Documenting BBC amplification of an UNRWA campaign

Among the topics (see ‘related articles’ below) that the BBC chose to promote during 2018 in a manner that went beyond ordinary reporting both in terms of the amount of content produced and adherence to standards of ‘due impartiality’ was that of cuts in US aid to Palestinians – particularly via the UN agency UNRWA.

Nearly two weeks before any official US announcement was made the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ was already framing the topic for listeners in an item that purported to examine the question of “who would lose out the most if President Trump followed through on his threat to cut funding to the Palestinians?”

January 3rd, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part one

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part two

“As we see, listeners to this item heard three views in all – two from Palestinians and one from a think-tank fellow with a record of being less than neutral. No American or Israeli views were sought by the programme’s producers. Audiences were told that any cut in US aid to Palestinians would cause the Palestinian Authority to collapse with detrimental results for Israel, European and American interests and the Middle East peace process. They were twice told that the US president is ‘blackmailing’ the Palestinians.”

On January 16th the BBC News website reported that:

“The US is withholding more than half of a $125m (£90m) instalment destined for the UN relief agency for the Palestinians, American officials say.

It will provide $60m in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) but will hold back a further $65m.”

January 16th, BBC News website:

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background (see also here)

“While…relevant background was withheld, the BBC’s article did amplify reactions from former UN official Jan Egeland and the PLO. […] Obviously BBC audiences cannot reach informed opinions on this particular story so long as the BBC continues to refrain from providing them with the relevant background concerning the long-standing debate surrounding UNRWA that they have been denied for so many years.”

The next morning the top story in the various editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ was described as follows:

“The US is withholding more than half of a $125m (£90m) instalment destined for the UN relief agency for the Palestinians, American officials say. It will provide $60m in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) but will hold back a further $65m.”

January 17th, ‘Newsday’, BBC World Service radio:

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

The interviewees heard by listeners were as follows:

05:06 edition: Jan Egeland (Norwegian Refugee Council), Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

06:06 edition: Antonio Guterres (UN), Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO)

07:06 edition: Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO), Jonathan Schanzer (FDD)

08:06 edition: Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO), Jonathan Schanzer (FDD)

09:06 edition: Jonathan Schanzer (FDD), Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

10:06 edition: Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

“The majority of the opinions heard…were strongly critical of the [US] decision and the sole exception was in the contributions from Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. […] Obviously that imbalance in itself compromises the BBC’s claim to produce impartial reporting “reflecting a breadth and diversity of opinion“. Moreover, listeners heard numerous inaccurate and misleading claims from both Gunness and Barghouti that presenters made no attempt whatsoever to challenge or correct. No attempt was made to raise any of the serious issues surrounding UNRWA’s functioning and agenda despite their clear relevance to the story.” 

The BBC News website published two additional reports on the same story:

January 17th & January 26th, BBC News website:

Three BBC articles on US aid promote an irrelevant false comparison

Four days later, an article by Yolande Knell appeared in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

January 30th, BBC News website:

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

“…just 72 words in Yolande Knell’s 882 word report were devoted to the provision of superficial background information on UNRWA. […]  While content provided by UNRWA staffers Najwa Sheikh Ahmed and (former BBC employee) Chris Gunness makes up nearly half of Yolande Knell’s 882 word article, once again this PR item amplifying UNRWA’s campaign against the US administration’s reduced donation fails to provide BBC audiences with the full range of impartial information concerning the UN agency that is needed for broader understanding of the story.”

In February UNRWA’s commissioner-general, Pierre Krahenbuhl, was given a long slot on BBC WS radio.

February 19th, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR again – part two

“Obviously this interview was not intended to provide BBC audiences with information which would enhance their understanding of the criticism of UNRWA’s mission and performance. Rather, the BBC chose – not for the first time – to provide the UN agency’s head with a friendly platform from which to promote his PR campaign in a near monologue that went unchallenged in any serious manner.”

In May BBC WS radio audiences heard Yolande Knell interview the Jordanian minister of information.

May 9th, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

BBC’s special report on Palestinian refugees avoids the real issues

UNRWA’s role in keeping millions of Palestinians in refugee status was not explained to listeners and neither was that of the Arab League.”

The following month listeners to the same programme heard Nada Tawfik promoting UNRWA PR.

June 13th, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

Unbalanced promotion of UNRWA PR on BBC World Service radio

“To be honest, it is difficult to imagine how this report could be more unhelpful to BBC audiences trying to understand either the situation in the Gaza Strip, the reasons behind the US decision to withhold part of its voluntary funding of UNRWA or the role and record of UNRWA itself.”

In late August the BBC WS radio programme ‘Newshour’ once again presented preemptive framing of a US announcement that had not yet been made in a long item that included an interview with the Jordanian foreign minister.

