An Israel elections story that falls outside BBC framing

Although the BBC has still not got round to producing much coverage of the general election to be held in Israel on April 9th there is no shortage of news on that front.

The Joint Arab List – which featured in the corporation’s coverage of the previous election and was described by one commentator as a “glimmer of hope”– has lost one of its four component parties.

“The Knesset approved a request on Wednesday by MK Ahmad Tibi’s Ta’al (Arab Movement for Change) party to withdraw from the Joint Arab list.

Tibi announced on Tuesday that he would leave the Joint List ahead of the April 9 election, and that his party will run independently. […]

Tibi’s request was filed days after controversial Joint List MK Haneen Zoabi, Balad MK Jamal Zahalka and United Arab List MK Masud Gnaim confirmed that they will not run in the upcoming elections. Similarly, the Joint List faction’s only Jewish lawmaker, Dov Henin, announced he will not be running either. Henin served 13 years in the Knesset as a member of the Hadash Party.”

Meanwhile, a new Arab party has been registered.

“A new Arab party has registered to participate in the upcoming Knesset elections on April 9, Justice Ministry documents show.

“New Horizon — An Arab Centrist Party” registered in mid-December to run in the vote, which has since been set for April 9.

Salman Abu Ahmad, a 62-year-old engineer and Nazareth resident, told The Times of Israel in a phone call that he had established the party, whose candidates will include Arab Israelis from around the country.

The documents say the party’s goals include “improving the status of Israel’s Arab citizens…and promoting a national master plan as a basis to solve the housing shortage in the Arab sector.” […]

The documents also say New Horizon’s aims include “upgrading the education system,…putting together an uncompromising plan to uproot crime and violence in Arab society, forming a plan to promote the status of women in Arab society and serving as a bridge to a historical reconciliation between the two [Israeli and Palestinian] peoples and peace with Arab states.””

But perhaps the most surprising development is one which definitely falls outside the BBC’s conventional framing of Israeli politics: the announcement by a Muslim female candidate that she will run in the Likud party’s primaries next month.

“Dima Tayeh, from the village of Kafr Manda in the Galilee, made headlines on Tuesday when she gave an interview on Hadashot TV news announcing she was running in the right-wing party’s primaries, praising Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and defending the controversial Nation-State Law, which many see as discriminating against Israel’s Arab minority.

If elected, she would be the first Arab Muslim lawmaker in the Likud party. […]

Tayeh, who has previously taken part in a group of Arab Israelis who toured the US to campaign against the BDS movement that seeks to boycott Israel, said she has been a proud Likud member for six years.”

Whether or not Ms Tayeh will gain a place on the Likud list remains to be seen but should she be successful it will be interesting to see if and how that story – which defies the BBC’s standard framing of both Israeli politics and Israeli Arabs – will be presented to audiences.

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No surprises in BBC Radio 4’s leading stories of 2019 forecast

On December 28th BBC Radio 4 aired a programme that was titled “Correspondents Look Ahead” and sub-headed “BBC correspondents forecast the leading news stories for the year ahead”.

“How do you look ahead in a world which constantly takes us by surprise, sometimes shocks us and often makes us ask ‘what happens next?’

Who would have predicted that President Trump would, to use his words, fall in love with the North Korean leader Kim Jung Un, whose country he had threatened to totally destroy? Who could have imagined that a prominent Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, would be murdered and dismembered in a Saudi Consulate? And, on a happier note, we’re relieved that, as the year ends a climate change conference in Poland did manage to save the Paris pact, and maybe our world.

The BBC’s chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet talks to correspondents from around the globe about what might happen in the world in 2019.

Guests:

Katya Adler, Europe editor
Yolande Knell, Middle East correspondent
James Robbins, Diplomatic correspondent
Steve Rosenberg, Moscow correspondent
Jon Sopel, North America editor”

The programme’s first thirteen minutes focused mostly on the United States and Russia. The guests were then asked to name a person who may be in the news in 2019 and Yolande Knell (from 14:24) chose Jared Kushner as someone who according to her will be “caught up still in several of the really big news stories that we’re going to carry on talking about”. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Knell: “…and then most importantly, this historic task that was given to Mr Kushner – an Orthodox Jew, somebody who’s been a family friend of the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu – nothing less than crafting a peace plan to relaunch negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”

After a discussion about Saudi Arabia that included a description of an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “Middle East peace”, presenter Lyse Doucet (from 20:53) returned to that topic.

