BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR again – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, the February 19th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an interview (from 30:06 here) with UNRWA’s commissioner-general Pierre Krahenbul.

Having failed to challenge Krahenbuhl’s unevidenced claim that an UNRWA education is “an investment in regional security”, presenter Tim Franks next provided him with the cue for dismissal of one of the prime criticisms of the UN agency.

Franks: “What do you say to the other criticism that is often levelled at UNRWA – particularly of your work inside Gaza where there’s a huge proportion of the refugees – and that is that – maybe inevitably, maybe willingly, you have allowed yourself to become too close to the authority that runs Gaza which is Hamas which is proscribed by an awful lot of countries – most of the West sees it as a terrorist organisation – and that the split between what UNRWA does and what Hamas does has become blurred?”

Krahenbuhl: “Working in conflict zones means that you operate in proximity to groups that are either governmental armed forces, that are non-state armed groups so that’s by definition the work. One of the things that you do also is to ensure the neutrality of your work by every means possible. And so just to take the example of Gaza, last year during repair works to two of our schools we discovered tunnels that had been built below those schools. Now we publicly condemned Hamas for those actions and that is a measure of the robustness with which we pursue our policies of neutrality. Now if anybody however can describe to me who would be the alternative provider of education to 270 thousand students in the Gaza Strip who go to UNRWA schools and who among other things are taught a human rights curriculum with focus on tolerance and co-existence, then I’m happy to be told what that alternative is, because there is none.”

As readers may recall, the BBC failed to report the story of those tunnels beneath UNRWA schools at the time. BBC audiences are also unaware of the case last year in which an UNRWA employee was elected to the Hamas political bureau in the Gaza Strip because the BBC chose to ignore that story too. Listeners would therefore not be able to put Krahenbuhl’s flimsy claim that the statement his organisation issued on the topic of those tunnels is evidence of a ‘robust’ approach to ‘neutrality’ into its correct context and Franks made no effort whatsoever to question him further on the long-standing issue of UNRWA employees with links to terror organisations or support for terrorism and promotion of antisemitism on social media by UNRWA staff.

Franks closed the interview by encouraging Krahenbuhl to give “a message for those listening in Washington”.

Franks: “You say that you’re turning to other donors to try and make up what might be a pretty big shortfall in funding as a result of this change in US policy. If you had a message for those listening in Washington about what this dramatic cut in funding would mean, what would it be?”

Krahenbuhl: “The idea that people have to have in mind is to think about what would it be for one’s own family if we faced a situation of conflict where we’re worried about our future and suddenly the key provider of education, services, is no longer able to deliver that and, you know, yet another avenue or horizon is shut. People have to think about in these terms. When you are in the Middle East today, one of the worst things for the Palestinians – but that affects everybody in the region – is that there is no political horizon, there is no personal horizon. There is no freedom of movement, no jobs to be found. We have some of the most, you know, extraordinarily courageous students probably on the planet. I handed over a certificate to a 15 year-old student in Gaza two years ago who had survived an air strike on her home, had spent seven months in a coma. When she woke up she was told by the doctor that her mother and one of her brothers was killed in the strike and yet she was one of the highest performing students in our school. And she has an outlook on life. She wants to be recognised for her skills, for her abilities. She doesn’t want to be seen by the world as only a refugee or a victim. And I think what we need in this region is to rediscover the humanity in people. You know I can…if I believed that polarisation would lead to a solution or to an improvement, I would embrace polarisation but I don’t see that. I see humanity being rediscovered in everybody as being the way forward.”

Franks: “Pierre Krahenbuhl: the boss of UNRWA, the UN agency which supports millions of Palestinian refugees.”

Obviously this interview was not intended to provide BBC audiences with information which would enhance their understanding of the criticism of UNRWA’s mission and performance. Rather, the BBC chose – not for the first time – to provide the UN agency’s head with a friendly platform from which to promote his PR campaign in a near monologue that went unchallenged in any serious manner.  

