Weekend long read

1) Back in April the BBC News website told audiences that the Israeli prime minister had ‘snubbed’ the German foreign minister over the latter’s insistence on meeting what the BBC described as “human rights activists”. At the Fathom Journal, Gadi Taub takes a closer look at that story.

“Gabriel, on the occasion of an official visit for Holocaust Memorial Day, announced that he would meet the representatives of two radical left-wing civil society organisations – Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem. When Netanyahu said that if those meetings went ahead he would boycott the visit and refuse to meet Gabriel, many thought he was overreacting. Few, however, expected Gabriel to choose those two organisations over Israel’s prime minster (and acting foreign minister). And when he did, things began to appear in a new light. It no longer seemed that the German foreign minister made an honest mistake, not knowing how controversial these organisations were among Israelis. It appeared, instead, that he knew exactly what he was doing and that it was us, the Israeli public, who had made a mistake in our assumptions about German-Israeli relations.”

2) At the JCPA, Ambassador Alan Baker examines the issue of Palestinian refugees and UNRWA.  

“Unlike its sister organization, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), mandated since 1950 to coordinate the handling of all refugee communities worldwide, UNRWA was established in that same year to deal exclusively with Palestinian refugees, thereby excluding them from the protection of the UNHCR.

While the aims and operations of the UNHCR are based on international instruments – mainly the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees – UNRWA was never provided with a specific statute or charter. It has operated since its inception under a general mandate, renewed every three years by the General Assembly.

The major distinction and main reason for the establishment of a separate agency to deal with Palestinian refugees, was to crystallize their sole aim – not rehabilitation and resettlement, as was the aim of UNHCR – but solely “return.” Inclusion of Palestinian refugees under the general UNHCR definition of “refugees” would have been interpreted as a waiver of their claim that “return” was the sole solution.”

3) The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center has a new report on a topic habitually absent from BBC coverage of the Middle East: Hamas’ indoctrination of children in summer camps.

“This year, as in previous years, summer camps were held throughout the Gaza Strip, attended by tens of thousands of Gazan children and adolescents. Most of the camps were organized by Hamas, some by other terrorist organizations and institutions. The camps provide a wide range of activities, from ordinary summer pastimes (sports, arts and crafts, computers, day trips, etc.) to military training and ideological indoctrination. Hamas attributes great importance to the summer camps, considering them an effective means for influencing the younger generation and training a cadre of operatives and supporters for its military wing and movement institutions.

An examination of some of the closing ceremonies of the 2017 summer camps shows they emphasized military topics coordinated to the age of the participants. The older the campers were, the more and varied military training they received. The adolescents, some of them who would join Hamas military wing in the near future, wore uniforms and learned how to dismantle and reassemble weapons. They also practiced simulating infiltrating Israel through tunnels, attacking IDF posts, taking control of tank positions, and capturing IDF soldiers and abducting them to the Gaza Strip. They trained with real weapons, mostly light arms and RPG launchers.”

4) At the FDD, Grant Rumley takes a look at Mahmoud Abbas’ handling of last month’s violence in Jerusalem and elsewhere following the murder of two Israeli policemen in a terror attack on July 14th.

“The closest the Israeli-Palestinian conflict got to an actual third intifada, or uprising, happened late this past month when Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas mobilized the shadowy militia elements of his party for widespread Friday protests. What the lone-wolf stabbing attacks that have plagued Israel for the past several years lacked—and what both the first and second intifadas had—was political leadership and support. In activating the Tanzim, a faction of his own party that Abbas has struggled to control, the Palestinian President was sanctioning his people’s unrest.”

Political NGO gets unreserved BBC amplification yet again

In October 2015 the BBC News website allocated just forty-two words to coverage of a terror attack in which four people were wounded near Kibbutz Gan Shmuel.

On August 7th 2017 the BBC News website devoted two hundred and ninety-eight words to amplification of statements made by a political NGO concerning a court ruling revoking the citizenship of the terrorist who committed that attack.

Titled “Israel decision to revoke attacker’s citizenship condemned” and illustrated with an unrelated image, the article opens with a description of the attack which predictably does not make use of the word terror because the BBC refuses to employ that term itself when reporting on attacks against Israelis.

“Human rights groups have criticised a decision by an Israeli court to remove the citizenship of an Israeli Arab who attacked people with a car and a knife.

It is thought to be the first time a judge has implemented a 2008 law under which perpetrators of “terrorist activities” can lose their citizenship.”

Later on in the report the word terrorism does appear in direct and indirect quotes.

“In his decision, Judge Avraham Elyakim of Haifa district court said victims’ right to life took precedence over “those who choose to violate the trust of the state of Israel and carry out acts of terrorism in its territory”.”

“The removal of citizenship for terrorism had been applied by Israel in rare instances prior to the 2008 law but the latest case could pave the way for similar rulings in the future, local media said.”

The report does not inform readers of an additional part of the court’s ruling:

“The court ruled that after Zayoud’s citizenship is revoked in October he will be given a temporary status, as exists in citizenship laws, and that it will be extended from time to time at the discretion of the interior minister after he has completed his sentence.”

As is made clear by its headline, the main aim of this article is amplification of statements from what the BBC coyly describes as “rights groups”.

“Israeli civil rights groups said the ruling set “a dangerous precedent”. […]

The court’s ruling was condemned by rights groups.

“The decision to revoke Mr Zayoud’s residence would render him stateless, in violation of Israel’s obligations under international human rights law,” said Sari Bashi of Human Rights watch.

“Citizenship is a precondition for a host of other rights, including the right to political participation and social and economic rights.””

Readers are not provided with any additional legal information beyond that simplistic portrayal and neither are they informed that numerous other countries have similar laws – as the BBC itself reported in relation to the UK only weeks ago:

“The 2014 Immigration Act granted the home secretary the power to strip citizenship from dual nationals or from immigrants who have become naturalised citizens and are now fighting overseas, even if that renders them stateless.”

As is usually the case, readers of this article find no mention of the obviously relevant issue of the political agenda of Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the fact that it engages in lawfare and campaigning against Israel.

Human Rights Watch was the foreign NGO most quoted and promoted by the BBC throughout 2016 and its reports, PR releases, campaigns and statements enjoyed similarly prominent amplification in previous years. Nevertheless, the BBC consistently fails to meet its own editorial guidelines on impartiality which state:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

Obviously that condition was not met in this latest article and so once again we see the BBC providing leverage for politicised messaging concerning Israel from an interested party touted as a neutral-sounding ‘human rights group’, without the required full disclosure to audiences of that political NGO’s anti-Israel activities and campaigns.

