Trump visit coverage on BBC Radio 4 promotes unchallenged inaccuracies

The BBC’s coverage of the US president’s visit to Israel included two items broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Today’ on the morning of May 22nd.

The first item (from 2:05:36 here) was part of the 8 a.m. news bulletin and listeners were told that the proposal to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem is a “break with decades of US policy” while the existence of the 1995 US Embassy Relocation Act was not mentioned.

Newsreader: “President Trump will arrive in Israel this morning on the second leg of his first overseas tour. He’s due to meet both Israeli and Palestinian leaders and visit a number of holy sites. It’s unclear if Mr Trump will repeat a previous aim to break with decades of US policy and move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Here’s our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen.”

Amplifying the Palestinian narrative by referring simplistically to “occupied territory” rather than informing listeners that Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria are all located in Area C and that the final status of that area is – according to agreements already signed between Israel and the Palestinians – to be determined in negotiations, Bowen told listeners:

Bowen: “During the US election candidate Trump expressed views that seemed to fit neatly with those of the right-wing Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, favouring expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied territory and a tough line towards Palestinian aspirations for independence. But in office, President Trump has been more nuanced so there’s been some nervous speculation on the Israeli right that he might demand concessions from their side. During the visit he’ll meet both Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Reports in the Israeli press quoting White House sources say that President Trump will ask them to undertake confidence building measures to try to improve the climate enough eventually to resume direct talks.”

The second item in the same programme (from 2:50:24 here) was introduced by presenter John Humphrys – using a highly questionable claim:

Humphrys: “Donald Trump says he can bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It’s the ultimate deal, he says, and today he goes to Israel to prove it – or not. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman reports.”

Tom Bateman’s report commences in Eilat with the space-filling and rather pointless story of a proposed visit by Trump to that town in 1989 which did not materialise. Echoing his ME editor’s previous statements, Bateman went on to tell listeners that:

“Trump’s campaign energised many on the right of Israeli politics who felt shunned – betrayed even – by President Obama. Candidate Trump could close the gap, they felt, by moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, by giving a green light to settlement building in the West Bank.”

Having interviewed an Israeli who ran the Trump election campaign aimed at Israeli-American voters and after visiting a church in Bethlehem and speaking with two ‘man on the street’ Palestinian interviewees, Bateman went on introduce his final contributor.

Bateman: “Majed Bamya is a Palestinian diplomat acquainted with the view from Washington. It was noticeable of course at President Trump’s press conference with President Abbas that Mr Trump never used the expression ‘two-state solution’; it was notably absent. Does that concern you?”

Majed Bamya (who, despite the claim in his Twitter handle to be ‘from Yaffa’ was actually born in the UAE) was then given an unhindered platform from which to mislead BBC Radio 4 listeners.

Bamya: “We are hoping that President Trump will be able to shape his message and his positions – including during his upcoming visit – on things as important as the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, which is enshrined in international law, on the two-state solution – and the two-state solution means ’67 borders – on settlements. We believe that’s an important issue as well and we hope that his feeling of the ground will reveal to him that we are facing an occupation that is annexing land instead of withdrawing from it, which is the basis of peace.” [emphasis in bold added]

Rather than explaining to listeners that (as the BBC well knows) there is no such thing as “’67 borders”, that the two-state solution does not necessarily mean the establishment of a Palestinian state according to 1949 Armistice lines and that land is not being ‘annexed’, Bateman instead encouraged listeners to believe that it is all about “narrative”:

“Donald Trump will not only have to deal with the competing narratives in this conflict but attempt to restart talks with the two sides deeply polarised”

While narratives undoubtedly exist, so do facts. It is the BBC’s job to help it audiences distinguish between narratives and facts –as defined in its public purposes.

“The BBC will provide accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world.”

The failure to challenge inaccurate claims promoted as part of politically motivated messaging actively hinders that public purpose.

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BBC News website plays along with the ‘softer’ Hamas spin

On May 6th the BBC News website published an article titled “Hamas chooses Ismail Haniya as new leader” on its Middle East page.

Readers are told that:

“Mr Haniya is seen as a pragmatist who will try to ease Hamas’s international isolation.” 

However, audiences are not informed by whom exactly the new Hamas political bureau leader is regarded as “a pragmatist” and neither are they given any insight into Haniyeh’s record of decidedly unrealistic statements that the people who have suffered under his rule for the past decade might well find less than practical and sensible.

“The armed resistance and the armed struggle are the path and the strategic choice for liberating the Palestinian land, from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river, and for the expulsion of the invaders and usurpers [Israel]… We won’t relinquish one inch of the land of Palestine.” (Haniyeh, December 2011)

“Brothers and sisters, we were told [during the Gaza War] that if we wanted the war to stop and the siege to be lifted, and if we wanted the red carpet to be rolled out, so that we could reach the White House and other places, we would have to recognize Israel, to curse the resistance, and to release [Gilad] Shalit. We said, from the very heart of the siege, from under the ruins, from the places being bombarded by the F-16 planes… We said then, and I say to you now, in the capital of south Tunisia: We will never ever recognize Israel.” (Haniyeh, January 2012)

“…the resistance will continue until all Palestinian land, including al-Quds (Jerusalem), has been liberated and all the refugees have returned.”

