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:

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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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Mystic Atwan’s crystal ball at the service of the BBC

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.

BBC WS radio framing of Israeli PM’s Oman visit

On October 26th Israelis discovered that their prime minister (along with his wife and senior officials) had just returned from a secret visit to Oman.

photo credit: PMO

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a secret visit to the Gulf nation of Oman on Friday — the first by an Israeli leader in over two decades, and a sign of warming ties between the Jewish state and the Sunni Arab world.

On Friday afternoon, his office surprisingly announced that Netanyahu and his wife Sara had just returned from an “official diplomatic visit” to Muscat, during which they met with Sultan Qaboos bin Said. […]

The Netanyahus were invited to Oman by the sultan, who has been ruling the Gulf state since 1970, “after lengthy contacts between the two countries,” the statement said.

A joint statement issued by Jerusalem and Muscat said the two leaders discussed “ways to advance the peace process in the Middle East as well as several matters of joint interest regarding the achievement of peace and stability in the Middle East.”

Netanyahu and his wife were accompanied to Muscat by Mossad Director Yossi Cohen, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, Foreign Ministry Director-General Yuval Rotem, the head of the Prime Minister’s staff, Yigal Horowitz, and the Prime Minister’s Military Secretary, Brig.-Gen. Avi Bluth.”

While that news did not receive any coverage whatsoever on the BBC’s English language website, it was reported in Arabic.

The evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on October 26th included a five-minute account of the story in which listeners heard a trip which had not been public knowledge until a few hours beforehand described as a “high-profile, very public visit by Netanyahu to Oman”.

Presenter Jon Donnison introduced the item (from 14:06 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Donnison: “The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu famously likes to say he grew up in a tough neighbourhood, his country surrounded – as he would see it – by Arab enemies.”

Despite having done a stint in the Middle East Donnison is apparently unaware of the fact that five Arab armies invaded the nascent Jewish state seventeen months before Netanyahu was born and tried to repeat the exercise twice before his 24th birthday.

Donnison went on:

Donnison: “These days though he boasts that never before has Israel had such good relations with the Arab world. One country not visited by an Israeli prime minister for more than 20 years is the Gulf state of Oman. But Mr Netanyahu has just changed that, having held talks with Sultan Qaboos of Oman in the Omani capital Muscat. So what’s the significance of this visit? Ian Black is a veteran Middle East watcher and currently a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science.”

Unsurprisingly to those familiar with Ian Black’s record as former Middle East editor for the Guardian, the sole commentary heard by English-speaking BBC audiences dwelt on one side of this story, encouraging listeners to view it in terms of “narrative”.

Black: “It’s important to understand that the background to this is that Israel only has normal diplomatic relations with two Arab countries. It’s had them with Egypt since 1979 and with Jordan since 1994: two of its immediate neighbours. But there’s always been a strand in Israeli policy to try to reach out to other Arab countries and in recent years that has really accelerated, particularly with the Gulf States. So the trip to Oman that Netanyahu has just returned from is not the first time there’s been such a trip: the first one happened back in the 1990s and that was then Yitzhak Rabin the Labour prime minister. But there’s a sort of Israeli narrative that – particularly pushed by Netanyahu – that says Israel is really doing well with the neighbourhood, particularly the Gulf States. We hear more about relations with the United Arab Emirates and with Saudi Arabia actually. But the Oman trip fits very much into that pattern and he will indeed be boasting about it as a sign of increasingly good ties with the Arab world.”

Donnison: “And is this about lining up opposition to Iran? You’ve got of course countries like Saudi Arabia, hostile with Iran. What’s Oman’s position?”

Black: “Well actually it’s interesting because the Omanis have quite good relations with Iran; they’re just across the Gulf – they certainly have a far better and more pragmatic relationship than any of their other Gulf neighbours – but Iran is part of it. But I think also it’s this idea that Netanyahu has that Israel can build on relations with Arab states and therefore increase pressure on – or indeed marginalise – the Palestinians. The Palestinian-Israeli peace process: no such thing has existed now for over four years. There’s been all sorts of talk about Donald Trump and his deal of the century to resolve that oldest of conflicts in the region [sic] but nothing’s happened. So Netanyahu is pushing this narrative of we can build good relations with our Arab neighbours and that’s good for Israel in the Middle East. He emphasises a lot of things like technology, cyber security are important things. He focuses on what Israel can give those countries beyond the toxic issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which, by and large, he wants to try to ignore and put to one side. So…”

Donnison: “I mean that was high issue wasn’t it?  That Oman withdrew its diplomatic mission along with other Arab countries.”

