Weekend long read

1) At the INSS Raz Zimmt analyses ‘The Crisis of Public Confidence in the Iranian Regime.

“In mid-February 2020, a few weeks after the Ukrainian airliner was shot down, public confidence in the Iranian regime suffered another serious blow following the outbreak of the coronavirus, which within a few days spread from the city of Qom, a Shiite pilgrimage site, to most parts of the country. The regime’s handling of the outbreak of the virus, which has so far claimed the lives of hundreds of Iranians, again exposed a series of failures and attempted cover-ups that further embittered the public and aroused piercing public criticism. For instance, the airline Mahan Air, which is owned by the Revolutionary Guards, continued to fly to and from China even after the outbreak of the disease, and even after the Iranian authorities declared in early February a halt to flights between the countries.”

2) Haviv Rettig Gur profiles ‘the ruthless economist directing Israel’s drastic virus fight’ at the Times of Israel.

““Barsi” led an aggressive effort to slow the virus’s penetration into Israel — not because he thought he could stop it, but because slowing its spread would prevent overtaxing Israel’s hospitals and health infrastructures. The thinking was sound, health experts said. Israel only has so many respirators and lung specialists, making the death toll from the virus a function not of the number of people who fall ill, but of the rate at which they do so.

If the number of ill at any given time could be kept at levels that Israel’s health infrastructure could accommodate, far more would survive infection. Slowing the spread could mean the difference between a few hundred dead by the end of the crisis and many thousands or even more who succumb because hospitals could not treat them properly and ventilators were in short supply.”

3) Writing at The Hill, Eitan Dangot discusses the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s efforts to disrupt calm in the Gaza Strip.

“In Gaza, the PIJ has been building an arsenal of ballistic rockets, whose quantity and variety have become as threatening as that of Hamas. Since its founding in the late 1980s, the PIJ has been ideologically committed to destroying the State of Israel and establishing an Islamist state in its place. Unencumbered by any obligation to deal with civilian needs, the PIJ deals exclusively with the recruitment of operatives and solicitation of funds. […]

In terms of ideology, we know the PIJ originates from the same breeding ground as Hamas and shares a similar foundational identity. More ominously, though, the PIJ has identified with the path of the Iranian Islamic Revolution since 1979 and created strong reciprocal relations with Tehran. The Iranians extend financial credit lines to the PIJ, funding that it uses to build up and activate its forces. It also enjoys ties with Hezbollah, which acts as an influencing factor in the PIJ’s force build-up and training. The PIJ’s has headquarters in Gaza, Syria and Lebanon, which strengthens the radical ties between this Sunni organization and the Shi’ite axis.”

4) At the JCPA Yoni Ben Menachem reports on the trial of Hamas activists in Saudi Arabia.

“In Saudi Arabia, the trial of 68 Hamas members has begun.  They were arrested in April 2019 in Saudi Arabia; most of the members were Palestinians from the Palestinian territories who immigrated to Saudi Arabia, and some of them were Jordanian civilians. […]

The public trial of Hamas members in Saudi Arabia is enraging Hamas activists in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and among Hamas supporters throughout the Arab world.

During the first court hearing, the charges against them were enumerated, and the Hamas activists arrested in Saudi Arabia were accused of belonging to a “terrorist entity” and “supporting and financing a terrorist organization.” […]

Saudi Arabia transmitted intelligence that dozens of Hamas activists were engaged in collecting and laundering money for the Hamas military arm and terrorist activity against Israel. The money raised was then transferred to Turkey and from there to the Gaza Strip.”

BBC ignores HRW’s dodgy donation

As regular readers are no doubt aware, the BBC is usually very quick off the mark when it comes to providing amplification for reports, campaigns or talking points promoted by the political NGO ‘Human Rights Watch’ (HRW).

Nevertheless, we have yet to find any BBC coverage (including on its website’s ‘human rights’ page) of a recent story concerning that organisation.

