Reviewing BBC News website coverage of the US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

Last week we looked at the impartiality of BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service radio coverage of the US Administration’s ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan.

A review of the impartiality of BBC radio coverage of the US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

But did visitors to the BBC News website fare any better?

Below is a summary of the relevant content published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page between January 27th and January 30th – eleven items in all.

Many of the reports promote talking points also evident (including before anyone at the BBC had actually read the proposal) in BBC radio and television coverage:

  • Description of the proposal as a “surrender document” for the Palestinians which does not meet their demands.
  • Presentation of the document as fully meeting Israeli demands.
  • Presentation of the timing of the launch of the document as being related to political and legal processes in the US and Israel.
  • Amplification of the talking points of the PLO and political NGOs, including the ‘apartheid’ trope.
  • Portrayal of the Palestinians as having no agency and predictions of ‘inevitable’ violence.

January 27th:

Trump’s Middle East peace plan: ‘Deal of the century’ is huge gamble by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. Although now dated January 29th, the article was originally published on January 27th – the day before the US proposal was launched – as part of the BBC’s cross-platform preemptive framing of the story.

“…the Trump plan gives Mr Netanyahu all he wants – and offers Palestinians very little; a sort-of state that will be truncated, without proper sovereignty, surrounded by Israel’s territory and threaded between Jewish settlements.”

“Israel argues the Palestinians turned down a series of good offers. The Palestinian negotiators say they made huge concessions, not least accepting Israel’s existence in around 78% of their historic homeland.”

“The timing of the announcement of the Trump initiative suits the political and legal needs of Mr Trump and Mr Netanyahu. Both men face elections. As well as that, Mr Trump gets a distraction from his impeachment, and from his trial in the US Senate for high crimes and misdemeanours. Mr Netanyahu faces criminal charges of corruption, bribery and breach of trust.”

“Essentially the Palestinians have been told to take it or leave it. They are being given a surrender document, told to accept that Israel has won, and with its American friends will shape the future. If Palestinians refuse, the message continues, Israel will still get what it wants and they will be even worse off.”

“There is a chance Palestinians will be afflicted by more anger, despair and hopelessness. In a combustible part of the world, that is dangerous. The Trump plan is a gamble.”

January 28th:

Netanyahu: Trump Middle East peace plan ‘deal of the century’  (video without commentary)

Trump outlines Middle East peace plan  (video without commentary)

Abbas on Trump peace plan: ‘Conspiracy deal won’t pass’  (video without commentary)

Trump releases long-awaited Middle-East peace plan  with analysis from Jonathan Marcus and a link to the website of a political NGO which engages in ‘lawfare’ against Israel.

“…his [Trump’s] “take it or leave it offer” will appal many long-standing students of the region. The question now is not so much what benefit this deal might bring but how much damage it may do by over-turning Palestinian aspirations.”

“Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said the proposals envisaged a form of apartheid.

It said Palestinians would be relegated “to small, enclosed, isolated enclaves, with no control over their lives”.

Israel’s Peace Now organisation said the plan was “as detached from reality as it is eye-catching”.

“The plan’s green light for Israel to annex the settlements in exchange for a perforated Palestinian state is unviable and would not bring stability,” it said.”

Trump’s Middle East peace plan: Smiles and sorrow on the ground Tom Bateman discussed

“The Trump document says applying Israeli sovereignty to the settlements would be compensated by land swaps to Palestinians. It would also recognise Israeli sovereignty over the strategically important Jordan Valley, a key swathe of land in the West Bank important for agriculture running along the border with neighbouring Jordan. […]

But Palestinians say the move will entrench apartheid.”

January 29th:

What does Trump’s Middle East plan say on key issues? Backgrounder

“The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) said the US plan “recognises Israel’s illegal colonisation and annexation of occupied lands belonging to the State of Palestine”, while Israeli human rights group B’Tselem warned that Palestinians would be “relegated to small, enclosed, isolated enclaves, with no control over their lives”.”

Trump Middle East plan: What he gets out of it  Aleem Maqbool

“Israeli opposition figures have not shied away from suggesting that the timing of the proposal’s release was aimed at helping Benjamin Netanyahu in a general election to be held on 2 March.”

“The impeachment allegations [against Trump] suggest sordid and dishonourable use of his powerful position for personal political gain; withholding hundreds of millions of dollars of military assistance to Ukraine until Kiev opened investigations into Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

Mr Trump might hope the unveiling of his proposal would offer Americans a contrasting narrative of his skills as a statesman, delivering “the deal of the century”.”

“There are also Evangelicals within the Trump administration itself, like Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who have reportedly been pushing for the kind of support for Israel’s expansionist aspirations as detailed in the new plan.

Those aspirations all but do away with the notion of having sovereign Palestinian and Israeli states existing side by side, as previous US administrations had said they wanted.

Evangelical Christians were huge financial backers of the Trump campaign in 2016, but there were others who would have wanted to see some return on the support they gave during the last election reflected in this proposal.

Aipac, the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, has already endorsed Mr Trump’s Middle East plan, saying it appreciated the efforts of the president.”

“Whether the plan and the timing of its release is about backing Mr Netanyahu, distracting from impeachment troubles, playing domestic politics or if it is indeed driven by ideology, it comes with huge risks.

It can be seen as a proposal that gives Israel the authorisation to broaden its occupation, already a source of misery for so many. The fear is that a proposal that gives Palestinians so little hope is one that also strengthens hard-liners across the region.”

Why Trump’s Middle East plan is so divisive  Jeremy Bowen (video with commentary)

“The BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen explains why the proposal is so divisive.”

Trump Middle East plan: Palestinians reject ‘conspiracy’

“Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Trump administration had simply “copied and pasted” the steps that Mr Netanyahu wanted to see implemented.

“It’s about annexation, it’s about apartheid,” he said. “Moving to the de jure annexation of settlements is something that was given the green light yesterday.””

January 30th:

Palestinian PM defends stance on Trump Middle East plan Orla Guerin interview with Mohammad Shtayyeh (video)

As we see the BBC elected to interview the Palestinian Authority prime minister but not any senior Israeli official. The BBC chose to showcase political NGOs and a PLO official promoting the baseless ‘apartheid’ trope but did not provide an alternative viewpoint. The reports written by the BBC staff presented a disturbingly uniform negative view of the topic and audiences were not provided with a balanced “range of views”.

The purpose of the editorial guidelines is of course to enable the BBC to meet its public purpose obligations, including the provision of “duly accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming to build people’s understanding of […] the wider world”. It is once again abundantly obvious that BBC journalists were far more intent on establishing a specific narrative than they were committed to providing accurate and impartial news reports offering a “wide range of significant views”. 

Related Articles:

Snark and speculation on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’

BBC’s Tom Bateman misleads on the Oslo Accords

BBC Two ‘Newsnight’ viewers misled on 1949 Armistice lines

The BBC’s Middle East editor’s framing of the US peace plan

Inadequately presented interviewees and an anonymous quote in BBC One Guerin report

BBC Radio 4’s preemptive framing of the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

BBC’s ‘Newshour’ serves up ‘rumours and leaks’ with one-sided analysis

BBC Radio 4 news implies previous existence of Palestinian state in US plan report

BBC radio interviews same PA representative three times in one day

BBC WS radio promotes US peace plan commentary from partisan lobbying group

A review of the impartiality of BBC radio coverage of the US ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

 

BBC radio interviews same PA representative three times in one day

As we have already seen, preemptive framing of the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan by both BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service radio on January 28th included the provision of a platform for the Palestinian Authority’s (and Fatah’s) Husam Zomlot from which to promote his mostly unchallenged talking points.

