New PA PM not newsworthy for the BBC

With BBC audiences still unaware of the fact that the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister resigned in late January, a new – and of course unelected – prime minister was appointed by Mahmoud Abbas on March 10th. 

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appointed longtime ally Mohammad Shtayyeh as prime minister on Sunday, a senior official said, in a move seen as part of efforts to further isolate Hamas.

Abbas asked Shtayyeh, a member of the central committee of the Palestinian president’s Fatah party, to form a new government, Fatah vice president Mahmoud al-Aloul told AFP.”

A member of Fatah’s central committee as noted above, Shtayyeh has a record of denying Jewish history in the region and whitewashing terrorism. That of course has not prevented him from being interviewed by the BBC on numerous occasions over the years.

In late 2014 listeners to BBC World Service radio heard Shtayyeh claim that areas assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland but occupied by Egypt and Jordan between 1948 and 1967 were “Palestinian territory”

“This is a strategic shift in which we are leaving the bi-lateral negotiations that has not been really the answer for ending the Israeli occupation that has occurred on the Palestinian territory in 1967.” 

He also gave an inaccurate and misleading portrayal of years of avoidance of serious negotiation by the PA.

“We have given the negotiations every single possibility and unfortunately the United States has not really made Netanyahu thirsty enough to bring him to the river to drink.”

Shtayyeh gave a similarly inaccurate portrayal of the reasons for the demise of the last round of negotiations between Israel and the PLO during which three tranches of releases of convicted terrorists took place, with the fourth and final tranche postponed due to lack of progress in the negotiations and later cancelled because of unilateral Palestinian moves that included ‘reconciliation’ between Fatah and Hamas.

“And Israel did not allow the release of the Palestinian prisoners which has been agreed upon and mediated by Secretary Kerry, so from our side we have given negotiations every possibility.”

Since early 2017 BBC audiences have repeatedly heard Shtayyeh opine that the prospects for a two-state solution have ended.

“This is very dangerous what President-elect Trump wants to do,” Palestinian official, Mohammed Shtayyeh tells me. “It is American recognition that Jerusalem is part of the State of Israel.”

“We would consider this American move as an end to the peace process, an end to the two states and really putting the whole region into chaos.””

And:

“For us we consider Jerusalem as a future capital of the State of Palestine, so having the president moving the embassy there, then it is an American recognition that Jerusalem is part of the State of Israel. That’s why we consider this American move as an end to the peace process; an end to two states and really, putting the whole region into chaos.”

Shtayyeh has been promoting ‘internationalisation’ of the conflict at least since 2011.

“The peace process is not going anywhere. The facts on the ground are changing all the time. Israel continues to build settlements,” says Mohammad Shtayyeh, a senior negotiator who will help write President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech at the United Nations this week.

Photo credit: Daily Mail

“The only option we have is to go to the United Nations and ask for recognition of the 1967 borders. This is not a unilateral move. The United Nations is a multilateral forum.”

None of that is of course surprising coming from one of the Fatah faithful who was present at the 2014 wreath-laying ceremony for the Munich Olympics terrorists in Tunis together with Jeremy Corbyn.

It does however mean that – as one analyst put it – there is no reason to expect any changes in the new PA government’s policy.

Related Articles:

BBC News ignores PA government resignation

 

 

 

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No surprises in BBC News website report on US Consulate closure

A move that had been anticipated since October 2018 was reported on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on March 4th in an article headlined “US consulate general in Jerusalem merges with embassy”. The story was summed up in the article’s opening paragraphs:

“The US has closed its consulate general in Jerusalem, which covered Palestinian affairs, folding its operations into the new embassy to Israel in the city.

The state department said the merger was made for efficiency reasons and did not signal a change of policy on Jerusalem, the West Bank, or Gaza.

The consulate had acted as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians.

A Palestinian official called the move “the last nail in the coffin of the US administration’s role in peacemaking”.”

That unnamed “Palestinian official” was the PLO’s Saeb Erekat, who is of course rather fond of the ‘nail in the coffin‘ metaphor.

