BBC contradicts years of its own narrative on Israeli construction

The use of imprecise language in BBC reports has frequently steered audiences towards the inaccurate belief that in recent years new communities have been built in Judea & Samaria and the parts of Jerusalem occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967. Some of the latest examples of that practice include: [all emphasis added]

“An increase in settlement construction in recent months has led to international criticism of Israel…” Yolande Knell, BBC Radio 4 news bulletin, December 24th 2016. 

“Pro-Palestinian groups criticised the deal, saying it rewards Israel despite the ongoing construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. […]

Last month, the White House warned that the construction of settlements posed a “serious and growing threat to the viability of a two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” BBC News website, September 13th 2016 (later amended following a complaint from BBC Watch)

“But the outgoing Obama administration has long made clear its opposition to Israeli settlement-building in occupied territory…” BBC News website, December 23rd 2016.

“This is a vote on a resolution that condemns the building of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory. It says it’s illegal under international law. […]

“They themselves [the US administration] have been very critical of settlement building over the last year.” BBC News website, December 23rd, 2016.

“The resolution reflects an international consensus that the growth of Israeli settlement-building has come to threaten the viability of a Palestinian state in any future peace deal.” BBC News website, December 23rd and 24th, 2016.

“The US president-elect Donald Trump has called for a UN Security Council resolution aimed at halting the building of Israeli settlements to be vetoed.”

“…this particular Israeli government has…has done a lot of settlement building and it is…it’s very much its policy.” BBC World Service radio, December 22nd 2016. 

“I think Britain is concerned about the number of settlements that he’s [Netanyahu] authorised in the occupied Palestinian territories…” Jeremy Bowen, BBC Radio 5 live, February 6th 2017.

As has been noted here on numerous occasions, the employment of such lax terminology obviously leads BBC audiences to mistakenly believe that Israel has been constructing new communities rather than – as is actually the case – building homes in existing towns and villages, most of which would under any reasonable scenario remain under Israeli control in the event of an agreement. Concurrently, the BBC has not bothered to inform its audiences that the existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians – the Oslo Accords – place no limitations whatsoever on construction in Area C or Jerusalem.

In early February the BBC News website reported that:

“…Israel’s prime minister has announced that he plans to establish a new settlement in the West Bank for the first time in more than two decades.” [emphasis added]

Visitors to the BBC News website on March 31st found a report headlined “Israel approves first new West Bank settlement in 20 years” which includes a recycled map sourced from the political NGO B’Tselem as well as statements from the political NGO ‘Peace Now’ and a link to its website. BBC audiences were not informed that the plan to build a new community is dependent upon approval from the full cabinet.

“Israel has approved the establishment of its first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades. […]

While Israel has continued to expand settlements and has retroactively approved outposts constructed without permits, this is the first time it has agreed a new settlement since the 1990s, reports the BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem.” [emphasis added]

Listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on March 31st heard Sarah Montague discussing the same story with Yolande Knell (from 2:56:26 here).

Montague: “Israel’s security cabinet has approved the construction of the first new settlement in the occupied West Bank for two decades.”

Knell: “….it’s something of real symbolic importance. Israel hasn’t built a new settlement since the 1990s. Instead, the construction that we hear a lot about has been focused on building within existing settlements…”

Clearly then the BBC understands that there is a significant difference between the construction of houses within the municipal boundaries of existing communities and the establishment of a “new settlement”. The question that therefore arises is why – given its supposedly rigorous standards of accuracy – for so many years its journalists regularly employed imprecise language that materially misled audiences on the topic of Israeli construction.

While we do not anticipate any public accountability on that issue, we will be closely monitoring the language used in future BBC reporting relating to construction.

Another notable aspect of the March 31st written report comes in this paragraph:

“It [ the Israeli security cabinet] also approved tenders to build 1,992 new homes at four other existing settlements, and declared almost 100 hectares (247 acres) as “public land” in order to enable the retroactive legalisation of three outposts, according to Peace Now.”

Readers are not told that those “1,992 new homes” were already reported by the BBC when they were first announced in January. As has been noted here on previous occasions, BBC audiences often receive misleading impressions regarding the scale of construction in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem because – rather than reporting actual building – the BBC covers announcements of building plans, planning approvals and issues of tenders, regardless of whether they actually come to fruition.

Related Articles:

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge

How the BBC invents ‘new settlements’ with lax language

Quantifying BBC ‘due impartiality’ on ‘international law’

 

BBC Complaints says editorial guidelines on live output cannot always be met

The January 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Today’ included an interview by Mishal Husain with the Israeli MK Haneen Zoabi.

As was noted here at the time:

“None of Zoabi’s blatant propaganda and incitement concerning Israel was challenged by Husain – including her inaccurate claim that the entire city of Jerusalem is “occupied”, the lie that Israel “expelled 85% of the Palestinians in 1948”, the falsehood of “87 racist laws” (with Zoabi adding yet another one since she made a similar claim at the PSC AGM just three days earlier) or the unsourced allegation that 30 thousand ‘Palestinians’ are being ‘evacuated’ “from the Negev” (it was 13,000 at the PSC AGM) – which of course actually relates to the Umm al Hiran story and the generously compensated relocation close by of Bedouin squatters.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning the misleading of listeners due to the interviewer’s failure to correct Zoabi’s inaccurate statements and false claims. The response received includes the following:

“First of all I’m sorry for the delay in coming back. I know people appreciate a prompt response, it’s taken us longer than usual to respond here – apologies. I understand you feel that Mishal Husain failed to challenge statements by Haneen Zoabi.

