Examining UNHRC statements uncritically amplified by BBC News

On May 18th the BBC News website published an article headlined “Israel’s Gaza response ‘wholly disproportionate’ – UN rights chief” which was largely devoted to uncritical amplification of statements made by the current United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“The UN human rights chief says Israel used “wholly disproportionate” force against Palestinian border protests which have left over 100 people dead.

Zeid Raad al-Hussein told a meeting in Geneva that Gazans were effectively “caged in a toxic slum” and Gaza’s occupation by Israel had to end. […]

Mr Zeid told the emergency session on Gaza that the “stark contrast in casualties on both sides is… suggestive of a wholly disproportionate response” by Israel.

An Israeli soldier was “reportedly wounded, slightly, by a stone” on Monday, he said, while 43 Palestinians were killed at the site of the protests. Seventeen more Palestinians were killed away from what he called the “hot spots”.

He said there had been “little evidence of any [Israeli] attempt to minimise casualties”. Israel’s actions might, he said, “constitute ‘wilful killings’ – a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention”, an international law designed to protect civilians under occupation.

Mr Zeid said he supported a call for an “international, independent and impartial” investigation into the violence in Gaza, adding that “those responsible for violations must in the end be held accountable”.

“The occupation must end,” he said, “so the people of Palestine can be liberated, and the people of Israel liberated from it.

“End the occupation, and the violence and insecurity will largely disappear.””

Of course Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip almost thirteen years ago but “the violence” on Hamas’ part has only increased since.

Without clarifying either that the Gaza Strip was included in the territory assigned by the League of Nations to the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people or that it was occupied by Egypt between 1948 and 1967, the BBC told readers of this article that:

“Israel occupied Gaza in the 1967 Middle East war. Although it withdrew its forces and settlers in 2005, the UN still considers the territory occupied because Israel retains control over the territory’s air space, coastal waters and shared border.”

This is not the first time that the BBC has made that claim regarding the UN’s approach. As has been pointed out here before:

“In January 2012, responding to a question from UN Watch, the UN’s chief spokesperson explained why the UN still refers to the Gaza Strip as ‘occupied’ even though Hamas has said it is not and Israel disengaged from the area in 2005.

Spokesperson:  “Under resolutions adopted by both the Security Council and the General Assembly on the Middle East peace process, the Gaza Strip continues to be regarded as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  The United Nations will accordingly continue to refer to the Gaza Strip as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory until such time as either the General Assembly or the Security Council take a different view.”

Question:  “Can I follow up on that?  It is the legal definition of occupation and why is Gaza considered occupied?”

Spokesperson:  “Well, as I have just said, there are Security Council and General Assembly resolutions that cover this.  For example, there was a Security Council resolution adopted on 8 January 2009 — 1860 — and that stressed that the Gaza Strip constitutes an integral part of the territory occupied in 1967.  And as you know, Security Council resolutions do have force in international law.

Furthermore, there is a resolution from the General Assembly from 20 December 2010, and while it noted the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and parts of the northern West Bank, it also stressed, in quotes, “the need for respect and preservation of the territorial unity, contiguity and integrity of all of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem”.  So just to repeat that the United Nations will continue to refer to the Gaza Strip as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory until either the General Assembly or the Security Council take a different view on the matter.””

In other words, no mention of “air space, coastal waters and shared border” whatsoever but the assertion that if part of the territory is occupied, then all of the territory is considered occupied, since there are UN resolutions declaring that the two territories are considered united.

The only criticism of Zeid Raad al-Hussein’s statements seen in this article came in the form of 66 words describing generalised reactions from Israel’s Ambassador and The US Chargé d’Affaires. The BBC itself did not attempt to provide audiences with information which would enable them to judge the accuracy of his claims. 

UN Watch, however, has done just that in a useful article titled “Examining Statements by Top UN Human Rights Officials on Gaza Violence” which analyses statements made by Zeid Raad al-Hussein (who also appeared on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on May 18th) and the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine Michael Lynk who likewise appeared in BBC coverage of the ‘Great Return March’ – see here and here.

For example, with regard to Zeid’s claim that “[t]he stark contrast in casualties on both sides is also suggestive of a wholly disproportionate response…” UN Watch notes that:

“This is a completely incorrect statement of the law. As explained above proportionality in IHL [International Humanitarian Law] is not a comparison of the numbers, but a question of whether the military commander made the assessment that the expected civilian casualties would not be excessive in relation the anticipated military gain in that situation. According to Zeid, Israel must allow its soldiers and citizens to be attacked and killed before it can fight back in self-defense. That is not the law.”

