Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

In part one of this post we saw how Mustafa Barghouti was given an unchallenged platform on two editions of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newsday‘ from which to promote anti-Israel propaganda and falsehoods while supposedly discussing the US administration’s withholding of donations to UNRWA.

In a later edition of that same programme – presented by Lawrence Pollard and Shaimaa Khalil – listeners heard from Dr Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank before Mustafa Barghouti was brought in (from 05:02 here) for yet another interview. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Pollard: “Well let’s speak now to Mustafa Barghouti who is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council which was the parliament of the occupied territories. Welcome back to the programme, sir. Very briefly, what will the effect of this move be?”

Barghouti: “Well this is another irresponsible, reckless and harmful decision of President Trump. It represents an act of collective punishment against the victims of Israeli ethnic cleansing that took place in 1948. It’s a collective punishment against millions of Palestinian refugees and it will affect their humanitarian needs. This means that hundreds of thousands of children will not be able to go to school. This means that hundreds of thousands of people will not be able to receive healthcare. It means that hundreds of thousands of elderly people and disabled will be deprived from humanitarian support and it is a political act. It is clearly a political act from the side of the president of the United States…”

Pollard: “Sure.”

Barghouti: “…who is complicit in Israeli policies to liquidate the rights of Palestinian refugees to come home to the place they were displaced from which is an international United Nations resolution.”

The resolution to which Barghouti refers is of course UNGA resolution 194 which is non-binding but Pollard failed to clarify that fact to listeners just as he avoided informing them that there is no factual basis to Barghouti’s egregious claims of “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians by Israel.

Pollard: “As I understand it there is now going to be a shortfall in the budget but it’s not an immediate cessation of the budget so there is time for other countries to step forward. Don’t you think that there are plenty of countries that are going to be more than happy to embarrass – as they would see it – Donald Trump and step up and pay? So the real effect – I mean you’re talking about the effect as if the money disappeared now – but the real effect on the ground might not be so bad in practice.”

Barghouti: “Not really because UNRWA itself is already suffering from a deficit that happens every year because during the last few years UNRWA is not getting sufficient support to run all the services.”

Pollard: “OK that’s…I’m really sorry to interrupt you but you just heard our previous talker saying that was because of poor administration. You would reject that?”

Barghouti: “It’s not true. It’s not true. The poor administration lies in the fact that the United States is giving $4 billion [sic] to Israel for building a huge army and building nuclear power. The bad administration and bad planning relates to United States USAID agency which is actually spreading corruption in many countries instead of doing development. And if Mr Trump wants to reform, he should start with his own. He should start with reforming USAID agency before attacking a United Nations agency that is providing very basic humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people.”

Making no effort to correct Barghouti’s inaccurate claims regarding US military aid to Israel, Pollard went on:

Pollard: “OK, that’s an interesting distinction. Can I ask; in the background – I think most people agree – is not…I mean, you know, the main issue is not a complaint about administration of aid; it’s a bigger political story. It’s intended to drive the Palestinians – as Mr Trump would say – back to the talking table. From the comments for example of Mahmoud Abbas, there’s no chance of that happening. Would you agree with Abbas?”

Barghouti: “No, Mr Abbas didn’t say that. Mr Abbas said we never left the table of negotiations but it is Israel that is refusing to negotiate. And Mr Abbas said that President Trump has taken off the table the issue of Jerusalem, the issue of refugees, the issue of settlements and wants us to come to an empty table. How can we negotiate when Mr Trump and Netanyahu, with whom he is complicit, are removing all issues of negotiations and deciding the outcome before negotiations start?”

Pollard: “Mmm.”

Barghouti: “The problem is that there is an Israeli military occupation that has become the longest in modern history for 50 years and a problem of refugees who were displaced by ethnic cleansing since 70 years by Israel. That is the problem and you cannot have peace unless those issues are resolved and unless Palestinians are given the right to be living in peace and equality to everybody else.”

Pollard: “Right and can I ask in your opinion – because we’ve heard pretty dire warnings from inside the UN agencies themselves – about how this will increase extremism, anger and so on. Do you think that is the effect that you will see? You were mentioning the practical effect on the ground in terms of clinics and schools but in terms of mentality, in terms of attitudes, what effect will this have?”

Barghouti: “This is…this is seriously dis…this is an act that is seriously going to affect the stability in the region for sure. This is going to affect people in Jordan, in Lebanon, in Syria – which is suffering a lot already – and of course it will be destabilising but more important, it eliminates any ability of the United States administration to play a positive, constructive role in any future peace process.”

Pollard: “And just at the time that we’re expecting their latest peace proposals. Mustafa Barghouti – many thanks indeed – a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.”

As we see, listeners to ‘Newsday’ on January 17th heard very generous coverage of the “top story” concerning the US decision to withhold part of its donations to UNRWA. The majority of the opinions heard, however, were strongly critical of the decision and the sole exception was in the contributions from Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

05:06 edition: Jan Egeland (Norwegian Refugee Council), Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

06:06 edition: Antonio Guterres (UN), Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO)

07:06 edition: Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO), Jonathan Schanzer (FDD)

08:06 edition: Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO), Jonathan Schanzer (FDD)

09:06 edition: Jonathan Schanzer (FDD), Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

10:06 edition: Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

Obviously that imbalance in itself compromises the BBC’s claim to produce impartial reporting “reflecting a breadth and diversity of opinion“. Moreover, listeners heard numerous inaccurate and misleading claims from both Gunness and Barghouti that presenters made no attempt whatsoever to challenge or correct. No attempt was made to raise any of the serious issues surrounding UNRWA’s functioning and agenda despite their clear relevance to the story. Barghouti was not asked about the Palestinian Authority’s own prioritisation of payments to convicted terrorists over schools and healthcare for people registered as refugees but living under its control even though Schanzer did raise that issue. And of course not only were Barghouti’s repeated falsehoods concerning Israel allowed to stand unquestioned but no right of reply was given to enable rebuttal of those propaganda smears.

Related Articles:

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

BACKGROUNDER: The Palestinian Claim to a “Right of Return”  (CAMERA)

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

 

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Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

As we have already seen, UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness gave two interviews on the same topic to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ on January 17th that were aired in three of the show’s six editions.

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

An additional interviewee brought in to discuss the story of US aid donations to UNRWA on the same programme on that day was Mustafa Barghouti.

Listeners heard presenters Karnie Sharp and Paul Hawkins introduce the item as follows (from 00:37 here): [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Sharp: “But let’s go to our top story this hour. It’s the decision by the United States to withhold millions of dollars in aid funding for the united relief agency for Palestinians known as UNRWA which is the UN Relief and Works Agency.”

Hawkins: “The Trump administration has sent $60 million to keep the refugee agency operating but it’s decided to withhold the remainder of the $125 million donation and it wants other countries to pay more. Speaking at a news conference, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was worried by the decision.”

Gutteres [recording]: “I am very concerned and I strongly hope that in the end it will be possible for the United States to maintain the funding of UNRWA in which the US has a very important share. UNRWA is not a Palestinian institution. UNRWA is a UN institution created by a UN resolution and UNRWA is providing vital services to the Palestinian refugees both in the occupied territories and in Jordan, in Syria and in Lebanon.”

