BBC bases rejection of complaint on word of anti-Israel NGOs

In April 2015, listeners to an item about the plight of Christians in the Middle East broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme were told by the corporation’s Middle East editor that:

“…Palestinian Christians as well feel threatened not just of course from extreme Islam, but they also feel threatened by what the Israeli government might be doing.”

Members of the public who complained to the BBC received a Stage 1 template response which claimed that “he was describing the mood of Palestinian Christians, not the policies of the government of Israel.”

One member of the public who was not satisfied by that response took his complaint to Stage 2 where it was rejected by the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU). The gentleman then appealed against that decision to the BBC Trust and when that appeal was also rejected, requested that the Trustees review the decision not to proceed with his appeal. The Editorial Standards Committee decided that the appeal did not qualify to proceed for consideration and the details of that decision and the previous ones were published by the ESC last month.

The document (pages 48 – 52 inclusive here) shows that from Stage 2 onwards, BBC staff handling this complaint relied on information sourced from three remarkable sources.

Complaint Bowen 1

Complaint Bowen 2

All three of those organisations are campaigning bodies with a clear political agenda.

Founded in 2005, the Institute for Middle East Understanding is a US-based organisation with a mission to “offer journalists and editors quick access to information about Palestine and the Palestinians, as well as expert sources — both in the U.S. and in the Middle East”. IMEU promotes the BDS campaign against Israel and produces characteristically one-sided ‘reports’ and ‘fact sheets’ which – inter alia – promote the ‘apartheid’ trope and the notion of “official and unofficial discrimination” against Christians.

Sabeel is an organisation known not only for its promotion of the ‘one-state solution’ (i.e. the elimination of Israel as the Jewish state) but also for the employment of ‘liberation theology’ and supersessionism in its anti-Israel campaigning

Kairos – or Kairos Palestine – “is an NGO that promotes the 2009 Kairos Palestine document, drafted by a small group of Palestinian Christian clergy [see here]. It calls for BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions) against Israel and denies the Jewish religious and historical connection to any part of the Land of Israel.” Kairos Palestine describes terrorism against Israelis as “legal resistance”.

So as we see, the BBC’s approach to a complaint about inaccurate portrayal of Israel was to consult and adopt information from sources which are actively engaged in anti-Israel campaigning and delegitimisation.

In our submission to the DCMS consultation on the BBC charter review we noted that:

“Whilst the BBC recognizes the fact that “some ‘experts’ may have a history of sympathising with one cause or another, even if they have no overt affiliation”, it frequently uses contributions from academics with a record of anti-Israel political campaigning and even consults with such sources when dealing with complaints. Clearly the BBC needs to ensure that all ‘experts’ consulted are neutral and impartial.” [emphasis added]

As this example shows, that problem is obviously not limited to consultation with campaigning academics but also includes campaigning political NGOs. As long as that clearly unsatisfactory practice continues, the BBC Complaints system can only maintain its dismal reputation.  

 

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BBC WS ‘The History Hour’ breaches impartiality guidelines with Palestinian activist

The June 13th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The History Hour’ included an item about “the Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbours” which is available here from 26:40 or from 24:35 in the podcast here or here. The transcript below is taken from the podcast version.History Hour 14 6

Presenter Max Pearson introduces the item as follows:

“…we’re going to take a close look at one of the twentieth century’s defining events in the Middle East. In 1967 what quickly became known as the Six Day War broke out between Israel and the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. It resulted in a rapid redrawing of the region’s de facto borders and a significant humiliation for the Arab powers. Of course this is a deeply controversial topic with highly charged views on both sides. So, for obvious reasons, we’re going to hear from both sides – next week: the Israeli view. But right now Louise Hidalgo hears from two Palestinians about their memories of that time.”

In her own introduction, Louise Hidalgo makes no more effort than is apparent in Pearson’s to provide listeners with the all-important context of the reasons behind the war and the events which led to the preceding build-up of tensions.

Hidalgo: “It’s early June 1967 and Israel and its Arab neighbours are embarking on a war that will change the shape of the Middle East. Samia Khoury lived in a Palestinian neighbourhood of East Jerusalem with her husband and two small children. Jordan ruled East Jerusalem then and the West Bank and the build-up of tension with Israel had been palpable.”

