BBC R4 ‘Today’ presenter startled by Gaza fact

The September 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Today’ included an interview (from 01:46:26 here) in which presenter Sarah Montague discussed the question ‘are more black people now being shot by police in the US?’ with the Guardian’s Gary Younge.today-24-9

At around 01:48:57 Younge made the following statement:

“…a black man’s life expectancy in DC is lower than a man’s life expectancy on the Gaza Strip…”

Montague interjected incredulously:

“Seriously? Sorry, but that is an…a startling statistic – if it’s true.”

Younge: “Absolutely. According to CIA figures about life expectancy in the Gaza Strip and the government figures on black life expectancy in DC, that was certainly true last time I looked.”

So was Montague’s scepticism justified?

According to a study published by Georgetown University in 2016:

“While life expectancy has improved for all populations in the city, Black residents do not fare as well as other racial groups. For example, White males in the District are expected to live almost 15 years longer than Black males (83.2, 68.8, respectively). White females in the District are expected to live approximately 9 years longer than Black females (85.2, 76.2, respectively).”

According to the CIA World Factbook, male life expectancy in the Gaza Strip is 72.3 years (est 2016) – i.e. 3.5 years higher than for Black males in DC – and the Gaza Strip is placed 110th out of 224 countries in terms of general life expectancy; above countries including Turkey, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Egypt. Moreover, according to the World Bank, male life expectancy in the PA controlled areas and the Gaza Strip rose by over four years in the period between 1990 and 2014.

Given the style and framing of BBC reporting from the Gaza Strip over the years, it is not overly surprising to see that Sarah Montague was ‘startled’ by what was obviously for her counter-intuitive information. Her reaction does however demonstrate the effect that narrative-driven reporting has on shaping audience ‘common knowledge’.  

BBC current affairs revisits antisemitism and anti-Zionism – part one

Readers may recall that earlier this year, as antisemitism scandals plagued the UK Labour Party, the BBC produced a distinctly unhelpful backgrounder titled “What’s the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism?“. At the time we noted that:antizionism art

“One might of course argue that the BBC’s public purpose remit – which includes “sustaining citizenship and civil society” and “promoting education and learning” – should have gone some way towards both preventing the appearance of antisemitic discourse in its own content and helping raise the British public’s awareness of antisemitism, thereby ensuring that ideologies such as those which have brought the Labour party into disrepute of late would be relegated to the status they deserve rather than becoming so commonplace within a mainstream British political party.”

With those scandals showing no sign of subsiding, earlier this month the BBC revisted the topic in two separate interviews. Given that discussion of antisemitism and anti-Zionism in Britain quite frequently boils down to non-Jews telling Jews what antisemitism is (or more often – what it is not), it was refreshing to see BBC audiences provided with a chance to hear Jewish Israeli voices.

The September 7th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included an interview (from 02:44:10 here) with Professor Yehuda Bauer which was introduced as follows by presenter – and former BBC political editor – Nick Robinson. [all emphasis in bold added]

NR: “When does criticism of Israel amount to antisemitism? – if it ever does. That’s the question that’s been asked ever since Ken Livingstone – a regular and robust critic of the State of Israel – was suspended from the party for claiming that Hitler had supported Zionism before he went mad. Zionism, of course: the movement which led to the creation of a national home for the Jewish people. This week Mr Livingstone quoted a pamphlet from the Holocaust Memorial in Israel – Yad Vashem – in his defence.”

The “question” of course precedes Livingstone’s original remarks but those unfamiliar with that latter story can find more details here. Robinson continued:

“Well Yehudi [sic] Bauer is in London at the moment. He’s chair of the Yad Vashem Institute and professor emeritus of history and Holocaust studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Good morning to you Professor. […] Let’s begin with Ken Livingstone’s words if we can and then we’ll widen our discussion. He says – Mr Livingstone – if you go to the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem in Israel, one of the pamphlets they sell to tourists there is one that talks about the deal done between Hitler and the Zionists in the 1930s, so it must be true, he says.

Yehuda Bauer replied:

“Well, I don’t want to relate to the person who said it but to the content of the things. You see what happened was that when the Nazis got to power the idea was to expel or deport or in some ways get rid of all the Jews in Germany – not only deny them citizenship but actually expel them. So they should go anywhere possible. And that was supported by the Nazi party. The Zionist movement at that time wanted to rescue the Jews of Germany and wanted to get as many out of there as possible. So a deal was struck in August 1933 – which lasted for about five and a half years – to export goods from Germany with the people who bought them in Germany, to Palestine. This is part of an effort of German Jews to leave Germany because of the policies of the Nazi government. “

Robinson: “But if Hitler, as it were, and other Nazis wanted Jews to move to what was going to become Israel, is it right to then say ‘ah well, he was supporting Zionism’?”

Bauer: “No he wasn’t. In fact the Nazi foreign office – as anyone who has studied the material knows – opposed Zionism radically. When the British government supported a partition of Palestine between Arab and Jewish states in 1937, 38, 39, all German diplomats in the world got instructions to oppose any kind of Jewish state in Palestine. There was a contradiction in the policies of the Nazis. On the one hand they wanted to get rid of all the Jews and on the other hand, to one of the major places where they could go at the time, they opposed the establishment of a Jewish state.”

Robinson: “OK.”

Bauer: “In other words, they were violently anti-Zionist but to get rid of the Jews was the priority…”

Robinson [interrupts] “OK but that…”

Bauer: “For Jews this was an essential way in order to rescue people from Germany.”

