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.

 

 

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BBC R4 ‘Today’ listeners sold short by Knell’s portrayal of Jerusalem

The BBC’s domestic coverage of the Duke of Cambridge’s visit to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority controlled territories continued on June 26th with no fewer than three items aired on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

In addition to reports from the corporation’s royal correspondent Jonny Dymond at 0:12:30 and during the news bulletin at 2:08:38, listeners also heard a report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell at 1:20:40.

During that report Knell – like Jeremy Bowen in the previous day’s programme – brought up the topic of the objection of an Israeli minister to the wording of the itinerary put out by the Royal Household.

[emphasis in italics in the original]

1:22:26 Knell: “On his solo trip the prince will watch Jewish and Arab Israeli children playing football. But political differences here aren’t always so easy to overcome. Israeli politicians are criticising his schedule for presenting Jerusalem’s Old City as part of the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Obviously if the BBC’s domestic audiences are to understand the reason for the objection to that description of the Old City of Jerusalem as ‘occupied Palestinian territory’ they would need to be told of the inclusion of Jerusalem in the territory assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland. They would also need to be informed of the belligerent British-backed Jordanian invasion and subsequent ethnic cleansing of Jews who had lived in Jerusalem for generations from districts including the Old City in 1948, together with the destruction of synagogues and cemeteries, as well as the fact that the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan specifically stated that the ceasefire lines were not borders.

However in typical BBC style, Yolande Knell erased all the history prior to June 1967 from her simplistic account:

Knell: “Israel captured the east of the city in the 1967 war and later annexed it in a move that’s not internationally recognised. It sees all the city as its capital but Palestinians want East Jerusalem as their capital.”

Knell then went on to provide listeners with an overtly partisan view of the issue from the PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi:

Knell: “Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi says the Palace is using the right descriptions.”

Ashrawi: “The only country that has violated international law openly and admitted Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is the US…is Trump. And the UK has not changed its position. It still considers Jerusalem as occupied territory. You cannot expect the royal visit to come and become complicit in land theft and the illegal annexation of Jerusalem.”

Not only did Knell not bother to challenge Ashrawi’s inaccurate and deliberately provocative claim of “land theft” or to clarify that her selected contributor’s claims concerning “international law” are a matter of opinion, she did not even make the effort to inform Radio 4 listeners that – as she doubtless knows, because their embassies are located in the same Jerusalem complex as the BBC’s own offices – in addition to the United States, Guatemala and Paraguay have also recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. 

Instead, Knell simply changed the subject and moved on with her report.

While it is standard BBC practice to avoid informing audiences of the history and status of Jerusalem before June 1967 – including the internationally unrecognised 19 year-long Jordanian occupation of parts of the city – obviously that practice does not contribute to meeting the BBC’s public purpose obligation to provide its funding public with “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”.

Related Articles:

Reviewing the BBC’s presentation of Jerusalem history

BBC R4’s ‘Today’ forces Brexit and Gaza into royal visit report

BBC News website adopts selective history in royal visit article

BBC’s Jerusalem backgrounder for young people breaches style guide

In September 2017 the BBC World Service launched a new project aimed specifically at younger audiences.

“Stephen Titherington, Sr Commissioning Editor of BBC World Service English, says: “BBC Minute has turned News on its head. Young people are information hungry, but only if it’s done in a way which matches their own energetic curiosity. With new BBC Minute Video, partners can now share vision as well as sound with their audience. We are delighted to have two new partners in Egypt and Jordan, bringing BBC Minute’s fresh sounding news coverage to more audiences in the region.”

Broadcast in the English language, BBC Minute bulletins are vibrant audio summaries of the news headlines and topical stories delivered in a high-energy style that entertains as much as it educates and informs. It is broadcast twice an hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week by a team of young journalists in London. The team also produce BBC Minute On… which focus on a single subject or key story in more detail and is broadcast twice daily.”

Those ‘BBC Minute On’ backgrounders – billed as “making sense of the news” – are available online and hence potentially the subject of editorial complaints.

In early December 2017 one edition appeared under the title “BBC Minute: On Jerusalem“. Its synopsis states:

“The US President Donald Trump is expected to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Palestinians said it would be a “kiss of death” for the Middle East peace process, but an Israeli minister urged other countries to follow the US lead. But how did the city become so politically important for both sides? The BBC’s Yolande Knell and BBC Arabic’s Hadya Al-alawi explain.”