August 30th, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part one

An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part two

“This interview with a senior minister from a country where some 40% of UNRWA clients live could obviously have been employed to provide BBC audiences with much-needed enhancement of understanding of the background to the ‘UNRWA in financial crisis’ story that the BBC has been reporting since January. Unsurprisingly given the corporation’s record on this story, once again that opportunity was passed up.”

The US announcement on August 31st was covered in a written report published on the same day in which readers saw quotes from the Palestinian Authority, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness and the then PLO representative in Washington.

August 31st, BBC News website:

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part one

“Once again BBC audiences did not see an explanation of the changes to UNRWA’s mission over the years which have created the situation in which the number of people registered as refugees has grown rather than diminished in 70 years.”

That report was replaced by another one the next day.

September 1st, BBC News website:

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part two

“…16.3% of the report’s word count was given over to criticism of the US decision from various Palestinian factions, including the PLO (together with a link) and the Hamas terror group. An additional 48 words were used to describe Palestinian denunciation of previous unrelated US Administration decisions. A further 13.7% of the report’s word count was devoted to amplification of statements from UNRWA’s spokesman Chris Gunness, meaning that in all, 30% of the article was devoted to informing BBC audiences of condemnations of the US move.”

Listeners to BBC WS radio on the same day also heard from UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness.  

September 1st, ‘Newshour’, BBC World Service radio:

BBC WS listeners get more unchallenged UNRWA narrative

“…BBC World Service audiences heard unchallenged UNRWA messaging together with promotion of Palestinian talking points in a long item which once again did little to contribute to their understanding of the background to this story.”

Also in September an edition of a BBC Radio 4 “ethical and religious” programme included an item billed “where politics and morality clash – Edward discusses the cut in funding for Palestinian projects by the US Administration”.

September 23rd, ‘Sunday’, BBC Radio 4:

More to a BBC Radio 4 item on ‘morality’ of aid to Palestinians than meets the eye

“Yet again BBC audiences were denied information concerning UNRWA’s problematic record and were given no insight into the background to its politically motivated perpetuation of the refugee issue. Yet again BBC audiences heard no discussion of why citizens of the Gaza Strip and PA controlled areas are classified as refugees and deliberately kept dependent on foreign aid.

However, in this item Radio 4 listeners heard more than an academic discussion. They heard a significant contribution from the “head of marketing and fundraising” at an NGO that is raising money for this particular cause – a cause that was repeatedly portrayed to the Sunday morning audience as the right “moral” choice.”

As the above examples show, the BBC’s coverage of this story was both generous and blatantly one-sided. While repeatedly providing platforms for UNRWA officials and supporters, the corporation made no effort to explain the issues at the root of the long-standing debate surrounding UNRWA that are the context to the story.

In other words, the BBC’s approach to this story, which ran for much of 2018, was to self-conscript to a political campaign rather than to provide audiences with the full range of information necessary for them to reach their own informed opinions on the topic.

Related Articles:

Reviewing a BBC slap to the face of impartial journalism

Revisiting another of the BBC’s 2018 campaigns

 

Advertisements

Weekend long read

1) At the JNS Yaakov Lappin takes a look at a story which long since dropped off the BBC’s radar – Egypt’s campaign against the ISIS branch in Sinai.

“With security threats to Israel from Iran and Hezbollah along the northern borders, and Hamas and other terror elements in the Gaza Strip to the south often receiving the lion’s share of public attention, the activities of the Islamic State-affiliated terror group state in the large Sinai Peninsula are often overlooked.

However, efforts by Egypt, along with quiet reported Israeli support, to crack down on the group appear to be making significant progress. Although a large-scale counter-terrorism operation has not eliminated the threat, it has greatly reduced it, a senior Israeli defense analyst told JNS.”

2) The ITIC provides a “Profile of Ziyad al-Nakhalah, the New Palestinian Islamic Jihad Leader“.

“On September 28, 2018, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) spokesman Da’ud Shehab announced the election of Ziyad al-Nakhalah as secretary general. Al-Nakhalah, the organization’s third leader, replaced Ramadan Abdallah Shalah, who has been in a coma for the past six months (following a series of strokes). The PIJ is Iran’s preferred proxy in the internal Palestinian arena. Ziyad al-Nakhalah, who has strong connections with Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Qods Force, plays a central role in foster and promoting the PIJ’s collaboration with Iran. Therefore it can be expected that under al-Nakhalah’s leadership the PIJ will continue to promote Iran’s interests in the Gaza Strip and in the internal Palestinian arena in general; and in return the PIJ will profit from generous Iranian financial and military support, which will help it preserve its status as the second most important terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip (after Hamas).”

3) At the INSS Gilead Sher and Mor Ben-Kalifa discuss the “Challenge to the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty“.

