BBC WS misleads on Israel’s capital city yet again

On April 3rd the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ aired an item relating to a statement made by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince. Presenter James Menendez described the story as follows (from 48:52 here):

Menendez: “King Salman of Saudi Arabia has reiterated his country’s support for a Palestinian state after his son and heir apparent said that Israelis were entitled to live peacefully on their own land. Prince Mohammed bin Salman made the comment – unusual for an Arab leader, or Arab leader in waiting, anyway – in an interview with the Atlantic magazine during his visit to the United States. It was taken as a public sign of ties between Riyadh and Tel Aviv appearing to grow closer.” [emphasis added]

Obviously Menendez was using the common journalistic practice of referring to a nation’s capital city as shorthand for the country’s government. Obviously too, Tel Aviv is not Israel’s capital and – as the BBC has acknowledged in the past – not the seat of its government.

As we know, the BBC presumptuously refuses to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but nevertheless, Menendez’s choice of wording led listeners to believe that Tel Aviv is Israel’s capital – which is clearly inaccurate.

This is not the first time that ‘Newshour’ has misled listeners with regard to Israel’s capital city. BBC Watch has – again – requested a correction.

Related Articles:

BBC Watch prompts edit of BBC WS inaccurate location of Israel’s capital

BBC News gets Israel’s capital city right – and then ‘corrects’

BBC partially corrects ‘The World Tonight’ inaccuracies

The continuing saga of the BBC’s failure to make a simple correction

BBC Weather and a country called null

Which country does not have a capital city on the BBC website?

CAMERA Prompts AP Correction: Jerusalem is Israel’s Capital (CAMERA) 

 

 

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Two months on, BBC still qualifying Iranian drone story

As readers may recall, one notable feature of the BBC’s coverage of the infiltration of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace on February 10th 2018 was the corporation’s unnecessary qualification of the event. [emphasis added]

“The Israeli military says a “combat helicopter successfully intercepted an Iranian UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] that was launched from Syria and infiltrated Israel”.

It tweeted footage which it says shows the drone flying into Israeli territory before being hit.” [emphasis added] BBC News website

“Israel’s military, the IDF, released this footage from one of their helicopters. They say it shows an Iranian drone flying over Israeli territory.” [emphasis added] BBC News website

“…the Israelis have a very different narrative of the events of the past 24-36 hours and for them the original provocation was the flying of this drone over their territory.” [emphasis added] BBC World Service radio

At the same time, BBC reports also amplified Iranian disinformation.

“Meanwhile Iran and the Tehran-backed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon – which are allied with the Syrian government – dismissed reports that an Iranian drone had entered Israeli airspace as a “lie”.” BBC News website

“Iran denied it had sent a drone into Israel and defended the Syrians’ right to self-defence.” BBC News website

Later on in February BBC audiences got another heavy dose of Iranian disinformation when the corporation promoted written and filmed versions of an interview by the its chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet with Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi.

Among the BBC’s coverage of a strike in the early morning hours of April 9th on a military airbase in Syria used by Iranian forces was an extensive report on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ (from 00:53 here) in which audiences around the world heard presenter Julian Marshall echo the unnecessary qualification previously seen in BBC reporting on the February Iranian drone infiltration. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Marshall: “But we begin in Syria where in the early hours of this morning Tiyas military airbase – also known as the T4 airbase – came under attack from missiles. [music] Syrian TV playing stirring music over images that it said show the missiles flying over Lebanese airspace on their way to hit the airbase. Syria and its main backer Russia have accused Israel. The Russian defence ministry said two Israeli F15 warplanes carried out the strikes and Syrian air defence systems shot down five out of eight missiles. Syrian and Iranian forces are reported to have been killed. The Israeli Defence Forces told us they have no comment but Israel targeted the same airbase in February after what it said was an Iranian drone had entered its airspace. There had earlier been speculation that it might have been the work of either the United States or France, both of which had threatened possible retaliation after a suspected chemical weapons attack on the rebel-held town of Douma which left dozens dead. But both the United States and France have denied involvement.”

Later on in the same programme (from 14:05 here) Marshall spoke to the BBC’s Lyse Doucet who used the same unnecessary qualification.

Marshall: “…what do you make of Israel’s policy of no comment?”

Doucet: “Well that is Israel’s policy. It does not comment on strikes. In fact only once do I know in the Syrian context did they break that policy and that was in February when an Iranian drone is said to have entered Israeli airspace.”

In other words, two months after the incident in which Iranian forces launched a UAV from the T4 airbase in Syria and it was shot down over Israeli territory, the BBC is still failing to present that story clearly and accurately to its audiences.

One of the additional related interviews conducted by Julian Marshall in that programme (from 02:04 here) was with a Syrian journalist called Thabet Salem – who Marshall appeared to believe was qualified to answer the following question:

Marshall: “What would have been Israel’s strategic objective in attacking this airbase?”

Salem: “Well to the Syrians, frankly speaking, destroying Syria is the objective of Israel.”

Listeners around the world heard no challenge to that egregious claim from the BBC’s presenter.

Related Articles:

BBC News gives a stage to Iranian disinformation

BBC jumbles cause and effect, amplifies disinformation in Iran drone story – part one

BBC jumbles cause and effect, amplifies disinformation in Iran drone story – part two

 

 

 

BBC continues to promote anti-Israel campaign with ‘ancestral lands’ theme

h/t AM

With the BBC now having produced over a week’s worth of reporting on the ‘Great Return March’ publicity stunt organised by Hamas and additional terror factions in the Gaza Strip together with foreign Muslim Brotherhood linked activists, we can begin to identify patterns of reporting in the corporation’s multi-platform coverage.

One theme that has been repeatedly evident on a variety of platforms is context-free promotion of the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’. BBC audiences have not however been told on what that demand is based, what its aim actually is, what it means for the internationally accepted ‘two-state solution’ or why the people making that demand continue to be categorised as refugees.

BBC radio portrayal of the ‘right of return’ – part one

BBC radio portrayal of the ‘right of return’ – part two

On March 6th a spin-off from that theme appeared: the description of Israel as “ancestral lands” of Palestinian refugees:

BBC reporting on Gaza border rioting continues to avoid core issue

One may have thought that BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality would have prompted the use of terminology such as “what Palestinians see as their ancestral lands” (particularly seeing as only two years of residency in Mandate Palestine is required to meet the UN definition of refugee) but that was not the case in either the written article or in radio reports promoting the same theme.

The March 6th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ included an item (from 29:05 here) billed thus:

“Palestinians say Israeli troops have killed at least six people on Gaza’s border with Israel. As Israel is criticised by human rights groups inside and outside the country we hear from a military spokesman.”

Presenter Chris Mason introduced that item as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Mason: “When you hear or use the word smokescreen, the chances are the conversation is actually indulging in a spot of imagery about a ruse designed to disguise someone’s real intentions. But along the eastern borders of the Gaza Strip today, a smoke screen was a literal description of the tactic deployed by Palestinians. The choking black clouds – the result of burning tyres – had a simple purpose: make it harder for Israeli soldiers on the other side of the border to shoot protesters in Gaza.”

Obviously listeners would be likely to erroneously conclude from that portrayal that anybody and everybody protesting “in Gaza” is liable to be shot – rather than those engaged in violent rioting right next to the border fence or attempting to infiltrate it. Mason then promoted another falsehood with the claim that all Palestinian refugees were “forcibly displaced”.

