Key background absent from BBC reporting on Israel PM allegations

On February 14th the BBC News website published a lengthy article titled “Israel PM Netanyahu defiant in face of bribery allegations” on its Middle East page in which readers were told that:

“A police statement on Tuesday said there was enough evidence to indict him for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two separate cases.

The attorney general’s office could take months to decide if Mr Netanyahu should face charges.”

Following sub-sections titled “What was Netanyahu’s response?” and “What are the allegations?”, readers found a section headed “What has the reaction been?” in which comments from members of four political parties were highlighted, including the following:

“Earlier, Israel’s centre-left opposition alliance, the Zionist Union, called on the prime minister to resign.”

The last section of the article was titled “What happens now?”.

“A final decision on whether Mr Netanyahu should face charges will come down to the attorney general’s office. A decision could take months to reach.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said any prime minister who has been charged should not be obliged to resign.”

While it is unclear which particular statement from the Justice Minister the BBC is quoting in this report, significantly at no point did the BBC make any effort to clarify to audiences that – as Ms Shaked has pointed out in the past – under Israeli law, police recommendations are not a legal reason for a prime minister to resign.

Unlike a minister, a prime minister is not obliged by law to resign even if indicted. Only after being convicted of an offence involving moral turpitude – and following any appeals – can a prime minister (and with him the government) be removed from office.

Clearly that information is crucial to understanding of both quoted statements concerning the topic of resignation and the story in general but it was not provided to BBC audiences reading either this report or another one on the same topic that appeared on the previous day in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel’s dilemma over PM’s future“.

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BBC News inaccurately reports an Israeli story from the sixties

On January 19th an article written by the BBC Hindi journalist Zubair Ahmed was published on the BBC News website’s ‘India’ and ‘Middle East’ pages under the title “Israel’s Indian Jews and their lives in the ‘promised land’“.

The article relates to one of the communities of Jews who immigrated to Israel from India – Bene Israel – and readers are told that: [emphasis added]

“…the biggest crisis faced by the community was in 1962 when the chief rabbinate prohibited Bene Israelis from marrying Jews from other communities.

Dr Weil said the community was up in arms. “They used to conduct sit-in strikes outside the chief rabbinate’s office saying they were Jews for more than 2,000 years and had the right to marry who they wanted.”

It took two years, but they finally succeeded in seeing their demands fulfilled.”

But is that account accurate? Did Israel’s Chief Rabbinate really ban members of the Bene Israel group from marrying other Israeli Jews in 1962?

Here is an article published in the ‘Herut’ newspaper on October 20th 1961 under the headline “The Chief Rabbinate rules: ‘Bene Israel’ from India are Jews and marriage with them is permitted”.

As the Jerusalem Post recounts: [emphasis added]

“Despite the fact that Sephardic Chief Rabbi Itzhak Nissim stated in 1961 that there was no foundation to prohibit marriage between Bene Israel and other Jews, and that “the sect of the Bene Israel in India is of the seed of the House of Israel without any doubt,” several rabbis in Israel still refused to marry Bene Israel to other Jews.

In 1962, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate appointed a commission of four rabbis to meet with representatives of the Bene Israel to research their customs. Apparently concerned about previous intermarriage and mamzerut, the committee learned that divorce was not an aspect of their culture at all, and they did not permit widows to re-marry, as per Indian customs at the time. This also meant that any concerns regarding the practice of levirate marriage (man’s duty to marry brother’s widow if she is childless) or halizah (ceremony to avoid levirate marriage) were not relevant.”

In late February 1962 the JTA reported that:

“The Chief Rabbinate was accused this weekend by Indian Jews settled in Israel with having “reversed” a ruling which ended a lengthy dispute over the status of such Jews in regard to marriage with other Jews in Israel.

The Chief Rabbinate had ruled last October that members of Indian Jewry, known as Bene Israel, were full Jews and could therefore wed other Jews. The Actions Committee of Bene Israel, charged that new directives for such marriages were a reversal of the October ruling.

