How did the BBC’s Yolande Knell frame Israeli visits to Gulf states?

Two very similar reports from BBC Jerusalem correspondent Yolande Knell have recently appeared on different platforms.

A written report titled “Israel-Arab ties warm up after long deep freeze” was published in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on November 6th with a synopsis telling BBC audiences that:

“An Israeli charm offensive is making once unlikely friends in the Arab world, worrying Palestinians.”

On the same day listeners to two editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ heard an audio report from Knell – from 08:37 here and from 14:07 here. In both cases it was introduced (by presenters Razia Iqbal and Rebecca Kesby) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original]

“Israel leaders often describe their country as being in a tough neighbourhood but recently there have been some extraordinary signs of friendliness with Arab states. Israel’s prime minister was in Oman, two of his ministers then went to the United Arab Emirates and today another is back in Muscat. And that’s despite the fact that Oman and the UAE – like most Arab countries – have no official diplomatic relations with Israel. The Palestinians are worried about what these new alliances – bound up in common fears about Iran’s regional ambitions and backed by the White House – will mean for their nationalist cause. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell reports.”

Knell’s framing of this story – which places the Palestinian reaction to events unrelated directly to them at the focus of her reports – is obviously noteworthy. Under the sub-heading “Palestinians wary” readers of the written report were told that:

“However, Palestinians are alarmed by the new alliances, developing as President Trump promises to present his “Deal of the Century” plan to end their conflict with Israel.

They fear his administration is looking to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and others to pressure them into accepting a peace agreement that does not meet their long-standing demands.

“This kind of attempt to normalise Israel within the region, without Israel normalising its relationship with Palestine and remaining as an occupying power, is counterproductive and dangerous,” says Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) official.

She suggests the latest developments threaten the legitimacy of the Arab Peace Initiative – which the 22 members of the Arab League signed up to in 2002.

It offers Israel normal diplomatic relations with Arab states only in exchange for its full withdrawal from Arab lands it captured and occupied in the 1967 Middle East War.”

Knell made no effort to explain to her readers why an initiative launched over 16 years ago has to this day made no progress or why they should take Hanan Ashrawi’s word that it is at all relevant.

Ashrawi was also featured in Knell’s audio report, but with no mention of her PLO position.

Knell: “Here in the occupied West Bank Palestinian leaders are alarmed by this regional shift taking place as President Trump promises to present his ‘deal of the century’ to end their conflict with Israel. They cut off ties with the US last year, saying it wasn’t an honest peace broker and they fear the White House is looking to its powerful Arab allies, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to pressure them into a peace agreement that falls well short of their long-standing demands. Hanan Ashrawi is a senior Palestinian official.”

Ashrawi: “I think this is part of an overall strategy by the Americans to try to get normalisation with the Arab world before Israel withdraws from the occupied territories: what we call the outside-in approach.”

Knell did not bother to inform listeners that under the terms of the Oslo Accords – signed by the body which Ashrawi represents – the issue of borders is supposed to be resolved in final status negotiations between the two parties.

Another aspect of Knell’s framing of this story is her promotion of a theory allegedly advanced by unidentified “analysts” which was portrayed in the written report as follows:

“Analysts suggest the pivotal role ascribed to Saudi Arabia in reviving the peace process has been thrown into doubt by the shocking murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

However, in another remarkable move, comments by Mr Netanyahu on Friday seemed to show tacit support for the powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who has been accused of having a role in Khashoggi’s death – something the kingdom has denied.

He said Mr Khashoggi’s killing was “horrendous” but should not be allowed to lead to upheaval in Saudi Arabia “because the larger problem is Iran.””

