Fatah disinformation goes unchallenged on the BBC World Service

On December 28th the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ – presented by James Menendez – included an interview (from 00:51 here) with Israel’s education minister Naftali Bennett.

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

Menendez: “…when President Trump announced that his administration was recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv it marked the end of decades of American policy in the Middle East. He said it was only a recognition of reality but the status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest issues in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians: so sensitive that it’s always been put to one side during 40 [sic] years of US brokered peace efforts. The rest of the world has never recognised Israel’s occupation of the eastern part of the city. The Palestinians want it as the capital of a future state. For the vast majority of Israeli Jews a unified Jerusalem is the eternal capital of a Jewish state. So does President Trump’s move signal the final death knell for an already moribund peace process? Is the two-state solution a thing of the past? Well with me in the studio is Israel’s education minister Naftali Bennett – leader of the right-wing religious Jewish Home party that’s in coalition with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. […] Is the two-state solution then dead in the water following this declaration?”

Having mentioned what he described as the “terror state” in the Gaza Strip, Naftali Bennett – whose party currently holds eight of the 120 seats in the Knesset – laid out his view of a scenario in which “the Palestinians govern themselves from almost all aspects barring an army”.

Bennett: “So we’re talking about an entity where they will have their own government, their own parliament, their own elections, their own tax system. […] And they would govern themselves but it’s less than a state in the sense that they don’t have their own military.”

Bennett also spoke about Jerusalem, stating that “no peace that is predicated on dividing Jerusalem could ever work” and the significance of Jerusalem in Jewish culture, religion and history.

An edited version of that interview was also aired later on the same day in the evening version of the same programme (from 30:00 here) which was presented by Julian Marshall using the same ‘death of the two-state solution’ theme.

Following that (from 35:57 here) Marshall introduced another interviewee.

Marshall: “And we played that interview to Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad – international spokesman for President Abbas’ Fatah party. What did he make of Mr Bennett’s comments?”

Abu Zayyad: “Well Naftali Bennett is known as a fanatic national religious leader who’s coming from a stream in Israel that denies the fact that there is a Palestinian people. He speaks about history and about God’s promises for [unintelligible]. Fortunately for him the Palestinians take this case as a case in which we want a secular state. If he were into a religious war he would have to face one million [sic] and a half Muslims coming to fight for the third most holiest place for them religiously. Mr Bennett says that Jerusalem was not mentioned in the Koran one time. God mentioned it in our Koran by naming the Aqsa mosque itself. But in our context we do not talk about Jerusalem [unintelligible] all the Palestinians from the religious side as he does…”

Marshall made no effort to ask Abu Zayyad whether or not Hamas agrees with his claim that Palestinians want “a secular state” or to inform listeners of the many examples of Palestinian Authority and Fatah use of religiously themed rhetoric when they “talk about Jerusalem”. Abu Zayyad went on:

Abu Zayyad: “…and we take it more towards our human rights and international law demands and requirements. Israel is isolated when 14 countries in the [UN] Security Council votes against the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. East Jerusalem has 350,000 Palestinians living without a nationality until now because of the apartheid system that Israel applies to them. I’m one of those Palestinians. We do not have a passport. We don’t vote and we are not protected by law.”

Failing to challenge Aby Zayyad’s use of the apartheid smear or to clarify to BBC audiences that Arab permanent residents of East Jerusalem have the right to apply for Israeli citizenship and that even those who chose not to exercise that option have the same rights as other residents (including voting in municipal elections and being “protected by law”) with the exception of voting in national elections, Marshall continued:

Marshall: “If you say that your claim to East Jerusalem is not based on religion, what is it based on?”

Listeners then heard an egregious distortion of history that likewise went completely unchallenged by the BBC presenter.

Abu Zayyad: “It’s based on the fact that 650 years ago…in 650 years BC Palestinians arrived to this country and they have been here while the Jewish people arrived actually 350 years BC. They have been living in this land for a long, long time and at the moment at 2017 if you look at the population that is living in East Jerusalem you’re talking about 350,000 Palestinians living in it, working in it and trying to get their rights. We want equality on rights so like any other people we want either sovereignty or equality. Either you give us a state of our own – with East Jerusalem which is part of the Palestinian lands that were occupied at 1967 when Israel went into war – or you simply go to the other option which is one state with equality and basic rights that include voting and a democratic system for everyone on the historical lands of Palestine from the sea to the river.”

Making no effort to clarify to listeners that the relevant part of Jerusalem and Judea & Samaria were never “Palestinian lands” and that they were in fact occupied by Jordan for 19 years until that country elected to attack Israel in 1967, Marshall continued:

Marshall: “But what Mr Bennett seems to have in mind for the Palestinians is simply a geographical entity where you will be able to govern yourselves and collect taxes but will fall far short of statehood. But that clearly is not acceptable.”

Abu Zayyad: “For us who is Bennett at all to decide for us how to rule ourselves? Bennett is simply a fanatic extreme Israeli leader who calls…”

Marshall [interrupts]: “But does he…but does he speak for the Israeli government do you think?”

Abu Zayyad: “He speaks for an extreme right Israeli government that calls for death penalty for Palestinian prisoners, for expelling Palestinians to Gaza and to Jordan to live there instead of their houses in the West Bank and to build more settlements against the international law in Palestinian lands that are occupied in 1967. For us, actually, his words condemn him because it shows that [what] he wants to choose for the Palestinians is an apartheid system.”

Yet again making no effort to question Abu Zayyad’s ‘apartheid’ slur or his false claim that the Israeli government calls for “expelling Palestinians”, Marshall closed the interview there.

As we see the Fatah spokesman was given free rein to promote his falsehoods and propaganda completely unchallenged from the BBC World Service stage. Rather than providing “impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them” as the BBC is obliged to do, this item in fact actively hindered audience understanding of the topic under discussion with its unquestioned amplification of  disinformation.

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Four BBC radio reports on the same topic promote politicised themes

Listeners to BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service radio recently heard four different radio reports on the same topic.  The maker of those reports, Linda Pressly, described one of them as “a different window on the region” – but is that actually the case?

In fact, all four of those reports repeated politicised themes frequently seen in BBC content.

One of those themes is promotion of the umbrella term ‘occupied West Bank’ without any distinction being made between the places under complete Palestinian Authority control (Area A), those where the PA administers civilian life and Israel is responsible for security (Area B) and those under Israeli administration (Area C) – as laid out in the Oslo Accords agreement signed by Israel and the Palestinians.

The first of Pressly’s reports about Arabian horses was aired on November 25th in the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent”. Presenter Kate Adie told listeners (from 12:22 here) that:

“In the occupied West Bank though, among ordinary Palestinians, there’s been a resurgence of interest in these horses.”

In that report, Pressly visited two locations: Al Bireh – in Area A and under complete PA control since 1994 – and Anata in Area B.