The charge was based on the fact that the new directives required Israeli rabbis to ascertain whether Bene Israel applicants for marriages had parents and forebears who were Jews and also instructed rabbinical registrars to refer the applicant to the district rabbinical court “where doubts existed.”

Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim issued a statement in reply, expressing surprise about the Actions Committee charge. He said that similar regulations applied to all marriage applications in Israel.”

A few days later the then President of Israel – Itzhak Ben-Zvi – issued a statement on the topic.

“President Ben-Zvi came out vigorously today in support of the recent Chief Rabbinate’s decision permitting marriages with the Bene Israel immigrants from India. He declared that the decision should be welcomed by all leaders and members of the Bene Israel community in Israel.

The President made his statement in a comment on criticism of recent directives given by the rabbinate to marriage registrars concerning inquiry into the Jewishness of parents and grandparents of Bene Israel marriage applicants. He hailed the decision recognizing Bene Israel members as full Jews. He expressed the hope that the directives would not be misinterpreted to the extent that such criticism might negate the decision.

The President also said that he felt that the leaders of the Bene Israel community had no justification for objecting to the questions since rabbis had a complete right to question all marriage applicants concerning such Jewish matters. His statement was expected to sooth the controversy and serve as a cue for moderation both for rabbis performing such marriages and for Bene Israel members.”

‘Herut’ August 1964

That statement from the president did not however succeed in calming tempers and the Bene Israel group launched a series of protests and hunger strikes, culminating in a resolution passed by the Knesset in 1964.

“The series of demonstrations spurred the Knesset to take action, passing the Bene Israel resolution on August 16, which was read in an emergency Knesset session the next day. The resolution stressed the equal rights of Bene Israel, condemned the Chief Rabbinate and called upon it to dispel any feelings of discrimination among Bene Israel and the general public. It passed with a 43 to 2 vote. […]

“The Israeli government reiterates that it sees the Bene Israel community from India as Jews… without any restrictions or differences, equal in their rights to all other Jews in all respects, including matters of matrimony,” then-prime minister Levi Eshkol stated at the special Knesset session.” […]

The Chief Rabbinate responded to the Knesset resolution, revoking all references to the Bene Israel in the directive and substituting it with a general order which was made applicable to anyone whose family status was in doubt. […]

In other words, while the Bene Israel community doubtless suffered discrimination and some individual rabbis did for a time refuse to perform marriage services, the BBC’s claim that in 1962 “the chief rabbinate prohibited Bene Israelis from marrying Jews from other communities” is inaccurate and misleading.

 

 

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

The November 19th edition of the BBC Radio 4 religious affairs programme ‘Sunday‘ included an item described in its synopsis as follows:

“Madeline Davies from The Church Times tells Edward why the Greek Orthodox Church is selling it’s [sic] land in Israel.”

However, as listeners quickly found out, it in fact developed into a story about a draft bill currently awaiting debate in Israel’s Knesset.

Presenter Edward Stourton introduced the item (from 14:00 here).

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

Stourton: “In the holy land nothing stirs passions like the land itself. The Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem – Theophilos III – seems to be selling off an awful lot of it. Madeline Davies of the Church Times has been following the story and told me what’s happening.”

Davies: “The Greek Orthodox Patriarchy owns a large amount of land in Israel and it’s really the only source of income that the Patriarch has. They’ve got a lot of costs to cover and they have sold some land in order to cover those costs. There’s really a dispute over some of those sales; whether some of those sales were done with the full permission of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and whether some of them were actually done without the approval of the church and should never have gone through.”

Stourton: “And why is it such a sensitive issue?”

Davies: “It’s really a question about the co-existence in Jerusalem. There’s a desire to ensure that the church is able to control its own land; to make its own decisions about whether it sells it and who to, or whether the government can really intervene in who owns land in the area.”

Stourton then promoted extremely partisan – and inaccurate – framing of the story:

Stourton: “So this to some extent is an issue of religious freedom; it’s about the Patriarch’s ability to act independently.”

Davies: “Yeah. There’s a lot of concern about a draft bill which is before the Israeli parliament which would give the Israeli government the power to confiscate land which the Patriarch has sold to third parties. That’s really one of the big concerns and concern has been expressed by other church leaders in the region about what that would mean for them as well. The bill wouldn’t just apply to the Greek Orthodox Church; it would apply to all churches in the region.”

