BBC News ignores PA reactions to moves relating to terror payments

As documented here at the time, last week BBC News website visitors saw an exceptionally rare reference to the Palestinian Authority’s payments to terrorists and their families in a report about a new Israeli law linked to that issue.

BBC News does some catch-up reporting on PA’s terror salaries

“In that report BBC audiences were told for the first time that:

“It [the Palestinian Authority] is estimated to spend about $330m each year – about 7% of its budget – on salaries and benefits under the programme.”

The BBC’s first mention of the Taylor Force Act comes in the last paragraph of the report:

“In March, the US Congress approved similar legislation, the Taylor Force Act, which suspends some US financial aid to the PA until it stops making payments to prisoners and their families. The act was named after an American killed in an attack by a Palestinian in Israel in 2016.”

Several days later, attendees at a Fatah Central Committee meeting heard PA president Mahmoud Abbas’ reaction to the Israeli legislation – including the interesting claim that payments to terrorists began even before the existence of any ‘occupation’.

“Abbas lashed out at Israel for its decision to deduct payments made by the PA to families of “martyrs” and security prisoners (from tax revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinians), saying the Palestinians will take measures in accordance with their interest. He did not provide details about the nature of the measures the Palestinians were planning.

“We won’t allow anyone to interfere with the money [that is paid to the prisoners and families of “martyrs],” Abbas stressed. “They are our martyrs and prisoners and the injured and we will continue to pay them. We started the payments in 1965.””

BBC audiences have not seen any coverage of that statement (along with a vow to reject the anticipated US peace plan before it has even been made public) from Mahmoud Abbas.

As was noted here at the time, the BBC’s report did not inform readers that on the same day as the Israeli law was passed, Australia announced that it had “ended direct aid to the Palestinian Authority over fears its donations will be used to pay Palestinians convicted of terrorism and their families”.

The following day senior Palestinian Authority official Nabil Shaath (who is Abbas’ advisor on Foreign Affairs and International Relations) gave his reaction to that announcement on official PA TV. The Australian reported that Shaath stated:

“Australia’s decision about transferring $10 million angered me greatly. That’s all that Australia pays — $10 million that it pays to us, to the PA, through the international bank,” he said.

“(Australia) said that it transferred (the aid) to the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, so that it would not serve the payment of the salaries of the (martyrs and prisoners’) families.

“In other words, the truth is they are worthy of being spat on. You (Australians) are the servants of the US. No decision is made without Australia voting as the US votes — sometimes only these three vote: Israel, America and Australia …

“We do not want to declare war on Australia. But it cannot be, in other words, sometimes there is insolence that is impossible (to accept). I don’t want your $10 million. I don’t want to chase after them.””

Unsurprisingly, BBC audiences have seen no reporting on that story either.

 

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BBC Radio 4’s peace process tango for one – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the first half of an edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Analysis‘ titled ‘The Middle East Conundrum’ provided listeners with a long list of Israeli prime ministers who failed to make peace – while deliberately ignoring the role played by the Palestinian leaders with whom such agreements were supposed to be made.

Having erased post-Oslo Palestinian terrorism and the planning of the second Intifada from audience view entirely and with no reference whatsoever to foreign funding of Hamas terror, presenter Edward Stourton likewise presented three rounds of conflict sparked by Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilians as something that simply ‘erupted’.

Stourton: “There have been repeated eruptions of conflict between Israel and Gaza and those who try to mediate in the region have seen trust between the two sides steadily eroded by violence.”

He then introduced his next contributor – Gabrielle Rifkind – as someone who “has been involved in conflict resolution in the Middle East for two decades” but without clarifying (as required by BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality) the “particular viewpoint” of the organisation – formerly part of the Oxford Research Group – with which she is associated and without mentioning that her “Palestinian colleagues” included the PLO’s Husam Zomlot

Rifkind: “Well I think post-Oslo there was a moment of hope and even some of my Palestinian colleagues would say things like they threw olive branches to the Israelis. There was a belief that things could change and the two sides could live together. But since then there’ve been so many wars…ahm…three rounds of war in Gaza, we’ve had the Lebanon war.”

The Hizballah-initiated second Lebanon war of course had nothing to do with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and while conjuring up “olive branches”, Rifkind erased the post-Oslo terrorism in which hundreds of Israelis were murdered just as Stourton had previously done.

Stourton also managed to erase the 2008 peace offer made to the Palestinians by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert from his account before going on:

Stourton: “There was a flutter of hope that the peace process could be revived in the aftermath of Barak Obama’s arrival in the White House. In 2009, with an eye to Israel’s ever important American relationship, Benjamin Netanyahu – newly elected as prime minister for a second time – gave a conditional acceptance to the idea of a two-state solution.”

Stourton is of course referring to the Bar Ilan speech – which listeners then heard described thus:

Pfeffer: “It was very much a pragmatic rhetorical compromise made because he was dealing with the Obama administration which at the time was putting a lot of emphasis on trying to solve the Palestinian issue and therefore he had to make that concession. If you read those speeches then – the entire speeches – in the fine print you’ll find that he made so many conditions for the establishment of a Palestinian state as to render it almost impossible to ever exist.”

With no mention of the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to come to the negotiating table throughout most of the 2009-10 freeze on new construction in Judea & Samaria, Stourton’s portrayal continued:

Stourton: “The last real peace-making push came during Bara Obama’s second term when John Kerry was Secretary of State.”

Martin Indyk then told listeners that “neither Netanyahu nor Abu Mazen [Abbas] believed that the other was actually serious about making peace and neither of these leaders was being pressed by their publics to make peace because their publics didn’t believe in it.”

Listeners were not however told the real reasons for the collapse of that particular round of talks – including the announcement of Hamas-Fatah ‘reconciliation’ which is relevant to Stourton’s next statement.  

Stourton: “On the Palestinian side the stalemate has been attended by a collapse of confidence in the two-state solution and political chaos. The divisions between the Hamas hard-liners and Mahmoud Abbas’ once dominant Fatah movement have become more intractable than ever.”

Listeners heard Gabrielle Rifkind tell them that “the level of kind of tensions and rivalry there is very problematic” and that Palestinians have “lost faith in their leadership and so they’re no longer believing in the idea of a two-state solution” and “they talk about one state, a binational state”. She did not bother to inform BBC audiences of the relevant fact that Hamas – which garnered the majority of support from the Palestinian public last time elections were held in 2006 – has never pretended to support the two-state solution.

Stourton then introduced Dr Khalil Shikaki “director of the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah” who told listeners that:

Shikaki: “Most Palestinians are highly pessimistic about the chances of creating a Palestinian State alongside the State of Israel. A lot of those who used to support the two-state solution have now shifted to supporting a one-state solution.”

Those interested in a rather less superficial view of Shikaki’s research can find it here.

Stourton: “What do they envisage?”

Shikaki: “Well to be honest we don’t know exactly what they envisage. […] they want a one-state whereby current Israeli Jews and Palestinians would have equal rights. The state itself would have no national or religious identity. [….] some believe in a bi-national state where the two groups would remain, would maintain their national identities…”

Stourton: “So the idea of a state that is both Jewish and democratic, which has been at the heart of the whole project of Israel, that doesn’t really survive either of those scenarios, does it?”

