BBC WS breaches impartiality guidelines with Ben White interview on Peres

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

Early on the morning of September 28th one of the lead stories on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ was the death of Shimon Peres which, as the presenters of the 06:06 edition of the show pointed out, had been announced just two and a half hours previously.newsday-28-9-0606

Opening with an interview with Professor Guy Ziv – author of a book about Peres – the programme later went on to broadcast an obviously pre-prepared segment by Kevin Connolly which also appeared in other programmes. Following that – at 31:45 – presenter Julian Keane told listeners:

“Just worth noting: a lot of reaction of course to the death of Shimon Peres coming through on Twitter, by text message, also on Facebook. It’s fair to say it’s a mixed picture with – just to quote some people – you’ll hear a lot of people talking about a great man, an old soldier, a wise man but also many people describing Shimon Peres as a war criminal, a terrorist. So clearly mixed views depending on where you’re coming from on the death of Shimon Peres.”

After listeners heard from former MK Yossi Beilin, presenter Bola Mosuro also propagated a similar theme.

“Eh…a different view – if you like – is being seen…I’m just looking on Twitter here and the journalist and author Ben White has said ‘Shimon Peres epitomised the disparity between Israel’s image in the West and the reality of its bloody colonial policies in Palestine’, adding ‘his many victims – Palestinians and others, the displaced and the bereaved – will see Shimon Peres eulogised as a man of peace’.”

The editorial considerations behind the BBC World Service’s showcasing of anonymous baseless libels such as “war criminal” and “terrorist” against a person already unable to exercise the right of reply are obviously just as much of an issue as those which allowed amplification of the false notion of “bloody colonial policies”. But clearly the misleading portrayal of one of the UK’s most vocal pro-Hamas ideologues – who has made a career out of anti-Israel activism – as a mere “journalist and author” is a breach of editorial guidelines on impartiality.

Moreover, a later edition of the same programme at 08:06 saw those editorial guidelines breached yet again after ‘Newsday’ editors elected to provide the promoter of that false notion with further amplification. At 27:20 presenter Lawrence Pollard told listeners:newsday-28-9-0806

“Now more on the death of the former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres. He’s died aged 93. Tributes have come in from leaders around the world including former president Bill Clinton who signed the Oslo Accord [sic] with him; the first peace agreement with the Palestinians. Mr Peres, he said, was a genius with a big heart who used his gifts to imagine a future of reconciliation, not conflict. The warmth hasn’t been universal however. Let’s get a reaction from Ben White: a journalist who’s written extensively on Middle East affairs. He’s based in Cambridge and joins us now. We’ve heard many tributes to Shimon Peres – what’s your view? A giant figure? What’s his historical record?”

White: “Good morning. Thanks for having me on. I think there’s just a couple of points to make, for me, particularly this morning after his passing. Firstly the historical record shows that his image, particularly in the West, as a dove or perhaps as a hawk turned dove; that image is belied by the facts. So for example his military and political career; he was responsible for…he had a key role really in beginning Israel’s clandestine nuclear programme in the ’50s and ’60s. In the ’70s he also had an important role in beginning the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including settlements built on privately owned Palestinian land that was expropriated. And in 1996, notoriously, he was prime minister during a particularly brutal Israeli operation in Lebanon that included the massacre at Qana. So there is the historical record which by and large is being omitted really…”

Pollard: “OK – that’s interesting because this narrative is, I think, in a lot of the obituaries; that he starts as a hawk and then moves towards a sort of reconsideration. I mean [laughs] we spoke to someone who knew him quite well [who] said ‘well, he came to see some errors of judgement’. Let’s talk about the settlements. He may well have been part of the government that began the settlements on what most people refer to as occupied land but the fact that he came to see that as a stumbling block to peace –it’s quite a great thing for a man to change his mind, isn’t it?”

White: “Yeah – OK. So actually that’s an important point because this idea of him changing actually helps us to take a critical look at how something like the Oslo Accords – presented as his greatest achievement – what they actually achieved and what Israel’s purpose was with them. To go back to the time, Itzhak Rabin – of course the assassinated prime minister, fellow Labour member with Shimon Peres – shortly before he was assassinated in 1995, so two years after the first Oslo Accords were signed, Rabin said to the Knesset that what Israel wanted through those peace agreements was – quote, unquote – a Palestinian entity that would be less than a state. And he made it very clear that Israel intended to keep Jerusalem as its united capital and that Israel would also in the long term annex and maintain key settlement blocs in the West Bank. Now this was the vision at the heart of Israel’s understanding of the Oslo Accords and of course, you know, it’s 20 – more than 20 years later – and we’ve seen just sort of continued encroachment and colonisation.”

Pollard: “You see what interests me is that a man who then becomes something as great as the president – I mean the highest office of state – he then writes articles – rather thoughtful articles – saying, you know, what our problem is that we are obsessed with land. And I say again, you know, a man who changes his mind in his own analysis of his own political record is a rare thing and I would have thought, something to mark and honour but you seem to disagree quite strongly. You don’t seem to give him credit for sort of changing his mind that way.”

