BBC’s Plett Usher continues to promote her Israel narratives

In December 2017 the BBC News website published an article titled “Trumplomacy: Key takeaways from Jerusalem policy shift“. In March 2019 the BBC News website published an article titled “Trumplomacy on Golan Heights: What it all means”.  

The latest article in the ‘Trumplomacy’ genre by the BBC’s US State Department correspondent Barbara Plett Usher appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on April 12th under the headline “Trumplomacy: Where are things at with the Mideast peace plan?”. [emphasis in bold added]

The main image illustrating the article is captioned “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) recently became the first high-ranking US official to visit Jerusalem’s Western Wall last month”. In fact previous American visitors to the site have included the US President, Vice-President and former UN ambassador.

Although Israel’s president will only begin meeting with representatives of the lists which won seats in the Knesset in last week’s election on April 15th in order to hear their recommendations for the candidate who should be tasked with forming the next government and that person will then have 28 days in which to do so (with the possibility of a two-week extension), Plett Usher already ‘knows’ what sort of new government Israel will have:

“With a newly elected right-wing government taking shape in Israel this is a good time to check in on the status of the Trump administration’s peace plan.”

Under the sub-heading “How has the [US] policy changed?” Plett Usher instructs readers to:

“Remember that the formula for peace negotiations has been: two states based on the borders of Arab territory seized by Israel in the 1967 war, with mutually agreed land swaps; sufficient security arrangements; a just solution for Palestinian refugees; and negotiations to settle the fate of Jerusalem, the occupied eastern part of which Palestinians claim as their capital.”

While Plett Usher does not specify the source of her “the formula for peace negotiations”, her description is apparently based on non-binding UN General Assembly resolutions such as 3236 and/or the extinct 2003 Quartet road map.

Interestingly, Plett Usher does not bother to inform her readers that the Oslo Accords – the one agreement which resulted from actual negotiations between Israel and the PLO – did not specify the two-state solution as “the formula”.

Significantly, while portraying the “fate of Jerusalem” as the sole issue to be resolved in negotiations, Plett Usher fails to inform audiences that under the terms of the Oslo Accords, other topics she portrays as ‘givens’ – borders, refugees and settlements – are also to be resolved in permanent status negotiations.

Instead Plett Usher promotes the false notion of pre-1967 “borders”, failing to clarify that those were actually armistice lines which were specifically defined in the 1949 Armistice Agreement as not being borders. Equally revealing is Plett Usher’s description of land assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland which was belligerently occupied by Jordan and Egypt in 1948 as “Arab territory” and her prior reference to “the occupied Palestinian West Bank”.

In other words Barbara Plett Usher has unquestioningly adopted and promoted the PLO’s stance on that issue.  She goes on:

“But the White House has declared that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, cut funds to the UN agency that looks after Palestinian refugees, and accepted Israel’s unilateral annexation of other occupied territory, the Golan Heights.”

A journalist with integrity would clarify that the US announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city specifically stated that – in contrast to the impression Plett Usher is trying to create – it had no bearing on negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

“Today’s actions—recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announcing the relocation of our embassy—do not reflect a departure from the strong commitment of the United States to facilitating a lasting peace agreement. The United States continues to take no position on any final status issues. The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties. The United States is not taking a position on boundaries or borders.”

And if bringing up the topic of cuts in US funding to UNRWA, a journalist devoted to informing readers would also have explained the background to that decision, the controversies surrounding that UN agency and the broader issue of Palestinian refugees.

Going on to reference the anti-Israel BDS campaign, Plett Usher likewise fails to inform readers of that campaign’s aims, thereby denying them the ability to judge the statement she paraphrases.

“The state department’s new envoy to combat anti-Semitism, Elan Carr, has reinforced this Israeli narrative in US policy.

He told us that boycotting goods made in Jewish West Bank settlements was anti-Semitic, even though the settlements are illegal under international law and have expanded to such a degree many question whether a Palestinian state is still viable.”

Plett Usher then bolsters her article’s core messaging to readers with a quote sourced from an organisation she once again signposts as “liberal”.

“The administration’s embrace of the Israeli government’s right-wing positions has alarmed liberal American Jewish organizations.

“What they’ve done so far tells you what they intend to lay out,” says Jeremy Ben-Ami of the J Street lobby group. “They have no intention to lay out what could conceivably resolve the conflict. Instead they will tie American government positions to those of the farthest right of Israel’s political spectrum.””

In her final section – sub-headed “What about the Palestinian reaction?” – Plett Usher qualifies the description of people convicted of violent attacks against Israelis.

“Mr Abbas is very unpopular. But on a recent trip to Jerusalem I was told anecdotally that Palestinians have at least given him credit for standing firm on their three core issues: Jerusalem, refugees and maintaining funds to Palestinian prisoners – whom the Israelis regard as terrorists – despite financial pressure.”

