Revisiting BBC messaging on the Balfour Declaration

This time last year, the BBC’s generous multi-platform coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary had just come to an end.

As documented in our subsequent overview of the relevant BBC content:

“Most of that BBC content adopted and amplified PLO framing of the Balfour Declaration as an ‘injustice’ and advanced the notion that Britain should apologise for the century-old document.

Only five items out of the fourteen accurately informed BBC audiences that the Balfour Declaration’s ‘second part’ – which was for the most part presented as being ‘incomplete’ and ‘unfinished business’ – specifically refers to the “civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities” rather than, as was inaccurately claimed in the rest of the content, rights in general. […]

The narrative of the Balfour Declaration as ‘colonialism’ and an act that Britain had no right to carry out was repeatedly advanced in many of these items, as was the claim that the British government should take a stand against ‘settlements’. The anti-Israel BDS campaign was promoted in two of the items.

The notion that Palestinians were ‘dispossessed’ of ‘their land’ by the Balfour Declaration and that the document was the cause of the ‘Nakba’ was repeatedly promoted in many of these reports. In four of the items BBC audiences were given inaccurate portrayals of the McMahon correspondence and the false notion that the land assigned to creation of a homeland for the Jewish people had already been promised to the Arabs by the British was promoted.”

Readers can revisit all that BBC coverage here

 

 

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A politicised BBC report on a new train line

On November 1st an unattributed filmed report titled “On board the new Jerusalem-Tel Aviv fast train” appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page with the following synopsis:

“It’s been a long time coming, but Israeli commuters are finally able to board double-decker high-speed trains on a new link from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.

Construction has been plagued by engineering and planning challenges, and the last section of the line is still not open. The route has also angered some Palestinians, as part of the track runs in tunnels under the occupied West Bank.

Transport Minister Yisrael Katz hopes it will eventually whisk passengers from secular, liberal Tel Aviv to a “Donald Trump Station” next to the Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites.”

Roughly halfway into the film, its focus changes from the subject of the new train line itself to politicised messaging.

“But Palestinians in this village in the occupied West Bank are angry. A tunnel runs under part of the area but many Palestinians don’t have permits to enter Israel, so can’t use the train.”

Issa Odeh al-Jamel, Beit Surik resident:

“This train passes through Beit Surik land and we are not even allowed to use it. This is itself is a catastrophe for us.”

“Palestinians say Israel is illegally using occupied territory.”

The village of Beit Surik is located in Area B and its residents are Palestinian Authority citizens. The land under which – rather than “through” – the railway tunnel runs is located in Area C which, under the terms of the Oslo Accords, is under Israeli control – including planning. Of course the BBC did not bother to clarify to audiences that it was the Palestinian Authority instigated Second Intifada which made permits necessary for residents of PA controlled areas. Neither were viewers told that there are no stops near Beit Surik or anywhere else along the line running from Jerusalem to Ben Gurion airport.

The film continues:

“Villagers fear they may lose access to some of their land.”

Muhammed Abdul Razik, Beit Surik resident:

“We don’t have enough information about the route of the train. It definitely passes under the lands of the village of Beit Surik but whether it is above the land or under the land, it is the same problem. For us the damage is the same. I am sure we will not have the freedom to work on our lands.”

Seeing as that tunnel – Tunnel 3 – was completed over four years ago, the claim that the route is not clear is an obvious red herring which the BBC chose nevertheless to include in its report. The BBC provides no evidence to support the specious claim that the existence of the tunnel will have any effect on access to farming land.

The film goes on to tell BBC audiences that:

“The Israeli Transport Ministry has not commented. The full route is not open yet. […] And next, Transport Minister Yisrael Katz wants to tunnel underneath Jerusalem’s historic, politically sensitive Old City. He wants to build “Donald Trump Station” near the Western Wall after the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem. More controversy is likely.”

While there are indeed plans to extend the train line from its current final stop in Jerusalem towards the city centre and the Old City, those plans – including the route – are still under Planning Committee discussion and so the BBC’s suggestion that construction will take place “underneath Jerusalem’s historic, politically sensitive Old City” is at best premature.

As we see just over half of the BBC’s anonymous report on this new train line is devoted to amplification of politicised messaging. Coincidentally or not, that messaging just happens to align with that put out by Saeb Erekat and the PLO when the train line was opened.

 

 

BBC World Service radio adopts the PLO’s language

The October 19th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item relating to the previous day’s announcement by the US Secretary of State concerning the merging of the American embassy and consulate general in Jerusalem into a single diplomatic mission.

Programme presenter James Menendez introduced his interviewee (from 0:45:04 here) as follows: 

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

Menendez: “Until a few months ago America’s embassy in Israel was in Tel Aviv. Its diplomatic mission to the Palestinians was at the consulate general in Jerusalem. But in May – as you may remember – the embassy moved to Jerusalem; America recognising what Israel has always maintained: that Jerusalem is its capital. That was condemned by Palestinians as well as all the other members of the UN Security Council.”

Failing to clarify that no UN Security Council resolution was in fact passed on that topic, Menendez went on:

Menendez: “Well, now another change: the mission to the Palestinians is going to be subsumed into the new US embassy. It’ll be called the Palestinian Affairs Unit. The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says it’s about achieving efficiencies. Palestinians say it’s just another move to downgrade them. Well let’s talk to Martin Indyk, himself a former US ambassador to Israel, now [at] the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Welcome to the programme. How would you characterise this move?”