Stourton: “The other issue for Christians, surely, is the risk that by selling off land the Patriarch diminishes the Christian presence in the holy land.”

Davies: “Yeah. So I think what the Patriarch is arguing is that they own quite a large amount of land and they’ve done this in a very planned and strategic way. They haven’t just flogged land sort of left, right and centre to cover their costs.”

Stourton: “Is everybody happy with that or are there some Christian groups who are…who are still concerned?”

Davies: “So he…ehm…the Patriarch is facing controversy within his own church. There’s particularly some Palestinians concerned land has been sold to Israelis by the church. I think what the Patriarch would argue is that land has also been used to build housing and residences for Palestinian Christians and so it’s not only that, sort of, land has been sold to one particular group.”

Listeners were not told that in fact there is criticism of the Patriarch from Palestinians on additional grounds:

“The protests expose long-standing tensions in the Greek Orthodox Church in the Holy Land. For years, the Greek Orthodox community in Israel has felt the church prevented its local Arab clergy from reaching senior positions, and the leadership of the church has thus remained firmly in Greek hands. The protesters are demanding that the church make major changes and allow Arab clergy to reach the most senior ranks.

Some of the demonstrators even called for an end to Greek patronage of the local Orthodox Church. But the Greek Orthodox Church has yet to show any signs of meeting these demands or deposing Theophilis.”

Stourton continued:

Stourton: “Some of the criticism is not just about the fact of the sale of land but the way he’s doing it.”

Davies: “In, I mean, in the past this land has been leased to Israelis for extremely low sums. And I think the idea is that to by either giving the lease to Israeli property developers or actually giving them the freehold, will actually generate a lot more income than those leases were and that that can really fund some of the core activities of the Greek Orthodox Church.”

Stourton: “Now he’s been here in this country talking to the Archbishop of Canterbury. How does he get wrapped up in all this?”

Davies: “Basically the Patriarch has gone on a tour to drum up support for his case. There’s a lot of concern about the Israeli government’s bill and he’s come over to the UK to try and get Justin Welby and other church leaders to support him and to issue a statement that really says we support the coexistence that exists within Israel and we support the church’s rights to control what it does with its own land.”

Stourton: “And did he get that?”

Davies: “Yeah, so both the Roman Catholic leader Vincent Nichols and Justin Welby have issued statements saying they want to support the status quo, which is really sort of a catch-all term that means we support the right of the church to control its own lands.”

With no effort made to inform listeners that Madeline Davies’ employer, the Church Times, is an Anglican publication Stourton continued: 

Stourton: “And just returning to the bill in Jerusalem; is that something that the government there supports or is this an independent movement?”

Davies: “This has been brought by a number of parliamentarians but it’s unclear yet whether it will actually go through. I think there are concerns that it’s actually being used within coalition, sort of, politics with the government as sort of perhaps to appease certain groups. So it’s still unclear really whether it will go through.”

Stourton: “So he’s really in a very tight position isn’t he? On the one hand he’s facing criticism from – as you say – within his own church and from some other Christians about the whole land process and on the other side he’s under pressure from Israeli politicians.”

Davies: “Yeah. He’s in a really difficult position and I think that’s really why he’s trying to gather solidarity from Christians in the West just to try and say no; this is about more than just a property dispute. This is actually about the church’s rights in the region, their ability to coexist with other groups.”

So what is the story really about and did BBC Radio 4’s presentation of it give listeners an accurate and impartial view?

The story actually began some months ago when it emerged that the Greek Orthodox Church had sold tracts of land in Jerusalem to undisclosed buyers.

“The Greek Orthodox Church — the second biggest owner of land in Israel after the Israel Lands Authority — acquired some 4,500 dunams (1,110 acres) of real estate in the center of Jerusalem during the 19th century, primarily for agriculture. In the 1950s, just after Israel’s independence, it agreed to lease its land to the JNF for 99 years — with an option to extend. […]

Somehow, the church managed to secretly sign contracts — the first in 2011, and another in August 2016 — to sell the land to groups of companies about which very little is known […]

The deal came to light when the Greek Orthodox Church petitioned the Jerusalem District Court last week [July 2017] to have the Jerusalem City Council exempt it from payments relating to the 500 dunams it has sold off.”