Although the US administration’s proposal has yet to be revealed, the Palestinian Authority has already made its rejection of it amply clear. Nevertheless Barbara Plett Usher’s aim in this article is to convince BBC audiences that when it does appear, that plan is destined to fail because it ‘embraces’ the positions of “the farthest right of Israel’s political spectrum” rather than because the Palestinians have made it a non-starter.

While Plett Usher’s promotion of that narrative comes as no surprise, it is unfortunate that BBC audiences continue to be fed commentary which does little to enhance their understanding of this and additional topics from a person whose impartiality on issues relating to Israel has long been in plain sight.

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Inaccuracies in BBC WS ‘Newsday’ report on Israel election

Listeners to the later edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ on April 9th heard a five-minute item replete with factual errors and misleading claims.

The item was introduced (from 04:23 here) by a presenter who managed not only to pronounce the Israeli prime minister’s first name in three different ways in 44 seconds but also inaccurately described him as Israel’s “longest-serving prime minister”. In fact, only if Netanyahu is still prime minister on July 17th 2019 will he overtake David Ben Gurion – currently Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

The presenter also failed to note that whether or not what she described as “imminent criminal indictments” against Netanyahu will be filed depends upon hearings to be held in the coming months. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Presenter: “Let’s take you to Israel now…eh…Israelis are going to the polls today as the country’s longest-serving prime minister Benyamin [sic] Netanyahu faces his toughest challenge yet. Plagued with controversies and under the shadow of imminent criminal indictments for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, many are still tipping him to win. Let’s speak now to our Jerusalem correspondent Tom Bateman. Tom, it’s been described as almost a referendum on Benjamin Netanyahu’s rule but now he has a real contender and a challenger…eh…in the former…general – or retired general – Benny Gantz. Let’s talk about Benny Gantz for a minute. What’s he promising and why has he proven such a strong challenger to Binyamin Netanyahu?”

Bateman: “Well Benny Gantz was a chief of the Israeli army. He was actually in position under Mr Netanyahu’s leadership when he was prime minister in this last term.”

Netanyahu’s latest term in office began in May 2015 following elections in March of that year. Benny Gantz retired from army service in February 2015 and so – while Gantz was chief of staff during parts of two of Netanyahu’s earlier terms in office, Bateman’s claim that he was “in position” during “this last term” of Netanyahu’s office is clearly inaccurate.

Bateman went on to promote false equivalence while describing a Hamas rocket attack on a moshav in central Israel last month.

Bateman: “He oversaw the military operation – the all-out conflict between Hamas in Gaza and Israel – in 2014 so he is an experienced general. He entered the race after…they have to have a three year…ah…period of rest away from the military or politics because former generals in Israel are usually pretty hot stuff when it comes to Israeli politics and they can be very popular. He entered this race and he has put up a very serious challenge to Benjamin Netanyahu who, remember, likes to portray himself as the guarantor of Israel’s security. That has been his number one pitching point to the Israeli public and so to have this former chief of staff to come in and who has said that in his view Mr Netanyahu has not been effective on the security front. There has been a military flare-up again between Hamas and Israel during the election campaign and Mr Netanyahu’s rivals, including Mr Gantz, were quick to jump on that and say that he should have been tougher.”

Presenter: “And Mr Netanyahu has been appealing to the Right-wing voter base. How and…and…will that make a difference in the way that people vote given how close the challenge is?”

Once again avoiding the topic of the effects of Palestinian terrorism on Israeli public opinion and the tricky question of how a two-state solution could come about under Palestinian leadership split between Fatah and Hamas, Bateman promoted PLO messaging on the topic of ‘settlements’.

Bateman: “Well the Israeli public has shifted to the Right over the decades, particularly since the Left in Israel saw its last high-water mark in the 1990s in the Oslo peace accords – the peace process with the Palestinians – which has very much been frozen and in many ways begun to fall apart since then. Particularly the Israeli youth are…many of them vehement supporters of the Right wing and Mr Netanyahu. And I think even during this campaign we have seen him tack further to the Right and in the closing days of the campaign he said that he would phase the annexation of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, so extending Israeli sovereignty formally over those settlements which have grown in number since he was last elected into office. They’re illegal under international law although Israel disputes this but fundamentally they are seen by the Palestinians as the single biggest obstacle to them establishing a future state. And so what we have seen in this election, I think, with that further appeal to the Right wing is the prospect of the internationally held formula – a two-state solution with Israel and the Palestinians – really moved even further to the margins.”

In addition to Bateman’s promotion of the BBC’s standard partial mantra on ‘international law’ we see that he also promotes the inaccurate claim that the number of what the BBC chooses to call ‘settlements’ has “grown” since Netanyahu was “last elected into office” – i.e. since the previous election in March 2015.