On February 27th HRW put out a “Statement on Return of Donation” which opens:

“In 2012, Human Rights Watch made a deeply regrettable decision to accept a donation that included conditions that the funds not be used to support HRW’s work on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in the Middle East and North Africa. We also regret that the grant was made by the owner of a company that Human Rights Watch had previously identified as complicit in labor rights abuse. This decision stood in stark contrast to our core values and our longstanding commitment to LGBT rights as an integral part of human rights. Accepting a grant with such a condition was anathema to HRW’s commitment to protecting the human rights of all people.”

That statement – which does not name the donor – was made in light of an investigation by ‘The Intercept’.

“Human Rights Watch recently returned the gift from Saudi real estate magnate Mohamed Bin Issa Al Jaber, which came with the caveat that it could not be used to support the group’s LGBT advocacy in the Middle East and North Africa. The controversial donation is at the center of a contentious internal debate about the judgment and leadership of Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth.

After The Intercept began investigating the donation, the rights group published a statement on its website saying that accepting the funding was a “deeply regrettable decision” that “stood in stark contrast to our core values and our longstanding commitment to LGBT rights as an integral part of human rights.”

The 2012 grant from Al Jaber’s U.K.-based charitable foundation amounted to $470,000, Roth told The Intercept, adding that a “final pledge installment was never realized.””

This is of course not the first example of dubious fundraising by HRW. BBC audiences, however, have to date seen no reporting on the story.

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BBC News stays mum on UNRWA head’s resignation

Weekend long read

1) At the FDD David May provides ‘A History of Anti-Israel Boycotts, From the Arab League to BDS’.

“The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign, or BDS, is the most recent iteration of a century-old effort to attack the legitimacy and economic viability of the Jewish state and its precursors. Arabs initiated boycotts of Jewish businesses in the Holy Land in the early 20th century, with the goal of preventing the establishment of a Jewish state. The Arab League declared a comprehensive boycott in 1945, first to reinforce these efforts, then to reverse the outcome of Israel’s War of Independence. In other words, these countries sought the annihilation of the Jewish state. […]

American anti-boycott measures and inconsistent enforcement by Arab League member states convinced many companies to reject the boycott. The Arab League boycott lost further steam during the Palestinian-Israeli peace process in the 1990s, which saw the Palestinian Authority officially accept economic relations with Israel. When the peace process unraveled, however, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) revived the boycott.

Western activists and NGOs helped develop the campaign’s infrastructure, including the July 2005 “Call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Against Israel,” from which the campaign takes its name.”

2) At the ITIC Dr Raz Zimmt discusses the ‘Implications of the Appointment of Mohammad Hossein-Zadeh Hejazi as the Deputy Commander of the Qods Force’.

“On January 20, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) appointed Seyyed Mohammad Hossein-Zadeh Hejazi to the position of the deputy commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force. Hejazi replaced Esmail Qa’ani, who was appointed as the commander of the Qods Force following the assassination of Qasem Soleimani. Hejazi is considered one of the most prominent officers in the IRGC as a whole and the Qods Force in particular. His appointment provides another sign of continuity, since Hejazi is a highly experienced operative deeply familiar with the Qods Force and its activities. Hejazi’s involvement in the Lebanese arena in recent years, and particularly the project to increase the precision of Hezbollah’s missiles, may assist Qa’ani in implementing the Qods Force’s missions on Iran’s western front, which are focused on Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria and the efforts to bolster Hezbollah’s capabilities. His role is particularly crucial given the fact that most of Qa’ani’s activities as the deputy commander of the Qods Force centered on Iran’s eastern front (Afghanistan and Pakistan) and not the Syrian and Lebanese front.”

3) Tim Michetti examines the ‘The Aramco Case’ at the Washington Institute.

