Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2019

As has been the case in previous years (see related articles below), the Israel related content produced by the BBC during 2019 frequently included contributions or information sourced from non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Often portrayed by the BBC as ‘human rights groups’ or ‘peace activists’, those inherently agenda-driven organisations make no claim to provide unbiased information and are obviously not committed to the BBC’s editorial standards.

When political agendas and journalism meet, questions obviously arise concerning accuracy, impartiality and reliability. One of the few safeguards in place comes in the form of the section titled ‘Contributors’ Affiliations’ in the BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality which, since their overhaul in July 2019, states:

“4.3.12 We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities and think-tanks) are unbiased. Appropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context.” [emphasis added]

However, throughout 2019 BBC Watch once again documented numerous examples of that clause not having been upheld in Middle East related content which was sourced in one way or another from political NGOs and their representatives.

The BBC’s collaboration with political NGOs comes in a variety of forms. In some cases people associated with NGOs are interviewed or quoted in BBC reporting – but their links to those organisations are not adequately clarified. In other cases NGO activity or statements get BBC exposure without proper disclosure.

For example in June, Yolande Knell reported a demonstration at a gay pride event but gave no information concerning the NGO behind it. In July Tom Bateman cited an “anti-occupation group” without clarifying that he was apparently referring to the political NGO ‘Yesh Din’. In December the BBC showcased three Gaza residents without informing audiences of their links to the NGO ‘Euromed’.

More frequently the BBC directly amplifies statements and/or material produced by NGOs and throughout the past year such content appeared prominently in some of the stories the BBC chose to highlight.

The NGO ‘Medecins Sans Frontiers’ featured in several BBC reports relating to health services in the Gaza Strip:

‘News at Ten’ continues the BBC’s ‘blockade’ campaign

More context-free BBC reporting on Gaza health services

BBC Radio 1 ‘Newsbeat’ Gaza special – part two

Also while reporting on the Gaza Strip, the BBC promoted data sourced from a press release put out by the local branch of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – a highly politicised and partisan organisation that has in the past used dubious methodology to produce reports on Palestinian casualties.

BBC’s Mishal Husain fosters a narrative with airbrushed statistics

BBC audiences saw uncritical amplification of statements from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in reporting on the Airbnb story:

BBC News report on Airbnb backtrack follows usual recipe

In May the BBC promoted a legal case launched by Amnesty International:

Examining BBC WS ‘Newshour’ framing of the WhatsApp story

Similarly – and unsurprisingly – the BBC provided uncritical amplification for Human Rights Watch’s campaign concerning the decision not to renew one of its staff’s work visa:

A third superficial BBC News website report on ‘Human Rights Watch’

BBC WS radio facilitates unchallenged HRW monologue – part one

BBC WS radio facilitates unchallenged HRW monologue – part two

In February the BBC reframed a story with the help of the NGO ‘Hotline for Refugees and Migrants’:

BBC reframes a story about a man denied entry by his own country

Also in February, BBC Arabic produced a tri-lingual feature on Hebron which was made in collaboration with ‘Breaking the Silence’, ‘Palestinian Human Rights Defenders’ and B’tselem.

BBC Arabic’s tendentious Hebron feature – part one

BBC Arabic’s tendentious Hebron feature – part two

In July ‘Breaking the Silence’ was described merely as an “advocacy group” in the introduction to an interview with one of its members:

BBC WS radio fails to adhere to new editorial guidelines in partisan ‘Great Return March’ report

The BBC saw fit to solicit election commentary from B’tselem in September:

BBC WS radio promotes a political NGO’s disinformation

Partisan maps produced by B’tselem were once again used in BBC News website content throughout 2019.

In April the BBC’s Barbara Plett Usher showcased ‘If Not Now’ and ‘J Street’:

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ messaging reflects that of anti-Israel group

The following month BBC audiences heard analysis from the ‘International Crisis Group’:

BBC WS radio’s ‘context’: falsehoods about counter terrorism measures

Also in May, the BBC promoted an anti-Israel event organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign:

BBC’s ‘Newsbeat’ amplifies the BDS campaign yet again

In June BBC Radio 4 promoted a story based on a trip organised by ‘Medical Aid for Palestinians’:

BBC R4’s ‘Today’ listeners get a distorted view of medical permits – part one

In July BBC audiences heard commentary from ‘Peace Now’:

Political messaging eclipses context in BBC WS Fourth of July report

A BBC Radio 4 programme aired the same month showcased ‘Combatants for Peace’ and ‘Hand in Hand’:

BBC Radio 4 listeners are told of ‘Palestinian air’

In July and August the BBC News website published, removed and then reinstated a video about the NGO ‘Muntada Al-Jensaneya’.

Several BBC reports produced in August cited ‘Miftah’ but failed to provide anywhere near adequate information concerning that NGO and others related to the same story.

Superficial BBC reporting of Tlaib and Omar story

BBC Radio 4’s uncritical amplification of Ilhan Omar’s falsehood

BBC WS radio listeners get Ashrawi’s unchallenged propaganda

Also in August, the BBC widely promoted a report it admitted was based on a petition from ‘HaMoked’ in which the NGO ‘Addameer’ was featured.

Partisan report on detained Palestinian ‘children’ from BBC’s Gender and Identity correspondent

BBC World Service radio’s OS promotes narrative over fact

The BBC continued to promote that video even after links between ‘Addameer’ and a terror cell had been exposed.

In November the BBC News website amplified a campaign by ‘Emek Shaveh’.

BBC News report on Jerusalem planning fails to meet impartiality guidelines

Not for the first time the most widely promoted local NGOs in 2019 were B’tselem and ‘Breaking the Silence’. Among the foreign NGOs quoted and promoted in BBC content, Human Rights Watch (HRW) was once again the most prominent. 

As in previous years, the political agendas of the NGOs quoted and promoted were not adequately clarified to audiences as demanded by BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality. Despite the amendments made to those guidelines in July 2019, audiences heard nothing at all about the funding of any of the NGOs featured in its content.