“[The] gun is our only response to [the] Zionist regime. In time we have come to understand that we can obtain our goals only through fighting and armed resistance and no compromise should be made with the enemy.” (Haniyeh, February 2012)

“We think that the path of negotiations and peace talks has reached a dead end. The resistance (i.e., terror campaign, 2000-2005), which liberated Gaza [in 2005] and protected Gaza, can liberate the West Bank and the rest of the Palestinian lands, Allah willing. The liberator of Gaza, with the help of Allah, can liberate Jerusalem, the West Bank and the rest of Palestine (i.e., Israel).” (Haniyeh, May 2014)

“Gaza is part of Palestine and there will be no Palestinian state without Gaza and there will be no state without whole Palestine.” (Haniyeh, March 2017

The BBC’s article links Haniyeh’s unsurprising nomination to the document released by Hamas several days earlier, portraying both events as an attempt to “soften its image” but failing to adequately clarify to readers why neither does any such thing.

“The group published a new policy document this week regarded as an attempt to soften its image. […]

This week, Hamas published its first new policy document since its founding charter.

It declares for the first time a willingness to accept an interim Palestinian state within pre-1967 boundaries, without recognising Israel. […]

The new document stresses it does not mean that Hamas now recognises Israel’s right to exist or that it no longer advocates violence against Israel.”

Readers are told that the Hamas Charter – which a photo caption correctly describes as not being replaced by the new document – includes “anti-Jewish language”.

“It [the new document] also says Hamas’s struggle is not with Jews but with “occupying Zionist aggressors”. The 1988 charter was condemned for its anti-Jewish language.”

Although the phrase “anti-Jewish language” was also seen in an earlier report on the topic of the new Hamas document, there it was clarified what that means.

“For years there has been criticism of Hamas over the language of its charter, in particular articles which were branded anti-Semitic.

The charter speaks of the need to fight “warmongering Jews” and cites a hadith – a report of what the Prophet Muhammad said or approved – that declares “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews)”.

It also refers to the “Jews’ usurpation of Palestine” and accuses Jews of controlling the world’s media and of being behind the French Revolution, secret societies and of controlling imperialist countries.”

No such explanation appears in this latest report.

While journalists at the BBC News website (in contrast to some of their colleagues) clearly understand that Hamas’ latest moves are no more than an attempt to embellish its image for various outside audiences, that its original antisemitic charter still stands and that no significant changes have been made to Hamas policy, curiously they apparently still find it appropriate to provide a platform for the spin of a ‘softer’ Hamas and refrain from informing audiences in clear terms that Ismail Haniyeh is no different to – and no more ‘pragmatic’ than – his predecessor.

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BBC’s Knell tells audiences that convicted terrorists are ‘political prisoners’

When some mostly Fatah-linked Palestinians serving sentences in Israeli prisons began a hunger strike on April 17th, the BBC produced three reports on that story on consecutive days. As was noted here at the time:

“…in all three of the reports, readers find (not for the first time) amplification of the PLO’s narrative concerning Palestinian prisoners – as promoted, for example, in a PLO ‘media brief’ from June 2015. [emphasis added]

Report 1: “Palestinians regard the detainees as political prisoners. Many have been convicted of attacks against Israelis and other offences.”

Report 2: “Palestinians say the detainees are political prisoners, while Israel describes them as “terrorists”” (photo caption)

                  “Palestinians regard the detainees as political prisoners. Many have been convicted of attacks against Israelis and other offences.”

Report 3: “Palestinians regard the detainees as political prisoners. Many have been convicted of attacks against Israelis.”

The idea that people who have been convicted of perpetrating acts of terrorism are ‘political prisoners’ is rejected in Europe and we certainly do not see the BBC promoting the notion that people imprisoned in the UK for terror related offences may be defined in such terms.”

On May 2nd the BBC went one step further. Apparently not content with the above uncritical and unqualified amplification of the partisan narrative of the PLO, Jerusalem bureau correspondent Yolande Knell dispensed with the nicety “Palestinians regard”, electing to describe convicted terrorists as “political prisoners” in her (and hence the BBC’s) own words.

Knell’s audio report was broadcast to Radio 4 audiences in the programme ‘The World Tonight’ (from 39:09 here) and an almost identical version of the report was broadcast to BBC World Service audiences in the programme ‘Newshour’ (from 38:11 here).

After listeners heard the sound of chanting, Knell began her report as follows: [emphasis added]

Knell: “Chants of support for Palestinian political prisoners in Israel jails who’ve been refusing food for two weeks in a protest about conditions. As President Abbas prepares to meet President Trump, tensions are rising back home, leading to renewed clashes with Israeli soldiers. In Ramallah I meet Fadwa Barghouti. Her husband Marwan – a popular figure in the president’s Fatah faction – is serving five life sentences for murder in Israel and is leading the hunger strike. She says Palestinians care deeply for the prisoners.”

With Fadwa Barghouti speaking in Arabic in the background, Knell then told listeners:

Knell:”The whole Palestinian people’s been subjected to imprisonment, she tells me. Every Palestinian home knows what it means to have a prisoner, knows suffering and injured pride.”

