BBC prefers pageantry to serious discussion of Abbas’ threats on Oslo accords

As might have been anticipated, the BBC did not skimp on its coverage of the hoisting of the Palestinian flag at the United Nations building in New York. Audiences could choose between a filmed report aired on BBC television news programmes and posted on the BBC News website, an audio report (from 14:01 here) by Nick Bryant on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’  and a written article which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page – originally under the title “Palestinian flag to be raised at United Nations” and later with the headline “Palestinian flag raised at United Nations headquarters“.Abbas UN

Whilst the subject of Mahmoud Abbas’ speech at the UNGA on the same day was also covered in the latter two reports, that topic was given notably less attention than the pageantry of flag-raising. In the ‘Newshour’ report, presenter Owen Bennett Jones introduced the item with the following words:

“The Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas says his people can no longer be bound by agreements signed with Israel. Addressing the UN, he accused the Israelis of continually violating what are known as the Oslo Accords going right back to 1993.”

Rather than providing listeners with any background information on the topic of the broader implications of Abbas’ statement, the item then went on to describe the flag-raising ceremony.

The choice of phrasing in the written article did not clarify to readers that Abbas was referring to the Oslo Accords.

“Addressing the UN General Assembly, Mr Abbas said it was unconscionable that the question of Palestinian statehood remained unresolved.

He also warned that the PA no longer felt bound by agreements with Israel he claimed were “continually violated”.”

Moreover, the paragraphs immediately following that materially misled readers by implying that the Oslo Accords include some sort of restrictions on Israeli building in Judea & Samaria and dictate the release of 26 convicted terrorists.

“”As long as Israel refuses to cease settlement activities and to release of the fourth group of Palestinian prisoners in accordance with our agreements, they leave us no choice but to insist that we will not remain the only ones committed to the implementation of these agreements,” Mr Abbas said.

“We therefore declare that we cannot continue to be bound by these agreements and that Israel must assume all of its responsibilities as an occupying power.””

Again, no information was provided to audiences concerning the likely implications of Abbas’ statement that he “cannot continue to be bound” by what has been described as “a contractual framework of obligations between Israel and the Palestinians, signed as witnesses and guarantors by the King of Jordan, the Presidents of the U.S. and Egypt, the Foreign Ministers of the Russian Federation and Norway, the EU and endorsed by the UN”.

Oddly too, the article’s recap of the last 22 years did not include the one factor which did more than anything else to impede the possibility of a negotiated peace agreement: the PA initiated second Intifada.

“Mr Abbas has in the past threatened to dissolve the PA and hand sole responsibility for the West Bank to Israel if there is no chance of a peace deal.

The PA was set up as an interim administration for the major Palestinian cities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip after the 1993 Oslo Accord. It was envisaged that a comprehensive treaty would be concluded within five years.

However, more than two decades of talks with Israel have failed to achieve a final peace settlement and an independent Palestinian state. The last round of negotiations collapsed in April 2014.”

At the end of the report readers were told that:

“The BBC’s Kevin Connolly in Jerusalem says Palestinians faced with falling living standards and life under Israeli occupation on the West Bank are growing impatient for some sign of progress in their quest for a Palestinian state.

Raising the flag at the UN may not be as effective as raising that issue further up the world’s diplomatic agenda but it is a tangible achievement and it was within Mr Abbas’s power to deliver immediately, our correspondent adds.”

The vast majority of Palestinians have of course lived under the rule of the Palestinian Authority and/or Hamas for the last two decades and whilst Kevin Connolly did not provide a source for his claim of falling living standards, PCBS statistics show that in PA controlled areas, GDP per capita increased by 0.6% in the second quarter of 2015.

As long time readers well know, the BBC generally avoids reporting on internal Palestinian politics and so it is hardly surprising to see that Connolly’s presentation did not make any mention of factors such as the unresolvable rift between the PA and Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas’ own personal unpopularity, the recent Palestinian demonstrations against the PA or the thorny issue of succession.

And so, rather than present audiences with the full range of information which would enable them to understand the factors behind Abbas’ latest move and its potential consequences, the BBC opted to put the focus on symbolic flag-raising. 

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ fails to deliver on PA arrests of Hamas operatives

Late last week Palestinian Authority security forces arrested a large number of Hamas operatives in PA controlled areas of Judea & Samaria. The Times of Israel reported as follows:

“Palestinian Authority forces arrested 108 Hamas members in the West Bank in one of the biggest raids in years.

According to reports in Hamas-affiliated media, the raids began early Thursday morning and continued overnight Thursday-Friday. The arrests included senior Hamas officials, according to the reports.

The raids were conducted in Hebron, Nablus and Bethlehem, Walla News reported.”

Ha’aretz added:

““They were planning to set up an infrastructure designed to strengthen Hamas in the West Bank, which would then operate against Israel and create security chaos,” a senior [PA] official said.”