I have reviewed the piece – the aim here was to find out what Palestinians make of Donald Trump. Mishal began the interview by asking “What do you think Donald Trump means for the Palestinians?”

Mishal did take her up on the point about the American Embassy, explaining that the White House press secretary said that they were at the very first stage of even discussing the subject.

We always seek to ensure that the interviewer’s particular question is answered by the guest first and foremost. Ms Zoabi spoke at length and very quickly and passionately. The interviewer always seeks to interject when appropriate, balancing the need for a clear discussion with appropriate interaction. It’s an art form rather than a simple science, but we’re confident that in due course, a fair reflection of each side’s long-running stances was offered to listeners over the two days. Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, was interviewed the day before in order to provide a contrasting view.

It was clear that these comments were claims made from her established perspective – listeners can judge the different arguments for themselves. Mishal intervened, contrasting Hanin’s settlement claims with the position offered the previous day, where the Israeli view was that settlements are not the only issue. The area of questioning here was not ‘What exactly is happening now?’ but rather ‘How does the new US approach to the Middle East appear to Palestinians?’. 

In a fast-flowing interview situation, it may not always be possible for an interviewer to cross-check every statement and claim that is made by a guest, we’re sorry to hear this spoiled the interview for you. This issue could occur across a range of programmes, with a variety of guests and topics. There is no intention to treat any particular argument differently. We’d like to reassure you that there is no ulterior motive in either challenging or not challenging specific points on any occasion.” [emphasis added]

Quite how the BBC arrives at the conclusion that “listeners can judge the different arguments for themselves” if they are not provided with accurate information to counter false claims such as the ones made by Zoabi is unclear.

The statement “it may not always be possible for an interviewer to cross-check every statement and claim that is made by a guest” is clearly at odds with the BBC’s editorial guidelines on live output which state “we should take special care to minimise the risks involved” and go on to define those risks as including “broadcast of derogatory or libellous comments” and “misleading of audiences”.

Regarding “offensive comments” and “factual errors” – which are defined in those guidelines as “a serious incident in a live broadcast” – the guidelines state:

BBC Complaints, however, informs us that an interviewer cannot always be expected to “cross-check” claims made by an interviewee.

BBC Watch wrote back pointing out that if that is indeed the case, it may be prudent to avoid live interviews with guests with an established reputation for dissemination of politically motivated falsehoods. We have not received a satisfactory reply. 

BBC rejects complaint because interviewee ‘did not take issue’

As readers may recall, on January 23rd listeners to the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Today’ heard presenter Sarah Montague interviewing the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.

The conversation included the following: [emphasis in the original]

Montague: “Of course, as I say, the majority of the rest of the world take a very different view but one thing that – clearly you think differently – but do you recognise that the building of these homes makes peace less likely?”

Hotovely: “Absolutely not. What we saw throughout last year is that every time Israel went through a process of concessions and when Israel committed disengagement from the Gaza [in] 2005, what we saw was more extremists on the other side. We saw Hamas regime taking over; terror regime that the Palestinians chose on a democratic vote. So what we saw is actually the opposite. When settlements were not there, instead of having democratic flourish in the Palestinian side, we just saw extremist radicalism and radical Islam taking over. Unfortunately…”

Montague [interrupts]: “You’re talking about a flourish…yes…you’re talking about flourishing of a particular one [laughs]…the…the…Israeli Jews in settlements; they are flourishing. Of course the Palestinians are not. I wonder, do you think that the idea of a two-state solution – because this is of course land that would have been Palestinian under the two-state solution – is the idea of that now dead?”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning the breach of impartiality resulting from Montague’s insertion of her own subjective, unsubstantiated, politicised – and frankly irrelevant – view of who is – and is not – “flourishing”. The response received included the following:

“Thank you for contacting us regarding BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ broadcast on 23 January.

I understand you believe Mishal Husain [sic] displayed bias when interviewing Tzipi Hotoveley.

Israeli’s deputy minister of foreign affairs was on the programme to discuss the consequences to Israel’s approval to the building of hundreds of new homes on land it has occupied in East Jerusalem.

Mishal’s [sic] interjection when referring to Palestine [sic] while discussing the “flourishing of Israeli Jews in settlements” was to put into context Palestine’s situation, and to provide the information which listeners may want to hear.

All BBC staff are expected to put any political views to one side when carrying out their work for the BBC, and they simply try to provide the information and context on the story or issue using their professional insight to allow our listeners to make up their own minds.

BBC News aims to show the political reality and provide a forum for discussion on issues, giving full opportunity for all sides of the debate to be heard and explored. Senior editorial staff within BBC News, the BBC’s Executive Board, and the BBC Trust keep a close watch on programmes to ensure that standards of impartiality are maintained.

The key point is that the BBC as an organisation has no view or position itself on anything we may report upon – our aim is to identify all significant views, and to test them rigorously and fairly on behalf of our audiences.”