BBC Radio 4’s preemptive framing of the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

BBC’s ‘Newshour’ serves up ‘rumours and leaks’ with one-sided analysis

Just hours after the launch of the US initiative – and his previous appearance on BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newshour’ – Zomlot was given yet another slot on the evening edition of that programme.

Describing it as returning to “our main story” (listeners had previously heard from a BBC correspondent in Washington and from one of the authors of the US initiative, Jason Greenblatt), presenter Tim Franks introduced (from 14:06 here) the four-minute and 22 second segment: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Franks: “President Trump is unveiling what he describes as his win-win peace deal for the Israelis and Palestinians. We’ve heard about the delight from the Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. From the Palestinians though there’s been a fierce rejection of the proposal.”

Refraining from informing listeners that the Palestinian Authority had rejected the proposal long before it was completed and before they or anyone else had seen its contents, Franks introduced Zomlot as “the Palestinian ambassador in London” despite the fact that the BBC corrected a similar misrepresentation of Mr Zomlot’s title in 2018 after BBC Watch pointed out that according to its definition, the title ambassador means that the individual represents a state and that – as the BBC’s own style guide rightly says – there is no Palestinian state at this time. 

Zomlot’s near monologue recycled many of the talking points and themes BBC World Service radio audiences had heard just hours earlier.

Zomlot: “That was a scam really. It has nothing to do with deals or plans or peace for that matter. It was really a political circus if I may use the term. Peace is very well known. The parameters for it has been established by the international order, international legitimacy, including the UK. The world has really required from us to recognise the two-state solution, to recognise Israel, and the path was very well crafted up till President Trump this morning has killed three birds with one lethal stone.”

Clearly not finding it necessary to inform audiences that the Palestinians have repeatedly refused offers of statehood based on the two-state solution, that the Palestinians have a specific interpretation of that concept, that by no means all Palestinian factions embrace the two-state solution or that Zomlot’s boss has repeatedly refused to recognise Israel as the Jewish state, Franks allowed the diatribe to continue uninterrupted.

Zomlot: “The first bird was the prospects of a negotiated two-state solution because there will not be an Israeli prime minister in the future who would negotiate a genuine peace if Netanyahu has just pocketed Jerusalem, the refugees, the borders, all the settlements and the Jordan Valley. And the second bird that President Trump killed today is [the] international system itself, is the post-Second World War order – rules-based order – that has been established exactly for that; to prevent the acquisition and annexation of territory by force.”

Obviously not perturbed by the dissonance of a representative of an entity which literally pays salaries to terrorists lecturing listeners about “international order” and having nothing to say about the Jordanian acquisition and annexation of territory by force upon which Palestinian claims are constructed, Franks continued to stay silent.

Zomlot: “And the third bird that was killed today is the hope that Israel will not fast walk into the apartheid – full-fledged apartheid. We believe today President Trump has given Israel the full green light to actually embrace a full-fledged apartheid of the occupied territories.”

With nothing to say about that propaganda smear either, Franks changed the subject.

Franks: “What do you make of the fact that the ambassadors from Oman, Bahrain and the UAE turned up to this event at the White House? Does it not suggest that perhaps you’re losing what was once the full square support of all Arab countries?”

Zomlot: “No we’re not and let me…let me hear the Omani or the Emirati or the Bahraini people saying that they are fine with Jerusalem not being under Palestinian sovereignty.”

Franks: “Well it suggests that their governments are fine with it.”

Zomlot: “No I don’t think so. And we…”

Franks: “Why do you think they turned up to the White House then?”

Zomlot: “Well this is their business. This is their business. But we know the official position of the Arab world, the official position of the governments and nothing has changed so far…”

Franks: “Well I wonder…I just…no but too significant. I just wonder if you are really that confident that you retain the…the undiluted support of all these governments and one wonders also about what will be the reaction from Saudi Arabia, for example.”

Zomlot: “We retain the support of the majority of the international community. We heard from the Arab summits all along the last few months and years and we heard from the Saudi king several times who actually named the last summit the summit of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is not just a political issue. It also has to do with the identity, the history, the civilisation, the religion: all that we share with the Arab world and…”

Having apparently nothing to tell listeners about Jewish and Christian identity, history, civilisation and religion in Jerusalem, Franks went on:

Franks: “The Americans say that they will be offering parts of eastern Jerusalem, as they put it, as your capital.”

Zomlot the ‘diplomat’ replied:

Zomlot: “Who…who…an American president who is so arrogant and ignorant of the situation. He couldn’t even pronounce the word al Aqsa mosque; he didn’t know how to say it today in his speech and then he would draw the future of 13 million Palestinians without having one of the 13 million Palestinians in the audience of his ceremony to release his peace plan? I mean how more of a circus this could be?”

Franks again did not bother to inform listeners that there were no Palestinians in that audience because they refused to take part in the process before Zomlot went on to promote the false notion that Palestinians have settled for 22% of what is rightly ‘theirs’.

Zomlot: “We Palestinians have accepted the international compromise. We have accepted the logic of establishing a state on 22% of historic Palestine. We have recognised the State of Israel. But we will not accept our full giving up of our rights and our full submission and living second class citizens on our own land. I mean this is not a formula anybody would accept. Not the UK [laughs], not any other people, my friend. And we are not being difficult here. We are just being principled. We are being patient. We genuinely want to see a peace process that would deliver our rights and the rights of our neighbours and will have peace and security for all. But peace and security cannot be built on the skulls of an entire nation.”

With no effort made whatsoever to challenge that propaganda Franks closed the item, once again referring to a person being interviewed precisely because a Palestinian state does not exist as an ‘ambassador’.

Franks: “Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to London.”

As we see, Husam Zomlot appeared on no fewer that three BBC radio programmes on January 28th. In all three of those items remarkably little effort was made by BBC presenters to question the distortions, falsehoods and outright propaganda that he set out to peddle to audiences both in the UK and around the world. While it is no doubt extremely convenient for BBC producers to have such a wiling commentator on their doorstep, they have apparently not given much thought to the question of how the repeated airing of his unchallenged propaganda damages their obligations as set out in the BBC’s public purposes.

Related Articles:

BBC News plugs PA rejection of US peace initiative

Examining the BBC’s claim of Palestinian support for the two-state solution

Snark and speculation on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’

BBC’s Tom Bateman misleads on the Oslo Accords

BBC Two ‘Newsnight’ viewers misled on 1949 Armistice lines

The BBC’s Middle East editor’s framing of the US peace plan

Inadequately presented interviewees and an anonymous quote in BBC One Guerin report

BBC Radio 4’s preemptive framing of the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

BBC’s ‘Newshour’ serves up ‘rumours and leaks’ with one-sided analysis

BBC Radio 4 news implies previous existence of Palestinian state in US plan report

 

 

BBC Radio 4’s preemptive framing of the ‘Peace to Prosperity’ plan

Half a day before the launch of the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan on January 28th, BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme aired an edition which included several reports concerning a document which had at that stage not yet been made public.