The sale creates problems for the owners of properties located on that land. 

“The deal has plunged more than 1,000 homeowners into uncertainty because they sublease the land on which their homes are built from KKL-JNF, which currently holds the primary leases. […]

“There is no doubt that the government of Israel cannot allow a situation in which veteran residents are at the mercy of a group of private investors (whose identity is not completely known), without any regulation of the matter,” A KKL-JNF spokesperson told The Times of Israel. […]

If the leases are not renewed when they run out in the early 2050s, the homeowners who have not sold by then risk being forced to leave, to pay potentially high prices to extend leases or even to rent their own homes. The prices of their homes have already been negatively affected.”

The bill inaccurately described by Davies in this item as being “the Israeli government’s bill” is in fact a private members bill proposed by MK Rachel Azaria – formerly the deputy mayor of Jerusalem.

“The main initiative to advance legislation to protect residents is being driven by lawmaker Rachel Azaria (Kulanu). Just before the start of the Knesset’s summer recess, she signed 40 MKs onto a private members’ bill to allow the state to confiscate land that has been sold. The confiscation would take effect from January 1, 2018, and the private investors would be compensated.”

Ms Azaria’s bill would mean that:

“…deals to sell the land would have to be approved by the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice committee, that buyers would have to be Israeli citizens or Israeli-owned companies, that lease extensions would be dealt with by a national body, the cost of extensions would not be passed onto residents, and in cases where a national institution was not involved in a church land transaction, the state would use the tools at its disposal to protect the residents against losing their homes.”

Remarkably, the residents affected by the Greek Orthodox Church’s land sales in Jerusalem did not even get a mention in this BBC item. Obviously that serious omission is highly relevant because the bill currently awaiting reading in the Knesset which was widely discussed in the item is intended to protect those residents rather than – as claimed in this item – to “confiscate” land or “pressure” the church.

As we see, this report presented an entirely one-sided and distorted account of a story that was repeatedly portrayed as being solely about “the church’s rights in the region” and with absolutely no mention of the other side of the story and the rights of the people affected by the church’s actions. One might also question the timing of this story seeing as it actually broke several months ago but BBC audiences heard nothing about it until various church bodies began a PR campaign

As for Edward Stourton’s claim that “religious freedom” includes real estate deals – that one will surely go down as one of the more ridiculous notions promoted by the BBC.

 

BBC WS radio listeners told that Nazareth is a ‘Palestinian city’

The October 14th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item (from 38:06 here) that was introduced by presenter Paul Henley as follows:

Henley: “Now a film called ‘Wajib’ by the Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir has been shown at the London film festival. The film is the only Arab entry in competition and follows a father and his estranged son who must come together to hand-deliver his daughter’s wedding invitations to each guest, as is the custom in…in Palestine.”

The BBC Academy’s style guide specifically states that the corporation’s staff:

“…should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity.”

Henley’s choice of words is even more egregious in light of the fact (not clarified to listeners) that the film’s story is based in Nazareth in northern Israel. Nevertheless, listeners heard another reference to ‘Palestine’ just seconds later.

Henley: “Now my colleague Razia Iqbal spoke to Annemarie for Newshour and she asked her how difficult it was as a Palestinian to keep politics and art separate.”

Jacir: “I don’t think it’s possible to make a film in Palestine that’s not somehow political because that’s just daily life. It’s everywhere. It’s in the way you travel, it’s in parents dropping their kids off to school, you know, you get round a checkpoint or not.”

Later on in the interview (40:53) listeners heard the following statements from Bethlehem born, Saudi raised, US educated Annemarie Jacir:

Jacir: “I think the Palestinians that are living in, you know, historic Palestine in a city like Nazareth – which is the biggest Palestinian city [sic] in Israel – they aren’t…who are they represented by? You know they are Israeli citizens on paper but they’re second, third class citizens. They don’t have the same rights. They’re not represented by the Israeli government for sure. They’re definitely not represented by the Palestinian Authority and so I feel like it is a community that lives a contradictory life and they’re struggling to find an identity…the identity and also, yeah, a political representative.”