Of course very many Israeli homes know suffering too: the suffering of having had a loved one murdered by Palestinian terrorists in attacks such as those directed by Fadwa Barghouti’s husband. In her typical style Yolande Knell, however, erased that terrorism and its victims from her pathos-rich yet obviously biased portrayal of terrorists on hunger strike (albeit in waning numbers – which Knell neglected to mention) as “political prisoners”. She continued:

Knell: “Earlier there was another rally in Gaza where Palestinians burnt posters of their president. Here the anger is driven by the damaging internal split between Fatah and its Islamist rival Hamas – which controls Gaza – as well as the moribund peace process.”

Knell provided no evidence to back her bizarre claim that the demonstrations in Gaza on May 2nd were motivated by “the moribund peace process”. She went on:

Knell: “At Birzeit University politics professor George Giacaman now sees Mr Abbas in a tricky position in Washington. He thinks he’ll come under pressure to return to peace talks with Israel without a deal to stop Jewish settlement growth on land the Palestinians want for their future state. That would be very hard to sell to the public.”

Making no effort to inform BBC audiences that the existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians – the Oslo Accords – do not place any limitations of construction in Israeli communities in Area C but do state that the final status of that area is to be determined in negotiations and its portrayal as “Palestinian land” therefore amplifies a partisan position, Knell allowed her interviewee to promote the myth of “new settlements”: a notion she and her editors know perfectly well is false. [emphasis added]

Giacaman: “The Palestinian side has insisted throughout the past years that before negotiation starts, there has to be a hold to the settlement process. You have to keep in mind that this occupation of Palestinian land spearheaded by the establishment of new settlements in the West Bank undermines any political process, including of course the two-state solution.”

Listeners then heard a recording from the press conference at the meeting between the Israeli prime minister and the US president earlier in the year.

Trump: “As far as settlements, I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit. We’ll work something out but I would like to see a deal be made. I think a deal will be made.”

Knell next recycled the ‘policy shift’ theme the BBC has been pushing since mid-February even though it was quickly refuted by US officials.

Knell: “President Trump speaking to Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February. Israel had announced plans for several thousand new settler homes during his first month in office with relatively little criticism. And the new US leader appeared ready to break with long-established American foreign policy backing the creation of a Palestinian state as the only way to end the Middle East conflict.”

Trump: “So I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two but, honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians…if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like best.”

Knell: “Palestinians don’t expect the meeting between Mr Abbas and Mr Trump to be so friendly. But the Palestinian president has tried to strengthen his hand by meeting the leaders of Washington’s close Arab allies Egypt and Jordan on his way to the White House. So could the US be about to broker another round of peace talks?”

Giacaman: “I doubt if anything would come of it. I don’t think President Abbas has anything new to offer and I doubt Mr Trump is in a position to give the Israeli-Palestinian issue all his concentrations. The exposure to American public opinion and to the American leadership; this will help a lot because they are the only people in the world who can influence the Palestinians, Israelis to go to peace.”

Knell closed her report:

Knell: “Recently Palestinians have seen their cause overshadowed by other regional concerns. Their leaders now hope that the unpredictable approach of Mr Trump could work in their favour. Their official line is that he offers a rare chance for peace.”

Knell’s portrayal of the chances of renewal of negotiations of course airbrushed very pertinent context such as the increasingly acrimonious rift between the PA and Hamas and the related fact that the long since unelected Mahmoud Abbas cannot even set foot in the Gaza Strip, let alone claim to represent all the Palestinians.  

However, Knell’s aim in this report was obviously not to provide domestic and foreign BBC audiences with a realistic, accurate and impartial report on the story but to promote PLO talking points – primarily the false claim that imprisoned terrorists are “political prisoners”.

Related Articles:

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BBC News promotes PLO narrative in copious coverage of prisoners’ strike

BBC fails to provide crucial background in reports on Fatah prisoners’ strike

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Inaccuracies and omissions in BBC News reporting on Abbas White House visit

Resources:

How to complain to the BBC

 

 

 

Inaccuracies and omissions in BBC News reporting on Abbas White House visit

When the Israeli prime minister visited the White House in February of this year no fewer than eight reports relating to that topic appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

When the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas visited the White House on May 3rd, just one article appeared on the BBC News website under the headline “Trump tells Abbas ‘very good chance’ of Mid-East peace deal“.

That report includes the following:

“On Wednesday, the US president stressed there would be no lasting peace unless both nations found a way to stop incitement of violence.”

The official transcript however shows that – in contrast to the BBC’s claim – the American president’s remarks did not refer to “both nations”:

“But there cannot be lasting peace unless the Palestinian leaders speak in a unified voice against incitement to violate – and violence and hate.  There’s such hatred.  But hopefully there won’t be such hatred for very long.  All children of God must be taught to value and respect human life, and condemn all of those who target the innocent.”

That inaccurate reporting is of course particularly glaring in light of the fact that the BBC repeatedly downplays and/or ignores the issue of Palestinian incitement and glorification of terrorism.

However, a bright spot in this report is that it does include coverage of an issue that the BBC has serially avoided reporting over the years.

“The Palestinian leader is under pressure to halt payments to families of Palestinian prisoners and those killed in the conflict with Israel.

Israel’s government says the payments encourage terrorism, but Palestinian officials say stopping them would be politically untenable for Mr Abbas, who is deeply unpopular back home. […]

Three influential Republican senators, meanwhile, called on Mr Trump to tell Mr Abbas to stop using aid money to pay the families of Palestinian “martyrs” and those imprisoned in Israel for offences ranging from stone-throwing to murder.

