Revisiting the BBC’s amplification of an NGO’s PR

The Guardian reports that the head of Oxfam GB has described the NGO’s 2014 campaign against the Israeli company SodaStream as having ‘backfired’.

“In a candid presentation to an audience of charity professionals on 14 December, Goldring said Oxfam had made high-stakes misjudgments […] in the row over the involvement of its then celebrity ambassador, Scarlett Johansson with a company operating in an Israeli settlement on the West Bank.

The Johansson furore had cost Oxfam America “literally thousands” of donors, Goldring revealed. […]

In the Johansson case, after a protracted stand-off, the actor ended her eight-year association with Oxfam over its criticism of her for endorsing fizzy drinks company SodaStream, which at the time had a factory in an Israeli settlement.

Goldring […] told a seminar on campaigning for less popular causes that in mishandling the Johansson affair, Oxfam turned what should have been a point of principle into “something of a PR disaster”.

Oxfam’s error, said Goldring, was letting the controversy drag on so that Johansson could eventually seize the initiative. “The judgment was when to be proactive, when to be forceful, and when to be balanced and reflective,” he said. “We got that wrong.”Today Connolly

As readers may recall, the BBC also played a very “proactive” role at the time, promoting Oxfam’s PR messaging (together with that of fellow BDS campaigners, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign) on a variety of platforms including the BBC News website, BBC Radio 4 and BBC television channels.

BBC News recycles second-hand SodaStream slur, fails to explain BDS

BBC’s ‘Today’ programme ‘should know better’ than to engage in covert promotion of the PSC’s agenda

BBC displays its campaigning colours in SodaStream story coverage 

Oxfam’s Ben Phillips on BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’

BBC One serves up BDS at Breakfast

As was noted here at the time:

“As its coverage of this story shows, the BBC has abandoned its role as a provider of news and information regarding the anti-Israel BDS movement and emphatically tied its colours to the campaigning mast.”




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.


BDS background the BBC fails to report

Two recent reports by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly which once again amplified the messaging of the BDS campaign (see related articles below) referred obliquely to the Israeli company SodaStream.

On July 28th that company’s CEO, Daniel Birnbaum, testified to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. More information on the purpose and outcome of that hearing can be found here and here.

Mr Birnbaum’s testimony gives some insight into the attacks on his company by BDS campaigners – insight which BBC audiences are still lacking despite the corporation’s frequent promotion and mainstreaming of the subject.

Also appearing at the committee’s hearing was Professor Eugene Kontorovich of Northwestern University Law School.

It is of course long past time for the BBC to tell its audiences accurately and impartially what the BDS campaign is really about.

Related Articles:

More BBC mainstreaming of the anti-Israel BDS campaign – part two

More BBC mainstreaming of the anti-Israel BDS campaign – part three

BBC One serves up BDS at Breakfast

h/t AL

It is not unusual to see Hollywood actors appearing on television shows as part of the promotion of their latest film and so the March 26th interview with Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson on BBC One’s ‘Breakfast’ was unremarkable – until presenter Louise Minchin decided to re-route the hitherto light-hearted chat by throwing in some out-of-context global politics. BBC One Breakfast

The interview can be viewed here for a limited period of time.

At 4:42 Minchin asks Johansson:

“And just on a serious note before we go on – and I know you’ve got to go – with regards to what happened with SodaStream; will it change your view on what you choose to do – the way you make choices – in the future?”

After the interview ended, audiences were informed by Minchin (not shown in the above clip) that SodaStream has a factory in a ‘Jewish settlement’ in the ‘occupied territories’.

In other words, the BBC’s amplification of the PR of the anti-peace BDS campaign continues – even with your cornflakes.

Related Articles:

BBC News recycles second-hand SodaStream slur, fails to explain BDS

BBC’s ‘Today’ programme ‘should know better’ than to engage in covert promotion of the PSC’s agenda

BBC displays its campaigning colours in SodaStream story coverage

Oxfam’s Ben Phillips on BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’







Oxfam’s Ben Phillips on BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’

On February 4th BBC Two’s flagship news programme ‘Newsnight’ featured interviews with Oxfam’s Director of Policy Ben Phillips and the CEO of SodaStream, Daniel Birnbaum. 

