CAMERA Arabic prompts correction of three inaccuracies in one BBC report

A BBC article published on September 24th on the network’s Arabic website was corrected last week (no earlier than October 1st, based on the date attributed to a cached copy of the inaccurate version) following a complaint made by CAMERA Arabic on the day of publication.

The article – which aimed to provide a detailed, informed introduction to Israel’s major Arab parties – contained three factual errors, one memorable typo and one major omission – all in one subsection.

Under the headline “What are the components of the Joint Arab List in the Israeli Knesset and [what are] their orientations?”, the article discussed the Joint List – a union of four Israeli parties, three of which self-identify as “Arab” while the fourth, Hadash, describes itself as “Arab-Jewish” (although the vast majority of its voters are estimated to be Arab). 

The inaccuracies appeared in the part of the article portraying one of the Joint List’s components: the nationalist Arab party of the National Democratic Alliance (Balad). The correction addressed all the issues raised by CAMERA Arabic. (all translations, emphasis and in-bracket remarks are by CAMERA Arabic unless otherwise specified)

Inaccuracy 1: “Since the 2006 elections, the party maintained a representation of three members in the Knesset…”

That claim has not been accurate for over a year: between August 2018 and April 2019 (the last few months of the 20th Knesset), Balad had 4 MKs as a result of a deal within the Joint List. Until last week, it had 2MKs who were of the 21st Knesset (which was dissolved on Thursday, October 3rd, as the 22nd Knesset was sworn in)

The BBC’s corrected version reads: “Since the 2006 elections, the party maintained a representation of three members in the Knesset until 2018…”

Inaccuracy 2: “…among them is the first Arab female Knesset member, Haneen Zu’bi”

In fact Balad’s Haneen Zu’bi [Zoabi] – elected in 2009 – was the third MK who was an Arab woman. Prior to her were Meretz’s Hussniya Jabara (served as MK 1999-2003) and the late Nadia Hilou from the Labour party who served as MK between 2006-2009.

The BBC’s corrected version reads: “…among them the first female member to enter the Knesset as a representative of an Arab party, Haneen Zu’bi, having been preceded by two female representatives of Arab roots who entered the Knesset inside Israeli parties

This new phrasing is problematic in itself: why was Zu’bi described as “Arab” in the previous version but her two predecessors are described as being “of Arab roots”? Moreover, why are Meretz and Labour described as “Israeli parties” but the Joint List and its components – which compete solely in Israeli elections – described as “Arab”?

Inaccuracy 3: “MK Jamal Zahalka heads the party nowadays”

In fact Zahalka is no longer an MK; he confirmed that he would not seek re-election in December 2018 and indeed was not nominated at all in the election rounds of April 2019 and September 2019. Although he currently retains the title of “Chairman of Balad”, it was political scientist Mtanes Shehadeh, Balad’s secretary general, who was elected head of the party’s list of Knesset nominees last February. Since the April 2019 elections, Shehadeh heads the party’s parliamentary bloc.

The BBC’s corrected version reads “M[K] Mtanes Shehadeh, the party’s secretary general, heads Balad’s parliamentary bloc in the Knesset. Jamal Zahalka, who is no longer a Knesset member, holds the party’s chairmanship.”

Significant typo: “the representatives of the Democratic Alliance in the Joint Arab List refused to recommend that Bibi Gantz would be prime minister.”

The Joint List (with the exception of the Balad members who abstained) recommended Benny Gantz to be the new prime minister. Bibi is the nickname of Gantz’s opponent and incumbent prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

Although the amended report’s portrayal of the Balad party includes the fact that its founder and first chairman – Azmi Bishara – fled Israel in 2007, no mention is made of the background to his departure: Bishara is suspected of supplying intelligence to Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group during its war against Israel in the summer of 2006.

 

Israeli election coverage continues to advance a new narrative

In a previous post we saw how a September 18th edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newsday’ promoted the claim that “Arab Palestinian parties” had run in the recent Israeli election.

We also saw how two written reports published on the BBC News website on September 21st and 22nd described Arab Israelis as “Israel’s Palestinian citizens”.

In a later September 18th edition of ‘Newsday’, presenter Karnagie Sharp interviewed Israeli journalist Lahav Harkov (from 00:42 here) and one of her questions (at 03:34) was phrased as follows:

Sharp: “OK but we also saw another interesting development here. The Arab Palestinian parties, they did really well, didn’t they? The third…now forming the third largest party in the Knesset.”

Harkov explained:

Harkov: “Yeah, they’re Israeli. These are Arab citizens of Israel.”

In its coverage of previous Israeli elections in 2013 and 2015 the BBC described the Joint Arab List as being comprised of “Israeli Arab parties” and used the term “Israeli Arabs” to describe that list’s target electorate. So why has the BBC now taken to inserting the confusing term “Palestinian” into its reporting? A clue may be found in a conversation aired (from 23:03 here) in the September 18th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ programme.

After having inaccurately claimed that “for a fifth of its existence Israel has had Benjamin Netanyahu as its prime minister”, presenter Evan Davis brought in the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.

Davis [26:05]: “Ahm, Jeremy, tell us about the Arab Israelis because as I understand it their turnout in this election rose pretty significantly compared to the last one which was, what, back in April.”

Bowen: “Yeah, ahm, 20% of the citizens of Israel are not Jews. They’re Arabs, or more specifically, they’re Palestinians. Not the Palestinians of the West Bank or of Gaza, though related of course, but Palestinians who are Israelis, who have an Israeli passport and are supposed to have full rights though in practice they don’t.”

In fact, as of May 2019, 25.76% of Israel’s population are not Jews. 20.95% are Arabs and 4.81% are ‘others’ including non-Arab Christians and non-Arab Muslims. A poll conducted in April 2019 indicated that 46% identified as Arab Israelis with the pollsters commenting that when compared to a previous poll from 2014:

“…the findings in the current poll show that the number of respondents self-identifying as “Arab-Israeli” has risen, and the number of those identifying only as “Palestinian” dropped.”