BBC quoted and promoted NGO supports cash for terror

Even as international awareness grows concerning the issue of Palestinian Authority’s provision of salaries to convicted terrorists and payments to the families of terrorists killed in the act, the BBC has yet to provide its funding public with any serious reporting on that subject. Indeed, as recently as May the BBC’s Middle East editor amplified Palestinian Authority messaging when he told audiences that:

“He [Netanyahu] was referring to a Palestinian Martyrs’ fund. It pays pensions to people it regards as victims of the occupation, including the families of individuals who have been killed attacking Israelis. There is also a fund to support Palestinians who have been imprisoned by Israel. The Palestinians have compared the payments to the salaries Israel pays to soldiers.” [emphasis added]

In early June the Palestinian Authority reportedly halted payments to some former prisoners – for the most part linked to Hamas – residing in the Gaza Strip. However, that move apparently had more to do with the tensions between Hamas and the PA that have also seen Mahmoud Abbas reduce PA payments for electricity and medical care for Gaza residents than with any change of policy regarding the salaries for convicted terrorists.  

Nevertheless, the move brought criticism from assorted ‘human rights’ groups, as documented by NGO Monitor.

“…a number of Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) receiving European government funding under the banner of human rights assert that terrorists have a “right” to receive salaries and that suspending these payments is a violation of international law. NGO officials have also not questioned the legitimacy of violent responses by the Palestinian street, and some of their statements can be interpreted as veiled threats of violence meant to prevent an end to payments.”

One of those NGOs is the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR).

“On July 25, 2017, the PCHR organized a workshop on “Consequences of Former Prisoners’ Salary Suspension on their Economic and Social Rights.” PCHR director, Raji Sourani, stated that “the decision of suspending former prisoners’ salaries was shocking to the prisoners, their families and all Palestinians as it is illegal, immoral, and violates the Basic Law and the international human rights law.””

As readers may recall, the PCHR was the source of dubious claims concerning ‘war crimes’ which appeared in BBC content less than 24 hours after the beginning of the summer 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas. The group’s director was interviewed by the BBC on several occasions during that conflict.

As has been noted here previously, the PCHR is one of several NGOs uncritically quoted and promoted by the BBC despite being active in the lawfare campaign against Israel.

Moreover, the PCHR was one of the sources used by UNOCHA for the compilation of casualty figures and civilian/combatant ratios in the Gaza Strip during the 2014 conflict. Those figures were unquestioningly quoted, promoted – and even defended – by the BBC without any independent verification and are still being cited to this day in its content.

Now we learn that the PCHR director – described to audiences by the BBC’s Middle East editor as “a Palestinian human rights campaigner” – is of the opinion that terrorists who murder Israeli civilians have a ‘human right’ to generous monthly cash payments.  

Whether or not that will do anything to convince the BBC that the PCHR is not a reliable and unbiased source of information worthy of unchallenged promotion by a media organisation committed to accurate and impartial reporting is of course highly doubtful.

Accuracy trumped by politics in BBC report on Israeli PM’s Paris visit

On July 16th an article titled “Netanyahu in Paris to commemorate Vel d’Hiv deportation of Jews” appeared on the BBC News website’s Europe and Middle East pages. However, the version of that report which is currently available is markedly different from its earlier editions.

The article originally opened as follows:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Paris to commemorate the victims of a mass arrest of Jews in Nazi-occupied France in 1942.

More than 13,000 Jews were rounded up and detained at a cycling stadium, the Velodrome d’Hiver, before being deported to Nazi death camps.

Mr Netanyahu will also hold direct talks for the first time with French President Emmanuel Macron.

The visit has been criticised by some groups as politicising a tragedy.” [emphasis added]

About an hour after publication, that latter sentence was amended to read:

“The visit has drawn consternation from critics of the Israeli PM.” 

BBC website visitors who read the article’s first two versions were later told that:

“Mr Netanyahu’s attendance at the commemoration ceremony has not been welcomed by everyone in France.”

That statement was replaced in version 3 by the following:

“The visit has drawn consternation from critics of the Israeli PM.

Some in France have criticised Mr Netanyahu’s attendance at the commemoration ceremony arguing it was becoming too politicised.”

Readers of the first three versions of the report were next informed that:

“Elie Barnav, a former French ambassador to Israel, told AFP news agency: “The presence of Netanyahu makes me a little uneasy.

“This story has nothing to do with Israel.””

Obviously the BBC did not copy/paste the AFP report it recycled properly because the person concerned is actually called Elie Barnavi rather than ‘Barnav’.

Clearly too, the BBC did not bother to check the original AFP article in French because had it done so, it would know that Mr Barnavi is in fact “l’ancien ambassadeur d’Israël en France” – the former Israeli ambassador to France – (2000 to 2002) rather than “a former French ambassador to Israel” as was inaccurately claimed in the English language version of that AFP report.

As regular readers know, the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality state that:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

It would therefore have been appropriate for readers to have been informed of Mr Barnavi’s links to political groups of a particular stripe – which are far more relevant in the context of his comments than his time spent in the diplomatic service.

“Within months of being sent off to Paris by Prime Minister Ehud Barak, he found himself with a new boss: Ariel Sharon. Barnavi, a Peace Now activist, wondered what to do. Many French Jews expected him to resign.”

Similarly, when the BBC decided to promote the view of a tiny fringe French group also quoted in the AFP article (including a link to its website) it should have clarified to readers that UJFP supports the anti-Israel BDS campaign.

“The Union of French Jews for Peace (UJFP) described the decision to invite Mr Netanyahu as “shocking” and “unacceptable”.”

BBC Watch contacted the BBC News website raising those issues and subsequently the article was amended yet again to correct the inaccurate reporting of Mr Barnavi’s name and former position. The tepid and unhelpful description “a pro-Palestinian organisation” was added to the sentence promoting the UJFP.

No footnote was added to advise BBC audiences who had read the earlier versions of the report of the inaccuracies in its first three editions.

Obviously the BBC was far more concerned with amplifying politically motivated criticism of the Israeli prime minister’s Paris visit (at the invitation of the French president: a point strangely absent from the BBC’s account of the story) than it was in ensuring that audiences were provided with accurate and impartial information.

Eventually – some six and a half hours after its original appearance – the article was amended once again and the sections amplifying politically motivated criticism of the Israeli PM’s participation in the ceremony that was its subject matter were completely removed.  

Related Articles:

BBC News drops Associated Press, expands links with AFP

BBC’s Bateman shoehorns anti-Israel NGO into hi-tech story

Despite the BBC’s regularly displayed interest in Israel’s national intelligence agency, its pronunciation unit has apparently still not got round to explaining to presenters how to say the word ‘Mossad’ properly or that it should be preceded by the definite article – as was evident once again in an item broadcast in the July 9th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘.

Presenter Julian Marshall introduced the item (from 37:51 here) with a typical mispronunciation of the name of its subject matter.

“The Israeli spy agency Mossad has launched a multi-million dollar fund to invest in the country’s hi-tech sector. It wants access to new technologies at their earliest stage of development; everything from miniature robotics to software that predicts people’s online behaviour. Collaboration between intelligence agencies and industry is common in many countries but rarely is it advertised this openly. From Jerusalem, our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman reports.”

