Omission in BBC reporting on Israel and the EU

Using the Eurovision Song Contest as a hook (and tag) another BBC reporter apparently in Tel Aviv for that event – diplomatic correspondent James Landale – published an article titled “Why Israel eyes the EU with distrust” on the BBC News website on May 20th.

Landale also produced an audio version of that report which was aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on May 18th (from 01:48:35 here) and the central messaging of both reports is the same.

“…Israel’s love of Eurovision the competition has also illustrated its more ambiguous attitude to Europe the continent.

If you speak to Israelis, some will tell you how Europe is their biggest trading partner, how they love going on holiday there and of their many ancestral family connections.

Yet many also say they see Europe as a source of anti-Semitism, a place where the Holocaust is becoming less prominent in the minds of a new generation of young people.

And many also see Europe as a source of what they see as unfair criticism for their government’s policies towards Gaza and the West Bank, coupled with a failure to understand Israel’s existential security threat. […]

Many see it as an organisation that has taken sides in their conflict with the Palestinians, others condemn it for providing aid that sometimes ends up in the hands of groups like Hamas, which the EU regards as a terrorist organisation. […]

This sentiment is fanned by Israel’s recently re-elected prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who before Christmas described the EU as “hostile and hypocritical”.”

Among Israelis, readers were told, “[t]here is little attempt…to understand a European political culture that favours liberal democracy and emphasises human and civil rights”.

Landale also informed BBC audiences that:

“European diplomats take some of this criticism with a pinch of salt and say the EU is a “useful whipping boy” for Israel at a time when it is so close to the Trump administration.”

However Landale made no attempt to delve further into how the generalised opinions he presented may have come about. Had he done so, he could have told BBC audiences about an issue that the corporation has long avoided: the fact that the EU has for years carried out illegal construction at sites in Area C.

Under the terms of the Oslo Accords, Area C is of course under Israeli control and that includes planning permission. The status of the area is, according to that EU backed agreement, subject to final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Nevertheless, a European Commission report from September 2014 openly stated that “the European Union and Palestinian Authority are actively promoting planning and construction in Area C, which, if successful, will pave the way for development and expansion of the Palestinian Authority’s control over Area C.”

Another example of such EU activity has come to light in Gush Etzion.

““Over the course of the past two years, activists from the Arab town of Al Khader, backed by P.A. and European Union funding, occupied the ruins of two ancient shomerot  (watchman’s huts) – primitive stone structures used by passing shepherds or farmers as shelter from the elements—that dot the landscape in the Jerusalem and Sataf areas. They renovated these abandoned structures and turned them into homes – and from that point, in very short order, totally new structures have been added in the surrounding area.”

The signs posted on the refurbished buildings, proudly bearing the European Union emblem, explain that the site is an ancient village – Shoshkhalah – despite the fact that aerial photos paint a completely different picture. In the past two years, more than 15 homes have been built in this “village,” each connected to solar power infrastructure and water tanks paid for by the Europeans.

Analysis of aerial photos from 1967, as well as historic maps dating back to 1880, prove that there was never any settlement of any kind at the site.”

Interestingly, while BBC audiences can by now probably recite the corporation’s mantra on Israeli ‘settlements’ and ‘international law’ by heart, the repeated appearance of Palestinian/EU constructed outposts under the guise of ‘humanitarian assistance’ is not considered newsworthy – even by a senior BBC correspondent purporting to cast light on Israeli attitudes towards Europe.

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Usual mantras in BBC News report on Hizballah designation

A report titled “Hezbollah to be added to UK list of terrorist organisations” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘UK’ and ‘Middle East’ pages on the afternoon of February 25th.

“The UK Parliament is set to pass new rules classifying Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

Parts of the Lebanese organisation have been proscribed since 2001, with its military wing banned since 2008.

UK authorities say they are no longer able to distinguish between the group’s military and political wings.

The changes are expected to take force from Friday, after which supporting Hezbollah will be an offence carrying a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

Hezbollah – translated as the Party of God – is a Shia Islamist political, military and social organisation that wields considerable power in Lebanon.”

Once again BBC audiences saw the terror group described as being “backed by Iran”.

“The group, which is backed by Iran, has sent thousands of its fighters to Syria to support forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in battles against predominantly Sunni Muslim rebel forces and the jihadist Islamic State group.”

That euphemistic portrayal obviously does not contribute to audience understanding of the fact that Iran funds its proxy in Lebanon to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Later on readers found another statement seen frequently in previous BBC content.

“Hezbollah was formed as a resistance movement during the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in the early 1980s.”

The origins of Hizballah actually pre-date the First Lebanon War of June 1982. As the FDD’s Tony Badran has written:

“The big bang theory of Hezbollah that puts the Israeli occupation at the alpha point is based not in fact but in legend​—​it’s an Israel-centric myth that makes the Jewish state Hezbollah’s motivation and prime mover. In reality, the story of Hezbollah’s origins is a story about Iran, featuring the anti-shah revolutionaries active in Lebanon in the 1970s, years before Israel’s intervention.”

Readers are told that:

“Mr Javid’s Israeli counterpart Gilad Erdan welcomed the decision on Twitter and called on the EU to follow suit.”

The Ministry of Public Security which Mr Erdan currently heads is not the equivalent of the UK Home Office and is not the body which designates terror organisations. In Israel that function is the responsibility of the Minister of Defence.