In addition to a 146-word section quoting (and linking to) the US State department deputy spokesman’s statement on the merger, readers found an unquestioning 126-word account of the less extreme parts of a statement from the PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi, with a link provided.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), said: “The Trump administration is intent on leaving no room for doubt about its hostility towards the Palestinian people and their inalienable rights, as well as its abject disregard for international law and its obligations under the law.”

“Merging the US consulate in Jerusalem with the US embassy to Israel, which is now illegally located in Jerusalem, is not an administrative decision. It is an act of political assault on Palestinian rights and identity and a negation of the consulate’s historic status and function, dating back nearly 200 years.”

Ms Ashrawi said such actions “preclude any possible positive role for the current US administration in seeking peace and stability” in the region.”

Ms Ashrawi and her colleagues have of course been boycotting the US administration since December 2017 and have repeatedly expressed their opposition to a peace proposal which the US has not even yet made public. Apparently though the BBC did not see the irony in the second quote from Ashrawi which it chose to highlight.

Readers of this report also found the following:

“The BBC’s Tom Bateman in Jerusalem says the merger marks a significant downgrade of the US diplomatic mission to the Palestinians.”

Bateman did not however clarify why any foreign “diplomatic mission to the Palestinians” should be located outside territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority, in a place to which the Palestinians ostensibly do not lay claim.  

Unsurprisingly, the recycled background history presented in BBC’s article made no mention of the unrecognised Jordanian occupation of the city between 1948 and 1967.

“Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war – as the capital of a future Palestinian state. […]

The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally, and according to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.”

Obviously if the BBC’s audiences are to fully understand the background they need to be told of the inclusion of Jerusalem in the territory assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a Jewish homeland. They likewise need to be informed of the belligerent Jordanian invasion and subsequent ethnic cleansing of Jews who had lived in Jerusalem for generations from districts including the Old City in 1948, together with the destruction of synagogues and cemeteries, as well as the fact that the 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Jordan specifically stated that the ceasefire lines were not borders.

Readers also found the BBC’s usual partisan mantra on ‘international law’ and ‘settlements’ with no mention of the fact that some of the Jerusalem neighbourhoods it chooses to define as such were inhabited by Jews until the Jordanian occupation.

“Since 1967, Israel has built a dozen settlements, home to about 200,000 Jews, in East Jerusalem. These are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

Since the BBC began covering stories concerning the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2016 – and particularly since the US announcement concerning its embassy’s relocation in December 2017 – the comprehensive background information which would enable BBC audiences to fully understand these stories has been serially withheld. As we see in this latest report, that editorial policy continues.

Related Articles:

Reviewing the BBC’s presentation of Jerusalem history

An overview of BBC News website coverage of the US embassy story

BBC ‘Global Questions’ from Jerusalem rescheduled

Readers may recall that last November the BBC invited members of the public to take part in an edition of ‘Global Questions’ to be broadcast from Jerusalem the following month. That broadcast was however subsequently cancelled.

Now the BBC is advertising that event – and another in Arabic – once again.

“Global Questions is your chance to put questions to a high-level panel of politicians and decision makers. Moderated by Zeinab Badawi, one of the BBC’s most respected journalists, the discussion is shaped by questions from the audience.

The Future for the Israelis and Palestinians

The Middle East awaits President Trump’s much vaunted peace plan – billed as the ‘deal of the century’. But the Palestinians say it was dangerously provocative to declare the disputed city of Jerusalem as the capital, and to move the American Embassy there. A quarter of a century on from the Oslo Accords, what chance is there now of the ‘two-state solution’, where an independent Palestinian state sits alongside Israel?

Having marked the 70th anniversary of its creation, Global Questions travels to Israel to ask what the next 70 years might bring.

Ever since its birth, the country has been mired in conflict with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbours. Is further conflict inevitable or could there be a lasting peace that allows the next generation to live without war

BBC Global Questions will record a debate in English on Wednesday 27 February followed by a debate in Arabic on Thursday 28 February. You are welcome to join one or both programmes.

On the panel:
Naftali Bennett Israel’s Minister of Education
Diana Buttu Palestinian lawyer and former PLO spokesperson
Jake Walles Former US ambassador and peace negotiator
Jawad Anani Former Deputy PM of Jordan”

Registration and further details here.