Sharp [01:42]: “Let’s now talk to Dr Mustafa Barghouti who is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. […] What’s your reaction or the Palest…the reaction of the Palestinian Authority to this news?”

Barghouti: “Well this decision by the Trump administration is another irresponsible, reckless and harmful decision which is…which represents in our opinion an act of collective punishment against millions of Palestinian refugees who have been victims of occupation and the policy of Israeli ethnic cleansing that displaced them from their country in 1948 and they are also still subjected to the policy of apartheid and racial discrimination by Israeli occupation. It’s an act of collective punishment against people who will now suffer deprivation, who will lose education, who will lose healthcare. It’s a punishment of elderly people, people who are disabled, who have very basic humanitarian needs and we don’t understand why the United States continue to be complicit in Israeli policies. We don’t understand why they are using this irresponsible and inhuman act to punish Palestinians collectively and in our opinion it’s also a political decision. Clearly they are fulfilling Israeli wishes to liquidate the rights of the Palestinian refugees to return to the homes they were displaced from in 1948.”

Sharp made no effort whatsoever to challenge the falsehood that Palestinians were displaced from “their country” in 1948, the description of that territory as ‘occupied’ or the lies of “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid and racial discrimination”. Neither did she bother to clarify to listeners that Barghouti’s advocated ‘right of return’ is a scenario that any serious commentator knows will not happen. She did, however, challenge Barghouti’s description of the US decision as a “punishment”.

Sharp: “OK Doctor, but they have made it clear that it isn’t a punishment and it’s not a complete withdrawal of all the funds: it’s half of it.”

Barghouti: “The UNRWA United Nations agency is suffering already from a big deficit of its budget and when you cut off $65 million from their budget, which is more than 50% of the American contribution, it means you are driving this agency into bankruptcy. We are talking…they are already laying off doctors, nurses, teachers. You are talking about millions of Palestinian refugees not only in Palestine itself – in the West Bank and Gaza – but Palestinian refugees in Syria, which is suffering from terrible humanitarian situation, in Lebanon, in Jordan. Those children will be deprived now from the possibility of accessing education. The people who are suffering from diseases will be deprived from getting their medications and so many people will suffer.”

Sharp: “Sure.”

Barghouti: “Some people will lose their shelters. So it is an act of collective punishment against people who are…who are not victim…who are not…who have not done anything wrong.”

Sharp: “Sure but let’s look at it from the United States point of view. They are the biggest contributor here. They’re asking for reforms and they say we don’t believe that taking care of other nations and other people have to rest solely on the shoulders of the United States. That’s a fair comment, isn’t it?”

Barghouti: “No because if they are talking about reform, why now? Why they are not talking about reform for instance of World Health Organisation or food prog…food [unintelligible] or any other UN agency? No; these are political decisions that Mr Trump is taking to punish Palestinians and to force Palestinians to take wrong political decisions that affect their future. In other words Mr Trump is only fulfilling the wishes of Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, who’s trying to kill the issue of Jerusalem, to kill the issue of refugees and practically to block any possibility for future negotiations and for peace in this place. This action by the United States government will only create more instability in this region and you are talking about six million [sic] refugees who are deprived, who have suffered in their lives for six…for 70 years from being displaced by Israeli ethnic cleansing and now they are being punished by the government of the United States.”

Once again making no effort to challenge Barghouti’s “ethnic cleansing” lie or his misrepresentation of the number of people registered as refugees, Sharp closed the interview there.

In the next edition of the programme, listeners heard an edited version of that interview (from 01:22 here) in which – once again – Barghouti’s falsehoods were amplified without any challenge whatsoever.  

Barghouti: “This decision by the Trump administration is another irresponsible, reckless and harmful decision which is…which represents in our opinion an act of collective punishment against millions of Palestinian refugees who have been victims of occupation and the policy of Israeli ethnic cleansing that displaced them from their country in 1948 and they are also still subjected to the policy of apartheid and racial discrimination by Israeli occupation. It’s an act of collective punishment against people who will now suffer deprivation, who will lose education, who will lose healthcare. And we don’t understand why the United States continue to be complicit in Israeli policies.”

Moreover, Barghouti was brought back for yet another interview on the same topic in a later edition of the programme which will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

 

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, listeners to the early edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ on January 17th heard two very similar opinions on the story of US aid donations to UNRWA from NGO head Jan Egeland and from the UN agency’s spokesperson Chris Gunness.

In a later edition of the same programme, Gunness was interviewed again (from 02:09 here) by presenter Shaimaa Khalil.  

Gunness began by telling listeners that: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Gunness: “The reason why UNRWA’s budget runs out when it does is because the number of refugees we serve goes up and up and up because without a political resolution of their plight, their children remain refugees and that is the case with UNHCR refugees and other refugee populations around the world.”

While Gunness has been promoting that claim for years, it bears closer examination because, as pointed out by Steven J Rosen:

“Unlike its sister agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is responsible for millions of non-Palestinian refugees worldwide, it [UNRWA] does not have an active program for “local integration” of refugees where they now reside nor “resettlement” in third countries.”

Rosen notes that:

“In 1950, its first director told the General Assembly that the “agency has decided that a refugee is a needy person, who, as a result of the war in Palestine, has lost his home and his means of livelihood.” His definition made no reference to descendants.

Not until 1965, fifteen years after its creation, did an UNRWA commissioner-general decide, against objections from the United States government, to create “an extension of eligibility, subject to need, to the third generation of refugees (that is, to children of persons who were themselves born after 14 May 1948).” […]

In 1982, or thirty-two years after its creation, UNRWA took another step forward by extending eligibility to all generations of descendants. It did so by obtaining a General Assembly resolution instructing UNRWA “to issue identification cards to all Palestine refugees and their descendants” without any limitation on how many generations of descendancy this practice would continue. […]

UNRWA went still further in 1992 by adding a provision that those descendants of Palestine refugee males who “are eligible to register for UNRWA services” and are registered with UNRWA, should be “referred to as Registered Refugees or as Registered Palestine Refugees” though they do not meet UNRWA’s own standard of having lived in Palestine prior to May 1948.”

Regarding Gunness’ claim “that is the case with UNHCR refugees”, Rosen notes:

“UNHCR confers derivative refugee status on the basis of family unity where there is a relationship of dependency. “As a matter of general practice, UNHCR does not promote the reunification of … grandchildren… unless they can be determined to be eligible under the principle of dependency.” This can mean financial dependency, “but also taking emotional dependency into consideration.” […]

It is true that, UNHCR’s basic standard is the nuclear family and that subsequent generations are given derivative refugee status only on an exceptional basis while UNRWA automatically grants grandchildren and great-grandchildren refugee status. But UNRWA defenders such as Gunness can argue that the two agencies are guided by the same basic principles.”

Unchallenged by Khalil on that important point, Gunness (who in his previous interview claimed to “maintain the highest standards of neutrality”) continued:

Gunness: “And the refugees we serve are not only just going up in number but the vulnerabilities they face are also intensifying. In Syria there’s this cruel war raging into its 7th year. In Gaza we see a blockade – a collective punishment in violation of international law – and in the West Bank we’ve seen 50 years of Israeli occupation.”