Related Articles:

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

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BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

As regular readers will be aware, the BBC’s coverage of the US administration’s announcement on January 16th that it would be withholding part of its donation to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has been extensive.

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

Three BBC articles on US aid promote an irrelevant false comparison

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

However, the BBC’s reports have consistently failed to provide its funding public with information concerning the multiple issues that have made UNRWA so controversial or conduct any in-depth examination of the agency’s purpose, its agenda, its record or its efficiency.

UNRWA’s commissioner-general, Pierre Krahenbuhl, recently visited London – according to the Guardian, in order “to brief Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt”. As the Guardian’s report shows, one of the main talking points in Krahenbuhl’s efforts to solicit donations to his organisation is the claim that cuts to UNRWA’s services are liable to increase radicalisation.

“Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner general of the UN Relief and Works Agency, added that cuts in support to the already impoverished and demoralised population his organisation supports – many of them victims of recent conflict – risked radicalising a new generation of young Palestinians. […]

“I have just come from the Munich security conference. At every seminar, people were asking the same question: about security and how we combat radicalisation. If you want to ask us how to avoid radicalising Palestinian youth, then it is not by cutting $300m in our funding.””

Another port of call on Krahenbuhl’s London trip was the studios of the BBC World Service – which is of course partly funded by the UK government. The February 19th evening edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ included an item described in the synopsis as follows:

“How will UN’s Palestinian refugee agency make up for loss in funding from the US?”

Presenter Tim Franks introduced the nearly seven-minute-long item (from 30:06 here) thus: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Franks: “Donald Trump, you may have noticed, Tweets a lot. One of his more consequential came right at the start of the year – January the 2nd to be precise. ‘We pay the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars a year and get no appreciation or respect’ he Tweeted. It was a sentiment he gave voice to at the Davos Economic Forum later that month.”

Recording of Trump: “When they disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great vice-president to see them and we give them hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and support – tremendous numbers; numbers that nobody understands. That money’s on the table. That money’s not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace.”

Franks: “Well the practical result of that frustration is that now the vast bulk of US funding is to be withheld from UNRWA – the UN agency set up to look after what are now 5 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza and across the Middle East. Pierre Krahenbuhl is the boss of UNRWA. He’s currently in London.”

Predictably Franks refrained from informing listeners that the reason there are “now 5 million Palestinian refugees” is that, unlike the UN agency which takes care of all other refugees, UNRWA does not have an active program for “local integration” of refugees where they now reside – even if they live in Palestinian controlled areas – nor “resettlement” in third countries.

Listeners then heard the following conversation:

Krahenbuhl: “The United States has been the single largest and also very predictable and generous donor over decades and in 2017 contributed 364 million [$] to UNRWA and for 2018 has announced a contribution of 60 million so it’s a difference of 300 million. And that has become effective. This 60 million were transferred to UNRWA and that is the indication that we have for this year.”

Franks: “So what are you going to have to cut as a result of that?”

Krahenbuhl: “Well first of all I’m going to mobilise other donors and we’re looking for new funding lines and so we did two things: of course on the one hand with member states and the other, we launched a global public campaign called ‘Dignity is Priceless’ to tap into a lot of sympathy and solidarity that we have witnessed following the announcement by the US and a lot of people who are prepared to come and support.”

Franks: “But are you doing what is partly behind this move by the US – or at least how President Trump has explained it – which is that it is time for other countries, other donors to play a bigger role?”

Krahenbul then raised his ‘radicalisation’ talking point.

Krahenbuhl: “I take your point about the issue of redistribution but you know I don’t have, as commissioner-general, the luxury of having reserves. The only thing that I have is to go back to the member states of the [UN] General Assembly that gave UNRWA the mandate in 1949 to say ‘this is the situation I’m faced with – we need to find solutions’. Because what is at stake is not UNRWA as an organisation. What’s at stake is access to education for 525 thousand students. You know I was just at the Munich Security Conference. You cannot go to a single corridor in the hotel that hosted that without somebody asking ‘are you concerned about further radicalisation in the Middle East?’. So having 525 thousand Palestinian students, boys and girls, who are hoping for a better future no longer having access to education is certainly not an investment in regional security.”