Viewers were no doubt amazed by the disingenuous performance given by a senior employee of a multi-million pound charity which gets a considerable amount of public money via funding from various governments, including the UK, an additional income from the EU and the UN (see section 8 here). 

The interview is introduced by presenter Jeremy Paxman.

JP: “Well with us now is Ben Phillips, the Director of Policy for Oxfam. Ahm..if these Palestinians are being well paid and being paid the same as their Israeli compatriots  or, sorry, their Israeli colleagues, ahm…what’s wrong?”

Ben Phillips: “Our criticism is not of SodaStream’s labour conditions. The issue is is [sic] that factory doesn’t belong to Israel. It doesn’t belong to SodaStream. It belongs to the people who own that land, who were thrown off that land in order that settlements can be built.”

As is the case in the rest of the world, the fact is that the SodaStream factory of course belongs to the people who invested money to build and operate it, so Phillips’ assertion is obviously ridiculous. As for his claim that people “were thrown off that land”, he of course provides no factual evidence for his slur. In fact, even the campaigning NGO ‘Peace Now’ was forced to retract claims made in 2006 (which, incidentally, remain on the BBC News website without any correction) that Ma’ale Adumim – the community adjacent to the Mishor Adumim industrial park where the SodaStream plant is situated – was established on land of which over 86% was owned by Palestinians and to reduce its claim to 0.5%. Phillips continues:

“This isn’t about soda and it’s not about celebrities; it’s about settlements. The settlements impoverish the Palestinians and if I said to you, Jeremy, that I’ve taken your house but now you can have a job – now I’ve turned it into a hotel – as a porter, that wouldn’t be enough. So the issue is settlements. Settlements hurt Palestinians.” 

Phillips of course neglects to mention that the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics reported in 2013 that some 20,000 Palestinians employed in communities in Judea & Samaria received more than double the salaries paid by Palestinian employers.

JP: “So if this factory were inside Israel there would be no problem for you.”

BP:” Oxfam doesn’t support the boycott against Israel. We’ve been very, very clear about that. This factory and the settlements are not in Israel. That’s the position of international law and the settlements hurt Palestinians.”

Not only does Jeremy Paxman fail to inform viewers that there are many different interpretations of the “international law” invoked by Phillips, but he then goes on to further mislead them by describing the 1949 Armistice lines as borders, in contravention of the BBC’s own guidelines on the subject.

JP: “So if it was inside the pre-’67 borders – Israeli borders – you wouldn’t have a problem.”

BP: “We’ve never called for a boycott of Israel.”

Phillips apparently hopes that viewers will have forgotten Oxfam’s Belgian branch’s anti-Israel poster of 2003 (later withdrawn) which urged the public “n’achetez pas de fruits et legumes israeliens” (do not buy Israeli fruits and vegetables).  Perhaps too he counts on the fact that audiences will not recall Oxfam’s treatment of Kristin Davis back in 2009. 

He also apparently relies on the public’s not knowing that a major Oxfam partner – Zaytoun – which markets produce sold in Oxfam shops around the UK, was founded by activists from the International Solidarity Movement and that one of those founders and Zaytoun director, Atif Choudhury, is also a member of the ‘council of management of War on Want which is part of the BDS movement.

And obviously Mr Phillips is not keen to disclose to viewers that Oxfam’s Dutch affiliate generously funds organisations involved in the BDS movement and in the delegitimisation of Israel or that Oxfam GB has also donated to the BDS supporting ‘Coalition of Women for Peace’ and the controversial NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’.

Paxman continues:

“You’re not quite answering the question.”

BP: “There would be no problem, there would be no issue.”

JP: “So what could SodaStream do to comply with your…to meet your objection?”

BP: “They could fulfill international law and not be in illegal settlements: not be in someone else’s territory.”

Again, no clue is provided to viewers regarding the fact that other interpretations of “international law” and the legal status of communities in Area C exist.