Listeners then heard the following post-factual framing of Bauer’s explanation:today-7-9-bauer

Robinson:  “That’s the history, as it were, and historians can debate it and discuss…”

Bauer: “No, no – that’s a fact.”

Robinson: “OK, understood. But why I was putting it that way is I wanted to take you one stage further and then say if people challenge those facts – as you call them – does that then make them antisemitic – or in effect racist – rather than people who just don’t understand the history properly?”

Bauer: “Well you see criticism of any Israeli government’s policies is certainly not antisemitism. If I criticise any kind of British government – for instance during the Thatcher period – that doesn’t make me an anti-British person.”

Robinson: “So when does it become antisemitism?”

Bauer: “It becomes antisemitism the moment people say ‘well 1948 – the establishment of a Jewish state – was a mistake’. Mistakes have to be corrected and the only way to correct that so-called mistake would be to annihilate Israel – which means actually that the people who advocate such views are on the verge of being genocidal – intentionally or unintentionally – genocidal propagandists.”

Robinson: “But isn’t it possible for me – or anybody else – to argue that I do think it was a mistake to create the State of Israel but I might have no intention at all of wiping it off the map or indeed persecuting the Jewish people?”

Bauer: “No; if you oppose the policies of the present or any past or future Israeli government – whether that’s towards the Palestinians or anything else – that’s certainly not antisemitism. Antisemitism begins the moment you say the Jews have no right to have a separate political existence as a people.”

Robinson: “Yehudi [sic] Bauer; your talk is tonight in London. Thank you very much indeed for joining us.”

It is of course impossible to determine whether or not that interview succeeded in fulfilling its apparent purpose of helping BBC Radio 4 audiences to understand the inaccuracy of Ken Livingstone’s claims but certainly that purpose was not helped by Nick Robinson’s introduction of post-factual framing.

Nevertheless, it is very rare for BBC audiences to hear a clear and concise explanation of why some forms of anti-Zionism are expressions of antisemitism and surprisingly – as we will see in part two of this post – they heard another such explanation just a week later.

Related articles:

BBC News tries – and fails – to explain antisemitism and anti-Zionism

 

In which BBC Radio 4 links Israel’s anti-terrorist fence to Donald Trump

h/t LO

BBC coverage of Israel’s anti-terrorist fence has never stood out as a shining example of journalistic impartiality but nevertheless, on August 2nd Mishal Husain – presenter of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme – managed to plumb new depths with the following introduction to an item which can be heard from 44:23 here.Today 2 8

“We hear a lot from Donald Trump about the wall he’d like to build along the US-Mexican border: an idea perhaps inspired by Israel’s security barrier.”

Does Donald Trump have anything to do with this story? Obviously not. Does Husain have any evidence-based information which would back up her speculation? Highly doubtful. That however did not prevent her from promoting tabloid-style false linkage between the two unrelated topics. Husain continued:

“Construction began in 2002 after a series of suicide bombings and it is now 60% complete. In the wake of recent attacks on Israelis, the government has promised to reinforce parts of it and make it harder for Palestinians to cross. Katy Watson reports now on what the strategy has achieved.”

The investigation into the terror attack at Sarona Market in June showed that the terrorists had infiltrated via a breach in the fence near Meitar and the government did indeed immediately allocate a budget for repair of the fence in that area.

While many would consider the human cost of a suicide bombing visually – and morally –more offensive than a structure erected to prevent such sights, Katy Watson’s opening to her report shows that her concept of aesthetics is clearly different. [All emphasis in bold added]

“Israel’s separation barrier is an eyesore that’s become part of the landscape. Mostly fence, it turns into a grey concrete wall around communities, cutting through them like a guillotine, separating Palestinians from their Jewish neighbours. Every so often there’s a checkpoint. It’s here that the thousands of Palestinians who have permits to work in Israel have to pass every day.”

Listeners then heard a male voice say:

“I need this wall to protect the Israeli houses here from sniper shooting from the other side.”

Watson continued:

“A colonel in the army, Danny Tirza was in charge of planning the separation barrier during a particularly violent time.”

Without providing listeners with any concrete information about what she euphemistically terms “a particularly violent time” – such as the fact that hundreds of Israelis were murdered and thousands more wounded and maimed in an unprecedented campaign of terrorism beginning in September 2000 – Watson’s report went on to present a selected quote from Col (Res.) Danny Tirza.

Tirza: “The people in Israel they ask the government ‘separate us from them. We don’t want to see them anymore. Don’t let them come to Israel for any reason.”

Watson continued, failing to inform listeners that the “West Bank territory” she is about to mention is in fact subject to final status negotiations or that the boundary she inaccurately allocates to that territory is in fact nothing more than a defunct ceasefire line:

“The route Danny mapped is hugely controversial. 85% of it is on West Bank territory.”

She went on:

 “The International Court of Justice says it’s illegal and should be pulled down.”

Watson refrained from informing listeners that the highly politicised ‘advisory opinion’ produced by the ICJ has no legal standing. Providing a very tepid description of the Sarona Market terror attack and failing to clarify that the terrorists passed through a breach in the fence, she went on to provide an inaccurate description of its physical characteristics:

“But in the wake of a shooting in Tel Aviv in early June, the government said it would step up efforts to finish the barrier. We’ve driven about an hour and a half south of Jerusalem…eh…along the West Bank. The fence goes for miles and miles. Most of it is metal barbed wire. There are sensors so if the fence is breached then alarms go off but you can also see areas with big holes that have been patched up and the community here says that this is an area which is breached quite a lot by Palestinians trying to get over the fence illegally.

