In which BBC Radio 4 re-divides Jerusalem

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on December 15th heard the following (from 05:06 here) in a news bulletin presented by Alan Smith. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Smith: “Australia says it now recognises West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel but it won’t be moving its embassy from Tel Aviv at this stage. The prime minister Scott Morrison has also acknowledged the aspirations of Palestinians for a future state with its capital in East Jerusalem. The divided city, where the Israeli parliament is located, is not internationally recognised as the country’s capital. Phil Mercer reports from Sydney.”

Apparently BBC Radio 4 – along with the BBC’s correspondent in Sydney – is so used to using the politically partisan term “East Jerusalem’ that it has forgotten that although Jerusalem was indeed divided during the nineteen-year period of the unrecognised Jordanian occupation that began in 1948, it was reunited in June 1967.

Mercer: “Australia says it won’t be moving its embassy to West Jerusalem but could do so in the future if the city’s status is finalised under a peace settlement. In October the prime minister Scott Morrison said he found arguments in favour of relocating Australia’s diplomatic presence from Tel Aviv to be persuasive. He denied his comments were an attempt to influence Jewish voters in a by-election in Sydney. There was support from the Israeli government but Palestinian leaders said Australia risked becoming an international pariah. Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been acknowledged internationally. Last December President Trump overturned decades of US neutrality when he recognised the divided city as Israel’s capital, prompting widespread condemnation. The American embassy was moved from Tel Aviv in May.”

In 1990 the US Congress passed a resolution stating that it “acknowledges that Jerusalem is and should remain the capital of the State of Israel”.

Five years later the US Congress passed the ‘Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995’ – a law declaring that “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel; and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.”

In June 1997 the US Congress passed a resolution stating, inter alia, that it “calls upon the President and the Secretary of State to affirm publicly as a matter of United States policy that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of the State of Israel”.

In 2002 the US Congress passed an act in which it declared that “[t]he Congress maintains its commitment to relocating the United States Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and urges the President, pursuant to the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, to immediately begin the process of relocating the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.”

In June 2017 the US Senate unanimously passed a resolution stating that “Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected”.

And yet the BBC’s Sydney correspondent – like many of his colleagues before him – would still have the corporation’s audiences believe that “President Trump overturned decades of US neutrality” in December 2017 while failing to clarify that presidential waivers of the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act were signed on the grounds of protecting the national security interests of the United States rather than for reasons of “neutrality”.

Interestingly, when Russia recognised part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in April 2017 in a statement similar to that made by the Australian prime minister, the Palestinians and the Arab states did not protest and the BBC did not produce any coverage of that announcement, with a sole brief mention of it came in a report aired the following December. Moves by the Czech government have also not been reported to BBC audiences who continue to receive monochrome and partisan coverage of recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city which does not include news such as a related statement made by Bahrain’s foreign minister

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BBC News continues to sell audiences short on Jerusalem

 

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BBC framing of Jerusalem embassy stories continues

On October 16th the BBC News website published a report titled “Australia considers following US on Jerusalem embassy” on its main homepage, its ‘World’ page and its ‘Australia’ and ‘Middle East’ pages.

The Australian prime minister’s statements were presented in its opening lines as follows:

“Australia will consider recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving its embassy there from Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says. […]

Mr Morrison said Australia remained committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Political opponents said Mr Morrison’s comments were a “deceitful” ploy for votes ahead of a crucial by-election.”

Readers were also told that:

“If acted upon, the move would follow a recent policy shift by the US that has drawn criticism internationally. […]

US President Donald Trump drew international criticism last year when he reversed decades of American foreign policy by recognising the ancient city as Israel’s capital. The US embassy was relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May.” [emphasis added]

As has been the case in many previous BBC reports about the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem, in this article the fact that the US Congress actually voted to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital over two decades ago was yet again concealed from audience view.

Readers were told that “[t]he prime minister said one future scenario could involve Australia recognising [emphasis added] a Palestinian Authority capital in East Jerusalem and Israeli capital in West Jerusalem”. The statement actually said:

“…the Government will carefully examine the arguments put forward by Australia’s former Ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, that we should consider recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, without prejudice to its final boundaries, while acknowledging East Jerusalem as the expected capital of a future Palestinian state.” [emphasis added]

The BBC report went on to amplify comment from the Palestinian Authority’s Riyad al-Maliki but failed to explain to readers why the Palestinian response to a possible outcome that the PLO allegedly seeks should be negative.

Readers were told of announcements:

“Two other countries – Guatemala and Paraguay – announced they would also make the switch, but Paraguay later reversed the decision after a change of government.”

They were not however informed that the embassy of Guatemala has been located in Jerusalem since May 2018.

The article ended with a section headed “Why is the status of Jerusalem so contentious?” in which the BBC’s standard framing of related topics was to be found. As usual, BBC audiences were led to believe that nothing of relevance happened before 1967 and they heard nothing of Jordan’s 19-year occupation of parts of the city.  

“Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war – as the capital of a future state.”

A problematic video by Yolande Knell dating from December 2017 was however recycled in this latest report.