JP: “So they have to shut the factory down?”

BP: “If you meet the people that live outside of the settlements, the people that are close to the settlements, they can’t get permits for building. They can be thrown out of their homes. Hundred people had their homes…eh…taken away from their homes last month – just last month. So settlements are hurting people across the West Bank.”

Phillips clearly tries to establish a link between the existence of Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and building permits. There is of course absolutely no connection between the two. He fails to make it clear that 97% of the Palestinian population lives under the authority of the PA in Areas A & B and that the remaining 3% (90 thousand) living in Area C can apply to the Civil Administration for planning permission and building permits. Phillips’ unsourced claim of people being “thrown out of their homes” is apparently a euphemistic way of describing demolition orders issued for illegally constructed buildings. One of course wonders if his description of the demolition of a structure built without planning permission in the UK would be equally euphemistic.

Paxman continues:

“Well that’s not SodaStream’s business taking away people’s houses, is it?”

BP: “We’re not here to criticize SodaStream. We’re here to focus on the settlements and the harm they….”

JP: “But it’s SodaStream which has brought this to a head, as you know. Ehh…so there really is nothing that SodaStream could do to meet your objections, bar shutting down the factory and locating somewhere else.”

BP: “They should not be in the settlements which are illegal. No company should be in the settlements which are illegal. In fact the settlements need to go because they hurt the Palestinians, they impoverish them. They make it harder to get access to water, to land, to housing. It’s damaging for the Palestinian people.”

Obviously the Policy Director of this ‘anti-poverty’ charity is not only completely disinterested in the prosperity of the Palestinians working at SodaStream and similar industrial and commercial enterprises, but is equally unconcerned about taking away the livelihoods of the people who live in the communities he claims “need to go”, although notably he never actually mentions the fact that there are any human beings living in the ‘settlements’ he so derides. 

As readers are most probably aware, the issue of “access to water” is laid out under the terms of the Oslo Accords and communities in Judea & Samaria have absolutely no bearing on that issue, but again Jeremy Paxman makes no effort whatsoever to correct the deliberately misleading impression given to audiences by Phillips.

JP: “I wonder if you have any qualms at all about what seems to some people to be the bullying of Scarlett Johansson?”

BP: “I think Scarlett Johansson did excellent work for Oxfam. I have absolutely no criticisms of Scarlett Johansson.”

JP: “Why couldn’t she continue being an Oxfam representative then and do her commercials for SodaStream?”

BP: “Scarlett Johansson resigned from Oxfam. Oxfam’s made its position very clear on the settlements. The settlements hurt Palestinian people.”

The programme then cuts to an interview with SodaStream’s CEO Daniel Birnbaum, during which Jeremy Paxman poses the historically illiterate question:

“How do you feel about being part of the occupation of territories seized from another country?”

Later, at 6:13, Phillips is reintroduced into the interview.

BP: “You cannot claim that the settlements are a Palestinian employment programme. Settlements impoverish….”

JP: “If they employ people they are.”

BP: “Settlements impoverish people. The figures that have been cited about 30% unemployment – why is that? Is that perhaps because there are roadblocks every half hour? Is that because it’s impossible for a Palestinian to establish their own factory because they can’t get permits in areas that are close to settlements? Is it because the Palestinian olive oil industry is collapsing because of the settlements?”

Once again Paxman makes no attempt to correct or challenge the misleading – if not downright delusional – impressions promoted by Phillips. “Roadblocks every half hour” (whatever they are supposed to be) simply do not exist and the twelve that do are normally open apart from in exceptional security situations. Not only can Palestinians apply for permits to establish factories or other businesses, but master plans have been drawn up for Palestinian communities in Area C, industrial zones have been established and infrastructure has been upgraded.  Phillips’ of course supplies no evidence to back up his bizarre claim of ‘collapse’ of the olive oil industry “because of the settlements”.

Paxman continues:

“Right. There may be many things going on – many imponderables – but we’re talking about this one concern, this factory, which as you have heard and as you well know, employs Palestinians. You want to see them chucked out, do you?”

BP: “We want to see that land returned to the people that were thrown off that land.” 