Shikaki: “No absolutely not.”

Stourton then turned to the subject of demography, claiming that “even if you take Gaza out of the equation, the population percentages in what might be described as a greater Israel present a real challenge – not least because the Palestinian population is growing faster.”

Dennis Ross next told listeners that “Israel and the West Bank….60% Jews to 40% Arabs” and went on:

Ross: “…I think that the issue of Israel becoming a bi-national Jewish-Arab state is one that is quite real. Most Israelis are not addressing it now because they’re looking at the region. They see how terrible the wars in the region are where there’s no limits, where civilians are fair game, where hospitals are a natural target and they say why should we take the risk, especially when we don’t see any opportunity. The danger with that is that it maintains this kind of drift towards a new reality which raises basic questions. Will this be one state with two peoples and if so, how are you going to manage that?”

Stourton: “One way of managing a bi-national state would be to relegate Palestinians to second class citizens without full rights which would sit uneasily with Israel’s proud claim to be a beacon of democracy in the Middle East. The alternative would be to accept that the State of Israel will no longer be a Jewish state.”

Listeners heard Yossi Beilin’s comments on that issue, including “in the Holocaust no country in the world was ready to absorb Jews including Palestine because it was under the British mandate. And the most important notion of a sovereign Jewish state is that it will allow Jews to immigrate to it without restrictions”.

Stourton: “On the Israeli side one party in Mr Netanyahu’s coalition government has put forward a radical solution of its own. Naftali Bennett – one of his ministers – has proposed what he calls the Israel stability initiative.”

A recording of Naftali Bennett speaking was heard before Stourton went on:

Stourton: “Under his plan Israel would hand over Gaza to the Egyptians unilaterally, annex most of the West Bank and allow the Palestinian Authority to run what remained with, however, Israel retaining control of security. Mr Bennett is opposed to any kind of Palestinian state.”

Stourton did not bother to clarify to listeners that what he described as “most of the West Bank” is actually Area C and that Bennett’s proposal is to offer “full Israeli citizenship to the 80,000 Palestinians living there”.

Stourton: “Mr Bennett is one of those we wanted to talk to for this programme but his office never responded to our request. On the Palestinian side the Hamas movement also has a radical vision. It has now expressed a willingness to accept the idea of a Palestinian state within those 1967 boundaries but it’s still, in the long term, committed to the liberation of all Palestine which would of course mean the end of Israel.”

After a recording of part of the US president’s announcement concerning the relocation of his country’s embassy to Jerusalem, Stourton continued:

Stourton: “President Trump has taken two steps which reduced the pressure on Benjamin Netanyahu. He moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, thus recognising the city – to which the Palestinians also make a claim – as Israel’s capital. And he pulled out of his predecessor’s nuclear deal with Iran: a step that’s been taken as an endorsement of the Netanyahu view that Palestinians can be relegated to a lower place in the diplomatic running order.”

Listeners were not told who exactly takes that view besides those making the statements they then heard supporting it.

Rifkind: “I think on the Israeli side, certainly among the leadership, it’s quite easy to keep your head in the sand. You can think you’re in quite a strong position. You just need to look at Netanyahu who’s very good friends with Putin and Trump and the relationships have never been better with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States and you can think well maybe we can just manage this conflict.”

Pfeffer: “Even the major Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt seem of have got tired of even paying lip-service to the Palestinian cause. So yeah; he feels that his vision is winning.”

Stourton: “That means the stalemate and the violence associated with it are likely to continue.”

Once again the Iranian part of the story of shifts in the stances of Middle East states was erased from audience view.

With less than three minutes of the programme left, listeners next heard Dennis Ross make the most realistic and relevant comment in the entire discussion.

Ross:  “…I’ll tell you I don’t see – even if we could agree to a two-state outcome – I don’t know how you implement that because right now Hamas is in Gaza and I don’t see anybody moving Hamas out. The Israelis are not going to move them out. Egypt is not going to move them out. The Palestinian Authority is incapable of moving them out. And so even if you could agree to a two-state outcome – which is itself a leap at this point – you couldn’t implement it.”

Stourton: “In Israel that realism has led to a certain resignation and many Israelis now talk about managing the problem.”

Audiences then heard two negative views of that approach:

Beilin: “I hate this idea of managing conflicts”

Pfeffer: “Well you know it’s a dreadful phrase…”

Pfeffer went on to claim that “..there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight; certainly not with the current Israeli and with the current Palestinian leaderships” before Stourton returned to his context-free presentation of the violent rioting and terror attacks along the Gaza border:

Stourton: “So incidents like the shootings in Gaza become just something one has to accept according to that strategy.”

Pfeffer: “Yes, it’s the equivalent of a bad news day really.”

Stourton closed the programme by bringing up the topic of the Trump administration’s “new peace plan”:

Stourton: “Mr Trump is something of a hero in Israel. When America moved its embassy to Jerusalem his picture went up on posters all over the city. Among Palestinians hopes for a new Trump initiative are – to put it mildly – on the low side. According to Dr Shikaki’s data 90% of Palestinians believe no good can come from a Trump administration.”

As Stourton admitted early on, this programme did not even try to give audiences an objective and balanced view of the reasons why the ‘peace process’ has failed to make inroads after so many years and that editorial decision in itself is a topic for discussion. The quaint view that only Israel needs to have “a long-term strategy” because it is “a fully functioning state with military superiority” clearly deliberately ignores the very relevant fact that no such process can succeed without leaders on both sides being committed to its aims.

But even given the programme producers’ bizarre decision to present a one-sided narrative, crucial elements of the story were omitted. The history – which of course includes three full-scale wars initiated by Arab countries attempting – unsuccessfully – to eradicate the Jewish state – is highly relevant to audience understanding of the background to the conflict, as are decades of Palestinian terrorism that peaked when peace seemed to be on the horizon.

The Palestinian Authority’s ongoing incitement to violence, glorification of terrorism and payment of salaries to convicted terrorists is also a crucial part of the picture, as is Iranian funding of Palestinian terrorism. And no less relevant of course are the proposals put forward by Israeli prime minister Olmert and US president Clinton which the Palestinians refused.

While this Radio 4 portrayal presented Palestinians as being in favour of the two-state solution but turning to the one-state option out of disillusion, notably it failed to inform BBC audiences of the crucial context of the Palestinian Authority’s continued rejection of the demand to recognise Israel as the Jewish state – and thus bring an end to any future claims.

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BBC Radio 4’s peace process tango for one – part one

 

 

BBC Radio 4’s peace process tango for one – part one

According to the old adage it takes two to tango but an edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Analysis’ – which self describes as a “programme examining the ideas and forces which shape public policy in Britain and abroad, presented by distinguished writers, journalists and academics” – managed to disregard that maxim throughout the overwhelming majority of its 27 and a half minutes.

Titled “The Middle East Conundrum” and presented by Edward Stourton, the programme – aired on July 2nd and repeated on July 8th – was described in the synopsis as follows:

“Edward Stourton asks if there any chance of a long-term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tensions have been rising following the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and the deadly clashes at the border between Israel and Gaza. The peace process – if it exists at all – seems to be in deep freeze. The idea of a two-state solution does not appear to be getting any closer, while a one-state solution would effectively mark the end of a Jewish state. Does Israel have a long-term strategy?” [emphasis added]

The programme began with a recording of a report by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Bowen: “Palestinians call these protests the Great March of Return. For many of the young people who rushed the borer wire with Israel, it was a one-way journey.”