Arab-Israelis living in Nazareth or anywhere else in Israel of course have the same rights as any other citizen – including the right to vote for their chosen parliamentary representatives. Eighteen (i.e. over 20% – reflecting the proportion of minorities in the population as a whole) of the current members of the Knesset are Arab-Israelis, Druze or Bedouin representing six different political parties (three of which – in contrast to Jacir’s claim – are part of the current coalition government) and surveys repeatedly indicate that the majority of Arab-Israelis view Israel in a positive light.  

Despite that, Razia Iqbal failed to present any challenge whatsoever to Jacir’s politically motivated, inaccurate and materially misleading claims and swiftly moved on to the next topic.

And yet, the BBC continues to claim that it provides its funding public with “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards”.  

 

A ‘dark Israel’ genre BBC News website story jumps the gun

As has been recorded here in the past, the BBC has something of a penchant for the ‘dark Israel’ genre and regularly promotes stories which – often with insufficient attention to accuracy – paint a caricature of a country parting ways with democracy that is rife with racismsexismxenophobiahomophobia, government censorship and suchlike.  

On September 13th a domestic Israeli story which is of little or no interest to foreign readers – but, crucially, belongs to that genre – appeared on the BBC News website under the headline “Ultra-Orthodox Israeli MP quits amid gay wedding criticism“.

Readers were told that Shas party MK Yigal Guetta had resigned from his post.

“An ultra-Orthodox Jewish member of Israel’s parliament has resigned after prominent rabbis criticised him for attending his gay nephew’s wedding. […]

Mr Guetta did not issue a statement after giving up his seat in the Knesset.”

However the story is not quite as cut and dried as BBC audiences were led to believe – as the Times of Israel reported.

“On Wednesday, Guetta wrote to party boss and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri that he would resign and give up his Knesset seat. […]

While Guetta sent a resignation letter to Deri, he did not send one to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who must receive a formal resignation announcement from an MK in order for it to become official.

By law, Shas can kick Guetta — the party’s secretary-general — out of the party, but it cannot kick him out of the Knesset.

Once a Knesset member is elected, only a large majority of fellow lawmakers, backed by an Ethics Committee decision and a very serious breach of the law on his or her part, can force him or her from parliament.”

In fact, MK Guetta was only due to meet with the Deputy Knesset Speaker on the day after the BBC published its report.

The New York Times added:

“Mr. Guetta is now in negotiations with the Shas Party’s council of sages who are said to be less upset about his attendance at the wedding than his disclosure of that information in the radio interview.

A compromise appears to be emerging in which Mr. Guetta would apologize for giving the interview, though not for attending the wedding, and would retain his place in the party and his seat in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

To formally resign he would have to write to the Knesset chairman, a step he has not taken yet.”

Israel is of course far from the only country in which some religious figures take a conservative attitude towards gay marriage but in its apparent rush to publish yet another story promoting the ‘benighted’, ‘backward’ Israel theme, the BBC failed to check the accuracy of its claim that Mr Guetta had already ‘given up his seat’.

In which BBC Monitoring contradicts the BBC World Service

As noted here earlier, on the afternoon of August 16th the BBC World Service inaccurately told its listeners that:

“While President Trump has come under a lot of flack from Jewish leaders and politicians in the US for his perceived hesitancy in condemning the groups, in Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu and most politicians have been rather more muted regarding what the president said.”

The next day, however, the BBC suddenly changed its tune. An article published in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on the evening of August 17th under the headline “Anger over Netanyahu silence on Trump and Charlottesville” told readers that:

Most Israeli politicians and press have decried US President Donald Trump’s remarks on the violent protests in Charlottesville – and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lack of response – and are examining the implications for America’s Jewish community.” [emphasis added]

The article’s next four paragraphs detailed condemnation of the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville from Israel’s president and some Israeli newspapers  – informing readers that while Yediot Aharonot, Ma’ariv and the “liberal daily” Ha’aretz slammed remarks made by the US president on their front pages:

“Newspaper Israel Hayom, reputed to be close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, made no mention of the developments on its front page and offered factual coverage on page 24.”