White: “Well I think…a few years ago for example Shimon Peres described the Palestinians as – quote – self-victimising and, to me at least, that kind of language from a person with his track record; a person say, you know, who if he’d had a similar governmental role in other countries would be described as a war criminal…”

Pollard: “But he did – but to be fair to him – he did also strike a deal with the Palestinians. He didn’t impose the Oslo Accords on anyone. He signed it and won the peace process [sic – prize] with Yasser Arafat the much respected and much-loved Palestinian leader amongst Palestinians.”

White: “Absolutely – but at the time of the signing of the Oslo Accords many Palestinians were – and that number has only grown – highly critical of the framework that was being signed and of the sort of political process that was being entered into there. Remember of course that, you know, the Qana massacre for example, you know, more than a hundred civilians killed in Lebanon…”

Pollard: “After which he immediately lost the election, didn’t he?”

White: “Yes, and sort of shockingly of course. That military venture by Peres – and remember; this is ’96: this is sort of 3 years after his apparent sort of conversion to the cause of peace – that campaign was widely seen by people as a pre-election move. OK: so killing Lebanese civilians is a pre-election gesture even if it didn’t…even if it didn’t work. And I think the reason why I think it’s important to have these elements in our sort of…an examination of his life is that too often the victims of Israeli policies – primarily Palestinians but also people in the wider region – are forgotten when their leaders like Ariel Sharon a few years ago, Shimon Peres now, are eulogized – particularly by Western leaders.”

Pollard: “Ben – many thanks indeed. Ben White; journalist based in Cambridge. Ehm…interesting the point that he raises about the direction of the obituaries that we’ve been hearing in the past few hours since the death was announced.”

Anyone familiar with Ben White’s record – and the sole raison d’être behind his ‘journalism’ – would not be surprised in the least by his promotion of propaganda tropes such as “war criminal”, “illegal settlements” and “colonisation” or his false claims concerning a supposed “pre-election move” which erase from audience view both the Hizballah missile attacks against Israeli civilians which preceded Operation Grapes of Wrath or the post-Oslo surge in Palestinian terror attacks which were the real cause of Peres’ failure to win the 1996 election.

However, the vast majority of listeners to this programme around the world would of course have no idea of who Ben White is, no familiarity with his monochrome political agenda and no appreciation of the motives behind his appearance on this programme. And the trouble is that – in clear breach of BBC editorial guidelines – no effort was made by the ‘Newsday’ presenters to provide listeners with the relevant information concerning White’s “particular viewpoint” which would enable them to put his quoted Tweets or his long and cosy chat with Pollard into their appropriate context.

Related Articles:

Coverage of Shimon Peres’ death promotes the BBC’s political narrative

BBC radio marks Peres’ death with Palestinian propaganda – part one

BBC radio marks Peres’ death with Palestinian propaganda – part two




BBC radio marks Peres’ death with Palestinian propaganda – part one

The September 28th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service current affairs programme ‘Newshour’ was titled “Shimon Peres: The World Remembers“.peres-newshour-28-9

Starting from 54 seconds into the programme, listeners first heard a recording of the Israeli prime minister talking about the former president who had passed away just hours earlier. Presenter James Coomarasamy then read statements from various world figures and that was followed by an item from former Jerusalem correspondent Kevin Connolly and a conversation with the Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

The programme then took a different turn with presentation of reactions from the Palestinian street in Ramallah such as “he [Peres] killed many Palestinians” and “he has a lot of Palestinian blood on his hands”. After that, Coomarasamy introduced the frequent BBC guest Mustafa Barghouti who was given an unchallenged platform from which to exploit Peres’ death for the promotion of nearly four minutes of falsehoods and propaganda.

Barghouti: “The most important issue is that his name is very much related to Oslo Agreement. I know that many people see Oslo as the peace agreement that ended the conflict. In reality it wasn’t and in my opinion Oslo was a big mistake that allowed Israeli settlements to continue to be built and in a way allowed the continuation of the process of killing the two states option. I think Mr Peres probably used his intelligence to deceive the Palestinians but at the end of the day, through Oslo Agreement, he deceived the whole cause of peace. And err….”

Coomarasamy: “But he did argue for a two state solution right to the end, didn’t he?”

Barghouti: “Theoretically, but in fact he never – nor any Israeli leader – ever accepted up till now that a Palestinian state can be a sovereign one; that Palestinians can control their borders; that East Jerusalem could be a capital of the Palestinian state and that Palestinians would have their share in Jerusalem. He never accepted that. Of course his positions on the issue of refugees were very clear, like all Israelis. So saying that they accept the two state solution was never translated into a real acceptance and the question is why didn’t he push for instance for recognising the Palestinian state when you are president of Israel and in all other political positions he had before.”

Coomarasamy: “So when he’s remembered as a man of peace by Israelis and beyond, for you that is not how you’ll remember him?”

