BBC interest in Israeli politicians’ legal cases has its limits

As we know from our monthly overviews of reporting on Israel and the Palestinians, the BBC News website is rather fond of stories about criminal/legal cases in Israel – especially if they involve Israeli politicians or public figures.

February 28

Gonen Segev: Israel ex-minister admits spying for Iran

Israel police investigate ‘sex-for-judgeships’ allegations

Netanyahu and the allegations of corruption (discussed here)

Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel PM faces corruption charges (discussed here)

Benjamin Netanyahu: What are the corruption allegations? (discussed here)

Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel PM faces corruption charges (discussed here)

Netanyahu charges: Is Israel PM in more trouble now than ever before? (discussed here)

Sara Netanyahu: Israeli PM’s wife ‘agrees plea bargain’

Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara admits misusing public funds (discussed here)

By contrast, since the beginning of the year visitors to the BBC News website have seen just one report about a possible criminal/legal case in the Gaza Strip (not involving politicians) and just one report about Palestinian Authority politicians (not involving a legal case).

Interestingly, the BBC is apparently rather less interested in potential indictments when they involve an Arab Israeli political party, even though it has in the past repeatedly given a platform to one of the people involved.

“Former lawmaker Haneen Zoabi and the Arab party Balad will be indicted pending a hearing for forgery and fraud relating to their reports on campaign funding filed to the state comptroller, the attorney general and state prosecutor announced Thursday. 

Balad is suspected of having received from abroad some three million shekels ($862,650) and using the funds while pretending that the money had come in as donations. The party rejected the accusations, claiming they were part of “political persecution.” […]

Zoabi and the others are suspected of aggravated fraud, attempted fraud, money laundering, aggravated forgery, using a forged document and forging corporate records.  […]

Party officials deposited around 2.4 million shekels ($690,000) in the party bank account before the 2013 general election.  In a financial report provided to the state comptroller in February 2016, the funds were described as donations. The report was accompanied by 1,300 receipts, found by police investigation to be forged, and a list of donors, also found to be forged, according to the prosecution.”

Despite its usually lively interest in legal cases and criminal investigations involving Israeli politicians and public figures and although this story about Balad broke last week, the BBC News website (once again) has to date not found it at all newsworthy.

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Summary of BBC News website portrayal of Israel and the Palestinians – July 2019

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Weekend long read

1) At the Times of Israel Robert Philpot investigates “How wartime BBC failed to issue Holocaust warnings”.

“On December 17, 1942, Britain’s foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, rose from his seat in the House of Commons and revealed that the Nazis were now carrying out Hitler’s oft-repeated threat to “exterminate the Jewish people in Europe.” He went on to condemn “this bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination.” […]

By this time, the United Kingdom’s public broadcaster, the BBC, had already reported evidence of the mass murder of Jews in Eastern Europe. News of the unfolding horror was also transmitted through its European outlets, such as the BBC Polish Service, to the very scene of the greatest crimes.

But there was a peculiar and troubling exception: the silence of the BBC’s broadcasts to Hungary concerning the fate of the Jews.”

2) Also at the ToI, Haviv Rettig Gur explains why “Everybody complains about Israel’s electoral system. But it works”.

“That Israel’s democracy works is evident in the successes and achievements the country can show after 71 years. This system has weathered military emergencies, economic crises and ethnic fractures and strife — despite lacking the institutional complexity and clarity of more established democracies.

Indeed, Israel’s democracy has survived despite Israelis being arguably among the least democratically literate people in the free world.

This democracy was not founded in a moment of conscious philosophizing and exposition like America’s, or after 800 years of careful institution-building and tradition-setting like Britain’s. It came into being almost as an afterthought, in a polity run by East European Marxists who inherited a legal and constitutional order that was a jumble of medieval religious law and British colonial law.” 

3) At the JNS Maurice Hirsch gives his take on “The real reason the Palestinians are refusing to attend the Bahrain conference”.

“Together, the Fatah-led P.A. and the PLO ruled the Palestinians from 1994 to 2006. Then, after the death of PLO founding father Yasser Arafat, the P.A. held its second general elections. As a result of the widespread real and perceived corruption of Fatah and the PLO, the elections were won by Hamas, another internationally recognized terrorist organization, that is not part of the PLO.

