The final item in the November 22nd edition of BBC 4’s ‘Today‘ programme related to an announcement put out a few days earlier by the UK Quakers. In that announcement the Quakers stated that their church would not “invest any of its centrally-held funds in companies profiting from the occupation of Palestine” while simultaneously stating that “we do not believe we currently hold investments in any company profiting from the occupation”.
Apparently unaware of the UK Quakers’ existing practices – including a seven and a half year-old “decision to boycott goods produced in Israeli settlements built in occupied Palestine ‘until such time as the Israeli occupation of Palestine is ended’“, presenter Justin Webb introduced the item (from 2:54:08 here) by telling Radio 4 listeners that:
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Webb: “The Quakers – the Religious Society of Friends – do not generally upset people. They regard themselves as peaceful, cooperative, thoughtful. So when they became the first British church to disinvest from any company that profited from activities in the occupied Palestinian territories it raised eyebrows – and more: the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews said it was appalling.”
Webb went on to introduce two contributors: the recording clerk of the Quakers – Paul Parker – and James Sorene of BICOM. Parker’s response to the question “why was the decision taken?” likewise included references to “Palestinian territory”.
Parker: “Well this is really a moral and spiritual question for us. Being a Quaker means letting your faith determine the choices you make in life and for us that includes how we use our money and where it comes from. We’ve been listening to and watching the situation in Israel-Palestine, which is a region of the world that we know well, and feeling increasingly that we can’t support businesses which profit financially from the occupation of…of Palestinian territory. The settlement…ahm…Israeli government policy on settlements in Palestinian territory is illegal under international law and so we don’t think it’s morally defensible to profit from companies or to invest in companies which profit from that occupation. So we’ve adjusted our investment policy to [unintelligible] that.”
Obviously it would have been helpful to listeners trying to reach an informed opinion on this story had they been told at this point that all Israeli communities are located in Area C which – according to the Oslo Accords signed by Israel and the PLO as representative of the Palestinian people – has yet to have its final status determined in negotiations between the two parties and therefore it is at best premature to describe those areas as “Palestinian territory”. Likewise, it would have been helpful to listeners had they been informed that the same Oslo Accords place no limitations whatsoever on building in Israeli communities in Area C and that the claim that such towns and villages are “illegal under international law” is by no means the sole legal opinion on the topic.
However Justin Webb did not bother to provide his audience with any of that relevant information before bringing in James Sorene and neither did he challenge a very obvious red herring subsequently introduced by Paul Parker.
Parker: “We would absolutely agree that dialogue is the only way out of this. For a viable, peaceful solution to happen, without recourse to some of the terrible violence that we’ve been seeing in the region over the last many years, we do need to sit down and talk to each other. Our experience is though that the policy around settlements is making that dialogue harder. It’s…it’s skewing the conversation, making it very difficult for people to meet and talk on equal terms.”
Listeners were not told that the BDS campaign that the Quakers have publicly supported for the last seven and a half years opposes ‘normalisation’ – i.e. talking to Israelis – or that its ‘end game’ is not a “peaceful solution” but the eradication of the Jewish state. Neither were audiences informed that “policy around settlements” has been shown in the past to have no effect whatsoever on “dialogue”: the Palestinians have managed to hold talks when construction was taking place in Judea & Samaria and managed not to hold talks when it was frozen. Justin Webb also failed to challenge Parker’s claim that pressure needs to be brought exclusively on one party to the conflict.
Parker: “And so this decision not to invest in companies which profit from the occupation is really a non-violent way of saying we need to bring some pressure to bear on the Israeli government to change how they approach this situation.”
Webb did however manage to place the existence of Israeli communities in a region designated by the League of Nations for the creation of a Jewish homeland in the same category as “terrible things” including genocide.
Webb: “And the point being of course that there are all sorts of governments who do terrible things around the world. Are you also disinvesting from companies that, for instance, have investments in Myanmar which is accused of genocide?”
When Parker replied that “our policy is at the moment specific to the occupation of Palestine”, Webb asked:
Webb: “Are you saying that you would not invest in other places where governments are, in your view, oppressing people or is it just in Palestine?”
As noted here on numerous occasions in the past, the BBC’s ‘style guide’ instructs journalists not to use the term Palestine because “[t]here is no independent state of Palestine today…rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity”.
While Justin Webb’s focus on the hypocrisy of this latest announcement from the Quakers is obviously relevant to the story, it is unfortunate that he made no effort to provide listeners with additional essential information. The fact that for so many years BBC audiences have been denied information concerning the aim of the BDS campaign, denied information concerning legal opinions which do not follow the BBC’s chosen narrative on ‘international law’ and presented with a monochrome and politically partisan view of ‘settlements‘ clearly hampers the ability of listeners to reach an informed opinion of this story.