“Morally it must end because the United States cannot be complicit in incentivising terror,” Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton and Lindsey Graham wrote in a joint letter.

“And strategically it must end because the PA will never convince Americans, the Congress, or Israel that it is serious about peace while it is still funding terror.”

The PA spends about $300m (£232m) each year – about 8% of its budget – on salaries and benefits under the programme, according to the senators.

The chairman of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Affairs Committee has defended the payments, saying they represent a “national, humanitarian and social duty that shall always be fulfilled regardless of Israeli and international pressures”.

An adviser to Mr Abbas also told the Associated Press that the president could not afford to concede, especially with one of his main rivals leading a widely supported hunger strike by hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in protest at conditions in Israeli jails and the detention of people without trial.”

Audience understanding of the frequently covered ‘Middle East peace process’ would of course be well served by further reporting on this issue.

In contrast to other media reports on the Trump-Abbas meeting, this article fails to inform BBC audiences of Mahmoud Abbas’ egregious claim that “we are raising our youth, our children, our grandchildren on a culture of peace”.

The article also includes the insert titled “What is the two-state solution?” that has appeared in a number of BBC News website articles published since late December 2016.

As we see, despite the fact that it inaccurately suggests to audiences that there is one uniform Palestinian leadership and notwithstanding the fact that just two days prior to Abbas’ visit to Washington, Hamas once again clarified that it does not embrace the two-state solution, that problematic and misleading insert continues to be used.

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BBC coverage of new Hamas document – part three: BBC Radio 4

Part one of this post looked at BBC News website coverage of the launch of Hamas’ new policy document and part two reviewed reports concerning the same topic on BBC World Service radio – in which the document was repeatedly and inaccurately portrayed as a ‘new charter’.

The same story also received coverage on BBC Radio 4, including a lengthy item in the May 2nd edition of ‘The World Tonight’ (from 31:16 here). In contrast to her World Service colleagues, presenter Ritula Shah introduced the item to listeners without falling into the trap of describing the document as a ‘new charter’. [emphasis in italics in the original]

“The Palestinian militant group Hamas has said it’s willing to accept an interim Palestinian state without recognising Israel’s right to exist. The group’s published a new policy document; the first since its founding charter of 1988. The new document doesn’t mention Hamas’ parent organisation the Muslim Brotherhood – an Islamist movement banned in Egypt. The text is seen as an effort by Hamas, which rules Gaza, to soften its image. The group as a whole, or in some cases its military wing, is designated as a terrorist group by Israel, the US, the EU, the UK and some other powers. Launching the document in the Qatari capital Doha, the leader of Hamas Khaled Masha’al said the aim was to clarify the organisation’s ideology, politics and guidelines but Hamas maintained its view that Israel was established illegally and they wouldn’t recognise its right to exist.”

Listeners then heard a voice over translation of an excerpt from Masha’al’s speech.

v/o: “Hamas is developing without losing the core principles or waiving the established rights and demands of our people. Hamas also believes that our struggle against the Zionist occupation, the Zionist enterprise, is not a struggle against the Jews or the Jewish faith. Hamas is struggling against the Zionist occupiers, the aggressors.”

Shah continued, introducing her first interviewee.

“So just how significant is the move? Khaled Hroub is an expert on Hamas and professor of Middle Eastern studies at Northwestern University in Qatar.”

Unfortunately, the reasonable portrayal of the story that listeners had so far heard in this item was compromised when Hroub opened his commentary by making the inaccurate claim that Hamas has embraced the two-state solution and promoting the falsehood of ‘1967 borders’ – with no meaningful challenge from Ritula Shah forthcoming.

Hroub: “It’s indeed very significant to acknowledge and accept the idea of the two state solution; to have a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Now we have this kind of in a document; official document.”

The Hamas document states very clearly that it views the establishment of a Palestinian state on territory in part already under Palestinian Authority control as an interim measure rather than a permanent solution to the conflict. It also clearly states its rejection of Israel’s right to exist and therefore obviously does not “accept” the two-state solution that promotes a Palestinian state existing peacefully alongside Israel, but rather Hamas obviously sees that as a stepping stone along the route to its aspiration to eradicate Israel.

After Hroub had also promoted the notion that the new document means that Hamas has changed from being “a religious movement with political, national dimensions” to “a national Palestinian movement with a religious and Islamist background” (despite the fact that the text includes the claim that “Palestine is an Arab Islamic land” and “Palestine is at the heart of the Arab and Islamic Ummah”), Ritula Shah interjected, but failed to relieve listeners of the inaccurate impression that Hamas now accepts the two-state solution.

Shah: “But crucially the document doesn’t officially recognise Israel or renounce violence. From the view of – the point of view – of Western diplomats, presumably that gives them little room for manoeuvre.”

Hroub’s answer to that question included the inaccurate claim that Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist as the Jewish state is not a crucial part of the story, along with the falsehood that Israel does not accept the two-state solution and erasure of the fact that the Oslo Accords put the vast majority of Palestinians under PA rule.

Hroub: “Recognising Israel is not really the big issue. From Hamas’ perspective – and I am not defending them but let’s say from a wider Palestinian perspective – they say well, we have been collectively doing this and yet nothing in return we have achieved. The Israeli side did not get on the two-state solution. Nothing whatsoever concretely materialised on the ground so the internal, if you like, Palestinian political spectrum recognised Israel except Hamas. This lack of recognition on the side of Hamas is not the issue. We have so many bigger issues [unintelligible], you know, the process.”

