BBC News report uncritically amplifies political NGO’s talking points

On the afternoon of November 5th the BBC News website published a report on its ‘Middle East’ page which was presented to audiences with a ‘halo effect’ reference to a “rights activist”.

The report itself (tagged, inter alia, ‘human rights’) is headlined “Israel court rejects Human Rights Watch activist’s deportation appeal” and the caption under the photograph at the top of the article reads:

“Omar Shakir said he had not called for a boycott of Israel during his time at Human Rights Watch”

Obviously the BBC did not fact-check that claim from the person it had already flagged up as a “rights activist” (i.e. good) before amplifying it.

Had it done so, it would know that analysis of Tweets sent from Shakir’s personal Twitter account between June 2018 and February 2019 by NGO Monitor shows that 16% of those Tweets focused on BDS campaigns against Booking.com and TripAdvisor and additional Tweets supported a UN “blacklist” of businesses operating in Judea & Samaria.

45% of the BBC article’s word count is devoted to uncritical amplification of talking points from Omar Shakir (including a link to a Tweet) and his employer ‘Human Rights Watch, including the following claim:

“The group [HRW] insists that neither it nor Mr Shakir promote boycotts of Israel.”

That claim was also seen in a May 2018 BBC report on the same case and as we noted at the time:

“Obviously too, the BBC has ‘forgotten’ that an anti-Israel campaign at FIFA (which it vigorously promoted at the time) was supported by political NGOs including Human Rights Watch. In fact, Shakir even went so far as to fly to Bahrain a year ago to lobby FIFA officials and – as Professor Gerald Steinberg recently noted:

“In the past year alone, HRW pushed divestment from Israeli banks, targeted Israel’s membership in FIFA (the international soccer association), called for arms embargoes and ending security cooperation, lobbied the UN to “blacklist” companies doing business in Israel, and petitioned the International Criminal Court to open prosecutions against Israeli officials.””

32% of the BBC report’s word count describes the position of Israel’s interior ministry. As usual the BBC abstains from providing its audiences with an explanation of the BDS campaign in its own words.

“The interior ministry argued that Mr Shakir was an “activist” for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which campaigns for a complete boycott of Israel over its policies towards the Palestinians.

Israel says that BDS opposes the country’s very existence and is motivated by anti-Semitism. In 2017, it passed a law refusing entry to people with links to BDS.”

The body of the report includes links to three items of additional reading:

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.

Readers also find the BBC’s standard partisan portrayal of ‘international law’.

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

The report’s final paragraph is devoted to amplification of the support of third parties for Shakir, including unnamed organisations portrayed as “human rights groups” which actually include political NGOs such as ‘Breaking the Silence’.  

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

Remarkably though, the BBC’s report makes no attempt to provide readers with details of the Supreme Court decision. As NGO Monitor documents:

“The Court firmly rejected a key argument from Shakir’s lawyers. They tried to argue that Shakir’s personal BDS activity ended upon his employment at HRW, at which point all his expressions should be attributed to HRW as an organization. Since HRW is not on the Israeli government’s list of “BDS organizations,” Shakir’s activity as an HRW employee should be granted “immunity” from the Entry into Israel Law. In sharp contradiction, the Court determined that he is responsible for his public statements, especially those on his private Twitter account.”

For years ‘Human Rights Watch’ has been one of the political NGOs most quoted and promoted by the BBC in its coverage of Israel and yet that organisation’s political agenda has never been adequately clarified to audiences as demanded by BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality. Since Omar Shakir’s work permit was not renewed in May 2018 BBC audiences have seen only superficial coverage which, like this latest report, clearly demonstrates that 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 BDS campaign related background.

Related Articles:

BBC News website amplifies the NGO echo-chamber

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

BBC amplified anti-Israel campaign rejected by FIFA

BBC WS news bulletins amplify HRW delegitimisation campaign

BBC News claims BDS is solely about ‘a cultural boycott’

BBC News uses ‘Israel says’ instead of fact checking

More BBC mainstreaming of the anti-Israel BDS campaign – part one

BBC News report on Airbnb backtrack follows usual recipe

 

 

Resources ahead of a likely BBC story

Back in May 2018 the BBC News website published a predictably partial report on Israel’s refusal to renew a one-year working visa for ‘Human Rights Watch’ representative Omar Shakir.

Although BBC audiences were told that “HRW insists that neither it nor Mr Shakir promote boycotts of Israel”, as was noted here at the time:

“Apparently the BBC could not be bothered to take a closer look at Omar Shakir’s history of anti-Israel activism – including pro-BDS Tweets.

Obviously too, the BBC has ‘forgotten’ that an anti-Israel campaign at FIFA (which it vigorously promoted at the time) was supported by political NGOs including Human Rights Watch. In fact, Shakir even went so far as to fly to Bahrain a year ago to lobby FIFA officials…” 

Petra Marquardt-Bigman has documented what has happened since that BBC report was published.

“…HRW sued to block Shakir’s deportation and appealed the decision not to renew his permit. In mid-April of this year, the Jerusalem District Court rejected the appeal and ordered Shakir to leave by May 1st, citing his ongoing support of boycotts of Israel. However, HRW once again appealed the decision, which is now before Israel’s Supreme Court…”

On July 25th Israel’s High Court will be hearing Shakir’s appeal. Seeing as ‘Human Rights Watch’ is currently trying to create media ‘buzz’ around the case (apparently including a press conference on that day) and given that it is one of the political NGOs most frequently – and uncritically – quoted and promoted by the BBC, it is quite likely that BBC audiences will see coverage of that story.

