BBC News report on Jerusalem planning fails to meet impartiality guidelines

On the afternoon of November 6th the BBC News website published a report headlined “Jerusalem: Israel approves controversial Old City cable car plan” on its ‘Middle East’ page.

The report is illustrated with an image credited to You Tube and captioned “The Old City of Jerusalem is a Unesco World Heritage site” but readers are not informed that it is in fact a “screen capture from a promotional video for the Jerusalem Old City cable car project showing an artist’s impression of cars passing over the Hinnom Valley”.

The report opens with a description of the plan which includes clear framing. [emphasis added]

“A controversial plan to build a cable car network in Jerusalem’s Old City to transport visitors to one of Judaism’s holiest sites has been approved by Israel’s housing cabinet.

The cable cars will ferry up to 3,000 people an hour about 1.4km (0.9 miles) from West Jerusalem to the Western Wall in occupied East Jerusalem.

Israel’s government says the project will reduce traffic congestion.”

It then quickly moves on to present the views of various opponents, including a link to a campaigning video.

“But opponents say it will damage the area’s historic landscape.

They intend to petition Israel’s High Court of Justice to stop it.

Emek Shaveh, an Israeli non-governmental organisation working to defend cultural heritage, has previously warned that the cable car network will alter the skyline of the Old City – a Unesco World Heritage site – and have a detrimental impact on Palestinian residents of the Silwan area living under the proposed route.

It has also alleged that the project “serves a highly political agenda” and that it was “fast-tracked” through the planning process.”

BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality state that: [emphasis added]

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities and think-tanks) are unbiased. Appropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context.”

Readers are however told nothing of that foreign funded political NGO’s “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” before the report moves on to promote a link to an as yet uncorrected BBC backgrounder from 2014 and highlight additional objections.

“The Palestinian Authority and the Jordanian government – the custodian of the compound behind the Western Wall, known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount – have also expressed concern about the impact on the Old City.”

Readers then see an edited version of a problematic video made by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell in 2017 and at the end of the report they are told that:

“The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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

As is overwhelmingly the case in BBC reporting, while the corporation adopts and uses PLO approved language such as “occupied East Jerusalem”, audiences are told nothing of the Jordanian occupation of parts of the city or of the fact that until June 1967 – as shown in Article 24 of the original PLO charter from 1964 – the Palestinians specifically stated that they had no claim to territory occupied at the time by Jordan, including the Old City of Jerusalem.

The result is that, as usual, BBC audiences are fed a politically partisan account which deliberately omits relevant context.

Related Articles:

BBC News redesigns Jerusalem’s Old City

Inaccuracy and omission in BBC backgrounder on Jerusalem

Inaccurate and partial BBC Radio 4 report from Jerusalem’s Old City

Over the past two years listeners to BBC Radio 4 religious programming have heard a couple of inaccurate and misleading reports on the topic of property transactions carried out by the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem.

BBC Radio 4, ‘religious freedom’ and a half-told story

BBC R4 ‘Sunday’ adds more confusion to Jerusalem church story

Listeners to the August 22nd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme heard another item in that genre which was introduced by presenter Justin Webb (from 43:46 here) as follows:

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

Webb: “Church leaders and Palestinians in Jerusalem are calling for international pressure on Israel to stop Jewish settlers taking over two historic properties at the main entrance to the Old City’s Christian Quarter. The Greek Orthodox Church has filed a new lawsuit to try to overturn a Supreme Court ruling on the sale of the hotels, saying it was clear proof of corruption. The development’s taking place amid a recent increase in settlement building in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank as Yolande Knell reports.”

Webb provided no evidence to support that misleading claim of “a recent increase in settlement building”. Even if his intention was to comment on construction within existing communities rather than to assert that an increased number ‘settlements’ had been recently built, the basis for that claim is unclear because the available statistics run only until the end of March 2019 and they show a decrease in construction completes in Judea & Samaria.

Both Justin Webb and subsequently Yolande Knell told BBC audiences that the story is about “the sale” of properties owned by the Greek Orthodox Church. That is not the case: the story is actually about 99-year leases for three properties (rather than two as claimed by Webb).

Knell’s report commenced as follows:

Knell: “There’s a rush of tourists entering Jerusalem’s walled Old City through Jaffa Gate. They’re here to visit the sacred sites of three faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Over the centuries this place has been the crucible of conflict. Today the struggle is between Israelis and Palestinians and I’m looking up at the impressive façade of a nineteenth century landmark which is now on the front line of that. Wow! So this is the Imperial Hotel.”