According to Al Jazeera:

“Adnan al-Damiri, the PA security services’ spokesman, said the arrests were not related to political activities but were made for security reasons.

“We will not allow that the West Bank disintegrates into carnage and wars just because Hamas wants escalation,” he told Al Jazeera.”

Analyst Avi Issacharoff adds some relevant context in this article:

“A recent spate of terror attacks in the West Bank, as well as revelations by the Shin Bet security service concerning Hamas infrastructure in Nablus, prompted an awakening of sorts on the Palestinian side, especially at the office of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas, who has proven time and again that he won’t abide any challenge to the stability of his rule, realizes full well that murdering Jews is only the secondary goal of Hamas activists carrying out attacks. The main aim of its deadly operations is to weaken the Palestinian Authority, heighten tensions with Israel, and ultimately undermine the government in the West Bank. […]

None of this means Hamas will admit defeat or relinquish its efforts to challenge the PA’s rule. While the organization is doing its best to maintain a state of relative calm in the Gaza Strip, it will most likely continue to send operatives from Turkey and the Strip to the West Bank to plan more terrorist attacks in hope of undermining the PA.”

As readers are aware, BBC audiences have been consistently deprived of information concerning Hamas’ foreign based operatives’ attempts to strengthen its presence in PA controlled areas – including the latest plot. Likewise, BBC reporting on the recent uptick in terror attacks against Israelis has been virtually non-existent – at least in English.

So did the news of the arrests carried out by the PA prompt the BBC to try to fill in some of the story’s pieces which have until now been missing for its audiences?

Listeners to the July 3rd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ heard (from 14:02 here) the following introduction to an item on the topic from presenter Owen Bennett-Jones.Newshour 3 7

“Palestinian Authority forces have arrested more than a hundred members of the Hamas militant network in the Israeli occupied West Bank.”

Actually, as noted above, the arrests took place in areas under the full control of the Palestinian Authority. Bennett-Jones continued:

“Last month the Palestinian Authority’s unity government resigned. President Mahmoud Abbas said Hamas wouldn’t allow that government to operate in Gaza so it all fell apart.”

In fact the one year-old Palestinian Unity Government was unilaterally dissolved by Abbas.

Bennett-Jones then introduced his interviewee Ghassan Khatib, asking “how deep are these divisions between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority?”. Readers may recall that Khatib was also interviewed by the BBC World Service just a couple of weeks earlier and that his account of the dissolution of the Palestinian Unity Government at the time focused in no small part on the promotion of anti-Israel falsehoods and propaganda irrelevant to the subject matter.

Khatib’s explanation of the arrests of scores of Hamas operatives by the PA was as follows:

“The arrests that has been reported in the West Bank is an expected outcome of the deterioration in the relation between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. There has been two main reasons for this deterioration that led to those arrests. The first one is news about direct and indirect contacts between Israel and Hamas regarding a separate future of Gaza from the West Bank. The second is the difficulties Hamas created for the Palestinian government that was agreed upon with Hamas earlier and Hamas preventing this government from functioning in Gaza Strip. These two things led into gradual deterioration in the relation of the two sides and usually, when relations are deteriorating, one of the typical outcomes is that PA would start arresting Hamas activists in the West Bank and Hamas would start arresting Fatah activists in Gaza strip.”

Bennett-Jones turned the item’s focus away from its supposed subject matter:

“So just tell us a bit more about the contacts with Israel. How serious is the suggestion of basically splitting Gaza from the West Bank and how great is Hamas’ willingness to consider that?”

As Khatib then admitted, his speculations concerning “contacts between Israel and Hamas” are based on “leaks” and indeed the sources of that story have been mostly Arab media outlets and Fatah officials. Even if such contacts are going on, the likely agenda is a ‘hudna‘ – or long-term truce – rather than an intention to ‘split’ the Gaza Strip and the PA controlled territories.

Bennett-Jones’ final question to Khatib related to the “prospect of a stable political arrangement for the Palestinians when they have one united leadership” and he failed to question his interviewee on the obviously relevant topic of Hamas’ aspiration to undermine the Palestinian Authority. Likewise, no attempt was made to adequately inform listeners of Hamas’ practical efforts to strengthen its presence in PA controlled areas or of the context of the recent rise in terror attacks.

As a result, BBC audiences remained yet again in the dark with regard to the threat presented by Hamas to PA rule, the likelihood of destabilization in areas currently controlled by the PA and the real background to this latest spate of arrests. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin Connolly continues the BBC’s amplification of anti-Israel delegitimisation

In addition to the promotion and amplification of the Palestinian Authority’s latest politically motivated attempt to undermine Israel’s legitimacy in international fora which already appeared on the BBC website on May 4th and 20th and on BBC World Service radio on May 21st, the Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly produced two further reports on the same topic.