Shah then asked:

“If we accept that Hamas has moved its position somewhat but perhaps not nearly as far as the Israelis would like, who do you think Hamas is aiming to appeal to by changing its stance in the way that it has?”

Hroub’s response once again misled listeners by erasing the Hamas document’s unequivocal references to “Arab Islamic land” and the “Islamic Ummah”.

Hroub: “Number one I think to the Palestinian constituency itself – the Palestinian people – because by saying well we are a national Palestinian liberationist [sic] movement, this means we are kind of cutting off any trans-national Islamist dimensions so we are a purely Palestinian movement.”

He continued:

Hroub: “Number two is maybe the wider regional and international audience to say well we speak politics, we speak diplomacy and now we are going maybe halfway through in fulfilling a number of conditions that have been imposed on Hamas – and even the Palestinians – by the Quartet Middle East committee saying well they have to do this and that. Now I think Hamas is saying now we are kind of going down that road but we cannot go the entire kind of road without having or without receiving in return substantial and concrete steps from the Israeli side and the American side.”

The Quartet’s three principles are renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel and adherence to existing agreements. Hamas is nowhere near “halfway” to fulfilling those conditions and – as this new document once again shows – clearly has no intention of doing so. In other words, Khaled Khroub was again allowed to mislead BBC audiences with inaccurate claims that went completely unchallenged.

The editorial decision to broadcast this interview with Khaled Hroub – which clearly not only contributed nothing to audience comprehension of this story but actually muddied any such understanding by promoting numerous false claims – is obviously highly questionable. The fact that the item then went on to broadcast an interview with Michael Herzog in which listeners heard ‘the Israeli view’ of the new Hamas document (together with a few home truths that BBC audiences rarely encounter) does not mitigate that editorial decision.

Shah: “Well Israel’s held Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip and has carried out three major military campaigns in Gaza since 2008. The offensives were preceded by escalations in cross-border fighting with scores of rocket attacks from Gaza and airstrikes against Hamas by Israel. So what do Israelis make of the Hamas document? Michael Herzog is a retired brigadier general in the IDF. He’s participated in most of Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians, Syrians and Jordanians since 1993.”

Herzog: “Hamas feels isolated. It’s in economic bankruptcy. There is a huge rift between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas. There are strained relations with Egypt and I think they felt the need to do something in order to extricate themselves from this position of isolation but in terms of what’s in the document itself…”

Shah: “So what would you say that’s new? Just identify what’s new for us.”

Herzog: “What’s different is first they try to present themselves …to go away from antisemitism which characterised their 1988 charter by saying that they are not against Jews but they are against Zionism. However, they reject Israel as it is; they will never recognise it. Another modification is that in the original charter – which by the way was not abrogated; it’s still there – Hamas presents itself as a Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which it is. In this document this disappeared because they did not want to upset Egypt. Other than that there is willingness to accept a Palestinian state along the ’67 lines – which is not new, by the way; they’ve been saying it over the last few years – but on condition that Israel will withdraw to ’67 lines, accept all refugees – which means the annihilation of Israel – and they will not relinquish their demand for the whole of historical Palestine – including Israel – and they will never give up on what they call armed resistance which we refer to as terrorism.”

Shah, however, insisted on trying to put some positive spin on the story:

Shah: “So, plenty of shortcomings from your point of view but you recognise that there is a move – however incremental – and is that in itself to be welcomed?”

Herzog: “The move is very modest. It does not change the basic ideology of this organisation. It does not turn it into a willing participant in a peace process which espouses recognition between two states. I think it’s more of a tactical move. I of course think that any move in that direction is positive but let’s not delude ourselves about this organisation. At the very same time that they come out with this document they continue to encourage and direct and initiate terrorist activities in the West Bank and inside Israel. You just have to follow what’s happening every week here.”

Listeners to this programme would be unlikely to have the knowledge to enable them to understand Herzog’s words because BBC audiences are of course serially denied information concerning “what’s happening every week” in Israel. Since the beginning of this year, the BBC has not reported any of the missile attacks from the Gaza Strip to its English-speaking audiences and as of March 2017, had reported just 0.3% of the total number of terror attacks that took place.  

Shah continued:

Shah: “So in terms of the bigger picture then, in trying to restart some kind of meaningful peace process, as far as you’re concerned this makes no difference.”

Herzog: “It does not. The partner of the peace process is not Hamas; it is the Palestinian Authority which is rival to Hamas and feels that Hamas wants to undercut it. And I think the context for this document – as well as very harsh measures recently adopted by the Palestinian Authority against Hamas, including cutting of salaries and not paying for electricity and so on – is the upcoming meeting between President Abbas and President Trump in the White House tomorrow. I think that both parties feel Abbas would like to present himself as someone who is a willing partner, while Hamas would like to not be cut out of the picture.”

While the BBC has certainly not been alone in falling for this latest Hamas PR stunt, it is remarkable that the corporation’s various platforms have presented differing portrayals of the Hamas document. Particularly noteworthy is the BBC World Service’s repeated insistence on telling audiences that the document is a ‘new charter’ despite the fact that even Hamas itself says it is not. Given the plethora of inaccurate reporting, it will be important to track the BBC’s portrayal of this topic in the future.