“One year prior to the automatic renewal of the annex to the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty, King Abdullah announced that Jordan would not renew the special regime governing the areas of Naharayim and Zofar for another twenty-five years. Jordan, he said, will impose its sovereignty fully over these areas. The dire socio-economic and demographic situation in Jordan, coupled with the intensifying grass-roots protests throughout the Hashemite kingdom and the political deadlock in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, has heightened public pressure on King Abdullah to cancel the peace treaty, whether in part or in its entirety. Over the years, Israeli-Jordanian relations have weathered ups and downs, but the parties succeeded in overcoming even the most extreme crises. The profound common interests that Jordan and Israel have shared for decades may help in overcoming the current challenge – provided that the crisis is handled promptly through covert dialogue, far from the spotlight.”

4) Jonathan Spyer takes a look at “The Return of ISIS“.

“So IS as an organization has survived the successful US-led destruction of the quasi-state it created in 2014.  It has a leadership structure, money, fighters, weaponry and it is currently constructing a network of support in Sunni Arab areas of Iraq and Syria. These areas take in territory under the nominal control of the government of Iraq, the US-aligned Syrian Democratic Forces and the Assad regime.  Small scale attacks have already begun in some areas. The return of the Islamic State in the dimensions it reached in the summer of 2014 does not look likely or imminent.  But the prospects of an IS-led ongoing Sunni insurgency, with roots deep in the Sunni Arab outlying areas of Syria, Iraq and the border between them is an increasingly likely prospect.  The Caliphate may be in ruins.  But Islamic State is back.”

Weekend long read

1) At the FDD, the Institute for Science and International Security documents “New Information about the Parchin Site“.

“A great deal of on-the-ground information about Iran’s Parchin site has publicly emerged.  This site was involved prior to 2004 in high explosive testing related to the development of nuclear weapons.  The new information, mainly in the form of Iranian documents and photos, is from an archive seized by Israel in Tehran, a fact that was publicly revealed on April 30, 2018 by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  He reported that this archive shows that in 2003 Iran was operating a nuclear weapons program, codenamed AMAD Plan, which aimed to build five nuclear weapons and prepare an underground nuclear test site, if a political decision was made to test. The Parchin site was a key part of that nuclear weapons research and development effort.”

2) Dr Shiraz Maher has published an essay titled “The primacy of praxis: clerical authority in the Syrian conflict”.

“A close look at the competing claims, actors, and movements for authority within the Syrian civil war reveals three distinct periods of political and religious influence: that of Syrian scholars, who were the first to inject religious language into the revolution; that of Salafi scholars predominantly from the Gulf; and lastly, that of jihadi organizations like ISIS and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, who were active on the ground.

This paper focuses on which figures relied on action—rather than theoretical abstraction—to establish legitimacy and authority on the ground in Syria. Tracing the conflict from the first clerical attempts to coordinate the Syrian opposition to the conflict’s regionalization, and, later, internationalization, this paper demonstrates that the words of actors on the ground are more likely than those of far-off figures—however popular—to resound effectively.”

3) At the JCPA, Yoni Ben Menachem takes a look at the background to a story first reported by the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh.

“On October 13, 2018, Sheikh Akhram a-Sabri, preacher of the al-Aqsa Mosque, issued a fatwa (ruling in Islamic law) stating that anyone who sells property in the Old City of Jerusalem to Jews no longer belongs to the Islamic religion.

“We will not accept his repentance, and he will not be buried in a Muslim cemetery,” Sabri declared. […]

On October 20, 2018, the Jerusalem police and the Israel Security Agency (ISA) apprehended Adnan Gheith, the PA’s Jerusalem governor, and Jihad al-Faqih, director of the PA’s intelligence office in east Jerusalem, both of whom are supporters of Gen. Majid Faraj. They were arrested on suspicion of abducting a Beit Hanina resident (whose name is known to the author), a known realtor dealing in land and property, whom they suspected of selling a property in the area of Herod’s Gate in the Old City.

The realtor is an Israeli citizen who also holds a U.S. passport.”

4) Also at the JCPA, Nadav Shragai discusses a Jordanian request.

“Jordan has asked Israel to allow it to build a fifth minaret on the Temple Mount, on the eastern wall of the Mount, facing the Mount of Olives. The Jordanian request is not new, and as far as it is known, at least at this stage, Israel does not intend to allow it. This issue has again been put on the public agenda, along with other matters relating to the ties between Jordan and Israel on the Temple Mount, in light of Jordan’s decision not to renew the lease agreement for land in Naharayim and the Arava, which Israeli farmers have been working for the past 25 years.”

