More monochrome BBC WS radio reporting on the Bahrain workshop

The top story in the evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on June 25th was described as follows by presenter Tim Franks in his introduction to the programme: {emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Franks: “It’s eluded the Israelis, the Palestinians and countless US administrations but now this White House says it has a brand new detailed plan for Middle East peace. Today we got part one: the economic vision for the Palestinians. It’s our top story.”

The item itself (from 00:57 here) was presented thus:

Franks: “We’re used to big, bold talk from President Trump but on one thing we can probably all agree: that were his administration to be able to conjur a full peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians, it would indeed be – as Mr Trump put it – the ultimate deal. Today we got the long-awaited first part of the plan, drawn up under the aegis of one of his closest – if not the closest advisor – his son-in-law Jared Kushner. At what’s been billed as an economic workshop in Bahrain, he’s laid out his proposals for fifty billion dollars’ worth of investment in the Palestinian territories and neighbouring Arab countries. Mr Kushner appealed for open minds and for patience.”

After listeners had heard two segments of recordings of Kushner speaking at the conference, Franks went on:

Franks: “The White House says this is about trying a new approach to improve the Palestinians’ prospects after many years of political stasis if not outright failure. Palestinian leaders though are boycotting the event, furious about what they say is the Trump administration’s bias against them. White House officials say they’re unmoved by that show of intransigence. They’re interested instead in appealing to ordinary Palestinians keen to improve their parlous economic prospects. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell has been speaking to some of those Palestinians.”

Listeners then heard a report from Yolande Knell which was similar to both a televised report billed Palestinian poverty which she produced for BBC One’s ‘News at Ten’ on June 20th and an article she wrote which was published on the BBC News website on June 25th under the headline “Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ falls flat in West Bank”.

Knell: “It’s not long after four o’clock in the morning. It’s still pitch-black but the street here is teeming with people. There’s a small, informal market place that’s popped up overnight and some are stopping to buy some breakfast, some falafel sandwiches, a cup of coffee. These are Palestinian workers heading into the Israeli checkpoint.”

Listeners heard a voiceover translation of a man saying:

“The economic situation isn’t good. That’s why we have to go to Israel to work because there are no job opportunities.”

Knell: “Rasmi, from Hebron, has nine people depending on him and earns three times more in Israel as a builder than he could at home. With the West Bank economy in dire straits, it relies heavily on the tens of thousands of labourers like him with Israeli work permits. But here at the Taybeh Brewery near Ramallah they say business could be fizzing as much as the bottles of beer on their production line if it wasn’t for the tough political situation.”

Woman: “Doing business in this country is unlike anywhere else in the world. We are a Palestinian company under occupation and we don’t have our own borders, we don’t have control over the water, electricity. Anything that comes in and out of the country is through Israel.”

The Taybeh Brewery is situated in Taybeh which is in Area B and has been under Palestinian Authority civil control and Israeli security control since the year the brewery was founded, 1995. Just as the representatives of the Palestinians agreed to the zoning into Areas A, B and C, they also agreed to arrangements concerning water and electricity. The Palestinians have their own Water Authority and get some of their electricity from the Israel Electric Corporation – to which the Palestinian Authority currently owes hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid debt.

Knell: “Instead of the White House promising aid or outside investment, Mdees Khoury says a lot could be achieved by finding ways to ease Israeli restrictions – measures Israel says are for its own protection. For her family’s firm, these can mean costly delays of imports and in distribution to local and foreign markets, which is via Israeli checkpoints and ports.”

Knell of course did not bother to mention the Palestinian terrorism which made checkpoints necessary.

Khoury: “Palestinians are very smart people. They’re very determined, they’re very hard-working and they’re very highly educated and if they just get the chance to be left alone they could thrive and succeed and this country would be amazing.”

Knell: “But in Gaza, where the economy’s stagnated in the past decade, there’s less optimism. Israel and Egypt tightened border controls, citing security concerns, after Hamas – which is widely seen as a terrorist group – took over. Hamdi has no job and lives with his six children in one room. They struggle to get by on Qatari donations of $100 a month. ‘That money isn’t enough’ he says, ‘it just goes to pay our debts’.”

Once again Knell sidestepped the crucial issue of the terrorism which brought about the situation she describes. Listeners next heard shouts of ‘go home’ but Knell did not bother to inform them that the “protests” she went on to describe were organised by the PA’s ruling Fatah faction.

Knell: “Already there’ve been Palestinian protests against the Trump administration’s economic plan. While Israel says it’s keeping an open mind, it’s been rejected outright by Palestinian leaders. The prime minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, says a political solution is needed.”

Shtayyeh: “This workshop is simply a political laundry for settlements and the legitimisation of occupation. The Palestinian leadership is not part of it and we think that the outcome is going to be fruitless and it is simply nonsense.”

Knell: “Back at the turnstile of the Bethlehem checkpoint, Rasmi the builder is returning home, tired at the end of a 16-hour day. He stops to buy grapes from Issam, a farmer turned fruit seller who sets up a stall here each afternoon. He tells me that there’s no work in his village.”

Issam: “Our officials can’t open new buildings or factories. They don’t have the resources.”

That of course would have been the ideal opportunity for Yolande Knell to point out that some 7% of the Palestinian Authority’s annual budget – around $330 million a year according to a BBC report from a year ago and more according to other sources – is spent on payments to terrorists and their families. Knell however refrained from providing listeners with that relevant information.

Knell: “Can President Trump fix the Palestinian economy?”

Issam: “No. From what we saw when he became the president, he has done nothing to help the Palestinian economy unfortunately.”

Knell: “With financial woes at the heart of so much suffering here, it’s easy to see why White House aides view the economy as a way to exert influence. But so far, few Palestinians are buying their argument that the ‘deal of the century’ could be their opportunity of the century.”

The rest of that nearly twelve minute-long item was given over to a conversation between Tim Franks and David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank who attended the workshop in Bahrain.  During that conversation Mr Makovsky observed that “solving the whole conflict” is “easier said than done”, noting – as a former Obama administration official – that:

“We had a president who was very engaged on the Palestinian issue and we couldn’t get even an answer from the Palestinian Authority…”

Tim Franks chose not to follow up on that statement and once again BBC audiences heard a long yet monochrome report on the Bahrain economic workshop which avoided the key issue of the Hamas-Fatah split and sidestepped the topic of Palestinian terrorism.  

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BBC’s Yolande Knell reports one pride march protest, erases another

On the evening of June 6th a report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell was aired on two BBC radio stations. In both cases the item was introduced with a reference to the appointment of MK Amir Ohana to the post of acting minister of justice, with audiences told that the appointment had taken place “today” when in fact it had been announced the previous evening.

On the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ presenter Tim Franks introduced the report (from 38:11 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Franks: “As gay pride parades take place around the world this month, they don’t just celebrate LGBTQ communities; they also often highlight the struggle that many still face for acceptance and equal rights. Although Israel is proud of its diversity – indeed today [sic] the first openly gay man to become a minister in Israel has been appointed by the prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu – today the Jerusalem pride march highlighted how deep social and religious differences remain with angry protests along the route. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell joined the crowds.”

On the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ the item was billed “What Jerusalem’s Gay Pride march reveals about Israeli divisions” and presenter James Coomarasamy told listeners (from 26:36 here) that:

Coomarasamy: “Today’s gay pride march in Jerusalem has coincided with a first for Israel’s LGBTQ community. Amir Ohana was appointed the country’s acting justice minister today [sic], becoming its first openly gay cabinet member. As last month’s Eurovision Song Contest showed, Israel likes to demonstrate its diversity but the angry protests at today’s march also highlighted the deep social and religious differences that remain. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell joined the crowds.”