That talking point was not however subjected to any critical examination by Tim Franks even though it would obviously have been helpful to the BBC’s funding public – who also of course fund the UK government Foreign Office which Krahenbuhl came to “brief” – to know what evidence there is to back the idea that nearly seventy years of UNRWA activity has countered radicalisation among the people it registers as refugees.

The current head of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, grew up – as the BBC knows – in an UNRWA administered refugee camp and attended an UNRWA run school. Hamas’ current leader in the Gaza Strip – convicted murderer Yahya Sinwar – likewise grew up in an UNRWA refugee camp. One of Hamas’ founders – Ibrahim al-Makadmeh – spent his childhood in UNRWA’s Jabaliya camp and attended an UNRWA school, as did former Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades leader Saleh Shehadeh.

Nevertheless, Tim Franks made no effort to inform ‘Newshour’ listeners of those and many other examples of members of Palestinian terror organisations who contradict Krahenbuhl’s claim that an UNRWA education is “an investment in regional security”.

The rest of Franks’ interview with UNRWA’s commissioner-general will be discussed in part two of this post.

Weekend long read

1) MEMRI provides a translation of an article appearing on a pro-Hizballah website.

“A February 9, 2018 article on the pro-Hizbullah Lebanese website Dahiya claims that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad recently rejected an Israeli demand, relayed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, to remove some 70,000 Iranian long-range missiles that Hizbullah has deployed throughout Syria and are aimed at Israel. The article claimed further that Syria and Hizbullah will wage a “joint missile campaign” against Israel, and that Iranian experts are ready to launch missiles at Israel from every part of Lebanon and Syria. According to the article, Assad has instructed his army to help Hizbullah construct and camouflage missile silos across the country; moreover, intense activity is underway to bring more Iranian missiles to Syria via Iraq, so that within a year Hizbullah will have 500,000 missiles in Syria, in addition to the ones it has already deployed in Lebanon.”

2) Writing at the JNS, Yaakov Lappin discusses Hizballah’s influence on the Lebanese military.

“For the United States, the LAF is a regional partner in the war against the Islamic State. It has received both U.S. funding and arms sales for that purpose.

According to Israeli military assessments, however, the LAF is increasingly coming under the sway of the Iranian-backed terror organization Hezbollah, which dominates Lebanon politically and militarily. […]

A recent visit to the Lebanese-Israeli border by a high-ranking Iranian official, Ebrahim Raisi, who is close to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, offers an accurate illustration of who is in control of Lebanon. Raisi was given a tour by armed Hezbollah members, vowing during his visit that “soon, we will witness the liberation of Jerusalem.””

3) At the Asia Times, former UNHCR official Alexander Casella addresses the debate surrounding UNRWA.

“The creation of UNRWA 70 years ago corresponded to a real humanitarian need. However, inbuilt in the fulfillment of that need were two political considerations, the so-called “right of return” and the fact that Palestinian refugee status would be handed down from generation to generation. Both these notions were predicated on what was at the time the core of Arab policy as regards Palestine, namely the obliteration of the State of Israel.

Not only did this not happen but with the recognition of Israel by Jordan and Egypt and the de facto rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Israel, what started off as a political expedient is today a major handicap, and the Palestinian refugee issue is one that both the Arab states and Israel could well do without.

While addressing it is a major political issue that continues to bedevil the Middle East, UNRWA, which started off as a solution, is now part of the problem. And, perversely, while it continues to discharge its assistance mandate, doing so has created among many of its wards as well as among several Arab governments a dependency, not to say a premium for inaction, of which Gaza is a prime example.”

4) Jonathan Spyer discusses the recent Russian sponsored Syrian peace conference.

“The Russians first of all failed even to bring the main protagonists of the war around the table.