BBC News employee breaches social media editorial guidelines

Meet Majd Yousef. Hailing from Jordan and now living in London, she is currently employed as a YouTube editor at BBC News and two years ago, described her job at the time as follows:

“Majd Yousef is an Online Editor at BBC World Services and a YouTube Editor at BBC Arabic. Majd specializes in online videos in general, and news in particular. At BBC, Majd is responsible for creating publishing strategies for news and programs, pulling analytics and feedback, and keeping an eye on what is trending in the Arab region. Having worked previously in the same position at Al Jazeera English in Doha, her passion for digital media and online publishing goes back to her days at Kharabeesh, an online entertainment network where she worked as a Publishing Manager for over 2 years. […]

I am responsible for everything BBC Arabic publishes on its YouTube channel; I set the online strategy for our different programs and make editorial decisions of what to publish, based on our ongoing analysis of the audience’s behavior.”

Ms Yousef has also contributed to written BBC content.

As we have unfortunately had cause to note here on numerous occasions in the past, BBC editorial guidelines on the personal use of social media state that:

“…when someone clearly identifies their association with the BBC and/or discusses their work, they are expected to behave appropriately when on the Internet, and in ways that are consistent with the BBC’s editorial values and policies.”

And:

“The BBC’s reputation for impartiality and objectivity is crucial. The public must be able to trust the integrity of BBC programmes and services. Our audiences need to be confident that the outside activities of our presenters, programme makers and other staff do not undermine the BBC’s impartiality or reputation and that editorial decisions are not perceived to be influenced by any commercial or personal interests. […] Even if they are not identified as a BBC staff member, editorial staff and staff in politically sensitive areas should not be seen to support any political party or cause.”

And:

“Impartiality is a particular concern for those working in News and Current Affairs. Nothing should appear on their personal blogs or microblogs which undermines the integrity or impartiality of the BBC. For example, News and Current Affairs staff should not: […]

advocate any particular position on an issue of current public controversy or debate.”

When, on October 21st, the king of Jordan announced that he will not renew two annexes of the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan concerning territory leased to Israel, Majd Yousef nevertheless made her opinion on the issue very clear in a Tweet sent from a Twitter account identifying her as a BBC employee.

Ms Yousef also sent several additional problematic Tweets concerning the same topic, including one using the terms “we” and “our” – i.e. Jordanians.

“It’s important to recall the appendix to the agreement, this is a one year notice prior to the execution, i.e. we must make sure it’s being carried out next year, then according to the agreement the two sides enter a stage of consultations after the notice – let’s see who is “consulting” on our behalf before we celebrate…”

Apparently someone at the BBC recognised that Majd Yousef’s Tweets breach BBC editorial guidelines on the personal use of social media because two days after they were sent, her Twitter account was deleted.

But at least we now have some insight into the opinions behind the “editorial decisions” that go into making videos for BBC News.

Related Articles:

Omissions in BBC account of background to Jordan land lease story

‘Ensuring accuracy’ at the BBC Monitoring Jerusalem office

BBC WS airbrushes terror out of a story about Palestinian prisoners

 

 

Omissions in BBC account of background to Jordan land lease story

On October 21st the BBC News website ran a report titled “Jordan seeks to end Israel land lease” which relates to the Jordanian king’s announcement on the same day that he will not renew two annexes of the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan concerning territory leased to Israel.

“Jordan says it plans to end a lease of two areas of land to Israel that was agreed in annexes to the 1994 peace treaty between the two countries.

The areas are Naharayim in the north and Tzofar in the south, known as Baqura and Ghamr in Arabic.

The lease governing them was for 25 years and had been due for renewal. […]

Under the terms of the annex to the peace deal, the lease would be extended automatically unless one party gave notice a year before the lease ended, leading to talks on the matter.”

While the first part of the article gives readers a reasonable account of the story, the later part – under the sub-heading “Why would Jordan want to end the lease?” – provides an incomplete account of the story’s background.

“King Abdullah has been under pressure from Jordanian MPs and the Jordanian public not to renew the lease for the two areas. Eighty-seven Jordanian MPs have signed a petition urging an end to the lease.

Last Friday protesters in the Jordanian capital Amman called for the lease to be ended and campaigns have also taken place on social media.

It follows recent strains in the relationship between Jordan and Israel over issues including the status of Jerusalem and the lack of progress on a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.”

The BBC chose not to inform its audiences that – as the Jerusalem Post reports – there are elements in Jordan that would like to see an end to more than just the lease on the two specific areas of land.

“In very general terms, it’s fair to say that the 1994 peace agreement did not filter down to Jordanian masses. The Jordanians might already be drinking Israeli water, are scheduled to be heating their homes with Israeli natural gas in 2020, and benefit in numerous ways from security cooperation with Israel, but, for the most part, they don’t like Israel.
And this is something that King Abdullah II has to take into account.
Jordan’s announcement on Sunday regarding the Naharayim (Baqura) area near the Kinneret and part of Zofar (al Ghamar), in the Arava, did not knock anyone off their chair in Jerusalem. There has been talk for months inside Jordan of the need to regain those two areas. There have been debates in parliament, and even protests on the streets – much of it led by Islamic elements inside the Hashemite Kingdom.
Abdullah is in vice. While he needs the peace treaty with Israel for the security of his regime, he has domestic Islamic elements to deal with and at times placate.”