Barghouti: “I cannot deny that he’s definitely not as radical as [former PM Ariel] Sharon – that’s for sure – but I think he undermined – unfortunately I have to say that on this day – he undermined the cause of peace so much by creating a false agreement that is called Oslo Agreement. By not allowing a real agreement to take place: an agreement that would have ended occupation, would have allowed Palestinians to have this little tiny state in the West bank and Gaza Strip and that would have allowed coexistence on the base of peace and justice. Unfortunately after all these years – after 23 years of Oslo Agreement – the number of settlers have increased from one hundred and eleven thousand to more than 700 thousand. After 23 years we are witnessing the continuation of an occupation that has become 50 years: the longest occupation in modern history.”

Coomarasamy: “You don’t accept that there were forces within Israel working against him – in opposition to him; that he himself may have wanted things to be different?”

Barghouti: “No. In my opinion he had a very good chance – he and Itzhak Rabin – in ’93 to conclude an agreement; to finish the issue by allowing Palestinians to have an independent state by ending the occupation and this would have obstructed extremists like Sharon and Netanyahu today and Naftali Bennett and many others from taking over. If the cause of peace was fulfilled; if what even Israeli people who demonstrated for peace then demanded was fulfilled; if they had allowed a real agreement that would have ended the occupation we would not be in this situation today. In my opinion he was intelligent for sure. He used his smartness, his connections, to squeeze the Palestinians in an agreement that was unjust and eventually that is hurting now both Palestinians and Israelis because the situation is still there; the conflict is still there and the occupation is still there.”

Coomarasamy: “And that was Dr Mustafa Barghouti – a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.”

At the beginning of this item, Coomarasamy told listeners “we’re going to start though by looking back at the life of Shimon Peres…”. Clearly Barghouti’s long – and entirely predictable – rant did nothing to contribute to that aim. Neither did it enhance audience understanding of the Oslo Accords or why they failed to bring an end to the conflict because Coomarasamy’s weak interjections did not include clarification of the fact that the Palestinians signed the agreements as full and willing partners or that the continuation of the process intended to lead to the formation of a Palestinian state was crippled by Palestinian terror.

The editors of this World Service programme undoubtedly knew exactly what they were going to get from Barghouti in this item and as we will see in part two of this post, they were not alone in reaching the bizarre editorial decision to provide an untimely platform for his tirade of falsehoods and propaganda.

Coverage of Shimon Peres’ death promotes the BBC’s political narrative

As was to be expected, with the announcement of the death of Israel’s ninth president Shimon Peres on the morning of September 28th came a plethora of BBC reports.

The BBC World Service programme ‘Newsday’ promoted a clip from a 2013 interview (the full version of which was previously discussed here and here) with Peres by Lyse Doucet under the title “Former Israeli President Shimon Peres has died“.peres-on-me-pge

Visitors to the BBC News website found several articles including “Chief rabbi pays tribute to former Israel PM Shimon Peres” and “Shimon Peres: Tributes from around the world“.

In an article by former BBC Jerusalem correspondent Kevin Connolly which also appeared on the BBC News website under the headline “Shimon Peres: Long legacy of Israel’s elder statesman” audiences were told that:

“As times changed over the course of his long political life, Shimon Peres in many ways changed with them.

The man who had been a member of a government that approved the building of Jewish settlements in the territories occupied in the 1967 war came to see them as an obstacle to a peace deal.”

Similar messaging was found in a news report on the website titled “Shimon Peres, former Israeli president, dies aged 93“.

“Once an advocate of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, Mr Peres later became a leading political dove. He often spoke of the need for compromise over territorial demands in Palestinian areas.”

The BBC News website also published an obituary – “Obituary: Shimon Peres, Israeli founding father” – in which readers were again informed that:obit-peres-pic

“Once an advocate of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, Peres became a leading political dove, often speaking of the need for compromise over territorial demands in Palestinian areas.”

The obituary also includes a photograph with the caption: “The former Labour leader advocated territorial compromise in the West Bank”.

The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent James Landale produced a filmed report titled “Shimon Peres: An emigre who became a world statesman” which appeared on the BBC News website in addition to being aired on BBC television. Landale (who appears not to have had any help from the BBC’s pronunciation unit regarding the surname of the person his report is about) told viewers that:lansdale-on-peres

“As a politician he changed his views over time. He was a member of the government that approved the building of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian territory but he came to see them later as an obstacle to peace.”

So are the BBC’s various portrayals of Shimon Peres’ views accurate? Did he favour “territorial compromise” and did he really view “Jewish settlements” as an “obstacle to peace”?

Another item appearing among the BBC News website’s coverage is a recycled filmed report from 2013 by Lyse Doucet from titled “Shimon Peres on turning 90“. There, at around 07:30, Doucet poses the following question:

Doucet: “The Palestinians say that you can’t discuss the land for a Palestinian state while Israel continues to build settlements on it. How do you reconcile that contradiction?”

Peres: “There are solutions to it. First of all, the Palestinians agreed there will be three [settlement] blocs. There, Jewish settlers on the West Bank can remain. That was the proposal introduced by President Clinton. It was right and acceptable.”