The main, UN-recognised Syrian opposition formation, the Syrian Negotiation Commission, did not attend.  One senior member of the commission described the conference as a ‘meeting between the regime and the regime.’  An opposition website produced a picture of a beaming Syrian President Bashar Assad shaking hands with himself as a representation of the Sochi gathering. […]

The United States, France and Britain also did not attend the gathering, seeing it as a Russian attempt to circumvent the UN-sponsored process in order to bring about an outcome more favorable to the Assad regime.

Representatives of the Kurdish Federation of Northern Syria, which controls Syria east of the Euphrates, were not at the conference. The Syrian Kurdish leadership has sought to maintain working relations with Moscow, despite the Kurdish cooperation with the US in Syria.  But Moscow’s acquiescence to the current Turkish assault on the Kurdish Afrin canton in north west Syria has led to widespread anger among the Kurds.  Kurds belonging to rival factions also did not attend.”

 

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

Since the US administration announced on January 16th that it would be withholding part of its donation to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) the BBC has produced numerous reports on the story (see some in ‘related articles’ below).

Nevertheless, none of the corporation’s reports to date have provided its funding public with information concerning the multiple issues that have made UNRWA so controversial or any in-depth examination of the agency’s purpose, its agenda, its record or its efficiency.

BBC audiences may therefore have expected to find such information in an article presented not as a news item with limited space but as a ‘feature’ that appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on January 30th under the title “Palestinians fear cost of Trump’s refugee agency cut“.

However, just 72 words in Yolande Knell’s 882 word report were devoted to the provision of superficial background information on UNRWA.  

“Unrwa was originally set up to take care of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Nearly 70 years on, some of those refugees and many of their descendants continue to live in camps, which are now chronically overcrowded breeze block neighbourhoods.

Unrwa supports some five million people not only in the Palestinian Territories but also in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria – where Palestinian refugees have limited rights.”

Knell made no attempt to explain to readers why people who have lived under Palestinian rule in Gaza since 2005 or those holding Jordanian citizenship are still classed as ‘refugees’ and why some Arab countries give only “limited rights” to Palestinians.

Her approach to the highly relevant issue of inherited refugee status was to present it as an ‘Israel says’ subject – including quotes from the Israeli prime minister – and she refrained from informing readers how that issue is used for political ends or that ‘”right to return” to parts of historic Palestine’ for millions of people registered as ‘refugees’ would in fact mean the end of the Jewish state and hence the politically motivated perpetuation of that Palestinian “call” is unrealistic .

“The fate of the refugees is a core issue in the Arab-Israeli conflict and they have often been at the heart of Palestinian political and militant activity.

Palestinians call for their “right to return” to parts of historic Palestine – land which is now in Israel.

Israel rejects that claim and has often criticised the set-up of Unrwa for the way it allows refugee status to be inherited, which it points out is uniquely applied to Palestinians among all the world’s refugees.”

Knell countered that with statements from UNRWA’s spokesman Chris Gunness.

“Unrwa officials stress that the UN General Assembly sets their mandate and dismiss the idea it obstructs any Israel-Palestinian peace deal.

“It is the failure of the political parties to resolve the refugee issue that perpetuates it,” says Unrwa spokesman Chris Gunness.

“As soon as there’s a resolution of that based on international law, based on United Nations resolutions, Unrwa will go out of business and hand over its service.””

She then amplified UNRWA’s current fundraising campaign, citing support from what she blandly described as “humanitarian groups” – with no mention of the blatant political agenda of some of those organisations, including AFSC, Oxfam, Church World Service, Amnesty International and Islamic Relief.

“The agency has now launched a global appeal to fill the gap in its budget and is receiving many messages of support – including from celebrities and 21 international humanitarian groups.”

The prime focus of Knell’s article – over 300 words – was promotion of its main protagonist.

“Unrwa was there every moment for me,” says Najwa Sheikh Ahmed, an information officer with the UN Relief and Works Agency.

“It gave not only food, clothes, education and healthcare but also a job and the opportunity that offers your family.”

Najwa was born in Khan Younis refugee camp and brought up in tough conditions. […]

I watch her eldest daughter, Salma, as she excels in an English lesson. She is one of 270,000 Unrwa students in Gaza.