While other polls may give slightly different results, one thing is clear: the BBC’s Middle East editor has apparently adopted the political narrative according to which all Israeli Arabs are Palestinians – regardless of how they actually chose to self-identify – and that patriarchal approach is increasingly finding its way into BBC reporting.

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Weekend long read

1) At the Jerusalem Post, Jonathan Spyer explains ‘The Turkey-Qatar Nexus’.

“While the Mideast news headlines are currently (justifiably) dominated by the clash between the Iranian-led, largely Shia axis and its West-aligned enemies, the Turkey-Qatar-Muslim Brotherhood nexus constitutes a third force.

This alliance first came to prominence in the early, optimistic months of the “Arab Spring.” In Egypt, Tunisia and Syria, Muslim Brotherhood-associated movements played a vital early role in the popular uprisings in those countries.

Qatar offered encouragement via Al Jazeera, and financial support to Islamist insurgent groups such as the Tawhid Brigade and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.

Turkey was the main backer for the Sunni Arab rebels throughout the Syrian rebellion, and offered active support to Mohamed Morsi’s short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt.”

2) The ITIC documents a recent example of the Palestinian Authority’s glorification of terrorism.

“The “shahid culture,” reflected in the glorification of terrorists who perpetrated terrorist activities, is a common practice in the Palestinian Authority and Fatah. It is a major component in the Palestinian heritage and part of the policy of the Palestinian Authority. Shahids are usually commemorated in various ways, including naming streets, squares, schools and public institutions after them. Special attention is given to the glorification of shahids among the younger generation in order to turn them into role models. Thus, terrorist attacks and their perpetrators become publicly legitimate, increasing young Palestinians’ motivation to follow in the footsteps of the shahids and carry out attacks against Israel.”

3) At Tablet Magazine, Liel Leibovitz takes a look at the Joint Arab List.

“When the Joint List, the Arab party that emerged as Israel’s third largest in the recent round of elections, endorsed Benny Gantz as its candidate for prime minister on Sunday, pundits took to every available perch to declare the moment historic. After all, no Arab party has ever endorsed a Jewish leader, and Ayman Odeh, the party’s Obama-esque leader, seized the moment properly by tweeting a line from Psalms. To many, this felt like a breath of fresh air, a surge of coexistence and compromise after Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line policies.

The hosannas, however, are premature: The Joint List, sadly, remains a vehemently anti-Zionist party whose members have often expressed their support for convicted terrorists.”

4) At the Hoover Institution, Tony Badran takes a look at the ‘peace process’.

“Speaking to reporters in August, President Trump said he would likely wait until after the Israeli elections in September to unveil his peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians. Although this plan has been long in the making, with the exception of the proposal to allocate investment funds to the Palestinian territories and neighboring countries, its details have remained unknown; and that’s a good thing. A peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians is the “toughest deal of all,” the American president remarked. Perhaps. It also might be, in and of itself, the least relevant. In fact, progress on this front is as low a priority for America in the Middle East as you can get. The real interest for the United States lies elsewhere. The Trump administration appears to recognize this reality full well, as the steps it has taken so far suggest.”

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BBC WS radio promotes a political NGO’s disinformation

The early edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ on September 18th included two items relating to the previous day’s election in Israel, the second of which was introduced (from 27:01 here) by presenter Karnagie Sharp as follows:

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

Sharp: “First to Israel…ah…where Netanyahu…this is a headline from one of the main [sic] daily newspapers in the country: ‘Netanyahu fails to secure majority, Gantz leads, Arabs surge exit polls show’. Final results of the election are still to be announced but according to exit polls Benjamin Netanyahu – the longest-serving prime minister in the country – has failed to secure a ruling majority…ah ah…and his challenger Ben [sic] Gantz leading the Blue & White centre coalition has a lead. Arab countries have condemned a campaign pledge by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.”

Given the BBC’s record of interviewing Palestinians when reporting Israeli elections listeners may not have been surprised to then learn that they were about to hear “a Palestinian view” of the previous day’s poll. The presenter of that view – and the BBC’s perhaps unintentionally frank portrayal of his starting point – may however have been less expected.

Sharp: “For a Palestinian view on these elections let’s now speak to Hagai Elad, the executive director of B’Tselem, the Israeli information centre for human rights in the occupied territories. Welcome to the programme. So I’m going to read you another headline from Ha’aretz. It says ‘Magician Bibi has run out of rabbits’. What do you make of the exit polls so far?”

Sharp made no effort to inform listeners – as required by section 4.3.12 of the BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality – of the “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” of B’tselem

Elad: “…the votes are still being counted and we may be facing still weeks of negotiations about the future government. And all this is discussed in the context of as if a celebration of democracy. But in fact all…all of what this does is to paint a false democratic façade hiding a deeply undemocratic reality that has been in place already for decade after decade. When the election results are clear or not clear, when there’s deadlock or no deadlock, when there’s a Right-wing government or a Left-wing government or a national unity government, the continuation of Israel’s oppression, dispossession and occupation of the Palestinian people.”

That blatantly false and obviously partisan portrayal of Israeli democracy failed to prompt any reaction from Sharp.

Sharp: “OK. So when you look at the results at the moment, you know, we know that the results are still coming in but if prime minister Netanyahu…if he were to lose will this change things in the region?”

Elad: “So of course the personality of the prime minister makes a big difference but if I take a broader perspective about this reality and for instance the context of potential annexation of parts of the West Bank was mentioned, then we actually put the centre of attention not on what may have been but what has already happened: de facto annexation. The fact that Israel does whatever it wants in the 60% of the West Bank known as Area C and that all this is happening above the heads and beneath the feet of the Palestinians living in that area that are never asked, never counted as they were also not counted in yesterday’s election.”

Sharp made no effort to remind listeners that the PLO agreed to Israel being in control of Area C when they signed the Oslo Accords or to clarify that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians live in Areas A and B which are under Palestinian Authority control. She continued with a description of four Israeli political parties as “Palestinian” and the uninformed suggestion that they are “in the government”.

Sharp: “What’s really interesting though…I want to bring that…because you also called it undemocratic; the Arab Palestinian parties did well though this time, didn’t they? Third largest party now in the Knesset, never seen before in the government. So there’s a bit of hope there.”

