At BBC Culture website, audiences told Palestinians built Jerusalem

h/t FA

As British readers may know, for the past three years the BBC has been in “global partnership” with the Hay Festival. That means that BBC audiences see and hear coverage of that literary event across a variety of platforms and this year that included an episode of the programme ‘Talking Books’ which was broadcast on both the BBC News Channel and BBC World News on various dates during June.

“George Alagiah meets renowned writer and political commentator Ahdaf Soueif at Hay Festival.”

“George Alagiah meets renowned writer and political commentator Ahdaf Soueif at Hay Festival. Her latest book, ‘This Is Not A Border: Reportage and Reflection from the Palestine Festival of Literature’ is an anthology celebrating the tenth anniversary of her own extraordinary literary festival.”

The Palestine Festival of Literature – more commonly known as ‘PalFest’ – is of course an annual exercise in delegitimisation of Israel and promotion of the BDS campaign.

The ‘Talking Books’ programme is only available to UK-based audiences via BBC iPlayer but a clip from Alagiah’s conversation with Palestine Solidarity Campaign patron Ahdaf Soueif was posted earlier in the month on the BBC’s ‘Culture‘ website.

“Soueif is also a founding chair of the Palestinian [sic] Festival of Literature (Palfest). Her latest book, This Is Not a Border is a collection of writings from people who have appeared on the festival’s programme.

In this clip, Soueif reads from her own essay in the book, on the sanctuary of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Watch the video above to see more of Ahdaf Soueif’s interview from the Hay Festival 2017.”

Those viewing that clip – which of course was specifically chosen to be promoted on the BBC’s ‘Culture’ website – hear the following from Soueif: [emphasis in italics in the original]

“…and I chose to write about Jerusalem because for the last four or five years we’ve really seen the push against and into Jerusalem becoming stronger and stronger. And at the heart of Jerusalem is of course the Dome of the Rock within el Haram al Sharif which is the sanctuary – Al Aqsa.

And it’s always…ever since I started doing this…the first time I went to Palestine in 2000 there was a moment when I walked into the sanctuary and I really, really felt…felt such a peace. I mean it’s such a beautiful space and throughout the festival I have really tried…wanted to give the visitors that sense…to give them that moment when you walk in and the world folds away. So I chose to describe the sanctuary and what it means and its history. And here is just the second paragraph in that piece which says –

A sanctuary on a hilltop. Around it the earth fell away. Palestinians are masters of terracing. They built Jerusalem on a hill and the Old City slopes gently towards the south-east; towards the sanctuary. And there, the central and biggest of 26 terraces is for the Dome of the Rock. From the south, 20 steps lead up to it. From the north, just nine.”

It is of course not in the least bit surprising to find veteran anti-Israel activist Ahdaf Soueif exploiting the wrapping of a literary festival for political ends. Predictable erasing all Jewish history from her portrayal of Temple Mount and using partisan terminology to describe the location, she promotes to Hay Festival goers and BBC audiences alike ridiculous ahistorical notions such as the idea that Palestinians built Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock is situated on specially constructed ‘Palestinian terracing’.

However, the text accompanying this specifically selected clip does not include any factual information that would relieve audiences of those inaccurate impressions created by Soueif and it fails to adhere to existing BBC guidance on the use of terminology when describing Temple Mount and ‘Palestine‘.

Related Articles:

The Guardian, PalFest and the ‘culture’ of anti-Israel activism (UK Media Watch)

BDS-promoting Palestine Festival of Literature supported by British public funding (UK Media Watch)

Anti-peace BDS campaigner on judging panel of BBC Arabic competition

Mapping changes in the terminology used by the BBC to describe Temple Mount 

 

 

 

 

Why is the BBC definition of a ‘human rights activist’ different from all others?

The UN defines human rights as “rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status”. A person portrayed to BBC audiences as a human rights activist will therefore certainly not be understood to be a campaigner for the negation of the rights of a particular group of people.

If one happened to be in Fort Lauderdale last November one could have heard Susan Abulhawa speaking for an organization which negates the right of Jews to self-determination. If one happened to have attended the annual BDS-supporting ‘PalFest’ during the last couple of years, one would also have found Susan Abulhawa there – and subsequently promoting the notion that Israelis must apologise for “the most basic fact of Israel’s existence”. Or one could just take a look at her Facebook posts in order to understand that universal human rights are most certainly not at the top of Abulhawa’s activist agenda.

Nevertheless, listeners to the June 15th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Arts Hour’ heard an interview with Abulhawa (available here from 27:38 for a limited period of time or here as a clip without the introduction) in which presenter Nikki Bedi introduced her as follows:Arts Hour segment

“To literature first though and a Palestinian-American writer and human rights activist, Susan Abulhawa, whose first book ‘Mornings in Jenin’ was an international best-seller about four generations of a Palestinian family set against Palestinian-Israeli tensions. Susan Abulhawa’s new novel – The Blue Between the Sky and the Water – treads similar ground as we follow the Baraka family whose lives are disrupted when Israeli forces enter Gaza and the family is forced to flee. Six decades later, the threats of those events and the personal tragedies that went with them bring Nur, a grandchild of the family now living in America, into an unexpected closeness with the past. In the novel we get both a real texture of daily Palestinian life and yet also a sense of how history affects a family.” [emphasis added]

Bedi also tells listeners that interviewer Anne McElvoy spoke to the writer “noting how Susan Abulhawa humanised the story rather than using politics to tell us what was going on.”