Tom Bateman opened his report on that story with a clip from the soundtrack of a promotional video and the curious claim that the hi-tech sector in Israel is “new”.

Bateman: “Its reputation may be formidable, its work shadowy but now – a publicity drive from Mossad. The video for the agency’s investment fund borrows heavily from Bourne or Bond films but it’s not popcorn eating audiences they want. The ad featuring a cocktail drinking spy appeals to Israeli hi-tech firms.

Well we’ve come to a neighbourhood of Tel Aviv. The car workshops here are graffitied, the old diamond polishing businesses gone. These days this is the heart of a new Israeli industry – hi-tech. Israel boasts more start-up firms per head than virtually any other country and Mossad has its eyes on the tech they develop; everything from miniature robotics to high-speed encryption to machine learning.”

Bateman then interviewed a person from a software company that has no connection to the story itself before going on:

Bateman: “The Mossad investment launch saw the head of the agency, Yossi Cohen, appeal for firms to step forward. He said the fund would help fulfil Mossad’s national mission, allowing freedom of action for visionary entrepreneurs. His call follows a growing trend by surveillance agencies to invest in emerging IT but its publicity has perhaps been the most bold. The CIA puts cash into Silicone Valley start-ups through an intermediary called In-Q-Tel while Britain’s eaves-dropping agency GCHQ has announced grants to work with cyber-security firms in the UK.”

Having spoken to a second interviewee who also has no direct link to his subject matter, Bateman then proceeded to politicise the story.

Bateman: “But spies with technology have proved controversial in the past. The leaks by the former US intelligence worker Edward Snowdon inflicted PR damage on big web-based firms. In Israel the military has previously fended off accusations from veterans of an elite army intelligence unit who claimed information was used for what they called the political persecution of Palestinians.”

Bateman was of course referring to allegations made in 2014 by a small group of politically motivated reservists from the 8200 unit but – like the BBC’s report at the time – did not bother to tell listeners the whole story

He then brought in his final interviewee, who has even less to do with the story ostensibly being reported in this item than the previous two.

Bateman: “Omar Shakir, the Israel-Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, is sceptical about such tie-ups between companies and security agencies.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is of course one of the political NGOs consistently most quoted and promoted by the BBC but, in breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality, Bateman failed to inform listeners of that group’s political agenda, of its long record of anti-Israel campaigning or of Omar Shakir’s own personal history as a BDS activist.

Shakir: “It raises significant concern. I mean on one hand governments are regularly involved and often have been the engine for technological growth in many parts of the world but on the other hand it further raises concern around facilitating rights abuses and you worry about the lack of transparency, especially in a system where there is rampant impunity for abuse. And you worry again about practices that occur in the shadows – without oversight, without accountability.”

And so, although this new initiative from the Mossad has not yet even got off the ground, the BBC has already signposted theoretical “rights abuses” to its audiences and provided a platform for amplification of HRW’s entirely unsubstantiated allegations of “rampant impunity for abuse” without any Israeli official being given the right of reply.

Once again we see a BBC correspondent exploiting a news story for opportunistic leveraging of politicised messaging concerning Israel from an interested party touted as a ‘human rights defender’ without the required full disclosure to audiences of that political NGO’s agenda and anti-Israel activities.  

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

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

The missing word in BBC R4 reporting on UNESCO Hebron resolution

h/t DS

On the evening of July 7th listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ heard extensive coverage of that day’s UNESCO resolution declaring the old city of Hebron an endangered ‘Palestinian’ world heritage site – but with one word critical for audience understanding of the story repeatedly omitted.

The programme’s synopsis reads: [emphasis in bold added]

“Israel has strongly criticised UNESCO’s declaration that Hebron is a World Heritage site.”

Presenter Razia Iqbal gave listeners the headlines at the start of the programme (from 00:40), including:

“Israel has strongly criticised a UN decision to declare Hebron a world heritage site. We’ll get the Palestinian response.”

Listeners then heard what it later became apparent was an edited and spliced statement from Manuel Hassassian:

“I’m not only pleased but I’m thrilled that UNESCO is preserving the culture and the identity of the Palestinian people in Hebron.”

The programme continued with a news bulletin read by Charles Caroll in which (at 05:32) listeners heard the following:

“The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has condemned the decision of the UN cultural body to declare the old city of Hebron a protected world heritage site. He called it delusional. Palestinian diplomats had urged UNESCO to fast-track the site’s addition to the list of world heritage sites in danger. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman has more details.”

Bateman: “There were heated scenes during the meeting of the UN’s cultural body in Krakow as delegates asked security to remove the Israeli ambassador who’d confronted the chair on the platform. The vote, which followed a submission from the Palestinian delegation, designated the old city of Hebron an endangered world heritage site. The city is holy to all three monotheistic faiths. Rising from its ancient centre is the imposing site known to Jews as the Cave of the Patriarchs, to Muslims as the Ibrahimi mosque. The city is also one of the West Bank’s most acute flash points. Several hundred Jewish settlers live in the centre, surrounded by 200,000 Palestinians.”

In other words, in the first six and a half minutes of this programme listeners heard three portrayals of the story, all of which omitted any mention of the highly relevant fact that Israel’s objections are actually rooted in UNESCO’s declaration of the old city of Hebron a ‘Palestinian’ site – and the consequent erasure of its Jewish history and heritage – rather than in any objection to conservation per se. 

The same story was the topic of a long item broadcast later on in the programme (from 30:12) and Razia Iqbal’s introduction to that item likewise failed to inform listeners of the real reason for the controversy. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Iqbal: “The ancient city of Hebron is significant for all three monotheistic faiths and it’s often been a contested city. Today it finds itself at the centre of controversy because the UN’s cultural agency has voted to declare the old city of Hebron, which is in the West Bank, as a protected world heritage site. The Palestinians had urged UNESCO to fast-track the process, alleging that Israel was carrying out a number of violations in Hebron where a small community of Jewish settlers lives in the middle of more than 200,000 Palestinians. Israel was deeply opposed to the move and its prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned UNESCO’s decision as delusional.”

Listeners then heard a voice-over translation of the Israeli prime minister’s statement in Hebrew.

“This time they have determined that the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron is a Palestinian site – in other words, not Jewish – and that the site is endangered. Not a Jewish site? Who’s buried there? Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah: our forefathers and mothers. And that this is in danger? Only where Israel is present like in Hebron is freedom of worship guaranteed for everybody.”

Iqbal next introduced an interviewee who appeared days before in a BBC World Service item relating to the same topic and like her colleague, she too presented him as a “tour guide”, failing to inform audiences of the fact that he is an activist in a ‘peacemaking’ group registered in the US.

Iqbal: “The words of the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Elihau McLean is a Jerusalem based tour guide who runs what are described as dual narrative tourist visits to Hebron. He’s been telling me why Hebron is such a…so historically significant.”