On May 28th a filmed report produced by Connolly for BBC television news programmes also appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the title “Palestinians push for Israel football suspension“. The synopsis to that report includes clear signposting for BBC audiences:Connolly FIFA filmed

“The Palestinian Football Association is asking Fifa to suspend Israel from world football, just as it once suspended apartheid South Africa and Slobodan Milosevic’s Yugoslavia.

The PFA says the Israeli FA has violated rules relating to racism, players’ free movement and where clubs are based.” [emphasis added]

Connolly’s film opens with uncredited footage accompanied by the following narration.

“On the West Bank in occupied Palestinian territory, a routine arrest. But the Palestinian man being detained by Israeli soldiers here is Farouk Assi – a football referee on his way to take charge of a game. He never made it. The Palestinian presentation to FIFA demanding Israel’s suspension from world football also includes video of these troops arriving at the Palestinian FA headquarters. The charge: the Israeli occupation is strangling the Palestinian game.”

Viewers are not informed that the footage they are shown dates from September 2014 or that it was not filmed by the BBC but by a Palestinian film crew which apparently just happened to be conveniently on hand when a football referee travelling from Ramallah to Jericho was detained at a checkpoint.

Connolly’s report then cuts to the PFA president Jibril Rajoub.

“I would like to see the Israeli Football Association coming up with a clear-cut statement denouncing such behaviors [sic] but unfortunately the Israeli federation is not more than plastic surgeon for the ugly face of the racist [unintelligible] Israeli occupation.”

After an interview with Israeli footballer Yossi Benayoun, Connolly’s narration continues.

“But part of the Palestinian case is that teams from Jewish settlements on these occupied territories play in the Israeli league in breach of FIFA rules.”

Here, for a second time in a matter of minutes, we see Connolly’s adoption and promotion of the Palestinian narrative through the use of the politically partial term “occupied territories”. No attempt is made to clarify to viewers that all “Jewish settlements” are in fact located in Area C which more than two decades ago the representatives of the Palestinian people agreed would be under Israeli control until final status negotiations were completed.

Connolly continues:

“Israel, which staged the UEFA under-21 final at this stadium only two years ago, says the move against it at FIFA is part of a broader political campaign and not really about sport at all.”

Connolly refrains from informing viewers that Jibril Rajoub also tried to get that event cancelled and yet again we see that the topic of the affiliations of some Palestinian footballers to terrorist organisations is not mentioned in the BBC’s version of the story. Moreover, as was the case in previous BBC coverage, audiences do not get to hear an official Israeli response to the accusations amplified by the BBC.

It is, however, quite clear from his closing remarks that Kevin Connolly is fully aware of the tactics and strategies which lie behind Jibril Rajoub’s latest agitprop.

“The Palestinian strategy is internationalization – that’s bringing grievances against Israel to different global arenas. It is a new phase in an old diplomatic conflict. And for now it’s the fate of Israeli football that hangs in the balance.”

The same awareness of what really lies behind the subject matter of this story was also apparent in Owen Bennett Jones’ introduction (from 06:00 here) to Connolly’s audio report on the same topic, broadcast on May 29th on BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newshour’.Connolly FIFA audio

OBJ: “Well, FIFA delegates will also be deciding whether Israel should be suspended from world football. The vote is part of a Palestinian strategy of internationalization; bringing grievances into as many global arenas as possible.”

Connolly opened that report with a description of the same footage used in his earlier filmed report.

KC: “We’re in the West Bank, near Ramallah, and Palestinian Farouk Assi is under arrest. Blindfolded, handcuffed and told to shut up by the Israeli soldiers who surround him. Palestine TV is on hand to film the arrest. This is not a rare event but Mr Assi was a football referee on his way to a match in Jericho which had to be abandoned because he was detained. Now the video is part of a Palestinian presentation to FIFA, designed to have Israel suspended over incidents like this. The Palestinian FA official Jibril Rajoub is spearheading the campaign.

Rajoub: “I am going to FIFA to ask to end the suffering of the Palestinian footballers, to end the humiliation.”

Connolly: “But the reality is that the policies you’re talking about are carried out by the Israeli army or Israeli intelligence agencies and not carried out by the Israeli Football Association.”

Rajoub: “You are right. I would like to see the Israeli Football Association coming up with a clear-cut statement denouncing such behaviors [sic].”

Once again, no effort was made by Connolly to provide listeners with the necessary background information which would help them understand why the Israeli army and intelligence services should be interested in the activities of people such as Mahmoud Sarsak or Omar Abu Rois. And whilst Connolly again interviewed Israeli footballer Yossi Benayoun along with former Israeli diplomat Alan Baker, neither of those interviewees represent an official Israeli response.