Indyk: “Oh I don’t think there can be any doubt that it is a downgrading of US representation to the Palestinians that is consistent with the decision to establish the embassy in Jerusalem – the US embassy to Israel – in Jerusalem and recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. And in doing so the president – President Trump – made no reference to Palestinian claims to Jerusalem and so I think this is just…just a further symbolic and management act that demonstrates that the last…the symbolic toe-hold for the Palestinians in terms of American policy – their toe-hold in Jerusalem – is now gone.”

Failing to explain that the US president’s December 2017 announcement specifically stated that “[t]he United States continues to take no position on any final status issues” and “[t]he specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties. The United States is not taking a position on boundaries or borders”, Menendez then came up with the following bizarre statement-cum-question:

Menendez: “Eh…I mean in a place where symbols matter hugely, I mean is it also symbolic of this one-state solutionthe Greater Israel as the government there calls it – with everybody being under one roof?”

While members of certain parties included in the current Israeli coalition government have proposed annexation of various parts of Judea & Samaria, that is not official government policy. Menendez’s implication that the Israeli government promotes “the Greater Israel” is obviously inaccurate and misleading (especially given his reference to “this one-state solution” which of course has additional meanings) as well as irrelevant to the topic ostensibly under discussion. The likely source of that misleading phrase used by Menendez will be discussed in a moment but in the meantime, the interview continued.

Indyk: “Well I don’t think it forecloses even some Palestinian position in Jerusalem in final status talks as far as the US policy is concerned. Secretary Pompeo was quick to say that. But in practical terms what it signals is this much touted and little revealed Trump peace plan. What’s in it for the Palestinians is going to be slim pickings indeed, especially when it comes to Jerusalem.”

Menendez: “I suppose someone would say, you know, practically it’s not going to make a huge amount of difference given the lack of peace talks anyway at the moment.”

Indyk: “Yes, that is true but it will make a difference in terms of representation to the Palestinians. There’s a lot more than just talking about peace involved in dealings between the United States and the Palestinian Authority. And now there will no longer be even a consul general – not an ambassador but a consul general – to deal with the Palestinian Authority. That person is going to be a more junior person under the authority of the US ambassador to Israel and that’s something that the Palestinian Authority – and certainly its leader Abu Mazen – will have great difficulty relating to and so I think that, you know, with the cut off in all aid to the Palestinians from the United States…eh…the lowering of the political level of engagement – it just means that there’s an overall downgrading of the Palestinians in Trump administration policy.”

Refraining from pointing out to listeners that the US has not “cut off…all aid” to the PA, Menendez closed the interview there.

So where did James Menendez get that phrase “the Greater Israel”? A clue can be found in the promotion of an article on the same topic which appeared on the BBC News website on October 18th.

In the report itself – titled “US to merge Jerusalem consulate general with new embassy” – BBC audiences were told that:

“Palestinians condemned the move.

Senior official Saeb Erekat said the Trump administration was working with Israelis to “impose ‘Greater Israel’ rather than a two-state solution”.”

That quote was taken from a series of Tweets put out by the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department on October 18th and picked up by a BBC producer.

And so we see that a phrase attributed to the Israeli government by James Menendez in fact comes from the PLO’s Saeb Erekat.

This of course is by no means the first instance in which we have seen the BBC promoting talking points and narratives conceived by the PLO:

Reviewing BBC compliance with PLO media guidance

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

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

PLO recommended terminology continues to appear in BBC content

BBC News amplifies PLO’s interpretation of the two-state solution

In this latest item BBC World Service audiences heard just one view of the story (which unsurprisingly happens to dovetail with that of the PLO) while the BBC presenter adopted and amplified misleading terminology promoted by the PLO for political purposes and in doing so, compromised the BBC’s objectivity.  

Related Articles:

BBC framing of Jerusalem embassy stories continues

Context lacking, inaccuracies let slide in BBC WS coverage of PLO mission closure

BBC News report on US closure of PLO mission fails to adequately inform

BBC News reporting on US aid cut to UNRWA – part two

 

 

 

 

BBC News report on US closure of PLO mission fails to adequately inform

On September 10th a story that has been brewing for a long time was reported on the BBC News website under the headline “US to shut Palestinian mission in Washington“.

Nearly 22% of the 578-word article was used to tell readers “How have the Palestinians responded?” and over 31% of its word count was given over to descriptions of US cuts to donations – including the already widely covered UNRWA story – under the sub-heading “What other steps has the US taken?”.

The background ostensibly intended to enable readers to understand the story was presented in 138 words under the sub-heading “Why is the Palestinian mission being closed?” and began by quoting parts of the relevant statement from the US State Department.

“The PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel,” the state department said on Monday.

“To the contrary, the PLO leadership has condemned a US peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the US government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise.”

The statement also cited Palestinian efforts to get the ICC to prosecute Israelis for alleged violations of international laws and norms regarding the treatment of people and property in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.”

Readers were next provided with links to two previous BBC reports: the first dating from November 18th 2017 and the other from May 22nd 2018.

Last year the US state department warned the mission that under US law it faced closure if Palestinian leaders continued to do so.

But in May, the Palestinian foreign minister formally asked the ICC’s chief prosecutor to launch a full investigation, saying he had “ample and insurmountable evidence”.”

In order to understand the relevance of “US law” to the current story, readers would have had to click on that first link, where they would find the following:

“US officials say the PLO could be breaking a legal condition for it to operate in the US.

The US law says Palestinian authorities must not pressure the International Criminal Court to investigate Israelis.

The PLO, which is seen by the international community as representing all Palestinians, opened an office in DC in 1994.