The ‘explanation’ given to the target audience of “young people” around the world is as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Presenter: “This is BBC Minute on Jerusalem. The city’s holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims. But why is it politically significant for Israelis and Palestinians? Here’s the BBC’s Yolande Knell.”

Knell: “Not long after the modern state of Israel was created in 1948, the Israeli parliament was set up in the west of the city. But it wasn’t until the 1967 war with neighbouring Arab countries that Israel captured East Jerusalem and then later annexed it in a move that’s not recognised internationally.”

Presenter: “Now about a third of the people of Jerusalem are Palestinians. But what do Palestinians in general want? Here’s BBC Arabic’s Hadya Al-alawi.”

Al-alawi: “So Palestinian authorities have been negotiating a two-state solution which means returning to the 1967 internationally recognised borders. Also they want East Jerusalem to be their capital. However Palestinians on the ground might not agree. They want the whole of Jerusalem and also returning to the historical Palestine.”

As we see, the BBC’s audiences around the world – including in Middle Eastern countries – are not given any information concerning either the status of Jerusalem before 1948, the 19-year Jordanian occupation of parts of the city or the circumstances that caused Jordan to enter the Six Day War and loose its hold on that territory.

Worse still, BBC audiences are presented by Hadya Al-alawi with a partisan portrayal of the two-state solution which promotes and amplifies the PLO’s interpretation of it as meaning a Palestinian state on all of the territory occupied by Jordan and Egypt between 1948 and 1967.

Moreover, Al-alawi promotes the inaccurate notion that the 1949 armistice lines are “internationally recognised borders” when in fact the armistice agreement that created them specifically states that they are not borders – as does the BBC’s ‘style guide’.  

“The Green Line marks the boundary between Israel and the West Bank. It is properly referred to as the 1949 Armistice Line – the ceasefire line of 1949. […]

In describing the situation on the ground, take care to use precise and accurate terminology. The Green Line is a dividing line or a boundary. If you call it a border you may inadvertently imply that it has internationally recognised status, which it does not currently have.” 

Given Al-alawi’s subsequent use of the politically loaded term ‘historical Palestine’ and promotion of the notion of ‘return’ without clarifying to listeners that what that actually means is the destruction of Israel, it is hardly surprising that her portrayal of the 1949 ceasefire lines is likewise intended to promote a specific political narrative and agenda.

Nevertheless, one would obviously expect a BBC journalist participating in a project declared to be aimed at “making sense of the news” for young people around the world to stick to the BBC’s style guide as well as its supposed editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.

 

 

Political messaging in BBC Sport report on bike race

On May 3rd a report by BBC Sport correspondent Tom Fordyce concerning the Giro d’Italia cycling race was published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page as well as on the BBC Sport website.

Titled “Giro d’Italia: Chris Froome in spotlight at start in Jerusalem“, the report included amplification of statements made in a press release put out by an NGO with a long record of anti-Israel campaigning that is frequently uncritically quoted and promoted by the BBC.

“Others see little more than a concerted effort to present an image of Israel to the world at odds with the reality. Amnesty International has accused Israel of trying to “sportwash” its reputation, as protests continue in the Gaza Strip that have so far led to the death of 35 Palestinian protestors.”

Obviously the ‘Great Return March’ events which Hamas and other terror groups have been staging weekly since the end of March have nothing whatsoever to do with the cycling race that is ostensibly the topic of this report but Fordyce nevertheless chose to amplify Amnesty International’s opportunistic false linkage and delegitimisation.

Moreover, the report also included ‘analysis’ from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell which likewise encouraged sports fans to view the sporting event in a political light.

Yolande Knell’s promotion of the Old City of Jerusalem as “occupied territory” predictably fails to inform visitors to the BBC Sport website of the all-important context of the internationally rejected belligerent Jordanian occupation of that district and additional parts of Jerusalem. And so, once again, the BBC’s funding public got a dose of politically partisan messaging with its ‘news’.

Related Articles:

BBC quotes Amnesty International accusation that Israel is “trying to ‘sportwash’ its reputation”  UK Media Watch

Reviewing the BBC’s presentation of Jerusalem history

The US administration’s announcement of its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on December 6th 2017 prompted an exceptionally large number of BBC reports on all its various platforms.

In six of the twenty-two written reports on the story (see here) that appeared on the BBC News website throughout December, no historical background was given at all. In eight of those articles audiences were given ‘background information’ on the city of Jerusalem that eliminated its history prior to June 1967 – for example:

Israel occupied the area in the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, and according to 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, its final status is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally, and all countries, including Israel’s closest ally the US, maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial capital.