File:WikiAir IL-13-06 025b - Mishor Adumim.jpg

Photo credit: Neukoln

JP: “So you do.”

BP: “We want to see the return of the land – yes.”

JP: “Would you like to see that factory cease to employ Palestinians on that site?”

BP: “You could imagine a new scenario in which a Palestinian company…”

JP: “We can imagine all sorts of things. We can imagine the world’s made of green cheese.”

BP: “…a Palestinian company and they could have an arrangement with SodaStream.”

JP: “What do you want?”

BP: “We want the settlements to end because we’ve seen the damage that’s caused and therefore the settlement economy cannot be supported.”

JP: “So you want this factory shut down.”

BP: “You can’t operate factories in settlements and then say that the settlements are wrong.”

JP: “Do you want this factory shut down or not?”

BP: “We want no factories in the settlements because the settlements are illegal.”

The interview then goes back to Daniel Birnbaum before closing.

Whilst Jeremy Paxman’s interviewing style may not have made for a particularly easy time for Oxfam’s spokesman, the presenter made no effort to correct the multiple falsehoods and misleading impressions propagated by his interviewee and even threw in a few of his own. But what is perhaps most notable about this interview is its superficiality, in that it focused on the narrow picture rather than dealing with the wider issues at hand.

The current status of Area C – in which the SodaStream factory is situated – is defined by the Oslo Accords to which Israel and the representatives of the Palestinian people were willing signatories. In other words, despite the fact that the Palestinians agreed to Area C remaining under Israeli control until its status is determined under final status negotiations between the two parties, that is not good enough for Oxfam. Indeed, if Ben Phillips is representative of Oxfam’s way of thinking – and his job description suggests that he is – then that organization appears to condescendingly believe that its own views supersede those of the internationally recognised representatives of the Palestinian people.

That of course raises another question. Let us for a moment imagine that the current negotiations would yield an agreement between Israel and the PLO under which – as is more than likely – the large groups of communities in Judea & Samaria (including Ma’ale Adumim) would remain under Israeli control in exchange for land swaps.

Do we, on the basis of this interview, have any reason to expect that Oxfam and its often dubious partners (along with many others in the community of politically motivated NGOs and ‘charities’) might accept the terms of such an agreement considering that they currently display such blatant refusal to accept the terms of the Oslo Agreement which was also negotiated by Israelis and Palestinians? Or would we still find Ben Phillips railing against “illegal settlements”, spouting cod legal opinions, calling for the closure of factories which support Palestinian and Israeli families and dabbling in arm’s-length BDS in future ‘Newsnight’ interviews?

What a pity that Jeremy Paxman did not ask him about that: the answers would have been considerably more revealing and informative to BBC audiences than the fables and fantasies they heard in this interview.

Related Articles:

Responding to the NGOs Durban Strategy: between engagement and confrontation (Fathom)

BBC displays its campaigning colours in SodaStream story coverage

Visitors to the BBC News website’s Middle East page on the morning of January 31st found no fewer than three different reports on the same subject.

SodaStream on ME pge 31 1

In addition to the written article dated January 30th appearing in the news section, they could view a filmed report in the ‘Watch/Listen’ section. That report by Nick Bryant – titled “Scarlett Johansson quits Oxfam after SodaStream row” – also appeared in the website’s ‘Entertainment & Arts’ section and on BBC television news programmes.

Oxfam filmed

Like the written article, this filmed report makes no attempt to explain to viewers that what lies behind Oxfam’s quoted statement is its alignment with the BDS movement. Once again, viewers are not informed of Oxfam’s history of politically motivated anti-Israel campaigning and are given no insight into the real aims of the BDS campaign. 

The third report on that page – by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly – is located in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section and is titled “Israeli fizzy drinks at centre of settlement boycott row“. It also appeared on the website’s ‘US & Canada’ page. 

Here is Connolly’s explanation of the BDS campaign against SodaStream and in general:

“But suddenly SodaStream – and Ms Johansson – find themselves caught up in the bitter politics of the Middle East, and in particular the calls for a boycott of Israeli businesses that trade on the lands that Israel captured in the war of 1967.