It is the first time that the State Department has declined to reissue a six-monthly operating licence for it.

A state department official cited “certain statements made by Palestinian leaders” about the International Criminal Court (ICC) as the reason behind the non-renewal.

Obviously that account does not provide readers unfamiliar with the story with a full and clear explanation of its background. An article published by the Times of Israel around the same time however does.

“In 1987, Congress sought to rid US soil of any PLO institutions, which included a United Nations mission located in New York City and a Palestinian information bureau in DC. At the time, the PLO was a US-designated terror organization, backing attacks against Israelis. […]

Despite the bill becoming law, ultimately the US couldn’t close the Palestinian mission to the UN because this would have violated international law. The DC information office, however, was closed.

Fast-forward to 1993. Israel and the PLO have just signed the Oslo Peace Accords. The Palestinians have sworn to end decades of terror attacks against Israel and are slated to receive their own state in the coming years. At this historic occasion, the US Congress allowed the president to suspend all sanctions against the PLO as long as the Palestinians stay faithful to commitments made in the accords. The suspension would have to be renewed every six months. This act by Congress allowed the PLO to open up a diplomatic mission in DC.

In 1997, Congress made it easier for the president to waive the sanctions against the PLO: The president would now just have to say the waiver was in the US’s national security interest with no explanation needed. Again, a waiver would have to be signed every six months.

This was the case until 2011, when the Palestinians joined UNESCO and declared they wanted full-membership status in the UN.

In response, Congress slipped in a new provision into the annual State and Foreign Operations Bill […]

Now, if the Palestinians obtained full membership status in the United Nations outside of an agreement with Israel, the president would be unable to waive sanctions against the PLO, unless “the Palestinians have entered into direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.” […]

After the Palestinians joined the ICC in 2015, Congress, without any public debate or headlines, slipped in a similar provision into the December 2015 foreign ops bill […]

The provision calls for the waiver to be revoked should the Palestinians “initiate an International Criminal Court (ICC) judicially authorized investigation, or actively support such an investigation” against Israel.”

In other words, when Mahmoud Abbas told the UN General Assembly on September 20th 2017 that “[w]e have called on the International Criminal Court to open an investigation and to prosecute Israeli officials for their involvement in settlement activities and aggressions against our people” he was no doubt aware of the potential consequences under the terms of the legislation passed by the US Congress nearly two years earlier under the Obama administration. And yet despite the US State Department having issued that warning in November 2017, in May 2018 the PA’s foreign minister nevertheless chose to present a referral to the ICC.

Nevertheless, as was reported in November 2017, the PLO mission in Washington could have remained open.

“The declaration does not automatically mean the mission will close. US President Donald Trump now has a 90-day window to decide whether “the Palestinians have entered into direct, meaningful negotiations with Israel” — in which case he can waive the requirement to shutter the office.”

However, the Palestinians have of course done no such thing and – as the BBC has itself reported on numerous occasions over the past ten months – Palestinian officials have repeatedly made it abundantly clear that they have no intention of even considering a US peace plan.

In summary, while readers of this BBC report found an unsatisfactory 48 word ‘explanation’ of the legislative background crucial to proper understanding of this story, they saw 127 words of PLO condemnations of the US administration decision – but no clarification of how the Palestinians could have prevented that decision from being taken.  

Related Articles:

Inaccuracy and omission in BBC backgrounder on Jerusalem

BBC News report on US aid cut excludes relevant context

 

 

BBC WS airs ‘Great Return March’ falsehoods and more

The May 13th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme Weekend – presented by Julian Worricker – included a long item (from 04:38 here) relating to the next day’s opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem. Given the BBC’s coverage of that story so far, it was hardly surprising to see that event once again portrayed as “controversial”.

“The United States will officially open its embassy in Jerusalem tomorrow, following the controversial decision by President Trump to relocate it from Tel Aviv.”

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

Worricker: “…we turn our attention to the Middle East and particularly the events of the next few days. Today it’s an Israeli national holiday commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City in the aftermath of the June 1967 Six Day War. The day is officially marked by state ceremonies and memorial services. Then tomorrow the American embassy is officially moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. No country has its embassy in Jerusalem because of its contested status. Both Israelis and Palestinians see the ancient city as their capital. But in making the move President Trump is reversing seven decades of US policy and defying a long-standing international consensus.”

In fact, the US Congress of course voted to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital over two decades ago. Worricker could have told listeners that Guatemala and Paraguay are in the process of moving their embassies to Jerusalem too but obviously that would have spoilt the chosen narrative of “international consensus”.

Worricker: “Indications of the controversy aroused come from, among others, Saeb Erekat – the chief negotiator for the Palestinian Liberation Organisation – who has asked fellow diplomats to boycott Monday’s event. And Israel says it will almost double the number of troops on its border with the Gaza Strip and in the occupied West Bank to deal with any wider Palestinian protests about the opening of the embassy.”

Worricker refrained from informing listeners that “protests” on the Gaza border were planned months ago and are billed as having an aim unrelated to the US embassy move: the breaching of that border and infiltration into Israel.

After promising “Israeli and Palestinian voices on this in a moment”, Worricker presented a recycled brief history of Jerusalem from British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore before introducing Gil Hoffman of the Jerusalem Post. Having asked him for his view on why the US embassy move matters, Worricker went on to promptly criticise his interviewee’s reply.

Worricker: “The problem with that view – as you know only too well – is that the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, occupied since 1967, as the potential capital of its future state. So how do you square that circle?”