While P.A. chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the P.A., Fatah and the PLO were quick to depose the democratically elected Hamas leadership in the West Bank, Hamas continues to rule the Gaza Strip.

In this context, when considering the fact that the P.A. and PLO only actually represent less than a half the Palestinians ostensibly living under P.A. rule, it is clear why the Trump administration’s economic plan poses such a real threat to them and why they refuse to participate in the Bahrain conference.”

4) NGO Monitor has published a report on the political NGO ‘Who Profits’.

“The Israeli non-governmental organization (NGO) Who Profits is the leader in targeting “Israeli and international companies” as part of economic and political boycott campaigns. The NGO was founded to support BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) efforts, and initiates discriminatory campaigns against Israeli and foreign banks, security firms, civil infrastructure facilities, and private companies. The objective is to isolate Israel economically, culturally, and politically, and to contribute to the wider demonization effort. Its website is central to BDS activists around the world in identifying companies for their campaigns, while individuals are encouraged to “Report a Company” to “be included in their database.”

The allegations published by Who Profits claiming the illegality and immorality of various business activities are echoed uncritically by UN bodies and officials and international NGOs as part of their politicized agendas.”

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BBC News reports on new Israeli justice minister

On June 6th the BBC News website published a report concerning the previous evening’s appointment of MK Amir Ohana to the post of acting justice minister.

Titled “Israel: Amir Ohana becomes first openly gay minister”, the report’s sole reference to the new minister’s professional background came in a quote.

“Announcing his appointment, the prime minister’s office said Mr Ohana was a former lawyer who was “very familiar with the justice system”.” 

The report did however tell readers that:

“Mr Ohana, 43, is a Netanyahu loyalist, who backs moves to protect the prime minister from possible prosecution.”

And:

“Mr Ohana is a strong supporter of Mr Netanyahu, and has given his backing to a controversial bill to grant a sitting prime minister immunity from prosecution.”

Clearly there is a difference between “moves to protect the prime minister from possible prosecution” and (as yet theoretical) legislation which would “grant a sitting prime minister immunity from prosecution” [emphasis added].

The only relevant bill answering that description is a private members bill submitted on May 20th by MK Miki Zohar which has yet to have a preliminary reading. Amir Ohana is not listed as one of the bill’s proposers and we have been unable to find any record of comment on his part relating to that bill since its submission.

On May 22nd Mr Ohana did give an interview to an Israeli radio station in which he stated that he is in favour of going back to the parliamentary immunity law as it was in 2005 before amendment. As explained in this article:

“Under that law, every minister and MK automatically had immunity from prosecution unless the Knesset voted to lift his immunity. The new law passed in 2005 reversed the situation, so that any minister or MK could be indicted unless the Knesset voted to grant him immunity.”

In that radio interview Mr Ohana clarified that:

“Nobody is talking about eternal immunity. After the elected official completes his term of office, he will stand trial. In the meantime, let him do his job.”

Clearly the BBC could have been more accurate in its portrayal of Minister Ohana’s views.

 

 

 

BBC Radio 4 misleads on conscription in Israel

The May 29th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ included a report (from 24:05 here) introduced by presenter Julian Worricker as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Worricker: “Now, political developments in Israel tonight. As we came to air the deadline passed for the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to form a new coalition government. His Likud party, along with its Right-wing and religious allies, won 65 seats out of 120 in the Knesset in the April election and victory celebrations followed. But coalition talks have not gone to plan, thanks principally to the demands of the former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman. He wants ultra-orthodox Jews to perform mandatory military service like other Jewish Israelis and he won’t bring his nationalist group of five parliamentarians on board unless he gets agreement on that. Ultra-orthodox parties, who control 16 seats in parliament, oppose that measure and Mr Netanyahu needs both groupings to back him to form a government.”

Of course “Jewish Israelis” are not the only ones in Israeli society who are conscripted to “mandatory military service”. Military service has also been compulsory for males from the Druze sector since 1956 and for Circassian males since 1958. In addition, members of other religious and ethnic groups can serve on a voluntary basis.