In June 2017 the BBC itself reported that work had begun on what it described as “the first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank for more than 20 years”. That community – Amichai – will house former residents of Amona which was evacuated in February 2017. No additional new communities have been built by the Israeli government in the past four years and proposals to legalise outposts built without government consent have not progressed. It is therefore unclear on what evidence Bateman bases his assertion that “settlements…have grown in number” since March 2015.

The item continued:

Presenter: “And I mean we…we talk about Mr Netanyahu of course facing a tough challenge but he’s also, you know, facing…ehm…he’s…he could be removed from office under criminal indictments. Mr Netanyahu still faces charges of corruption. How is that affecting, you know, his campaign and how’s that affecting the support for him?”

Bateman: “Well among his most loyal supporters, I mean they’re…they’re…they’re fiercely loyal of [sic] him. They know about the allegations – some might even believe them – but they really don’t care.”

Presenter: “Hmm.”

Only at that point in the item did listeners hear an accurate portrayal of “what will happen next” in relation to the repeatedly referenced legal cases involving Netanyahu but no information was provided concerning Israeli law in such a situation.

Bateman: “I think it possibly has had some effect and it has allowed Benny Gantz to pick up some votes from the Right wing although most of the votes he has taken seem to be coming from the Left. As for what will happen next, well we’re due at some point later this year – the Israeli attorney general – to give Mr Netanyahu a hearing and then those charges could be formally laid against him so you will then have a sitting prime minister with a formal indictment against him which would be a rare or unprecedented situation in Israeli politics and what may happen over the coming days, if he wins the election he has to put together a coalition government. Perhaps there will be a price to membership of the coalition in that parties and their leaders will have to say that they would support him through that process and not resign from government which would then precipitate a collapse of the government and then potentially another general election.”

Once again we see that the profuse amount of BBC coverage of Israeli affairs and the permanent presence of BBC staff in Jerusalem does not preclude shoddy and inaccurate reporting which misleads audiences around the world.  

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BBC News report on Airbnb backtrack follows usual recipe

Back in November 2018 the BBC News website published no fewer than three reports (see ‘related articles’ below) concerning an announcement from the American company Airbnb concerning its intention to remove some 200 listings in Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria.

All three of those reports – two written and one filmed – promoted the corporation’s standard mantra concerning ‘international law’ with the BBC electing once again to ignore its editorial obligation of “due impartiality” by erasing from audience view the existence of legal opinions which contradict its chosen narrative.

The two written reports uncritically amplified statements made by the political NGO ‘Human Rights Watch and the second article even provided a link to a problematic report produced by that NGO and another called ‘Kerem Navot’ which was actually a political campaign focusing exclusively on Jewish Israelis.

On April 10th the BBC News website published a report titled “Airbnb reverses ban on West Bank settlement listings” which opened by telling readers that:

“Airbnb has reversed its decision to remove rental listings of homes located inside Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.”

The background to that reversal was portrayed by the BBC as follows:

“Israeli lawyers filed a class action suit, which is when a group of people with similar claims sues the defendant in one action.

The suit sought 15,000 shekels ($4,200; £3,200) for each host of the 200 homes that were due to be deleted from Airbnb’s listings.

Airbnb said that under the terms of a settlement it would “not move forward with implementing the removal of listings in the West Bank from the platform”.”

However the BBC did not inform its audiences of the basis for that class action suit.

“The suit was filed under the Fair Housing Act, which was meant to prevent discrimination against minorities in the United States. Because Airbnb is based in the United States, it must adhere to the act in all its listings worldwide.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed that Airbnb was discriminating against them for being Jewish, given that it still allowed listings by Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the West Bank.

“The policy Airbnb announced last November was abject discrimination against Jewish users of the website,” Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the president of Shurat Hadin, said in a statement. “Whatever one’s political view, discrimination based on religious affiliation should never be the solution.””

Readers would hence no doubt have found it difficult to understand why one of the people quoted in a section of the report sub-headed “What’s the reaction been?” used the term “discriminatory”.

“Eugene Kontorovich, director of international law at the Kohelet Policy Forum in Jerusalem, told AFP news agency: “Airbnb has realized what we have long argued – that boycotts of Jews anywhere, even just in the West Bank, are discriminatory.”

That sub-section went on to uncritically amplify statements from two of the BBC’s most quoted and promoted political NGOs – Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – while making no effort to adhere to the corporation’s own editorial guidelines by informing audiences of the political agenda of those organisations.

“But Arvind Ganesan of Human Rights Watch said: “Donating profits from unlawful settlement listings, as they’ve promised to do, does nothing to remedy the ‘human suffering’ they have acknowledged that their activities cause.

“By continuing to do business in settlements, they remain complicit in the abuses settlements trigger,” he added.