Elad: “So we’re talking about the 20% of the – or so – of the citizens of the State of Israel who are Arab and also of course there are also Jewish voters to this party. But between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea there are 14 million people or so – thirteen and a half, fourteen million people. And there is one government that controls the lives of all the people in this area and controls all the territory in this area and in this area there are 5 million Palestinians in the occupied territories – in the Gaza Strip, in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank – and they are not citizens. They live under Israel’s military occupation and they do not participate in the political process. They have no political rights.”

Sharp once again failed to challenge Elad’s blatant and materially misleading claims. Arab residents of East Jerusalem are of course entitled vote in Israeli general elections if they have chosen to take Israeli citizenship (and in municipal elections even if they have not) and Palestinians living under Palestinian Authority rule in parts of Judea & Samaria or under Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip (which, contrary to Elad’s claim, has not been under Israeli control for fourteen years) of course vote – when their rulers allow it – for the Palestinian Legislative Council.

The Joint Arab list secured 13 seats in this election – the same number as in the 2015 election – but the embarrassingly under-informed Sharp went on to make another inaccurate claim.

Sharp: “OK. You still haven’t reacted to the fact that for the first time we’re seeing that these Arab Palestinian parties have done well in these new elections. Who are they likely to align with do you think and how can that make a difference?”

Elad: “They have done perhaps somewhat better than in previous elections but they’ve been part of parliament already for many years, including in this formation of one unified party, already for quite some time. The situation is that this comes at the backdrop of an extremely racist election campaign, especially from Likud but also from others and also what statements that already were made by Netanyahu denying any potential involvement of Arab parties in Israel’s government.”

Sharp: “Yeah.”

Elad: “A deeply racist position.”

Sharp: “OK. Thank you very much for speaking to us. That’s Hagai Elad the executive director of B’tselem speaking to us.”

Sharp failed to clarify to listeners that some of the Arab parties hold anti-Zionist positions which can be regarded as racist or that those parties have traditionally refused to participate in any Israeli government.

So what did BBC World Service listeners get in this item? They heard the crude propaganda of a political NGO which engages in lawfare against Israel go completely unchallenged by an interviewer who was clearly very much out of her depth – with the result that audiences were materially misled. 

 

An Israel elections story that falls outside BBC framing

Although the BBC has still not got round to producing much coverage of the general election to be held in Israel on April 9th there is no shortage of news on that front.

The Joint Arab List – which featured in the corporation’s coverage of the previous election and was described by one commentator as a “glimmer of hope”– has lost one of its four component parties.

“The Knesset approved a request on Wednesday by MK Ahmad Tibi’s Ta’al (Arab Movement for Change) party to withdraw from the Joint Arab list.

Tibi announced on Tuesday that he would leave the Joint List ahead of the April 9 election, and that his party will run independently. […]

Tibi’s request was filed days after controversial Joint List MK Haneen Zoabi, Balad MK Jamal Zahalka and United Arab List MK Masud Gnaim confirmed that they will not run in the upcoming elections. Similarly, the Joint List faction’s only Jewish lawmaker, Dov Henin, announced he will not be running either. Henin served 13 years in the Knesset as a member of the Hadash Party.”

Meanwhile, a new Arab party has been registered.

“A new Arab party has registered to participate in the upcoming Knesset elections on April 9, Justice Ministry documents show.

“New Horizon — An Arab Centrist Party” registered in mid-December to run in the vote, which has since been set for April 9.

Salman Abu Ahmad, a 62-year-old engineer and Nazareth resident, told The Times of Israel in a phone call that he had established the party, whose candidates will include Arab Israelis from around the country.

The documents say the party’s goals include “improving the status of Israel’s Arab citizens…and promoting a national master plan as a basis to solve the housing shortage in the Arab sector.” […]

The documents also say New Horizon’s aims include “upgrading the education system,…putting together an uncompromising plan to uproot crime and violence in Arab society, forming a plan to promote the status of women in Arab society and serving as a bridge to a historical reconciliation between the two [Israeli and Palestinian] peoples and peace with Arab states.””

But perhaps the most surprising development is one which definitely falls outside the BBC’s conventional framing of Israeli politics: the announcement by a Muslim female candidate that she will run in the Likud party’s primaries next month.

“Dima Tayeh, from the village of Kafr Manda in the Galilee, made headlines on Tuesday when she gave an interview on Hadashot TV news announcing she was running in the right-wing party’s primaries, praising Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and defending the controversial Nation-State Law, which many see as discriminating against Israel’s Arab minority.

If elected, she would be the first Arab Muslim lawmaker in the Likud party. […]

Tayeh, who has previously taken part in a group of Arab Israelis who toured the US to campaign against the BDS movement that seeks to boycott Israel, said she has been a proud Likud member for six years.”

Whether or not Ms Tayeh will gain a place on the Likud list remains to be seen but should she be successful it will be interesting to see if and how that story – which defies the BBC’s standard framing of both Israeli politics and Israeli Arabs – will be presented to audiences.

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BBC News website framing of Israeli legislation

On the morning of July 19th the BBC News website published a report titled “Jewish nation state: Israel approves controversial bill” which opened by telling BBC audiences that:

“Israel’s parliament has passed into law a controversial bill that defines the country as an exclusively Jewish state.

The “Jewish nation state” bill downgrades Arabic as an official language and says advancing Jewish settlement is a national interest.

It also states that the “whole and united” Jerusalem is its capital.”

The BBC’s report did not provide readers with the text of the bill. Had it done so, BBC audiences would have been able to see that the part referring to language in fact reads as follows:

“The state’s language is Hebrew.

 The Arabic language has a special status in the state; Regulating the use of Arabic in state institutions or by them will be set in law.

 This clause does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect.”

The clause referring to “Jewish Settlement” reads:

“The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation.”

Readers of the BBC’s report are told that:

“…some clauses were dropped following objections by Israel’s president and attorney-general, including a clause that would have enshrined in law the creation of Jewish-only communities.”