NGO Monitor has compiled a useful resource on the background to the case which – if the BBC’s previous article is anything to go by – is likely to be under-reported in its potential coverage.

 

 

Weekend long read

1) Jonathan Spyer takes a look at “Arab Spring: the Second Coming?”.

“The current instability in Algeria, Sudan and Libya has led to some excited western media coverage heralding a second chapter of the Arab Spring.  Those celebrating should be careful what they wish for. The Arab uprisings of 2010-11 and the subsequent years began with great hope but with the partial exception of Tunisia, left only strife, war and state fragmentation in their wake. One can only wish the protestors much luck, while noting that the record suggests that societies lacking civil society traditions and institutions are unlikely to achieve better governance through mass action.”

2) The ITIC reports on “Hamas’s financial aid to the wounded and the families of those killed in the Return Marches”.

“Right from the outset of the march project, Hamas realized that the marches were exacting a heavy toll of dead and wounded, many of them Hamas operatives, who were killed or wounded in clashes with IDF soldiers near the security fence. Therefore, the treatment of the wounded, and assistance to the families of those killed, has preoccupied Hamas since the start of the marches. Despite its economic difficulties, Hamas allocated large sums of money, initially amounting to tens of thousands of dollars, which subsequently rose to hundreds of thousands and reached millions of dollars. Senior Hamas figures reiterated the importance of the aid, and made sure to visit the wounded, including those hospitalized abroad. Hamas’s concern for the wounded and the families of those killed is also intended to encourage the continued participation of the Gazan population in the marches and halt the public criticism of its negligence in caring for the wounded, which began to be voiced as the marches continued.”

3) At Legal Insurrection, Petra Marquardt-Bigman discusses “Anti-Israel bias at Human Rights Watch”.

“Israel has refused to renew a visa for Omar Shakir of Human Rights Watch (HRW) to remain in Israel as a human rights worker, based on his long history of anti-Israel activism. This has caused a storm of controversy and lawsuits, leading to the fair question: Is Shakir entitled to a work visa to promote human rights if what he really is promoting is anti-Israel activism and the destruction of Israel?

Not surprisingly, the international media has taken Shakir’s side.”

4) Jonathan Schanzer lays out The Gaza Conundrum at Commentary Magazine.

“The IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) currently facilitates the entry of thousands of truckloads of goods to enter the Gaza Strip every day, even as a military blockade remains in place to block dual-use materials and sophisticated weaponry from the Gaza Strip. In other words, Israel has two policies. One is to isolate Hamas, and the other is to allow services to be rendered to the Gazan people.

Israel, for the sake of calm, has even engaged with the Turks and the Qataris, despite both countries’ avowed anti-Zionism and support for Hamas. It has permitted them to provide funds and other assistance to the coastal enclave. Gaza’s suffering continues, however, because Hamas continues to divert funds for commando tunnels, rockets, and other tools of war. And under Hamas rule, there is not much political space to challenge these policies. Anti-Israel sentiment is the only permissible form of protest. This has only served to further radicalize a population that has for years been fed a steady diet of hate.”

Related Articles:

BBC News website amplifies the NGO echo-chamber

 

 

 

 

BBC News website amplifies the NGO echo-chamber

On May 9th the BBC News website published an article titled “Israel orders Human Rights Watch activist to leave for ‘supporting boycott’“.

On the one hand, readers were told that:

“Israel has ordered the senior representative of Human Rights Watch in the country to leave within 14 days.

The interior ministry said it had terminated the residency permit of Omar Shakir, who is a US citizen, because he had supported a boycott of Israel.”

On the other hand, they were also told that:

“HRW insists that neither it nor Mr Shakir promote boycotts of Israel.”

However, BBC audiences were not told which of those claims is true.

Apparently the BBC could not be bothered to take a closer look at Omar Shakir’s history of anti-Israel activismincluding pro-BDS Tweets.

Obviously too, the BBC has ‘forgotten’ that an anti-Israel campaign at FIFA (which it vigorously promoted at the time) was supported by political NGOs including Human Rights Watch. In fact, Shakir even went so far as to fly to Bahrain a year ago to lobby FIFA officials and – as Professor Gerald Steinberg recently noted:

“In the past year alone, HRW pushed divestment from Israeli banks, targeted Israel’s membership in FIFA (the international soccer association), called for arms embargoes and ending security cooperation, lobbied the UN to “blacklist” companies doing business in Israel, and petitioned the International Criminal Court to open prosecutions against Israeli officials.”

Nevertheless, the BBC chose to devote over 25% of this report’s word count to the amplification of statements from some of its own most quoted and promoted political NGOs.

“This is not about Shakir, but rather about muzzling Human Rights Watch and shutting down criticism of Israel’s rights record,” said Iain Levine, a deputy executive director of the New York-based organisation.

“Compiling dossiers on and deporting human rights defenders is a page out of the Russian or Egyptian security services’ playbook.” […]

Other human rights groups also criticised the expulsion of Mr Shakir.

Amnesty International called it “yet another worrying sign of the country’s growing intolerance of critical voices”.

Israeli organisation B’Tselem, meanwhile, said it was a “sign of the times”.”

In other words, rather than providing audiences with the facts about HRW’s anti-Israel activity which would enhance their understanding of this story, the BBC preferred to amplify the NGO echo-chamber of which it is frequently part.

Related Articles:

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

BBC amplified anti-Israel campaign rejected by FIFA

BBC WS news bulletins amplify HRW delegitimisation campaign

 

 

 

 

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