The Times of Israel adds:

“Additionally, an economic crisis that struck the kingdom over the past year may also have pushed Abdullah not to renew this portion of the treaty, in an effort to appease hardliners and prevent a potential coup, veteran regional analyst Ehud Yaari told Hadashot news on Sunday night.

Jordan has struggled with a sluggish economy, including rising unemployment, in the wake of regional conflicts, including in neighboring Syria and Iraq. Earlier this year, largely peaceful demonstrations, which led to a change of prime ministers, erupted over rising prices and proposed legislation to increase income tax, in line with IMF-driven austerity measures.”

Obviously internal Jordanian affairs – about which BBC audiences hear comparatively little – are no less relevant to the understanding of the background to this story than “the status of Jerusalem and the lack of progress on a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians”. BBC audiences, however, were denied that information.

Related Articles:

Superficial BBC News report on Naharayim killer’s release

BBC framing excludes important aspects of Amman embassy story

BBC’s Yolande Knell promotes Muslim Brotherhood messaging

 

 

 

 

Weekend long read

1) The JCPA has a report on part of the background to a story covered by the BBC last week.

“Deadly riots in Iraq’s southern city of Basra erupted following protests waged by the local population that have been going on since early July 2018. The turmoil worsened after the governor of Basra ordered troops to use live bullets against the protesters. Rioters stormed the provincial government building on September 4, 2018, and set it ablaze.

The cause of discontent is the crumbling and obsolete state of the local infrastructures. Today, the blame is directed mainly against the failing water infrastructure, which is causing plague-like conditions in the local population: according to the news from Basra between 500 to 600 individuals are admitted to emergency rooms daily because of water poisoning accompanied by skin diseases. Some 17,000 intestinal infection cases due to water contamination were recorded, according to Basra health authorities. Hospitals are unable to cope with the flow of the sick, nor do the authorities know how to deal with the spreading diseases and the threat of cholera.”

2) At the INSS Oded Eran takes a look at “The Idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian Confederation, Revisited“.

“In the quest for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian federation/confederation, which has been raised from time to time, has recently resurfaced. In a September 2, 2018 meeting between Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu Mazen and a group of Israelis, the Palestinian leader said that the idea was raised by the US team engaged in the effort to renew the negotiations between the parties and formulate a proposal for a settlement. Beyond the major question regarding the Palestinians’ political and legal status in the American proposal, a confederation model, particularly one involving Jordan, the Palestinians, and Israel, creates a possibility for “creative solutions” to issues related to economies, energy, and water. A trilateral framework of this nature may also facilitate solutions that include relinquishing elements of sovereignty for the sake of the confederation.”

3) Jonathan Spyer discusses the situation in northern Syria.

“Before the civil war, Syria’s Kurds were among the most severely oppressed, and among the most invisible minorities, of the Middle East. Numbering between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of the pre-war Syrian population, they were prevented from educating or even naming their children in their native language. A section of the Kurdish population was deprived of travel and passport rights. Some, the so-called maktoumeen (unrecorded), lacked even citizenship and access to education.

The emergence of a de facto Kurdish enclave following the withdrawal by the Assad regime from a swath of the county’s north in 2012 changed all this. The enclave successfully defended itself against an early attempt by the rebels to destroy it. In 2014 the Kurds formed a de facto alliance with the US and the West in the war against Islamic State. This war, along with the regime’s (and Russia and Iran’s) war against the rebels, now is in its closing stages.”

4) The ITIC reports on recent violent power struggles in eastern Syria.

“In August 2018, several cities in the Euphrates Valley witnessed violent clashes between the Syrian army and Syrian militias affiliated with it on the one hand, and Shiite militias handled by Iran on the other. The clashes took place in the region between Albukamal and Deir ezZor, and both sides sustained dozens of casualties. In the background, there were violent power struggles and conflicts on the extortion of money from local residents, mainly by collecting “crossing fees” in return for the use of crossings between the two banks of the Euphrates River. During the clashes, attempts were made to find local solutions to defuse the situation: the militias were supposed to stop running the crossings and the Russian Military Police was supposed to take their place. However, since late August 2018, the clashes stopped and a reconciliation committee was convened in the city of Albukamal, to resolve the conflicts.”

 

 

An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part two

As we saw in part one of this post the August 30th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ led with a very long item described in the synopsis as follows:

“Jordan’s foreign minister has warned that cuts to the funding of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, could be “extremely destabilising”. Ayman Safadi reacted to reports that the United States had decided to cut all funding it gives to UNRWA. The US had already announced a big reduction of contributions earlier this year.”

Following an introduction by presenter Julian Marshall and a report from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell, Marshall introduced his interviewee (from 04:13 here).