Listeners heard a report from the BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent Tom Bateman (at 10:03 here), a news bulletin (at 2:02:46) during which Bateman told audiences that “the Palestinians say it [the US plan] would entrench apartheid” and another report by Bateman (at 2:48:40) based on vox pop interviews with people in Jerusalem.

The main item in that programme (from 2:10:04) included interviews with three people. Presenter Nick Robinson began by once again promoting the unsupported claim that the US administration calls the document ‘the deal of the century’ and adding another. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Robinson: “It will be the deal of the century Donald Trump has long boasted; a plan which he’ll unveil today and which it’s claimed can produce what has eluded the world for decades – peace in the Middle East. It has though been drawn up without consultation with the Palestinians. The president of the Palestinian Authority has refused to even take a call from Donald Trump. That is in stark contrast to the presence at the White House yesterday of a beaming Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister.”

Listeners first heard from the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen who repeated a speculation he had already made on the same programme three days earlier, claiming that “the agenda followed by Israel’s prime minister Mr Netanyahu has very much been absorbed by the Trump plan”. Bowen’s talking points included the claim that the plan is unlikely to succeed “if the objective is to bring peace to the area” and promotion of the Palestinian narrative concerning the Oslo Accords, which of course do not mention the two-state solution at all.

Bowen: “Since Oslo in 1993 – the Oslo Agreements – the underlying principle under all the negotiations that have been taking place is the so-called two-state solution. An independent Palestine alongside Israel. But the indications are that Trump wants to change that and perhaps get to a point where they say to the Palestinians ‘look, you’re not going to get it. Accept it; take what we’re offering now, much less than what you hoped for’.”

Bowen went on to promote additional speculation concerning “the timing of this initiative” – speculations which were shown later in the item to dovetail with PLO talking points.

Bowen: “…they [Trump and Netanyahu] are both men who need something else going on […] I think that the message from Netanyahu is ‘look, you don’t want to see me in court or even in jail’.”

In fact, more or less as Bowen was promoting that hypothesis, Netanyahu withdrew his request for parliamentary immunity.

Robinson’s next interviewee (from 2:13:12) was former national security advisor to the Israeli prime minister Yaakov Amidror and, refraining from reminding listeners that the US administration has been working on the plan for several years, he began by “putting to him the thought that this was really all about domestic politics” – a theory dismissed by Amidror.

Robinson went on:

Robinson: “…is what we call the two-state solution – the idea of a separate Palestinian state – is that going to be buried today?”

Amidror: “ As far as we know the deal includes an independent Palestinian state and if it will be adopted by the Israelis – by the Knesset or by the government – it will be the first time that formally Israel is adopting such [a] solution which was not mentioned in the Oslo Accords at all.”

Despite the BBC having repeatedly promoted the myth that the Oslo Accords were based on the concept of a two-state solution, Robinson showed no interest in expanding that point in order to enhance audience understanding and instead went on to ask whether “that state will be what they, the Palestinians, want as a state”.

Amidror: “No, it will not be the state that the Palestinians want. The state the Palestinians want does not include Israel at all. They want a Palestine all over from the Mediterranean into the Jordan River. As always the Palestinians say no before they know the details of the plan. Never in the history did the Palestinians agree to negotiate with the Israelis based on any offer by us or by the Americans.”

Robinson did not ensure that listeners heard any further detail on the obviously relevant topic of the Palestinian agenda.

The final interview in that item (from 2:17:24) was with a person Robinson had earlier described as “the Palestinian ambassador in this country”.

Robinson: “Listening there to that in the studio is the Palestinian ambassador to the UK. Ambassador Husam Zomlot joins us.”

In 2018 the BBC corrected a similar misrepresentation of Mr Zomlot’s title after BBC Watch pointed out that according to its definition, the title ambassador means that the individual represents a state and that – as the BBC’s own style guide rightly says – there is no Palestinian state at this time. 

Despite the US plan not having been published at the time this interview was conducted, listeners nevertheless heard from Husam Zomlot (who, as readers may recall, gave a briefing to BBC journalists before the related 2019 economic workshop) that “this is neither a deal nor a plan and it definitely has nothing to do with peace”. Zomlot’s hyperbolic description of the US plan as “the scam of the century” and “fraud on every count” was not challenged by Robinson before Zomlot went on to inadvertently demonstrate the similarity of his talking points to those of the BBC’s Middle East editor.

Zomlot: “It’s fraud on every count as was alluded to by your correspondent Jeremy just now. Today the Israeli Knesset is discussing the criminal charges and the immunity. Today – is that a coincidence? The impeachment process and hearing also today and yesterday. Is that a coincidence?”

Zomlot later went on to state (as he has done in the past) that the two-state solution is a “concession”.

Zomlot: “It was actually a concession we made to accept international legality, international legitimacy that decided that the resolution of this will be on the basis of two-state solution on the 1967 borders, that Israel will end its occupation that began in 1967 and there will be a sovereign independent State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital and a fair resolution to the issue of refugees.”

Robinson made no effort to clarify to listeners that there is no such thing as “1967 borders” or to ensure that listeners understood the thinking behind Zomlot’s later declaration that the Palestinians will not “further compromise the 22% of Palestine”. He did however later tell listeners that “Trump and Netanyahu” are “obsessed with Hamas” because they “believe that Iran is the greatest threat on the planet, that Hamas is allied to them”.

Zomlot’s later attempt to create equivalence between the situation of the Palestinians and the events of the Second World War, including the Holocaust, did not prompt any challenge from Robinson.

Zomlot: “…it isn’t about Palestine now. It is about the premise and the heart of international order that was established by Europe, by the United Kingdom, by your legal brains. It’s about the horrors of the Second World War. Only yesterday we remembered the never again of what happened in the Second World War.”

While there is nothing remotely surprising about Zomlot’s talking points there is sadly also nothing surprising about Robinson’s failure to challenge them in a way which would help BBC audiences see past the propaganda and develop a more rounded view of the topic – a view which is likewise noticeably absent from the BBC Middle East editor’s analysis. As we see, half a day before the US administration had released its plan into the public domain, BBC Radio 4 had already framed the topic in overwhelmingly negative terms.

Related Articles:

Snark and speculation on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’

BBC’s Tom Bateman misleads on the Oslo Accords

BBC Two ‘Newsnight’ viewers misled on 1949 Armistice lines

The BBC’s Middle East editor’s framing of the US peace plan

Inadequately presented interviewees and an anonymous quote in BBC One Guerin report

BBC News website amends inaccurate Palestinian envoy title

BBC journalists get a ‘briefing’ from a past interviewee

The BBC’s Middle East editor’s framing of the US peace plan

A report by the BBC’s Middle East editor which was aired in the January 28th edition of BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’ just hours after the presentation of the US administration’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan gives a good view of how the BBC has decided to frame that topic.

Presenter Huw Edwards’ introduction included the statement that “no Palestinian officials were involved” in the drafting of the plan but audiences were not informed of US efforts to get them onboard.

