BBC WS ‘Business Matters’ sails close to antisemitic trope

The lead story in the April 10th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Business Matters’ (which ostensibly provides listeners with “global business news”) was, for reasons unknown, the previous day’s general election in Israel.

Listeners first heard (from 1:07 here) some of the more sensible commentary concerning the election aired on BBC stations in recent weeks from the Jerusalem Post’s Knesset correspondent Lahav Harkov.

Referring to Netanyahu, at 5:32 presenter Roger Hearing asked her “why do they keep voting for him?” and – noting the absence of good foreign press reporting on the topic – Harkov responded by citing the fact that the Israeli economy is doing well, that unemployment is down and that international relations are thriving.

Hearing next briefly and superficially discussed aspects of Israel’s economy with one of his two guests before turning to the other – previously introduced as Ralph Silva of the Silva Network but with listeners having been given no indication of what makes a “Broadcasting Analyst Focused on Banking, Technology and Media” qualified to comment on the topic of Israel or the Middle East.

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

[7:21] Hearing: “And…err…Ralph: I suppose the thing also, Israel’s slightly got pushed to the back of the news agenda with everything else that’s been happening in the world and even in the Middle East itself but it is still a very…a place that matters a great deal more that its size would indicate in political terms and of course Mr Netanyahu’s quite closely aligned to Donald Trump.”

Silva: “Well he is and I think that there are some concerns there, especially considering the election campaign. We’ve heard quite a bit about developments in the West Bank and pushing that process forward and making it more stable and more secure and with the US government such as it is, it’s basically in support of that so I think that while we haven’t seen a huge amount of developments in relation to the West Bank in the past couple of administrations, now the situation’s a bit different where they do have support especially from the US now. So I am a little bit concerned because there’s been a lot of rhetoric about the West Bank and about how aggressive they’re going to be in the West Bank and of course an aggressive move there could cause some problems. But I think it’s going to be a space to watch and I think we’re going to see a lot of developments in the next elec…in the next 4 to 5 years.”

With that commentary being as clear as mud, listeners would likely have taken away little more than the notion that some party – apparently either Israel or the US – is going to be “aggressive…in the West Bank”.

Hearing: “And of course there’s also Iran. Within the last few days they’ve advanced moves against Iran, making the Revolutionary Guard there an illegal organisation as far as – a terrorist organisation – as far as the US is concerned. And a lot of people see the moves towards Iran including the sanctions that have been put on – the economic sanctions – as being to some extent dictated by Israel or at least influenced by Israel.”

Silva: “Well certainly and if you listen to the press in the United States that’s exactly what is being said. It’s being said that Trump’s administration is supporting them and I think that there’s this new bravado going on because they feel that – the Israelis right now feel like they got a lot of backing right now and clearly they do. Ahm…and there’s been a lot of aggression and what we have to see is sort of a calming down and so I think after this election – during the election we saw that – but as soon as this election is decided I think we’re going to see a calming down of that. At least history has shown us that there is the calming down right after an election so that’s good news.”

Once again it is difficult to imagine how the BBC can claim that such commentary from a guest whose credentials concerning the Middle East were not clarified can possibly be said to contribute to audience understanding of the topic.

What listeners did hear however was the BBC sailing very close to an antisemitic trope by advancing the unsourced and facile notion that American policy on Iran is “dictated by Israel” rather than based on the US’s own considerations.

That, apparently, is the dismal level of ‘analysis’ that the BBC is capable of providing to its worldwide audiences.

Bolstering and airbrushing BDS on BBC WS ‘Business Matters’ – part two

Following a long and misleading introduction (discussed in part one of this post, from 01:06 here), the presenter of the June 2nd edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Business Matters’, Roger Hearing, got to his interview with the BDS campaign leader Omar Barghouti – introduced as follows:Business Matters 2 6

“Well, the man behind it all – strangely enough – lives in Israel in the northern city of Acre [Acco]. Omar Barghouti was born in Qatar but comes from a Palestinian family. He’s now under a kind of travel ban. He is a permanent resident of Israel but Israel has refused to give him a travel permit and says his residency rights are being reconsidered, as he told me when I spoke to him in Acre.”

Barghouti: “Israel has effectively banned any travel for me. As of the end of April they rejected a request to renew my travel document without which I cannot leave or re-enter the country.”

Barghouti’s residency in Israel is by virtue of his marriage to an Israeli citizen and he carries a Jordanian passport. Due to his anti-Israel activities, his residency status is indeed currently under review by the Ministry of the Interior.

Hearing went on:

“Well let’s look at the whole BDS campaign itself because clearly it has caused a lot of controversy. It stands for boycott, divestment and sanctions. A lot of people say it’s also a way, really, of…well, some people see it as antisemitic, frankly. They see it as…because it’s directed against the Jewish state, almost inevitably it must be characterised as an antisemitic campaign.”

Hearing failed to clarify to listeners that the BDS campaign is viewed as antisemitic because it singles out the Jewish state alone and because it negates the right of Jews to self-determination. Listeners were hence ill-equipped to put Barghouti’s jargon laden responses into their appropriate context.

“Absolutely not. BDS is an inclusive movement for human rights. It rejects all forms of racism including antisemitism. It’s the same…the smear sounds as if you say the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa was anti-white. Absolutely not: it was anti-apartheid. The fact that Israel claims a certain identity is irrelevant. Whether Israel claims to be an Islamic state, Christian state, Jewish state or any other state – it doesn’t matter. As long as it has a regime of occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid, we’ll continue to resist it, to gain our rights under international law. And we chose this non-violent, yet very effective, movement of BDS that is inspired by the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and by the civil rights movement in the United States.”

Failing to challenge Barghouti’s false allegations of “settler colonialism” and “apartheid” or to provide any of the context necessary for listeners to understand what brought about “occupation”, Hearing went on:

“Well, let me give you one potential difference, ah…Mr Barghouti. The anti-apartheid campaign was very much to change the nature of the government of South Africa but it wasn’t to end the existence of South Africa. Many people say what you’re trying to do is to end the existence of the State of Israel. Do you believe the State of Israel should exist or not?”