As readers may recall, the BBC’s ‘style guide‘ tells journalists “in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity”. Apparently the BBC complaints department does not follow that instruction. 

Given that the response received did not even correctly identify the interviewer, we were not confident that the complaint had been addressed seriously and so it was re-submitted. The second response received included the following:

“Thanks for contacting us again. We’re sorry you had to come back to us and appreciate why.

We always aim to accurately address the points raised by our audience and regret any cases where we’ve failed to do this. We’ve raised the issues with your previous reply with the right people. We’d like to offer you a new response here. The following should now be considered your first reply.

We’ve listened in full again to Sarah’s interview on Jan 23. It was introduced as follows: “Israel has just approved 566 new homes for building in East Jerusalem, saying “Now we can finally build”.

The flourishing discussed was in the light of new relations with the US, which is giving Israel new confidence to continue with settlement plans.

Q1″Are we going to see more settlement building, now that President Obama is gone?”

Q2 “Does the building of these homes make peace less likely?”

Tzipi [sic] explains that Israel disengaging has caused more extremism and that flourishing only happens when the settlements are occupied.

Sarah offers a counterpoint – that not everyone flourishes in these circumstances, which Tzipi doesn’t actually challenge or object to.

Q3 “Is the idea of a two state solution now dead?”

Q4 “The arrival of President Trump – is it a game-changer?”

With the above in mind, we can’t agree that the discussion was about democracy flourishing, but rather on the building of new settlements in the light of a new US administration.

Sarah’s interjections were justified, in ensuring that both sides of the story were heard by listeners. The ‘Today’ audience expect firm but fair holding to account, whoever is in the guest seat.

We would take the same approach with people on either side of a debate – we realise you beg to differ here, but we’re confident the inclusion of alternative angles improves the context of an interview, rather than taking away from it.

A challenge offers a guest the opportunity to clarify their position, or reject a point with evidence of their own.

Ms Hotoveley, however, did not take issue with the suggestion that Palestinians were not flourishing as a result of the settlements.”

Not for the first time we see that the BBC is apparently of the opinion that an Israeli giving an interview to the corporation (often in a second or third language) is responsible for refuting any content which might breach BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality and that his or her failure to do so absolves the BBC from any responsibility to correct or qualify statements, slurs claims which may mislead audiences. 

Related Articles:

The bizarre basis for the BBC’s rejection of an appeal

BBC avoidance of term ‘terrorist’ in Israel stories surfaces again

h/t ML

As we have seen in previous posts, the BBC’s description of the man killed by Elor Azaria in Hebron last March have ranged from “Palestinian attacker” through “wounded Palestinian” to simply non-existent. None of the BBC’s reports used the word terrorist.today-21-2

BBC Radio 4, however, came up with different terminology.

Listeners to the 06:30 news bulletin in the February 21st edition of the ‘Today’ programme heard the following report (from 32:49 here) from newsreader Kathy Clugston: [emphasis added]

“A military court in Israel is due to sentence a soldier for the killing of a wounded Palestinian fighter. Elor Azaria was convicted of manslaughter last month in a case that’s caused division and strong feeling in Israel. He shot dead a man who was injured after he tried to kill members of the Israeli army.”

Once again we see that the BBC’s ineffectual editorial guidelines on ‘Language when Reporting Terrorism’ (adherence to which is entirely subjective and selective), together with the chronic failure to differentiate between the aims and actions of perpetrators of politically motivated violence, prevent the BBC from presenting a consistent, uniform approach to the subject of terrorism which adheres to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality.

BBC’s Bowen again misleads domestic audiences on UK PM’s statement

The February 6th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Today’ included a long item (from 02:36:48 here) ostensibly concerning the Israeli prime minister’s visit to London on that day which was introduced by presenter Nick Robinson as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]today-6-2

“The Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is in London today for a meeting with Theresa May. The prime minister is likely to restate Britain’s opposition to building settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories; this at a time when American policy towards Israel is undergoing a dramatic shift. Barack Obama and Binyamin Netanyahu loathed each other. Mr Trump, in contrast, has vowed to be Israel’s best friend. He’s refused to condemn the building of settlements, he’s promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, going against decades of US foreign policy. From Jerusalem, Mark Lowen now reports.”

The ensuing audio report from Mark Lowen was very similar to his filmed report seen on BBC World News television in late January, including visits to the same locations and promotion of the same unbalanced messaging.

Listeners heard a recording of Obama claiming that “the growth of the settlements are [sic] creating a reality that increasingly will make the two-state solution impossible” followed by Lowen’s assertion that:

“The bond with Barack Obama plummeted as he increasingly saw the Israeli government as an impediment to peace. In his last press conference Mr Obama alluded to his final blow: allowing a resolution to pass at the UN against settlements, which violate international law.”

Lowen went on to present a partisan interpretation of the significance of the proposed relocation of the US embassy:

“Donald Trump has taken a far more pro-Israel position. He’s promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognising Israel’s disputed claim over the whole city, although he is now lowering expectations on the issue.”

Reporting from Beit El, which he described as a “settlement on land the Palestinians want for a future state”, Lowen told listeners that:

“It looks like a regular suburb: seven thousand homes, a religious school and some buildings bearing the name Friedman – the family of David Friedman, the likely next ambassador here. He, Mr Trump and the president’s son-in-law have donated to Beit El.”