An Amnesty International report published earlier in the year argued that Airbnb was among the digital tourism companies profiting from “war crimes” by offering services in West Bank settlements.” [emphasis added]

As usual, readers of this report were presented with the corporation’s chosen one-sided narrative on ‘international law’ – “the settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this” – without the existence of alternative opinions even being acknowledged.

And so once again BBC audiences got a carefully framed portrayal of this story which, while promoting an anti-Israel NGO’s “war crimes” hyperbole, failed to adequately present the whole picture.

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BBC News coverage of terrorism in Israel – March 2019

The Israel Security Agency’s report on terror attacks (Hebrew) during March 2019 shows that throughout the month a total of 308 incidents took place: 110 in Judea & Samaria, 15 in Jerusalem and 181 in the Gaza Strip sector.

In Judea & Samaria and Jerusalem the agency recorded 97 attacks with petrol bombs, sixteen attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs), two stabbing attacks, one grenade attack, five shooting attacks, one vehicular attack and two arson attacks.

Incidents recorded in the Gaza Strip sector included 64 attacks with petrol bombs, 45 pipe bomb attacks, 17 attacks using IEDs, five shooting attacks, two grenade attacks and five attacks using improvised grenades as well as forty-one incidents of rocket launches and one mortar attack.

Throughout March two people were murdered – one civilian and one member of the security forces – and seventeen people (including 11 civilians) were wounded in terror attacks.

The BBC News website belatedly covered the terror attacks at two locations in Samaria on March 17th in which Staff Sergeant Gal Keidan and Rabbi Achiad Ettinger were murdered.

Rocket attacks on Tel Aviv on March 14th received belated coverage and the rocket attack on Moshav Mishmeret on March 25th in which 7 civilians were injured was also reported, as were additional attacks later in the day and others on March 31st. Several other rocket and mortar attacks throughout the month went unreported.

A vehicular attack in the Binyamin district on March 4th in which two members of the security forces were injured did not receive any BBC coverage and neither did a shooting incident in which a 7 year-old boy was injured in Beit El on March 25th.  BBC audiences saw no reporting on the stabbing of two prison guards by Hamas prisoners on March 24th or a petrol bomb attack on passengers in a car travelling near Elon Moreh on March 21st.

In all the BBC can be said to have covered 36 of the 308 incidents which took place during March while also making vague references to some Israeli reports of IED attacks along the border with the Gaza Strip.

Since the beginning of the year the BBC News website has reported 5.9% of the Palestinian terror attacks that have taken place (including half of the incidents of rocket fire) and 66% of the total fatalities.

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Another Israeli election, another BBC claim of a ‘shift to the right’

On April 8th a filmed report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman was posted on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page under the headline “How far will Israel shift to the right?”.

The accompanying synopsis tells BBC audiences that:

“Israelis go to the polls on Tuesday to choose a new government.

It has come down to a race between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, a former military chief of staff.

Mr Netanyahu has faced accusations that he fostered racism in the campaign, after he oversaw the creation of an electoral alliance involving a party that calls for the expulsion of most Arabs from Israel.

Our Middle East Correspondent Tom Bateman reports, starting in the divided city of Hebron, in the occupied West Bank.

Within the city of about 200,000 Palestinians, a few hundred Jews live in settlements that are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

Like that synopsis, the report itself – introduced as “Israel’s election and the far right” – made no effort to explain to BBC audiences that Jewish residents of Hebron live there under the terms of a twenty-two year old internationally supervised agreement between Israel and the PLO under which the then Israeli prime minister – one Binyamin Netanyahu – agreed to redeploy Israeli forces from 80% of the city and hand control over to the Palestinian Authority, thus making the city “divided” with Palestinian consent.

Lacking that essential background information, the view audiences got from Bateman’s report was inevitably distorted. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

“Last month, settlers celebrated the Jewish holiday of Purim in the divided city of Hebron, in the occupied West Bank. Several hundred of Israel’s most ideologically driven settlers live here, guarded by soldiers, in the city of 200,000 Palestinians.”

Bateman: “I mean on one level it’s just a party, it’s people dressing up and having a good time. But like so many things here, it just takes on a different meaning because this is so contested, this is such a tense place, it becomes about an expression of identity by people who feel that they under siege. For the Palestinians it feels like a complete provocation.”

Having heard from a man in a van that “again and again, every generation, there are nations that are trying to destroy the Jews”, Bateman went on to opine on “religious resolve (whatever that may be) and nationalism”.

Bateman: “That explains why religious resolve and nationalism are so much on display here. Those things are a powerful part of Israeli politics. And in this election, the extremes have been courted by the Israeli prime minister. An anti-Arab party called Jewish Power. They didn’t want to talk to us.”