Marshall: “And the head of UNRWA has today been visiting Jordan – home to 2 million Palestinian refugees – where he’s been having talks with the Jordanian foreign minister Ayman Safadi and after that meeting we spoke to Mr Safadi. I asked him first what are his thoughts on UNRWA’s funding crisis.”

Readers may recall that back in May Yolande Knell also interviewed a Jordanian minister on the same topic. Then as now, no effort was made to explain to BBC audiences how that country’s decision to attack the nascent Jewish state in 1948 contributed to the creation of the Palestinian refugee situation.

From 04:31 listeners heard (on a bad phone line) Ayman Safadi claim that UNRWA’s budget deficit “is threatening its ability to continue to offer vital services to over 5 million Palestinian refugees in its 5 areas of operation” and that “failing UNRWA would ultimately translate into depriving 560 million [sic] Palestinian kids from their right to education, millions other from very, very important services that UNRWA provides in terms of health services and other emergency services”.

[05:28] Marshall: “And would you hope that other states will come forward to make up the shortfall?”

Safadi mentioned his country’s role in “putting together the Rome conference” and resulting and subsequent contributions from other countries before claiming that:

Safadi: “It’s not only in terms of financial responsiveness […] but also the political message is that UNRWA is linked to the refugees issue and I think this support we’re seeing translates [into] political support that UNRWA should continue to fulfil its mandate and that the refugees [issue] is a final status issue that should be addressed on the basis of UN resolution.”

Choosing not to expand on the issue of the exploitation of refugees for political leverage, Marshall changed the subject:

Marshall: “Why do you think the United States is doing this?”

Having stated that “we have recognised the logic of the argument the US has made about burden sharing”, Safadi went on to say:

Safadi: “In Jordan we have 122,000 kids that go to UNRWA schools. The pressure therefore is enormous.”

Marshall could at that point have enlightened listeners by asking Safadi why UNRWA is providing services to nearly 2 million people who hold Jordanian citizenship but instead he continued to pursue his previous line of questioning.

[08:44] Marshall: “Ahm…you said that you accepted the US logic about the need for more burden sharing and yet President Trump has made it quite clear in public statements and Tweets that he thinks that the Palestinians are ungrateful and he’s hoping that this might push them back towards the negotiating table.”

Safadi’s response to that question included:

[09:07] Safadi: “There is a humanitarian dimension to UNRWA that cannot be ignored and there’s also a political dimension that also must be emphasised because given the stalemate of the peace process, given the loss of hope, given the despair that has developed as a result of failure to get any traction [on] peace efforts, I think we need to be careful what message we send to the people. To make sure that we send a message of hope, that their livelihoods, their rights, are not forgotten and [unintelligible] to receive due attention by the international community.”

Once again Marshall chose to sidestep the issue of refugees deliberately kept in that status for political reasons. Apparently referring to reports from earlier in the month, he went on to ask:

[10:04] Marshall: “Has the United States discussed with Jordan at all the possibility of giving the money directly, that it might otherwise given [sic] to UNRWA, to you the Jordanian government to help with your 2 million Palestinian refugees?”

Safadi: “That’s a non-starter for us. That’s an issue that we will never accept again because…”

Marshall: “But has…has the United States proposed it?”

Safadi: “Some ideas have been floated and our answer was – it was probably the shortest conversation – such discussions the answer is no. We cannot do that. That will be a destabilizing factor because that will give the message that the right of refugees are being compromised so that’s something that we will not accept. It is not the right thing to do because it can only destabilise people. It will only send the wrong message about where we’re going. Palestinian refugees are under a UN mandate. That mandate has to continue until the refugees issues is dealt with as a final status issue – again, in accordance with the resolution. Jordan will never step in to shoulder the responsibilities UNRWA is shouldering. That said, I need to just state that over and above the services that UNRWA delivers in Jordan, Jordan is the largest contributor to Palestinian refugees. Our budget, our government budget, includes about $1.7 million that we spend on supporting services to Palestinian refugees in Jordan.”

Safadi repeated his “not the right thing to do” and “destabilising” themes yet again before Marshall closed the interview there – choosing once again to sidestep the important question of why UNRWA – financed as it is by donations sourced from tax-payers in other countries – should have to provide services for some 2 million people who – remarkably – audiences were not informed throughout this whole 11 minute long item are actually Jordanian citizens.

This interview with a senior minister from a country where some 40% of UNRWA clients live could obviously have been employed to provide BBC audiences with much-needed enhancement of understanding of the background to the ‘UNRWA in financial crisis’ story that the BBC has been reporting since January. Unsurprisingly given the corporation’s record on this story, once again that opportunity was passed up.