Related Articles:

BBC WS Newsday’s one-sided ‘peace process’ reporting – part one

Guardian op-ed by Diana Buttu claims Palestinians are arrested for ‘criticising Israel’  (UK Media Watch)

Diana Buttu is at it again, Harvard Edition  (CAMERA)

Countering Propaganda: Focus on Diana Buttu  (CAMERA)

 

 

 

Weekend long read

1) The ITIC has a report on the latest activities of the London-based Hamas operative Muhammad Sawalha.

“Given the absence of effective British regulations and legislation, in ITIC assessment Britain continues to serve as the European center for Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas activities, although the activists in Britain operate carefully. They operate in two main spheres, waging the battle for the hearts and minds of British Muslims (spreading the Muslim Brotherhood’s radical Islam in the local Muslim communities) and carrying out anti-Israeli activities (organizing flotillas, spreading propaganda rejecting the existence of the State of Israel, promoting the BDS campaign against Israel and waging anti-Israel lawfare).”

2) Udi Dekel analyses the current state of Palestinian politics as part of the latest INSS Strategic Survey.

“The Palestinian political system is currently mired in a deep crisis owing to a host of intertwined and mutually reinforcing factors. The focal point is the crisis pertaining to the Gaza Strip and the serious deterioration there over the past year. In the current reality, there is no magic formula on the horizon to dispel the political, security, and humanitarian problems of the Strip and counter their negative implications for Israel’s relations with the Palestinian Authority (PA). The Palestinian political system is keenly mindful of “the day after Abbas” (Abu Mazen), which has paralyzed its ability to make critical decisions. Another factor in the crisis is the unbridgeable gap between Fatah and Hamas and their inability to promote reconciliation. Also relevant is the Palestinians’ lack of confidence in the Trump administration, after it overturned a number of fundamental premises of the traditional United States approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Against this background, the chances of promoting a political initiative between the Palestinian system and the State of Israel are extremely slim and will remain so, even after the Trump administration places its “deal of the century” on the table.”

3) Writing at The Hill, Emanuele Ottolenghi of the FDD discusses sanctions against Iran’s Mahan Air.

“Since the beginning of Syria’s civil war, Iranian commercial airlines have sustained the dictatorship of Bashar Al Assad and the forces waging a scorched-earth campaign on his behalf. Mahan Air has been at the forefront of this effort, prompting the Treasury Department to impose sanctions on it in 2011. Until recently, Mahan and its business partners faced few material costs as a result of sanctions. Its aircraft continued to land not only in Damascus but also at airports across Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Then, last year, Treasury changed tactics. Rather than just hitting the airlines with sanctions, the Department began to punish the ground services providers who facilitate the airline’s commercial operations across the globe.”

4) NGO Monitor has published a report on the NGO that is the “Foundation for the UN BDS Blacklist”.

“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. UN bodies – notably the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) – are relying significantly on Who Profits in preparing a UN “blacklist” of companies allegedly doing business in settlements. The misleading claims are also regularly cited by corporate social responsibility (CSR) firms in their ratings systems of company compliance with human rights to justify biased reporting and illegitimate divestment.”

 

 

 

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ perpetuates framing of rioting and elections

As we have seen, a significant proportion of the January 18th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme was given over to two items relating to Israel and the Gaza Strip. The second of those items was discussed here:

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ on the Gaza Strip – part one

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ on the Gaza Strip – part two

We have also looked at one aspect of presenter Mishal Husain’s introductions to both those items:

BBC’s Mishal Husain fosters a narrative with airbrushed statistics

The first item began (from 37:13 here) with an opaque reference to a new political party running in the upcoming general election in Israel – but without listeners being told even the party leader’s name – and yet more euphemistic portrayal of the ‘Great Return March’ violent rioting as “protests”.

Husain: “A former Israeli military chief has launched a bid to challenge Benjamin Netanyahu in the elections scheduled for April. They’ll come a year after weekly Palestinians protests at the boundary fence between Israel and Gaza began. The UN says that last year 295 Palestinians were killed and 29,000 injured by Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza – the highest annual figure since 2014. Fifteen Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks in the same period. Tom Bateman, our Middle East correspondent, is on the line from Jerusalem and in this coming election campaign, Tom, how much will relations with Palestinians and security feature?”