Listeners would be unlikely to be able to fill in that missing information for themselves. The last time BBC audiences heard anything about the fact that the IDF is made up of people from many different backgrounds and faiths was in 2016 in a programme which gave extensive promotion to an opponent of enlistment by members of Israel’s minority ethnic communities.

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BBC’s Lyse Doucet reports election campaign speculation as fact

On December 26th 2018 an overwhelming majority of MKs voted to dissolve the 20th Knesset and go to elections just over three months later.

“The bill for the dissolution of the 20th Knesset was given final approval by the plenum Wednesday night. The government-sponsored dissolution bill was merged with private bills submitted by MKs Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beitenu), Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Ayman Odeh (Joint List).

The bill, which passed by a vote of 102-2 in its third (final) reading, also sets early elections for April 9, 2019. The MKs who voted against the bill were Yehuda Glick (Likud) and Yaron Mazuz (Likud).”

Two days earlier the BBC had correctly told visitors to its website that:

“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.”

Listeners to two editions of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour’ on April 9th however heard a completely different account of those events from the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet.

In the programme’s afternoon edition presenter James Coomarasamy introduced an item (from 18:37 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Coomarasamy: “Now another election now and it was an early call but was it the right one for him? Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be finding out whether his decision to hold an early election today will secure him his record-breaking fifth term in office.”

In contrast to Coomarasamy’s claim that the decision to call an election was made by Mr Netanyahu alone, it was actually taken by the heads of all five coalition parties and – as seen above – endorsed by a majority of Knesset members from parties across the entire political spectrum.

After listeners had heard recordings of statements made by Netanyahu and the Blue and White list leader Benny Gantz at their polling stations, Coomarasamy brought in “Newshour’s very own Lyse Doucet who’s in Jerusalem for us”. Having mentioned the weather and voter turnout percentage, Doucet went on:

Doucet: “There’s a bit of apathy this time round because in effect this election campaign is about only one issue and that is Benjamin Netanyahu. Will he get that fifth term in office and put himself in the history books as Israel’s longest serving prime minister? So the question in this whole election is will Bibi, as he’s known, win and is Bibi good for Israel.”

Seeing as the BBC’s coverage of the run up to the election totally ignored the topic of what concerns the Israeli voter, it is of course hardly surprising that Doucet would come out with that inaccurate and superficial claim. Coomarasamy went on to suggest yet again that Netanyahu had called the election alone.

Coomarasamy: “And at the moment, I mean, he…he’s sounding confident. He sounds as though he made the right decision. I suppose, you know, this early election is…was a gamble. He’s made a gamble before and it didn’t pay off.”

Doucet: “He called early elections – eight months earlier – because he was trying to get in ahead of the attorney general but the attorney general got the best of him and has already indicated that charges are pending – corruption charge, fraud, breach of trust – and so there’s criminal investing…there’s criminal charges pending against Benjamin Netanyahu and he was hoping that he would call these elections and secure his fifth term before the attorney general filed. So this cloud is hanging over his head and what he would like to do is first of all get the high…get his Likud party to get the highest number of seats tonight – but remember: no party in Israel has ever ruled on its own – that he would then be chosen by the president to try to bring…to forge a governing coalition which will be comprised of not just Right-wing parties but far Right-wing racist parties – ah…and that’s causing some concern here – and then be able to pass a new law in the Israeli Knesset which says you can’t be charged when you’re a sitting prime minister. Israel doesn’t have that yet. So that’s the gamble really that he’s dealing with now.”

Until that point the BBC had confined itself to categorising one party – Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) as racist but apparently the BBC’s chief international correspondent sees no problem in branding more than one Israeli political party in that way.

Coomarasamy: “That’s his personal gamble. What’s at stake for the country as a whole would you say, Lyse?”