“In late December, U.S. officials presented the UN Security Council with preliminary findings from their investigation into the September 14 attacks on Saudi Aramco oil facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais. According to Reuters, the report contained images of weapon debris from the attack, revealing components that were identical to those in known Iranian weapon systems. […]

Such findings raise questions about what Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council days earlier. On December 10, he said the UN was “unable to independently corroborate that the cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles used in [the Aramco] attacks are of Iranian origin”—a conclusion reached after the UN sent a team of investigators to Saudi Arabia to inspect the weapon debris. While the full details of the UN’s investigation will remain unclear until its final report is published, previous UN reports have found Iran complicit in the proliferation of military materiel in the region based on some of the same components recovered from the Aramco attacks.”

4) At the Long War Journal Joe Truzman documents the resurgence of attacks from the Gaza Strip using incendiary and explosive balloons.

“Since the beginning of last week, various militant groups in the Gaza Strip have resumed the launch of incendiary and explosive-laden balloons towards Israeli communities near the Gaza border. […]

The use of incendiary and explosive-laden balloons became a popular and low-tech method of conflict against IDF soldiers and Israeli communities near the Gaza border during most of 2018. Militants attach an incendiary device or IED at the end of a string which is tied to several helium-filled balloons. They repeat this with dozens of balloons and release them near the border with the intention they will fall on the Israeli side of the fence causing damage or casualties.”

BBC still fence-sitting on Iranian support for Houthis

An article headlined “Yemen war: Houthi missile attack on Saudi airport ‘injures 26’” was published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on June 12th.

In that report readers found the following: [emphasis added]

“Yemen has been devastated by a conflict that escalated in March 2015, when the rebels seized control of much of the west of the country and forced President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to flee abroad.

Alarmed by the rise of a group they believed to be backed militarily by regional Shia power Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Arab states began an air campaign aimed at restoring Mr Hadi’s government.”

That second paragraph originally appeared in a backgrounder titled “Yemen crisis: Why is there a war?” (which is now dated 21 March 2019 but was first published in October 2016) and a link to that backgrounder appears immediately afterwards.

The current version of that backgrounder goes on to tell BBC audiences that:

“The coalition said it wanted to halt the smuggling of weapons to the rebels by Iran – an accusation Tehran denied….”

And:

“The conflict is also seen as part of a regional power struggle between Shia-ruled Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia.

Gulf Arab states – backers of President Hadi – have accused Iran of bolstering the Houthis financially and militarily, though Iran has denied this.”

No effort is made either in that backgrounder or the current article to provide readers with information which would help them to decide whether there is any substance to those Iranian denials.

For example the BBC could have told readers that two months before it last updated its backgrounder, a UN Security Council report noted that:

“The Panel has identified a small number of companies, both within and outside Yemen, that operated as front companies under false documentation to conceal a donation of fuel for the benefit of a listed individual. The revenue from the sale of that fuel was used to finance the Houthi war effort. The Panel found that the fuel was loaded from ports in the Islamic Republic of Iran under false documentation to avoid detection by inspections of the United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism.”

As reported by AP, in another UN report from the previous year

“…the experts said Iran violated a U.N. arms embargo by directly or indirectly providing missiles and drones to the Houthis.”

So much for the BBC’s obligation to “offer a range and depth of analysis and content not widely available from other United Kingdom news providers […] so that all audiences can engage fully with major […] global issues…” 

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BBC News website showcases Paul Danahar’s Middle East narrative

An AFP report from May 14th about the WhatsApp security flaw story states: [emphasis added]

“”This attack has all the hallmarks of a private company that works with a number of governments around the world” according to initial investigations, it [WhatsApp] added, but did not name the firm.”

AFP’s article goes on:

“The spyware appears to be related to the Pegasus software developed by Israeli-based NSO group, which is normally sold to law enforcement and intelligence services, according to Washington-based analyst Joseph Hall.

The spyware “could have gotten into someone’s hands” outside legitimate channels for nefarious purposes, Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, told AFP.

It’s unclear who is doing this.””

Former BBC Jerusalem bureau chief Paul Danahar however has no such doubts and on May 14th he published an article on the BBC News website’s ‘US & Canada’ and ‘Middle East’ pages titled “Why the WhatsApp spies may have eyes on Iran”.