Also in 2013 – as the Times of Israel and Ha’aretz reported at the time – Peres clearly rejected the notion of ‘settlements as an obstacle to peace’.

“President Shimon Peres rejected European Union criticism of his country‘s settlement policy during a visit to Brussels on Wednesday, arguing that it did not stand in the way of peace in the Middle East.

EU President Herman Van Rompuy said there would be no sustainable peace until Palestinian aspirations for statehood and sovereignty, and those of Israel for security, were fulfilled by a comprehensive deal based on the two-state solution.

“For these reasons I have recalled the opposition of the European Union to the illegal expansion of settlements,” Van Rompuy said.

But Peres replied that an acceptable solution to the settlement issue had been found years ago, based on a land swap deal with the Palestinians.

“I don‘t take this criticism that, because of the settlements, we lost the chance of implementing the two-state solution,” Peres said, adding that the EU could help to overcome other problems.

The most important difficulty is not settlements but terror,” the Israeli president said. “Take terror out of Gaza and they have a free place, it has nothing to do with Israel.”

“Condemn the Hamas … because they are a center of terror,” Peres said, referring to the movement which controls the Gaza strip. “And Hezbollah the same,” he added.”

Obviously Shimon Peres was of the opinion that “territorial compromise” by both Israelis and Palestinians in the form of land swaps of the kind proposed in the Clinton parameters and the Olmert plan is necessary but he clearly did not regard Jewish communities in Judea & Samaria as an “obstacle to peace” as claimed by the BBC in these reports.  

As has been noted here on numerous occasions, the BBC’s portrayal of the topic of ‘settlements’ regularly fails to inform audiences of the fact that under any realistic scenario, some of the Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria would remain under Israeli control – preferring instead to amplify an adopted political narrative. It is of course highly regrettable that in its coverage of the death of a statesman strongly associated with efforts to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the BBC has distorted his views in order to promote that same narrative.  

Related Articles:

Examining the BBC’s claim that Israeli building endangers the two state solution



A BBC promoted BDS myth exposed

Over the years BBC audiences have seen, heard and read frequent mainstreaming promotion of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. They have not, however, been provided with a comprehensive explanation of the real origins and aims of that campaign and the BBC has even absolved itself from providing such information, claiming that “it is not our role to seek out any “true agenda””.BDS Deas filmed

It is therefore hardly surprising that on various occasions, the BBC’s amplification of the BDS campaign has provided a platform for inaccurate representation of its roots. In June of this year, for example, listeners to BBC World Service radio were told by BDS guru Omar Barghouti that the campaign “is led by the largest coalition in Palestinian society”. In July 2015 BBC television, website and radio audiences were told by BNC activist Michael Deas that:

“…ten years ago – in July 2005 – Palestinian organisations came together to issue an appeal for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions similar to the boycott campaign that helped end apartheid in South Africa.”

Now, as reported by David Collier, clarification of the fact that the BDS campaign did not begin following a ‘call from Palestinian civil society’ has come from a perhaps unexpected source.Pappe vid 2

Ruba Salih: “Well, the Palestinians launched the BDS”

Ilan Pappe: “Yes, not really but yes. (pulls face) For historical record, yes”

Ruba Salih: “It’s important”

Ilan Pappe: “It’s not true but it’s important”

As David Hirsh notes at Engage:

“Ilan Pappé knows that it is a lie that the boycott campaign was launched by a “call” from “Palestinian civil society”.  He knows it is a lie, but he’s content nevertheless for it to be solidified into what he calls “historical records”.

In the 1970s and 80s the ANC, which positioned itself as the voice of the whole South African nation, called for a boycott of South Africa.  Campaigners for the boycott positioned themselves as passive responders to the “call” of the oppressed.    The BDS campaign against Israel has, since 2005, tried to position itself in the same way.   However in truth, British anti-Israel activists started the boycott campaign and they persuaded people in Palestine to issue the “call”.  Although neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas have issued a “call”, the BDS movement says that the “call” is issued by “Palestinian Civil Society”.

Ilan Pappé now admits that the “call” did not come from the Palestinians but he makes it clear that he is willing to go along with the pretence that it was.

The pretence is politically important because it positions Palestinians as being the initiators of the “call” and people outside the region as passive responders to the voice of “the oppressed”.”

With the UK being a prime hub of BDS activity, it would of course be very useful to the BBC’s funding public to learn the facts about that campaign’s origins. But seeing as the corporation has already made it clear that it is not interested in carrying out any real reporting on that topic, that seems unlikely to happen. 

The BBC, European ‘fear’ and Israeli ‘paranoia’

Last October we discussed an article by Kevin Connolly – then of the BBC’s Jerusalem bureau – which has since been promoted as ‘related reading’ many times on the BBC News website.Paranoia Connolly

“During the first three weeks of October 2015, ten Israelis were killed and 112 wounded – eleven of them seriously – in forty stabbing attacks, four shootings and five vehicular attacks which took place throughout the country.