Interestingly, Edwards stepped a little outside the usual BBC framing according to which ‘the occupation’ is responsible for all the region’s ills with a mention of 1948 but quickly returned to the party line by claiming that efforts to secure an end to the conflict have been thwarted solely by the building of Israeli communities. Viewers of course heard nothing either from Edwards or from Jeremy Bowen about the Jordanian invasion and occupation of areas assigned to the creation of a Jewish homeland under the Mandate for Palestine.

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

Edwards: “Now President Trump has unveiled his plans for what he claims is a credible peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, including a promise to keep Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital. Mr Trump announced the proposals at the White House alongside the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The president said the deal would work but no Palestinian officials were involved and tonight they rejected the proposals as a conspiracy. Now at the heart of the conflict is a dispute over land, ever since the creation of the State of Israel back in 1948. The UN backs the creation of a separate Palestinian state but Israeli West Bank settlement on land captured back in 1967 has complicated that so-called two-state solution. Israel also captured the eastern half of Jerusalem which Palestinians want as the capital of a future state. Let’s go now to our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen for the latest in Washington.”

Jeremy Bowen began his report by showcasing the commentary of anonymous “critics” and gratuitous bandying about of the ‘apartheid’ smear.

Bowen: “President Trump says he has a whole new way of making peace after years of failed negotiations, giving Israel the security it deserves, giving Palestinians the state they crave. But critics of what he’s proposing have used words like coercion of the Palestinians to describe what he’s talking about and even the word apartheid. So, the stakes are high but the chances of things getting better are low.”

He then presented his framing of the proposal.

Bowen: “In the East Room of the White House it felt more like a party than a press conference. Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated each other. Their entourages clapped and whooped. […] And now comes a document that attempts to seal Israel’s victory in a century-long conflict, which Palestinians will read as surrender terms – not a peace proposal. It almost exactly replicates Mr Netanyahu’s deepest beliefs about Israel’s security and its right to the land most of the rest of the world says is occupied Palestinian territory.” […]

Once again BBC viewers were not provided with any factual historical context concerning Israel’s “right to the land”. Bowen went on:

Bowen: “In Gaza tonight Palestinians demonstrated. Their side has been deeply divided. Opposition to the Trump document could finally unite them. The Palestinians were already boycotting the Trump administration because of its root and branch support for Israel. The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas wasn’t a party to the proposals and rejected them straight away.” […]

Yet again audiences were not informed that it was the Palestinians who chose not to be “a party to the proposals” or that Abbas’ rejection of the plan began long before its details were made public. Failing to provide any context to the Six Day War, Bowen attempted to frame the US proposal as being significantly different from previous ones but refrained from informing viewers of Palestinian rejection of all previous offers of statehood.

Bowen: “They’re arguing about land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. For a generation the international consensus has been that no peace is possible without a Palestinian state on the land, with a capital in Jerusalem. Today the land is sliced up by walls, wire and checkpoints. The Trump plan wants to throw out the old consensus, to offer a sort of state to the Palestinians if they agree to restrictions approved by Israel. And Israel has a chance to get bigger, with what looks like a green light to annex territory it wants, like here in the Jordan Valley.”

Making no effort to clarify that the US plan gives the Palestinians a chance to make the territory they control “bigger”, Bowen closed with cynical speculations concerning the timing of the publication of a plan which has been in the works for years and promotion of the orientalist view that the inevitable result of “frustration, anger and hopelessness” for Palestinians he apparently believes have no agency is violence.

Bowen: “The timing suits the two leaders: a distraction from elections and serious charges. High crimes and misdemeanors for Trump, bribery and corruption for Netanyahu. This may be the deal of the century for the Israeli government but it’s not for the Palestinians. It could create a sense of frustration, anger and hopelessness which in such a combustible part of the world is dangerous.”

Clearly BBC One viewers were not provided with an objective or informative view of the US administration’s proposals in this report. That, however, was obviously not its objective. The BBC Middle East editor’s superficial framing of the topic can be summed up in two sentences from the beginning and the end of his report:

“And now comes a document that attempts to seal Israel’s victory in a century-long conflict, which Palestinians will read as surrender terms – not a peace proposal.”

“This may be the deal of the century for the Israeli government but it’s not for the Palestinians.”

That, as far as Jeremy Bowen is concerned, is all BBC audiences need to know.

 

 

 

 

BBC’s Tom Bateman misleads on the Oslo Accords

A report headlined “Trump’s Middle East peace plan: Smiles and sorrow on the ground” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page late on January 28th. Written by the corporation’s Jerusalem-based correspondent Tom Bateman, much of the article recycles vox pop interviews in Jerusalem which appeared in his audio report aired on BBC radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme (from 2:48:40 here) earlier the same day.

The written report, however, commences with an inaccurate and misleading portrayal of the Oslo Accords. Bateman writes:

“Palestinians and Israelis know from decades of history that past peace initiatives are strewn with turbulence, division and bloodshed.

But the Oslo Accords of the 1990s also left a structure in place, however fragile, that was meant to become the basis for a permanent peace – the so-called “two-state solution”.

It calls for an independent Palestinian state made up of the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital, alongside a secure state of Israel along the territorial lines shown on the map before the 1967 Middle East war.”

The Oslo Accords in fact make no mention of the two-state solution and do not ‘call for’ a Palestinian state. They certainly do not dictate that the end-product of negotiations would be “along the territorial lines shown on the map before the 1967 Middle East war” – i.e. the 1949 Armistice Agreement.

That was made clear by by Martin Indyk, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, in a piece for the Atlantic marking the 25th anniversary of the agreements in which he wrote: [emphasis added]

“The Oslo process was supposed to have provided the blueprint, with its requirement for a series of confidence-building interim steps that would help Israeli and Palestinian leaders absorb the political costs of the difficult compromises needed finally to achieve peace. The Oslo Accords did not spell out those compromises; they did not provide for a Palestinian state, nor for a solution for Jerusalem, which both sides seek as their capital, nor for the Palestinian refugees who claim a “right of return.” They only provided that the final-status issues were to be negotiated and concluded within five years of the signing.”

As our colleagues at CAMERA pointed out when the New York Times promoted (and subsequently corrected) the same inaccurate claim last year:

“Virulent critics of Israel acknowledge the same. In the New Yorker, Rashid Khalidi wrote that “In Oslo and subsequent accords, the Israelis were careful to exclude provisions that might lead to a Palestinian political entity with actual sovereignty.” Palestinian statehood, he continued “are never mentioned in the text.” Avi Shlaim stated in the Guardian that the Accords “did not promise or even mention an independent Palestinian state at the end of the transition period,” and reiterated in the Journal of Palestine Studies that “The most basic criticism [of the Accords] was that the deal negotiated by Arafat did not carry the promise, let alone a guarantee, of an independent Palestinian state.”

In the New York Times itself, Henry Siegman pointed out that “The Oslo accords obligated Israel to engage in negotiations of ‘final status’ issues, but the accords provided no hint as to what Palestinians had a right to expect as the outcome of those negotiations. Indeed, the very term ‘Palestinian state’ did not appear in the accords.”