That dropped clause actually allowed the state to:

“authorize a community composed of people having the same faith and nationality to maintain the exclusive character of that community,”

The BBC did not bother to inform its audiences of the fact that many communities composed of people belonging to religious and ethnic groups such as Bedouin, Druze, Circassians, Christians and Muslims also exist in Israel.

The BBC’s report promotes comment on the story from three sources: members of the ‘Joint List’, the Israeli prime minister and an anti-Zionist foreign funded political NGO.

“Israeli Arab MPs condemned the legislation but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised it as a “defining moment”. […]

Arab MP Ahmed Tibi said the bill’s passing represented the “death of democracy”.

Adalah, an Arab rights non-governmental orgnisation, said the law was an attempt to advance “ethnic superiority by promoting racist policies”.”

With the report providing no comparison between this legislation and similar laws and constitutions in other countries, the view of the story that BBC audiences are intended to take away is of course amply clear.

 

 

 

Comparing BBC reporting on mosque loudspeakers in Israel and Rwanda

On November 13th 2016 the BBC News website published a report titled “Quieten calls to prayer in Israel – Netanyahu” (discussed here) in which a draft bill proposing to limit the use of loudspeakers by religious institutions was described as “unnecessarily divisive” and readers were told that:

“Nasreen Hadad Haj-Yahya from the Israel Democracy Institute, a thinktank, wrote in a local newspaper that “the real aim is not to prevent noise but rather to create noise that will hurt all of society and the efforts to establish a sane reality between Jews and Arabs”.”

The next day – November 14th 2016 – another report (discussed here) on the same story appeared on the BBC News website under the headline “Israeli bills draw Palestinian warning“.

“A senior Palestinian official has said his government will go to the UN to stop what he called a series of “escalatory measures” by Israel.

Nabil Abu Rudeina said Israeli plans to […] quieten calls to prayer, will “bring disasters to the region”. […]

The Palestinian Minister of Waqf and Religious Affairs, Youssef Ideiss, said the plan threatened a “religious war”, the Jerusalem Post newspaper reported.”

On March 8th 2017 the BBC News website published yet another report (discussed here) on the same subject – “Israeli Arab anger as parliament backs ‘muezzin bill’“.

“Two versions of the so-called “muezzin bill”, which would mostly affect Muslim calls to prayer, passed their first readings by slim majorities.

Some Arab MPs ripped apart copies of the legislation during a debate. […]

The bill’s critics say it as an attack on religious freedom.

“The voice of a muezzin has never caused any environmental noise. It is about an important Islamic religious ritual, and we have never in this house intervened in any religious ceremony related to Judaism. Your action is a racist slur,” warned Ahmed Tibi of the Arab-dominated Joint List alliance during the debate.

“Your intervention strikes at the very souls of Muslims,” he added.”

On March 15th 2018 an article appeared on the BBC News website’s Africa page under the headline “Rwanda bans Kigali mosques from using loudspeakers“.

In contrast to the headline in the third BBC report from Israel, that title does not suggest that muezzin themselves are the target of the ban rather than loudspeakers.

Readers of the report from Rwanda were not told that the ban is “unnecessarily divisive” or a “disaster” or a “racist slur” or that it would “hurt society”. They did not see the move portrayed as part of a “religious war” or an “attack on religious freedom” or something that “strikes at the very souls of Muslims”.

Here is how the BBC did present the story to its audiences:

“Rwanda has banned mosques in the capital, Kigali, from using loudspeakers during the call to prayer.

They say the calls, made five times a day, have been disturbing residents of the Nyarugenge district, home to the capital’s biggest mosques.

But an official from a Muslim association criticised it, saying they could instead keep the volume down.”

Readers also found the following analysis:

“Today’s noise pollution concerns have silenced the loudspeakers on Kigali’s mosques. But it would be wrong to say that Muslims are being targeted. They can still go to mosques and pray five times a day.”

It would be difficult to find a clearer example of double standards in BBC reporting.

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BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ hosts Ahmad Tibi – part two

In part one of this post we discussed the first half of a ‘Hardtalk’ interview with Israeli MK Ahmad Tibi which was aired on a variety of BBC platforms on March 7th.

Tibi next brought up the subject of the October 2000 incidents. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

AT “Thirteen of us, Stephen, were shot by snipers and killed in 2000 – citizens of the State of Israel – because we just demonstrated against Ariel Sharon getting into Al Aqsa Mosque. Thirteen of us. From that point, until today, 55 Arab citizens were killed by the Israeli security authorities without being prosecuted. We are in danger because of the way Israeli police is dealing with us as enemies – not as citizens. But I am not in a position to preach Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank how to resist. It is the natural way people, nation, under occupation are resisting…” 

Sackur failed to inform audiences that Ariel Sharon did not ‘get into’ Al Aqsa Mosque at all but made a visit to Temple Mount that had been pre-coordinated with Palestinian security forces. Neither did he bother to tell BBC audiences that Tibi’s claim that those killed in October 2000 were “just” demonstrating is not supported by the findings of the official investigation into those incidents:

“The events of October 2000 shook the earth. The riots in the Arab sector inside the State of Israel in early October were unprecedented. The events were extremely unusual from several perspectives. Thousands participated, at many locations, at the same time. The intensity of the violence and aggression expressed in the events was extremely powerful. Against security forces, and even against civilians, use was made of a variety of means of attack, including a small number of live fire incidents, Molotov cocktails, ball bearings in slingshots, various methods of stone throwing and the rolling of burning tires. Jews were attacked on the roads for being Jewish and their property was destroyed. In a number of incidences, they were just inches from death at the hands of an unrestrained mob.” 

Sackur also refrained from asking Tibi how many of the Arab-Israelis he claims were “killed by the Israeli security authorities without being prosecuted” were at the time involved in acts of terrorism.

SS: “It’s not…it’s not your fight, really it’s not your fight, is it?”