Readers got some early signposting in the form of the main photograph used to illustrate the article. The image – which has no connection whatsoever to the story itself – was captioned “Young Israeli soldiers take a selfie”.

Danahar opened his article as follows: [all emphasis added]

“Time to join some dots.

The WhatsApp hack, “sabotaged” oil tankers, the push in the US to proscribe the Muslim Brotherhood and “plans” to deploy American troops to the Gulf are all strands of the same story. At its heart is the struggle between Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran.”

Danahar then spent the next seven paragraphs establishing linkage between the Israeli army and tech companies while promoting an unsupported claim regarding the function of intelligence units.

“The Israeli army takes in every youngster, assesses their greatest strength and parks them where they can do the most national good.

The computer nerds who would otherwise be locked in their mum’s basement are forced out into the light and into doing their national service in cyber-warfare.

When they leave the army, they take the skills and the connections they made into the industrial sector and they form companies like the NSO Group.”

That section also promotes a link to another report on the WhatsApp story written on the same day by the BBC’s North America technology reporter, Dave Lee. In that report Lee linked to an article he wrote in 2016 in which he made some dubious claims concerning NSO and the IDF’s 8200 unit which remain in situ.

Danahar next managed to bring Palestinians into the story:

“The NSO Group makes hacking tools to sell to governments to fight crime and terrorism.

But – and it is a big but – they’ll only get an export licence from the Israeli government if it deems that the sale does not harm the national interest.

In the past that meant no sales to Iran and nothing to Arab Gulf states either.

That’s because in the past the Gulf states stood with the Palestinians against Israel.”

Ignoring the fact that the Gulf Cooperation Council states ditched the Arab League boycott of Israel in 1996, Danahar went on to claim that:

“In the post-Arab Spring period, the Gulf states (apart from Qatar) have all but abandoned the Palestinian cause and moved to side with Israel against Iran.

This slow shift was accelerated by the election of Donald Trump and the appointment of so many anti-Iran hawks to his administration, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton.”

The Gulf states’ recognition of threats posed by Iran was of course amply evident long before Donald Trump ran for president. Providing no concrete supporting evidence, Danahar then promoted “speculation”.

“There’s much speculation that the Israeli government would, to build relations with their new friends in the Gulf, have allowed the NSO Group to sell their software to Gulf states.

What suggests that? Well it’s perhaps not a coincidence that among those reportedly targeted by the WhatsApp hacking software were lawyers investigating human rights abuses in Gulf states, a Saudi dissident and a Qatari citizen.”

Failing to inform readers of Iran’s financing and support of terror groups such as Hizballah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas and ignoring the regular Iranian threats against Israel, Danahar continued:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made his reason for being (and his only political legacy) his effort to contain Iran, which he projects as Israel’s only existential threat.”

Danahar – now the BBC’s Americas Bureaux Editor in Washington then went on to promote his notion of how US foreign policy is made.

“The Saudi rulers see two existential threats. One from without: Iran. And one from within: the Muslim Brotherhood. The Saudis are scared of Iran because of its military might.

They are scared of the Muslim Brotherhood because they offer political Islam as an alternative to the dynastic rule of the royal family.

The Trump administration is made up of people who hate the Iranian regime and everything it stands for.

So, this new “Axis of Egos” is all doing each other favours to position themselves collectively to fully unite against Iran.

Lots of trades are taking place.

Some involve arms sales, some involve the price of oil and gas, some involve political trades like the one that some in the White House are doing for the Saudis by trying to designate the Brotherhood as a terrorist group.”

A photo caption tells readers that: “The Trump administration decided to pursue sanctions against the Muslim Brotherhood following an April meeting with Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi”.

As was noted here when the BBC previously promoted that claim in late April, “the idea of designating the Brotherhood” predates both the Trump administration and that meeting.

Danahar next invoked the Iraq war spectre while a photo caption once again used scare quotes around the word “sabotaged” to suggest to readers that damage done to four ships off the coast of the UAE on May 12th may not have been deliberate.

