Weekend long read

1) A reminder that those wishing to make a submission to the BBC’s public consultation concerning its editorial guidelines have until November 12th to do so.

Background reading concerning the consultation – including details of where to send a submission – can be found here.

The BBC’s proposed draft of the revised guidelines can be found here. Of particular interest is Section 11 – commencing on page 122 – titled ‘War, Terror and Emergencies’. As regular readers will be aware, the BBC’s record of adhering to its existing guidance on ‘Language When Reporting Terrorism’ is inconsistent.

The existing editorial guidelines (published in 2010) can be found here.

2) The ITIC reports on Hizballah’s designation as a transnational criminal group by the US.

“In October 2018, the US administration adopted a series of legislative and law enforcement measures against Hezbollah and all those supporting it. These measures have met with broad bipartisan support in Congress and have been approved by President Trump. These measures provide law enforcement agencies with an improved “toolkit” in the struggle against Hezbollah and the international crime in which it is involved. […]

Aside from Hezbollah, four other international drug and criminal cartels based in Latin America were included in the list. In order to manage the struggle against these leading groups, a special task force headed by the Deputy Attorney General was set up, with the participation of prosecutors and experts with experience in the war against drugs, terrorism, organized crime and money laundering.”

3) General Michael Hostage and Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Corn take a look at “Israel’s Next Northern War: Operational and Legal Challenges“.

“Hezbollah today is highly competent, adaptable and lethal. Its forces have gained invaluable battlefield experience in Syria and amassed more weaponry than 95 percent of the world’s conventional militaries, including at least 120,000 rockets and missiles. This is more than all of Europe’s NATO members combined, and ten times as many as when it last went to war with Israel in 2006. […]

Despite this quantum leap in its capabilities, Hezbollah is under no illusion about its ability to inflict military defeat on Israel. It will not seek victory in the valleys of Lebanon or the skies over Israel, but in the court of public opinion.”

4) The FDD reports on a recent ISIS attack in Libya which did not receive any BBC English language coverage.

“Islamic State (IS) militants on October 28 launched a surprise attack on al-Fuqaha, a small town in central Libya, killing at least four people, including the mayor’s son and two police officers, and kidnapping 10 others. Both the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the U.S. Embassy strongly condemned the deadly attack and called for the immediate release of those kidnapped. The attack is the second major terrorist incident in two months, reflecting IS’s commitment to the guerrilla warfare strategy it has adopted in Libya after the loss of its coastal stronghold of Sirte in December 2016.”

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Weekend long read

This week’s long read focuses on recent Middle East related stories which did not appear on BBC channels.Weekend Read

Having ignored recent reports of a visit by the head of ISIS’ Sinai branch to the Gaza Strip, the BBC also refrained from covering reports concerning financial transactions between it and Hamas. Alex Fishman at Ynet reports:

“Hamas’ military wing in the Gaza Strip has been transferring tens of thousands of dollars a month to the Islamic State group’s Sinai branch over the past year, via one of its emissaries. […]

Hamas is paying the Islamic State militants in Egypt to secure weapons shipments being smuggled through the Sinai to Gaza.

The shipments primarily consist of explosive propellant material that Hamas needs in order to make rockets. As such the money is going towards smuggling both military equipment and material needed to build Hamas’ military infrastructure.”

At the Washington Institute, Ehud Ya’ari writes on the same topic:

“Over the past two years, IS Sinai helped Hamas move weapons from Iran and Libya through the peninsula, taking a generous cut from each shipment. Hamas relies on Bedouin guides to avoid detection by the Egyptian army and reach the few tunnels that have survived Cairo’s aggressive flooding and closure campaign. In this manner, IS Sinai acquired the advanced Kornet antitank missiles it has used to sink an Egyptian patrol boat off the coast of al-Arish and destroy several tanks and armored carriers stationed in the peninsula’s northeastern sector. Hamas has also provided training to some IS Sinai fighters and assisted with the group’s media campaign and online postings.”Belgian rifle art

Interestingly, a recent BBC report which supposedly “tracked” the journey of weapons from Libya to the Gaza Strip did not actually explain to readers the mechanisms of arms smuggling through Sinai.

Also at the Washington Institute, Aaron Y. Zelin and Oula A. Alrifai report on ISIS in Southern Syria.