Black: “There was a previous period when in 1993 Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation signed the famous Oslo Agreement and that was the very, very historic moment. Now it never worked out and it ended badly but in the years after that there was a flowering, if you like, of Israel’s relations with the wider Arab world. It included Oman and Qatarand further afield countries like Morocco and Tunisia and even Mauritania. So those relationships happened at the time but they came to an end because the Palestinian conflict never went away and those diplomatic missions were closed down. So this high-profile, very public visit by Netanyahu to Oman signals that maybe things are in business again, despite having got no closer to resolving the Palestinian question.”

Donnison: “And one slightly separate issue: what’s Prime Minister Netanyahu been saying about Saudi Arabia this past few weeks when there’s been all this criticism of course over the Jamal Khashoggi affair? Has Israel been speaking out on that?”

Black: “That’s a very good question and the answer is that as far as I’m aware there’ve been no official comments whatsoever. There’s been plenty of media commentary, if you like, on the lack of any kind of official comment and the analysis – I think correctly – is that Israel sees Saudi Arabia as an important country, particularly over the confrontation with Iran, particularly over its close relations with the United States but of course it can hardly speak out and praise what’s been happening in Riyadh when there’s such a global outrage over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. The Israelis don’t like the Turks either. Their interests lie more closely essentially with Arab autocracies than with more popular Islamist regimes, whether it’s Turkey or Qatar. And like the Saudis and the other Gulf allies they really don’t like political Islamists. They have their own enemy close to home in Palestine with Hamas, the Islamist movement there. So the Israelis I think have been keeping pretty quiet about this as most of the rest of the world has expressed outrage – even from Washington – at what happened in Istanbul the other week.”

Apparently Ian Black would have BBC audiences believe that Qatar is not an Arab autocracy and the BBC has forgotten that its own style guide advises against the use of the term ‘Palestine’ to describe what it calls “an aspiration”.

Donnison: “That was the journalist and veteran Middle East watcher Ian Black.”

As we see BBC audiences heard nothing whatsoever about Oman’s interests in inviting the Israeli prime minister for an official visit. Neither were they informed of additional developments in relations between Israel and Gulf states.

Rather, BBC audiences were encouraged to view this story as part of a “narrative” promoted by Netanyahu in order to “marginalise the Palestinians”. Clearly that framing does not contribute to meeting the BBC’s remit of helping people fully understand this story. 

Omissions in BBC account of background to Jordan land lease story

On October 21st the BBC News website ran a report titled “Jordan seeks to end Israel land lease” which relates to the Jordanian king’s announcement on the same day that he will not renew two annexes of the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan concerning territory leased to Israel.

“Jordan says it plans to end a lease of two areas of land to Israel that was agreed in annexes to the 1994 peace treaty between the two countries.

The areas are Naharayim in the north and Tzofar in the south, known as Baqura and Ghamr in Arabic.

The lease governing them was for 25 years and had been due for renewal. […]

Under the terms of the annex to the peace deal, the lease would be extended automatically unless one party gave notice a year before the lease ended, leading to talks on the matter.”

While the first part of the article gives readers a reasonable account of the story, the later part – under the sub-heading “Why would Jordan want to end the lease?” – provides an incomplete account of the story’s background.

“King Abdullah has been under pressure from Jordanian MPs and the Jordanian public not to renew the lease for the two areas. Eighty-seven Jordanian MPs have signed a petition urging an end to the lease.

Last Friday protesters in the Jordanian capital Amman called for the lease to be ended and campaigns have also taken place on social media.

It follows recent strains in the relationship between Jordan and Israel over issues including the status of Jerusalem and the lack of progress on a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.”

The BBC chose not to inform its audiences that – as the Jerusalem Post reports – there are elements in Jordan that would like to see an end to more than just the lease on the two specific areas of land.