As readers may be aware, in the end Jibril Rajoub withdrew his original motion from the FIFA agenda – for the time being at least and much to the chagrin of many. Interestingly, there has to date been no coverage of that development in the story on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

The outstanding feature of all the BBC’s coverage of this latest Palestinian attempt to delegitimize Israel in the international arena is of course that – in common with its coverage of stories relating to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – the corporation has on the one hand failed to adequately explain to its audiences the political motivations lying behind the move whilst simultaneously giving uncritical and unqualified amplification to spurious labels such as “racism” and “apartheid”.

That editorial policy makes the BBC a self-conscripted partner in the carefully orchestrated campaign to portray Israel as an entity which no right-minded person can countenance and that of course is an issue upon which the publicly funded broadcaster must be held to account. 

Confusing BBC audiences with unqualified agenda-based opinion

“The BBC will use the opportunity presented by its long-form documentary and current affairs output to explore a wide range of contemporary issues that can engage a variety of viewers across TV, radio and online. A key priority for the BBC will be to provide explanation and analysis of the complex issues that confront the UK and the world (such as the Middle East, global terrorism and climate change). The BBC will offer in-depth, multi-platform seasons as a means of engaging audiences in relevant big issues and helping them make sense of the world.” [emphasis added] (Source: BBC Public Purposes: Sustaining Citizenship and Civil Society)

The plethora of information available to anyone in our modern world at the click of a mouse is of course both a blessing and a curse with the challenge being to sort the factual wheat from the often agenda motivated chaff. The BBC clearly has an important role to play in helping its audiences distinguish between the fact and the fiction surrounding news and current affairs in order to enable them to reach informed opinions and indeed the BBC Trust states that:

“All BBC journalism will display the core values of independence, truth and accuracy, impartiality, fairness, and diversity of opinion.” 

In that laudable statement of intention, however, lies a pitfall. The diversity of opinion the BBC commits itself to reflecting may not always be compatible with the other core values to which it professes to adhere simply because people hold a wide range of opinions which are obviously not always rooted in fact.

If a BBC report tells audiences that some people are of the opinion that the earth is flat, the corporation’s commitment to truth and accuracy should surely also mean that it is obliged to inform them of the available facts contradicting that opinion. Or should the BBC refrain from amplifying opinions which may indeed be “diverse” but cannot be defended as being based on fact?

It is not difficult to find BBC reports in which non fact-based opinion is promoted without qualification. For example, we not long ago witnessed commentators expressing the ‘opinion’ that a Palestinian bus driver who committed suicide had been murdered by Israelis with little or no challenge from BBC interviewers and on January 8th the BBC News website found it appropriate to amplify the opinion expressed in an Iranian newspaper that the terror attacks in Paris were a joint ISIS-Israel operation.

On January 23rd another example came to light in an article by Owen Bennett-Jones appearing on the BBC News website’s Europe page under the title “Blasphemy, jihad and victimhood“.OBJ art

There, readers were told that:

” […] Blasphemy is the lead story now with political chat show hosts asking: “What is it? How come people take the issue so seriously?

And shouldn’t secular West European countries worry about racist or misogynist speech as much as blasphemy?”

Such discussions almost always develop into a row about power. Political Islamists and Western liberals often argue that Muslim sensitivities about public challenges to their faith and identity are informed by the fact that over time they have been colonised, invaded, tortured and falsely imprisoned by Westerners.

The US and Israel, they argue, are the subject of so much invective and even violence because, for all their talk of human rights, they hypocritically use their own strength to oppress Muslims, whether in Iraq or Gaza. Furthermore, it is argued, Muslims are singled out for abuse.”

There may indeed be people in this world who hold the opinion that they can ‘explain’ anti-Israel campaigning and violence against Israeli citizens by means of the false claim that Israel ‘oppresses’ Muslims in Gaza but that view is not rooted in truth and accuracy.

The trouble is that in his smörgåsbord presentation of the “diversity of opinion” on an issue which he makes no real effort to resolve, Owen Bennett-Jones does not make it clear to readers that there is no factual basis for that particular opinion. He avoids any explanation or analysis of the agendas of the “political Islamists” and “Western liberals” making that fictitious claim and thus – intentionally or not – he contributes to audiences’ further confusion.

Likewise, the additional reflection of ‘opinions’ from Bennett-Jones which follows that one does nothing to clarify to BBC audiences either the actual circumstances behind the incident concerned or the deliberate conflation of anti-racism with censorship inherent in that view.

“Thus, while the Charlie Hebdo management sacked a cartoonist for anti-Semitism, it did not hesitate to publish anti-Islamic cartoons.”

The admirable aspiration to provide “explanation and analysis of […] complex issues” and to help its funding public to “make sense of the world” cannot be achievable as long as the BBC promotes and amplifies agenda-based statements without the qualifications made necessary by its commitment to accurate and impartial journalism. The trouble is that many at the BBC obviously first need to clarify the difference between the fact-based and agenda-based to themselves. 