Once again, he did not inform listeners that the said Trump donation was apparently made back in 2003. Lowen also made a point of telling one of his interviewees from Beit El that “the Palestinians say it is also their territory; their ancestors also lived here”.

As was the case in his filmed report, Lowen visited the PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi in Ramallah and listeners heard the same unquestioned portrayal of the supposed consequences of relocation of the US embassy.

“The language that we’ve heard, coming out as though Israel can do no wrong and that the US not only will be the patron of Israel but in many ways will be the partner of Israel in its illegal activities – is serious cause for alarm. If the US moves its embassy then there’s no reason to talk about any peace solution because it’s finished; it’s done for.”

Lowen’s audio report also included commentary from “the plot of land in Jerusalem that’s long been ear-marked for a potential US embassy” but again with no clarification of its position in relation to the 1949 Armistice lines.

Following Lowen’s report, the item moved on to a conversation with Jeremy Bowen in which he repeated some of the same themes promoted just minutes earlier on BBC Radio 5 live.

Robinson: “This issue of settlements: on the surface it appears that Trump is endorsing them and yet only the other day we were hearing that they ‘may not be helpful’ – in quotes. So is it quite as it seems?”

Bowen: “Well when they said ‘may not be helpful’ it was still a softening on what had been the long-standing American position – that they were an obstacle to peace.”

Neither Robinson nor Bowen provided listeners with an accurate representation of the statement put out by the White House press secretary on February 2nd which clearly used the phrase ‘may not be helpful’ in a specific context.

“While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal.” 

Bowen continued:

Bowen: “I think the…until there is evidence to the contrary in terms of something a bit stronger than that – and I think that next week Netanyahu’s going to go and see Trump in Washington and, you know, we’ll see what comes out of that. But until there’s something really to the contrary, there is a distinct impression that Trump is prepared to give Mr Netanyahu carte blanche to go ahead with what he wants to do. But we’ll see…”

Robinson: “And that raises real…real questions for Theresa May. We saw in the UN the other day that Britain changed her historic position on settlements to try to get closer to Mr Trump.”

Of course the British prime minister’s remarks were not made “in the UN”, did not ‘change’ Britain’s “historic position” in the least and Robinson’s allegation of motive is at best highly debatable.

Bowen: Yes well, Britain supported a resolution in the dog-days of the Obama administration…err…which…err…condemned settlements and which the Americans very unusually abstained on; they didn’t veto. After that, even though it was a resolution that Britain had voted for and was also deeply involved in the drafting and presentation of, after that Number…Downing Street said that it was something that they…effectively Prime Minister May criticised Mr Kerry, then the Secretary of State’s condemnation of the expansion of settlements. And the Americans said well hang on a minute; that’s been British policy for a long time.”

Once again we see Bowen misleading listeners with an inaccurate representation of Mrs May’s remarks.

“[Downing Street] said her criticism was directed at Mr Kerry’s decision to attack the make-up of the Israeli government.

“We do not… believe that the way to negotiate peace is by focusing on only one issue, in this case the construction of settlements, when clearly the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is so deeply complex,” Mrs May’s spokesman said.

“And we do not believe that it is appropriate to attack the composition of the democratically elected government of an ally. The Government believes that negotiations will only succeed when they are conducted between the two parties, supported by the international community.”

The spokesman added: “The British Government continues to believe that the only way to a lasting peace in the Middle East is through a two-state solution. We continue to believe that the construction of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is illegal.”

Moreover, listeners were then treated to some domestic political ‘analysis’ from Bowen based on his inaccurate misrepresentation:

Bowen: “Ah…I think that Britain has been floundering a bit on Middle Eastern policy in the last couple of months because there’s been a lack of consistency.”

Robinson: “In part is that not because, beyond the small print of this or that UN resolution, the really big stakes here are these, aren’t they: is Trump going to call time, along with Netanyahu, on the goal of Western foreign policy for decades: a two-state solution, a Palestinian state?”

Bowen: Well all…yes…I mean he might do that or it might not be quite that abrupt. He might just simply pay lip service to it while allowing things to happen which would make it impossible. There are plenty of people who believe that a two-state solution is now impossible anyway because of the volume of settlement, because of the way that Jewish settlements have…have encircled that part of Jerusalem that the Palestinians want for a capital and that Mr Netanyahu himself – who’s been prime minister for an awfully long time – while he says he wants a two-state solution, he does everything he can to make sure that it doesn’t happen.”

Robinson: “Jeremy Bowen…”

Bowen: “So there are plenty…so there are lots of people now talking about a one-state solution which might be tough for both sides.”

Robinson: “Jeremy Bowen; thank you very much indeed.”

As we see, twice on the morning of February 6th domestic audiences listening to two different BBC radio stations were misled by Bowen with regard to a statement made by their own prime minister.

Moreover, it is abundantly clear that the occasion of the Israeli prime minister’s visit to London was in both cases used as a hook for yet more promotion of the now standard politically motivated narrative according to which the two-state solution is solely endangered by Israeli actions.

Were Jeremy Bowen truly committed to providing BBC audiences with accurate and impartial information which would meet the corporation’s remit of enhancing “UK audiences’ awareness and understanding” of this particular international issue, he of course would not have concealed from view no less relevant issues such as Palestinian terrorism, Palestinian Authority incitement, Hamas’ refusal to accept the two-state solution, the PA’s refusal to recognise Israel as the Jewish state and the Hamas-Fatah split.