That Gunness failed to offer any legal basis for his allegations concerning the blockage and refrained from mentioning the terrorism that made it necessary is not surprising. As former UNRWA senior official James Lindsay has noted:

“In 2008, UNRWA issued comparably fewer calls for engaging Hamas. Instead, it has focused on criticizing the Israeli blockade of Gaza […]. In this regard, the agency echoes the Hamas view of the conflict with Israel. For example, when UNRWA ran out of fuel supplies in late April–early May 2008, it implied that its shortage was caused by the Israelis (who were blocking deliveries to Hamas but not to UNRWA) rather than by Hamas’s actions (which included allowing demonstrators to prevent delivery of fuel to UNRWA as well as intimidation of the Petrol Station Owners Association, which subsequently refused to distribute fuel delivered to Gaza by Israel). This propensity to echo Hamas views extends to other issues as well.”

Gunness continued:

Gunness: “What we need to resolve UNRWA’s budget problems is a political settlement. We need a just and durable solution for 5.3 million Palestine refugees who to this day, 70 years after their original exile and dispossession, have remained exiled. They remain stateless and in many cases they are deeply vulnerable. That is what causes UNRWA’s budget problems. UNRWA is an expression of the political failure of the political echelons to bring dignity and resolution to a community that for far too long has been deprived of those things.”

As also noted by Lindsay, UNRWA’s idea of a “political settlement” echoes Palestinian claims of ‘right of return’:

“Regarding the resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem, UNRWA’s sympathies are not with resettlement or “repatriation” to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, but with “repatriation” to Israel.”

Shaimaa Khalil made no effort to question Gunness on the issue of the estimated 2 million people defined as Palestinian refugees who hold Jordanian citizenship before going on to ask:

Khalil: “But what do you say to the point being made that the United States has the right to know where the money is going and the point that UNRWA has poorly planned the resources?”

Gunness’ answer to that question repeated claims he made in the first interview of American ‘praise’ for UNRWA during a visit by its commissioner-general to Washington last November. Khalil went on:

Khalil: “Just on the point that your budget is over a billion dollars – this is just $125 million [sic] that’s being withheld. Don’t you think that other countries could step in and provide that amount?”

After Gunness answered that UNRWA is “going after other donors”, Khalil asked him “how will this shortfall affect your operations?” to which (despite having claimed in the previous interview that “what is at stake [is] nothing less than the security and stability of the Middle East”) he replied:

Gunness: “Well let us be clear. The commissioner-general said in his statement that we intend to robustly defend our mandate and we are determined that services will not be impacted. And that remains our position. It is premature to talk about cuts. We will do everything I can…we can a) to go after additional funds and b) to protect the mandate and make sure that the dignity of these people living in such fragile and vulnerable circumstances can continue to be protected with the services that we deliver.”

As we see, not only was Gunness not asked any in-depth questions about UNRWA’s record and agenda that would help BBC audiences understand this story better but his inaccurate and misleading claim concerning hereditary refugee status and his politically motivated allegations concerning Israeli counter-terrorism measures were not challenged at all.

Moreover, not only was the same interview rebroadcast in a later edition of the same programme (from 00:35 here) but the BBC World Service also chose to promote a slightly edited version of it on social media.

Related Articles:

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC World Service amplifies UNRWA’s political campaigning yet again

Lyse Doucet’s blatant political propaganda on BBC WS WHYS – part two

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ provides a platform for UNRWA’s political campaigning

 

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

The top story in the various editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ aired on January 17th was described as follows:

“The US is withholding more than half of a $125m (£90m) instalment destined for the UN relief agency for the Palestinians, American officials say. It will provide $60m in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) but will hold back a further $65m.”

In the early edition of that programme, listeners around the world heard from two contributors voicing similar opinions. The item was introduced (at 00:48 here) by presenter Paul Hawkins as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Hawkins: “But first to the news that the US is withholding millions of dollars in aid for the UN relief agency for Palestinians known as UNRWA. The White House has sent $60 million in its kind of first installment of 2018 but it’s withholding the remaining $65 million and has urged other countries to pay more. The US is UNRWA’s largest donor and supplies nearly 30% of its total budget of over a billion dollars. Here’s the reaction of Jan Egeland, a former UN undersecretary general and current head of the Norwegian Refugee Council.”

Despite the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality, as is all too often the case listeners were not given any information regarding that NGO’s political agenda and activities before they heard its representative speak.

Egeland: “This is horrible news for us who are actively trying to provide humanitarian relief in the Middle East to all parties including to Palestinian refugee children. UNRWA is the number one provider of education, health care, even food and shelter for Palestinian refugees and their children: people who in Gaza, in Lebanon, in Syria have nowhere else to go, no job opportunities, no hope. It is a dangerous politicisation of humanitarian aid that grown, well-fed politicians and diplomats say we will now cut relief to the most vulnerable people because we disagree politically on, for example, the future of Jerusalem. Cannot do like that.”

Later on in the same programme (at 18:30) Hawkins returned to the same topic and after a short introduction, brought in UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness.

Hawkins: “First of all the US State Department says that this decision is not aimed at punishing anyone, it’s not punitive and they just simply want your agency to reform itself. Do you believe them?”

Gunness: “Well first of all let me say that this reduction of US funding is regrettable, it is abrupt and it is harmful. The decision threatens one of the longest standing, most successful and innovative human development endeavours in the Middle East and at stake is the access of over half a million boys and girls to over 700 UNRWA schools. At stake is the dignity and the human security of millions of Palestine refugees. We tend to the sick, the elderly, the dying, the vulnerable children and women. So that is what is at stake: nothing less than the security and stability of the Middle East

As far as reform is concerned, UNRWA has always been open to reform and the United States, most recently to our commissioner-general on a visit to Washington in November, was fulsome in its praise of UNRWA and its reforms. We remain committed to reforms but we have to say that this decision is extremely worrying because at stake is, as I say, the dignity, the human security of millions of Palestine refugees.”

Despite the rosy picture painted by Gunness, past US donations to UNRWA have not come without conditions and criticism.

Hawkins: “Well you say you remain committed to the reforms – it seems like the current White House administration is fed up with the agency being committed to reforms but not actually following them through. We’ve spoken to one expert who’s heard from the White House that UNRWA…when the US provides around $200 million a year to UNRWA, the agency burns through the budget within its first eight to ten months and then it has to go round asking for more money and this is the kind of thing that the US is a bit fed up with.”

Gunness: “Well as I said the US has consistently commended our high impact, our transparency and our accountability and as I’ve just said this was reiterated once again during the visit to Washington last November. The reason why, as you say, we burn through our budget is that the number of refugees continues to grow. The vulnerabilities they face in places like Gaza – because of the blockade – in Syria – because of the war that is now in its 7th year – and in the West Bank where the occupation is 50 years old. The reason why the budget of UNRWA goes up is because the numbers are going up and what we say to all stakeholders of the political echelon is what will stop this and what will put UNRWA out of business is a just and durable solution for the refugees in accordance with international law and based on UN resolutions. That is what is going to obviate the need for UNRWA to – as you put it – burn through the budget. So let’s get some political action to resolve the refugee issue because year on year the numbers are going up and there is increasing demand therefore our budget goes up.”

