Impressions of Israel from BBC WS radio’s ‘The Cultural Frontline’

The November 6th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Cultural Frontline’ (“where arts and news collide”) included an item (from 07:30 here) described in its synopsis as follows:cultural-frontline-ws-6-11

“Reporter Sahar Zand meets a member of the Broken Fingaz street art collective from Israel. Against the colourful backdrop of his latest mural in Hackney, east London, they discuss the controversial group’s international presence and deep roots in their native Haifa, Israel.”

Seeing as some of Zand’s questions were clearly intended to prompt responses relating to Israel, it is interesting to take a look at the unchallenged impressions of that country received by audiences.

For example, listeners were informed that Israelis “don’t have much of a history”.

Zand: “How does your work reflect where you come from; your society?”

Unga: “The chaos and like the colours and the intensity. But at the same time we are very open to be influenced by other cultures – maybe because we don’t have much of a history then we are more open to search for something new.”

Audiences also heard that one “cannot avoid propaganda” in Israel.

Zand: “How do you think that Broken Fingaz murals are responding to what’s going on in Israel at the moment?”

Unga: “Anyone who’ve [sic] been to Israel know that it’s one of the most political places in the world and you cannot avoid propaganda. There are specific works that really talks about it and they are more political.”

Listeners were told that the anti-terrorist fence is “not normal” – but not why it had to be erected – when the artist described a mural in Haifa which shows:

“….Prime Minister Bibi and his wife in vacation clothes with the polo shirt and everything nice and they’re with a selfie stick posing next to the separation wall. It’s all about this normality and, like, trying to portray this like everything is normal, nothing really happening, but obviously it’s not normal – it’s not supposed to be like this…”

Audiences were inaccurately informed that Haifa is the only place in which Jews and Arabs live together.

Unga: “It is really a special place. In this crazy area called the Middle East we create our own community in Haifa the city that we live. There is this thing of Arabs and Jews living together which you don’t see anywhere else, not in this way.”

And listeners also learned that the Israeli media ‘glorifies death’.

Unga: “I can say about death that it’s always surprising for us that people in Israel can be shocked about drawing of skeletons while the whole place is just surrounded by death and they keep talking about death. That’s the only thing that they talk about in the news; is, like, glorifying it. But then when they see this they will suddenly get offended; like, how dare you, like.”

The BBC Trust states that:

“The BBC’s journalism for international audiences should share the same values as its journalism for UK audiences: accuracy, impartiality and independence. International audiences should value BBC news and current affairs for providing reliable and unbiased information of relevance, range and depth.”

Clearly this item intended for “international audiences” did not meet those standards.

BBC WS culture show reinforces stereotypes by omission of context

The September 25th edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘The Cultural Frontline’ included a fairly long item (from 08:10 here) described in the synopsis as follows:cultural-frontline-ws-25-9

“…Palestinian artists Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme reveal how their work replaces clichéd images of their region with complex film and sound tapestries.”

In her introduction to the item, presenter Tina Daheley describes the artists’ work in similar terms:

“Rather than using their work for political protest though, they try to challenge stereotypes about their region and show complexities rather than clichés.”

Listeners actually hear very little in the way of a coherent explanation about the types of “stereotypes” and “clichés” which are supposedly challenged.

Daheley: “What sort of clichés are you reacting against?”

Abou-Rahme: “Firstly of course on the kind of media representations but at the same time it’s also this sort of traps that, you know, artists fall into which is that, you know, people want you to produce certain kind of works that have very clear, tangible images. They’re ready to respond to a perception that they have of the place and experience. You know if you’re gonna see a work that’s just showing you the checkpoint again or is just…you know…what is that gonna….how is that gonna speak to Palestinian communities? So, you know, in a way for us that’s always sort of….that it really speaks to a Palestinian audience.”

However, the absence of any effort to introduce context into this item means that in fact listeners have quite a few of the “stereotypes” and “clichés” which make up a particular political narrative reinforced.

Daheley: “Their work in video, photography and installation explores themes like colonialism, militarism and the challenges of daily life in the West Bank city of Ramallah.”

Abbas: “…young people have been making trips back to the destroyed Palestinian villages inside Israel…” […] “You’re really kind of going back to the site of your own erasure…”

Abou-Rahme: “I mean the whole project really for us started a year and a half ago at a period of really kind of immense, you know, violence and also trauma – collective trauma across the region….”