Barghouti used that opportunity to further promote the inaccurate apartheid analogy:

 “Well, ending the existence of a regime of oppression as they did in South Africa – they ended the existence of a regime of oppression, of apartheid – that’s exactly what BDS aims to end.”

Hearing continued:

“Do you aim to end the existence of the State of Israel? It’s a very simple question. Because Israel is a member of the United Nations. It’s an internationally recognised state.”

Barghouti was again allowed to side-step the issue.

“We aim to end the system of oppression. We don’t aim to end the existence of anyone or anything…”

Hearing: “Including the State of Israel?”

Barghouti: “We…we are aiming to end the existence of this regime of apartheid and occupation – as apartheid was ended, as the Jim Crow south was ended in the United States.”

Hearing: “By which you mean the occupation of the West Bank?”

Barghouti: “The occupied occupation; because BDS is anchored in international law we adopt the international law definitions. So when we say occupied territories we’re referring to the 1967 occupied territories – that is Gaza, the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.”

Hearing’s failure to bring into the discussion the BDS campaign’s stance concerning the ‘right of return’ of Palestinian refugees to Israel (recently described by Barghouti as the “most important” of its demands) – and the intentions and consequences of such a proposal – means that audiences were left with nothing more than Barghouti’s deliberately misleading PR spin. Hearing then changed the subject:

“Let’s talk about BDS itself. What is the mechanism of this? What do you want people involved in the campaign to do? Not buy any Israeli goods at all?”

The conversation closed with more propaganda jargon from Barghouti:

“BDS aims at isolating Israel’s regime of oppression – as South African apartheid was isolated – in the academic, cultural, economic – as well as military – spheres. So ultimately we want a full boycott, full divestment and full sanctions. However, BDS is a global inclusive movement. It’s a decentralised movement. It is led by the largest coalition in Palestinian society but it’s decentralised so we believe in the principle of context sensitivity which means activists in any country, in any specific context, decide what works best in their context. Many partners decide to boycott just settlement products. Others go for a full boycott.”

Notably, Hearing did not question Barghouti on the topic of BDS’s impact on Palestinians working for Israeli companies or on its stance of opposition to ‘normalisation’. His failure to make any meaningful challenge to Barghouti’s PR messaging means that audiences not only went away without any real understanding of what the BDS movement aims to bring about, but were actually left with an impression which contradicts the facts. Those aims – and insight into what Omar Barghouti really means when he says “apartheid” – were amply evident in an interview he gave a few weeks before this one.

“BARGHOUTI: In fact, most partners and supporters of BDS completely support the three planks in our BDS call of 2005, which is ending the occupation, ending the racial discrimination in Israel and the system of apartheid and right of return. So we’re not aware of partners who do not support the right of return as a basic UN stipulated right.

All refugees, be they Jewish refugees from World War II to refugees from Kosovo, have that right. This is in international law and Palestinians should not be excluded. It’s quite racist to say that the return of Palestinian refugees would end Israeli apartheid and that’s bad because? What is so wrong about refugees having the right to return home? If that disturbs an apartheid system that’s premised on being exclusionary and racist and that does not want to see people gain their rights, what’s the argument there?” [emphasis added]

Yes – Omar Barghouti thinks that Jewish self-determination in the one and only Jewish state in the world is “apartheid”. His disingenuous reply to Hearing that “we don’t aim to end the existence of anyone or anything…” conceals the fact that the crux of the BDS campaign’s aims is to replace the Jewish state with one in which Jews are a minority.

Roger Hearing missed – or passed up on – the opportunity to ensure that BBC audiences went away from this interview with an understanding of that lynchpin fact. In his subsequent conversation with a representative from the Israeli embassy in London he did however take great care to ensure that listeners were left with one particular impression.

“Would they [BDS] be right to boycott what comes out of illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank?”

“Well it’s illegal…in international law it’s illegal to have the settlement there, isn’t it?”

“If I’m looking as a business and I say I’m going to boycott something that is coming from a place that is deemed illegal in international law, that’s hardly unreasonable, is it?”

Yet again we have here an additional example of how the BBC has of late abandoned its formerly used mantra on ‘settlements’ and ‘international law’ in favour of messaging which fails even more to meet its commitments to impartial reporting.

Related Articles:

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BDS, Academic/Cultural Boycott of Israel, and Omar Barghouti (CAMERA)

Bolstering and airbrushing BDS on BBC WS ‘Business Matters’ – part one

We have noted many times before on these pages that whilst the BBC often provides a platform for proponents of BDS – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – against Israel (and no less frequently some of its own journalists can also be found amplifying and mainstreaming that campaign), the corporation consistently fails to provide its audiences with the full facts about the aims and motivations of BDS.

Hence, when the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Business Matters’ got the BDS campaign’s high priest Omar Barghouti on the line for an interview on June 2nd, one might have thought that presenter Roger Hearing would have made the most of that opportunity to finally enhance BBC audiences’ understanding of what that campaign is really all about.Business Matters 2 6

Hearing’s introduction to the item (from 01:06 here) focused on an event which had taken place in New York a couple of days previously.

“Now the session inside the United Nations General Assembly hall on Tuesday was loud and passionate but it wasn’t diplomats. More than a thousand Jewish students plus representation of businesses and academics; all there at a rally organized by Israel to explore ways of combatting what’s become a major threat to the Jewish state – something called BDS. It stands for boycott, disinvestment [sic] and sanctions and it’s an international campaign that targets universities and businesses with links to Israel. Danny Danon, Israel’s UN representative, didn’t hold back on how big a threat he thinks BDS is.”

Recording of Danon: “This is a movement that incites against the Jewish state, a movement whose leaders openly call for the elimination of Israel. BDS is not about helping Palestinians or bringing peace. Their only goal is to bring an end to the Jewish state. This is a reality and we won’t be afraid to say it out loud, everywhere. BDS is the true face of modern antisemitism.”

Hearing continued with some examples of BDS’ supposed success:

“And the threat is clear. It’s already cost Israel millions of dollars. The mobile company Orange cut off relations with its local provider in Israel last year which many attributed to BDS pressure.”

In fact Orange’s parting of ways with its former brand licensee Partner Communications cost it – rather than “Israel”, as claimed by Hearing – millions of dollars.

