Revisiting Jeremy Bowen’s facilitation of Hamas PR

Two years ago the BBC’s Middle East editor conducted an embarrassingly unchallenging interview with Hamas’ Khaled Masha’al that was promoted in filmed and written versions. Readers of the written report were told that:

“Although Hamas has opposed years of on-off peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, Mr Meshaal said he and the group had agreed to accept the boundaries which existed before the 1967 Middle East war as the basis for those of a future Palestinian state.”

In the filmed version, viewers found the following:

Bowen: “Do you think a two state solution is still possible between yourselves and the Israelis?

Masha’al: “Israel with its extremist leadership has killed the peace process, the two state solution and every opportunity for a political solution for the Palestinian cause. And if the West and the United States want to do something new, then they have to change the approach that they followed for years. The new approach should be pressuring Israel and not the Arabs and the Palestinians. We are not the ones who are responsible.”

Included in the written report was ‘analysis’ from Jeremy Bowen which was repeated on radio:

“He [Masha’al] seemed to be calibrating his comments on the conflict with Israel to catch the prevailing mood of anger towards Mr Netanyahu in the White House, after his sharp turn to the ultra-nationalist Israeli Right in the last days of the election campaign.

Mr Meshaal called for a sovereign independent Palestinian state and an end to the occupation of land captured in the 1967 Middle East war. So did the White House chief of staff earlier this week.”

The claim that Hamas has embraced the two-state solution and “agreed to accept the boundaries which existed before the 1967 Middle East war as the basis for those of a future Palestinian state” was of course as ridiculously far-fetched two years ago as it is now.

Nevertheless, one should not be surprised if that theme crops up again in BBC reporting in the near future because – as AP reports – the terror group is apparently in the final stages of creating a new PR stunt.

“The Islamic militant group Hamas has drafted a new political program it hopes will improve ties with neighboring Egypt and the West, and present a more moderate image that will help it get off Western terrorism lists.

The internationally isolated group, which has ruled the Gaza Strip for the past decade, characterizes itself in the manifesto as a Palestinian resistance movement against Israeli occupation, dropping references to holy war against Jews. It also raises the possibility of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

The document plays down ties to Hamas’ parent movement, the regional Muslim Brotherhood, which is being targeted by Egypt’s government as a terror organization.

However, Hamas appears to have stopped short of a significant ideological shift amid concerns about alienating its hard-line base at a time when ultra-fundamentalist Islamist groups, such as the Salafists, are making inroads, particularly in Gaza.

The new program, to be made public at the end of the month, will not formally replace Hamas’ 1988 founding covenant, which called for the destruction of Israel and for “confronting the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews through jihad.”

Such language has drawn accusations of anti-Semitism.

In referring to a Palestinian state, Hamas does not spell out whether it considers this an acceptable solution to the conflict with Israel or a stepping stone to its longstanding goal of an Islamic state in all of historic Palestine, including what is now Israel.”

However, shortly after news of that revised programme broke, the terror group’s new leader in the Gaza Strip clarified the picture.

“Hamas’s leader in the Gaza Strip said on Wednesday that the terror group will not cease its conflict with Israel until “the liberation of all of Palestine.”

Speaking at an event marking the anniversary of the death of Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin, who was killed in an Israeli airstrike in 2004 in Gaza City, Yahya Sinwar said Hamas would not allow the State of Israel to exist on even a “morsel” of land.”

The man tipped to replace Khaled Masha’al was present at the same event.

“Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has vowed to pursue resistance to end Israel’s decades-long occupation of Palestinian lands.  

“Resistance is our strategic choice to achieve aspirations of our people for freedom,” Haniyeh said in an address during a visit on Wednesday to the house of Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin in Gaza City to mark the 13th anniversary of his death. […]

Haniyeh reiterated that his group will not abandon a “single inch” from Palestine.   

“Gaza is part of Palestine and there will be no Palestinian state without Gaza and there will be no state without whole Palestine.””

That will be worth remembering if Jeremy Bowen or any other BBC journalist decides to similarly facilitate Hamas’ latest PR campaign or when the corporation next promotes the notion that Hamas accepts the two-state solution.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bowen facilitates Hamas PR binge

BBC responds to complaints about Jeremy Bowen’s interview with Khaled Masha’al

BBC Complaints: inaccurate portrayal of Palestinian leadership is not a ‘significant issue’

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC on new US ambassador to Israel: high on adjectives, low on accuracy

On the evening of March 23rd BBC News was able to tell its international audiences that the newly confirmed US ambassador to Israel is “controversial”, “right-wing”, “pro-settlement”, a “hardliner” and a “critic of the two-state solution”.