AT: “It’s my nation fight. I am a Palestinian also and I… “

SS: “Well but you’re also an Israeli. You happen to have the vote. You happen to have a seat in the Knesset. You know this…there is a distinction between you and those Palestinians who live on the West Bank, who live under military occupation and of course we can talk about the subset – the other Palestinians living in exile beyond the borders…”

AT: “They are suffering much more…”

SS: “Yes but I’m interested in the position of the Arab Israelis and it seems to me amongst Arab Israelis, the overwhelming feeling is one of weary acceptance. If you look at opinion polls – and there have been several in the last year which show that actually a clear majority of Arab Israelis have a positive feeling about their lives in Israel. A positive feeling.”

AT: I am smiling because I am living there. Arabs – Arab citizens of the State of Israel – are discriminated in all field of life and in polls – scientific polls; not polls of Israeli rightist newspapers – they are saying that they feel second or third degree. Not only they are feeling the discrimination in land allocation but budget, employment, agriculture, no industrial zones. We are discriminated in all fields of life.”

All Israeli citizens are of course entitled to equal rights by law. To take Tibi’s claim that Arab citizens of Israel have “no industrial zones” because of discrimination as an example – the Ministry of Economy and Industry lists at least eighteen industrial zones in Arab, Bedouin and Druze communities – from Rahat in the south to Sakhnin in the north. Once again, however, Tibi’s falsehoods went unchallenged by Sackur.

SS: “Well the Israel Democracy Institute ran a major poll last year. Most Arab-Israelis – 60.5% – describe their personal situation as good or very good. It doesn’t seem to match what you’re saying at all.”

AT: “I don’t agree with these results. We are living there but there are other points that you are not bringing here saying that at least 75% of the Arab citizens are saying that they do believe the state is dealing with them as enemies not as equal citizens.”

Sackur then promoted a partisan view of ‘international law’ as fact.

SS:” Why do you think thousands of Arabs living in Jerusalem – and they have a very difficult grey area status because of course under international law East Jerusalem is occupied territory – but they are regarded, since the annexation by Israel of East Jerusalem, as people with rights to residency and, indeed, the right to apply for citizenship in Israel and thousands have indeed applied for citizenship. What does that tell you?”

AT: “Only thousands. We are talking about almost 300,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem; you are talking about thousands. And it says a lot. Those Palestinians in East Jerusalem are facing strangulation policy, deportation, revoking their identity card, sending them out of Jerusalem – thousands of them. It is to say that the education system in East Jerusalem is one of the worst education system conditions led by the Israeli authorities. It is to say that those in East Jerusalem – Palestinians – not all of them are free to get into Al Aqsa Mosque. Demolition orders in East Jerusalem, but more also in other villages, in Arab villages inside Israel, because of lack of planning and housing. Do you know, Stephen, that there is a law called community villages law forbidding, preventing me, Ahmad Tibi, as an Israeli citizen, Arab citizen, from living in 800 community villages. I can live here in London or in Manhattan but not in these areas.”

Sackur failed to note the context of security considerations which sometimes limit access to the Al Aqsa Mosque to males under a certain age. He refrained from asking Tibi whether his claim that residents of East Jerusalem are being ‘deported’ or having their ID cards ‘revoked’ in fact relates to a small number of terrorists, their accomplices and family members of terrorists. Curiously – considering that between 1967 and 2014, the percentage of Arabs making up Jerusalem’s population rose from 26% to 37% – Sackur did not ask Tibi to provide evidence to support his claim that “thousands” have been ‘sent out’ of Jerusalem.

The law Tibi describes as “community villages law” is the Cooperative Associations Law and it relates to fewer than five hundred – not “800” – small communities of up to four hundred families that are situated in the Negev or the Galilee. Such communities are entitled to have an admissions committee which can screen potential residents. In contrast to the impression given by Tibi, all applicants of any creed or ethnicity meet with the admissions committee and the law expressly states that communities cannot reject applicants for reasons of race, religion, gender or nationality. Stephen Sackur, however, made no effort to relieve audiences of the false impression deliberately propagated by Ahmad Tibi.

Making no effort to explain to audiences what Zionism actually is, Sackur went on:

SS: “Are you saying – and using the words of that resolution from the United Nations in 1975 – are you saying that you still regard Zionism as racism?”

AT: “The practice of Zionism daily is to say that Jews are superior to non- Jews in Israel.”

SS: “Well answer this because it is a very famous UN resolution and it was repealed…repealed…one of the only UN that has ever been repealed 16 years later because consensus across the world that that language was unacceptable and wrong. I’m just asking you whether you actually still use that phrase.”

AT: “We Palestinians – mainly Palestinians inside Israel or outside the Green Line, [are] victims of Zionism because of racism of many aspects of Zionism against non- Jews, mainly original or indigenous Palestinians.”

Sackur then turned the conversation to the topic of elimination of the Jewish state.

SS: “You see I think this debate is important because right now there is a discussion both inside Israel, amongst Arabs outside of the territories but also amongst Palestinians and Arab Israelis, about what is going to happen if the two-state solution is dead. And we’ve discussed Donald Trump and we’ve discussed the current political situation and nobody would pretend that the two-state solution looks alive right now. So there is a unitary state solution and if there is to be a unitary state, do you believe it would be acceptable for the Jewish Israeli population to be in a minority?”

AT: “The speech of Mr Trump adopted the Israeli narrative and it was a bullet in the head of the two-state solution, of the two-state vision. Instead of two-state solution it became two-state illusion. That’s why there are more and more talk about one state solution.”

SS: “You’ve talked about it.”

AT: “I’ve talked about it.”

SS: “You even posited the notion that you might run for Prime Minister of a unitary state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River and you said ‘if it was a run-off between me and Mr Netanyahu, I would win, no doubt about it’.”

AT: “If this will be the case, and equal right will be there between Jews and Arabs from the sea to the river, a Palestinian will win the post of the Prime Minister.”

SS: “I very advisedly asked you, can you countenance…do you think it is in any way realistic to think that the Jewish population of Israel will ever accept a situation in which they are in a minority? This is the country that was set up under a UN resolution as the homeland for the Jews after the Second World War. You understand that, I believe, better than most Arabs because you made a very famous speech understanding the impact of the Holocaust on the Jewish people and on the creation of the state of Israel. So I put it to you again; can you imagine a unitary state where the Jewish population is in a minority?”

