BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ jumps on the ‘cultural censorship’ bandwagon

h/t JS

For well over a year the BBC has been telling its audiences dark – though consistently inaccurate – tales of supposed cultural censorship in Israel.

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

January 2016, BBC News website: How many inaccuracies can the BBC cram into a 23 word sentence?.

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’.

November 2016, BBC World Service: In which the BBC WS stereotypes over 7,000 Israelis as ‘fanatic’ and ‘racist’.

On April 12th BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight‘ jumped on that bandwagon with a filmed report by the BBC’s West Africa correspondent Thomas Fessy that was heavily promoted (see here, here, here and here) on Twitter.

The seven minute long report was also uploaded to Youtube where it is presented as follows:

“While the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians remains frozen, Israel is itself divided, not least on issues of culture. There have been fights over plays, music, books, the funding for the arts and academic awards. The populist culture minister – a rising star of the right – is rarely out of controversy. So what is that culture war all about? Thomas Fessy has been finding out.” 

Fessy’s report opens with showcasing of a play called ‘Palestine, Year Zero’ and viewers are told that “it deals with an insurance assessor who is estimating the cost of damage done to Palestinian homes by the Israeli authorities” before they see equally context-free subtitles on screen saying “In 2016: 34 homes demolished, 130 people evicted”.

A journalist committed to providing his audiences with an objective view of the story would of course have clarified at this point that the play in question is a political as well as artistic project and that its writer received ‘guidance’ and ‘assisstance’ from individuals and NGOs (eg ‘Zochrot’) that campaign for the elimination of the Jewish state. Fessy, however, tells his viewers that:

“Before it was first performed the office of the culture minister, Miri Regev, assessed it. A complaint had been lodged because the play apparently contained messages of incitement that undermined the state and insulted its symbols.”

Viewers then see the play’s writer and director recount how “scared” she was of people coming to watch rehearsals because of the suspicion that they “had been sent by the culture minister”.

While a complaint concerning the play was indeed lodged, the ominous picture painted by Fessy does not – according to the play’s writer – reflect the whole story and in fact no ministry representative ever visited rehearsals.

Having presented BBC audiences with that partial story, Fessy then goes on to explain the ‘rationale’ behind his report.

“Israel likes to project an image around the world that it is an open society in which dissent is not persecuted. But there’s a growing fear here that a new generation of political leaders wants to shut down critical voices. Some say the culture minister, Miri Regev, is trying to gain control over cultural production, putting the vitality of this country’s culture and its freedom of creation in jeopardy. Many talk of a culture war that has been declared against Israeli artists.” [emphasis added]

Exactly who those “some” and “many” are is not disclosed to viewers.

The antagonist in Fessy’s story is very clearly the Minister of Culture and Sport, Miri Regev. Although at no point do viewers get to hear a response from her or her office, Fessy tells them that:

“Here is a culture minister who has called artists arrogant, hypocritical and ungrateful and she rails against the liberal elite. She set out a so-called loyalty in culture plan, threatening to condition support for cultural institutions or on the contents they present or the place where they perform.”

Later viewers see footage from last November taken in Kiryat Arba as Fessy tells them:

“One of her [Miri Regev] other battlefields: the Jewish settlements. We followed her to Kiryat Arba in the occupied West Bank. That night was the first time that the national theatre had ever come to perform here – a move that many say normalises the residence of settlers in occupied territory, or Judea and Samaria in biblical terms.” [emphasis added]

Fessy once again refrains from disclosing to viewers who the “many” he quotes actually are and he makes no effort to clarify that the financial aid given to theatre groups is financed by taxes paid by Israeli citizens living on both sides of the ‘green line’. He fails to tell audiences that while that may indeed have been the first performance by ‘Habima’ in that specific location, the theatre company has appeared in what he would call “the occupied West Bank” (i.e. in communities in Area C) in the past – long before Miri Regev became culture minister and despite his transparent attempt to create false linkage.

“The culture ministry issued a memo that’s become known as the loyalty form. From now on, cultural institutions that would perform in the occupied West Bank would benefit from a financial bonus. Those that wouldn’t may face funding cuts.”

Failing to provide viewers with the name of the organisation he describes as campaigning “to end the occupation”, Fessy devotes part of his report to a tour of Hebron by an Israeli actress, portraying it as an effort on her part to express dissent.

“But some of the performers want to make their feelings clear. […] Not a word – but her tour said it all.”

According to Israel’s Channel 2, however, that political tour was in fact initiated by the NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’.

Throughout the whole seven minute and twelve second-long report, viewers see just 37 seconds of footage presenting an alternative view of the story. A man at the ‘Habima’ performance in Kiryat Arba is given three seconds of airtime while commentator Isi Leibler accurately and succinctly explains the issue in 34 seconds.

Nevertheless, Fessy chooses to close his report with take-away messaging concerning “a society turning its sights inward” and “censorship”, invoking “the peace process” which of course has absolutely nothing to do with the story.

“As the peace process with the Palestinians remains frozen and with new leaders leaning to more populist agendas, Israel is for now busy fighting on the cultural front.”