Refraining from clarifying to listeners that the only country in the Middle East where she could ‘join the crowds’ at such an event is Israel, Knell opened her report:

Knell: “It’s late afternoon and thousands of people have already gathered here at Jerusalem’s Liberty Bell park. They’re in high spirits for this march celebrating gay pride and tolerance.”

After a vox pop interview with an unnamed woman, Knell went on:

Knell: “And there are serious messages here. In Israel civil marriages aren’t legal – let alone gay marriages – and making political change is difficult, especially with recent coalition governments made up of Right-wing, nationalist and religious Jewish parties.”

While civil marriage is not available in Israel (rather than not “legal”), ceremonies performed abroad are recognised by the state. Knell then interviewed an unidentified man, asking him:

Knell: “What rights would you like to see for gay people in Israel?”

The man replied that he sees surrogacy and gay marriage as the main issues. Knell failed to remind listeners that gay marriage has only been possible in her own country for the past five years, that it is still not permitted in Northern Ireland or that surrogacy law in the UK is currently under review.  She refrained from informing listeners of the current situation on those issues in Israel, as explained here.

“The institution of marriage within the borders of the state are religious and not civil, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim etc, as it is with most of the Middle East.
These religious bodies hold the monopoly of recognized marriage ceremonies, and, as it stands today, none support civil unions.

That said, same-sex marriages performed outside of Israel are in fact recognized within the State and registered as such with the Ministry of Interior, which affords same sex married couples all the same rights as heterosexual married couples, including benefits and survivor rights.

The second is access to surrogacy, on Israeli soil, by same sex couples.
Again, using surrogacy services outside of Israel, is permitted and children brought to Israel, as a result of surrogacy, receive Israeli citizenship and are recognized as legal children to their parents.”

Knell then brought up the topic of a request refused by the Jerusalem municipality.

Knell: “There are plenty of rainbows drawn on people’s faces all around me. They’re on people’s shirts and there are flags too on display, although Jerusalem’s chief rabbi had asked the local council not to hang them up. But to encounter more vocal anti-gay sentiment, I’ve just got to cross the road. The people here are chanting ‘it’s not pride, it’s obscenity’. This is a protest organised by a far-Right group and there are signs around me ‘Jerusalem is not Sodom’, ‘stop the LGBT terror’.”

Following comment from one of the participants in that protest by a few dozen people, Knell continued:

Knell: “Now the pride march is on the move, we’re advancing up the road led by a drag queen dressed in gold, young and old Israelis. There’s a heavy police presence here – even a helicopter overhead – and this is why: we’re now passing the spot where 15-year-old Shira Banki was stabbed to death just four years ago at the pride parade.”

Knell then proceeded to amplify unattributed politically motivated allegations of ‘pinkwashing’.

Knell: “Now while the anthem of this march is all about celebrating diversity, you don’t see many Palestinian Jerusalemites here. One reason is the social taboo around homosexuality. But some accuse Israel of pinkwashing: highlighting gay rights at events like this while neglecting Palestinian rights.”

Following an interview with an Arab Muslim participant in the march – and while carefully avoiding the topic of the rights of LGBTQ Palestinians – Knell closed her report:

Knell: “It’s the end of the procession now but the pride party is going to carry on here through the evening. It’s eighteen years since the first Jerusalem march and there’ve been big advances for the local gay community in that time. But in this holy city, today’s march is also a reminder of some of the deep divisions that aren’t going away.”

This report’s take-away message for BBC audiences in the UK and around the world is amply clear: the advancement of LGBTQ rights in Israel is held back by “Right-wing, nationalist and religious Jewish parties”, reflecting “deep social and religious differences” and “deep divisions” and the Jerusalem pride march was  the topic of “angry protests” by “a far-Right group”.

Interestingly though, Knell’s portrayal of the event she described as “celebrating gay pride and tolerance” did not include another ‘angry protest’ seen at the Jerusalem pride march.

“[Amir] Ohana walked through the crowds, some of whom booed at him, apparently due to his being a member of the ruling Likud party, seen as to the right of many in the gay community.

“What have you done for the gay community,” some shouted at him.”

Some of those protesting against the newly appointed justice minister gave out pre-prepared signs using his photograph.

Both the purple shirt worn by the person in that photograph and the placards themselves bear the logo of an organisation called ‘Omdim Yachad’ or ‘Standing Together’. That name should be familiar to the BBC because less than two weeks earlier, Tim Franks had interviewed a representative from that organisation in an item about the Israeli Left (from 45:04 here), describing it as “a new joint Arab and Jewish activist movement”. BBC audiences were not told, however, that the foreign funded political NGO was co-founded and is headed by a member of the far-Left party ‘Hadash’.  

So while Yolande Knell’s report included several references to the Right of the political map, a narrative-conflicting demonstration of far-Left intolerance which took place right under her nose was whitewashed from the account of the 2019 Jerusalem pride march heard by BBC audiences.

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BBC News reports on new Israeli justice minister

BBC’s Tim Franks in the Golan Heights – part two

In part one of this post we saw how, on a visit to the Golan Heights, ‘Newshour’ presenter Tim Franks purported to interview a resident of the community set to be expanded and renamed after the US president. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Franks: “He lives in this tiny hamlet and tonight he’s got a meeting with government officials about their plans to build a new settlement on his village’s land and name it in honour of Donald Trump.”

As we showed, the man concerned does not live in Beruchim and that meeting was not with “government officials”.

Following that interview, Franks’ long report (from 30:06 here) in the May 22nd afternoon edition of ‘Newshour’ continued with a trip to Majdal Shams which he insisted on describing as a “village” even though it has over 11,000 residents and once again using the term “Syrian Druze” despite the fact that by no means all of the Golan’s Druze residents identify as such.

Franks: “You get a different view further north in the Golan Heights. In this Druze village – Majdal Shams – you literally get a different view because you can see from its slopes into Syria. For decades this frontier marked by this sinuous ceasefire fence was the quietest that Israel had. That changed with the Syrian civil war. Militant Islamist groups and Iran building up a presence just the other side of these hills. […] So what does this leave the Syrian Druze in Majdal Shams feeling? One good place to try to get a thoughtful response is the owner of the local bookshop, Amal Safadi.” […]

Having already signposted his interviewee’s response and once again failing to inform listeners that Israeli law was applied to the Golan Heights 38 years ago, Franks went on:

Franks: “With the American announcement that they would recognise the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, what’s your attitude towards the idea of the local people here taking Israeli citizenship? Have you taken Israeli citizenship?”

Franks obviously must have known the answer to that ‘question’ before he asked it. Safadi has made her views clear in other media interviews (as have some members of her extended family) and she was obviously selected in advance by his production team to represent a certain side of the story. Listeners heard a translated version of her responses in Arabic.

Translator: “She says I will never think to take the citizenship. Our citizenship as Syrians is historical. We’re here from thousand years. This decision is political: nothing will change on the ground.”

Franks did not bother to try to clarify where “here” is and hence avoided the need to remind listeners that Syria as an independent state came into existence in 1946 or tell them that Majdal Shams was settled in the 18th century.

Franks then brought up imaginary scenarios which have not been proposed by any Israeli official either recently or in the past 38 years since the Golan Heights Law was passed.

Franks: “If the Israeli government decides now that you have to take citizenship or maybe they will say you don’t deserve all the rights of living here.”

Translator: “She is saying we had the same story in 1982 and they tried to force us to take the citizenship. Even we were less educated by then but now we are more stronger and our decision will be more strong these days.”

Franks: “People around the world listening to you might understand that you’ve got a very strong sense of identity – that you are a Syrian Druze – but they’ll also say just look over there inside Syria where there’s chaos, there’s conflict. At least here you’ve got rights and you’ve got relative prosperity as well. Why aren’t you happy to be here and take the advantages that Israel can give you?”