AT: “”We, I, as a victim of the victim in that speech, can tell you that I know, I realise that for the Israelis, it’s a nightmare to talk about equal one democratic state. That’s why, when you are giving two choices for them, two-state solution or one-state solution, they are immediately choosing the third choice, which is not there, the status quo. That is why I am saying two-state solution is the optimal solution that the international community is supporting. But the condition is immediate ending of the occupation and Israel is rearranging the occupation.”

SS: “Yeah, but you don’t just say that. You say very inflammatory things. In an interview not so long ago, you allowed your imagination to run. You said ‘we will, if there is to be a unitary state, we will annul the declaration of independence from 1948. In its place, we will write a civil declaration that represents all citizens – Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze’. You said ‘it is untenable for a democratic state to have a declaration of independence that is fundamentally Jewish’. You were asked what would the country’s name be? You said ‘I don’t know: its Parliament will decide’. What about the flag? You were asked and you said ‘yes, that will have to change’. Now when you say these things, how do you think Israelis – Jewish Israelis – respond?”

Sackur could also have raised the no less relevant point that in the same interview, Tibi declared that the Law of Return “would automatically be annulled, because the country would no longer be a Jewish state as it is today”.

AT: “When Israelis are killing Palestinians, how we would react? It is a democratic vision. I think that any democratic in Europe, in the international community, should respect my vision of democracy if there will not be a two-state solution. Yes, I want to be equal with Israeli Jews. I want to be equal with anybody in Tel Aviv and Tayibe, Nazareth and Hadera. But I will never accept to be inferior to any Israeli Jew just because the state is defining itself as a Jewish state. Because defining yourself as Jewish and democratic, it’s an oxymoron, Stephen and this is an oxymoron that we are fighting against day by day.”

SS: “If I may say so, it seems to me your speech was based on empathy and a genuine effort to understand the Israeli mindset. One aspect of the Israeli mindset is that they see more than a decade ago when the Palestinians had a free election, that a majority, at least in Gaza, voted quite clearly for Hamas – a movement that is dedicated in its original constitution to the destruction of the State of Israel.”

AT: “Stephen, do you want new rules for democracy? It’s election. It’s democracy. Palestinian people, like in England, like in Germany, like in France, like even in the United States – who just elected very bizarre president – we Palestinians are free to elect exactly what the Palestinians want. Once it is Fatah, once it’s Hamas.”

SS: “And you think the Israelis are going to listen to this and your belief that, oh, the Palestinians can choose Hamas if they want to and still believe that there is any possible reason why they should listen to you talking about unitary state?”

AT: “They can listen to me talking about two-state solution. They are not listening. Neither for that, nor for that. And what is Netanyahu proposing for Israelis and Palestinians? More and more war, more and more confrontation, more and more friction, more and more bloodshed. I am proposing peace. I am proposing freedom for Palestinians and peace for Israelis and Palestinians. It is challenging.”

Sackur then brought up a topic which audiences would no doubt have had difficulty understanding seeing as the BBC has studiously avoided reporting it.

SS: “It is. If you wanted to build some bridges and build some confidence, there are certain things you could do. I mean for a start, you could denounce your fellow Arab-Israeli member of Knesset who is now in prison because he was smuggling telephones to Palestinian prisoners – Mr Ghattas. What did you make of what he did and how disappointed were you in him?”

AT: “The 13 MKs of the Joint List, all of us, are not using this way of struggle in order to act as parliamentarians. It is not the way. He said so. His colleagues in Balad said so. We, myself and others said so, and he is paying the price in the jail.” 

Sackur failed to inform audiences that, despite Tibi’s claims to the contrary, neither Ghattas nor some of his Joint List former colleagues have shown any sign of having reached the conclusion that “it is not the way”.

SS: “And why did you boycott Shimon Peres’ funeral?”

AT: “Because…I carried my condolences to his daughter…”

SS: No, you didn’t go to the funeral. Even Mahmoud Abbas went to the funeral. I’m just wondering again what kind of signal you are sending to the Israelis.”

AT: “Am I obliged to act exactly as the consensus – the Israeli consensus – is demanding from me? There is historical problem. I can understand Israelis when they cannot do something that hurt their feelings. Please understand our feeling as national leaders.”

SS: “I just wonder whether you pay heed to the words of the first Arab-Israeli to be a Supreme Court justice – and that in itself tells you something about the Israeli system. Salim Joubran, you know, he served in the Supreme Court, he was proud to do so, and toward the time he was leaving, he said, ‘yes, I complain a lot about the State of Israel’s treatment of Arab Israelis, but I am also complaining about us – leaders of the Arab community. We must take responsibility and handle problems’. Hasn’t got a point there? That you spend so much time grandstanding about the long-term prospects for a peaceful solution between Arab… between Palestinian and Israeli, you don’t spend much time trying to deliver a better life for your constituents.”

AT: “You are mistaken, Stephen, because according to the statistics and numbers of the Knesset activity, 85% of our activity is focused on social and economical issues of our community. And there is misleading coverage of our activity. Yes, we are responsible for the well-being of our community. We should be much more interested, focusing, acting in the issue, for example, of violence in our community, which is almost devastating.”

SS: “It’s a scourge – particularly violence against women inside Arab-Israeli communities.”

AT: “And who is taking part in every demonstration against that? Who issued a motion against that? Who issued a motion against using weapons in community events? Myself.”

SS: “And I guess that what the Israelis – I can hear the voices in my head – the Israelis watching this will say yes, and you are much freer to make those sorts of protests and to demand better from the community inside Israel that you would be if you were living in a village in the West Bank or indeed a different Arab country.”

AT: “Say it; in Syria or in Libya. Say it.”

SS: “Well, you can say it.”

AT: “It is a racist notice. You know why? Because to tell me, Ahmad, that because I am Arab that I should move to Syria, as they are demanding day by day in the Knesset, or I should compare myself to Third World countries, non-democratic, totalitarian regimes, when Israel is claiming it is democracy. The control group and the control states, Stephen, should be Sweden, France, England – not Libya, not Syria, not third states…Third World states in Africa or south America. I want to be equal, exactly like citizens in Kochav Yair, in Tel Aviv and I do not want to be compared with totalitarian regimes, but with democratic states. It is the test. Can you accept the idea that an Israeli citizen who is Arab is willing to be equal? “

SS: “It’s a good way to end this interview. Ahmad Tibi, thank you very much for being on Hardtalk.”