“In very general terms, it’s fair to say that the 1994 peace agreement did not filter down to Jordanian masses. The Jordanians might already be drinking Israeli water, are scheduled to be heating their homes with Israeli natural gas in 2020, and benefit in numerous ways from security cooperation with Israel, but, for the most part, they don’t like Israel.
And this is something that King Abdullah II has to take into account.
Jordan’s announcement on Sunday regarding the Naharayim (Baqura) area near the Kinneret and part of Zofar (al Ghamar), in the Arava, did not knock anyone off their chair in Jerusalem. There has been talk for months inside Jordan of the need to regain those two areas. There have been debates in parliament, and even protests on the streets – much of it led by Islamic elements inside the Hashemite Kingdom.
Abdullah is in vice. While he needs the peace treaty with Israel for the security of his regime, he has domestic Islamic elements to deal with and at times placate.”

The Times of Israel adds:

“Additionally, an economic crisis that struck the kingdom over the past year may also have pushed Abdullah not to renew this portion of the treaty, in an effort to appease hardliners and prevent a potential coup, veteran regional analyst Ehud Yaari told Hadashot news on Sunday night.

Jordan has struggled with a sluggish economy, including rising unemployment, in the wake of regional conflicts, including in neighboring Syria and Iraq. Earlier this year, largely peaceful demonstrations, which led to a change of prime ministers, erupted over rising prices and proposed legislation to increase income tax, in line with IMF-driven austerity measures.”

Obviously internal Jordanian affairs – about which BBC audiences hear comparatively little – are no less relevant to the understanding of the background to this story than “the status of Jerusalem and the lack of progress on a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians”. BBC audiences, however, were denied that information.

Related Articles:

Superficial BBC News report on Naharayim killer’s release

BBC framing excludes important aspects of Amman embassy story

BBC’s Yolande Knell promotes Muslim Brotherhood messaging

 

 

 

 

BBC World Service radio adopts the PLO’s language

The October 19th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item relating to the previous day’s announcement by the US Secretary of State concerning the merging of the American embassy and consulate general in Jerusalem into a single diplomatic mission.

Programme presenter James Menendez introduced his interviewee (from 0:45:04 here) as follows: 

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

Menendez: “Until a few months ago America’s embassy in Israel was in Tel Aviv. Its diplomatic mission to the Palestinians was at the consulate general in Jerusalem. But in May – as you may remember – the embassy moved to Jerusalem; America recognising what Israel has always maintained: that Jerusalem is its capital. That was condemned by Palestinians as well as all the other members of the UN Security Council.”

Failing to clarify that no UN Security Council resolution was in fact passed on that topic, Menendez went on:

Menendez: “Well, now another change: the mission to the Palestinians is going to be subsumed into the new US embassy. It’ll be called the Palestinian Affairs Unit. The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says it’s about achieving efficiencies. Palestinians say it’s just another move to downgrade them. Well let’s talk to Martin Indyk, himself a former US ambassador to Israel, now [at] the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Welcome to the programme. How would you characterise this move?”

Indyk: “Oh I don’t think there can be any doubt that it is a downgrading of US representation to the Palestinians that is consistent with the decision to establish the embassy in Jerusalem – the US embassy to Israel – in Jerusalem and recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. And in doing so the president – President Trump – made no reference to Palestinian claims to Jerusalem and so I think this is just…just a further symbolic and management act that demonstrates that the last…the symbolic toe-hold for the Palestinians in terms of American policy – their toe-hold in Jerusalem – is now gone.”

Failing to explain that the US president’s December 2017 announcement specifically stated that “[t]he United States continues to take no position on any final status issues” and “[t]he specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties. The United States is not taking a position on boundaries or borders”, Menendez then came up with the following bizarre statement-cum-question:

Menendez: “Eh…I mean in a place where symbols matter hugely, I mean is it also symbolic of this one-state solutionthe Greater Israel as the government there calls it – with everybody being under one roof?”

While members of certain parties included in the current Israeli coalition government have proposed annexation of various parts of Judea & Samaria, that is not official government policy. Menendez’s implication that the Israeli government promotes “the Greater Israel” is obviously inaccurate and misleading (especially given his reference to “this one-state solution” which of course has additional meanings) as well as irrelevant to the topic ostensibly under discussion. The likely source of that misleading phrase used by Menendez will be discussed in a moment but in the meantime, the interview continued.