Abbas: “…our lives are, like, fragmented all the time. You know, our lines of visibility are literally fragmented with walls and checkpoints but also our experience is fragmented and communities are fragmented and separated by IDs and ID colours and you’re allowed to live here, you’re allowed to live there. So our sort of collective historical narrative is constantly…there are constant attempts to always fragment it and rewrite it…”

Abbas: “So much oppression that happens these days happens on a scale of imagination, you know, so what’s oppressed is your ability to imagine it from a way of being or your ability to imagine something else.”

‘The Cultural Frontline’ describes itself as a programme “where arts and news collide”. Not for the first time, this item clearly did nothing to contribute to meeting the BBC’s remit of enhancing audience understanding of the current affairs issue to which it relates.

BBC WS showcases ahistorical political art unchallenged

The August 28th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Cultural Frontline’ included an interview (from 07:04 here) with British street artist Joy Gilleard. A specific edited segment of that interview was also separately promoted on Twitter. WS St Pauls clip 

“Street artist CBLOXX was commissioned to paint a mural for London’s St Paul’s Cathedral and she decided to paint the Virgin Mary as a Palestinian refugee. Little did she know it would end up being sent to the Queen.”

During the interview listeners heard Gilleard talking about the background to the painting:

“Some of the topics that I’m painting about are quite specific. So the very first one that I did was in St Paul’s Cathedral and they wanted me to do a painting of the Virgin Mary. So I decided that it would be a good idea to go and paint a Palestinian woman as the Virgin Mary – a refugee. It was just to show a different angle on something and it just seemed like a really nice link to the fact that there’s so many people fleeing Palestine, Syria…”

Given the fact that portrayal of Jesus as a Palestinian is one of the tactics long employed by anti-Israel campaigners attempting to negate and erase Jewish history, one might have thought that the programme’s presenter Sahar Zand would have taken the trouble to make listeners aware of the ahistorical politics behind the portrayal of the Virgin Mary as a Palestinian – if only for the sake of editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.

However, the representative of a media organisation which earlier this year spent a significant amount of airtime discussing the alleged cultural appropriation of a pop star’s hair style, stayed silent.  

 

BBC Watch complaint on ‘banned’ book upheld

As readers may recall, since late last year various BBC radio programmes have misled their audiences by promoting assorted versions of the inaccurate claim that Dorit Rabinyan’s book ‘Gader Haya’ (‘Borderlife’) has been banned in Israel.

December 2015, BBC World Service: BBC World Service ‘Newshour’ reports a ‘book ban’ that does not exist.

January 2016, BBC World Service: BBC World Service continues to promote the fiction of an Israeli ‘book ban’.

February 2016, BBC Radio 4: How an uncorrected inaccuracy became BBC conventional wisdom.

March 2016, BBC World Service: BBC WS yet again promotes inaccurate claim of Israeli book ‘ban’.

With previous efforts to alert BBC World Service programme makers to the inaccuracy having proved fruitless, after the February 22nd broadcast of ‘Front Row’ on Radio 4, BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning the following inaccurate claims made in that programme:

“…recently the [Israeli] culture minister banned a novel about a mixed Israeli-Palestinian relationship…ahm…Dorit Rabinyan’s ‘Border Life’.”

As readers may recall, the complaint was twice rejected by the BBC Complaints department, with the second response including the programme production team’s claim that:

“This was a discussion that wasn’t specifically about the Rabinyan case – it was about another author’s work and the discussion strayed into political interference in Israeli culture. As such, Samira used the shorthand “banned” in reference to the book. The book was removed from the school syllabus, but in a discussion as wide ranging as this, the point about political involvement in arts and culture still stands whether the book has been banned from society at large, or removed from the school syllabusThe decision to interfere in the distribution of this book was made by, or under pressure from, politicians. That was the point the interviewee was making and to which the presenter responded.” [emphasis added]

As we noted at the time:

“The book ‘Borderlife’ was not “banned” in Israel and is freely available to all would-be purchasers in book shops. Neither was it “removed from the school syllabus” – because it was never on it. The decision not to include the book in the curriculum was made by a professional pedagogic body – not “by, or under pressure from, politicians”.”

BBC Watch pursued the matter further and the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit upheld our complaint, as is now noted on the BBC website’s ‘corrections and clarifications’ page.

Borderlife correction

The ECU’s reporting of its findings includes a section titled ‘Further action’.

Borderlife ECUGiven the production team’s above response to the second stage complaint, one must obviously question whether in fact it is in a position to “ensure that presenters are appropriately briefed”.Front Row 22 2

During our correspondence with the ECU, we raised the question of how the listeners who were misled by the inaccurate broadcast would be made aware of that fact and suggested that an on-air correction in the same programme would be the most efficient way of ensuring that a correction reached the original audience.