Knell then introduced her report’s main protagonist – again inaccurately claiming that “the building” has been “bought”.

Knell: “Abu Walid Dajani’s family has lived in Jerusalem for generations. His father started renting this hotel in 1948. But now Jewish settlers have bought the building and he could soon be thrown out.”

The transaction did not occur “now” as claimed by Knell but a decade and a half ago in 2004.

Dajani: “The only thing I wish that God would give me the help and for my children to continue the battle of my life. We’ve been here for the last 600 years and inshallah we will continue.”

Knell then once again inaccurately referred to “the sale of the property” and told audiences of “a corrupt official” despite the fact that in 2017 the Jerusalem District Court ruled that “the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate was unable to establish that the deals, made in 2004 […] were fraudulent or involved bribery” and in June 2019 the Supreme Court upheld that ruling.

Knell: “During a long court battle the landlords – the Greek Orthodox Church – argued the sale of the property for just over a million dollars was carried out by a corrupt official. But Israel’s Supreme Court found it was legal. Mr Dajani says the buyers were driven by ideology.”

Dajani: “Distorted history. Where this is the land that God give. Who gave you? God was never a real estate man. All right; you can buy but you can do a deal in an honest way.”

Knell next claimed that Jerusalem’s Old City is “East Jerusalem”.

Knell: “Outside the hotel local church leaders pray for peace. They’ve appealed to the Vatican, to Moscow and Washington to intervene to stop a Jewish take-over of Christian properties in the Old City. For Palestinians this is also about protecting their presence in East Jerusalem and the idea of creating the capital of their hoped-for future state here.”

Listeners then heard an unidentified man claim that:

Man: “Every small land here in Jerusalem for Palestinians is very important but here is very like main area for tourists to come in so they see the flag, they see like returns to Israeli but it’s not – it’s Palestinian.”

Failing to clarify to listeners that there has never been a Palestinian state – let alone one which had sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem – Knell went on:

Knell: “But come down to the Western Wall – this crowded spot which is the holiest place where Jews can pray – and Israelis have a very different perspective. They see a united Jerusalem as their eternal capital.”

Listeners then heard two vox pop interviews with people who barely speak English replying to Knell’s question “you wouldn’t give up part of Jerusalem for peace with the Palestinians?”.

The Old City is of course not just any old “part of Jerusalem” but Knell made no effort at all to inform listeners of the fact that it is a location where Jews lived for centuries until they were ethnically cleansed by Jordan for a period lasting nineteen years.

Moreover, Knell then went on to promote a politically motivated narrative long embraced by the BBC: the notion that any and all Jews living in the Old City are ‘settlers’ and their homes ‘illegal settlements’.

Knell: [shouting] “A Palestinian woman screams after she’s evicted from her Old City home earlier this year so Jewish students can move in. Settlements are seen as illegal by most countries but Israel disagrees and in East Jerusalem one group – Ateret Cohanim – is behind a lot of the house purchases. Its director Daniel Luria recently told me he hopes to see many more Jews living here.”

Following that short and obviously carefully edited interview, Knell closed her report.

Knell: “Back at the Imperial Hotel an Israeli court worker serves Abu Walid Dajani with a new lawsuit, freezing his assets. The pressure on him from the settlers is mounting. At the heart of this deeply contested holy city, real estate has much more than just a financial value. It has an emotional and political one too.”

Not only did this report repeatedly promote inaccurate information concerning the properties which are ostensibly its subject matter but Yolande Knell has clearly exclusively embraced the Greek Orthodox Church’s narrative.

More gravely, Knell unquestioningly promoted the partisan political narrative she long since adopted with her framing of Old City houses inhabited by Jewish Israelis as ‘illegal settlements’, the inhabitants as ‘settlers’ and her uncritical amplification of the claim that the location is “Palestinian”.

Clearly this report does not meet the standards of either accuracy or impartiality laid down in the BBC’s editorial guidelines.  

Related Articles:

BBC tells audiences location of centuries-old Jewish habitation is an ‘illegal settlement’

Resources:

 

BBC’s ‘Newsbeat’ gives younger audiences a ‘history lesson’

Earlier this month we saw that the BBC had sent two reporters from the offshoot of BBC News which is the manifestation of the corporation’s belief that 16 to 24 year-olds in the UK cannot consume current affairs without a middleman – ‘Newsbeat’ – to cover the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv.

