Weekend long read

1) At the Jerusalem Post, Jonathan Spyer explains ‘The Turkey-Qatar Nexus’.

“While the Mideast news headlines are currently (justifiably) dominated by the clash between the Iranian-led, largely Shia axis and its West-aligned enemies, the Turkey-Qatar-Muslim Brotherhood nexus constitutes a third force.

This alliance first came to prominence in the early, optimistic months of the “Arab Spring.” In Egypt, Tunisia and Syria, Muslim Brotherhood-associated movements played a vital early role in the popular uprisings in those countries.

Qatar offered encouragement via Al Jazeera, and financial support to Islamist insurgent groups such as the Tawhid Brigade and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.

Turkey was the main backer for the Sunni Arab rebels throughout the Syrian rebellion, and offered active support to Mohamed Morsi’s short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt.”

2) The ITIC documents a recent example of the Palestinian Authority’s glorification of terrorism.

“The “shahid culture,” reflected in the glorification of terrorists who perpetrated terrorist activities, is a common practice in the Palestinian Authority and Fatah. It is a major component in the Palestinian heritage and part of the policy of the Palestinian Authority. Shahids are usually commemorated in various ways, including naming streets, squares, schools and public institutions after them. Special attention is given to the glorification of shahids among the younger generation in order to turn them into role models. Thus, terrorist attacks and their perpetrators become publicly legitimate, increasing young Palestinians’ motivation to follow in the footsteps of the shahids and carry out attacks against Israel.”

3) At Tablet Magazine, Liel Leibovitz takes a look at the Joint Arab List.

“When the Joint List, the Arab party that emerged as Israel’s third largest in the recent round of elections, endorsed Benny Gantz as its candidate for prime minister on Sunday, pundits took to every available perch to declare the moment historic. After all, no Arab party has ever endorsed a Jewish leader, and Ayman Odeh, the party’s Obama-esque leader, seized the moment properly by tweeting a line from Psalms. To many, this felt like a breath of fresh air, a surge of coexistence and compromise after Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line policies.

The hosannas, however, are premature: The Joint List, sadly, remains a vehemently anti-Zionist party whose members have often expressed their support for convicted terrorists.”

4) At the Hoover Institution, Tony Badran takes a look at the ‘peace process’.

“Speaking to reporters in August, President Trump said he would likely wait until after the Israeli elections in September to unveil his peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians. Although this plan has been long in the making, with the exception of the proposal to allocate investment funds to the Palestinian territories and neighboring countries, its details have remained unknown; and that’s a good thing. A peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians is the “toughest deal of all,” the American president remarked. Perhaps. It also might be, in and of itself, the least relevant. In fact, progress on this front is as low a priority for America in the Middle East as you can get. The real interest for the United States lies elsewhere. The Trump administration appears to recognize this reality full well, as the steps it has taken so far suggest.”

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Weekend long read

1) The potential designation of the Muslim Brotherhood – covered by the BBC at the end of last month – is the topic of a discussion held at the FDD available both as a transcript and on video.

“As the administration and Congress consider designating Muslim Brotherhood groups as Foreign Terrorist Organizations, FDD hosted a breakfast event on May 17 to discuss the options, criteria, and implications of any U.S. government actions. The conversation was be moderated by Nancy Youssef, national security correspondent at The Wall Street Journal, and featured Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at FDD; Samuel Tadros, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute; and Amy Hawthorne, deputy director for research at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED).”

2) The ITIC reports on the demonstration held two weeks ago in London.

“On May 11, 2019, a demonstration and rally were held in central London to mark the Palestinian Nakba Day. The events were organized by several anti-Israeli organizations operating in Britain, whose objective is to demonize Israel and promote the BDS campaign. The Nakba Day events in London were attended by between 3,000 and 4,000 demonstrators. At the head of the demonstrators marched Ahed Tamimi, a young Palestinian woman from the village of Nabi Salih (near Ramallah), a serial provocateur who customarily clashes with IDF soldiers. Among the speakers was Zaher Birawi, a Hamas- and Muslim Brotherhood- affiliated operative who participates in organizing marches and flotillas to the Gaza Strip, and a member of the committee that prepared the return marches. Another speaker was Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian Authority (PA) representative in Britain. The demonstrators carried signs and chanted slogans calling for the [so-called] “right of return” of the Palestinians, which means, according to Palestinian perception, the destruction of the nature of the State of Israel as a Jewish state.”

3) At the INSS Oded Eran discusses “Concerns for Jordan’s Stability”.

“In the first years after the outbreak of the Arab Spring, the common assessment was that the Hashemite Kingdom was able to cope with the challenges it confronted, despite the various internal and external political pressures, including the demographic pressure created by the wave of refugees from Syria. However, cracks in this image of stability have begun to emerge, and there are increasing indications that the developments in the country could lead to a serious undermining of the regime, with long term strategic ramifications. The destabilization process could, for example, be sparked by protracted mass demonstrations, some of them violent, a loss of control over the situation by security forces, and a loss of the palace’s control over parliamentary decisions.”

4) Dr Manfred Gerstenfeld examines “Antisemitic Cartoons in the Anti-Israel Media” at BESA.