The second report was broadcast on November 30th in an edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’. Presented James Menendez’s introduction (from 18:00 here) included both use of the term ‘occupied West Bank’ and another increasingly seen theme: portrayal of Israeli Arabs as “Palestinian Israelis”.

“In the occupied West Bank equestrian sport has been growing in popularity over the past decade and the breeding of Arabian horses […] is a passion shared by both Jewish and Palestinian Israelis as well as those who live in the West Bank…”

In that report Pressly visited Silwan in Jerusalem which she described as follows:

“The area known as Silwan by Palestinians and as the City of David by Jewish Israelis tumbles down the hillside in East Jerusalem. It’s one of the most heavily contested parts of this city…”

Pressly also visited a riding centre in Jericho – located in Area A and also under complete PA control since 1994. Despite that fact, listeners heard a young show-jumper say that:

“My goal is to represent Palestine and tell people that we’re there, we can do things while we are occupied, that we don’t give up.”

Also on November 30th, listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Crossing Continents’ heard a much longer version of the same report – titled ‘Pride, Passion and Palestinian Horses’ – in which Pressly’s “journey in the occupied West Bank”, as she termed it, included visits to Al Bireh (Area A), “East Jerusalem”, Anata (Area B), Turmus Ayya (Area B) and Hebron (Area A).

“In the West Bank hundreds of families share a passion for breeding horses. Amid the narrow streets and cramped apartment buildings small stables can be found with owners grooming beautiful Arabian colts and fillies. These new breeders are now making their mark at Israeli horse shows where competition to produce the best in breed is intense. As Palestinian and Israeli owners mingle on the show ground, political differences are put to one side as they share a passion for the Arabian horse.
For Crossing Continents, Linda Pressly follows one Palestinian owner and his colt as they navigate their way through Israeli checkpoints to the next big event in the Israeli Kibbutz of Alonim. Winning best in show is the plan but will they even get there?”

As can be seen from that synopsis, another theme promoted in this report and in the very similar one broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Assignment on November 30th and December 3rd was that of “Israeli checkpoints”.

Early on in the report (06:53), Pressley told listeners that in what she calls the West Bank, “the geography’s complicated; carved up as it is between the Palestinian Authority and Israeli control and punctuated by Israeli military checkpoints”.

During her visit to Anata, listeners heard her local fixer say that since the second Intifada “the Israelis are not allowed to come into Palestinian areas” but no explanation was given.

At 12:04 listeners heard Pressly’s sketchy portrayal of the paperwork needed for the horse breeder from Turmus Ayya – Ashraf Rabi – to show his horses in Kibbutz Alonim in the Galilee district.

Pressly: “To go to Alonim in Israel from the West Bank through one of the military checkpoints his horses need certificates issued by the Israel Arabian Horse Society. And Israel is closed to Palestinians from the West bank with no travel or work permit.”

Rabi: “As I’m a Palestinian so sometimes they don’t give me permit to go. Sometimes my horse doesn’t pass because the soldier who’s on the checkpoint he will return the horse back. […]

Whether or not those “certificates” needed by the horses include medical/vaccination paperwork was not made clear and so listeners were left with the inaccurate impression that passage through crossings between PA controlled areas and Israel depends on the caprice of those staffing them.

Pressly later introduced another element into the checkpoints theme:

Pressly: “Ashraf Rabi’s anxiety about Israeli checkpoints is shared by the Palestinian horse owning community and it’s compounded by the absence of specialised veterinary facilities and equine vets on the West bank, especially if there’s a medical emergency.”

She then visited a person in Hebron identified only by his first name – ‘Rashad’ – and listeners heard a story concerning his horse, Burak.

Pressly: “At the age of four Burak developed colic. He needed an operation. The only option was to get him to a hospital in Israel.”

Rashad [translated]: “We ordered a horse-box, got to the checkpoint. The horse-box waited six to eight hours and they wouldn’t allow him to go to the hospital. I asked them at the checkpoint why aren’t you allowing him to go? He has his papers, everything is correct. They wouldn’t. So I called the hospital. An Israeli vet he came and he took him to the hospital.”

Pressly: “It was too late. Burak died as he arrived at the hospital.”

The possibility that it was not the horse’s paperwork – but rather than of the person accompanying it – that was problematic was not raised. Pressly continued:

Pressly: “Israel’s restriction on free movement is a source of huge antipathy among West Bankers – not just horse owners. For Israel, insecurity and the recent wave of killings of Israeli soldiers and civilians by Palestinians in attacks at checkpoints justify the constraints. In 2015 the National Arabian Horse Show in Alonim was cancelled at the height of what’s been called the stabbing intifada. As far as we know, Burak’s the only horse to die after being held at a checkpoint.”

Remarkably, that highlighted sentence was Pressly’s sole attempt to explain to listeners why security measures are necessary at crossings and checkpoints – and it even misled listeners by claiming that Palestinian attacks during the past two years took place “at checkpoints” and implying that security measures commenced relatively recently. Listeners heard nothing whatsoever about the Palestinian violence during the second Intifada that actually made such security measures necessary and the word ‘terror’ was – predictably – completely absent from all of her reports.

In all four of her reports Pressly told BBC audiences that “love for Arabian horses trumps the divided politics of this troubled region”. More is the pity then that Pressly deviated from reporting on those animals and the people who raise them and ventured into just such politics by promoting well-worn, context-free, politicised themes seen all too often in BBC content.

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part two

The second part (see part one here) of the ‘Newshour‘ Balfour Declaration centenary special that was aired on BBC World Service radio on November 2nd began (from 30:04 here) with a reading of the declaration itself after a short introduction from presenter James Menendez.

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

Menendez: “Now to our main story today: the centenary of the Balfour Declaration – the statement by the British government pledging support for the creation of a homeland for Jews.

Menendez then introduced his next guest:

Menendez: “Well let’s get the Palestinian perspective on that declaration and its legacy. I’ve been speaking to Ahmad Khalidi, a former Palestinian negotiator, now senior associate member of St Antony’s College, Oxford University. What does he think the motivation for the deal was?”

Khalidi began by promoting the theme of ‘colonialism’ that appears regularly in Palestinian Authority and PLO messaging.

Khalidi: “There were a number of things. The first was clear British imperial interests in establishing a colony which the British would control and who they believed would be populated by a friendly Jewish Zionist population. The second was to keep the French out because the French had competing interests in the Levant and third was to gain the support of world Jewish communities, particularly in the United States as the British were interested in getting the Americans to come into the war. So they thought that if they could do this then the Jews all over the world would support the British and the allies in the war.”

Menendez: “But was there no humanitarian motivation – the desire to give the Jewish people a homeland given the level – even at that stage – of persecution in Europe even before the Holocaust?”

Khalidi: “Yes there was but it wasn’t matched by any sympathy or understanding for the fact the population of Palestine was 90% Arab – both Muslim and Christian. Second, that this population was not consulted and third that the terms of the Balfour Declaration set up no parity between the two. Balfour decided – or the declaration says – that Jews can have a national home in Palestine and recognises them as a people with national rights but it only refers to the Palestinians as the non-Jewish communities. Balfour made it very clear; he says the Zionist movement has far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit the land.”