The fizzy drinks machine-maker has a factory in the industrial zone of Maale Adumim – a Jewish settlement built on occupied land to the east of Jerusalem.

Under most interpretations of international law – although not Israel’s – building homes and businesses on such territory is illegal.

Many campaign groups want a ban on goods produced under those circumstances – or at least clear labelling so that consumers in other countries know they are buying things made or grown on Israeli settlements and not in Israel itself.”

That specious portrayal again completely neglects to inform audiences that the end game of the BDS movement (led by its guru Oxfam Connolly artorganization PACBI) is not the dubious labelling of soda making machines or tomatoes based on the postcode and ethnicity of their producers, but the denial of national rights and self-determination to the Jewish people by means of delegitimisation of Israel. Connolly’s description conceals the fact that the BDS movement rejects the existence of Israel as the Jewish state, opposes ‘normalisation’ of relations between Israelis and Palestinians and demands the ‘right of return’ to Israel for millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees.

Neither does Connolly make any attempt to inform readers of Oxfam’s record of anti-Israel campaigning or to clarify the charity’s relationships with components of the BDS campaign.

“So far, so familiar, except that Ms Johansson was a brand ambassador for the charity Oxfam (which regards the settlements as illegal and opposes any trade from them) as well as for SodaStream (which has a factory in a settlement). Something had to give.”

Connolly then moves on to promotion of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and an audio clip of a version of the interview with Ameena Saleem of the PSC which was included in his radio report on this story broadcast on the Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme on January 31st is inserted into the written piece. In contrast to the Radio 4 report, Saleem is at least identified as a PSC member in this article, but her defamatory ‘apartheid’ slurs again go unchallenged.

Oxfam Connolly Saleem clip

Another PSC employee – former ‘Mavi Marmara’ passenger Sarah Colborne – is also interviewed:

“As things stand, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign is arguing that the actress has undermined the image she built up as a representative for Oxfam.

The campaign’s director, Sarah Colborne, said: “Scarlett Johansson’s decision to represent SodaStream clearly violated Oxfam’s policy of supporting human rights and justice.

“By choosing to represent a company that operates in an illegal settlement on stolen Palestinian land, she has already suffered major reputational damage. And by prioritising SodaStream over Oxfam, she has decided to profit from occupation, rather than challenge global poverty.” “

Once again in breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality, Connolly makes no attempt to clarify to audiences what the PSC’s agenda actually is and no explanations are given regarding its connections to Hamas and other terrorist organisations proscribed by the British government.

Towards the end of the article Connolly argues that:

“The boycott movement is important.

Supporters of the Palestinians have hit on a tactic that might encourage ordinary consumers to start differentiating products from the factories and farms of Israel on the one hand and Israeli settlements on the other.”

If that is indeed the case (and it is of course very debatable), then that is all the more important for the BBC to present its audiences with accurate representation of the BDS movement, including clarification of the fact that these supposed “supporters of the Palestinians” actually have a much broader anti-Israel agenda, in order for the corporation to comply with its public purpose remit of building “a global understanding of international issues”.

However, the BBC’s promotion and amplification of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign did not end there. That same clip of Amena Saleem was also featured in another report which appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘US & Canada’ page on January 31st.

Oxfam Saleem clip us canada

Throughout all of its ample coverage of the Scarlett Johansson/ Oxfam story, the BBC has painstakingly focused audience attention on the micro and diligently avoided informing them of the macro: the bigger picture of a supposedly humanitarian charity involved in political campaigning and the context of its affiliated BDS movement’s campaign of delegitimisation to advance the real agenda of the dissolution of a sovereign state.

The BBC’s repeated covert and overt amplification of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s agenda without due regard for editorial guidelines on impartiality contributes to the mainstreaming of an extremist organization with ties to terror groups.

As its coverage of this story shows, the BBC has abandoned its role as a provider of news and information regarding the anti-Israel BDS movement and emphatically tied its colours to the campaigning mast.

