Weekend long read

1) The IDI provides a backgrounder on Israel’s immunity law.

“Procedural immunity protects MKs from standing trial while in office, and relates to any offense for which they have been indicted. In the past, MKs enjoyed procedural immunity automatically; the Attorney General had to specifically request the Knesset to revoke it when he deemed that appropriate. In the wake of several cases in which the Knesset declined to revoke an MK’s immunity, and which triggered harsh public criticism of the Knesset and forced the High Court of Justice to intervene, the law was revised in 2005. Today, no MK enjoys automatic immunity, but he or she can request the Knesset to grant immunity on various grounds. This means that having no immunity is now the default rule; the Knesset must specifically vote to grant it.”

2) The ITIC takes a look at Turkey’s relations with Hamas.

“A Hamas delegation headed by Isma’il Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, recently paid a visit to Turkey. The delegation was accompanied by Jihad Yaghmour, who for the first [time] was officially mentioned as Hamas’ representative in Turkey. Yaghmour is a Hamas terrorist operative from Beit Hanina in east Jerusalem who was involved in the abduction of IDF soldier Nahshon Waxman 1994. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in Israel but was deported to Turkey in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal. In Turkey he liaises between Hamas and the Turkish government and the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT). At the same time, in ITIC assessment, he has also been involved in covert activities, mainly the handling of terrorist squads in Judea and Samaria. In Hamas’ perspective, his past experience as a field operative may have prepared him for the role of terrorist handler. As Yaghmour’s cover for his activities in Turkey he is president of a Turkish organization called the Association of Jerusalem and Our History.”

3) At the JCPA Michael Segall analyses Iran’s strategy in Iraq.

“Iran continues to view Iraq and the Shiite militias operating there as critical elements in its efforts to store and transfer weapons to Syria and Lebanon, particularly precision rockets and missiles, and as a way to mobilize Shiite fighters for future battles with Israel and the United States. The ongoing Israeli efforts to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syria have prompted Iran to redeploy and store some of its weaponry in Iraq, thereby advancing its plans in the region with the help of the militias under its authority. This strategy has provoked widespread criticism in Iraq of this conduct, in particular, and Iran’s overall activity and presence in Iraq, in general. This resentment erupted in the ongoing demonstrations in Iraqi cities and in the attacks on the Iranian consulates in southern Iraq, along with recent calls by Iraqi demonstrators to boycott Iranian products.”

4) Jonathan Spyer explains the current situation Syria.

“North east Syria, two months after the US redeployment and the subsequent Turkish invasion, now constitutes a chaotic kaleidoscope of opposing forces. No less than eight separate armed forces may be discerned in the area. These are the SDF, the US Army, the Turkish Army, the Turkish associated Sunni Islamists of the Syrian National Army (SNA), the Syrian government army (SAA), the Russians, the IRGC-supported Shia militias and of course the Sunni jihadis of Islamic State. The Saudis, if indeed they are there, would constitute a 9th force.”

BBC News website kicks off 2020 election reporting

A report now headlined “Israel will hold unprecedented third election in a year” which was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on December 11th opens:

“Israel will hold an unprecedented third general election in less than a year after politicians again failed to form a majority coalition in parliament.

Members of the Knesset voted to set the election date for 2 March hours after a midnight (22:00 GMT) deadline passed.”

Explaining the background to the new election, the report tells readers that:

“With neither party [Likud or Blue and White] able to build a coalition that could command a 61-seat majority, President Reuven Rivlin called on them to form a national unity government.

But the negotiations broke down over who would serve as prime minister first; Mr Netanyahu’s insistence that ultra-Orthodox parties allied to him be included; and Mr Gantz’s refusal to serve under a prime minister facing criminal charges.” [emphasis added]

While such statements have been made in the past by the Blue and White party, as Gil Hoffman reported at the Jerusalem Post, it apparently compromised on that stance in the latest round of (unsuccessful) negotiations.

“This time, an agreement between the Likud and Blue and White on a unity government was written in great detail. Lawyers from both sides hammered out arrangements to facilitate a coalition to the smallest details.