“In a replay of what happened before the invasion of Iraq, it appears that any strand of intelligence that can be spun into a reason to ratchet up the pressure on Iran is being used.

This atmosphere is all very familiar to those of us who were around to witness the build-up towards the war in Iraq.”

Danahar closed his polemic by trying to persuade audiences that if the US did go to war with Iran, it would ultimately be because of Israel. 

“The present occupant in the White House has far fewer ideological bones in his body, perhaps none. […]

He’s unlikely to sign up to another war in the Middle East, certainly not this side of the 2020 election, unless he is seriously provoked.

That would require being able to pin some very bad action on Tehran. The best way to do that is to gather intelligence.

And the best way to gather intelligence is for all your allies to be spying on as many people in the region as you can.

One of the best ways to do that is to hack into the Trojan horse we all voluntarily carry with us, our smartphones.”

As we saw in November 2012 when Paul Danahar – then head of the BBC’s Jerusalem bureau – signed off and personally promoted inaccurate reports concerning the death of a child in the Gaza Strip, he apparently does not find it necessary to have verified evidence before promoting a version of events which fits in with his chosen political narrative.

And as we see in this item, Danahar’s chosen narrative includes an Iranian regime which is so passive and innocuous that it would have to have “some very bad action” pinned on it by underhand actors.

Notably, that is being presented to BBC audiences as “news that you can trust”.  

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BBC Asian Network’s eyebrow raising phone-in question

The BBC’s Asian Network radio station managed to raise some eyebrows on January 9th when it posted – and later deleted – a Tweet promoting a phone-in programme.

The synopsis to that programme – which was titled using the asylum seeker’s name Rahaf Al-Qunun – described the phone-in’s subject matter as follows:

“How do you feel about a Saudi woman’s decision to leave her family and religion? Qasa is asking this after 18 year old Rahaf Al-Qunun fled Saudi Arabia and defied her family by leaving Islam.”

Listeners to the programme heard an introduction from presenter Qasa Alom which included the following:

“How do you feel then about the 18 year-old Saudi woman’s decision to leave her family and religion? Rahaf Al-Qunun is 18, she’s from Saudi and recently she began a journey to leave the country and try to make it to Australia and appeal for asylum because she doesn’t believe in Islam any more and felt like her life was in danger. The law in Saudi states that anyone who renounces Islam is punishable by death. Now the teenager was stopped in Thailand where she’s now staying at a Thai government shelter while the UN refugee agency assesses her case. […] She’s currently also refusing to see her family and claims her father and brother want to take her back to Saudi. So I want to know how do you feel about this situation? Do you think she’s brave for taking a stand for her principles? Regardless of whether you agree or not, shouldn’t everyone have the chance to leave their religion? Or do you think that this is a girl that’s only 18 years old and she needs to give her family a chance? And also you can remain anonymous about this.”

Yes, a publicly funded UK-wide BBC radio station really did offer listeners the opportunity to express anonymous opinions for or against the death sentence for apostates. That, however, may come as somewhat less of a surprise if one recalls that in 2017 the same radio station had to apologise for Tweeting the question “what is the right punishment for blasphemy?”. 

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BBC’s Saudi women’s rights reports fall short

 

BBC’s Saudi women’s rights reports fall short

Two articles relating to the issue of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia have appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ in recent days:

Rahaf al-Qunun: Saudi woman ends airport hotel standoff  January 7th

Why a Saudi woman can be arrested for disobeying her father January 8th

Among the ‘related reading’ offered to BBC audiences in both those articles is a link billed “Saudi women on what life’s really like” which leads to a video produced by the BBC in November 2017 in which just two women from Saudi Arabia were interviewed, one of whom was quoted in the video’s synopsis as follows:

“There’s a huge misconception of Saudi women: We are guided by men, or driven by men. That is not true.”