Readers found the BBC’s usual partisan framing of ‘international law’ and ‘settlements’ with no mention of the fact that some of the Jerusalem neighbourhoods it chooses to define as such were inhabited by Jews until the Jordanian occupation.

“Since 1967, Israel has built a dozen settlements, home to about 200,000 Jews, in East Jerusalem. These are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

Since late 2016 the BBC’s coverage of stories relating to the relocation of foreign embassies to Jerusalem has been characterised by very specific framing of such decisions as ‘controversial’ and the absence of key background information which would enhance audience understanding. As we see in this latest report, that unhelpful editorial policy continues.

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Mapping the BBC’s branding of declarations on Jerusalem as ‘controversial’

BBC omits key context in account of potential US embassy move

The BBC’s narrative on ‘East Jerusalem’ omits relevant context

Inaccuracy and omission in BBC backgrounder on Jerusalem

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part two

The May 14th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ – presented by Razia Iqbal – included a pre-recorded interview (from 16:05 here) with regular BBC guest Mustafa Barghouti in which many of the themes already apparent at the beginning of the programme (discussed in part one of this post) were repeated and reinforced.

Iqbal: “Let’s hear now from the Palestinians. Mustafa Barghouti is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. He also sits on the central council of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. A short while ago I spoke to him from our Ramallah studio. He gave me his reaction to the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem.”

Barghouti: “This move from the side of the administration of President Trump is very bad and I think it makes the United States complicit and even participant in violating international law and actually committing a war crime by approving the annexation of occupied territories by force. It also destroys the ability of the United States to be a negotiator in any peace process.” […]

Iqbal: “Let’s start with that first point that you made – that the US is in violation of international law. President Trump would argue that the peace process was moribund and by taking Jerusalem off the table, he has a plan to reinject life into a process that was dead.”

Barghouti: “No, he is substituting the peace between two sides with…and enforcing a deal unilaterally with Israel on the Palestinian side, consolidating the occupation and the system of apartheid and racial discrimination. He’s taking off the table the issue of Jerusalem, the issue of settlements, the issue of refugees. So practically he’s saying I’m fulfilling what the Israelis want.”

Listeners heard no challenge to Barghouti’s ‘apartheid’ smear from Razia Iqbal, who went on to ask a ‘question’ which is obviously irrelevant given that Israel’s position on its capital has not changed in thirty-eight years and merely served as a cue for more of Barghouti’s deliberately delegitimising falsehoods and smears.

Iqbal: “A third of the residents of Jerusalem are Palestinians. Given what Prime Minister Netanyahu has been saying about Jerusalem being the undivided capital of Israel, what do you think is going to happen to those Palestinians now.”

Barghouti: “Well they are treated as third grade citizens. They are discriminated against. There is one law for Israelis and another for Palestinians. Their properties are confiscated. They are prohibited from building new homes. In reality, Mr Netanyahu is trying to push the Palestinians out of Jerusalem and trying to exercise ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian people.”

Razia Iqbal could have put Barghouti’s allegations of ethnic cleansing into proportion had she told listeners that the Arab population of Jerusalem grew from 69,000 (26%) in 1967 to 324,000 (37%) in 2015. She chose not to do so. Listeners then got an insight into the source of Iqbal’s earlier claim that “many people” think that “the United States is joining the occupier in violating international law”.

Iqbal: “How are the Palestinians going to respond in the context of what you regard as a violation of international law? If you’re saying that the US is now siding with the occupying power, what is it that you can do about the United States breaking those resolutions at the United Nations?”

Barghouti responded with promotion of the BDS campaign – which as usual was not explained to audiences. Later on he was given another opportunity to promote the ‘apartheid’ smear unchallenged.

Iqbal: “The United States is clearly moving in a direction unilaterally in many different spheres. Who would you like to intervene now?”

Barghouti: “Look I believe our case is very similar to the case of South African people who struggled against apartheid. There was a time when most governments turned their backs to Nelson Mandela who was described as a terrorist. […] I think the peoples of the world are now realising how just the cause of the Palestinians is and how it is unacceptable to allow Israel to create a system of apartheid in the 21st century.”

After a break, Iqbal returned to the story at 30:06 with more of the same messaging.

Iqbal: “We’re going to return to our top story today – the story that’s dominating our programme – the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem: an issue that has been hugely contentious. The Israelis of course welcoming it. Palestinians and many in the international community seeing it as going against international consensus.”

At 36:09 Iqbal spoke to former US Senator Joe Lieberman who was at the US embassy event and –as she clarified – was one of those who put forward the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act.  Iqbal told listeners:

Iqbal: “It [the act] did pass both Senate and the House but it was not signed into law by then president Bill Clinton.”

That obviously implies to BBC audiences that the Jerusalem Embassy Act did not become law. In fact, a footnote states:

Ignoring the fact that in his December 6thstatement the US president specifically said “[w]e are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders”, during their conversation Iqbal ‘asked’ Lieberman:

Iqbal: “The president could have said though – couldn’t he? – that the US would move its embassy to west Jerusalem. The idea of claiming Jerusalem in its entirety as the capital sends out a very hostile – at the worst – but in some respects not a neutral position or signal to the Palestinians.”