“Media that frequently incite against Israel often slip into publishing antisemitic cartoons.  A case in point is a recent cartoon in The New York Times that dehumanized Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu by depicting him as a dog. Antisemitic cartoons have appeared in the British Independent and Guardian, the German Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Italian Il Manifesto, the Swedish Dagens Nyheter, the Dutch Volkskrant, and all three leading Norwegian dailies.”

BBC News website showcases Paul Danahar’s Middle East narrative

An AFP report from May 14th about the WhatsApp security flaw story states: [emphasis added]

“”This attack has all the hallmarks of a private company that works with a number of governments around the world” according to initial investigations, it [WhatsApp] added, but did not name the firm.”

AFP’s article goes on:

“The spyware appears to be related to the Pegasus software developed by Israeli-based NSO group, which is normally sold to law enforcement and intelligence services, according to Washington-based analyst Joseph Hall.

The spyware “could have gotten into someone’s hands” outside legitimate channels for nefarious purposes, Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, told AFP.

It’s unclear who is doing this.””

Former BBC Jerusalem bureau chief Paul Danahar however has no such doubts and on May 14th he published an article on the BBC News website’s ‘US & Canada’ and ‘Middle East’ pages titled “Why the WhatsApp spies may have eyes on Iran”.

Readers got some early signposting in the form of the main photograph used to illustrate the article. The image – which has no connection whatsoever to the story itself – was captioned “Young Israeli soldiers take a selfie”.

Danahar opened his article as follows: [all emphasis added]

“Time to join some dots.

The WhatsApp hack, “sabotaged” oil tankers, the push in the US to proscribe the Muslim Brotherhood and “plans” to deploy American troops to the Gulf are all strands of the same story. At its heart is the struggle between Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran.”

Danahar then spent the next seven paragraphs establishing linkage between the Israeli army and tech companies while promoting an unsupported claim regarding the function of intelligence units.

“The Israeli army takes in every youngster, assesses their greatest strength and parks them where they can do the most national good.

The computer nerds who would otherwise be locked in their mum’s basement are forced out into the light and into doing their national service in cyber-warfare.

When they leave the army, they take the skills and the connections they made into the industrial sector and they form companies like the NSO Group.”

That section also promotes a link to another report on the WhatsApp story written on the same day by the BBC’s North America technology reporter, Dave Lee. In that report Lee linked to an article he wrote in 2016 in which he made some dubious claims concerning NSO and the IDF’s 8200 unit which remain in situ.

Danahar next managed to bring Palestinians into the story:

“The NSO Group makes hacking tools to sell to governments to fight crime and terrorism.

But – and it is a big but – they’ll only get an export licence from the Israeli government if it deems that the sale does not harm the national interest.

In the past that meant no sales to Iran and nothing to Arab Gulf states either.

That’s because in the past the Gulf states stood with the Palestinians against Israel.”

Ignoring the fact that the Gulf Cooperation Council states ditched the Arab League boycott of Israel in 1996, Danahar went on to claim that:

“In the post-Arab Spring period, the Gulf states (apart from Qatar) have all but abandoned the Palestinian cause and moved to side with Israel against Iran.

This slow shift was accelerated by the election of Donald Trump and the appointment of so many anti-Iran hawks to his administration, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton.”

The Gulf states’ recognition of threats posed by Iran was of course amply evident long before Donald Trump ran for president. Providing no concrete supporting evidence, Danahar then promoted “speculation”.

“There’s much speculation that the Israeli government would, to build relations with their new friends in the Gulf, have allowed the NSO Group to sell their software to Gulf states.

What suggests that? Well it’s perhaps not a coincidence that among those reportedly targeted by the WhatsApp hacking software were lawyers investigating human rights abuses in Gulf states, a Saudi dissident and a Qatari citizen.”

Failing to inform readers of Iran’s financing and support of terror groups such as Hizballah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas and ignoring the regular Iranian threats against Israel, Danahar continued:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made his reason for being (and his only political legacy) his effort to contain Iran, which he projects as Israel’s only existential threat.”

Danahar – now the BBC’s Americas Bureaux Editor in Washington then went on to promote his notion of how US foreign policy is made.

“The Saudi rulers see two existential threats. One from without: Iran. And one from within: the Muslim Brotherhood. The Saudis are scared of Iran because of its military might.

They are scared of the Muslim Brotherhood because they offer political Islam as an alternative to the dynastic rule of the royal family.

The Trump administration is made up of people who hate the Iranian regime and everything it stands for.

So, this new “Axis of Egos” is all doing each other favours to position themselves collectively to fully unite against Iran.

Lots of trades are taking place.

Some involve arms sales, some involve the price of oil and gas, some involve political trades like the one that some in the White House are doing for the Saudis by trying to designate the Brotherhood as a terrorist group.”

A photo caption tells readers that: “The Trump administration decided to pursue sanctions against the Muslim Brotherhood following an April meeting with Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi”.

As was noted here when the BBC previously promoted that claim in late April, “the idea of designating the Brotherhood” predates both the Trump administration and that meeting.

Danahar next invoked the Iraq war spectre while a photo caption once again used scare quotes around the word “sabotaged” to suggest to readers that damage done to four ships off the coast of the UAE on May 12th may not have been deliberate.