Having tried to talk to a man in the street, Bateman went on:

Bateman: “His party wants to annex the occupied West Bank and also expel what it calls ‘enemy Arabs’ from Israel. Some of the Israelis dress up as Palestinians. So this lady here is wearing a Palestinian [sic] head scarf and carrying a plastic AK-47.”

Viewers were then told that:

“Benjamin Netanyahu wants to be elected for a fifth term. He faces corruption claims and a serious challenger: former military chief Benny Gantz. Mr Gantz is leading a political alliance in the centre ground. It accuses Mr Netanyahu of dividing Israelis and says he hasn’t been tough enough on security.”

Bateman then refocused audience attentions on Hebron, again failing to provide relevant context such as the consequences of Palestinian terrorism on freedom of movement for both Palestinians and Israelis.

Bateman: “Virtually all of the Palestinians are staying indoors while the parade goes on. Palestinian movement is heavily controlled in this part of the city, especially around the parade.”

Woman: “I feel like their lives are much more relaxed than ours. Apart from that, you can see they can do what they like. They have total freedom in the area and in all the areas that are shut down like this one. We feel sad.”

Bateman: “So what’s happened to Israel’s left wing? Well we found some of them in the market in Tel Aviv. […] I followed around the Labour Party leader Avi Gabbay. They can drum up a bit of a crowd in the market here. But the problem for the Labour Party leader is he could be looking at Labour’s worst poll ratings in this country’s history.”

Making no effort whatsoever to give viewers a real explanation of why that is the case, Bateman went on to push the core agenda behind his report.

Bateman: “After a decade in office, Benjamin Netanyahu has changed the conversation in Israel. For example the two-state solution with the Palestinians is off the agenda for either party that can win.”

In other words, Bateman would have BBC audiences believe that disillusion among Israeli voters and politicians alike with the belief that a two-state solution can be achieved is entirely down to Netanyahu having “changed the conversation” since 2009 and has nothing whatsoever to do with years of Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli citizens, Palestinian Authority glorification and rewarding of terror, Palestinian refusal to accept numerous previous offers of precisely such a solution or the Hamas-Fatah split which for over a decade has made any agreement “with the Palestinians” impossible.

Following a conversation with Ayelet Shaked of the ‘New Right’ in which she apparently did not succeed in persuading Bateman that Israeli democracy is sufficiently robust to include a broad range of opinions across the political spectrum, he continued with promotion of unsupported claims from unidentified commentators.

Bateman: “Israel has been taking a look at itself in this election. Some see the move rightwards over the last decade as decisive now. They see ideas that were once on the margins a few decades ago becoming more and more mainstream. Like the possibility of Israel annexing parts of the occupied West Bank.”

Bateman has apparently never heard of the ‘Alon Plan’ proposal of annexation of parts of Judea & Samaria devised by a Labour movement leader shortly after the Six Day War.

Finally, BBC audiences learned that even if Netanyahu does not win this election and even if a centrist/left coalition forms the next government, Israel has – according to the BBC – nevertheless shifted to the right for one reason alone.

Bateman: “Regardless of the result, there has been a marked shift to the right during Benjamin Netanyahu’s time in office.”

Of course this is by no means the first time that the BBC has used coverage of an election in Israel to promote the notion of a lurch to the right. Once again the lack of understanding by BBC reporters of the inapplicability of their own Eurocentric interpretations of terms such as Left and Right to the Israeli political scene is in evidence. But this time Bateman has managed to avoid any reference to Palestinian actions and choices which have made many Israelis more sceptical of their supposed peace partner’s commitment to the process while squarely placing the blame on the shoulders of the Israeli prime minister.  

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BBC Radio 4 religious programme does Israeli politics

h/t HG

BBC Radio 4’s weekly programme ‘Sundaypurports to give listeners “a look at the ethical and religious issues of the week”. The lead item in the April 7th edition of that programme (from 01:01 here) had nothing to do with “ethical and religious issues” at all. 

The item relates to a political story taken rather more seriously by the foreign press than the Israeli public which emerged in an April 6th Channel 13 interview with Israel’s prime minister. During that interview Netanyahu was asked why, during his 2015-2019 term of office, he had not annexed Gush Etzion or applied Israeli law to Ma’ale Adumim. Avoiding the word annexation, Netanyahu replied that the topic is under discussion and that he intends to apply Israeli law to Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria during his next (potential) term.

While no such action is likely to happen before the US presents its proposals for an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians (if at all, given that Netanyahu has in the past repeatedly scuppered such efforts when advanced by other MKs), Netanyahu’s remarks were presented to BBC audiences as a “vow” to “annex settlements”.

Presenter William Crawley introduced an interviewee who, on the same programme, has in the past shown herself to be less than reliable on Israel related stories. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Crawley: “This Tuesday is election day in Israel and prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have advanced his own chances of success with his surprise announcement last night that, if re-elected, he will annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Jordana Miller is a foreign correspondent for ABC News based in Jerusalem. She joins us now. […] Did anyone see this coming?”