However, BBC News was less capable of informing its audiences what the new envoy is called.

In an article headlined “Pro-settlement hardliner Friedman confirmed as US envoy to Israel” which appeared on the BBC News website’s US & Canada and Middle East pages on March 23rd, the BBC fortunately did manage to get the ambassador’s name right.

“The US Senate has confirmed right-winger David Friedman as America’s next ambassador to Israel.

He was approved in a 52-46 vote in the Republican-run chamber, despite opposition from the Democrats.

Mr Friedman, who was once Donald Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer, is critical of the US goal of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

No mention is made in the article of the fact that at his nomination hearing, Mr Friedman expressed views that differ from the BBC’s simplistic portrayal of his approach to the subject of the two-state solution.

“Testifying before the Senate in a hearing on his nomination as ambassador to Israel, David Friedman said a two-state solution – in which a Jewish State of Israel and an independent Arab state of Palestine live side by side in peace and security, ending all claims in the conflict – remains the “best possibility” for genuine peace in the region.

“A two-state solution, if it could be achieved, would bring tremendous benefit to both Israel and the Palestinians,” Friedman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calling such a solution “ideal.” He said he will not campaign, support or advocate for Israel’s annexation of the West Bank, which has long been considered the future home of a Palestinian state.”

And:

““I would be delighted to see peace come to this region where people have suffered on both sides for so long,” Friedman elaborated. “I have expressed my skepticism about the two-state solution solely on the basis of what I have perceived as unwillingness to renounce terror and accept Israel as a Jewish state.”

He said that the groundwork for such an accord was reached at the 1993 Oslo talks between Israel’s then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. But he argued that, since then, Palestinian violence against Israel has only increased. “One of the primary commitments was chairman Arafat’s commitment to begin to educate his people to stop hatred,” he said. “We haven’t made progress since then, and terrorism has increased four-fold since before Oslo.””

With no explanation of the group’s political agenda or the vigorous campaign it ran against the nomination, the article quotes J Street:

“J Street, the Washington-based pro-Israel Jewish group, opposed his nomination, saying he “lacks any diplomatic or policy credentials”.”

The article goes on:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who did not have warm relations with President Barack Obama, welcomed Mr Friedman’s nomination.”

The BBC did not bother to clarify that – as is to be expected – in addition to the prime minister, Israeli politicians from different parties likewise offered their congratulations. 

For months now the BBC has been promoting a narrative according to which the new US administration spells the end of chances of the two-state solution coming about. The highly selective framing seen in this article contributes to the promotion of that chosen narrative.

 

Quantifying BBC ‘due impartiality’ on ‘international law’

For years visitors to the BBC News website have regularly come across claims concerning ‘international law’ in the corporation’s Israel-related content. For example:  

“The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

Or:

“More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem – land Palestinians claim for a future state.

The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

As has been noted here in the past, that more or less standard insert does not include a definitive cited source underpinning the claim of illegality and no explanation is given regarding the legal basis for alternative opinions to the one promoted. The claim is erroneously presented as being contested solely by the government of Israel, thereby erasing from audience view the existence of additional legal opinions which contradict the BBC’s selected narrative and thus breaching its own editorial guidelines on impartiality.

In recent months the level of audience exposure to that narrative has risen.

The graph below shows the appearance of written reports on the BBC News website which included claims concerning ‘settlements and international law’ during the whole of 2016 and the first two months of 2017 (links provided below). It does not include filmed reports or content from additional BBC platforms.

In all of those 42 reports, BBC audiences were told that ‘settlements are considered illegal under international law’ and that ‘Israel disputes this’ but only in one of them – a backgrounder published in December 2016 – were they given any information concerning  the legal basis for those conflicting opinions. On no occasion throughout the past 14 months were audiences informed of the existence of additional alternative views of the subject beyond that of Israel. 

Readers of that backgrounder were told that:

“Most of the international community, including the UN and the International Court of Justice, say the settlements are illegal.

The basis for this is the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention which forbids the transfer by an occupying power of its people into occupied territory.

However, Israel says the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply de jure to the West Bank because, it says, the territory is not technically occupied.

Israel says it is legally there as a result of a defensive war, and did not take control of the West Bank from a legitimate sovereign power.

It says the legal right of Jewish settlement there as recognised by the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine was preserved under the UN’s charter.”

The BBC has editorial guidelines relating to due impartiality on ‘controversial subjects’:

“When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.”

The BBC’s near standard ‘international law’ insert obviously does not meet those criteria. It purports to inform audiences what is ‘illegal’ but does not provide them with sufficient information or access to alternative views in order to enable them to reach their own conclusions and opinions on the issue.