“In a replay of what happened before the invasion of Iraq, it appears that any strand of intelligence that can be spun into a reason to ratchet up the pressure on Iran is being used.

This atmosphere is all very familiar to those of us who were around to witness the build-up towards the war in Iraq.”

Danahar closed his polemic by trying to persuade audiences that if the US did go to war with Iran, it would ultimately be because of Israel. 

“The present occupant in the White House has far fewer ideological bones in his body, perhaps none. […]

He’s unlikely to sign up to another war in the Middle East, certainly not this side of the 2020 election, unless he is seriously provoked.

That would require being able to pin some very bad action on Tehran. The best way to do that is to gather intelligence.

And the best way to gather intelligence is for all your allies to be spying on as many people in the region as you can.

One of the best ways to do that is to hack into the Trojan horse we all voluntarily carry with us, our smartphones.”

As we saw in November 2012 when Paul Danahar – then head of the BBC’s Jerusalem bureau – signed off and personally promoted inaccurate reports concerning the death of a child in the Gaza Strip, he apparently does not find it necessary to have verified evidence before promoting a version of events which fits in with his chosen political narrative.

And as we see in this item, Danahar’s chosen narrative includes an Iranian regime which is so passive and innocuous that it would have to have “some very bad action” pinned on it by underhand actors.

Notably, that is being presented to BBC audiences as “news that you can trust”.  

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Superficial BBC News reporting on Muslim Brotherhood

 

Superficial BBC News reporting on Muslim Brotherhood

On April 30th the BBC News website published a remarkably superficial report titled “White House to designate Muslim Brotherhood terrorist organisation”.

Despite that headline’s clear suggestion that the issue is already cut and dried, that not the case. The report opens by telling readers that:

“The Trump administration is working to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organisation, the White House said on Tuesday.”

Readers are also told why that is purportedly the case.

“The decision follows a White House visit by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in April.

Mr Sisi asked US President Donald Trump to make the move, US media said.”

Two paragraphs later, that messaging is reinforced.

“The Trump administration first directed security and diplomatic officials to find a way to impose sanctions on the Brotherhood after a meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Sisi on 9 April, US media report.” [emphasis added]

In fact, as noted by two authors in January 2017 (a week after Donald Trump became president and over two years before Mr Sisi’s April 9th visit):

“The idea of designating the Brotherhood has been kicking around a long time…” 

The article states: [emphasis added]

“On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders confirmed the administration is pushing for the designation.

“The President has consulted with his national security team and leaders in the region who share his concern, and this designation is working its way through the internal process,” Ms Sanders said in a statement.”

However, BBC audiences were told nothing of what that “internal process” entails or how long it might take.

They were nevertheless informed of opposition to a process which has yet to be completed, beginning – unsurprisingly – with the Muslim Brotherhood itself.

“In a statement on its website, the Muslim Brotherhood said it would remain committed to its work, regardless of the White House’s decision, Reuters reports.” […]

Readers then heard of domestic opposition:

“The decision has caused a rift between White House officials and Pentagon staff, according to the New York Times.

Though US National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo both purportedly support the move, career national security staff, government lawyers and diplomatic officials have raised legal and policy objections.” 

Next came foreign opposition:

“A spokesman for Turkey’s ruling AK Party said on Tuesday that the designation would hinder democratisation efforts in the Middle East and provide a boost to other militant groups in the region, according to US media.”

The BBC did not bother to inform readers of the obviously relevant fact that the AKP is, as the FDD’s Jonathan Schanzer testified before a congressional committee in July 2018, strongly supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Turkey’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) is effectively the Turkish arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkish President and AKP founder Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly supports the movement. That support was most evident during the height of the Arab Spring, when Erdogan apparently believed he could harness the growing political power of the movement under his leadership.

Erdogan dispatched Turkish campaign strategist Erol Olcok to Egypt to help with Morsi’s campaign. Olcok helped Erdogan’s AKP party win eleven elections in Turkey. On September 30, 2012, after Morsi’s victory was secured, Erdogan invited the Egyptian president, along with the Brotherhood-linked Palestinian Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal to the AKP convention in Ankara. After Morsi delivered a speech at the convention praising Erdogan and the AKP, he announced a $1 billion loan from Turkey to Egypt. In February 2013, Turkey’s then-President Abdullah Gul became the first foreign leader to visit Egypt under Morsi’s government. In 2015, Erdogan further admitted that he provided $2 billion to Morsi at a time when no one else was helping Egypt. Turkey’s support became increasingly strident after the collapse of Brotherhood rule in Egypt. The AKP organized public demonstrations in Turkey in support of Morsi following the coup, and at least 1,500 members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood found refuge in Turkey.”

The BBC’s report goes on to promote and link to a video put out by the Brookings Institution.

The BBC however refrained from informing its audiences of the relevant fact that the Brookings Institution has for years been funded by Qatar and has a branch there. Qatar is of course the country which has long provided the Muslim Brotherhood with both refuge and cash, as also noted by Jonathan Schanzer.