So how did Tom Bateman come to promote those inaccurate and misleading claims about the Oslo Accords? As we have previously documented, since December 2016 the BBC has taken it upon itself to repeatedly amplify the PLO’s maximalist interpretation of the ‘two-state solution’ and an additional example of amplification of PLO talking points is evident later on in Bateman’s article:

“The Trump document says applying Israeli sovereignty to the settlements would be compensated by land swaps to Palestinians. It would also recognise Israeli sovereignty over the strategically important Jordan Valley, a key swathe of land in the West Bank important for agriculture running along the border with neighbouring Jordan. […]

But Palestinians say the move will entrench apartheid.”

Bateman makes no effort to inform his readers why Palestinian smears concerning ‘apartheid’ are redundant.

Sadly for members of the BBC’s funding public trying to understand this story, instead of accurate reporting and impartial analysis, all Tom Bateman has to offer is regurgitated PLO talking points.

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More PLO propaganda and polemic on BBC WS radio – part two

In part one of this post we looked at the first part of a long interview (from 30:05 here) with the PLO’s Saeb Erekat which was aired on June 20th (ahead of the upcoming economic workshop in Bahrain) on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ presented by Razia Iqbal.

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

From 34:09 Iqbal continued:

Iqbal: “Do you think that the conference in Bahrain next week marks the beginning of the end of any notion of the two-state solution?”

Erekat: “I don’t think the notion of the two-state solution will ever disappear because it’s the only solution. If not this year, in 50 years. The difference will be how many Israelis and Palestinians will be killed because of these short-sighted, political blind politicians who believe that they’re here to carry out the settlement programme.”

With Erekat having used such terminology in the past, Iqbal should obviously have been ready to challenge that latter statement but refrained from doing so.

Iqbal: “But you say that the two-state solution will never disappear but there is also the idea of one state and equal rights for citizens, isn’t there?”

Erekat: “This will never be accepted by Israelis. Today from my home town Jericho on the Jordan River to the Mediterranean I am – a Christian and Muslim Palestinian – I’m 50.9% of the population. Benjamin Netanyahu’s 49.1% of the population.”

Iqbal: “The demographics go against it.”

BBC World Service radio listeners than heard Erekat promote the ‘apartheid’ smear – which went totally unchallenged just as was the case in his earlier interview on Radio 4.

Erekat: “So, Netanyahu and Kushner are trying to dictate what I call one state, two systems: apartheid. There are roads in the West Bank I cannot use today. I have a green ID card. Netanyahu has a blue ID card. I drive a car with white and green licence plate. Netanyahu drives a car yellow licence plate. There is a deeper apartheid system in the West Bank and East Jerusalem today than the one that existed in the darkest hours of South Africa’s apartheid. That’s the truth.”

Listeners were not told that while there is a grand total of 40.22 kms of roadway that Palestinian plated vehicles cannot use for security reasons, there are also roads – for example in Erekat’s home town of Jericho – that Israeli vehicles cannot access. Neither was it clarified that Erekat’s licence plates are a different colour to those of Israeli vehicles because he lives in Area A under total Palestinian Authority control and his vehicle registration comes from that authority, not from Israel. Likewise, Erekat is not an Israeli citizen and hence does not have the blue ID card given to all Israeli citizens regardless of religion or ethnicity.

In other words, Razia Iqbal and the ‘Newshour’ team were quite happy for listeners to go away with materially misleading impressions created by Saeb Erekat’s lies about an ‘apartheid’ system which does not exist.

Erekat: “So if one state, two system apartheid is not gonna work and we’re not gonna make work and if what many of Palestinians now are saying one state equal rights which is [unintelligible] as concept for Jews, Muslims and Christians to live equal, it’s not doable for Israelis.  Palestinian and Israeli relations is like physics; there is no vacuum. If they kill the two-state solution that will translate into blood of Palestinians and Israelis.”

Iqbal then went on to ask whether the participation of Arab states in the Bahrain workshop is a “betrayal”, to which Erekat replied in the negative, going on to claim that all participants “will say the only solution is a two-state solution, State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital on the 1967 borders”. Failing to point out to listeners that there is no such thing as “1967 borders”, Iqbal went on:

Iqbal: “But given the economic…the dire economic straits that the Palestinian Authority is in, isn’t it true that there is a vested interest for Egypt and Jordan – these two states in particular – to see a real change inside the Palestinian Authority and that there is animus against Mahmoud Abbas and that their presence at the conference could result in them being on the side of the Americans and saying actually this man is not the person that will help the Palestinians in the long term?”

Erekat: “This man was elected by the Palestinian people and he’s the president of Palestinian people and our law says he’ll be in office till a new president’s elected.”

With Iqbal having brought up the topic of Abbas herself, one would have thought that she would have been able to tell her listeners that his term of office ended over a decade ago and that presidential elections have not been held since 2005.

Iqbal: “Which will be when? When’s the date of the next election?”

Erekat: “We are trying now to get Hamas to accept elections. But I will tell you something: if Mother Theresa were to be the president of Palestinians and Montesquieu to be the speaker of Palestinians and Thomas Jefferson were to be the prime minister of Palestinians and they would say together a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital, they’d be branded as terrorists, corrupt, not good to govern.”

Failing to challenge that egregious assertion that Palestinian leaders have been “branded as terrorists” merely because they demand a Palestinian state, Iqbal went on to nurture Erekat’s politically motivated victimhood.

Iqbal: “And you say this because you think that there is a deep-seated…you’re suggesting that there’s a deep-seated antipathy to Palestinians per se?”

Erekat: “There is a deep ideological, religious commitment by people like Friedman, Kushner and Jason Greenblatt. These are settlers. These are belong to the school of settlers. Friedman used to be a guard in the Beit El settlement. Jason Greenblatt’s kids are studying in Gush HaTzion [sic – Gush Etzion] Israeli settlement. Their commitment is ideological. They don’t believe of us as people.”

Once again Iqbal should have been ready to challenge those claims because Erekat has used them before. She however had nothing to say about Erekat’s portrayal of US officials as “settlers” and instead  presented her last question:

Iqbal: “Do you regret being part of the Oslo agreement though in the context of the burgeoning settlements which really came out of Oslo?”

The number of Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria of course cannot be accurately described as having ‘burgeoned’ since the Oslo Accords were signed and Iqbal made no effort to clarify that those agreements – signed by Erekat and his colleagues – placed no limits on construction in such communities.

Erekat: “No I don’t regret for a minute trying to achieve peace because I’m not doing anybody a favour. No-one benefits more from achieving peace more than the Palestinians and no-one stands to lose more in the absence of peace than Palestinians. And I really couldn’t care less if someone is pro-Israel or someone’s pro-Palestine. My world is divided between those who are pro-peace and those who are against peace.”

Razia Iqbal could have used the opportunity presented by and eight and a half minute interview with Saeb Erekat to delve into the issue of why he and his colleagues have repeatedly thwarted peace-making efforts over the past two and a half decades and to examine the question of whether it is time for “one of the most senior and long serving Palestinian officials”, as Erekat was presented in the programme’s synopsis, to step aside after having made no progress in his ostensible mission for a quarter of a century.