In other words, this increasingly touted mantra promotes a specific political narrative rather than meeting the BBC’s professed standards of ‘due impartiality’.

January 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35155227

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35351388

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35428457

March 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35901317

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35910853

April 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36091872

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36102449

July 2016: 

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36682056

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36682062

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36720851

August 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37235922

September 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-37345444

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37376069

October 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37570670

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37633012

November 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37978099

December 2016:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38215653

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38450424

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38412079

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38416144

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38421026

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38425512

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38429385

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38431399

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38451258

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38455753

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38458884  backgrounder

January 2017:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38608995

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38621527

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38608990

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38667119

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38711701 

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38740712

February 2017:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38830103

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38842551

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38850975

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-38879100

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38888649

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38907755

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38931180  

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38987028

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38989906

Related Articles:

Standard BBC ‘international law’ insert breaches editorial guidelines

‘Due impartiality’ and BBC reporting on Israeli construction

 

 

 

Weekend long read

1) At the Times of Israel Dan Efrony – former Military Advocate General of the IDF – writes about “The law of armed conflict: legality vs. legitimacy“.

“Since the 1980s, all of Israel’s armed conflicts have been fought against non-state actors, prominent among them, the terror organizations Hamas and Hezbollah.

These non-state enemies systematically and deliberately violate international humanitarian law, and specifically its basic principles which reflect customary international law that binds any state or non-state actor engaged in an armed conflict.

At the same time, they view the commitment of democracies like Israel to the rule of law as a weakness, which they can exploit to boost their gains in each front of the conflict, and within each level of activity, both tactical and strategic.”

2) Writing at ‘Fathom’, former MK Einat Wilf discusses what’s holding up a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“For most Israelis, the repeated Palestinian failures to say ‘yes’ to clear and distinct opportunities to end the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and to build a peaceful state for themselves in territories evacuated by Israel, reinforced the view that more than the Arab Palestinians wanted a state for themselves, they wanted to deny a state to the Jewish people. Seventy years after the British Foreign Secretary told Parliament on the eve of partition that ‘for the Jews, the essential point of principle is the creation of a sovereign Jewish state’, while ‘for the Arabs, the essential point of principle is to resist to the last the establishment of Jewish sovereignty in any part of the land’, it seems the Arab Palestinians still see no reason to compromise with a project they view as ‘unjust’ and temporary. After all, if the crusader state lasted 88 years (including Jerusalem), then in 2017 – when Israel will mark 69 years – all the Arab Palestinians have to do is wait a mere 19 more years until the second crusader state will disappear.”

3) BICOM has produced a backgrounder to the Six Day War which can be accessed here.

4) At ‘The Long War Journal’ Amir Toumaj profiles the group behind the recently formed ‘Golan Liberation Brigade’.

“The Iranian-controlled Iraqi militia Harakat al Nujaba this week announced the formation of its “Golan Liberation Brigade.” While it is not uncommon for entities to name themselves after areas they aim to “liberate,” the militia’s spokesman has said that the unit could assist the Syrian regime in taking the Golan Heights, a region in the Levant that has been controlled by Israel since the 1967 Six-Day War.

If true, the unit would likely participate in a future offensive to capture territory from Syrian opposition in the part of the Golan Heights still controlled by Syria, before moving on to the much taller order of dislodging the Israelis across the border. This week’s announcement reflects Tehran’s priorities in southern Syria since finally taking the fiercely contested city of Aleppo late last year: crush Syrian opposition, and pose military threat to Israel from the Golan Heights.” 

BBC Complaints: inaccurate portrayal of Palestinian leadership is not a ‘significant issue’

Last month we noted that an insert titled “What is the two-state solution?” had appeared in a number of BBC News website articles published since late December 2016. The same insert continues to appear in BBC content – most recently just last week.

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on the grounds that the insert is inaccurate and misleading to audiences because:

a) it does not inform readers that an essential part of the two-state solution is the concept (repeatedly endorsed by the Quartet) of ‘two states for two peoples’ – a definition which would require Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state – and that Fatah and the Palestinian Authority have repeatedly refused to do so.

b) the claim that the two-state solution is the “declared goal” of Palestinian leaders inaccurately suggests to readers that Palestinian leadership is one, uniform entity. It fails to inform readers that Hamas and additional Palestinian factions do not regard the two-state solution as their “goal” and in fact reject the concept.