“Qatar is undeniably the world’s most welcoming and generous jurisdiction for the Muslim Brotherhood. The relationship began in the early 1950s when the tiny emirate “provided a lucrative, stable and welcoming platform where Brotherhood members could safely base themselves, recruit fellow members and prosper.” In the 1960s, the Brotherhood began to use Qatar as a “launching pad” for expansions into other jurisdictions, like the United Arab Emirates. Qatar tacitly approved those activities, so long as the Brotherhood continued to be “outward-facing” and did not pose a threat to Doha. […]

As of July 2013, when the Morsi regime collapsed, Qatar had pumped $8 billion in financial aid to Egypt, according to the Financial Times. Qatar today serves as a safe haven for many Egyptian Brotherhood figures. It hosts the Brotherhood’s de facto spiritual guide, Yusuf al Qaradawi, along with other figures like Asim Abd-al-Majid, Wagdy Ghoneim, Ehab Shiha, Ashraf Badr al-Din, and Hamzah Zawbaa. The fact that Doha hosts these figures became one of the main complaints against Qatar from its Gulf neighbors.”

The BBC’s report closes with a typically sanitised cameo of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

“The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, has influenced Islamist movements around the world with its model of political activism combined with Islamic charity work.

The movement was initially intended to spread Islamic morals and good works, but soon became involved in politics, particularly the fight to rid Egypt of British colonial control and cleanse it of all Western influence.

In the first parliamentary elections after President Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow in February 2011, the political party associated with the Muslim Brotherhood ascended to power, winning nearly half the seats in Egypt’s parliament.

Since Mr Morsi’s ousting, thousands of Brotherhood members have been arrested.”

Notably, BBC audiences were told nothing at all about the Muslim Brotherhood’s numerous offshoots outside Egypt – including some already designated by the US such as Hamas.

Whether or not the US administration will eventually designate all or parts of the Muslim Brotherhood remains to be seen but as we see, despite its public purpose obligation “to help people understand…the world around them” the BBC has managed to condense a complex issue into yet another trite item in its ‘Trump behaving badly’ genre. 

 

Mainstreaming the eradication of Israel concept on BBC Two

On October 17th the producers of the BBC Two programme ‘Newsnight‘ thought it would be a good idea to bring a person the BBC knows to be a terror supporter into the studio to talk about the Khashoggi affair.

At 3:05 minutes into the interview with Azzam Tamimi, presenter Evan Davis widened the topic of discussion: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Davis: “I hear everything you’re saying but the standards of the region are not high, are they? And there are people on your side of the argument – you support Hamas, you’re a member of the Muslim Brotherhood – people on your side of the argument of course who do cruel things, assassinations. These are not techniques that are kind of, you know, unique to the Saudis.”

Tamimi: “Are you accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of doing this?”

Davis: “No, but Hamas certainly.”

Tamimi:  “The Muslim Brotherhood today is paying for defending democracy. We have today forty thousand prisoners in Egyptian jails because they stood for democracy.”

Refraining from challenging Tamimi’s absurd portrayal of an Islamist movement as ‘defenders of democracy’, Davis went on:

Davis: “And Hamas of course, in its struggle against Fatah and against Israel…”

Tamimi: “No; Hamas is a national liberation movement. Hamas is struggling for liberation of Palestine which is occupied by the Zionists. But that’s a different issue. Let’s not confuse issues.”

Davis: “Well I don’t want to…I don’t want to get in there but I was just wanting to make that point.”

Not only did Davis not “make that point” but his introduction of the unrelated and irrelevant topic of Hamas actually served no purpose other than to provide Tamimi with a cue for an inaccurate portrayal of Hamas and its aims which went completely unquestioned by Davis.

Like Hamas, Azzam Tamimi’s definition of ‘occupation’ includes every square metre of Israel. And thus – with no challenge whatsoever from the BBC’s presenter – an extremist terror supporter got a free pass to mainstream the concept that the eradication of the Jewish state is ‘liberation’ on prime time British television.

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Superficial BBC News reporting from Qatar hinders understanding

Plucky: Having or showing determined courage in the face of difficulties.”

The article promoted by the BBC’s Middle East bureau chief in that Tweet appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on June 5th under the headline “Qatar cash and cows help buck Gulf boycott“. Written by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell after a visit to Doha, the report includes a video about a dairy farm in Qatar in which BBC audiences are told that: [emphasis added]

“The cows were shipped, and even flown into Qatar when it was cut off by its Arab neighbours. They accused it of supporting terrorism – which it denies.”

In the article itself readers find the following:

“On 5 June last year, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut off all diplomatic, trade and transport links to Qatar.

They accused it of supporting terrorism, stirring up regional instability and seeking close ties with their arch-rival, Iran.

Qatar denied that and refused to comply with a long list of demands, including closing its Al Jazeera news network. […]

“The main thing that the blockading states are aiming for [is] a power consolidation in the region,” Qatar’s Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, tells me.

They started to draw the picture of terrorist on anyone who is different from them.””

The exact same messaging is seen in the synopsis to a filmed report that also appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on June 5th.

“Qatar’s Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani says “they started to draw the picture of terrorist on anyone who is different from them.””

The same statement opens the filmed report itself.

So what information were BBC audiences given that would help them judge whether there is any truth in that repeatedly promoted claim, according to which accusations of support for terrorism are merely a smear because Qatar is “different”?”

Knell’s portrayal of the issue begins with a year-old story.