“Orange’s Israeli brand licensee Partner Communications will cease to use the Orange name within 24 months, the two sides announced Tuesday [June 2015]. Partner had previously been expected to use the Orange name until 2025.

The new agreement stipulates that Orange will pay up to €90 million to Partner, a sizeable chunk of which will be used to help Partner rebrand itself in the wake of Orange’s departure.”

Orange’s CEO (who of course is likely better informed than the “many” cited by Hearing) dismissed claims that BDS had influenced his company’s strategy and Orange continues to have business interests in Israel.

Hearing continued:

“Veolia – a French energy services and transportation company which built the Jerusalem light railway – said it was stepping back from the Israeli marketplace after some banks and investors put pressure on them.”

Veolia actually said nothing of the sort.

“…groups supporting the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement claimed that the transportation firm Veolia’s parent company, Transdev, sold their bus operations in Israel as a result of BDS pressure. While it is true that Transdev sold their stake, the sale is merely part of a global strategy of consolidation that is spelled out quite clearly on their website. It was not due to any other factors, and certainly not because of the use of BDS tactics.

In fact, Transdev’s Group Communication Director, Bruno Negro, came forth to publicly confirm this fact stating, in an email to IAN, “In August of 2013, Transdev sold its entire bus operation in Israel to an Israeli bus company. The sale is final and has been approved by the Israeli Transportation Ministry. The sale was in the works for some time as part of Transdev’s global strategy to consolidate operations, decrease debt, and fund further growth in the U.S. and other selected countries. It was not due to any additional factors, political or otherwise.””

Hearing went on with his list of BDS ‘victories’:

“SodaStream pulled its factories out of the West Bank after a boycott campaign.”

The CEO of SodaStream was among those attending the UNGA event described by Hearing in his introduction and – as has been the case in the past – he told a different story.

“Among them was SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum, whose West Bank factory in Maale Adumim, which employed Palestinians alongside Israelis, long was a target of the BDS movement. When SodaStream shuttered the factory in 2013 to consolidate its operations at a larger, newly constructed facility in the Israeli city of Beersheba, the move was falsely cited as a victory for the BDS movement. In fact, it was to accommodate the company’s rapid growth, Birnbaum said.”

Ironically, on the same day that Roger Hearing tried to persuade his listeners that BDS is having financial and commercial effects upon Israel using those three fallacious examples, it was revealed that foreign investment in Israel has risen three-fold since the BDS campaign began.

Hearing then went on to conduct his interview with Omar Barghouti. Did listeners get a clear and factual picture of the BDS campaign’s end game? That question will be examined in part two of this post.

 

More BBC multiplatform mainstreaming of an anti-Israel trope

Obviously not content with the previous amplification of propaganda rhetoric used by anti-Israel campaigners on BBC World Service radio last month, the BBC recently decided to promote business reporter Roger Hearing’s mainstreaming of the same ‘open air prison’ trope on several of its other platforms too.Hearing ice cream Gaza written

The June 18th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ includes a piece from Hearing introduced by presenter Kate Adie (from 22:27 here) as follows:

“It’s nearly a year now since Israeli forces launched air and ground attacks on Gaza in response – they said – to a series of rocket attacks launched from inside the Palestinian territory. More than two thousand people were killed in the conflict and many homes and business properties in Gaza were damaged or destroyed. Rebuilding started soon after a ceasefire was announced last August but progress has been slow. A blockade on the territory imposed by Israel has delayed the arrival of construction materials. Roger Hearing has been to see how one business has carried on despite the difficulties.” [emphasis added]

So, in addition to casting doubt on the reasons for the outbreak of hostilities on July 8th 2014 (almost a month of incessant attacks on civilians, with hundreds of missiles fired rather than “a series”), Adie also fails to distinguish between civilian and combatant casualties, refrains from noting Egypt’s closure of its border with the Gaza Strip and misleads audiences with the inaccurate claim that the slow pace of reconstruction in the Gaza Strip is because of Israeli restrictions on the import of dual use goods whilst making no effort to inform them of the terrorism which is the cause of those restrictions.

‘From Our Own Correspondent’ also has a BBC World Service radio version presented by Pascale Harter and Hearing’s report was featured in that programme’s June 20th edition too. Harter’s introduction to the item (from 17:55 here) was notably more accurate and impartial than the one heard by listeners to Radio 4.

“But right now, a glimpse of Gaza as you might not know it. It’s nearly a year since Israeli forces launched air and ground attacks there after weeks in which hundreds of rockets were fired into Israel from inside the Palestinian territory. More than two thousand people were killed in the conflict and many homes and business properties in Gaza were destroyed. It is a very difficult business environment but Roger Hearing finds one entrepreneur winning fame if not fortune.”

A written version of that audio report from Hearing was also promoted on the BBC News website’s Middle East and Magazine pages on June 21st and in addition that version of the report was translated into Arabic and promoted on the BBC Arabic website.

All four versions of the report include overly dramatic, context-free descriptions from Hearing.

“…despite the apocalyptic destruction in parts of the city from last year’s war, you do also see a lot of giggling, playing children among the ruins.”

All four versions also fail to inform audiences that, in addition to ice cream making equipment, the Rafah area smuggling tunnels have of course been used to import weapons into the Strip and that metal piping of assorted types is regularly used by terrorists to manufacture missiles.

“He proudly showed us the shiny Italian gelato machines installed in the back rooms of his cafe building. When he was trying to import them, it was hard to convince the Israelis apparently that there wasn’t some other, more threatening purpose for the tall chrome boxes with pipes and chutes and nozzles.

It’s likely at least some of the machines were hauled through the tunnels under the border with Egypt, until that smuggling operation was closed down a few months back. Now that’s a strange image: young men in pitch darkness, sweating to drag huge boxes through rickety holes in the sand, and all so that Gazans could eat fine ice cream.”

Whilst BBC audiences remain serially unaware of Hamas’ activities in Judea & Samaria and in Turkey, they do now at least know that Hamas officials in Gaza like ice cream.

“Very nice,” said Ghazi Hamed, the deputy foreign minister for Hamas. “Everyone here knows Kazem’s.”

All four of these reports conclude with the same canard promoted by Hearing a month earlier in one of his radio reports from the Gaza Strip.

