BBC News continues to avoid the issue of Joint Arab List politics

Following the election in Israel at the beginning of March we documented the BBC’s provision of brief descriptions of various competing parties’ locations on the political map, with the exception of one list.

BBC News signposts Israeli political lists – except one

As efforts to form a coalition government proceed, that practice continues.

Listeners to a news bulletin aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on March 16th heard a report from Tom Bateman (from 2:09:05 here) about the president of Israel having tasked the leader of the Blue & White party with forming a government after he received the most endorsements from members of the Knesset.

Newsreader: “Benny Gantz, the main political rival to the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been given the chance to form a government after winning the support of two key parties. There have been three inconclusive elections in Israel in the last 12 months. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

Bateman: “The backing for Benny Gantz is a blow to Benjamin Netanyahu but it does little to break the deadlock that has paralysed Israeli politics. Most MPs supported Mr Gantz for the first go at putting together a coalition but their appetite to dislodge Mr Netanyahu is all some of them really agree on. The groups backing Mr Gantz include the Arab Israeli parties who won record support in the election and a nationalist, hawkish former defence minister who turned on Mr Netanyahu a year ago. The under pressure prime minister is seeking, among other options, to forge an emergency government to deal with the Coronavirus outbreak.”

In other words, while BBC audiences heard Avigdor Lieberman – leader of the Yisrael Beitenu party – described as “nationalist, hawkish”, no political categorisation was given for the Joint Arab List.

A written report on the same story appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on March 16th under the headline “Israel election: Gantz vows to form ‘broad’ unity government within days” and with the tag “Coronavirus pandemic”. There readers found the following:

“The election on 2 March was Israel’s third in less than a year. Neither of the main party leaders was able to command a majority following the last two rounds.

This time, Likud won 36 seats, and allied right-wing and religious parties another 22. But that left Mr Netanyahu three short of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

Blue and White meanwhile won 33 seats; the Joint List representing Israel’s Arab minority came third with 15 seats; the centre-left Labour-Gesher-Meretz list won seven; and the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party also got seven.” [emphasis added]

Once again we see that while the BBC apparently thinks it useful to provide audiences with tools to navigate the Israeli political map, it does not provide any such signposting regarding the Joint Arab List. Instead, that list is portrayed as “representing Israel’s Arab minority” – the 16% of the Israeli electorate that the BBC inevitably chooses to portray as one monochrome group.

Information about the politics and ideologies of the four parties that make up the Joint Arab List is however crucial for members of the BBC’s audience who wish to understand both this story about Gantz trying to form a coalition government and another alternative apparently on the table but not adequately explained by the BBC – an emergency government. As Haviv Retting Gur notes at the Times of Israel:

“The Arab factions united in the Joint List are a diverse collection of liberals, Islamists, progressives and ultra-nationalists. Most are openly anti-Zionist and some have expressed proud and open support for ruthless terrorists responsible for some of the most infamous atrocities ever inflicted on Israelis. […]

One signal of a political faction’s seriousness can be found in its willingness to soberly prioritize its many goals and to sacrifice less-important ones for those that matter more. That may sound obvious, but a party like Balad, one of the four factions that make up the Joint List, had proved over the years that it could not look past its obeisance to radical Palestinian nationalism. Its members have joined the 2010 Turkish flotilla to Gaza, praised a murderer of Israeli children, and even spied for the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.”

So while the BBC is capable of identifying “religious” parties allied to the Likud and describes Yisrael Beitenu as “nationalist”, it refrains from informing its audiences that, for example, one of the parties making up the Joint Arab List (Ra’am) is also a religious group and another (Balad) is no less nationalist.

Another point worthy of note in this BBC report concerns the following statements:

“Meanwhile, Mr Gantz also criticised what he said were “the illegitimate efforts by the current prime minister to evade justice”.

Mr Netanyahu had been due in court on Tuesday to face charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in connection with three separate cases. But the hearing has now been postponed until at least 24 May because of the Covid-19 outbreak.”

Readers trying to make up their own minds about that statement from Gantz would have benefited from the knowledge that the court session originally scheduled for March 17th was postponed by the judges assigned to the case.

 

 

 

 

BBC News signposts Israeli political lists – except one

Last week the BBC News website published three written reports concerning the general election held in Israel on March 2nd.

1) Israelis vote in unprecedented third general election in a year 2/3/2020

2) Israel election: Netanyahu claims ‘biggest win’ amid vote count 3/3/2020

3) Israel election: Netanyahu seeks defectors after failing to secure majority 4/3/2020

In all those reports BBC audiences were provided with brief descriptions of various competing parties’ locations on the political map. [emphasis added]

Article 1:

“In December, he [Netanyahu] comfortably won a primary election for leadership of his right-wing Likud party.