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BBC coverage of new Hamas document – part one: website

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Weekend long read

1) The Tower reports on a new study of Palestinian Authority textbooks.

“Palestinian Authority textbooks for the school year of 2016 doubled down on demonizing Israel and praising “martyrdom,” a report released this month by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) concluded. The report assessed the contents of textbooks in the PA school system ranging from the fourth through 12th grades.

“Despite assurances from the PA Education Ministry, these new books are actually more radical than we have previously seen,” said Marcus Sheff, the CEO of IMPACT-se. “There is clear evidence of a strategy of radicalization of young Palestinians, devised and implemented by the ministry, which includes a commitment to an Arab Palestine encompassing the entirety of Israel.

The textbooks glorify terrorists, featuring math questions asking students to calculate how many “martyrs” had died in the first and second intifadas combined. Maps depicting “Palestine” are shown covering all of Israel.””

2) At Mosaic magazine, Daniel Polisar examines Palestinian public opinion polls concerning the two-state solution.

“Last December, while defending the Obama administration’s decision to allow passage of a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s settlement policy, outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry laid out the options facing Israelis and Palestinians:

[I]f the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic—it cannot be both—and it won’t ever really be at peace. Moreover, the Palestinians will never fully realize their vast potential in a homeland of their own with a one-state solution. Most on both sides understand this basic choice, and that’s why it’s important that polls of Israelis and Palestinians show there is still strong support for the two-state solution—in theory. They just don’t believe that it can happen.

In emphasizing the “strong” popular support on both sides for a two-state solution, Kerry was following in his own footsteps. Whether in public statements or in private meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, he had repeatedly cited polling evidence to advance his case for a two-state solution throughout his four-year tenure at the State Department.”

3) BICOM has a briefing with the former Israeli minister of defence, Moshe Ya’alon, discussing the security challenges facing Israel.

“There is a fundamental problem regarding the dream of Oslo, and that is the promotion of terror still exists in Palestinian refugee camps. If you educate the young generation that Palestine exists from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, and there is no room for concessions, and that “Tel Aviv is the biggest settlement,” then you are not preparing your people for co-existence and reconciliation. The people of Tel Aviv don’t understand that these Palestinians see them as settlers. Young kids are educated to hate us – as Israelis, as Jews, as Zionists. You can see it by watching Palestinian television programmes for children, or reading their textbooks. It is shocking. This was my personal awakening in 1995 while serving as head of the intelligence under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

What should be done regarding this core element of the conflict? We are not going to reach a final settlement in the near future, but we can make progress. Firstly, the donors – the US, UK, EU, Norway – should condition any money that is given to the Palestinians on certain reforms being enacted, and on an end to the financing of terrorists. The prisoners in Israeli jails are getting money from the PA, and of course they must not allow such money to be delivered to the families of the terrorists. Right now, if there is a martyr in your family, you get a pension for the entirety of your life. By ignoring the issues of hate education, the financing of prisoners and martyrs, and the promotion of terror, it will take more time.”

Wishing all our readers celebrating Easter a very happy holiday.

 

Revisiting Jeremy Bowen’s facilitation of Hamas PR

Two years ago the BBC’s Middle East editor conducted an embarrassingly unchallenging interview with Hamas’ Khaled Masha’al that was promoted in filmed and written versions. Readers of the written report were told that:

“Although Hamas has opposed years of on-off peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, Mr Meshaal said he and the group had agreed to accept the boundaries which existed before the 1967 Middle East war as the basis for those of a future Palestinian state.”

In the filmed version, viewers found the following:

Bowen: “Do you think a two state solution is still possible between yourselves and the Israelis?

Masha’al: “Israel with its extremist leadership has killed the peace process, the two state solution and every opportunity for a political solution for the Palestinian cause. And if the West and the United States want to do something new, then they have to change the approach that they followed for years. The new approach should be pressuring Israel and not the Arabs and the Palestinians. We are not the ones who are responsible.”

Included in the written report was ‘analysis’ from Jeremy Bowen which was repeated on radio:

“He [Masha’al] seemed to be calibrating his comments on the conflict with Israel to catch the prevailing mood of anger towards Mr Netanyahu in the White House, after his sharp turn to the ultra-nationalist Israeli Right in the last days of the election campaign.

Mr Meshaal called for a sovereign independent Palestinian state and an end to the occupation of land captured in the 1967 Middle East war. So did the White House chief of staff earlier this week.”

The claim that Hamas has embraced the two-state solution and “agreed to accept the boundaries which existed before the 1967 Middle East war as the basis for those of a future Palestinian state” was of course as ridiculously far-fetched two years ago as it is now.

Nevertheless, one should not be surprised if that theme crops up again in BBC reporting in the near future because – as AP reports – the terror group is apparently in the final stages of creating a new PR stunt.

“The Islamic militant group Hamas has drafted a new political program it hopes will improve ties with neighboring Egypt and the West, and present a more moderate image that will help it get off Western terrorism lists.

The internationally isolated group, which has ruled the Gaza Strip for the past decade, characterizes itself in the manifesto as a Palestinian resistance movement against Israeli occupation, dropping references to holy war against Jews. It also raises the possibility of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

The document plays down ties to Hamas’ parent movement, the regional Muslim Brotherhood, which is being targeted by Egypt’s government as a terror organization.