“And I have to say – and this is one of the oddest things – from the decrepit heart of a half-destroyed city in a besieged and blockaded enclave, sometimes described as the biggest open air prison in the world, comes the best ice cream I have ever tasted.” [emphasis added]

The Gaza Strip is of course not “besieged” at all and those who inaccurately describe it as “the biggest open air prison in the world” do so out of clear political motivations. Thousands of people exit and enter the Gaza Strip every year – as anyone who follows the daily reports publicized by COGAT online and on social media will be aware.

But, electing to ignore the facts behind the deliberate misnomer which he has so vigorously promoted over the past few weeks, Roger Hearing continues to mainstream the baseless rhetoric of anti-Israel delegitimisation in a style more suited to the Hamas supporting Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s PR department than a media organization supposedly committed to accurate and impartial reporting. The BBC is undoubtedly capable of identifying the motives and agenda behind the promotion of the inaccurate notion of Gaza as an ‘open air prison’. The fact that it chooses to adopt, amplify and repeatedly mainstream such propaganda on multiple platforms tells audiences all they need to know about the BBC’s supposed ‘impartiality’.

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Resources:

‘From Our Own Correspondent’ on Twitter

Roger Hearing on Twitter

BBC World Service contact & complaints

BBC Radio 4 contact

How to Complain to the BBC

A postscript to BBC Business’ recent reports from the Gaza Strip

As readers are aware, Roger Hearing and Marie Keyworth from the BBC’s business department recently produced a series of reports (see related articles below) for BBC World Service radio which purported to inform BBC audiences worldwide about the state of the economy in both the Palestinian Authority controlled areas of Judea & Samaria and the supposedly PA controlled – but in fact Hamas-run – Gaza Strip.Business Daily 19 5 Keyworth

Though high on pathos and politically motivated messaging, the duo’s reports from the Gaza Strip notably made no mention whatsoever of one particular factor which has recently led to rising prices.

As the New York Times reported:

“Most recently, Hamas quietly initiated new import fees in an effort to cover the salaries of about 40,000 employees who have not been paid for months, raising prices in already-depressed markets. A kilogram of meat, a little over two pounds, increased by 50 cents, black pepper by $1.50 a kilogram and shampoo by 25 cents.”

Avi Issacharoff adds:

“The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip has instituted new taxes that will be used to pay the salaries of its administration officials, who number approximately 40,000.

Hamas, which declared the taxes under the heading “social solidarity,” decided to begin collecting them following a meeting of its parliament members who live in Gaza.

The new taxes, which include a 25 percent tariff on new cars, have led to higher prices, such as a 20% increase in the price of beef. […]

The new taxes are also constantly changing. One tax that was instituted recently requires companies registered with the Economic Affairs Ministry in Gaza to pay approximately NIS 500 to have a Hamas representative participate in a company conference. Hamas charges another few hundred shekels to have the conference registered, and if it is postponed, the postponement is taxed as well.

The most problematic taxes are levied on all goods that enter the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom border crossing. Even cartons of cigarettes that are brought in from the West Bank are taxed. This means that the average resident of Gaza pays more for cigarettes than his counterpart in the West Bank does, even though the standard of living in the West Bank is higher.

Another example is meat: Since importers must pay NIS 50 in taxes for every calf that enters Gaza, the price of beef has gone up. Hamas’s import tax on sheep is “only” NIS 25 per head.”Business Matters 19 5 Hearing intro

As readers may recall, salaries for those 40,000 Hamas employees have been an issue ever since the announcement of the Hamas-Fatah ‘unity government’ a year ago. As the Times of Israel explained at the time:

“The PA has been paying monthly salaries to nearly 70,000 public servants in Gaza despite the fact that the workers had not been allowed to serve in their positions since Hamas took over the Strip by force in 2007.

On its part, Hamas has employed 40,000 of its own civil servants to work in the PA employees’ stead.”

The Palestinian Authority refused to pay Hamas’ 40,000 employees and payment of those salaries appeared among the demands laid down by Hamas as conditions for halting the conflict with Israel which it initiated last July.

Back in July 2014 the BBC’s Yolande Knell produced a dumbed down report on the economy in the Gaza Strip which misrepresented the story of those 40,000 Hamas employees and now BBC Business reporters have ignored the issue of the price rises caused by taxes intended to pay their salaries. Once again we see that factors affecting the Palestinian economy which are the result of Palestinian decisions interest the BBC considerably less than any Israeli actions. 

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Multiple breaches of BBC editorial guidelines in BBC WS’s ‘Business Matters’ report from Bethlehem

BBC World Service’s Hearing reveals the political foundations of a ‘business’ report

The May 20th edition of BBC World Service radio’s ‘Business Matters’ devoted roughly half its content (from 26:39 here) to the topic of “Doing Business In The West Bank” and, in addition to the interview with a World Bank representative discussed in a previous post, listeners heard presenter Roger Hearing introduce that segment of the show with the following words.WS WB

“The West Bank has become the name for the land on the west bank of the River Jordan that was in Jordanian hands until it was occupied by Israel after the 1967 war.”

In typical BBC style, Hearing’s history begins in 1967 and thus erases from audience view both the name (Judea & Samaria) and the legal status of that territory before the fledgling Israeli state was attacked by the surrounding Arab states in 1948. Jordan’s belligerent nineteen-year occupation – unrecognized by all but two countries – is likewise airbrushed by Hearing through use of the euphemistic phrase “in Jordanian hands”. He also conceals the fact that the term “West Bank” was deliberately employed by the Jordanian occupiers in order to promote the notion that the territory had some sort of legitimate link to Jordan. Hearing continues:

“It includes four and a half million Palestinians. It also contains a growing number of Israelis who’ve established settlements regarded as illegal under international law.”

As ever, BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality are breached as Hearing fails to inform listeners even of the existence of legal opinions which differ from the one exclusively quoted and promoted by the BBC.

He goes on:

“A modern map of the West Bank is a mind-boggling jigsaw of areas under the control of Israel or of the Palestinian Authority as well as settlements and roads linking settlements that Palestinians cannot use, plus an Israeli security wall that sometimes cuts off farmers from their land.”