Mason: “This was the second week of a planned six-week protest set to end on the 15th of May – the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian ‘Nakba’ or catastrophe in which more than 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced by Israeli forces in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948.”

He continued with promotion of another now well-established theme: unquestioning repetition of casualty figures provided by the “Palestinian health ministry” – but without clarifying that the ministry concerned is run by Hamas – one of the organisers of the publicity stunt.

Mason: “Today six Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces according to the Palestinian health ministry and – as they did last week – the forces fired teargas to repel those at the border.”

Listeners then heard the “ancestral lands” theme.

Mason: “The protesters are demanding that refugees be allowed to return to ancestral lands that are now in Israel but Israel says the militant group Hamas which dominates Gaza is staging the rallies in order to launch attacks. Our correspondent Yolande Knell has spent the day with a 72 year-old Palestinian man who was one of the protesters today.”

Knell: “This is Jabaliya; one of eight refugee camps in the Gaza Strip. It’s really overcrowded. The streets are narrow with breeze-block buildings. I’ve come to the home of a retired English teacher Ahmed Abdullah to hear his story.”

Abdullah: “Here are the deeds. This was recorded in 1940 through the British Mandate. My mother took me there and she showed me every inch belongs to me.”

Knell: “Ahmed and his mother were the only survivors from their large family in the fierce fighting that followed the creation of the State of Israel. He comes from Hulayqat village, just to the north of Gaza but was brought up here. His family’s land is now an agricultural community in Israel.”

Listeners were given no context whatsoever to that story. They were not informed that Hulayqat was located along the route linking Jewish communities in the Negev to the centre of the country or that in the rioting that preceded the War of Independence, together with the inhabitants of two more hostile neighbouring villages, the residents of Hulayqat regularly harassed Jewish travelers along that road and blocked it. Neither were they told that armed Egyptian volunteers were already located in the area or that Hulayqat was the site of a British military post from which it was possible to control the route to the Negev. With the expectation of invasion by Arab armies, immediately before the War of Independence began the Palmach conducted Operation Barak in order to prevent the Jewish communities in the Negev from being cut off by the Egyptian army. Hulayqat was taken on May 13th 1948.

Knell’s interviewee went on:

Abdullah: “Now Israelis called it Heletz. They built a moshav on the land, on the village, and called it Heletz. Because the Israeli thought one day that the oldest will die and the smallest will forget. We cannot forget. We cannot forget. We know that this is our country and one day we will return back. One day. After 10 years, after 50 years, after 1,000 years – we will return back.”

Knell: “How do you feel about the protests that have been taking place here?”

Abdullah: “I’ve been there. I should be in the front. I lived the whole tragedy. I lived all my life as a refugee. They are talking about my life, about my land, about my future for my sons and grandsons. All people, all the people in the whole world they have countries. They live in countries. We as Palestinians, our country live inside us.”

Knell: “But Israel completely rejects the Palestinians’ right to go back to that land. Is it realistic to keep talking about the right of return to those villages?”

Abdullah: “Of course. It is like an [unintelligible]. We started in Gaza; we began to put pressure on the Palestinians who [unintelligible] to move, move you are a refugee not to leave us alone in Gaza and we will ask the Palestinian refugee in Lebanon to move and also the Jordanian. We want to return back.”

Although it has been clear in some of her other reports that Yolande Knell knows full well that Hamas is one of the co-organisers of this publicity stunt – and is also financing it – listeners then heard another recurrent theme: the downplaying of Hamas’ involvement.

Knell: “When the Israelis say it’s just Hamas that’s trying to stir up violence…”

Abdullah: “It is not Hamas. It is not Hamas. It is people. I’m not Hamas. I don’t believe in Hamas thoughts. I’m secular, not religious. So I took a part.”

Knell: “So you think they’re just one of the parties?”

Abdullah: “Yes but they [Israel] want to cover it with Hamas to show us as we are terrorists. We are not terrorists. We are the victim of terrorism.”

Knell: “So Ahmed, you and some of your 25 grandchildren and I have come now to the protest camp east of Jabaliya on the border with Israel. There’s a big crowd here and we can see Israeli soldiers by the fence across a field. There are tyres burning. There’s been some tear gas fired. It feels very dangerous. The idea is to continue these demonstrations until the middle of May. Are you ready to keep coming back?”

Abdullah: “Yeah. We are not fed up. We are not tired. We will continue day by day. We are on the right way to implement our right of returning to our home and land.”

That item continued with Chris Mason interviewing the head of the political NGO B’tselem about his organisation’s call for Israeli soldiers to disobey orders (also promoted in a written BBC report on the same day) and that was followed by an interview with an IDF spokesperson.

A TV version of Yolande Knell’s one-sided and totally context-free amplification of the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ was also seen by viewers of BBC Four’s ‘World News Today’ and an edited version of Knell’s interview with Ahmed Abdullah was heard by listeners to the March 6th evening edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour’ (from 18:05 here), with presenter Julian Marshall once again unquestioningly quoting Hamas casualty figures and telling listeners that:

“…in similar protests last Friday in support of the demand that Palestinian refugees and their descendants be allowed to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel, 16 Palestinians lost their lives.”

Listeners to an earlier version of ‘Newshour’ on the same day (from 49:32 here) heard similar promotion of Hamas-supplied casualty figures that have not been independently verified by the BBC and were told by Yolande Knell that:

“The Palestinians…they’re calling for the right of those original 1948 Palestinian refugees and their descendants in Gaza – which is about 1.3 million of the 2 million population – to be allowed to go back to their land which is now in Israel. Israel has long rejected such a claim but the Palestinians here say they’re going to keep up these protests until the middle of May when it will be the 70th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel when those hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes or forced to flee.”

The BBC has now had well over a week in which to provide its audiences with the background which would facilitate their understanding of why Israel (and the pro two-state solution international community) ‘rejects’ the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’. In light of its continued failure to produce any such reporting, one can only conclude that the BBC’s intention is not to meet its remit as a supplier of “impartial news and information” but to provide amplification for that anti-Israel political campaign.  

Related Articles:

Hamas agitprop requires BBC journalists to brush up on UN resolution

British connections to upcoming Gaza agitprop ignored by BBC News

BBC News claims Gaza stone throwers engaged in ‘peaceful demonstrations’

BBC again fails to adequately clarify Hamas’ role in Gaza border agitprop

BBC radio portrayal of the ‘right of return’ – part one

BBC radio portrayal of the ‘right of return’ – part two

BBC Radio 4 dusts off the ‘expert’ hats and ‘disproportionate’ meme

No BBC reporting on preparations for upcoming Gaza border stunt

BBC reporting on Gaza border rioting continues to avoid core issue

 

 

 

 

BBC radio portrayal of the ‘right of return’ – part two

In part one of this post we saw how listeners to BBC Radio 4 on March 30th heard a report about the violent rioting along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip which included multiple references to the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’  – without any background information or context on that issue being provided.

Listeners to the evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on the same day also heard reporting on the same events. Presenter Julian Marshall introduced the item (from 00:63 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Marshall: “But we go first to the border between Israel and Gaza. Thousands of Palestinians massed today in what is the start of weeks of protest to demand that refugees be allowed to return to their homes in what is now Israel. The protesters had been told by the organisers – among them Hamas – to be peaceful and not to approach the border fence but stones and firebombs were thrown while the Israeli army responded with tear gas and live fire. And at day’s end 15 demonstrators have been killed and hundreds injured.”