But rather than raise that and no less relevant issues such as Palestinian terrorism, the Hamas-Fatah split and the Hamas ideology which completely rejects the two-state solution, Iqbal was content to provide Erekat with a platform from which to present his talking points concerning the Bahrain conference largely unchallenged.

The BBC cannot seriously claim that this interview and the earlier one on BBC Radio 4 made a meaningful contribution to audience understanding of the topic.

Related Articles:

More PLO propaganda and polemic on BBC WS radio – part one

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BBC Radio 4 provides a platform for the PLO’s ‘apartheid’ smear

 

 

More PLO propaganda and polemic on BBC WS radio – part one

As we saw in an earlier post the PLO’s Saeb Erekat was provided with a sympathetic BBC Radio 4 platform three days after the Palestinian Authority envoy in London gave a briefing to BBC journalists.

Erekat also appeared in an item over eight minutes long billed “Newshour speaks to one of the most senior and long serving Palestinian officials” (from 30:05 here) aired on the same day – June 20th – on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ presented by Razia Iqbal.

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

Iqbal: “The most intractable of conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians has been on the Trump administration’s agenda since Mr Trump went into the White House. His son-in-law Jared Kushner has been tasked to come up with what Mr Trump has dubbed ‘the deal of the century’. As part of that peace plan the US is hosting an economic summit in Bahrain next month – next week in fact. Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia will be present but the Palestinians say they were not consulted and are boycotting the summit. I’ve been speaking to Saeb Erekat who is currently the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and is the chief Palestinian negotiator. I began by asking him why Palestinian officials are boycotting the summit.”

The accuracy of Iqbal’s claim (which frequently crops up in BBC content) concerning the origin of the phrase ‘the deal of the century’ is questionable. Erekat began by recycling a theme he had used in his ‘Today’ programme interview aired earlier in the day.

Erekat: “Today, June 20th, Trump has been [in] office for 28 months. Did you hear the term occupation by any of them? Did you hear the term two states by any of them? Did you hear the term settlements are illegal by any of them? Did you hear Palestinians have the right to determination by any of them? They feel they can dictate a solution on me. In the last speech Jared Kushner gave he said if Palestinians accept what we offer then they are good, they can govern their people. If they don’t accept what we offer, they’re corrupt and they’re not fit to govern.”

Razia Iqbal did not bother to intervene to inform listeners that what Erekat was referring to was an interview rather than a “speech” and that Kushner did not say the things attributed to him by Erekat. Neither did she ask her interviewee how – if as he just alleged, the Trump administration had not used the term two states in 28 months – he managed to agree with them on a two-state solution as he next claimed.

Erekat: “I engaged with them – the Trump administration – in 37 meetings in 2017. We gave every possible chance. We signed agreement. We have an agreed terms of reference – international law, Security Council resolutions – and we agreed on two-state solution. Now what the American administration is doing is destroying these terms of reference, destroying international law, destroying the two-state solution. And they’re telling me – once they finish their negotiations with Netanyahu and the Israeli settlement council which they adopted their plan – ‘come here, boy, we know what’s best for you and if you don’t accept this you’re going to be related to Bin Laden, you’re corrupt and you’re not good to govern Palestinians’.”

That unsupported claim concerning “the Israeli settlement council” went unquestioned by Iqbal just as it did in the Radio 4 interview.

Iqbal: “OK, let’s look at the issue…the allegation of corruption. When you talked about how the Americans are saying that we will look at the Palestinian situation in terms of their needs as opposed to what you want, which is your rights, isn’t it true to say that there is corruption absolutely at the heart of the Palestinian Authority; that there is mismanagement of funds?”

Erekat: “I think that it’s really unfair to say this. I’m not saying that we’re perfect. I’m not saying that we’re not doing mistakes. We’re as normal as you in Britain, as Americans, as anywhere else. But [laughs] take American aid: they have never given us a single dollar directly. They have an agency called United States International Development Agency; they spend their money through it. So do the British and the French and the Germans and the Japanese and anybody else. So do I deserve to have occupation because I am corrupt? Do I deserve to have occupation because I cannot govern myself as Kushner says?”

Failing to clarify that ‘occupation’ was the outcome of attacks launched by Arab states, Iqbal went on to blame the PA’s financial situation in part on “the occupation”.

Iqbal: “It’s not about those two things being correlated. It’s about answering questions of accountability. So if the Palestinian ministers are going to give themselves more than 60% pay rises when the economy of the Palestinian Authority is on its knees, clearly informed by the occupation but also informed by mismanagement.”

Erekat predictably skirted round that issue and went on to make the inaccurate claim that the Oslo Accords included the term ‘two-state solution’ with no correction from Iqbal.

Erekat: “This was a mistake and we do mistakes and this mistake is being corrected but the point is I am under Israeli occupation. I am not independent. I entered a contract with Israel, the PLO – the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the Israeli government – under the auspices of the Americans, the Europeans, the Arab, to achieve the two-state solution. Now we have an American administration that’s saying ‘no – it’s not gonna be two states. Jerusalem is not, can’t be Palestine capital. Palestinians don’t have their actual determination and they must accept this’. And these people…the conflict is political, is about territory, is about narratives. It’s not a religious conflict. Judaism to us as Christian and Muslim Palestinians was never a threat, is not a threat, will never be a threat.”

Failing to provide her worldwide listeners with any examples of the blatant antisemitism that comes regularly from Palestinian officials and the incitement to religious war put out by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, Iqbal asked:

Iqbal: “And are you saying that the Americans are casting it as a religious conflict?”

Erekat: “Absolutely. When the ambassador – so-called ambassador – Friedman says that it’s God who recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and when Pompeo the Secretary of State would say that God sent Trump to save the Jews, they are turning this into a religious conflict and this should be a red line to anyone.”

The BBC itself reported at the time that Mr Pompeo “said it is “possible” that President Donald Trump was sent by God to save Israel from Iran” but Iqbal refrained from challenging Erekat’s claims.

The rest of this interview will be discussed in part two of this post.

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BBC Radio 4 provides a platform for the PLO’s ‘apartheid’ smear

Three days after the Palestinian Authority representative in London, Husam Zomlot, had given a briefing to “senior BBC correspondents and journalists” at Broadcasting House, listeners to the June 20th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme heard a remarkably sympathetic and unchallenging interview with his colleague Saeb Erekat.

Presenter Mishal Husain introduced the item (from 2:33:34 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Husain: “There will be a conference next week in Bahran initiated by the United States on proposals for the Palestinian economy. The Palestinian leadership however will not be there. Indeed the draft agenda for the event doesn’t include the word Palestinian, talking instead about investment in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel’s government will be represented as will the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. It’s all part of the ‘deal of the century’ as Donald Trump calls his Middle East peace initiative with his son-in-law Jared Kushner at the helm. Saeb Erekat is one of the most senior and long-serving Palestinian officials; a negotiator of the Oslo Accords in the 1990s and now secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s executive committee. He’s here in London and is with us in the studio. […] What do you achieve – you as the Palestinian leadership – by boycotting this event?”

In contrast to that highlighted claim from Husain, the Times of Israel reported the previous day that:

“No Israeli officials were invited to the event, the US administration announced earlier this week, noting that, given the fact that Palestinian Authority refused to attend, the hosts did not want to politicize the event.”