As BBC reporting on past Israeli elections shows, the corporation has repeatedly promoted the notion that the ‘peace process’ was the most important issue facing the Israeli electorate even when that was patently not the case.

“The most outstanding characteristic of BBC reporting on the 2015 Israeli election from day one was the insistence of its journalists on framing the story from the angle of its effect on negotiations with the Palestinians – despite the fact that other concerns were much higher up on voters’ lists of priorities. So, whilst BBC audiences heard or read occasional brief references to ‘economic issues’, ‘the cost of living’ and ‘house prices’, they were never actually provided with any in-depth background information on those topics and hence were incapable of appreciating why – for example – a previously non-existent party (Kulanu) won ten seats in the incoming Knesset.”

If this item is anything to go by, the BBC has obviously not abandoned that redundant framing. A prominent politics journalist at the Jerusalem Post notes that:

“The Palestinians, peace talks, and settlements seem to be almost entirely irrelevant to this election season.”

Bateman began by airbrushing Hamas’ violent take-over of the Gaza Strip nearly 12 years ago and whitewashing the background to “the conflict between Israel and Hamas”.

Bateman: “Well it will play a role…ah…but I think that the degree to which it’s decisive or significant will very much depend on what happens really on the ground, particularly in relation to the conflict between Israel and Hamas which runs Gaza. And also in terms of the sort of rhetorical situation that you’ll hear Mr Netanyahu talk about a lot in terms of the most strategic threat that he sees which is from Iranian entrenchment, Iranian forces inside…ah…neighbouring Syria. Now on that front there’s been, you know, a significant move in the fact that President Trump has said that US troops will be withdrawn. That is very concerning for Israel but you’re not gonna hear it publicly from Mr Netanyahu who has made a relationship with President Trump key in a priority to his…ehm…diplomatic focus. In terms of what the polls are saying, well despite the situation that we’ve had with Mr Netanyahu; people in his right-wing coalition trying to portray him as being too weak when it comes to Gaza – the more hawkish elements of his cabinet and his defence minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned late last year over this – despite all that the polls still suggest his Likud party’s on course to be again the biggest party, could even gain seats and that it is likely then that he will be able to put together another right-wing coalition.”

Husain: “And on this point about the conflict with Hamas I mean those casualty figures, a big part of them is what’s been going on in Gaza and it…you know you might say it can’t go on like that, it’s not sustainable and yet it has for many months and we reported from there last month.”

Failing to clarify that “the health ministry in Gaza” is the same terror group behind the weekly violent rioting at the border, Bateman went on to make a context-free reference to an earlier incident.

Bateman: “Yeah and I think the protests at the fence every Friday show few signs of going away. Just last Friday another 14 year-old boy was shot and died later of his wounds according to the health ministry in Gaza. However, the numbers have reduced since the peak of the protests in the spring and summer of last year.”

What Bateman and Husain describe as “protests” included the following on that day:  

“About 13,000 Palestinians participated (10,000 last week). The demonstrators gathered at a number of locations along the border. During the events there was a high level of violence, which included burning tires as well as throwing stones, IEDs and hand grenades at IDF soldiers and at the security fence. In the northern Gaza Strip there were at least three attempts to break through the fence into Israeli territory. In one instance IDF forces fired shots at suspicious Palestinians who fled back into the Gaza Strip. One IDF soldier was slightly injured by a stone.”

Downplaying of the violence that has included hundreds of incidents of rocket attacks against Israeli civilians, Bateman continued:

Bateman: “There’s been a series of military escalations between Hamas and Israel. Now whether or not that will flare up again I think could have a significant impact on the election process. It may conversely be inspired to some degree by the fact that there are elections in Israel. But what the Israeli prime minister or the tack he has chosen is to try to take a bit of political damage from his own right-wing…from the more hawkish elements and try to contain that situation. That is in the form of a very indirect arrangement brokered by the Egyptians, by the Qataris and by the UN in which the Israelis effectively asked for calm on the perimeter fence. In return Hamas – which is under significant pressure financially because of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade, because of sanctions by the internationally recognised Palestinian leadership too…eh…there are suitcases full of cash – millions of dollars – coming from Qatar into Gaza to pay civil servants’ salaries and also to prevent a collapse of the electricity supply in Gaza. Now that is being permitted by Benjamin Netanyahu. The third payment of $50 million was postponed last week which shows I think just how very fragile this sort of uneasy truce is.”