Without clarifying to listeners that the people he described as refugees are in fact descendants of refugees – and why – and without reminding audiences that the Gaza Strip has not been ‘occupied’ for thirteen years, Marshall went on to present some voice-over translations of anonymous speakers – the first of which had also been heard by listeners to BBC Radio 4.

Marshall: “Here are some Palestinian voices on the border.”

V/O Man 1: “We need to change the way we deal with the Israeli occupation. Every peaceful and non-peaceful way has failed. We must find a way to go back to our homeland. It’s been 100 years now and Palestinians are stranded while all the other nations of the world are enjoying peace and democracy.”

V/O Man 2: “Did you see all those who got injured today? We are staying put until we get back our land. I hope we sent a clear message today. What could happen to us more than that? We’re besieged, beaten and have been suffering for so long.”

V/O Woman 1: “This is a peaceful rally. We are here to tell the world that returning to our land is non-negotiable. We will return to our cities.”

As made clear in Marshall’s introduction and as the showcased “Palestinian voices” further indicate, the programme’s producers are obviously aware of the fact that the publicity stunt dubbed ‘the Great Return March’ rests on the issue of the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’.

Clearly in order for listeners to be able to reach an informed opinion on that topic, they should have been made aware of the fact that the aim of that demand is in to eradicate the Jewish state and that it is incompatible with the internationally accepted ‘two-state solution’ to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Obviously audiences would also have benefited from hearing some context regarding the circumstances under which some of the Arabs living in the area in 1948 became refugees – and not least the fact that the process began because neighbouring Arab states chose to initiate a war intended to eradicate the emerging Jewish state.

Marshall however supplied no such information before going on to interview former IDF spokesperson Avital Leibovich about the day’s violent incidents on the border. At 07:43 he introduced his next interviewee – a member of the Hamas terror group that co-organised this stunt precisely in order to get such media exposure.

Marshall: “So what does Hamas make of the allegations by Israel that the violence started on the Palestinian side? The protests have been taking place at a number of locations along the border between Israel and Gaza and at one of those, near Malaka, we contacted Ahmed Yousef – a former senior advisor to the leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh.”

Interestingly, in a 2008 interview with the German newspaper Der Spiegel, Yousef described plans similar to the ‘Great Return March’ now underway.

“Ahmed Yousef would like to pull off another Rafah-style exploit, but this time against the Palestinians’ archenemy, Israel. He is planning a mass march to the Erez border crossing in northern Gaza. “We’re going to send half a million people there, mainly women and children. Then we’ll see how the Israelis react,” he says. A devilish scheme, since the Israelis would not react as passively to the storming of their border as the Egyptians did. But Yousef is not impressed by such objections. “If the Israelis want our blood, I’m willing to sacrifice my children.”

Yousef has already asked international observers to participate in the “march on Erez.” Some have already agreed to come, and Yousef is happy about this. “This,” he says, “is the beginning of the third Intifada.”” 

Listeners heard Yousef deny seeing anyone approaching the border fence or “firing anything” and dismiss such reports as “what the Israeli try just to justify their aggression and the way of killing people and shooting on them”.

Yousef: “But from my observation I didn’t see any of these accusations or these Israeli lies against the people here. They enjoy actually to sit and talk and sing to show the whole world that we, as Palestinian, as refugee, we are close to our border and we hope that the message received will be received by the world community.”

In response to a question from Marshall about Hamas’ funding of the event Yousef claimed:

Yousef: “This all nonsense. This is the Israeli hasbara, the propaganda machine trying to undermine the people’s spirit. That why everybody brought his family with him and come to show that those grandchildren and their sons and daughters continue that kind of commitment towards their land. Their land is across the border and everybody try to inherit this vision for his family.”

Replying to a question from Marshall about the possibility of a “rethink” of tactics, Yousef made references to a non-existent “siege” and inaccurately implied that Israel is to blame for poor medical services in the Gaza Strip. Julian Marshall made no attempt whatsoever to challenge those falsehoods.

Yousef: “You know that actually it is every day we have people who are – because of the sanction, because of Gaza being under siege – died from different diseases because they can’t get the medical treatment. Or the people are suffering because there is no enough job or work and so you are suffering by any means. You are [in] hell and now the time for the message to cross to the world community that there are, there were people here in Gaza who still suffering from the siege and also they are willing to push the world community to implement United Nations resolution 194 where people should return to their towns and cities and being compensated. So this is the message that the people trying to send and this is the only message.”

Listeners would of course have benefitted at that point had they been informed that UN GA resolution 194 is a non-binding resolution dating from December 1948 that was opposed at the time by Arab states and which (despite long-standing BBC claims to that effect) does not specifically relate to Palestinian refugees and – contrary to often heard assertions – does not grant any unconditional ‘right of return’. 

However Marshall instead provided Yousef with a platform from which to downplay Hamas involvement in the organisation of the ‘Great Return March’ before closing the interview.

Yousef: “But you know most of the people who been actually organise this Great March are youth. They don’t rely on political factions.”

As we have seen in the two examples in this post, the BBC has provided Hamas and some of the publicity stunt’s other organisers with exactly the type of unchallenging media platform that they counted on being given. Concurrently however, the BBC has refrained from providing its audiences with the background information on the Palestinian maximalist demand for the ‘right of return’ that is essential for proper understanding of this latest Hamas agitprop.

Related Articles:

Hamas agitprop requires BBC journalists to brush up on UN resolution

British connections to upcoming Gaza agitprop ignored by BBC News

BBC News claims Gaza stone throwers engaged in ‘peaceful demonstrations’

BBC again fails to adequately clarify Hamas’ role in Gaza border agitprop

BBC radio portrayal of the ‘right of return’ – part one

 

 

BBC says what it said was happening in 2013 may be happening now

When Israel announced last week that it had destroyed a nuclear reactor in the Deir ez Zor region of Syria over a decade ago, the BBC News website described the facility’s purpose as “suspected” and BBC Jerusalem bureau correspondent Tom Bateman opined that the reason for the timing of the announcement was “to add a sharper military edge to American diplomatic pressure on Europe to toughen its stance on the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers” while ignoring other no less plausible factors.

BBC News still not sure al Kibar was a nuclear reactor

In the March 28th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘, listeners heard presenter Julian Marshall (from 18:06 here) describe the al Kibar facility in similar language and give a portrayal of the intention of the announcement which is not supported by material presented later on in the item. As is usually the case, BBC audiences heard Hizballah described as an “armed group” rather than a terror organisation.

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

Marshall: “Israel conformed for the first time last week that it destroyed a suspected nuclear reactor being built in Syria over a decade ago. Israel officials say the public acknowledgement was meant as a message to their country’s enemies that they’re prepared to act against any serious threat. During Syria’s civil war two of those enemies – Iran and the Lebanese armed group Hizballah – have expanded their presence and influence in the country as they fought on the side of President Bashar al Assad. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell has been looking at the impact.”

Knell: “An Israeli military video shows fighter jets a decade ago bombing the nearly complete al Kibar facility in eastern Syria. International experts said it was very likely the site was a nuclear reactor but Syria denied it. And Israel is only now confirming it carried out the strike. So why now? Its Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot:”

V/O Eizenkot: “The message of the attack on the Syria nuclear reactor in 2007 was that Israel will not tolerate the development of abilities that threaten the existence of our state. That was the message in 1981 when we attacked Iraq’s nuclear facility and again in 2007 and this is the future message to our enemies.”