“As a mother I feel very worried,” Najwa confides.

“If the funding gap isn’t bridged, then Unrwa might find itself in a situation where [it has] to close the schools and health services. My children will be at risk.” […]

“Without Unrwa nobody will identify us as refugees,” says Najwa Sheikh-Ahmed – whose father fled from his home in al-Majdal – now in Ashkelon in southern Israel – as a boy in 1948.

“My refugee number, my ration card is witness to the fact that once upon a time I had a homeland,” she says. “Without this we will lose the right to fight for our rights.”

When UNRWA advertised last year for an ‘information officer’ in another location the job was described as a PR position:

“…maintains regular contact with local or regional and international media representatives; keeps the press informed of the Agency’s activities to promote better understanding and coverage of the Agency’s work, and to encourage the media to use UNRWA as a source of information on refugees.”

In other words, Knell’s main interviewee in this article is an employee of UNRWA’s public relations department whose job description includes contact with the international media and fund-raising. In addition to producing emotional UNRWA press releases, in the past Najwa Sheikh Ahmed has written for local publications and political NGOs as well as for the ‘Palestine Chronicle’, Channel 4 and the Times.

It is therefore hardly surprising that in addition to her story and comments, readers also found amplification of UNRWA’s fundraising and the protests by UNRWA employees in the Gaza Strip.

“”Dignity is priceless,” read the signs as thousands of employees of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees march through central Gaza City.

They fear Washington’s recent decision to withhold $65m (52.5m euros; £46m) in funds could affect their positions as well as basic services which most of them, as refugees, rely on. […]

At the rally in Gaza City, participants focus on the impact of any Unrwa cutbacks on the most needy but also on existential issues.”

While content provided by UNRWA staffers Najwa Sheikh Ahmed and (former BBC employee) Chris Gunness makes up nearly half of Yolande Knell’s 882 word article, once again this PR item amplifying UNRWA’s campaign against the US administration’s reduced donation fails to provide BBC audiences with the full range of impartial information concerning the UN agency that is needed for broader understanding of the story.

Related Articles:

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

Three BBC articles on US aid promote an irrelevant false comparison

 

Three BBC articles on US aid promote an irrelevant false comparison

As was noted here at the time, the BBC News website’s January 16th report on the withholding of part of the United States’ annual donation to UNRWA – “US holds back $65m aid to Palestinians” – included a nugget of unrelated information under the sub-heading “How much aid does the US send to Palestinians?”:

“The US’s $370m dwarfs the amount given by other donors – in 2016, the second-largest donor, the EU, gave less than half as much to UNWRA, which runs educational, health and social programmes.

The US also donated $260m in bilateral aid, with much of it going towards projects administered by the US Agency for International Development (USAid).

Those projects are run by non-governmental organisations involved in humanitarian assistance, economic development, democratic reform, improving water access and other infrastructure, healthcare, education, and vocational training.

By contrast, Israel receives more than $3bn in military aid per year from the US.” [emphasis added]

The following day an additional article on the same topic appeared on the website – “UN alarmed as US cuts aid to Palestinian refugee agency” – and there BBC audiences were told that:

“Ms Nauert [US State Dept spokesperson] explained that the US would “like to see some revisions made in how Unrwa operates”, to ensure that the money was “best spent” so that people got the services they needed.

She did not mention whether US bilateral aid to the Palestinians was also at risk. That amounted to $260m in 2016, with much of the money going towards projects administered by the US Agency for International Development (USAid).

By contrast, Israel receives more than $3bn in military aid per year from the US.” [emphasis added]

On January 26th the BBC News website published a report titled “Trump threatens to stop aid to Palestinians” in which readers were informed that:

“The US announced earlier this month that it was withholding more than half of a tranche of funding for the UN agency supporting Palestinian refugees, amounting to about $65m (£46m).

But the US state department later confirmed this was not the aid Mr Trump was referring too. He was instead talking about bilateral funding for economic support and some security training.