Bateman failed to inform listeners that those “civil servants” are employees of the Hamas terror organisation or that the reason for the postponement of that “third payment” was a rise in violence that included more rocket attacks that went unreported by the BBC.

While the BBC has not yet produced much reporting on the upcoming election in Israel its framing of that topic so far is just as inflexible and unhelpful to audiences as its framing of almost ten months of weekly violent rioting and border infiltrations which it persists in portraying as “protests”.

Related Articles:

Reviewing the BBC’s record of reporting on Israeli elections

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ on the Gaza Strip – part two

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ on the Gaza Strip – part one

BBC’s Mishal Husain fosters a narrative with airbrushed statistics

‘News at Ten’ continues the BBC’s ‘blockade’ campaign

Reviewing the BBC’s record of reporting on Israeli elections

Despite a very lively campaign that has so far included the dismantling of previous alliances, the registration of numerous new parties and the standing down of some veteran Israeli politicians, BBC reporting on Israel’s upcoming April 9th general election has to date been confined to a report about the announcement of the election and a mention in a subsequent BBC Radio 4 programme which ignored that announcement.

Before the BBC’s Jerusalem bureau commences coverage of the 2019 election it is worth taking a look at its record of reporting on previous Israeli elections.

In the 2013  election the BBC’s reporting focused predominantly on one side of the political map and presented Israel as a country lurching rightward while depicting that perceived shift as the sole reason for the predicted failure to make progress in the peace process. When that predicted lurch to the right did not happen, some furious backtracking ensued and as was noted here at the time:

“Most blatantly obvious is the fact that the BBC’s insistence upon framing this election almost exclusively in terms of the potential effect of its results on ‘the peace process’ reflects its own institutional attitude towards that subject, both in terms of its perceived importance and in terms of the curious notion that only what Israel does has any effect upon that process’ chances.”

In coverage of the 2015 election BBC audiences once again saw the corporation focus on the topic of the ‘peace process’.

“Connolly’s article frames the fate of the ‘peace process’ as being entirely dependent upon political developments on one side of the negotiating table. That portrayal is not only obviously absurd but it actually hinders audience understanding of the fact that the reason why that topic is not a major campaign issue in this election is precisely because the majority of Israelis understand that progress on that issue is not dependent on their government alone.”

As had been previously seen in 2013, BBC coverage of the 2015 Israeli elections bizarrely included a remarkable number of interviews with Palestinian commentators and in fact audiences heard and read more commentary on the Israeli election from Palestinian contributors than they did from Israeli candidates standing for election.

“The most outstanding characteristic of BBC reporting on the 2015 Israeli election from day one was the insistence of its journalists on framing the story from the angle of its effect on negotiations with the Palestinians – despite the fact that other concerns were much higher up on voters’ lists of priorities. So, whilst BBC audiences heard or read occasional brief references to ‘economic issues’, ‘the cost of living’ and ‘house prices’, they were never actually provided with any in-depth background information on those topics and hence were incapable of appreciating why – for example – a previously non-existent party (Kulanu) won ten seats in the incoming Knesset.”

Whether or not in the coming weeks BBC journalists will produce any reporting that informs audiences about the full range of issues that concern Israeli voters in the April general election remains to be seen but if its previous record is anything to go by, it seems likely that the corporation will continue to promote the facile and narrative-driven portrayal of the ‘peace process’ as being entirely dependent upon the paper placed in the ballot box by Israeli voters.

Related Articles:

Elections 2015 – a postscript on BBC framing of Israeli elections over 23 years

 

 

 

 

Mapping changes in BBC reporting of Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’

In July 2013 the BBC News website produced a backgrounder intended to inform audiences about what it considered to be the five “Core Issues” of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians: Jerusalem, borders, settlements, refugees and security. Although that backgrounder is no longer available online in its original form, in a section titled ‘refugees’ the Palestinian position was presented thus:

“Formally, they maintain the “right of return”, arguing that without it a great injustice would not be put right. However, there has been regular talk among Palestinians that this “right” could be met by compensation.” 