With regard to Zeid’s quoting of Hamas-supplied casualty statistics without any independent verification (“…43 Palestinians were killed at the site of the protests. Seventeen more Palestinians were killed away from what he called the “hot spots”.”), UN Watch comments:

“Saying how many “Palestinians” or “demonstrators” were killed wrongly implies that all those killed were peaceful, non-violent protesters. This is an outright lie. Hamas’s own political bureau member Salah al-Bardawil, admitted on May 16, 2018 that 50 of those killed in the previous day’s clashes had been Hamas operatives, and called them “martyrs.””

The BBC’s uncritical and unquestioning amplification of Zeid’s statements includes the claim that:

“Israel’s actions might, he said, “constitute ‘wilful killings’ – a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention”, an international law designed to protect civilians under occupation.”

However, UN Watch explains that:

“…Palestinian rioters directly participating in hostilities are not entitled to the protection afforded to civilians. Article 51(3) of the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions (1949) permits attacks on civilians “for such time as they take direct part in hostilities.” According to the ICRC commentary, this means “acts of war which by their nature or purpose are likely to cause actual harm to the personnel and equipment of the enemy armed forces.” Therefore, engaging in violent acts intended to breach Israel’s border fence with Gaza and/or cause harm on the Israeli side of the fence would cause rioters to lose protected civilian status.”

It comes of course as no surprise whatsoever to see the BBC unquestioningly amplify statements made by the head of a UN body that the BBC regularly quotes and promotes uncritically, especially as those statements dovetail with many of its own regularly promoted themes such as ‘disproportionate’ Israeli actions and ‘occupation’ of the Gaza Strip.

Nevertheless, the BBC cannot claim to be providing audiences with information that will help them “understand” this subject – as it is obliged to do – by blindly regurgitating statements ostensibly based on facts and law without establishing their accuracy and while failing to provide any alternative view.

Related Articles:

BBC News website amends a report with an inaccuracy

BBC ignores UNHRC’s nomination of controversial official

 

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BBC silent on Saudi Arabia’s new UN commission seat

Those getting their news from the BBC will not be aware of the fact that Saudi Arabia has been elected to a four-year term on the UN’s women’s rights commission. As the Independent reported:

“The kingdom is now one of 45 countries sitting on a panel “promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women,” according to the UN.”

UN Watch notes that:

“Saudi Arabia was elected by a secret ballot last week of the U.N.’s 54-nation Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Usually ECOSOC rubber-stamps nominations arranged behind closed doors by regional groups, however this time the U.S. forced an election […]

Saudi Arabia was also recently re-elected to the U.N. Human Rights Council where it enjoys the right to vote on, influence and oversee numerous mechanisms, resolutions and initiatives affecting the rights of women worldwide…”

No coverage of that story appears under the BBC’s ‘United Nations’ tag or ‘Saudi Arabia’ tag or on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

That, perhaps, is somewhat less surprising when one remembers that just last year on International Women’s Day the BBC found it appropriate to ask its audiences “Are Saudi women really that oppressed”?

Related Articles:

BBC Trending’s preposterous International Women’s Day question

BBC misleads on root cause of lack of equality for Saudi women

Weekend long read

1) UN Watch has published another report concerning teachers at UNRWA educational facilities.

“…the director of the independent monitoring group UN Watch will […] present a new report showing 40 alarming new cases of UNRWA school teachers in Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria whose Facebook pages incite to Jihadist terrorism and antisemitism, including by posting Holocaust-denying videos and pictures celebrating Hitler.”

The full report can be found here.

2) The FDD’s David Weinberg has produced an interesting report on a topic touched on by the BBC in the past which is titled “Qatar and Terror Finance: Private Funders of al Qaeda in Syria”.Weekend Read

“It is particularly vital to evaluate Qatar’s record on terror finance in light of the Nusra Front’s July 2016 decision to rebrand itself as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS), which purports to have “no relationship with any foreign party.” According to sources cited by Reuters, Qatar led an effort starting in 2015 to bolster the Syrian opposition by persuading Nusra to distance itself from al-Qaeda. Reuters reported that intelligence officials from Qatar and other Gulf states met several times with Nusra’s leader around this period to suggest that his group could receive money, arms, and supplies after stepping away from al-Qaeda. Yet the more JFS legitimates itself by integrating into the broader Syrian opposition, the greater the risk of a permanent al-Qaeda army on Europe’s doorstep.”

The full report can be found here.

3) The Tower draws attention to an interesting article by Ilan Berman published at ‘Foreign Affairs’.

“It might just be the most important terrorism case you’ve never heard of. Last fall, prosecutors in the Peruvian capital of Lima launched formal legal proceedings against a 30-year-old alleged Hezbollah operative named Mohammed Hamdar. The trial, now underway, has major regional—indeed, global—implications for the fight against international terrorism.”

4) At the Jewish Chronicle, Professor Gerald Steinberg discusses the involvement of Human Rights Watch – one of the NGOs most frequently promoted and quoted by the BBC – in a campaign to which the BBC has lent its voice.