The BBC’s serial failure to meet its own editorial guidelines by clarifying the “particular viewpoint” of quoted NGOs and representatives of those organisations interviewed by the BBC (including in certain cases the fact that they are involved in lawfare campaigns against Israel) means that audiences – along with BBC commentators – remain unaware of the fact that the information they are receiving comes overwhelmingly from one side of the political spectrum and hence is serially and consistently unbalanced.

Related Articles:

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred Middle East NGOs

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2014

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2015

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2016

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2017

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2018

BBC bases rejection of complaint on word of anti-Israel NGOs

 

Revisiting the BBC’s promotion of Amnesty International

The recent publication of a report concerning Amnesty International by David Collier provides an opportunity to revisit the issue of the BBC’s promotion of that NGO.

Throughout 2018 Amnesty International was the second most quoted and promoted foreign NGO in BBC reporting on Israel and the Palestinians. Coverage of the arrest and trial of Ahed Tamimi included quotes from Amnesty International and even promoted a link to the NGO’s related campaign webpage. A BBC News website live webpage covering the ‘Great Return March’ featured quotes from Amnesty International and the organisation was quoted in a BBC Sport report about a cycle race and later the same month in another report.

That editorial policy was also evident in earlier years – for example:

BBC’s Connolly ‘contextualises’ Hamas torture and execution (spoiler – it’s Israel’s fault)

BBC amplification of Amnesty’s lawfare agenda again compromises impartiality

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ amplifies Israel delegitimising lawfare campaign

BBC’s Middle East editor promotes Amnesty International’s Gaza report

BBC lends its shoulder to Amnesty’s cart of politically motivated defamation – part one

BBC lends its shoulder to Amnesty’s cart of politically motivated defamation – part two

BBC website now promoting flawed Amnesty report as a ‘related story’

BBC uses photo of exploited child to promote anti-Israel propaganda

Although BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality have long stipulated that audiences should be provided with information concerning the “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” of contributors – including charities – in over seven years of monitoring we have never been able to document the BBC’s provision of such information in relation to Amnesty International.

Related Articles:

No BBC coverage of Amnesty International’s antisemitism vote

Superficial and one-sided BBC reporting on ICC statement

A report headlined “ICC wants to open ‘war crimes’ investigation in West Bank and Gaza” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page on the afternoon of December 20th.

Readers were told that:

“The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor says she wants to open an investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian Territories.

Fatou Bensouda said “war crimes” had been or were being committed in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, and asked for a ruling on the court’s territorial jurisdiction.”

And – linking to the statement put out on the same day by the ICC:

“In her ruling, Ms Bensouda said a preliminary examination had gathered enough information to meet all criteria to open an investigation, and that she was “satisfied that there [was] a reasonable basis to proceed” with an inquiry.

“[T]here are no substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interests of justice,” she said, adding that she had filed a request with judges to rule on what territory a future inquiry would cover because of the contested legal and factual issues of the territories.”

No further explanation was provided concerning those “contested legal and factual issues” which are the background to that request for “a jurisdictional ruling” and so readers would be ill equipped to understand the context to the Israeli reactions quoted in the report.

“Israel said the ICC move was baseless.

In a statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the ICC, of which Israel is not a member, had “no jurisdiction in this case”, and that the decision had turned the Hague-based court into a “political tool to delegitimize the State of Israel”. Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war. […]

Mr Netanyahu described the announcement as an “outrageous decision”, saying: “The ICC only has jurisdiction over petitions submitted by sovereign states. But there has never been a Palestinian state.”

Earlier, Israel’s attorney general said the ICC had no jurisdiction in the West Bank or Gaza. Israel also considers East Jerusalem, which it regards as its sovereign territory, as outside the court’s mandate.”

The BBC did not bother to provide readers with a link to the statement issued on the same day by the Attorney General’s office which concludes:

“…the necessary precondition to the Court’s jurisdiction under Article 12(2) of the Rome Statute, which requires there to be a sovereign State that has delegated to the Court criminal jurisdiction over its territory and nationals, cannot be met by virtue of the simple fact that no sovereign Palestinian State is in existence. The events surrounding the purely technical act of the purported accession of “Palestine” to the Rome Statute, or the Palestinian purported Article 12(3) declaration, neither alter this conclusion nor substitute for the substantive inquiry required for the establishment of the Court’s jurisdiction. Moreover, even if a conclusion is erroneously reached that a sovereign Palestinian State exists, the scope of the territory concerned is indeterminate and is clearly not for an international criminal court to define; and if the Rome Statute is misinterpreted to allow for non-sovereign entities to confer jurisdiction upon the Court, the latter would still lack jurisdiction over Area C and Jerusalem as well as Israeli nationals.”

Readers of the original version of the BBC’s report were told that:

“Ms Bensouda did not specify the perpetrators of the alleged crimes but it is understood that in her preliminary inquiries she has been focused on issues like Israel’s building of settlements and its military operations in Gaza, BBC Middle East analyst Alan Johnston reports.”

That section was later amended to read: [emphasis added]

“Ms Bensouda did not specify the perpetrators of the alleged crimes but, if she proceeds with her investigation, charges might be filed against Israelis and Palestinians, BBC Middle East analyst Alan Johnston reports.

It is understood that she focused her preliminary inquiries, in a case the Palestinians brought under the State of Palestine, on issues like Israel’s building of settlements and its military operations in Gaza, our correspondent adds.”

