BBC World Service continues to promote the fiction of an Israeli ‘book ban’

Not content with having misled audiences worldwide on December 31st by propagating the inaccurate notion of a ‘ban’ on Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan’s novel ‘Gader Haya’, the BBC World Service has continued to promote more inaccurate information about that same story.Rabinyan Arts Hour

The January 12th edition of ‘The Arts Hour’ included Lyse Doucet’s interview with Rabinyan already broadcast on ‘Newshour’ on December 31st. As was noted here in connection with that programme:

“…during her subsequent conversation with the book’s author, Doucet makes no attempt to relieve listeners of the inaccurate impression given by Dorit Rabinyan that the decision not to include the book in the curriculum was made by politicians rather than by a pedagogic committee.

Rabinyan: “This is a time of extremers [sic]. I think deciding to reject a book is an act of the regime that has been controlling Israel in the past decade.” […]

“There is a professional artistic committee who had recommended this book to be taught and the ministerial committee had rejected it and then they appealed again […] the ministerial guys rejected it again.”

Neither does she challenge Rabinyan’s later inaccurate and misleading allegations concerning the significance of the committee’s decision. 

“and it’s [purchase of the book by members of the public] a big declaration of support and belief that the freedom of speech – the artistic freedom – shouldn’t be harmed, shouldn’t be even threatened….”RAbinyan arts hour menu

On the menu page for ‘The Arts Hour’ the item is described as follows: [emphasis added]

“Israel bars an Arab-Jewish love story written by Dorit Rabinyan from schools”

The programme’s synopsis states:

“Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan responds as her prize-winning novel about a love affair between an Arab and an Israeli is taken off the school curriculum.”

Both those statements are inaccurate and misleading. Rabinyan’s book was never on the school curriculum and it has not been ‘barred’.

The synopsis to the January 8th edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘World Have Your Say’ is equally inaccurate and misleading.WHYS radio main

“A banned book and a Facebook video highlight the taboo of love between Jews and Arabs in Israel.” [emphasis added]

That inaccurate description was repeated – with no challenge from presenter Chloe Tilley – by one of the interviewees in the programme itself.  Listeners were also told by another interviewee (ironically, from Haifa) that: [emphasis added]

“You need to understand that Israel is not going…it’s going into a very dark place. This means that the segregation that they have between Arabs and Jews makes a certain demonification of the Arabs.”

And:

“A whole society is united behind a hatred for Arabs.”

And – again from the previously mentioned interviewee:

“…in 2016 the Ministry of Education in Israel still afraid from Palestinians, still says oh don’t mix it up, don’t hang up [out] with Palestinians, don’t marry, don’t kiss, don’t love Arab men or Arab women.”

As has been the case in all the BBC’s coverage of this story, no effort was made to inform audiences what the literature curriculum in Israeli schools does already include. Writer Liel Leibovitz recently provided some insight into that topic.

“Because I aced my Bagrut in literature, and was taught very well at HaRishonim High School how to closely read text, I was a bit puzzled as to why a decision by professional educators not to include a book in a list of mandatory novels amounted to anything akin to a ban. And because it hasn’t been that long since I graduated high school—or at least that’s what I like to tell myself while shaving away those gray patches in my beard—I remember the list of mandatory novels quite well: It already includes Sami Michael’s A Trumpet in the Wadi, the moving tale of Huda and Alex—she a young Arab woman, he a musically inclined Jew, both beautiful and doomed in Haifa in the 1980s; Amos Oz’s My Michael with its Jewish heroine, Hannah, overcome with erotic fantasies about her friends, the Arab twins Halil and Aziz; and I.B. Singer’s The Slave, in which an indentured Yid falls in love with his master’s shiksa daughter Wanda. For a ministry allegedly run by a bunch of right-wing guardians of racial purity, that’s quite a list.”WHYS FB main

Only one of this programme’s six interviewees was a Jewish Israeli and Tilley twice noted that it was “a real challenge to get an Israeli Jewish perspective”. Although the topic of gay relationships did feature in the conversation, the fact that three of her gay Arab interviewees live in the Tel Aviv area did not prompt Tilley to enquire about the level of tolerance for gay and/or mixed couples in their home towns. The impression listeners to this show received from the personal stories of participants was overwhelmingly that their Muslim Arab families are far more tolerant of mixed relationships that the Jewish families of their partners.