Translator: “She says you have a mother, right? If your mother is sick will you leave her? No, you will stay there and support her. Syria is our mother and we need to support our mother instead of leaving her.”

Making no effort to get beyond Safadi’s slogans and examine factors such as the relevant fact that many Druze residents of the Golan Heights have relations in Syria for whose safety they fear, Franks next told listeners that “elsewhere in Majdal Shams though, the taboo is beginning to crack”.

In fact there has been a rise in the number of Golan Druze applying for Israeli citizenship since the Syrian civil war began in 2011. 

Majdal Shams

Franks then interviewed a Majdal Shams resident who did so two years ago.

Franks: “He needs it, he says, so he can travel more easily for work and also so that once abroad, he doesn’t get hassled or intimidated for having no declared citizenship.”

After his interviewee had told him that opinions for and against the move among people he knows were “fifty-fifty”, Franks responded:

Franks: “I don’t really need to tell you this but the argument that is used by a lot of people here is that this is occupied territory; it doesn’t belong to Israel. One day it will go back to Syria.”

Following his interviewee’s reply to that and an additional question, Franks took the time to stress to listeners that his decision was “the pragmatic, non-ideological decision to take Israeli citizenship”.

The final section of Franks’ report was introduced with another undated reference to “annexation”, an unexplained reference to “strategic importance” and a misleading statement concerning water.

Franks: “So what’s driving the actions of the Israeli state up here? Given Israel’s decision to annex the territory, given the government’s delight at Donald Trump’s recent support for that annexation, given the Golan’s strategic importance, militarily and in terms of the country’s water supply, has there ever been serious thought to a territorial exchange with the Syrians? Well the answer is yes – all the way from the 1990s until as recently as the start of this decade. […] What stopped everything was – no surprise – the Syrian civil war.”

Franks’ final interviewee was former national security advisor Uzi Arad who explained how the war in Syria had led to “the notion that Israel would now forfeit” the Golan Heights looking “recklessly silly”. Franks was however far more interested in Arad’s assessment of “the American move”.

Arad: “Don’t press the point. Clearly this Assad is a real (bleeped out) as a person, as a leader. Clearly Syria needs something better but he had successfully won the nation and he has support to that from Russia. If you provoke him you would make him insist that for him the liberation of the Golan remains a priority. So why? Why pushing them into that corner? We stay there anyway.”

Franks then closed his report:

Franks: “The Golan is beguiling and beautiful. It’s also deceptive. The struggle with the Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in Gaza – that’s the most visible, most frequently violent manifestation of Israel’s uneasy place in the Middle East. But it’s away from them, up in the north, that the potential for the greatest conflict may come.”

In the years since the Syrian civil war began BBC audiences have seen reports from a number of BBC and other journalists visiting the Golan Heights, most of which have presented a drearily monochrome portrait of the Golan Druze that fails to reflect changes in their society. In addition to being blighted by basic inaccuracy and omission of relevant context, Tim Franks’ almost thirteen-minute-long report largely stuck to the same jaded political narrative and even promoted irrelevant and imaginary scenarios concerning the Israeli government.  

Related Articles:

BBC’s Tim Franks in the Golan Heights – part one

BBC’s Tim Franks promotes falsehoods in ‘peace plan’ reports – part one

BBC’s Tim Franks promotes falsehoods in ‘peace plan’ reports – part two

Once again, BBC history begins in June 1967

BBC’s Golan Heights profile misleads on water and borders

 

 

 

 

BBC’s Tim Franks in the Golan Heights – part one

Listeners to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ heard another long report (from 30:06 here) by Tim Franks in the programme’s May 22nd afternoon edition. The same report was also aired in the May 23rd edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ (from 35:30 here).

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

Franks: “Two days ago I was reporting for you from what we tend to think about when we talk about occupied territory: the congested, contested area of the West Bank and Palestinians and Israeli settlers. Today we’re gonna head to the north-eastern tip of Israel – to the Golan Heights. This is a small country so from here – Jerusalem – to the Golan it’s about a two-and-a-half-hour drive and into stunning landscape.

This is also occupied territory but, my goodness, it feels so different to the West Bank. Despite the signs you come across occasionally as you travel through this place warning you to keep out of minefields, this is quiet, it’s beautiful, in parts mountainous, in parts fertile. It’s the slice of land that separates Israel from south-west Syria. Israel captured the Golan Heights during the Six Day War in 1967 leaving thousands of Syrian Druze this side of the ceasefire line. There’s now about twenty thousand of them who, back in March, heard the news that Donald Trump was – unlike the rest of the world – going to recognise Israel’s unilateral annexation of the territory. We’ll find out later what some of those Syrian Druze make of that in a moment.”

Significantly, Franks’ portrayal of history as beginning in June 1967 – a typical BBC practice – failed to inform listeners why Israel “captured the Golan Heights during the Six Day War” and what happened in the years before that to prompt such a move. Additionally, while repeatedly referring to “annexation” of the region, Franks failed to clarify to listeners at any point that Israeli law was applied to the Golan Heights thirty-eight years ago.

Notably, Franks elected to exclusively use the term “Syrian Druze” despite the fact that by no means all of the Druze population of the Golan Heights identifies in that manner.

Franks: “First though, I’m going to meet one of the twenty thousand Israelis who live in the Golan Heights. He’s called Menachem Ender. He lives in this tiny hamlet and tonight he’s got a meeting with government officials about their plans to build a new settlement on his village’s land and name it in honour of Donald Trump.”

Although Franks refrained from naming that “tiny hamlet”, as the Jerusalem Post and others reported ten days before his report was aired, the community tapped to be the location of that “new settlement” is Beruchim.

“Makor Rishon reported last week that the community, which will be a mixed secular-religious settlement that in its first stage will number some 120 families, will be set up in the northern Golan at Beruchim, where plans for a previous settlement were approved in 1991, and where there have been unsuccessful efforts over the years to establish a community.”

Ynet added:

“Today, Beruchim is the home of 10 people, and several other newcomers who wish to establish a leadership seminar for pre-army teens in the settlement.

The community was established in 1991, by then-housing minister Ariel Sharon, who sent a group of new immigrants from the Soviet Union to live there. It was established near Qela [Kela Alon] and meant to be a thriving extension of it, but failed to live up to the expectations.

Residents of Qela were outraged about the decision to change their existing community’s name, and hung signs protesting the move on their entrance gate, apparently under the impression that the entire perimeter of Qela and Beruchim will become the new Trump community.

However, the residents had false information, and it was clarified Sunday [May 12th] that the new settlement will not replace Qela, but rather built on top of Beruchim; a draft plan already exists and offers 110 new homes be built in Beruchim, that will house both religious and secular residents.”

An article published by Ha’aretz on the same day that Frank’s report was broadcast shows that he apparently did not bother to check facts adequately in the four days between recording and going on air. The man interviewed by Franks – Menachem Ender – appears in the Ha’aretz report where he is identified as a resident of nearby Kela Alon rather than a resident of the site of the new community to be named after the US president.

“Some 200 meters (650 feet) from Beruchim lies a very different place: The well-tended, middle-class settlement of Kela Alon, home to 85 families. Officially, Kela Alon and Kela-Beruchim are part of the same municipal entity, known simply as Kela. This led to confusion among Kela Alon residents when they heard of the Trump plan through the media, believing their settlement would be expanded and renamed for the U.S. president.

Their unhappiness is still visible on the main road to the neighborhood: Two homemade signs, one leaning against a tractor, read “Kela Alon is not for sale” and “Ramat Trump — not here!”

Mene [Menachem] Ender, 72, says the initial opposition was based on a misunderstanding of the government’s plans.

Ender, who moved to the Golan 45 years ago “out of Zionist motivation — I’m not ashamed to admit it” — after fighting in the Yom Kippur War, has lived in Kela Alon for the past two years. He says members of his community were disturbed by initial details of the plan, about which they had not been consulted. They feared it would transform their town.”