Stourton: “In mid-May, as Israel marked its 70th anniversary and the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem, some 60 Palestinians were killed during protests along the Gaza border. The story’s dropped out of the headlines but the protests and the dying have continued in a steady attrition. 16 people have been killed since then and the casualty figures over the past two and a half months are now estimated at over 120 dead and more than 14,600 wounded.”

Stourton made absolutely no effort to provide listeners with essential context on the topic of why those ‘protests’ took place and who organised and funded them. He likewise refrained from informing audiences that over 80% of those killed have been shown to have links to various Gaza based terror factions

Stourton: “For this programme we’ve been asking a question that used to make headlines and was once prominent in foreign ministerial in trays: is there a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Here’s a Palestinian perspective.”

Although unnamed, listeners then heard from Sari Nusseibeh.

Nusseibeh: “Each side has become more uncertain of the other. Each side has become less interested, less hopeful of a final or permanent solution with the other. So we have been left in some kind of limbo.”

Stourton: “Here’s the view of a veteran negotiator.”

Also unnamed, that negotiator is Martin Indyk.

Indyk: “Yeah, I think that it is a depressing situation and it didn’t have to be this way. And I do feel a sense of responsibility. Having been involved in the effort over 35 years the sense of failure weighs heavily and especially because in the process of trying to resolve it, a lot of people have died on both sides.”

With no Israeli view presented, Stourton then went on to mislead listeners by referring to “Israel’s frontiers before the Six-Day War”. Those “frontiers” were of course armistice lines which were specifically defined in the 1949 Armistice Agreement as not being borders.

Stourton: “A two-state solution to the conflict with a border drawn roughly along the lines of Israel’s frontiers before the Six-Day War in 1967 is still the starting point for most Middle East diplomacy and polls suggest it’s still the most widely supported solution among Israelis and Palestinians. But it now seems so remote that people on both sides have begun to talk as if it’s a goal that will never be reached.”

Stourton then went on to reveal why Radio 4 was broadcasting an overtly one-sided programme on what – given the state of the region as a whole – it ridiculously insists on describing as “the Middle East conundrum” and “Middle East diplomacy”.

Stourton: “And because Israel is – unlike the Palestinian Authority – a fully functioning state with military superiority, we’ll be focusing on whether its government has a long-term vision of what the future might look like.”

He continued:

Stourton: “I should say at the outset that we’ve had great difficulty in persuading those members of the coalition now in power who have a reputation for bold thinking on this subject to talk to us.”

The programme’s framing – which can be boiled down to ‘how a succession of Israeli prime ministers rejected the two-state solution and so failed to make peace’ – then came into view:   

Stourton: “One way to approach the subject is through the life and career of the current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and our story begins before Israel even existed, in the debates of early Zionists and the split between pragmatists like Israel’s founder David Ben Gurion and the so-called revisionist movement which counted Mr Netanyahu’s father among its supporters.”

Another unidentified voice – belonging to journalist Anshel Pfeffer – was then heard.

Pfeffer: “Well Professor Ben Zion Netanyahu believed in that very forceful, almost militaristic, way of bringing the Zionist programme to fruition; that the Jews shouldn’t compromise on any of their rights to the land of Israel, that there should be no weakness in any way shown towards the Arabs or towards international powers. Much less pragmatic approach than was being shown by the…by Ben Gurion’s Workers Party.”

Stourton: “Is it fair to say those ideas had a very profound impact on his son?”

Pfeffer: “No doubt about it.”

Stourton: “Anshel Pfeffer who’s just published a biography called ‘Bibi – The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu’. Mr Netanyahu first really claimed international attention at the event which raised the curtain on what became known as the peace process: the Madrid Conference in 1991. He was the prime minister’s spokesman and a real master of the sound-bite.”

Listeners then heard an archive recording:

Netanyahu: “We now have Israel that is ringed with a circle of talks. And we hope that it will replace the circle of guns that surrounds us: that this will bring peace.”

Stourton: “His boss, the prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, had – like Netanyahu senior – been a hard-liner in the days before Israel’s founding and the Americans, who sponsored the conference, had a tense time persuading him to come. Dennis Ross was a member of the American team and he doesn’t think Mr Shamir had accepted the idea of a two-state solution.”

Ross: “I think in Shamir’s case it was not so much he thought it was leading to a two-state solution. It’s just said it was leading to the unknown.”

Stourton: “Do you think he had a vision of where he wanted to end up?”

Ross: “He said that a couple of times to us that you know this is a process that’s beginning now and the issues – the real final status issues – will be dealt with after he was no longer there. I think his real approach was not driven by an objective of what he wanted as much as it was driven by a process that he hoped could be stretched out to the point where any risk that Israel might be running could be managed.”

Stourton: “The Madrid Conference did not in itself produce much movement but it was followed by the so-called Oslo Accords, negotiated in great secrecy in the Norwegian capital, which created a Palestinian Authority and gave the Palestinians a measure of autonomy. The Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and a new Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, shook hands on the deal on the White House lawn in 1993.”

After a recording of the former US president Bill Clinton speaking at that event, Stourton introduced his next contributor.

Stourton: “But even then many Israeli leaders were reluctant to accept the idea of full statehood for the Palestinians. Yossi Beilin – now a prominent opposition figure in Israeli politics – was a key player in the Oslo negotiations.”

Yossi Beilin in fact retired from political life a decade ago, in 2008.

Beilin: “Only after the agreement with the PLO it became quite apparent that the two-state solution would be the solution but even then, until Rabin’s murder he never spoke about the full two-state solution. He spoke about a Palestinian entity which will be less of a state or something like that.”

Six minutes into the programme, listeners had by now heard three Israeli prime ministers described as opponents of the two-state solution. So would they hear portrayals of the views of Palestinian leaders of the same era on that topic?

Stourton: “In the Oslo Accords the PLO recognised the State of Israel and Israel recognised the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. Movement on the Israeli side was matched by movement among moderate Palestinians. Sari Nusseibeh is a leading Palestinian intellectual and was a prominent champion of the two-state solution.”

While there are those who would disagree with Stourton’s portrayal of Nusseibeh, notably Stourton did not ask him for the PLO leader’s views of the two-state solution at the time.

Nusseibeh: “Well it seemed to me at the time on the Israeli side there were enough Israelis who seemed to also be saying they wanted to end the occupation, return to the ’67 borders, be content with the state they have within those borders and they were basically beginning to force a recognition of the Palestinian right of self-determination. And it seemed at the time to me that this would do as a kind of fair solution. It’s not the best solution, but as a fair solution. And on the Palestinian side, especially in the occupied territories, people also seemed to be struggling for primarily for a life of freedom, of independence, of dignity, of self-rule. So on both counts it seemed to me that this would be a good settlement.”

Stourton: “Bibi [sic] Netanyahu however did not change his thinking. In 1993 – the year of that arresting handshake between Messrs Arafat and Rabin on the White House lawn – he published a book called ‘A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World’ in which he argued for firm limits on the amount of autonomy the Palestinians should be given.”