Of course nobody – including Samia Khoury herself – would have described her neighbourhood as “Palestinian” at the time. Hidalgo fails to inform listeners how Jordan came to ‘rule’ parts of Jerusalem and Judea & Samaria and hence they remain unaware of one of the prime factors which contributed to this war of continuance.

Throughout the entire item, Palestinians are portrayed exclusively as powerless victims of circumstances beyond their control – and responsibility. Statements such as those made by the chairman of the PLO in the period preceding the outbreak of hostilities have no place in this politicised version of ‘history’.

Shukairy statements

Hence, listeners hear only accounts such as the following from the programme’s two interviewees.

Samia Khoury: “It really worried me. I felt could this be another Nakba. I mean, I’m going somewhere else and then I can’t come back home.”

Hidalgo adds:

“The memory of what had happened 19 years earlier in 1948 was still raw among Palestinians. Then, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had fled or been driven out of their homes during the fighting that surrounded the birth of the State of Israel. They thought they’d be able to go back but they couldn’t. Many lived in the refugee camps that sprang up afterwards. Palestinians call that time the Nakba, or catastrophe.”

Once again, the context of the Arab decision to attack the nascent Israeli state and the calls by Arab leaders to evacuate towns and villages is erased from Hidalgo’s account: Palestinians are agency-free victims of circumstance according to her portrayal of events.

Hidalgo also says:

“By the end of those six days the scale of the Arabs’ defeat was clear. Israel now controlled territory four times its size and the Old City of Jerusalem. For the first time, Jews could pray freely at their sacred Western Wall.”

Had Hidalgo added ‘in nineteen years’ after “for the first time”, that sentence would have been accurate. However, she did not.

The item also includes a gratuitous – and of course unsupported – tale of ‘Israeli cruelty’ from someone who was an eight year-old child at the time.

Hidalgo: “Nuri remembers the terrifying walk they made across the wobbling, blackened remains of the [Allenby] bridge up the hill to the Israeli commander.”

Nuri Akram Nuri: “And my mum aid that she’s from the town of Ramallah, she lives there, her husband is there and she’d like to reunite with him. And he refused. […] This guy saw that she was persistent so he put his gun and said you go back now or I’ll shoot you in front of your kids.”

Towards the end of the item, listeners hear promotion of Samia Khoury’s politicized narrative.

Samia Khoury: “We were sure that this is going to be temporary but…ah…the more time passed by we felt so stupid. The everyday small things that you take for granted; this is what the occupation is about. It chokes you. Chokes your thinking, chokes your spirit.”

Of course Hidalgo refrains from asking Khoury whether or not nineteen years of Jordanian occupation also “chokes your spirit” and – in breach of BBC guidelines on impartiality – she also refrains from adequately ‘summarising the standpoint’ of her interviewee.

Hidalgo: “Samia Khoury still lives in Beit Hanina in eastern Jerusalem and is a trustee of the Palestinian university Birzeit which was founded by her aunt in the 20s.”

In fact, Nabiha Nasir founded the Birzeit School for Girls in 1924. Only in 1976 – whilst under Israeli rule – did the establishment officially become a university.

In addition to being a trustee of Birzeit University, Samia Khoury (like several of her fellow trustees and staff at that institution) is also a member of the Advisory Board of PACBI – Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. She is also an activist with Sabeel – a Palestinian Christian campaigning organization which promotes the eradication of the Jewish state by means of the ‘one state solution’ and dabbles in supersessionism and ‘liberation theology’.  Like PACBI, Sabeel is part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.

In other words, Samia Khoury is not just some random Palestinian grandmother who does voluntary work for a university. She is a veteran activist with a specific political narrative to promote and – according to BBC editorial guidelines – that fact should have been conveyed to listeners to this programme in order to enable them to put her account of ‘history’ into its appropriate context.

Related Articles:

The Six Day War – CAMERA website

Resources:

Max Pearson on Twitter

BBC World Service contact details

How to Complain to the BBC

 

PSC patron’s Christmas smear of Israel promoted on multiple BBC platforms

The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘A Point of View’ is broadcast on Friday evenings GMT, with a repeat on Sunday mornings. Last week – December 20th the programme featured writer William Dalrymple on the subject of “Islamo-Christian Heritage”.

