BBC’s Newshour Extra listeners get a partisan ‘explanation’ of Hizballah

The November 24th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour Extra’ was titled “The Battle for Lebanon“.

“Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri shocked his country when he recently resigned while in Saudi Arabia citing fears for his safety. The move plunged Lebanon into a crisis as Lebanese leaders accused Saudi Arabia of forcing him to go. It has also stoked fears of major showdown between Lebanon’s Saudi-backed Sunnis and the Iranian-backed Shia militant group Hezbollah. On his return to Lebanon this week, Hariri agreed to withdraw his resignation and seek ‘dialogue’. So who is ultimately driving events in Lebanon, Hariri, Saudi Arabia, or Hezbollah and Iran? On Newshour Extra this week Owen Bennett Jones and his guests discuss what Saudi Arabia wants in Lebanon and whether it’s gearing up to take on Hezbollah at all costs.”

Owen Bennett Jones’ guests were American-Iranian journalist Azadeh Moaveni, Lina Khatib of Chatham House, Fahad Nazer – a consultant to the Saudi Arabian embassy in the US capital and the Lebanese academic Amal Saad who – as was the case when she appeared on two editions of ‘Newshour’ a fortnight before – was inadequately presented to listeners as an “author”.

The first topic of discussion was the background to Hariri’s resignation and in Amal Saad’s contribution listeners heard her dismiss Hariri’s claims of threats to his life, whitewash Hizballah involvement in the murder of his father and yet again – despite Hariri having returned to Lebanon by the time this programme was aired – repeat Hizballah spin concerning his supposed ‘abduction’.

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

03:46 – Saad: “Well first of all to address the threats, the Lebanese security services – all three of them – issued different statements saying there was no threat on his life. So that was clearly a bogus threat charge to be honest. And as to what Fahad is saying about all signs point to Hizballah being behind the assassination of Rafik Hariri, you know Hizballah hasn’t actually been charged with anything yet so I wouldn’t really, you know, use that of evidence of anything. If anything, you know, Saad al Hariri’s abduction by Saudi Arabia which – and I think there’s a virtual international consensus on this, including the German foreign minister – was indeed kidnapped by Saudi Arabia and is still a political hostage. His family are still there – clearly used as collateral – and I think, you know, the very fact that Hariri rescinded his resignation was done in concert with Saudi Arabia who realised – specially Mohammed bin Salman – that he overplayed his hand and had to back down basically.”

Later on in the programme (from 12:00) Bennett Jones asked Saad to explain Hizballah to listeners.

Bennett Jones: “…and Amal Saad; you’ve written a book on the organisation. I think it would help – just for people, you know, who really aren’t familiar with Hizballah – can you explain? First of all, it’s both a military and a political outfit, right?”

Listeners consequently heard a highly airbrushed portrayal of Hizballah that misrepresented its origin as being rooted in the (completely unexplained) First Lebanon War and – unsurprisingly – failed to tell those listeners “who really aren’t familiar with Hizballah” anything at all about the reasons for its designation as a terror organisation by many Western and Gulf countries as well as by the Arab League.

Saad: “That’s right. Hizballah arose as a response to the Israeli invasion of 1982. It’s a popular grassroots movement. So in the first sense it is a resistance movement. And over time Hizballah’s constituency expanded to encompass the overwhelming majority of Lebanese Shia. And obviously it has supporters in other sects as well: Christians and some Sunnis. And Hizballah in 1992 contested parliamentary elections. It’s had a parliamentary role since then and a government role since 2005 when Syria withdrew from Lebanon. So I would say yes, Hizballah is a military organisation. I would call it a resistance army actually. It has also the tactics and weapons and strategy of a conventional armed force. So yes, it’s both.”

Without bothering to clarify to listeners that Hizballah actually has had nothing to ‘resist’ since Israel disengaged from southern Lebanon seventeen and a half years ago, Bennett Jones went on:

Bennett Jones: “Now it’s a very unusual organisation but what you’ve just touched on is a key point. There is a Lebanese army and yet you’ve also got this – as you say – almost like an army but without the normal political control or command structures.”