Listeners then heard what is presumably a quote from that book (which was actually published five months before that White House lawn ceremony) which was – for some reason – read in an American accent.

“Under any conception of autonomy Israel should retain the powers and prerogatives of the sovereign including such matters as military defence, foreign affairs and control of the currency and foreign trade while the Arab population could manage many areas of daily life.”

Anshel Pfeffer then told listeners that the book “basically remains Netanyahu’s blueprint” and that in it “Netanyahu presents his version of Jewish history, his version of Jewish nationalism” and that he “pushes away any kind of Palestinian claim” and “denies the fact that there is such a thing as Palestinian nationalism in any historical sense. He treats it as being very much a manufactured notion of the mid-20th century”. Pfeffer went on to claim that the book presents  “Netanyahu’s plan for the future, for what kind of a peace solution can seriously bring peace to the Middle East and ensure Israel’s prosperity and success in the future”.

Stourton: And what does that look like in his book?”

Pfeffer: “Well it doesn’t look like the two-state solution if we have to be very honest. His solution is that Israel does not have to make any kind of concessions towards the Palestinians because Israel is in a much larger battle  for survival, not with the Palestinians but with the wider Arab world and with radical Islam and with Iran.”

By this time listeners were a third of way in to the programme and yet had not heard a single word about the terrorism that followed that White House lawn handshake in 1993 and the fact that the number of Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists in the five years after the Oslo Accords was higher than in the fifteen years before they were signed.

Describing Arafat as “the PLO leader” while failing to clarify that he was by that time also the president of the Palestinian Authority, Stourton then went on to present a debatable picture of the Camp David summit and to portray the second Intifada as something that just “began” rather than the pre-planned terror war that it actually was.

Stourton: “The high point of hopes for a two-state solution came in the summer of 2000 when Bill Clinton brought another Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, and the PLO leader Yasser Arafat together for 2 weeks of talks at Camp David [….]. They came tantalisingly close to a deal but they failed to get there. Two months later the second Intifada – or Palestinian uprising began. It was the beginning of the slide to today’s stalemate. Martin Indyk served two terms as the American ambassador to Israel.”

Indyk: “If we look for the tipping point it really goes back to trying to identify when the population on both sides decided that the other side had evil intent rather than benign intent. The outbreak of the Intifada convinced Israelis that giving up territory or promising to give up territory was only going to lead to more violence – and it was horrendous violence. On the other side I think the Palestinians became convinced that Oslo just brought them more settlements and more occupation. It didn’t actually lead to ending the occupation.”

Of course Indyk’s claim that Oslo “brought…more settlements” is inaccurate – as the BBC has itself reported in the past. Stourton then moved on to another Israeli prime minister.

Stourton: “In the aftermath of the Intifada Israel elected a prime minister with a reputation as the hardest of hard-liners: Ariel Sharon. He surprised everyone by deciding to withdraw from the Gaza Strip.”

Listeners heard an archive report from Orla Guerin which included the following:

Guerin “The night sky over Gaza suggests victory but on this historic night, remember this: there is no peace deal and no Palestinian state and Israel still controls the borders here.”

Stourton: “The logic behind his withdrawal plan – and there was talk of it being extended to the West Bank – was to create separate homes for Palestinians and Israelis not by negotiation but by unilateral Israeli action and on Israel’s terms. But that ran counter to the principle at the heart of all previous peace talks: the idea that Israel would give up land in exchange for peace.”

Indyk “Mahmoud Abbas…begged Sharon to negotiate an agreement for Israel’s withdrawal so that he would have commitments that he could impose – or at least try to impose – on the Palestinians, including on Hamas.”

Listeners were not informed that relevant agreements had already been signed – including the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip which laid out exactly the kinds of “commitments” Indyk claimed were lacking.  

Stourton: “Hamas, the radical Palestinian group formally dedicated to the destruction of Israel, won elections not long after the Israeli withdrawal and later secured its power in Gaza by force.”

Indyk: “But Sharon, you know, was insistent on doing a deal with George W Bush rather than with the Palestinian leadership so the withdrawal was without any understanding, any commitment on the Palestinian side, any arrangements. It was effectively pulling out and throwing the keys over the fence.”

Stourton: “So we see the impact of that still today, do we?”

Indyk: “Profoundly, profoundly because Israel withdrew, went through the incredible pain of uprooting the…the settlers there and what it got in return was rockets. Hamas’ rockets. And so that sent a message to Israelis that, you know, giving up territory doesn’t get you peace.”

In other words, BBC audiences heard Hamas terrorism – and conclusions subsequently drawn by the Israeli public – framed as having been caused by Israel’s unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip.  Notably they did not hear any mention of foreign funding of Hamas.

By this time the programme was almost at its half-way point and BBC audiences had first and foremost heard how a succession of Israeli prime ministers failed to make peace. In the second part of this post we shall see whether or not any balance was introduced into the latter half of the discussion.

Weekend long read

1) While Adalah is not the BBC’s most frequently quoted and promoted political NGO, it does appear in BBC content from time to time. David Collier has taken a closer look at one of that NGO’s flagship projects.

“Adalah are an NGO in Israel that claims to promote human rights in Israel in general and the rights of the Arab citizens of Israel ‘in particular’.

Adalah created a database of ‘discriminatory laws’ that has been used as a central pillar for anti-Israel boycott activities (BDS). Adalah’s database is the primary source for one of the three aims of the boycott Israel movement.

These laws are referenced everywhere. In the UN, in every anti-Israel meeting, in many European governments. There is hardly an anti-Israel book that is published that does not reference the list of laws. The list is a pillar of the boycott Israel movement.

Just one problem: The list is little more than a scam.”

2) MEMRI documents some of the Palestinian Authority and Fatah PR campaign against the anticipated US administration peace initiative.

“Even before its terms have been publicized, the Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan, known as “the Deal of the Century,” has encountered harsh opposition from the Palestinian Authority (PA), on the grounds that it does not promote peace but seeks to eliminate the Palestinian national identity and the Palestinian state and to topple the Palestinian leadership. Against this backdrop, PA elements have directed personal attacks at the U.S. officials promoting the deal. […]

Harsh criticism against the deal and its proponents was also voiced by Fatah, whose chairman is Palestinian President Mahmoud ‘Abbas. Recently the movement announced the launching of “a national campaign to thwart the Deal of the Century.””

3) At the INSS Gallia Lindenstrauss reviews “The Elections in Turkey: Strengthened Ultra-Nationalist Forces and the Possible Impact on Turkish Foreign Policy”.

“In Turkey’s June 24, 2018 elections, incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected for another term, and the ultra-nationalist parties grew stronger. This is significant first and foremost in the Kurdish context, since the nationalists can be expected to be among the main opponents of renewing the peace process with the Kurdish underground. This will also have extensive repercussions on Turkish foreign policy toward Syria and Iraq, and as such, on Turkey’s relations with the regional and global powers.”

4) At the Times of Israel Ari Ingel discusses “Israel, Gaza, and International Law”.

“Pro-Palestinian commentators and social media activists have been lambasting Israel over the course of the recent Gaza demonstrations for violating international law with proclamations of war crimes and human rights violations.