Hawkins made no effort to help listeners understand what part UNRWA’s unique policy of automatically awarding hereditary refugee status plays in causing the number of Palestinian refugees to rise, why refugee camps still exist in areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas or why Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship are still classified as refugees. 

Hawkins: “Just very quickly because we’re running out of time, Chris – apologies for that – but there’s also been a few questions raised about UNRWA’s…about the money that UNRWA provides – a lot of it going to political activity and what some may think is a questionable use of funds.”

Gunness: “Well we are one of the most audited of UN organisations on the planet. We maintain the highest standards of neutrality. The aid pipeline which we have is…it guarantees…I don’t understand where you say…I don’t understand where these accusations are coming from. Our funds are used for the purposes they’re intended for and that is a matter of public record and it’s something which we achieve to the satisfaction of all our major donors.”

The interview ended there, with no further questioning of Gunness’ (frequently touted) claims of “neutrality” despite his own well-documented activities and the agency’s record of political advocacy.

Once again, BBC audiences heard nothing of the UNRWA employees who were elected to the Hamas political bureau, of the Hamas tunnels dug underneath UNRWA schools  or of the antisemitic incitement posted on social media by UNRWA employees.  

That, however, was not Gunness’ only interview on ‘Newsday’ on that particular day and his second appearance will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC World Service amplifies UNRWA’s political campaigning yet again

Lyse Doucet’s blatant political propaganda on BBC WS WHYS – part two

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ provides a platform for UNRWA’s political campaigning

 

 

 

BBC’s ‘Trump Jerusalem syndrome’ plumbs new depths

The BBC’s multi-platform coverage of the US president’s December 6th announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city has, by any standard, been manic.

Since December 4th BBC audiences have seen dozens of articles and scores of radio and TV reports on that subject – which the corporation has also managed to shoehorn into reporting on topics including Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem and the seasonal Papal address

However, on December 26th BBC World Service radio managed to plumb new depths of hyperbole when, in the synopsis to a clip from its programme ‘Newsday’ that was promoted on social media, it told audiences that:

“Jerusalem has arguably has never felt more divided and anxious following US President Donald Trump’s declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.”

Really, BBC World Service?

Does Jerusalem now feel “more divided” than when Jordan expelled the Jewish residents of the Old City in 1948 and destroyed fifty-eight synagogues? Is the city “more anxious” than it was when Jordanian snipers regularly took pot shots at Israeli civilians from behind the armistice line?

Does Jerusalem really currently feel “more anxious” than during the long years in which Palestinian terrorists regularly targeted Israeli civilians eating pizza, drinking coffee, riding a bus, celebrating a Bar Mitzva or shopping in the market? Is it “more divided” than when residents of the city’s Jabel Mukaber neighbourhood slaughtered early morning worshippers at a synagogue in its Har Nof district?

The BBC urgently needs to get a grip on itself. While its feverish coverage of the US president’s announcement transparently promoted a politically motivated narrative from the start, the continuing frenzied portrayal of that topic is increasingly making the media organisation that describes itself as “a provider of news that you can trust” look simply ridiculous.

Related Articles:

An overview of BBC News website coverage of the US embassy story

How did BBC radio frame the US announcement on Jerusalem?

Resources:

BBC World Service Group email: worldservice.letters@bbc.co.uk

How did BBC radio frame the US announcement on Jerusalem?

Last week we looked at the way in which the story of the US president’s statement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city was framed in reports on the BBC News website even before that announcement had been made.

BBC radio stations likewise devoted coverage to that story prior to the actual announcement. BBC World Service radio, for example, aired items about that story in four different programmes in the twenty-four hours before the statement was issued.

December 5th:

1) ‘Newshour’ presented by Tim Franks (from 00:34 here).

In that item listeners heard from the BBC’s Yolande Knell who did note the existence of the US’s ‘Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995’, its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the waivers signed by US presidents since then. In addition listeners heard negative reactions to the anticipated announcement from the PA’s Nabil Shaath and from Jordan’s Prince Hassan bin Talal who misrepresented the 2004 ICJ advisory opinion on the “legal consequences of the construction of a wall in the occupied Palestinian Territory” as a “legal ruling” with no challenge from Franks. A negative opinion was also heard from the former advisor to US administrations Aaron David Miller. No Israeli voices were present in that programme.

December 6th:

2) ‘Newsday’ presented by Lawrence Pollard and Andrew Peach.

The early edition of that programme included a re-broadcasting of the statement from Nabil Shaath, an interview with Israeli journalist Anshel Pfeffer and an interview with Mustafa Barghouti which was discussed here.

A later edition included interviews with American human rights lawyer Brooke Goldstein and Saree Makdisi which was discussed here and a still later edition of the programme recycled a version of Barghouti’s comments and reporting from Yolande Knell.

3) ‘The Newsroom’ presented by Claire MacDonald.

In that programme (from 00:05 here) listeners heard reporting from the BBC’s Jonathan Marcus and recorded statements from the PLO’s Manuel Hassassian and Israeli minister Naftali Bennett.

4) ‘Newshour’ presented by James Coomarasamy.

In addition to reporting from the BBC’s Barbara Plett-Usher (from 00:05 here) listeners heard interviews with Mustafa Barghouti, Israeli MK Yoav Kish and a Jerusalem bookseller called Mahmoud Muna. Later on in the same programme listeners heard a problematic portrayal of Jerusalem’s history from British academic Mick Dumper which was discussed here.

In all, listeners to those four BBC World Service programmes heard two from two American interviewees (one presenting the announcement as negative and one as positive), two Israeli politicians and one Israeli journalist. They also heard negative views from one Jordanian and one British academic as well as in interviews with Palestinian commentators that were promoted (including repeats) a total of eight times.

In other words, negative views of the anticipated announcement got nearly three times as much exposure as positive ones on the BBC World Service in the twenty-four hours preceding the US president’s statement.

Listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard the topic discussed in three programmes on the same day.

December 6th:  

1) ‘Today’ presented by Mishal Husain and John Humphrys

That programme included reporting from the BBC’s Yolande Knell, Barbara Plett Usher and Jon Sopel as well as interviews with the mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat (discussed here) and the PLO’s Manuel Hassassian (discussed here).

2) ‘World at One’ presented by Martha Kearney

In that programme listeners heard from the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen (from 34:24 here) who made no mention of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act, preferring to ‘explain’ the anticipated announcement as follows:

“It was an election promise. As well as people who are Jews who are pro-Israel who may have voted for him – and in fact most Jews in America vote for the Democratic party – he’s also got a lot of support from evangelical Christians who are very, very strong supporters of Israel. So it could be that.”

3) ‘PM’ presented by Eddie Mair

In that programme too Radio 4 listeners heard from Jeremy Bowen (from 18:09 here) who, while once again failing to mention the context of existing US legislation, gave a negative view of the anticipated statement.

“It adds another potential incendiary bomb in what’s already a tense city in a tense and chaotic region. And I think that if you are interested in peace, that isn’t the right thing to do.”

While BBC Radio 4’s guest list was more balanced than that of the BBC World Service, with the exception of Nir Barkat, listeners heard a very monochrome presentation of the story.