The response received from BBC Complaints includes the following:

“The insert entitled “What is the two-state solution?” is meant to be an abbreviated guide to the concept in its broadest sense.  For reasons of space, it is not feasible to offer a more forensic examination of what is quite a complex issue, as you clearly understand.

It could be argued, for instance, that Hamas do not qualify as leaders on the same footing as the internationally recognised PA – it depends on how “leaders” is defined. The casual reader is likely to understand “leaders” in this context as those parties involved in the diplomatic process, of which Hamas is not one.

While Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear that a pre-requisite for any final peace settlement is a Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, something the PA resists, it does not mean that a “two-state solution” in the general sense is not the declared goal of both sides. It is the detail and character of the two states which is up for discussion if/when peace talks resume.”

BBC Watch submitted a follow-up complaint, clarifying that while Hamas is indeed not part of the “diplomatic process” as it is not part of the Palestinian Authority or the PLO, it did receive more votes than any other party in the 2006 PLC election and hence is clearly a ‘leader’ as far as Palestinian public opinion is concerned. We also clarified that the requirement to recognise Israel as the Jewish state as part of the concept of two states for two peoples is not confined to the Israeli prime minister.

The response received reads:

“We appreciate that you felt strongly enough to write to us again. We have noted your points and are sorry to learn you were not satisfied with our earlier response. 

We are sorry to tell you that we have nothing to add to our previous reply. We do not believe your complaint has raised a significant issue of general importance that might justify further investigation. We will not therefore correspond further in response to additional points, or further comments or questions, made about this issue or our responses to it.”

As we see, the BBC does not think that leading audiences to believe that there is one, united Palestinian leadership which regards the two-state solution as its “goal” (while airbrushing from view a proscribed terror organisation that aims to wipe Israel off the map) is a “significant issue” which is liable to hamper understanding of this particular ‘international issue‘. 

 

BBC News reinforces selected ‘peace process’ narratives yet again

On March 10th an article titled “Trump Middle East: Palestinian leader invited to White House” was published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page. The subject matter of that four hundred and four word-long report is ostensibly a ten-minute phone call between the presidents of the US and the Palestinian Authority which took place that day. However, much of the article was used to reinforce narratives already evident in BBC content for some time.

1) Readers were told that:

“Mr Trump hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February.

At that meeting, Mr Trump dropped a long-standing US commitment to a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

As has been noted here before, the day after the Israeli prime minister’s visit to the White House, the BBC published an article in which a member of the US administration clarified its stance:

“The US ambassador to the UN has said her country “absolutely” supports the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

But Nikki Haley also said the Trump administration was “thinking outside the box as well”, suggesting it was open to other possible solutions.”

Despite having published that report, the BBC News website nevertheless continues to promote the narrative of a ‘major policy shift’ concerning the two-state solution on the part of the US administration.

2) The article includes an insert titled “What is the two-state solution?” that has already been seen in several previous reports.

That insert once again promotes the false narrative according to which the two-state solution is the “declared goal” of Palestinian leaders while erasing from audience view the fact that Hamas and additional Palestinian factions reject the two-state solution outright and failing to inform BBC audiences  of the repeated refusal of Palestinian Authority leaders to recognise Israel as the Jewish state: a necessary condition for fulfilment of the concept of “two states for two peoples”. 

3) The article tells readers that:

“There have been no substantive peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians since US-mediated negotiations broke down in April 2014.”

The BBC has of course been promoting the narrative that those talks simply “broke down” or “collapsed” for a long time but serially refrains from informing its audiences of the decisions made by the Palestinian Authority which led to the end of that round of negotiations.

4) Readers of this article also found more BBC amplification of the PA’s narrative concerning the proposed relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem:

“The US Senate on Thursday approved Mr Trump’s controversial nominee for ambassador to Israel.

David Friedman favours relocating the US embassy to Jerusalem, a highly inflammatory proposal because both Israel and the Palestinians lay claim to the city as their capital.” [emphasis added]

As has been noted here before, BBC audiences have not heard any alternative view of that proposal or any explanation as to why Palestinians should object to the relocation of the US embassy to an area of Jerusalem to which – according to the corporation’s own presentation of the issue – the PA does not lay claim.

Whether or not a meeting between Abbas and Trump will indeed “rekindle peace talks” as suggested in this report remains to be seen but what is already apparent is the BBC’s chosen framing of that topic – as indicated by the repeated promotion of these unwavering and unquestioned narratives in report after report.