While a law degree apparently comes free with every twitter account, much of this talk is mere bluster with no foundation in the actual law itself, but rather, espoused with an intention to falsely vilify Israel and its leaders in the court of public opinion.” 

BBC One’s ‘Sunday Morning Live’ erases a third of the royal visit

h/t TG, MF

BBC One has a programme called ‘Sunday Morning Live’ – currently presented by Sean Fletcher and Cherry Healey – which purports to provide BBC audiences with “thought provoking discussions of ethical questions of the week“.

The July 1stedition of that programme (available in the UK here) included a papers review together with guests presented by Fletcher as “journalist and writer Christina Patterson and comedian Aatif Nawaz“.

Sean Fletcher began by erasing one-third of the itinerary of the recent royal visit to Jordan, Israel and territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Fletcher: “And this week in – well – his biggest diplomatic test, Prince William became the first member of the royal family to make an official visit to the Palestinian territories. The Duke of Cambridge, who started his Middle East trip in Jordan, toured a market in Ramallah and spent a moment in quiet prayer at the holy Wailing Wall [sic] in Jerusalem’s Old City.”

Healey: “Christina – such a sensitive issue: how do you think he did?”

Patterson: “I thought he did amazingly well I must say. People tend to speak about Prince William as if he’s, you know, nice bloke, not Einstein, ehm…and, you know, that may be true but I have to say this is a diplomatic minefield and he was clearly very, very carefully briefed. But he didn’t put a foot wrong and he managed to win both sides over.”

Viewers then saw the journalist Patterson – who, as a person on record as claiming that Israelis “raze homes and build new ones on someone else’s land” and “destroy their neighbours’ crops and treat them like criminals” may not have been the most objective commentator on Israel related topics that the BBC could have come up with – make the following pseudo-legal pronouncement:

Patterson: “I think one or two people have said oh, he shouldn’t have talked about the occupied territories. Well they are the occupied territories – that was just factually and legally accurate.”

With the programme’s presenters making no effort to inform audiences of the existence of alternative legal views concerning an issue on which Patterson is clearly not qualified to tell viewers what is “accurate” or not, she went on to potentially confuse them with a reference to the president of a country that they had not been told was included in the visit.

Patterson: “But really, to have got the Israeli president and the Palestinian president and all those people in all those different factions on his side [sic] was an astonishing achievement. And it was also very touching to see how he related to people and I think in particular he was profoundly moved by the plight of the Palestinians and I think, you know, good on him. He really brought quite…something quite tricky off.”

Fletcher then went on to refer to an article in the Sunday Mirror.

Fletcher: “Yeah, Aatif: the front of the Sunday Mirror – ‘Wills: Middle East peace is my life mission’ so according to the Mirror. That, I mean, that’s a tall order. In terms of religious and political tightropes, this is as high as they get, isn’t it?”

Nawaz: “Well I like that he’s up for the challenge, you know, because it is very challenging. You see a lot of heads of state and, you know, people in positions of influence or privilege avoid these situ…or avoid talking about the Middle East or avoid talking about the conflict or the two-state solution or whatever it is that’s brought up about it. But he’s going for it and I really like that because, you know, there’s this perception about the royal family – sometimes they’re very passive and they don’t play a role or they certainly want to avoid talking about anything controversial and it’s a very ceremonial thing. Whereas this is like a really noble, admirable aim for his [unintelligible]. He’ll win a lot of supporters in the Muslim community for acknowledging the occupied Palestinian territories and Palestine and the life of the Palestinians. So I think it’s great and if he could…listen, I’m backing it.  What can I do to help, prince? You tell me ‘cos that’s like let’s bring peace to the Middle East.”

That identity politics dog-whistle closed what apparently passes for “thought-provoking discussion” at BBC One.

Resources:

Contact ‘Sunday Morning Live’

 

Editorialising, omission and inaccuracies from BBC’s Evan Davis

The June 7th edition of BBC Two’s main news programme ‘Newsnight‘ included an interview conducted by presenter Evan Davis with the Israeli prime minister – available here in the UK or here.

Notwithstanding the fact that he spent a significant proportion of the interview interrupting his interviewee, Davis’ questions related to three topics: the JCPOA deal between the P5+1 and Iran, recent events along the Gaza Strip-Israel border and the ‘peace process’.

On the first topic BBC audiences heard Davis repeatedly opine that “military action” against Iran is inevitable – but ineffective. Notably, when the subject of Iran’s financing of regional terror was raised by Netanyahu, Davis quickly changed the subject. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

[3:40] Davis: “Let’s move on and talk about events in Israel, around Israel and in the Middle East. May the 14th was a really interesting day for your country, It was the day the American embassy in Jerusalem opened and a lot of people were watching literally television news programmes split screens of the celebrations you were having and attending over that and at the same time shooting of protesters on the Gaza border. How many died that day?”

Netahyahu: “Sixty-two – fifty of which were Hamas terror fighters according to the Hamas….”

Three more of those killed in the pre-planned rioting were claimed by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad – as the BBC is no doubt aware – but Davis proceeded:

Davis [interrupts]: “So a dozen, a dozen, a dozen civilians.”

Netanyahu: “But they weren’t protesters. They weren’t protesters.”

Davis: “A dozen, a dozen civilians.”

Netanyahu: “Wait a minute….”

Davis: “You called it a glorious day. Do you still think that was a glorious day?

Netanyahu: “I think it’s a historic day.”

Davis [interrupts]: “You [unintelligible] glorious day.”

Netanyahu: “For the moving of the embassy to Jerusalem – of course it was; it was great.”

Davis [interrupts]: “You didn’t seem to show much concern for the dozen or so civilian deaths.”

When Netanyahu began to speak about the non-lethal means of riot control employed along the Gaza Strip-Israel border, Davis cut him short again:

Davis [interrupts] “You’ve made this point many times and I just wonder…I still wonder whether you would use the phrase it’s a glorious day.”

Netanyahu: “On the moving of the embassy; for sure. Look…”

Davis [interrupts]: “Well, both things were happening…both things were related, weren’t they? It was the moving of the embassy that caused the protests in Gaza.”

Davis can of course get away with that latter statement because for three months the BBC has avoided providing its audiences with details of the background to the pre-planned agitprop and its instigators.

Netanyahu: “It was glorious in Jerusalem and it was regrettable in Gaza…”

Viewers then witnessed some classic editorialising from Davis:

Davis [interrupts]: “Regrettable? It was tragic. Absolutely tragic. Your troops killed sixty-one…”

Davis next moved on to the topic of the ‘peace process’ – ignoring the fact that Hamas has no intention of making peace with Israel and Fatah (in its own words) “categorically rejects the idea of a Jewish Israel”.

Davis: “Well tell me what is on offer? What is on offer to the Palestinians if they do everything that you say in terms of recognition of the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state?”

At 7:36 viewers heard the following:

Davis: “So tell me…so just…because I think the really important thing – who is the obstacle to peace. And in terms of how the world sees the division of terrain, your position is your security is paramount, your security cannot be achieved without occupying their land and anyway, by the way, they can’t even have all their land because you’re taking some of it.”

Later on Evans made the following claim:

[9:25] Davis: “The American general John Allen organised a security plan for Israel. It wasn’t dependent on what the Palestinians say: it was dependent on American troops in the Palestinian territory so they can have their country and you can have your security and you rejected that – not the Palestinians.”