US bilateral aid to the Palestinians amounted to $260m in 2016. By contrast, Israel receives more than $3bn in military aid per year from the US.” [emphasis added]

Obviously the amount of military aid the US chooses to give to Israel has nothing whatsoever to do with either of these stories.

Moreover, despite having introduced the topic, in none of those three articles did BBC journalists bother to clarify that Israel is a longstanding US ally or that currently some 74% (set to rise to 100% in 2019) of that military assistance is conditioned on it being spent on purchases from American companies: an arrangement described in the Washington Post as follows:

“In other words, U.S. foreign military financing is essentially a way of subsidizing its domestic defense industry while strengthening the military capabilities of its strategic allies.”

The promotion of a false comparison between the level of US donations to the PA and UNRWA and the amount of US military aid to Israel obviously contributes nothing to audience understanding of the stories the BBC purports to tell in these three articles. And yet, BBC journalists continue to repeatedly shoehorn that irrelevant information into reports supposedly about US donations to a UN agency and to the Palestinian Authority.

Related Articles:

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

Weekend long read

1) Grant Rumley writes about “The Tragedy of Mahmoud Abbas” at the Atlantic.

“Picture a Palestinian leader in the twilight of his reign. Besieged on all sides and challenged by younger upstarts, he lashes out against Israel, his Arab brethren, and the United States. Other Palestinian officials jockey to replace him, convinced he’s past his prime. This is how it ended for Yasser Arafat, whose insistence on waging the second intifada left him isolated in the final years of his rule. It may well be how it ends for Mahmoud Abbas.”

2) At the JCPA Amb. Alan Baker discusses “Palestinian Manipulation of the International Criminal Court“.

“International law does not recognize General Assembly resolutions as a source of legal authority for granting statehood. Following on from this, the Palestinians cannot give jurisdiction to the ICC over territory over which they do not exercise sovereignty and jurisdiction, and which is subject to an ongoing dispute and negotiation as to its final status.

In this context, one may ask how the ICC, as a juridical institution established on the basis of legal principles and norms, could, in light of the requirements of its statute, rely on a political, non-binding resolution of the General Assembly as a source of authority for accepting a non-state entity claiming to be a state?”

3) At Mosaic magazine, Robert Satloff writes about a little-known chapter in World War Two history.

“In the early morning hours of November 8, 1942, as U.S. and British forces waited anxiously on troop ships spread across the North African coast, 377 young men, led by a twenty-year-old medical student named José Aboulker, had fanned out across Algeria’s capital city of Algiers to execute a daring mission that would help determine the fate of [Operation] Torch. […]

Astonishingly, through gumption, guile, and guts, these ragtag volunteers succeeded. By 2:00 a.m. on the morning of the invasion, Algeria’s capital was theirs. No less astonishingly, they then proceeded to hold it for an additional five critical hours, making it far easier for Allied troops to enter Algiers than had proved the case in the landing zones of Casablanca and Oran.

If mainstream histories of Torch mention this episode at all, they describe it briefly as but one in a line of heroic tales of French partisans. The official U.S. army account of American military engagement in North Africa, for example, records that “Algiers came under control of the irregulars of the French resistance at the time the landings began.”

But that account and virtually all others miss a critical aspect of the story: not only Aboulker himself but fully 315 of those 377 resistance fighters in Algiers were Jews, motivated to fight precisely because, as Jews, they had been denied their rights as Frenchmen by Vichy France. At its core, then, theirs was a Jewish resistance movement.”

4) At the Jerusalem Post Liat Collins looks at “UNRWA’s Unsettling Impact“.

“To understand the absurdity that is UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) exchange the name India for Israel and Pakistan for the Palestinians.[…]

An estimated 15 million people were uprooted in Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. Between one million and two million were killed. It was a tragedy of epic proportions.

Seventy years on, India and Pakistan have an uneasy relationship that occasionally flares into conflict. There are still disputed areas, such as Kashmir, but there is not a “refugee problem.”