The BBC did not clarify to readers that the relevant document published by the ICC also states (section 94) that:

“…there is a reasonable basis to believe that members of Hamas and Palestinian armed groups (“PAGs”) committed the war crimes of: intentionally directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects (articles 8(2)(b)(i)-(ii), or 8(2)(e)(i)); using protected persons as shields (article 8(2)(b)(xxiii)); wilfully depriving protected persons of the rights of fair and regular trial (articles 8(2)(a)(vi) or 8(2)(c)(iv)) and wilful killing (articles 8(2)(a)(i), or 8(2)(c)(i)); and torture or inhuman treatment (article 8(2)(a)(ii), or 8(2)(c)(i)) and/or outrages upon personal dignity (articles 8(2)(b)(xxi), or 8(2)(c)(ii)).”

Quoting casualty figures that the BBC has never bothered to independently verify, the report informed readers that:

“The ICC has been examining what they say are war crimes committed by Israel since June 2014, one month before a war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza. In the fighting, 2,251 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians, were killed while 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed on the Israeli side.”

Despite having previously acknowledged in 2015 that “the date chosen by the Palestinians as the starting point for the ICC to investigate requires explanation as it is clearly not arbitrary”, this report makes no effort to inform audiences why the ‘start date’ of June 13th 2014 – which deliberately excludes the abductions and murders of three Israeli civilians by members of a Hamas terror cell – was selected by the Palestinians.

The BBC’s report promotes reactions from the Palestinian Authority and a political NGO also engaged in lawfare against Israel.

“In a statement, the Palestinian Authority said: “Palestine welcomes this step as a long overdue step to move the process forward towards an investigation, after nearly five long and difficult years of preliminary examination.”

Reacting to the ICC decision, B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, said: “Israel’s legal acrobatics in an attempt to whitewash its crimes must not be allowed to stop international legal efforts to, at long last, hold it to account.””

It closes with promotion of the BBC’s standard but partial mantra concerning ‘international law’.

“There are some 140 Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which most of the international community consider illegal under international law. Israel disputes this, and last month the US reversed its position and declared it no longer considered the settlements invalid.”

At the bottom of the article readers are told that they “may also find interesting” an embedded video dating from August 2019 which features as one of its main interviewees the director of another political NGO – Addameer – which is linked to a Palestinian terrorist organisation.

Although the BBC acknowledged years ago that the Palestinian decision to join the ICC and pursue this suit is part of what it has described as “a new strategy to put pressure on Israel“, that information is completely absent from this latest report. 

Related Articles:

Why isn’t the BBC telling its audiences all about the PA’s ‘lawfare’ strategy?

Superficial BBC News report on PA application to join ICC

BBC WS ‘Newsday’ flouts corporation’s guidance on use of term Palestine

BBC World Service or Palestinian Authority radio station?

On the BBC News ICC Q&A

The part of the ICC preliminary investigation story the BBC decided not to tell

BBC amends ICC Q&A following reader complaint

 

 

BBC News ignores exposure of Palestinian terror cell

In early October we noted that the BBC had not produced any follow-up reporting concerning the arrest of three members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in connection with the terror attack near Dolev on August 23rd in which 17-year-old Rina Shnerb was murdered and her father and brother wounded.

BBC-promoted NGO’s terror links surface again

On December 18th the Israel Security Agency announced the related arrests of some fifty members of the PFLP terror organisation in Judea & Samaria.

“Israeli security forces in the West Bank have uncovered and dismantled a 50-person strong terrorist cell believed to behind a string of deadly attacks in the area including the deadly Dolev bombing which claimed the life of a teenage girl, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said Wednesday.

According to the Shin Bet investigation into the Dolev attack, the cell planned to carry out additional attacks in the near future.

As part of the investigation, approximately 50 Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine operatives, including senior members of the Palestinian terrorist group, were arrested and a large number of weapons were seized including M-16s, Kalashnikovs, Uzis, Galil automatic rifles, pistols with silencers, ammunition and fertilizers to build bombs, as well as walkie-talkies, telescopic devices and others were discovered by security officials.”

The Times of Israel adds:

“According to the security service, this large PFLP network of terrorist operatives was led by Walid Muhammad Hanatsheh, 50, who was arrested in October. […]

In addition to Hanatsheh, the Shin Bet said several other senior PFLP members were arrested in its raids, including Khalida Jarrar, 56, the head of the terror group’s operations in the West Bank; Abdel Raziq Faraj, 56, who oversaw Hanatsheh’s efforts and allegedly approved Arbid’s Dolev bombing; and Itaraf Hajaj, 43, who is responsible for PFLP’s activities in Ramallah and helped recruit operatives for the organization.

All three of them have served time in Israeli prisons on multiple occasions over their terrorist activities.”

Unsurprisingly, BBC audiences have to date heard nothing of those latest arrests either.

Khalida Jarrar. Photo credit: NGOM

Khalida Jarrar was previously the vice-chair of ‘Addameer’ – the political NGO which was described by the BBC in 2012 as an organisation “which works on behalf of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails”. As we noted in October, the leader of the terror cell which carried out the attack near Dolev, Samer Arbid, was employed (despite his past history of involvement in terror activity) as an accountant by ‘Addameer’ which is known for its links to the PFLP – a designated terror organisation in the US, the EU, Canada and Israel.

Nevertheless, in late August 2019 the BBC gave heavy promotion to a report which showcased ‘Addameer’.

Partisan report on detained Palestinian ‘children’ from BBC’s Gender and Identity correspondent

BBC World Service radio’s OS promotes narrative over fact

Addameer is however just one of several Palestinian NGOs with links to the PFLP, some of which have been directly or indirectly quoted and promoted by the BBC in its Middle East coverage – for example Al HaqDefence for Children International – Palestine and of course the PCHR, which received particularly extensive exposure during the 2014 conflict between Israel and terror organisations in the Gaza Strip and which was one of the sources behind the casualty figures amplified by the BBC at the time.

The BBC editorial guidelines that came into effect in mid-July include several ‘mandatory referrals’ relating to coverage of terrorists in the ‘War, Terror and Emergencies’ section. Those guidelines however do not relate to coverage of organisations which often portray themselves as ‘human rights advocates’ despite their links to terror groups. Clearly the BBC urgently needs to wake up to the fact that its uncritical promotion of some of those groups actually serves the agenda of terrorist organisations rather than the interests of its audience.  