Saad: “Well there’s a very close relationship between the Lebanese army and Hizballah actually that’s been going on for well over a decade now. Both Hizballah and the Lebanese army coordinate, cooperate vis-à-vis Israel on Lebanon’s southern border and they’ve been cooperating a lot more recently in terms of the takfiri jihadis from Syria. So there’s ongoing cooperation in that sense and at the same time, if you’ve noticed that Lebanon has suffered far fewer terrorist attacks; especially since 2014 we haven’t seen any terrorist attacks in Beirut and that’s thanks to the very close coordination between Hizballah’s intelligence, Lebanese military intelligence, internal security. So there’s that kind of ongoing cooperation on homeland security issues as well.”

Obviously that evasive and highly partisan reply did not provide listeners with any understanding of the role played by Hizballah’s foreign-funded, heavily armed militia in its imposition of a state-within-a state model in Lebanon.

Later on in the programme (from 19:14) listeners were told by Saad that Hizballah “hasn’t had any kind of role in Yemen in terms of sending weapons” but she did clarify that Nasrallah admitted to sending “weapons to the Palestinians”. When Bennett Jones asked her about the possibility of Hizballah “pull[ing] back from the regional stuff] her response was again to repeat Hizballah talking points.

Saad: “Obviously Hizballah’s regional role in terms of…if we’re talking about regional role…Palestine, Syria is not up for negotiation because these are existential issues for Hizballah. Hizballah fighting Israel is existential, supporting the Palestinian cause is both ideological and existential – it’s strategic. And also, you know, continuing with its military role in Syria is also existential in the sense that it was not a spillover. These groups were actually attacking Lebanese civilians who were residing in Syrian villages, in Syrian towns across the border from Lebanon. There were thousands of Lebanese and this is why Hizballah intervened; they had to protect themselves.”

Bennett Jones refrained from questioning or challenging that debatable representation of events.

At 31:02 Saad made two additional references to “Hariri’s arrest” in Saudi Arabia and at 34:24 – following a question from Bennett Jones concerning the likelihood of the use of economic pressure on Lebanon by Saudi Arabia, listeners heard Saad present speculation as fact:

Saad: “I think that’s the Saudis’ only card at this point. Their other card…well initially their card was that Israel would, you know, do the fighting for them and that didn’t work out for them.”

Towards the end of the discussion (from 48:25) listeners heard Saad misrepresent the origins of Hizballah once more, together with an airbrushed presentation of the relationship between the terror group and Iran.

Saad: “Another thing is I think we’ve got to stop looking at…you used this term yourself, Owen – you said proxy. […] Hizballah is not a proxy. None of Iran’s allies are actually proxies. And we have to look…try to be a bit more academic here in terms of defining what do we mean by proxy warfare. What does a proxy…you know, what’s the definition?  You know Hizballah was born as a result of the Israeli invasion. That doesn’t make it a proxy at all. In fact it’s the exact opposite. Iran does not control it. Proxies are controlled by their benefactors. This is not happening. There is an alignment of interests, an ideology and there is financial support but then that happens with the US’s allies. They receive funding and arms from the US. No-one calls them proxies. So there’s a difference between a proxy and a junior partner. I would say Hizballah is a junior partner of Iran.”

If, as one must assume, the purpose of this programme was to enhance audience understanding of the complex story of Hariri’s resignation, his subsequent backtrack and the wider regional background, then clearly an accurate and impartial portrayal of Hizballah’s history, ideology and activities should have been one of its essential components.

While Amal Saad was on occasion challenged by some of the additional contributors on various other points, the fact that Owen Bennett Jones assigned the task of ‘explaining’ Hizballah to an obviously partisan contributor, intent only on repeating the terror group’s own propaganda and messaging, actively hindered audience comprehension of this story.

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part one

BBC WS radio listeners get unchallenged Hizballah messaging – part two

Reviewing BBC portrayal of Hizballah in Hariri resignation reports

Unnecessary BBC correction does a makeover on Nasrallah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC WS on counter-terrorism: Israeli measure is ‘highly controversial’

Over the last decade and a half BBC audiences have grown very used to hearing Israel’s anti-terrorist fence described as “controversial” or even worse. Despite the fact that the BBC’s ‘style guide’ instructs its staff to use the term ‘barrier’ to describe the structure, audiences very often hear or see it described as “the wall”. Not only is it is extremely rare for audiences to be informed of that counter-terrorism measure’s record of effectiveness, but BBC produced content frequently promotes the propaganda myth that it is intended to facilitate a “land grab” rather than to curb the number of Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians.