Like the BBC News website’s coverage, these two BBC radio stations failed for the most part to provide audiences with the story’s essential context and refrained from providing the relevant – and accurate – historical background necessary for understanding of the story. Instead, their coverage was overwhelmingly focused on framing the issue according to a partisan political narrative.

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Inaccuracies and distortions go unchallenged on BBC WS ‘Newsday’ – part two

In part one of this post we discussed an edition of ‘Newsday’ broadcast on BBC World Service radio on the morning of December 6th in which Mustafa Barghouti was given free rein to promote lies and distortions concerning Israel that went completely unchallenged by the programme’s presenter.

A later edition of the same programme – again presented by Lawrence Pollard and Andrew Peach – also included items relating to the then anticipated announcement by the US president concerning Jerusalem and the US embassy in Israel. At the start of the show listeners heard from American human rights lawyer Brooke Goldstein and later on (from 26:57 here) a BDS supporting one-stater UCLA professor of English literature was brought in to give ‘the Palestinian view’. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Peach: “This morning the US president is expected later to make an announcement recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Hugely controversial this as Israelis and Palestinians consider the city their capital. East Jerusalem has been occupied by Israel since 1967. The status is one of the most sensitive disputes in the conflict, further complicated by the presence in the city of holy sites for Jews, Muslims and Christians.”

Pollard: “Well in the last couple of weeks [sic] a number of world leaders – Europeans, Arabs, allies of America – have been warning President Trump against taking this step, with some expressing concerns that it might threaten future peace talks and even trigger violence. We’ve been getting opinions from Israel, from America: now for a Palestinian view of the implications. We’ve been speaking to Professor Saree Makdisi. He’s based in California. He’s the author of ‘Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation’. So, Professor Makdisi, how significant is this move?”

Makdisi: “I think it’s going to destabilise the entire region and I think it’s gonna throw a lot of fuel on many different fires that are already burning. I also think it makes some things clearer, so it’s not all bad news in that sense. I think the most important thing – the first thing that needs to be said – is that it’s a major blow of course to Palestinian aspirations and Palestinian rights. It’s very problematic in that it represents the kind of acknowledgement of sort of giving American blessing to the acquisition of territory by force. But we have to remember after all that the reason why nobody recognises Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is that Israel’s claim to Jerusalem is extremely questionable. The 1947 UN partition of Palestine  didn’t give Jerusalem to the putative Jewish state and the eastern part of the city was taken in the war of 1967 so that’s why the international community doesn’t recognise Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its capital and what the…what Trump basically will be doing is saying we’re giving our blessing to the acquisition of territory by force which is contravention of international law and giving our blessing to the colonisation of Arab land by the Israeli state.”

Pollard refrained from clarifying to listeners around the world that the 1947 Partition Plan never got off the ground because the Arabs refused to accept it and that it also did not give any part of Jerusalem to a Palestinian state. He also had nothing to add to Makdisi’s remarks concerning the “acquisition of territory by force” in terms of the very relevant context of the belligerent Jordanian invasion of parts of Jerusalem in 1948. Even Makdisi’s spurious reference to the “colonisation of Arab land” went completely unquestioned.

Pollard: “You said benefit might come out of it as well – a kind of clarification – what do you mean?”

Makdisi: “Yeah a clarification because you know for the twenty plus years of the so-called peace process, which has really done nothing in particular to accomplish anything like a just peace, there’s been this…I mean part of what’s stained the whole process has been this image of the United States as what’s called an honest broker. It has been anything but honest and really hasn’t even been much of a broker but certainly it’s been incredibly dishonest for all these years because of course the US is a partisan…an ally of the Israeli state. I mean it gives Israel billions of dollars in aid every year. It gives it pretty much unlimited support in the United Nations Security Council. It lets it get away with gross and grotesque violations of international humanitarian law.”

Pollard: “Is the move important enough in your opinion and weighty enough and symbolic enough to actually stop people talking about the peace process? To put a nail in the two-state solution? I mean does this, for example, preclude a Palestinian Authority capital of some kind in East Jerusalem? Because plenty in America say it doesn’t.”

Makdisi: “Let’s put it this way: there are no current negotiations as far as anybody knows. I mean there’s talk about it and there’s been talk on and off for more than 20 years about, you know, a two-state solution. During the process of talking on and on in all those years, what’s happened is Israel has consolidated its hold over East Jerusalem. It’s consolidated its hold over the West Bank by building more and more settlements and transferring more and more of its own population into these occupied territories.”

Pollard made no effort to clarify to listeners that – as the BBC knows – Israel has not built ‘settlements’ in the past twenty years and has not ‘transferred’ (and of course Makdisi used that particular word deliberately) any of its population to Judea & Samaria.

Had listeners been informed in the introduction – as required under BBC editorial guidelines – that Makdisi is a proponent of a bi-national state – and the resulting elimination of the Jewish state – and a supporter of the BDS campaign, they would have been able to put his next set of claims in context.

Makdisi: “And so what this does is it just makes it clear that that whole set of discourse is fictional basically and so what it does is it puts the onus on everybody to come up with a different set of solutions and that’s why there is something of a silver lining here because it’s giving the lie to a tired and worn-out set of really abstract actions and fictions. And we’re seeing the increasing isolation of Israel in terms of boycotts and sanctions which are really beginning to bite in all kinds of ways – culturally and in terms of sports and other things. And I think that will intensify, especially with the official demise of the two-state solution. It’s incredible.”

Lawrence Pollard did not even find it necessary to challenge Makdisi’s subsequent justification of terrorism or his allegations regarding a person unable to exercise the right of reply.

Makdisi: “And the other thing, you know, which one could have said – it seems kind of obvious – is that, you know, next time something awful happens and people say why do they hate us – well – now, I wonder why they hate us. It’s almost the self-fulfilling prophecy which is…and it doesn’t seem to have any benefit for anybody except…except that faction of the Israeli Right that really wants to have unlimited carte blanche and it’s getting what it wants, you know, and that’s…that’s Kushner’s role, no doubt.”

As we see, Lawrence Pollard yet again made no effort whatsoever to challenge the multiple inaccuracies and falsehoods promoted by the inadequately introduced Makdisi, meaning that BBC audiences once again went away with misinformation and misleading impressions that distorted their view of the story.

In the subsequent December 6th edition of ‘Newshour’ listeners once again heard (from 00:25 here) an edited version of Mustafa Barghouti’s earlier comments that included unchallenged repetition of his dubious interpretations of international law, two repetitions of the ‘apartheid’ smear, lies about Palestinian ‘non-violence’ and a distorted account of events in Jerusalem last July that began with a terror attack near Temple Mount that Barghouti erased from his account.  

It is glaringly obvious that both Mustafa Barghouti and Saree Makdisi were given unfettered platforms from which to promote inaccurate claims and blatant falsehoods without any hindrance whatsoever from ‘Newday’ presenters. Moreover, Barghouti’s slurs and inaccuracies were subsequently recycled both in the programme itself and in a clip promoted on social media.

While those softball interviews clearly contributed to the advancement of a specific political narrative, they certainly did not enhance audience understanding of the specific story under discussion or the wider topic.