Related Articles:

More narrative driven BBC portrayal of the ‘peace process’

BBC News and the US ‘major policy shift’ that wasn’t

BBC News website’s explanation of the two-state solution falls short

BBC continues to push its monochrome US embassy story

 

 

Challenged and unchallenged claims in a BBC ‘Hardtalk’ interview – part two

In part one of this post we looked at the claims and topics on which presenter Stephen Sackur chose to challenge Fatah’s Husam Zomlot during a ‘Hardtalk’ interview broadcast on BBC World News on March 2nd. In this post we will look at the claims and statements that Sackur chose to let stand by failing to use his role as interviewer to intervene and clarify issues to BBC audiences.

For example, Sackur made no effort to challenge Zomlot’s inaccurate and misleading portrayal of the Oslo Accords, failing to point out that they do not include the stipulation that Israel should withdraw from “all the territories” which came under its control following the Six Day War and that they do stipulate that the issue of borders is to be determined in final status negotiations. Neither did Sackur bother to remind viewers that Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip in 2005 or to clarify that the territory is not ‘besieged’. Likewise, he refrained from clarifying that the 1949 Armistice lines are not borders and that definition of the two-state solution as meaning “a State of Palestine on the 1967 borders” is merely the PLO’s interpretation of the term.

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

Zomlot: “…you know I also witnessed the Oslo process as a young man, you know, witnessed the demise of the implementation of the peace process. I think if you are talking about the process itself, yes, it has been discredited. All along since 1997 we should have had a state. According to the Oslo Accords Israel should have withdrawn from all the territories it occupied in 1967 and in fact what happened after was the deepening of the occupation and the spread of colonial settlements and the besiegement [sic] of the people in Gaza and what have you and therefore, yes; you’re right – the process has failed miserably to deliver the outcome. And to many people it was a process actually designed to prevent the outcome; a process that was going in the opposite direction. But the hope and the aspiration and the goal of two states – of a State of Palestine on the 1967 borders – the hope for two states…”

Zomlot’s whitewashed and misleading portrayal of the PLO charter went unchallenged by Sackur with no effort made to clarify that Jews in Zomlot’s “egalitarian” Palestinian state only include those “who had normally resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion”.

Zomlot: “The PLO official…the Palestine Liberation Organisation official platform until 1988 was a one democratic state for all its citizens in the historic land of Palestine for Muslims, Christians and Jews but that platform had to be compromised simply because there was a condition by the international community – in fact by Reagan, the Reagan administration – on the PLO that we must abandon our dream of one democratic, egalitarian state, diverse and respecting the rule of law for all of its citizens, to a two-state solution.”

Sackur failed to challenge the falsehood promoted by Zomlot according to which the current economic situation in the PA and Hamas controlled areas is “unprecedented” and refrained from clarifying that GDP is currently significantly higher than was the case during the second Intifada and in 2006. Neither did Sackur challenge Zomlot’s bizarre claim of a Palestinian population of 12.7 million or the falsehood that Palestinians are ‘coerced’ into working in Israel.

Zomlot: “The socio-economic situation in the West Bank and Gaza is simply unprecedented in terms of how deteriorated it has been. All economic indicators show some sort of an economic – what’s the word? – slaughter-house, actually. Let me give you some numbers very, very quickly about the economic disparity because of us having to work in Israel – not, by the way, by choice but by coercion. You know our population is around 12.7 million. We have 95% literacy and we have 70% under age of 29. This is a very youthful, very educated society. And we have very wealthy natural resources yet GDP – our GDP – I’m talking about 2015 – just a quick number – is $12 billion compared to $305 billion in Israel. Our per capita is 2,800 compared to 36,000 in Israel. Our unemployment rate…”

Sackur failed to inform viewers that Zomlot’s claims that the Israeli government seeks “full annexation of the West Bank” and that such a move is ongoing “on a daily basis” are false.

Zomlot: “…in our situation, given the calamity of the Israeli agenda now – the current government – and it’s very clear: they want full annexation of the West Bank. This is not what I’m saying; this is what they’re saying and doing on a daily basis. You’ve just quoted some of their bills passed in the Knesset and we are witnessing on a daily basis here in the West Bank and Jerusalem of course – East Jerusalem. Now if this is their agenda…by the way part of them pushing Gaza out of the equation so their annexationist agenda can prevail.”

Zomlot’s denial of Jerusalem as the capital – and seat of government – of Israel, his ridiculous claim concerning water consumption and his use of ‘apartheid’ and ‘colonisation’ tropes went unremarked by Sackur.

Zomlot: “Steve, the whole situation here is that of a system of entitlement. These people – some people in Tel Aviv right now – the government, the Right-wing extreme government, wants to keep a system whereby there is a group that are privileged as per these numbers. It’s our own water that they consume, most of it. Some groups that are privileged and others that are disprivileged [sic] and discriminated whether by means of occupation or by means of colonisation or by means of apartheid.”