Since 1967, Israel has built a dozen settlements, home to about 200,000 Jews, in East Jerusalem. These are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.” [emphasis added] BBC News website, 4/12/17

And:

Israel occupied the east of the city in the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital.” [emphasis added] BBC News website, 22/12/17

Seven of the 22 articles made a cursory reference to the Jordanian occupation that existed before June 1967 but failed to clarify its context or even its duration:

Israel occupied the sector, previously occupied by Jordan, in the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital. [emphasis added] BBC News website, 5/12/17

One report mentioned Jordan but failed to explain that it occupied parts of Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967.

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

Israel annexed the sector from Jordan after the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital.” [emphasis added] BBC News website, 6/12/17

Of the twelve filmed reports relating to the story which appeared on the BBC News website during December, only one – which, significantly, was presented as a backgrounder: “Yolande Knell explains why the city is so important” – gave any historical information. Knell told BBC audiences that:

“Most Israelis see Jerusalem as their “eternal, undivided capital”. Not long after the modern state of Israel was created in 1948, the Israeli parliament was set up in the west of the city. But it wasn’t until the 1967 war with neighbouring Arab countries that Israel captured east Jerusalem, including the Old City, and it later annexed it in a move that’s not recognised internationally.”

As we see, Knell’s ‘backgrounder’ made no mention whatsoever of Jordan’s nineteen-year occupation of parts of Jerusalem and the fact that the later Jordanian annexation was unrecognised by the international community.

Like all the BBC’s numerous reports, this ‘backgrounder’ too failed to note the inclusion of Jerusalem in the territory assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland. The belligerent British-backed Jordanian invasion and subsequent ethnic cleansing of Jews from districts including the Old City in 1948, together with the destruction of synagogues and cemeteries, was completely ignored, as was the fact that the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan specifically stated that the ceasefire lines were not borders. Israel’s warning to Jordan not to participate in the Six Day War was also eliminated from all the BBC’s accounts of events.

A radio report by Yolande Knell aired on BBC Radio 4 on December 23rd likewise failed to inform BBC audiences of those significant factors.

“But what makes the status of the city so contentious is the part where we’re standing: East Jerusalem. It was captured by Israel in a war with its Arab neighbours fifty years ago and annexed. That move wasn’t internationally recognised…”

In response to a complaint from a member of the public about the lack of historical context in that programme, BBC Complaints claimed that:

“It is important to note that the aim of Yolande’s report was to offer insight to the listeners of the local reaction of Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In this five minute report it would not be possible to give the full context and history of the city of Jerusalem.

In relation to what Yolande said about the annexing of East Jerusalem by Israel, she said it was during “a war with it’s [sic] Arab neighbours 50 years ago”. […]

The BBC have [sic] of course explored the subject of the 1967 war in detail, for example in:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-39960461

That link leads to a long article by Jeremy Bowen that appeared on the BBC News website in June 2017 and in which no attempt was made to explain Jerusalem’s pre-1948 history – including its Jewish majority – and the topic of Jordan’s occupation and subsequent unrecognised annexation of parts of the city was ignored.

There is of course nothing new about the BBC’s failure to provide its audiences with the full range of information that would enhance their understanding of the background to stories concerning Jerusalem.

But while that practice has been in evidence for years, the failure to provide even one accurate, impartial and comprehensive account of the relevant history of the city which was the topic of dozens of BBC reports on multiple platforms in one month alone is obviously remarkable.

Related Articles:

Multiple inaccuracies in BBC WS Jerusalem history backgrounder

Inaccuracy and omission in BBC backgrounder on Jerusalem

Fatah disinformation goes unchallenged on the BBC World Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBC’s Knell deletes history in Jerusalem walkabout on Radio 4

The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondentclaims to provide listeners with “insight, wit and analysis from BBC correspondents, journalists and writers from around the world” but which of those was intended to apply to the item by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell that appeared in the programme’s December 23rd edition is unclear.

After all, no journalist can truly be said to have offered ‘insight’ and ‘analysis’ on the subject of Jerusalem if he or she refrains from providing audiences with the relevant context of the city’s historical background – not least that pertaining to the circumstances under which the city was divided for the only time in its history by a nineteen-year long Jordanian occupation.