Related Articles:

Face value: the BBC and Palestinian NGOs

BBC WS breaches editorial guidelines on impartiality with Gaza report

h/t JP

The November 24th edition of BBC World Service radio’s ‘Global News Podcast’ included an item (from 20:10 here) which was introduced by the presenter as follows:

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

Presenter: “Earlier this month there was further fierce fighting over Gaza triggered when Israel assassinated a senior militant leader from the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad. These rounds of violence have become almost routine, as have accounts of humanitarian suffering blamed largely on Israel’s blockade of the territory.”

Notably absent from that portrayal is of course any mention of the Palestinian terrorism which is the reason for “Israel’s blockade of the territory” as well as the last round of escalation during which about 560 rockets and mortars – conveniently whitewashed from this introduction – were fired at Israeli civilians.

The introduction continued:

Presenter: “But some young Palestinians have started a website to publicise the human stories behind the news. They are Issam Adwan, Asmaa Tayeh and Ahmed Elqattawi. On a recent trip to Gaza our correspondent Barbara Plett Usher spoke with them about the recent violence. Ahmed begins the conversation.”

Listeners then heard nearly five minutes of unchallenged one-sided monologues.

Ahmed: “I want to live. I want to live like any other human being in the world. This is my right. I want to be respected. I want to have it and I want to see it like happened in the Gaza Strip. This is my…my city. I should feel safe in my city. Why would I walk in the street without feeling safe? I mean even like the horrific fear I witness. I mean during these three days was [unintelligible] for me. I have been like a victim to the sound of bombing and shelling. I couldn’t take it anymore, really. I was just…I was scared. I mean I’m 24 years old but I was really scared. Yeah.”

Issam: “But trust me this is not like the worst thing that could happen to the one who is living in Gaza, who lived through three wars and, you know, partially fourth one. The worst thing that could happen to you is that you’re not feeling fear anymore. Not because of being brave but because of, like, you have suffered so much. There are so many levels of being empty. Some people here in Gaza Strip they just want to die because they are suffering so much. At my point I’m…I’m fearless not because of being brave but I’ve seen so much. For them they are fearless because they have suffered so much. They just want to end it. I believe a lot of people exceeded what they can handle.”

Asmaa: “My sister-in-law two days ago was saying if they bomb us they should kill us all because we don’t want anyone to stay and live and keep crying on the others. I told her no. You all die and I want to live. Because I really didn’t live. I’m still twenty – twenty-three – and I didn’t live. I really need to live more so I can maybe find some sense of safety or joy or anything. It also makes me laugh when I see some Israelis comment on our posts on social media saying ‘you’re killing our children, you’re terrifying us, you’re doing this and that’. And they don’t get the fact that we’re trying to defend ourselves. They don’t get the fact that they every time start this. And when we do the same, or at least done the same because we don’t have the same equipment, they cry about it. And they tell us that we are violating their human rights. They were violating the international law. But they don’t think about themselves. They are doing the same or worse.”

Listeners heard no challenge from Barbara Plett Usher to those falsehoods and were not provided with any background which would help them put the propaganda into context. Instead, in the first of just two brief interventions throughout the whole item, Plett Usher chose to question the definition of the actions of Hamas and the PIJ as terrorism.

Plett Usher: “Do you think that Palestinian leadership bears any responsibility? Hamas and Islamic Jihad, they have this doctrine of resistance, for example, that Israel and the international community call terrorism.”

Asmaa: “Well for me I don’t support anyone. I think we’re all Palestinians. But let me ask you: what do we really have as a choice? What can we do? Do we have equipment? Do we have anything that we didn’t try before? Tell me what we can do? What options do we have?”

Issam: “Such a response is just a representation of – fine representation – of what Gaza is not having, which is life. Also I would condemn Hamas and the PLO for such division which kill the Palestinians in the first place, especially the people in Gaza Strip. We are responding, we are shooting, we are, like, protesting at the Great March of Freedom because we don’t have hope. Israel is a great part of that. The PLO is also part of that. Hamas like makes the ideology of terminating others’ existence; they are responsible for that. I’m also blaming the lack of vision, the lack of – let’s say – a position that can lead us to move forward with the Palestinian case. They are responsible for that, not the occupation. I know that the occupation is imposing a lot of pressures and blows but they are responsible on that in the first place. They have responsibility. They cannot do with…these just [unintelligible] to step back and let other people to lead.”

Plett Usher: “What about you? How do you feel about the future, Ahmed?”

Ahmed: “Well I remember like a report was issued by the UN and they said that Gaza Strip will be uninhabitable by 2020. So 2020 is coming in January so I’m trying to just receive the shock when it comes.”

Asmaa “But for me, to be honest, I don’t think this is gonna be the last Israeli attack. So you will never feel safe. So I don’t have hope. No, I’m sorry, I don’t [laughing].”

Presenter: “Asmaa Tayeh ending that report from Barbara Plett Usher in Gaza and we also heard from Issam Adwan and Ahmed Elqattawi.”

It of course comes as no big surprise to hear such a blatantly one-sided report from Barbara Plett Usher: a report which does nothing to advance audience understanding of the topic it purports to address. But below the surface of this five minutes of unchallenged propaganda is another layer which once again highlights the issue of the BBC’s supposed impartiality.

Listeners were told in the introduction to this item that the three interviewees had set up a website:

“But some young Palestinians have started a website to publicise the human stories behind the news.”

In fact, all three interviewees are involved with a website – called ‘We Are Not Numbers – that was set up in early 2015 by a political NGO called EuroMed Rights which is funded by a variety of foreign donors and has as members organisations engaged in lawfare against Israel. The website itself is funded by a US registered organisation called ‘Nonviolence International’ which was founded by Mubarak Awad who was deported by Israel due to his role in the first Intifada.