“In November 2016, Fifa met to discuss the Palestinian effort to evict Israel from the international football federation, using the excuse that a few lower league teams are located across the 1949 “Green Line”.

Understandably, the delegates to the Fifa conference demurred, preferring not to try to referee one of the most complex and confusing political disputes in the world.

For Human Rights Watch (HRW), this response was irrelevant and this Israel-obsessed organisation continued its attack, this time during a Fifa meeting on January 10 called to consider expanding the number of teams in the World Cup.”

Read the rest of the article here

 

What BBC audiences aren’t told about the UNHRC

Readers may recall that in February 2016 the BBC’s UN correspondent Nick Bryant told listeners to BBC World Service radio that:

“The Israelis always believe that they are victimized at the UN; that they are singled out unfairly; that they are isolated…”

Bryant did not however provide BBC audiences with any relevant factual information which would enable them to understand the reality behind his portrayal of what Israelis “always believe”.  

In his recent testimony to the US Congress on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the UN Human Rights Council, Hillel Neuer of UN Watch noted the tally of UNHRC condemnations over the last decade.Hillel Neuer UNHRC

“Despite the promise of ending selectivity, the Council’s pathological obsession with demonizing Israelis, and denying their human rights, has never been worse. Since its creation, the Council has adopted 67 resolutions condemning Israel—and only 61 on the rest of the world combined. The texts on Israel are uniquely suffused with the suppression of any countervailing facts that might provide balance.

Its commissions of inquiry like the Goldstone Report, which excoriated Israel while exonerating Hamas, initiated a new era whereby a terrorist group has come to rely on the Council as an effective international tool to achieve its deadly goals. Hamas is incentivized by the UN to launch rocket attacks against Israeli civilians while placing its own civilian population in harm’s way.

And just now, the Council instituted a UN black-list of Israeli companies, to have the UN implement the anti-Israeli BDS campaign—boycott, divestment and sanctions—and to strangle the economic life of Israeli citizens.” [emphasis added]

That is information which BBC audiences obviously need to know in order to be able to put statements such as the one above from Bryant into their correct context and its inclusion in the BBC’s profile of the UN would be a good place to start.

 

 

 

 

 

The UNRWA story which has not appeared on BBC News

Back in early September we reported here on a story which the BBC did not find newsworthy at the time.

“Thanks to a lot of hard work from blogger Elder of Ziyon and the NGO UN Watch, the issue of antisemitic images posted on social media by some UNRWA employees has recently been brought to public attention.

“UN Watch released a new report today documenting 12 different Facebook accounts operated by UNRWA officials that openly incite to antisemitism and terrorism, and urged UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UNRWA chief Pierre Krähenbühl to terminate the responsible officials, condemn the offending posts, and establish a commission of inquiry, comprised of representatives of top donor states to investigate the culture of impunity for perpetrators of racism and incitement that pervades UNRWA.””

At the time, UNRWA’s spokesman Chris Gunness claimed that the report made “baseless allegation about anti-semitism” and urged journalists to ignore it.Gunness tweet FB story

On October 16th, UN Watch submitted an additional report on the same issue to the UN Secretary General and the head of UNRWA.

On October 22nd UN Watch reported that a transcript of a UN press conference revealed that “UNRWA employees have, “in a number of cases,” been subject to disciplinary action, including suspension and loss of pay”. UN Watch noted that the statement was “not posted as a stand-alone statement by the UN, or indeed anywhere at all on the UNRWA website”.

Whilst the BBC has frequently provided a platform for UNRWA and its spokesman in the past, this particular story apparently continues to be of no interest to the BBC.  

No BBC coverage of UNRWA linked antisemitic cartoons

Thanks to a lot of hard work from blogger Elder of Ziyon and the NGO UN Watch, the issue of antisemitic images posted on social media by some UNRWA employees has recently been brought to public attention.

“UN Watch released a new report today documenting 12 different Facebook accounts operated by UNRWA officials that openly incite to antisemitism and terrorism, and urged UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UNRWA chief Pierre Krähenbühl to terminate the responsible officials, condemn the offending posts, and establish a commission of inquiry, comprised of representatives of top donor states to investigate the culture of impunity for perpetrators of racism and incitement that pervades UNRWA.”

BBC audiences, however, have no idea of the existence of this story because the corporation (which of course frequently promotes the UNRWA agenda) has not been among the mainstream media outlets which reported it – despite being urged by UNRWA’s spokesman not to do so.

Gunness tweet FB story

Could it be that Chris Gunness thinks that all journalists are likely to be as compliant with his efforts to censor content as the BBC apparently proved to be last summer?