“Much attention has been given to the Islamic State’s military and governance activities in northern and eastern Syria, but there has been less focus on its slow and steady growth in the southern theater. Since July 2013, it has been building a presence in a number of locales around Damascus, with the eventual goal of taking the city. While such aspirations are still far beyond the group’s military capabilities, it has actively rolled out soft-power strategies. Focusing on the Islamic State’s activities in the north and east of Syria could prevent a complete understanding of what it is attempting to accomplish.”

The Tower reports from the US on the ‘Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015’.

“A bill that seeks to impose mandatory sanctions on banks that knowingly conduct business with Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese terror group, passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 425 – 0 on Wednesday, The Hill reported. The proposed legislation is now heading to the White House, where President Barack Obama is expected to sign it.

The measure would direct the Obama administration to report on the Lebanon-based terror group’s drug trafficking and organized crime activities, as well as outline its global support networks

It would also require the administration to determine any telecommunications companies that contract with Al-Manar, a TV station affiliated with Hezbollah.”

And at the Times of Israel, Avi Issacharoff writes about Hizballah’s changed approach to publicizing its casualties in Syria.

“The Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah has seen between 1,300 and 1,500 of its fighters killed in battles in the Syrian civil war, which means that together with the wounded it has lost as much as a third of its fighting force, according to Israeli estimates.

Some 5,000 of the organization’s members have been injured in fighting alongside regime troops against rebel groups, including the Islamic State.[…]

Recently, Hezbollah has been publishing details of its members killed in Syria and is not trying to hide its losses, in contrast to its policy during the early years of the Syrian civil war, which broke out in 2011.”

 

BBC WS radio’s ‘balanced’ account of the Six Day War excludes Israelis

Listeners to the June 14th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The History Hour’ were told by presenter Max Pearson that the next broadcast would include “the Israeli view” of the Six Day War.

“…we’re going to take a close look at one of the twentieth century’s defining events in the Middle East. In 1967 what quickly became known as the Six Day War broke out between Israel and the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. It resulted in a rapid redrawing of the region’s de facto borders and a significant humiliation for the Arab powers. Of course this is a deeply controversial topic with highly charged views on both sides. So, for obvious reasons, we’re going to hear from both sides – next week: the Israeli view. But right now Louise Hidalgo hears from two Palestinians about their memories of that time.”

However, by the time “next week” came around, “the Israeli view” had been side-lined and Pearson introduced the June 21st item (from 13:33 here) as follows:History Hour 21 6

“Next, as promised last week, we’re going to get a second personal view of the Arab-Israeli Six Day War in June 1967. We’ve already heard a graphic account of the Palestinian experience of the conflict which pitted the Jewish state against the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria so it’s only right and proper that we hear now from the other side and that other side doesn’t just mean those living in Israel. There was at the time a Jewish population scattered throughout the Middle East and beyond. Louise Hidalgo has been talking to someone from the Jewish community in Tripoli who was forced to flee when anti-Jewish riots broke out in Libya.”

Of course with the previous programme having been devoted to the stories told by two Palestinian interviewees, a truly balanced presentation of the Six Day War would have included accounts from Israelis equally affected by the war at the time. Such accounts could have included an explanation of the sense of impending disaster which gripped Israelis in the weeks preceding the outbreak of war and the feeling of fighting for their very existence. It could also, for example, have recounted the experiences of those who had been expelled from their homes in the Old City of Jerusalem or Gush Etzion nineteen years previously by Jordan and told stories of the first visits by Israelis to the holy sites from which they were barred throughout the years of Jordanian occupation.

But curiously, the BBC chose to tick its impartiality box by comparing apples to oranges. Whilst the story of the Libyan Jewish community is obviously important and interesting – and its airing a very rare event in BBC broadcasting – this is not “the other side” of the narrative heard the previous week by BBC audiences.

The same item by Louise Hidalgo broadcast on ‘The History Hour’ also appeared in the June 19th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Witness’ – available here – where it was described as “…the second of two programmes about the effect of the Six Day War between Israel and the armed forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan”. Hidalgo’s presentation of the background to the outbreak of conflict is as follows:Witness 19 6

“The war started in early June. Tensions had been rising for months, as had anti-Israel rhetoric. Israel made the first strike – in self-defence, it said – and in six days had defeated the Arab armies. They were six days that would change the shape of the Middle East and have repercussions far beyond the borders of the countries actually involved in the fighting.”