Related Articles:

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Comparing BBC R4 ‘Today’ interviews with two Israeli MKs – part two

The January 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme included an interview with Balad MK Haneen Zoabi who was in London for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign AGM and other speaking engagements.today-24-1-zoabi-int

As seen in part one of this post, the previous day MK Tzipi Hotovely had been interviewed on the same programme by Sarah Montague and listeners were reminded of that – and obviously intended to view the two interviews as being linked – in the introduction to the item (from 01:24:26 here) by presenter Mishal Husain.

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

Husain: “On yesterday’s programme Israel’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs made clear how pleased her government was to see the Trump administration take office. Within 48 hours of the inauguration, Israel approved more than 500 new homes in Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and Prime Minister Netanyahu will be meeting President Trump at the White House next week [sic]. Here’s what Tzipi Hotovely told us yesterday:

‘We think that we have a true friend in the White House. I think that all the declarations of the Trump administration were showing a deep friendship to Israel. They understand the complexity of the circumstances in the Middle East…’

So how does the new era appear from the Palestinian perspective? Haneen Zoabi is a Palestinian member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. Good morning.”

Notably, Husain did not inform listeners to which political party Zoabi belongs and provided no information concerning that party’s anti-Israel platform.

Zoabi: “Good morning.”

Husain: “What do you think President Trump means for the Palestinians?”

Zoabi: “As the Israeli says, it is an expression of deep friendship and unfortunately it’s an expression also of supporting the Israelis’ policies of expanding settlements, of Judaising Jerusalem, of the violence policies of Israel against the Palestinians. So we will be the victims of this and this is also the violation of the international law because according to the international law Jerusalem is an occupied territories. So this is to delete the position; to ignore the position of Israel as occupier. We should always remember that Israel is occupier and without…and what’s the US…eh… do is to give Israel a full immunity to its policies. I think the…”

Husain [interrupts]: “You’re referring to….let’s just take one of the issues you’re referring to which is the suggestion that under President Trump the US embassy is going to move from Tel Aviv…”

Zoabi: “Tel Aviv.”

Husain: “…to Jerusalem. Now, what the White House press secretary has said so far is ‘we are at the very beginning stages of even discussing this subject’. If it does happen, what will it mean do you think? Will it be a red line as far as the Palestinians are concerned?”

Zoabi: “I think yes and I think the reality after that would not be the same as the reality before that. We heard yesterday the Palestinian Authority saying that the Palestinian Authority will withdraw its recognition from Israel – eh…of Israel – and I think this will be the time that the Palestinian Authority will declare the end of the negotiation illusions because till now the negotiations were just illusions. The real word was that Israel steal the Palestinian land, expand settlements – not just in the West Bank. I am a citizen and I live inside Nazareth…”

Husain [interrupts]: “A citizen of Israel.”

Zoabi: “…of Israel and I live inside Nazareth. Israel also now is evacuating thirty thousand Palestinians from the Negev, destroying five Palestinian villages against citizens of Israel. I am not talking the occupied territories in the West Bank. I’m talking about Palestinians whom Israel didn’t expel in 1948.You remember: Israel has expelled 85% of the Palestinians in 1948. No-one is remembering that now. And now…”

Husain [interrupts]: “When we were talking to the Israeli deputy foreign minister yesterday, I mean, she was stressing that in their view settlements are not…are not the only issue; that there are other issues: obviously the status of Jerusalem, refugees, Israel’s security. Where do you think the best chance of peace lies, given what is happening on the ground at the moment?”

Zoabi: “I think it is so strange to talk about peace while reallocating the embassy, while Israel yesterday has announce 600 housing units. As long as Israel is going with full immunity from the international community, with…with that which is considered to be crimes against humanityit’s a war crime to build settlementsit’s a war crimes. And the problem is not just occupation and oppressing the Palestinians – which no-one talks about it. No-one’s talking about the Palestinian prisoners in the Israeli prisoners [prisons]. We must talk about…eh…making Israel accountable. If you want peace, you want justice. And if you want justice you must make Israel accountable to its crimes. It cannot be…it is not logic to give…to vetoes the UN resolution – Security Council resolution – to give support as the British government gives support to Israel all….all…all along and then to talk about peace. If you want peace you must let Israel pay the price of its crimes, of its oppressions, of its settlements, of its 87 racist laws. In Israel there are 87 racist laws….”

Husain [interrupts] “There was recently a UN Security Council resolution which went against Israel…”

Zoabi: [interrupts] “Exactly: an exception, exception.”

Husain: “…and was supported by the British. Thank you very much Haneen Zoabi, member of the Israeli Knesset.”

Zoabi: “Thank you.”

While this interview was about a minute and a quarter shorter than the one with Tzipi Hotovely the previous day, we see that Zoabi was interrupted on four occasions (compared to seven interruptions in the Hotovely interview) – but with notably less hostility.