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’: insights into presenter intervention on inaccurate claims

Readers may have seen this video doing the rounds on the internet. It is taken from the August 20th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ presented by Owen Bennett-Jones. The programme included two interviews; one with Israel’s Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett and one with Husam Zomlot who is the executive deputy commissioner for Fatah’s commission for international affairs, a former member of the PLO’s diplomatic mission in London, a visiting fellow at Harvard’s Center for Middle East Studies, a former UN employee and a member of the Oxford Research Group. He is also fairly frequently interviewed by the international media – including the BBC.Newshour 20 8 WS

These two interviews provide some interesting insight not just by way of the responses to Bennett-Jones’ questions, but also from the point of view of the wording of some of his own questions and statements and from observation of the occasions on which the presenter considers it essential to intervene in order to correct a mistaken impression given to listeners – and the many more frequent occasions on which he does not. The interviews can be found here, beginning at 31:59. Bennett-Jones’ questions to Naftali Bennett include the following revealing statements.

“Do you consider the land on which Palestinians are living – and have lived, of course, for centuries – to be Jewish land?”

Whilst some Palestinians may indeed have lived in Judea & Samaria “for centuries”, the UN’s definition of Palestinian refugees means that is by no means necessarily the case – but Owen Bennett-Jones makes no effort to clarify that point to listeners.

“Palestine refugees are defined as “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” 

Later on, Bennett-Jones misleads audiences with the all too prevalent BBC myth of “’67 borders”.

“But your areas would be within the ’67 borders, would it? You’re not trying to make occupied land into Israeli and, are you?”

Later still, he appears to have fallen into the equally frequently seen double trap of ignoring the San Remo resolution and the Mandate for Palestine whilst at the same time pretending that the 1947 UN Partition Plan has some sort of legal significance.

“Yeah but the reason I asked you, you know, how you see the borders of Jewish land is that I think, you know, most people in the international community would think that the UN vote establishing Israel was the legitimate basis for Israel.”

Towards the end of his conversation with Naftali Bennet, Owen Bennett-Jones proposes the following theory for Western politicians’ approach to radical political Islam in the Middle East.

“Well there is an alternative interpretation of what they [Western politicians] think. They may think that peace in the Middle East – some sort of settlement in which the Palestinian people did have their aspirations fulfilled – would be a constructive start towards building a post-conflict society in which people could live together. They may think like that.”

Naftali Bennett’s reply is as follows:

“I can’t believe you’ve actually asked that. Do you think anything we do in Israel would affect ISIS, would affect Al Qaeda, al Nusra? Do you think these guys really want peace? Have you not been listening to them for the past year and a half? They’re talking about a Caliphate in the whole world and you have to face up and fight this sort of terror; not try and appease them and certainly not at the expense of Israel. Well I can tell you we’re not going to be the sacrificial lamb of the world in the hope of appeasing radical Islam. They kill reporters and behead them: that’s what we’re facing in this area. We expect the world’s support fighting these guys.”

Bennett-Jones then moves on to his next interviewee, Husam Zomlot, who appears to have a problem putting history in its correct sequence, although Bennett-Jones obviously does not see the need to interject. [emphasis added]

Zomlot: “If we go back to the biblical times and the biblical explanations, the map of the world, Owen, will be totally and utterly different – including England and most of Europe as you know. And if we go even further and go back to the Roman time, this is as you know and as you have just asked your…erm…your interviewer, nonsense to start with. I believe it all talks about a bunch of ideologues, purists, exclusivists [sic] brains and mind-sets in Israel right now that are calling the shots. And you have asked him all the right questions I have to say and he answered all the right answers in his own mind. He is not defending Israel proper. He is defending Israel’s expansion, Israel’s colonialism, Israel’s occupation, Israel’s siege. And in his mind, and he believes so, that we do not even deserve to have basic rights and therefore they are fabricating all these stories about beheading journalists somewhere in Iraq, about Palestine and the nation that has been….

Having quietly sat through inaccurate claims of Israeli “expansion”, “colonialism” and “siege”, Owen Bennett-Jones at that point sees the need to interrupt.

“Well hang on: that’s not…that’s not fabricated – that just happened.”

Zomlot carries on:

“It happened somewhere else – in Iraq – as if they are fabricating also the story of the Holocaust that it happened in Europe. Not the story itself, but the reason why they are doing this and using so many other examples to justify their murder of a nation that has been in a quest for self-determination and basic rights; that’s what I mean.”

Bennett-Jones apparently sees no need to clarify his guest’s reference to “fabricating also the story of the Holocaust”. Zomlot himself – a PhD graduate from a London university and therefore presumably a person with a reasonable command of the English language – later claimed that his words were misconstrued and that Bennett-Jones’ introduction of another question prevented him from fully explaining his point.