Even the ridiculous claim that Palestinians are “treated as slaves” and use of the ‘chosen people’ trope produced no reaction from the BBC interviewer.

Zomlot: “Does this mean ending Israel’s occupation and establishing a State of Palestine? We are happy to proceed with you as partners. But if this means we will continue to be treated as slaves in our own land and we continue to put up against some people who argue that God is estate agent and God chose some people at the expense of others.”

In addition, on several occasions Sackur himself failed to adhere to the BBC’s own style on the use of the term ‘Palestine’ which states “in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank” – for example:

Sackur: “I’m going to stop you because you’re raising so many different points, all of which are important, about internal politics in Palestine.

As we see, while Sackur challenged Zomlot repeatedly and rigorously on claims concerning internal Palestinian affairs during this interview, the same standard was not applied when Zomlot was speaking about other issues. The result of that discrepancy is that Zomlot was allowed him a free hand to mislead BBC audiences by propagating blatant falsehoods, delegitimising tropes and inaccurate anti-Israel propaganda.

 

 

Challenged and unchallenged claims in a BBC ‘Hardtalk’ interview – part one

The March 2nd edition of the BBC World News programme ‘Hardtalk‘ aired an interview with Fatah’s Husam Zomlot which was billed as follows:

“Stephen Sackur speaks to Husam Zomlot, a senior adviser to the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Does the Trump era signal the end for the Palestinian dream of statehood?”

The programme – also broadcast on the BBC News Channel – is available to UK-based viewers here and a clip from the interview was promoted on the BBC News website.

Presenter Stephen Sackur introduced the interview as follows, promoting the BBC’s now well established narrative of a ‘shift’ in US policy regarding the two-state solution.

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

Sackur: “For years the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been stuck, condemned to repeat itself year in, year out but now something has changed. The two protagonists remain deaf to each other’s demands but there is a new US president who seems to care little for Washington’s long-established quest for a two-state solution. So what does that mean? Well my guest is Husam Zomlot, advisor to the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Does the Trump ers signal the end for the Palestinian dream of statehood?”

A significant proportion of the interview related to the Palestinian Authority’s relationship with the new US administration and additional topics included internal Palestinian politics and economy. While some of Zomlot’s claims and statements were challenged – at times vigorously – by Sackur, others were not challenged at all.

Part one of this post will look at the subjects on which Sackur did chose to use his role as interviewer in order to clarify points to BBC audiences and part two will examine the claims and issues on which he refrained from challenging Zomlot.

When Zomlot claimed a “national consensus” regarding the two-state solution, Sackur intervened to clarify to audiences that the claim is inaccurate, although he did not similarly challenge the myth of Israel being on ‘Palestinian land’ or point out that – crucially to the issue under discussion – the PA and Fatah refuse to recognise Israel as the Jewish state.

Zomlot: “And, you know, it took us so many years to get to that national equilibrium here in Palestine; to establish a national consensus on the two-state solution and on accepting, recognising Israel on 78% of our land. […]

Sackur: “…you claim you’ve reached a consensus, which of course you haven’t because that’s why Gaza and the West Bank are so deeply divided politically so we’ll get to that later.”

Sackur challenged Zomlot repeatedly and vigorously with regard to his claims of communication with the new US administration.

Sackur: “That must worry you; that the Trump team do not seem to be interested in talking to you Palestinians.”

Sackur: “Hang on, hang on ‘cos this is important. Hang on, this is important. You’re telling me oh yes, don’t worry; we’ve got the contact. Look, the truth is Binyamin Netanyahu has already had a very cosy meeting with Donald Trump at the White House. Just tell me; what’s the extent of the direct, personal contact between Mahmoud Abbas and Donald Trump?”

Sackur: “Yeah but I asked you a direct question. What’s the direct answer? What’s the direct answer?”

Sackur: “All I can say is you do seem to me to be a wild optimist ‘cos you seem to think that, you know, the Americans are in listening mode and they’re waiting to talk to you.”

Zomlot was challenged extensively on the topic of security co-operation (as laid out in the Oslo Accords) between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, although his false claim that the PLO represents “all Palestinians” was not.

Sackur: “Your boss Mahmoud Abbas said many weeks ago, he said that if Israel pushes ahead with this legislation to legalise settlements built on private Palestinian land, then he would cut security co-operation with Israel. Well of course that bill has now passed through the Knesset but as far as I can see it, Mahmoud Abbas has no intention of making good on that threat. Or am I missing something?”