Franks’ claim that “tonight he’s got a meeting with government officials” is also shown to be inaccurate in the same Ha’aretz report.

“In a damage-control effort, the regional council has sought to calm the community, explaining that any new development would take place in Beruchim, not Kela Alon.

On Sunday, leaders of the Golan Regional Council met with 150 concerned residents and assured them that the new “Trump town” would be a separate entity from their own and that they would only benefit from its presence.”

That meeting with local council officials – not “government officials” – took place on May 19th – the day that Tim Franks was in the Golan Heights. We can identify the date of Franks’ visit because later on in the item he tells listeners that:

Franks: “Israel has launched hundreds of air sorties, particularly against Iranian positions [in Syria]. There was an airstrike just last night.”

That incident – which has not been acknowledged by Israel and was not reported by the BBC at the time – took place on the night of May 18th.

The rest of Franks’ report will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Tim Franks promotes falsehoods in ‘peace plan’ reports – part one

BBC’s Tim Franks promotes falsehoods in ‘peace plan’ reports – part two

Once again, BBC history begins in June 1967

BBC’s Golan Heights profile misleads on water and borders

 

 

 

 

BBC’s Tim Franks promotes falsehoods in ‘peace plan’ reports – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, listeners to BBC World Service radio on May 20th heard two long reports from Tim Franks in two separate editions of the ‘Newshour’ programme.

In the first report – aired in the programme’s afternoon edition (from 14:05 here) – listeners heard that despite increased access to prayer services at the al Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan, the security measures employed were “racist” and “discrimination”. Franks also failed to clarify to audiences that changes in “freedom of movement” occurred because of Palestinian terrorism. After having interviewed two Israelis both retired from public life, Franks concluded his report about the as yet unpublished US peace initiative with an interview with a Palestinian minister.

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

Franks: “Ahmed Majdalani is the Palestinian minister for social development here in Ramallah. Aren’t he and his colleagues just running out of space and leverage?”

Majdalani is also Secretary-General of a small faction called the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front (which uses a logo that erases Israel) and PLO Executive Committee member.

Majdalani: “No because the Palestinian leadership until now have the veto.”

Franks: “So you’re rejecting this deal before you even know what’s in it.”

Majdalani: “Look, you can see what the American implement until now. Jerusalem as the capital for Israel started this…this deal. The United States started to implement his deal before submit his document. If the Palestinian leadership say no, there is no Arab country – [not] one Arab country – he will be partner to this deal. And after that you see the position of the international community.”

In contrast to that claim, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have said they will send delegations to the summit in Bahrain next month. Franks closed his report as follows:

Franks: “Defiance from the Palestinian minister. No-one here – how many times over the years have I said this – but no-one here is predicting a quick breakthrough. Some are even doubting whether President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner will ever present his plan. But remember: when people talk about the status quo here, they don’t mean things remaining the same. Faith in a two-state solution is only diminishing.”

By the time the May 20th evening edition of ‘Newshour’ came around, Franks’ report had become the lead item (as well as longer) and it was introduced by presenter James Coomarasamy (from 00:09 here) thus:

Coomarasamy: “Can a catchy slogan breathe life into a moribund Middle East peace process? There are now not one but two slogans associated with the Trump administration’s efforts to get Israelis and Palestinians back around the table. On Sunday the White House announced that its long-trailed ‘deal of the century’ would be accompanied by a peace to prosperity workshop in Bahrain next month. Today, Palestinian officials announced that they wouldn’t be attending that economic conference. In case you’re wondering, Newshour’s Tim Franks is not a no-show today. He’s in Jerusalem and he told me why the Palestinians aren’t going.”

Franks: “Well James, they’re in a blind fury about the Americans right now. I’ve had one very senior Palestinian official using words I’m not allowed to say on air about the Trump administration moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to the contested city of Jerusalem. Well that was one thing that hacked them off. Closing the PLO office in Washington, another. Cutting funding to the Palestinian refugee agency. The Palestinians just think that the US are no longer honest brokers.”

Franks made no effort to clarify to listeners that the Palestinians actually brought the closing of the PLO office in Washington upon themselves.

Franks: “So, yes, you’re right: at the moment moribund sums up the state of the peace process. But at the same time there’s a feeling the landscape may be shifting with some Arab states seeing their regional interests align with Israel’s. The Israeli prime minister talking about annexing parts of the West Bank – he did that just before the election last month – despite the rest of the world viewing the West Bank as occupied territory. So how is this all playing among Israelis and Palestinians? Let me take you first just south of where I’m speaking to you from, Jerusalem, into Bethlehem.”

Listeners then heard a repeat of Franks’ earlier report (apart from his closing comments) – including this:

Franks: “It’s Friday, it’s just gone noon, it’s Ramadan and this is one of the main checkpoints in Bethlehem. It’s rammed with men trying to get to al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem – very short distance away – in order to pray.”

Franks: “How long have you been waiting? Good grief! So you’ve been waiting seven and a half hours.”

Man: “This is, you know, denying people [the] right to get into Jerusalem. Whether they are Muslim or Christian, [it] is racist, it’s discrimination.”

After that repetition of Franks’ earlier report he went on (from 09:03) to bring in another Palestinian interviewee after giving a portrayal of the Palestinian economy which did not include the highly relevant issue of the PA’s prioritisation of salaries for convicted terrorists over the welfare of civilians.

Franks: “But given just how terrible the state of the Palestinian economy is at the moment, how their institutions are creaking and gasping from a lack of funds, why not just go to this US led investment conference next month in Bahrain? It’s a question I put to the spokesman based here in Jerusalem for the main Palestinian Fatah faction. He’s Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad.”

Readers may recall that last year Ziad Khalil Abu Zayyad was given a platform by ‘Newshour’ to tell BBC audiences that Palestinians “arrived to this country” 300 years before the Jews – in 650 BC.

Abu Zayyad: “First of all we were not consulted at all regarding the meeting that is supposed to be held in Bahrain. And another thing is that, as we have been saying all the way, that we don’t believe any kind of economic solution for the sake of normalising actually the Israeli occupation of Palestine will bring us anywhere. We’re speaking about the conflict itself; we believe this is a political conflict that needs to be solved by giving the Palestinians the most basic rights that they’re asking for in order to move forward. Then after that, any kind of economic cooperation would come as a second step to strengthen a political solution between the two sides.”

Franks: “It’s not either/or is it? I mean why not accept economic help first and then move to trying to forge a political solution? It’s not…doesn’t exclude the possibility of then negotiating a full peace.”

Abu Zayyad: “Well the interest that is coming out of this American initiated [initiative] is not actually to serve the interests of the Palestinian people which is to end the Israeli occupation of their lands. The real interest out of such a meeting or initiative is to try to normalise the relations between Israel and the Arab countries. We tried other plans before that were more about economic cooperation as to try to build bridges between the Arabs and the Israel indirectly while keeping Palestine on the side and it did not help any side of the conflict or the region itself.”

Franks: “If that’s the case, it must be pretty disheartening for you that all these Arab countries have said that they’re going to turn up at this conference.”

Abu Zayyad: “Well the formal position of the Arab countries have been made clear in the last Arab summit in Tunisia where all the Arab countries stated clearly that they would not accept the deal such as the century deal that the Trump’s administration speaking about if it does not state clearly that there will be an end for the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian lands.”

Once again Franks failed to clarify to listeners that the relevant part of Jerusalem and Judea & Samaria were never “Palestinian lands” and that they were in fact occupied by Jordan for 19 years until that country elected to attack Israel in 1967.

Franks: “Sure, but are you urging them to boycott this conference in Bahrain as well?”