Issam Adwan is listed as the website’s ‘special projects coordinator’ and described as having joined it in May 2018. Asmaa Tayeh is listed as its ‘social media coordinator’ and Ahmed Elqattawi features in a 2015 report by anti-Israel activist Joe Catron for the infamous ‘MintPress News’. The website has also been promoted on the notoriously anti-Israel ‘Mondoweiss’ site by its founder Pam Bailey who is a contributor to that site as well as others includingMiddle East Eye’ and Al Jazeera.

BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality stipulate that:

“4.3.12 We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities and think-tanks) are unbiased. Appropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context.”

Not only did Barbara Plett Usher’s report fail to inform listeners of the name of the website it inaccurately claimed was “started” by her three interviewees but BBC audiences were given no “appropriate information” about the “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” of the real founders and funders of that website and their very relevant political agenda. 

BBC WS radio facilitates unchallenged HRW monologue – part two

In part one of this post we looked at the first half of a long item (from 14:05 here) that was aired on the November 25th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ and which related to the ‘Human Rights Watch’ employee Omar Shakir whose work visa was not renewed by the Israeli authorities in May 2018 and who – following several court cases – left the country on that day.

Presenter Razia Iqbal continued, providing the cue for another HRW talking point.

Iqbal: “There is a suggestion that the case against Omar Shakir was initially based on statements that he had made in support of a boycott before he took on his role with Human Rights Watch. Is that true?”

Roth: “The Israeli government really kind of resurrected these statements that he had made when he was a university student years ago. But even the government made clear that the anti-BDS law is supposed to be preventative – it’s supposed to look to the future. It’s not supposed to be punitive. So in fact, you know, whatever Omar Shakir said back in his university days is irrelevant. Everything he has done since joining Human Rights Watch – as any Human Rights Watch employee – strictly adheres to Human Rights Watch policy which is not to endorse BDS, it is not to call for boycott. So this is, you know, not about BDS. This is about trying to shut down mainstream human rights advocacy.”

Iqbal made no effort to challenge that spin or to inform listeners that while Shakir was indeed involved in BDS advocacy before joining HRW, that activity has continued, as detailed here, including the FIFA campaign, the Airbnb campaign, the UN BDS data base and the targeting of Israeli banks.

Iqbal: “You have Mr Shakir with you in the car. I’m assuming that you will not be replacing him in his role to cover this particular region.”

Roth: “The Israeli government wanted to get rid of Omar Shakir by deporting him so we are deliberately not playing along with that. Omar will continue his direction of Human Rights Watch’s work on Israel and Palestine. He will do it, as we do in many closed countries, from a neighbouring country so he will set up in one of our offices in the region. We have offices in countries that don’t censor us. Initially he’s going to be operating out of our office in Amman.”

Iqbal: “This Israeli decision has been criticised by the UN and the European Union. The United States sees this just [sic] an issue of freedom of expression. Are you going to appeal against this decision or or is that not possible now?”

Iqbal did not provide a source for her claim of how the US “sees this” but an identical claim appears in an AFP report in which it is also unsourced. Listeners then heard Ken Roth egregiously assert that the ruling given by Israel’s Supreme Court was based on politics rather than legal scholarship, with no challenge whatsoever from Iqbal.

Roth: “We brought this government’s decision to the Israeli Supreme Court. Ahm…the panel we received was a rather Right-wing panel which ruled against us so that they’ve allowed the deportation to go forward. Human Rights Watch has [unintelligible] a full panel which will be more reflective of a more centrist or moderate view of the law should require in light of free speech and human rights principles. That petition is currently pending before the chief justice of the court.”

Listeners did not hear that HRW petitioned – unsuccessfully – for Shakir to be allowed to stay in Israel in the meantime.

Iqbal then asked to speak to Omar Shakir himself.

Shakir: “I am on route to Ben Gurion airport to leave Israel Palestine after two and a half years documenting human rights abuses by all parties as Israel and Palestine director at the organisation. It’s difficult on a personal level to leave but at the same time our work will continue. We will continue to work on the same issues with the same intensity and the same methodologies and I will continue to direct that work and I’m confident I’ll be back one day; one day in which human rights abuses are no longer systematic, in which discrimination is not as deeply entrenched as it is today and until that day comes, I’ll continue to work as hard as I have for the last few years.”

Iqbal: “Are you disappointed that you are not getting perhaps the kind of robust support from the United States – of which you are a citizen – as you are from the United Nations and the European Union?”

Shakir: “It’s been fantastic just seeing the outpouring of support across the world. The world sees through the Israeli government’s narrative. This is about muzzling human rights advocacy. It’s been clear that this Trump administration has moved from failing to use its leverage to safeguard rights to full-fledged green-lighting at serious rights abuse but that position has been rejected whether it be with regard to the illegality of settlements, the status of Palestinian refugees or attacks on human rights defenders. The United States’ position has only highlighted its isolation from the global consensus.”

Iqbal: “And just one final comment on…on what you are being accused of doing by the Israelis – that you have been engaged in advocating boycotting and divestment and sanctions against Israel.”

Shakir: “Look, neither Human Rights Watch nor I as its representative ever called for a boycott of Israel. This is but the latest in a series of allegations used to muzzle Human Rights Watch’s work. The reality here is that Human Rights Watch uses the same methodology we use in a hundred countries around the world. One of our important focuses is business and human rights and we’ve done the exact same work. We’re not going to create a special rule for Israel. We’re going to use the same standards that we use everywhere else and we’ll continue that work.”

Iqbal closed the pre-recorded interviews there, failing to point out to listeners that Shakir’s claim of ‘using the same standards’ in Israel as it does “everywhere else” is patently untrue and that – for example – it did not campaign for Airbnb to de-list holiday rentals in other disputed territories such as northern Cyprus.

Listeners then heard an ‘explanation’ of why ‘Newshour’ completely failed to provide its listeners with any other perspective.