Related Articles:

An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part one

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part one

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part two

BBC News report on US aid cut excludes relevant context

BBC’s special report on Palestinian refugees avoids the real issues

 

 

 

 

An eleven minute BBC WS report on UNRWA funding – part one

The day before the US State Department announced its intention to cease contributions to UNRWA, the August 30th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ led with a very long item described in the synopsis as follows:

“Jordan’s foreign minister has warned that cuts to the funding of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, could be “extremely destabilising”. Ayman Safadi reacted to reports that the United States had decided to cut all funding it gives to UNRWA. The US had already announced a big reduction of contributions earlier this year.”

The item began with an introduction (from 00:54 here) from presenter Julian Marshall. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Marshall: “But we begin in the Middle East where the UN agency known as UNRWA which provides services to about 5 million Palestinian refugees now faces a funding crisis as a result of American cuts. In January this year the United States, which provides around a quarter of UNRWA’s budget, announced that it would be cutting its contribution to 60 million from 350 million. This is what President Trump said at the time at the Davos Economic Forum.”

Recording Trump: “When they disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great vice-president to see them and we give them hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and support; tremendous numbers – numbers that nobody understands. That money’s on the table. That money’s not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace.”

Marshall: “And this week it was being reported that the United States had decided to cut funding to UNRWA altogether as the Trump administration announced it would also be ending the $200 million a year it gives to the Palestinian Authority. Well this squeeze on the Palestinians seems to be part of a broader strategy by the United States to try to shape any future peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Washington has already relocated its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem while America’s UN ambassador Nikki Haley told a conference in the US this week that the right of Palestinians to return to Israel should be reviewed. Let’s speak first to the BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem. And Yolande; how is the money dispersed by UNRWA spent?”

[02:41] Knell: “Well it provides a lot of services to the 5 million people who are registered as refugees – Palestinian refugees – all around the Middle East. It provides to them schooling; there are 711 UNRWA schools, 526,000 pupils, just to give you a sense of the scale. It also provides healthcare, clinics in many of the refugee camps…ahm…places like Gaza, people really rely on those. There are 8 refugee camps in Gaza. Many of the 1.3 million refugees there also receive food aid from UNRWA.”

Marshall: “And the money that the United States gives bilaterally to the Palestinian Authority – do we know how that’s spent?”

Knell apparently does not know “how that’s spent” because she failed to answer that question and quickly changed the subject back to UNRWA.

Knell: “We’re not given a complete breakdown on how the funds are spent but we know that really since the beginning of the year there’s been this huge budget deficit for UNRWA and the announcement that came through just a couple of weeks ago is that it had received about $238 million in additional contributions. It’s been running a campaign called ‘Dignity is Priceless’. It’s had a lot of pledges from Arab states in particular. At the moment the agency is still short of 200 million it says but it was in doubt about whether the UNRWA schools which operate around the Middle East would be able to open for the start of the new term but yesterday and in the coming days we’re seeing those schools opening again. But UNRWA’s saying that it would be forced to close them again in a month if it doesn’t find additional new funding.”

Marshall: “Yolande, many thanks. The BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem.

As has been documented here, the BBC has lent its weight to that UNRWA funding campaign in recent months – for example:

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part two

Unbalanced promotion of UNRWA PR on BBC World Service radio

As has also been documented here, since the story concerning US donations to UNRWA broke in January, none of the BBC’s related reports have provided its audience with any in-depth examination of the agency’s purpose, its agenda, its record or its efficiency.

BBC audiences have been told countless times that there are over 5 million Palestinian refugees – but not why their number has increased rather than fallen during the last 70 years or why in all that time they have not been integrated in host Arab countries.  

BBC audiences have likewise been repeatedly informed that UNRWA provides education and health services to Palestinian refugees but they have not been told why people who live under the rule of fellow Palestinians in the Gaza Strip or the PA controlled areas do not get those services from the governments to which they pay taxes or why, 70 years on, there are still ‘refugee camps’ in those locations.

As we see above, neither Julian Marshall nor Yolande Knell made any attempt in this item to enhance their listeners’ understanding of this story beyond UNRWA’s talking points.

In part two of this post we will see whether or not Julian Marshall posed the Jordanian foreign minister any questions which would help enhance audience understanding of the fact that the majority of just over 2 million people registered as Palestinian refugees who live in Jordan hold Jordanian citizenship and yet still get services from the UN agency.

Related Articles:

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part one

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part two

BBC News report on US aid cut excludes relevant context

BBC’s special report on Palestinian refugees avoids the real issues

Weekend long read

1) At the Jerusalem Post Adam Milstein writes about “The Grave Danger of Media Bias“.

“We must hold the media accountable for honest reporting. We must reject and condemn stories that spread inaccurate information and newspapers that fail to broadcast corrections as dramatically as they broadcast untruths. If journalists fail to understand that antisemitism is a deeply embedded bigotry that persistently impacts their understanding of the world – and a hatred that is central to Hamas’ political actions – they cannot accurately report on actions at the Gaza-Israel border. A story pinning the death of an innocent Palestinian baby on Israeli soldiers should raise a red flag. Journalists must present facts and a careful understanding of the nuances that shade coverage of complex situations. A headline taken out of context should not be tolerated.”