They worked hardest on the most complicated issue: how to enable Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to leave his post – as soon as possible for Blue and White, and as respectfully as possible for him. […]

Netanyahu was to leave office on May 4, 2020, right after Independence Day celebrations. Both Netanyahu and Gantz would have been sworn in as prime minister this month – Netanyahu as prime minister and Gantz as the prime minister-designate in a rotation.

A law would have been passed to create Gantz’s post and ensure that Netanyahu left his on time. The bill would have even prevented the Knesset’s dispersal before the end of the term, ensuring long-awaited stability.”

The BBC’s report states:

“Mr Netanyahu has not yet announced whether he will ask parliament to grant him immunity from prosecution. But most analysts believe he is hoping to improve his chances of obtaining immunity with a third election.”

It does not however inform readers that the time limit for such a request is January 2nd 2020 or that there are two stages to that procedure: a vote in the House Committee and – if immunity is granted by the committee – a second vote in the Knesset.

Although the BBC’s report was updated the day after publication, amendments did not include Netanyahu’s announcement that he will step down from his ministerial posts on January 1st and readers were not informed of the pending decision by the Attorney General as to whether or not Netanyahu could be tasked with forming a government despite the indictments against him should the Likud win the March 2020 election.

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BBC News’ Plett Usher fails on fact checking

BBC News website corrects inaccurate description of Israeli MK

Earlier this week we noted that in an article published on the BBC News website on November 22nd, MK Gideon Sa’ar was inaccurately described as “the education minister”.

“Gideon Sa’ar has not been the Minister of Education for over six years. He held that post between March 31st 2009 and March 18th 2013 and since then there have been three other ministers.”

BBC Watch contacted the BBC News website to alert editors to that inaccuracy but over 24 hours later no reply had been received and no correction made. We therefore submitted a complaint on November 24th.

On November 25th we received a response from the BBC News website informing us that:

“This sentence was amended in the hours after publication, to now correctly refer to Gideon Saar as “The former education and interior minister…””

The amendment was in fact made at least two days after publication and no footnote has been added to inform audiences that they were previously given inaccurate information.

Before:

After:

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BBC News’ Plett Usher fails on fact checking

 

BBC News’ Plett Usher fails on fact checking

On the evening of November 22nd the BBC News website published an article headlined “Israel’s Netanyahu facing fight of his political life” on its Middle East page.

Written by Barbara Plett Usher who is currently based in Jerusalem, the article was one of six items relating to the announcement of indictments against Israel’s acting prime minister to have appeared on that page in less than 24 hours, indicating that the BBC considers it a major story.

In the rush to publish content, fact checking however fell by the wayside with Plett Usher telling readers that:

“A lot will depend on senior members of Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party. Until now they have maintained their tribal loyalty to the prime minister, but he is facing a possible challenge from within.

The education minister, Gideon Saar, has called for party primaries to replace him. There may well yet be others.” [emphasis added]

Gideon Sa’ar has not been the Minister of Education for over six years. He held that post between March 31st 2009 and March 18th 2013 and since then there have been three other ministers.

Plett Usher also told readers that:

“He’s [Netanyahu] been preoccupied with efforts to form a right-wing government that would vote to grant him immunity from prosecution.

Despite failing to do so, his status as a member of the Knesset gives him 30 days to ask the legislative body to grant him such immunity. The indictment cannot be formally filed unless this process happens.

But that request for immunity cannot be made until there is a functioning government. There isn’t one now and won’t be for even longer if Israelis are forced to vote yet again.”

As Lahav Harkov explains at the Jerusalem Post, there are in fact two stages to that procedure : [emphasis added]

“…when an MK is charged with a crime, the attorney-general must submit a copy of the indictment to the Knesset. Then the MK may go to the Knesset House Committee and ask for immunity. At that point, the legal proceedings against him or her are frozen and [Attorney General] Mandelblit cannot submit the indictment to the courts.

The House Committee would then vote, and if it grants the lawmaker immunity, it must go to a second vote in the plenum. […]

It does not look like Netanyahu has enough votes in the Knesset, in its current makeup, to get immunity. The religious-Right bloc that supports him has 55 seats, and the Center-Left has made it very clear they oppose the move.”

BBC Watch has written to the BBC News website requesting a correction.

A BBC News report promotes unattributed speculation

Shortly after Binyamin Netanyahu returned the mandate to form a government to Israel’s president on the evening of October 21st, the BBC News website published a largely reasonable report headlined “Israel PM Netanyahu fails to form government ahead of deadline”.