Indyk: “Well I don’t think it forecloses even some Palestinian position in Jerusalem in final status talks as far as the US policy is concerned. Secretary Pompeo was quick to say that. But in practical terms what it signals is this much touted and little revealed Trump peace plan. What’s in it for the Palestinians is going to be slim pickings indeed, especially when it comes to Jerusalem.”

Menendez: “I suppose someone would say, you know, practically it’s not going to make a huge amount of difference given the lack of peace talks anyway at the moment.”

Indyk: “Yes, that is true but it will make a difference in terms of representation to the Palestinians. There’s a lot more than just talking about peace involved in dealings between the United States and the Palestinian Authority. And now there will no longer be even a consul general – not an ambassador but a consul general – to deal with the Palestinian Authority. That person is going to be a more junior person under the authority of the US ambassador to Israel and that’s something that the Palestinian Authority – and certainly its leader Abu Mazen – will have great difficulty relating to and so I think that, you know, with the cut off in all aid to the Palestinians from the United States…eh…the lowering of the political level of engagement – it just means that there’s an overall downgrading of the Palestinians in Trump administration policy.”

Refraining from pointing out to listeners that the US has not “cut off…all aid” to the PA, Menendez closed the interview there.

So where did James Menendez get that phrase “the Greater Israel”? A clue can be found in the promotion of an article on the same topic which appeared on the BBC News website on October 18th.

In the report itself – titled “US to merge Jerusalem consulate general with new embassy” – BBC audiences were told that:

“Palestinians condemned the move.

Senior official Saeb Erekat said the Trump administration was working with Israelis to “impose ‘Greater Israel’ rather than a two-state solution”.”

That quote was taken from a series of Tweets put out by the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department on October 18th and picked up by a BBC producer.

And so we see that a phrase attributed to the Israeli government by James Menendez in fact comes from the PLO’s Saeb Erekat.

This of course is by no means the first instance in which we have seen the BBC promoting talking points and narratives conceived by the PLO:

Reviewing BBC compliance with PLO media guidance

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

Mapping changes in the terminology used by the BBC to describe Temple Mount

PLO recommended terminology continues to appear in BBC content

BBC News amplifies PLO’s interpretation of the two-state solution

In this latest item BBC World Service audiences heard just one view of the story (which unsurprisingly happens to dovetail with that of the PLO) while the BBC presenter adopted and amplified misleading terminology promoted by the PLO for political purposes and in doing so, compromised the BBC’s objectivity.  

Related Articles:

BBC framing of Jerusalem embassy stories continues

Context lacking, inaccuracies let slide in BBC WS coverage of PLO mission closure

BBC News report on US closure of PLO mission fails to adequately inform

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part two

 

 

 

 

BBC framing of Jerusalem embassy stories continues

On October 16th the BBC News website published a report titled “Australia considers following US on Jerusalem embassy” on its main homepage, its ‘World’ page and its ‘Australia’ and ‘Middle East’ pages.

The Australian prime minister’s statements were presented in its opening lines as follows:

“Australia will consider recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving its embassy there from Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says. […]

Mr Morrison said Australia remained committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Political opponents said Mr Morrison’s comments were a “deceitful” ploy for votes ahead of a crucial by-election.”

Readers were also told that:

“If acted upon, the move would follow a recent policy shift by the US that has drawn criticism internationally. […]

US President Donald Trump drew international criticism last year when he reversed decades of American foreign policy by recognising the ancient city as Israel’s capital. The US embassy was relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May.” [emphasis added]

As has been the case in many previous BBC reports about the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem, in this article the fact that the US Congress actually voted to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital over two decades ago was yet again concealed from audience view.

Readers were told that “[t]he prime minister said one future scenario could involve Australia recognising [emphasis added] a Palestinian Authority capital in East Jerusalem and Israeli capital in West Jerusalem”. The statement actually said:

“…the Government will carefully examine the arguments put forward by Australia’s former Ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, that we should consider recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, without prejudice to its final boundaries, while acknowledging East Jerusalem as the expected capital of a future Palestinian state.” [emphasis added]

The BBC report went on to amplify comment from the Palestinian Authority’s Riyad al-Maliki but failed to explain to readers why the Palestinian response to a possible outcome that the PLO allegedly seeks should be negative.