Zomlot: “No you are missing something because that decision was made and it was made even by the PLO central council and now it’s been approved by this very legitimate sort of parliament for all Palestinians, [it’s] for the executive branch to decide on the timing. Remember, Steve, the issue of security is not just an Israeli demand; it’s not just an Israeli interest. It’s also a Palestinian interest and we don’t want to see a situation here where we…we have groups and agencies from all over the region – and you know what is happening around us, just 300 kilometers all around – and we want to make sure that we deliver such a policy on the right time.”

Sackur: “Well that’s the point, isn’t it? If I may – forgive the interruption – but if I may tease out what you seem to have just said to me, your priority is more in keeping a lid on Hamas in the West Bank than it is in ending security co-operation with Israel.”

Zomlot: “That’s not what I said. No, no. That’s not…we have no lid on Hamas whatsoever. Hamas is in Gaza and has staged a coup d’etat and it’s in full control of Gaza. No that’s not what I said. What I said is that we…”

Sackur: “No but it’s the West Bank we’re talking about. You need the Israeli security co-operation in the West Bank to help you keep yourselves – Fatah – on the top in the West Bank. Israel is your ally in that.”

Sackur went on to challenge Zomlot on the topic of one aspect of the PA economy.

Sackur: “I want to talk economy just briefly if I may. You say yes, we are going to end security and economic co-operation with Israel. I would put it to you; you can’t afford to. First of all you need the Israelis to hand over the customs and the border revenues that come to you through the Israelis and if you lose that, you’re in even worse economic circumstances than you’re in right now. And also the tens of thousands of Palestinians who either work inside Israel – on the other side of the green line – or, you know, frankly, let’s be honest, thousands of Palestinians work on building sites and construction building the very Jewish settlements that you say are the chief obstacle to peace. If you stop all those people doing those jobs, you economy’s going to fall apart.”

Zomlot was also challenged on a topic much neglected by the BBC: internal Palestinian politics.

Sackur: “Why is it that President Mahmoud Abbas has so little credibility? Palestinian opinion polls show that the majority of Palestinians want him gone. He hasn’t won an election for – what is it? – at least a decade. His mandate has run out. Most Palestinians see the Palestinian Authority as corrupt. You are doing yourselves no favours.”

After Zomlot cited in his reply the rescheduled municipal elections as “a pillar of our democratic process” – without either he or Sackur informing viewers that they will not be held in the Gaza Strip – and described the PA as “one of the very few nations in this region that really do adhere to the democratic processes”, Sackur interrupted:

Sackur: “When your mandate lasts four years… when your mandate lasts four years and it was achieved thirteen years ago, you don’t have any legitimacy anymore.”

Zomlot went on to give a bizarre interpretation of democracy which English-speaking BBC audiences would of course have had difficulty following given that the corporation chose not to report on the 7th Fatah party congress.

Zomlot: “Allow me…no, we do have legitimacy because President Abbas is the president of the PLO – of the Palestine Liberation Organisation – which is much, much higher even than the PA. The PA was only established to fulfil our responsibilities under Oslo which Israel has failed miserably. He does have the national legitimacy and he was elected. […] In the end he was voted by Fatah only two months ago in such a democratic process.”

Sackur: “Hang on, hang on, just a moment. Hang on, hang on. You’ve just said something outrageous. You had a chance to answer.”

Sackur raised another topic serially under-reported by the BBC.

Sackur: “That might be a bit more convincing to the outside world if Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank didn’t keep locking up opponents, didn’t keep depriving people like Mohammed Dahlan who is an opponent within the PLO [sic] of…[…] You know Dahlan and his people say that it’s time for new leadership, new leadership and you guys refuse to countenance new leadership in your own organisation.”

He did not however react when Zomlot told him that internal Palestinian politics are “even not for the BBC to discuss” – although that approach from a senior Fatah and PA official does perhaps go some way towards explaining why BBC correspondents in the region serially avoid reporting on internal Palestinian affairs.

 

Weekend long read

1) BBC Watch has often documented the fact that when reporting on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, the BBC fails to inform its audiences what that campaign aims to achieve. In August 2015, we also learned that the BBC considers the provision of that obviously crucial context “not our role“. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has produced an essay and a very useful video explaining what lies beneath the BDS campaign.