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Inaccuracies and distortions go unchallenged on BBC WS ‘Newsday’ – part one

An overview of BBC News website coverage of the US embassy story

 

Inaccuracies and distortions go unchallenged on BBC WS ‘Newsday’ – part one

Even before the US president had made his announcement concerning Jerusalem and the US embassy in Israel on December 6th, the BBC was already setting the scene.

As documented here previously, the BBC News website published several pre-emptive reports that framed the story according to a very particular narrative and thus shaped audience views of it even before anyone knew what the US president was actually going to say. Some BBC radio stations adopted the same strategy, with listeners hearing no small amount of speculative commentary prior to the actual event.

On the morning of December 6th the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ devoted much of the airtime in its various editions to the topic of the anticipated announcement. The commentary included contributions from several people selected to present ‘the Palestinian view’ that were remarkable for gross inaccuracies and distortions.  

Did the programme’s presenters challenge those inaccuracies or did BBC audiences go away with misinformation and misleading impressions that would colour their view of the story in advance?

The early edition of ‘Newsday’ opened (from 00:34 here) with an introduction by presenters Lawrence Pollard and Andrew Peach that was immediately followed by a statement from Fatah official Nabil Shaath. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Pollard: “Now let’s begin in the Middle East and…err…history and symbols hugely important there and there must be no more powerful symbolic expression than the city of Jerusalem.”

Peach: “Palestinians claim the eastern part of the city as their capital. Israel, which controls the city, claims it entirely as theirs. In circumstances such as these it’s not surprising that most other countries have kept well out of it until now and maintain their embassies in the Israeli financial capital of Tel Aviv, in the process withholding recognition of the Israeli claim to the entire city of Jerusalem.”

Pollard: “But now American president Donald Trump is preparing to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and move the embassy from Tel Aviv. America’s allies in Europe and the Arab world have been warning against the plan: a plan which President Trump promised on the campaign trail.”

Peach: “Lots of reaction coming for you, including this from Nabil Shaath – who’s a senior advisor to the Palestinian president – who says Mr Trump is throwing away his credibility.”

Shaath: “That totally destroys any chance that he will play a role as an honest broker. That takes away honest, takes away broker, takes away chaperone of peace, takes away the deal of the century and makes them behind us – gone into the files of history.”

Listeners then heard commentary from Ha’aretz journalist Anshel Pfeffer. Later on (from 26:55 here) the programme returned to the same topic.

Peach: “First, later today the US president Donald Trump is expected to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”

Pollard: “He’s not likely to immediately move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, partly because it will take several years, it’s said, to build a new embassy.”

Peach: “We’re told the US president has already telephoned several Middle East leaders to inform them of these plans. His regional allies were strongly against it all, warning of dangerous consequences.”

Pollard: “We’ve heard from Israel. Let’s get the opinion now of a member of the Palestinian parliament. Dr Mustafa Barghouti joins us once again on the programme. Dr Barghouti – welcome back. This has been a possible move for decades; now it’s coming. What’s its significance in your opinion?”

Pollard’s presentation of Barghouti as “a member of the Palestinian parliament” is of course misleading because not only has the Palestinian Legislative Council not functioned for over a decade since the Hamas coup in the Gaza Strip, but – like the rest of the PLC members – Barghouti’s term of office ended years ago.

Barghouti opened with a spurious reference to ‘international law’ that went completely unquestioned and went on – likewise unchallenged – to promote the ‘apartheid’ smear.

Barghouti: “It’s very significant but it’s very reckless – from a president who seems to be risk reckless on many issues. And it means the United States is officially participating in violating international law. And it is showing such a level of bias to Israel that it is killing any future role of the United States in any future peace process. As a matter of fact Mr Trump is aborting his own peace initiative before it is born. And the worst thing is that he’s making a dangerous move that will definitely destabilise the region and will consolidate, or help consolidate, a system of apartheid that Palestinians suffer from.”

Pollard: “Sorry. Let me just ask you about immediately what you think the consequences will be. First off, in the street – do you think that there is a risk of a violent response to this in terms of demonstrations and attacks?”

Barghouti: “No. From the Palestinian perspective we don’t want violence. We have opted for non-violent resistance but for mass popular non-violent resistance which was very successful last July in Jerusalem and we managed to defeat Netanyahu and force him to remove all obstacles he put in front of the people in Al Aqsa Mosque.”

Pollard failed to challenge Barghouti’s false claims of ‘non-violent resistance’ or to inform listeners of the incitement to violence from Hamas, the PA and Fatah even before the US announcement had been made. He also failed to clarify to listeners that his interviewee’s mention of “last July in Jerusalem” in fact refers to events triggered by a violent terror attack near Temple Mount or that those so-called “obstacles” were metal detectors and security cameras.

Pollard: “OK, so no violence in the street. OK, that’s an important point. What about…”

Barghouti: “I cannot guarantee it. I cannot guarantee that there will be no violence…”

Pollard: “Of course.”

Barghouti: “…in other places because this action is provoking the feelings of 1.6 billion Muslims, 2.2 billion Christians and 360 million Arabs.”

Pollard: “And politically, what difference does it make? You mentioned that in a sense – if I can put words into your mouth – it’s kind of destroyed the idea of America as the honest broker. Who else moves into that vacuum therefore? There is no-one else, is there?”

Barghouti used that question as a cue to promote the PA agenda of internationalisation of the conflict but listeners were not informed of the existence of that policy and so were unable to put his comments into context.

Barghouti: “There can be no one single country but I think we have…we moving in this world from unipolar system to multipolar system and if there would be a serious peace process it has to be an international conference with participation of many countries like China, Russia, European Union for sure. France tried to lead the road and it was obstructed by the United States and by Israel.”

Pollard: “But do you think that in any international arena…we have seen time and again an American veto used. Do you not think that simply any appeal or any hope that you’re now raising of an international effort to do it will simply be blocked or vetoed by the super-power; by the United States?”

Barghouti: “More than that. Any peace initiative will be blocked by Israel because Israel does not want peace, which is giving us a message. We the Palestinians have waited 25 years for the peace process to work. Now we receive the message it’s dead. Fine; we will choose an alternative path. We have to concentrate on changing the balance of power first. And that can happen only through popular resistance and a very wide large enhancement of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel like the apartheid system was treated in South Africa. We are fighting for our freedom in every possible way.”

Listeners were not reminded of the second Intifada terror war instigated by the Palestinians in 2000 or of the repeated Palestinian refusals of peace offers. Pollard failed yet again to challenge Barghouti’s promotion of the ‘apartheid’ smear as well as his promotion of the BDS campaign.

Pollard: “If America has gone against the opinion of many of its allies  – European allies as well as Arab allies as well – do you think that this means that they have made themselves so close to the Israeli position that other groups such as for example the Europeans will be freer to have a more independent line?”

Barghouti: “Absolutely. But the Europeans need to be courageous. And they need to move forward and they need to move forward fast and quick. The problem they face is that they don’t have unity inside Europe. And that’s why I don’t think it should be a full European Union initiative.”

Pollard: “Right.”

Barghouti: “It should be an initiative by several countries like France, Germany and others.”