Erekat opened with an unsupported claim.

Erekat: “First of all we did not know about this event to begin with. We heard about it from the BBC. No-one consulted us and as for the ‘deal of the century’ you mentioned, Mishal, I think they have been implementing it, dictating it…”

Husain: “The Americans.”

Erekat: “The Americans, you know, in turning Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the embassy, closing our office in Washington, closing their consulate, calling settlements legal. When was the last time…today it’s been 28 months for this Trump team in office. Did you hear the term from them two states? Did you hear the term occupation? Did you hear the term settlements illegal? So they’re inviting for a Manama workshop because they know what’s best for me. I should not think any more. They know what’s better for me. They want to link me, my Jericho home, Nablus, Hebron, Ramallah with settlements so we can co-exist because in their eyes I’m not a people.”

Making no effort to clarify to listeners why the PLO mission in Washington was closed or why the US Consulate was merged with the embassy in Jerusalem, Husain not only failed to challenge Erekat’s claims but added credence to them.

Husain: “But what are your options in the face of an administration that takes that position?”

Erekat: “I not declare war on them. They declare war on our rights. And the whole aspects they’re doing now is they trying to…they focus attention from the Palestinian rights to Palestinian needs. What I mean by this, they want to go with the settlers council’s plan – the Israeli settler council’s plan – which specifies the term one state, two system: apartheid. They want me to have the right to have an ID card; it’s gonna be green, theirs will be blue. I have the right to study but they will determine the books and the maps that my children will study or not study. They will determine how do I drive and where do I drive. My car licence will be white and green; theirs will be yellow. There’s a deeper apartheid system that exist in the West Bank and Israel today than the one that existed in the darkest hours of South Africa’s apartheid. What we’re trying to tell the world – what I’m here in Britain, in Europe, in the Arab world, Asia, Africa, Latin America – we must stand tall to defend international law. We must stand tall to defend the four Geneva Conventions. We must stand tall to solve this problem by peaceful means.”

Husain made no effort to challenge Erekat’s ‘apartheid’ smears or to clarify the basis for his bizarre claims concerning the colours of various imaginary documents. Her passive approach was rendered even more significant just seconds later when – contradicting his own claims of a “plan” – Erekat admitted that he has no idea what the US proposals include.  

Erekat: “Actually this American administration is telling us if you accept what we offer – and we don’t know what they offer; you don’t know in Britain what they offer, France doesn’t know, no Arabs know, they didn’t share…”

Husain: “The plan was supposed to be presented around now but it’s been delayed because of the Israeli election having to be…”

Erekat: “That’s exactly it. It’s because of the Israelis and because of their…they work it out and draft it with Netanyahu, they dictate it on us.”

Following two questions concerning the participation of Arab states in the conference – and some uncharacteristically muted answers from Erekat – Husain continued:

Husain: “OK. You said the focus has been put on Palestinian needs rather than Palestinian rights but in terms of those needs, you would accept – wouldn’t you? – the…the dire economic position that the Palestinian Authority is in. It’s had aid cut off by the Americans. You know, there are all sorts of programmes which are desperately under-funded, both in the West Bank and in Gaza. So economic proposals are needed, are they not?”

Erekat: “So the Americans, as you said, cut $844 million from my aid. They cut aid to the St. John’s hospital in East Jerusalem – a British institute – the only eye centre serving Palestinians. They cut aid to the only cancer centre, Augusta Victoria…”

Husain: “Which is why I ask you; don’t you welcome the economic proposals given that situation?”

Erekat: “If you believe…Mishal, the people who cut aid to hospitals, to schools…they defunded UNRWA for the refugees $350 million and they left 112 projects – roads, schools, hosp…unfinished. And you’re telling me these people do care about my prosperity? And they want to do projects for me? The Israelis are withholding my funds, my revenues and the Americans are cutting all my aid and now they have these tears on [for] me?” […]

Husain did not bother to tell listeners that it is the PA which has refused to accept transfers of tax revenues from Israel or that the PA also refused to accept a category of US aid and that in both cases the background is linked to the Palestinian Authority’s payment of salaries to terrorists.

Husain: “I want to ask you: you’ve worked on these issues all of your adult life. Do you think you will see a Palestinian state in your lifetime or are you in the process of having to face reality and perhaps giving up on it?”

Erekat: “I…I cannot give up. I will not give up. It’s not a job that I do. I have 8 grandchildren, four children. I don’t want them to be suicide bombers. I don’t want them to be desperate because desperation will lead to desperate acts. And the only option for us as Palestinians as my president specified in his proposal for the United Nations Security Council February 20th 2018 – live and let live. The State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital to live side by side the State of Israel in peace and security. This is the only solution.”

Husain made no effort to ask Erekat how he intends to get Hamas and other Palestinian terror factions on board with that vision.

Erekat: “Now we have an Israeli government, an American administration that want one state two systems: apartheid. This will not fly.”

Once again failing to challenge that ‘apartheid’ smear, Husain closed the item.

Husain: “Saeb Erekat – thank you very much.”

Obviously this was much less an interview intended to provide BBC audiences with accurate and impartial information which would enhance their understanding of the topic than it was the provision of an unquestioning – if not obsequious – platform for Saeb Erakat’s propaganda.

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BBC Radio Ulster audiences hear that ‘Israel should be wiped off the map’

On January 30th the BBC News website published an article that included the BBC’s response to calls from supporters of the anti-Israel BDS campaign to boycott the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv.

Notwithstanding the BBC’s statement on the issue, the following day – January 31st – BBC Northern Ireland’s BBC Radio Ulster decided to air a long phone-in item on its ‘Talkback’ programme hosted by William Crawley. Titled “Is the BBC right to take part in Eurovison being held in Tel Aviv, or should the corporation stay away?”, the item included contributions from journalist/activist Eamonn McCann and historian Ruth Dudley Edwards as well as seven callers.

On the hook of the Eurovision Song Contest, listeners heard thirty-eight minutes of mostly unchallenged falsehoods and delegitimisation – often outstanding for their ignorance even by the ‘standards’ of BBC Radio Ulster. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Having informed listeners in his introduction that “Jerusalem is a disputed capital” and after noting the BBC’s statement on the call to boycott May’s event in Tel Aviv, Crawley invited listeners to phone in.

“What do you think? You’re a licence fee payer. Do you think the BBC is right to continue with its role in the Eurovision contest this year or should it boycott the Tel Aviv Eurovision?”

Crawley then asked his guest Eamonn McCann – introduced as a “journalist and former ‘People Before Profit’ MLA [member of the legislative assembly]” and a supporter of “the boycott movement” – to “lay out the case for the boycott first”.

McCann began by promoting a popular but inaccurate myth according to which the BDS campaign was initiated by Palestinians.