While that link may seem like an odd choice for inclusion in two reports relating to the story of a Saudi Arabian woman trying to flee male members of her family, this is not the first time that BBC audiences have seen the corporation downplaying the issues faced by women in Saudi Arabia.

In the spring of 2015 the BBC produced several reports informing audiences that “progress” was being made by women in Saudi Arabia despite what the BBC euphemistically chose to term “social restrictions”.

BBC misleads on root cause of lack of equality for Saudi women

On International Women’s Day 2016 the BBC asked visitors to its website “Are Saudi women really that oppressed?”.

BBC Trending’s preposterous International Women’s Day question

The January 8th article mentions that Saudi Arabia “ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 2000” while noting the “concern” of “UN experts” at “the country’s failure to adopt a specific law prohibiting discrimination against women”.

The BBC did not however bother to inform readers that in October 2018 the same United Nations announced that Saudi Arabia would continue to be a member of the Human Rights Council and that in 2017 Saudi Arabia was elected to a four-year term on the UN’s women’s rights commission.

BBC silent on Saudi Arabia’s new UN commission seat

As we see the BBC still appears to consider it necessary to promote an ‘alternative’ view of the issue of women’s rights in a country it describes as “conservative” but which – despite lately granting women the right to drive, watch football and take sports lessons in school – is still one of the worst places on earth for gender equality. And once again we see that the BBC has nothing at all to say about a country ranked 141 out of 149 on women’s rights just last year being given a seat on UN human rights bodies.

 

 

 

BBC ignores World Chess Federation’s anti-discrimination efforts

In December 2017 the BBC News website reported that:

“An international chess tournament is starting in Saudi Arabia amid controversy after Israeli players were denied visas.

A Saudi official said visas could not be granted because the kingdom had no diplomatic ties with Israel.

The Israeli Chess Federation said it would seek financial compensation. […]

The Israeli chess body said it was led to believe its players would be allowed to attend, despite the two countries not having diplomatic relations.

It has accused Saudi Arabia of misleading the World Chess Federation so that it would be selected to host the tournament.”

Some follow-up to that story recently emerged.

“The governing body for international chess confirmed Monday that an upcoming tournament that was to be held for the second year in Saudi Arabia has been relocated to Russia because of the kingdom’s policies, which exclude some eligible players.

Two Israeli chess players had appealed to the FIDE chess federation over concerns they would be prevented from playing at the World Rapid and Blitz tournament, as they were last year when Saudi authorities refused to grant them visas to enter the kingdom.

“The Championships were moved from Saudi Arabia to Russia due to the policy adopted by Saudi organizers,” FIDE director general Emil Sutovsky told The Times of Israel in an email. […]

“The new leadership of FIDE made it clear that FIDE will no longer stage its official events in the countries that deny entry visa and fair treatment to all the eligible players,” Sutovsky wrote. “However, officials in Riyadh could not guarantee an entry to representatives of all the national federations who had a right to participate in the event.

“That is why, after all the attempts have failed, we took a decision to relocate the World Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships to Russia, in spite of the generous financial offer made by Saudi Arabia,” Sutovsky, himself an Israeli chess grand master, wrote. “We will stick to this policy, and make sure that chess players from any country will not be banned from participation in the official events, based on their nationality, ethnicity, race or gender.””

That news concerning the efforts of the governing body of international chess to combat discrimination does not currently appear on the BBC News website’s ‘Chess’ page.

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How did the BBC’s Yolande Knell frame Israeli visits to Gulf states?

Two very similar reports from BBC Jerusalem correspondent Yolande Knell have recently appeared on different platforms.

A written report titled “Israel-Arab ties warm up after long deep freeze” was published in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on November 6th with a synopsis telling BBC audiences that:

“An Israeli charm offensive is making once unlikely friends in the Arab world, worrying Palestinians.”