McLean: “Hebron is one of the oldest cities in the world. We understand it to be the second oldest city in the holy land after Jericho. Hebron is at least 4,000 years old. There’s an archaeological site in a hilltop called Tel Rumeida or Tel Hebron that dates back to the early Bronze Age about 4,500 years ago and that’s the site of the biblical city of Hebron that’s mentioned in the Bible. That’s also where King David established his kingdom – the kingdom of Judea – over 2,500 years ago. There’s ancient history in Hebron.”

Iqbal: “And it’s significant and important to Jews as well as Muslims and Christians.”

McLean: “That’s right. It’s…first of all Jews have four holy cities in the world. The first holiest city is Jerusalem and our second holiest city is Hebron. Muslims have four holy cities; Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem and Muslims consider Hebron their fourth holiest city after Jerusalem. So it’s holy to Jews and Muslims, certainly, as well as Christians.”

Iqbal: “And politically, how is it currently divided between the Palestinians and Israeli ownership?”

McLean: “So Bill Clinton invited Yasser Arafat and Benjamin Netanyahu in 1997 to a small river in the state of Maryland called Wye River and they negotiated the Hebron Accords where Israel agreed to withdraw from 80% of the city and hand it over to Palestinian Authority control. That 80% is called the letter H one – Hebron 1. H2 – 20% of the city – where 30,000 Palestinians live and about 1,000 Israeli Jews live in that 20%. It’s called H2 and that is the heart of the old city where the Tomb of the Patriarchs is, the Kasbah – the old Arab market. So that’s where most of the tension is; in the old city and in the middle of a region called H2 under Israeli control.”

Iqbal: “What’s your view today in the context of what you do – but also just generally – that UNESCO has declared the old city that you’re talking about as a protected world heritage site? What do you make of that?”

McLean: “I run weekly dual narrative tours and we bring the tourists to Hebron. We have a Palestinian partner organisation so they get a Palestinian tour guide to hear the Palestinian narrative and then they hear the Israeli narrative. So they hear Palestinian speakers, they get to meet soldiers, they get to meet settlers, they get to meet and hear all voices. Our tour is the only nuanced tour of Hebron. With that in mind, I would say that it’s…I feel it’s a bit absurd the UNESCO decision. From what I understand it acknowledges the old city of Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs specifically and exclusively as Islamic heritage sites which is a bit absurd considering the Tomb of the Patriarchs is the foundation of Jewish history. It’s the longest standing holy site of Judaism – even more than the Temple itself. That building was never destroyed. It was built by King Herod two thousand years ago: hundreds and hundreds of years even before the arrival of Islam. So how can…even from an Islamic or historical or archaeological point of view… anyone who understands biblical history understands that this is an ancient heritage site. And then it was a church and then it was a mosque. So if we can acknowledge that all three faiths are connected there, I think UNESCO would have a lot more credibility.”

Iqbal: “That was Eliyahu McLean; a Jerusalem tour guide. I’ve also been speaking to Ambassador Manuel Hassassian who is the head of the Palestinian mission to the UK. I asked him for his reaction to UNESCO’s decision.”

Observant audience members would then have realised that they were hearing the first part of the ‘quote’ promoted at the beginning of the programme – as well as what the BBC preferred to edit out of its headline.

Hassassian: “I am not only pleased but I’m thrilled that there is acknowledgement by the international community through UNESCO that Hebron is an occupied city and it should be under the sovereignty of the Palestinian leadership.”

Iqbal: “Well, the UN recognises that Hebron is in the West Bank so that’s not the issue. The issue is the resolution pointing out the committee sees that those areas inside the old city of Hebron that are deemed to be in danger are now protected under a kind of world heritage site notion. What does that mean to the Palestinians?”

Listeners then heard the second half of that spliced quote:

Hassassian: “It means that UNESCO is preserving the culture and the identity of the Palestinian people in Hebron.”

Iqbal: “There has been concern voiced that the application made by the Palestinians to UNESCO only focused on the Islamic period in Hebron’s history and didn’t acknowledge the Christian and Jewish history of key sites in the area. What’s your view of that?”

Seeing as so far listeners had only heard of such concerns from the Israeli prime minister and from an Israeli interviewee, they would be unaware that similar concerns were also raised by the professional body that examined – and recommend not to accept – the Palestinian proposal as well as by several Western countries present at the debate.

Hassassian: “Well you know nobody can deny the fact that…I mean the site in itself also there is of course a tacit agreement and acknowledgement to the Tomb of the Patriarchs there. Nobody is denying that factor and it has been said explicitly in the document that this is, you know, a site that is Muslim, Christian and…err…of course Jewish.”

Iqbal: “Are you saying though that the sites that are clearly of value and significance to all three monotheistic faiths are not being taken care of?”

Hassassian: “Well because Israel controls – we have to understand this – Israel controls the site and Israel has accepted the 300 settlers to reign supreme in that part and to take over, you know, by sheer and brute force the control of that area. Now this resolution comes to say that there is no monopoly, especially using religion, as an excuse to control that part of Hebron.”

Failing to challenge Hassassian’s blatant lie or to remind listeners – and him – that there are Israelis living in that part of Hebron because the Palestinian Authority agreed to such an arrangement twenty years ago and while refraining from clarifying that this latest Palestinian stunt is precisely intended to use religion as a means of controlling that part of the city, Iqbal went on:

Iqbal: “What difference is it going to make on the ground?”

Hassassian: “It makes a big difference. The difference is is [sic] the fact that this is part and parcel of a city that has 200,000 population. They have the right to go there, to practice their religion. It is under the sovereignty of the Palestinians with accessibility to other religions to practice their rights.”

Iqbal: “But hasn’t that been the case already?”

Hassassian: “No it has not been. If you go there, and I was there, ma’am, like six months ago, I had to go through hell in order to enter, you know, the Abrahamic mosque. I had to go through intensive security search and I had to show that I am a Muslim or not. You know: just allow me to enter.”

Iqbal did not bother to ask Hassassian if the security search he had to endure has anything to do with the prevalence of Palestinian terrorism in Hebron or whether the need to show whether he is a Muslim is related to the fact that certain areas of the site – which is run by the Waqf – are open to Muslims but off-limits to Jews for all but ten days a year.  

Iqbal: “And, and you are now saying that it will be absolutely the case that those Israelis and those people who practice Judaism will have access to those sites also, without the kind of treatment that you’re alleging you have to go through when you want to visit the mosque?”

Hassassian: “When there is peace and when is our state not only recognised by the United Nations General Assembly but hopefully by the Security Council and when Israel accepts the Palestinian state on the borders of 1967, I think everything is negotiable.”

Although that would obviously have been a good time – especially in light of that revealing response – to inform listeners of the fact that under the terms of the Oslo Accords the Palestinian Authority is supposed to “ensure free access” to Jewish holy sites in areas under its control – and that already that clause is not properly upheld – Iqbal closed the item there.

Iqbal: “Ambassador Manuel Hassassian who is the head of the Palestinian mission to the United Kingdom.”