Related Articles:

BBC News recycles second-hand SodaStream slur, fails to explain BDS

BBC’s ‘Today’ programme ‘should know better’ than to engage in covert promotion of the PSC’s agenda

BDS: A Smokescreen for Delegitimizing Israel (CAMERA)

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


BBC’s ‘Today’ programme ‘should know better’ than to engage in covert promotion of the PSC’s agenda

h/t J

On Friday January 31st the BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included an item (here from 02:42:55) by the Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly titled “Scarlett Johansson ‘should know better’“. 

Today Connolly

At 0:50 into Connolly’s item, listeners hear the sound of shouting and chanting:

“One, two, three, four, occupation no more. Five, six, seven, eight, Israel is a terror state.”

Connolly then comes in saying:

“Now SodaStream, and Scarlett, find themselves caught up in the bitter politics of the Middle East and in particular the calls for a boycott of Israeli businesses that trade on the lands that Israel captured in the war of 1967.”

The same shouting and chanting continues in the background throughout the whole time that Connolly is speaking – clearly the result of two separate recordings being intentionally spliced together. He continues:

“Israel disputes that its activities in the West Bank, like the operations of the SodaStream factory there, are a breach of international law but these protesters gathered at the Israeli embassy in London are in no doubt. Among them was Amena Saleem who says you should know that buying a SodaStream props up the occupation and that Scarlett Johansson should know better.”

Amena Saleem: “She’s advertising SodaStream and she’s promoting it so she’s promoting the occupation, she’s promoting apartheid in the West Bank. By supporting SodaStream which supports the occupation you are supporting the occupation as well and Scarlett Johansson unfortunately is supporting the Israeli occupation and Israeli apartheid.”

Does Connolly bother to inform the millions of listeners to the ‘Today’ programme that Saleem’s defamatory claims of “Israeli apartheid” are inaccurate? No he does not. Does he bother to tell them that Amena Saleem is a professional activist with the Hamas-supporting Palestine Solidarity Campaign who writes for outlets such as Electronic Intifada and the UK-based Hamas mouthpiece MEMO? No he does not. Does he even bother to make it clear who organized that noisy demonstration outside the Israeli embassy which the BBC’s sound engineers took such pains to splice into his item? No he does not. 

Readers will no doubt remember that not too long ago, the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit reaffirmed the corporation’s commitment to “clearly summarising the standpoint of any interviewee where it is relevant and not immediately clear from their position or the title of their organization”. Interestingly, that statement came about as the result of a complaint from none other than the murkily funded Palestine Solidarity Campaign itself. But in this case Connolly and the editors of the ‘Today’ programme have made no effort whatsoever to identify Amena Saleem as a representative of that organization or to explain the politically motivated ideology and aims which lie behind it and the BDS campaign it supports. 

Clearly this broadcast is in breach of the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality which – as reaffirmed by the ECU – 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.”

That breach of impartiality makes the BBC (not for the first time) a party in the promotion and amplification of the PSC’s campaigning and in the sanitisation of an extremist fringe group which supports a terrorist organization proscribed by the British government.

The ‘Today’ programme’s contact details are here

PSC in Gaza 

Related Articles:

Zaher Birawi profile

Mohammad Kozber profile

Muhammed Sawalha  profile

Sarah Colborne PSC  profile

Palestine Solidarity Campaign  profile

What is the PSC?

PSC invites Terror Activist to House of Commons

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Hamas

BBC justifies anti-Israel campaign slogans as “a form of expression”

Who has the ear of ‘senior BBC executives’?


BBC News recycles second-hand SodaStream slur, fails to explain BDS

January 30th saw the appearance of an article titled “Scarlett Johansson quits Oxfam role over SodaStream row” on the BBC News website’s US & Canada and Middle East pages. 

SodaStream art

The article opens:

“Actress Scarlett Johansson has quit as an ambassador for Oxfam amid a row over her support for an Israeli company that operates in the occupied West Bank.

A spokesman for the actress said she had a “fundamental difference of opinion” with the humanitarian group.

She will remain a brand ambassador for SodaStream, which has a factory in the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim.”