Abu Zayyad: “Well we have our communication that is ongoing with the Arab countries and other actors and players in the region and internationally and we….”

Franks: “It’s going to be humiliating for you if you don’t turn up and they do and they say we accept the American notion that actually there could be something here in boosting the Palestinian economy.”

Abu Zayyad then brought up the topic of the February 2019 Warsaw Conference.

Abu Zayyad: “Well I want to remind you: there were other meetings. There was the Warsaw Conference just a few months ago and there was a meeting and there were discussions and there were suggestions made by the American administration but they did not change anything on the ground because here also the Arab countries and the world recognises the Palestine Liberation Organisation as the sole and only representative of the Palestinian people that must be [a] side of [in] any kind of negotiation or talks regarding reaching a solution for the conflict. So we don’t feel humiliated. We feel confident that we are united on this matter. We hear statements coming out of senior businessmen and leaders of the Palestinian economic sectors stating clearly that they will boycott this meeting and they will not attend it.”

Failing to inform listeners that the PLO does not include all the Palestinian factions and hence does not represent all the Palestinians, Franks closed his report there.

Remarkably, despite having dedicated two long reports to the topic of the US peace initiative, Tim Franks managed – like many of his colleagues before him also engaged in preemptive framing of that story – to completely avoid salient issues such as the divisions between the Palestinian factions, the fact that some of those factions oppose any resolution of the conflict and Palestinian terrorism.

He did however twice use part of over 21 minutes of airtime allotted to him to steer BBC audiences around the world towards the erroneous view that Israeli security measures are implemented not because of the terrorism he failed to even mention, but because of ‘racism’ and ‘discrimination’.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Tim Franks promotes falsehoods in ‘peace plan’ reports – part one

BBC News report on US closure of PLO mission fails to adequately inform

Context lacking, inaccuracies let slide in BBC WS coverage of PLO mission closure

Documenting BBC amplification of an UNRWA campaign

BBC Monitoring’s Warsaw Summit hashtag ‘research’ gets mixed reception

 

 

 

BBC’s Tim Franks promotes falsehoods in ‘peace plan’ reports – part one

Listeners to BBC World Service radio on May 20th heard two long reports from Tim Franks in two separate editions of the ‘Newshour’ programme.

Presenter Razia Iqbal introduced the report aired in the programme’s afternoon edition (from 14:05 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Iqbal: “Now in recent years, hopes for a resolution to the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians have stagnated. Now, two separate developments suggest the landscape may be shifting. Last month, before winning the Israeli general election, the prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu promised to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. In other words, make them fully part of the State of Israel. And there’s wide speculation that next month President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner may at last unveil his ‘deal of the century’ to chart a new way forward for the Israelis and Palestinians. So, how’s all this playing out in Israel and the occupied territories? Newshour’s Tim Franks is there.”

Iqbal’s claim that Netanyahu “promised to annex parts of the occupied West Bank” is of course based on statements made by the Israeli prime minister three days before the election. As was noted here in relation to the BBC’s coverage at the time, that was:

“…a political story taken rather more seriously by the foreign press than the Israeli public which emerged in an April 6th Channel 13 interview with Israel’s prime minister. During that interview Netanyahu was asked why, during his 2015-2019 term of office, he had not annexed Gush Etzion or applied Israeli law to Ma’ale Adumim. Avoiding the word annexation, Netanyahu replied that the topic is under discussion and that he intends to apply Israeli law to Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria during his next (potential) term.”

The BBC has now turned that into a “promise”.

Franks’ report opened with the sound of shouting.

Franks: “Sometimes as you try to work out the situation in the West Bank it can seem phenomenally complex and detailed. The jigsaw there is of Israeli settlements and Palestinian communities, different areas of control, different levels of access and restrictions. But sometimes the picture that confronts you is very stark and very clear and, in this case, pretty noisy.”

In other words, what listeners were about to hear was signposted in advance as a “clear” portrayal of “the situation in the West Bank”.

Franks: “It’s Friday, it’s just gone noon, it’s Ramadan and this is one of the main checkpoints in Bethlehem. It’s rammed with men trying to get to al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem – very short distance away – in order to pray.”

Franks then spoke to one of those men, who replied in Arabic.

Franks: “How long have you been waiting? Good grief! So you’ve been waiting seven and a half hours.”

The man continued to speak in Arabic and listeners heard someone else translate.

Man: “This is, you know, denying people [the] right to get into Jerusalem. Whether they are Muslim or Christian, [it] is racist, it’s discrimination.”

Franks made no effort whatsoever to inform listeners of the fact that entry into Israel from the PA controlled areas had actually been eased for Ramadan (as is usually the case) and that tens of thousands of people had attended related prayers on Temple Mount on that particular Friday and the previous one.  He failed to inform BBC audiences that most Palestinians were given free access while for security reasons – and not because of ‘racism’ and ‘discrimination’ as Franks chose to promote – some males were required to apply in advance for a travel permit.

“The admission for prayer in the Al-Aqsa Mosque for men under the age of 16 and over the age of 40, and women of all ages, without the requirement of a permit. Men between the ages of 30 and 40 are required to obtain an entry permit via the Palestinian Coordination Office.”

Franks then asked his unidentified interviewee:

Franks: “The last 25 years you’ve had the Palestinian Authority. What’s changed for you?”

Man: “The situation is becoming more and more worse. It’s going backwards instead of forwards. Before the Palestinian Authority we used to have freedom of movement, we used to work. But the situation is only getting worse after the PA who are ruling. Meanwhile me and you are under occupation.”

Once again Franks made no effort to inform listeners that it was the Palestinian decision to launch the five-year terror war known as the Second Intifada which actually brought an end to the level of “freedom of movement” which existed previously. Franks then brought in the first of two Israeli interviewees.

Franks: “It’s a common view among Palestinians anyway, as long as I’ve been coming here, that things are getting worse. Further north from Bethlehem, for the people in this part of the West Bank the outlook is rosier. This is the Israeli settlement of Kfar Adumim. Arieh Eldad has lived here for nearly 40 years. His terrace, I’m told, has one of the most commanding views of the West Bank you’ll ever see.”

After Eldad had described that view, Franks went on to repeat the Netanyahu “promise” claim made earlier by Iqbal.

Franks: “Arieh Eldad is a former member of the Knesset. He’s retired now and has long been one of the most forthright advocates of a simple solution to the problem of land in the West Bank: Israel should annex it all. Towards the end of last month’s election campaign the Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, he didn’t go quite that far but he did throw out a promise formally to extend Israeli sovereignty to settlements in the West Bank. Arieh Eldad the old politician is not punching the air just yet.”

Eldad: “Netanyahu he never suffered from an overdose of ideology but his ideology wouldn’t drive him to annex Judea and Samaria. More and more voices are calling for Israel sovereignty on Judea and Samaria and he will not. He will say so again and again: nothing at the end. He is not the guy to annex it.”

Franks: “But maybe, when this long-awaited peace plan from Jared Kushner comes out, that plan will be to bury once and for all the idea of a Palestinian state. Do you not see the direction of travel in the way that you would like it to be?”

Eldad: “Yes certainly. Sometimes it seems that Trump is right to [on the Right of] Netanyahu on several issues. While I don’t remember easier international political climate for us. They are looking for plan B. They are looking for an alternative.”

Franks: “Arieh Eldad and what he says is now the American-led hunt for plan B. But another old hand sees it differently. Shabtai Shavit is the former director of the Mossad, Israel’s spy agency. In his Charles Eames armchair, tumbler of Scotch whisky in hand, Shabtai Shavit says that after all Donald Trump has given Binyamin Netanyahu, now could be payback.”

Shavit: “From what I hear and what I read, I conclude that Trump is going to pressure us to make concessions. He is in a good position to do it. He tell Bibi ‘listen, I move my embassy to Jerusalem – you owe me’.”