In the audio report listeners heard the following self-contradicting statements from Knell:

Knell: “But there’s been a set-back to the warming of Saudi and Israeli ties: the international outcry over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at his country’s consulate in Turkey. The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman – known as MBS – has had his reputation badly damaged by the scandal, although he denies involvement. Remarkably, one international leader giving him tacit support is Mr Netanyahu.” [emphasis added]

Recording Netanyahu: “What happened in the Istanbul consulate was horrendous and it should be duly dealt with. Yet at the same time I say that it’s very important for the stability of the world – of the region and of the world – that Saudi Arabia remain stable.”

Listeners were not informed that – despite Knell’s claim of “international outcry” – just one day before her report was aired, seventy-five country delegates to the UN Human Right Council had heaped praise on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

Another interesting aspect of Knell’s reporting is its downplaying of what some analysts see as the prime motivation behind improved relations between Israel and Gulf states. Readers of the written report found a tepid portrayal of Iranian regional actions and policies which, notably, whitewashed its financial support for Hamas from the picture.

“The main reason is a shared concern over Iran. Israel, like many Gulf Arab countries, worries about Iran’s ambitions and sees it as a destabilising force in the Middle East.

Tehran has been directly involved in conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and supports rebels fighting in Yemen and militant groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”

In the audio report listeners were told that: [emphasis added]

Knell: “Meetings between Israeli and Gulf Arab officials have long taken place in secret but now they’re happening openly, despite a lack of progress on peace with the Palestinians. The main reason is the shared concern about Iran…”

Knell ended both her reports with more clear messaging to BBC audiences that a story concerning diplomatic relations between Israel and Gulf states is actually about Palestinians.

Written:

“All these signs of a regional shift are popular with ordinary Israelis and even Mr Netanyahu’s political rivals have praised his advances in the Gulf.

However, the Arab public – for whom the Palestinian issue remains very emotional – will be far harder to win over without a peace agreement.

So for now, Arab states are unlikely to fully embrace Israel. Instead we should expect more previously unthinkable invitations, gestures of recognition and warm handshakes.”

Audio:

“Such signs of new relations are very popular with ordinary Israelis although the Arab public – still very sensitive to the Palestinian issue – will be much harder to win over without a peace agreement.”

While BBC audiences obviously got a generous dose of PLO (and Hamas) messaging in both Knell’s reports, the question of how that contributes to their understanding of this story is clearly debatable.

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Sporting body’s anti-discrimination results get no BBC coverage

Readers may recall that in October 2017 the Israeli delegation to a judo competition held in Abu Dhabi was barred by the organisers from displaying the Israeli flag, competing under the name ‘Israel’ or playing the national anthem. However, as was noted here at the time:

“The BBC Sport website (which usually displays an interest in reporting bigotry and discrimination in sport) has no coverage of that story either on its home page or on its Judo page. The BBC News website’s Middle East page similarly did not find this story of blatant discrimination in sport newsworthy.”

Similarly, the BBC Sport website did not report on efforts made earlier this year by the International Judo Federation to bring an end to such discrimination.

Due to those efforts, the Israeli judo team is taking part in this year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Slam under happily different conditions.

“Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Friday to accompany Israel’s national judo team at an international tournament where — for the first time in a Gulf country — they will be allowed to compete under their national flag.

Regev is scheduled to attend the opening ceremony for the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam 2018 on Saturday, where the Israeli national anthem will also be played for the team. […]

Regev is the first Israeli minister to visit the UAE in an official capacity, as the countries have no official diplomatic relations.”

On October 28th (and again the next day) the Israeli national anthem was indeed heard in Abu Dhabi.

photo credit: IJF

“Israel’s national anthem was played at a judo tournament in Abu Dhabi on Sunday for the first time, after one of its athletes won gold.

A visibly moved Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who was at the contest to support the Israeli team, presented the medals and hung the gold medallion around the neck of judoka Sagi Muki. […]

Muki beat Belgian competitor Matthias Casse to take first place in the under-81 kilogram category at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam.