Actually, the SodaStream factory is located to the east of Ma’ale Adumim in the Mishor Adumim Industrial Park and in an area which, under any reasonable scenario of a peace agreement between Israel and the PLO, will remain under Israeli control. Notably, the BBC – as usual – does not bother to inform audiences of that aspect of the story. 

Mishor Adumim

The report continues:

“Oxfam opposes trade from settlements, considered illegal under international law – something Israel disputes.

About 500,000 Jews currently live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”

As usual, no attempt is made to clarify to readers that contrasting legal opinions also exist outside Israel and the BBC presents selected views as indisputable fact. 

At no point in this report is any attempt made to inform readers of the context of Oxfam’s record of politically motivated campaigning against Israel. Likewise, at no point is any attempt made to explain to audiences that Oxfam’s stance is the result of its alignment with the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) and that the aim of that movement is the dismantling of Israel as the Jewish state through a campaign of delegitimisation.

“With pressure imposed by the international community through a BDS campaign a la anti-Apartheid campaign which brought Apartheid South Africa to an end, we believe that Israel itself can be transformed into a secular democratic state after the return of 6 million Palestinian refugees who were ethnically cleansed in 1948, a state for ALL of its citizens…therefore, we think that one of the major tools of the struggle towards a secular democratic state is BDS.” Haider Eid, 2009

“So BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state…I view the BDS movement as a long-term project with radically transformative potential… the success of the BDS movement is tied directly to our success in humanizing Palestinians and discrediting Zionism as a legitimate way of regarding the world.” Ahmed Moor, 2010

“BDS represents three words that will help bring about the defeat of Zionist Israel and victory for Palestine.” Ronnie Kasrils, 2009

The BBC’s report quotes from a statement issued by Oxfam:

“Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.”

Despite the obviously downright bizarre nature of that statement, the BBC makes no attempt to clarify to readers that the 500 or so Palestinians working at SodaStream enjoy the same rates of pay, benefits and rights as their Israeli colleagues or that unemployment in the PA controlled areas stood at 19.1% in the third quarter of 2013 according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics and that employees of SodaStream  earn several times the average wage of 88 shekels a day in PA controlled areas.

Towards the end of the report, the BBC once again stoops to quoting second-hand unverified hearsay from an unnamed source.

“However, away from the factory, Reuters quoted one unnamed Palestinian employee as saying “there’s a lot of racism” at work.

“Most of the managers are Israeli, and West Bank employees feel they can’t ask for pay rises or more benefits because they can be fired and easily replaced,” he added.”

In the film below, however, are some named SodaStream employees talking about their experiences and here readers can watch an interview with the factory’s manager and hear a conversation with production manager Mohamed Barhum conducted by our colleague Adam Levick of CiF Watch last year.

It takes about half an hour even in bad traffic to drive from Jerusalem to Mishor Adumim. Surely someone from the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau could have popped down there to do some proper reporting instead of BBC News resorting once again to recycling unverified quotes from second-hand sources.

Had that been done, BBC journalists would have discovered that SodaStream is far from the only firm employing Palestinians at that industrial park and that some of the businesses operating in the Mishor Adumim complex are Arab-owned. They could then have approached Oxfam for a statement on whether those companies too are deemed worthy of boycott simply because of their physical location.

Such a statement might well have contributed to BBC audiences’ understanding of the real roots of Oxfam’s campaign and the true nature of the BDS movement. Unfortunately for BBC audiences however, it seems that once again the corporation is more interested in the amplification of a specific unquestioned narrative than in providing them with a range of information which will allow them to form their own views on the subject.

This report joins many others in raising the very obvious question of why the BBC’s funding public should be obliged to pay to read second-hand recycled quotes from sources they could have accessed for free themselves. It also raises an additional issue: sources such as Reuters (quoted in this article), AP and AFP (frequently quoted in other reports) are of course not bound by the same editorial standards as the BBC. That fact prompts the question of whether any sort of mechanism exists to ensure that information sourced by the BBC from other media outlets is checked for accuracy and impartiality before it is recycled to BBC audiences.