As was the case in two other BBC reports on this story (see ‘related articles’ below), audiences were not provided with the relevant context of the PA’s repeated efforts to erase Jewish history and heritage by tabling politicised motions at the UN’s cultural body and neither were they informed that the professional body that examined the Palestinian proposal did not recommend its adoption.

In this report, however, the BBC also failed to present the crux of the story accurately to Radio 4 listeners by repeatedly refraining from including the word ‘Palestinian’ in its description of the UNESCO resolution.

Related Articles:

Superficial BBC WS report on PA’s latest UNESCO stunt

BBC’s erases the real story in report on UNESCO’s Hebron resolution 

 

Weekend long read

1) At Mosaic magazine, Martin Kramer explains why “The Balfour Declaration Was More than the Promise of One Nation“.

“In 1930, the British Colonial Office published a “white paper” that Zionists saw as a retreat from the Balfour Declaration. David Lloyd George, whose government had issued the declaration in 1917, was long out of office and now in the twilight of his political career. In an indignant speech, he insisted that his own country had no authority to downgrade the declaration, because it constituted a commitment made by all of the Allies in the Great War:

In wartime we were anxious to secure the good will of the Jewish community throughout the world for the Allied cause. The Balfour Declaration was a gesture not merely on our part but on the part of the Allies to secure that valuable support. It was prepared after much consideration, not merely of its policy, but of its actual wording, by the representatives of all the Allied and associated countries including America, and of our dominion premiers.

There was some exaggeration here; not all of the Allies shared the same understanding of the policy or saw the “actual wording.” But Lloyd George pointed to the forgotten truth that I sought to resurrect through my essay. In 1917, there was not yet a League of Nations or a United Nations. But, in the consensus of the Allies, there was the nucleus of a modern international order. The Balfour Declaration had the weight of this consensus behind it, before Balfour signed it. This international buy-in is also why the Balfour Declaration entered the mandate for Palestine, entrusted to Britain by the League of Nations. Those who now cast the Balfour Declaration as an egregious case of imperial self-dealing simply don’t know its history (or prefer not to know it).”

2) Yaakov Lappin reports on a worrying development in Lebanon.

“Israeli leaders are continuing to issue public statements on an Iranian underground missile factory that was apparently built in Lebanon. […]

The first report about this missile factory surfaced back in March, in Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida.

That report quoted “an aid to the IRGC commander” who said that “Iran has built factories [for manufacturing] missiles and [other] weapons in Lebanon and has recently turned them over to Hizbullah.”

The original story (translation by MEMRI) has some interesting initial information:

“In response to statements by Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan several days ago – who said that Hizbullah is capable of manufacturing missiles [that can] hit any part of Israel [but] gave no details or explanations – a knowledgeable source who wished to remain anonymous said that, after Israel destroyed an Iranian arms factory in Sudan several years ago that had supplied arms to Hizbullah, and after [Israel also] bombed an arms convoy that was intended to reach Hizbullah via Syria, the IRGC launched a project for establishing arms factories in Lebanon [itself].””

3) With a BBC presenter having promoted and endorsed the political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence‘ only last week and that group currently making headlines, an op-ed by Ben Dror Yemini at Ynet concerning an ongoing story makes interesting reading.

“Breaking the Silence director Yuli Novak is furious about the investigation against the organization’s spokesperson, Dean Issacharof, who stated that he had committed a war crime of beating a Palestinian until he bled. Why is he being interrogated of all people, Novak complained. There are, after all, hundreds of other testimonies. […]

The Military Advocate General wanted to investigate the testimonies that point to a suspected offense, but the organization’s members demanded protection of its sources. And now Novak is complaining that testimonies are not being investigated.”

4) At the Tablet, Tony Badran has more on a story we reported here last week.

“After the second Lebanon war in 2006, when the IDF uncovered the elaborate network of underground Hezbollah tunnels and bunkers in southern Lebanon, the Israelis dubbed these fortifications “nature reserves.” Hezbollah used the “nature reserves,” which were built in forested areas and hillsides, to launch short-range rockets on northern Israel continuously as its fighters hunkered inside, safe from aerial and artillery bombardment.

Eleven years later, the term, intended as a joke, has proved more apt than perhaps the IDF initially imagined. Last week, Israel filed a complaint with the United Nations Security Council in which it charged that Hezbollah had set up observation outposts along the border under the cover of an environmental group called Green Without Borders. Israel released photos and a video backing up its claim.”

 

 

 

Israeli guest tells BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ host: ‘you rewrite the history’ – part two

In part one of this post we discussed the first half of an edition of ‘Hardtalk‘ broadcast on June 28th in which Stephen Sackur interviewed former Israeli defence minister Moshe Ya’alon.

The programme is available in the UK on iPlayer here or alternatively here. An audio version that was broadcast on BBC World Service radio on June 30th is available here.

Following Sackur’s invocation of the campaigning political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’ and his amplification and endorsement of that group’s claim that “the moral consequence of prolonged occupation of the Palestinian people” is “the corruption of young Israelis who serve that occupation”, Ya’alon replied:

“What is the choice? To allow the Palestinians to have Hamastan in the West Bank as well – like in the Gaza Strip? You know we are not deployed any more in Gaza.”

Sackur then indulged in some condescending finger wagging.

“You keep saying ‘what is the choice’. You have to believe in the values of your particular state.”

Ya’alon replied:

“We keep the values. I kept the values. I fought to [for] the values.”

Sackur then came up with the following accusation:

Sackur: “In 2002 you described the Palestinian people as a cancer.”

Ya’alon: “I didn’t do it.”

Sackur: “Well you did because the Israeli media reported it.”

Ya’alon:”So? It doesn’t mean that I said it. I didn’t say it. Nevertheless, you pick certain quotations…”

Sackur: “Did you sue them for claiming that you’d described the Palestinian people as – I’m quoting directly – like a cancer?”

Ya’alon: “I didn’t say that.”

Sackur: “You said ‘invisible but an existential threat’.”

Ya’alon: “No; it’s something very different but nevertheless, you know, I prefer…”

Sackur: “How would you have felt if a Palestinian leader had described the Israeli Jewish people as a cancer? How would you have felt then?”

Ya’alon: “I didn’t do it. Why don’t you…I deny it.”

Sackur: “So you’re accusing the Israeli media of peddling a lie.”

Ya’alon: “You know there are so many false allegations, misquotations or whatever.”

Despite Sackur’s disingenuous claim to be “quoting directly”, Moshe Ya’alon did not describe the Palestinian people “as a cancer”. What he did say – at a conference in August 2002 at the height of the second Intifada – according to a report by Maariv is that:

“The struggle against the Palestinians keeps me awake at nights. It is like a threat with cancerous dimensions and attributes. Namely, it is a threat that is not always visible, but it is devastating and very dangerous. Just like cancer, sometimes the patient is not clearly told he is sick. The current Palestinian leadership does not recognize Israel and does not want us to go on living in our country.”