Obviously Eizenkot did not say in that March 21st interview that “the public acknowledgement was meant as a message to their country’s enemies” as claimed by Marshall, but that the strike itself on the reactor over a decade ago was the message. Knell went on to promote the same theory as her Jerusalem bureau colleague with regard to the intention of the announcement, claiming that Iran is “now” seen as a threat – when in fact, as the BBC itself has reported, Israel has been voicing concerns about Iran’s nuclear capabilities for many years – and making no mention of Iran’s long history of serial threats against Israel.

Knell: “Israel’s news shows quickly pointed out the link to Iran. It’s now seen as an existential threat because of its nuclear programme and there are fears about its plans in neighbouring Syria. Already Israel’s believed to have hit one Iranian base under construction there. Recently Fox News reported on another one.”

Fox News anchor: “New satellite photos reveal Iran has established another permanent military base outside Damascus.”

Although the BBC published a report in November 2017 about Iranian bases in Syria, audiences have not seen any follow-up reporting on that topic.

For almost five years (since May 2013) the BBC has been telling its audiences that Israel is ‘involved’ in the civil war in Syria.

BBC Q&A on alleged Israeli air strikes is political polemic

BBC presentation of Israeli view on Syria intervention replete with inaccuracies

BBC News again claims Israeli involvement in Syria’s war

BBC Syria war backgrounder recycles inaccurate claim

However, Knell then presented listeners with a different view:

Knell: “The defence analyst at Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Amos Harel, says that for seven years Israel’s tried to keep out of the Syrian conflict. Now increasingly it’s being drawn in.”

Harel: “Now comes a different stage of the war because it’s rather evident that the Assad regime has won this game, so to speak, and that the sides that helped Assad are more or less fighting for the spoils and this could be dangerous for Israel. One is the growing Iranian presence at the region and specifically in the southern Syria. You have militia that may be present there. And the other is the growing role of Hizballah.”

After listeners heard sounds from a video game, Knell again downplayed Hizballah’s terror designation and Iran’s provision of funding and weapons to its proxy militia.

Knell: “A new video game brought out by the Lebanese Shiite armed group Hizballah which is backed by Iran. Players fight alongside government forces in Syria against rebels including so-called Islamic State. Hizballah’s lost hundreds of men in this war but Mohanad Hage Ali from Beirut’s Carnegie Middle East Center says its military strength has grown.”

Ali: “They’re trying out their different capabilities whether on the ground or the new weaponry that they’re using and trying to expose as much as they can from all of their fighting force to the conflict in Syria to gain experience. They are also training other forces; they set up a number of groups. And all of these supposedly will be part of their influence in Syria for a very long time.”

Refraining from informing listeners that Hizballah has tens of thousands of missiles at its disposal and making no mention of the fact that weapons transfers to Hizballah are prohibited under the terms of UN Security Council resolution 1701,Knell went on:

Knell: “That’s a big worry for Israel, which just completed joint military training with US troops. These exercises were routine but reflect current fears. One simulated a massive missile attack. Israel has struck in Syria dozens of times, acting – it says – to stop Iran adding advanced weapons to Hizballah’s arsenal. Although for now, Hizballah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem considers war unlikely.”

V/O Qassem: “I clearly express the view of Hizballah that it’s ready to confront any aggression if Israel decides to carry out any foolish action but it doesn’t seem to be the right circumstances for Israel to decide to go to war.”

Notably, Knell did not bother to mention the border dispute that the BBC has to date failed to report as a factor for potential “escalation”.

Knell: “The danger lies in an unplanned escalation. Last month this happened. The IDF shot down an Iranian drone after it infiltrated Israeli air space and then struck at its control site in Syria. One of its jets was hit by a Syrian missile and crashed. Israel launched attacks on Iranian and Syrian targets in Syria. Russia apparently calmed the situation but it was a reminder how a bloody civil war could turn into a wider regional one.”

For five years the BBC has been promoting the erroneous notion that Israel is involved in the war in Syria. It has repeatedly failed to clarify to its audiences that strikes on Iranian weapons bound for Hizballah or responses to cross-border fire from Syria do not mean that Israel is “involved” in that war but are responses to the Iranian and Hizballah aggression against Israel that long predates that conflict.

While this report may indicate that at least one BBC journalist has rethought that mantra, the fact that the corporation consistently fails to provide serious coverage of relevant issues, such as the failure of UN SC resolution 1701 to achieve its aims, Iranian arming and funding of Hizballah (which the BBC serially refuses to describe as a terror organisation) and Iran’s establishment of a military presence in Syria, means that BBC audiences lack the information crucial to understanding of the background and context to any future developments.

Related Articles:

Why BBC audiences won’t understand the next Israel-Hizballah conflict – part one

Why BBC audiences won’t understand the next Israel-Hizballah conflict – part two

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ erases context from revisited Gaza story

The March 21st afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an interview that was described by presenter James Menendez at the start of the show as follows:

Menendez: “…and later in the programme we’ll hear from a Palestinian gynecologist who lost his three eldest daughters when an Israeli tank shelled his home in Gaza. But he’s somehow turned tragedy into an appeal for reconciliation.”

Later on (at 34:45 here) listeners heard a long interview – lasting nearly eight minutes – which appears to have been conducted for no reason other than the fact that the guest happened to be in London for a variety of speaking engagements.

A clip from the interview was also later promoted on social media and notably its accompanying synopsis includes at least some of the relevant context that was completely absent from the interview broadcast to millions of listeners around the world.

“The shelling took place as Israel was involved in operations against Hamas. The army said troops had fired shells at suspicious figures in Dr Abuelaish’s house, believing they were observers directing sniper fire. He denies that any militants were hiding in or firing from his house.”

Menendez introduced the prerecorded interview as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Menedez: “Now to a very tricky question: how would you react if three of your children were killed in an incident by a tank shell? And if it happened just three months after your wife – their mother – died from leukemia? Well many of us would probably fall apart, unable to cope with such unimaginable, unbearable tragedy. But this is precisely what happened to Palestinian gynecologist Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish in Gaza in 2009 when part of his house was destroyed by an Israeli tank during the three-week conflict of that time.”

Listeners heard nothing whatsoever on the topic of why that conflict – Operation Cast Lead – began and no mention was made of the thousands of missile attacks from the Gaza Strip against Israeli civilians which preceded it. Menendez continued:

Menendez: “And yet Dr Abuelaish hasn’t fallen apart: quite the opposite. He’s made a new life for himself and his remaining children in Canada and turned his tragedy into a powerful plea for reconciliation. The BBC reported on what happened to Dr Abuelaish at the time. It was also well-known to Israeli TV viewers during the conflict because of his friendship and interviews with one reporter. In fact after the attack on his house – straight after – he called him live on air, partly to summon medical help for the injured. Well here he is being interviewed by us in the days after.”

Archive recording of Abuelaish: “They are sitting there, four daughters, two nieces, in their own room and I started to play with my youngest child whom I carried on my shoulders. And just seconds after I left their room, the first bomb. I started to scream, looking at them. Bodies, parts here and there. The heads. What can I do at that time?”

Menendez: “Well Dr Abuelaish came into the Newshour studio a little earlier today. I began by asking him what he remembered of the day his daughters were killed.”