“Qatar blames the start of last year’s crisis on what it says was a cyber-attack on its state-run news agency, which published comments purportedly from the ruling emir.

He was quoted as expressing sympathy for Hezbollah militants in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, and claiming that Donald Trump might not last long as US president.

However, analysts say the roots of the disagreement go back much further.

“This was an issue that was kept bottled for 20 years but it just came out in the open a year ago,” says Ali Shihabi, the Saudi founder of the Washington-based, Arabia Foundation.

He refers to tapes that emerged after the fall of Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 which appeared to show the Qatari emir’s father plotting against Saudi royals when he was ruler.

Mr Shihabi says that Qatar reneged on agreements to stop payments to dissidents in other Arab countries and gave them a platform on Al Jazeera.”

Who those “dissidents” are and what they ‘dissented’ remains unclear in Knell’s report.

Significantly, Knell made no effort whatsoever to inform BBC audiences of Qatar’s record of negligence on terror financing. Neither did she bother to tell audiences about Qatar’s selective definitions of terrorism, its hosting of senior Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood figures or Qatari leaders’ ties to a terror financier.

As one Middle East analyst put it earlier this year:

“Qatar is on a charm offensive designed to portray itself as a victim of rivalries in which Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their allies have isolated the emirate. […]

The problem with Qatar’s attempt to rebrand itself as the moderate state being victimized by Saudi Arabia is that Qatar has never come clean about its support for Hamas and terror financing. “Qatar, a longtime U.S. ally, has for many years openly financed Hamas, a group that continues to undermine regional stability,” U.S. Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen said at the Center for a New American Security in March 2014. He said that fundraisers for Al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, then known as Nusra Front, had operated in Kuwait and Qatar.”

Yolande Knell’s superficial reporting clearly does nowhere near enough to enhance the ability of the BBC’s funding public to look beyond that charm offensive. Quite the opposite in fact: it provides back wind for Qatar’s rebranding campaign.

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BBC reports on designation of a terror group it previously ignored

On January 31st the BBC News website published a report titled “Ismail Haniya: US designates Hamas leader as terrorist“.

“The United States has designated the political leader of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas as a terrorist and imposed sanctions on him.

The state department said Ismail Haniya had “close links with Hamas’ military wing” and been a “proponent of armed struggle, including against civilians”.”

That presentation failed to inform BBC audiences that the US announcement concerning the man described last year by the BBC as “a pragmatist” also included the following:

“Haniyeh has close links with Hamas’ military wing and has been a proponent of armed struggle, including against civilians. He has reportedly been involved in terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens.” [emphasis added]

The report went on:

“Hamas, which dominates the Gaza Strip, is already designated a terrorist group by the US, Israel, the EU and UK.

It denounced as “worthless” the blacklisting of Mr Haniya.

A statement from the group said the decision would “not dissuade us from continuing to hold fast to the option of resisting and expelling the [Israeli] occupation”.”

BBC audiences were not informed that the term “resisting” is a euphemism for terrorism against Israelis or that as far as Hamas is concerned “the occupation” means Israel in its entirety.

Neither were they told that additional reactions from Hamas officials described the US announcement as “a violation of international laws” and “a reflection of the domination by a gang of Zionists of the American decision” and the BBC’s article was not updated to reflect the fact that the PLO also later condemned the designation.

The article continued:

“The state department also designated three militant groups as terrorist entities:

  • Harakat al-Sabireen, an Iranian-backed group that operates primarily in the Gaza and the West Bank and is led by Hisham Salem, the former leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad. It is accused of planning and executing attacks, including firing rockets from Gaza into Israel
  • Liwa al-Thawra, a group active in Egypt’s Qalyubia and Menoufia provinces that has said it was behind the assassination of an Egyptian army commander in Cairo in 2016 and the bombing of a police training centre in Tanta in 2017
  • HASM, another Egyptian group that has claimed it assassinated an officer from Egypt’s National Security Agency and carried out an attack on Myanmar’s embassy in Cairo”

BBC audiences reading this report would no doubt have been surprised to learn of the existence of the first organisation on that list given that – as noted here over two years ago – the corporation has failed to produce any reporting whatsoever on Harakat al-Sabireen.

Readers were also not told that the other two groups on the list are suspected of having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Hence when they read at the end of the report that the US Secretary of State said that “[t]hese designations target key terrorist groups and leaders – including two sponsored and directed by Iran” [emphasis added], BBC audiences would not understand that, in addition to Harakat al-Sabireen, he was referring to Hamas.

As regular readers know, the BBC has long refrained from producing any meaningful reporting on the topic of Iranian funding of Hamas terror.  

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BBC News website plays along with the ‘softer’ Hamas spin

 

 

BBC media editor’s softball interview with fellow journalist sold audiences short

Back in June BBC Radio 4 aired an edition of ‘The Media Show’ which is still available online and includes an item (from 00:46 here) which is described as follows in the synopsis:

“Saudi Arabia and her allies have demanded that Qatar shuts down a number of media outlets as a condition of ending the crisis in the region. David Hearst is editor in chief of Middle East Eye. Crispin Blunt MP is Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.”