Khalidi’s misrepresentation of the context that statement by Balfour conceals from listeners that it was actually made two years after the Balfour Declaration was issued in a memorandum addressing the question of the selection of mandatories in various regions of the Middle East and referred specifically to the debate at the time about consulting the inhabitants of the Middle East with regard to that specific question.

Menendez: “But did everyone think that though? I mean that wasn’t how it was sold to the people at the time. Weren’t there those who felt that both things were possible? That the Jewish people could have their homeland and the Arabs living there also could have a future?”

Khalidi: “Well yes; a future but you know as I keep saying this is a land that had been populated for 1,400 years by an Arab people and that the British, who were not in control of Palestine, decided that the best thing would be to hand it over to somebody else – who was not there!”

Rather than clarifying to listeners that by the time the Balfour Declaration was written Jerusalem had had a majority Jewish population for more than half a century and that Jewish communities had existed in additional towns such as Tsfat, Hebron and Tiberias for centuries, Menendez put his own wind into the sails of Khalidi’s political narrative.

Menendez: “So sort of giving away something that wasn’t theirs to give away.”

Khalidi: “They weren’t even in control of it at the time. It wasn’t theirs to give away and somebody else was there who had as much – if not more – of a claim to the land than anybody else. The Arabs were there for 1,400 years continuously, regardless of who was there before. These were the people of the land; the natives. And they were completely ignored.”

Menendez: “And in fact Winston Churchill came up with this phrase, didn’t he, ‘I don’t agree that the dog in the manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time’.”

That statement by Churchill of course dates from twenty years after the Balfour Declaration and according to Sir Martin Gilbert’s book “Churchill and the Jews” was made in the framework of the 1937 Peel Commission which recommendation partition of Palestine into two separate states – one Jewish and one Arab: a plan that was unanimously rejected by the Arabs. That information of course does not fit it with Khalidi’s narrative of denial of the national rights of Arabs and therefore unsurprisingly listeners were told nothing of that context.

Khalidi: “Isn’t that extraordinary? Frankly, I mean, Theresa May thinks that this is a day to celebrate with pride. I think it’s a day when the British government should hang its head in shame. It’s a day that reveals an extent of duplicity, a lack of concern for the natives of the land. OK you can say that this was the spirit of imperialism at the time. Maybe. But it doesn’t make it any better from the Palestinian point of view.”

Menendez: “But it also gave refuge to the Jews who’d been persecuted for hundreds of years. Surely that is a good thing with the benefit of hindsight?”

Khalidi: “If that could have been done in such a way that it was a consensual act where the Palestinian Arabs and the Jews had come together and agreed on a formula by which this would be mutually acceptable, that would have been wonderful. But the fact is that this is not what happened. We were not recognised as a people with national rights and to a very large extent this is still the case today.”

Refraining from asking Khalidi to clarify why those national rights were not recognised – or demanded – when the Palestinian Arabs were living under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, Menedez went on:

Menendez: “And isn’t the problem at the moment that there are loud voices on both sides of the conflict who do not believe that the other side should have any right to that land – both on the Israeli side and Palestinian side?”

Khalidi: “Yes, I mean, you know, we have a formula that’s been around for decades. The sad thing is that whereas the international community put its weight behind the Balfour Declaration and the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, there’s never been a similar international line-up that has made any difference in terms of creating a national home or a state for the Palestinians in what remains of Palestine.”

Had Menendez been playing the role of impartial interviewer rather than facilitator of the amplification of a specific political narrative he would of course have reminded Khalidi – and his listeners – that in 1947 an “international line-up” offered the Palestinians the chance of their own state in the form of the Partition Plan but that it too was rejected by both the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab states. However, Menendez closed the conversation with Khalidi at that point and went on instead to describe to listeners Palestinian media coverage of the centenary before introducing his final interviewee as “the view from Jerusalem”.

Menendez: “…I spoke to Michaela Sieff [Ziv] – her grandmother Rebecca founder of the Women’s International Zionist Organisation [WIZO]. She told me first about her grandmother’s role in those years leading up to the creation of the State of Israel.”

While Ms Sieff’s account was interesting in itself, it did not counter the historical revisionism previously promoted by Khalidi and Menendez who, when told of Rebecca Sieff’s work with Jewish women and children in Palestine asked:

Menedez: “So concern for them. Was she worried at all do you know about what would happen to the Arab inhabitants of Palestine?”

His final question steered listeners back to the theme dominating the entire item:

Menendez: “And what do you think now? I mean can you understand Ahmad Khalidi who we’ve just heard from, you know, his feelings of betrayal, feelings of resentment that Britain betrayed the Palestinians with the Balfour Declaration?”

Obviously this ‘Newshour’ special not only did very little indeed to contribute to audience understanding of the topic of the Balfour Declaration but its blatant promotion of a partisan political narrative based on historical revisionism failed to meet the BBC’s professed  standards of accuracy and impartiality.

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More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part one

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BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

 

 

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

Like its Radio 4 counterpart ‘Today’, the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ aired a Balfour Declaration centenary special on November 2nd.

“A century since the British government letter which endorsed a Jewish homeland. The current Lord Balfour reflects on what drove his ancestor and we hear from a Palestinian and an Israeli.”

The first part of that broadcast (from 00:65 here) was introduced by presenter James Menendez using very obvious framing. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Menendez: “Well our main story today is events marking a hundred years since the Balfour Declaration. This short statement contained in a letter from Britain’s then foreign secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, was a pledge of support for a national home in Palestine for the Jewish people. In London tonight there’ll be a big dinner hosted by the Prime Minister Theresa May welcoming her Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu. A moment of pride, says the British government. But for Palestinians it’s a moment of anger, a reminder of what they see as a betrayal – the failure to stick to a promise also contained in the statement: not to – quote – prejudice the civil and religious rights of non-Jews. In a moment we’ll hear from Arthur Balfour’s descendent the current Lord Balfour but first this report from our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

Listeners then heard a slightly edited version of the report by Bateman aired earlier in the day on Radio 4, including its inaccurate references to ‘dispossession’, its odd portrayal of the Mandate for Palestine and its misrepresentation of the Balfour Declaration as referring to “rights” in general rather than specifically “civil and religious rights”. Interestingly, the part of that report in which Israeli historian and MK Dr Michael Oren pointed out that “the national aspirations of Arabs were widely realised in places like Syria and Iraq” was edited out of this version.

Following that, Menendez spoke to Lord Roderick Balfour, asking him first about his childhood memories of the Balfour Declaration before posing the question:

Menendez: “And what are your reflections now a hundred years on? I mean was it a grave mistake do you think with the benefit of…the wonderful benefit of hindsight?”