Abuelaish: “It lives with me, it runs with me. I see my daughters. I talk to them and on daily basis I am reminded because the situation in the Gaza Strip is the same situation. And the suffering. And I see it in everyday suffering in this part of the world; in Syria, in Yemen, in Afghanistan I see in these children my daughters to remind me and live with me all of the time. And my daughters who are asking me what did you do for us? Did you forget us? I say to them I will never forget you. I am determined to keep moving. The tragedy is there, the tragedy is not the end of our life and we must not allow the tragedy to be the end of our life. And, thank God, we succeeded.”

Menendez: “Do you remember the panic though in those immediate moments afterwards? And also your thought process that led you to ring your Israeli friend because that’s a crucial part of what happened afterwards isn’t it?”

Abuelaish: “Of course; at that moment we were under fear, under attacks from everywhere. We are expecting the worst all of the time. But thank God to give me the wisdom and to think rational at that moment and to direct my face to God and to call my friend who was supposed to interview me. So I called him to expose the secret and to show that there are human civilians who are killed on daily basis and to put an end to this tragedy.”

Menendez: “That was…it was also about getting some medical help, wasn’t it?”

Abuelaish: “For the severely wounded; my daughter, my niece, my brother and the others who were under threat. So I asked to stop the shelling and to take them to the Palestinian hospital and then from there to be transferred to the Israeli hospital where I used to work.”

Menedez: “And what sort of reception did you get when you ended up in those Israeli hospitals? I mean was there sympathy, great sympathy?”

Abuelaish: “Of course. It opened the eyes of the Israeli public about the human face of the Palestinian people. But do we need to be killed in order to show the other that we are human? We are neighbours and we need to live as neighbours, as equal human beings and that human life of the Palestinians is equal to the human life of the Israelis.”

Failing to challenge Abuelaish’s repeated assertion that Israelis do not view Palestinians as human beings, Menendez went on:

Menendez: “Why do you think your house was shelled?”

Abuelaish: “From my side there is no reason to be kill my daughters or be targeted. We are human civilians sitting in our home. There was no reason.”

As the synopsis to the promoted clip indicates, the BBC is well aware of the background to the incident and hence knows that Dr Abuelaish’s daughters were not “targeted”. 

“The IDF concluded Wednesday that Israeli tank shells caused the deaths of four Palestinian girls, including three daughters of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, when his house was accidentally attacked on January 16, during Operation Cast Lead. Following the investigation, the army confirmed that two shells had hit the building. […] The IDF said that a Golani Brigade force was operating near Beit Lahiya when it came under sniper and mortar fire in an area laden with explosives. After determining that the source of the fire was in a building adjacent to Abuelaish’s home, the force returned fire. While the IDF was shooting, suspicious figures were identified in the top floors of the doctor’s house, and the troops believed the figures were directing the Hamas sniper and mortar fire, the army said. Upon assessing the situation in the field while under heavy fire, the commander of the force gave the order to open fire on the suspicious figures, and it was from this fire that his three daughters were killed, said the IDF. Once the soldiers realized that civilians, and not Hamas gunmen, were in the house they ceased fire immediately, continued the army.”

Moreover, having covered this story many times, the BBC is most likely aware that Dr Abuelaish had been advised to leave his house prior to the incident.

“The IDF Spokesman’s Unit stressed that in the days prior to the incident, Abuelaish – who had worked before at Beersheba’s Soroka University Medical Center and had very good connections with Israelis – was contacted personally several times by officers in the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration to urge him to evacuate his home because of Hamas operations and the intense fighting that was already taking place in that area for several days. In addition to the personal contact made directly with the doctor, the IDF issued warnings to the residents of Sajaiya by dropping thousands of leaflets and by issuing warnings via Palestinian media outlets. The IDF said it regretted the incident and the loss of life, and that the doctor had been updated with details of the investigation as well. Considering the constraints of the battle scene, the amount of threats that endangered the force, and the intensity of fighting in the area, the investigators concluded that the forces’ action and the decision to fire towards the building were reasonable. Abuelaish, speaking on Channel 2 Wednesday, thanked all those who worked to find the truth about the incident and accepted the findings, saying that mistakes can happen.”

Concealing all that relevant context to the story from listeners, Menendez continued:

Menendez: “Have you had an apology from Israel for what happened?”

Abuelaish: “That’s the most painful part. Last March we went there to testify at the court and my daughter – who was severely wounded and she lost the sight in her right eye – when they ask her how do you feel, she said I feel in pain as if I am killed another time to prove that I am a victim. And we are asking just for apology.”

In fact, Dr Abuelaish also asked for financial compensation in the lawsuit he initiated against Israel.

Menendez: “Why? What does it signify, that apology? Is it an acknowledgement of the terrible mistake that happened?”

Abuelaish: “Acknowledgement that we are human. That they are human beings. To give them the dignity and the right of apology. The acknowledgement of their existence.”

Menendez: “So why do you think it hasn’t happened, given how high-profile your case has been?”

Abuelaish: “You need to ask the politicians, the leaders. We need that courage. To acknowledge and to respect and to value human life and to have that moral courage to say we made a mistake, we take responsibility for what happened, we apologise. And then we can all move forward. I moved forward and my daughters are kept alive through good deeds and spreading hope in a time of despair in this world.”

Menendez: “And how have you managed to maintain that hope? How did you stop it turning to hate? Was it a conscious effort?”

Abuelaish: “Of course it’s a conscious effort because as a medical doctor the only possible thing I believe in is to return my daughters back. I can’t return them back but I can keep them alive and I see them while I am talking to you. I see them. They are in front of me. It’s my faith which help me a lot.”

Menendez: “Did you feel the hate bubbling up on occasion?”

Abuelaish: “I never feel and I say to people if you face any tragedy, if you face any harm from anyone, don’t allow hatred to approach you. Hatred is destructive, contagious disease to the one who carries it. Hatred is a poison. We need to be strong in order to move forward.”

Menendez next adopted the common BBC practice of referring to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as the main issue in the Middle East.

Menendez: “Do you see any hope at the moment in the Middle East? There seems to be very little common understanding between the two sides. They seem as far apart as they’ve ever been.”

Abuelaish: “They are far apart but both are alive and that’s the hope. In medicine, as long as the patient is still alive there is hope. And the Palestinians and the Israelis and the Middle East; the people there are alive but it needs wisdom and the international community and all of the people to work together from violence to inclusiveness to partnership and sharing and to understand that the human life and the freedom is the most precious thing.”

Menendez: “But do you think though that people on both sides have stopped seeing the other side as human beings?”

Abuelaish: “We need justice and justice means putting yourself in the position of the others. And when we speak about both sides, both sides are not equal. We need to equalise between them, the Palestinian and the Israelis because the Palestinians are suffering on a daily basis. We need to equalize between them and to live as good neighbours, as equal citizens in independent states. We need to humanise not to politicise. We are disconnected. How close are we as neighbours but how far from each other. See my Israeli friends who live in Ashkelon close to the Gaza Strip. They don’t know what is happening in Gaza Strip which is a disaster. Can you sleep and your neighbour is hungry? Can you eat, can you run a normal life and your neighbour without electricity, without freedom? And our neighbours are disconnected from what is happening in the Gaza strip and the world is also watching what is happening.”

Failing to clarify to listeners that the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip has nothing to do with Israel or that Gaza’s freedom deprived residents have been under Hamas rule for over a decade, Menendez closed the interview at that point.