Doucet: “This so-called deal of the century; President Trump’s lawyer Jason Greenblatt is in charge of this new Israeli-Palestinian deal. We expected it to be announced in 2018. Will they announce it in 2019?”

Sopel: “I think they’ve got to announce something otherwise it will look like this has been a lot of huffing and puffing with nothing to show for it. But I mean I think that the difficulties – and particularly the lack of trust that there is on the Palestinian side, that the US are not honest brokers following the move of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – is profound and therefore I think the scope…everybody knows what the issues are around a Middle East peace. Donald Trump has said vague things like, you know, I don’t care whether it’s a one-state or a two-state solution as long as all sides are happy with it I’ll go with anything. Then he’s kind of talked more about it; well let’s go for a two-state solution. I think the issues have been pretty well ventilated about the kind of sticking points there are. Does Donald Trump have the power to unpick this in a way previous people haven’t? I think it’s a huge question and I, you know, I don’t…nothing I’ve seen so far leads me to think oh yeah well they’ve got this in the bag. But there again Donald Trump is surprising. You know a year ago we didn’t imagine that there would be talks taking place in Singapore with Kim Jong-un.”

Doucet: “Yolande? Will it be announced in 2019?”

Knell: “I’m going to say so. I think there has to be some kind of peace plan after it’s been talked up so much. The latest we’re hearing is it will be in the coming months. It might not be quite on a scale that lines up to the idea of it being a deal of the century but already people here argue that the key steps have been taken by the US that makes some of its intentions clear. There was the US embassy move to Jerusalem, there was aid cut to Palestinian refugees – to UNRWA the agency that deals with them. There have been those warming ties between Israel and the Arab Gulf countries and there’s been lots and lots of diplomatic and financial pressure on the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.”

Interestingly, none of the BBC’s crystal ball gazing correspondents brought up the highly relevant topic of Hamas’ opposition to a negotiated peace deal with Israel or the question of whether or not the Palestinian Authority will survive the coming year in its present format.

While we have no indication as to when this programme was recorded, we can conclude that it was before December 24rd because Lyse Doucet’s next question was:

Doucet: “What if there’s Israeli elections? That will be the priority.”

Of course elections had been announced four days before this broadcast went on air but apparently nobody thought it necessary to edit the programme accordingly.

Knell: “Indeed I mean that is the big complicating factor I think when it comes to the timings because certainly I think Mr Netanyahu is seen as the partner – the Israeli partner – for any kind of a peace deal and he has to have Israeli elections this year. There’s another complicating factor as well where he is facing the possibility of charges in three public corruption cases so something else to look out for in the months to come is a decision by the Attorney General whether he should take the police recommendations to charge Mr Netanyahu and yes, I think this is something that’s all being carefully calibrated behind the scenes in terms of the timing of any announcement.”

With elections set for April 9th it is of course very unlikely that anything will happen on the diplomatic front until at least May, making Knell’s prediction that details of a peace plan will be announced “in the coming months” highly questionable.

Listeners then heard brief references to Yemen and Iran – though solely in relation to what Doucet termed the “landmark nuclear deal” as well as a one-word mention of Syria before attentions turned to Brexit.

Later on in the programme (from 28:09) Doucet asked her guests to name “unsung heroes” – people “who are having an impact in whatever world they inhabit” and Yolande Knell again brought the topic of conversation back to Israel.

Knell: “In terms of new names I mean I’m going to say the Attorney General here in Israel. Avichai Mandelblit. I mean he’s very well-known here but I really think he’s going to be internationally sort of known in the months ahead because he has to make this big decision about whether to charge the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in these public corruption cases. And there’s real drama here because Mr Mandelblit was Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary. When he was appointed originally he was accused of being too close to the prime minister and now he could become the man who takes down the prime minister after a decade in power. And if Mr Netanyahu can stay in office until the middle of next year he would actually be the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history, taking over from the founding father David Ben Gurion so there’s a real legacy issue here. Ahm…the BBC did get to ask Mr Netanyahu about all of this at an end of year journalists’ event and we just got his usual mantra which is nothing will come out of this because there’s nothing in it and I think this is going to be a fascinating year for Israeli politics. I mean certainly that is something that his party supporters believe that this has been some kind of witch hunt and just to go back to Mr Mandelblit, I mean this man many journalists remarked how he’s gone from having red hair to turning grey in the few years he’s been in his job, having to make lots of tough decisions. He already, I think, lost his invitations to go to the prime minister’s luxury private residence in the north of Israel because he charged his wife Sarah in a case about misusing state funds for catering when she has a cook paid for by the state. So I’m foreseeing lots more political drama here in the months ahead.”