Miller: “I can tell you for those of us who’ve been covering Benjamin Netanyahu for years, we knew there was still gonna be something he was gonna offer to voters before Tuesday. We weren’t sure exactly what but here it is. He is now vowing to annex parts of the West Bank which would be a major change in Israeli policy and it would bring, you know, millions of Palestinians under Israeli law which, you know, is a very grey…their status as it is is under a very grey kind of…eh…cloud.”

By the time Miller claimed that what she described as a ‘vow’ to “annex parts of the West Bank” would lead to “millions of Palestinians” being brought under Israeli law, the government minister Israel Katz had already explained to a local radio station that not one Palestinian would be annexed in the event of application of Israeli law to the Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria.

Crawley made no effort to explain to listeners that – despite his interviewee’s assertion – “millions of Palestinians” do not live in the “Jewish settlements” to which he referred in his introduction and he refrained from clarifying that – in contrast to her additional inaccurate claim – the status of the vast majority of Palestinians in Judea & Samaria is not “under a very grey kind of cloud” because they are in fact Palestinian Authority citizens living in Palestinian Authority controlled areas.

Miller went on:  

Miller: “So this would be very complicated and I don’t believe he will actually do it ahm…but this is what he’s doing to kind of rally his base. He is really down in the polls and tied in a few, maybe by one and he needs to really get people to the ballot and that’s – to the ballot box – that’s what he’s doing.”

Crawley: “And I suppose this, from his point of view, might be a helpful distraction from the corruption scandals that have been engulfing him recently.”

Miller: “That’s right. The attorney general announced some weeks ago that he does plan to charge Netanyahu on bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases. But the really interesting thing is that it has seemed to barely register with Israeli voters. They simply don’t seem to care that much. At the top of their list are security concerns. Ah…from the north eh…that border with Syria which they fear Iran is moving into and in the south with the Islamic terror group Hamas and the economy. But the corruption charges really, in polls we’ve seen it comes, you know, in the top ten it comes in the bottom half for voters.”

Crawley did not bother to point out to listeners that – in contrast to the impression given by Miller – the attorney general’s final decision concerning charges against Netanyahu will only be made after pre-indictment hearings which will take place after the election.  

Crawley: “If this annexation did go through on the re-election of prime minister Netanyahu what would that mean for the Middle East peace process?”

Miller: “Well it would just be another severe blow for the Palestinians and they have been dealt many blows over the last…err, you know, almost two years under President Trump. So this would be I think…I think it would cause massive riots across the West Bank and of co… [cut off] harsh condemnations in the Arab world.”

Crawley: “Ahm…how much, Jordana, how much of a role does religious orthodoxy – Jewish religious orthodoxy – play in these kinds of political moves?”

Apparently not comprehending the question, Miller went on to give an account which few listeners would have understood.

Miller: “Well that’s been another fascinating thing about this election. Usually the ultra-orthodox parties hold a lot of power because they are some of the most powerful small parties and anybody who wants to be prime minister has to negotiate with them. But this year one of the traditional ultra-orthodox parties polling very low and what we see instead is the rise of the national religious parties in the middle: people who have broken off to support Israel’s minister of education who’s one of Benjamin Netanyahu’s big rivals. There’s another party called the Identity party headed by a national religious leader who’s advocating for separation of religion and state and who wants to legalise marijuana. So we are seeing a very different religious party or centre coming to the fore and they will have a much greater impact likely on creating more separation between church [sic] and state because they are not part of a kind of isolated ultra-orthodox community. So it’s interesting.”

Obviously the inaccuracies in this item mean that it contributed little to Radio 4 listeners’ understanding of this badly presented and as yet entirely speculative story.

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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.

A BBC Jerusalem reporter’s framing of protests against Hamas – part one

On March 18th the BBC got round to telling listeners to one of its radio stations something about the demonstrations against Hamas which have been taking place in the Gaza Strip since last week.

That day’s edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme included an item (from 37:47 here) by Yolande Knell in which – oddly – those and other recent events in the region were framed as being connected to the upcoming general election in Israel.

Presenter Nick Robinson began by referring to the terror attacks that took place the previous morning in Samaria which had hitherto been ignored by the BBC.

Robinson: “Tensions are rising ahead of Israel’s elections. The Israeli army says that a person has been killed and two seriously injured in a shooting near the Ariel settlement on the occupied West Bank. We can talk to our correspondent Yolande Knell. Tell us more about that incident, Yolande, please.”

Knell began by giving an account of the incident which – predictably – did not include the words terror or terrorist.