In other words, the BBC presented the Palestinian demand for the ‘right of return’ for refugees as a formality and steered audiences towards the view that the issue would be resolved on a practical level by means of compensation.

Over the past nine months, however, audiences have seen changes in the BBC’s presentation of that topic – primarily but not exclusively in reporting on the ‘Great Return March’ events.

In the BBC News website’s first report on those events on March 30th audiences were told that:

“Palestinians have long demanded their right to return but Israel says they should settle in a future Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank.”

The following day visitors to the BBC News website were told that:

“Hundreds were wounded at the start of protests demanding a right for Palestinians to return to former family homes in what is now Israel. […]

The aim of the protest is to assert what Palestinians regard as their right to return to towns and villages from which their families fled, or were driven out, when the state of Israel was created in 1948.”

Listeners to BBC radio 4 on March 30th heard that “Thousands of demonstrators gathered for the start of a six-week campaign for the right to return to homes that are now in Israel” and that “The demonstrators said they wanted to send a clear message that they have a right to return to what used to be Palestinian land: one of the major issues of contention in the Middle East conflict.” [emphasis in bold added]

That programme highlighted one of several issues seen BBC reporting on this topic: the corporation’s failure to challenge deliberate misrepresentation of UN GA resolution 194 by Palestinian interviewees.

On the same day listeners to BBC World Service radio were told that “Thousands of Palestinians massed today in what is the start of weeks of protest to demand that refugees be allowed to return to their homes in what is now Israel” along with yet more misrepresentation of UN GA resolution 194.

However, in early April BBC audiences began to see the use of a new phrase: ‘ancestral lands’. [emphasis in bold added]

“The protesters are demanding that refugees be allowed to return to ancestral lands that are now in Israel.” BBC News website, April 6th 2018

As was noted here at the time:

“One may have thought that BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality would have prompted the use of terminology such as “what Palestinians see as their ancestral lands” (particularly seeing as only two years of residency in Mandate Palestine is required to meet the UN definition of refugee) but that was not the case…”

Additional examples of the cross-platform use of that and similar terminology – which is too widespread to be explained by anything other than an editorial decision – include the following:

“The protesters are demanding that refugees be allowed to return to ancestral lands that are now in Israel…” BBC Radio 4, April 6th 2018

“…in similar protests last Friday in support of the demand that Palestinian refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel…” BBC World Service radio, April 6th 2018

“Protesters want refugees to be allowed to return to ancestral land now in Israel.” BBC News website, April 13th 2018

“Palestinians want the right to return to their ancestral homes which are now in Israeli territory.” BBC World Service radio, May 9th 2018

“The demonstrations have seen thousands of Palestinians mass on the border in support of the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.” BBC News website, June 20th 2018

“…mass demonstrations along the border, at which thousands of Palestinians have expressed their support for the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel…” BBC News website, July 17th 2018

“…thousands of Palestinians have expressed their support for the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.” BBC News website, August 7th 2018

“…protests along the Gaza-Israel border at which thousands have expressed their support for the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.” BBC News website, August 15th 2018

“The protest campaign expresses support for the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.” BBC News website, August 28th 2018

“The protests began with a demand for Palestinians to return to their ancestral land that now lies in Israel…” BBC News website, October 1st 2018

“The protesters are demanding an end to the blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt and the right to return to Palestinans’ ancestral land which now lies inside Israel.” BBC Radio 4, October 12th 2018

“The protests, orchestrated by the territory’s militant Hamas rulers, are held in support of the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.” BBC News website, October 25th 2018

“The demonstrations began in March over a declared Palestinian right to return to ancestral homelands from the blockaded Strip.” BBC Radio 4, November 23rd 2018

The term “ancestral land” is of course  often used in reference to lands belonging to an indigenous cultural people or community as well as in connection to the place of origin of previous generations. The BBC’s widespread introduction of the non-neutral terms “ancestral lands”, “ancestral homes” and “ancestral homelands” over the past nine months into multiple platform reporting on the topic of the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ is hence particularly noteworthy – and all the more so given that audiences were serially denied important background information in the same reports.

Audiences were not provided with adequate context concerning the circumstances under which some of the Arabs living in the area in 1948 became refugees – and not least the fact that the process began because neighbouring Arab states chose to initiate a war intended to eradicate the emerging Jewish state.