Once again we see that the BBC is intent upon promoting – with more than a pinch of artistic licence – a politically motivated non-story concerning an alleged “shut down” of “critical voices” and a “culture war” that simply does not exist. 

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Mangled statistics in BBC’s US Election in Israel reports

On October 27th the BBC News website published two filmed reports (apparently also shown on BBC television programmes) concerning the upcoming election in the United States.us-election-first-report

A video headlined “US election: How Israelis view the presidential contest” appeared on the website’s Middle East page as well as on its page titled ‘US Election 2016’ and its synopsis reads as follows:

“Israelis have been watching the US presidential election closely, with many focusing on how the candidates stand on bilateral relations, the stalled peace process with the Palestinians, and regional security issues.

The BBC asks Israelis how they would vote.”

The vast majority of Israelis are of course not entitled to vote in the US election and so that question actually has no practical relevance. Nevertheless (and despite the above claim that “the BBC asks Israelis”), in that video BBC audiences were presented with statistics credited to “The Peace Index”.

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However, examination of the original data (see ‘Data File’) on ‘The Peace Index’ website shows that the BBC has misrepresented the information by claiming that those statistics relate to “Israeli” opinions when in fact they only represent the results obtained from Jewish Israelis who make up 74.8% of the country’s total population. 

“At this time a clear majority (55%) of the Jewish public holds the opinion that Hillary Clinton will win the U.S. presidential elections, while only 25% believe that Donald Trump will be elected (note that the survey was conducted before the publication of the “hot-mic tape”). With a smaller but still considerable disparity, a majority of the public (42%) thinks that from Israel’s standpoint it is preferable for Clinton to be elected, while 26.5% see it as preferable for Trump to be elected. At the same time, an overwhelming majority (63% vs. 8%) assesses that if Clinton is elected she will exert heavier pressure on the Israeli government to renew the negotiations with the Palestinians. Among the Arab interviewees the picture is very similar: 57% anticipated that Clinton would be elected, 41% saw her as preferable from Israel’s standpoint, but only 30% thought she would exert stronger pressure on Israel regarding the conflict with the Palestinians. The highest rate (34%) of the Arab interviewees assessed that neither of the two candidates for the U.S. presidency will exert pressure on Israel to return to the negotiating table.”

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Another filmed report headlined “Who are Israeli-Americans supporting in the US election?” appeared very briefly on the BBC News website’s Middle East page as well as on the ‘US Election 2016’ page.fessy-report-us-election

In the synopsis BBC audiences are told that:

“The US election campaign has been followed around the world.

Israel is perhaps one of the countries where the vote will be most closely watched.

In fact, it is being keenly fought there too, among the estimated 300,000 American citizens who have settled in Israel, America’s key ally in the region.

American-Israelis are thought to have traditionally favoured the Republican Party and Trump supporters have been particularly active on the ground hoping that absentees registered in some of the swing states could make a difference.

Thomas Fessy reports from Jerusalem.” [emphasis added]

In the report itself Thomas Fessy shows a debate between Republicans and Democrats in Jerusalem and tells viewers that:

“….both sides [are] courting up to two hundred thousand potential voters.” [emphasis added]

Viewers are not told where the numbers 300,000 and 200,000 come from but a report from the Times of Israel suggests that they are not based on official US figures.

“According to American officials, it is unclear exactly how many American citizens live in Israel, how many register to vote, and how many actually send in their ballots.

“We actually don’t track the number of American citizens in Israel. It is really impossible to know at any given time how many there are,” the US ambassador in Tel Aviv, Dan Shapiro, said Thursday.” 

The same report informs us that:

“It is generally assumed, based on surveys and exit polls, that up to 80,000 US citizens living in Israel cast absentee ballots in 2012, which marked a drastic increase from 2008, when only 30,000 voted.”

And as for the number of dual American-Israeli citizens who have actually engaged in the process which would make them “potential voters” – opinions vary.

“In an interview Thursday with The Times of Israel, the co-chair of the Republicans’ Israel branch, Marc Zell, acknowledged that “nobody really knows” the exact numbers of Israelis registered to vote. But he insisted that, according to his assessment, the number must be somewhere between 100,00 and 120,000. […]

…US law requires Americans living abroad to request an absentee ballot before every single election. That means that even if 80,000 Israelis voted four years ago, it should not be taken for granted that they would automatically do so this year as well.

“Past numbers of overseas voters are not a valid indicator and should not be used for predictions about 2016,” said Eitan Charnoff, the national director of I Vote Israel, a nonprofit encouraging US expats to make use of their right to vote and helping them navigate the complicated registration process.

So far, Charnoff said Thursday in an interview, I Vote Israel has assisted only about 12,000 Americans in Israel who requested absentee ballots for the 2016 election. He noted, however, that “the final number is very likely to be higher than that, because many people are choosing to vote last minute who previously had not considered voting.” […]

Chaim Waxman, a former sociology professor at Rutgers University who now lives in Jerusalem, said he strongly doubts that 120,000 American-Israelis registered to vote in this election.