After Lord Balfour had described his ancestor’s letter as an “incredibly humanitarian gesture” citing the Holocaust, Russian pogroms and the persecution of Jews “all over the place” – including in Arab lands – Menendez remarked:

Menendez: “It wasn’t even Britain’s gift to give then because it was still under Ottoman control more or less, wasn’t it?”

He later went on to falsely imply that there is a consensus on the topic of one part of the Balfour Declaration while – as was the case across the board in BBC coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary – ignoring the same text’s statement that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice […] the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.

Menendez: “And yet there is this second half of it that, you know, sometimes forgotten. This line about it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine. And clearly the thinking now is that hasn’t been honoured, that part.”

With Lord Balfour having made his views amply clear in the past, there can be no doubt that neither Menendez nor the programme producers who invited him would have been surprised by his response.

Balfour: “Yes, I think my views on that are very well-known and I’m not popular with certain sections of the Jewish community precisely because I adhere to the fact that a lot of the actions really do go against that tenet of the declaration. And I would also say in that, you know, you have soft language like sympathy, best endeavours. I mean these are not promises; these are pretty woolly terms. But that sentence – it being clearly understood – that is a very strong…the tone changes when it goes into that.”

Menendez closed the interview with promotion of the bizarre notion that the British people should have some sort of collective ‘feeling’ about a letter written a century ago.

Menendez: “Just one final thought about how Britain and British people should feel about it. I think the Prime Minister Theresa May has spoken of – rather than celebration – I think she spoke of pride. I mean is that how Britain should feel about the declaration now? Should we feel proud of what was written down then, what was declared?”

The second part of this programme’s Balfour Declaration centenary special will be discussed in part two of this post.

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More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part two

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BBC’s Israel-Al Jazeera row reporting displays double standards – part two

As was noted in part one of this post, BBC News website reporting on the Israeli government’s intention to bar Al Jazeera from reporting and broadcasting in Israel failed to provide any examples of the incitement broadcast by the network that prompted that move – in sharp contrast to its coverage of a recent similar case in the UK.  

The story was also covered in the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on August 6th with presenter James Menendez introducing the item (from 38:30 here) as follows:

Menendez: “The Israeli government says it wants to take the Qatar funded broadcaster Al Jazeera off the air. The move was announced by the country’s communications minister Ayoub Kara at a news conference in Jerusalem today.”

Listeners then heard a voice-over translation of a small part of the minister’s statement.

Voice-over: “We have identified media outlets that do not serve freedom of speech but endanger the security of Israel’s citizens and the main instrument has been Al Jazeera which has actually caused us to lose the best of our sons and has been the source of incitement.”

Menendez: “So what exactly did he mean and why now? Questions for our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

Those two questions are obviously crucial to audience understanding of the story but did Tom Bateman actually provide any answers?

Bateman: “The communications minister in this press conference today said that it was about a long-running dispute that they have with the network, accusing it of inciting violence – he said – siding with extremist organisations. And this has been a refrain we’ve heard from the Israeli government repeatedly; not least from the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu who last month launched an outspoken attack on the network. He said that it was inciting violence, particularly around the recent security crisis over the holy site of Haram al Sharif – Temple Mount – in the old city of Jerusalem. Now this was a particularly violent episode that lasted a couple of weeks and the prime minister had effectively suggested that the network’s reporting of that event – the events surrounding it – was leading people to violent attacks or at least suggesting that they carry them out.”

Failing to provide any examples of such incitement or to clarify the term “extremist organisations”, Bateman then swiftly moved on to the technicalities.

Bateman: “I mean the specific measures being suggested this afternoon are that the Israeli government will seek to force cable and satellite providers to block the signal in Israel and also to revoke the press accreditation – the press cards – for Al Jazeera reporters in Israel, which will effectively make it impossible for them to work here. The network itself has been covering this extensively today and recently its bureau chief in Jerusalem said that in effect Israel and its prime minister was siding with Arab autocratic states who similarly had sought to ban the network.”

Menendez: “Yeah, that was gonna be my next question. Is this Israel just doing it for its own reasons or is it acting – perhaps not in conjunction – but at least siding with those countries who’ve been demanding that Qatar shut Al Jazeera down? And I’m thinking of course of, you know, countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.”

Bateman: “Well certainly that would be the view of the network itself who’s, you know, have said that amid this furious diplomatic rift between a number of Sunni Arab states – including Saudi Arabia and Egypt – and Qatar, which of course funds Al Jazeera, that they believe Israel is simply siding with them because it’s politically convenient to do so. I mean its editor also pointed out what he called was the irony of Al Jazeera being one of the very few media networks in the Middle East that is prepared to air, you know, Israeli voices – Israeli government voices – and yet they believe that a self-proclaimed functioning democracy has sided with dictatorships, as he put it.”

Listeners then heard the following garbled portrayal of the core story which obviously did nothing to inform listeners about the kind of incitement broadcast by Al Jazeera and also confused bias and one-sided reporting with the very serious issue of incitement.  

Bateman: “I think the Israeli government view will be simply that it’s had enough and in their view they, well, believe, you know, particularly the Arabic facing service they believe has, you know, been biased against Israel. They will say it’s failed to give, you know, sufficient credence to the Israeli argument – the Israeli side of arguments – in these situations and therefore that that is, you know, that incitement is so serious that it merits closure.”

Bateman went on, returning to the technical topics with which he is clearly more comfortable:

Bateman: “Having said all of that, this will have to go through the Israeli parliament and that may be easier said than done because I, you know, particularly with the desire to block transmissions, that it likely to require parliamentary approval so there’s no time scale on this. It is simply at the moment a desire of intent.”

Menendez: “And just to be clear, is it both the Arabic and English networks?”

Bateman could at this point have clarified the significant differences between Al Jazeera’s English language and Arabic language content but declined to do so.

Bateman: “Well certainly they both operate from…they have correspondents of both language services in Israel – in Jerusalem – and so I think the assumption must be that it will be…will be both. I don’t think, you know, the Israeli government sees a distinction.”

As with the BBC News website’s written article, this report failed to adequately explain the story to audiences because it refrained from providing them with any examples of the kind of incitement that is at its core. That editorial policy turns the story into no more than a list of competing claims which audiences then have to judge for themselves without the benefit of factual information. Clearly that approach does not meet the BBC’s remit of providing “accurate and impartial news […] so that audiences can engage fully with issues” and it stands in sharp contrast to its own reporting of the recent similar story concerning the closure of a UK radio station on the grounds of incitement. 

Related Articles:

BBC’s Israel-Al Jazeera row reporting displays double standards – part one

Al Jazeera English (CAMERA)

Al-Jazeera America (CAMERA)

Looking back at the sourcing behind BBC reports on Qatar – part two 

BBC WS’s ‘Newshour’ continues the promotion of a myth

The afternoon and evening editions of the January 15th BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – both presented by James Menendez – included coverage of the Paris conference which took place that day.  