As Netanyahu subsequently clarified, Davis’ presentation of who rejected the Allen plan is inaccurate. Presuming to speak for the US general, Davis however retorted with the claim that “John Allen would argue that politics got in the way”.

When Netanyahu brought up the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands, Davis again cut him short.

[11:46] Davis: “But do you…do you understand why there’s grievance in your region? Do you see it from the other point of view? Because you often come across as not understanding or listening to the other side.”

Prior to ‘Newsnight’ viewers being shown this interview, selected parts of it were used by the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ – as we shall see in an upcoming post.

 

Inaccuracy, omission and oddity in a BBC Radio Ulster item on Israel – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the May 20th edition of the BBC Radio Ulster “religious and ethical news” programme ‘Sunday Sequence‘ included a long item (from 34:04 here and also aired on BBC Radio Foyle) supposedly about the state of the ‘peace process’ after the May 14th chapter of the ‘Great Return March’ publicity stunt on the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

“After a week of horror in Gaza, is the roadmap to peace now in complete ruins? Dr Julie Norman, Rev Gary Mason and Tom Clonan discuss how peace could somehow yet be found.”

After listeners had heard Tom Clonan’s inaccurate account of Operation Grapes of Wrath – and been led to believe that Israel was essentially to blame for the 9/11 terror attacks – and Julie Norman’s concealment of the fact that the overwhelming majority of those killed on May 14th were males in their twenties and thirties, presenter Roisin McAuley (once again exaggerating the significance of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict) asked guest Gary Mason:

[39:01] “Now, given that situation, Gary, intractability, the importance for all of us of finding a way out of this absolute morass, where do you begin?”

Mason’s response [from 39:13] included the predictable – yet invalid – claim that it is possible to use the Good Friday Agreement as a template for solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Picking up on Mason’s reference to “the role of civic society” in peacemaking, Julie Norman then inaccurately claimed that violent actions such as the ‘Great Return March’ or the rioting in Bili’in are grassroots peace initiatives.

[42:47] Norman: “…but what you see with the kind of protests at the border, what you see with weekly demonstrations against the separation barrier – these are activists and people who refuse to give in to that despair and who are trying to take some kind of action despite the odds and despite the limitations of the larger political reality…”  

Following some echo-chamber agreement between Mason and McAuley with regard to the US administration’s role in solving the conflict – and the claim that the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem was “a real slap in the face to Palestinians” – the presenter continued:

[45:07] McAuley: “So Tom, who in your opinion can help then? If the US is not in a position to be seen as an honest broker, who is?”

Clonan: “I would strongly hope that the European Union would step up to the plate and begin to impose sanctions and trade embargoes on Israel. And I certainly think individually as nations we could begin by boycotting the Eurovision Song Contest next year. And I say that with great regret because I’m on the record…I’ve written to all of the newspapers in the [Irish] Republic repeatedly over the years saying that we should not boycott Israel. But unfortunately of late Israel has been behaving like a rogue state and should be treated as pariah by the international community. I mean there was a great deal of unanimity of condemnation, quite rightly, of a chemical attack – or a suspected chemical attack – on civilians in the suburbs of Damascus. We also expelled diplomats on suspicion of a chemical weapon attack in Salisbury which injured – seriously injured – two people. Now we need to have that same level of unanimity when it comes to Israel’s actions this week.”

Following some reminiscing from Clonan about the Irish peace process, McAuley revisited his BDS messaging while again promoting her own pet ‘most important thing in the world’ theme.

[48:54] McAuley: “What you’re underlining, Tom, is the importance of this for the region and indeed for the wider world. But are you seriously suggesting that in some way that boycotting a song festival would make any difference at all? I mean why not try to seriously engage with Israel and with everybody on this?”

Clonan: “Israel isn’t interested in engagement just now. I think they feel that their military or their use of force has been rewarded and their behaviour has deteriorated somewhat. I think unfortunately that the situation with Iran – the US withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal at a point where you have youth unemployment in Iran at 60%, where 90% of those arrested in recent civil unrest are under 25 – there’s a youth bulge in Iran that threatens to destabilise the old guard, the ageing Ayatollah. President Rouhani’s government, you know, they’ve managed with considerable pushback to get the Iran deal. I think there’s a sense – and this is what I’m being told by my contacts amongst the international defence and international community – that Israel, the United States and their Gulf state allies detect a last moment of weakness in…within Iran as Shia ascendency reaches its zenith in the region.

What all that has to do with the item’s professed subject matter is of course as clear as mud. McAuley however chose to continue the ‘youth bulge’ theme.

[48:25] McAuley: “You mentioned a youth bulge. There is a youth bulge in Palestine as well. There is a growing number…this is a numbers game to some extent is it not, Julie?”

While acknowledging a “very high youth demographic in Palestine“, Norman responded that she would not equate that with destabilisation.

Norman: “Whether it’s Iran or Palestine, I don’t think we need to fear the youth bulge.”

McAuley then claimed that “eventually, in Israel and the occupied territories as a whole, there will be more Palestinians than there are Israelis”. Norman’s answer to that included the claim that:

[49:22] Norman: “…Israel is wielding power in very violent ways as we saw on Monday and throughout the past several weeks. And it’s not just numbers when one group is living under occupation.”

The fact that Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip 13 years ago of course did not get a mention at all in this entire item.

At 50:06 Gary Mason raised the topic of the role of women in making peace, stating that he is a member of the advisory board of an Israeli organisation called ‘Women Wage Peace’. He did not however bother to inform listeners that the group’s activities have been:

“…denounced by Hamas in an official statement, as well as by the Palestinian branch of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, both of which accused Palestinians participating in the initiative of “normalizing” relations with Israel.”

Again ignoring the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip and parts of Samaria in 2005, Mason went on to say that Israelis “may have to give up land for peace […] and we just need, I think, to bring that concept into it…”. Listeners were next treated to Mason’s home-grown psychological analysis of “the Israelis”.

In response to McAuley’s question [53:30] “from where can hope come?” Julie Norman again promoted the inaccurate notion that there are Palestinian civil society groups working for peace. Tom Clonan’s reply to the same question [54:15] included the following:

Clonan: “…essentially this is Semitic peoples killing Semitic…Arabs are a Semitic people. And I think with Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump you see the very essence of patriarchal thought which has led to so much destruction in the Middle East over the last two decades and if civil society, religious leaders and other leaders in society and women can be a part of the key to this solution to this, that would be wonderful because I don’t see a solution in the unilateral military intervention strategies that we’ve had post 2001 and 9/11 unfortunately.”

Notably, no-one in the studio bothered to question Clonan’s omission of Hamas from his list of those guilty of “patriarchal thought”.

At 56:33 – after Mason had again invoked the Northern Ireland comparison and claimed that people with a “military background” could also contribute to peacemaking, McAuley came up with the following bizarre claims:

McAuley: “I know that Peace Now – the big Israeli movement for peace and defence of the Palestinians and sitting down in front of tanks and so on that are about to destroy houses – that was founded by veterans of the 1948 war who had driven their tanks into Israel to take the land.”

Where those tanks had supposedly been driven from was not clarified to listeners before Clonan jumped in with a plug for yet another political NGO.