Readers of two versions of that report were however informed that: [emphasis added]

“BBC Middle East Correspondent Tom Bateman reports that Israel’s president has suggested a so-called unity coalition of the two main parties. That could see Mr Gantz as de facto prime minister, while Mr Netanyahu holds onto the position in name only.

But many in Israel believe a third election may be the only way to break the deadlock.”

The final version states:

“Mr Rivlin has suggested the two main parties form a national unity government. That arrangement could see Mr Gantz as de facto prime minister, while Mr Netanyahu holds onto the position in name only.

Many in Israel believe a third election may be the only way to break the deadlock.”

BBC audiences are not informed who “many in Israel” are or on what basis Tom Bateman deemed that unattributed – and highly questionable – speculation worthy of promotion.

As reported by the Times of Israel, a recent survey suggests that Bateman’s claim lacks factual basis.

“With politicians warning that yet another election could be on the horizon amid ongoing political deadlock, a television poll published Tuesday evening predicted that very little would change in the event of a third round of ballot-casting.

According to the Channel 13 survey, Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White would remain as the largest party if new elections were held, growing from 33 to 34 seats in the 120-member Knesset. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud would also see a one seat bump, rising to 33 seats. […]

Overall, Likud and its religious allies would have 56 seats, the same number as the center-left and Arab parties would receive. Liberman would retain his status as kingmaker, holding the balance of power between the blocs.”

The introduction to the BBC’s editorial guidelines on accuracy states that:

“…all BBC output, as appropriate to its subject and nature, must be well sourced, based on sound evidence, and corroborated. We should be honest and open about what we don’t know and avoid unfounded speculation. Claims, allegations, material facts and other content that cannot be corroborated should normally be attributed.”

One seriously doubts that Tom Bateman met those basic requirements before promoting his inaccurate and misleading claim that a large number of Israelis believe that a third election could result in a significantly different outcome.

 

CAMERA Arabic prompts correction of three inaccuracies in one BBC report

A BBC article published on September 24th on the network’s Arabic website was corrected last week (no earlier than October 1st, based on the date attributed to a cached copy of the inaccurate version) following a complaint made by CAMERA Arabic on the day of publication.

The article – which aimed to provide a detailed, informed introduction to Israel’s major Arab parties – contained three factual errors, one memorable typo and one major omission – all in one subsection.

Under the headline “What are the components of the Joint Arab List in the Israeli Knesset and [what are] their orientations?”, the article discussed the Joint List – a union of four Israeli parties, three of which self-identify as “Arab” while the fourth, Hadash, describes itself as “Arab-Jewish” (although the vast majority of its voters are estimated to be Arab). 

The inaccuracies appeared in the part of the article portraying one of the Joint List’s components: the nationalist Arab party of the National Democratic Alliance (Balad). The correction addressed all the issues raised by CAMERA Arabic. (all translations, emphasis and in-bracket remarks are by CAMERA Arabic unless otherwise specified)

Inaccuracy 1: “Since the 2006 elections, the party maintained a representation of three members in the Knesset…”

That claim has not been accurate for over a year: between August 2018 and April 2019 (the last few months of the 20th Knesset), Balad had 4 MKs as a result of a deal within the Joint List. Until last week, it had 2MKs who were of the 21st Knesset (which was dissolved on Thursday, October 3rd, as the 22nd Knesset was sworn in)

The BBC’s corrected version reads: “Since the 2006 elections, the party maintained a representation of three members in the Knesset until 2018…”

Inaccuracy 2: “…among them is the first Arab female Knesset member, Haneen Zu’bi”

In fact Balad’s Haneen Zu’bi [Zoabi] – elected in 2009 – was the third MK who was an Arab woman. Prior to her were Meretz’s Hussniya Jabara (served as MK 1999-2003) and the late Nadia Hilou from the Labour party who served as MK between 2006-2009.

The BBC’s corrected version reads: “…among them the first female member to enter the Knesset as a representative of an Arab party, Haneen Zu’bi, having been preceded by two female representatives of Arab roots who entered the Knesset inside Israeli parties

This new phrasing is problematic in itself: why was Zu’bi described as “Arab” in the previous version but her two predecessors are described as being “of Arab roots”? Moreover, why are Meretz and Labour described as “Israeli parties” but the Joint List and its components – which compete solely in Israeli elections – described as “Arab”?