Readers may recall that at the time a number of Arab states issued a list of demands (which was later modified) to Qatar that included:

“…stipulations that Doha close the broadcaster al-Jazeera, drastically scale back cooperation with Iran, remove Turkish troops from Qatar’s soil, end contact with groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and submit to monthly external compliance checks. […]

…the Saudi-led alliance regards the Arabic wing of al-Jazeera, the most widely watched broadcaster in the Arab world, as a propaganda tool for Islamists that also undermines support for their governments. The list of demands also called for other Doha-supported news outlets to be shut, including the New Arab and Middle East Eye.

Other key demands mapped out by Saudi include Qatar severing all ties with terrorist groups, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al-Qaida and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.” 

The framing of the story by ‘The Media Show’, however, portrayed it solely as an issue of press freedom and made no effort to examine whether or not there was any substance to the Saudi claims concerning the named media organisations – including ‘The New Arab’, founded by Azmi Bishara  and Al Jazeera.

Presenter Amol Rajan – who is the BBC’s media editor – introduced the item as follows:

Rajan: “But first more on a story we’ve been covering on ‘The Media Show’. It’s the demand by Saudi Arabia that Qatar shuts down a number of media outlets. Qatar is currently being isolated by its neighbours who claim the country supports terrorism. The closure of the Qatari funded TV network Al Jazeera is near the top of Saudi Arabia’s list of demands to resolve the crisis. Saudi Arabia says Al Jazeera is Qatari propaganda; a charge denied last week on this programme by Giles Trendle, the acting managing director of Al Jazeera English.”

After listeners heard a recording of Giles Trendle of Al Jazeera English insisting that his outfit “cover[s] the world without favouring any point of view”, Rajan continued:

Rajan: “Since that interview we’ve learned that it’s not just Al Jazeera that Saudi Arabia and her allies want shut down. In fact some of the media organisations on the list are based in the UK. One is ‘The New Arab’ and the other is ‘Middle East Eye’ whose editor in chief is David Hearst and he’s with me now.”

Listeners then heard former Guardian employee David Hearst – who never had much of a problem rubbing shoulders with Islamists – insist that “we’re totally independent of Qatar” before Rajan asked him “why have they targeted “Middle East Eye’?”.

Hearst: “Well one of the things that’s going on is…well the business model of ‘Middle East Eye’ is that we sell our journalism to people who translate it into Arabic and other languages. And these regimes, unfortunately, do not want their citizens learning about what’s going on.”

Rajan’s next question was “who funds ‘Middle East Eye?”.

Hearst: “So, we fund it ourselves. And we…ah…we sell our journalism to people who translate it. It’s not a big operation…it’s not some sort of shadowy organization. It’s twenty journalists in London. It’s a British-based company and it’s about 700 contributors. And it’s been growing because it is a space in which people can actually discuss real issues and we actually bite every hand. Actually if you look at our coverage…ah….we’re critical of the Qataris, we’ve had really good reports from Kurdish areas of Turkey so you can’t say we’re funded by the AKP.”

Rajan then asked Hearst whether “the Saudis basically contend that you are sort of essentially Qatari agents”. In his response Hearst raised the legitimate issue of state censorship of the media in many Arab countries while avoiding answering that question directly. When later asked if the Qatari government had ever asked him “to adjust an editorial line”, Hearst’s answer was negative.

Having introduced Crispin Blunt, Rajan stated:

Rajan: “It’s completely unacceptable, isn’t it, for another country to demand the closure of a UK-based news source.”

Later on Rajan asked Blunt “why is the house of Saud targeting media organisations?” with Blunt replying that he does not know but opining that Al Jazeera English’s editorial standards “look pretty similar to the BBC” and that the outlet “looks pretty impeccable”. Admitting that he knows “less” about Al Jazeera Arabic , Blunt went on to compare Qatari funding of Al Jazeera with BBC funding by British tax-payers via the licence fee, again claiming that Al Jazeera’s editorial standards are similar to those of the BBC.

Listeners subsequently heard Rajan assert that the Saudi demands would “make it even harder to cover the Middle East properly” and after Rajan portrayed Hearst as a champion of free speech, the latter replied:

Hearst: “…the people who want to close us down believe in sort of weaponisation of the media. They believe the media is an instrument and it is a lever – it doesn’t exist in its own right.”

Remarkably, Amol Rajan failed to make any effort to question Hearst on the issue of his own organisation’s use of the media as “an instrument”.

At no point in this item were listeners were told that the ‘Middle East Eye’ stable of contributors includes political activists infamous for their “weaponisation” of the media such as the occasional Guardian and BBC contributor Ben White, the anti-Israel blogger Richard Silverstein, the former ‘Russel Tribunal’ coordinator and Al Jazeera contributor Frank Barat, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s Kamel Hawwash, ‘Palestine Chronicle’ founder Ramzi Baroud, the Palestinian Return Centre’s Sameh Habeeb who has been linked to Muslim Brotherhood campaigns and also produces the ‘Palestine Telegraph’ and even ‘CAGE’ activist Moazzam Begg and well-known Hamas supporter Azzam Tamimi.

Neither did Amol Rajan ask Hearst why the ‘Middle East Eye’ website was originally registered by a person – Adlin Adnan – connected to the Hamas linked charity ‘Interpal‘ or who actually owns the company and why the only name on its official records is that of Jamal Awn Jamal Bessano – a Dutch national of Palestinian/Kuwaiti origin with previous links to both Al Jazeera and a Hamas TV station in Lebanon.