Nevertheless (but, given the BBC’s record on that issue, not surprisingly) Yolande Knell did just that.

Programme presenter Kate Adie set the scene (from 06:52 here), ironically ignoring the issue of the BBC’s weighty contribution to the phenomenon she described in her opening sentence.

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

Adie: “Jerusalem has rarely been out of the news this month since Donald Trump announced that the US now recognises the ancient holy city as Israel’s capital and will move its embassy there from Tel Aviv. This week a large majority at the UN General Assembly backed a resolution effectively calling on Washington to reverse its decision – despite threats from Mr Trump to cut off aid to those voting in favour. The international view has long been that any change in the status of Jerusalem can only come about as part of a negotiated peace agreement. But what do ordinary Israelis and Palestinians think of all this? Yolande Knell has been to the Old City where she found plenty of food for thought.”

Notably, Adie failed to inform listeners that the resolution passed at the UN GA is non-binding and of course refrained from mentioning the absurdities that lie behind “the international view”.

Having set the scene with descriptions of Hanukkah donuts and sahlab, Knell got down to business.

Knell: “But I’m here to get a taste of public opinion. The future of the city, with its sites holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, is one of the most intractable issues in the entire Israel-Palestinian conflict. High up in the Tower of David – an ancient citadel – I find Ayelet with her sons who are off school for the Jewish holiday. She praises Mr Trump as bold and honest, although her mother Yirat [phonetic] exclaims, ‘generally speaking we don’t need his statements. We’ve known for three thousand years that Jerusalem is ours’. Most Israelis say the same. Religiously and culturally they see the city as their eternal, undivided capital. And since the creation of the modern state, Jerusalem has been Israel’s seat of government and home to its supreme court.”

Knell then described the Old City – which of course includes the ancient Jewish Quarter – as ‘East Jerusalem’ while making no effort whatsoever to inform listeners of the relevant topic of the ethnic cleansing of Jews from that part of Jerusalem (and others) as a result of Jordan’s belligerent invasion in 1948.

Knell: “But what makes the status of the city so contentious is the part where we’re standing: East Jerusalem. It was captured by Israel in a war with its Arab neighbours fifty years ago and annexed. That move wasn’t internationally recognized – a fact that pains Yirat and Ayelet. They hope the new US decision will lead to what they call more important steps. ‘We have to come here to look at the place where the story of Hanukkah happened’ says Yirat as she points across the Old City rooftops. ‘Over there; that’s Temple Mount’.”

Knell went on to put history supported by archaeological evidence on a par with religious belief.

Knell: “The site where two biblical temples are believed to have stood is the holiest place on earth for Jews. But it’s also the third holiest site for Muslims who believe the prophet Mohammed rose to heaven from the spot under the gleaming Dome of the Rock next to al Aqsa Mosque. Non-Muslims can visit but can’t pray in the compound.”

She then paraphrased her next Israeli opinion:

Knell: “It’s awareness of all these religious sensitivities that worries Rob, a British Israeli who’s also climbed the tower with his children.”

After a brief description of the Hanukkah story, Knell repeated a practice that has previously been seen on numerous occasions in BBC coverage of this story in recent weeks. Rather than informing listeners of the US Embassy Act passed by Congress in 1995 and its reaffirmation in the Senate just months ago, she portrayed the US president as having ‘gone rogue’.

Knell: “Rob doesn’t dismiss the idea that Mr Trump’s pronouncement on Jerusalem – breaking with decades of previous US policy – could end up being a turning point in the Middle East peace process. But at the same time he sees the president as ‘a bit wacky’ and warns his gesture could provoke Arab extremists.”

Knell continued, following the standard BBC formula of amplifying Palestinian claims even after audiences have been told that Israeli claims are null and void because the ‘international community’ says that “any change in the status of Jerusalem can only come about as part of a negotiated peace agreement”. The BBC’s repeated employment of that formula of course suggests to its audiences that recognition of Jewish sovereignty represents a ‘change in the status of Jerusalem’ while Palestinian demands regarding Jerusalem do not.  

Knell: “Palestinians have reacted furiously to the change in the US position. They still want East Jerusalem as the capital of their desired future state and say that Washington can no longer claim to act as an honest peace broker. There have been protests and clashes with Israeli security forces across the Palestinian territories.”

Knell then moved on to Damascus Gate, again describing the food on sale nearby before bringing in the Palestinian side of “public opinion”.

