partisan interpretation of ‘international law’ along the way.

Knell: “Making coffee at his home in Nabi Saleh in the hills north of Ramallah, I meet Ahed’s father – a political activist who’s been jailed by Israel many times. For years he’s organized protests in which villagers try to march towards land taken by an Israeli settlement. Settlements are considered illegal under international law but Israel disagrees.”

She continued:

Knell: “Usually the marches lead to clashes with Israeli soldiers. But Bassem Tamimi always allowed his daughter to join them and be filmed.”

Tamimi: “I am proud of my daughter. I am happy that she became the spirit and the example of the new generation for resistance.”

Knell: “Those criticising you say that these videos are like set-ups, you know, that they are staged.”

Tamimi: “Francis Bacon say how the other evaluate my method is their problem, it’s not mine. They said it’s a movie or it’s a theatre. How we can bring these soldier to our home to make this play?”

The answer to that question of course is – as Bassem Tamimi well knows – by organising violent rioting to which soldiers will have to respond but Yolande Knell refrained from pursuing that issue.

Knell’s final interviewee was Lt-Col (res) Maurice Hirsch and BBC audiences – who, significantly, have not seen the video in which Ahed Tamimi urged viewers to carry out “stabbings or suicide bombings or throwing stones” were told that her call is “alleged”.

Knell: “A few hundred Palestinian children are prosecuted in this system each year. Maurice Hirsch used to be the IDF chief prosecutor for the West Bank. He says the more serious charges against Ahed involved her alleged online call for more action to support the Palestinian cause – from protests to what she calls martyrdom operations.” [emphasis added]

Knell did not bother to tell listeners that “martyrdom operations” means suicide bombings even though that information is relevant to audience understanding of Maurice Hirsch’s comments.

Hirsch: “Many minors that come before the courts are suspected of committing predominantly violent crimes similar to that of Ahed. Attacking a soldier is a crime of violence but I think that’s really one of the sidelines of the indictment. One of the main counts of the indictment is really incitement – publicly calling for others to commit other terrorist attacks.”

While once again failing to clarify to listeners that Ahed Tamimi’s mother filmed the video concerned, Knell then told listeners that:

Knell: “The other women seen in this video are both charged with assault and her mother with incitement after it was live-streamed on her Facebook page.”

As we see the BBC’s promotion of this story is on the one hand generous and on the other hand inconsistent. Some reports have included mentions, to one degree or another, of the charge of incitement while others have whitewashed it – and additional relevant information – from the picture. Significantly, although the video footage of Ahed Tamimi urging others to carry out acts of violence is in the public domain, it has not been presented to BBC audiences.  

Related Articles:

BBC News omits a relevant part of the Tamimi charges story

BBC News website promotes the Tamimi clan again