Doucet: “Well that is the big issue. I mean one Israeli commentator was saying that it’s not just fateful issues on the agenda, it’s the fate of the country which is on the agenda. Israel has been moving steadily to the Right over the past decades, largely fuelled by the failure of peace making with the Palestinians. It’s noticeable that that simply wasn’t an issue at all in these elections. And look at what has happened in the past year thanks to Mr Netanyahu’s greatest champion in the White House, Donald Trump. The Americans have moved their embassy to Jerusalem, they’ve recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – effectively trying to take that issue off the table. They also have recognised the Golan as part of…under Israeli jurisdiction – not Syrian. So in some ways they’ve been trying to move toward resolving these issues and Mr Netanyahu even threatened or even indicated – again, in a bid to get those far Right-wing votes – that he would annex large parts of the West Bank, which takes another issue off the agenda.”

As we have regrettably had cause to note here before, despite the best efforts of BBC journalists to ignore it, the US announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city specifically stated that it had no bearing on negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, noting that “the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties”.

The evening edition of ‘Newshour’ on the same day – presented by Tim Franks – also included a contribution from “our very own Lyse Doucet” (from 45:05 here) in which she again paraphrased anonymous Israeli commentators.

Doucet: “…but I have to say, Tim, that the Israeli analysts are already saying this is a message to Benjamin Netanyahu that you may have snuck in again but your days are numbered.”

Franks: “Right and I suppose there would be a question also, were he to get in, just how long he might be in for because there are these corruption allegations hanging over him.”

Doucet again promoted the falsehood that Netanyahu had called an election all on his own.

Doucet: “He called this election eight months earlier than he had to. He was hoping to get a new mandate before the attorney general published or finished his investigation. The attorney general preempted him. The charges have been published – he’s facing possible indictment on three major corruption, bribery, breach of trust charges. What he wants from…if he does form a new government he will want that government to bring in new legislation which means a sitting prime minister cannot be indicted. He wants legal cover for those charges. It’s…this is quite clearly being discussed here. So it’s not just about winning these elections; it’s about winning his personal freedom as well.”

The as yet non-existent legislation touted by Doucet is known in Hebrew as ‘the French Law’ after similar legislation in France. Four days before Doucet laid out her theory according to which Netanyahu had dissolved the Knesset and called elections all on his own in order to get such a law passed, the Times of Israel reported that:

“Several political allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday they would not back an effort to pass a law giving the premier immunity from prosecution. […]

…several senior ministers said they would not back the law, including Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan from Netanyahu’s Likud party.

“He [Netanyahu] promised he wouldn’t try, and if a proposal like this comes up from others in the Knesset, I’ll oppose it,” Erdan told Army Radio.

Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, who helped torpedo a bid in 2017 by a Netanyahu ally in the Likud to pass an immunity bill, said he would continue to oppose it. “Everyone is equal under the law,” he told Army Radio. […]

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who is also seen as a likely coalition partner for Netanyahu should he be tasked with forming the next government, also said he was against a retroactive measure.

He blamed speculation about Netanyahu seeking a measure on “the media.””

Indeed speculation on that topic was rife during election campaigning but senior BBC journalist Lyse Doucet did not report it as speculation: she reported it as fact – even constructing a supporting story about a one-man deliberate dissolving of parliament and subsequent election – without providing any concrete evidence to support her claims.

So much for BBC accuracy and impartiality.

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BBC News tells only part of an Israeli elections story

On the evening of March 17th the BBC News website published an article headlined “Israel elections: Court bans far-right candidate Ben-Ari” in which readers were told that:

“Israel’s Supreme Court has disqualified the leader of the far-right Jewish Power party, Michael Ben-Ari, from next month’s elections.

In doing so, it overturned an earlier decision by the electoral committee.

Mr Ben-Ari has faced criticism over his comments about Israeli Arabs. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has said they amount to “incitement to racism”.”

Under the sub-heading “What did the court rule?” the BBC provided readers with further information about the comments which led to Ben Ari’s disqualification.

“The court backed an appeal from left-wing politicians who argued that Mr Ben-Ari had made racist remarks.

The Times of Israel website reports that the appeal cited Mr Ben-Ari from August 2018, saying: “We have to change the equation regarding anyone who dares to speak against a Jew.

“[Such a person] is a dead man. He must not come out alive. No expelling him, no stripping him of his citizenship. He does not live! A firing squad takes him out as the Arabs understand [best].”