Following the terror attack in Manchester the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour Extra’ – presented by Owen Bennett-Jones – devoted its May 27th edition to the question “How Can We Make Our Cities Safe?“.

“In the wake of the suicide bomb attack at a concert venue in Manchester, Newshour Extra this week is asking how major cities around the world can minimise the risk to their citizens from such atrocities. Owen Bennett Jones and his guests consider urban security, counter-terrorism, and the compromises different cities make between civil liberties and public safety.”

Although one might have thought that Israel – with its sadly considerable experience of tackling that topic – would have featured in such a discussion, the sole brief reference to Israeli counter-terrorism measures appeared at 14:41 when Bennett-Jones addressed a bizarrely expressed question to one of his three guests; Professor Bill Durodie of the University of Bath. [emphasis added]

Bennett-Jones: “Professor Durodie; let me just put one example to you of a physical barrier – highly controversial and politically charged as it is – that seems to have made a difference and that is the wall – stroke – security fence – stroke – fence – stroke – whatever, you know, whoever…wherever you’re coming from what you’d call it – between the Israelis and the Palestinians which does seem to have made a significant difference in security terms.”

Durodie: “It probably has. Ehm…I think most people understand that it’s highly porous at the same time and that determined individuals get round it as well as, you know….”

Bennett-Jones [interrupts]: “Well, well not really. I mean the number of attacks is sharply, sharply down, isn’t it, since that went up.”

Durodie: “I agree but ultimately we have to question what kind of open society we want to live in…”

In short, even in a programme specifically relating to security and counter-terrorism that ostensibly sets out to inform listeners what other countries do to “minimise the risk to their citizens” and even as we see that the BBC clearly appreciates both the purpose and the efficacy of the anti-terrorist fence, the corporation cannot resist promoting its knee-jerk “controversial” theme and refrains from informing audiences of the actual statistics relating to the reduction in attacks following construction of the structure.

 

 

BBC WS radio promotes Avi Shlaim’s historical misrepresentations – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, on May 31st Oxford professor Avi Shlaim appeared on the panel of BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newshour Extra’. There – unhindered by host Owen Bennett-Jones – Shlaim was given a platform from which to promote assorted inaccurate and politically partisan versions of Middle East history as well as the risible notion that the root cause of the absence of peace, security and stability in the entire region is the Arab-Israeli conflict. In addition, the BBC platform was used to mainstream to millions of listeners around the world the notion that the only way to achieve peace in the Middle East is by dismantling the Jewish state and denying Jews the right to self-determination.OBJ radio

No less insidious was Shlaim’s idealisation of Jewish life in Iraq – all the more pernicious given Shlaim’s title of ‘historian’.

“My family had lived in Iraq all these years. There were very good harmonious relations between Jews and Muslims in Iraq. The Jewish community was very well-integrated. We were Jewish Arabs. We spoke Arabic. We had no interest or understanding of Zionism. Zionism was a European idea and a European project and very few Iraqi Jews had any interest in going to live in a Jewish state in Palestine. But then there was the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The Iraqi army fought against the Israelis in that war and there was a wave of hostility towards the Jews in all the Arab lands, including Iraq. Life became insecure and unsafe in Iraq and we moved to Israel in 1950 along with about one hundred thousand Iraqi Jews because there was a backlash after the Arab defeat in 1948 against the Jews. That’s why we ended up in Israel – not out of commitment to the Zionist project.”

So according to Shlaim the historian, all was sweetness and light for Jews in Arab lands in general and Iraq in particular until the Arabs lost the war they initiated against the newly declared Israeli state in 1948. One might have thought that a historian would have remembered to mention the one of the most important events in the Iraqi Jewish community’s modern history – the Farhud of 1941 – especially as that event’s anniversary was marked just one day after this programme was broadcast.

Of course anyone familiar with Avi Shlaim’s record will be well aware of the fact that more often than not his political views – along with his self-awarded role of “judge and jury” – shape his accounts of history and his portrayal of Zionism as “a European idea and a European project” in this broadcast is a classic example of Shlaim’s seemingly unlimited ability to ignore inconvenient facts such as the First Aliyah wave of immigrants from Yemen and the event – the Farhud – which signalled that relations between Iraqi Jews and their neighbours were not quite as “harmonious” as Shlaim would have listeners believe.