Menendez’ introduction to that lead item in the afternoon edition (from 00:87 here) steered listeners towards inaccurate conclusions regarding the absence of Israeli and Palestinian participants in that conference by failing to clarify that neither party had been invited.newshour-15-1-afternoon

“But first to that big international meeting being held in Paris right now to try to resuscitate the moribund Middle East peace process. More than 70 countries are taking part but the fact that the two protagonists – Israel and the Palestinians – aren’t, well it tells you everything you need to know about the scale of the task ahead and in particular, the task of reviving the idea of a solution based on two states living side by side in peace. It’s 23 years since the signing of the so-called Oslo Peace Accords but a Palestinian state looks like a more remote prospect now than then.”

After listeners heard archive recordings relating to the Oslo Accords and following a clip from John Kerry’s speech in late December, Menendez introduced his first interviewee [from 03:50] – PA Minister of Education Sabri Saydam.

Menendez: “Well today’s conference in Paris is aimed precisely at restarting an international commitment to that two-state solution. But will it make any difference at all? Well let’s hear now from both sides and first, the Palestinians; presumably they welcome the fact that this conference is taking place. Sabri Saydam is a senior official in Fatah, the Palestinian party that controls the West Bank.”

Listeners then heard Saydam claim that all Palestinians support the two-state solution.

Saydam: “For every Palestinian this is a recipe for consensus and this is a reflection on the will of the international community and this is a reminder both to the American administration that the UN resolutions would have to be upheld and for Israel that the end of occupation is imminent.” [emphasis added]

That obviously inaccurate claim was not challenged by Menendez either at that point or later, when Saydam went on to suggest that all Palestinians believe that “the two-state solution is the only workable formula”.

Menendez: “Does it make any difference though?”

Saydam: “Maybe not for the Israeli government that exists right now; the right-wing government that believes in the policy of expansion of settlements and believes in the continuation of the occupation. Yet for Palestinians it makes a world of difference. Remember, this comes after a few weeks of the decision taken by the Security Council deeming settlements – Israeli settlements – as illegal. So for Palestinians this is a reassurance that the two-state solution is the only workable formula.” [emphasis added]

The interview continued with questions from Menendez on topics including the new American administration and the possible relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem and with Saydam promoting the narrative – unquestioned by his host – according to which the Palestinians support a two-state solution but are thwarted by Israel.newshour-15-1-evening

An abridged version of that interview – including the above unchallenged statements – was also broadcast [from 26:38 here] in the evening edition of ‘Newshour’ on the same day.

The BBC knows perfectly well that Hamas (together with additional Palestinian factions) does not seek a negotiated peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. In its own profile of the terrorist organisation the BBC writes:

“Hamas is designated a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US, EU, Canada and Japan due to its long record of attacks and its refusal to renounce violence. Under the group’s charter, Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel. […]

Hamas came to prominence after the first intifada as the main Palestinian opponent of the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). […]

Hamas resisted all efforts to get it to sign up to previous Palestinian agreements with Israel, as well as to recognise Israel’s legitimacy and to renounce violence.

Hamas’s charter defines historic Palestine – including present-day Israel – as Islamic land and it rules out any permanent peace with the Jewish state.”

Nevertheless, in all its recent reporting of UNSC resolution 2334 and the Paris conference the BBC has framed the story as being about a “moribund”, “fading” two-state solution which is endangered primarily by Israeli construction of housing units in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem.

Not once in all that generous coverage have BBC audiences been reminded that when last given the chance to vote eleven years ago, 44.45% of Palestinians supported the party which rejects outright the option of peace with Israel. Neither have they been told that a recent opinion poll suggests that if elections were held today, Hamas would gain around a third of the votes.

Instead – as this example yet again shows – the BBC repeatedly promotes the myth that support for the two-state solution is a matter of consensus among Palestinians.  While that myth certainly helps shore up its chosen narrative on the issue of the peace process, it obviously does not contribute to the BBC’s remit of building “global understanding” concerning the range of factors preventing the two-state solution from becoming reality.

 

A worldwide platform for incitement from BBC Arabic’s Nawal Assad

In addition to the written report discussed in a previous post, the rioting on Temple Mount on September 13th was also the subject of a radio report (available here from 26:35) broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on that day.AAM 13 9 Newshour

Presenter James Menendez introduced the item as follows:

“Now there have been clashes today in Jerusalem between Palestinian youths and the Israeli police. The violence broke out at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City – the scene of many confrontations in the past between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims. And that’s because this large complex is home to sites revered by both religions. [recorded sound] Well that’s the sound of stun grenades fired by the Israeli police as they moved into the compound, confronted – they say – by Palestinians who’d barricaded themselves inside, throwing stones and fire crackers. Well Nawal Assad is BBC Arabic’s correspondent in Jerusalem; so what exactly happened?”

Listeners then heard the following inaccurate and partisan account from Nawal Assad: [all emphasis in bold added]

“The clashes erupted this morning following the morning prayers in what Palestinian Muslims call Al Aqsa Mosque, which is their holiest place in the city and what Jews believe it to be the Temple Mount. Police clashed with these worshippers after the morning prayers because the police says that a group of Palestinian youths barricaded in the mosque against the orders of the Israeli police and the Israeli Ministry of Defence few days ago and the worshippers started throwing stones at the police and they responded by firing rubber bullets and tear gas at the mosque.”

As we see, in addition to downgrading history and archaeology to a matter of Jewish belief, Assad misrepresented the rioters as “worshippers” and avoided any mention of their premeditated plan to disrupt visits to the site on Rosh Hashana eve whilst at the same time concealing their amassing of pipe bombs and additional materials intended to be used as weapons in the mosque. She also failed to inform audiences fully regarding the recent banning of two groups of paid Islamist agitators (consistently unacknowledged by the BBC) at the site. Assad then continued with promotion of flagrant falsehoods.

“Palestinians say that more than 600 visitors entered the mosque following the morning prayers. Many of them are Jews led by the Israeli agriculture minister Uri Ariel who has been calling recently many Jews to visit that area and pray in the Muslim site because they believe that the Temple Mount lies beneath that mosque. So many Jews heeded these calls and participated in this visit this morning.”

With Assad having told listeners just moments earlier that “clashes erupted this morning following the morning prayers” listeners would have been highly likely to take her subsequent claim that “visitors entered the mosque following the morning prayers” to mean that those visits sparked the violence. Her claim that “600 visitors entered the mosque” is clearly inaccurate: non-Muslim visitors to Temple Mount do not go into Al Aqsa Mosque.

Assad failed to tell listeners that the Jews visiting the site on that particular day were beginning celebration of a major holiday, instead leading them to believe that the visitors were ‘heeding calls’ from an Israeli minister. She clearly does not know the difference between the site of the ancient Temple and Temple Mount and her claim that Jews believe that the Temple is located underneath Al Aqsa Mosque are inaccurate and misleading. Whilst Uri Ariel (who did happen to visit Temple Mount on that particular day) has advocated for equal prayer rights for members of all religions on Temple Mount, Assad’s portrayal of Temple Mount as an exclusively “Muslim site” and her failure to clarify that it is the holiest site in Judaism prevented listeners from understanding the issue correctly.