Readers can judge for themselves whether or not Menendez’s repeated claim that Dr Abuelaish has “turned his tragedy into a powerful plea for reconciliation” is supported by his interviewee’s entirely one-sided messaging. However, in an item in which words such as ‘Hamas’, ‘terrorism’ and ‘rocket attacks’ did not appear even once and vital context was omitted, it is blatantly obvious that BBC World Service audiences did not hear a balanced account of this story.

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BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR again – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the February 19th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an interview (from 30:06 here) with UNRWA’s commissioner-general Pierre Krahenbul.

Having failed to challenge Krahenbuhl’s unevidenced claim that an UNRWA education is “an investment in regional security”, presenter Tim Franks next provided him with the cue for dismissal of one of the prime criticisms of the UN agency.

Franks: “What do you say to the other criticism that is often levelled at UNRWA – particularly of your work inside Gaza where there’s a huge proportion of the refugees – and that is that – maybe inevitably, maybe willingly, you have allowed yourself to become too close to the authority that runs Gaza which is Hamas which is proscribed by an awful lot of countries – most of the West sees it as a terrorist organisation – and that the split between what UNRWA does and what Hamas does has become blurred?”

Krahenbuhl: “Working in conflict zones means that you operate in proximity to groups that are either governmental armed forces, that are non-state armed groups so that’s by definition the work. One of the things that you do also is to ensure the neutrality of your work by every means possible. And so just to take the example of Gaza, last year during repair works to two of our schools we discovered tunnels that had been built below those schools. Now we publicly condemned Hamas for those actions and that is a measure of the robustness with which we pursue our policies of neutrality. Now if anybody however can describe to me who would be the alternative provider of education to 270 thousand students in the Gaza Strip who go to UNRWA schools and who among other things are taught a human rights curriculum with focus on tolerance and co-existence, then I’m happy to be told what that alternative is, because there is none.”

As readers may recall, the BBC failed to report the story of those tunnels beneath UNRWA schools at the time. BBC audiences are also unaware of the case last year in which an UNRWA employee was elected to the Hamas political bureau in the Gaza Strip because the BBC chose to ignore that story too. Listeners would therefore not be able to put Krahenbuhl’s flimsy claim that the statement his organisation issued on the topic of those tunnels is evidence of a ‘robust’ approach to ‘neutrality’ into its correct context and Franks made no effort whatsoever to question him further on the long-standing issue of UNRWA employees with links to terror organisations or support for terrorism and promotion of antisemitism on social media by UNRWA staff.

Franks closed the interview by encouraging Krahenbuhl to give “a message for those listening in Washington”.

Franks: “You say that you’re turning to other donors to try and make up what might be a pretty big shortfall in funding as a result of this change in US policy. If you had a message for those listening in Washington about what this dramatic cut in funding would mean, what would it be?”

Krahenbuhl: “The idea that people have to have in mind is to think about what would it be for one’s own family if we faced a situation of conflict where we’re worried about our future and suddenly the key provider of education, services, is no longer able to deliver that and, you know, yet another avenue or horizon is shut. People have to think about in these terms. When you are in the Middle East today, one of the worst things for the Palestinians – but that affects everybody in the region – is that there is no political horizon, there is no personal horizon. There is no freedom of movement, no jobs to be found. We have some of the most, you know, extraordinarily courageous students probably on the planet. I handed over a certificate to a 15 year-old student in Gaza two years ago who had survived an air strike on her home, had spent seven months in a coma. When she woke up she was told by the doctor that her mother and one of her brothers was killed in the strike and yet she was one of the highest performing students in our school. And she has an outlook on life. She wants to be recognised for her skills, for her abilities. She doesn’t want to be seen by the world as only a refugee or a victim. And I think what we need in this region is to rediscover the humanity in people. You know I can…if I believed that polarisation would lead to a solution or to an improvement, I would embrace polarisation but I don’t see that. I see humanity being rediscovered in everybody as being the way forward.”

Franks: “Pierre Krahenbuhl: the boss of UNRWA, the UN agency which supports millions of Palestinian refugees.”

Obviously this interview was not intended to provide BBC audiences with information which would enhance their understanding of the criticism of UNRWA’s mission and performance. Rather, the BBC chose – not for the first time – to provide the UN agency’s head with a friendly platform from which to promote his PR campaign in a near monologue that went unchallenged in any serious manner.  

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BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

As regular readers will be aware, the BBC’s coverage of the US administration’s announcement on January 16th that it would be withholding part of its donation to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has been extensive.

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

Three BBC articles on US aid promote an irrelevant false comparison

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

However, the BBC’s reports have consistently failed to provide its funding public with information concerning the multiple issues that have made UNRWA so controversial or conduct any in-depth examination of the agency’s purpose, its agenda, its record or its efficiency.

UNRWA’s commissioner-general, Pierre Krahenbuhl, recently visited London – according to the Guardian, in order “to brief Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt”. As the Guardian’s report shows, one of the main talking points in Krahenbuhl’s efforts to solicit donations to his organisation is the claim that cuts to UNRWA’s services are liable to increase radicalisation.

“Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner general of the UN Relief and Works Agency, added that cuts in support to the already impoverished and demoralised population his organisation supports – many of them victims of recent conflict – risked radicalising a new generation of young Palestinians. […]

“I have just come from the Munich security conference. At every seminar, people were asking the same question: about security and how we combat radicalisation. If you want to ask us how to avoid radicalising Palestinian youth, then it is not by cutting $300m in our funding.””

Another port of call on Krahenbuhl’s London trip was the studios of the BBC World Service – which is of course partly funded by the UK government. The February 19th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item described in the synopsis as follows:

“How will UN’s Palestinian refugee agency make up for loss in funding from the US?”

Presenter Tim Franks introduced the nearly seven-minute-long item (from 30:06 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Franks: “Donald Trump, you may have noticed, Tweets a lot. One of his more consequential came right at the start of the year – January the 2nd to be precise. ‘We pay the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars a year and get no appreciation or respect’ he Tweeted. It was a sentiment he gave voice to at the Davos Economic Forum later that month.”

Recording of Trump: “When they disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great vice-president to see them and we give them hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and support – tremendous numbers; numbers that nobody understands. That money’s on the table. That money’s not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace.”

Franks: “Well the practical result of that frustration is that now the vast bulk of US funding is to be withheld from UNRWA – the UN agency set up to look after what are now 5 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza and across the Middle East. Pierre Krahenbuhl is the boss of UNRWA. He’s currently in London.”

Predictably Franks refrained from informing listeners that the reason there are “now 5 million Palestinian refugees” is that, unlike the UN agency which takes care of all other refugees, UNRWA does not have an active program for “local integration” of refugees where they now reside – even if they live in Palestinian controlled areas – nor “resettlement” in third countries.

Listeners then heard the following conversation:

Krahenbuhl: “The United States has been the single largest and also very predictable and generous donor over decades and in 2017 contributed 364 million [$] to UNRWA and for 2018 has announced a contribution of 60 million so it’s a difference of 300 million. And that has become effective. This 60 million were transferred to UNRWA and that is the indication that we have for this year.”

Franks: “So what are you going to have to cut as a result of that?”