We learned from the ECU that the practical steps to be taken after a complaint has been upheld are left to the discretion of the division of the BBC concerned.

“At this stage, it’s for the management of the Division responsible for the programme (BBC Radio in this case) to notify me of the action they propose to take as a result of the finding, so any decision about broadcasting a correction will be theirs in the first instance (though it’s also open to me to say whether I consider the action adequate).”

As we have previously noted here in connection to the absence of a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website, the whole point of making corrections is to ensure that audiences receive the corrected information.

One cannot but question the efficacy – and commitment to transparency – of a publicly funded complaints system which apparently does not include a mechanism to ensure that audiences are automatically informed in the most efficient manner possible of the fact that they were given misleading information, rather than the outcome being dependent upon decisions made by individual departments. 

 

BBC World Service touts an ill-informed politicised caricature of Israel

Listeners to the March 26th/27th edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘The Cultural Frontline’ heard a long item (from 20:17 here) which presented a caricature of Israel and Israeli Jews from Arab lands which is rife with subtly misleading inaccuracy and omission. An abridged version of the item was promoted separately on social media.The Cultural Frontline Khaled Diab

The programme’s synopsis misleadingly describes the item as follows:

“Writer Khaled Diab explains why Mizrahi, or Eastern Jewish, music is becoming popular amongst both Israeli and Palestinian young people.”

Longtime readers of the Guardian will of course be familiar with Khaled Diab: he has after all been promoting his ‘one-stater’ ideas on its pages for years and he is the man who, in 2009, tried to persuade them that the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict ought to be modelled on his adopted homeland of Belgium – an idea which might currently seem even less plausible than it did at the time.

So let’s take a look at some of the notions Diab promotes on this generous BBC World Service platform. Following a rather long and flowery introduction, Diab gets to his subject matter:

“Although Israel’s image abroad and the self-image it projects is very Western, about half of its Jewish population originates in the Middle East.”airport sign

So far, so good but then Diab goes on to make the following assertion about a country in which Arabic is one of three official languages and everything from passports and ID cards to food packaging displays Arabic script – including the signs Diab presumably saw when he first stepped off the plane.

“But Israel is generally coy of showing its Arab face to the world while many Arabs don’t like seeing it.”

He continues:welcome to Israel sign

“Known as Mizrahi or Eastern Jews in Hebrew, the first generation were born in Arab countries. The second generation grew up in Arabic speaking households and many in the third generation are busy rediscovering their roots. The first generation had it tough. They fled their homelands out of fear following the creation of Israel.”

Diab does not elaborate on that last sentence and the significance of his sidestepping of events such as the Farhud in 1941 or the pogroms in Libya in 1945 will later become apparent.

He goes on:

“Their Arab culture, which was also the culture of the enemy, was shunned and looked down upon by the Ashkenazi pioneers who founded Israel. This led the Mizrahim to seek escape from their offending Mizrahiness [sic].”

Whilst there is no denying the cultural clashes of Israel’s early years, that simplistic caricature  erases from audience view the topic of the process of building of a national identity in the formative years of the Jewish state (and its satirisation in works such as the 1964 film Sallah Shabati which garnered unprecedented box-office success at the time) and the work of people such as Abraham Zvi Idelsohn (author of the Thesaurus of Hebrew Oriental Melodies), Shoshana Damari and Sara Levi-Tanai.

Diab continues:

“However even if their culture was shunned in public, the Mizrahim maintained it in private, speaking Arabic at home and listening to the music they had grown up with. Some of the musicians who moved to Israel were among the crème de la crème of Arabic music but found no interest from the Ashkenazi establishment. These included Daoud and Salah al Kuwaiti. Born in Kuwait to an Iraqi-Jewish family, the Kuwaiti brothers were popular with both the political elite – including Iraq’s then King Faisal – and the masses in Iraq and the Gulf, though they were expunged for decades from the Arab collective memory. In Israel they found little better. Salah and Daoud were forced to eke out an existence as shopkeepers in Tel Aviv and sang in small bars. Decades later, Daoud’s grandson Dudu Tassa revived their memory by fusing their songs with the guitar riffs he had become famous for as a rocker.”

Here is Dudu Tassa’s own account of his grandfather’s move to Israel:

“In the beginning of the 1950s, they decided to leave Baghdad and join the big wave of emigration from Iraq to the newly-established Israel. In spite of their wealth and of the wide range of possibilities before them Saleh and Daud had to leave everything behind. They emigrated to the young Jewish state without using their connections to gain permission to take their property with them.