At no point did Rajan address the topic of the type of content produced by ‘Middle East Eye’ which includes sympathetic coverage of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood such as the following anodyne portrayal of Yusuf Qaradawi by David Hearst himself:

“Rival preachers are cast as terrorists – but not because their interpretation of Islam is more extreme. It’s their moderation the Saudi clerics fear.

One of the objects of Emirati (and Israeli) ire comes in the form of an eminent Muslim Brotherhood scholar, Yousef al-Qaradawi, who lives in Doha. Qaradawi is no social liberal. He is not about to embrace homosexuality or Western feminism. But it is not those qualities that have put him on the Saudi terror list.

In May 2008, Qaradawi issued a fatwa permitting the building of churches in Muslim countries. He said it is allowed in Islam and Muslims have to respect and protect them.”

As we see listeners to this edition of ‘The Media Show’ were told a story framed as an assault on media freedom that by no means provided them with the full range of information concerning either the issue itself or the media organisation that is its focus. David Hearst was at the time doing the rounds at various media outlets to present his side of the story and Amol Rajan’s softball interviewing refrained from making any real effort to challenge Hearst’s narrative.

Would BBC audiences have gone away with a better understanding of this story? Quite the opposite.

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BBC’s Israel-Al Jazeera row reporting displays double standards – part two

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How will the BBC report Hamas’ upcoming botoxed manifesto?

Along with other media outlets, the Times of Israel reports that:

“The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas said Wednesday it is to unveil an amended version of its 1987 founding charter next week, without detailing the change.

The terrorist group, which rules the Gaza Strip, said on its website that the announcement would be made on Monday in Doha by its chief Khaled Mashaal, who lives there in exile.

Hamas’s charter advocates the destruction of the Jewish state and the establishment of an independent state in all historic Palestine. […]

Observers say the pending changes could refer to a Jewish state within the borders it held prior to its 1967 capture of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Or it could drop references to its ties with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, its parent organization.”

As noted here last month, that upcoming event has been on the cards for some time.

Several weeks ago, Arab affairs analyst Avi Issacharoff reported on the leaked version of the new document.

“The document reportedly states that the terror group “distinguishes between the Jews, as the people of the book (i.e., the Bible), and Judaism as a religion on the one hand, and between the occupation and the Zionist project, on the other, and believes that the conflict with the Zionist project is not a conflict with the Jews because of their religion.”

While Hamas will not of course recognize the State of Israel, it does agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, while stressing that it will preserve weapons of “resistance” in order to liberate the entire land of Palestine, including Israel.

“There is no alternative to the liberation of the entirety of Palestine, from the river to the sea, no matter how long the occupation persists,” the leaked document continues, leaving no doubt as to the fact that the ultimate goal of the group, which has always included Israel’s destruction, hasn’t changed.”

Issacharoff points out that:

“The target audience for the revamped charter is not the Israeli public, a fact that should be remembered while examining it. Rather, it is intended for young Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and for the Arab public around the world, particularly in one critical country as far as Hamas is concerned — Egypt.

Let’s start at the international level: the case Hamas is making to the West is, “We are not anti-Semites, only anti-Zionists.”

Having internalized the enormous weight that the world attaches to anti-Semitic and other racist rhetoric, Hamas is trying to present a different face that would distinguish it primarily from the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. The group no longer speaks using the language of “Western infidels and crusaders,” as its even more radical competitors do.

As for Egypt: a cursory reading of the updated charter reveals the miraculous disappearance of one of the most prominent sections of the original, which stated that “the Islamic resistance movement (Hamas) is an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” […]

The Brotherhood has been a critical point of contention between Hamas and Egypt in light of the de facto state of war between the regime of Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo and the group, whose democratically elected president Sissi deposed in a coup in 2013. […]

This “new charter” […] will not bring about a change in relations between Gaza and Israel. Neither will it reduce the potential for military escalation in the Strip that has become an annual hallmark of the rapidly approaching summer months.

Rather, by adopting positions that seem closer to those of the Palestinian Authority, the amendment is intended primarily to show the Palestinian public that Hamas is prepared to go a long way towards national unity.”

While the question of whether this new document replaces the original Hamas charter or exists alongside it still stands, analysts agree that it does not represent a real change of policy on the terror group’s behalf.

Pinhas Inbari writes:

“…a review of the text shows that Hamas has not renounced its principles but simply “powdered” them slightly. Furthermore, angry reactions to the new text show that it is unacceptable to the movement’s power base in Gaza.

The conclusion is that this change has more to do with the West Bank than with Gaza, and serves the interests of Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Khaled Mashal and, as such, cannot be acceptable to the movement in Gaza.”

Dr Denis MacEoin concludes that:

“The truth is that the new Charter, though vaunted as a major shift for the group, is, in reality, little more than a public-relations exercise. Hamas leaders have got smart, but have not changed their spots. […]

The New Charter is mere window-dressing; even a casual reading of it should show that the new Hamas is the old Hamas wearing a different face to try to disguise the true intransigence and hatred that have always characterized it.”