Newsbeat continues the BBC’s Eurovision framing

Context-free amplification of Eurovision boycott calls persists at BBC News

Claim shown to be false a year ago recycled in simplistic BBC backgrounder

In among their Eurovision coverage Steve Holden and Daniel Rosney also managed to produce “a little bit of a history lesson” for Newsbeat’s target audience which was broadcast on BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 1 XTRA on May 13th.

Seeing as ‘Newsbeat’ claims to produce “news tailored for a specifically younger audience”, that eight-and-a-half-minute long item gives us a good picture of what the BBC wants young people in the UK to know about the Arab-Israeli conflict – and what not.

Steve Holden introduced the report (from 06:45 here).

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

Holden: “Shalom from the city of Jerusalem. All this week ‘Newsbeat’ is coming to you from Israel and the Palestinian territories. […] We’re in the Middle East, surrounded by countries including Egypt, Jordan and Syria. It’s a fascinating place but also to some a controversial one, which we’ll talk about soon. We are here because this week Israel hosts the world’s largest live music event, the Eurovision Song Contest.”

By that measure one can only hope that the war in Afghanistan and the military coalition intervention against ISIS will be over by next May, otherwise ‘Newsbeat’ will have to make sure that reporters covering the Eurovision Song Contest in the Netherlands also pop over to Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan as well as several small islands in the Caribbean Sea.

Holden continued:

Holden: “So right now we are in the heart of Jerusalem: its Old City. It is full of market traders, food stalls, so many tourists. And I know this is radio but the smells here are incredible: think a mix of fresh strawberries, all kinds of spices and incense. It is amazing. It’s an organised chaos here; there are so many people but these motorbikes snake down these tiny alleyways and everyone shouts. Think of Jerusalem like a crossroads for religion. It is considered holy for many including Jews, Christians and Muslims. […]

This region is home to both Israelis and Palestinians so gonna give you a little bit of a history lesson now because the British used to rule here years ago when the area was called Palestine. Following the Second World War Israel established its state here. It was a homeland for Jewish people and in the war that followed, when surrounding Arab countries fought that new Jewish state, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes. Now, after another war in the 1960s, Israel captured places that you might have heard of like the Gaza Strip and the West Bank which it still occupies now – places that Palestinians want as their future state. Now those conflicting claims have seen unrest [sic] in this region for decades with each side blaming the other.”

As we see the BBC is not interested in explaining how Britain came to “rule…the area” or in telling audiences about the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate for Palestine. Relatedly, the word ‘the’ is missing from Holden’s portrayal of Israel – actually a homeland for the Jewish people. As is so often the case in BBC content, Holden’s portrayal leads listeners to the erroneous belief that the displacement of Palestinians took place only after Israel declared independence on May 14th 1948 and the Arab attacks which followed their rejection of the Partition Plan in November 1947 are erased from view. Having also failed to provide any context concerning the Six Day War, Holden went on to describe nearly 700 attacks with military grade projectiles against Israeli civilians in two days in early May as “violence…in the Gaza Strip”.

Holden: “Here with us this week is the BBC’s Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman who is based in Jerusalem. Ah…violence flared up very recently in the Gaza Strip which is about 90 minutes from here. Explain what happened.”

Bateman’s explanation included the BBC’s usual euphemism for terrorists and failed to clarify that the two Israeli soldiers were on the Israeli side of the border when shot by a Palestinian sniper.

Bateman: “There were militants in Gaza who really control the Gaza Strip. They shot at two Israeli soldiers, wounding them. Israel then fired back and two militants were killed in an air strike. There were then two days of very intense violence that followed. 700 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel that killed four people in Israel. The Israelis carried out wave after wave of air strikes against the Gaza Strip – in response, they said – and 25 Palestinians were killed. And really the context to all of it is that the Palestinians in Gaza say they want an easing of the blockade that Israel says it carries out for security reasons. The Israelis say, well look, they just want calm on the boundary.”

Bateman’s description of Israeli air strikes as being “against the Gaza Strip” is of course inaccurate – the targets were terrorist assets and installations. His claim that “25 Palestinians were killed” does not inform listeners that at least 74% of them were identified as terrorist operatives or members of the terrorist organisations. Bateman’s portrayal of what “Palestinians in Gaza say they want” of course does not help the BBC’s “younger audiences” understand that what Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad want is to eradicate Israel and that is why counter-terrorism measures including “the blockade” are in place.