After Hoffman had pointed out that the US president said in his December 6th 2017 statement that the borders in Jerusalem are to be determined by the parties concerned and that Saeb Erekat – to whom Worricker had referred to earlier – had failed at his job of negotiating with Israel, Worricker found it necessary to both defend Erekat and promote the PLO position.

Worricker: “Well he [Erekat] would say obviously that if he has – to use your word – failed, it’s because the other side hasn’t done what he would require them to do by way of a compromise. Really, we’ve seen decades of US neutrality on this issue. How can it facilitate future negotiations if the US now – on this – favours one side so obviously over the other?”

In response to Hoffman stating that US neutrality had to date failed to resolve the issue, Worricker retorted:

Worricker: “Let me invite you to look at it from the other point of view in that case because going back to my neutrality point, if this is, quote – and this is a crude way of describing it – a big win for Israel, what do you offer to give back in return to those who are clearly angered by this, whether you think their anger is justified or not?”

As Hoffman began to respond by saying that Trump has a plan he’s been working on, Worricker interrupted him:

Worricker: “Mr Trump and Mr Netanyahu clearly are in agreement over this so the two are working to a degree hand in hand.”

Hoffman replied that the US peace plan will no doubt include Israeli concessions in Jerusalem before Worricker closed the interview.

Clearly that less than four-minute interview did not provide listeners with much understanding of “Israeli voices” because Worricker was too busy criticising Hoffman’s replies. 

Worricker next went on to tell listeners that “the 70th anniversary of the creation of Israel” would take place on May 15th – while failing to note that the occasion was marked by Israel on April 19th.

Worricker: “I mentioned Palestinian voices as well. Well protests are expected at that embassy on Monday. It’s a sensitive time because it’s a day before the 70th anniversary of the creation of Israel but the day that Palestinians refer to as a Nakba – catastrophe. That is the day after that independence in 1948 when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled their homes or were displaced.”

Worricker next conducted an interview with a Palestinian film-maker called Azza el Hassan who made a film about PLO propaganda films from the 60s and 70s. At one point (13:09) during that five-minute conversation, Hassan said:

Hassan: “…you know what’s so beautiful about these films? In these films Palestinians are not victims. In fact they’re liberators; they’re going to change the world. They’re propaganda films but there is this nice, dreamy element in them which makes you think it’s a pity that all of this was lost somehow.”

Worricker: “You use the word propaganda, because I am bound to point out that during the 60s and 70s when the PLO – the Palestine Liberation Organisation – was a professedly violent organisation pursuing its aims by violent means – that’s not something to celebrate, is it?”

Hassan: “Well you have to remember that the 70s…you cannot read the 70s from what you’re reading today. The 70s was the period of the Cold War. For example the South African movement was also a military movement – the ANC I mean by that. So when you say that the PLO was into [inaudible] you’re absolutely right but so was all liberating movements at that time.”

Worricker: “Mmm…but it doesn’t justify some of the dreadful acts that were carried out at that time.”

Listeners then heard false claims regarding the ‘Great Return March’ in which the majority of those killed during violent rioting since the end of March – rather than “in the last week” – were shown to be linked to terror organisations. Worricker made no effort whatsoever to challenge those falsehoods.

Hassan: “Absolutely, but if you want to talk about violence now, now in the last week Israel have killed 50 innocent people in Gaza who were just protesting peacefully. So violence is…what’s important is what’s happening now.”

Worricker: “Well let’s talk about what’s happening now because clearly there is a reason for having this conversation beyond the film that you made. We’re going to see in the coming days the American embassy in Israel moving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And we’re going to see the anniversary of the events of 1948 which led to the creation of the State of Israel, so Israelis will celebrate that. Palestinians will regard that as – to use their word – a catastrophe. In other words, the sides are so, so, so far apart. Do you see any hope of anything changing?”

Apparently Worricker is not aware of the fact that Israelis will not be celebrating “in the coming days” an event they have already marked. Listeners then heard promotion of elimination of the Jewish state.

Hassan: “I think there’s always hope. I think nothing will ever stay…nothing ever stays the same. Things have to move. And I believe in a one-state solution. I’ve always believed in it. And…”

Worricker: “One state rather than two?”

Hassan: “Yeah. I think…wouldn’t you want a one-state solution? Why would you want a two-state solution? But what needs to happen is you have to create a humane environment and an equal environment for everyone. And then we can move forward.”

Worricker: “When you look at the way the Palestinians – particularly those in charge, whether it’s in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip – the way they have tried to conduct the campaign that they have conducted in recent years, when you look at the failings and the shortcomings, what should they have done differently?”

Hassan: “As a Palestinian I feel we are in our worst point of history. We don’t even have a proper political position. So lots of shortcomings are appearing and I agree with you but I also find them a natural conclusion to an unnatural and unjust situation.”

Worricker closed that second and distinctly less confrontational interview at that point.

As we see listeners to this long item heard inaccurate claims concerning US policy on Jerusalem and Israel’s Independence Day celebrations. Audiences also heard inaccurate claims relating to the events on Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip and – as was the case in the very few reports produced when Israelis actually did celebrate the 70th anniversary of their country’s independence – promotion of the ‘Nakba’ and the campaign to eradicate the Jewish state known as the ‘one-state solution’ was also in evidence.

Related Articles:

BBC R4, WS mark Israeli independence with ‘nakba’ and ‘one-state’

 

More BBC promotion of PA messaging on US embassy

The US State Department’s February 23rd announcement concerning the opening of an interim embassy in Jerusalem this coming May was the topic of an article published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page that same evening under the headline “US to open new embassy in Jerusalem in May“.