2) We have in the past noted on these pages that the BBC’s standard portrayal of the 2013/14 talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority – “came to an end amid acrimony in April 2014” – fails to provide its audience with an accurate and adequate view of events at the time and indeed impairs understanding. At ‘The American Interest’, one of those who took part in that round of negotiations, Michael Herzog, gives his account of what happened.Weekend Read

“But today feels somewhat different. To break the logjam, Israel suggests transferring to the PA the responsibility for planning and zoning in Palestinian-populated parts of Area C in the West Bank that are adjacent to Palestinian cities. The new proposal seems to capture the Palestinian negotiator’s attention. “We may be in business,” Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat signals, careful as always to remain non-committal. As we are about to adjourn, he asks to meet tomorrow to continue our discussions. The clock is ticking. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (whom we all refer to by his familiar moniker, Abu Mazen) has already called for a formal leadership meeting in Ramallah that coming Saturday to decide the fate of negotiations. Yet, for the first time in weeks, we feel a sense of cautious optimism—a feeling shared by our American counterparts.

The events of the next day would shatter these nascent hopes. Gathering at the Prime Minister’s office to prepare for the crucial meeting with our counterparts, we (and separately, our American colleagues) are surprised to watch the signing ceremony of a reconciliation deal between Abu Mazen’s Fatah movement and the Islamist Hamas in Gaza. On the Israeli side, there is a volley of questions. Abu Mazen is well aware of Israeli and U.S. sensitivities regarding Hamas—which is strongly opposed to peace and the recognition of Israel, and designated by the U.S. government and the European Union as a terror organization—so why did he not at least alert us to the imminent deal? Why would he sign it the day after he seemed to promise a meeting with us and just a few days ahead of the nine-month deadline? Is he no longer interested in extending negotiations?”

3) Back in 2013 we noted that restrictions on foreign journalists introduced by the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Information and the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Journalist’s Syndicate (PJS) had not been reported by the BBC. Last year we noted the introduction of further restrictions and the fact that one of the instigators – the chair of the PJS, Nasser Abu Baker – concurrently works for AFP. Abu Baker was recently in the news again and CAMERA’s Tamar Sternthal has the whole story.abu-baker  

“Following an exclusive exposé by CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) in early December about the inherent conflict of interest posed by Abu Baker’s participation in the Seventh Fatah Congress and his failed election bid to join the Fatah Revolutionary Council, the influential Agence France-Presse last month slapped him with a week’s suspension and withheld his salary. Participation by journalists in political events, especially those they are covering, is a serious violation of Agence France-Presse’s commitment to “rigorous neutrality” and its pledge that it “is independent of the French government and all other economic or political interests.”

Enter the International Federation of Journalists, which suspended its stated commitments to truth and opposition to discrimination with its Febrary 2 statement about Agence France-Presse’s sanctions against Abu Baker.”

The UK’s National Union of Journalists is a member of the International Federation of Journalists. The NUJ is the second largest union within the BBC with around 4,000 members. 

BBC News website framing of Israeli PM’s Australia visit

Last week the BBC News website published two articles relating to the Israeli prime minister’s official visit to Australia.

1) ‘Israeli PM criticises UN ‘hypocrisy’ on historic Australia visit‘, February 22nd 2017.

2) ‘Australian ex-PM Kevin Rudd berates Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu‘, February 23rd 2017.australia-visit-1

The first article is 447 words long including sub-headings. Two hundred and thirty of those words were devoted to the topic of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and a further 86 words to a version of an insert titled “What is the two-state solution?” which has been seen in previous reports.

Twenty-three words were used to promote a theme which has been evident in several recent BBC reports: a supposed ‘policy shift’ on the two-state solution on the part of the US administration.

Sixty-one words were devoted to amplification of criticism of the visit, together with a link to a partisan statement from individuals including anti-Israel activists.

Background information concerning the official visit was provided in 27 words and just seventeen words were used to describe its aim.

“Mr Netanyahu is in Australia for talks about expanding co-operation in cyber security, technological innovation and science.”australia-visit-2

The second article is 349 words long including sub-headings. Forty-nine words were devoted to background information. The rest of the article was given over to amplification of criticism of the visit including a link to statements made by one individual.

In summary, 45% of the 796 words produced by the BBC concerning the Israeli prime minister’s visit to Australia amplified criticism of that visit. 39% of the total word count was given over to the topic of ‘the conflict’ while 9.5% of the word count provided background information concerning the visit.

A mere 2% of the total word count related to the aim of the official visit, with BBC audiences receiving no information whatsoever about the research and travel agreements signed between the two countries.

Clearly the framing chosen by the BBC for this story was a lot less about providing audiences with an objective and informative account of the first official visit of an Israeli prime minister to Australia than it was about influencing audience perceptions through promotion of a politically motivated narrative.

Related Articles:

BBC News website’s explanation of the two-state solution falls short

BBC News and the US ‘major policy shift’ that wasn’t