Knell: “I ask Nasser, who’s carrying his prayer mat on the way back from al Aqsa, for his reaction to recent events. ‘Trump’s a crazy man’ he sighs ‘he says he wants to make peace but he’ll just make war’. ‘Jerusalem’s in our hearts’ he goes on ‘this is our land, it’s an Arab city. What about the rights of Muslims and Christians?'”

Knell of course did not bother to inform audiences that only under Israeli rule have all three religions been able to visit and worship at their holy sites in Jerusalem. She went on:

Knell: “Another Palestinian I speak to, Dahlia [phonetic], is a Christian tour organiser who says she can trace her family’s presence in Jerusalem for centuries. She tells me she was disgusted but not surprised by the US president’s declaration.”

Notably, we next learn that – despite having failed to produce any meaningful reporting on the topic over the last weeks – Yolande Knell is aware of the incitement to violence coming from PA officials and various Palestinian factions.

Knell: “But she admits that despite her expectation that all hell would break loose, so far there hasn’t been anything like the uprising that some leaders were calling for. Her fear now is that regional alliances are shifting and that despite recent shows of support at the UN, the Palestinian nationalist cause is no longer an international priority – even for some of its traditional backers in the Middle East.”

Knell closed her item:

Knell: “Returning along the winding streets takes me away from modern politics. I find myself listening to a guide recounting stories of prophets, kings and caliphs of ages past to awe-struck tourists. What’s not yet clear is the extent to which Donald Trump will go down as an important name in the long, rich history of this holy city.”

For over three weeks the BBC has been promoting a monochrome – and hyperbolic – portrait of the story of the US announcement concerning Jerusalem that fails to provide audiences with the historical background necessary for full understanding of the issue, whitewashes US legislation that has existed for over two decades and promotes a partisan narrative. This item from Yolande Knell made no effort to get beyond that template and failed to provide Radio 4 listeners with anything remotely different to what they have been hearing repeatedly since early December.  

 

BBC News still promoting information on Jerusalem from partisan NGOs

In recent days the BBC News website published two reports concerning campaigns at the UN directed against the US’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as announced two weeks ago.

On December 18th the website published a 533 word report titled “Jerusalem: US vetoes UN resolution rejecting Trump’s declaration“. Fifty-six of those words were used to promote the theme that the US announcement has caused Palestinian violence. Explanation of the motion presented to the UN Security Council by Egypt (including a link) was provided in 137 words and Palestinian reactions to the US veto were given 61 words of coverage. Remarks made by the US Ambassador to the UN got just 70 words of coverage and BBC audiences were not informed of the points raised in Ms Haley’s explanation of why the US vetoed the draft resolution.

Some minimal background information on Jerusalem was presented to readers in 104 words – mostly recycled from previous BBC articles in recent weeks.

“The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians.

Israel occupied the east of the city, previously occupied by Jordan, in the 1967 Middle East war and regards the entire city as its indivisible capital.

The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state and its final status is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally, and all countries currently maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv. However, President Trump has told the US state department to start work on moving the US embassy.”

Seeing as the BBC chose to provide readers with a link to the text of the Egyptian draft resolution and given that the document states that the motion reaffirms “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force”, one might have thought that the BBC would have put more effort into explaining how “the east” of Jerusalem came to be “previously occupied by Jordan” and the significance of that fact.

The article also includes a map of Jerusalem produced by the partisan political NGO B’tselem which – among other things – portrays the Jewish Quarter in the Old City as an “Israeli settlement”.

On December 20th the BBC News website published a report headlined “UN Jerusalem vote: US ‘will be taking names’” which relates to the next upcoming stage of actions against the US announcement concerning Jerusalem.

“The US says it “will be taking names” during a UN General Assembly vote on a resolution criticising its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Permanent representative Nikki Haley warned member states that President Donald Trump had asked her to report on “who voted against us” on Thursday.

The draft resolution does not mention the US, but says any decisions on Jerusalem should be cancelled.

On Monday, the US vetoed a similar motion at the UN Security Council.”

The article promotes the exact same context-lite background concerning Jerusalem seen in the previous report. It also includes – yet again – the same map of Jerusalem produced by B’tselem.

Between December 4th and December 20th visitors to the BBC News website were shown the partisan maps of Jerusalem produced by UNOCHA and/or B’tselem in no fewer than eleven reports including the two above.