None of the BBC’s reports informed audiences that UN GA resolution 194 is non-binding, that it does not specifically relate to Palestinian refugees (despite long-standing BBC claims to that effect) and – contrary to often heard assertions – neither does it grant any unconditional ‘right of return’.

Equally notable is the BBC’s failure in the majority of its reports to adequately explain to audiences why Israel cannot countenance the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ and the failure to clarify that the aim of that demand is to threaten the existence of Israel as the Jewish state.

“The Israeli government has long ruled out any right of return…” BBC News website, April 6th 2018

“Israel rejects that demand, saying that it is a threat to its Jewish majority.” BBC World Service radio, May 9th 2018

“Israel says it cannot allow five million refugees to return because this would overwhelm the country of 8.5 million and mean the end of its existence as a Jewish state.” BBC News website, May 15th 2018

“They have very much kept alive this hope of returning back to land which now is inside Israel – something which both Israel and the United States say is unrealistic…” BBC World Service radio, September 1st 2018

Significantly, no effort has been made over the past nine months to explain to BBC audiences that the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ is at odds with the two-state solution proposal which the BBC has repeatedly told its audiences in the past is the “declared goal” of “the international community”. 

Related Articles:

The BBC’s double helping ‘Nakba’ backgrounder

BACKGROUNDER: The Palestinian Claim to a “Right of Return” (CAMERA)

 

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

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

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

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

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

Guests:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How did the BBC’s Yolande Knell frame Israeli visits to Gulf states?

Two very similar reports from BBC Jerusalem correspondent Yolande Knell have recently appeared on different platforms.

A written report titled “Israel-Arab ties warm up after long deep freeze” was published in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on November 6th with a synopsis telling BBC audiences that:

“An Israeli charm offensive is making once unlikely friends in the Arab world, worrying Palestinians.”

On the same day listeners to two editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ heard an audio report from Knell – from 08:37 here and from 14:07 here. In both cases it was introduced (by presenters Razia Iqbal and Rebecca Kesby) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original]

“Israel leaders often describe their country as being in a tough neighbourhood but recently there have been some extraordinary signs of friendliness with Arab states. Israel’s prime minister was in Oman, two of his ministers then went to the United Arab Emirates and today another is back in Muscat. And that’s despite the fact that Oman and the UAE – like most Arab countries – have no official diplomatic relations with Israel. The Palestinians are worried about what these new alliances – bound up in common fears about Iran’s regional ambitions and backed by the White House – will mean for their nationalist cause. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell reports.”

Knell’s framing of this story – which places the Palestinian reaction to events unrelated directly to them at the focus of her reports – is obviously noteworthy. Under the sub-heading “Palestinians wary” readers of the written report were told that:

“However, Palestinians are alarmed by the new alliances, developing as President Trump promises to present his “Deal of the Century” plan to end their conflict with Israel.

They fear his administration is looking to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and others to pressure them into accepting a peace agreement that does not meet their long-standing demands.

“This kind of attempt to normalise Israel within the region, without Israel normalising its relationship with Palestine and remaining as an occupying power, is counterproductive and dangerous,” says Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) official.

She suggests the latest developments threaten the legitimacy of the Arab Peace Initiative – which the 22 members of the Arab League signed up to in 2002.

It offers Israel normal diplomatic relations with Arab states only in exchange for its full withdrawal from Arab lands it captured and occupied in the 1967 Middle East War.”

Knell made no effort to explain to her readers why an initiative launched over 16 years ago has to this day made no progress or why they should take Hanan Ashrawi’s word that it is at all relevant.

Ashrawi was also featured in Knell’s audio report, but with no mention of her PLO position.

Knell: “Here in the occupied West Bank Palestinian leaders are alarmed by this regional shift taking place as President Trump promises to present his ‘deal of the century’ to end their conflict with Israel. They cut off ties with the US last year, saying it wasn’t an honest peace broker and they fear the White House is looking to its powerful Arab allies, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to pressure them into a peace agreement that falls well short of their long-standing demands. Hanan Ashrawi is a senior Palestinian official.”

Ashrawi: “I think this is part of an overall strategy by the Americans to try to get normalisation with the Arab world before Israel withdraws from the occupied territories: what we call the outside-in approach.”