None of Zoabi’s blatant propaganda and incitement concerning Israel was challenged by Husain – including her inaccurate claim that the entire city of Jerusalem is “occupied”, the lie that Israel “expelled 85% of the Palestinians in 1948”, the falsehood of “87 racist laws” (with Zoabi adding yet another one since she made a similar claim at the PSC AGM just three days earlier) or the unsourced allegation that 30 thousand ‘Palestinians’ are being ‘evacuated’ “from the Negev” (it was 13,000 at the PSC AGM) – which of course actually relates to the Umm al Hiran story and the generously compensated relocation close by of Bedouin squatters.

In fact, the only time that Husain did intervene to correct misleading information was to clarify that Britain had voted in favour of UNSC resolution 2334.

In short, Haneen Zoabi was given a completely unfettered platform from which to spout her predictably one-sided propaganda (in which Palestinians are exclusively portrayed as victims and Arab belligerence and Palestinian terrorism are erased) in an obviously more sympathetic environment than was evident in the previous day’s interview.

The fact that Mishal Husain failed to challenge even one of Zoabi’s many falsehoods means that the BBC cannot possibly claim that this interview was intended to meet its public purpose remit of enhancing “UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues”.

Related Articles:

Comparing BBC R4 ‘Today’ interviews with two Israeli MKs – part one

The BBC’s Haneen Zoabi show

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ promotion of Haneen Zoabi omits crucial information

The Independent repeats ‘fake news’, claiming “50 racist laws” in Israel (UK Media Watch)

Comparing BBC R4 ‘Today’ interviews with two Israeli MKs – part one

Earlier this week the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today‘ programme conducted interviews with two members of the Israeli Knesset on consecutive days.

On January 23rd presenter Sarah Montague spoke with Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (from 01:23:56 here), introducing the item as follows: [all emphasis in the original]today-23-1-hotovely-int

Montague: “Israel has approved the building of hundreds of new homes on land it has occupied in East Jerusalem. The settlements are illegal under international law, although Israel disputes that. The deputy mayor of the city, Meir Turgeman, is reported as saying since Donald Trump became US president, ‘now we can finally build’. Well, Tzipi Hotovely is Israel’s deputy minister of Foreign Affairs and a member of Likud party. Good morning to you.”

Hotovely: “Good morning”.

Montague: “Five hundred and sixty-six new homes approved in East Jerusalem on occupied land: are we going to see more settlement building now that President Obama is gone?”

Hotovely: “Well, this is not an occupied land. This is the Jewish land, forever, and I must say that every time this terminology is being used, I must say this is a political terminology; this is not legal terminology because according to international law, when you think about Judea & Samaria – look at the words: Judea – this is part of the Jewish heritage. Think about Jerusalem; the only capital that it was, it was of the Jewish people. So you can’t…”

Montague [interrupts]: “Of course it is only Israel’s interpretation of international law.”

Hotovely: “No, no. This is history. This is pure history because in international law and according [to] all the peace agreements that were signed, never said that Israel can’t build on Jewish land and this is definitely a Jewish land.”

Montague: “Of course, as I say, the majority of the rest of the world take a very different view but one thing that – clearly you think differently – but do you recognise that the building of these homes makes peace less likely?”

Hotovely: “Absolutely not. What we saw throughout last year is that every time Israel went through a process of concessions and when Israel committed disengagement from the Gaza [in] 2005, what we saw was more extremists on the other side. We saw Hamas regime taking over; terror regime that the Palestinians chose on a democratic vote. So what we saw is actually the opposite. When settlements were not there, instead of having democratic flourish in the Palestinian side, we just saw extremist radicalism and radical Islam taking over. Unfortunately…”

Montague [interrupts]: “You’re talking about a flourish…yes…you’re talking about flourishing of a particular one [laughs]…the…the…Israeli Jews in settlements; they are flourishing. Of course the Palestinians are not. I wonder, do you think that the idea of a two-state solution – because this is of course land that would have been Palestinian under the two-state solution – is the idea of that now dead?”

Hotovely: “Can you ask yourself how come, after 25 years that Israel said that it would [be] willing to give the Palestinians a Palestinian state, it never happened? Never in history when a minority wanted sovereignty it refuses to get the sovereignty. Now, the Palestinians are unique on this. When you see other minorities in the world that want to be independent, whenever they were offered the independency they said yes. The Palestinians are singling themselves out from this process – this historic process – because they said no to every international or Israeli offer, what [which] means that this is not what they really want. We see leadership that refuses to come and negotiate…”

Montague [interrupts]: “What…do you really believe…do you really believe that the Palestinians don’t want their own state?”

Hotovely: “Absolutely, because they said no to every Israeli offer and to every international offer. You can ask every American secretary of state that spend more time in the Middle East than in any other conflict and eventually, after so many years, so many offers, so many programmes…”

Montague [interrupts]: “What is it that you think…can I ask you, sorry…what is it you think they want if you don’t think they want their own state?”

Hotovely: “Well at the moment, unfortunately, they prefer Israel’s delegitimation [delegitimisation] than having a good life, than having sovereignty. They definitely don’t do any step in order to achieve any kind of agreement because when you want to reach an agreement you usually sit and negotiate. They refuse to negotiate for the last few years.”

Montague: “So settlements will continue and more settlements will be build [sic] on land that had… for decades has been considered to be the future Palestinian state?”

Hotovely: “Since 1967 this is a Jewish land as you know and of course when we build there…can you imagine that when….”