December 4thJerusalem: Opposition to mooted Trump Israel announcement grows” 

December 5thJerusalem: Turkey warns Trump against crossing ‘red line’”, Trump’s Jerusalem calls spark warnings from Arab leaders

December 6thUS to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital“, Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, says Donald Trump“, Jerusalem: Trump recognition ‘kiss of death’ for peace

December 7thTrumplomacy: Key takeaways from Jerusalem policy shift” 

December 8th: “Jerusalem: Trump’s envoy Haley berates ‘outrageous UN hostility’

December 13th: “Muslim nations urge recognition of East Jerusalem as Palestinian capital” 

Both B’tselem and UNOCHA are active in political campaigning against Israel.

“In 2016 alone, OCHA-oPt requested $571 million from international donors towards various causes. Among other things, the money was designated for highly biased NGOs, including: Islamic Relief Worldwide, which, in June 2014, was outlawed by Israel for its alleged role in funneling money to Hamas (a designated terror organization by Israel, the U.S., EU and Canada); the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a leader of anti-Israel “lawfare” campaigns used to demonize Israel and harass Israeli officials; and the pro-BDS Ma’an Development Center.

UN OCHA also manages “Thematic Clusters” – for biased, political, radical NGOs to manipulate and circulate unconfirmed, false, and distorted statistics to the UN and media. For example, during the 2014 Gaza war, the OCHA “Protection Cluster” designated Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Al Mezan, and B’Tselem, to provide “data” regarding casualty statistics. These NGOs, which lack credible methodologies for analysis of casualty claims, appear to have been repeating information originating with Hamas officials in Gaza.”

How the BBC – committed as it is to the provision of “accurate and impartial” reporting to its audiences – thinks it can justify its serial promotion of one-sided maps produced by partisan NGOs that advance a blatant anti-Israel agenda remains unclear.  

 

 

Multiple inaccuracies in BBC WS Jerusalem history backgrounder

Like the BBC News website, BBC World Service radio produced a considerable amount of coverage concerning the US president’s December 6th announcement concerning Jerusalem and the US embassy in Israel even before that announcement had been made.

One of the many items broadcast to listeners around the world during that run-up time is of particular interest because it was presented to audiences as an academic account of Jerusalem’s history – and therefore by implication, both accurate and impartial.

The final item in the December 6th afternoon edition of ‘Newshour‘ was introduced by presenter James Coomarasamy (from 48:20 here) as follows:

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

Coomarasamy: “We’re going to end the programme by returning to Jerusalem ahead of President Trump’s speech and a look at the history of the city and how it’s made it such a revered and contested place. Well Mick Dumper is a professor of Middle East politics at Exeter University here in the west of England. He says that Jerusalem’s status as a holy site for Jews, Muslims and Christians makes it highly prized.”

That portrayal of Mick (Michael) Dumper’s job title is indeed accurate. It does not however provide listeners with any insight into his “particular viewpoint” – as required under the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality.

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

And so – unaware that Dumper has for example in the past proposed that UNESCO be the “guardian of Jerusalem’s holy sites“, collaborated with the anti-Israel NGO ‘Badil‘, described visits by Jews to Temple Mount as “settler encroachments” and claimed that Israel is “undermining…the Islamic presence” in Jerusalem – listeners heard him describe the Palestinian Authority as a “country”: a claim the BBC’s own style guide refutes.

Dumper: “It is the centre for the three major religions of the world; very central to Judaism, to Islam and to Christianity. But on top of that it’s then become the capital that both countries aspire to have as the central city of their country. And…eh…they can’t agree on it.”

Coomarasamy: “And in terms of the holy sites; just remind us what we’re talking about.”

Dumper: “For the Jews it’s what they call the Wailing Wall – or sometimes it’s known as the Western Wall – which is supposed to be the original wall of the Second Temple from the biblical period. For the Christians it’s the place where Jesus Christ was crucified and for the Muslims it’s the site where Mohammed was supposed to have ascended to heaven and receive some of the revelations for the Koran.”

Jews of course do not “call” the Western Wall “the Wailing Wall” – that term is a British invention. Neither is the Western Wall “the original wall of the Second Temple”, but part of the retaining wall of the plaza on which the Temple stood. Coomarasamy made no effort to correct those gross inaccuracies before continuing with a bizarre and context-free portrayal of the city’s division in 1948.

Coomarasamy: “And ever since the State of Israel was founded it’s been a divided city.”