The two initial versions of the article inaccurately suggested to BBC audiences that Tel Aviv could be seen as the capital of Israel.

“Donald Trump said in December that the US would recognise Jerusalem – not Tel Aviv – as Israel’s capital, infuriating Palestinians.”

And:

“Donald Trump’s decision last year that the US would recognise Jerusalem – not Tel Aviv – as Israel’s capital infuriated Palestinians.”

In the final version of the report – amended the following day – that statement was replaced by the following:

“Donald Trump’s decision in December to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy from Tel Aviv, where all other embassies are located, infuriated Palestinians.

The declaration broke with decades of US neutrality on the issue and put it out of step with the rest of the international community.”

In fact, the US Congress of course voted to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital over two decades ago.

Readers were told that:

“Within days of President Trump’s declaration, a UN resolution was passed declaring any decisions regarding the status of the city “null and void” and insisting on its cancellation. It was backed by 128 states, with 35 abstaining and nine voting against.”

They were not however informed that the UN GA resolution concerned is non-binding.

Readers of this report were not told that the site chosen for the new US embassy in Israel is in a neighbourhood of Jerusalem that remained under Israeli control under the terms of the 1949 Armistice Agreement.

“The US Department of State spokeswoman said the embassy would initially be located at existing consular facilities in the Arnona district of the city.”

As has been the case ever since it began covering this story in late 2016, the BBC not only did not question Palestinian objections to the relocation of the US embassy to an area of Jerusalem to which the BBC repeatedly tells its audiences – including in this article – the PA does not lay claim, but provided them with uncritical amplification.

“A senior Palestinian official, Saeb Erekat, called the move a “blatant provocation”. […]

Mr Erekat said the US move “reflects their total insensitivities to what goes on in this region”.

It “reaffirms our position that the US can no longer be part of the peace process,” he added. “The US administration has become part of the problem and not part of the solution.””

Readers also found a context-free portrayal of passive Palestinians displaced in 1948 that made no mention of the fact that the war concerned was instigated by Arab leaders who, in many cases, ordered them to leave their homes.  

“The US Department of State has said that a new American embassy in Jerusalem will open in May.

The opening of the mission will coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary, the statement said. […]

The anniversary of Israel’s founding precedes by a day what Palestinians call the Nakba, or “catastrophe” of their displacement in the 1948-49 Arab-Israel war. […]

Last month, US Vice-President Mike Pence told the Israeli parliament that the move would occur sometime before the end of 2019.

The sudden change to this May has been seen by some as a deliberate snub to Palestinians.”

Notably – although unsurprisingly – that latter unattributed BBC claim is entirely in step with Palestinian statements on the issue.

 

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

On January 16th the BBC News website published a report headlined “US holds back $65m aid to Palestinians” on its ‘US & Canada’ and ‘Middle East’ pages. Readers were told that:

“The US is withholding more than half of a $125m (£90m) instalment destined for the UN relief agency for the Palestinians, American officials say.

It will provide $60m in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) but will hold back a further $65m. […]

The US funds almost 30% of the UN agency’s work overall and gave $370m to UNRWA last year. The money withheld is part of this year’s first instalment.”

Later on in the report more details on funding were provided under the sub-heading “How much aid does the US send to Palestinians?” – with the BBC finding it necessary to inform readers that:

“By contrast, Israel receives more than $3bn in military aid per year from the US.”

The BBC did not bother to clarify that the vast majority of that different kind of aid is conditioned on it being spent on American defence contractors.

Readers also found the following:

“”This is not aimed at punishing” anyone, state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters, adding that it was due to a US desire to see reforms at the agency.

The $65m is being withheld “for future consideration”, a US official told Reuters news agency, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It is time other countries, some of them quite wealthy, step in and do their part to advance regional security and stability,” the official added.”

BBC Audiences were not told what such “reforms” might entail although, according to a report in Ha’aretz, Ms Nauert did clarify that point in her remarks.

‘”This is not aimed at punishing anyone,” Nauert said during her daily press briefing. “The United States Government and the Trump administration believe that there should be more so-called burden sharing to go around,” she added. 

According to Nauert’s explanation, “the United States has been, in the past, the largest single donor to UNRWA. We would like other countries – in fact, other countries that criticize the United States for what they believe to be our position vis-a-vis the Palestinians, other countries that have criticized us – to step forward and actually help with UNRWA, to do more.” Nauert compared the decision regarding UNRWA to the Trump administration’s push for members of NATO to increase their defense spending: “Just as we have with NATO, asking other countries to provide that 2 percent GDP into its defense, we are asking countries to do more as it pertains to UNRWA.”‘

Under the sub-heading “What is Israel’s position?” readers were told that:

“Its ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, called for aid to UNRWA to be scrapped completely.

He accused the agency of misusing humanitarian aid and supporting “anti-Israel propaganda”.

“It is time for this absurdity to end and for humanitarian funds to be directed towards their intended purpose – the welfare of refugees,” he said.”

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, Mr Danon’s statement included additional points which the BBC apparently chose to edit out.

‘“UNRWA has proven time and again to be an agency that misuses the humanitarian aid of the international community and instead supports anti-Israel propaganda, perpetuates the plight of Palestinian refugees and encourages hate,” he said.  

“Just over the last year alone, UNRWA officials were elected to the leadership of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, UNRWA schools denied the existence of Israel, and terror tunnels were dug under UNRWA facilities.  It is time for this absurdity to end and for humanitarian funds to be directed toward their intended purpose – the welfare of refugees,” Danon added.’