Hidalgo’s very superficial and brief reference to “tensions” of course does nothing to inform listeners of the real background to the conflict and the build-up of Egyptian forces in Sinai – but notably it was deemed necessary to inform them that “Israel made the first strike”.

Hidalgo presents a brief history of the Libyan Jewish community but fails to mention that some Libyan Jews were also sent to Nazi concentration camps in Europe and that pogroms against Jews in Libya actually took place three years before the establishment of the State of Israel.

“Jews had lived in Libya since before the time of the Romans. At its height the community had numbered about forty thousand but during the Second World War thousands were sent to concentration camps in North Africa by Libya’s colonial ruler Italy and after the creation of Israel in 1948 many left after riots in which more than a hundred Libyan Jews were killed. By June 1967 there were only about four thousand Jews left in Libya. By the end of that month almost all of those too had gone.”

Hidalgo also makes the following claim, ignoring the already existing context of years of persecution and anti-Jewish violence long before the Six Day War broke out.

“Demonstrations in Arab capitals that started as shows of support for the Palestinians quickly turned in Tripoli and elsewhere into attacks on Jews.”

Towards the end of the item listeners are told that:

“By the end of June 1967 there were only around 200 Jews left in Libya and across the Arab world tens of thousands more left countries that many had lived in for generations.”

Unfortunately, the story of those tens of thousands – and the hundreds of thousands more who had to leave Arab lands before them – is rarely told by the BBC and whilst this account from a Libyan Jew is undoubtedly worthy of broadcast in its own right, it is however not a true representation of “the other side” of the story promoted in the previous week’s programme.

 

BBC Arabic on Jews from Arab lands

BBC Arabic recently featured a programme and an article about Israeli Jews with origins in Arab countries, by Omar Abdel-Razek, titled “Arab Jews in Israel between marginalisation and integration”. The audio version can be heard here and the written version read here

Fortunately, the wonderful ‘Point of no Return’ blog has a much better version of the written article than automatic translation can provide, together with valuable insights. 

“On the plus side : the programme humanises Jews in Israel, and interviews some who voice mainstream views – notably, Eli Avidar and Levana Zamir, who deftly quash the idea of a return to Arab lands while these are being poisoned with antisemitism. On the minus side, the programme adopts a far-left discourse, assuming ‘Arab Jews’ were exploited by Ashkenazim as a labour reservoir and stripped of their culture. […] The mere fact that the programme calls them ‘Arab Jews’ diminishes their separate Jewish identity.”

Particularly interesting is this unsourced statement in the written article: [emphasis added]

“History records that Arab Jews in Israel live between marginalization and integration, but that most of them did not embrace the idea of ​​Zionism before the establishment of Israel.”

It is, of course, impossible to know the views of all of the hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab lands who arrived in Israel both before and after the establishment of the state, but certainly this one-dimensional, Eurocentric view of Zionism does not take into account movements such as E’ela BeTamar which saw thousands of Yemenite Jews make their way to pre-state – and pre-mandate – Palestine between 1881 – 1882, inspired by the spiritual belief in the importance of their re-settling of their ancient homeland which was one of the precursors to the Zionist movement.  

Contrary to the impression given in the article, the immigration of those Yemenite Jews actually pre-dated the arrival of European Jews, so whilst many did end up using their existing experience of working in agriculture, their arrival in the country was certainly not purely “as an alternative to Arab workers in the plantations of European Jews”.

Neither does this version of history take into account the existence of Zionist societies in Arab countries such as Morocco, where the first branches were established only a few years after the 1897 Basel Conference. 

Another one of those Zionist societies was located in Tripoli, Libya, and in the early 1930s one of its members – a young man named Mordechai – managed to obtain from the British Mandate authorities one of the much-coveted, rarely issued ‘certificates’ for legal immigration to Palestine for himself, his wife and their first-born son – on account of his being a carpenter: a trade given priority. Pictured below are some of the tools which in fact enabled him to overcome the obstacles to immigration set in place by the British which Zionists from all over the world – including those from Arab lands – faced at the time. 

SONY DSC

Mordechai was this writer’s partner’s grandfather and the fourth generation of his offspring is now growing up in Israel.

Once again invoking a bizarre version of history, the BBC article states: [emphasis added]

“There are those who believe that they were forced to migrate [from Arab lands] after the escalation of the Palestinian Arab conflict.”