Pollard: “Now can you just clarify one thing because we’ve heard conflicting comments on the programme so far. This is a sort of technical point. In your opinion, by recognising the entirety of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, does that de facto preclude East Jerusalem being a potential capital of a Palestinian authority?”

Barghouti: “It will…it will…of course. It means that it is considering East Jerusalem as part of Jerusalem because for Israel, Jerusalem is the united capital of Israel. Jerusalem is unified and that means that the annexation – the illegal annexation – of East Jerusalem which was occupied in ’67 and which is not accepted by anybody in the world, is considered part of the Israeli capital. That’s why unless the president says very clearly that East Jerusalem…I recognise East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, he’s practically participating in the crime.”

Refraining from providing listeners with any of the crucial historical context diligently erased by Barghouti, Pollard closed the conversation.

Pollard: “Right. Thank you for that.”

As we see, not only was Mustafa Barghouti not challenged on any of his falsehoods but he was allowed to promote his distorted narrative completely unquestioned. If that were not enough, the BBC World Service chose to further amplify some of Barghouti’s spurious claims in an edited clip from the interview promoted on Twitter.

There were, however, additional editions of ‘Newsday’ to come and they will be discussed in part two of this post.

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BBC WS Newsday’s one-sided ‘peace process’ reporting – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, on August 24th the lead story in the early edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ related to a visit to the Middle East by a US delegation.

That item presented an unchallenged, one-sided view of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians from a former PLO employee and steered listeners towards the belief that the main issue at stake is ‘settlements’, as well as promoting partisan views of ‘international law’.

A later edition of the same programme on the same day also led with that story but if listeners were expecting to hear a balancing viewpoint from the other side, they would have been sorely disappointed. Presenter Lawrence Pollard introduced the item (from 00:21 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Pollard: “Now let’s talk about the job facing the advisor in chief and son-in-law to the president, Jared Kushner. Can he pull the rabbit out the hat; broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians? There’s a US delegation led by Mr Kushner in Egypt, Jordan. Ah…they’re in Israel now and they’re going to pick up with separate negotiations with the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships. Ehm…what are the prospects? A little earlier we caught up with Omar Baddar, the deputy director of the Arab-American Institute in Washington. I asked him what kind of coverage this trip was getting back in the US first of all.”

Clearly that introduction does not comply with the BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality requiring audiences to be informed of the “particular viewpoint” of interviewees. Pollard made no attempt to clarify the political agenda of either his guest or the organisation he represents and so listeners remained unaware that they were hearing partisan ‘analysis’ from a ‘one-stater’ who – like the head of his organisation – supports the anti-Israel BDS campaign.

Omar Baddar began by promoting the notion that the US delegation’s latest visit to the region is related to domestic events in America – despite the fact that the US officials concerned have previously made numerous similar trips.

Baddar: “Well to be honest with you, I don’t think many people are talking about this in America. I mean the president has gotten himself in such hot water over domestic issues with racism and violence that this is not really on anybody’s radar, which is why precisely I think he is attempting this push; to get some kind of positive media coverage about some kind of foreign policy success on the peace process front for the Israelis and Palestinians. Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s got anything real or substantive going on so I don’t see how this is actually going to generate what he’s attempting to go after. I think this is going to be just another failed venture of this president.”

Pollard: “Some of the headlines are extraordinary; sort of anti-Trump.’Trump defends neo-Nazis’ was one headline on an Israeli newspaper. In the region, how is the visit being seen?”

Baddar: “In terms of how governments in the region are viewing this, I think most of them are just distracted with much other, you know, with many other issues; regional dynamics vis-à-vis Iran and other things. But the Palestinian Authority in particular I’m sure is very, very frustrated because they’ve been stroking Trump’s ego out of desperation, telling him that he’s the president with the boldness and courage and vision to resolve this conflict in the hopes that he would apply some kind of meaningful pressure on the Israelis to sort of show progress towards ending the occupation and stop settlements and so on. None of that pressure is actually coming from the Trump administration so they’re finally seeing this for the PR stunt that it is and they simply have no interest in playing along with it.”

Pollard: “Do you detect a policy, a new idea, a new direction at all coming…coming out of Washington?”

Baddar: “I do not at all. I think he’s a man with no vision whatsoever and I think that’s the real reason behind the mixed messaging he’s been providing on this issue. When it comes on to specifics and the kind of people he’s surrounded himself with, none of them are the kind of people who understand what it actually takes to resolve this conflict so I don’t see anything to be hopeful about.

Pollard: “Ah…interesting. Tell us more about the position, as you see it, of the Palestinian Authority. You say that there they are sort of stroking Mr Trump’s ego out of desperation.”

Baddar: “That’s pretty much the case. I mean, look, they’ve…the Palestinian Authority has bent over backwards to accommodate every Israeli demand but the Israelis have taken everything the PA has offered but have not really offered even a slow-down in settlements in return or anything like that. So what is needed is…you know, President Obama did not really go very far but he at least spoke some truths about this stuff. And in the case of President Trump, he’s not even going nearly as far as Obama did. So what we need more of we’re getting significantly less of. Abbas at this point is actually expressing some level of frustration with the US administration, which is not something that we’ve really see from him in the past.”

One would have expected to see Pollard to remind listeners at this point that when – at the request of the Obama administration – Israel froze construction in communities in Judea & Samaria for ten months in 2009/10, the Palestinian Authority refused to come to the negotiating table throughout 90% of the period.

Pollard: “And at the moment does the Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu have the head space to deal with this? He’s got lots of internal political problems of his own at the moment.”

Baddar: “Yeah. Internal political problems of his own and also complications in dealing with Trump because he sees him as a very useful ally but at the same time, with the kind of comments that Trump has been making about Nazis and white supremacists in the US, I’m pretty sure that Netanyahu is not in a great position either and he’s…his political base is always based on [unintelligible] more rejectionist when it comes to any kind of compromise with the Palestinians.”

Pollard: “And how much does this stuff matter in America? How will it be treated on the networks do you think?”

Baddar: “Not as much as it should. I think America is pretty…pretty occupied right now with the drama that President Trump has created domestically that this is not even on their radar at all. But it really ought to be because in the long-run this is one of those issues that really affects America’s position in the region in a very, very significant way.”

Pollard closed the item with the promotion of some questionable linkage between the US delegation’s visit, internal US affairs and (yet again) an unconnected headline in a specific Israeli newspaper.

Pollard: “Speaking from the Arab-American Institute in Washington that was Omar Baddar. Meanwhile, more background to this visit: four prominent US Jewish groups have announced they will not take part in what has become a yearly call between the president and hundreds of rabbis across the country ahead of the Jewish high holidays of Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. They said his remarks around Charlottesville lacked moral leadership and empathy for the victims of racial and religious hatred. Of course that story has been getting a great deal of attention in the Israeli press as well. ‘Trump defends neo-Nazis’ was one headline a couple of days ago. So; the visit of Jared Kushner complicated by so many factors.”

Again we see that ‘Newsday’ coverage of this story focused on promoting the notion that ‘settlements’ are the main issue stalling the ‘peace process’, with no mention at all of relevant topics such as terrorism, the absence of a uniform Palestinian leadership, Hamas’ refusal to accept the existence of Israel in any shape or form or the Palestinian Authority’s payment of salaries to terrorists.