But in the past few weeks they started putting up a wall. Concrete blocks 8 or 9 meters high are being positioned and razor wire placed on the top to stop the flow of people. Most of them are Palestinians who want to work in Israel but don’t have a permit. Authorities say this is also a common route used by attackers.”

Listeners then heard a woman say:

“I believe that if we want to be good neighbours, we need some fence between us.”

Watson next introduced the speaker, who is actually the head of Bnei Shimon regional council:

“Sigal Moran is the mayor of a nearby town. She’s been campaigning for a wall for years to make her community safer.”

Moran: “Israel and the Palestinians have a long history of conflict. In the base, this conflict is about trust and when you don’t have trust you can’t live together.”

Watson continued:

“On the other side of the razor wire is the Palestinian town of Al Burj. There they have a very different perspective. Sirhan al Amayra is a town councillor and says people’s lives are restricted.”

[voiceover]: “Israel’s practicing collective punishment. If somebody for example attacks in Tel Aviv, why should this little village be punished?”

Watson refrained from providing any information which would help her listeners understand the context of counter-terrorism operations to apprehend accomplices of terrorists. She then went on to make herself the focus of the story:

“A group of Israeli soldiers on the other side of the barrier watch us while we speak to Sirhan. We then try to drive to speak to a farmer whose land is near the new wall. The soldiers who were watching us do the other interview have been following us and they’ve just come up the bank from the other side; from Israel into the West Bank through the fence and they’ve stopped us going any further, told us to turn back. Frustrated 80 year-old farmer Yassir says this sort of thing happens often.”

[voiceover]: “When the wall was built things went from better to bad to worse. Now we’re so handcuffed it feels like we are living in a prison.”

Watson made no effort to inform listeners that the anti-terrorist fence neither ‘handcuffs’ nor ‘imprisons’ the residents of the Area B village of Al Burj.

Al Burj

Watson went on:

“I travel north to the Qalandiya checkpoint which connects the West Bank city of Ramallah to Jerusalem. It’s an area where tensions often run high. There I meet Xavier Abu Eid – an advisor to the Palestine Liberation Organisation.”

As is to be expected from that PLO official, listeners then got a dose of propaganda which went unchallenged by Watson.

XAE: “What this wall does is not to divide Palestinians from Israelis. It’s actually to divide Palestinians from Palestinians.”

Watson: “And of Israel’s claim that the barrier is about security, Xavier says it’s about protecting Israeli interests, taking land away from Palestinians and control.”

XAE: “Israel cannot ask to have peace at the same time that it occupies and denies the right of a people. There will be people that react. Of course we’re against attacking civilians and that’s a very clear position but you cannot just control a people, deny them rights and from the other side say we’ll continue dominating them, controlling them so we’re safe.”

Watson of course did not enlighten audiences with regard to the PLO’s record of terrorism and glorification of terrorism. She closed:

“Israelis call it a security fence, the Palestinians an apartheid wall. Its architects say it saves lives but there’s a huge amount of resentment among Palestinians that the barrier creates more problems than it solves.”

According to Mishal Husein’s introduction, the purpose of this report was to inform BBC audiences about “what the strategy has achieved”. Notably, the anti-terrorist fence’s prime achievement – the dramatic reduction of the number of Israelis murdered in terror attacks – did not even get a proper mention in this report. BBC audiences did however hear falsehoods such as “illegal”, “an apartheid wall”, “collective punishment” and “taking away land from Palestinians”.

Readers may recall that visiting BBC journalist Katy Watson previously produced some very reasonable reporting on the topic of the Second Lebanon War. Sadly, Watson’s trip to Israel appears to have included a process of journalistic socialisation because this item is nothing more than yet another politicised campaigning report on the topic of the anti-terrorist fence, the likes of which have been produced by many a BBC journalist in the past.

Related Articles:

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – part 3

The PA terror monument and the former BBC interviewee

Even as the BBC’s funding public sees its elected representatives debate issues relating to official Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism, the corporation continues to avoid providing them with the comprehensive picture of those issues which would not only enhance their understanding of news coming from the Middle East, but also of events in their own parliament.

Last week the Palestinian Authority and the PLO erected a monument to a terrorist who murdered fifteen people and wounded scores of others in 1975.Zion Square attack

“The Palestinian Authority went through with its plans yesterday to establish a monument honoring the terrorist Ahmad Jabarah Abu Sukkar, who planned the detonation of a bomb-laden refrigerator in the center of Jerusalem…. […]

Palestinian officials participating in this event […] include, among others:

 – Director of the PLO Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs Issa Karake

– Governor of Ramallah and El-Bireh, Laila Ghannam

– PA Parliament Member Qais Abd Al-Karim.”

Although there is nothing novel about the fact that the BBC elected to ignore this example of glorification of terrorism just as it has countless others, in this particular case we know that the corporation is well aware of Ahmad Jabarah’s resume of terrorism because it not only covered his release from prison (as a ‘goodwill gesture’ to the PA) in 2003 but even saw fit to broadcast what one BBC journalist termed “a really remarkable interview” with him on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme.