Indeed, McElvoy remarks to Abulhawa:

“And you’re humanising a narrative that’s often told from the position of high politics or legal territorial language so it’s [a] very different way of approaching it….”

Just how far Abulhawa’s novel is ‘removed’ from politics is evident later on in the interview when the writer describes it as being about four generations of women “who are navigating their lives, their marriages, their births, illnesses, education, etcetera, under a military occupation – and a very violent one – and an economic siege that’s quite forbidding.”

The interview also includes the following from Abulhawa:

“I think narrative…narrative is an important part of every culture. It is especially important for societies that have been marginalised or violated in ways and, in particular in the case of the Palestinians, societies who are completely negated and denied; whose existence is denied. So narratives, in a way, and the right to tell one’s story in one’s own voice – not having other people speak for you and about you, which has been the case for decades with Palestinians – but to tell one’s own stories in one’s own voice is an important part of identity. It’s a part of a society’s collective memory.”

Susan Abulhawa is a writer and a political activist and her politics include the negation of a basic human right for a particular group of people. That information is critical to understanding her words and her work in their correct context but, rather than meeting the BBC’s own editorial guidelines on impartiality by disclosing Abulhawa’s ‘standpoint’ to listeners, this programme used the ‘halo effect’ of the misapplied label ‘human rights activist’ in order to whitewash the political agenda behind both the interviewee and her book.

Perhaps the BBC would care to tell its funding public why its use of the term ‘human rights activist’ does not embrace the accepted principle of the universality of human rights.

Related Articles:

 Guardian whitewashes the extremism of Susan Abulhawa (The Facebook updates)   (UK Media Watch)

Resources:

BBC World Service – contact & complaints

‘The Arts Hour’ – e-mail

How to Complain to the BBC

 

Anti-peace BDS campaigner on judging panel of BBC Arabic competition

Visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page in recent days may have noticed that its ‘Features & Analysis’ section currently includes promotion of a film festival organised by BBC Arabic in partnership with the British Council.

Film fest on hp

 

Film fest main

 

According to the information provided:

“Aan Korb is a new film and documentary festival in London, presented by BBC Arabic in partnership with the British Council.

The festival will screen the very best work across feature and short films, documentaries and investigative and citizen journalism, that has been created about the Arab world since the start of the uprisings in December 2010.

Taking place in the fantastic surroundings of the iconic Radio Theatre at BBC Broadcasting House, the festival will be packed for four days with screenings, talks, debates and workshops.”

There is of course nothing novel about collaboration between the BBC and the British Council. In fact, we recently noted here some of the joint projects carried out in the Middle East by those two organisations (both of which receive part of their funding from the UK taxpayer via the government) and the disturbing fact some of the partnership groups with which they work are associated directly or indirectly with the anti-peace movement known as BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions).

One of the British Council-supported projects which openly promotes the anti-peace BDS movement is the ‘Palestine Festival of Literature’ – or PalFest as it is better known. Writing about the 2012 PalFest in the Guardian, Alison Flood noted that:

“Supported by organisations including Arts Council England and the British Council, with patrons including Chinua Achebe, Seamus Heaney and Philip Pullman, it endorses the Palestinian call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel, and states as its mission the reinvigoration of “cultural ties between Arab countries, ties that have been eroded for too long”. [Ahdaf] Soueif is its founding chair.” [emphasis added]

Readers can find out more about the birth of ‘PalFest’ and its “founding chair” and Palestine Solidarity Campaign patron Ahdaf Soueif here. Ms Soueif is also named as one of the judges for this latest BBC Arabic/British Council film festival.

Soueif film fest

The British Council has claimed to oppose the BDS movement’s efforts to delegitimize and isolate Israel.  

 “The British Council is firmly opposed to an academic boycott of Israeli universities. Academic boycotts are bad in principle, and would be bad in this specific case… dialogue is unlikely to be sustained without exchange between academics and academic institutions…”   

Past and present British governments have repeatedly claimed that they do not support the anti-two state solution BDS movement – for example in 2009:

 “The British government is opposed to any kind of boycott of Israel.”

In 2014:

“…the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) stated: “The UK Government does not support the BDS movement,” and “we have been very clear that the boycotts movement is not productive… it could be deeply corrosive.” “

And just this month, British PM David Cameron stated:

“And to those who do not share my ambition who want to boycott Israel I have a clear message. Britain opposes boycotts. Whether it’s trade unions campaigning for the exclusion of Israelis or universities trying to stifle academic exchange Israel’s place as a homeland for the Jewish people will never rest on hollow resolutions passed by amateur politicians.”

Such analgesic rhetoric however takes on the sinister complexion of doublespeak when UK government-funded bodies such as BBC Arabic and the British Council engage the services of a prominent anti-peace BDS campaigner such as Ahdaf Soueif.