As readers may recall, the BBC did not report on the UNRWA employees who were elected to the Hamas political bureau. Stories about Hamas tunnels dug underneath UNRWA schools have also been ignored – as have those concerning antisemitic incitement posted on social media by UNRWA employees and political campaigning by a senior official at UNRWA.

The BBC does not have an online profile for UNRWA but a profile of the United Nations published in 2011 gives descriptions of the two UN agencies dealing with refugees:

“UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – safeguards rights and well-being of refugees; based in Geneva

UN Works and Relief Agency (UNWRA) [sic] – dedicated agency providing assistance solely to Palestinian refugees and their descendants”

Readers of this article (and many previous BBC reports) were not provided with relevant background information such as the fact that UNRWA employs 30,000 members of staff to take care of 5.3 million registered clients while the UNHCR has fewer than 11,000 staff dealing with 17.2 million refugees in 130 countries. Audiences were not informed that the number of Palestinians classified as refugees by UNRWA rose from 750 thousand in 1950 to five million in 2013 due to that organisation’s unique policy of automatically awarding hereditary refugee status.  

Readers were not told why refugee camps still exist in areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas or why Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship are still classified as refugees. Neither were they informed of the fact that while the UNHCR is “mandated by its Statute and the UN General Assembly Resolutions to undertake resettlement” of refugees, no such mandate currently applies to UNRWA.

While that relevant background was withheld, the BBC’s article did amplify reactions from former UN official Jan Egeland and the PLO.

“The withdrawal of funds would, he [Egeland] said, have “devastating consequences for vulnerable Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, including hundreds of thousands of refugee children in the West Bank and Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria who depend on the agency for their education”.

It would also “deny their parents a social safety net that helps them to survive, and undermine the UN agency’s ability to respond in the event of another flare up in the conflict”.

The Palestine Liberation Organization, an umbrella group for Palestinian factions, tweeted that the Trump administration seemed to be following an Israeli policy of dismantling “the one agency that was established by the international community to protect the rights of the Palestinian refugees”.”

Obviously BBC audiences cannot reach informed opinions on this particular story so long as the BBC continues to refrain from providing them with the relevant background concerning the long-standing debate surrounding UNRWA that they have been denied for so many years.

Related Articles:

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BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part two

Unravelling years of BBC statistics on Palestinian refugees in Lebanon

BBC self-conscripts to UNRWA PR campaign

BBC World Service amplifies UNRWA’s political campaigning yet again

 

 

 

An overview of BBC coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary

On October 24th 2017 the PLO’s negotiations affairs department put out a document titled “A Century of Injustice: Q and A on Palestine and the Balfour Declaration”. As well as the theme of ‘injustice’ promoted in its title, the document promotes additional messaging aimed at advancing the PLO’s narrative by portraying the Balfour Declaration as:

  • a ‘colonialist’ act that brought about the ‘colonisation’ of Palestine.
  • a ‘promise’ Britain had no right to make and for which it has not assumed responsibility.
  • ignoring the existence of an Arab majority in Palestine at the time and violating their right to self-determination.
  • having caused the Palestinian refugee issue termed the ‘Nakba’.
  • having brought about a situation in which there is allegedly one state (Israel) with two separate systems and no equal rights for non-Jews.
  • a document Britain is wrong to celebrate and for which it must atone by recognising a Palestinian state and taking a stand against ‘settlements’.

There is of course nothing new about those talking points; as PMW director Itamar Marcus has explained, they have been promoted by the Palestinian Authority for years.

“For the PA, the Balfour Declaration is a necessary component of the Palestinian narrative. The two foundations of Palestinian ideology, both fictitious, are that a Palestinian nation existed for thousands of years and that there never had been a Jewish presence in the Land of Israel. But this left one problem: The PA needed to explain to its people why millions of Jews had immigrated from Europe and all over the world, if they had no connection to the land.

The PA’s answer is colonialism, and Balfour is the “proof.”

According to the PA’s adjusted narrative, Balfour and Britain’s support were not one step in the growing Zionist movement, but the beginning of all Jewish history in the land. […]

Defining Israel as a European colony is a fundamental and essential component of PA myth-building, and has been part of the PA narrative since the early years of the PA. […]

In honor of the 100th anniversary of this important document, the PA decided to make the Balfour Declaration and denial of Israel’s right to exist its primary messaging this year.

Mahmoud Abbas is taking the lead with public statements such as: “It must be emphasized that the historical injustice that was caused to our people, and which continues to accumulate, began in fact with the ominous Balfour Promise. Therefore, we call on the government of Britain to bear its historical and moral responsibility and not mark and celebrate the 100th anniversary of this invalid promise. Instead, it must submit an apology to our Palestinian people…””

Between October 1st and November 2nd 2017 the BBC broadcast and published remarkably generous coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary on its various platforms that included the following:

1) October 1st, BBC Radio 4, ‘Sunday’:

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part one

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part two

2) October 8th, BBC Radio Wales, ‘All Things Considered’:

BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part one

BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part two

3) October 28th, BBC Radio 4, ‘The Week in Westminster’:

MEMO Balfour event participant hosts BBC Radio 4 discussion on Balfour Declaration

4) October 31st, BBC Two, “The Balfour Declaration: The Promise to the Holy Land”, Jane Corbin:

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part one

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part two

5) October 31st, BBC News website, “The Balfour Declaration: My ancestor’s hand in history“, Jane Corbin:

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part one

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part two

6) November 1st, BBC News website, “Balfour Declaration: Banksy holds ‘apology’ party for Palestinians”:

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

7) November 1st, BBC World Service radio, ‘Newshour’, Yolande Knell:

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part one

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part two

8) November 2nd, BBC News website, “Balfour Declaration: The divisive legacy of 67 words“, Yolande Knell:

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part one

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part two

9) November 2nd, BBC News website and BBC television, “‘Er… Sorry’: Banksy’s new West Bank work”:

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

10) November 2nd, BBC News website and BBC television, “Palestinians call for Balfour Declaration apology”, Tom Bateman:

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

11) November 2nd, BBC News website and BBC television, “Balfour Declaration: 100 years of conflict”, Yolande Knell:

BBC News portrays propaganda installation as a “museum”

12) November 2nd, BBC News website, “Balfour Declaration: Theresa May hosts Israeli PM for centenary“:

BBC report on UK Balfour dinner follows standard formula

13) November 2nd, BBC Radio 4, ‘Today’:

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part two

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part three

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part four

14) November 2nd, BBC World Service radio, ‘Newshour’:

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part one

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ Balfour Declaration centenary special – part two

Most of that BBC content adopted and amplified PLO framing of the Balfour Declaration as an ‘injustice’ and advanced the notion that Britain should apologise for the century-old document.

Only five items out of the fourteen accurately informed BBC audiences that the Balfour Declaration’s ‘second part’ – which was for the most part presented as being ‘incomplete’ and ‘unfinished business’ – specifically refers to the “civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities” rather than, as was inaccurately claimed in the rest of the content, rights in general.

With the exception of two of the items, the fact that the vast majority of the Palestinians living in Judea & Samaria and the Gaza Strip do so under Palestinian rule and hence have political rights under that system was erased from audience view.

The narrative of the Balfour Declaration as ‘colonialism’ and an act that Britain had no right to carry out was repeatedly advanced in many of these items, as was the claim that the British government should take a stand against ‘settlements’. The anti-Israel BDS campaign was promoted in two of the items.

The notion that Palestinians were ‘dispossessed’ of ‘their land’ by the Balfour Declaration and that the document was the cause of the ‘Nakba’ was repeatedly promoted in many of these reports. In four of the items BBC audiences were given inaccurate portrayals of the McMahon correspondence and the false notion that the land assigned to creation of a homeland for the Jewish people had already been promised to the Arabs by the British was promoted.

In only one item did BBC audiences hear a reference (not from a BBC journalist) to the significance of Jordan as a location in which the political rights of Arab communities in the area known as Palestine at the time were fulfilled. The part of the Balfour Declaration safeguarding “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country” was erased from BBC coverage, along with the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands.

Sadly for the BBC’s reputation as an ‘impartial’ media organisation, it is all too obvious that the editorial approach adopted throughout the corporation’s remarkably generous coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary bears an uncanny resemblance to the PLO’s political narrative concerning that topic.

 

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

Among no fewer than eight items concerning the Balfour Declaration centenary that appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on November 2nd was a filmed report titled “Palestinians call for Balfour Declaration apology” (apparently also aired on BBC television) by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman.

“The BBC’s Tom Bateman reports from outside the British consulate in East Jerusalem, where Palestinian representatives have delivered a message to diplomats calling on the UK to apologise for the Balfour Declaration.

One hundred years ago, then Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour expressed British support for a Jewish national home in Palestine – something Palestinians regard as a historical injustice.”

In his report Bateman told BBC audiences that Palestinians had been dispossessed of “their land” – thereby inaccurately suggesting to viewers that the territory on which Israel was established was ‘Palestinian’. Bateman’s choice of words when describing Jewish connections to that territory is no less revealing.

Bateman: “We’re outside the British Consulate in East Jerusalem where Palestinian representatives have just been delivering a message to the officials inside. And as they do so, protestors have been gathering outside with the same message; they want the British to apologise for the Balfour Declaration of a hundred years ago today. They’ve been holding black flags; in their view mourning the effects of that historic statement. Palestinians see the Balfour Declaration as the start of a process that led to their dispossession – the dispossession of their land and they say they want the British not only to apologise but also to recognise a Palestinian state in reparation for what they say were the effects of the Balfour Declaration.

Well while this has been going on here, for many Israelis today it’s been a day they have marked with celebrations. The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has travelled to London to meet British prime minister Theresa May.  They see the Balfour Declaration as a moment that their aspirations to what they see as their historical homeland, their ancestral homeland was given international recognition. And so they are marking that day very much in that mood.

As for the British, they have said there will be no apology. They say they’re marking the day with pride. But they also say that Arthur Balfour’s second pledge – to uphold the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities here is unfinished business.” [emphasis added]

The phrase “unfinished business” was used by the British Foreign Secretary in an article published in the Daily Telegraph – but not in the context that Bateman claims.

Interestingly, Bateman made no effort at all to inform viewers of his report of the background to the ‘protest’ to which he gave amplification.

A placard seen at demonstrations in PA controlled areas on November 2nd

“The protest centered around roughly a dozen school girls who arrived at the consulate to deliver thousands of letters written by Palestinian students, demanding Britain apologize for the Balfour Deceleration. […]

The protest — though it was publicized by the combined official media of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the Palestinian Authority and the PA’s Fatah ruling party Fatah — was only attended by some 70 people.

The event in Jerusalem was one in a series of protests planned by the Palestinian leadership throughout the West Bank and Gaza, and also in Tel Aviv. […]

“Listen, British: Jerusalem is Arabic,” the crowd chanted.