But while the PA keeps up its practice of making national heroes of dead terrorists with monuments, street namings and sports tournament dedications, the BBC continues to indoctrinate its audiences with the notion that the prime ‘obstacle to peace’ is Israeli building. 

BBC’s ME Editor gives unchallenged amplification to Palestinian defamation

In late April BBC television audiences saw a report by Yolande Knell which gave entirely unchallenged amplification to defamatory falsehoods concerning Israel and Israelis from the families of Palestinian terrorists. An audio report by the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on May 4th (from 02:39:47 here) indicates that Knell’s report was not an isolated case of lapsed editorial judgement.Today 4 5

Presenter Sarah Montague introduces the report as follows:

“Tension is rising once again between Israelis and Palestinians. Seemingly random attacks by Palestinians on Israelis continue. Israel continues to expand settlements for Jews in the occupied territories that contravene international law. There are no peace talks and no attempt is being made to revive them. Our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen reports from Jerusalem and the West Bank.”

In addition to making no effort to meet BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality by informing audiences of the existence of legal opinions which contradict the view that settlements “contravene international law”, Montague fails to tell them that just last month the Israeli prime minister attempted to “revive” talks by inviting the PA president to Jerusalem.

Bowen’s report opens with a recording of the voice of a girl who was prevented from carrying out a stabbing attack in Karmei Tzur on February 9th – a story not covered by the BBC at the time.

“You can hear how young Dima al Wawi is in her voice. She’s a 12 year-old Palestinian schoolgirl sitting with her parents in the kitchen, engrossed in Facebook. But instead of checking out her friends, she’s looking at video of her arrest. Dima has only recently been released from an Israeli jail. She served 75 days of a four-month sentence for planning to stab an Israeli at a Jewish settlement. She was arrested near her home in Halhoul on the west Bank. Dima didn’t get close to any Israelis as security guards stopped her.”

Apparently Bowen does not count the security guard himself as Israeli. Listeners then hear a voice-over of al Wawi speaking:

“The settlers saw me and stopped me. They made me lie on the ground, tied my wrists with plastic handcuffs and they stepped on my back.”

Bowen goes on:

“She pleaded guilty but now she says she was innocent and bullied into confessing. Twice her parents said she was questioned without a lawyer present.”

Voice-over: “I [unintelligible] we’re young kids. It’s sad that they do this to us. We’re oppressed. What I know is that I’m from Palestine. I don’t know about politics.”Knife al Wawi

Had the BBC covered the story at the time, Bowen would perhaps know about the knife found in al Wawi’s possession. After listeners hear the sound of a siren, Bowen continues – severely downplaying the number of terror attacks which have taken place during the last seven months. [emphasis added]

“Israelis are nervous. Since October last year Palestinians – mostly armed with knives – have launched dozens of attacks.  A Palestinian exploded a bomb on a bus in Jerusalem last month. For Israelis that revived horrific memories of bus attacks that killed hundreds in the last Palestinian uprising. I’ve come to Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital which is the main hospital in Jerusalem and here one of the victims is still being treated. She’s a girl called Eden Dadon…eh…15 years old, very badly burned in the bus attack and I’m here with Eden’s older sister Shiran. When you’re walking down the street or if you go somewhere and you see a Palestinian person – I mean, what do you think?”

Listeners are not informed that Eden and Shiran Dadon’s mother was also injured in the same attack either before or after they hear the following voice-over.

“I think why are they so evil? Why are they so bad? Why can’t we live in peace? These are wars that we’ve been living with for years and we’ll never find a resolution to them because they hate us. We hate them – it’s mutual. But the difference between us is they’re the ones who come to attack.”

Bowen then goes to meet the family of the perpetrators of another attack which was not reported by the BBC when it took place at Qalandiya checkpoint on April 27th.Knives Qalandiya attack 27 4

“Back in the ’90s when the peace process started there was a sense of hope that things might get better but now there is nothing like that. In fact here on the West Bank there’s a lot of anger. I’m in Bidu – a Palestinian village – and the village is close to Jerusalem as the crow flies but actually it’s a world away. Most of the Palestinians who live here can’t travel to Jerusalem – to the holy city – because of Israel’s security regulations.”

Bowen of course neglects to remind listeners that those “security regulations” came into being because of Palestinian terrorism. Like Yolande Knell before him, he then goes on to amplify unsupported claims and blatant falsehoods from family members of attackers. [all emphasis added]

“Mourners gathered at the house of the Taha family. They were angry because Israeli private security guards had shot dead Ibrahim Taha aged 16 and his sister Maram who was 23 at a checkpoint into north Jerusalem. Maram allegedly threw a knife at the police. The family say they were both innocent – shot in cold blood by trigger-happy guards. Tahri [phonetic] Taha said her brother and sister didn’t have a chance.”

Voice-over: “They’re used to this. It’s normal for them. They kill us. They kill innocent children in cold blood. Our martyrs are in heaven – that’s enough for us. They’re used to this. It’s in their blood. They want to get rid of us in any way. They have a law: whenever they see an Arab their policy is to kill them. Killing is their policy – even old people and kids.”

Bowen: “Her uncle Abdallah joined in.”

Listeners then hear a man speaking in Arabic – including the words ‘al Yahud’ – the Jews. Bowen paraphrases his words as follows:

“He’s gesturing at the moment, saying if you scratch your head, they’ll kill you. If you just pick something off the ground, they’ll kill you. If you pick the phone out of your pocket, they’ll kill you.”