Readers were also told that:

“Labour Party member of the Knesset Shelly Yachimovich took to Facebook to say that as the daughter of Holocaust survivors, she found the display of Nazi symbols “physically nauseating”.

She also took aim at Prime Minister Netanyahu who condemned the far-right protestors but not Trump’s words: “You, the prime minister of the Jewish people in their land, the man who warns us about a Holocaust every Monday and Thursday with fear mongering and bombastic oaths of ” never again”? What is the matter with you?””

The next seven paragraphs were devoted to portrayal of social media posts from Netanyahu and his son and the reactions of various politicians and a Ha’aretz columnist. The article’s last six paragraphs were devoted to another story in which the Israeli prime minister was criticised by various Ha’aretz writers.

This BBC article is credited to BBC Monitoring: the department that tracks and translates open source media around the world for the BBC as well as commercial clients. In 2015 its then newly appointed head said:

“Our ability to follow the world’s ever expanding traditional and digital media sources is unique and brings crucial insights to the BBC’s journalism as we seek to inform and explain incredibly complex stories of global impact.”

The BBC is certainly not the only media outlet to have devoted column space to amplification of criticism of the Israeli prime minister’s response to the incidents in Charlottesville  from rival politicians, politically partisan journalists and self-appointed pundits.

However, seeing as the information in this article is readily available to the general public in the online English language Israeli press (including the sources of the multiple promoted quotes from Ha’aretz), one can only wonder why BBC Monitoring spent time and resources on promoting a story that needed no translation, is not an “incredibly complex” issue “of global impact” and certainly does not provide “crucial insights” into anything – apart from how journalists quoting and amplifying other journalists manufacture media ‘buzz’.  

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Is a BBC WS claim about Israeli politicians true?

The August 16th edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item (from 48:53 here) in which the BBC managed to shoehorn Israel into its coverage of last weekend’s shocking incidents in Virginia, USA.

Presenter Owen Bennett-Jones told worldwide listeners that:

“Video of the white supremacists in Charlottesville clearly shows them chanting openly antisemitic slogans, with organisers amongst other things complaining that President Trump allowed his daughter to marry a Jewish man.

While President Trump has come under a lot of flack from Jewish leaders and politicians in the US for his perceived hesitancy in condemning the groups, in Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu and most politicians have been rather more muted regarding what the president said. So why is that?”

The issue of whether or not it is appropriate for politicians from any country to comment on the internal affairs of another state is not discussed in this item and listeners are not given an answer to the question of why Bennett-Jones singled out Israeli politicians rather than those in any other nation. But is the claim regarding Israeli politicians made by Bennett-Jones accurate?

Earlier on the same day that this item was broadcast, the Times of Israel published an article titled “Israeli politicians reject Trump claim of two sides to Virginia hate march“.

““There aren’t two sides,” Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, said in a Wednesday statement.

“When neo-Nazis march in Charlottesville and scream slogans against Jews and in support of white supremacy, the condemnation has to be unambiguous. They represent hate and evil. Anyone who believes in the human spirit must stand against them without fear.” […]

Tzipi Livni, a former justice minister and No. 2 in the opposition Zionist Union faction, also rejected Trump’s assertion.

“When it comes to racism, anti-Semitism and Nazism, there are never two equal sides. There’s good and there’s evil. Period,” she said in a Wednesday statement. […]

…Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked […] urged that the neo-Nazis face prosecution.

“The neo-Nazis in the United States should be prosecuted,” she said Tuesday. Allowing them to march violently through American streets “was not the intention of the American Constitution. A democratic state does not have to tolerate such phenomena.”

On Sunday [Naftali] Bennett, who heads the Jewish Home party, condemned the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and called on US leaders to denounce its “displays of anti-Semitism.”