However, Hamas appears to have stopped short of a significant ideological shift amid concerns about alienating its hard-line base at a time when ultra-fundamentalist Islamist groups, such as the Salafists, are making inroads, particularly in Gaza.

The new program, to be made public at the end of the month, will not formally replace Hamas’ 1988 founding covenant, which called for the destruction of Israel and for “confronting the usurpation of Palestine by the Jews through jihad.”

Such language has drawn accusations of anti-Semitism.

In referring to a Palestinian state, Hamas does not spell out whether it considers this an acceptable solution to the conflict with Israel or a stepping stone to its longstanding goal of an Islamic state in all of historic Palestine, including what is now Israel.”

However, shortly after news of that revised programme broke, the terror group’s new leader in the Gaza Strip clarified the picture.

“Hamas’s leader in the Gaza Strip said on Wednesday that the terror group will not cease its conflict with Israel until “the liberation of all of Palestine.”

Speaking at an event marking the anniversary of the death of Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin, who was killed in an Israeli airstrike in 2004 in Gaza City, Yahya Sinwar said Hamas would not allow the State of Israel to exist on even a “morsel” of land.”

The man tipped to replace Khaled Masha’al was present at the same event.

“Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has vowed to pursue resistance to end Israel’s decades-long occupation of Palestinian lands.  

“Resistance is our strategic choice to achieve aspirations of our people for freedom,” Haniyeh said in an address during a visit on Wednesday to the house of Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin in Gaza City to mark the 13th anniversary of his death. […]

Haniyeh reiterated that his group will not abandon a “single inch” from Palestine.   

“Gaza is part of Palestine and there will be no Palestinian state without Gaza and there will be no state without whole Palestine.””

That will be worth remembering if Jeremy Bowen or any other BBC journalist decides to similarly facilitate Hamas’ latest PR campaign or when the corporation next promotes the notion that Hamas accepts the two-state solution.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bowen facilitates Hamas PR binge

BBC responds to complaints about Jeremy Bowen’s interview with Khaled Masha’al

BBC Complaints: inaccurate portrayal of Palestinian leadership is not a ‘significant issue’

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC on new US ambassador to Israel: high on adjectives, low on accuracy

On the evening of March 23rd BBC News was able to tell its international audiences that the newly confirmed US ambassador to Israel is “controversial”, “right-wing”, “pro-settlement”, a “hardliner” and a “critic of the two-state solution”.

However, BBC News was less capable of informing its audiences what the new envoy is called.

In an article headlined “Pro-settlement hardliner Friedman confirmed as US envoy to Israel” which appeared on the BBC News website’s US & Canada and Middle East pages on March 23rd, the BBC fortunately did manage to get the ambassador’s name right.

“The US Senate has confirmed right-winger David Friedman as America’s next ambassador to Israel.

He was approved in a 52-46 vote in the Republican-run chamber, despite opposition from the Democrats.

Mr Friedman, who was once Donald Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer, is critical of the US goal of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

No mention is made in the article of the fact that at his nomination hearing, Mr Friedman expressed views that differ from the BBC’s simplistic portrayal of his approach to the subject of the two-state solution.

“Testifying before the Senate in a hearing on his nomination as ambassador to Israel, David Friedman said a two-state solution – in which a Jewish State of Israel and an independent Arab state of Palestine live side by side in peace and security, ending all claims in the conflict – remains the “best possibility” for genuine peace in the region.

“A two-state solution, if it could be achieved, would bring tremendous benefit to both Israel and the Palestinians,” Friedman told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calling such a solution “ideal.” He said he will not campaign, support or advocate for Israel’s annexation of the West Bank, which has long been considered the future home of a Palestinian state.”

And:

““I would be delighted to see peace come to this region where people have suffered on both sides for so long,” Friedman elaborated. “I have expressed my skepticism about the two-state solution solely on the basis of what I have perceived as unwillingness to renounce terror and accept Israel as a Jewish state.”

He said that the groundwork for such an accord was reached at the 1993 Oslo talks between Israel’s then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. But he argued that, since then, Palestinian violence against Israel has only increased. “One of the primary commitments was chairman Arafat’s commitment to begin to educate his people to stop hatred,” he said. “We haven’t made progress since then, and terrorism has increased four-fold since before Oslo.””

With no explanation of the group’s political agenda or the vigorous campaign it ran against the nomination, the article quotes J Street:

“J Street, the Washington-based pro-Israel Jewish group, opposed his nomination, saying he “lacks any diplomatic or policy credentials”.”

The article goes on:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who did not have warm relations with President Barack Obama, welcomed Mr Friedman’s nomination.”

The BBC did not bother to clarify that – as is to be expected – in addition to the prime minister, Israeli politicians from different parties likewise offered their congratulations. 

For months now the BBC has been promoting a narrative according to which the new US administration spells the end of chances of the two-state solution coming about. The highly selective framing seen in this article contributes to the promotion of that chosen narrative.

 

BBC Complaints: inaccurate portrayal of Palestinian leadership is not a ‘significant issue’

Last month we noted that an insert titled “What is the two-state solution?” had appeared in a number of BBC News website articles published since late December 2016. The same insert continues to appear in BBC content – most recently just last week.