Jeremy Bowen of course knows full well that the claims made by both those interviewees are gross falsehoods. He does not however tell his listeners that but instead confines himself to saying:

“The Israeli government says that’s untrue. That Palestinians attack Israelis because they’ve been taught to hate them from childhood.”

Making no attempt whatsoever to inform BBC audiences on the very relevant issue of incitement, Bowen moves seamlessly on to showcase his next interviewee.

“Some Israelis disagree. One of them is Yehuda Shaul. He leads a group of former soldiers from the Israeli Defense Forces – the IDF. They campaign against the occupation in a group called ‘Breaking the Silence’.”

Shaul: “We believe the occupation is morally indefensible. We believe the occupation is morally unacceptable. We believe that it’s destroying the morality of the IDF. It’s destroying the morality of Israeli society. It’s destroying the professionalism of the IDF. Armies are not designed to rule an occupation for 50 years over millions of people. And we believe that ultimately in the long term, it destroys the strategic and security standing of Israel in the region. That’s why we’re against the occupation.”

Bowen does not bother to remind Radio 4 listeners of the fact that the ‘occupation’ came about because Jordan – itself the occupier of Judea & Samaria and sections of Jerusalem at the time – chose to join Egypt, Syria and various other forces in what was intended to be a war of annihilation against Israel.

Bowen: “We were in Hebron; a major flash point. When Jewish settlers spotted Yehuda Shaul they swore at him and called him a traitor.”

No context concerning the record, methodology – and foreign funding – of ‘Breaking the Silence’ is provided to audiences. Bowen then closes his report:

“The atmosphere between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank – including East Jerusalem – is more combustible than it’s been since the end of the second Palestinian uprising over a decade ago. History has shown that neither side can decisively beat the other. One day they might be able to make a peace deal. If not they face the slow drip of hate and the certainty of more killing.”

So what did licence fee payers get from this report? In addition to the one-sided promotion of a political NGO and trite slogans such as ‘occupation’ and ‘international law’ without any context or balance, they heard the generous amplification of blatantly false and defamatory claims bordering on the blood libel from Palestinians which went unchallenged in any serious fashion by Jeremy Bowen.

That genre of material is of course amply available to anyone with access to the internet and – rather than jumping on that already overcrowded bandwagon – the BBC with its remit of enhancing “UK audiences’ awareness and understanding of international issues” should obviously be helping audiences to look beyond such flagrant propaganda.

Given the proliferation of uninformed commentary from UK politicians and public officials of late, that remit carries particular importance and the fact that even the man in charge of the BBC’s Middle East related content fails to meet it clearly indicates a serious problem. 

BBC’s Jeremy Bowen misrepresents a CST statement

The eruption of further scandals concerning members of the UK Labour party last week prompted extensive coverage of the story on all the BBC’s various platforms, with some items purporting to explain to the corporation’s audiences the difference between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. One such written backgrounder was previously discussed here and another item with the same theme appeared (from 01:48:00 here) in the April 30th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme.Today 30 4

Inadvertently demonstrating once again why the fact that the BBC does not work according to an accepted definition of antisemitism is problematic, presenter Justin Webb introduced the item as follows:

“Now, can you be anti-Israeli without being antisemitic? The question swirls around the debate about Labour’s current difficulties. What does the dividing line actually look like? Well we heard on this programme during the week an open disagreement between two Jewish commentators about whether disputing Israel’s right to exist did or did not itself constitute antisemitsm.”

The programme Webb appears to be referring to can be found here at 01:36:05. He of course refrains from informing listeners that according to the definition of antisemitism used by the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism and the College of Policing, “[d]enying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” is indeed considered antisemitism.

With no attempt to conform to standards of impartiality, Webb then appears to imply that Israelis are responsible for contemporary European antisemitism:

“Others suggest that the illegal settlement building on Palestinian land is the root cause of the modern problem. So how does it all look from the perspective of Israel – and the Palestinians? Our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen is in Jerusalem and I asked him first what the generally accepted difference was between antisemitism and anti-Zionism.”

Listeners are not informed of the source of that “generally accepted difference” but Bowen’s explanation is as follows: [emphasis added]

“Anti-Zionism is the opposition to the idea of Zionism which emerged as an idea in the late 19th century and that was a time when nationalism and self-determination were very big ideas in Europe where large empires ruled many different races. And, if you like, Zionism in the 19th century was the Jewish equivalent of that nationalism with the idea that Jews could go back to what they regarded as their ancestral homeland which – depending on definition – means various amounts of the land between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea.”

No effort is made to clarify the legal side of the story in the form of the Mandate for Palestine which clearly defined what Bowen misleadingly terms “various amounts of land”. He continues:

“Now antisemitism is the hatred of Jews because they’re Jews. It includes the blood libel – that Jews murder Christians to use their blood in Jewish rituals. And it also classically includes the promotion of stereotypes – the evil, grasping Jew like Shylock in Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant of Venice’.”

Webb then once again floats the notion that Israel is to blame for antisemitism.

“So when you come to modern times and to the existence of the State of Israel and the way that Israel is…set up, is it fair to say that there are things about Israel that fuel…err…well all of those things – both anti-Zionism and antisemitism?”