Saleh and Daud’s status in Iraq was of no use to them when faced with the difficulties of finding their place in Israel. Their welcome in the new country was harsh due to the mass migration of Jews from oppressive Arab regimes they were sent first to live in a temporary tent camp in Beer Yaakov. Later they moved to the Hatikva quarter of Tel Aviv, there sometimes they used to play in the Noah café. Upon their arrival Saleh and Daud began playing and performing also in the Arab channel of “The Voice of Israel” (Israeli radio), soon becoming two of its leaders. They performed as guest soloists with the Arabic orchestra of the Israeli Radio led by Zuzu Mussa. For many years they gave a regular live radio performance, with thousands of people in Israel and millions in Iraq and Kuwait listening.”

An Arabic orchestra belonging to Israel’s state-run radio? An Arabic channel run by the same official radio station? That of course is a very different picture to the one painted by Khaled Diab who would have listeners believe that such culture was “shunned and looked down on” by the “Ashkenazi establishment” but indeed the state-run ‘Voice of Israel’ radio station did have an in-house Arab orchestra from 1948 until 1993.

Diab then tells listeners that:

“Recent years have seen Mizrahi music come out of the home and onto radio, TV and the club scene. You can hear it at parties, weddings and even on Saturday nights at Mahane Yehuda; Jerusalem’s covered market.”

Diab does not clarify what he means by “recent” but obviously his definition is somewhat different to that of the dictionary given that in 1971 the Israeli Broadcasting Authority produced the first Mizrahi song festival which was aired on radio and screened on television. Apparently he has never heard of Zohar Argov’s smash hit ‘The Flower in my Garden’ from 1982.

Diab goes on to tell listeners that “numerous young artists have reclaimed the Iraqi, Yemeni and North African music of their ancestors” before moving along the route to his core agenda.

“Despite the Palestinian distrust of Israel and the growing hatred towards Israelis in Palestinian society, Mizrahi music in Hebrew has a surprisingly strong following among young Palestinians. Even more bewildering; a trickle of Palestinian artists are singing Mizrahi music in Hebrew, such as Nasreen Qadri who has found mainstream success.”

Audiences might have been somewhat less bewildered had Diab told them that Nasreen Qadri is an Arab-Israeli born and raised in Haifa. Had he done so, however, the use of the word “occupier” in his next sentence would obviously have required explanation.the cultural frontline diab abridged

“While Palestinian activists I know dismiss this interest in Mizrahi music as a form of assimilation with the occupier and an expression of self-hatred, I think its causes run deeper. Despite their disparate politics, young Mizrahim and Palestinians have a lot in common. They are socially and economically marginalized. Their forbearers were uprooted and their culture has been under threat. As is the case with African-Americans, the fact that Mizrahi music has become hip and mainstream doesn’t mean that the Mizrahim are no longer marginalised. Despite some success stories, the Israeli establishment and upper echelons are still firmly Ashkenazi.”

Diab provides no source or evidence for his claims of ‘marginalisation’ and makes no attempt to clarify to listeners how that process ostensibly takes place. But propagation of the notion of an ‘Ashkenazi elite’ – despite the fact that increasing numbers of Israelis have mixed Ashkenazi and Sephardi or Mizrahi heritage and that Mizrahim are to be found in prominent positions in all fields of Israeli society – serves Diab’s ultimate take-away messaging.

“This growing cultural pride has not translated into greater sympathy for Palestinians and Arabs among Mizrahim. In fact, there’s been a hardening of sentiment and a troubling surge in anti-Arab racism. This is disheartening to Mizrahi activists I know who entertain the dream that their community’s Arab roots can help bridge a gaping chasm separating Israelis and Palestinians.”

In addition to the fact that yet again Diab brings no evidence to support his claim of a “surge in anti-Arab racism” among Mizrahim, it is very obvious that since he first began banging this particular drum in an article titled “Israel’s other Arabs” published seven years ago at the Guardian, he has done nothing to inform himself of the circumstances and background to the mass exodus of almost a million Jews from Arab and Muslim lands – and the related collective memories of Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews.

Whilst we would of course expect nothing better from such a seasoned polemicist as Khaled Diab, it is however regrettable that the BBC World Service elected to give such a generous platform to his recycled, uninformed and politicized caricature of Israel and Israeli Jews from Arab lands which not only does nothing to meet the corporation’s remit of enhancing audience understanding of “international issues” and “different cultures from around the world” but actively – and intentionally – hinders such understanding.