Menendez then asked:

“What is the situation when it comes to access at the moment? Perhaps you could just describe the site and when it is that each group can go – or can anyone go whenever they like?”

The geographically challenged Nawal Assad said:

“There is more than 140 dunams which is a massive area of land.”

Of course the entire Old City of Jerusalem is built on an area of less than one square kilometre and in fact Temple Mount measures 488 meters along its west side, 470 meters along its east side, 315 meters along its north side and 280 meters along its south side: hardly “a massive area of land”. Nawal Assad then gave unqualified amplification to a narrative which is as historically inaccurate as it is politically motivated:

“Palestinian Muslims consider all that compound to be the Al Aqsa Mosque.”

She continued:

“There are about twelve gates. All the twelve gates are manned by guards – Israeli guards and also guards paid actually by the Jordanian government who has the control of the Muslim sites in Jerusalem. Israel has the right to allow or not allow whoever they want to enter into that compound to do prayers. In recent years there has been [sic] rules about dividing the times between Muslims when they can go to pray [and] visitors – as tourists. Since 2013 there has been more visit of Jews who have been seen – and I have seen it myself – who enter from the entrance near the Wailing Wall into the vicinity of the compound and they do like symbolic prayers there. This has been aggravating the situation in the compound itself because Muslim worshippers are against it.”

Neither Assad nor Menendez bothered to inform listeners that non-Muslims are in fact forbidden from praying at the site which is just as significant to them as it is to Muslims and Assad went on to make yet another inaccurate claim.

“The Israeli government seems like it’s going towards a situation where there would be shared times of prayers in that area which Muslims consider it to be their third holiest mosque.”

In fact, the Israeli government has repeatedly stated that it has no intention of changing the status quo at the site.

Menedez then asked a question which clearly misled listeners by implying that the latest round of violence on Temple Mount is connected to the issue of equal prayer rights:

“And are Muslims in Jerusalem firmly against that or is there any appetite for some sort of system to avoid these clashes happening?”

Assad went on to amplify a dangerous and entirely baseless conspiracy theory:

“Muslims in Jerusalem are petrified that Israel plans to rebuild the Temple Mount which means that they will have to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque. Not just Muslims actually, I must say, because there has been [sic] calls from the Muslim-Christian Palestinian Council this morning condemning these visits.”

The item closed as follows:

Menendez: “What’s the situation now? Have things calmed down?”

Assad: “No. Tension is still mounting in that area. About 300 people were marching just about noon here in Jerusalem and they were again dispersed.”

As we see, in addition to failing to provide listeners with anything even approaching the real factual background to this story, Nawal Assad used this item to promote the kind of inaccuracies and conspiracy theories which can have extremely dangerous consequences. Given that this item was broadcast around the entire world, it is all the more egregious for a BBC reporter to be adding the corporation’s stamp of reliability to such inflammatory rumours.

Either Nawal Assad is incompetent or she is exploiting this topic for the amplification of content which can only be described as incitement. Whichever the case, the BBC World Service needs to urgently clarify to its listeners around the world that there is no truth in her claims of impending changes in the status quo on Temple Mount by the Israeli government and no basis for the conspiracy theory concerning the destruction of Al Aqsa Mosque which she so irresponsibly promotes.Nawal Assad

The BBC might also care to note that its reputation as an impartial broadcaster is not enhanced by its Arabic branch’s Jerusalem correspondent’s use of a profile picture including a keffiyah. 

Resources:

BBC World Service – contact details

‘Newshour’ on Twitter

Nawal Assad on Twitter

James Menendez on Twitter

 

BBC WS Gaza disengagement retrospective promotes narrative of equivalence

Anyone searching for BBC coverage of the ten-year anniversary of Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip would have been struck by the absence of content relating to that topic – until now.

On August 15th the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ devoted just over five minutes (from 44:03 here) to a conversation between presenter James Menendez and journalist Anshel Pfeffer which was notable for its selective framing of the topic, its omission of vital context and the astounding fact that the word terrorism did not appear even once.Newshour Gaza disengagement

No historical context to explaining why Israel came to be in control of the previously Egyptian occupied Gaza Strip was evident in Menendez’s introduction but listeners did hear that region characterised as “Palestinian territory”.

James Menendez: “Now it’s exactly ten years since Israeli troops were sent into Gaza to evict settlers who’d refused to leave voluntarily. It was the culmination of then prime minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral decision to withdraw from the Palestinian territory and pull out approximately eight and a half thousand settlers from the Strip along with the 3,000 troops needed to guard them. The surprise move drew both praise and some criticism at the time. So a decade later, how is it perceived in Israel? Anshel Pfeffer writes for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. He’s also the Economist’s Jerusalem correspondent. I asked him first about the pull-out – completed in just a week – and the fact that in the end, there wasn’t much of a backlash.”

Anshel Pfeffer: “That’s very, very true and it was surprisingly quick, surprisingly painless in actual casualties. Obviously the ones who were being evacuated were deeply traumatised – and perhaps the community of settlers and right-wing groups who supported them – but the move proved to be very popular at the time amongst the Israeli public and I think it had 60 or 70% support within the Israeli public.”

That is the only mention of the thousands who lost their homes, communities and livelihoods and even had to exhume their dead: listeners learn nothing of what became of those people or how they have fared in the decade since the disengagement.  Pfeffer’s rather simplistic ‘for or against’ portrayal fails to reflect the trauma and emotional turmoil which gripped much of Israeli society at the time, including many who supported the move itself. Menendez continues:

JM: “And do you think there’s a similar level of support for that move now?”

AP: “No, I think the support has gone down. I still think there’s perhaps around 50% who’d think it was the right thing to do and there certainly is no groundswell of opinion saying Israel’s got to go back there again. But I think because of everything that’s happened  over the last ten years – the military operations, the missiles being fired from Gaza and the Israeli forces going back in again three or four times in ground incursions – I think that’s whittled away a lot of the support. But it’s also mainly because Israelis don’t see right now a credible alternative vis-à-vis the Palestinians; that lowers the support. I think one of the reasons Israelis ultimately did support the pullback ten years ago was Sharon, who was never seen as a left-winger – he was never seen as a pacifist or a limp-wristed politician. The fact that someone like that was saying ‘OK, we’re gonna have to pull back’ gave that a certain credibility among Israelis. And I think the same thing would happen today if a right-wing leader would say ‘OK, we’re gonna have to pull back from parts of the West Bank’, I think once again it would have a lot of support among Israelis, though today if you ask Israelis what they think they’re very sceptical that any pullback will result in calm and peace.”