Notably the BBC’s Middle East correspondent had no predictions to make concerning the complex situation in Syria, the demonstrations in Iran, the embattled Kurds or Lebanon – which has not had a functioning government for over six months.

All those stories and more lost out to the colour of the Israeli Attorney General’s hair and Mrs Netanyahu’s take-aways.

Our prediction is that the BBC’s disproportionate focus on Israel – often at the expense of audience understanding of the wider Middle East – will continue in 2019.   

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BBC Watch prompts correction to error on Israeli elections

On December 24th the BBC News website published a report titled “Israel sets date for elections“.

“Israel is to hold a general election in April, the ruling coalition has said.

The political partners decided to call the poll after failing to resolve a dispute over a draft conscription bill for ultra-Orthodox Jews. […]

The ruling coalition was recently reduced to holding a one-seat majority in the Knesset (Israeli parliament) after the then-defence minister resigned in protest over what he said was a weak approach towards dealing with attacks from Gaza, the Palestinian enclave bordering Israel.

By Sunday night it was clear the government faced collapse after ultra-Orthodox parties threatened to withdraw over the draft conscription bill.”

So far so good. However readers were then told that “[e]lections had to be held by November this year”. 

Coming in an article published in 2018, readers would obviously understand “November this year” to mean November 2018 – i.e. last month.

In fact the next elections were due to be held by November 2019.

BBC Watch contacted the BBC News website to request a correction and although no acknowledgement was received, the article was amended several hours later.

Amended version

 

  

BBC’s Bateman recycles the ‘cultural censorship’ theme

There is nothing remotely novel about the BBC telling its audiences dark (but inaccurate) tales of supposed cultural censorship in Israel.

On December 4th the BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent Tom Bateman returned to that theme with a report (another version of which was also promoted by Bateman on Twitter) aired on the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ which was introduced by presenter Ritula Shah (from 36:37 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Shah: “Israel’s culture minister Miri Regev is taking on the Israeli arts world, accusing some of pursuing anti-Israel narratives in state funded works or even of glorifying terrorism. So what happens when the state takes on the often subversive world of art? The story recently reached its [unintelligible] over the fate of the government bill that would see such productions defunded. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman reports.”

Failing to correctly pronounce the name of the theatre at which he recorded the piano music listeners heard at the beginning of his report, Bateman began:

Bateman: “Soothing tones in Tel Aviv’s Tmuna Theatre but they barely muffle the battle cries close by. This stage is on the front line in Israel’s culture wars – or as some here would have it, the war on culture waged by the government. The target of opprobrium for the actors is Miri Regev; Israel’s combative culture minister.”

Following a recording of an excerpt from a play, Bateman went on to refer to “Israel’s so-called cultural loyalty bill”, asserting that:

Bateman: “The planned law has been a flagship for the former military censor turned minister of culture, Miri Regev.”

He continued:

Bateman: “This scrap between politicians and performers has tugged at old tensions in Israel over free expression against the demands of national security, over the nationalism of the right versus claims of discrimination against Israel’s Arab minority – all in a bill that would allow the culture minister to strip public funds from works seen as inciting violence or insulting the symbols of the state.”

So is Bateman’s portrayal of the bill accurate? At no point in this report did he bother to tell BBC audiences that the bill is actually a proposed amendment to existing legislation – the Culture and Arts Law of 2002.

The proposal is an addition to that law which would allow the minister of culture and sport to reduce or cut state funding to a body which engaged in any of five activities which are already defined in an existing law passed in 1985 when the prime minister of Israel was (the hardly ‘right-wing’) Shimon Peres.

Clause 3b of the Budget Principles Law already allows the minister of finance (after consultation with the appropriate minister, legal advisors and after hearing the relevant body) to reduce or cut state funding to bodies which act “against the state’s principles”.  The actions which would justify such a decision include negating the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, inciting racism, violence and terror, supporting armed conflict or terror acts against the State of Israel by an enemy country or a terrorist organisation, presenting Israel’s Independence Day or day of founding as a day of mourning and acts of vandalism or physical debasement which harm the honour of the country’s flag or state symbols.

The bill proposed by Minister Regev states that any cultural body has the right to choose to engage in any of the above activities – i.e. freedom of expression – but that the minister of culture and sport would have the authority to decide that the state would not fund such activity.

Tom Bateman, however, continued his tale of supposed cultural censorship.