A new resource on Operation Protective Edge

Readers will no doubt find a new e-book on the subject of Operation Protective Edge published by NGO Monitor and UN Watch both interesting and useful. Titled “Filling in the Blanks: Documenting Missing Dimensions in UN and NGO “Investigations” of the Gaza Conflict”, the report features contributions from renowned experts in a variety of relevant fields, including Professor Gerald Steinberg, Anne Herzberg, Hillel Neuer, Avi Bell, Jonathan Schanzer, Uzi Rubin, Richard Kemp CBE, and Trevor Norwitz.Filling in the blanks

Both throughout the fifty days of Operation Protective Edge and following its conclusion, a significant amount of the information provided to BBC audiences was sourced from various NGOs such as Amnesty International (see examples here, here and here), Human Rights Watch (see examples here and here) and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (see examples here, here and here). In light of the BBC’s repeated uncritical amplification of claims made by those organisations and others, Chapter 4 of this new report – described in its executive summary as follows – may be of particular interest to our readers.

“The credibility of reports and allegations from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) regarding the 2014 conflict: In this, as in many other, conflicts, NGOs that claim to promote universal human rights, international law, and similar principles, repeatedly and consistently made claims that were highly selective, unsubstantiated, or clearly false. Many of these groups, which enjoy a high level of visibility and prestige, produce highly biased “reports” and draw conclusions without any professional fact-finding methodology, often based on selected “testimonies” that are unverifiable and contradictory. Nevertheless, in previous publications from the UNHRC, including the 2009 Goldstone Report on Gaza, publications from unsubstantiated and tendentious NGOs, often repeated by UN-OCHA or journalists, are cited as “evidence” and their legal conclusions are repeated. In this section, the biases, lack of professionalism, and methodological failures of the NGO network are documented in detail.”

The pdf version of the report can be found at this link

Frequent BBC favourite Falk in the news

The UN’s ‘Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights’ Richard Falk is in the news again, this time due to the call on him to resign from the post which recently came from America’s Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe.

“Mr. Falk’s most recent statement, which he dramatically and recklessly included in an official UN document, … once again starkly demonstrated that he is unfit to serve in his role as a UN special rapporteur,” she said, adding: “We once again call for his resignation.”

The statement to which Ambassador Chamberlain Donahoe refers is Falk’s call for an investigation into the NGO UN Watch after that organization called for the termination of Falk’s mandate in the wake of his remarks concerning the Boston marathon terror attack which included the following:

 “The war drums are beating at this moment in relation to both North Korea and Iran, and as long as Tel Aviv has the compliant ear of the American political establishment, those who wish for peace and justice in the world should not rest easy.” […]

 “The American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance in the post-colonial world.”

falk 5

Of course one would have to have one’s head pretty firmly buried in the sand not to be aware of the fact that Falk’s history of inaccurate and offensive statements goes back a very long way indeed. From his 1979 New York Times puff-piece in defence of Ayatollah Khomeini, through to his claims that the 9/11 terror attacks were orchestrated by the US government,  his repeated justifications of Palestinian terror and his public support for the ‘one-state solution’ (i.e. the eradication of Israel as the Jewish state), Falk has never been far from controversy. 

That fact was well known by the BBC when Falk took up his UN position in 2008, as an article by Tim Franks from April of that year shows. 

Falk 1

In May 2008 the BBC’s Stephen Sackur interviewed Falk on ‘Hardtalk’, where he defended his use of anti-Semitic Nazi analogies.

And yet, the BBC – despite being bound to standards of accuracy and impartiality – has continued throughout the years to quote Falk on the subject of Israel extensively, unquestioningly and without properly informing its audiences of his long-standing history of bias and open animosity towards Israel. 

Here, for example, is a 2010 article by Barbara Plett which promotes statements made by Falk on the subject of “settlements”. 

Falk 2

Here is a 2012 report by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell on the subject of Palestinian hunger strikers which – whilst neglecting to mention their membership of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad – also extensively promotes statements made by Falk. 

Falk 3

And here is Knell yet again – this time in February 2013 – quoting Falk’s regurgitation of Palestinian Authority propaganda regarding Arafat Jaradat. 

Falk 4

Most recently, on June 10th 2013, the BBC published yet another article based on statements by Falk. Towards the end of that piece it is noted that “[i]n 2008, Mr Falk drew widespread criticism for comparing Israeli actions in Gaza to those of the Nazis”, but the article fails to make clear to readers the antisemitic nature of Falk’s comments and also makes no effort to explain to readers why “the US – which has also expressed concerns about Mr Falk’s alleged bias – called for his removal from the post”.  

FAlk 10 6

Why the BBC seems to feel the need to play down Falk’s long history of anti-Israel campaigning, antisemitic remarks, adherence to conspiracy theories and general offensiveness is one question. How the BBC thinks it can meet its required standards of accuracy and impartiality by unquestioningly repeating and promoting the opinions of a man it knows full well to be far removed from both of those criteria is a yet more pressing question which needs to be asked more than ever at this time.