Holden: “Now world governments have been trying to stop that from happening for years. What’s the latest?”

Notably Bateman’s portrayal of the two-state solution follows the usual BBC policy of ignoring the all-important part of the formula: ‘two states for two peoples’.

Bateman: “Well the formulation for peace really from the international community for many years has been something called the two-state solution and what that would really mean was you have the State of Israel living in peace and security alongside an independent Palestinian state so the Palestinians would have their own country and the right to run that. What we’re gonna get, in the next few weeks it looks like, is a new plan from the Trump White House in America. President Trump he says he wants to do the deal of the century – the ultimate deal, he’s called it – between Israelis and Palestinians. Now the Americans say it requires new thinking; all the ideas in the past have simply failed. But there are critics already of this, including the Palestinians and their leadership who say they won’t talk to the Americans over all of this. They think the plan is gonna be biased in favour of Israel.”

Holden: “And we’re starting this week in Jerusalem. It’s a city that is complicated. It’s got a very complex history.”

Erasing the nineteen-year Jordanian occupation of Jerusalem from the picture even while referring to its effects, Bateman also failed to provide any context concerning the Six Day War.

Bateman: “You have here two very distinct populations so in the west of the city you have Jewish Israelis. In the east of the city largely you have Palestinians, Arabs. There was a time when the city was very divided; literally there was barbed wire and concrete walls running across the centre of it. When Israel captured it in that war you mentioned in the 1960s they took the whole city and since then they’ve claimed it as what they call their eternal, undivided capital. Now Palestinians in the east don’t want that. They want the east to be the capital of their future state and so it remains a city whose future is in question and really one of the most contested places on earth.”

Holden then introduced a report from his colleague Daniel Rosney who went on walk about in Jerusalem on Independence Day to do vox pop interviews.

Rosney: “This is Damascus Gate: one of the entrances to the Old City but it’s also one of the ways that you get to the east of the city where many Palestinians live. Around here there are Border Police with big guns and they sit in booths. For Israelis this keeps the city undivided but for Palestinians this is the face of their occupation.”

Actually, for Israelis those Border Police officers are defence against the frequent terror attacks by Palestinians that ‘Newsbeat’ chose to erase from this report entirely. Rosney was apparently surprised that residents of the eastern part of the city were not celebrating Independence Day.

Rosney: “Back outside and you can see that in East Jerusalem some of the roads just aren’t as good as they are in West Jerusalem and it’s not got that same celebratory vibe today.

Referring to one of Rosney’s interviewees, Holden closed the report with another misrepresentation of when and why some Palestinians became refugees.

Holden: “As we just heard in Daniel’s report, Rajid [phonetic] wasn’t celebrating Israel’s Independence Day but later this week he will mark Nakba Day remembering the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians forced from their home after Israel declared independence. More on that tomorrow when we’re going to be in Gaza hearing from those directly affected by the conflict.”

Apparently as far as ‘Newsbeat’ is concerned “those directly affected by the conflict” do not include the residents of southern Israel targeted by thousands of missiles over the years or the many thousands of Israelis impacted by other types of Palestinian terror attacks.

Partial portrayals of international law in three BBC reports

In recent days visitors to the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page have found three reports relating to the US president’s announcement of the intention to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

One of those reports was written by the BBC’s State Department correspondent Barbara Plett Usher and the other two included inserts of her analysis. All three promoted specific messaging on the topic of international law.

1) Trump: Time to recognise Golan Heights as Israeli territory March 21st:

“Richard Haass, a former senior US state department official who is now president of the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, said he “strongly disagreed” with Mr Trump. He said such recognising Israeli sovereignty would violate a UN Security Council resolution, “which rules out acquiring territory by war”. […]

So critics have concluded this was a blatant attempt to give Mr Netanyahu a boost in a hotly-contested election.

If so, it’s one that violates important principles of international law, they say: Mr Trump has endorsed the seizure of territory, and will have no moral authority to criticise Russia for doing so in Ukraine’s Crimea.”

2) Golan Heights: Syria condemns Donald Trump’s remarks March 22nd:

“Richard Haass, a former senior US state department official who is now president of the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, said he “strongly disagreed” with Mr Trump and that the decision would violate a UN Security Council resolution “which rules out acquiring territory by war”. […]

Critics have concluded this was a blatant attempt to give Mr Netanyahu a boost in a hotly-contested election. If so, it’s one that violates important principles of international law, they say: Mr Trump has endorsed the seizure of territory, and will have no moral authority to criticise Russia for doing so in Ukraine’s Crimea.”