For years the BBC has been (inaccurately) telling its audiences that Hamas has “agreed to accept the boundaries which existed before the 1967 Middle East war as the basis for those of a future Palestinian state” and recently it promoted the claim that the two-state solution is the “declared goal” of ‘Palestinian leaders’. It will therefore be all the more interesting to see how Hamas’ new ‘botoxed’ manifesto is portrayed by the corporation to its audiences around the world.

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Kevin Connolly gives insight into BBC group-think

The BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Kevin Connolly has recently been on the road in order, he tells us in one of the resulting reports, “to find out what governments and peoples in the Arab world are doing to push back against violent extremist ideas”.

In Connolly’s written report about his travels – “Battle of ideas at heart of fight against Islamic State“, BBC News website, March 17th – readers found the following assertion:Connolly Islamists

“Back in 2011, when the street protests of what we used to call the Arab Spring still appeared to represent an irresistible pulse of democratising energy, no-one foresaw that the violent Islamist extremist movements which had long been part of life in the Middle East would be among the main beneficiaries.”

That paragraph is of course very revealing – and inaccurate. In fact there were people who at the time cautioned that the uprisings the Western media so enthusiastically and unquestioningly embraced as heralding the dawn of democracy in the Middle East had the potential to turn out rather differently. One of those scholars was the late Professor Barry Rubin who in February 2011 wrote:

“…the conclusion that the usual rules of Middle East politics have disappeared is greatly exaggerated. If you think that democracy cannot lead to violent Islamists taking power, consider the Muslim-majority country in the region with the longest tradition of democracy: Lebanon, where Hezb’allah and its allies now run things. Consider Algeria, where free elections (you can blame it on the military if you want) led to a bloody civil war. Think about Turkey where, though the regime still operates basically by democratic norms, the noose is tightening (though there it may well not be irreversible).”

In May 2011 Connolly himself conducted an apparently forgotten interview with Israeli minister Moshe Ya’alon who, whilst discussing the prospects for Israeli-Egyptian relations in the light of the ‘Arab Spring’ noted that:

“…what we have to be aware of is that it [a future Egyptian regime] might be the Muslim Brotherhood – might change the course of Egypt.”

Even some BBC journalists recognised the possibility of an Islamist ascendency at the time – as documented in the Mortimer Report on the corporation’s coverage of the ‘Arab Spring’.

“Presenters and correspondents at times appeared almost obsessed with the possibility, if not likelihood, that Islamists – and the Brotherhood in particular – might turn out to be the main beneficiaries of the upheaval, especially if it resulted in a “power vacuum”. The probability of this happening, and the implications if it did, were the points routinely put to every Western expert and policy-maker; and there were many interviews with members of the Brotherhood itself – some rank-and-file, some described as leaders. All of these stressed that their movement favoured freedom and democracy, and did not seek to impose an Islamic order on people against their will. Some of the expert commentators accepted these statements more or less at face value, stressing the Brotherhood‟s evolution towards pragmatism during its long years in opposition and semi-clandestinity, while others were more sceptical. Conspicuously absent in this phase of coverage, however, whether as subjects or objects of commentary, were the “Salafists” – Islamists more rigid and conservative, though perhaps less organized than the Brotherhood – who later turned out to have widespread popular support and ran second to the Brotherhood in the elections.” [emphasis added]

As reflected in Edward Mortimer’s words, part of the reason why Connolly is able to convince himself today that “no-one” foresaw the rise of Islamist extremists five years ago is because he and many of his colleagues had bought into the notion of ‘moderate’ Islamists. That approach is demonstrated in an interview given by one of the BBC’s Middle East correspondents at the time – Wyre Davies – to ‘Wales Online’ in July 2011.

“Asked to what extent in Syria it was ordinary people wanting a voice and to what extent it was Islamic extremists, he said: “I think people over-play the role of Islamic parties. Yes of course in Egypt and Tunisia, these are Islamic countries so you would expect the Muslim Brotherhood and political parties who take some of their moral guidance from Islam to play a role. […]

 “It is ironic that Israel for so long has called itself the only democracy in the region, and yet when democratic movements arise in countries like Egypt, Israel was basically against it. Israel wanted Mubarak to stay in power.

“The West is aware of this. What happens if the Muslim Brotherhood wins the election in Egypt? Now I don’t think they will, but there are some pretty moderate members of the Brotherhood. I don’t think there’s any danger that these major Middle Eastern countries are going to be overrun by Islamic extremists.”” [emphasis added]

In an article written for the Guardian in 2012, Magdi Abdelhadi – who was a BBC Arab affairs analyst at the time of the uprising in Egypt the year before – told readers that:

“It’s true that notorious jihadi groups have been inspired by the teachings of Qutb – namely that modern society is pagan and ungodly and that true Muslims should reject it and take up arms against it.

But the Muslim Brotherhood of today has distanced itself from such ideas and is committed to normal politics.”

Were BBC correspondents less preoccupied with the promotion of a political narrative which requires the framing of Hizballah and the Muslim Brotherhood offshoot Hamas as ‘resistance’ groups, they might have been better placed to view Islamist ideology in all its manifestations in a more informed and objective light. That in turn would have allowed them to listen at the time to the voices Kevin Connolly now erroneously claims did not exist.

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