Krahenbuhl: “Well first of all I’m going to mobilise other donors and we’re looking for new funding lines and so we did two things: of course on the one hand with member states and the other, we launched a global public campaign called ‘Dignity is Priceless’ to tap into a lot of sympathy and solidarity that we have witnessed following the announcement by the US and a lot of people who are prepared to come and support.”

Franks: “But are you doing what is partly behind this move by the US – or at least how President Trump has explained it – which is that it is time for other countries, other donors to play a bigger role?”

Krahenbul then raised his ‘radicalisation’ talking point.

Krahenbuhl: “I take your point about the issue of redistribution but you know I don’t have, as commissioner-general, the luxury of having reserves. The only thing that I have is to go back to the member states of the [UN] General Assembly that gave UNRWA the mandate in 1949 to say ‘this is the situation I’m faced with – we need to find solutions’. Because what is at stake is not UNRWA as an organisation. What’s at stake is access to education for 525 thousand students. You know I was just at the Munich Security Conference. You cannot go to a single corridor in the hotel that hosted that without somebody asking ‘are you concerned about further radicalisation in the Middle East?’. So having 525 thousand Palestinian students, boys and girls, who are hoping for a better future no longer having access to education is certainly not an investment in regional security.”

That talking point was not however subjected to any critical examination by Tim Franks even though it would obviously have been helpful to the BBC’s funding public – who also of course fund the UK government Foreign Office which Krahenbuhl came to “brief” – to know what evidence there is to back the idea that nearly seventy years of UNRWA activity has countered radicalisation among the people it registers as refugees.

The current head of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, grew up – as the BBC knows – in an UNRWA administered refugee camp and attended an UNRWA run school. Hamas’ current leader in the Gaza Strip – convicted murderer Yahya Sinwar – likewise grew up in an UNRWA refugee camp. One of Hamas’ founders – Ibrahim al-Makadmeh – spent his childhood in UNRWA’s Jabaliya camp and attended an UNRWA school, as did former Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades leader Saleh Shehadeh.

Nevertheless, Tim Franks made no effort to inform ‘Newshour’ listeners of those and many other examples of members of Palestinian terror organisations who contradict Krahenbuhl’s claim that an UNRWA education is “an investment in regional security”.

The rest of Franks’ interview with UNRWA’s commissioner-general will be discussed in part two of this post.

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ framing of Iranian activity in Syria – part two

As we saw in part one of this post the lead story in the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on February 18th focused on the Israeli prime minister’s speech at the Munich Security Conference earlier in the day, with listeners hearing remarkably little about the relevant topic of Iranian activities in Syria and the broader Middle East while contributor Laleh Khalili promoted a grotesque caricature of Israel.

The evening edition of the programme also led with that same story.

“Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a stinging verbal attack on Iran, telling a Munich Security Conference Iran is the “greatest threat to our world”.”

Presenter James Coomarasamy introduced the first item on the subject (from 00:45 here), yet again implying to listeners that the incursion of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace on February 10th is a matter of opinion: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Coomarasamy: “We begin though at the Munich Security Conference – a forum for discussing global security threats – where the talk today came with added props and the sense that a conflict between Israel and Iran could be getting closer. A week after the Israelis lost their first fighter jet in more than a decade, in military action which followed what they say was the incursion of an Iranian drone into Israeli airspace, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu used his appearance at Munich to deliver a message to Tehran. And it was a none too subtle one: here he is, prop in hand, sending his rhetoric hovering over his fellow conference participant the Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif.”

Listeners once again heard recorded excerpts from the Israeli prime minister’s speech and the Iranian foreign minister’s speech at that conference before Coomarasamy went on:

Coomarasamy: “So, how does Israel’s closest ally the United States stand on this issue? Well just have a listen to the US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster speaking during Saturday’s question & answer session in Munich.”

Recording McMaster: “What Iran is actually doing is applying the Hizballah model to the greater Middle East in which they want weak governments in power. They want the Arab world to be perpetually weak and they have weak governments in power that are dependent on Iran for support while they grow terrorist organisations, militias, other illegal armed groups that are outside of that government’s control, that can be turned against that government if that government acts against Iranian interests. So that the time is now, we think, to act against Iran.”

Coomarasamy then introduced his contributing guest: a conspiracy theorist who has in the past suggested that chemical weapons used against civilians in Syria may have been an Israeli “false flag” operation aimed at implicating Bashar Assad’s regime.

Coomarasamy: “Now we’re joined now by Lawrence Wilkerson: retired US army colonel who was Chief of Staff to the US Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005. And you see echoes in what Colin Powell said and did in the run-up to the Iraq war and what you’re seeing and hearing now.”

Wilkerson: “Yes I do and I kind of chuckled to myself when H.R. said what he said because – let’s face it – he was describing Saudi Arabia far more precisely than he was describing Iran. And I had to chuckle when Netanyahu said what he said to Zarif about the drone because as the Lebanese foreign minister said recently – I’m sorry: the Lebanese defence minister said recently – he has an Israeli drone over his head almost 24/7.”

Coomarasamy: “So when you see what the Israeli prime minister did in Munich and hear what he said, what sort of intent do you think is behind it?”

Wilkerson: “This is all propaganda. It’s all bombast, it’s all bellicosity on Netanyahu’s…Netanyahu’s part at least aimed at deflecting some indictments that might remove him from office at any time, reminding me of a mantra that’s going around in the rumour channel inside the Beltway right now here in Washington: will Trump start a war to save his presidency? I think there’s some of that; that’s the political aspect of it. But I understand Prime Minister Netanyahu – just like Israeli prime ministers from the past – has to seem as if he is ten feet tall in order to dissuade those who are arrayed around him from testing him.”

Coomarasamy made no effort to clarify to listeners that no indictments have been issued against the Israeli prime minister to date or that even if they had, the notion that they would be ‘deflected’ by a speech made at a conference is just plain ridiculous. Neither did the BBC’s presenter bother to point out the relevant fact that the source of ‘rumours’ concerning the US administration’s supposed intention of starting a war with Iran is Wilkerson himself and that he published an op-ed promoting such claims (which has been called out for its antisemitic undertones) in the New York Times less than two weeks before this ‘Newshour’ appearance took place.

Coomarasamy: “But the presence of Iran and the influence of Iran in the region; that’s a real concern – isn’t it – to those countries?”

Wilkerson’s reply revealed the redundancy of soliciting military analysis from a former soldier in an army that does not fight wars on its own territory and does not have to defend its own civilian population at such a time.

Wilkerson: “Well it is a concern to the Arab countries to be sure. It should not really be of much concern to Israel because the Israel Defence Force, as I well know, is competent sufficiently to defeat all of them in combination were it to have to do so. Now I’m sure Mr Netanyahu doesn’t want to have to exhibit that competence but he’s gonna play with it as much as he can. If you put the Quds Force, the IRGC, the Syria regular army and every other element that Iran and Syria could marshal, Israel would still outdo it and if that weren’t true it has 200 nuclear weapons to back that up. So this is really a lot of bombastic rhetoric to try and get the other side scared, try to get the other side to do what you want it to do. The real issue here is what are the United States’ interests in this area? And I’m really worried because I see absolutely – and this includes McMaster’s just now uttered statements – I see absolutely no real strategy from the United States. I see a muddling through and I see remarks by H.R. McMaster and others in the administration to be demonstrative of that lack of a strategy.”

Coomarasamy: “Isn’t muddling through better though than all-out confrontation?”