On the same day listeners to two editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ heard an audio report from Knell – from 08:37 here and from 14:07 here. In both cases it was introduced (by presenters Razia Iqbal and Rebecca Kesby) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original]

“Israel leaders often describe their country as being in a tough neighbourhood but recently there have been some extraordinary signs of friendliness with Arab states. Israel’s prime minister was in Oman, two of his ministers then went to the United Arab Emirates and today another is back in Muscat. And that’s despite the fact that Oman and the UAE – like most Arab countries – have no official diplomatic relations with Israel. The Palestinians are worried about what these new alliances – bound up in common fears about Iran’s regional ambitions and backed by the White House – will mean for their nationalist cause. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell reports.”

Knell’s framing of this story – which places the Palestinian reaction to events unrelated directly to them at the focus of her reports – is obviously noteworthy. Under the sub-heading “Palestinians wary” readers of the written report were told that:

“However, Palestinians are alarmed by the new alliances, developing as President Trump promises to present his “Deal of the Century” plan to end their conflict with Israel.

They fear his administration is looking to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and others to pressure them into accepting a peace agreement that does not meet their long-standing demands.

“This kind of attempt to normalise Israel within the region, without Israel normalising its relationship with Palestine and remaining as an occupying power, is counterproductive and dangerous,” says Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) official.

She suggests the latest developments threaten the legitimacy of the Arab Peace Initiative – which the 22 members of the Arab League signed up to in 2002.

It offers Israel normal diplomatic relations with Arab states only in exchange for its full withdrawal from Arab lands it captured and occupied in the 1967 Middle East War.”

Knell made no effort to explain to her readers why an initiative launched over 16 years ago has to this day made no progress or why they should take Hanan Ashrawi’s word that it is at all relevant.

Ashrawi was also featured in Knell’s audio report, but with no mention of her PLO position.

Knell: “Here in the occupied West Bank Palestinian leaders are alarmed by this regional shift taking place as President Trump promises to present his ‘deal of the century’ to end their conflict with Israel. They cut off ties with the US last year, saying it wasn’t an honest peace broker and they fear the White House is looking to its powerful Arab allies, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to pressure them into a peace agreement that falls well short of their long-standing demands. Hanan Ashrawi is a senior Palestinian official.”

Ashrawi: “I think this is part of an overall strategy by the Americans to try to get normalisation with the Arab world before Israel withdraws from the occupied territories: what we call the outside-in approach.”

Knell did not bother to inform listeners that under the terms of the Oslo Accords – signed by the body which Ashrawi represents – the issue of borders is supposed to be resolved in final status negotiations between the two parties.

Another aspect of Knell’s framing of this story is her promotion of a theory allegedly advanced by unidentified “analysts” which was portrayed in the written report as follows:

“Analysts suggest the pivotal role ascribed to Saudi Arabia in reviving the peace process has been thrown into doubt by the shocking murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

However, in another remarkable move, comments by Mr Netanyahu on Friday seemed to show tacit support for the powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who has been accused of having a role in Khashoggi’s death – something the kingdom has denied.

He said Mr Khashoggi’s killing was “horrendous” but should not be allowed to lead to upheaval in Saudi Arabia “because the larger problem is Iran.””

In the audio report listeners heard the following self-contradicting statements from Knell:

Knell: “But there’s been a set-back to the warming of Saudi and Israeli ties: the international outcry over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at his country’s consulate in Turkey. The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman – known as MBS – has had his reputation badly damaged by the scandal, although he denies involvement. Remarkably, one international leader giving him tacit support is Mr Netanyahu.” [emphasis added]

Recording Netanyahu: “What happened in the Istanbul consulate was horrendous and it should be duly dealt with. Yet at the same time I say that it’s very important for the stability of the world – of the region and of the world – that Saudi Arabia remain stable.”

Listeners were not informed that – despite Knell’s claim of “international outcry” – just one day before her report was aired, seventy-five country delegates to the UN Human Right Council had heaped praise on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

Another interesting aspect of Knell’s reporting is its downplaying of what some analysts see as the prime motivation behind improved relations between Israel and Gulf states. Readers of the written report found a tepid portrayal of Iranian regional actions and policies which, notably, whitewashed its financial support for Hamas from the picture.