Bateman: “A play at the Tmuna Theatre has been in the culture minister’s sights. She demanded it pull the production about the Arab-Israeli poet Dareen Tatour who was jailed earlier this year for inciting violence and supporting a terrorist organisation. Tatour’s defence team said at the time her trial amounted to the criminalisation of poetry. The play’s writer, Einat Weitzman, accuses the minister of curbing the artistic freedom to portray a complex national history.”

After listeners have heard from Weitzman, Bateman continues with his caricature of the proposed bill.

Bateman: “But why, asks the culture minister, should arts elites and the left-wing get public money for siding with what she sees as an anti-Israel narrative? Self-flagellation she calls it.”

While Bateman did not include any response from the culture minister herself or her office in this report, he did – like his Middle East editor before him – go to the trouble of interviewing a junior MK with no direct connection to the story – Oren Hazan – before presenting a his version of a story from 2016.

Bateman: “Artists have protested, finding ever more curious ways to satirise the culture minister’s dislike of funding anything that insults the symbols of the state. A performer called Ariel Bronz took to the stage after Miri Regev gave a speech two years ago and bared his backside, into which he inserted an Israeli flag.”

The account given by the Ha’aretz newspaper – which organised that event – is somewhat different.

“At the beginning of the conference, which was held at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Bronz performed a selection from his show “Love the Juice,” which is being staged at the Klipa Theater and shows the “upheaval” his alter ego undergoes – from an enthusiastic left-wing activist to proud Zionist who decides to act to bring Jews to Israel.

The scene, during which Bronz stripped and was left wearing only a short pink skirt, aroused fury among some guests who started booing him. At one point, he pelted them with oranges that he had squeezed as part of the act. Chaos erupted and there were calls to remove him from the stage. Later, he was asked to conclude the scene but he claimed the amount of time allotted to him was not over and insisted on remaining onstage.

Bronz then began waving a small flag and, according to him, then spontaneously inserted it into his backside in front of the audience. In the end, security guards came and ushered him from the stage.”

Only at the end of his almost five-minute-long report did Bateman (using typically contorted metaphors) bother to mention that the proposed bill which is the subject of his report is actually no longer news.

Bateman: “The bill though has been sinking amid the waves of political crisis crashing around Israel’s coalition government. At a heated press conference last week Miri Regev accused fellow ministers prepared to derail it of giving state cash to what she called terrorists and Jew-haters. She postponed a vote on the bill and its future is now uncertain. Loyalty, it seemed, was not forthcoming from some fellow ministers – let alone from the rebellious world of art.”

The postponement of voting on the bill took place on November 26th. Nevertheless, nine days later the BBC found it appropriate to promote a tale of a “war on culture”, “nationalism of the right” and “curbing artistic freedom” while airbrushing many of the details necessary for audience understanding of the complete story.

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BBC Jerusalem correspondent’s ‘analysis’ meets reality

Visitors to the BBC News website have in recent days seen two reports relating to domestic Israeli politics.

On November 18th an article originally headlined “Netanyahu faces key meeting amid Israel early polls call” and later re-titledNetanyahu warns of danger of early Israel election” appeared on the website’s ‘Middle East’ page. On November 19th a report titled “Israel’s Netanyahu survives early poll threat” was published on the same page.

Both those reports told BBC audiences that:

“All Israeli governments are coalitions because of Israel’s system of proportional representation, meaning no single party can govern alone.”

That statement is of course misleading. The electoral system in Israel is indeed based on nation-wide proportional representation and all Israeli governments to date have been coalitions – not least due to the relatively low qualifying threshold.

However, were a list to gain sufficient votes to secure a majority of seats in the Knesset, that electoral system would not preclude it from ‘governing alone’ as the BBC suggests is inherent.

BBC Watch has written to the BBC News website to request an amendment to that inaccurate and misleading statement.

Despite the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s rather lacklustre record of reporting on Israeli politics, the second article included ‘analysis’ from Yolande Knell titled “A push to the right?” in which she began by telling readers that:

“Naftali Bennett’s surprise decision to remain in the coalition is likely to mean a push for more legislation and action in the coming weeks to prove the government’s right-wing credentials.”

The extent to which a coalition government with a mere one-seat majority is able “push for more legislation” in order to “prove” its “right-wing credentials” was evident just hours after Knell had penned those words.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition on Monday lost its first several Knesset plenum votes since it was reduced to just 61 members, raising doubts over whether it could survive for long, after early elections were narrowly averted earlier in the day, and causing mayhem in parliament.

