BBC News tells only part of an Israeli elections story

On the evening of March 17th the BBC News website published an article headlined “Israel elections: Court bans far-right candidate Ben-Ari” in which readers were told that:

“Israel’s Supreme Court has disqualified the leader of the far-right Jewish Power party, Michael Ben-Ari, from next month’s elections.

In doing so, it overturned an earlier decision by the electoral committee.

Mr Ben-Ari has faced criticism over his comments about Israeli Arabs. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has said they amount to “incitement to racism”.”

Under the sub-heading “What did the court rule?” the BBC provided readers with further information about the comments which led to Ben Ari’s disqualification.

“The court backed an appeal from left-wing politicians who argued that Mr Ben-Ari had made racist remarks.

The Times of Israel website reports that the appeal cited Mr Ben-Ari from August 2018, saying: “We have to change the equation regarding anyone who dares to speak against a Jew.

“[Such a person] is a dead man. He must not come out alive. No expelling him, no stripping him of his citizenship. He does not live! A firing squad takes him out as the Arabs understand [best].”

Mr Ben-Ari has claimed that he was referring to Hamas leadership – not all Arabs.”

Only readers who bothered to click on that promoted link would learn that:

“Michael Ben Ari, party leader of Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), has faced multiple appeals to outlaw his candidacy under Article 7A of the Basic Law: The Knesset, which lists “incitement to racism” as one of three actions that disqualify a candidate from running for Knesset.”

In addition the BBC’s report told readers that:

“The court also reinstated Israeli Arab parties previously banned from contesting the 9 April poll.

They had been barred from standing for their critical remarks about the state of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces.”

Notably those “Israeli Arab parties” were not named by the BBC and no further information was provided concerning their prior disqualification by the Central Elections Committee on the basis of what the BBC chose to euphemistically portray as “critical remarks”.

The parties concerned are Ra’am-Balad – currently running on a joint electoral list. BBC audiences were not informed that the Central Elections Committee had also earlier in the month “voted to disqualify Ofer Kasif, a Jewish member of the other Arab-Israeli party, Hadash-Ta’al”.

“The petition against Balad-Ra’am was filed by the Likud, Yisrael Beytenu and Otzma Yehudit parties, which claimed that the Arab-Israeli party is “seeking to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state, and supports the violent Palestinian resistance and Hezbollah, and most of its members are supporters and backers of terror.” […]

In addition to Ra’am-Balad, the committee accepted a petition to disqualify Kasif of Hadash-Ta’al, citing provocative comments he has made in the past, including calling the justice minister “neo-Nazi scum.”

Along with his comment against Ayelet Shaked, Kasif in the past was accused of comparing Israel and the IDF to the Nazi regime, of calling to fight against “Judeo-Nazis,” and voicing support for changing the national anthem.

Last month, in an interview with Haaretz, Kasif said Israel was carrying out a “creeping genocide” of the Palestinians.”

Kasif is also on record as having “voiced support for cancelling the Law of Return”.

In addition to incitement to racism, Israel’s election law – Basic Law: The Knesset – forbids any person or list that promotes “negation of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state” and/or “support of armed struggle, by a hostile state or a terrorist organization, against the State of Israel” from running in elections.

The Balad party rejects the existence of the Jewish State, promotes the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees and aspires to a bi-national state.

However, while the BBC did provide its audiences with details of the racist comments which led to Ben Ari’s disqualification in this report (tagged, inter alia, racism) it chose not to supply an explanation of the background to the Central Elections Committee’s decision – later overturned by the Supreme Court – to ban other candidates, while euphemistically framing their negation of Jewish self-determination as mere “critical remarks”.

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The BBC ‘expert’ contributor and the UK Hizballah designation

Here are some tweets from a person obviously not pleased by the British Home Secretary’s decision to classify Hizballah as a terrorist group.

If the name of the writer of those Tweets sounds familiar, that may be because Sharmine Narwani – formerly of Oxford University’s St Anthony’s College – has appeared in BBC content in the past and some of her contributions are still available online.

As was noted here in 2013:

“In addition to some aggressive anti-Americanism, Narwani peddles anti-Israel, pro Assad,  pro-Iranian regime and pro-Hizballah rhetoric.  As well as having blogged at the Huffington Post – until her pro-Assad stance apparently became too much – Narwani has written for the Guardian and the pro-Hizballah/pro-Assad Lebanese outlet Al Akhbar English.

She also appears to have something of an affinity with antisemitic conspiracy theorists, writing for the ‘Veterans Today‘ website – which has links, via its editor, to Iran’s Press TV – and its sister site ‘Veterans News Now’ as well as – according to her Twitter account – recently appearing on Rense Radio.”

As we see the person variously portrayed by the BBC as a “Middle East expert”, a “journalist” and a “political commentator” is also a dab hand at offensive racist slurs.

Related Articles:

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BBC’s Knell promotes unsupported allegations in Yemenite children story

On June 21st an article by Yolande Knell appeared in the ‘Magazine’ section of the BBC News website as well as on its Middle East page under the title “Missing babies: Israel’s Yemenite children affair“. The article is introduced as follows:

“In the years after the creation of the Israeli state hundreds of babies went missing. Their parents, mostly Jewish immigrants from Yemen, were told their children had died, but suspicions linger that they were secretly given away to childless families – and newly released documents have revealed some disturbing evidence.”

It opens with the 50 year-old story of a woman who “had given birth to premature twins”.

“But when Leah’s husband visited soon afterwards, only one of the twins was there. The other, Hanna, had died, he was informed.