With both interviewees in the two items coming from the anti-Israel side, the complete absence of any mention of such topics is of course hardly surprising but obviously ‘Newsday’ cannot possibly claim to have covered this story in an accurate and impartial manner that meets its public purpose of helping audiences to understand the issue.

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BBC WS Newsday’s one-sided ‘peace process’ reporting – part one

For reasons best known to themselves the production team of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ decided that their lead story on August 24th should be a US delegation’s visit to the Middle East. The item (from 00:38 here) was introduced by presenters Lawrence Pollard and Nomia Iqbal as follows:

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

Pollard: “So can the Trump administration pull the rabbit out of the hat and broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians?”

Iqbal: “Huge question, isn’t it? But it’s what the US team on Mid-East tour is hoping to provide the answer to. Led by President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, they’ve been to Egypt, Jordan and now Israel for talks with the Israeli prime minister and the head of the Palestinian Authority.”

Pollard: “Behind them is the domestic row in the US over the president’s alleged slowness in condemning antisemitism and racism and ahead of them is what looks like a hardening of positions from both sides. Can the American team jump-start the so-called peace process? That’s our question this morning.”

Failing to provide any concrete examples to back up his claim of a “hardening of positions” on either the Israeli or Palestinian side, Pollard then signposted his interviewee’s legal qualifications, thereby encouraging listeners to regard her subsequent pronunciations on ‘international law’ as credible and accurate. He did not however inform listeners that Diana Buttu – now, among other things, a policy advisor for Al Shabaka – is a BDS supporter who thinks the Palestinian Authority should be disbanded.

Pollard: “Let’s speak now to Diana Buttu who is a former legal advisor to the Palestinian negotiations team in Ramallah, joins us now. Welcome to the programme. Both sides making demands, which is kind of what you’d expect before a round of negotiations. Just explain to us what the red line is on the Palestinian side.”

Buttu: “Well the red line is exactly what international law says, which is that settlements shouldn’t be constructed. I think it’s very important for people to keep in mind that what’s been happening during these negotiations is that the negotiations process, rather than serving as a mechanism for ending Israel’s military rule has actually served as a mechanism to facilitate it and to entrench it. Since negotiations began we’ve actually seen nearly a tripling of the number of Israeli settlers living illegally in the West Bank. So the position has and always will be that we cannot continue to negotiate while there’s a gun to our head…”

Pollard: “Right…”

Buttu: “…in the form of increased settlement activity.”

In addition to failing to clarify to listeners that Buttu’s claim regarding international law and the legality of Israelis living in certain locations is not the only interpretation of the fourth Geneva Convention, Pollard also refrained from telling his audience that the Oslo Accords – signed willingly by the PLO for which Buttu used to work – place no restriction whatsoever on construction or population in communities in Area C, the status of which is to be determined in negotiations. Pollard then resuscitated a twelve-year-old quote.

Pollard: “That raises the issue of how much of an honest broker the American team can be. I mean there are people who have been familiar with the inside of the American process who say, you know, what we’ve done in the past is we’ve been Israel’s attorney rather than both sides’ sort of honest broker. Do you think that Jared Kushner represents a change?”

Buttu: “Absolutely not. That phrase of Israel’s lawyer was one that was coined by Aaron David Miller who was involved with the Clinton administration. And the Clinton administration is no way like the Trump administration. At least then one could potentially say or probably say that there was some semblance of…of being objective – even though I would question that. But with the Trump team the mask is completely off. Jared Kushner himself is somebody who is a big supporter of the settlements. David Friedman – the US ambassador – is also a financial backer of the settlements. His daughter just immigrated to Israel taking advantage of a very racist Israeli law and has become an Israeli citizen. So I don’t…I’m not under any illusions whatsoever that the Trump administration is going to do anything. In fact I think what they’re going to do is either continue to provide a fig leaf or continue to entrench Israel’s military occupation.”

The Israeli law to which Buttu referred in that gratuitous reference to a person unconnected to the US administration is of course the Law of Return. Pollard refrained from challenging her portrayal of that law as “very racist”.

Pollard: “Give us an idea, from your point of view, has a strategy emerged? I mean those are pretty dark interpretations that you’re giving of American intentions. Has there actually been a series of policy statements that you could call a strategy or an idea or a road map forward?”

Buttu: “From…on the part of the Americans – yes, definitely. This is the first US president who has indicated that he intends to move the embassy from…from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This is again in violation of international law. This is a president who has completely turned a blind eye to Israeli settlement construction and while this may not be an actual plan, I think what it…what the Trump administration has made clear is that they’re not going to do anything to push Israel to end its now 50 year military rule and to stop the denial of freedom for Palestinians. So this is the plan that has been in place and on…in terms of what it is that the sides want, the Trump administration needs to look as though they’re actually doing something. The Netanyahu administration needs to look as though they’re actually doing something and within Israel all that they’re saying is provided that we look as though we’re engaged in a process but not actually doing anything, then the situation will be fine and that is not acceptable.”

Pollard failed to clarify to listeners that – as the BBC well knows – there has been no new “Israeli settlement construction” since Trump came into office or indeed for well over two decades before that. Neither did he bother to ask Buttu to clarify exactly which part of “international law” supposedly precludes moving the US embassy to Jerusalem or challenge her false claim that this is the first time a US presidential candidate has pledged to move his country’s embassy to Israel’s capital.  

Pollard: “But…but there are people who…who are trying to be optimistic about this, who are kind of saying there’s going to be a new approach from Jared Kushner; he’s a real estate guy. Let’s treat it as a real estate approach; after all this is an issue about land ownership. Any fruits come from that approach?”

Buttu: “Not at all. This isn’t a real estate issue. This is an issue of rights and whether Palestinians have a right to live freely on their land or whether the world is going to continue to accept the denial of freedom of a people for yet another 50 years. So I don’t at all buy into this…”

Pollard: “Right…”

Buttu: “…theory that somehow Jared Kushner is going to be different. The question is not about the quality of the person but about what they’re empowered to do…”

Pollard: “Right…”

Buttu: “…what it is they intend to do and it’s clear that this administration is going to do nothing but kick the can down the road.”

Failing once again to clarify that the status of Area C is subject to negotiations and hence cannot accurately be described as “their land”, Pollard concluded with a repeat of his signposting:

Pollard: “You’re not going to be holding your breath by the sound of it. Diana Buttu; many thanks indeed for her take on the prospects of some breakthrough courtesy of Jared Kushner and the US team in the Middle East. Diana is a former legal advisor for the Palestinian negotiating team in Ramallah.”

Clearly BBC World Service audiences listening to this item did not benefit from accurate and impartial information that would enhance their understanding of the current situation regarding US efforts to restart negotiations between Israel and the PLO or the full range of issues to be tackled in such talks.

What they did hear, however, was unchallenged, politically motivated messaging from an inadequately introduced professional activist intent on persuading BBC audiences that the main – if not sole – factor of any importance in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is ‘settlements’.

A later edition of ‘Newsday’ also led with the same story – but did listeners hear anything to balance this item? That question will be answered in part two of this post.

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Diana Buttu is at it Again, Harvard Edition  (CAMERA)