Franks: “One of the things that Jared Kushner has said is that in a sense we need to stop obsessing about two states. So what he’s talked about is security for the Israelis, economic prospects for the Palestinians. But do you think removing the idea of a formal Palestinian state is possible? I mean is it just imaginative thinking or is it fantasy?”

Shavit: “It’s fantasy. With all the respect that I have to Jared Kushner and to Jason Greenblatt, when it comes to the Middle East they are rookies – both of them.”

Franks: “So what could be the Palestinian response to all this? Here at the Yasser Arafat museum in Ramallah you can hear, well not just the former Palestinian leader’s words but the whole narrative that the current Palestinian leadership wants to tell, spinning a story of a charismatic figurehead, of mass support, of heroic setbacks, of loyalty to a struggle in the forging of a nation.”

Franks then went on (21:05) to again signpost the false claims of ‘racism’ and ‘discrimination’ heard earlier in his report as ‘the real thing’.

Franks: “But the picture beyond these polished, quiet corridors is different. We heard it through those voices in Bethlehem at the start of the report expressing frustration and disillusion. And with the Israeli and American governments uniting to put the squeeze on that leadership.”

As we will see in part two of this report, listeners then heard comments from a PA minister – but with no descriptions of his terrace, his chair or his preferred beverage from Tim Franks.

BBC radio listeners get misinformation from Lyse Doucet

The day after the general election in Israel – April 10th – listeners to BBC radio stations heard commentary from the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet who had been ‘parachuted’ in (along with Martha Kearney) to cover the event.

That day’s edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme included an item (from 1:33:13 here) during which listeners again heard Doucet claim that the election had been called by Netanyahu alone. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Doucet: “But in Israel […] it’s not just about winning the election; it’s winning the battle to form a new coalition. And the numbers look like it is the Right-wing, that the prime minister’s been wooing ever since he announced this election campaign, that he looks set to be the man who can do the job. But the arithmetic is still complicated. There’s…Israel also gives a new name to horse trading and electoral promises and electoral…ah…pulling back promises. So we have to wait and see. It’s not going to be straightforward.”

Kearney: “And what are these smaller parties like – the kinds that Benjamin Netanyahu are talking to?”

Doucet: “Let me say another thing about this election. This has told us two things about Israel. One is that in a way Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu both won and lost. Perhaps Benjamin Netanyahu will get to stay in power, get to try to avoid those indictments on corruption and fraud, but he has been…trounced in a way by Benny Gantz. A total newcomer to politics has surged ahead to show Israelis that there is an alternative. So it is in a sense a victory for Benny Gantz but also for the electoral landscape. The far-Right parties who also were the newcomers – people had thought that they may be the kingmakers. As the votes show now they did not enter…they’re not going to enter the Knesset; the parties who were condemned here by many Israelis as being racist and homophobic.”

As we saw in a previous post, Doucet had likewise referred to unnamed “far Right-wing racist parties” – i.e. more than one – in a report the day before even though until that point the BBC had confined itself to categorising one party – ‘Otzma Yehudit’ (Jewish Power) as racist.

A report from Doucet was also aired in the April 10th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ (from 00:44 here) and the same claim was repeated.

Doucet: “This is a man [Netanyahu] who managed to win again even though indictments are looming on three big charges of corruption, bribery and breach of trust. But the attorney general is still expected to press charges and Israel now does not have any legislation which says you can’t indict a sitting prime minister so he’s going to want to have politicians who’ll say ‘well no, you can keep governing even though you’ll have to fight those indictments; it’ll go on in the background but please, Benjamin Netanyahu, keep ruling us’ and that seems to be the message from the political electorate which is moving to the Right – not the far Right. Some of the new far Right parties didn’t manage to make it into the Knesset and some Israelis here see that as a victory for democracy. These were parties described as racist and homophobic.” 

So which “new”, “far Right”, “racist and homophobic” parties (plural) was Doucet talking about? The answer to that question was revealed in the evening edition of ‘Newshour’ (from 34:12 here) presented by Tim Franks.

Doucet: “…it was said that he [Netanyahu] called this election nine months earlier [sic]. He was trying to preempt the attorney general who basically would not be preempted. He came out with his report on the three corruption cases where the prime minister is facing likely indictment before the elections. […] Israel currently doesn’t have any laws which say that you can [sic] indict a sitting prime minister. He was hoping for one of two things: either that there would be a…some kind of acceptance by the parties in his coalition that he can continue to govern even after he’s indicted – in other words while the political [sic – legal] processes take their course.” […]

Franks: “And Lyse, it was said of his last coalition that it was the most Right-wing in Israel’s history. What were…how’s the new one going to shape up?”

Doucet: “There were worries before the election that it would not just be a Right-wing but a far Right-wing government and that prime minister Netanyahu was reaching out to new parties just formed which were racist and homophobic – so much so that even members of the Democrats in the United States and AIPAC, the American Jewish organisation, said that they were not consistent with Jewish values. The way the votes have turned out they did not cross the threshold – at least two of the far-Right parties – to take seats in the senate [sic] so maybe more of the more familiar Right-wing and religious parties which will form part of his coalition.”

The one party which garnered criticism from AIPAC and others is ‘Otzma Yehudit’ which – contrary to Doucet’s claims – is not “new” or “just formed” but has been in existence since 2012. In this election that party ran together with two others on a list called the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URWP).

Where Doucet got the idea that the URWP “did not cross the threshold” is unclear. The exit polls conducted by the three Israeli TV channels predicted that the list would secure between four and five seats in the Knesset and the final count gave it five seats.

One new party which did not gain enough votes to secure any seats in the Knesset was ‘The New Right’ party headed Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked. Nobody has branded that party “racist and homophobic”.

Obviously the BBC’s chief international correspondent did not bother to familiarise herself with the differences between ‘Otzma Yehudit’ and ‘The New Right’ before giving BBC audiences her ‘expert analysis’. Clearly too she did not make any effort to check out the facts before repeatedly telling listeners around the world that there are “racist and homophobic” parties – plural – in Israel.

We have seen before – especially during conflicts – that journalists ‘parachuted’ in to Israel to cover a major event often produce low-quality and inaccurate reporting due to a lack of familiarity with the subject matter. Nevertheless, this is not some junior reporter but the BBC’s chief international correspondent and one would expect that if the BBC is going to go to the expense of flying in extra journalists to report a specific story, it would at least ensure that they are familiar with the basic facts in order to ensure that the corporation’s funding public gets accurate reporting. 

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BBC’s Lyse Doucet reports election campaign speculation as fact

BBC’s Lyse Doucet reports election campaign speculation as fact

On December 26th 2018 an overwhelming majority of MKs voted to dissolve the 20th Knesset and go to elections just over three months later.

“The bill for the dissolution of the 20th Knesset was given final approval by the plenum Wednesday night. The government-sponsored dissolution bill was merged with private bills submitted by MKs Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beitenu), Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Ayman Odeh (Joint List).

The bill, which passed by a vote of 102-2 in its third (final) reading, also sets early elections for April 9, 2019. The MKs who voted against the bill were Yehuda Glick (Likud) and Yaron Mazuz (Likud).”

Two days earlier the BBC had correctly told visitors to its website that:

“Israel is to hold a general election in April, the ruling coalition has said.

The political partners decided to call the poll after failing to resolve a dispute over a draft conscription bill for ultra-Orthodox Jews. […]

The ruling coalition was recently reduced to holding a one-seat majority in the Knesset (Israeli parliament) after the then-defence minister resigned in protest over what he said was a weak approach towards dealing with attacks from Gaza, the Palestinian enclave bordering Israel.

By Sunday night it was clear the government faced collapse after ultra-Orthodox parties threatened to withdraw over the draft conscription bill.”