OBJ: “Let’s just be clear about this. What he [Naftali Bennett] is saying is that Palestinians can live on that land but he is anxious that there will be a tax on the Jewish people so he doesn’t feel that it is appropriate or safe or sensible for the Jewish people to allow the Palestinians to have weapons and the ability to destroy Israel.”

HZ: “Yeah, but that’s like the chicken and the egg. What comes first? Does it…is it their occupation that provoke some of these acts or is it really that we Palestinians are violent by nature? That it’s our violence that provokes their occupation? And I beg to differ, sir, and I beg to say that it’s actually their military occupation, their siege, their colonisation, their daily theft of our resources and land and their daily murder of our families and babies and women. “

As a member of Fatah, Zomlot is no doubt well aware that his organisation came into being long before any “occupation” existed. Owen Bennett-Jones obviously did not see fit to enlighten listeners with that snippet of relevant information or with the fact that it was the combined violence perpetrated by Egypt, Syria and Jordan in June 1967 which brought about Israeli control of the Gaza Strip and Judea & Samaria.  Zomlot continues:

“So…eh…eh…eh…”

OBJ: “Yeah.”

HZ: “…if you really want to put the horse before the cart we can discuss till the morning. I believe your question was the right question: should they end their occupation, should they be in line with international consensus and international legitimacy and then we discuss security matters. Israel is dealing with the whole situation from a security point of view because they are not interested in the political issues.”

OBJ: “I think the point that the Israelis would make is that when they did pull out of Gaza and took some settlements out of Gaza, it didn’t solve any problems for them. It’s actually got worse.”

HZ: “Well of course because they pulled out of Gaza to lay siege on the people of Gaza for all these years and turn Gaza into the dark ages. There are no basic goods and commodities and that’s why the people of Gaza has to act in dignity and dig underneath to provide for their babies. So the Israelis haven’t left Gaza for a political breakthrough. They left Gaza to besiege it and to finish off their job in the West Bank and Jerusalem.”

No effort is made by Owen Bennett-Jones to challenge Zomlot’s inaccurate presentation; to point out that there is no such thing as a “siege” on Gaza, that “basic goods and commodities” are freely available there and that the reason for restrictions on Israel’s borders with the Gaza Strip is the terrorism emanating from that territory and the weapons smuggled into it. Zomlot continues:

“And this is exactly what Bennett has just confirmed. My friend; what we are facing now is a situation whereby they call the shots in Israel. The deciders in Israel are not interested in a political solution. They want the land and they want the people of the land – the original people, the natives, the Palestinians – out.  Whether besieged in Gaza, whether cycled by walls in the West Bank, whether slowly driven out or even – if they can – another ethnic cleansing like they did in 1948.”

Not a peep is heard from Owen Bennett-Jones despite Zomlot’s inaccurate and defamatory claim of “ethnic cleansing”.

HZ: “This is the situation. They are using negotiations as a tactic, wars as a tactic. They are buying time as they did in Cairo only yesterday. They abruptly…”

OBJ: “OK.”

HZ: “…withdrew their delegation to continue – I believe – they have no interest in ending their occupation, period.”

Making no effort to inform listeners that the Israeli delegation left the negotiations in Cairo after Hamas broke the ceasefire the day before this interview on August 19th, Owen Bennett-Jones then closes the interview.

Revealingly, Zomlot’s assertion that the beheading of journalist James Foley was “fabricated” rightly produced a very swift reaction from Owen Bennett-Jones who obviously could not allow listeners to be misled by that inaccurate claim. Equally revealingly, none of Zomlot’s other no less inaccurate claims evoked any intervention from a BBC presenter charged with promoting audience understanding of international issues. 

The unstated connections of a BBC R4 Middle East ‘expert’

Readers may have noticed a link titled “Who supports whom?” – with the subheading “Comedian Dom Joly explains Syria in three minutes” – appearing in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page over the past few days. 

Who supports whom

That link leads to a brief film clip in which Joly appears to confuse even himself with his ‘analysis’, drifting from “more supportive of” to “couldn’t bring themselves to support” whilst barely stopping for a breath.

“I mean obviously Assad and Israel very old foes but ironically they’re [Israel] probably more supportive of Assad than anything like Al Qaeda or even a secular….I mean they might be dodgy on secular, definitely anti Al Qaeda and sort of don’t know about Assad. Yeah, they couldn’t bring themselves to support him.”

Joly & Jones

The programme promoted at the bottom of the synopsis to that film clip – “OBJs Guide to the Middle East” – was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on September 23rd and can be heard here

OBJs guide to the ME

Contrary to the impression given in the synopsis, Sherard Cowper-Coles does not appear in the programme – Robert Fox of the London Evening Standard takes part instead. Owen Bennett Jones’ other guests are Dom Joli and Baroness Haleh Afshar who is described merely as having “a very international background”.