Iqbal again promoted the ‘US embassy relocation as the end of the peace process’ theme.

Iqbal: “Do you think there still is scope for a peace process?”

She promoted another recurring theme by referring to the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem as a decision that “puts Washington completely at odds with the rest of the international community” and when her interviewee responded that “a country puts its embassy in the city that the host country declares to be its capital”, Iqbal interrupted him.

Iqbal: “But Senator Lieberman – I’m so sorry to interrupt you – under the UN resolution East Jerusalem is occupied territory.”

Iqbal did not bother to clarify to listeners that the UNSC resolution to which she referred – 2334 – is non-binding.

At 45:03 Iqbal introduced her final pre-recorded interviewee – the head of an American political NGO that claims to have been trying (obviously unsuccessfully) to “promote a just resolution” to the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1979. Listeners however were not provided with background on that NGO’s political stance (as required by BBC editorial guidelines) which would help them put the contributor’s words into context.

Iqbal: “We are going to stay with our top story now and hear from Lara Friedman who is president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace in Washington. I began by asking her a little while ago how significant she thought the move was for the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

Unsurprisingly, Friedman’s responses dovetailed with the themes Iqbal had chosen to promote throughout the programme.

Freidman: “The moving of the embassy has been a red line politically.”

Friedman: “The notion that you reinvigorate a peace process by effectively telling one side all of the arguments we made to you to come into a peace process are now dead and we expect you to stay or come into a peace process based on an entirely different set of arguments that compromise everything that you need – it doesn’t pass what I call the laugh test. It’s impossible to hear that without laughing if you understand what is necessary for Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

Iqbal: “The Palestinians argue that in doing this President Trump and the United States has placed itself on the side of the occupying power and that by recognizing Jerusalem in its entirety as the capital of Israel, it is in violation of international law since East Jerusalem is an occupied territory recognised by international law. Is there any scope in taking that route?”

Friedman: “It isn’t the Palestinians who say that – it’s pretty much the rest of the world except for Guatemala and possibly Paraguay down the road. This is not a move that is recognised as legitimate by anyone and on the question of whether or not President Trump is taking the side of Israel – the occupier – I mean Mr Trump himself has said ‘I’ve taken Jerusalem off the table’.”

Freidman: “The United States really has in the views of almost anyone who looks at this issue seriously, they have taken themselves out of the room as a viable or credible steward of a peace process…”

And with that cosy little echo-chamber interview, ‘Newshour’ reporting on the topic of the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem came to a close.

As we see BBC audiences worldwide were fed a highly regimented view of the topic of the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem. They heard no serious discussion of the topic of the ‘international law’ to which Iqbal and some of her guests repeatedly referred as though it was not open to different interpretation. The idea that the US embassy’s move brings about the demise of the ‘peace process’ was repeatedly promoted with no discussion whatsoever of any additional factors affecting that process and the notion of the United States being at odds with an ‘international consensus’ was amplified unquestioningly.

Just as it was all too obvious what impression of the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem  BBC audiences were intended to take away, the programme’s presentation of the second topic on the ‘split screen’ – the Gaza border rioting on May 14th – was equally monochrome, as we will see in a separate post.

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BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part one

BBC omits key context in account of potential US embassy move

On December 16th an article appeared on the BBC News website’s US & Canada and Middle East pages under the headline “Trump’s new US envoy to Israel seeks Jerusalem base”. The article was subsequently amended several times and is currently titled “Trump chooses pro-settlement hardliner as Israel envoy“.us-envoy-art

In the latest version, BBC audiences are informed that:

“US President-elect Donald Trump has chosen right-winger David Friedman as America’s next ambassador to Israel.

The 57-year-old lawyer is strongly critical of the long-held US goal of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He also supports Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank and moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. […]

Mr Friedman said earlier he looked forward to working “from the US Embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem”.”

An insert of ‘analysis’ from Yolande Knell tells readers that:

“He’s [Friedman] also indicated that he’ll help fulfil Mr Trump’s promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, despite international objections.”

Readers of the three previous versions of the report were told that:

“…the US embassy has been located in Tel Aviv for decades.

But Mr Trump had promised during the presidential campaign to move it to Jerusalem, one of several overtures he made to Israel.”

However, the report refrains from informing BBC audiences that previous US presidential candidates – both Republican and Democrat – pledged to do the same during their election campaigns.

“Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both promised during their presidential campaigns to move the embassy to Jerusalem. Both later backed away from those promises, convinced by Middle East experts that doing so would prejudge negotiations for a final settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Neither are readers informed of the existence of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act and the related bi-annual presidential wavers.

“Every president since the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 was passed by Congress has signed the waiver every six months, determining the delay is necessary “to protect the national security interests of the United States.””

Whether or not the US embassy in Israel will be moved to Jerusalem under the Trump administration remains to be seen, but obviously the president elect’s statement on the topic is in no way as novel as this report implies. BBC audiences have clearly not been provided with the full range of information which would enable the proper understanding of this story.