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on the grounds that the insert is inaccurate and misleading to audiences because:

a) it does not inform readers that an essential part of the two-state solution is the concept (repeatedly endorsed by the Quartet) of ‘two states for two peoples’ – a definition which would require Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state – and that Fatah and the Palestinian Authority have repeatedly refused to do so.

b) the claim that the two-state solution is the “declared goal” of Palestinian leaders inaccurately suggests to readers that Palestinian leadership is one, uniform entity. It fails to inform readers that Hamas and additional Palestinian factions do not regard the two-state solution as their “goal” and in fact reject the concept.

The response received from BBC Complaints includes the following:

“The insert entitled “What is the two-state solution?” is meant to be an abbreviated guide to the concept in its broadest sense.  For reasons of space, it is not feasible to offer a more forensic examination of what is quite a complex issue, as you clearly understand.

It could be argued, for instance, that Hamas do not qualify as leaders on the same footing as the internationally recognised PA – it depends on how “leaders” is defined. The casual reader is likely to understand “leaders” in this context as those parties involved in the diplomatic process, of which Hamas is not one.

While Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear that a pre-requisite for any final peace settlement is a Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, something the PA resists, it does not mean that a “two-state solution” in the general sense is not the declared goal of both sides. It is the detail and character of the two states which is up for discussion if/when peace talks resume.”

BBC Watch submitted a follow-up complaint, clarifying that while Hamas is indeed not part of the “diplomatic process” as it is not part of the Palestinian Authority or the PLO, it did receive more votes than any other party in the 2006 PLC election and hence is clearly a ‘leader’ as far as Palestinian public opinion is concerned. We also clarified that the requirement to recognise Israel as the Jewish state as part of the concept of two states for two peoples is not confined to the Israeli prime minister.

The response received reads:

“We appreciate that you felt strongly enough to write to us again. We have noted your points and are sorry to learn you were not satisfied with our earlier response. 

We are sorry to tell you that we have nothing to add to our previous reply. We do not believe your complaint has raised a significant issue of general importance that might justify further investigation. We will not therefore correspond further in response to additional points, or further comments or questions, made about this issue or our responses to it.”

As we see, the BBC does not think that leading audiences to believe that there is one, united Palestinian leadership which regards the two-state solution as its “goal” (while airbrushing from view a proscribed terror organisation that aims to wipe Israel off the map) is a “significant issue” which is liable to hamper understanding of this particular ‘international issue‘. 

 

BBC News reinforces selected ‘peace process’ narratives yet again

On March 10th an article titled “Trump Middle East: Palestinian leader invited to White House” was published on the BBC News website’s Middle East page. The subject matter of that four hundred and four word-long report is ostensibly a ten-minute phone call between the presidents of the US and the Palestinian Authority which took place that day. However, much of the article was used to reinforce narratives already evident in BBC content for some time.

1) Readers were told that:

“Mr Trump hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February.

At that meeting, Mr Trump dropped a long-standing US commitment to a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

As has been noted here before, the day after the Israeli prime minister’s visit to the White House, the BBC published an article in which a member of the US administration clarified its stance:

“The US ambassador to the UN has said her country “absolutely” supports the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

But Nikki Haley also said the Trump administration was “thinking outside the box as well”, suggesting it was open to other possible solutions.”

Despite having published that report, the BBC News website nevertheless continues to promote the narrative of a ‘major policy shift’ concerning the two-state solution on the part of the US administration.

2) The article includes an insert titled “What is the two-state solution?” that has already been seen in several previous reports.

That insert once again promotes the false narrative according to which the two-state solution is the “declared goal” of Palestinian leaders while erasing from audience view the fact that Hamas and additional Palestinian factions reject the two-state solution outright and failing to inform BBC audiences  of the repeated refusal of Palestinian Authority leaders to recognise Israel as the Jewish state: a necessary condition for fulfilment of the concept of “two states for two peoples”. 

3) The article tells readers that:

“There have been no substantive peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians since US-mediated negotiations broke down in April 2014.”

The BBC has of course been promoting the narrative that those talks simply “broke down” or “collapsed” for a long time but serially refrains from informing its audiences of the decisions made by the Palestinian Authority which led to the end of that round of negotiations.

4) Readers of this article also found more BBC amplification of the PA’s narrative concerning the proposed relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem:

“The US Senate on Thursday approved Mr Trump’s controversial nominee for ambassador to Israel.

David Friedman favours relocating the US embassy to Jerusalem, a highly inflammatory proposal because both Israel and the Palestinians lay claim to the city as their capital.” [emphasis added]

As has been noted here before, BBC audiences have not heard any alternative view of that proposal or any explanation as to why Palestinians should object to the relocation of the US embassy to an area of Jerusalem to which – according to the corporation’s own presentation of the issue – the PA does not lay claim.

Whether or not a meeting between Abbas and Trump will indeed “rekindle peace talks” as suggested in this report remains to be seen but what is already apparent is the BBC’s chosen framing of that topic – as indicated by the repeated promotion of these unwavering and unquestioned narratives in report after report.

Related Articles:

More narrative driven BBC portrayal of the ‘peace process’

BBC News and the US ‘major policy shift’ that wasn’t

BBC News website’s explanation of the two-state solution falls short

BBC continues to push its monochrome US embassy story