“The unhindered waving of Nazi flags and symbols in the US is not only offensive towards the Jewish community and other minorities, it also disrespects the millions of American soldiers who sacrificed their lives in order to protect the US and entire world from the Nazis,” he said in a statement

“The leaders of the US must condemn and denounce the displays of anti-Semitism seen over the past few days,” he added.”

In addition to those decidedly not “muted” statements, the Israeli prime minister put out a tweet condemning the racism and, despite members of the Knesset currently being on holiday, a number of other politicians from a range of parties likewise made their views on the matter clear – including Michael Oren, Zahava Galon, Revital Swid, Ksenia Svetlova, Manuel Trachtenburg, Avi Gabbai, Yehuda Glick, Yitzhak Herzog, Dov Hanin, Shelly Yechimovich, Amir Peretz, Meirav Michaeli, Ayelet Nachmias-Verbin, Miki Rosental, Nachman Shai, Itzik Shmuli and Tamar Zandberg – who even went on American TV two days before this ‘Newshour’ programme was aired to talk about the issue.

And yet, the BBC apparently came to the bizarre conclusion that it was accurate to describe the responses from those Israeli politicians and others as “muted”.

Another interesting aspect of this item comes in Bennett-Jones’ introduction of his interviewee. [emphasis added]

“Ruthie Blum is a Trump voter living in Tel Aviv and a conservative commentator too with a number of publications including the Jerusalem Post.”

Seeing as in the past the BBC has on countless occasions failed to comply with its own editorial guidelines on impartiality by refraining from clarifying the “particular viewpoint” of interviewees,  that detailed introduction is noteworthy.

MK’s plea bargain resignation not newsworthy for BBC

Late last December we noted that the BBC had ignored the story of the arrest of a member of the Knesset from the Balad party on suspicion of smuggling cellphones to convicted terrorists.

The MK – Basel Ghattas – has now resigned from the Knesset.

“MK Basel Ghattas, accused of exploiting his position to smuggle cellphones to convicted Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons, resigned from the Knesset Sunday as part of a plea deal that will see him face two years in prison.

Prosecutors on Friday filed an indictment in the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court against the Joint (Arab) List lawmaker, formally charging him with smuggling phones into prison, smuggling documents and breach of trust.

The charges came a day after Ghattas signed a deal with the state in which he will resign from the Knesset and serve two years. In return he avoided more serious charges of aiding the enemy and being an accomplice to terror. […]

Ghattas was under criminal investigation after being caught on prison surveillance video passing envelopes to Palestinian security prisoners in January [sic – actually December].

Police said that the MK exploited his position as a member of Knesset — who cannot be subjected to a body search — during a visit to Ketziot Prison in southern Israel last year, where he met with Walid Daka, a Palestinian prisoner serving a 37-year sentence for the 1984 abduction and murder of 19-year-old IDF soldier Moshe Tamam. The MK also met with Basel Ben Sulieman Bezre, who is serving a 15-year sentence on a terror conviction.”

In the past the BBC has given its audiences incomplete and partisan portrayals of stories concerning Balad MKs and terrorism – see here and here.  

Despite its usual interest in the workings of the Israeli Knesset and its having produced no fewer than four articles in ten days (see here, here, here and here) on a different police investigation concerning an Israeli politician during the same period of time, on Basel Ghattas’ indictment and resignation the corporation has chosen to stay mum.

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Third context-free BBC article on proposed legislation

Last November the BBC News website published two articles concerning a proposed bill limiting noise pollution from public address systems in religious establishments.

Superficial BBC reporting on proposed legislation – part 1

Superficial BBC reporting on proposed legislation – part 2

As was noted here at the time, the reports did not provide BBC audiences with any context concerning similar legislation in other countries – both Arab and Western – and so audiences could not appreciate that the proposed legislation is similar to that already found in several European states (including the UK) where the call to prayer through PA systems is either banned altogether or subject to limitations on days of the week, hours and level of decibels.

The two BBC reports did however provide amplification for claims that the proposed legislation is “divisive” and threatens to spark “religious war”.

On March 8th the BBC News website revisited the same topic in an article titled “Israeli Arab anger as parliament backs ‘muezzin bill’“.