The coalition, which was reduced to the slimmest majority possible in the 120-seat parliament last week when Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman resigned and left the government with his five-seat Yisrael Beytenu party — lost four motions of no confidence after the coalition boycotted them, according to the Knesset spokesperson. […]

The motions of no confidence were largely symbolic and did not topple the government, since such motions require at least 61 backers to do so.

The coalition boycotted all four votes in protest, after opposition members refused to agree with coalition colleagues to offset absences on a one-to-one basis, as is customary. That refusal meant the coalition did not have the majority to win the vote, and all its MKs subsequently left. […]

Later, the coalition lost a vote on a land ownership bill that had been formulated jointly by coalition and opposition lawmakers, and subsequently called off all further votes scheduled for Monday evening.”

And yet the BBC continues to promote its long-standing mantra of a ‘lurch to the right’ to audiences for the most part less than familiar with Israeli politics.

 

Catching up with some recent BBC Middle East reporting

Back in late July visitors to the BBC News website were told that an Israeli MK had resigned:

“An Israeli Arab politician has resigned in opposition to a controversial new law which declares Israel to be the nation state of the Jewish people.”

July 2017

As was noted here at the time, the BBC’s claim concerning Zouheir Bahloul’s resignation was premature and – as reported by the Times of Israel – the MK actually only stepped down on October 16th.

“Zionist Union member Zouheir Bahloul formally resigned from the Knesset on Tuesday, some three months after he announced he would step down as an MK in protest of the recently passed nation-state bill, which he said officially discriminates against Israel’s Arab minority.

The Arab Israeli lawmaker met with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to present his letter of resignation, a day after the parliament returned from a three-month summer recess. […]

Bahloul offered no further explanation after his Tuesday meeting with Edelstein.

He also declined to comment on why he chose to formally resign only after the Knesset recess, a move that saw him rake in more than NIS 100,000 ($27,000) in taxpayer money over the break, based on the NIS 41,432  ($11,000) monthly salary for an MK.”

BBC audiences have not seen any reporting on Bahloul’s actual resignation.

******

In late June we noted the appearance of an inaccurate and misleading map on the BBC News website.

“An article titled “Syria war: Air strikes knock out hospitals in Deraa” which appeared on the BBC News website on June 27th includes a map showing the areas under the control of different parties in south-west Syria.

[…] the UN Disengagement Observer Forces (UNDOF) are portrayed as being present in the demilitarised zone that came into existence under the terms of the 1974 Disengagement Agreement between Israel and Syria.

However, as noted in this report from May 31st, UNDOF vastly reduced its physical presence in the so-called demilitarised zone nearly four years ago when it redeployed to the Israeli side.”

Similar versions of the same map appeared in at least five additional BBC News website reports.

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on that issue and on July 30th we received a response informing us that more time would be needed to address the points raised. On August 18th we received a further communication informing us that the time frame for addressing the complaint had run out.

On October 15th the BBC News website published a report titled “Syria reopens key crossings with Jordan and Israel-occupied Golan” in which we discover that the BBC in fact knows that UNDOF was not in control of the DMZ when it published the map which led audiences to believe that was the case.

“The Syrian national flag was also raised at the Quneitra crossing with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights at a brief ceremony on Monday morning.

The UN, Israel and Syria agreed to re-open the crossing as part of an effort to allow UN Disengagement Observer Force (Undof) peacekeepers to carry out their mandate to maintain a decades-old ceasefire between Israel and Syria. […]

In 2014, after 45 peacekeepers were held captive for several weeks by al-Qaeda-linked jihadists and their bases attacked, Undof withdrew to the Israeli side.

The peacekeepers resumed their patrols in the area of the Quneitra crossing this August, after Syrian government forces regained control of the surrounding province and Russian military police were deployed there.”

******

Back in August 2017 we asked “Are BBC audiences getting the full picture on Syria’s chemical weapons?” and since then we have continued to document the corporation’s promotion of false balance when reporting on that subject.

“…BBC audiences continue to repeatedly see false balance in the form of unchallenged Syrian propaganda that is presumably intended to tick the ‘impartiality’ box. In addition to being plainly ridiculous, that editorial policy clearly undermines the BBC’s purpose of providing the public with accurate and impartial reporting that enhances its understanding of global issues.”

May 2017

On October 15th a report was published on the BBC News website under the title “How chemical weapons have helped bring Assad close to victory“. In that article the BBC states that it has gathered evidence to show that:

“…at least 106 chemical attacks have taken place in Syria since September 2013, when the president [Assad] signed the international Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and agreed to destroy the country’s chemical weapons stockpile.”