Pfeffer fails to place the Gaza Strip disengagement within the context of the ‘land for peace’ principle and makes no mention of the pledges Israel received at the time from members of the international community concerning its post-withdrawal security. He is hence unable to adequately explain to listeners what effect the outcomes of that move (and Israel’s previous withdrawal from Southern Lebanon) – including the discovery that those international pledges were meaningless – had on the left-leaning Israeli public’s view of ‘land for peace’. That omission also hinders listener appreciation of the framing of Menedez’s next question.Neve Dekalim 2005

JM: “But if we’re dealing with the simple fact of whether it’s made Israel safer or not – which is it? Are Israelis safer in places like Tel Aviv?”

AP: “The answer is no because in the decade that’s passed the Hamas in Gaza has built a very impressive military infrastructure with missiles capable of hitting Tel Aviv. Even though the missiles aren’t very accurate and don’t carry devastating payload, it’s still something which didn’t exist ten years ago.”

In fact, terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip began staging rocket and mortar attacks in 2001 and so whilst Pfeffer’s claim that missiles capable of hitting targets in Tel Aviv did not exist ten years ago may be correct, Menedez’s framing of the question clearly has the effect of ultimately misleading listeners. The all-important context of Iranian patronage of Hamas’ military infrastructure is erased from audience view and no effort is made to provide crucial background information concerning the number of missile attacks which have taken place since August 2005 or the impact on the lives of the people living closer to the Gaza Strip than in Tel Aviv.

Pfeffer continues with a narrative of equivalence:

AP: “But the question is do you look at the actual disengagement as the cause of what’s happened or everything else that’s been happening in the last ten years? And I think that we have to look at the failure on both the Israeli and the Palestinian side to try and build a different kind of situation in Gaza as the main cause and not the pull back.”

Listeners would of course have benefited at this point had they received some information about Hamas’ ideology concerning the eradication of Israel, but that was not forthcoming and neither did they hear an accurate and impartial portrayal of Hamas’ violent take-over of the Gaza Strip. Menendez continues:

JM: “Hmm…and on that point, has it made Hamas – now in control of Gaza – stronger or weaker?”

AP: “Well it certainly has allowed them space to consolidate their own regime and the main Palestinian power – which is the Palestinian Authority controlled by Fatah – they don’t have any foothold in Gaza any more. So certainly Hamas is stronger within the confines of Gaza. It’s also isolated Hamas and made Hamas an organisation which has power in a pretty small place and that’s it. So you can look at it from either side.”

Failing to mention the years of PA initiated violence which preceded the Israeli decision to disengage from the Gaza Strip, Menendez continues:

JM: “I mean some at the time said it was a brave move because it might unblock what was a blocked peace process. I mean it hasn’t done that at all – has it? Because the peace process is going nowhere.”

AP: “Well it hasn’t done that because there was no follow-up. As you know Sharon slipped into a coma just four months after the pullback and after that Israel had a deeply unpopular president, Ehud Olmert, who was mired both in corruption and in a disastrous war up north in Lebanon and since then we’ve had six years of Binyamin Netanyahu who hasn’t really gone ahead. And the same thing’s happened on the Palestinian side. We’ve seen a split between Fatah and Hamas which hasn’t allowed the Palestinians really to get their act together and the pullback from Gaza could certainly have unblocked that process but everything that’s happened in the ten years since has basically wasted the momentum that could have been created by the pullback.”

Ehud Olmert was of course Israel’s prime minister – not president – and Pfeffer fails to inform audiences that not only was he elected on a platform which included further Israeli disengagement from Judea & Samaria, but that he made an unprecedented offer to the Palestinians in 2008. Likewise, no mention is made of Netanyahu’s ten-month construction freeze in Judea & Samaria – aimed at drawing the PA to the negotiating table – or the ‘goodwill gesture’ of the release of dozens of terrorists during the negotiations in 2013/4 which Mahmoud Abbas scuppered by forming his ‘unity government’ with Hamas. Of course to inform audiences of such facts would have severely jeopardised the narrative of equivalence so cosily promoted by this conversation’s partners.

Menendez then comes up with the following ‘question’, making no effort to inform listeners that the partial blockade was implemented because of Hamas terrorism:

JM: “And some would say an occupation has been replaced by a pretty tough blockade of the Gaza Strip. Are Israelis happy about that?”

AP: “I think most Israelis don’t really want to think about Gaza right now. They want to think that Gaza exists and…”

JM: [interrupts] “They just don’t care.”

AP: “It’s not about they don’t care. It’s…Gaza’s been such a trauma for Israelis. Whether it’s the missiles being fired, whether it’s the pullback, whether it’s the years before that in which the occupation in Gaza was  a rather expensive – in casualties probably more than in money – operation and Israelis said OK we’re going to get out of Gaza and Gaza will somehow do its own thing. What has happened is that neither side has seemed capable of creating any kind of neighbourly relations and also you have to remember that Egypt also plays its…ahm….very ruthless game towards Gaza so it’s remained there, like you say, isolated under blockade and neither side seems capable or really willing to try and find a way out of it.”

Listeners might of course have considered that acts such as providing medical treatment for Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, supplying goods, humanitarian aid and electricity and aiding Gazan farmers and businessmen are very “neighbourly” indeed – had they been told that such things exist.

It takes quite some doing to turn a story in which Israel evacuated thousands of people from their homes and turned over an area to the control of the Palestinian Authority – only to see a dramatic increase in terrorist attacks inside its recognised boundaries – into a narrative of equivalent blame. James Menendez and his guest however managed to pull that off quite spectacularly with the aid of omission of facts, erasure of context, selective framing and an obviously politicised agenda.

In which James Menendez ditches the BBC’s remit for political grandstanding

A pretty good indicator of whether a BBC interviewer’s questions are intended to promote audience “understanding of international issues” or rather designed to grandstand his or her own political messaging is whether or not audiences actually get the chance to hear the answer to the question posed.

Some examples of the unhelpful ‘deliver long statement-cum-question and then interrupt the response’ technique of interviewing were to be found in the July 30th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ when presenter James Menendez hosted Israeli minister Silvan Shalom.Menendez Newshour 30 7

The interview is available here from 35:39 and a segment of it was promoted separately on social media.

Menendez’s simplistic introduction incorrectly suggested to listeners that Israel is intrinsically opposed to an agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme.

JM: “Is there ever likely to be peace between Israel and the Palestinians? The prevailing view is not anytime soon. Certainly the main broker in all this, the United States, seems to have given up a long time ago. Relations between Israel and the Obama White House are fractious at the best of times and anyway the nuclear deal with Iran became the main foreign policy goal for this administration, further antagonising Israel, which is deeply opposed to the agreement. And yet, in the past few days there has been some movement: reports of talks described as secret between Israel’s deputy prime minister and interior minister, Silvan Shalom, and the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat. Well Mr Shalom’s in London today and came into the Newshour studio. So what did they talk about?”

Thirty-six seconds into Silvan Shalom’s answer to that question concerning his reported meeting with Saeb Erekat in Amman, a jaded and impatient sounding Menendez interrupts his interviewee.