Mr Ben-Ari has claimed that he was referring to Hamas leadership – not all Arabs.”

Only readers who bothered to click on that promoted link would learn that:

“Michael Ben Ari, party leader of Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), has faced multiple appeals to outlaw his candidacy under Article 7A of the Basic Law: The Knesset, which lists “incitement to racism” as one of three actions that disqualify a candidate from running for Knesset.”

In addition the BBC’s report told readers that:

“The court also reinstated Israeli Arab parties previously banned from contesting the 9 April poll.

They had been barred from standing for their critical remarks about the state of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces.”

Notably those “Israeli Arab parties” were not named by the BBC and no further information was provided concerning their prior disqualification by the Central Elections Committee on the basis of what the BBC chose to euphemistically portray as “critical remarks”.

The parties concerned are Ra’am-Balad – currently running on a joint electoral list. BBC audiences were not informed that the Central Elections Committee had also earlier in the month “voted to disqualify Ofer Kasif, a Jewish member of the other Arab-Israeli party, Hadash-Ta’al”.

“The petition against Balad-Ra’am was filed by the Likud, Yisrael Beytenu and Otzma Yehudit parties, which claimed that the Arab-Israeli party is “seeking to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state, and supports the violent Palestinian resistance and Hezbollah, and most of its members are supporters and backers of terror.” […]

In addition to Ra’am-Balad, the committee accepted a petition to disqualify Kasif of Hadash-Ta’al, citing provocative comments he has made in the past, including calling the justice minister “neo-Nazi scum.”

Along with his comment against Ayelet Shaked, Kasif in the past was accused of comparing Israel and the IDF to the Nazi regime, of calling to fight against “Judeo-Nazis,” and voicing support for changing the national anthem.

Last month, in an interview with Haaretz, Kasif said Israel was carrying out a “creeping genocide” of the Palestinians.”

Kasif is also on record as having “voiced support for cancelling the Law of Return”.

In addition to incitement to racism, Israel’s election law – Basic Law: The Knesset – forbids any person or list that promotes “negation of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state” and/or “support of armed struggle, by a hostile state or a terrorist organization, against the State of Israel” from running in elections.

The Balad party rejects the existence of the Jewish State, promotes the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees and aspires to a bi-national state.

However, while the BBC did provide its audiences with details of the racist comments which led to Ben Ari’s disqualification in this report (tagged, inter alia, racism) it chose not to supply an explanation of the background to the Central Elections Committee’s decision – later overturned by the Supreme Court – to ban other candidates, while euphemistically framing their negation of Jewish self-determination as mere “critical remarks”.

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BBC News employs omission to further a narrative on Israel

The BBC News website recently created a tag called ‘Israel Elections 2019’ which to date includes just five items. Members of the corporation’s funding public could be forgiven for arriving at the conclusion that there is only one newsworthy name in that election campaign.

The latest BBC News website report appearing with that tag was published on March 11th under the headline “Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot wades into Netanyahu row over Israeli Arabs”.

The report opened with a confused introduction. [emphasis added]

“Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot has become embroiled in a row with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the status of the country’s Arab minority.

“Love your neighbour as yourself,” the Israeli actress said, amid wrangling over the role of Israeli Arab parties in upcoming polls.”

So which is it? “The status” of the 20.9% of the Israeli population with Arab ethnicity or “the role” of the two Arab lists running in the April 9th election?

Only in the article’s thirteenth paragraph did the BBC bother to clarify that in a post replying to another Israeli actress, Netanyahu commented:

“As you wrote, there is no problem with Israel’s Arab citizens. They have equal rights and the Likud government has invested more than any other government in the Arab population.” 

Clearly then this story is not about “a row with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the status of the country’s Arab minority” as claimed in the article’s opening line.

The report continued:

“Mr Netanyahu caused a stir when he said Israel “was not a state of all its citizens”, referring to Arabs who make up 20% of its population.

He cited a “nation-state” law.

The legislation sparked controversy last year.

Arab MPs reacted furiously in July when Israel’s parliament approved the legislation, which says Jews have a unique right to national self-determination in the country and puts Hebrew above Arabic as the official language.”