Following the medal distribution, the tournament presenter announced, in English, “Ladies and gentleman, please rise for the national anthem of Israel” after which the “Hatikva” melody began playing. […]

It was…the first time an Israeli delegation participated there under its national flag, after the International Judo Federation warned UAE organizers the competition would be canceled unless all athletes were allowed to participate on an equal footing.”

Once again, however, no coverage of that story was to be found on the BBC Sport website home page or Judo page (even though a report about British competitors in the same tournament did appear) or on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

BBC Sport website Judo page, 29/10/18

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No BBC coverage of sports anti-discrimination move

Readers may recall that last October the Israeli delegation to a judo competition held in Abu Dhabi was barred by the organisers from displaying the Israeli flag, competing under the name ‘Israel’ or playing the national anthem. However, as was noted here at the time:

“The BBC Sport website (which usually displays an interest in reporting bigotry and discrimination in sport) has no coverage of that story either on its home page or on its Judo page. The BBC News website’s Middle East page similarly did not find this story of blatant discrimination in sport newsworthy.”

The International Judo Federation subsequently took steps to end such discrimination.

“Based on experiences from previous years and in an attempt to take a firm and constructive stance in the fight against discrimination in sport, the International Judo Federation announces that it will suspend two of its events, namely the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam and the Tunis Grand Prix.

Prior to this decision and after carefully analysing the past situations involving the denial of participation in equal conditions of all IJF member federations – with their national insignia and anthem at the aforementioned events, and after repeated past interventions, the IJF officially requested the two organisers to provide a letter of guarantee signed by the government that all IJF member nations would have the right to participate in their events in equal conditions. […]

As no positive answer was received to date, although past the given deadline, the International Judo Federation’s Executive Committee decided to suspend both the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam and the Tunis Grand Prix until governmental guarantee is given to ensure free and equal participation of all nations at the said events.”

That story has been reported by a number of Israeli media organisations as well as by CNN and the BBC associate news agency AFP. Visitors to the BBC Sport website, however, found no mention of the IJF’s decision either on the main homepage or on the ‘Judo’ page and no mention of the story is found on the BBC News website’s Tunisia and UAE pages.

 

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BBC resurrects old spy speculations

Israel’s Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom recently led a delegation to a conference on renewable energy in the UAE. The Jerusalem Post informs us that:

“Shalom will attend the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Fourth Assembly, held at the St. Regis Hotel on Saadiyat Island from January 18 to 19, as part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week.

He follows in the footsteps of then-energy and water minister Uzi Landau, who traveled to a similar Abu Dhabi conference on January 16, 2010, and became the first minister to visit the United Arab Emirates. Israeli is one of 123 member-states of IRENA, an intergovernmental organization focused on renewable energy development that is based in Abu Dhabi. […]

The delegation is to include Hevel Eilot Regional Council Chairman Udi Gat, who will deliver a presentation, the spokesman said.

Gat, whose southern Arava Desert region has become a hub for renewable energy, said he plans to speak about “how from an idea you create a project” – how to integrate all of the complicated aspects of government and business that go into forging forward with renewable energy plans. In addition, he told the Post, he intends to explain how you can transform a municipality or a region through renewable energy projects.

“I think it will be interesting and I hope to meet people from all over the world,” he said. “I want to brand the [Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy] Conference that we have this December.” “

But if one presumed that the subject of Israelis sharing their extensive knowledge and experience of renewable energy with other countries in the region and further afield would be of interest to the BBC or that it might use the opportunity to inform audiences about the renewable energy sector in Israel, one would be mistaken.

Instead, two-thirds of the word-count of the article which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 16th under the headline “Israel in first UAE visit since murder of Hamas al-Mabhouh” is dedicated to the resurrection of an unproven story from 2010 with links to re-runs of speculative old BBC articles.  

Silvan Shalom UAE visit

The BBC’s claim that “[t]he visit could mark an improvement in ties between Israel and the Gulf states which share unease over Iran’s rising power in the region” appears to be a no less premature speculation.