Iqbal: “Our correspondent in Jerusalem has attempted to get reaction from the authorities in Israel but they have rejected requests for interviews. We have also been trying here in London.”

That of course does not excuse the entirely one-sided nature of this long item in which listeners repeatedly heard HRW’s long-standing spin on the story go unquestioned and unchallenged but were told nothing at all about the court’s findings.

Once again we see that when reporting on ‘Human Rights Watch’ – which is one of the political NGOs most quoted and promoted by the BBC in its coverage of Israel –  the BBC tosses its editorial standards on accuracy and impartiality aside, opting for journalistic activism over providing its audiences with the full range of information necessary for proper understanding of the story.

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BBC WS radio facilitates unchallenged HRW monologue – part one

The November 25th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included a long item (from 14:05 here) relating to the ‘Human Rights Watch’ employee Omar Shakir whose work visa was not renewed by the Israeli authorities in May 2018 and who – following several court cases – left the country on that day.

Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced that eight minute and thirty-nine second item as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “Now, a controversial fight [sic] between Israel and one of its most vociferous human rights critics. The outcome is the expulsion of the director of Human Rights Watch based in Israel, Omar Shakir, who is a US citizen but was accused by the Israelis of advocating BDS – a Palestinian-led campaign calling for the boycotting, disinvestment and sanctioning of Israel until it meets what it des…what is described as Israel’s obligations under international law.”

Anyone familiar with the long years of BBC refusal to inform its audiences of the BDS campaign’s aims would not be surprised by Iqbal’s blatant whitewashing of that subject. The BDS campaign – which is not “Palestinian-led” as claimed by Iqbal – does not aspire to have Israel ‘meet international law’. Rather it seeks to end the “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands” and promotes a right of “Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties”: goals which undermine the fundamental right of the Jewish people to self-determination.

Yet as we see, Iqbal refrained from providing listeners with that obviously relevant background information before she went on to introduce her two sole interviewees – both from ‘Human Rights Watch’. She did however promote one of HRW’s long-standing talking points while referring to “a 2017 law” (actually an amendment to existing legislation) which she failed to explain.  

Iqbal: “The Israelis say that Mr Shakir is in violation of a 2017 law. Human Rights Watch say Mr Shakir’s expulsion places Israel in the same camp as Venezuela, Iran and Egypt in barring Human Rights Watch researchers. I’ve been speaking to Ken Roth. He’s the head of Human Rights Watch.”

In breach of BBC editorial guidelines on “contributors’ affiliations”, listeners were not given “appropriate information” about HRW’s “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” and beyond the short description of Ken Roth’s title, they heard nothing of his record – a serious omission which obviously compromised the ability of audiences to put his assorted claims and allegations into context.

Roth: “I’m actually driving in the taxi at this moment toward the airport with Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine director, and I will accompany him out of Israel later today in compliance with the deportation order that the Israeli government has issued for him. The Israeli government wants him out of the country in essence because of his reporting on Israel’s illegal settlements and in particular the advocacy that he has done asking businesses to avoid complicity in that illegality. This kind of advocacy is similar to what Human Rights Watch does around the world, whether it’s child labour in gold and diamond mining or avoiding forced labour in cotton picking in Uzbekistan or the internet companies avoiding censorship in China. But Israel objected to this advocacy with respect to the illegal settlements and it’s retaliating against Omar by ordering his deportation.”

The claim that HRW’s work in Israel is no different to what it does in the rest of the world has long been one of the political NGO’s talking points but as NGO Monitor points out:

“HRW lobbies for boycotts of, divestment from, and sanctions against Israeli institutions and businesses and companies doing business in Israel, including in the UN (“BDS blacklist”), FIFA, and Congress. Even if HRW can point to a handful of isolated calls for businesses to cease their operations in other places due to human rights concerns, there is no parallel in terms of the zeal, intensity, language, and continuous campaigns regarding Israel. […]

HRW misleadingly portrays its support for BDS against Israel as “calling on businesses to uphold their human rights’ responsibilities by cutting settlement ties.” First, there is no such obligation under international law, and every national court that has looked at these issues has rejected attempts to bar or criminalize such activity (for example, France, the UK, Canada, the US, and Israel). Second, HRW does not limit itself to BDS against settlements, seeking to have Israel sanctioned by FIFA and targeting Israeli banks, among other campaigns.

Finally, this claim is irrelevant. At the end of the day, HRW and Shakir are calling for boycotts in a way that expressly and directly meets the criteria in the Israeli law.”

Iqbal failed to challenge Roth on that point – or on his portrayal of Israeli communities as “illegal” – but did presume to present “Israel’s view”, once again without explaining the “law of 2017”.

Iqbal: “Israel’s view is that Mr Shakir is advocating the policies of the BDS movement – the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement – which is contrary to an Israeli law of 2017. Are you saying that he is not doing that?”

Roth: “That’s correct. I mean the Israeli pretext is the BDS law but in fact, you know, Human Rights Watch has never endorsed BDS. We have not called for a boycott. We don’t appeal to consumers. This was just kind of a concocted pretext to get rid of Omar Shakir. All this is to avoid complicity in human rights violations which is what we do around the world. This is nothing exceptional and frankly that’s what makes the Israeli government’s move so dangerous because this is not an action against some extremist position. This is an action against completely mainstream run-of-the-mill human rights advocacy. And if they can penalise Human Rights Watch for this completely ordinary position, they can go after anybody.”

Iqbal failed to challenge that spin from Ken Roth. As NGO Monitor explains:

“There are over 350 NGOs in the field of human rights listed with the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits, and an additional 400+ Palestinian and international groups that are active in the West Bank. Many of these strenuously and stridently oppose Israeli policy, with some deploying BDS and antisemitism in their campaigns. They get significant media coverage in Israel and internationally, as well as platforms in the UN and national parliaments. None of this will change, regardless of the court’s decision on Shakir.