That’s because the Hindus and Sikhs who fled Pakistan for India and the Muslims who escaped in the other direction – whether from fear or violent coercion – have not spent the past seven decades constantly being sold the illusion that they will move back and destroy their enemies.”

 

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part two

In part one of this post we saw how Mustafa Barghouti was given an unchallenged platform on two editions of the BBC World Service programme ‘Newsday‘ from which to promote anti-Israel propaganda and falsehoods while supposedly discussing the US administration’s withholding of donations to UNRWA.

In a later edition of that same programme – presented by Lawrence Pollard and Shaimaa Khalil – listeners heard from Dr Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank before Mustafa Barghouti was brought in (from 05:02 here) for yet another interview. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Pollard: “Well let’s speak now to Mustafa Barghouti who is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council which was the parliament of the occupied territories. Welcome back to the programme, sir. Very briefly, what will the effect of this move be?”

Barghouti: “Well this is another irresponsible, reckless and harmful decision of President Trump. It represents an act of collective punishment against the victims of Israeli ethnic cleansing that took place in 1948. It’s a collective punishment against millions of Palestinian refugees and it will affect their humanitarian needs. This means that hundreds of thousands of children will not be able to go to school. This means that hundreds of thousands of people will not be able to receive healthcare. It means that hundreds of thousands of elderly people and disabled will be deprived from humanitarian support and it is a political act. It is clearly a political act from the side of the president of the United States…”

Pollard: “Sure.”

Barghouti: “…who is complicit in Israeli policies to liquidate the rights of Palestinian refugees to come home to the place they were displaced from which is an international United Nations resolution.”

The resolution to which Barghouti refers is of course UNGA resolution 194 which is non-binding but Pollard failed to clarify that fact to listeners just as he avoided informing them that there is no factual basis to Barghouti’s egregious claims of “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians by Israel.

Pollard: “As I understand it there is now going to be a shortfall in the budget but it’s not an immediate cessation of the budget so there is time for other countries to step forward. Don’t you think that there are plenty of countries that are going to be more than happy to embarrass – as they would see it – Donald Trump and step up and pay? So the real effect – I mean you’re talking about the effect as if the money disappeared now – but the real effect on the ground might not be so bad in practice.”

Barghouti: “Not really because UNRWA itself is already suffering from a deficit that happens every year because during the last few years UNRWA is not getting sufficient support to run all the services.”

Pollard: “OK that’s…I’m really sorry to interrupt you but you just heard our previous talker saying that was because of poor administration. You would reject that?”

Barghouti: “It’s not true. It’s not true. The poor administration lies in the fact that the United States is giving $4 billion [sic] to Israel for building a huge army and building nuclear power. The bad administration and bad planning relates to United States USAID agency which is actually spreading corruption in many countries instead of doing development. And if Mr Trump wants to reform, he should start with his own. He should start with reforming USAID agency before attacking a United Nations agency that is providing very basic humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people.”

Making no effort to correct Barghouti’s inaccurate claims regarding US military aid to Israel, Pollard went on:

Pollard: “OK, that’s an interesting distinction. Can I ask; in the background – I think most people agree – is not…I mean, you know, the main issue is not a complaint about administration of aid; it’s a bigger political story. It’s intended to drive the Palestinians – as Mr Trump would say – back to the talking table. From the comments for example of Mahmoud Abbas, there’s no chance of that happening. Would you agree with Abbas?”

Barghouti: “No, Mr Abbas didn’t say that. Mr Abbas said we never left the table of negotiations but it is Israel that is refusing to negotiate. And Mr Abbas said that President Trump has taken off the table the issue of Jerusalem, the issue of refugees, the issue of settlements and wants us to come to an empty table. How can we negotiate when Mr Trump and Netanyahu, with whom he is complicit, are removing all issues of negotiations and deciding the outcome before negotiations start?”

Pollard: “Mmm.”

Barghouti: “The problem is that there is an Israeli military occupation that has become the longest in modern history for 50 years and a problem of refugees who were displaced by ethnic cleansing since 70 years by Israel. That is the problem and you cannot have peace unless those issues are resolved and unless Palestinians are given the right to be living in peace and equality to everybody else.”