3) Trumplomacy on Golan Heights: What it all means March 22nd, Barbara Plett Usher:

“First and foremost is one of international law: in recognising Israeli sovereignty over the Golan, Mr Trump is in effect endorsing its seizure of the territory. By what moral authority then could he challenge others who do the same, such as Russia’s annexation of Crimea?”

As Professor Eugene Kontorovich pointed out in testimony given to the US House of Representatives last year:

“The widely-repeated view that recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights would be contrary to international law is based on one fundamental assumption: that at least since the adoption of U.N. Charter, international law prohibits any acquisition of foreign territory by force. While such a formulation of the rule is largely accurate, it omits crucial exceptions quite relevant to the case of the Golan Heights.

Whatever the current status of an absolute prohibition on territorial change resulting from war, there was certainly no such blanket prohibition in 1967, when the territory came under Israeli control. At the time, international law only prohibited acquisition of force in illegal or aggressive wars. This is evident from the source of the prohibition in the UN Charter, post-Charter state practice, and the understandings of international jurists at the time. There is simply no precedent or authoritative source for forbidding defensive conquest in 1967.

The U.N. Charter prohibits war for most purposes. When the use of force is illegal, it is natural to conclude that any territorial gains from such aggression cannot be recognized as well. Thus the illegality of conquest arises from the presumptive illegality of the use of force. But crucially, the U.N. Charter does not make all war illegal. Indeed, it expressly reaffirms the legality of a defensive war. Since defensive war is not illegal, it follows that the defender’s territorial gains from such a war would not be illegal.”

Notably, readers of the first report were also told that:

“In 2017, Mr Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordered the relocation of the US embassy to the city from Tel Aviv. The decision was condemned by Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, and the UN General Assembly demanded its cancellation.”

The second article likewise stated:

“In 2017, Mr Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordered the relocation of the US embassy to the city from Tel Aviv.

The decision was condemned by Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestinian state, and the UN General Assembly demanded its cancellation.”

Under the heading “How will this affect the West Bank?” readers of the third article were informed that:

“The occupied West Bank is different from the Golan Heights. It was also captured by Israel in the 1967 war, from Jordan.”

As usual the BBC’s presentation of history commences in June 1967 with no mention of the relevant fact that in 1948 Jordan launched an attack on the regions included in the Mandate for Palestine which the BBC terms “the West Bank” and “East Jerusalem” and subsequently illegally annexed both areas.  

Predictably, while amplifying Palestinian claims to parts of Jerusalem which were under Jordanian occupation for 19 years, the BBC has nothing at all to tell its audiences about the legality of that particular case of seizure of territory by war.

No surprises in BBC News website report on US Consulate closure

A move that had been anticipated since October 2018 was reported on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on March 4th in an article headlined “US consulate general in Jerusalem merges with embassy”. The story was summed up in the article’s opening paragraphs:

“The US has closed its consulate general in Jerusalem, which covered Palestinian affairs, folding its operations into the new embassy to Israel in the city.

The state department said the merger was made for efficiency reasons and did not signal a change of policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or Gaza.

The consulate had acted as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians.

A Palestinian official called the move “the last nail in the coffin of the US administration’s role in peacemaking”.”

That unnamed “Palestinian official” was the PLO’s Saeb Erekat, who is of course rather fond of the ‘nail in the coffin‘ metaphor.

In addition to a 146-word section quoting (and linking to) the US State department deputy spokesman’s statement on the merger, readers found an unquestioning 126-word account of the less extreme parts of a statement from the PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi, with a link provided.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), said: “The Trump administration is intent on leaving no room for doubt about its hostility towards the Palestinian people and their inalienable rights, as well as its abject disregard for international law and its obligations under the law.”

“Merging the US consulate in Jerusalem with the US embassy to Israel, which is now illegally located in Jerusalem, is not an administrative decision. It is an act of political assault on Palestinian rights and identity and a negation of the consulate’s historic status and function, dating back nearly 200 years.”

Ms Ashrawi said such actions “preclude any possible positive role for the current US administration in seeking peace and stability” in the region.”

Ms Ashrawi and her colleagues have of course been boycotting the US administration since December 2017 and have repeatedly expressed their opposition to a peace proposal which the US has not even yet made public. Apparently though the BBC did not see the irony in the second quote from Ashrawi which it chose to highlight.