It is of course impossible to determine how many members of the BBC’s audience – who have previously seen countless promotions of unchallenged denials from the Syrian regime on this issue – will have come across this latest BBC report.

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Omissions in the BBC Jerusalem correspondent’s story of ‘fanaticism’

Back in July the BBC published a number of items on different platforms which clearly communicated to audiences what they should think about the Nation State law passed by the Knesset that month after seven years of deliberation.

BBC News website framing of Israeli legislation

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Two months later the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Tom Bateman returned to that topic in two reports – mixing in a partially told, unrelated story from an Israeli town with a name he could not be bothered to learn to pronounce properly.

On September 19th viewers of the BBC Two programme ‘Newsnight‘ saw a filmed report by Bateman.

On September 22nd listeners to ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ on BBC Radio 4 heard an audio version (from 06:24 here) of the same report which was introduced by presenter Kate Adie at the beginning of the programme as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Adie: “Today we’re in Israel on the hunt for the finest falafel while hearing what Arab and Jewish Israelis think of the controversial new law which characterises the country as principally a Jewish state.”

Adie’s introduction to the item itself included overt signposting.

Adie: “In July Israel’s parliament – the Knesset – narrowly voted in favour of a new Nation State law. It promotes Israel’s Jewish character and has been celebrated by religious nationalists, among other supporters, and not just within Israel itself but in the USA and Europe. It’s also sparked condemnation at home and internationally. Among its harshest critics have been the country’s nearly 2 million Arab-Israeli citizens who say it underlines their second class status, as Tom Bateman’s been finding out.”

Bateman’s report began in a falafel shop in Afula and listeners were told that he has “set out to gauge reactions to one of Israel’s most controversial new laws” before Bateman introduced his linkage of a local story to his main agenda.

Bateman: “My lunch companion wants to tell me about that. This is the world’s only Jewish state says Ilan Vaknin, a local lawyer turned mayoral candidate. Israel is surrounded by Arab nations and needs protecting, he asserts. He supports the new Nation State law. The legislation is an emblem for the Israeli Right, championed by Benjamin Netanyahu – a prime minister with an eye on elections next year, trying not to be outflanked by more hardline nationalists in his coalition.”

Bateman went on to give a particular view of the legislation.

Bateman: “The single-page law is stacked with symbols of Jewish sovereignty. It states that Jews have the unique right to national self-determination in Israel. That what it calls Jewish settlement is a national value. That Hebrew is the state’s official language – a statement seen as downgrading Arabic. But what of the central complaint from the law’s many critics, I ask, that it shreds Israel’s founding pledge of equality for all the inhabitants regardless of their religion or race?”

Given that account, uninformed listeners could of course be forgiven for reaching the conclusion that Jewish self-determination in Israel is an innovation that first appeared in the Nation State law. What Bateman refers to as “Israel’s founding pledge” is of course the Declaration of Independence which does indeed pledge “equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex” but also – he refrains from clarifying – clearly defines Israel as “a Jewish state”.

Bateman continued:

Bateman: “Ilan Vaknin says that the Jewish people in Israel must safeguard their land. There has certainly been a struggle among the people of Afula. When 48 Arab-Israeli families tried to buy plots of land on the edge of this Jewish majority town, there were protests by Jewish residents. Mr Vaknin acted for those who wanted to stop the sales. He claimed the Arab families had illegally coordinated bids. The courts ultimately threw out much of that argument and most of the sales went ahead. Many such land disputes elsewhere have not always gone the way of Arab citizens. Afula’s story seemed to echo a desire in the Nation State law to assert Jewish identity.”

Presuming to tell audiences what Israel “is supposed to stand for”, in his filmed report Bateman described the same story thus:

Bateman: “An empty space to be filled – but by whom? There has been a struggle among the people of Afula. What should this town in northern Israel look like? Who should live here? From whose past should it seek its character? Afula isn’t a story of troops and teargas filling the foreign news but a less visible confrontation between Jews and Arabs that goes to the heart of what the State of Israel is supposed to stand for. Ilan Vaknin wants to be the mayor. The lawyer told me how he tried to stop the sale of land to nearly 50 Arab families in this majority Jewish town. The dispute, which started well before the row over Israel’s new Nation State law, provides an example of the tensions that led to the law’s drafting and why its supporters think Israel’s Jewish character needs protecting. […] He [Vaknin] fought the sale of this land to Arab-Israeli families, saying they illegally coordinated bids But, after two years, Israel’s High Court allowed most of the sales to go ahead.”