The context of how that “jigsaw” came about is erased from Hearing’s account with no mention of the fact that the recognized representatives of the Palestinian people agreed to that arrangement when they signed the Oslo Accords two decades ago.

Not only does Hearing fail to clarify that the “areas under the control of Israel” (Area C) are not separate from the “settlements” as his words imply (all Israeli towns and villages are located in Area C and Israel has security control only in Area B) but his claim that Palestinians cannot use “roads linking settlements” is inaccurate and misleading. The vast majority of roads in the region are open to use by all motorists: even the political NGO B’Tselem acknowledges that in the region to which Hearing relates, as of March 2015, vehicles with PA number plates were excluded from travel on just three sections of road totaling less than 15 kms. Hearing of course neglects to point out that Israelis cannot use the roads in Area A – the parts of the region under Palestinian Authority control to which Israelis are forbidden entry.

Hearing fails to comply even with his own organisation’s style guide when he describes an “Israeli security wall” which is in fact 97% fence: the approved BBC term is in fact “barrier”. He also fails to note that the fence includes agricultural gates specifically designed to enable farmers to reach their land.

“Every planned segment of the fence has been first examined and approved by legal advisors prior to its construction. As a matter of policy, wherever possible, the fence is built on state-owned, rather than private lands, in an effort to minimize land seizures. Additionally, great efforts are made to avoid separating landowners from their lands; in circumstances where such separation is unavoidable, agricultural gates allowing for farmers to cross into their land have been built. Moreover, in cases where the fence causes residents economic harm, those affected are entitled to compensation. In addition, residents can petition Israel’s High Court of Justice with objections to the route of the fence. As of May 2008, approximately 140 petitions have been submitted against the route of the fence to the High Court of Justice. In several cases, the court decided that particular sections of the fence cause disproportionate harm to Palestinian residents and ordered the fence to be rerouted.”

Refraining from supplying his listeners with any independent portrayal of the context of the frequent attacks against Israeli civilians travelling on roadways in Judea & Samaria during the second Intifada and the suicide bombings originating from that area which plagued Israeli towns and cities during those years, Hearing also fails to provide the all-important context of the current security threats which mean that measures such as the anti-terrorist fence and checkpoints – whilst significantly reduced in recent years – are still necessary. Instead he adopts the standard “Israel says” formula in his nod to BBC requirements of ‘impartiality’.

“Israel says their checkpoints and restrictions on movement and imports are vital to security. And it’s true: inside Israel attacks are very low in number these days. But there’s an economic price to pay for Palestinians…”

Just as Hearing’s introduction to the part of this series relating to the Gaza Strip provided a revealing glimpse into the ‘BBC World View’, this monologue also shows how the adoption of a specific political narrative dictates the type and quality of information provided to audiences and compromises the BBC’s adherence to its own editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality.

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Resources:

Contact and Complaints – BBC World Service

How to Complain to the BBC

BBC Editorial Guidelines

 

 

 

BBC WS’s ‘Business Matters’ misrepresents the status of Area C in report on PA economy

Twenty years ago the internationally recognised representatives of the Palestinian people signed an agreement according to which land west of the River Jordan that was originally part of the territory designated by the League of Nations for the Jewish National Home but which had been conquered and occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967, would be divided into three zones. The Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip defines those zones as Areas A, B and C with the latter being left under Israeli control pending permanent status negotiations between Israel and the PLO.

Those negotiations on topics including Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements and borders began in 1996 but ran past their target date of May 4th 1999. Following the unsuccessful Camp David Summit in July 2000, the Palestinian Authority chose to initiate the war of terrorism known as the second Intifada. Although negotiations did continue for a time despite the extreme violence, the process was frozen in September 2003 following a major terror attack. In August 2005 Israel implemented its plan of disengagement from the Gaza Strip and areas in northern Samaria.

Throughout the twenty years since that interim agreement was signed, numerous attempts have been made to restart negotiations and several plans have been proposed including the Clinton Parameters and the 2008 Olmert Plan. In other words, had the Palestinian Authority wished to do so, it could have acquired control over the vast majority of Area C on several occasions over the last decade and a half by engaging in the negotiations to which the PLO originally committed itself in 1993.

However, members of the BBC World Service’s audience listening to the May 20th edition of ‘Business Matters’ – titled “Doing Business In The West Bank” – heard none of that very relevant context in the segment of the programme (from 26:39 in the link above) described in the synopsis as follows:WS WB

“In our second special report from Israel and the Palestinian Territories, we go to the West Bank to see how companies operate when investment and trade is inhibited by occupation. We hear from firms in Bethlehem and a tour guide in Jericho, as well as a representative from the Israeli authorities, and a World Bank official.”

In the final part of that segment (also available separately here) Roger Hearing interviewed Steen Lau Jorgensen – Country Director of the West Bank and Gaza for the World Bank – and listeners heard that ostensibly impartial source say:

“The closest we have to one number would be that if you look at Area C which is part of the West Bank – the 61% of the West Bank that’s still completely under Israeli control – by very conservative estimates, if Palestinians were given access to this and the private sector could flourish there, that would add a third to the Palestinian economy. And it would lower the Palestinian budget deficit by half. It’s very clear when you ask – and I’m sure, you know, we’ve heard from businessmen, from all sorts of people – that restrictions is the major constraint and that is – I mean restrictions not only on movement of people – restrictions on movement of goods.”

Roger Hearing later commented:

“The Israelis say that they are trying hard to work around this; they understand the problem but still they have major security fears which is the reason for the restrictions that they have. Does that ring true? Do you think that’s the way it is working?”

Listeners then hear the World Bank representative promote a dubious and evidence-free connection between unemployment and terrorism – although that word is of course not used here or anywhere else in this programme.

“It’s clear that what we’re seeing is that the Israeli restrictions are restricting economic activity and – you know – causing unemployment, causing – you know – underemployment. And we know from all the rest of the world that high unemployment is not good for peace and stability. I would think – and you hear voices on the Israeli side saying this as well – that the best thing for Israel’s long-term security, as well as a common interest, is a vibrant neighbour next door – right? […] It’s very rare that wealthy countries go to war with each other, right?”