Listeners to two editions of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newshour’ on April 9th however heard a completely different account of those events from the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet.

In the programme’s afternoon edition presenter James Coomarasamy introduced an item (from 18:37 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Coomarasamy: “Now another election now and it was an early call but was it the right one for him? Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be finding out whether his decision to hold an early election today will secure him his record-breaking fifth term in office.”

In contrast to Coomarasamy’s claim that the decision to call an election was made by Mr Netanyahu alone, it was actually taken by the heads of all five coalition parties and – as seen above – endorsed by a majority of Knesset members from parties across the entire political spectrum.

After listeners had heard recordings of statements made by Netanyahu and the Blue and White list leader Benny Gantz at their polling stations, Coomarasamy brought in “Newshour’s very own Lyse Doucet who’s in Jerusalem for us”. Having mentioned the weather and voter turnout percentage, Doucet went on:

Doucet: “There’s a bit of apathy this time round because in effect this election campaign is about only one issue and that is Benjamin Netanyahu. Will he get that fifth term in office and put himself in the history books as Israel’s longest serving prime minister? So the question in this whole election is will Bibi, as he’s known, win and is Bibi good for Israel.”

Seeing as the BBC’s coverage of the run up to the election totally ignored the topic of what concerns the Israeli voter, it is of course hardly surprising that Doucet would come out with that inaccurate and superficial claim. Coomarasamy went on to suggest yet again that Netanyahu had called the election alone.

Coomarasamy: “And at the moment, I mean, he…he’s sounding confident. He sounds as though he made the right decision. I suppose, you know, this early election is…was a gamble. He’s made a gamble before and it didn’t pay off.”

Doucet: “He called early elections – eight months earlier – because he was trying to get in ahead of the attorney general but the attorney general got the best of him and has already indicated that charges are pending – corruption charge, fraud, breach of trust – and so there’s criminal investing…there’s criminal charges pending against Benjamin Netanyahu and he was hoping that he would call these elections and secure his fifth term before the attorney general filed. So this cloud is hanging over his head and what he would like to do is first of all get the high…get his Likud party to get the highest number of seats tonight – but remember: no party in Israel has ever ruled on its own – that he would then be chosen by the president to try to bring…to forge a governing coalition which will be comprised of not just Right-wing parties but far Right-wing racist parties – ah…and that’s causing some concern here – and then be able to pass a new law in the Israeli Knesset which says you can’t be charged when you’re a sitting prime minister. Israel doesn’t have that yet. So that’s the gamble really that he’s dealing with now.”

Until that point the BBC had confined itself to categorising one party – Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) as racist but apparently the BBC’s chief international correspondent sees no problem in branding more than one Israeli political party in that way.

Coomarasamy: “That’s his personal gamble. What’s at stake for the country as a whole would you say, Lyse?”

Doucet: “Well that is the big issue. I mean one Israeli commentator was saying that it’s not just fateful issues on the agenda, it’s the fate of the country which is on the agenda. Israel has been moving steadily to the Right over the past decades, largely fuelled by the failure of peace making with the Palestinians. It’s noticeable that that simply wasn’t an issue at all in these elections. And look at what has happened in the past year thanks to Mr Netanyahu’s greatest champion in the White House, Donald Trump. The Americans have moved their embassy to Jerusalem, they’ve recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – effectively trying to take that issue off the table. They also have recognised the Golan as part of…under Israeli jurisdiction – not Syrian. So in some ways they’ve been trying to move toward resolving these issues and Mr Netanyahu even threatened or even indicated – again, in a bid to get those far Right-wing votes – that he would annex large parts of the West Bank, which takes another issue off the agenda.”

As we have regrettably had cause to note here before, despite the best efforts of BBC journalists to ignore it, the US announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city specifically stated that it had no bearing on negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, noting that “the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties”.

The evening edition of ‘Newshour’ on the same day – presented by Tim Franks – also included a contribution from “our very own Lyse Doucet” (from 45:05 here) in which she again paraphrased anonymous Israeli commentators.

Doucet: “…but I have to say, Tim, that the Israeli analysts are already saying this is a message to Benjamin Netanyahu that you may have snuck in again but your days are numbered.”

Franks: “Right and I suppose there would be a question also, were he to get in, just how long he might be in for because there are these corruption allegations hanging over him.”

Doucet again promoted the falsehood that Netanyahu had called an election all on his own.

Doucet: “He called this election eight months earlier than he had to. He was hoping to get a new mandate before the attorney general published or finished his investigation. The attorney general preempted him. The charges have been published – he’s facing possible indictment on three major corruption, bribery, breach of trust charges. What he wants from…if he does form a new government he will want that government to bring in new legislation which means a sitting prime minister cannot be indicted. He wants legal cover for those charges. It’s…this is quite clearly being discussed here. So it’s not just about winning these elections; it’s about winning his personal freedom as well.”

The as yet non-existent legislation touted by Doucet is known in Hebrew as ‘the French Law’ after similar legislation in France. Four days before Doucet laid out her theory according to which Netanyahu had dissolved the Knesset and called elections all on his own in order to get such a law passed, the Times of Israel reported that:

“Several political allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday they would not back an effort to pass a law giving the premier immunity from prosecution. […]

…several senior ministers said they would not back the law, including Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan from Netanyahu’s Likud party.

“He [Netanyahu] promised he wouldn’t try, and if a proposal like this comes up from others in the Knesset, I’ll oppose it,” Erdan told Army Radio.

Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, who helped torpedo a bid in 2017 by a Netanyahu ally in the Likud to pass an immunity bill, said he would continue to oppose it. “Everyone is equal under the law,” he told Army Radio. […]

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who is also seen as a likely coalition partner for Netanyahu should he be tasked with forming the next government, also said he was against a retroactive measure.

He blamed speculation about Netanyahu seeking a measure on “the media.””

Indeed speculation on that topic was rife during election campaigning but senior BBC journalist Lyse Doucet did not report it as speculation: she reported it as fact – even constructing a supporting story about a one-man deliberate dissolving of parliament and subsequent election – without providing any concrete evidence to support her claims.

So much for BBC accuracy and impartiality.

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BBC WS ‘Heart and Soul’ discusses internal Israeli affairs

In recent months the BBC World Service radio religious programme ‘Heart and Soul’ has aired several editions described as ‘Gatherings’ involving a panel and audience discussion to “explore questions of faith shaping futures around the world”.

In September 2018 the programme visited the United States, asking “What role do black churches have in the fight for social justice today?”. A November 2018 edition of the programme was billed “Nuala McGovern is in Rome with young Catholics from across the globe to discuss issues such as sexuality, leadership in the Church, and the role of women”.

On January 12th the programme’s latest edition – titled “Marriage in Israel” – was broadcast from Jerusalem.

“Many young Jewish people living in Israel feel religion has too big an influence over their private lives. Numerous aspects of life are governed by a council made up of orthodox rabbis called the Rabbinate. They decide who is and isn’t Jewish and by extension who can and can’t marry.

Supporters of the organisation say this helps preserve Jewish identity. Critics say it means thousands of people who are not deemed ‘Jewish enough’ can’t marry each other, forcing couples to leave the country to have a ceremony that will be recognised by the authorities when they return home.

The religious monopoly on marriage also means Jews cannot marry non-Jews and as the council of orthodox rabbis rule on divorce for every married couple in Israel, many say this disadvantages women.

Tim Franks is with a live audience and a panel of guests to discuss whether the Rabbinate should be stripped of its monopoly, or whether the current rules protect the identity and values of the Jewish faith.

This special Heart and Soul Gathering from the BBC World Service is the third programme in a series of faith-based community discussions.” [emphasis added]

Obviously debate on that topic is of relevance solely to Israelis and more specifically – given that the discussion was conducted in English with contributing members of the panel and the audience mostly coming from the very small proportion of Israelis for whom English is a native language – to any BBC World Service radio listeners among roughly half of the Israeli population who describe their English language skills as fair or good.