The only Israeli politician mentioned by Bateman in these two reports is the current prime minister and so BBC audiences could be forgiven for concluding that it was he who proposed the Nation State law. In fact, the legislation was originally proposed in 2011 by Avi Dichter – who was at the time a member of the Kadima party – together with 39 other MKs. In contrast to the impression given by Bateman, the Afula building plots story began in late 2015.

While some of those who demonstrated against the sale of plots to 48 families from Arab villages in the district may have had racist motives, there are relevant parts of the story that Bateman did not bother to tell BBC audiences – not least the fact that the full complement of tenders in the proposed new neighbourhood was won by Arab applicants.

“The protesters claimed that the winning tender applicants may have coordinated their bids to ensure the neighborhood is populated mainly by Arab residents. They also charged that the tenders were poorly publicized within the city, and only announced in two local newspapers.

Many of the protesters have previously expressed their opposition to having an all-Arab neighborhood in the city.

The tender was run by the Israel Land Administration, which accepted bids on almost 50 plots for homes in a planned community next to the Afula Illit neighborhood. The results, published last month, showed that none of the plots had been won by current residents of Afula and all had been awarded to residents of Arab villages in the area.”

In April 2016 the Nazareth District Court revoked the tenders.

“Court president Justice Avraham Avraham said in his decision that the 48 Arab families violated housing tender rules by coordinating their bids on several of the 50 lots for homes in a planned neighborhood next to the Afula Illit neighborhood in an effort to fix prices for the homes.

“The coordination between bidders severely damages the principle of equality,” Avraham said in his decision. “The bidders joined forces to coordinate their proposed prices in an effort to unfairly divide the market among themselves.””

In August 2017 the High Court found that while a bidding group which had won ten of the 27 available plots had indeed coordinated bids, the other applicants had not. The court ruled that, rather than cancelling all the tenders as the Nazareth court had ruled, only the tenders of those shown to have coordinated bids would be cancelled.

While those parts of the story are missing from Bateman’s account, he did make sure to tell his radio audience of statements made by another interviewee – Ghayadad Zoabi.    

Bateman: “She says when Jewish protests took place against families like hers buying plots in Afula the sense of division felt overwhelming. She worries for her children who she fears have harder days to come. As long as the Right-wing controls Israel, she claims, it is heading for fanaticism. She believes the Nation State law sends a message to people like her that they are citizens second to Jews.”

And that of course is the agenda behind Bateman’s sudden interest in a local story that the BBC has ignored for nearly three years. Despite the fact that Arab-Israelis won tenders organised by a government agency and the 63% of bidders who were shown not to have coordinated bids had their tenders upheld in Israel’s High Court, The BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent still has a tale of “fanaticism” to tell about just one of the 22% of the world’s countries – including the UK – that have a religion enshrined in their constitution or basic law.  

 

 

 

BBC News website reports a resignation yet to happen

Late on the evening of July 28th (UK time) the BBC News website published a report titled “Israeli Arab MP resigns over controversial ‘nation state’ law” on its main homepage as well as its ‘World’ and ‘Middle East’ pages.

Readers were originally told that: [emphasis added]

“An Israeli Arab politician has resigned in opposition to a controversial new law which declares Israel to be the nation state of the Jewish people.

Zouheir Bahloul, 67, branded parliament “racist” and “destructive” for passing the law, which also revokes the status of Arabic as an official language.”

“[The law] removes the Arab population from the path of equality in Israel,” he told Israeli TV network Reshet.”

That second paragraph was amended some eleven hours after the article’s initial publication when someone apparently realised that it gave an inaccurate presentation of the legislation. It now reads:

“Zouheir Bahloul, 67, branded parliament “racist” and “destructive” for passing the law, which also puts Hebrew above Arabic as the official language.”

However, despite the BBC’s claim that Mr Bahloul “has resigned”, that does not yet appear to be the case.

The Jerusalem Post reports:

“…Bahloul said he would submit his resignation letter when the Knesset returns from its extended summer recess October 14 and then “keep away from the Knesset as if it is fire.””

The Times of Israel similarly reported that:

“An Arab Israeli lawmaker from the Zionist Union faction announced on Saturday that he would be resigning from the Knesset to protest the recently passed nation-state bill, which he said officially discriminates against Israel’s Arab minority.