McCann: “well the boycott movement – BDS boycott, divestment and sanctions – that was set up in 2005 yes and that was the year after and it was a response to the publication of an opinion of the International Court of Justice about the legality of the apartheid wall – or separation wall as the Israelis call it – and the associated settlement figures. Now the BDS movement arose, endorsed by more than 60 civil society organisations that are from…of Palestinians and a…the actual…its manifesto said that they wanted a boycott of Israel – quote – until it meets its obligations under international law and that was spelled out by the BDS movement at the beginning as ending its occupation and colonisation of Arab lands, recognising the fundamental rights of Arab Palestinian citizens to full equality and respecting protection and promoting the rights of Palestinians to return to their homes. Now that’s the aim of it. It is an entirely peaceful sort of movement. Indeed it was formed because previously we had a sustained violence and nothing else – nothing else. The BDS movement couldn’t stop the violence of the resistance of Palestinian people, particularly in Gaza, but it said here is a non-violent way of engaging international support and trying at last to pressure the Israelis into abandoning what is an apartheid system. That’s what’s happening here: apartheid in the 21st century. And just as we had a boycott of apartheid South Africa, we should now certainly not be presenting Israel as a sort of normal state where light entertainment and progressive thought flourishes. That is to deny – implicitly to deny – the reality under which the Palestinian people live. Therefore boycott it.”

Making no effort to challenge McCann’s repeated ‘apartheid’ smear, to point out that the ICJ opinion has no legal standing or to clarify that ‘Arab lands’ also means Israel and ‘right of return’ means the end of the Jewish state, Crawley went on to quote the BBC’s statement once again before introducing Ruth Dudley Edwards whom he promptly interrupted with the following dubious claim:

Crawley: “This is obviously organised by the European Broadcasting Union and there were some in Israel – not least the prime minister – Prime Minister Netanyahu – who wanted the event to be held in Jerusalem, Ruth. But the European Broadcasting Union determined that it should be held in Tel Aviv. That’s a break with normal tradition. They normally go with a country’s capital and the prime minister said the country’s capital is Jerusalem so isn’t the European Broadcasting Union there making a political decision?”

Even if he does not remember that the 2004 Eurovision was held in Istanbul rather than Turkey’s capital, the 2011 event in Dusseldorf rather than the German capital, the 2013 Eurovision on Malmo rather than Sweden’s capital, the 1972 event in Edinburgh and the 1974 event in Brighton rather than in London, one would at least have thought that Crawley would recall that in 1993 the Eurovision was held in a small Irish town called Millstreet rather than in Dublin.

When Dudley Edwards went on to note that the “BDS movement is being used to help demonise Israel, delegitimise it”, Crawley jumped in:

Crawley: “Why are you bringing up antisemitism?”

After explaining that some of those behind the BDS campaign are driven by antisemitism and that the so-called ‘right of return’ means “the rights of 8 million people who hate Israel to come and live in Israel” because of the hereditary aspect of Palestinian ‘refugee’ status, Dudley Edwards clarified that “the objective is to destroy Israel”.

Crawly quickly brought in McCann at that point, who three times tarred Dudley Edward’s statements as “nonsense”.

McCann: “I mean are we all driven by antisemites? Is there a secret conspiracy here? Is the United Methodist Church in the United States, is the Norwegian Trade Union Federation, is Amnesty International, is Human Rights Watch? […] Incidentally, many of my best friends are anti-Zionist Jews. Many of my best friends are Jews.”

McCann went on to invoke Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Ronnie Kasrils and Joe Slovo.

McCann: “If they say…if Nelson Mandela says that looks like apartheid then I think that he knows a wee bit more about apartheid than either Ruth or myself and I’m gonna take his word for it.”

McCann proceeded to interrupt Ruth Dudley Edwards as she tried to describe the terrorism faced by Israelis and then went on:

McCann: “They’re not dealing with rockets every day of the week. In fact the number of rockets being fired from Gaza or anywhere else is very small – tiny, infinitesimal – compared to the firepower being directed by Israel against the Palestinian people. That is why in terms of deaths […] We can watch on our televisions and actually see heavily armed members of the Israeli Defence Forces shooting – aiming and shooting down – and shooting in the back young Palestinians. Some of them might be carrying stones – it’s all they have – and sling shots like David had to use against Goliath. That’s what you see now.”

Crawley made no effort to inform listeners that the “infinitesimal” number of rockets and mortars launched from Gaza at Israeli civilians in 2018 was one thousand or that “stones” are obviously by no means “all they have” seeing as hundreds of attacks with IEDs, grenades and firearms have been carried out in the past year alone. Neither did Crawley react when Mc Cann went on to claim that “there’s slaughter going on there” before once again invoking the political NGOs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

During the phone-in part of the item listeners heard from seven callers – all male – three of whom were against boycotting the Eurovision and four in favour. Many of the lies and distortions promoted by those callers went unchallenged.

Caller 2: “Israel used white phosphorus on civilians – children, men, women. Journalists – kills journalists on a regular basis. It destroys olive trees. Takes land off people, you know, it murders people, children. How can anyone in their right kind of mind accept anything that Israel does? Israel should be wiped off the map and the land should be given back to the Palestinians. […] They should be…their power should be taken off them and it should be returned to the Palestinian people and they should all live in peace together in one area. […] The power and the government and the structure should be returned back to the Palestinians.”

Crawley made no effort to clarify to listeners that “the Palestinians” never had an independent state with “power and the government and the structure”. Neither did he bother to inform his audience – and his caller – that denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination is considered antisemitism according to the IHRA definition that is used by the British government.

Listeners also heard from McCann on the topic of Israel’s existence.

McCann: “I don’t accept its right to exist as it’s presently constituted. Israel is a settler state.”

They also heard him opine on the rights of the LGBT community in Israel.

Crawley: “Would you also accept that LGBT rights are more protected in Israel than any other country in that region?”

McCann: “Yes [….] but let’s get this clear…the fact that a great number of LGBT in Israel are anti-Palestinian. We mustn’t allow the fact that…if you’re LGBT you’re entitled to your freedom, you’re entitled to your liberation and your equality. You are not entitled just because you’re LGBT or anything else, you are not entitled to support and to endorse and to implement an apartheid regime against the Palestinian people. Nothing gives you that right.”

Caller 4 also promoted the lie that “Israel is an apartheid state” with no challenge from Crawley, as did caller 5.

Caller 5: “Israel is an apartheid state – much more even than South Africa. […] What happened in Israel shouldn’t be happening. All those people were moved off their land over the last 60 – 70 years. 100 years ago there was Jewish people living in what is now Israel, living then in peace and it’s only when they became, I suppose, a force that they then started moving in on Palestinian villages. […] Israel should be ostracised worldwide…as long as Israel is doing what they’re doing – slaughtering the people.”

While the level of most of the ‘discussion’ heard in this programme is frankly jaw-dropping, it is acutely obvious that its presenter – despite the BBC’s public purpose obligation to educate and inform – was perfectly content to let historical and current affairs related inaccuracies go unchallenged along with the repeated falsehoods – and in particular the ‘apartheid’ smear – that were clearly intended to delegitimise Israel and curry support for the BDS campaign.

And so, not for the first time ,we see that unfettered defamation, demonisation and delegitimisation of Israel – along with promotion of the antisemitic denial of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination – gets a free pass on BBC Northern Ireland radio stations.

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BBC Radio Ulster promotes ‘Zionism is racism’ and the ‘apartheid’ smear

Move over Galloway: BBC Radio Ulster airs pro-Assad & anti-Israel propaganda

Resources:

BBC Radio Ulster contact details

‘Talkback’ contact details