[56:58] Clonan: “And the Breaking the Silence movement as well: you know Israeli serving and ex-serving military. And I mean even from my own experience I mean I had my epiphany in the Middle East […] and to just witness man’s inhumanity to man and I mean it was only after becoming a parent myself that I was able to put my experiences into context. It was only after I buried my own little daughter that I understood what it was like for those Lebanese men, women and children to suffer in that way. And the Israelis in the settlement towns of Sderot and on the border that were being attacked by Hizballah indiscriminately. […] The constant disinhibited [sic], indiscriminate use of force at the moment, I think with that they’re sowing the seeds of their own destruction and what Israel needs in the Middle East is friends. And what better friends to have than the Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians. It is possible but we need imagination, we need leadership.”

The item closed soon after that. Only then, after nearly twenty-five minutes of hopelessly uninformed – and often downright ignorant – discussion, were listeners told that:

[58:56] McAuley: “The Israeli government response to the events on Monday was that the military actions were in keeping with Israeli and international law. They asserted that the demonstrations along the border were – quote – part of the conflict between the Hamas terrorist organisation and Israel. The military’s open fire orders, they said, were therefore subject to international humanitarian law – also known as the law of armed conflict – rather than international human rights law.”

Clearly this long item cannot possibly have contributed to audience understanding of the professed story and its context, riddled as it was with gross inaccuracies, deliberate distortions and important omissions – and not least the important issue of Hamas terrorism. The repeated inappropriate comparisons to the Northern Ireland conflict likewise detracted from listeners’ understanding of the background to the topic supposedly under discussion and the one-sided claims and comments from contributors and presenter alike – including promotion of the anti-Israel BDS campaign – are ample evidence that the prime aim of this item was to promote a specific political narrative.

Related Articles:

Inaccuracy, omission and oddity in a BBC Radio Ulster item on Israel – part one

 

 

 

 

 

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part two

The May 14th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ – presented by Razia Iqbal – included a pre-recorded interview (from 16:05 here) with regular BBC guest Mustafa Barghouti in which many of the themes already apparent at the beginning of the programme (discussed in part one of this post) were repeated and reinforced.

Iqbal: “Let’s hear now from the Palestinians. Mustafa Barghouti is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. He also sits on the central council of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. A short while ago I spoke to him from our Ramallah studio. He gave me his reaction to the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem.”

Barghouti: “This move from the side of the administration of President Trump is very bad and I think it makes the United States complicit and even participant in violating international law and actually committing a war crime by approving the annexation of occupied territories by force. It also destroys the ability of the United States to be a negotiator in any peace process.” […]

Iqbal: “Let’s start with that first point that you made – that the US is in violation of international law. President Trump would argue that the peace process was moribund and by taking Jerusalem off the table, he has a plan to reinject life into a process that was dead.”

Barghouti: “No, he is substituting the peace between two sides with…and enforcing a deal unilaterally with Israel on the Palestinian side, consolidating the occupation and the system of apartheid and racial discrimination. He’s taking off the table the issue of Jerusalem, the issue of settlements, the issue of refugees. So practically he’s saying I’m fulfilling what the Israelis want.”

Listeners heard no challenge to Barghouti’s ‘apartheid’ smear from Razia Iqbal, who went on to ask a ‘question’ which is obviously irrelevant given that Israel’s position on its capital has not changed in thirty-eight years and merely served as a cue for more of Barghouti’s deliberately delegitimising falsehoods and smears.

Iqbal: “A third of the residents of Jerusalem are Palestinians. Given what Prime Minister Netanyahu has been saying about Jerusalem being the undivided capital of Israel, what do you think is going to happen to those Palestinians now.”

Barghouti: “Well they are treated as third grade citizens. They are discriminated against. There is one law for Israelis and another for Palestinians. Their properties are confiscated. They are prohibited from building new homes. In reality, Mr Netanyahu is trying to push the Palestinians out of Jerusalem and trying to exercise ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian people.”

Razia Iqbal could have put Barghouti’s allegations of ethnic cleansing into proportion had she told listeners that the Arab population of Jerusalem grew from 69,000 (26%) in 1967 to 324,000 (37%) in 2015. She chose not to do so. Listeners then got an insight into the source of Iqbal’s earlier claim that “many people” think that “the United States is joining the occupier in violating international law”.

Iqbal: “How are the Palestinians going to respond in the context of what you regard as a violation of international law? If you’re saying that the US is now siding with the occupying power, what is it that you can do about the United States breaking those resolutions at the United Nations?”

Barghouti responded with promotion of the BDS campaign – which as usual was not explained to audiences. Later on he was given another opportunity to promote the ‘apartheid’ smear unchallenged.

Iqbal: “The United States is clearly moving in a direction unilaterally in many different spheres. Who would you like to intervene now?”

Barghouti: “Look I believe our case is very similar to the case of South African people who struggled against apartheid. There was a time when most governments turned their backs to Nelson Mandela who was described as a terrorist. […] I think the peoples of the world are now realising how just the cause of the Palestinians is and how it is unacceptable to allow Israel to create a system of apartheid in the 21st century.”

After a break, Iqbal returned to the story at 30:06 with more of the same messaging.

Iqbal: “We’re going to return to our top story today – the story that’s dominating our programme – the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem: an issue that has been hugely contentious. The Israelis of course welcoming it. Palestinians and many in the international community seeing it as going against international consensus.”

At 36:09 Iqbal spoke to former US Senator Joe Lieberman who was at the US embassy event and –as she clarified – was one of those who put forward the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act.  Iqbal told listeners:

Iqbal: “It [the act] did pass both Senate and the House but it was not signed into law by then president Bill Clinton.”

That obviously implies to BBC audiences that the Jerusalem Embassy Act did not become law. In fact, a footnote states:

Ignoring the fact that in his December 6thstatement the US president specifically said “[w]e are not taking a position of any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders”, during their conversation Iqbal ‘asked’ Lieberman:

Iqbal: “The president could have said though – couldn’t he? – that the US would move its embassy to west Jerusalem. The idea of claiming Jerusalem in its entirety as the capital sends out a very hostile – at the worst – but in some respects not a neutral position or signal to the Palestinians.”

Iqbal again promoted the ‘US embassy relocation as the end of the peace process’ theme.

Iqbal: “Do you think there still is scope for a peace process?”

She promoted another recurring theme by referring to the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem as a decision that “puts Washington completely at odds with the rest of the international community” and when her interviewee responded that “a country puts its embassy in the city that the host country declares to be its capital”, Iqbal interrupted him.

Iqbal: “But Senator Lieberman – I’m so sorry to interrupt you – under the UN resolution East Jerusalem is occupied territory.”

Iqbal did not bother to clarify to listeners that the UNSC resolution to which she referred – 2334 – is non-binding.

At 45:03 Iqbal introduced her final pre-recorded interviewee – the head of an American political NGO that claims to have been trying (obviously unsuccessfully) to “promote a just resolution” to the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1979. Listeners however were not provided with background on that NGO’s political stance (as required by BBC editorial guidelines) which would help them put the contributor’s words into context.

Iqbal: “We are going to stay with our top story now and hear from Lara Friedman who is president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace in Washington. I began by asking her a little while ago how significant she thought the move was for the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

Unsurprisingly, Friedman’s responses dovetailed with the themes Iqbal had chosen to promote throughout the programme.