On October 23rd, however, BBC News told its audiences that Israelis are suffering from either a collective psychosis ‘characterised by delusions of persecution’ or ‘unjustified suspicion and mistrust of other people’ – depending on which definition of the word paranoia BBC editors intended their headline to communicate.

Either way, it is obviously extremely hard to believe that if British citizens had been subjected to such a wave of terror attacks, the BBC would characterise their mood as unjustified or disconnected from reality by using the term ‘paranoia’. And it is of course equally unlikely that after over fifty attacks on British citizens in three weeks, the BBC would still be avoiding the use of the word ‘terror’ – as it continues to do in its current coverage of Israel.”

Happily, such a scenario has not transpired in Britain but at the end of July, the BBC World Service turned its attentions to “the fear that lies over Europe” in an edition of ‘The World This Week’.

TWTW 31 7 tweet

Presenter Jonny Dymond described the item at the beginning of the programme:

“As one brutal attack has followed another in France and Germany, I’ll take the mood of the continent with one of our most experienced Europe watchers – the editor of our Europe bureau.”

His introduction (from 00:47 here) was as follows:

“Europe has not known a week or two like the last ones for many, many years. First the terrible slaughter in Nice that left at least 84 dead, then a string of attacks in southern Germany. Then this week the killing of a French priest in a quiet town as he and his parishioners celebrated morning mass on a summer’s day.

An anguished debate over how to deal with violent Islam, both imported and homegrown, is in full swing. A new national guard will be created to defend citizens against terror attacks. Not for the first time, a beleaguered President Francois Hollande spoke darkly of war.” […]

In Germany shootings, stabbings and bombings – some connected with so-called Islamic State; all connected in some way with Germany’s embrace of migrants – have rocked a country that has over the decades become a by-word for cautious, conservative stability.”

Introducing the editor of the BBC’s Europe bureau, Simon Wilson, Dymond spoke of Europeans “confronted with a darker version of their continent; one gloomy about the future and nervous about what some perceive as the enemy within.”

Wilson told audiences:

“I was in Nice within a few hours of the attack there. People were really scared. That’s a really scary thought if anyone can take control of a vehicle and drive it into you. Those feelings will fade in weeks and months and other cities have overcome terror attacks and got back to normal. I think people are changing their plans. Do you want to be in a big crowd watching a football match on a big screen in Brussels or Paris at the moment? Probably not. ‘Climate of fear’ probably a bit too strong but I think in little ways individuals all over Europe are shaping up to a new reality and the one consistent thing you do hear people saying is ‘this isn’t going to go away soon, is it? This is the new normal and we’re going to have to live with it’.”TWTW 31 7

So as we see, in contrast to its portrayal of Israeli fears of what it refuses to term terrorism as ‘paranoia’, the BBC is perfectly able to identify – and empathise with – the understandable fears of Europeans following what it has no problem defining as “terror attacks”. And remarkably, it also has no qualms about identifying the cause: “violent Islam”.  

The item went on to include reference to an issue rarely if ever acknowledged in BBC coverage of Israel: the obligation of a state to defend its citizens.

JD: “How have the attacks changed the position of the leaders of the two great EU countries France and Germany?”

SW: “For Francois Hollande this is devastating politically. He was already pretty weak […] the elections are up next year. The primary function of a state is to protect its citizens and plainly over a period of 18 months they’ve found that very, very difficult to do. So clearly for Francois Hollande and the French socialists, there’s a huge challenge and I think they’re in big trouble politically.”

Wilson later added that the German chancellor “also faces elections next year and it wouldn’t take much more I think for her to be in big trouble.”

Asked by Dymond if the terror attacks “lead to a more introspective Europe”, Wilson remarked that “Europe’s leaders are consumed with the internal problems […] they are absolutely absorbed with these crises” and noted that European Council president Donald Tusk “has said publicly he thinks Western civilisation is being threatened by everything that’s going on”.

As readers no doubt recall the BBC long since made it clear that it believes that terror attacks against Israelis are “very different” from – and not comparable to – those perpetrated against citizens of other nations. Apparently it is also of the opinion that the concerns of Israeli civilians can be portrayed differently from those of citizens of EU countries. While the BBC refuses to acknowledge that the double standard it promotes is a “significant issue of general importance”, we remain convinced that it compromises the BBC’s claim to impartial reporting.

Related Articles:

BBC Complaints: terror attacks in Jerusalem and Tunisia are “very different”

BBC News finds terror (without quotation marks) in Europe

Reviewing BBC reporting of vehicular attacks in France and Israel





Golan Heights residents bust the BBC (and UN) obsolete narrative

In March of this year a BBC News website report failed to tell audiences the whole story behind a UN Human Rights Council anti-Israel resolution.

“Knell does not however inform BBC audiences that the resolution was initiated by the Palestinians and promoted by various Arab and Muslim countries. Despite her use of the term “Palestinian lands” and the fact that the report opens by telling readers that “Israel has criticised the UN Human Rights Council for voting to establish a database of firms doing business in settlements in the occupied West Bank”, Knell does not tell readers that the resolution also includes the Golan Heights.