In addition, the visa law is only relevant to non-Israelis and non-Palestinians, and as previously decided by the Israeli Supreme Court, is only applicable to active leaders of BDS. HRW, which has other employees in the region and is not in danger of disappearing, could replace Shakir with an Israeli or a Palestinian. If they hire an international staffer, they can select an individual who is not a long-time leader of demonization and BDS.”

Pursuing the same line of questioning but failing to specifically mention HRW’s failed campaign against Airbnb last year, Iqbal handed Roth yet another cue to repeat his talking points.

Iqbal: “Mr Shakir is a US citizen and it is the case, is it not, that Human Rights Watch does urge businesses to stop operating in the settlements and a broad interpretation of that 2017 laws [sic] would suggest that Human Rights Watch and in this case Mr Shakir are breaking that law.”

Roth: “If you want to interpret a call on businesses to live up to their global responsibilities to avoid complicity in human rights violations as a boycott then you get to the Israelis’ extreme position. But in fact it’s not a boycott. We don’t appeal to consumers. We’re not in any sense, you know, urging any boycott of Israel. We’re focusing simply on the illegalities of the settlements and that’s why I say this is such a mainstream position. It’s such an uncontroversial position within the human rights movement that if Israel’s gonna get away with trying to censor this kind of position, then no human rights advocacy is safe in Israel.”

Iqbal could have challenged Roth’s false claim that “we’re not in any sense, you know, urging any boycott of Israel” by reminding audiences that, together with other BDS supporting NGOs, HRW tried – unsuccessfully – to get Israel thrown out of the international football federation FIFA but she did not.

The rest of this item will be discussed in part two of this post.

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A third superficial BBC News website report on ‘Human Rights Watch’

On the afternoon of November 25th the BBC News website published a report headlined “Israel’s deportation of Human Rights Watch activist condemned”.

With not much having happened since the BBC published its previous article on that story twenty days earlier (except for the Supreme Court’s rejection last week of another petition from HRW), it came as no surprise to see that a significant proportion of this latest report was identical to the earlier one – including the links to additional reading.

As was noted here the last time those links were promoted: 

“The first of those items promotes the falsehood that the BDS campaign solely relates to a “cultural boycott” of Israel. The second is remarkable for its lack of fact checking and the third (from 2015) uncritically amplifies falsehoods promoted by a professional BDS campaigner, including about the campaign’s origins.”

This latest report yet again made no effort to give BBC audiences an accurate picture of the anti-Israel BDS campaign in the corporation’s own words.

“Israel says that BDS opposes the country’s very existence and is motivated by anti-Semitism – something the movement denies.”

It did however once again uncritically amplify HRW’s talking points concerning the case.

“HRW rejected the Israeli government’s portrayal of Mr Shakir, saying he neither supported nor opposed BDS.

It stressed that as its representative he had called on companies to stop working in or with Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, and had not called for a consumer boycott of those companies.”

Remarkably, no effort was made to inform readers of the court findings which refute those talking points.  

Readers of course found the BBC’s standard partisan portrayal of ‘international law’.

 “The settlements are widely considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

Twenty-one percent of the report’s word count was devoted to uncritical amplification of the latest statements from the political NGO ‘Human Rights Watch’.

“Human Rights Watch has accused the Israeli authorities of an “intensifying assault on human rights” following the deportation of one of its activists. […]

“Israel today joins the likes of Venezuela, Iran, and Egypt in barring Human Rights Watch researchers, but it, too, will not succeed in hiding its human rights abuses,” said Kenneth Roth, HRW’s executive director, who accompanied Mr Shakir as he flew out of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport on Monday.

“This decision shows why the international community must reboot its approach to Israel’s deteriorating human rights record. A government that expels a leading human rights investigator is not likely to stop its systematic oppression of Palestinians under occupation without much greater international pressure.””

An additional paragraph was given over to amplification of similar comments from another political NGO which engages in lawfare against Israel, ‘B’tselem’ and yet another paragraph (also seen in the previous report) told readers that:

“Former Israeli officials and human rights groups filed motions to join Mr Shakir’s appeal against the deportation order at the Supreme Court, while the European Union and United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called on the Israeli authorities not to deport him.”

BBC audiences were not however informed that among those expressing support for Omar Shakir and ‘Human Rights Watch’ was Hamas.

While the caption to the main image illustrating the article told BBC audiences that “Omar Shakir vowed to continue investigating and reporting human rights abuses”, both a Tweet from Shakir embedded into the article and a Tweet from the head of HRW make it very clear that the NGO’s interest in human rights is far from universal.

This is the third BBC News website report on this topic (see earlier ones here and here) and all three have extensively and unquestioningly amplified the talking points of HRW and other political NGOs while failing to inform BBC audiences of the obviously relevant issue of the aims of the BDS campaign.

Clearly the BBC has no interest whatsoever in providing its audiences with the full range of information necessary for proper understanding of the story and its wider related background but that editorial policy is more comprehensible when one appreciates that while for years ‘Human Rights Watch’ has been one of the political NGOs most quoted and promoted by the BBC in its coverage of Israel, that organisation’s political agenda and funding has never been adequately clarified to audiences as required by BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality.   

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Reviewing three BBC reports on the US statement on ‘settlements’ – part one

Between the evening of November 18th and the evening of November 19th the BBC News website published three written reports, totalling 2,420 words, relating to a statement made by the US Secretary of State.

November 18th 2019: ‘US says Israeli settlements are no longer illegal

November 19th 2019: ‘US settlement move endorses ‘law of the jungle’ – Palestinians

November 19th 2019: ‘US settlement move reduces chances of Israeli-Palestinian peace deal’ by Barbara Plett Usher

The first article includes – albeit near its end – a reasonable portrayal of the positions held by various US administrations over the years.

“In 1978, the Jimmy Carter administration concluded that the establishment of civilian settlements was inconsistent with international law. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan disagreed with that conclusion, saying he did not believe the settlements were inherently illegal.