Wilkerson then promoted – as he has done in the past – a context-free caricature of prior conflicts:

Wilkerson: “Well it just depends on what you mean by all-out confrontation. I don’t think…I don’t think we’re looking at an all-out confrontation here. If we’re looking at anything we’re looking at Israel getting ready to do what it does about every six to ten years and that is bomb the bejesus out of Lebanon and maybe bomb the bejesus out of Hizballah in Syria and Lebanon and maybe a few other things. And it feels like it has to demonstrate once again that it can obliterate the rest of the region should it chose to do so.”

Coomarasamy: “But it has lost a fighter jet over Syria [sic] and you know that hasn’t happened for some time.”

Wilkerson: “That actually hadn’t happened for about thirty years but I mean you do lose implements of war when you fight.”

Coomarasamy closed the interview at that point but Wilkerson’s baseless claim that “Israel getting ready to do what it does about every six to ten years and that is bomb the bejesus out of Lebanon” was aired again later on in the programme when Coomarasamy returned to his “top story” at 44:00. Listeners also then heard a repeat broadcast of much of the interviews with Giora Shamis and Laleh Khalili which had been aired in the earlier edition of the programme, including the allegation of “constant fear-mongering” by Israel and the redundant linkage between this topic and the domestic issues facing the Israeli prime minister.

It is of course abundantly clear that when ‘Newshour’ invited Lawrence Wilkerson to comment on this story its producers knew exactly what kind of ‘analysis’ they were going to get. That of course raises the same question that was posed by Liel Leibovitz when the New York Times recently published Wilkerson’s op-ed:

“Why the paper of record would give such a man a spot in its vaunted op-ed page is anybody’s guess, though it’s hard to believe that kooks of other stripes would’ve been welcomed so warmly.”

The answer of course is disturbingly obvious. ‘Newshour’ did not seek to meet its obligation to provide audiences with accurate and impartial information which would enhance their understanding of the background to this highly promoted story. Instead it invited a discredited conspiracy theorist and an activist academic to advance narratives of Israeli ‘aggression’ and ‘expansionism’ and promote the baseless notion of linkage to domestic Israeli politics, all the while downplaying Iran’s actions in the Middle East to the level of a sideshow that distracts from what ‘Newshour’ would have its listeners believe is the ‘real’ story.

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BBC WS ‘Newshour’ framing of Iranian activity in Syria – part one

The lead story in the February 18th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ was described as follows in the synopsis:

“Israel’s prime minister launches a stinging attack on Iran, telling a security conference in Munich the country is the “greatest threat to our world”. Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would “not allow Iran’s regime to put a noose of terror around our neck”.”

Presenter James Coomarasamy opened the item (from 00:45 here) by insinuating that an Iranian drone may or may not have breached Israeli airspace the previous week. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Coomarasamy: “We begin now at the Munich Security conference – a forum for discussing security threats but today it put a case of insecurity very firmly on display. The conference became the backdrop to a rhetorical clash between Israel and Iran a week after the two countries’ militaries came into conflict over Syria. Well Israel lost a fighter jet in that clash which followed what it said was the interception of an Iranian drone which had crossed from Syria into Israeli territory. It was the first time an Israeli war plane had been downed in more than a decade.”

After listeners had heard excerpts from the Israeli prime minister’s speech and the Iranian foreign minister’s speech at that conference, Coomarasamy introduced his two guests – Giora Shamis of the controversial Debkafile website and Iranian-American SOAS professor Laleh Khalili.

So what did BBC audiences worldwide learn about the activities of Iran and its proxies in Syria and the wider Middle East or why Israel views the Iranian presence and influence on its borders as a threat? The answer to that question is not much. Listeners did however hear quite a bit of dubious, politically partisan analysis from Khalili – none of which was challenged by the BBC presenter.

Khalili: “There are obviously three elements about what is going on at the moment that makes it all a bit scary, the first of which is that the Trump administration is in place which is probably more likely to give a green light to conflict by Israel, although the Trump administration itself is quite divided on this issue with some of the higher echelons of the military not wanting to cause further conflict in the region. The second element is of course the major rapprochement between Israel and the Gulf Arab states and especially Saudi Arabia. The third thing which I think makes things particularly dangerous is the fact that Netanyahu has over the course of his entire rule in Israel been accused of corruption a number of times but now the police have referred him to the attorney general in Israel and of course the wag the dog situation [laughs] is extremely relevant here and could potentially result in further conflict, which is what Netanyahu would want: the more conflict there is in the region, the better it benefits the Israeli security establishment if not the Israeli people.”

Coomarasamy made no effort to question that ‘theory’ or to remind listeners that it was Iran that sparked the recent clash by infiltrating Israeli airspace. After Giora Shamis had mentioned the establishment of Iranian military bases in Syria and additional factors, Coomarasamy asked Khalili about “events on the ground” – meaning the drone infiltration – but allowed her to avoid the question and instead promote more unchallenged propaganda aimed at downplaying Iran’s activities.

Khalili: “The fact is that there are confrontations, whether by proxy or directly, happening between Israel and Iran for decades now and what Netanyahu does – and in fact actually most of the conservative Israeli security establishment do – is constant fear-mongering. The problem is really not with whether or not there are other threats or real threats or real clashes. The problem is with Israel’s militarist, expansionist policies that have essentially become more and more entrenched and more and more fired up whenever Netanyahu feels his own power domestically threatened.”

After Khalili had referred to Netanyahu as “preening quite a bit and posturing quite a bit”, Coomarasamy asked Shamis for his “response to the idea that what is happening now is in part the prime minister of Israel trying to divert attention from his own domestic challenges”, to which Shamis replied that in his opinion, the current Israeli government will be in power for at least another year.

Coomarasamy next asked Khalili about Javid Zarif’s “dismissive” response to Netanyahu and “how worried are the Iranians?”.

Khalili: “They have to consider this but also I’m sure the dismissiveness comes from the direction of remembering how much Netanyahu is into these kinds of theatrics. I mean we haven’t forgotten his UN presentation which was of course the subject of much mirth and mockery later. […] But it is also really important to know that it’s not just the Iranians that are being dismissive. I just have been looking on Twitter and all the people who are at the actual security conference, a lot of the Europeans who are Tweeting are also being in equal measures concerned about Netanyahu’s posturing and also dismissive of, again, its theatrical elements.”

She went on:

Khalili: “…this conflict has been on a low simmer for decades. It’s not new. I mean the fact that the Israeli security establishment have been assassinating Iranian scientists inside Iran and Iranian military people outside of Iran, it’s not like there’s been all love and roses [laughs] for the past few decades and yet this conflict has been going on. But the fact is that the conflict has been ongoing so its being ratcheted up is perhaps what’s interesting, dangerous and worrying.”

Without questioning or qualifying Khalili’s allegations or even reminding listeners of, for example, the relevant topic of Iranian military activities along Israel’s border with Syria, Coomarasamy closed the item there.

The BBC’s public purposes oblige it to “provide accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world”. The unchallenged efforts of activist academic Laleh Khalili to frame the story as being about “theatrics”, “fear-mongering” and Israeli domestic politics – while completely erasing Iran’s activities from the picture – are of course not in the least surprising.  However, such blatant propaganda obviously contributed nothing to BBC audience understanding of the serious topic of Iranian expansion and belligerency in Syria and the Middle East in general or of Israel’s position on that issue.

However, Newshour’s partisan framing of that story was not over yet – as we will see in part two of this post.