The trouble with this BBC programme is that the vast majority of those listening to the radio show will not be familiar with the prolific political activities of the learned professor and will not be able to apply the necessary context of his underlying agenda to the ostensibly neutral and academic analysis he provides. And of course the real issue is that Owen Bennett-Jones and his BBC colleagues made no effort whatsoever to provide audiences with the information necessary for them to appreciate that any application of context and critical thinking was required at all.

BBC WS radio promotes Avi Shlaim’s historical misrepresentations – part one

Visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page on June 1st were presented with an article in its features section by Owen Bennett-Jones titled “Middle East map carved up by caliphates, enclaves and fiefdoms“. There, they found the reasons for the past four or so years of violence and turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa explained as follows:OBJ written

“There are many explanations for the winds of change sweeping through the Middle East.

Depending on their point of view, analysts cite the failure of Arab nationalism; a lack of democratic development; post-colonialism; Zionism; Western trade protectionism; corruption; low education standards; and the global revival of radical Islamism.” [emphasis added]

Readers who ventured to the end of Bennett-Jones’ piece discovered that it is based on an edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour Extra’ – titled “Borders, Oil and Power in the Middle East” – which he hosted on May 31st. What they are not told in the written article is that the main reason for the bizarre appearance of Zionism on his list of “explanations” for the ongoing violence in the Middle East is the inclusion of Oxford University’s Avi Shlaim on Bennett-Jones’ guest list for that programme.

According to its synopsis the fifty-five minute programme supposedly set out to discuss the following topics:

“The map of the Middle East, established after World War One almost 100 years ago, is crumbling. Islamic State militants now control large parts of Iraq and Syria including the border region that divides the two countries, and their territorial ambitions have not ended there. Is Islamic State permanently re-drawing the map, or can the traditional regional powers retain their dominance? What are the consequences for the people who live within those borders and for control of the region’s vast mineral wealth?”

Those familiar with Avi Shlaim’s political activism (albeit often thinly disguised with an academic veneer) will not have been surprised by his ability to repeatedly bring the focus of the programme back to his pet topic of Israel. Listeners may have been equally unsurprised to find that the programme’s host and editors indulged his hobby, particularly after the tone was set in Bennett-Jones’ introduction.

“…this week looking at the future of the Middle East. Syria, Yemen, Libya and parts of Iraq are in violent chaos. The status of Gaza and the West Bank remain contested. The Arab Spring has failed. Some of its leaders face the death penalty and the forces in the ascendant: theocrats, rebels, nationalists, gangsters, arms dealers and opportunists. What on earth is going to happen?”

From around 04:30 listeners heard the following supposedly objective and academic account of the background to the topic under discussion from Avi Shlaim.

“…Britain’s behavior during the First World War is a prime example of pure opportunism because in the course of fighting the First World War, Britain was desperate to gain allies and it made three major promises that were contradictory and couldn’t be reconciled and this should have been clear during the war. The first promise was to Hussein the Sharif of Mecca – to support an independent Arab kingdom under his rule in return for mounting an Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks. The second promise […] is the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. This was a secret agreement between Britain and France to carve up the Middle East between themselves at the expense of the Arabs. And the third and most famous promise was the Balfour Declaration of 1917 in which Britain undertook to support the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. So Palestine was the twice-promised land – first it was promised to Hussein the Sharif of Mecca and then it was promised to the Zionists. And after the end of the war the chickens came home to roost. The Arabs demanded an independent Arab kingdom – not a system of mandates – and the Zionists, who at the time of the Balfour Declaration were only 10% of the population, laid a claim to the whole of Palestine. So Britain – through its imperialist diplomacy – created a new order, a new political system – territorial system – which lacked legitimacy. The borders lacked legitimacy, the rulers who were imposed on the local Arabs by the colonial powers lacked legitimacy. So the whole mark of the post-World War One territorial and political system was that it was illegitimate….” [emphasis added]

No attempt was made by Owen Bennett-Jones to balance Shlaim’s predictably selective presentation of events by mention of all-important additional factors such as the creation in 1921 of the Emirate of Transjordan (ruled by one of Hussein’s sons) out of land previously designated for the Jewish National Home. Neither was it clarified to listeners that no mention was made of Palestine in the Hussein-McMahon correspondence or that as was reported in The Times in 1937 – Sir Henry McMahon later clarified:

“I feel my duty to state, and I do so definitely and emphatically, that it was not intended by me in giving this pledge to King Hussein to include Palestine in the area in which Arab independence was promised. I also had every reason to believe at the time that the fact that Palestine was not included in my pledge was well understood by King Hussein.”