Since then, the US adopted a position of describing the settlements as “illegitimate” – though not “illegal” – and sheltering Israel from condemnatory resolutions on the issue at the United Nations.

However one of the last acts of the Obama administration, at the end of 2016, was to break with US practice by not vetoing a UN resolution that urged an end to illegal Israeli settlements.”

The second article opens with the erroneous claim that: [emphasis added]

“Palestinians have condemned a decision by the US to abandon its four-decades-old position that Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank are inconsistent with international law.”

In fact, as explained in the first report and indeed again towards the end of this one, Secretary Pompeo’s statement marks a return to the policy of US administrations between 1981 and December 2016. In other words, the “position” described by the BBC is three years old rather than “four-decades-old”.

The third report by Barbara Plett Usher makes no attempt to inform readers on the issue of the policies of past US administrations.

The first article promotes the BBC’s own standard but partial mantra concerning ‘international law’.

Article 1: “The issue of Jewish settlements is one of the most contentious between Israel and the Palestinians.

About 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are widely considered illegal under international law, though Israel has always disputed this.”

In the second article readers are told that:

 Article 2: “The UN regards the settlements as being illegal under international law.”

BBC audiences are not informed that UNSC resolution 2334 dating from December 2016 was adopted under the United Nations Charter’s Chapter 6 and is hence non-binding.

The BBC chooses to describe settlements as follows:

Article 1: “Settlements are communities established by Israel on land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.

They have long been a source of dispute between Israel and the international community, and the Palestinians.”

Article 2: “Settlements are communities established by Israel on land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war. They have long been a source of dispute between Israel and the international community, and the Palestinians.”

Article 3: “Settlements are Jewish communities built on territory occupied by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war.”

As we see, the BBC does not bother to inform its audiences of the background to that war or of the fact that in the case of Judea & Samaria, the same territory was under Jordanian occupation for 19 years. That omission enables Barbara Plett Usher to state that:

“…Americans do not make international law: that is up to bodies such as the United Nations and treaties such as the Fourth Geneva Convention, which bars an occupying power from transferring parts of its civilian population to occupied territory.”

Only in the second article do readers find any alternative view to the BBC’s standard mantra or reference to events before 1967 and that is presented as something that “Israel says”.

Article 2: “Most of the international community, including the UN and the International Court of Justice, say the settlements are illegal. The basis for this is the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention which forbids the transfer by an occupying power of its people to occupied territory.

However, Israel says the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply de jure to the West Bank because, it says, the territory is not technically occupied.

Israel says it is legally there as a result of a defensive war, and did not take control of the West Bank from a legitimate sovereign power. It says the legal right of Jewish settlement there, as recognised by the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, was preserved under the UN’s charter.”

Those three paragraphs are taken from a backgrounder originally published in December 2016 and since amended several times to which a link is provided in all three reports. All three reports also promote a map titled “West Bank settlements” sourced from the foreign funded political NGOB’tselem’. As has been the case with previous maps from the same source used by the BBC, this one too portrays places such as Neve Ya’akov and Gush Etzion as ‘settlements’ despite the fact that Jews purchased land and lived in those areas long before they were ethnically cleansed by the invading Jordanian army in 1948. 

Part two of this post will review additional aspects of these three BBC reports.

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BBC News report on Jerusalem planning fails to meet impartiality guidelines

On the afternoon of November 6th the BBC News website published a report headlined “Jerusalem: Israel approves controversial Old City cable car plan” on its ‘Middle East’ page.

The report is illustrated with an image credited to You Tube and captioned “The Old City of Jerusalem is a Unesco World Heritage site” but readers are not informed that it is in fact a “screen capture from a promotional video for the Jerusalem Old City cable car project showing an artist’s impression of cars passing over the Hinnom Valley”.

The report opens with a description of the plan which includes clear framing. [emphasis added]

“A controversial plan to build a cable car network in Jerusalem’s Old City to transport visitors to one of Judaism’s holiest sites has been approved by Israel’s housing cabinet.

The cable cars will ferry up to 3,000 people an hour about 1.4km (0.9 miles) from West Jerusalem to the Western Wall in occupied East Jerusalem.

Israel’s government says the project will reduce traffic congestion.”

It then quickly moves on to present the views of various opponents, including a link to a campaigning video.

“But opponents say it will damage the area’s historic landscape.

They intend to petition Israel’s High Court of Justice to stop it.

Emek Shaveh, an Israeli non-governmental organisation working to defend cultural heritage, has previously warned that the cable car network will alter the skyline of the Old City – a Unesco World Heritage site – and have a detrimental impact on Palestinian residents of the Silwan area living under the proposed route.

It has also alleged that the project “serves a highly political agenda” and that it was “fast-tracked” through the planning process.”

BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality state that: [emphasis added]

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities and think-tanks) are unbiased. Appropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints should be made available to the audience, when relevant to the context.”

Readers are however told nothing of that foreign funded political NGO’s “affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” before the report moves on to promote a link to an as yet uncorrected BBC backgrounder from 2014 and highlight additional objections.

“The Palestinian Authority and the Jordanian government – the custodian of the compound behind the Western Wall, known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount – have also expressed concern about the impact on the Old City.”

Readers then see an edited version of a problematic video made by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell in 2017 and at the end of the report they are told that:

“The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war – as the capital of a future state.”

As is overwhelmingly the case in BBC reporting, while the corporation adopts and uses PLO approved language such as “occupied East Jerusalem”, audiences are told nothing of the Jordanian occupation of parts of the city or of the fact that until June 1967 – as shown in Article 24 of the original PLO charter from 1964 – the Palestinians specifically stated that they had no claim to territory occupied at the time by Jordan, including the Old City of Jerusalem.

The result is that, as usual, BBC audiences are fed a politically partisan account which deliberately omits relevant context.

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