That link leads to a BBC report dating from July 2019 which was amended after publication to clarify that the legislation “ascribes Arabic “special status” and says its standing before the law came into effect will not be harmed”. As was the case when the BBC first reported on the Nation State Law last July, no comparison between that legislation and similar laws and constitutions in other countries was provided to readers.

Readers had to go down to paragraph twelve in order to find out the reason why the opening paragraphs of article referred to the Nation State Law:

“On Sunday, Mr Netanyahu responded with an Instagram post of his own that referred to the “nation-state” law.

“Dear Rotem,” he wrote. “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people – and only it.””

The BBC’s article went on to provide background to the story in a section headed “How did the row start?”.

“The spat began on Saturday, when Israeli actress and TV presenter Rotem Sela challenged comments made by Culture Minister Miri Regev in a TV interview about the role of Arab parties in the 9 April general election.

Ms Regev repeated a warning by her and Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party that voters should not choose its main rivals because they might form a governing coalition that included Arab MPs.”

The BBC did not however adequately clarify the highly relevant point that Ms Regev in fact referred to non-Zionist or anti-Zionist Arab parties rather than “Arab MPs” but did go on to amplify claims allegedly made by anonymous “critics”:

“Mr Netanyahu’s critics say comments like those made by Ms Regev are part of a bid to court right-wing voters.”

The report continued:

“At the last election four years ago, Mr Netanyahu apologised after warning that “right-wing rule is in danger” because “the Arabs are voting in droves”.”

That link leads to a BBC report from March 2015 relating to a story the corporation had earlier failed to report properly. As the BBC well knows, the part of the quote it has edited out reads “Left-wing organisations are bringing them in buses” and it continues with a reference to the V15 organisation.  

Notably the BBC avoided the topic of that group’s campaign in all of its coverage of the 2015 election. The following year the BBC likewise ignored the findings of the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations concerning US State Department grants which “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”.

This BBC report closed with amplification of unverified claims:

“Israeli Arabs, descendants of the 160,000 Palestinians who remained after the State of Israel was created in 1948, have long complained of being treated as second-class citizens.

They say they face discrimination and worse provision than Israeli Jews when it comes to services such as education, health and housing.”

As we see, by means of omission the BBC News website has turned a story about an actress and a prime minister posting at cross purposes on social media (as a result of the use of the phrase “a state of all its citizens” which – crucially – is not explained to readers) into yet another politically motivated portrayal of Israel as an undemocratic, discriminatory and indeed racist state.

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BBC News again ignores Palestinian Authority’s financial own goal

Readers may recall that last July Israel’s Knesset passed a law relating to the Palestinian Authority’s payments to terrorists and their families.

“The Knesset voted into law on Monday a bill to slash funds to the Palestinian Authority by the amount Ramallah pays out to convicted terrorists and the families of Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks.

The bipartisan law passed by 87 to 15. […]

The bill says that welfare payments paid out by the PA to Palestinian prisoners and their relatives, as well as the families of slain attackers, must be deducted from tax revenues Israel transfers annually to the administrative body. The money withheld in this way would instead go into a fund designated to help victims of terror attacks.”

On February 27th the PA officially announced that it would refuse to accept the tax revenues due to be transferred after deduction of the relevant sum.

“The Palestinian Authority on Wednesday said it rejected its regular monthly tax transfer from Israel to protest an Israeli decision to deduct sums of money the Palestinians pay to imprisoned terrorists and terror suspects, as well as the families of those killed in attacks against Israelis. […]

Israel announced last week that it would withhold over $138 million in revenue, the amount Israeli officials calculate that the PA spends on the stipends. […]

The freeze of funds was expected to deal a dire financial blow to the cash-strapped Palestinian leadership, already weakened by recent US cuts of more than $200 million in bilateral aid. The authority expects it won’t be able to pay its employees’ full salaries. […]

Although the rejection of the funds is likely to hurt them, the Palestinians are hoping that the move will put pressure on Israel to reverse course. A collapse of the Palestinian Authority could lead to the end of security cooperation with Israel, and theoretically force Israel to assume responsibility over the more than 2 million Palestinians in the West Bank.”