Freidman: “The moving of the embassy has been a red line politically.”

Friedman: “The notion that you reinvigorate a peace process by effectively telling one side all of the arguments we made to you to come into a peace process are now dead and we expect you to stay or come into a peace process based on an entirely different set of arguments that compromise everything that you need – it doesn’t pass what I call the laugh test. It’s impossible to hear that without laughing if you understand what is necessary for Israeli-Palestinian peace.”

Iqbal: “The Palestinians argue that in doing this President Trump and the United States has placed itself on the side of the occupying power and that by recognizing Jerusalem in its entirety as the capital of Israel, it is in violation of international law since East Jerusalem is an occupied territory recognised by international law. Is there any scope in taking that route?”

Friedman: “It isn’t the Palestinians who say that – it’s pretty much the rest of the world except for Guatemala and possibly Paraguay down the road. This is not a move that is recognised as legitimate by anyone and on the question of whether or not President Trump is taking the side of Israel – the occupier – I mean Mr Trump himself has said ‘I’ve taken Jerusalem off the table’.”

Freidman: “The United States really has in the views of almost anyone who looks at this issue seriously, they have taken themselves out of the room as a viable or credible steward of a peace process…”

And with that cosy little echo-chamber interview, ‘Newshour’ reporting on the topic of the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem came to a close.

As we see BBC audiences worldwide were fed a highly regimented view of the topic of the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem. They heard no serious discussion of the topic of the ‘international law’ to which Iqbal and some of her guests repeatedly referred as though it was not open to different interpretation. The idea that the US embassy’s move brings about the demise of the ‘peace process’ was repeatedly promoted with no discussion whatsoever of any additional factors affecting that process and the notion of the United States being at odds with an ‘international consensus’ was amplified unquestioningly.

Just as it was all too obvious what impression of the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem  BBC audiences were intended to take away, the programme’s presentation of the second topic on the ‘split screen’ – the Gaza border rioting on May 14th – was equally monochrome, as we will see in a separate post.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part one

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part one

Writing at the New York Times, Matti Friedman discusses media coverage of the May 14th pre-planned events along the Gaza Strip-Israel border:

“About 40,000 people answered a call to show up. Many of them, some armed, rushed the border fence. Many Israelis, myself included, were horrified to see the number of fatalities reach 60.

Most Western viewers experienced these events through a visual storytelling tool: a split screen. On one side was the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem in the presence of Ivanka Trump, evangelical Christian allies of the White House and Israel’s current political leadership — an event many here found curious and distant from our national life. On the other side was the terrible violence in the desperately poor and isolated territory. The juxtaposition was disturbing.

The attempts to breach the Gaza fence, which Palestinians call the March of Return, began in March and have the stated goal of erasing the border as a step toward erasing Israel. A central organizer, the Hamas leader Yehya Sinwar, exhorted participants on camera in Arabic to “tear out the hearts” of Israelis. But on Monday the enterprise was rebranded as a protest against the embassy opening, with which it was meticulously timed to coincide. The split screen, and the idea that people were dying in Gaza because of Donald Trump, was what Hamas was looking for.

The press coverage on Monday was a major Hamas success in a war whose battlefield isn’t really Gaza, but the brains of foreign audiences.”

BBC World Service radio of course does not have a literal split screen but the May 14th afternoon edition of ‘Newshour‘ – presented by Razia Iqbal – certainly managed to create an audio equivalent of that “storytelling tool”.

“Dozens of Palestinians have been killed and nearly 2,000 injured by Israeli forces on Gaza’s border. The clashes came as the United States formally opened its embassy in Jerusalem. We will hear from both Palestinian and Israeli voices.”

The overwhelming majority of that hour-long programme was devoted to those two concurrently presented topics: the inauguration ceremony of the US embassy in Jerusalem and the May 14th rioting along the Gaza border. In addition to Iqbal’s own commentary, listeners heard live excerpts from the ceremony at the new US embassy along with a report from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell and interviews with one Israeli MK, one Palestinian politician, one Palestinian demonstrator, a former US Senator and an American member of a political NGO.

In the two parts of this post we will look at how the former event was presented to BBC audiences and in a future post we will discuss the programme’s presentation of the second topic.

Razia Iqbal introduced the broadcast (from 00:11 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “Our programme is dominated today by the city of Jerusalem – a city which embodies that very potent mix of religion, politics and history. Today – as we speak – the United States is inaugurating its embassy there following President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in early December last year. It could mark the beginning of a seismic shift in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The status of Jerusalem is among the issues which remain open for negotiation in any final peace accord; as a recognition of how contentious it is. The Israelis regard the undivided city as their capital and the Palestinians – as well as international law – regard the east of the city as territory occupied by the Israelis after the 1967 war and there for the Palestinians to make as their capital of any Palestinian state. The new US embassy will be located in west Jerusalem but President Trump has said that his unilateral decision to recognise it as Israel’s capital takes it off the table. It is among several issues which now separate the United States from the rest of the international community. We’ll be getting views from all sides about what’s happening today, right now, and also what it means for a peace process which has long been dormant.”

Already in that introduction the themes which would be repeatedly emphasised throughout the rest of the programme were apparent. Despite the fact that, even as Iqbal spoke, tens of thousands of Palestinians were literally demonstrating the fact that they are not interested in a peace agreement by participating in an event promoting efforts to eradicate the world’s only Jewish state, for the BBC it was the placement of a new plaque on an existing US mission in Jerusalem which was the “seismic shift” and the factor which would affect the ‘peace process’.

Iqbal’s partisan portrayal of ‘international law’ was likewise a theme repeated throughout the programme, as was that of US ‘isolation’ from a touted ‘consensus’ within the ‘international community’. Notably, on the two occasions that she mentioned the name of the Jerusalem neighbourhood in which the US embassy is now situated, Razia Iqbal could not even be bothered to get its name – Arnona – right.

03:20 Iqbal: “Not very far from what’s happening in the Arona neigbourhood of Jerusalem where the new US embassy is going to be is quite a different scene.”

30:06 Iqbal: “In the past few minutes as the ceremony has been taking place in the Arona suburb of Jerusalem…”

At 08:26 Iqbal began a live interview with Israeli MK Sharren Haskel, asking her first for her thoughts on the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem. When in the course of her answer Haskel pointed out that “you cannot separate Jerusalem from the Jewish identity” and that the move is “very exciting”, an audibly hostile Iqbal (and one has to listen to it to appreciate the level of aggression) interrupted her.

Iqbal: “OK. So very exciting from your perspective. Arabs have also lived in Jerusalem for millennia. The Palestinians regard East Jerusalem…please let me ask a question Sharren Haskel. Please let me ask a question. And Arabs regard…Palestinians regard East Jerusalem as occupied territory – occupied illegally by Israel – and they see it as a possible future capital for a Palestinian state. What do you think about the view put by many people, including many in the international community, that the United States is joining the occupier in violating international law?”

The source of that “view put by many people” which Iqbal promoted became apparent minutes later when – at 16:05 –Iqbal introduced a notably less aggressive pre-recorded interview with BBC frequent flyer Mustafa Barghouti which will be discussed in part two of this post.