Knell: “Well the Israeli military is still searching this morning for a Palestinian man who was…ehm…this attacker yesterday in the West Bank. He killed an Israeli soldier of 19 years old and then wounded badly two other people. Basically he stole the gun of the soldier after stabbing him and then started firing at cars heading towards the nearby settlement. He took one of those cars, having injured a man inside, and then drove it to another nearby junction where he shot and badly injured a second soldier before he drove off. So I mean really Palestinian attacks with guns, knives, car rammings; they have continued to occur sporadically in the West Bank but really the frequency of such attacks has decreased a lot from back in 2015 and 2016 when there was a real series of them. But this in very worrying for the Israelis as they head towards the April 9th general election where the prime minister wants to run for his fifth term. He’s really brandishing his credentials as Israel’s Mr Security.”

As recently reported at the Times of Israel, Knell’s portrayal of “decreased” terror attacks since 2015/16 does not tell the whole story.

“…Israeli officials say that slightly more than 200 terror attacks were prevented in 2015, about 350 in 2016, roughly 400 in 2017, and almost 600 in 2018. So far in 2019, there have been almost 100 thwarted terror attacks — and these are only of the kind defined as severe: shootings, explosives, vehicle-rammings, and the like. In other words, terrorists are attempting to perpetrate more terror attacks each year, and their motivation remains high.”

Robinson continued with further reinforcement of that questionable framing.

Robinson: “I talked of increasing tensions ahead of those elections. There were rocket attacks on Tel Aviv from Gaza and retaliatory strikes on Gaza by the Israeli armed forces.”

Knell: “That’s right. Quite a lot of unusual things happening in Gaza in just the last few days. Last Thursday night, as Hamas leaders sat down with an Egyptian security delegation which has been trying to mediate a longer-term ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, there were two longer range rockets fired from Gaza at Tel Aviv. That’s something that has not been seen here since the 2014 full-scale armed conflict…ahm…between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza. Then the Israel military responded with airstrikes on dozens of Hamas targets.”

Notably Knell failed to inform listeners that residents of communities close to the border with the Gaza Strip had also been targeted with several barrages of rocket fire overnight and the following morning. However we discover that – in contrast to her colleagues at the BBC News website – Yolande Knell was able to tell ‘Today’ listeners who is behind the weekly rioting along the border fence.

Knell: “There was then this insistence from Hamas and the Egyptians that the rocket fire was some kind of mistake and as Egypt tried to broker calm, Hamas called for the cancellation of its demonstrations along the boundary fence last Friday. That’s the first time that’s really happened since those protests began nearly a year ago.”

Knell moved on to another topic:

Knell: “The other thing that’s caught us somewhat by surprise…erm…is…several days of protests in Gaza by another group calling itself ‘We Want to Live’ and they’re really protesting – defying the tight control of the Hamas authorities – protesting about the rising cost of living and high taxes in Gaza. And that’s led to dozens of arrests, people being beaten up by the Hamas security forces including journalists and human rights workers.”

Failing to mention the reports of Hamas’ use of live fire against the demonstrators, Knell then rounded off her report with more dubious framing relating to the upcoming election.

Knell: “And Israeli commentators writing in the papers this morning that there’s kind of a paradox here. Normally Israel would be very pleased with the kind of public protest in Gaza, seeing it as proof that its closure policy in Gaza, which often says could lead to Hamas’ downfall, is working. But right now this is the kind of turmoil that will be more worrying for Israeli officials. It doesn’t want to see some kind of disintegration in Gaza – possibly even leading to another full-armed conflict – just ahead of those elections.”

Despite Knell’s use of the plural, one Israeli commentator wrote one piece in one newspaper claiming a “paradox” on that day. The paper is Ha’aretz and the commentator is Zvi Bar’el. This is what he wrote:

“The paradox is that under other circumstances, Israel would be pleased with the public protest in Gaza and see it as proof of the success of the closure policy, which it believes could lead to Hamas’ downfall. But the turmoil Hamas is experiencing worries Israel too. It needs a partner to take responsibility for running the Strip, stop a disintegration that could lead to a large-scale armed conflict on the eve of the election, and serve as an address for mediation. Suddenly it turns out that the confrontations at the fence are a marginal threat, if at all, compared to the risk of instability of the Hamas government.”

Leaving aside the fact that what Knell and her unnamed source describe as “closure policy” primarily came about because of Hamas’ terrorism against Israeli citizens, the BBC’s domestic audiences now know that their obligatory licence fee goes towards paying for Yolande Knell to sit in a Jerusalem studio and recite almost word for word selected passages from a publication read by less than 4% of the Israeli public which they could actually have found online for themselves.

Knell also used Bar’el’s commentary in a written report published later in the day on the BBC News website as we shall see in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC News reports fatal terror attacks over 27 hours later

BBC News reports rocket attack on TA fifteen hours later

 

BBC News reports fatal terror attacks over 27 hours later

On the morning of Sunday, March 17th terror attacks took place at two locations in Samaria.