“I find it extremely difficult to believe it’s anywhere near that figure. I believe the numbers of voters from Israel will not be higher, possibly even lower than in the past,” he told The Times of Israel on Thursday.”

The BBC’s presentation of figures and statistics in these two reports obviously fails to meet editorial standards of accuracy. 

Related Articles:

The BBC’s reporting of statistics and Gaza casualty ratios

 

BBC News amplifies PA’s spin on Abbas KGB story

On September 8th an article titled “Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ‘was KGB agent’” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page. The article relates to a story first promoted by Channel 1 in Israel the previous day and it informs readers that:abbas-kgb-story  

“Israeli researchers have alleged that the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, worked for the Soviet intelligence agency the KGB in the early 1980s.

Researchers from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem say a Soviet-era document lists him as an agent. […]

Researchers Gideon Remez and Isabella Ginor said the document, in an archive at Cambridge University, shows that Mr Abbas was a KGB spy when he lived in Damascus in Syria.

The document, which the University of Cambridge’s Churchill Archives Centre confirmed was authentic, was smuggled in to the UK by a defector called Vasily Mitrokhin.

It is entitled “KGB developments – Year 1983” and Mr Abbas identifies him [sic] by the codename “Krotov” or “mole”.

“‘Krotov’ – Abbas, Mahmoud, born 1935, origin Palestine, member of the executive committee of Fatah, PLO, Damascus, agent of the KGB,” says the brief entry.”

However, the report also promotes irrelevant linkage between that story and a completely unrelated topic.

“The [PA] president’s spokesman described the claim as an absurd Israeli “smear”.

He suggested it was made to derail attempts to re-start Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. […]

An adviser to the [PA] president told the BBC the allegation was made up by Israel.

He said Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remained reluctant to meet Mr Abbas in a potential new round of peace talks organised by Russian President Vladimir Putin, himself a former KGB staff member.””

Readers of the article are not told how “Israel” supposedly “made up” documents in the Cambridge University archives and despite uncritically amplifying the spin of PA officials, the article does not adequately clarify that the academic researchers have no connection to the Israeli government.  

Towards the end of the article, readers are told that:

“Mr Abbas was born in 1935 in what was then British mandate of Palestine. After the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 his family fled to the Syrian capital, where he was educated.”

In fact, historical record shows that it is more likely that Abbas’ family decided to leave Tsfat (Safed) before Israel declared independence on May 14th 1948.

“And what about Safed? Having declined an offer by Gen. Hugh Stockwell, commander of the British forces in northern Palestine, to mediate a truce, the Arabs responded to the British evacuation of the city with a heavy assault on the tiny Jewish community, less than a quarter their size. “Upon the British evacuation on April 16, we occupied all the city’s strategic positions: the Citadel, the Government House, and the police post on Mount Canaan,” recalled a local Arab fighter.

“We were the majority, and the feeling among us was that we would defeat the Jews with sticks and rocks.”

What this prognosis failed to consider was the tenacity of the Jewish resolve to hold on to Safed, awarded by the partition resolution to the prospective Jewish state, on the one hand, and the intensity of Arab flight psychosis, on the other. As tens of thousands of Arabs streamed out of Tiberias and Haifa within days of the British evacuation of Safed, members of the city’s leading families and ordinary residents alike decided that now was the time to escape – which is probably when Abbas’s affluent family fled. In the words of a British intelligence report, “Such is their state of fear [that] Arabs are beginning to evacuate Safed although the Jews have not yet attacked them.” […]

On May 2, following the bombing of the Arab quarter by the deafening albeit highly ineffective home-made “David’s mortar,” scores of Arabs fled Safed en route to the Jordan Valley, accompanied by a substantial number of Arab Liberation Army fighters. Four days later, the ALA’s regional commander reported that “the majority of the inhabitants have left [Safed’s neighboring] villages.

Their morale has collapsed completely.”

Heavy artillery bombardments of Jewish neighborhoods failed to do the trick, and as the final battle for the city was joined on the night of May 9 a mass flight ensued. By the time fighting was over the next morning, Safed’s entire Arab population had taken to the road; a day later, Hagana patrols reported that “the [Arab] quarter had emptied to a man,” with evacuees leaving behind “a huge quantity of weapons and ammunition.””

The article’s penultimate paragraph quotes a newly arrived BBC journalist currently visiting the Middle East.

“Although the biographical details are correct, the BBC’s Thomas Fessy in Jerusalem notes that the document does not say how and when Mr Abbas would have been recruited, whether he was paid, and how long he might have worked for the KGB.”

Interestingly, the article does not reflect an additional observation from Fessy.

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As Reuters noted:

“Adding to the intrigue, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, whom Putin has tasked with arranging the Moscow summit, served two stints in the Soviet embassy in Damascus between 1983 and 1994, covering the period in which Abbas was purportedly recruited.

Bogdanov was in the area this week for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials.”

Clearly the BBC’s unchallenged amplification of vacuous spin from PA officials detracts from audience understanding of this story.