When the Knesset recess is over my resignation will go into effect, I promise you I will not sit in this Knesset again,” Zouheir Bahloul told Hadashot news.”

Ha’aretz reported:

“Israeli Arab Knesset Member Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union) announced Saturday his intention to resign from the Knesset in protest over the controverisal [sic] nation-state law.”

[all emphasis added]

As of the morning of July 30th, Mr Bahloul is still listed on the Knesset website as an MK.

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BBC producer breaches editorial guidelines on impartiality yet again

Section 4.4.13 of the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality states:

“Presenters, reporters and correspondents are the public face and voice of the BBC – they can have a significant impact on perceptions of whether due impartiality has been achieved.  Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal prejudices of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any other area.  They may provide professional judgements, rooted in evidence, but may not express personal views in BBC output, including online, on such matters.”

Additionally, the BBC’s editorial guidelines on “Social Networking and Other Third Party Websites (including Blogs, Microblogs and Personal Webspace): Personal Use” include the following:

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

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

Not for the first time (see ‘related articles’ below) a clearly identified BBC employee – who describes his position as “BBC News Arabic service producer in Israel and the West Bank” – has allowed himself to “advocate” a “particular position on an issue of current public controversy or debate” on social media, thereby contradicting the BBC’s editorial guidelines and compromising its impartiality.

Clearly that Tweet from Michael Shuval certainly does have an impact on public perceptions of impartiality in BBC reporting on that legislation. 

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Inaccurate BBC WS radio portrayal of Israeli legislation

As noted here previously, the lead item in the July 19th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘World Update‘ concerned legislation passed hours beforehand by the Israeli Knesset.

The programme’s webpage uses the title “Israel: An Exclusively Jewish State”. Presenter Dan Damon introduced the item (from 0:00:15 here) using the same term. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Damon: “We begin though with the news from Israel. In the parliament there – the Knesset – a vote on the future of that country’s self-determination: a controversial bill defining the country as an exclusively Jewish state. The law downgrades Arabic as an official language. It says Jewish settlements are in the national interest. Israel [sic] Arab politicians have denounced this new law as racist.”

Obviously the claim that the law defines Israel as “an exclusively Jewish state” is inaccurate.

The same inaccurate claim appeared in the first two versions of an article that appeared on the BBC News website on July 19th.

Following a complaint from Mr Stephen Franklin in which he pointed out that the text of the law does not define Israel in that manner and that Israel’s minorities already have equal rights under the law and will continue to do so under this new legislation, the BBC Complaints department responded, citing an amendment made to the report some eight hours after its initial publication.

“I understand you feel it is inaccurate to state that the bill passed characterises Israel as an exclusively Jewish state.

BBC News always aims for the highest standards – to be fair, accurate and impartial. It is worth noting that the article now reads “‘Israel’s parliament has passed a controversial law characterising the country as principally a Jewish state”.”

BBC Watch has written to request a similar correction to this radio programme and its webpage.

In that item listeners heard from the BBC’s Tom Bateman in Jerusalem who correctly pointed out that the law “isn’t going to change things overnight. It’s simply not that kind of a piece of legislation” and that “many of the things it talks about are actually pre-existing in other laws”.

However, as was also the case in the BBC News website report, Bateman for reasons unclear found it appropriate to mention a clause which was not included in the final draft of the legislation.

Bateman: “…the law says that Jewish settlement is a national value that should be promoted by the state. Now that’s actually a watered-down version of the draft clause which critics of the law had felt might lead to Jewish-only communities and local authorities really having the power to create de facto and in law Jewish-only communities.”

Like the website article, Bateman did not clarify that the dropped clause actually allowed the state to “authorize a community composed of people having the same faith and nationality to maintain the exclusive character of that community” and did not bother to inform his audiences that many communities composed of people belonging to religious and ethnic groups such as Bedouin, Druze, Circassians, Christians and Muslims already exist in Israel.

Bateman closed his report by telling listeners that one Arab-Israeli MK had “described it…as a hate crime and an apartheid law”.

Listeners then heard from two MKs – Yehuda Glick of the Likud and Ahmad Tibi of the Joint Arab List. They did not however hear any challenge from Dan Damon when Tibi raised the false claim promoted by the political NGO Adalah of “more than 60 laws differentiating and discriminating between Jews and Arabs”. Neither did they hear any questioning of numerous inaccurate claims from Tibi including that the new law affords rights “both political and housing, lands allocation etc…only for Jews”.

Related Articles:

How BBC radio programmes misled by adding one letter and a plural

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