Bowen wisely refrains from following Webb’s lead and replies:

“Well really the big issue is where is the dividing line between what people might regard as legitimate criticism of the actions of the government of Israel as a government and antisemitism which is simply criticizing them because they’re Jews. There’s something called the BDS campaign which is about boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel because of its occupation of Palestinian territories and actions it’s taken. Now…eh…that’s been described as an antisemitic campaign because among other things it denies the right of Jews to self-determination, they’d say, it uses classic antisemitic symbols…ehm…and even at times – according to ngomonitor.org which looks at these things from a pro-Israeli point of view – compares contemporary Israeli policy with the Nazis. Now supporters of this campaign called BDS say it’s a legitimate tactic of non-violent resistance and the Israeli government only complains about it because it works as a…it works as far as they’re concerned as a form of pressure.”

That portrayal of the BDS campaign is of course particularly remarkable in light of the fact that whilst Bowen and his colleagues have frequently promoted, amplified and mainstreamed it, to date BBC audiences have never been told that the campaign aims to deny Jews the right to self-determination – despite the Middle East editor obviously being aware of that agenda. Bowen then continues:

“So I mean that is one of the issues on the dividing line. There are others as well. Err…you may remember a couple of years ago the British House of Commons in…in a vote that was non-binding expressed support for the idea of recognition of a Palestinian state. About three-quarters of UN members have recognized a Palestinian state. But the Community Security Trust – which is a British Jewish organization that monitors antisemitism – it said that that vote stoked antisemitism in Britain. So where you put that dividing line is quite a matter of debate once you get away from the clear extremes.”

However, Bowen’s portrayal of the CST’s statement is not accurate and it materially misleads listeners. The CST did not say – as Bowen claims – that the vote in the House of Commons “stoked antisemitism in Britain”. What it did say in its report on Antisemitic Discourse in Britain in 2014 (see page 33 onwards) was that some of the language used in the debate surrounding that vote employed antisemitic themes.

“The vote on 13 October 2014 by MPs to recognise Palestinian statehood caused a number of reactions, explicitly or implicitly echoing the staple antisemitic conspiracy charge that Jews control politicians: expressed either as “Jewish” or “pro-Israel” lobbies. The control charge was variously made against both British and American lobbies.”

Seeing as some of that antisemitic discourse took place on the very same BBC radio station to which Bowen is speaking in this item, one might have expected him to be more au fait with the story – and to be able to portray it accurately.

The item closes with Bowen’s appraisal of the Palestinian view of the story – although listeners are not told why the BBC considers that view to be relevant. We do however learn that the BBC does in fact know that the Arabic word ‘Yahud’ does not mean ‘Israeli’ and – despite the fact that the issue is never raised in BBC content – that the corporation is aware of the existence of antisemitism in Palestinian society.

Webb: “And what do all these arguments look like to Palestinians?”

Bowen: “Well, you know, I think for a lot of Palestinians…ahm…you know Palestinians often routinely refer to Israelis when they’re speaking Arabic – they don’t call them the Israelis; they call them the Jews. Ah…and you do hear quite antisemitic remarks from…ah…Palestinians and sometimes if you challenge them on that they say things like – and you don’t always hear those by the way, I have to say that – but sometimes if you challenge them they say look, it’s about the occupation. They’ve taken our land, they’ve taken what we believe is ours so we don’t like them for that reason. And that – I was talking to someone about it yesterday and he said…ah…for centuries Jews lived next to Arabs and there weren’t problems until the State of Israel started. So, you know, again on the Palestinian point of view though, I think they’re more concerned with their own particular issues than whether or not things are antisemitic.”

The item closes there with Bowen making no effort to inform listeners that antisemitism and persecution of Jewish communities in the Arab world existed long before Israel – and political Zionism – came on the scene.

Did listeners go away with a better understanding of antisemitism and anti-Zionism? That is extremely doubtful but what is obvious yet again is that the BBC will remain incapable of adequately explaining this subject to its audiences so long as it fails to work according to accepted definitions of antisemitism.

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BBC promotes the Livingstone formulation – again

April 13th saw the subject of an initiative designed to tackle the issue of antisemitism in the British Labour party feature quite prominently on BBC platforms. The BBC’s political correspondent Ross Hawkins reported the story on that day’s edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme (from 01:13:16 here) and the ‘UK politics’ section of the BBC News website’s UK page included an article by Hawkins titled “Labour activists seek rule change to ban anti-Semitic members“.

Ross Hawkins also produced a second article that day which appeared in the same ‘UK politics’ section under the headline “Labour’s problem with anti-Semitism” and portrayed the issue as being in essence a conflict between those who support the party leader Jeremy Corbyn and those who do not.Hawkins art Labour

“That is highly unlikely to be the end of this story, though, because it goes to the heart of a poisonous atmosphere in parts of the Labour movement.

Jeremy Corbyn’s critics – who are many and vociferous – put the blame at his door. […]

On the other side, his supporters remind us of those condemnations of anti-Semitism and the decision to launch an inquiry, and point out this is not a new problem.”

Readers are then told:

“Lost in the fury about a member suspended then readmitted after anti-Semitic comments only to become vice-chair of her local party, was the fact those decisions were made not under Mr Corbyn, but his predecessor Ed Miliband.”

BBC audiences have heard that claim made before but while Vicki Kirby may indeed have been brought back into the fold before Corbyn was elected leader, her elevation to the post of branch vice-chair does appear to have taken place on his watch.

Towards the end of his article, Hawkins tells readers that:

“For some fighting Mr Corbyn’s corner, this issue is serious and real, but is also being used as a stick to beat him by his internal political enemies.