JM: “And what are you talking about? Does the current government in Israel believe in a two state solution? Can you clear that up? Because the messages have been very confusing over the past few months.”

Shalom manages to speak twenty words before Menendez interrupts him again.

SS: “The prime minister of Israel said after the election very clear that he’s in favour of a two state solution…”

JM: “And is that what you believe as well? There can be a Palestinian state existing alongside an Israeli state?”

Shalom speaks for 28 seconds before Menendez asks:

JM: “What would a Palestinian state look like though? Would it be a Palestinian state with full sovereignty? Because there have been comments from the Prime Minister in the past that Israel would be reluctant to relinquish security control over the areas west of the River Jordan – in other words on the West Bank. Would the Palestinians be left completely alone to run their state as they see fit?”

Shalom outlines the regional threats and precedents for forty-one seconds and then – as he takes a breath – Menendez jumps in:

JM: “That sounds…that you don’t want to grant them full sovereignty. I mean it sounds like already – before the talks have even started – it’s…it’s creating conditions.”

After Shalom’s reply, Menendez raises the following red herring:

JM: “If you’re serious about peace talks why is Israel still building settlements on occupied territory? Just yesterday the US State department criticised the approval of another – 300, I think it was – homes in the West Bank. That doesn’t send the Palestinians any sort of signal that you are serious and sincere about peace talks, does it?”

Listeners are not told that the terms of the Oslo accords do not include any restrictions on Israeli construction. Neither are they reminded that a ten month-long building freeze in 2009/10 failed to bring the Palestinian Authority to the negotiating table or that the complete dismantlement of all communities in the Gaza Strip and four in Samaria a decade ago failed to advance peace.  Shalom explains that the said 300 housing units in Beit El were already authorised some years ago and eight seconds later, Menendez interrupts again:

JM: “You can look at the map and you can see settlements that have sprung up over the last few years all over the West Bank. How would a Palestinian state (unintelligible) exist with all those settlements?”

Of course the notion that “settlements” have “sprung up over the last few years all over the West Bank” is inaccurate and misleading. Whilst the number of structures and people living inside the existing municipal boundaries of communities has of course grown, the actual number of authorised towns and villages has not increased in the last decade and a half – as Menendez would clearly have his listeners believe.

Ten seconds into Shalom’s reply to that, Menendez poses another ‘question’.Menendez Newshour 30 7 segment

JM: “But you know the argument, which is that you keep peace talks going for as long as you can, for as many years as you can. You keep building…ah…settlements and you never actually reach any sort of peace deal and meanwhile there is more and more Israeli housing on the West Bank and then a [Palestinian] state becomes simply impossible. In other words you’re just stalling and actually this talk about peace negotiations is just a fig leaf.”

Six seconds into Shalom’s reply Menendez interrupts again – not even allowing his listeners to hear the response to his previous allegations before changing the subject.

JM: “Can I just ask you one question on the vote in the Knesset to allow the force feeding of prisoners who may go on hunger strike. Doctors in Israel – the Doctors’ Association – calls it inhumane treatment. It is inhumane, isn’t it, to force feed prisoners on hunger strike?”

Menendez’s next question is as follows:

JM: “Do you feel isolated at the moment? On peace talks for example? You have the EU, the UN, the US all pushing for those talks. Ehm…we’ve had the Iran deal. Israel’s opposed to it. I mean you’re completely out of step with the rest of the world, aren’t you, at the moment?”

Seventeen seconds into Shalom’s reply to that, Menendez interrupts again, bringing in an irrelevant argument also seen in previous BBC programmes and reducing the very serious topic of Iran’s nuclear programme to the level of the trite and absurd.

JM: “Yeah but they [Iran] believe that you’ve got nuclear weapons. Indeed most of the rest of the world believes you’ve got nuclear weapons. Israel’s perfectly able to defend itself against a nuclear armed Iran, isn’t it?”

Throughout this entire seven minute segment listeners hoping to hear some new information on international issues from the perspective of a senior Israeli minister actually only heard him speak for just over one minute more than the person supposedly facilitating the conveyance of that information.

Audiences did however hear Menendez’s unrelenting grandstanding of his own political views (which, interestingly, appear to absolve one party to peace negotiations from all agency or responsibility) and his inaccurate promotion of the notion that new Israeli communities have “sprung up…all over the West Bank”. Apparently the BBC also intends its audiences to adopt the belief that Israeli concerns about the terms of the JCPOA deal with Iran are baseless and unjustified.

Once again the BBC’s own political messaging takes priority over its obligation to enhance “audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues”.

Another breach of editorial guidelines in yet more BBC promotion of ‘Breaking the Silence’

On May 5th the BBC continued its previous day’s promotion of the booklet of anonymous claims published by the political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’ with an additional item on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – available here from 36:28.Newshour 5 5 BtS

Once again, BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality were completely ignored, with no effort made to inform listeners of the group’s pre-existing “particular viewpoint”, “standpoint” or “ideology”. Presenter James Menendez introduced the segment as follows: [emphasis added]

“Now if you were listening to Newshour yesterday you’ll have heard our coverage from Israel about a report by a human rights group called ‘Breaking the Silence’ into the way some Israeli soldiers say they were instructed to behave during last year’s war against Hamas in Gaza. The group gathered the testimonies of more than sixty former and serving soldiers and what they said appears to contradict the government’s insistence that everything was done to avoid killing civilians. Well today we have a response from the Israeli government – we’ll play you that interview in a moment. First though, here’s some of that testimony from a soldier in an armoured brigade who served in the central Gaza Strip – distorted to protect his identity as well as voiced-over in English.”

Throughout his interview with Israeli spokesman Mark Regev, Menendez adopted the role of advocate for the approach of the group he had failed to accurately describe to his listeners and displayed little understanding of the process of investigation of military incidents either in Israel or in other countries.

As Matti Friedman recently wrote on Facebook:

“Professional journalists looking at this report, and at similar reports, should be asking (but aren’t, of course): Compared to what? IDF open-fire regulations are lax – compared to what? Civilian casualty rates are high – compared to what? Compared to the U.S. in Fallujah? The British in Northern Ireland? The Canadians in Helmand Province? “Lax” and “high” are relative terms. If Israel is being compared to other countries in similar situations, we need to know what the comparison is. Otherwise, beyond the details of individual instances the broad criticism is meaningless. […]

Today, like B’Tselem and others, it’s [Breaking the Silence] a group funded in large part by European money which serves mainly to provide international reporters with the lurid examples of Israeli malfeasance that they crave.”

In three reports spread over two days of coverage the BBC has variously described ‘Breaking the Silence’ as an “activist group”, an “advocacy group” and a “human rights group” whilst promoting its claims. Clearly the BBC’s failure to inform its audiences of the very relevant context of the political motivations behind its story’s source means that what BBC audiences have been reading and hearing is activism rather than journalism.