If listeners can manage to get past Afshar’s incessant, inane giggles without hitting the ‘stop’ button, they will be able to hear the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf Qaradawi described at 13:14 as “an Islamic cleric” and “a well-known man”. They will, however, hear nothing about Qaradawi’s infamous homophobia, misogyny or antisemitism.

Further on, at around 14:47, Owen Bennett Jones introduces the subject of weapons of mass destruction into the discussion. At 15;24 he says:

“And of course now we’re left in a situation – if Syria does dismantle its chemical weapons – where one Middle East country, it’s widely believed, will be left holding weapons of mass destruction and it’s a point made here in a discussion on the Today programme between two formers – it was a former British foreign secretary Jack Straw and a former advisor to the Israeli prime minister Dore Gold – it’s all about Israel’s supposed nuclear weapons arsenal.”

The programme then cuts to a clip from the said programme in which Jack Straw says:

“Israel has the most extensive nuclear weapons capability”

Presenter John Humphrys then says:

“Let me put that to Dr Gold. You can’t argue with that, can you Dr Gold?”

However, that clip has in fact been manipulated by the BBC. As noted here at the time, the actual interview went like this:

Straw interview

Bizarrely, the producers of this programme apparently did not consider it necessary to inform listeners that the clip had been edited.

The discussion continues with Bennett Jones saying at 16:48: [all emphasis added]

“But – Haleh Afshar – surely the Israelis would say that they are a very small country, they are uniquely vulnerable..”

Dom Joli: “They’re still not signed up to the nuclear…err…proliferation treaty.”

OBJ: “No, but they’re uniquely vulnerable because …”

DJ: “They’re exceptional.”

OBJ: “Well because they are surrounded by countries that are very hostile and many people don’t think they should exist.”

Haleh Afshar: “But they also have a very long history of invading their neighbours and it seems to me that for them to say they won’t use their nuclear weapons is another assertion as they always said…”

OBJ: “But there’s no suggestion that they would use it for anything other than national survival?”

HA: “Well, I have no idea…they’re expansionist…”

Later on, at 19:09, listeners will hear Afshar saying:

“The difficulty is that the Israeli lobby in America is far too strong and too many presidents depend on it far too heavily.”

Listeners might be tempted to dismiss Afshar’s jaundiced remarks as the inept ramblings of someone shoe-horned into the pose of ‘Middle East expert’ on the basis of having been born (and spent a few childhood years) in that region, but one aspect of Afshar’s background – about which the BBC does not bother to inform its listeners – puts those remarks in quite another light.

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

“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.”

In addition, the BBC’s previous ‘Key Terms’ guide stated:

“MIDDLE EAST EXPERT”
“Some “experts” may have a history of sympathising with one cause or another even if they have no overt affiliation. CASMII poster

It is preferable, where time and space allow, to provide a lengthier indication of the contributor’s views on past issues so that the audience might calibrate his or her statements for themselves.

In all reporting we should avoid generalisations, bland descriptions and loose phrases which in fact tell us little about a contributor or event. The phrase “Middle East expert” implies the BBC thinks this person’s views have weight and independence. If we can defend that judgement – that’s fine. If not it may be better to avoid the phrase. 

Overall, we should seek a precise description – for example, what job does this person hold? Who employs them? Where do they stand in the debate?”

In other words, there are mechanisms in place to ensure that BBC audience’s are not subjected to partisan opinions disguised as impartial expertise, but those mechanisms cannot be effective if the BBC ignores them – as it has done in this case and others

It is completely unacceptable that the BBC does not inform its audiences of the fact that Baroness Afshar has a history of activity with CASMII – the Campaign Against Sanctions and Military Intervention in Iran – which is linked to (and conducts a public relations campaign on behalf of) the Iranian regime. 

BBC selected ‘expert opinions’ and transparency

As we know, the BBC claims that:

“A member of the audience who watches, listens and reads the full range of our output should be coherently and cogently informed about events in Israel and the occupied territories, and should better understand the complex forces that are at work.”

Of course the accuracy and impartiality of that output, including the material on the BBC website, depends to no small extent upon the BBC’s choice of sources – in particular when it quotes ‘expert opinions’. 

Many readers will probably have heard of the think tank ‘Conflicts Forum’ which was established in 2004 by Mark Perry (who later left) and Alistair Crooke – a former MI6 operative who reportedly got too close to Hamas for the comfort of his employers. 