“In the week when Prince Charles has drawn attention to violence against Christians in the Middle East, William Dalrymple says it’s time to remember the “old and often forgotten co-habitation of Islam and Christianity”.”

A point of view R4

The programme is also available as a podcast.

A pint of view podcast

In addition, a written version of the item was featured in the ‘magazine’ section of the BBC News website, as well as on its Middle East page. 

A point of view ME HP

A point of view magazine

In all of those various versions of Dalrymple’s ‘point of view’, the following claim is made.

“On the West Bank and in Gaza, the Christians are emigrating fast as they find themselves caught between Netanyahu’s pro-settler government and their increasingly radicalised Sunni Muslim neighbours.”

All the Palestinian Christians in the Gaza Strip (0.7% of the total population) of course live under the rule of the Hamas regime. Well over 90% of the rest of the Palestinians live in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority and Christians make up some 8% of the total Palestinian population outside the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Authority controls traditionally Christian towns such as Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour

Persecution of Christians in both the Gaza Strip and in PA-controlled areas does not go undocumented, although it is consistently under-reported by the Western mainstream media, apart from some rare exceptions. Prominent journalist Khaled Abu Toameh has reported extensively on the subject  – see for example here, here and here – and in 2009 he wrote:

“Christian families have long been complaining of intimidation and land theft by Muslims, especially those working for the Palestinian Authority.

Many Christians in Bethlehem and the nearby [Christian] towns of Bet Sahour and Bet Jalla have repeatedly complained that Muslims have been seizing their lands either by force or through forged documents.

In recent years, not only has the number of Christians continued to dwindle, but Bethlehem and its surroundings also became hotbeds for Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters and members.

Moreover, several Christian women living in these areas have complained about verbal and sexual assaults by Muslim men.

Over the past few years, a number of Christian businessmen told me that they were forced to shut down their businesses because they could no longer afford to pay “protection” money to local Muslim gangs.

While it is true that the Palestinian Authority does not have an official policy of persecution against Christians, it is also true that this authority has not done enough to provide the Christian population with a sense of security and stability.

In addition, Christians continue to complain about discrimination when it comes to employment in the public sector. Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority 15 years ago, for example, not a single Christian was ever appointed to a senior security post. Although Bethlehem has a Christian mayor, the governor, who is more senior than him, remains a Muslim.”

Hence, William Dalrymple’s claim of Christians emigrating due to “their increasingly radicalised Sunni Muslim neighbours” conceals the fact that conditions under the supposedly secular Palestinian Authority are little better.

As for Dalrymple’s claim of those same Christians being pressured by the Israeli government, the simple fact that the vast majority do not live under Israeli rule is enough to demonstrate the absurdity of that assertion, but of course many members of the BBC audiences listening to or reading Dalrymple’s piece will not be aware of its geo-political background. Neither will they be aware of Israel’s annual efforts to facilitate Christmas celebrations for the Palestinian Christians from the Gaza Strip and the PA controlled areas.

However, Dalrymple’s baseless smear does not come out of the blue. Although the BBC describes him merely as “a writer and historian”, Dalrymple is also a patron of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and a patron of Sabeel who has a long history of anti-Israel activism under his belt, including propaganda diatribes at the Guardian and participation in the BDS-supporting ‘PalFest’.

In other words, the BBC has yet again contravened its own editorial guidelines on impartiality which clearly state:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.” [emphasis added] 

Needless to say, the BBC has also clearly breached its own editorial guidelines on accuracy by failing to edit out a gratuitous smear produced by a known anti-Israel activist to whom, for some reason, it elects to give multiple platforms. The timing of the appearance of Dalrymple’s piece is of course also significant, with the Christmas season being prime time as far as the activities of anti-Israel lobbying groups are concerned and hence it is highly unfortunate for the BBC’s reputation that it  jumps on the same opportunistic bandwagon as assorted ‘charities’ and NGOs, of which Sabeel and the PSC are just two of many.