Nevertheless, the PA also announced that salaries for terrorists would be paid as usual.

“The PA announced that following its refusal to accept any tax money from Israel, the PA’s public employees – the productive workers – will receive cuts in their salary. However not everyone will have to take a pay cut. The unproductive terrorists who are sitting in jail will receive their full monthly salaries:

“PA Minister of Finance Shukri Bishara announced that the [PA] government will pay the salaries of the public employees on time, but they are likely to be partial, other than the pension stipends and the allowances (mukhassasat) of the families of the Martyrs, the wounded, and the prisoners, which will be paid in full.” [Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Feb. 22, 2019]

The Minister of Finance further announced that both public employees and the private sector – “those whose salaries are higher” – will have to “make sacrifices”.”

That policy reflects a statement made by Mahmoud Abbas late last year.

“I say this to everyone – the salaries of our Martyrs, prisoners, and wounded are a red line. They [Israel] try by all means, and exert pressure by all means, and they continue to exert: “It cannot be that you will pay.” And they’ll even deduct our money that’s in their hands. They’ll deduct from it the amount that we pay to the Martyrs. We have said that this is a red line and we will not allow [it]. From 1965 until now, this matter is sacred to us. The Martyrs and their families are sacred, [and so are] the wounded and the prisoners. We must pay all of them. If one penny remains in our hands it is for them and not for the living.” [Official PA TV, Oct. 28, 2018]

Given that in the past we have seen that the BBC’s interest in stories relating to Palestinian Authority finances does not include those concerning the PA’s deliberate own goals, it is not surprising that to date BBC audiences have heard nothing of this story.

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BBC News Israel election coverage limps on

The latest contribution to the BBC’s coverage of the upcoming election in Israel came from Tom Bateman in the form of a filmed item titled “Netanyahu and the allegations of corruption” which appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on February 20th.

“Final lists of candidates will be drawn up in Israel this week ahead of the country’s general election in April.

It’s an important moment in the run up to the ballot – giving a clearer picture about how the political parties are positioned. Fighting to hold on to the premiership, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been trying to delay any decision over whether he should faces [sic] charges over allegations of corruption – claims he categorically denies.

A decision by the country’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit could take place in the coming weeks.

Tom Bateman, our Middle East Correspondent in Jerusalem, explains the cases.”

Visitors to the BBC News website had already been provided with a more detailed explanation in writing just two months earlier in December 2018. The first two sections of Bateman’s filmed report – headed “what are the corruption claims against Benjamin Netanyahu?” and “what exactly is he alleged to have done?” – added nothing new to the story.

Section three of the item – headed “so…what next?” – did not bring BBC audiences any information they have not already heard from Bateman’s colleague Yolande Knell.

In section four – headed “but wait, aren’t there Israeli elections on the way?” Bateman told viewers:

Bateman: “There are elections coming. They’ve been called early with Mr Netanyahu’s agreement. And he wants any hearing on all of this postponed, turning it, basically, into an election issue.”

With the justification for his use of the phrase “with Mr Netanyahu’s agreement” unclear, Bateman went on to describe Netanyahu’s reactions to the allegations – a topic BBC audiences have also previously heard about in recent weeks – before coming to section five of the item – headed “does anyone care?”.

Bateman: “Opposition parties certainly do care. They say that there is no way Mr Netanyahu should carry on as prime minister if he is facing criminal charges.”

Bateman did not bother to inform viewers that one of the two people whose photograph was used to illustrate that statement had the previous day announced that she would not be running in the upcoming election – as the BBC obviously knows given its use of the word ‘former’. Neither did he make any effort to inform viewers with the factual background concerning relevant Israeli legislation. 

Bateman closed the item:

Bateman: “But, despite all of this, the opinion polls suggest that his party is still on course to become the biggest after the election. And when you speak to his most loyal supporters, people in his Likud party, the people that like to refer to him by his nickname “Bibi”, they’ll hear absolutely none of it. They repeat his claim that this is all fake news.”

So as we see BBC coverage of the April 9th election limps on with yet more reporting on topics already covered but virtually no information which would contribute to audience understanding of the new players on Israel’s political scene and the issues that concern voters.

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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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