There are those who have long seen allegations of anti-Semitism as attempts to silence legitimate criticism of Israel – on which different wings of the Labour movement take passionately opposing views.” [emphasis added]

Only a few weeks earlier the BBC’s Radio 4 audiences had heard a similar – unchallenged – promotion of the Livingstone Formulation from an interviewee on one of its programmes. The fact that we now we find none other than the BBC’s politics correspondent unquestioningly amplifying a device used by anti-Israel activists obviously raises concerns regarding the BBC’s ability to report this story accurately and impartially.

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BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ and ‘alleged’ antisemitic Tweets

Back in September 2014 when a prospective Parliamentary candidate for the British Labour Party was suspended after posting a series of offensive anti-Israel and antisemitic Tweets, the BBC ignored the story.

When the same person – Vicki Kirby – became the focus of further controversy earlier this month after the Guido Fawkes website revealed that she had been elected to the position of vice-chair of the Woking branch of the Labour party, the BBC did cover that story and her subsequent second suspension from the party.

Coming hot on the heels of the Oxford University Labour Club row and the expulsion of another Labour party member, much of the BBC’s coverage of the Vicki Kirby story focused on the reactions of other members of the party to the latest controversy and the issue of antisemitism within the Labour party. It was therefore not surprising that the topic arose during an interview (from 2:39:42 here) with the Shadow Secretary for Education, Lucy Powell, on the March 16th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme.Today 16 3

What was remarkable, however, was presenter Sarah Montague’s introduction to that topic.

“On another matter we are learning over the last 24 hours that a Labour Party member has been suspended for the second time because of complaints made about antisemitic comments that she allegedly posted online. Now, she was suspended for the first time and reappointed…eh…before Jeremy Corbyn became leader but we have heard increasingly as a result of comments made in recent weeks that there is a problem in the Labour party that is not being dealt with sufficiently by the leadership.” [emphasis in bold added]

The fact that Montague found it necessary to place arguably superfluous emphasis on Kirby’s reappointment “before Jeremy Corbyn became leader” in September 2015 is interesting. Whilst that may well be the case, in February 2016 she was described on the Woking Labour party’s website as “newly elected vice chair Vicki Kirby” so that appointment presumably took place after the Labour leader assumed his position.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ‘allegedly’ as being “[u]sed to convey that something is claimed to be the case or have taken place, although there is no proof”. Did Sarah Montague really intend Radio 4 listeners to go away with the impression that there is no proof that Kirby posted antisemitic Tweets – despite the fact that her own organisation (as well as others) had already published screenshots of them two days beforehand? 

BBC interviewee selected to comment on antisemitism story convicted of antisemitism

In early January 2014 both BBC Two’s ‘Newsnight’ and BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ covered a story portrayed as follows by ‘Newsnight’ presenter Jeremy Paxman:

“Now a French comedian has managed to short-circuit his country’s professed commitment to free speech. President Francois Holland, with support from both Right and Left, today encouraged local authorities to ban performances by Dieudonné M’bala-M’bala – usually known just as “Dieudonné”. It’s being done on grounds of public order because his alleged antisemitism has tested to destruction Voltaire’s supposed belief that ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ “

The ‘Newsnight’ item included an interview with a man introduced by Paxman as “the French writer and film-maker Alain Soral” and “a close friend of Monsieur Dieudonne” who “helped him popularise the infamous quenelle gesture”.Newsnight Soral

On Radio 4 Sarah Montague introduced recycled sections of that interview thus:

“Well a number of French cities have now banned the comedian and although Dieudonne has vowed to appeal against those bans. His close friend Alain Soral told ‘Newsnight’ last night that Dieudonne’s words had been taken out of context; that he’s anti-establishment, not antisemitic.”

As was noted here at the time, in spite of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality no effort was made to inform audiences of the far-right background and political agenda of the interviewee selected to supposedly enhance their understanding of the story.

Paxman: “I began by asking him what on earth it [the quenelle gesture] meant.”

Alain Soral: “It’s a gesture against the system, against the powers that be in France. It has only recently become – since it’s a gesture that’s been around for almost ten years – only recently the most powerful Jewish organization in France, the CRIF, decreed that it was an anti-Semitic gesture. So basically, their idea is that an anti-system gesture is an anti-Semitic one. So at the end of the day, is that simply an improper accusation? Or is there a deep link between the system of domination that Mr Dieudonne is fighting against and the organized Jewish community? Well that’s the question.”

Paxman: “But you don’t deny that Mr Dieudonne is an anti-Semite, do you?”

AS: “The problem is that this word has become a word used to scare people. A long time ago Dieudonne had a partner – a young Jew called Eli Simoun – but all of these accusations started arriving the day he did a sketch on Israeli settlers. So today we have a very powerful Zionist lobby in France which treats anyone who doesn’t subscribe to its vision of the world and to its politics as antisemitic.”

Although the BBC’s funding public never did find out why in the first place ‘Newsnight’ editors considered the airing of Soral’s antisemitic conspiracy theories and whitewashing of the racism of his ‘close friend’ to be of any contribution to the public’s understanding of the issue under discussion, the news that Soral has now been convicted by a French criminal court in a case relating to antisemitism should surely prompt some belated self-examination of the editorial decisions made in the run-up to the airing of that interview.