The report also promotes some debatable interpretations of the Home Secretary’s decision from the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent.

As regular readers will be aware, the BBC has spent years cultivating the myth of separate ‘wings’ of Hizballah and downplaying the fact that it is a terrorist organisation through use of euphemisms such as “Lebanese Shia group” or “Lebanese political and military group”.

While we may now expect to see less of the notion of different ‘wings’ of Hizballah in BBC content, it is unlikely that the UK government’s decision to proscribe the whole organisation as a terrorist entity will prompt the BBC to abandon its use of unhelpful terminology such as the phrase “militant group” – as seen in this latest report.

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Coverage of Shimon Peres’ death promotes the BBC’s political narrative

As was to be expected, with the announcement of the death of Israel’s ninth president Shimon Peres on the morning of September 28th came a plethora of BBC reports.

The BBC World Service programme ‘Newsday’ promoted a clip from a 2013 interview (the full version of which was previously discussed here and here) with Peres by Lyse Doucet under the title “Former Israeli President Shimon Peres has died“.peres-on-me-pge

Visitors to the BBC News website found several articles including “Chief rabbi pays tribute to former Israel PM Shimon Peres” and “Shimon Peres: Tributes from around the world“.

In an article by former BBC Jerusalem correspondent Kevin Connolly which also appeared on the BBC News website under the headline “Shimon Peres: Long legacy of Israel’s elder statesman” audiences were told that:

“As times changed over the course of his long political life, Shimon Peres in many ways changed with them.

The man who had been a member of a government that approved the building of Jewish settlements in the territories occupied in the 1967 war came to see them as an obstacle to a peace deal.”

Similar messaging was found in a news report on the website titled “Shimon Peres, former Israeli president, dies aged 93“.

“Once an advocate of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, Mr Peres later became a leading political dove. He often spoke of the need for compromise over territorial demands in Palestinian areas.”

The BBC News website also published an obituary – “Obituary: Shimon Peres, Israeli founding father” – in which readers were again informed that:obit-peres-pic

“Once an advocate of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, Peres became a leading political dove, often speaking of the need for compromise over territorial demands in Palestinian areas.”

The obituary also includes a photograph with the caption: “The former Labour leader advocated territorial compromise in the West Bank”.

The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent James Landale produced a filmed report titled “Shimon Peres: An emigre who became a world statesman” which appeared on the BBC News website in addition to being aired on BBC television. Landale (who appears not to have had any help from the BBC’s pronunciation unit regarding the surname of the person his report is about) told viewers that:lansdale-on-peres

“As a politician he changed his views over time. He was a member of the government that approved the building of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian territory but he came to see them later as an obstacle to peace.”

So are the BBC’s various portrayals of Shimon Peres’ views accurate? Did he favour “territorial compromise” and did he really view “Jewish settlements” as an “obstacle to peace”?

Another item appearing among the BBC News website’s coverage is a recycled filmed report from 2013 by Lyse Doucet from titled “Shimon Peres on turning 90“. There, at around 07:30, Doucet poses the following question:

Doucet: “The Palestinians say that you can’t discuss the land for a Palestinian state while Israel continues to build settlements on it. How do you reconcile that contradiction?”

Peres: “There are solutions to it. First of all, the Palestinians agreed there will be three [settlement] blocs. There, Jewish settlers on the West Bank can remain. That was the proposal introduced by President Clinton. It was right and acceptable.”

Also in 2013 – as the Times of Israel and Ha’aretz reported at the time – Peres clearly rejected the notion of ‘settlements as an obstacle to peace’.

“President Shimon Peres rejected European Union criticism of his country‘s settlement policy during a visit to Brussels on Wednesday, arguing that it did not stand in the way of peace in the Middle East.

EU President Herman Van Rompuy said there would be no sustainable peace until Palestinian aspirations for statehood and sovereignty, and those of Israel for security, were fulfilled by a comprehensive deal based on the two-state solution.

“For these reasons I have recalled the opposition of the European Union to the illegal expansion of settlements,” Van Rompuy said.

But Peres replied that an acceptable solution to the settlement issue had been found years ago, based on a land swap deal with the Palestinians.

“I don‘t take this criticism that, because of the settlements, we lost the chance of implementing the two-state solution,” Peres said, adding that the EU could help to overcome other problems.

The most important difficulty is not settlements but terror,” the Israeli president said. “Take terror out of Gaza and they have a free place, it has nothing to do with Israel.”

“Condemn the Hamas … because they are a center of terror,” Peres said, referring to the movement which controls the Gaza strip. “And Hezbollah the same,” he added.”

Obviously Shimon Peres was of the opinion that “territorial compromise” by both Israelis and Palestinians in the form of land swaps of the kind proposed in the Clinton parameters and the Olmert plan is necessary but he clearly did not regard Jewish communities in Judea & Samaria as an “obstacle to peace” as claimed by the BBC in these reports.  

As has been noted here on numerous occasions, the BBC’s portrayal of the topic of ‘settlements’ regularly fails to inform audiences of the fact that under any realistic scenario, some of the Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria would remain under Israeli control – preferring instead to amplify an adopted political narrative. It is of course highly regrettable that in its coverage of the death of a statesman strongly associated with efforts to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the BBC has distorted his views in order to promote that same narrative.  

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