Inaccuracy 3: “MK Jamal Zahalka heads the party nowadays”

In fact Zahalka is no longer an MK; he confirmed that he would not seek re-election in December 2018 and indeed was not nominated at all in the election rounds of April 2019 and September 2019. Although he currently retains the title of “Chairman of Balad”, it was political scientist Mtanes Shehadeh, Balad’s secretary general, who was elected head of the party’s list of Knesset nominees last February. Since the April 2019 elections, Shehadeh heads the party’s parliamentary bloc.

The BBC’s corrected version reads “M[K] Mtanes Shehadeh, the party’s secretary general, heads Balad’s parliamentary bloc in the Knesset. Jamal Zahalka, who is no longer a Knesset member, holds the party’s chairmanship.”

Significant typo: “the representatives of the Democratic Alliance in the Joint Arab List refused to recommend that Bibi Gantz would be prime minister.”

The Joint List (with the exception of the Balad members who abstained) recommended Benny Gantz to be the new prime minister. Bibi is the nickname of Gantz’s opponent and incumbent prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

Although the amended report’s portrayal of the Balad party includes the fact that its founder and first chairman – Azmi Bishara – fled Israel in 2007, no mention is made of the background to his departure: Bishara is suspected of supplying intelligence to Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group during its war against Israel in the summer of 2006.

 

A BBC R4 ‘Today’ Israeli election interview takes an interesting turn

The September 18th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included six different items (three in news bulletins) relating to the previous day’s election in Israel. In the last of those items (from 2:35:17 here) presenter Mishal Husain spoke with the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen before going on (from 2:37:59) to interview Likud MK Sharren Haskel. However things took an interesting turn when the Israeli member of parliament raised the issue of the Palestinian Authority’s payments to terrorists.

In one of her later questions (from 2:40:36), Husain made the false claim that the Israeli prime minister said he “wanted to annex the West Bank”. Netanyahu actually spoke about applying Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Rift Valley and Israeli communities rather than to the entire area previously illegally occupied by Jordan.

Husain: “Now over the course of this election campaign Mr Netanyahu said that he wanted to annex the West Bank. Would that prevent an alliance – a coalition government – with Blue & White?”

Haskel: “I don’t think that’s what’s going to prevent it because even Blue & White have spoken about the Jordan Valley and the north of the Dead Sea, which was the declaration of Prime Minister Netanyahu. There is a consensus among most Israeli[s] about these area[s] because it is a very important security and defence strip for the State of Israel and it is also a very historical area that goes back thousands of years…”

Husain [interrupts]: “And occupied territory under international law.”

Unsurprisingly, Husain did not bother to clarify which country’s sovereign territory she thinks that area was before it was ‘occupied’.

Haskel: “Ahm look, it’s a disputed territory and obviously we disagree on some of this area but we can agree definitely that the Palestinian leadership has been the refusal [refused] negotiation, has been the refusal [refused] to create stability and peace in the area. Instead of investing most of their funds into education, into infrastructure, into the people where there’s about 50% almost of unemployment, they’re pocketing the money, they are investing it in terrorists who are sitting in prison. It means that they give salaries to people who are [have] actually murdered innocent civilians…”

Husain [interrupts]: “They’re not…they’re not on the programme right now to answer those accusations.”

Haskel: “No I know. Well you know it’s all fact. It’s all been written before.”

Husain [talking over her interviewee]: “Sharren Haskel. Sharren Haskel of the Likud party – thank you.”

Husain’s abrupt termination of that interview on the grounds that no representative of the Palestinian Authority was there to “answer those accusations” is of course particularly noteworthy given that just three months ago she was perfectly happy to remain silent while the PLO’s Saeb Erekat used the ‘Today’ programme platform to voice a series of bizarre and baseless accusations concerning Israeli ‘apartheid’ with no Israeli representative given the right of reply.

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BBC Radio 4 provides a platform for the PLO’s ‘apartheid’ smear

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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The prison story from Israel the BBC chose to report – and one it didn’t

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

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 examines its own record on the Hungarian Holocaust

 

 

 

 

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.