As a look at unemployment rates and the GDP per capita in PA controlled areas over the last two decades clearly shows, the economy there was actually steadily improving and unemployment was falling when Arafat decided to launch the second Intifada in September 2000. 

GDP per capita

 

unemployment

Passing up on the opportunity to properly inform listeners of, for example, the PA’s use of 6% of its budget for payments to convicted terrorists or the connections between rampant PA corruption, the rise of Hamas and the subsequent need for Israeli counter-terrorism measures, Roger Hearing makes do with the following bland tick of the impartiality box.

“But is it fair to blame the Israelis for what is in many areas a Palestinian homegrown problem? The Palestinian Authority – as most people admit – is not terribly efficient. There is corruption, there is misuse of funds. Is it any surprise really that they don’t have a more vibrant economy?”

Jorgensen’s reply again misleads listeners with regard to the status of Area C.

“Well first of all, the West Bank – in spite of not having access to more than half of their territory etcetera, etcetera, etcetera – has actually grown over the last 20 years pretty close to what middle-income countries have done. So they haven’t done too badly. They’re much better than their image outside.” [emphasis added]

Those familiar with the reports frequently produced by the World Bank will not have been in the least surprised by Jorgensen’s misrepresentation of the standing of Area C and his failure to note the fact that its status has yet to be determined and is currently pending the results of negotiations. In October 2013, just as Jorgensen took on his position, the World Bank published a paper titled “Area C and the Future of the Palestinian Economy” which – like many of the World Bank’s other reports – is based to no small extent on material provided by a plethora of political NGOs including Yesh Din, Gisha, ARIJ, B’Tselem, Bimkom and the Land Research Centre.  

Unfortunately, Roger Hearing failed to correct the inaccurate impression given by his interviewee regarding the legal status of Area C just as he failed to relieve them of the misleading impression that terrorism is caused by unemployment. Moreover, whilst attributing the state of the economy in Palestinian Authority controlled areas to Israeli “restrictions”, Hearing made no attempt to accurately inform listeners what the phrase “major security fears” actually means.

Bearing in mind that BBC audiences suffer from consistent under-reporting on the subject of Palestinian terrorism and that stories such as the rise of Hamas in PA administered areas or the seizure of 5 million shekels worth of money intended to fund terrorism in 2014 alone are rarely covered by the BBC, it is imperative for any accurate and impartial report on the Palestinian economy to include such essential background information. This BBC World Service report failed to deliver, instead sticking to a well-trodden but misleading political narrative in which Palestinians are portrayed as passive victims devoid of all responsibility for their choices.

The rest of this programme will be discussed in a future post.

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BBC Business accuracy fail on Gaza tomato exports

Mainstreaming anti-Israel rhetoric on the BBC World Service

Mainstreaming anti-Israel rhetoric on the BBC World Service

In addition to the ‘Gaza Special’ broadcast on May 19th on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Business Daily’, the edition of the show ‘Business Matters’ aired on the same station on the same day also devoted most of its content to the same subject matter.

In the introduction to that programme, however, listeners across the globe were treated to an interesting and revealing glimpse into the ‘BBC world view’ of the Gaza Strip. 

Presenter Roger Hearing tells listeners:

“We’ll also be […] hearing exactly how you get into one of the most restricted zones in the world. […]

But first let me describe where we are. The Gaza Strip is roughly a rectangular area of land slightly more than twice the size of Washington DC. It’s sandy, flat and runs along the Mediterranean coast between Israel and Egypt. These 360 square kilometers contain almost two million people so it’s one of the most densely populated places on the planet: more than five thousand people per square kilometer.”cities population density

This is of course far from the first time that the BBC has promoted the notion that the Gaza Strip is “one of the most densely populated places on the planet” and, as has been noted here before:

“As we know, there are many other cities in the world with a higher population density than Gaza City (6,708/km2) and other places in the world with higher population densities than the Gaza Strip as a whole (4,750.71/km2 in 2012). Interestingly, the BBC profiles for those places (Macau, Monaco, Singapore, Hong Kong) do not cite population density as a factor inevitably leading to social or economic problems.” 

Hearing continues:

“One more statistic: three-quarters of the people here are under 25 and the vast majority of these people can never leave. Why is that? Well the answer lies in the controversial and complicated politics of Gaza. Now it is technically not a state but an entity. Let me give you a necessarily abbreviated history. Back in 1948 when Israel became a state Palestinian refugees crowded into camps here. Then, it was run by Egypt until Israel occupied it in 1967.”

Note how Hearing’s “history” ignores the Gaza Strip’s status as part of the territory assigned by the League of Nations for the creation of the Jewish national home. Note too the absence of any mention of the fact that the Palestinian refugees were created because the nascent Israeli state was attacked by its Arab neighbours in 1948 and the euphemistic reference to the Gaza Strip being “run” – rather than occupied – by Egypt.

Hearing goes on to present a partial portrayal of Hamas’ terrorist designation and a whitewashed account of the violent Hamas coup which resulted in the expulsion of the internationally recognized representatives of the Palestinian people from the enclave.

“Israel finally pulled out in 2005, leaving it to the control of the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas –regarded by Israel, the European Union and the United States as a terrorist organization – took over in 2007 and they’ve run Gaza ever since.”

He then misrepresents the reasons for the closure of the Israeli and Egyptian borders with the Gaza Strip, eliminating from the picture all mention of Hamas terrorism in either country.

“And since Hamas is committed to the destruction of Israel, Israel closed down the borders. For a while the border with Egypt was open but that’s been shut now under the new Egyptian government.”

In fact, as has been noted here before:

“The violent Hamas take-over of Gaza took place between June 5th and 15th 2007 and the Palestinian Authority – the internationally recognized representative of the Palestinian people – was forcefully ejected from power. Following that event, both Egypt and Israel largely closed their borders with the Gaza Strip due to the fact that the body charged with joint security arrangements under the terms of the Oslo Accords – the Palestinian Authority – no longer exercised any control over the territory. 

Three months later – on September 19th 2007 – in light of the escalation of terrorist rocket attacks against Israeli civilians originating in the now Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip – the Israeli government declared Gaza to be ‘hostile territory’.”