Conflicts Forum’s Board of Advisors used to be graced by Hamas supporter and suicide bombing fan Azzam Tamimi and former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg. Currently on its board are, among others, former Mavi Marmara passenger Ismail Patel of Friends of Al Aqsa, Global March to Jerusalem and Airflotilla endorser Ronnie Kasrils and Hillary Mann-Leverett

Among the contributors to Conflicts Forum is Khaled Amayreh who – as the CST has pointed out – has a dismal record of antisemitism. Conflicts Forum has produced a periodical entitled Cultures of Resistancethe first volume of which at least was in part financed by the UK registered charity the JA Clark Charitable Trust, which made donations to Conflicts Forum in 20072008, 2009 and 2011 at least. A perhaps former trustee (the entries on the Charity Commission website are not up to date and the website of the charity itself is not public), chair and founder of that charity – Tom Clark – also sits on the Conflicts Forum board.  Writing in the first volume of that periodical (p. 26) – alongside Massoud Shadjareh and Arzu Merali of the IHRC  – Clark stated: 

“There is a wide constituency in the West who want to know more and are confused and angry about what is happening in the Middle East. But whilst US/Israel have a strangle-hold on international media, little is revealed.”

Conflicts Forum’s projects coordinator Aisling Byrne reflected the organisation’s approach when she wrote in January 2012 on the subject of the uprising in Syria that:

“What we are seeing in Syria is a deliberate and calculated campaign to bring down the Assad government so as to replace it with a regime ‘more compatible’ with US interests in the region.”

Broadly speaking, Conflicts Forum is a Western-sounding mouthpiece for the Iranian regime and its various client militias such as Hamas and Hizballah, as well as Iranian allies such as the Assad regime. 

In 2007, with EU funding, Conflicts Forum produced a report (now strangely absent from the internet) detailing strategies to rebrand the proscribed terrorist groups Hamas and Hizbollah in the West as proponents of “social justice” and specifically promoting “Hamas’ and Hezbollah’s values, philosophy and wider political and social programmes”. 

“We need to clarify and explain that Islamist movements are political and social movements working on social and political justice,” the report explains, “and are leading the resistance to the US/Western recolonisation project with its network of client states and so-called ‘moderates’.” It claims “the progressive space of social movements [in the West] is empty” and asks, “how the West can learn from the values and the notion of society that Hezbollah and Hamas have at the centre of their philosophy?”

Of course, access to the mainstream media dovetails with the Conflicts Forum strategy very well, but one would expect members of the media organisations themselves to be aware of the organisation’s background and aims before using quotes from its officials. 

An article going under the title “Hezbollah: Terrorist organisation or liberation movement?“, dated October 2011 and written by Owen Bennett-Jones (a version of which was also broadcast on BBC radio at the time), still comes up on the BBC website in a search there for information on the Iranian backed terror organization. Among others, that article features a quote from Conflicts Forum’s Alistair Crooke. 

“Others, such as Alistair Crooke, disagree. A former British intelligence agent, he now runs a think tank in Beirut through which he has frequent contact with Hezbollah. “They are a resistance movement,” he says. “They are a liberation movement.” “

Of course Bennett-Jones provides no information for his readers as to Crooke’s real background (or even the name of his organization) and he certainly does not inform them that the entire raison d’etre of Crooke’s think tank is to turn that terrorist organization into something more palatable to Western minds. 

Bennett-Jones also quotes Nicholas Noe, describing him as someone who “has compiled the collected speeches and interviews of the Hezbollah leader”.  An intermittent Guardian contributor and founder and editor-in-chief of Mideastwire (which includes Conflicts Forum on its sidebar), Noe is also renowned for his wrapping of the Hizballah message in a form more persuasive to Western audiences. 

What Bennett-Jones fails to inform his own readers is that Noe’s organization also runs Arabic language courses, a prime selling point of which is the opportunity to rub shoulders with Hamas and Hizballah. 

 “When Amtissal signed up to learn Arabic in Beirut, she was in for a bonus: class trips to the offices of Hezbollah and Hamas, both classified as terrorist organizations by her native America.

“It was an amazing experience,” the U.S. media studies graduate told AFP. “We saw the difference between television and reality.”

For 21-year-old Andrew Waller, the Beirut Exchange was a golden opportunity to hear the voices of groups he had only read about.

“Meeting Hezbollah was an experience I really treasure,” said Waller, an economics student at the University of Exeter in Britain.”

The readers of this BBC article should surely be entitled to know that the ‘analysis’ they are reading is provided by someone with commercial interests which rely upon remaining in the good books of Iranian proxy terrorist organisations. 

When the BBC filters information and analysis for distribution to its audiences it is essentially shaping the subsequent opinions formed on the basis of that knowledge. When it decides to use sources commercially and/or ideologically linked to the very organization about which it is supposed to be providing information – especially when it does so without disclosing those relationships – it cannot be said to be providing objective, accurate and impartial information for the purpose of enhancing its audiences understanding of “complex issues”. Instead, the BBC becomes a partner in a PR campaign run by terrorist sympathisers.