Dumper: “Yes, I mean if I take you back a little bit to the period of the British mandate – that’s between 1917 and 1948 – it was the administrative capital of the territory known as Palestine which was a kind of quasi-colony of the British Empire. And Palestine was administered from Jerusalem. And after that in ’48 it was divided by the warring parties. The west side was occupied by Israel and the east side was occupied by the Jordanians and there was a line running through the middle.”

The British mandate of course did not take effect in 1917 but five years later and the assignment of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine to British administration did not make the territory a “quasi-colony of the British Empire”. Coomarasamy made no effort to clarify to listeners that Jerusalem is located in the territory assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland and failed to challenge Dumper’s claim that Israel “occupied” – and by inference, still does – the western area of Jerusalem.

Coomarasamy: “And then there was the war of 1967 which changed the situation on the ground.”

Dumper: “Exactly. After 1967 Israel acquired the rest of Jerusalem and a wider area around the edge of Jerusalem and tried to incorporate it into Israel to try and make it as much Israeli as, say, Tel Aviv. But because of Palestinian resistance, because of long historical connections between that area of East Jerusalem and religious authorities – religious endowments and foundations – it was very difficult for Israel to impose itself. So there was this sort of grey area. East Jerusalem was not quite Israeli. It wasn’t treated exactly the same way as other areas that Israel had occupied in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. And the international community refused to accept any change in the status of Jerusalem prior to any negotiations.”

Coomarasamy: “And another change when the settler movement came to the fore as well.”

Dumper: “Yes, about ten years after Israel acquired the rest of East Jerusalem saw a change in the Israeli government between a more secular-minded Labour party and this was replaced with a Likud party which fostered and encouraged a widespread settlement movement which had a lot of religious foundations to it. And Jerusalem became very central to their thinking about what was the future of Israel.”

Failing to challenge Dumper’s inaccurate portrayal of the importance of Jerusalem across the Israeli political spectrum, Coomarsamy steered the subject of the discussion away from its professed subject matter.

Coomarasamy: “A lot of countries in the run-up to this much-anticipated announcement from President Trump are warning him against moving the embassy to Jerusalem. What sense do you have of how things might play out if he goes ahead with that move?”

Dumper: “By moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem the United States will be saying that they were no longer interested in a Palestinian state. Ten years ago I would have said there would be a huge reaction with, you know, flag burning in capitals of the region – Istanbul [sic], Cairo etcetera and, you know, a lot of attacks on Israeli embassies around the Arab world. I’m not absolutely sure that this will take place this time. It’s partly because the Arab world is so divided. The Palestinians themselves are very divided and sending out lots of different messages about how seriously they’ll respond to this. And the Islamic world is very divided between Shia and Sunni as well. So I think it’s a mistake what Trump is doing but I think he may have calculated that the response will not be as cataclysmic as it may have been…ah…ten years ago.”

Coomarasamy: “Professor Mick Dumper of Exeter University.”

In addition to its multiple inaccuracies, this ‘backgrounder’ obviously failed to inform listeners of the context to both the Jordanian occupation of Jerusalem following the War of Independence and the Jordanian decision to participate in the Six Day War. Listeners heard nothing of Jewish life in Jerusalem before the division of the city in 1948 and nothing of the ethnic cleansing of the Jewish population from areas including the Old City. The centrality and significance of Jerusalem to Jews and Israelis alike was not clarified in Dumper’s obviously politically motivated – and severely distorted – account of the city’s history.

Related Articles:

An overview of BBC News website coverage of the US embassy story

Religion, political narrative and BBC Radio 4’s ‘Sunday’

 

An overview of BBC News website coverage of the US embassy story

If the phrase ‘over the top’ comes to mind in relation to the volume of coverage of the US president’s announcement concerning Jerusalem and the US embassy in Israel that has appeared on the BBC News website, that is not surprising. 

Between December 4th and the morning of December 7th inclusive, the website published the following reports:

December 4th:

1) “Jerusalem: Opposition to mooted Trump Israel announcement grows” – earlier version discussed here

December 5th:

2) “Jerusalem: Turkey warns Trump against crossing ‘red line’” – discussed here

3) “Trump’s Jerusalem calls spark warnings from Arab leaders

December 6th:

4) “Why Jerusalem matters” – filmed backgrounder by Yolande Knell, discussed here

5) “US to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

6) “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, says Donald Trump

7) “Jerusalem: Trump recognition ‘kiss of death’ for peace

8) “Jerusalem: Trump move prompts negative world reaction

9) “Palestinians and Israelis on US Jerusalem recognition” – filmed

10) “Trump on Jerusalem: ‘I am delivering on promise’” – filmed

December 7th:

11) “Jerusalem status: World condemns Trump’s announcement

12) “What Trump’s Jerusalem decision means for peace” – filmed, Lyse Doucet

13) “Trumplomacy: Key takeaways from Jerusalem policy shift”  – Barbara Plett Usher, discussed here

Clearly the language used in most of the headlines of those nine written articles portrays the US announcement as a negative development to audiences even before they have read the actual articles. A review of the content of those articles shows that their framing of the story is no less uniform.