Readers can hence judge for themselves the objectives and value of the worldwide broadcast of a nearly hour-long English language discussion of internal Israeli affairs involving a presenter and production team flown in for the occasion.  

Reviewing BBC WS ‘Newshour’ coverage of events in Israel and Gaza – part 2

In part one of this post we saw that listeners to the two editions of the BBC World Service radio’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Newshour‘ on November 12th were repeatedly led to believe that just one of the seven Palestinians killed in the incident near Khan Younis the previous evening was a member of Hamas despite the fact that all belonged to terror factions.

By the time those two editions had ended, listeners had heard from two residents of the Gaza Strip – one at length – but nothing from any of the residents of southern Israel affected by the 17 rocket attacks launched by terrorists on November 11th or the hundreds of attacks launched from the afternoon of November 12th onward.

On the following day (November 13th) the afternoon edition of ‘Newshour’ was titled “Deadly Fire Traded Between Israel and Gaza” and once again the image used to illustrate the programme’s webpage depicted a scene in the Gaza Strip.

“The worst escalation between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since the 2014 war is threatening to descend into a full-blown conflict. More than 400 rockets have been fired into Israel, while Israeli aircraft have hit 150 militant targets in response.”

(Photo: Smoke blows up [sic] after Israeli fighter jets carried out airstrike to positions in Gaza City. Credit: Getty Images)

As documented here previously, presenter Julian Marshall failed to tell listeners that by that time at least three of those killed in IDF strikes had been claimed as members by terror organisations. This edition did however include the first – and only – mention of the fact that a civilian had been killed when a rocket hit an apartment block in Ashkelon.

Marshall: “Well Israeli airstrikes have left at least six Palestinians dead.”

The item included a brief statement from an IDF Spokesperson as well as an interview with a resident of the Gaza Strip (Majd Masharawi) and a resident of Ashkelon (Sigal Arieli).

Listeners did not hear anything which would contribute to their appreciation of the fact that in this round of violence, Israeli civilians were being deliberately targeted by terrorist organisations while civilians in the Gaza Strip were actually receiving warnings of impending strikes against military targets in order to ensure their safety.

The evening edition of the programme was titled “Gaza Israel Violence” and for the first time visitors to the webpage saw an image depicting events in Israel.

“Hamas says it’s agreed to a ceasefire in its hostilities with Israel. Israel says it reserves the right to strike inside Gaza. But how to stop the violence for good? We’ll hear from a former senior member of the Obama White House.”

(Photo: Buildings in the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon were hit by rockets fired from Gaza. Credit: AFP)

As noted here previously, the original caption to that photograph uses the word ‘house’ rather than “buildings”.

Presenter Tim Franks introduced the item (from 00:52 here), once again erasing the fact that all the Palestinians killed in the incident near Khan Younis were members of terror factions.

Franks: “It takes two sides to agree a ceasefire. The question tonight in the Middle East is is that what Israel and Hamas – the Palestinian group running Gaza – have both agreed? Hamas says it has; that it said yes to the terms of an Egyptian brokered deal. Israeli officials have been rather more circumspect, saying they reserve the right to continue air strikes into Gaza as necessary. All this comes against the most heated flare-up of violence between Israel and Palestinian militants for four years. Over the weekend Israeli Special Forces conducted an operation deep inside Gazan territory which appeared to spin out of control. Seven Palestinians were killed including a senior Hamas commander. One Israeli officer died. Out of Gaza there then came a barrage of hundreds of rockets fired into southern Israel. The Israeli military conducted scores of airstrikes inside Gaza. There was widespread fear that this could escalate into a full-blown war as it has three times in the last decade. “

Listeners then heard a report from Jerusalem correspondent Yolande Knell in which they were told that:

Knell: “The Israeli military says more than 460 rockets and mortars were fired from Gaza in the past 24 hours and that it struck 160 militant targets including a building in Gaza City that it said was used by Hamas intelligence.”

Knell then immediately contradicted that accurate information with a claim from a Gaza resident who later on in the week cropped up in yet another BBC report.

Knell: “A doctor living there, Adnan al Waheidi, condemned the attack.”

Al Waheidi: “They destroy a civilian building which was fully occupied with families, where you find women are crying and the children are leaving and everybody’s just trying to escape for themself.”

Although by the time this programme was aired the extent of the damage to homes and businesses in southern Israeli communities was clear and the death of one civilian and injury of dozens of others had been amply reported by the local media, Knell confined her portrayal of the Israeli side of the story to sirens.

Knell: “On the Israeli side sirens sounded repeatedly. Einav Shimoni lives just two miles from the Gaza border.”

After listeners had heard Shimomi’s description of alarms and running to the shelter, Knell told ‘Newshour’ listeners for the first time in all four programmes that the seven Palestinians killed in the incident near Khan Younis were “militants”.

The item continued with segments from the interviews with Majd Masharawi in Gaza and Sigal Arieli in Ashkelon which had been heard in that day’s earlier edition of ‘Newshour’ and closed with an interview about ceasefire prospects with Ilan Goldenberg – described by Franks as “a man who used to be one of President Obama’s point men on the Middle East”. 

In the four editions of ‘Newshour’ aired on November 12th and 13th BBC World Service listeners around the world heard one short statement from an IDF spokesperson and one lengthy interview with a Hamas spokesman – parts of which were later repeated. Listeners heard comment relating to the broader background to the story from one Israeli journalist and one American commentator as well as one Israeli MK. Interviews with four different residents of the Gaza Strip – two of them lengthy and one partly repeated – were aired in contrast to interviews with two Israeli civilians affected by the rocket attacks – one lengthy and partly repeated.

BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality state that their principles include:

“We must do all we can to ensure that ‘controversial subjects’ are treated with due impartiality in all our output.

News in whatever form must be treated with due impartiality, giving due weight to events, opinion and main strands of argument.

We are committed to reflecting a wide range of opinion across our output as a whole and over an appropriate timeframe so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under-represented.”

And:

“News in whatever form must be treated with due impartiality, giving due weight to events, opinion and main strands of argument.  The approach and tone of news stories must always reflect our editorial values, including our commitment to impartiality.”

“Due impartiality” and “due weight” can hardly be said to have been achieved when listeners heard twice as many voices from the Gaza Strip than they did Israeli civilians.

Listeners heard inaccurate descriptions of the Palestinians killed in the incident near Khan Younis on five occasions (and on one webpage) and only one accurate portrayal. They heard one accurate and one inaccurate portrayal of people in the Gaza Strip killed in the Israeli airstrikes that came in response to Gaza terror factions’ missile fire on civilians. A civilian killed in Ashkelon in one of those rocket attacks was mentioned just once.

Half of the programmes failed to clarify to listeners that while the rocket fire by Gaza based terror groups deliberately targeted Israeli civilians, Israel’s airstrikes targeted the assets of terror factions and false equivalence between those differently focused attacks was promoted in all editions.

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on accuracy state that its principles include:

“We must do all we can to ensure due accuracy in all our output.

The BBC must not knowingly and materially mislead its audiences.  We should not distort known facts, present invented material as fact or otherwise undermine our audiences’ trust in our content.”

Repeatedly describing six of the seven people killed in the incident near Khan Younis as “Palestinians” even though – as locally based BBC journalists knew – they had been claimed by two armed terror factions is obviously a prime example of misleading audiences and distorting known facts.

Related Articles:

Reviewing BBC WS ‘Newshour’ coverage of events in Israel and Gaza – part one

Terrorists and rockets disappear in BBC news reports

More BBC false equivalence on World Service radio – part one

More BBC false equivalence on World Service radio – part two

False equivalence in BBC News report on Gaza rocket attacks