The people referred to by Sackur as “Israelis watching this” are of course not in need of a BBC programme to enlighten them on the topic of Ahmad Tibi’s record, views and agenda: they have after all spent nearly two decades watching him function as an anti-Zionist MK in their own parliament – perhaps the best refutation of his claims of ‘discrimination’ that there could be.

While it can be said that Stephen Sackur did question Ahmad Tibi on some of the positions he holds, the fact remains that BBC audiences around the world watching or listening to this programme went away with a plethora of inaccurate impressions about Israel due to the fact that Sackur refrained from challenging any of the multiple smears, falsehoods and distortions promoted by Tibi in this interview.

Related Articles:

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ hosts Ahmad Tibi – part one

 

 

 

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ hosts Ahmad Tibi – part one

Israeli MK Ahmad Tibi from the Joint List travelled to London earlier this month to speak at a conference organised by the pro-Hamas organisation ‘Middle East Monitor’ (MEMO).

While in the British capital, Tibi also gave an interview (available here to UK audiences and also here) to the BBC programme ‘Hardtalk‘ which was aired on March 7th on the BBC News Channel and the BBC World News Channel. A clip from the interview was promoted on the BBC News website under the title “Ahmad Tibi: Trump ‘promoting anarchy’ in Middle East” and an audio version was broadcast on BBC World Service radio (and also made available as a podcast) where it was presented with the following synopsis: 

“Stephen Sackur speaks to Ahmad Tibi. He is a veteran Arab Israeli MP and one time adviser to Yasser Arafat. President Donald Trump claimed he could broker the deal of the century between Israel and the Palestinian. Instead he seems to have entrenched the hostility after recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Is the Arab-Israeli experience a sign that the status quo is the only viable response to the conflict between Jews and Arabs?”

Stephen Sackur gave a very similar introduction to the filmed version of the interview but the audio version had a different introduction: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Sackur: “My guest today is an elected politician who insists that his is a life stripped of genuine freedom and democracy. Ahmad Tibi is a member of the Israeli Knesset – one of its deputy speakers in fact. He leads the Arab Movement for Change party and is a familiar figure to Israelis making impassioned speeches on the floor of the chamber in fluent Hebrew. Roughly a fifth of Israel’s population is Arab. They have citizenship, they can vote, but according to Tibi they remain second-class citizens in a state that he likens to apartheid South Africa. His parents were originally from Jaffa but fled during the war of 1948 and made a new home in the area of Israel known as the Arab Triangle. He is a trained gynecologist. But he became a prominent political figure who was a close advisor to Yasser Arafat during the Oslo peace process. Now of course that process is lifeless. President Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and suggested he isn’t committed to that old trope the two-state solution. So where does that leave the Arabs – both inside Israel and those Palestinians outside? Well Ahmad Tibi joins me now.”

Predictably, given the BBC’s intense focus on that topic in recent months, Sackur began with the subject of the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – also the topic of the MEMO conference attended by Tibi.

SS: “I think we have to start with the impact of the Donald Trump presidency on relations between Palestinians and Israelis. Would you agree that it has fundamentally changed the dynamic in the region?”

AT: “Yes, for the negative. I think that Trump and his administration promoted and promoting anarchy in the region and anarchy in the world by supporting, enhancing, encouraging, violation of international law and adopting one side on behalf of another. President Trump via his speech about Jerusalem, he totally adopted the Israeli narrative and the occupation narrative. To say that he and his Three Musketeers – advisors who are great supporters of the settlements – adopted the talking points of Benjamin Netanyahu…”

Far from challenging Tibi’s specious claim concerning ‘international law’, Sackur endorsed it.

SS: “Well, you can…you can make your point about international law but surely what Donald Trump has actually done is recognise reality in perhaps a more honest way than previous US presidents because the truth is it’s obvious to everyone that the Israeli capital is in Jerusalem.  That’s where the prime minister’s office is, it’s where the cabinet meets, it’s where the government buildings are and Donald Trump has said enough with this nonsense; let’s just recognise reality.”

AT: “That’s nonsense. Because 1967 – East Jerusalem was occupied in 1967, this is the reality. And if there is a thief in the area and he stole your house, it is a reality but you’re not supposed to accept reality as it is legitimate fact.”

Sackur refrained from reminding audiences that parts of Jerusalem were occupied before 1967 – by Jordan.

SS: “Sure but Trump did say in the course last December of announcing that he would move the embassy to Jerusalem – and we understand it may happen quicker than we thought this year – he did say look I’m not prejudging what the two parties finally agree on Jerusalem; they can do what they want, they can divide it in the future as they wish. We are simply recognising what we now see to be Israel’s capital.”

AT: He said more than that. In 1980, there was a motion, a law in the Knesset, saying exactly what he is saying in his speech. He adopted that law of unified capital of Israel, containing Supreme Court, government, parliament. He adopted that phrasing, even. He did not say that East Jerusalem is an occupied area. He did not say that East Jerusalem can be the capital, or should be the capital, of the Palestinians. He – and this is the most dangerous thing – he is dealing with the issue of Jerusalem as it is internal of the Israelis – and it is not.”

SS: “The fact is, he remains the most powerful man in the world – you could perhaps argue about that, China is the rising power – but none the less, Donald Trump when it comes to the Middle East is the most important man in the world. He has made a decision which reflects the fact that, frankly, many Palestinians would now acknowledge; you’ve lost. You have lost in the sense that your interests are never going to be achievable.”

AT: “I do not agree with you totally.”

SS: “You do…in part you do?”

AT: “It is one of the most toughest and difficult areas for the Palestinian people, I agree with that. But we had much more difficult phases in our history…of the Palestinian history. This nation, the Palestinian people, is very much insisting in implementing and achieving his national rights and it is rights of the people under occupation seeking to be free, to be independent, to be sovereign, alongside the state of Israel. And Mr Trump is saying to Palestinians…and to Israelis, you will take it all and to Israelis, you will take nothing. That’s why he has disqualified himself as a broker.”