Readers are not told that at the same session – which took place during the week in which five years of civil war in Syria were marked – the UNHRC also passed a resolution calling on Israel to relinquish the Golan Heights to Syria along with condemnation of alleged ‘human rights abuses’ against the Druze population of the Golan.”

Majdal Shams

Majdal Shams

The Mayor of the Golan Heights town of Majdal Shams recently gave an interview in which he addressed one of the persistent and perennially predictable UN resolutions concerning the Golan Heights and its Druze population.

“A leader of the Druze population of the Golan Heights disputed the assertion of a United Nations committee that accused Israel of imposing economic and social hardships on his community.

Dulan abu-Saleh, the mayor of Majdal Shams, the largest Druze town in the Golan, told Makor Rishon that the UN Economic and Social Council’s recent statement on the area was “a total joke,” the daily reported Friday. […]

“I don’t understand what they’re talking about, it’s laughable,” abu-Saleh said. Druze in the Golan “don’t serve in the IDF and so far are only receiv[e] from the state.” Referencing the war in Syria, he said: “Why don’t they condemn the horrors in Syria, where dozens of children are killed daily? Golan residents have a good life.”

He also said: “Although we weren’t included in some major cabinet decisions on budgets, when we build and make up plans we never felt discrimination. On the contrary, we always found an attentive ear.”

Prior to the eruption in 2011 of a civil war in Syria, only 1,700 of the Golan’s Druze claimed Israeli citizenship offered to them. Hundreds have applied since then.”

In addition:

“Karim Batkhish, a resident of the town of Masa’ada, is quoted as saying: “The war in Syria is irrelevant to us. Some may say they support [Syrian President Bashar] Assad but it’s a lie to show Syria we’re with them. They’re lying, no one wants to see Syria here.””

Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, BBC reporters have periodically produced reports from the Golan Heights, all of which have presented an outdated and monochrome portrait of the Golan Druze which fails to inform audiences of the changes that events of recent years have brought about.

In 2013 it was Bethany Bell who reported that:

“Traditionally the Druze have had close religious and political ties to the family of the Syrian leader Bashar al Assad. The secretive Druze religion, like Mr Assad’s Alawite sect, draws on branches of Shia Islam and strong Syrian nationalism has tended to mean loyalty to the Assads.”

In 2015 Kevin Connolly told BBC audiences:

“Most of the Druze of the Israeli-occupied Golan continue to regard themselves as Syrians. They follow the television news from Damascus and await the reunification of a country from which they were cut off by the wars of 1967 and 1973.”

In 2016 BBC audiences were told by Diana Darke that:

“Interrupted by periodic explosions from the direction of Damascus, Abu Amin and I exchange poignant memories of the Syrian capital where he studied for four years. ‘Although the Israelis pressure us, we will never give up our Syrian nationality’ he assures me. ‘This war will end one day and our families will be joined again’. […]

Abu Amin’s generation still treasures memories of Damascus but the Golan’s younger Druze – deprived of such cherished dreams – have found their own uniquely non-political vision of their future. Key to the Druze faith is reincarnation of souls – male to male, female to female – always into a newborn child. They simply believe they will be reincarnated in their next lives into the right part of Syria.”

There is a very interesting story to be told about the ways in which the Syrian civil war has affected residents of the four Druze villages on the Golan Heights and their relationship with Israel. It is a story, however, which the BBC continues to overlook, preferring instead to adhere to its long outdated narrative. 

Revisiting a missing chapter in the BBC’s 2015 election coverage

Shortly after the March 2015 general election in Israel, the then BBC Jerusalem bureau correspondent Kevin Connolly told radio audiences that:

“…Mr Netanyahu now has the chance to replace a rather fractious and recalcitrant old coalition with a new one, which should prove more manageable. Foreign governments, of course, are far too well-behaved to interfere in the internal politics of a democratic state. But the outside world tends to view Israeli politics through the prism of the state of the peace process with the Palestinians.” [emphasis added]Main art 17 3

At the time we commented:

“As has been noted here in previous discussions of BBC coverage of the recent Israeli election (see here and here), one topic which all the corporation’s journalists avoided like the plague in all its reporting was that of foreign funding for organisations such as V15 which campaigned to influence the outcome of the election.”

Although the redundancy of Connolly’s claim was apparent at the time, this week its specious reasoning became even clearer, as Yair Rosenberg reports at the Tablet.

“In a bipartisan report issued Tuesday, the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations criticized the State Department for issuing $349,000 in grants to OneVoice, an Israeli-Palestinian peace-building organization, with insufficient oversight. The report, signed by Republican Senator Rob Portman and Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, found that the funds were used by to build infrastructure that was subsequently turned into an anti-Netanyahu apparatus for Israel’s 2015 elections, in contravention of State Department practice. […]

The report found no legal wrongdoing by the State Department, even as it rapped it for negligence, given that OneVoice had a history of electoral activism, was building electoral infrastructure, and had informed the State Department of its electoral plans. Whether this American funding of anti-Bibi advocacy was a deliberate design, the consequence of incompetence, or the product of benign neglect, will likely never be known with certainty.”