Montague [interrupts]: “Since Israel occupied it in 1967.”

Hotovely: “No. Israel was in a defend [defensive] war because after not accepting any kind of partition from the UN, from the beginning of the way the state [of Israel] has started, the Palestinians and other Arab states refused to accept the idea of a Jewish state in the Middle East and this is really the issue. I think that the international community…you know what? Let me quote Theresa May. Theresa May – your prime minister – said in a very clear voice that the settlements are not the main issue. And I think this should be the guiding line for the international community. Everyone has been dealing with the settlements even though everyone knows that the Palestinian…the PLO…was established in 1964 when there was not even one settlement…”

Montague [interrupts]: Tzipi…Miss Hotovely – the arrival of Donald Trump as American president; does it change the way that things operate in Israel between Israel and the Palestinians? Is this a game-changer?”

Hotovely: “First of all we think that we have a true friend in the White House. I think that all the declarations of the Trump administration were showing a deep friendship to Israel. They understand the complexity of the circumstances in the Middle East. The fact that in a world that everything is falling apart around us, when we see countries that are basically…are just not becoming countries anymore – we saw that in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen all these circumstances that are creating more and more radicalism. When Israel keeps on being the only democratic regime in the region, they want to keep Israel in its best shape and I think….”

Motague [interrupts]: Tzipi Hotovely; we must leave it there. Thank you very much.”

Hotovely: “…we are very happy about the new administration.”

So what did audiences hear in this interview? They heard an Israeli MK interrupted at least seven times in a six minute-long interview. They heard Hotovely’s statements and positions challenged on numerous occasions – including Montague’s inaccurate claim that “only” Israel has a different “interpretation” of international law than the one promoted by the BBC.

Listeners also heard Montague twice inaccurately state that the area of land designated to a Palestinian state according to the two-state solution principle has already been fixed – with the added implication that negotiations on topics such as Jerusalem and borders are in fact superfluous.

And of course listeners heard Montague’s inappropriate editorialising in the form of the statement “Israeli Jews in settlements; they are flourishing. Of course the Palestinians are not” which clearly breaches editorial guidelines on impartiality.

The following day another Israeli MK – Haneen Zoabi of Balad – was interviewed on the same programme. In part two of this post we will be comparing that interview with this one.

BBC responds to complaint about its description of Resolution 2334

As documented here at the time, the BBC’s coverage of UNSC Resolution 2334 included an item by Barbara Plett Usher broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on December 24th 2016.today-24-12

Listeners were told that:

“The resolution could become a reference point for further moves against Israeli policy in international forums but not for the next US administration. Mr Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, has sided with the Israeli government on this. And although the resolution is legally binding, it doesn’t spell out consequences for ignoring it – which is what the Israelis have said they’ll do.” [emphasis added]

BBC Watch submitted a complaint in which we noted that by describing the resolution as “legally binding”, Plett Usher inaccurately suggested to listeners that it was adopted under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter rather than Chapter 6. 

The response received from BBC Complaints includes the following:

“You were unhappy Barbara Plett Usher referred to UNSC resolution 2334 as “legally binding”.

We raised with the news editor, who in turn raised it with Barbara. Barbara responds:

“I was trying to make the broad point that the resolution binds together the UN legal arguments against settlements that could be used to take action in international courts. It seemed to me obvious that if no consequences are spelled out (as I noted) than it’s clearly not a Chapter 7 resolution.”

However, she acknowledges that she could have made things clearer and could have spoken with greater clarity.”

While a resolution passed under Chapter 6 of the UN Charter could be used in an evidentiary capacity in an international court, it can be challenged and is not “legally binding”.

Whether or not the average Radio 4 listener is aware of the difference between Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 resolutions and hence would not – as Plett Usher claims – have been misled by her description of Resolution 2334 as “legally binding” is of course debatable. 

Reviewing BBC coverage of UNSC resolution 2334 in R4 news bulletins – part two

In part one of this post we looked at the way in which the BBC presented UN Security Council resolution 2334 to listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Six O’clock News’ on December 23rd.

The following morning listeners to the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Today’ heard a report (from 00:00:58 here) on the same topic in the news bulletin which began the broadcast. News reader Corrie Corfield opened the item as follows: [all emphasis in bold added]today-24-12

“Israel has fiercely rejected a UN Security Council resolution which calls for an end to settlements on occupied Palestinian land. For forty years the US has vetoed such resolutions. This time President Obama took the view that building homes have been eroding the chances of negotiating an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Donald Trump has said things will be different when he takes over. From Washington, Barbara Plett Usher reports.”

Yet again (see related articles below) BBC audiences were told that the resolution relates to Israeli communities on “occupied” – rather than disputed – land and that the said territory is “Palestinian” despite the absence of any historic or legal basis to that claim and the fact that under the terms of the Oslo Accords, its final status (together with the issue of borders) is to be determined in negotiations. The same language – which exclusively endorses the narrative of one party to the dispute – was used by Plett Usher.

BPU: “For the first time in decades the UN Security Council united to pass judgement on Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land. The resolution demanded an immediate end to construction, saying that it had become a serious threat to a viable peace deal. It was that view which led the US to withhold its customary protection of Israel at the council; a sharp departure from standard practice.bowen-tweet-unsc

Some critics accuse President Obama of betraying an ally. Others said he’d waited too long; right to the final days of his administration. The White House defended the decision to abstain, saying he’d held out for a meaningful peace process but had felt compelled to act in the absence of one.