Leah was shocked not to be shown a body or a grave – a common feature of such stories…” [emphasis added]

A similar approach to the burial of babies who died during or shortly after childbirth was of course the norm in Britain right up to the 1960s and even later – but readers of this article are not given that context.

The historical background to the story provided by Knell is limited to a few lines.

“Leah had experienced many calamities long before the loss of her baby. As a child, she and her family had joined thousands of Jews fleeing violence in Yemen. They were robbed as they trekked from one end of the country to the other and Leah was reduced to begging for food. Then they were rescued in an airlift known as Operation Magic Carpet. […]

They had arrived, malnourished and penniless, during the first Arab-Israeli war.”

Although the fact that the new immigrants from Yemen arrived in Israel in poor health after long journeys on foot to the overcrowded transit camps in Aden where disease was rife and mortality rates high is very relevant to the story she is telling, Knell does not expand further.

Despite the fact that three separate commissions of inquiry have determined that the overwhelming majority of the children died, Knell nevertheless amplifies unsupported allegations.

“Many Yemenite Jews spent periods in transit camps before being settled in homes, and stories of babies going missing began to arise immediately.

Some reports talk of children disappearing after visits to the camps by wealthy American Jews.

In other cases children appeared to be recovering in hospitals from relatively minor ailments when the parents were suddenly told they had died.

On kibbutzes [sic], where some of the Yemenites settled, it was typical for youngsters to be separated from their parents and looked after together, and here too it’s said that some children vanished.

Estimates of the number of missing children range from hundreds to thousands.

In many cases the parents believe their children were really kidnapped and given or sold to families of European Jews – occasionally Holocaust survivors who had lost their children – or Americans.”

Only in the twenty-seventh paragraph of her article does Knell tell readers that:

“Three government inquiries have looked into the Yemenite Children Affair, as it is known, since the 1960s, and all have concluded that most children died of diseases and were buried without their parents being informed or involved.”

However, that is immediately followed by a paragraph again promoting entirely unproven speculations:

“But many of the families involved suspect a cover-up and continue to believe that there was an organised operation to snatch children, involving health workers and government officials.”

Later on in the article, Knell half concedes that allegations of “an organised operation” are unproven:

“Whether there was an organised conspiracy to snatch Yemenite babies and give them away for adoption remains unproven though, according to historian Tom Segev, who has written books on Israel’s early years and served as an expert witness for one government inquiry.

He points out that hundreds of thousands of immigrants arrived in Israel at a time of war, and in the years immediately afterwards, when the country was still reeling.

“All these people came in very, very difficult conditions and it’s a story of chaos,” Segev says.”

Nevertheless (while conveniently ignoring the fact that her own country was not exactly free of prejudice and discrimination in the 1950s) Knell uses this story to promote a clear take-away point to readers:

“One of the disturbing aspects of the Yemenite Children Affair is the way the darker-skinned immigrants appear to have been treated as second-class citizens. The founders of Israel were mostly Ashkenazi Jews, of European descent, some of whom expressed fears that Mizrahi (literally “Eastern”) Jews brought with them a backwards “Oriental” culture that might damage the new state.”

Perhaps it was the urge to promote that notion that prevented Knell from informing BBC audiences that not only “darker skinned” children were said to have disappeared at that chaotic time but also children of immigrants from the Balkans and Eastern Europe.

The Yemenite children affair as it is known in Hebrew is for obvious reasons a sensitive subject in Israel and one that has been under examination and discussion for decades.

However, any journalist wishing to present an objective account of that story would take care to provide an accurate portrayal of the conditions in which a new country that was still at war at the time took in hundreds of thousands of impoverished refugee immigrants from dozens of different countries and cultures despite a grave lack of facilities and resources and the absence of a common language and efficient communication. An objective journalist would of course also take into consideration that in Israel – as in other countries – societal norms on topics such as the death of a child have changed during the decades that have since passed.

Yolande Knell, however, prefers to tell a story that amplifies assertions of “a cover-up”, that promotes evidence free claims of an “organised operation to snatch children” and – unsurprisingly – touts allegations of Israeli racism.

Related Articles:

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Nazi analogies on BBC comments board

A reader has drawn our attention to a rather peculiar conclusion to an article entitled “Palestinian UN vote will hurt peace, says Israel’s Regev” appearing in the Middle East section of the BBC News website on November 30th

 “Hamas has not been part of any peace talks with Israel and does not recognise Israel’s right to exist.

Israel, the US and EU regard Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

Gaza’s Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh said in a statement sent to the BBC that Hamas support for the UN bid “is based on the ‘rule of non-recognition of the occupier’… and the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland”.”

So far, so good – although actually Canada and Japan also class Hamas as a terror organisation. But then comes this:

“In the aftermath of the latest fighting, both Israel and Hamas have joined the international community in calling for a durable and comprehensive solution to the conflict.”

Was that really written with a straight face? 

The same article was also opened for reader comments. Among those which passed the BBC’s standards of moderation  – based on ‘house rules prohibiting – amongst others – comments which display racism, abuse or are deemed “otherwise likely to offend” and  comments which are likely to “provoke, attack or offend others” – were the following.  

C8

C7

C6

C5

C4

C3

C2

C1

The BBC’s moderators obviously need an urgent refresher course on the subject of definitions of antisemitism. 

As the newly-released Community Security Trust report on ‘Antisemitic Discourse in Britain in 2011’ rightly points out:

The internet and social media are providing new opportunities for the spread of antisemitic discourse”

It is the BBC’s responsibility to ensure that its comments sections do not provide platforms for such discourse.