The most striking aspect of Bennett-Jones’ failure to relieve listeners of the misleading impressions provided by Shlaim, however, is that the BBC had every reason to be capable of anticipating exactly how he was going to frame the issue because he had done it before on BBC Radio 4 in October 2013. No less interesting is the fact that despite Shlaim’s obvious and repeatedly expressed enthusiasm for Kurdish independence as promised in 1920, Bennett-Jones refrained from asking him why in his opinion the Treaty of Sèvres should be considered any less “illegitimate” than the Balfour Declaration or the Sykes-Picot Agreement.OBJ radio

From around 16:35 listeners were further misled by the following statement from Shlaim:

“It seems to me that the post-World War One territorial order, for all its shortcomings and limitations that I talked about before, had one merit and that is it set out very clear international borders and despite all the turmoil of the last century, all the violence, all the conflicts, these borders still stand – with one exception: the border between Israel and Palestine. But all the other borders are almost sacrosanct.”

Of course it is inaccurate and misleading to suggest that a “border between Israel and Palestine” existed under “the post-World War One territorial order”.

Towards the end of the programme (at around 41:30), Bennett-Jones informs listeners that the discussion will “look ahead to what’s going to happen to various groups in the Middle East”. If listeners thought that they were finally going to get to hear some information about the situation of Christians, Yezidis, Druze, Armenians, Baha’is or any of the many other Middle East minorities unmentioned so far, they would have been disappointed. Instead, a full five minutes is spent discussing the topic introduced by Bennett-Jones at the start of that segment.

OBJ: “…on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute; is it right to say that when we talk about borders changing  – Professor Shlaim made the point that the Israel-Palestine situation is one of the few fluid situations in terms of borders – but does it connect with the rest of the Middle East or is that dispute….”

At that point Bennett-Jones is cut off – apparently by some over-enthusiastic editing – but listeners do hear BBC regular Rosemary Hollis telling them that:

“…having a number of Palestinian scholarship students as I do, they see this chaos in Iraq and Syria and this hideous machine called IS as potentially the only game changer that might ultimately call all the borders into question in a way that might benefit the Palestinians. Otherwise they see their future as miserable and they see Gaza as a place where you die slowly and, as of 2020 when life is unsustainable in Gaza according to the UN, you die more quickly – if there’s not another Israeli-Palestinian war in the meanwhile.”

According to the CIA World Factbook, life expectancy in the Gaza Strip in 2014 was 74.64 years – higher than that in one hundred and thirteen other countries or territories and higher than that for males in Blackpool or Glasgow, which BBC audiences would of course be unlikely to hear described as places “where you die slowly”.

Following that (from around 45:25), listeners hear Avi Shlaim telling them that there will be no peace or stability in the Middle East until Jews lose their right to self-determination.

“To answer your regional question, I don’t think that Israel-Palestine is a separate discrete conflict. It’s part of the whole Middle East set-up and it’s the most fundamental and lasting and enduring conflict in the region and there can be no peace, no stability and no security in the Middle East until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved. How can it be resolved? I used to be a great supporter of the two state solution but […] it is no longer viable. Why is it not viable? Because Israel, under right-wing governments, has systematically destroyed the basis for a two state solution. And therefore today I support and advocate a one state solution: one state which is for all its citizens with equal rights for all its citizens be they Arab or Israeli, Muslim, Christian or Jewish.”

No attempt is made by the programme’s host to inform listeners of the significance and consequences of the ‘solution’ to all the Middle East’s troubles as put forward by Shlaim and likewise no effort is made to relieve them of the ridiculous notion that ISIS jihadists are slaughtering Yezidis, Kurds and Christians (among others) and Bashar al Assad is killing his own people because the Arab-Israeli conflict has yet to be resolved.

Amazingly, this is what passes for objective, impartial, factual and accurate analysis of the Middle East as far as the BBC World Service is concerned, but Avi Shlaim’s historical misrepresentations had not finished there – as we shall see in part two of this post.