As usual, listeners to the programme were invited to participate via social media and as has all too often been the case in the past, the ‘World Have Your Say’ Facebook page moderators failed to handle offensive comments appropriately.

WHYS FB 1

WHYS FB 2

WHYS FB 3

WHYS FB 4

While this story has been covered very generously by the BBC, it is starkly obvious that the corporation’s interest in it has been fueled primarily by the opportunity it presented to promote existing politically motivated narratives of a ‘dark’ society which ‘bans’ books, ‘silences’ free speech and frowns upon the multi-cultural icon of racially mixed relationships. So keen has the BBC been to promote that narrative that its reporting has failed to meet the basic editorial standards of accuracy which would supposedly have ensured that audiences would not be repeatedly fed a story about a ‘book ban’ which does not exist.

Related Articles:

BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ reports a ‘book ban’ that does not exist

How many inaccuracies can the BBC cram into a 23 word sentence?

Resources:

BBC World Service contact details   

Advertisements

Why is the BBC definition of a ‘human rights activist’ different from all others?

The UN defines human rights as “rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status”. A person portrayed to BBC audiences as a human rights activist will therefore certainly not be understood to be a campaigner for the negation of the rights of a particular group of people.

If one happened to be in Fort Lauderdale last November one could have heard Susan Abulhawa speaking for an organization which negates the right of Jews to self-determination. If one happened to have attended the annual BDS-supporting ‘PalFest’ during the last couple of years, one would also have found Susan Abulhawa there – and subsequently promoting the notion that Israelis must apologise for “the most basic fact of Israel’s existence”. Or one could just take a look at her Facebook posts in order to understand that universal human rights are most certainly not at the top of Abulhawa’s activist agenda.

Nevertheless, listeners to the June 15th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Arts Hour’ heard an interview with Abulhawa (available here from 27:38 for a limited period of time or here as a clip without the introduction) in which presenter Nikki Bedi introduced her as follows:Arts Hour segment

“To literature first though and a Palestinian-American writer and human rights activist, Susan Abulhawa, whose first book ‘Mornings in Jenin’ was an international best-seller about four generations of a Palestinian family set against Palestinian-Israeli tensions. Susan Abulhawa’s new novel – The Blue Between the Sky and the Water – treads similar ground as we follow the Baraka family whose lives are disrupted when Israeli forces enter Gaza and the family is forced to flee. Six decades later, the threats of those events and the personal tragedies that went with them bring Nur, a grandchild of the family now living in America, into an unexpected closeness with the past. In the novel we get both a real texture of daily Palestinian life and yet also a sense of how history affects a family.” [emphasis added]

Bedi also tells listeners that interviewer Anne McElvoy spoke to the writer “noting how Susan Abulhawa humanised the story rather than using politics to tell us what was going on.”

Indeed, McElvoy remarks to Abulhawa:

“And you’re humanising a narrative that’s often told from the position of high politics or legal territorial language so it’s [a] very different way of approaching it….”

Just how far Abulhawa’s novel is ‘removed’ from politics is evident later on in the interview when the writer describes it as being about four generations of women “who are navigating their lives, their marriages, their births, illnesses, education, etcetera, under a military occupation – and a very violent one – and an economic siege that’s quite forbidding.”

The interview also includes the following from Abulhawa:

“I think narrative…narrative is an important part of every culture. It is especially important for societies that have been marginalised or violated in ways and, in particular in the case of the Palestinians, societies who are completely negated and denied; whose existence is denied. So narratives, in a way, and the right to tell one’s story in one’s own voice – not having other people speak for you and about you, which has been the case for decades with Palestinians – but to tell one’s own stories in one’s own voice is an important part of identity. It’s a part of a society’s collective memory.”

Susan Abulhawa is a writer and a political activist and her politics include the negation of a basic human right for a particular group of people. That information is critical to understanding her words and her work in their correct context but, rather than meeting the BBC’s own editorial guidelines on impartiality by disclosing Abulhawa’s ‘standpoint’ to listeners, this programme used the ‘halo effect’ of the misapplied label ‘human rights activist’ in order to whitewash the political agenda behind both the interviewee and her book.

Perhaps the BBC would care to tell its funding public why its use of the term ‘human rights activist’ does not embrace the accepted principle of the universality of human rights.

Related Articles:

 Guardian whitewashes the extremism of Susan Abulhawa (The Facebook updates)   (UK Media Watch)

Resources:

BBC World Service – contact & complaints

‘The Arts Hour’ – e-mail

How to Complain to the BBC