His main opponent in the general election is Benny Gantz, 60, a retired general who served as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) before entering politics to lead the centrist Blue and White party.”

“If Blue and White wins, it will bring to an end more than 10 years of rule by Likud, which advocates a right-wing nationalist agenda.”

Article 2:

“With 90% of votes counted, his [Netanyahu’s] Likud party and its right-wing allies were on course to win 59 seats, Israeli media reported.”

“With about 90% of votes counted, Likud had 29.35%, compared to 26.34% for Mr Gantz’s centrist Blue and White alliance, the Central Elections Committee said.”

“…the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism 10 and seven respectively; the centre-left Labour-Gesher-Meretz list seven; the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party seven; and the right-wing Yamina alliance six.”

Article 3:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc appears to have failed to secure a parliamentary majority in Monday’s general election.

With 99% of votes counted, Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party was on track to win 36 seats, and allied right-wing and religious parties another 22.”

“Likud is encouraging defections from the rival centrist Blue and White alliance, which is set to win 33 seats.

The nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party could also tip the balance with its seven seats, although it has ruled out joining a Likud-led coalition that includes religious parties.”

“Nitzan Horowitz, leader of left-wing Meretz party, said there would be a clear majority for the law in the Knesset and that it was “the moral thing to do”.

But Defence Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Yamina alliance, said it would be “extremely undemocratic and spit in the face of half the country”.”

There was however one notable exception made to that editorial practice of helping readers navigate the Israeli political map.

Article 1:

“A strong election result for the Joint List, an alliance of Arab parties, could favour Benny Gantz’s chances of forming a government propped up by their support.”

Article 2:

“The Joint List alliance representing Israel’s Arab minority was on track to get 15 seats…”

Article 3:

“The Joint List representing Israel’s Arab minority is set to come third with 15 seats.”

“Israel’s Arab Joint List had its best ever election and is the third largest group in parliament.”

As we see, in contrast to the other lists running in the election, the BBC did not make any effort to inform its audiences where the Joint Arab List lies on the political map or which four separate parties make up that “alliance”.

Evidently as far as the BBC is concerned, all its audiences need to know about the ideologies of parties included on Joint Arab List such the communist Arab-Jewish party Hadash, the Muslim religious party Ra’am and the anti-Zionist Balad is that they ‘represent’ the 16% of the Israeli electorate that the BBC inevitably chooses to portray as one monochrome group.

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More BBC Israel pre-election framing from Tom Bateman

As we saw previously, pre-election reporting from the BBC’s Jerusalem-based correspondent Tom Bateman focused on simplistic portrayal of the Arab Israeli vote and the Joint Arab list in a filmed report published on the BBC News website. Bateman also produced a similarly themed audio report for the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (part of which was previously discussed here) in which he visited the Galilee village of Gush Halav, also known as Jish.

Presenter Paul Henley introduced the item (from 45:05 here). [emphasis in italics in the original]

Henley: “Israel will have its third election in a year on Monday; testament to deadlock in the political system, with Benjamin Netanyahu unable so far to get the majority he needs for his leading Right-wing block. But going into this election the Arab Israeli parties are claiming to be making significant ground. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman reports.”

Bateman opened by describing his walk through the village with its mayor, linking a questionable statement about the weather with a widely condemned incident which took place last month.

Bateman: “These hills of northern Israel are sun-drenched even in the winter but the Arab Israeli residents here recently came under attack. […] In Jish Jewish extremists slashed hundreds of tyres and warned Arabs against assimilation. The police are investigating but have made no arrests.”

As we see, despite knowing that the police “have made no arrests”, Bateman nevertheless claimed to know the identity of the perpetrators. As for his claim that “Arabs” were “warned…against assimilation”, the graffiti concerned actually read “Jews wake up and stop assimilating” – as reported in the English language local press.

Just as inaccurate is Bateman’s blanket description of the residents of Gush Halav (Jish) as “Arab Israeli”: the majority of the village’s population are in fact Maronites.

Bateman went on to ask his host “what’s it like being an Arab Israeli?” and listeners heard Bateman paraphrase his response.

Bateman: “’We live here for better or for worse’, he says. ‘We don’t have the same rights as the others but we try to preserve our community, our heritage, our existence. And we will stay here’.”

Bateman made no effort to clarify to listeners that all Israeli citizens have the same rights regardless of ethnicity, including the right to run for public office, before going on to introduce one of the people who also appeared in his filmed report.

Bateman: “I meet Ayob Farah on the beach in Haifa – a mixed city of Arab and Jewish Israelis. He sings satire about fellow Palestinian citizens of Israel, as he prefers to be called, who will vote. He says they may only end up propping up a rival government to Mr Netanyahu that won’t help them either.”

Listeners then heard Bateman’s reference to a small part of the US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ proposal, which he failed to note had already been rejected by the leaders of both main parties before his report was aired.

