BBC News employs omission to further a narrative on Israel

The BBC News website recently created a tag called ‘Israel Elections 2019’ which to date includes just five items. Members of the corporation’s funding public could be forgiven for arriving at the conclusion that there is only one newsworthy name in that election campaign.

The latest BBC News website report appearing with that tag was published on March 11th under the headline “Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot wades into Netanyahu row over Israeli Arabs”.

The report opened with a confused introduction. [emphasis added]

“Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot has become embroiled in a row with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the status of the country’s Arab minority.

“Love your neighbour as yourself,” the Israeli actress said, amid wrangling over the role of Israeli Arab parties in upcoming polls.”

So which is it? “The status” of the 20.9% of the Israeli population with Arab ethnicity or “the role” of the two Arab lists running in the April 9th election?

Only in the article’s thirteenth paragraph did the BBC bother to clarify that in a post replying to another Israeli actress, Netanyahu commented:

“As you wrote, there is no problem with Israel’s Arab citizens. They have equal rights and the Likud government has invested more than any other government in the Arab population.” 

Clearly then this story is not about “a row with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the status of the country’s Arab minority” as claimed in the article’s opening line.

The report continued:

“Mr Netanyahu caused a stir when he said Israel “was not a state of all its citizens”, referring to Arabs who make up 20% of its population.

He cited a “nation-state” law.

The legislation sparked controversy last year.

Arab MPs reacted furiously in July when Israel’s parliament approved the legislation, which says Jews have a unique right to national self-determination in the country and puts Hebrew above Arabic as the official language.”

That link leads to a BBC report dating from July 2019 which was amended after publication to clarify that the legislation “ascribes Arabic “special status” and says its standing before the law came into effect will not be harmed”. As was the case when the BBC first reported on the Nation State Law last July, no comparison between that legislation and similar laws and constitutions in other countries was provided to readers.

Readers had to go down to paragraph twelve in order to find out the reason why the opening paragraphs of article referred to the Nation State Law:

“On Sunday, Mr Netanyahu responded with an Instagram post of his own that referred to the “nation-state” law.

“Dear Rotem,” he wrote. “Israel is not a state of all its citizens. According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people – and only it.””

The BBC’s article went on to provide background to the story in a section headed “How did the row start?”.

“The spat began on Saturday, when Israeli actress and TV presenter Rotem Sela challenged comments made by Culture Minister Miri Regev in a TV interview about the role of Arab parties in the 9 April general election.

Ms Regev repeated a warning by her and Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party that voters should not choose its main rivals because they might form a governing coalition that included Arab MPs.”

The BBC did not however adequately clarify the highly relevant point that Ms Regev in fact referred to non-Zionist or anti-Zionist Arab parties rather than “Arab MPs” but did go on to amplify claims allegedly made by anonymous “critics”:

“Mr Netanyahu’s critics say comments like those made by Ms Regev are part of a bid to court right-wing voters.”

The report continued:

“At the last election four years ago, Mr Netanyahu apologised after warning that “right-wing rule is in danger” because “the Arabs are voting in droves”.”

That link leads to a BBC report from March 2015 relating to a story the corporation had earlier failed to report properly. As the BBC well knows, the part of the quote it has edited out reads “Left-wing organisations are bringing them in buses” and it continues with a reference to the V15 organisation.  

Notably the BBC avoided the topic of that group’s campaign in all of its coverage of the 2015 election. The following year the BBC likewise ignored the findings of the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations concerning US State Department grants which “were used by to build infrastructure that was subsequently turned into an anti-Netanyahu apparatus for Israel’s 2015 elections, in contravention of State Department practice”.

This BBC report closed with amplification of unverified claims:

“Israeli Arabs, descendants of the 160,000 Palestinians who remained after the State of Israel was created in 1948, have long complained of being treated as second-class citizens.

They say they face discrimination and worse provision than Israeli Jews when it comes to services such as education, health and housing.”

As we see, by means of omission the BBC News website has turned a story about an actress and a prime minister posting at cross purposes on social media (as a result of the use of the phrase “a state of all its citizens” which – crucially – is not explained to readers) into yet another politically motivated portrayal of Israel as an undemocratic, discriminatory and indeed racist state.

Related Articles:

How BBC radio programmes misled by adding one letter and a plural

BBC News website framing of Israeli legislation

Inaccurate BBC WS radio portrayal of Israeli legislation

Revisiting a missing chapter in the BBC’s 2015 election coverage

 

 

 

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