“Freedom is the right of our Palestinian state, from water to water,” the crowd yelled, referring to the historic borders of Palestine between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.”

And who organised the writing of those letters from Palestinian school children?

“The [PA] Ministry of Education and Higher Education today, Tuesday [Oct. 24, 2017], announced the launching of a campaign in cooperation with the [PLO] Supreme National Committee for Marking the 100th Anniversary of the Ominous Balfour Promise (i.e., Declaration), which is directed towards the high school grades. As part of the campaign, 100,000 letters will be written to British Prime Minister [Theresa May] as a sign of resistance to the government of Britain’s decision to reinforce its harmful policy by marking the 100th anniversary of the ominous Balfour Promise that opposes all norms. These letters will be in different languages, and some of them will be published in the media outlets.”

In other words, the ‘protest‘ and messaging given worldwide amplification by the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau was actually pre-planned political agitprop organised by the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.

“The Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) scheduled demonstrations, events and educational classes in schools across Jerusalem, Ramallah, Gaza, Nablus, Bethlehem, Tubas, Hebron, as well as in Syria and Lebanon. 

Most notably, one hundred thousand letters by Palestinian schools were hand-delivered to the British Consulate General in Jerusalem.

PLO Executive Committee Member, Xavier Abu Eid told Palestine Monitor this was the “most symbolic event that took place” across the day.”

The BBC, however, failed to disclose to its audiences the background to the political propaganda it chose to amplify.

Superficial BBC reporting on proposed legislation – part 2

As noted in part one of this post, less than 24 hours after the publication of a superficial article concerning the first stage approval of a bill proposed by members of the Knesset aimed at reducing noise pollution from PA systems used by religious establishments, the BBC News website replaced that report with one headlined “Israeli bills draw Palestinian warning“.yogev-bill-art-2

The article’s main purpose appears to be amplification of Palestinian Authority officials’ statements concerning proposed legislation under early stage discussion in a neighbouring sovereign state’s parliament.

“A senior Palestinian official has said his government will go to the UN to stop what he called a series of “escalatory measures” by Israel.

Nabil Abu Rudeina said Israeli plans to […] quieten calls to prayer, will “bring disasters to the region”.

On Sunday ministers backed two bills […]

The other bill would mainly impact on Muslims’ call to prayer from mosques. […]

The Palestinian Minister of Waqf and Religious Affairs, Youssef Ideiss, said the plan threatened a “religious war”, the Jerusalem Post newspaper reported.”

The topic of hyperbolic PA officials seeking to intervene in internal legislation in a country in which they have no authority does not come under discussion in this BBC report. Neither does the fact that the PA is not on record as having described the proposal or introduction of similar measures to reduce noise disturbance from mosque loudspeakers in Western or Muslim countries (including neighbouring Jordan) as ‘bringing disaster’ or ‘threatening religious war’.

Instead the BBC elects to provide backwind for the latest opportunistic PA agitprop, presenting a portrayal of the proposed law on PA systems which is even more superficial than the one in its previous report and similarly naming only the Israeli prime minister despite the fact that the bill was submitted by other MKs.

“While the volume limitations it seeks to introduce would apply to all religions, mosques would have to curtail the five-times-daily calls to prayer.

Arabs account for almost 20% of the Israeli population, and the majority are Muslim.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the measure would address countless complaints about excessively loud calls to prayer from public address systems, but critics say the move would be unnecessarily divisive.”

The second proposed legislation which has drawn comment from PA officials is described by the BBC as “Israeli plans to legitimise wildcat Jewish settlements” and “intended to stop the demolition of an unauthorised West Bank settlement.” Readers are told that:

“Separately, ministers approved draft legislation which would retroactively legalise unauthorised Jewish settlements, or outposts, in the occupied West Bank.

The move was intended to prevent the removal of an outpost known as Amona, which the Supreme Court says was built on private Palestinian land. […]

On Monday, the court rejected a government petition to delay the demolition, upholding a ruling that it must be evacuated by 25 December.

The issue has caused tension within Israel’s right-wing coalition government, with some members opposed to Amona’s removal.”

No further explanation of the politics behind the proposed legislation is provided and BBC audiences are not informed of the fact that it is opposed by the State Attorney General and hence highly unlikely to become law.

“Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Monday sent a stern warning to legislators seeking to circumvent a High Court ruling to evacuate the contested West Bank outpost of Amona, saying “We cannot accept legislation that hinders decisions of the High Court of Justice.””

The BBC’s article closes using language which endorses the political narrative promoted by the PLO. [emphasis added]

“According to the anti-settlement movement Peace Now, there are 97 outposts in the occupied West Bank, and over 130 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Unlike officially recognised settlements, the government regards outposts as illegal.

Settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this. Palestinians want all settlements and outposts to be removed from the West Bank and East Jerusalem which they seek for a future Palestinian state.”

While promoting the BBC’s standard partial mantra on ‘international law’, the article fails to inform readers that according to the Oslo Accords – to which the Palestinians are of course party – the final status of Area C is to be determined in negotiations. Likewise, readers are not informed that under any realistic scenario (such as those laid out in the Clinton plan or the Olmert plan) some parts of Area C would remain under Israeli control (in exchange for land swaps) in the event of a negotiated agreement.

It should of course be clear to the BBC that its remit of building “understanding of international issues” is not achieved by context-free amplification of the narrative and demands of one party in an unresolved dispute. Clearly that is not the case.

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