In an interview with Ha’aretz the same week he clarified:

“When I look at the overall map, what disturbs me especially is the Palestinian threat and the possibility that a hostile state will acquire nuclear capability. Those are the most worrisome focal points, because both of them have the potential of being an existential threat to Israel. […]

There is something surprising in the fact that you see the Palestinian threat as an existential threat.

The characteristics of that threat are invisible, like cancer. When you are attacked externally, you see the attack, you are wounded. Cancer, on the other hand, is something internal. Therefore, I find it more disturbing, because here the diagnosis is critical. If the diagnosis is wrong and people say it’s not cancer but a headache, then the response is irrelevant. But I maintain that it is cancer. My professional diagnosis is that there is a phenomenon here that constitutes an existential threat.”

In a Knesset committee meeting the following month Ya’alon again clarified his statement:

“There is a difference between what was published and what I said, stressed Yaalon […] I did not say that the Arabs are cancer. I said that I identify the potential for an existential threat with cancerous attributes. […] I ask those attacking me to call me and confirm with me what I said.”

Stephen Sackur, however, has deliberately taken a misquotation that was clarified fifteen years ago and used it to advance a false smear, which he then ‘supports’ using the risible claim that everything reported by the Israeli media is true.

From there the interview continued with Sackur asking questions about the US president’s regional initiatives before embarking on supercilious preaching on the topic of the approach that he obviously thinks should be taken by an Israeli prime minister.

Sackur: “If I may say so you sound just like Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. You spent the first part of this interview saying that he was no longer qualified to be Israel’s prime minister. You clearly want his job but your positions on all of the key elements of this – the fact you won’t talk about a two-state solution, you won’t talk about land for peace – you seem to be just like Binyamin Netanyahu.”

“So your strategic vision is just the same as Netanyahu’s.”

“Well that’s hardly going to inspire the Israeli public to shift from him to you.”

Sackur then moved on to another topic, claiming that:

“There are pragmatic leaders in the Sunni Arab world, let’s say Saudi Arabia, let’s say Jordan, Egypt, who may well be interested in a long-term alliance of sorts with Israel against Iran if Israel were prepared to make concessions on the Palestinian issue which would let the Arabs in. But you’re not ready to do that, are you?”

He introduced another falsehood:

“But the Arabs are not going to buy that as long as you continue to refuse to contemplate the two-state solution and give Palestinians their dream of statehood.”

This interview presented an opportunity for BBC audiences to have their understanding of why years of negotiations have failed to produce results greatly enhanced.

However, rather than making the most of the opportunity to allow viewers to hear from an Israeli who has served in key positions – including a three-year post as head of military intelligence – and gain insight into why, like many other Israelis, someone who supported the Oslo process later arrived at the conclusion that it was a mistake, Stephen Sackur was obviously much more interested in aggressively promoting his own patronising opinions, his political agenda and his amateur psychological diagnoses of an entire nation.

Unfortunately for the BBC’s funding public, that has long been par for the course in Sackur’s interviews with Israelis.

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Israeli guest tells BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ host ‘you rewrite the history’ – part one

On the same day that Moshe Ya’alon resigned from the post of Minister of Defence in May 2016, the BBC World Service aired a radio programme with the extraordinary title “Has Israel Lost its ‘Moral Compass’?”

That BBC fixation on the ‘moral health’ of Israeli society was again in evidence when, on June 28th, Ya’alon gave an interview to the BBC World News channel programme ‘Hardtalk‘.

The interview is available in the UK on iPlayer here or alternatively here. An audio version that was broadcast on BBC World Service radio on June 30th with the following synopsis is available here.

“Moshe Ya’alon served in the Israel Defence Force for 38 years including as Chief of Staff from 2002 to 2005. He then entered politics and served as Minister of Defence for three years until his resignation in May 2016. At the time warned that Israel had been taken over by “dangerous and extreme elements.” He wants to run for prime minister at Israel’s next election and he tells HARDtalk’s Stephen Sackur “I found too many politicians generating hatred against someone, against the Arabs, against leftists, against the media, against the Supreme Court, which is a challenge”.”

That same theme was also amplified in a clip from the interview that was promoted separately on social media and on the BBC News website.

“Certain Israeli politicians are moving towards racism, the former defence minister Moshe Ya’alon has told BBC Hardtalk’s Stephen Sackur.

“I found too many politicians generating hatred against someone, against the Arabs, against leftists, against the media, against the Supreme Court, which is a challenge,” said Mr Ya’alon, adding he thought it could be dealt with.

“This is not the vast majority of politicians, but it is unfortunately not stopped by the prime minister and that is why I had too many disputes with him,” he said.

Mr Ya’alon resigned from the government in May 2016 and warned that Israel had been taken over by “dangerous and extreme elements”.”

The focus on that theme will of course be unsurprising to anyone familiar with the BBC’s long-standing and recurrent portrayal of Israel as ‘shifting to the right’. Host Stephen Sackur made sure that the first part of the interview was similarly devoted to the topic of Israel’s ‘moral health’ using a succession of statements-cum-questions.

“Israel has just marked and celebrated 50 years since the victory in the Six Day War but you seem to feel right now there are some very serious questions about the direction Israel is going in and about national cohesion. Why are you so worried?”

After Ya’alon had spoken about a “relatively calm” security situation, Sackur asked:

“So it’s not an existential security threat that you feel is most concerning to Israel today?”

Ya’alon then pointed out that Israel’s vibrant democracy includes independent law enforcement authorities, expressing confidence in the ongoing investigation into allegations of corruption concerning Netanyahu. Sackur continued:

“But it’s not just about Netanyahu is it? I mean you said this not long ago; it caused a real stir in Israel. You said ‘to my great sorrow extremist and dangerous elements have taken over Israel and in particular the Likud party and are shaking the foundations of the country and threatening to hurt its residents. Those are very powerful words.”

“Extremism, you said, extremism in your own government that you loyally served for 7 years.”

After Ya’alon had pointed out that Israel’s “vibrant society” means that he is able to criticize the government, Sackur pressed him further:

“You also have a responsibility to be clear about what you mean so I want you to tell me exactly what you mean by this extremism you see from inside the Israeli government.”

Although Ya’alon expressed confidence that “we are able to deal with it” in relation to what he described as “too many politicians generating hatred against someone”, Sackur was not done.

“Isaac Herzog – formerly of the Labour party, now the Zionist Union – he coined this extraordinary word. He called it the ‘fascistisation’ of Israel under Netanyahu. Sounds like you’re almost agreeing with him.”

“You would use that phrase – fascistisation – would you?”

Ya’alon clarified that “it is not the vast majority of politicians” stating that “it is unfortunately not stopped by the prime minister and that’s why I had too many disputes with him”, to which Sackur responded:

“I am very puzzled as to how you could sit in cabinet as, I think, deputy premier for 3 or 4 years and then as defence secretary – the senior security post in the cabinet for –what – more than three years serving as a loyal ally of Binyamin Netanyahu and then you fall out with him after 7 years of service and come out saying that he’s fostering extremism and possibly fascistisation of Israel. It seems extraordinary.”

