As noted here earlier in the month, the BBC’s record of reporting on the past two Israeli general elections shows that it has serially ignored the economic and social issues which have been high up on the list of priorities for Israeli voters. A report from Tom Bateman which was aired in the January 30th edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme suggests that coverage of the election due to be held in April is unlikely break that mould.
The subject of Bateman’s report is former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz who previously got an anonymous mention on the same programme on January 18th and whose campaign videos were mentioned in an ‘alternative news bulletin’ by John Simpson in the January 25th edition of ‘Today’.
The item (from 2:41:36 here) was introduced by presenter Nick Robinson.
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Robinson: “Israelis go to the polls in the Spring to choose a new government. Last night the campaign launch took place on Tel Aviv of Benny Gantz – a former chief of the Israeli military who believes he can unseat Benjamin Netanyahu – now into his tenth year as prime minister. Here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”
If his first term in office is taken into account, Netanyahu is actually well beyond hid “tenth year as prime minister”.
Bateman’s report began with sounds from an event held the previous evening and an inaccurate portrayal of the colour of IDF uniforms.
Bateman: “A man previously seen in khaki holding binoculars. Tonight it’s a suit, a microphone and an adoring crowd. Benny Gantz launched his campaign and a broadside at Benjamin Netanyahu who he suggested was like a king sowing incitement and division. Israeli elections are usually decided on the issue of security and so former generals ooze with potential political capital. But Benny Gantz’s story goes up against an incumbent prime minister seen by his base as Mr Security.”
Bateman then interviewed a man who was Gantz’s radio operator in the paratroopers brigade thirty years ago and his one question was:
Bateman: “As somebody who knows him well, can you give us a clue about his politics? What’s your impression?”
Voiceover: “My impression…eh…he…”
Bateman quickly stepped in:
Bateman: “The policies haven’t been pouring from Benny Gantz. Some observers have little to say other than the fact that he is tall with unusually blue eyes. Although even then he was out-polling most other parties.”
Listeners then heard some in part tongue-in-cheek commentary from Gil Hoffman – political correspondent at the Jerusalem Post.
Hoffman: “So because Israelis are voting on security, that gives anyone with a security record a great advantage and Gantz has one more added plus which is this lack of an opinion on anything. […] There will be efforts by Right-wing politicians to show that Gantz is not this security messiah but that he is a weak Leftist and prevent him from being this alternative to Netanyahu. They’ve just started and there are 72 days left.”
Bateman next turned to the same campaign video which ‘Today’ audiences had heard about just five days earlier.
Bateman: “So Gantz – trying to burnish a strongman image – released a video showing flattened buildings in Gaza when he was chief of staff in the war of 2014. It boasted of sending parts of the Strip back to the Stone Age and thirteen hundred terrorists killed. Human rights groups castigated the apparent disregard for civilian casualties. An Arab Israeli MP said he watched it and felt sick.”
Like Simpson before him, Bateman refrained from reminding listeners that the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas and other Gaza Strip based terror groups began because attacks from the Gaza Strip against Israeli civilians escalated with 52 missiles fired during June 2014 and 237 missiles and dozens of mortars fired in the first week of July – eighty of them on July 7th 2014 alone. Also like Simpson, Bateman failed to clarify that the video he described as showing “flattened buildings in Gaza” in fact shows one specific neighbourhood in which the fighting was particularly fierce because of Hamas’ placement of military assets in civilian residential areas.
Bateman: “Hilik Bar, a Labour party MP, said Gantz had fallen into a populist trap – a clumsy imitation of the hawkish right.”
Bar: “If you will test his ideas one to one you will see that he is a Leftist. OK by the way he’s…”
Bateman [interrupts] “That’s become really a term of abuse. I mean the Right are using that as a way of attacking him.”
Bar: “People who are afraid to belong to the Left or to [be] called Leftist are either a coward or not leaders enough.”
Bateman closed his report with yet more military motifs.
Bateman: “As his launch packed up last night Gantz began his campaign on a battlefield strewn with political casualties. Many an Israeli general has tried to reach the top of government. Few have succeeded.”
Among Israel’s twelve different prime ministers to date – some of who served more than one term – three (along with one acting prime minister) have held the rank of general or above.
Of all the new political lists which have emerged since the announcement of the upcoming election, BBC audiences have so far heard only this very sketchy portrayal of this one party, with no reporting whatsoever on its stated policies. Interestingly, the fact that Gantz’s new party has teamed up with a party led by another former chief of staff, Moshe Ya’alon, did not make it into Bateman’s report.
So while BBC audiences have yet to hear any reporting on topics not connected to security and the ‘peace process’ which will be issues in the upcoming election, they did hear two reports concerning the same ‘Stone Age’ campaign video in the space of five days.