Mordechai’s daughter-in-law could cast some light upon that particular distortion, having experienced the pogroms in Libya in 1945 and in June 1948. It was after the latter bout of violence that her family – after hundreds of years of living in Tripoli – made hurried arrangements to move to the new Jewish state, as did over thirty thousand others. That exodus did not take place because of a “belief” that they were being “forced to migrate”, but for practical reasons of survival. The minority of Libyan Jews who remained in the country were subjected to increasing discrimination.

“1. Jews cannot vote, attain public offices nor serve in the army or police.

2. The government is authorized by law to take title to the “properties of certain Jews.”

3. Jews are prohibited from acquiring new property.

4. Jews cannot receive passports or certification of their Libyan nationality. If a Jew wants to leave the country he may obtain a special travel document which does not indicate that he has Libyan nationality. If he does not leave within six months after receiving the document, it expires and he automatically loses his nationality and property rights.”

The Six Day War in 1967 brought renewed pogroms against Libya’s few remaining Jews – and an end to 2,500 years of Jewish presence in that country. 

It is highly regrettable that the BBC chooses to entrench inaccuracies concerning Mizrachi and Sephardi Jews from Arab lands in this manner – particularly when its target audience is obviously the Arabic-speaking world.  

BBC turns political activists into “aid workers”

A report entitled “Libyans held for ‘sex attack’ on Britons in Benghazi“, dated March 29th 2013, appears on the Africa and Middle East pages of the BBC News website. In that report the women attacked are repeatedly described by the BBC as “aid workers”. 

“Two Libyans have been arrested over claims they sexually assaulted three British aid workers earlier this week.

The workers were apparently abducted at a checkpoint near the city of Benghazi and held for hours before being freed on Wednesday.” […]

“The group of aid workers were taken to the Turkish consulate in Benghazi after their release. British officials said they had now returned to the UK.”

Benghazi attack

The Aid Worker Security Database defines aid workers as follows: [emphasis added]

” “Aid workers” are defined as the employees and associated personnel of not for profit aid agencies (both national and international staff) that provide material and technical assistance in humanitarian relief contexts. These include various locally contracted staff (e.g., transportation, security, etc.). This includes both relief and multi-mandated (relief and development) organizations: NGOs, the International Movement of the Red Cross/Red Crescent, donor agencies and the UN agencies belonging to the Inter-Agency Standing Committee on Humanitarian Affairs (FAO, OCHA, UNDP, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP and WHO) plus IOM and UNRWA. The aid worker definition does not include UN peacekeeping personnel, human rights workers, election monitors or purely political, religious, or advocacy organizations.”

The ill-fated eleven vehicle convoy – named “Mavi Marmara” – in which the women concerned were taking part departed from London on February 25th this year, driving through France and Spain to reach Morocco and then continuing through North Africa with the aim of reaching the Gaza Strip. 

Some of the convoy’s organisers and participants have previously taken part in similar ventures and one of them – Sakir Yildirim (also spelt Yildirm) from Bristol – was aboard the IHH ship the Mavi Marmara in May 2010 when it tried to breach the maritime blockade on the Gaza Strip and some of its Turkish passengers attacked Israeli soldiers boarding the ship. According to a BBC report from the time, Yildirim is a member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. 

Sakir and Cliff in Turkey

Sakir Yildirim(L) & Cliff Hanley of Bristol PSC in Turkey, before boarding the Mavi Marmara in 2010

As can be clearly discerned from pictures published by the convoy’s supporters before and after its departure from the UK, the inefficient – and apparently badly organized – overland transport of “children’s educational equipment and toys, IT equipment, and medical equipment” (according to the organisers) is obviously secondary to the convoy’s political aims. 

Apparently the BBC is unable – or unwilling – to differentiate between genuine aid workers and political activists supporting a campaign to promote those involved in terrorist activity against Israeli civilians as ‘political prisoners’. 

The misappropriation of terms such as “humanitarian organization”, “human rights” or “aid worker” is an unfortunately common practice in the circles of anti-Israel campaigners seeking to co-opt the publicly acceptable image afforded by such terms to their political campaigns. It is regrettable that the BBC compromises its own reputation and breaches editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality by engaging in the same practice.

The assault of female members of the convoy in Libya is horrific enough as it is: there is no need for the BBC to embellish the story by erroneously depicting the women and the group with which they were travelling as “aid workers”.