BBC WS yet again promotes inaccurate claim of Israeli book ‘ban’

Between December 31st 2015 and February 22nd 2016, assorted BBC platforms produced five separate reports or programmes which falsely described a certain book as having been ‘banned’ by the Israeli government.

On March 13th inaccurate information concerning that book – Dorit Rabinyan’s novel ‘Borderlife’ – was once again promoted in an item appearing in the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The Cultural Frontline’.Cultural Frontline WS 13 3 full

The item (from 14:33 here and with an abridged version promoted separately on social media) was introduced by presenter Tina Daheley as follows:

“Our next stop this week is Egypt and a new development in the country’s historically difficult relationship with neighbouring Israel. The improving diplomatic situation between the two countries was challenged last week when the Egyptian MP Tawfik Okasha was voted out of parliament by his colleagues for inviting the Israeli ambassador to dinner at his house. Apparently the problem was that his invitation normalised relations with Israel.”

Listeners would have little idea of what that story is about because the BBC did not cover it at the time. The introduction continued:

“And these frosty relations aren’t confined to the political sphere, as the Israeli novelist Ayelet Gundar-Goshen – author of ‘Waking Lions’; a novel which looks at integration within Israeli society – explains.”

Gundar-Goshen’s account concerns a controversy which arose last month when an Arabic language version of a book by an Israeli journalist was discovered at the Cairo International Book Fair. Despite having told listeners that among the books available in Egyptian book stores are ‘Mein Kampf’ and the antisemitic forgery ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, Gundar-Goshen nevertheless claimed that the Egyptian cultural scene “refuses any normalisation with the Israeli state due to the Israeli occupation of Palestine”.Cultural Frontline WS 13 3 clip

Having mocked the Egyptian authorities’ reaction to the discovery of the Israeli journalist’s book at the Cairo Book Fair, she then went on to state:

“Only a month ago I heard the same music from Israeli politicians after the Israeli minister of education decided to ban from school curriculum an Israeli novel about an Israeli-Palestinian love affair. Now it’s our neighbours from the south who is banning Israeli books. The Right-wing government in Israel isn’t so different from the Egyptian politicians: both afraid of the power of the written word.”

The book ‘Borderlife’ was not ‘banned’ from the school curriculum: it was not included in a list of books upon which high school students will be examined for their GCSE equivalent certificate in literature.

The BBC’s repeated misrepresentation of Dorit Rabinyan’s book as having been ‘banned’ is by now far too recurrent to be excused as a mere error. That falsehood has been serially promoted over the last two and a half months, with BBC audiences being repeatedly herded towards the inaccurate and politically motivated narrative of a dark Israeli regime which bans books on ideological grounds.

Related Articles:

BBC World Service conflates fact and fiction in promotion of ‘racist’ Israel

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

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

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

How an uncorrected inaccuracy became BBC conventional wisdom

New BBC WS culture show misleads on cause of terror wave in Israel in seven words

In recent weeks inaccurate and misleading information concerning Temple Mount has been promoted on a variety of BBC platforms. On domestic and worldwide radio, as well as on television and the BBC News website, audiences have been led to believe that the entire Temple Mount is ‘al Aqsa Mosque’ and that the site (which has religious significance to all three Abrahamic religions) is exclusively “Islamic” or “Muslim”.

The latest example of promotion of inaccurate information relating to that topic came in a new BBC World Service radio programme called ‘The Cultural Frontline’ which, listeners are told, is “the line where arts and news collide”.The Cultural Frontline

The first item in the first episode of that new show was devoted to a monologue by BBC regular Raja Shehadeh on the topic of “the first Palestinian National Museum”. That item (available from 00:55 here) was introduced by presenter Tina Daheley as follows:

“Our first stop is a place that’s been fought over for decades. We’re heading to the Middle East where tensions over control of a Jerusalem mosque have triggered serious violence in recent weeks.” [emphasis added]

Obviously, for there to be “tensions over control of a Jerusalem mosque”, more than one party must be seeking to control that mosque and that, of course, is not an accurate representation of the situation. Not only does Israel have no interest in seeking “control” of al Aqsa Mosque, but it has repeatedly stated that it will continue to uphold the status quo whereby that building and the wider area of Temple Mount is under the administrative control of the Jordanian Waqf.

But not only does Daheley’s claim materially mislead listeners by providing them with an inaccurate explanation for the surge in violent rioting and terrorism; it also conceals their real cause – and agenda – by diverting listeners from the incitement based on conspiracy theories concerning al Aqsa Mosque which really does underpin that “serious violence”. 

Let’s hope that future programmes in this series will pay more attention to the importance of accurate terminology.