He closed his report:

Bateman: “The ice cream sellers outnumber the political canvassers overlooking the Mediterranean coast here. After all, this is the third election in a year. Its ingredients have been similar to the last two. Mr Netanyahu warns that his main rival Benny Gantz will have to rely on the support of Arab parties to win. A security risk to the Jewish state, he suggests. While the Joint List of Arab parties is aiming for an increase – up to 16 MPs in the 120 seat parliament – but the sentiment for many of their supporters is likely to remain it doesn’t matter who you vote for, the government always wins.”

Once again Bateman made no effort whatsoever to inform BBC audiences worldwide which parties make up the Joint List and what kind of political views they represent – thereby denying them the ability to judge why some might perceive members of that list as “a security risk”. And yet again Bateman lumped Israel’s multi-faceted ethnic groups into the simplistic category of Arab Israelis in order to promote his own framing.

BBC’s Bateman sketches a simplistic portrait of the Arab Israeli vote

On March 1st – the evening before Israel’s election – the BBC put out a report by its Jerusalem-based correspondent Tom Bateman which focused on the Joint Arab List.

Visitors to the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page found a filmed report titled “Israel elections: Will the Arab Israeli vote swing the third election in a year?”.

“Parties representing Arab citizens of Israel believe they could see a high turnout among their voters in the country’s third election in less than a year, on 2 March.

The success of the ‘Joint List’ alliance – a bloc of Arab parties, could help shape the overall result by boosting support for Benny Gantz, the main rival to long-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But many Arab Israelis feel their rights have been eroded by Israel’s right wing government, and some are refusing outright to take part in the election.”

Bateman travelled to Haifa to interview four Arab Israelis – one boycotting the election and three intending to vote.

Bateman: “Israel has been in political deadlock for a year. They are now onto their third election. And this time round one of the groups claiming to have momentum are the Arab Israeli parties. There are getting on for 2 million Arab citizens of Israel, that’s about a fifth of the population.”

Bateman: “If more Arab Israelis turn out to vote [than last time] and vote for their parties and get more MPs in parliament it could on the one hand, create more of a block to Benjamin Netanyahu being able to put together a right-wing coalition and potentially more support for his main rival, Benny Gantz.”

By the time that latter statement was aired, the head of the Joint Arab List had made it clear that scenario was unlikely.

Viewers were told that:

“The Joint List of Arab parties became the third biggest group at the last election.”

The Joint Arab List was also the third biggest group in the 2015 election but in the April 2019 election the four parties it comprises did not run as a combined list.

“Their leader Ayman Odeh thinks that their turnout will grow this time because his voters say they are fed up with Mr Netanyahu’s policies. During this election, his party has also been reaching out to left-wing and minority Jewish voters. Last time, a fifth of Arab citizens voted for majority Jewish parties.”

Interestingly, BBC audiences did not get to hear from any of those Arab Israelis who do not vote for the Joint List and so with the exception of that one sentence, the Arab Israeli vote was misleadingly portrayed as a uniform block – as reflected in the film’s opening caption: “Arab Israelis and the third election”.

“Mr Netanyahu often cites democratic participation by all groups as a source of pride for Israel. Historically, participation by Arab citizens has been high. In a close race, Arab Israeli turnout could help shape the overall result.”

Obviously the level of turnout of 20% of any nation’s citizens would “help shape the overall result”, regardless of ethnicity.

Also remarkable is the fact that at no point in this report were BBC audiences informed which parties make up the Joint List and what kind of political views they represent. Ayman Odeh did indeed court certain sectors outside his list’s usual base during this year’s campaign but, as the Times of Israel pointed out:

“A more significant obstacle between the Joint List alliance and its coveted Jewish votes is its inclusion of the Islamist Ra’am party and the Balad party, which contests Israel’s Jewish character.

Odeh is the secular leader of Hadash, a political offshoot of the Israeli Communist Party and other leftist groups. […]

But it’s not just Hadash that’s on the ballot. It’s the entire Joint List alliance — and many potential Jewish voters recoil at the words of Balad’s terrorist-supporting female MK Heba Yazbak, feel threatened when they see Palestinian flags at protests, and can’t vote for a party of which some members oppose LGBTQ rights.”

So while BBC audiences heard the opinions of a philosophy student who would not vote and three women who would – along with claims such as “a lot of racism against us” and “second class citizens” – they were told nothing of the policies of “their parties” which make up the Joint Arab List or how those policies have affected efforts to form past governments.

This of course is not the first time that BBC audiences have seen simplistic reporting on the topic of Arab Israeli voters: Kevin Connolly likewise portrayed that sector in monochrome terms in 2013 and 2015

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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.

Related Articles:

Reviewing the BBC’s record of reporting on Israeli elections

The BBC’s Haneen Zoabi show

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.