2) Writing at ‘Foreign Policy’, James Bloodworth explains how “Labour’s New Anti-Semitism Has Disturbingly Old Roots“.

“The conspiratorial beliefs of the new cranks have combined with an older form of anti-Semitism emanating from the most unreconstructed reaches of the old left. Labour’s current leadership drips with nostalgia for the days of Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev. Corbyn has never been a full-throated apologist for the Soviet Union, but two of his most influential confidants—trade unionist and former Stop the War chair Andrew Murray and Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s spin doctor—certainly are.

Their influence sets the foreign-policy tone in the leader’s office. Israel is viewed through the old Soviet lens. Zionism equals racism, my enemy’s enemy is my friend, and indiscriminate violence by an oppressed nation should be supported, because the ends justify the means. Those beliefs have blurred into conspiratorialism in the past. During the 1970s, Soviet authorities, steeped in the old-fashioned Russian anti-Semitism, published “anti-Zionist” books that promoted the claims of a “Zionist-controlled” media and described Zionism as a variant of fascism, arguments still popular among some of Corbyn’s supporters today.”

3) The JCPA’s Yoni Ben Menachem discusses terrorism in Jordan.

“It now appears that the terrorists of radical jihadist Islam are again cropping up in Jordan for a new wave of attacks on the security establishment and that the aim is to destabilize the Hashemite Kingdom. On August 11, 2018, an explosive device was planted in a Jordanian police vehicle in the town of Fuheis. The blast killed a policeman and wounded six others.

A quick investigation led to the terror gang’s hideout in a building in the city of Salt. The siege on the building lasted several hours. When the security forces tried to break into the building, the terrorists set off explosive devices they had planted in advance; the building collapsed on the terrorists and security forces.”

4) Also from the JCPA comes a collection of essays titled “Defeating Denormalization – Shared Palestinian and Israeli Perspectives on a New Path to Peace“.

“The Palestinian leadership’s strategy of “denormalization of relations” with Israel is one of the central, if lesser understood, components of the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. Denormalization may be an unfamiliar term to Western observers of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Conceptually, it is modeled after the international anti-normalization campaign that brought about the collapse of the former South African apartheid regime in 1994. […]

While the PA leadership has positioned BDS and its denormalization corollary as a grassroots campaign to pressure Israel to concede to Palestinian political demands, this campaign does not represent the attitudes or interests of the average Palestinian. In fact, some 150,000 Palestinians who are employed either in the Palestinian-Israeli West Bank industrial zones or in Israel are generally unaware of and uninterested in the international BDS and denormalization campaign.

The articles in this collection reveal the demand among a growing number of Palestinians for engagement and opportunity together with their Israeli neighbors.”

 

 

BBC’s serial omission hinders understanding of history programme

As has been documented on these pages on numerous occasions in the past, the BBC usually avoids informing its audience of the circumstances under which Judea and Samaria and parts of Jerusalem were occupied – and subsequently illegally annexed – by what was at the time still called Trans-Jordan.  

Time and time again BBC audiences are told of ‘occupied Palestinian territories’ without any mention of the inclusion of those areas in the territory assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland. Also lacking is explanation of the belligerent British-backed invasion and subsequent ethnic cleansing of Jews from the areas attacked by Jordan in 1948. Instead, the BBC’s portrayal of history almost inevitably begins in 1967 when, audiences are told, “Israel occupied the area” which is euphemistically described as having previously been “under the control of Jordan”.

Even the BBC’s country profile of Jordan erases its 1948 belligerent invasion of land beyond its western border from audience view.

It was against that background of serial omission that listeners to the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness‘ on August 9th heard a programme about events leading up to the 1994 peace agreement between Israel and Jordan.

“In August 1994 Yitzhak Rabin became the first Israeli leader publicly to visit Jordan. But in fact talks had been going on for years. Former head of Mossad, Ephraim Halevy, was Israel’s secret peace envoy. He’s been telling Louise Hidalgo about Rabin and King Hussein of Jordan’s clandestine meetings during the often fraught road to peace.”

Listeners were not provided with any background information whatsoever concerning the context to the starting point of this otherwise interesting account. Statements such as the following from Ephraim Halevy went unexplained.

“In 1988 the king [of Jordan] came out with a statement saying that he was renouncing the interest of Jordan in Judea & Samaria, which we call the West Bank.”

Obviously the BBC’s past record of omission on the topic of how Jordan came to have an “interest” in that area and the absence of any reference to Jordan’s belligerent invasion of that territory forty years previously in the country’s online profile means that many if not most listeners would be unable to fill in the gaps for themselves.