“Two versions of the so-called “muezzin bill”, which would mostly affect Muslim calls to prayer, passed their first readings by slim majorities.

Some Arab MPs ripped apart copies of the legislation during a debate.

The bill will have to go through further readings before becoming law.

One version of the bill would ban all places of worship from using loudspeakers between 23:00 and 07:00. The other would prohibit the use of speakers considered “unreasonably loud and likely to cause disturbance” at any time of day.”

Yet again the article failed to provide BBC audiences with any background information concerning similar legislation in other countries.

However, once again the article did amplify claims of ‘discrimination’.

“The bill’s critics say it as an attack on religious freedom.

“The voice of a muezzin has never caused any environmental noise. It is about an important Islamic religious ritual, and we have never in this house intervened in any religious ceremony related to Judaism. Your action is a racist slur,” warned Ahmed Tibi of the Arab-dominated Joint List alliance during the debate.

“Your intervention strikes at the very souls of Muslims,” he added.

Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint List, was thrown out of the chamber after tearing up a copy of the bill.”

The article closes with the following two paragraphs:

“Arab citizens of Israel, also known as Israeli Arabs, are descendants of the 160,000 Palestinians who remained after the State of Israel was created in 1948. They make up about 20% the Israeli population.

About 80% of Israeli Arabs are Muslim; the rest are divided, roughly equally, between Christians and Druze.”

In other words, the BBC inaccurately tells its audiences that Israel’s Druze citizens are “descendants of […] Palestinians” while ignoring both non-Arab Muslims such as Circassians and non-Arab Christians such as Arameans.

The BBC’s coverage of domestic Israeli affairs does not as a rule include every private members’ bill laid before the Knesset and therefore the fact that this particular proposed legislation has now been the subject of three articles before it has even been passed and become law is especially noteworthy.

BBC News silent on arrest of Israeli MK

In February of this year the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ presented listeners with a highly partial account of the temporary suspension of the anti-Zionist Balad party’s three MKs from Knesset activity after their participation in an event glorifying Palestinian terrorists.

A similarly whitewashed portrayal of that story appeared in a July 2016 report concerning what the BBC described as “controversial” legislation by the Israeli parliament allowing for the impeachment of MKs on the grounds of incitement to violence or racism or support for armed conflict against Israel. In that report BBC audiences were repeatedly told that Israeli democracy is being “undermined” by such legislation.

Given that ‘concern’ for Israeli democracy and keen interest in the workings of the Knesset, one might have thought that the recent story of the arrest of a member of Israel’s parliament would also have caught the BBC’s attention.No news

“Arab lawmaker MK Basel Ghattas was arrested Thursday night on suspicion of smuggling cell phones, SIM cards, and coded messages to convicted terrorists serving time in Israel’s prisons.

The arrest came immediately after a second round of police questioning under caution in as many days, and just hours after Ghattas, of the Arab Joint List in the Knesset, waived his parliamentary immunity. […]

According to Hebrew media reports, Ghattas allegedly passed as many as 15 cellphones and several SIM cards to inmates serving sentences for national security offenses in Ketziot prison south of Beersheba.

Ghattas was also suspected of handing “intelligence information” to one of two prisoners in encoded notes, a Channel 2 report said. The notes contained information from other security prisoners, the report claimed, as well as mentions of former Balad MK Azmi Bishara, who fled Israel in 2007 to escape a police and Shin Bet investigation into allegations he was paid by Hezbollah to help locate targets for rocket attacks within Israel.

One of the prisoners that Ghattas is alleged to have met with during a Sunday visit to Ketziot is Walid Daka, who was sentenced to 37 years for the 1984 abduction and murder of 19-year-old IDF soldier Moshe Tamam.

The phones, discovered concealed behind plastic molding surrounding a window in the visitors room, were allegedly intended to be collected by prisoners who belong to the Islamic Jihad terror group.”

Had a British, German or French member of parliament been arrested on suspicion of offences involving convicted terrorists (and subsequently placed under house arrest), one can be pretty sure that the BBC would have found the story newsworthy.

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Terrorism, double standards and the BBC

How many inaccuracies can the BBC cram into a 23 word sentence?