Readers of this report also found the following:

“The BBC’s Tom Bateman in Jerusalem says the merger marks a significant downgrade of the US diplomatic mission to the Palestinians.”

Bateman did not however clarify why any foreign “diplomatic mission to the Palestinians” should be located outside territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority, in a place to which the Palestinians ostensibly do not lay claim.  

Unsurprisingly, the recycled background history presented in BBC’s article made no mention of the unrecognised Jordanian occupation of the city 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 Middle East war – as the capital of a future Palestinian state. […]

The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally, and according to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.”

Obviously if the BBC’s audiences are to fully understand the background they 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 likewise need to be informed of the belligerent 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.

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

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

Since the BBC began covering stories concerning the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2016 – and particularly since the US announcement concerning its embassy’s relocation in December 2017 – the comprehensive background information which would enable BBC audiences to fully understand these stories has been serially withheld. As we see in this latest report, that editorial policy continues.

Related Articles:

Reviewing the BBC’s presentation of Jerusalem history

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

BBC News continues to sell audiences short on Jerusalem

Following the December 15th announcement by the Australian prime minister the BBC News website published an article titled “Australia recognises West Jerusalem as Israeli capital“.

As has been the case in several previous articles relating to recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a problematic backgrounder video by Yolande Knell dating from December 2017 was promoted in this latest report. 

Also in common with similar previous reports, readers were told that:

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

The fact that the US Congress actually voted to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital over two decades ago was yet again concealed from audience view.

Under the sub-heading “Why is the status of Jerusalem so contentious?” readers saw the background to the story portrayed thus:

“The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally, and according to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.

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.

In December 2017, UN member states voted decisively at the General Assembly in favour of a resolution effectively declaring US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to be “null and void” and demanding it be cancelled.”

Similar or identical portrayals have often been seen by visitors to the BBC News website in the past; most recently in November 2018 and October 2018.  

Obviously if the BBC’s audiences are to understand the background to this story they 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 also need to be informed of the belligerent 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.

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

Since the BBC began covering stories concerning the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2016 – and particularly since the US announcement concerning its embassy’s relocation in December 2017 – the comprehensive background information which would enable BBC audiences to fully understand these stories has been serially withheld.

With every new announcement by a foreign government of recognition of Israel’s capital it becomes more and more obvious that the BBC’s chosen framing of the story is not intended to meet its obligation to “provide 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:

BBC framing of Jerusalem embassy stories continues

Reviewing the BBC’s presentation of Jerusalem history

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

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

BBC continues to deny audiences relevant Jerusalem background information

 

 

BBC continues to deny audiences relevant Jerusalem background information

On November 2nd the BBC News website published its latest report on the proposed relocation of a foreign embassy to Jerusalem – “Israel’s Netanyahu welcomes Brazil Jerusalem embassy vow“.

“Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has welcomed a decision by Brazil’s president-elect to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Mr Netanyahu praised it as “historic, [and] correct”. Palestinians called the move “provocative and illegal”.

Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right politician, expressed strong support for Israel during his election campaign.

Jerusalem’s status is one of the most contentious issues between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel considers the whole of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a hoped-for Palestinian state.”

As was the case in an article published last month, a problematic backgrounder video by Yolande Knell dating from December 2017 was promoted in this latest report. Later on readers found a typical BBC ‘nothing worth mentioning happened before 1967’ portrayal of the story’s background:

“The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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

Obviously if the BBC’s audiences are to understand why Israel regards united Jerusalem as its capital they would need to be told of the inclusion of the city 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, since the BBC began covering stories relating to the relocation of foreign embassies to Jerusalem in late 2016 and particularly since the US announcement concerning its embassy in December 2017, that background information has been serially denied to audiences.

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

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

While there is nothing new about the BBC’s failure to provide its audiences with the full range of information necessary for their understanding of the background to these stories concerning the relocation of foreign embassies to Jerusalem, the fact that it adopts that editorial policy – committed as it is to “due impartiality” under BBC editorial guidelines and even as it repeatedly tells audiences that “Jerusalem’s status is one of the most contentious issues between Israel and the Palestinians” – is truly remarkable.

Related Articles:

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

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

Reviewing the BBC’s presentation of Jerusalem history

 

 

BBC framing of Jerusalem embassy stories continues

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

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

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

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

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

Readers were also told that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Readers were told of announcements:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:

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

BBC omits key context in account of potential US embassy move

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

Inaccuracy and omission in BBC backgrounder on Jerusalem

BBC’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.

 

 

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