In response to Ya’alon’s statement that the issues arose around the time of the 2015 election Sackur interjected:

“What; he [Netanyahu] suddenly changed, did he?”

A significant proportion of the interview was also devoted to discussion of allegations concerning a third party not afforded the right of reply, despite that condition being stipulated in BBC editorial guidelines.

“We’ll get to the bigger strategic picture in a moment but let’s just stick to the internal politics of Netanyahu, the Likud party and the right-wing in Israel because you have become a critic now but you’ve been intimately involved for an awful long time. How can you say that you have absolutely no doubt that Binyamin Netanyahu is guilty of these allegations – all of which he absolutely adamantly denies – some of which concern his personal behaviour, some of which concern the behaviour of others – to do with a defence contract particularly involving submarines which Netanyahu himself isn’t involved with but people close to him are. You say you have no doubt that…if he is not indicted, you say, I will go on a speaking tour and tell all. What is it you know that the rest of Israel doesn’t?”

“People don’t change their spots, do they? I mean you say Netanyahu somehow flipped in 2015 around the time of the election. You’d served him by then for – what – six years. You can’t tell me that the man you knew for six years became somebody completely different after that election.”

Relating to the allegations of corruption against Netanyahu, Sackur quipped:

“Well of course he denies it.”

After Ya’alon had once again expressed confidence in the ability of the Israeli law enforcement authorities to “deal with it properly”, Sackur commented:

“Netanyahu dismisses everything you say about him with a smile and says that you are just desperate to try to launch your own political career; frankly a political career which looks right now like it’s really struggling.”

Sackur then returned to the topic of Israel’s ‘moral health’, dabbling in pseudo-psychological analysis of “the Israeli psyche”.

“Is…ahm…is this not just about Netanyahu? Do you think this is about something corrosive at the heart of the Israeli state which says something about Israeli values today?”

“It’s not just about money and corruption in politics though, is it? It’s about values connected to the very biggest of pictures. For example Israel’s continued occupation after 50 years of the West Bank and what that does to the Israeli psyche and to young Israelis in particular.”

Sackur continued with a selective presentation of Rabin’s approach to the peace process of the type that is commonly found in BBC content.

“You’re the same Moshe Ya’alon who supported Rabin, supported the two-state process, supported Oslo.”

Opting not to enhance audience understanding of the topic of the peace process by exploring further Ya’alon’s statement that his views on Oslo changed when he was “exposed to the details when I became the head of the intelligence”, Sackur insisted:

“Rabin continued to believe. Rabin – and I lived in Israel in Israel at the time and I remember it very well – Rabin repeatedly said Israel has no choice: we simply have to make peace with our enemies. There is no alternative.”

“He[Rabin] never gave up on the two-state solution.”

After Ya’alon reminded him for a second time of Rabin’s final speech in the Knesset, Sackur slightly changed his tack.

“My point is not just about the two-state solution. It’s about the idea of no alternative. Just the other day Ehud Barak – another chief of staff of the Israeli defence forces, another former prime minister – said that this government – he’s talking about the Netanyahu government – is putting the country on the path to becoming an apartheid state and it should be brought down if it fails to change course.”

Ya’alon then listed the repeated Palestinian rejections of peace offers and partition, to which Sackur responded:

“But as Israelis do you not have a duty to keep searching, to keep working for a solution? Because if not, your own people will suffer the consequences.”

After Ya’alon had noted that the Palestinians have their own parliament, government and president, audiences got some noteworthy insight into the kind of politicised sources used by Sackur as the basis for his ‘questions’ and statements.

“But, forgive me, you do rule them [the Palestinians] and I just…look, because I knew I was going to talk to you today I did a little bit of research about your post as defence minister and what happened. A series of reports crossed your desk from UNICEF in 2013 saying the ill-treatment of children who came into contact with the military detention system in the West Bank appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised. Human Rights Watch; a very detailed report how Israeli security forces use unnecessary force to arrest and detain Palestinian children as young as eleven, choking them, throwing stun grenades at them, beating them in custody. These are reports that crossed your desk as defence minister: the work of your IDF. This is what the occupation means.”

Former IDF Chief West Bank Prosecutor Lt.-Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch addressed that UNICEF report quoted by Sackur in an interview given to the Jerusalem Post earlier this year.

“Hirsch said that UNICEF’s March 2013 report, which made headlines in countries and government offices on multiple continents, had an “almost zero” connection to reality in terms of the law or the applicable facts. […]
“Having started a dialogue with UNICEF, it soon became clear that we weren’t necessarily dealing with another UN organization that was just Israel-bashing… I realized that much of the report was basically plagiarized from a previous report by DCI [Defense for Children International] Palestine,” and that “the actual authors themselves didn’t necessarily understand what had been written… or have the factual background to understand the reality,” commented Hirsch. […]

“The unfortunate side of the discussions was that even though I had unequivocally shown the UNICEF members that what they had written was factually and legally flawed, they remained stubborn in their refusal to put out a clear statement that the initial report was simply erroneous.””

Sadly for the BBC’s reputation for accuracy and impartiality, Stephen Sackur’s “little bit of research” obviously did not include familiarising himself with the full background to that UNICEF report and he is clearly unperturbed by the records of political campaigning groups such as DCI Palestine and Human Rights Watch (frequently quoted and promoted in BBC content).

Sackur then came up with the grossly inaccurate claim that led Ya’alon to charge him with “rewriting the history”.

“Your government – that is the Netanyahu government which you loyally served until 2016 – decided not to negotiate with the Palestinians.”

After Ya’alon had clarified that the Palestinians were the party that in fact refused to continue the nine months of negotiations that took place in 2013/14, Sackur tried to sidestep his inaccuracy by invoking yet another political NGO popular with the BBC‘Breaking the Silence‘.  

“With respect, minister; you’re playing this tit for tat game of who was responsible for the breakdown of talks. I’m trying to dig to something deeper about the morals, the values, the cohesion of an Israeli society that has always prided itself on having the very best of humane values. And I’m putting it to you, if you listen to Israeli soldiers who have served the occupation like Yehuda Shaul of ‘Breaking the Silence’ – a group that is now opposed to the occupation of former IDF soldiers – he says this is the moral consequence of prolonged occupation of the Palestinian people; that is, the corruption of young Israelis who serve that occupation.”

The interview then took an even more bizarre turn which will be discussed in part two of this post.

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Superficial BBC WS report on PA’s latest UNESCO stunt

As readers may know, the old city of Hebron is on the agenda at a UNESCO conference that opened this week.

“The meeting will run through July 12 and debate contentious issues like a Palestinian motion to deny Israel sovereignty over Jerusalem and have the West Bank city of Hebron designated as a “World Heritage Site in Danger.” […]

Given the Arab nations’ automatic majority in international forums, the Palestinian proposal is likely to be accepted. […]

The Tomb of the Patriarchs could become the third cultural site on UNESCO’s “List of World Heritage in Danger” that is registered as located in the “State of Palestine.” The other two are the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem and the “cultural landscape of Southern Jerusalem,” around Battir.”