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BBC’s Connolly turns R4 report on Duma case into racism smear

The February 13th edition of the BBC Radio 4 news and current affairs programme ‘Today’ included an item (from 18:41 here) which was introduced by presenter Nick Robinson as follows:Today 13 2

“When three members of a Palestinian family were killed in an arson attack last summer, their deaths made headlines around the world. Now two Israelis have been charged with the killing of an eighteen month-old and his parents. It’s triggered angry protests because interrogation techniques normally used only against Palestinian security prisoners were employed against the Jewish Israeli suspects. These techniques include amongst others sleep deprivation, use of stress positions and the denial of the right to see a lawyer. Our Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly has been examining the case.”

In fact the suspects were indicted six weeks prior to the appearance of this report rather than “now” as Robinson claimed.

Connolly’s report opened with sounds from a demonstration held in Tel Aviv in late December 2015.

KC: “In Tel Aviv a little play-acting with a purpose. A group of far-Right Jewish political activists are re-enacting the interrogation of a suspect at the hands of the Shabak – Israel’s internal security agency. The blindfolded suspect is tied to a bed frame and beaten while the interrogators shout questions. It’s shocking stuff and a banner held by a protester in the background gives a clue as to why some Israelis are shocked. A Jew, it says, doesn’t torture a Jew.”

Listeners then heard an unidentified voice say:

“They tried to force him to admit in this crime that he was not…eh…involved in by torturing him, literally.”

KC: “This is the voice of the father of a teenager who is one of two young settlers charged in connection with an arson attack in the Palestinian village of Duma which killed three members of the Dawabshe family. The case is thought to be the first in which enhanced interrogation techniques have been used against Israeli suspects and the teenager’s father is angry at their use against his son and sceptical about their effectiveness.”

Father: “He was beaten up. He was…ah… sitting on a special chair that’s called a torturing chair. While he was screaming with pain and begging for…from his investigators to let him go they said fine – if you admit in this murder in Duma we’ll let you go.”

Connolly continued with a stereotypical portrayal of the supposed views of the hundreds of thousands of people the BBC labels “settlers” – for which he did not produce a source.

“For settlers and for their supporters the decision of the Israeli state to use the weapon of enhanced interrogation is a shock and they’ve responded with shock tactics of their own – like this demonstration outside the house in Jerusalem of Yoram Cohen, the head of Shabak.”

That demonstration actually took place in December 2015 too. Connolly’s report then took a bizarre turn with the amplification of unfounded opportunistic allegations of Israeli racism from an official at the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department.

KC: “Elsewhere though the issue is viewed through different lenses. Palestinians say the same techniques have been used against them for decades. A clear double standard says Xavier Abu Eid of the PLO.”

XAE: “It’s basically that we’re not seen as equals; that’s a main point. We’re not equals of the [unintelligible] state. We’re not equals of the [unintelligible] equal rights. We’ve seen a transformation in Israeli society that it’s way more Right-wing and closer to religion. Many Israelis would justify what’s going on just by saying that we’re gentiles or non-Jews living here: that we don’t have the right to be treated under the same laws. Others would say no: you have the right to be treated under the same laws, however we have a special conditions that make us do this or that.” [emphasis added]

At no point in this report were listeners told that the Israeli High Court of Justice outlawed the use of ‘moderate physical pressure’ during interrogations in 1999. At no point were they informed that the provisions for exceptions to that ruling in the case of an impending threat to civilian lives depend not on the suspect’s nationality or ethnic identity but to the practical issue of the threat he poses to others. Abu Eid’s baseless claims of racist discrimination and “double standard” are therefore an impediment to audience understanding of this story which – for reasons best known to themselves – the producers of this item nevertheless chose to amplify.

Connolly’s item continued with promotion of the view of a political NGO.

KC: “The arson attack on the Palestinian village of Duma was a shocking crime and there was huge pressure on the authorities to identify suspects and to bring charges. But there are voices raised inside Israel against the use of anything that approximates to torture – whatever the euphemism used to describe it. The voice of Yael Stein from the human rights group B’tselem is among them.

YS: “It doesn’t matter if it works. It can be the most effective way to know what happened. It may be the most effective way to prevent future attacks. It doesn’t matter. I mean there are things that a society must say – I mean there are things that are not done. Beating people or torturing people or ill-treating people during interrogation is something that society that we live in should not accept.”

Listeners were not informed that in this specific case the authorisation of the use of special interrogation methods was given by the Attorney General after seventeen days of questioning during which the main suspect refused to talk to investigators. One can of course well imagine the tone the reports from Kevin Connolly and his colleagues would have taken had the investigation into the terror attack in Duma not resulted in the indictment of suspects.

Connolly closed his report as follows:

“The purpose of all the protests of course is to make the treatment of the Israeli suspects in the Duma arson attack a central issue in the case. And you can expect the arguments that have been rehearsed on the street to be played out again in court when it comes to trial.”

Significantly, Connolly failed to include in his report any official responses to the allegations made or any alternative views of the story. After Connolly’s report ended, Nick Robinson told listeners that:

“Israel has said that the questioning of the suspects in that Duma arson case was carried out under full judicial supervision and it also says it doesn’t draw any distinction between Jewish and Arab suspects in the investigation of terror offences.”

That short statement however obviously did little to balance the messaging and lack of relevant information in Connolly’s report and it certainly did nothing to relieve audiences of the inaccurate impressions received as a result of the inclusion in this report of Xavier Abu Eid’s baseless and immaterial smears.