The resolution could become a reference point for further moves against Israeli policy in international forums but not for the next US administration. Mr Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, has sided with the Israeli government on this. And although the resolution is legally binding, it doesn’t spell out consequences for ignoring it – which is what the Israelis have said they’ll do.”

By describing the resolution as “legally binding”, Plett Usher is obviously inaccurately suggesting to listeners that it was adopted under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. As the JCPA clarifies, that is not the case.

“The resolution (as all previous resolutions regarding Israel) was adopted under the sixth chapter of the UN Charter (Pacific Settlement of Disputes) and as such is not mandatory. It contains a series of political determinations and recommendations to the international community. The resolution does not make law, and as such, the determinations as to the lack of legal validity of Israel’s settlements are no more than declaratory.”

The news bulletin then continued with Corrie Corfield telling listeners that:

“The Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said the resolution was a blow to Israeli policy but Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to do everything he could to negate the harmful effects of what he called an absurd resolution. From Bethlehem, our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell reports on the reaction in the region.”

Knell told listeners:

“Shameful and disgraceful is how Israeli officials described this resolution. In a statement the prime minister said Israel would not abide by its terms. He accused the Obama administration of colluding with what he called a gang-up at the UN and said Israel now looked forward to working with president-elect Trump. For the Palestinians who’ve long pressed for such a resolution, this was a victory. Some six hundred thousand Jewish settlers live in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, on land the Palestinians want for a promised independent state. An increase in settlement construction in recent months has led to international criticism of Israel and there’s concern over planned new legislation to legalise dozens of outpost settlements built without Israeli government permits on private Palestinian land.”

Knell’s reference to “an increase in settlement construction” is of course inaccurate and misleading, suggesting (once again) to BBC audiences that new communities have been built rather than housing in existing towns, neighbourhoods and villages. Moreover, Knell clearly confuses actual construction with building permits and tenders – as has often been the case in past BBC reporting. The Central Bureau of Statistics has yet to publish data on construction in the “recent months” of the second half of 2016 and so it is unclear on what basis Knell makes her claim.

Notably, Knell does not bother to inform listeners that the Israeli Attorney General long since expressed his opposition to the “planned new legislation” she cites and it is hence unlikely to become law.

Once again we see that the BBC’s reporting on this UNSC resolution fails to provide audiences with the full range of information needed for proper understanding of the issue while amplifying one side’s political narrative and promoting inaccurate information – most egregiously with regard to the status of the resolution itself.

Related Articles:

Reviewing BBC coverage of UNSC resolution 2334 in R4 news bulletins – part one

A review of BBC News website coverage of UNSC resolution 2334

BBC WS report on UNSC resolution endorses Palestinian narrative

BBC’s Bowen dismisses Aleppo fears

On December 13th the BBC News website reported several UN statements concerning the situation in Aleppo.

“Syrian pro-government forces in eastern Aleppo have been killing people, including women and children, on the spot in their homes and on the street, the United Nations says.

The UN’s human rights office said streets were full of bodies.

Meanwhile, the UN children’s agency cited a doctor as saying a building housing as many as 100 unaccompanied children was under heavy attack. […]

“We’re filled with the deepest foreboding for those who remain in this last hellish corner” of eastern Aleppo, UN human rights office spokesman Rupert Colville told a news conference.

He said that 82 civilians had reportedly been killed by pro-government forces, of whom 11 were women and 13 children, adding that the death toll could be much higher. […]

The UN’s humanitarian adviser on Syria, Jan Egeland, earlier spoke of “massacres of unarmed civilians, of young men, of women, children, health workers”.

He named a pro-government Iraqi Shia militia as being responsible for the killings, but placed overall blame for any atrocities in the hands of the Syrian and Russian governments.

“Those who let them loose in this area are also accountable,” he said.” [emphasis added]today-15-12

Two days later – on December 15th – Jeremy Bowen appeared on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme (available for a limited period of time from 02:13:35 here) to discuss the situation in Aleppo. The BBC’s Middle East editor is of course charged with providing “analysis that might make a complex story more comprehensive or comprehensible for the audience”.

Towards the end of the item (02:21:57) presenter Mishal Husain asked:

“Jeremy, finally, what we heard from that member of the White Helmets was this fear that after the regime takes full control of this area, everyone will be executed. What will happen? Will there be any sense of accountability? Any parameters?”

Bowen: “You know, let’s hope that doesn’t happen and it makes you…I mean I tend to wonder what they would get out of executing people. You know, I think that it’s not like there’s a crazed militia who are taking over there. They are, you know, I think relatively disciplined troops and you’d wonder why an order to execute everybody would be given. I think, particularly since the…we’re hearing from the ICRC in Geneva that the ICRC and SARC – the Syrian Arab Red Crescent – are gonna be there as well facilitating the evacuation of the wounded, so they’ve allowed in some witnesses potentially. If you’re going to do a massacre I doubt that would happen.” [emphasis added]

For the record.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bowen provides a stage for Syrian propaganda

BBC News’ migrant crisis coverage: Bowen embeds with Assad

More BBC Bowen beating of the Assad regime drum