That misrepresentation of events prepares the ground for Hearing to continue with a blatantly inaccurate portrayal of what came first – Hamas terrorism or the blockade.

“And now: the most controversial part of all this. Hamas fighters fired rockets into Israel and staged raids across the border in what Palestinians say is a response to the terrible conditions they’re in as a result of the blockade.”

He goes on to say:

“Israel has launched drone strikes and bombings and conducted full-scale military offensives into Gaza as well as tightening the partial blockade – they say – in response to the Hamas rockets.”

Actually, the blockade has been relaxed since 2010. Making no effort to inform listeners of the Gaza Strip civilian/combatant casualty ratio, Hearing continues:  

“The most recent war last summer was the most destructive. More than two thousand Palestinians – many of them children – died and 66 Israeli soldiers and 6 civilians were killed. Large areas of the Gaza Strip were reduced to rubble.”

In fact, that latter claim was shown to be inaccurate in post-conflict analysis carried out a full ten months ago.

“We find 8,952 of the 12,433 total points (72%) are within a 3 KM buffer abutting the border with Israel. The main objective of Operation Protective Edge was to find and destroy dozens of terror tunnels dug from Gaza into Israel.

That the most intensive damage was caused to the area where the tunnels naturally originated is thus perfectly understandable. Furthermore, of the 4,441 destroyed structures, 3,481 of them (78%) are within the 3 KM buffer, as are 2,531 of 3,303 (77%) of the lowest intensity damage (simple craters), which are mostly strikes on rocket launchers and tunnels.

Most of the attacks are grouped around certain neighborhoods or villages, such as Shuja’iyya, Johur ad-Dik, Sureij, and Khuza’a. These were probably the result of the ground operations that took place in dense urban areas also within the 3 KM buffer that housed multiple tunnel entrances and shafts, as well as launch sites for mortars and rockets.”

Amazingly, after that blatantly political and repeatedly inaccurate portrayal, Hearing states:

“In this programme we’re going to try and park the politics and look at how an economy under these circumstances functions at all.”

And to add insult to injury, he goes on to make use of one of the most jaded clichés in the rich lexicon of politically motivated anti-Israel rhetoric.Business Matters 19 5 Hearing intro

“One of the reasons Gaza’s often described as the largest open-air prison in the world is the difficulty of getting across the border with Israel.”

That same rhetoric is also used in the programme’s synopsis on the BBC website.

“How does the economy work in what some have described as the world’s biggest prison? Presenter Roger Hearing is live from the seafront in the Gaza Strip at the start of a week of coverage from Israel and the Palestinian territories.”

As we see, the BBC World Service has now extinguished any daylight that remained between itself and numerous assorted Hamas-supporting campaigning groups which employ the “world’s largest open-air prison” canard. And as Hearing’s jaundiced portrayal of the Gaza Strip shows, the problem with the broadcaster supposedly committed to accuracy and impartiality obviously does not by any means stop there. 

BBC Business accuracy fail on Gaza tomato exports

Last week two journalists from the BBC World Service’s business department – Roger Hearing and Marie Keyworth – presented a series of reports from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority controlled areas and Israel. Those reports were aired on two BBC World Service radio shows: ‘Business Matters’ and ‘Business Daily’.

With both those shows being specialist programmes, listeners may have expected to receive some factual information about the relevant background factors affecting what Keyworth’s report of May 19th billed “Gaza’s Broken Economy“.Business Daily 19 5 Keyworth  

The ‘Business Daily’ version of Keyworth’s report was introduced by presenter Manuela Saragosa as follows:

“After the conflict with Israel in the middle of last year international donors pledged three and a half billion dollars to fund the reconstruction of Gaza’s economy. But last month a group of 46 international aid agencies warned that reconstruction and recovery have barely begun. Much of the aid money has yet to come through. So how do ordinary Gazans survive? What economy is there to speak of?”

This of course is far from the first time that the BBC has reported on the failure of donors to come up with the contributions pledged at the Cairo donor conference last October but once again we see that no serious exploration of the background to that story takes place and audiences hence lack the information they need in order to be able to understand the contribution of Hamas-PA infighting to the present situation.

Whilst Marie Keyworth’s report (also aired on ‘Business Matters’) is high on emotion and pathos, again listeners were not provided with the objective facts and background information necessary for proper understanding of the anecdotes they heard. Business Matters 19 5 15

Thus, when Keyworth interviewed the son of a blacksmith who once used to make a much better living working in Israel, listeners heard the following context-free explanation:

“He has been working in Israel like for 25 years and then intifada number two happened – 2000 – he, all of them, stopped going to Israel so he was stuck in Gaza doing whatever he could do.”

The second Intifada did not just ‘happen’ of course; it was planned, initiated and executed by representatives and leaders of the same Palestinians who, as a result of that terror war, lost the ability to support their families by means of higher paying work in Israel.

A similar lack of context was evident when the owner of a mini-market was heard telling Keyworth that:

“We get the goods in the shop through merchants. We used to get them through the tunnels but now they have to import them through the borders when they are open. Most of the things we used to get from the tunnels were cheap but now they are unavailable. It’s getting more expensive but on whose expense? It’s me; the citizen of course.”

No effort was made by Kenworth to inform listeners that Egypt’s closure of the smuggling tunnels in the Rafah region was prompted by the use of those same tunnels for the purpose of terrorism. Likewise, audiences were not told that there are no limitations on the import of foodstuffs via the Kerem Shalom crossing or that the crossing is open most of the time (excepting weekends, holidays and occasionally due to security incidents) meaning that promotion of the notion that imports can only enter Gaza “when they are open” fosters a misleading impression.

Listeners heard a similarly context-free and misleading statement concerning “borders” in a segment of the programme recorded in a market.

MK: “So these tomatoes have been grown in Gaza?”

Interviewee: “Yeah, yeah, but the borders are closed – we can’t export them – so they give them back to the market and that’s that makes it a little cheaper for us.”

In contrast to the inaccurate impression given to listeners, agricultural produce is of course exported from the Gaza Strip. In addition to the existing exports to Europe and elsewhere, farmers in Gaza also now send produce to PA controlled areas and Israel.

So if a reduction in the price of tomatoes in the markets of Gaza is not because “the borders are closed”, what did bring it about?