SS: “But I suppose what I’m wondering is what you as an Arab – and let’s not forget, you’re an Israeli citizen, you serve in the Israeli Knesset, the Israeli parliament, you represent the interests of the Arab Israeli population in Israel. I wonder what you make of the reaction from Hamas leaders like Ismail Haniyeh saying things like, you know, ‘we would not allow Trump’s declaration to pass even if we lose our heads in the process’. All the talk of a new intifada, all the talk of Palestinians putting their lives on the line to protest, we have been here so many times before. Is there not now a weary resignation that says to you, in the privacy of your own mind, there is no point anymore to this sort of talk of laying down our lives, new Intifadas. It’s gone.”

AT: “I am representing the Arab Palestinian minority in Israel. We are part of the Palestinian people. There are three parts: Palestinians inside Israel, Palestinians in ’67 areas and Palestinians in the diaspora. But we are also citizens of the State of Israel.”

SS: “That’s right.”

AT: “We are supporting Palestinians self-determination and this right is not negotiable. And we are, as citizens also, saying in the Knesset, from the podium, I am saying in Arabic, in English, in Hebrew that we are promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace. We are not supporting violence – we said it in the past always – I am supporting nonviolent popular resistance. It succeeded in the last year when the magnometers [metal detectors] were put in the Al Aqsa Mosque and it succeeded when the church closed…the church because the government official tried to impose taxes on the Christian church in Jerusalem.”

Sackur provided no context to either of Tibi’s examples, meaning that audiences remained unaware that metal detectors were not “put in the Al Aqsa Mosque” at all but at the entrance to Temple Mount following a terror attack at the site by three Arab-Israelis. Neither were they told that the “taxes” are not “on the Christian church” but on church-owned properties that are not used for worship – just as in the UK.

Neither did he question Tibi as to how his claim that “we are not supporting violence” squares with the fact that members of his Knesset list paid a condolence visit to the families of terrorists in 2016.

Sackur then brought up the Ahed Tamimi case – but failed to inform BBC audiences that the charges against her include incitement to violence: again a relevant topic given Tibi’s claim to support exclusively non-violent protest.

SS: “Yeah, one could say it is easy for you to talk about protests; the usual words in the Knesset. But if you live in the occupied West Bank, the reality of protest is much more dangerous. I mean we have in our minds perhaps right now the case of Ahed Tamimi – the young girl, teenage girl, in the West Bank village who struck out at an Israeli officer because she was so angry at what the Israeli troops were doing in and around her village. She is now in a court facing serious charges and may well end up in prison. You know, it is easy for you as an Arab-Israeli to say this but much more difficult for protesters in the West Bank not to jeopardise their own security in this call for civil disobedience.”

AT: “First of all I am accompanying Ahed Tamimi in her military court. She’s courageous…”

SS: “You can walk away at the end of the day. She can’t.”

The second half of the interview will be discussed in part two of this post. 

 

 

The prison story from Israel the BBC chose to report – and one it didn’t

On June 29th the BBC News website published an article titled “Ehud Olmert, Israel’s jailed ex-PM, to be released early” on its Middle East page. That report remained in situ until July 2nd when it was replaced by a follow-up article titled “Ehud Olmert, Israel’s jailed ex-PM, is released early“.

The article tells readers that:

“Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been released from prison on parole after serving two-thirds of a 27-month sentence for fraud.”

And:

“Earlier, the Israeli parole board said Olmert had undergone a “significant rehabilitation process” in prison and his behaviour had been largely “impeccable”.”

It does not clarify to audiences that Israeli law allows the possibility of reduction of a sentence by a third if certain conditions are met and so Olmert’s case is not exceptional. Neither are readers told of the terms of the parole.

If the appearance of two BBC reports on this topic in four days seems odd, it is worth noting that the BBC News website frequently displays a penchant for covering domestic Israeli stories involving public figures and legal or criminal issues.

Israel court extends ex-PM Ehud Olmert’s jail term by a month (10/2/16 to 11/2/16)

Sara Netanyahu: Israeli PM’s wife mistreated staff, court says (10/2/16 to 12/2/16)

Ehud Olmert jail term: Israel ex-PM begins sentence for bribery (15/2/16 to 16/2/16)

Israel’s Moshe Katsav to be freed on parole (18/12/16 to 19/12/16)

Israel’s Netanyahu denies wrongdoing ahead of investigation (30/12/16 to2/1/17)

Israeli police question PM Netanyahu in corruption probe (2/1/17 to 4/1/17)

Israel PM Netanyahu questioned again in corruption probe (5/1/17 to 8/1/17)

Israel bribery inquiry: ‘Audiotape’ adds to pressure on PM Netanyahu (8/1/17 to 9/1/17)

Netanyahus win libel case over car row in convoy story (11/6/17 to 14/6/17)

However, one story that would definitely fit into that category has not been covered at all by BBC News.

On the same day that Ehud Olmert was released, another former politician began serving a two-year prison sentence.

“Former Joint (Arab) List lawmaker Basel Ghattas on Sunday was set to begin his two-year prison sentence for smuggling contraband to Palestinian security prisoners in an Israeli jail.

In April, the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court accepted the plea bargain reached between state prosecutors and Ghattas, who was convicted of exploiting his position to sneak cellphones and notes to convicted Palestinian terrorists.

After accepting the deal, the court handed down a two-year prison term to Ghattas, as well as 18 months probation and a NIS 120,000 ($33,000) fine.

He will be incarcerated at the Gilboa Prison.

Ghattas’s conviction was found to carry moral turpitude, meaning he will be barred from serving in the Knesset for seven years after completing his sentence.”

Despite its usually lively interest in legal cases and criminal investigations involving Israeli politicians and public figures and although this story has been ongoing for over six months, the BBC News website has not found it at all newsworthy.

Related Articles:

BBC News silent on arrest of Israeli MK

MK’s plea bargain resignation not newsworthy for BBC 

BBC WS ‘Newsday’ promotes Olmert trials conspiracy theory