In none of those nine written reports were readers given an accurate and comprehensive overview of the history behind the story. Accounts of Jerusalem’s history, when given, invariably begin in 1967 with some articles making a cursory but unexplained reference to Jordan’s occupation of parts of Jerusalem but no mention made whatsoever of the ethnic cleansing of Jews from parts of the city in 1948 or of the fact that Jerusalem is situated in the territory assigned by the League of Nations for the creation of a Jewish homeland.

Five of the nine written articles and one of the four filmed reports described certain neighbourhoods of Jerusalem as “settlements” and presented a partisan portrayal of “international law”. All but one of the nine written reports promoted partisan maps of Jerusalem produced by the political NGO B’tselem and – in one case – UN OCHA that include among other things portrayal of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City as a ‘settlement’.

The majority of the written reports – seven – unquestioningly portrayed Jerusalem as being the “thorniest” issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and eight of the nine, along with two of the filmed reports, told BBC audiences that the US announcement endangers or even destroys the ‘peace process’ – even though that process made no progress for the past 24 years, despite the US embassy being located in Tel Aviv.

None of the BBC’s reports informed readers that the Palestinians have previously been presented with peace offers that included considerable Israeli compromises on Jerusalem – which they refused.   

All of the written reports gave copious amplification to condemnations of the US announcement by assorted parties with some even uncritically amplifying threats of violence as though that were a legitimate response. Any dissenting views presented came solely from Israeli politicians.

The sole mention of the fact that Russia recognised part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital back in April was found in Lyse Doucet’s filmed report. An announcement relating to Jerusalem from the Czech Republic has at the time of writing not been covered by the BBC.

The essential context of the US’s ‘Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995’ was provided to readers of just three of the nine written reports and subsequently added to one other many hours after initial publication. The context of the related June 2017 resolution passed by the US Senate was absent from all the BBC’s reports. Only two of the total thirteen reports mentioned that previous US presidents had made similar campaign promises to open an embassy in Jerusalem.

The BBC framed the US president’s announcement as being intended to appeal to specific sectors.

In article 5 readers were told that:

“Mr Trump would also direct the state department to begin the process of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem – but this could take several years as it still has to be designed and built and security concerns would need to be addressed.

He originally promised the move to pro-Israel voters during his campaign for the presidency.”

Article 6 included the following:

“The Republican Jewish Coalition have already thanked the president in a New York Times ad. The group is backed by Republican and Trump campaign mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.”

In article 11 readers were told that:

“Despite warnings of regional unrest over any such move, the decision fulfils a campaign promise and appeals to Mr Trump’s right-wing base.”

Article 13 informed BBC audiences that:

“…there’s far more evidence he [Trump] was simply focused on keeping a campaign promise to pro-Israel American Jews and evangelical Christians in his political base.”

And that:

“…this illustrates the political power of hardline Christian evangelicals who fervently support Israel.”

In fact, as noted by Michael Totten, the issue is far more bipartisan that the BBC would have its audiences believe.

“In 1995, the United States Congress, with an overwhelming bipartisan majority, passed a law declaring that “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel; and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.” This law, passed by a whopping 93-5 when Bill Clinton was president, had no effect whatsoever on the Camp David Peace Process which would have given East Jerusalem to the Palestinians as the capital of their sovereign state had Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat said yes instead of no and chose peace rather than war.

That law was reaffirmed in the United States Senate just six months ago by a unanimous vote. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate minority leader, co-sponsored the bill. And just two months ago, Schumer slammed Donald Trump for not keeping his campaign promise to recognize reality.”

As we see, BBC audiences got ample – but monochrome – coverage of this story over those three and a half days. While failing for the most part to provide essential context and refraining entirely from providing the relevant historical background necessary for understanding of the story, the coverage was uniformly focused on promotion of a partisan political narrative.