The Washington Times adds:

“The State Department ignored warnings signs and funded a politically active group in a politically sensitive environment with inadequate safeguards,” said Sen. Rob Portman, chairman of the investigative subcommittee. “It is completely unacceptable that U.S. taxpayer dollars were used to build a political campaign infrastructure that was deployed — immediately after the grant ended — against the leader of our closest ally in the Middle East. American resources should be used to help our allies in the region, not undermine them.”

Oddly, we have been unable to find any BBC reporting on the topic of that investigative subcommittee’s conclusions.

Related Articles:

Misinformation from BBC’s Kevin Connolly on From Our Own Correspondent

Elections 2015: round up of BBC coverage – election day website reports

Elections 2015: the morning after – BBC News website coverage

The continuing disservice of the BBC’s black and white narrative

In his recent parting musings, Kevin Connolly told listeners to BBC Radio 4 that:

“In thousands of work places from hospitals and hotels to building sites and banks, Israeli Jews and Palestinians rub along a little better and for much more of the time than outsiders might imagine.”

That statement is of course true, but it raises the question of why “outsiders” are not familiar with the day-to-day realities of co-existence in Israel – especially as it comes from a journalist who represents a media organisation which pledges to give it audiences “insight into the way people live in other countries”.

The cartoon portrayal of Israel so often seen in the reporting of Connolly and his colleagues leaves no room for the provision of such insight. The black and white narrative promoted day after day mean that audiences rarely get to see reality’s other hues and a correspondent such as Connolly can spend five years reporting from Jerusalem without making any significant contribution to their understanding of how the vast majority of people making up Israel’s different ethnic and religious communities live, work, learn and relax together.

When a terror attack took place on Route 60 on July 1st, the BBC News website reported that:route 60 attack art

“…an Israeli man was killed and his wife and two children wounded after their car was fired on near the Jewish settlement of Otniel. […]

The victims of Friday’s attack were members of the same family. Local media named the dead man as 48-year-old Michael “Miki” Mark, a father-of-10.

He was killed when the car crashed after the attack. His wife and two children were taken to hospital for treatment.”

A few days later it emerged that the first people to arrive at the scene and offer help and first aid were a Palestinian couple from Hebron.

““At first I thought it was an accident. I opened the door, which was difficult because the car was overturned,” the Palestinian man, a resident of Hebron, told Channel 2. “The girl was inside the car screaming, ‘They’re killing us,’ so I just kept telling her not to be afraid and that everything would be fine.”

After he managed to pry one of the doors open, the man, who wasn’t named in the report, said he pulled 14-year-old Tehila from the wrecked car.

He said his wife, who is a medical doctor, worked to stanch the bleeding from the teen’s abdominal wound while he called an ambulance to the scene.”

They were joined by a Palestinian doctor who treated the injured until medical crews arrived on the scene.

While anyone who is not an “outsider” as Connolly puts it will be able to recount numerous similar examples of Palestinians helping Israelis and Israelis helping Palestinians, to BBC audiences this story would be news. It is, however, a story which falls outside the corporation’s narrative driven caricature of “the way people live” in Israel and the Palestinian controlled areas and one which – like so many others – the BBC has refrained from telling to date.

Let’s hope that Kevin Connolly’s successor will be better committed to the pledges laid out in the BBC’s public purposes and that audiences will receive some of that long neglected “insight” into how people really live in Israel long before his or her stint comes to an end. 

BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Kevin Connolly moves on to new pastures

After some five years at the BBC’s Jerusalem bureau, Kevin Connolly is moving on to take up a new post in Brussels – but not before making a final contribution to the mission he describes thus:

“I came here just to play the smallest of parts in writing one chapter of Jerusalem’s story”.

As those who have followed Connolly’s work over the past few years will be aware, it has not infrequently included subtle (and not so subtle) re-writing of past and present chapters of “Jerusalem’s story” and his concluding musings on the June 16th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ (from 16:27 here) are no exception.FOOC 16 6 Connolly

For example, Connolly uses the ambiguous term “line of demarcation” which implies far more permanency than was intended by those who drafted the 1949 Armistice agreement which produced the ceasefire line he is actually describing.

“A stone’s throw from the house lies the line of demarcation which separated the armies of the Arab world from the forces of the newly independent Jewish state back in 1949.”

In Connolly’s account, no belligerent invasion or occupation by the British-backed Jordanian army is evident.

“When the fighting ended in 1949 Jerusalem was grudgingly divided between Israel and the neighbouring Arab Kingdom of Jordan.”

Only one population suffered “dispossession and disinheritance” according to Connolly: the ethnic cleansing of the Old City of Jerusalem has apparently not come to his attention in the past five years.

“Many Zionists were filled with despair. What was the point of this long dreamed of Jewish state if it didn’t contain the place of prayer at the Western Wall or the ancient cemetery on the Mount of Olives? It was a time of bitterness and loss too for many of the Arabs of West Jerusalem and beyond who fled their homes never to return, beginning a story of dispossession and disinheritance that still has no ending.”