“The main reason is a shared concern over Iran. Israel, like many Gulf Arab countries, worries about Iran’s ambitions and sees it as a destabilising force in the Middle East.

Tehran has been directly involved in conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and supports rebels fighting in Yemen and militant groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”

In the audio report listeners were told that: [emphasis added]

Knell: “Meetings between Israeli and Gulf Arab officials have long taken place in secret but now they’re happening openly, despite a lack of progress on peace with the Palestinians. The main reason is the shared concern about Iran…”

Knell ended both her reports with more clear messaging to BBC audiences that a story concerning diplomatic relations between Israel and Gulf states is actually about Palestinians.

Written:

“All these signs of a regional shift are popular with ordinary Israelis and even Mr Netanyahu’s political rivals have praised his advances in the Gulf.

However, the Arab public – for whom the Palestinian issue remains very emotional – will be far harder to win over without a peace agreement.

So for now, Arab states are unlikely to fully embrace Israel. Instead we should expect more previously unthinkable invitations, gestures of recognition and warm handshakes.”

Audio:

“Such signs of new relations are very popular with ordinary Israelis although the Arab public – still very sensitive to the Palestinian issue – will be much harder to win over without a peace agreement.”

While BBC audiences obviously got a generous dose of PLO (and Hamas) messaging in both Knell’s reports, the question of how that contributes to their understanding of this story is clearly debatable.

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BBC WS radio continues to promote a non-story

 

 

BBC WS radio continues to promote a non-story

Listeners to BBC World Service radio had already heard the news and current affairs programme ‘Newshourpromoting the notion that Israel had not responded appropriately to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi on October 26th.

A week later, on November 2nd, they heard an entire four-minute item on the same non-story on the same programme.

At the start of the programme presenter James Menendez told listeners:

“…and we’ll hear from Israel as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemns the murder of Jamal Khashoggi a month after his disappearance.

Menendez introduced the item (from 34:02 here) with a remarkable use of the term ‘antipathy‘: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Menendez: “Well Jamal Khashoggi’s murder has of course been met with condemnation from many quarters and today – a month on – the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu added his voice, calling the killing horrendous. Israel and Saudi Arabia don’t have any official diplomatic relations but there’ve been reports of military cooperation because of both countries’ mutual antipathy towards Iran. Indeed Mr Netanyahu also said today that the killing shouldn’t be allowed to lead to upheaval in Saudi Arabia. Sharren Haskel is an Israeli MP from Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party. I asked her whether the prime minister’s response had been appropriate.”

Apart from pointing out Turkey’s record on the imprisonment of journalists, Haskel’s comments throughout the interview reflected those made by Netanyahu and another Israeli minister earlier in the day. Menendez’s framing of the topic was however noteworthy.

Menendez: “Isn’t it strange that it’s taken a month to condemn the murder, whereas others have been much more quick to come out?”

Menendez: “But doesn’t the murder show that Saudi Arabia – and we’ve had President Erdogan saying, you know, this must have been sanctioned at the very highest levels in the kingdom – that they are capable of extreme violence?”

Menendez: [interrupts] “And of course we’ve had, we’ve had, you know, the announcement about the [US] sanctions [against Iran] today. But I’m just interested in Saudi Arabia. Just finally, I mean Mr Netanyahu talked about ‘should be duly dealt with’: what does that mean do you think?”

Menendez: [interrupts] “But should there be sanctions against Saudi Arabia? Should there be sanctions against Saudi Arabia just on this particular case?”

While the BBC’s own record of commenting on the long-standing issue of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia has often left a lot to be desired (see ‘related articles’ below), as we see the BBC World Service is devoting energies to creating and promoting a story about what it has chosen to present as a tardy Israeli response to an as yet unsolved murder.

How that editorial decision contributes to the BBC’s remit of providing its funding public with “accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards” in order to enhance audience understanding of the Khashoggi story is of course unclear.

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