Of course this is far from the first time that UNESCO has been exploited for politically motivated denial of Jewish history since the Palestinian Authority joined that UN body in 2011. As in previous cases, professionals have not recommended adoption of the PA’s latest proposal.

“UNESCO experts have warned the Palestinian Authority that it has overly focused on Hebron’s Muslim history at the exclusion of the Judeo-Christian heritage in its request that the West Bank’s city’s “Old Town” be inscribed on the “World Heritage in Danger” list. […]

The PA’s written proposal had focused on Hebron’s “Old Town” history from the Mamluk period of 1250 and onward, which includes the Tomb of the Patriarchs, whose Herodian structure houses both Jewish sanctuaries of worship and the Ibrahimi Mosque. […]

“This means that the association of Hebron with Jewish and early Christian societies is given little recognition, and Tell Rumeida [an area of Biblical Hebron] and other sites are excluded from the boundaries,” the report continued.” […]

This is the third time in a row that ICOMOS has failed to recommend a Palestinian Authority proposal for inscription on the “World Heritage in Danger” list; it rejected both the 2012 proposal to put Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity and 2014 request to place the ancient agricultural Terraces of Battir on the list.”

However, that professional view is once again unlikely to have any influence over the politicised proceedings at UNESCO, which is why Israel did not cooperate with the ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) process.

On the past occasions in which the BBC has produced coverage of PA proposed UNESCO resolutions concerning Israel it has consistently failed to provide its audiences with the relevant information concerning the long-standing Palestinian campaign to erase Jewish heritage and history as part of its tactical delegitimisation of Israel. 

Israel freezes Unesco ties for ‘denying Jewish holy sites’ – discussed here

Unesco passes contentious Jerusalem resolution – discussed here

Jerusalem reference found on ancient wine ledger – discussed here 

So how did the BBC World Service present this latest story to listeners to ‘Newshour‘ on July 2nd? Presenter James Coomarasamy introduced the item (from 14:07 here) as follows:

“A UN committee is beginning to consider a Palestinian request to classify the old city of Hebron in the occupied West Bank as an endangered world heritage site. Israel is opposed to the plan.”

With no further explanation, Coomarasamy then gives an inadequate introduction of his sole interviewee, describing an activist in a ‘peacemaking’ group as a tour organiser.

“Eliyahu McLean runs regular dual-narrative tourist visits to Hebron.”

McLean begins by noting that Hebron is “an ancient city” with “at least four thousand years of history” before clarifying that “it’s a holy city to Jews, Christians and Muslims”. He goes on:

“It’s the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank. It’s a centre of the Palestinian economy. It’s also the burial place of our shared ancestor for Jews, Christians and Muslims – Abraham. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Leah and Rebecca; all buried in Hebron.”

Coomarasamy then asks a question which might appear less relevant to an item supposedly discussing a proposal to designate part of that city as a world heritage site but nevertheless, listeners do get to hear about a subject – the Hebron Protocol – which is all too often absent from BBC reporting on that city.

“An ancient city but what has its modern history been like?”

McLean: “…It’s also a very divided city. It’s one of the most divided cities in the holy land and if not the world. Here we have a Jewish side of the old city of Hebron and you have a Palestinian side. Now Hebron itself was divided as part of the Hebron Accords in 1997 signed by Yasser Arafat and Benjamin Netanyahu with Bill Clinton presiding. Israel negotiated the withdrawal of 80% of the city. So 80% of the city has been handed over to the Palestinian Authority and that is now called H1 – H for Hebron 1. H2 – 20% of the city – is still controlled by Israel and the Israeli army. Within that 20% there are about twenty to thirty thousand Palestinians and about 1,000 Israeli Jews living there.”

Coomarasamy: “What is life like for both those communities?”

McLean: “H1 is a thriving metropolitan city; there’s industry, there’s three universities, there’s hospitals […] Now within the old city is where there is tensions and conflict. In the old city you have the Tomb of the Patriarchs. I’m Israeli and I help run a weekly dual-narrative tour to Hebron and we take travelers from around the world to go to Hebron and for half a day I hand them over to a Palestinian guide and they hear the Palestinian narrative of victimisation, of occupation. They feel that they’re living under oppression; violence by settlers, violence by soldiers. The Israeli Jews who live there feel that they’re not just occupying and stealing other people’s land – Palestinian land – but that the Jews in fact have an ancient historical connection. In fact Jews lived in Hebron from ancient times; from the time of Abraham through the Roman period, into the Byzantine early Christian period, early Islamic period, the Crusader period. Throughout all of these periods there was an ancient Jewish community that always lived side by side with their Arab Muslim cousins in peace and harmony.”

Glaringly absent from that account is of course any mention of the murder of 67 Jews in the 1929 Hebron Massacre – the event that brought hundreds of years of Jewish life in Hebron came to an abrupt end.

Coomarasamy then finally asks a question related to the item’s supposed subject matter.

“So what are the claims then of the Palestinian Authority that the old city is an endangered place and it needs to be on the World Heritage in Danger list?”

Unfortunately, listeners do not hear a proper answer to that question.

McLean: “The UNESCO decision about making it a world heritage site should take into account not only the very valid and legitimate Islamic historical connections there but the Christian and of course the ancient Jewish connection. Now I think Israel is making a mistake not allowing in some of the committee members so they can see the reality for themselves because I believe that Israel has a valid, legitimate case to make that there is an ancient and legitimate Jewish history and presence that has nothing to do with endangering Muslims. It is true there are a handful of violent settlers who live there who make life miserable and ruin the reputation of the wider community and people that I know in Hebron, they condemn the action of a minority in their midst that do some violent things.”

Coomarasamy ends the item there.

“Hebron tour guide Eliyahu McLean.”

So although BBC audiences around the world do get to hear references to “violent settlers” who are supposedly “occupying and stealing […] Palestinian land” (despite their presence in Hebron being part of an agreement willingly signed by the Palestinian Authority), they do not actually get to hear anything about the substance of the PA’s latest UNESCO bid.

They are not, for example informed that on the PA’s list of complaints:

“…was the placement of security barriers by the Tomb of the Patriarchs and in Hebron’s Old City, as well as an attempt by Jewish residents of the city to purchase property. The Palestinian delegation also protested the use of tear gas in the Old City.”

Neither are they told that Hamas has a major foothold in Hebron, that the city has a new mayor who is a convicted terrorist or that dozens of terror attacks against Israelis have been carried out in the city: a fact obviously relevant to some of those factors claimed by the PA to be ‘endangering’ Hebron.  

And of course, as usual in BBC coverage of such stories, the all-important context of the Palestinian Authority’s repeated attempts to delegitimise Israel and erase Jewish history and heritage at the UNESCO forum is glaringly absent from this BBC World Service report.

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