In April 2015 – a month before this BBC report was made – the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza announced that it was temporarily stopping the export of tomatoes from the Gaza Strip due to their high price there.

“The Ministry told the agency Anatolia news that “as soon as market supply increases and prices stabilise, exports will be resumed.”

According to official data, the Gaza Strip has shipped some 250 tonnes of tomatoes to Israel since last month. The Ministry of Agriculture reported that the Gaza Strip produces nearly 70 thousand tonnes of tomatoes per year.”

Clearly the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture does not believe that “the borders are closed” to exports and it is obvious that no fact-checking was carried out by the BBC before this report was broadcast and hence listeners were materially misled.

BBC audiences have heard variations of these emotive descriptions of the Gaza economy on assorted BBC platforms on countless occasions in the past. It is however particularly disappointing to see the BBC’s business department producing the same kind of inaccurate and context-free repetition of that standard theme. Any report really aimed at informing audiences about the facts behind the story could not pass up on objective presentation and meaningful analysis of the contribution of Hamas’ terrorism to the real causes of the economic situation in the Gaza Strip. 

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Political messaging on BBC WS ‘Business Matters’

h/t J

The BBC World Service radio programme ‘Business Matters‘ is described as follows:Business Matters logo

“Key global business news in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, with live guests and contributors from Asia where the day is beginning and the USA where the day’s business is coming to an end.”

The programme’s February 6th edition included an item (available here from 10:40) described in the synopsis as being about:

“…the Palestinian women’s group trying to export their embroidery to Europe.”

Presenter Roger Hearing introduced the item as follows:

“Now, Hebron is one of the biggest Palestinian towns but it’s also one of the poorest on the West Bank. Over the last decade and a half, security problems in the West Bank and the resulting Israeli restrictions on Palestinians working in Israel or moving goods through checkpoints have made it extremely difficult to set up or run businesses in towns like Hebron. Large numbers of Palestinian men remain in Israeli detention. Now a group of women in the town led by Nawal Slemiah have set up an embroidery workshop using traditional Palestinian techniques; in the beginning to sell to tourists. But now Nawal has been in Britain to try to build up a market here. She told me about the project.”Business Matters prog

Hearing’s euphemistic reference to fifteen years of “security problems in the West Bank” of course refers to Palestinian terrorism – beginning with the second Intifada in 2000. Whilst failing to accurately name or describe those “security problems” and similarly refraining from clarifying the related issue of why “Palestinian men remain in Israeli detention”, Hearing is less coy about describing “Israeli restrictions”. But are his claims accurate?

According to the latest figures from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the general employment rate in PA controlled areas and neighbourhoods in eastern Jerusalem stood at 82.6% during the fourth quarter of 2014 and in the Hebron governorate the employment rate during that period was 78.7% (see Table 18 at the link above).

 Of those in employment in those areas, 15.6% worked in “Israel and settlements” during the last quarter of 2014, with the figure for the Hebron governorate being 18.3% (Table 20). According to Hearing’s presentation of the issue, we would expect the overall number of Palestinians working in Israel to be very few due to those “restrictions” he cites. As can be seen in Table 22 at the link above, the PCBS states that 85,000 people from PA controlled areas in Judea & Samaria worked in Israel during the last quarter of 2014 and a further 20,200 worked in ‘settlements’.

As we see in the table below (page 40) the percentage of Palestinians from PA controlled areas and neighbourhoods in eastern Jerusalem employed in “Israel & settlements” has varied between a high of 21.4% in the year 2000 (the Intifada commenced at the start of the final quarter of that year) and a low of 10.7% in 2004. As the security situation improved, the figures rose and the percentage of people employed in 2014 in “Israel & settlements” was only slightly below the figure for 2001. In other words, Hearing’s inference that fewer Palestinians are working in Israel than was the case fifteen years ago does not have strong statistical backing.

Table employment

Click to enlarge

And what of his claim that because of Israeli security policies it is “extremely difficult to set up or run businesses in town like Hebron”? Hebron is of course situated in Area A and there and in Area B, the Palestinian Authority is solely responsible for regulation concerning business ventures. According to the PCBS, 66.2% of those in employment in the Hebron governorate work in the private sector (Table 32). 20.8% are self-employed and 9.3% are employers (Table 31). By way of comparison, the percentage of self-employed people in the UK stands at around 15%. In other words, despite Hearing’s claim, over a fifth of the people in employment in the Hebron district have managed to set up and run businesses.

One very important industry in Hebron is stone-cutting and according to USAID:

“Palestinian stone exports account for more than $100 million annually, making stone one of the top Palestinian export products and a leading source of jobs. An estimated 500 companies employ approximately 16,000 workers across the West Bank, with approximately 100 of those companies located in the Hebron Industrial Zone.”

Despite Hearing’s claims of “difficulties moving goods through checkpoints” (the number of which has also been reduced as the security situation improved over the years), in November 2014 alone goods worth $76 million were exported via crossings into Israel where some 1,600 commercial transfers take place daily and the average transfer takes 45 minutes. 

So where did Roger Hearing obtain the obviously selective and over-simplified information which caused him to present such an inaccurate and politicized picture to BBC World Service listeners? The answer to that is unclear but it may of course have come from his interviewee herself or perhaps from whoever initiated the contact between Nawal Slemiah and his programme’s production team.

Nawal Slemiah

Nawal Slemiah

This is not Ms Slemiah’s first visit to the UK: she has travelled there on several previous occasions since 2013 and her speaking engagements were mostly with political campaigning groups such as Manchester Palestine Action, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Students for Justice in Palestine, the Quakers and trade unions.

As those who listen to the item in full will appreciate, this is by no means a story about “key global business news”. It is in fact an exercise in political messaging which uses the commercial aspect of the story as a hook and – despite the existence of editorial guidelines which state “[w]e must not endorse or appear to endorse any other organisation, its products, activities, services, views or opinions” – provides a bit of free advertising by means of the promotion of Ms Slemiah’s website at the end, as well as on Twitter.

It would therefore be very interesting to know just how ‘Business Matters’ was made aware of this story and whether any of the political campaigning groups with which Ms Slemiah is associated played a role in that matchmaking.