While refraining from mentioning the 19-year Jordanian occupation of parts of Jerusalem, he does later find a use for that term:

“The war of 1967 left Israel in control of East Jerusalem, binding together the fractured fragments of Jewish hearts if you’re a Zionist, beginning 49 years of military occupation if you’re not.”

And Connolly even invents a Jordanian “claim” – and a dubious consensus – on belligerently occupied territory which the international community refused to recognise as Jordanian.

“The Palestinians who inherited the Jordanian claim on the east of the city believe it will be the future capital of their independent state and that is what the wider world wants too.”

Not for the first time, Connolly misleads listeners with regard to British history in the region, inaccurately suggesting that Mandate Palestine was a British colony.

“The British mandatory authority was a good government as colonial governments went – but like all colonial governments, it went.”

As we already know, Kevin Connolly thinks those who take issue with inaccuracy and omission in his and his colleagues’ reporting are driven by the wish to promote a “narrative” and his post-factual theory is again amplified in his parting shot.

“Supporters of the Palestinians and of Israel scrutinise everything that’s written about the city, alert for any terminological hint of bias or ignorance or both. Each side has its own lexicon and watches suspiciously for any hint that the news has been written in the words of the other. Is a young Palestinian who stabs an Israeli soldier a terrorist? Or a normal teenager goaded beyond endurance by generations of humiliation? Is an Israeli soldier who shoots a wounded and helpless Palestinian in such an incident a murderer or a young man defending his comrades and his country when they are under attack? There are no answers of course, beyond the answers you favour yourself. Reporting Jerusalem means finding words that convey what has happened and why – but also remembering that neither side recognises the truth of the other. The scrutiny is a legacy of the sense built up over centuries of how the unsettled future of this place matters to millions of people who have never seen it. These words aren’t exempt from that process either; ad nauseam maybe.”

Obviously Mr Connolly finds any examination of his five years of attempts to dictate “one chapter of Jerusalem’s story” tiresome and annoying and so he may be relieved to be moving on to pastures new. Given that the BBC does not refuse to respect the Belgian people’s choice of their own capital as it does in Jerusalem, we might perhaps expect to find Connolly less frequently engaged in negating the Belgian nation’s sovereignty over the City of Brussels.

“Jerusalem in general feels like it belongs to the world…”

“Jerusalem belongs to the ages and it belongs to the world.”

There are of course many of us who are not going anywhere and for whom the way in which the “story” of Jerusalem and Israel is told by brief sojourners such as Kevin Connolly has very real consequences. We remain charged with the task of trying to make certain that the “historical record” promoted by the world’s biggest and most influential broadcaster is both accurate and impartial in order to ensure that public opinion and foreign policymakers who take it upon themselves to intervene in that story are informed by facts rather than politicised journalistic activism.

And if Mr Connolly finds that tiresome, that perhaps says all that needs to be said about the motivations behind his wish to write – rather than observe and record – the story of the city and the country which hosted him for the last five years.   

BBC’s Connolly adds a postscript to his Dead Sea reporting

The June 23rd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included an item (from 45:10 here) by the Jerusalem bureau’s Kevin Connolly on the topic of the Dead Sea.

As readers may recall, six days earlier Connolly had produced a long written report on the same topic for the BBC News website. In this audio report Connolly focused largely on the effects of the declining level of the Dead Sea on tourism in the area and his superficial portrayal of the reasons behind that process was as follows:


“The sea is dying because the countries of the Middle East are tapping into the waters of the River Jordan that once fed it.”

As far as this writer is aware, the River Jordan still flows into the Dead Sea.

Earlier, in his introduction to the report, presenter Julian Marshall had displayed an equally bizarre understanding of the geographical term ‘Middle East’:

“…for years there’s been a fear that the sea might live up to its name and die, as the countries of the Middle East drain the river system for precious drinking water.”

As was the case in his written report, Connolly refrained from providing his audience with more meaningful portrayal of the relevant issues of water agreements, irrigation practices, water recycling and water use efficiency. In what may perhaps be a first for the BBC, both of Connolly’s reports also ignored the topic of the influence of climate change on the River Jordan’s catchment area.

Connolly’s portrayal of the project intended to rehabilitate the Dead Sea was as follows in this audio report:

“A fix is possible: a grand scheme to build a pipeline across the desert from the Red Sea far to the south.”

In his earlier written report, Connolly had encouraged readers to view that project with scepticism:

“But the technical, financial and political difficulties are forbidding and the pipeline is unlikely to be built soon, if indeed at all.”

No such declarations were heard in this audio report – perhaps because just two days after Connolly published the above words, the Jordanian government announced that no fewer than seventeen international companies had made bids to carry out the work.

Related Articles:

Final status negotiations on Area C passé for BBC’s Kevin Connolly

Impartiality fail as BBC promotes FOEME objections to Red-Dead Sea project