Knell did not bother to inform listeners that under the terms of the Oslo Accords – signed by the body which Ashrawi represents – the issue of borders is supposed to be resolved in final status negotiations between the two parties.

Another aspect of Knell’s framing of this story is her promotion of a theory allegedly advanced by unidentified “analysts” which was portrayed in the written report as follows:

“Analysts suggest the pivotal role ascribed to Saudi Arabia in reviving the peace process has been thrown into doubt by the shocking murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

However, in another remarkable move, comments by Mr Netanyahu on Friday seemed to show tacit support for the powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who has been accused of having a role in Khashoggi’s death – something the kingdom has denied.

He said Mr Khashoggi’s killing was “horrendous” but should not be allowed to lead to upheaval in Saudi Arabia “because the larger problem is Iran.””

In the audio report listeners heard the following self-contradicting statements from Knell:

Knell: “But there’s been a set-back to the warming of Saudi and Israeli ties: the international outcry over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at his country’s consulate in Turkey. The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman – known as MBS – has had his reputation badly damaged by the scandal, although he denies involvement. Remarkably, one international leader giving him tacit support is Mr Netanyahu.” [emphasis added]

Recording Netanyahu: “What happened in the Istanbul consulate was horrendous and it should be duly dealt with. Yet at the same time I say that it’s very important for the stability of the world – of the region and of the world – that Saudi Arabia remain stable.”

Listeners were not informed that – despite Knell’s claim of “international outcry” – just one day before her report was aired, seventy-five country delegates to the UN Human Right Council had heaped praise on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

Another interesting aspect of Knell’s reporting is its downplaying of what some analysts see as the prime motivation behind improved relations between Israel and Gulf states. Readers of the written report found a tepid portrayal of Iranian regional actions and policies which, notably, whitewashed its financial support for Hamas from the picture.

“The main reason is a shared concern over Iran. Israel, like many Gulf Arab countries, worries about Iran’s ambitions and sees it as a destabilising force in the Middle East.

Tehran has been directly involved in conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and supports rebels fighting in Yemen and militant groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”

In the audio report listeners were told that: [emphasis added]

Knell: “Meetings between Israeli and Gulf Arab officials have long taken place in secret but now they’re happening openly, despite a lack of progress on peace with the Palestinians. The main reason is the shared concern about Iran…”

Knell ended both her reports with more clear messaging to BBC audiences that a story concerning diplomatic relations between Israel and Gulf states is actually about Palestinians.

Written:

“All these signs of a regional shift are popular with ordinary Israelis and even Mr Netanyahu’s political rivals have praised his advances in the Gulf.

However, the Arab public – for whom the Palestinian issue remains very emotional – will be far harder to win over without a peace agreement.

So for now, Arab states are unlikely to fully embrace Israel. Instead we should expect more previously unthinkable invitations, gestures of recognition and warm handshakes.”

Audio:

“Such signs of new relations are very popular with ordinary Israelis although the Arab public – still very sensitive to the Palestinian issue – will be much harder to win over without a peace agreement.”

While BBC audiences obviously got a generous dose of PLO (and Hamas) messaging in both Knell’s reports, the question of how that contributes to their understanding of this story is clearly debatable.

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A BBC programme from Jerusalem – and you can take part

The BBC television and radio programme ‘Global Questions’ will be visiting Jerusalem next month.

“As the state of Israel celebrates the 70th anniversary of its creation, Global Questions travels to Jerusalem to ask what the next 70 years might bring.

Ever since its birth, Israel has been dominated by conflict with Palestinians and its neighbouring Arab states. Is more conflict inevitable or could there be a lasting peace that allows the next generation to live without war?

The Middle East is awaiting President Trump’s much anticipated peace plan – billed as the “deal of the century”. But the Palestinians see America’s Embassy move to Jerusalem as a dangerously provocative gesture.

Global Questions brings together a high-profile panel and an audience of young Palestinians and Israelis to see whether they believe the next 70 years could bring an end to the conflict that has scarred the region for so long.”

Members of the public can take part in that December 5th programme by emailing globalquestions@bbc.co.uk.

Alternatively, questions can be submitted using the webform here.