“One Israeli was killed and two were critically injured in a pair of shooting attacks in the northern West Bank on Sunday, the military said.

The attack began at around 9:45 a.m. near the Ariel Junction, where the terrorist assaulted a soldier with a knife and managed to gain control of his weapon, IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said.

The attacker then fired at passing vehicles, hitting a civilian in the first vehicle. A second vehicle was hit, but managed to flee the scene. A third car stopped, and the attacker, whom Conricus said “appears to be a Palestinian,” took it and fled the scene. […]

Conricus said that the suspect then continued to the nearby Gitai Junction, where he shot at a soldier standing at a hitchhiking post, injuring him. […]

According to Conricus, the attacker then drove to the nearby Palestinian village of Bruqin, leaving the vehicle near the entrance before fleeing inside the village where Israeli security forces are currently in pursuit of him.”

The victim of the initial attack was later identified as Staff Sergeant Gal Keidan, aged 19, from Be’er Sheva. The following morning the civilian driver – Rabbi Achiad Ettinger, a father of 12 from Eli – also succumbed to his injuries. At the time of writing the soldier shot at Gitai Avisar Junction remains in serious condition and the search for the terrorist continues.

The Jerusalem Post reports that:

“Both Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terror groups welcomed the attacks, but did not claim responsibility.

The attack in Ariel was a “response to the crimes of the Israeli occupation, and to the events in Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Hamas said in a statement, adding that “all the acts of oppression and attempts to undermine the resistance will not succeed in defeating the will of our people or preventing them from following the path of jihad.”

PIJ said that the attack “was carried out in order to move the compass and bring the struggle to its natural location.We welcome the attack and salute the rebel heroes in the West Bank.””

Although locally based BBC journalists were aware of the attacks having taken place, it took the BBC News website audiences over 27 hours to produce any reporting on this story.

In line with BBC editorial policy the article – titled “Israeli soldier and rabbi killed in West Bank attack” – only mentions the word terror in a direct quote from a family member of one of the victims. 

The report closes with a formulation the BBC has used in the past.

“More than 50 Israelis have been killed since late 2015 in a series of stabbings, shootings and car-ramming attacks, predominantly by Palestinians or Israeli Arabs.

More than 260 Palestinians have also been killed over the same period. Most have been assailants, Israel says. Others have been killed in clashes with Israeli troops.”

In fact the number of Israelis killed in the type of attacks described by the BBC since September 2015 is nearer to seventy

Related Articles:

BBC News ignores fatal terror attack in Jerusalem

BBC News website reports on terror attack one week later

BBC Culture joins the drip feed of narrative

Readers of reports appearing on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on March 8th were also offered a feature titled “Startling images of the Middle East”.

That item by Fiona Macdonald of BBC Culture in fact relates to very specific areas of “the Middle East” and showcases a book first published in 2015 by photographer Tanya Habjouqa. The ten-page feature includes images and videos of the photographer talking about her work.

“Tanya Habjouqa’s Occupied Pleasures project reveals moments of black humour in Gaza and the West Bank. She describes finding a unique entry point into a hyper-narrated place.”

“Habjouqa started on the project Occupied Pleasures in 2009. Her images reveal the lives of Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank in a nuanced way, offering glimpses of everyday resilience.”

That ‘nuance’ however does not include any background information whatsoever and so the images and narrative are presented to BBC audiences in an entirely context-free manner.

On the second page audiences find a video in which Habjouqa states:

“…Palestine was home. And I was the one sitting at checkpoints and experiencing this Kafkaesque reality…”

In the video appearing on the fifth page Habjouqa tells the story behind some of her photographs concerning a story from 2013.  

“There had been a wedding and I’d missed it. There was a woman who had come in, in a wedding dress and had the wedding party because she hadn’t been given permission to access Gaza because of the blockade. […] And then he paused and he said the most sobering sombre thing, he said ‘you know no matter what they do to us, we will always find a way to live, to love, to laugh.”

BBC audiences are not told that the Egyptian girl had been denied entry to the Gaza Strip by the Egyptian authorities or of the Palestinian terrorism that made the blockade necessary.

On page nine audiences find a video in which an image of “Furniture makers in the West Bank, with Israel’s separation barrier behind them” with no explanation of why the anti-terrorist fence had to be built.

The narrative advanced in this feature is glaringly obvious: Habjouqa states in the last video that her work relates to people who “refuse to let suffering be the definition of their existence”.

How that suffering is related to their leaders’ choices and how those choices brought about the “checkpoints”, “blockade” and “separation barrier” of course goes completely unexplained in this latest chapter in the BBC’s drip fed narrative of Palestinian victims completely devoid of agency and responsibility.