Readers were told of announcements:

“Two other countries – Guatemala and Paraguay – announced they would also make the switch, but Paraguay later reversed the decision after a change of government.”

They were not however informed that the embassy of Guatemala has been located in Jerusalem since May 2018.

The article ended with a section headed “Why is the status of Jerusalem so contentious?” in which the BBC’s standard framing of related topics was to be found. As usual, BBC audiences were led to believe that nothing of relevance happened before 1967 and they heard nothing of Jordan’s 19-year occupation of parts of the city.  

“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 state.”

A problematic video by Yolande Knell dating from December 2017 was however recycled in this latest report.

Readers found the BBC’s usual partisan framing of ‘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 late 2016 the BBC’s coverage of stories relating to the relocation of foreign embassies to Jerusalem has been characterised by very specific framing of such decisions as ‘controversial’ and the absence of key background information which would enhance audience understanding. As we see in this latest report, that unhelpful editorial policy continues.

Related Articles:

Mapping the BBC’s branding of declarations on Jerusalem as ‘controversial’

BBC omits key context in account of potential US embassy move

The BBC’s narrative on ‘East Jerusalem’ omits relevant context

Inaccuracy and omission in BBC backgrounder on Jerusalem

Weekend long read

1) The Times of Israel reports on a story ignored by the BBC.

“Palestinian terror group Islamic Jihad selected a new leader for the first time in more than 20 years Thursday, a senior official said, but is likely to remain close to Iran.

Syria-based Ziad al-Nakhala will take over as the movement’s secretary general from Ramadan Shalah, who has been suffering from serious health issues for months, the official said on condition of anonymity. […]

Nakhala, who was born in Gaza in 1953, is close to both Iran and Lebanese terror group Hezbollah. He had been the deputy leader to Shalah since the 1990s.”

2) The ITIC has published a report about Palestinian calls to boycott the upcoming municipal elections in Jerusalem.

“On October 30, 2018, the municipal elections in Jerusalem are to take place. There are about 200,000 residents in the city having the right to vote for the municipality, who since 1967 have boycotted the local elections. Senior Palestinian figures, including clerics, are trying to prevent the residents’ participation in the elections: Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority, has issued a fatwa (religious ruling) banning the participation in the municipal elections or running for mayor. Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, the Al-Aqsa Mosque preacher, announced that it is forbidden to take part in the elections because Jerusalem is an “occupied city” and the participation of East Jerusalem residents in the elections would mean “recognizing the legitimacy of the occupation.” Saeb Erekat, chief of the PLO’s Executive Committee, announced that the Executive Committee is opposed to giving legitimacy to the Israeli government’s policy towards the Arab residents and therefore the elections must be boycotted.”

3) At Tablet magazine, Emily Benedek discusses ties between international aid organisations and terrorist groups.

“At the beginning of August, a Palestinian man opened fire on IDF soldiers at the Gaza boundary, threw an incendiary device, and attempted to breach the fence. He was killed by return fire. What made his act stand out was that the man, Hani al-Majdalawi, was employed as a nurse with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), one of the world’s best-known international aid organizations. Al-Majdalawi had previously been employed by both Oxfam Great Britain and the American Friends Service Committee, two of the West’s oldest NGOs. Although he was not dressed as a medical provider at the time of his attack, his act added to mounting concern that NGOs operating in the Middle East are increasingly vulnerable to infiltration by terrorists, and susceptible to being co-opted by extremist ideologies.”

4) PMW reports on the continuing Palestinian Authority and Fatah failure to recognise Israel.

“For more than two decades, Palestinian Media Watch has documented that neither the PA nor Fatah recognize Israel when addressing their own people. In fact, the opposite is true. Both do their utmost to convince Palestinians that all of Israel was, is, and will remain “Palestine.” 

It is not surprising that Palestinians deny Israel’s existence, since the message that all of Israel is “Palestine” comes from the top. The Palestinian Authority Minister of Education Sabri Saidam recently posed holding a sketch of the PA’s map of “Palestine” that likewise presents all of Israel as “Palestine” at an event with NGOs working with the education sector.”