Pollard: “Right and can I ask in your opinion – because we’ve heard pretty dire warnings from inside the UN agencies themselves – about how this will increase extremism, anger and so on. Do you think that is the effect that you will see? You were mentioning the practical effect on the ground in terms of clinics and schools but in terms of mentality, in terms of attitudes, what effect will this have?”

Barghouti: “This is…this is seriously dis…this is an act that is seriously going to affect the stability in the region for sure. This is going to affect people in Jordan, in Lebanon, in Syria – which is suffering a lot already – and of course it will be destabilising but more important, it eliminates any ability of the United States administration to play a positive, constructive role in any future peace process.”

Pollard: “And just at the time that we’re expecting their latest peace proposals. Mustafa Barghouti – many thanks indeed – a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.”

As we see, listeners to ‘Newsday’ on January 17th heard very generous coverage of the “top story” concerning the US decision to withhold part of its donations to UNRWA. The majority of the opinions heard, however, were strongly critical of the decision and the sole exception was in the contributions from Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

05:06 edition: Jan Egeland (Norwegian Refugee Council), Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

06:06 edition: Antonio Guterres (UN), Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO)

07:06 edition: Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO), Jonathan Schanzer (FDD)

08:06 edition: Mustafa Barghouti (PLC, PLO), Jonathan Schanzer (FDD)

09:06 edition: Jonathan Schanzer (FDD), Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

10:06 edition: Chris Gunness (UNRWA)

Obviously that imbalance in itself compromises the BBC’s claim to produce impartial reporting “reflecting a breadth and diversity of opinion“. Moreover, listeners heard numerous inaccurate and misleading claims from both Gunness and Barghouti that presenters made no attempt whatsoever to challenge or correct. No attempt was made to raise any of the serious issues surrounding UNRWA’s functioning and agenda despite their clear relevance to the story. Barghouti was not asked about the Palestinian Authority’s own prioritisation of payments to convicted terrorists over schools and healthcare for people registered as refugees but living under its control even though Schanzer did raise that issue. And of course not only were Barghouti’s repeated falsehoods concerning Israel allowed to stand unquestioned but no right of reply was given to enable rebuttal of those propaganda smears.

Related Articles:

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

BACKGROUNDER: The Palestinian Claim to a “Right of Return”  (CAMERA)

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

 

Falsehoods go uncontested on BBC World Service – part one

As we have already seen, UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness gave two interviews on the same topic to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ on January 17th that were aired in three of the show’s six editions.

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

An additional interviewee brought in to discuss the story of US aid donations to UNRWA on the same programme on that day was Mustafa Barghouti.

Listeners heard presenters Karnie Sharp and Paul Hawkins introduce the item as follows (from 00:37 here): [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Sharp: “But let’s go to our top story this hour. It’s the decision by the United States to withhold millions of dollars in aid funding for the united relief agency for Palestinians known as UNRWA which is the UN Relief and Works Agency.”

Hawkins: “The Trump administration has sent $60 million to keep the refugee agency operating but it’s decided to withhold the remainder of the $125 million donation and it wants other countries to pay more. Speaking at a news conference, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was worried by the decision.”

Gutteres [recording]: “I am very concerned and I strongly hope that in the end it will be possible for the United States to maintain the funding of UNRWA in which the US has a very important share. UNRWA is not a Palestinian institution. UNRWA is a UN institution created by a UN resolution and UNRWA is providing vital services to the Palestinian refugees both in the occupied territories and in Jordan, in Syria and in Lebanon.”

Sharp [01:42]: “Let’s now talk to Dr Mustafa Barghouti who is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. […] What’s your reaction or the Palest…the reaction of the Palestinian Authority to this news?”

Barghouti: “Well this decision by the Trump administration is another irresponsible, reckless and harmful decision which is…which represents in our opinion an act of collective punishment against millions of Palestinian refugees who have been victims of occupation and the policy of Israeli ethnic cleansing that displaced them from their country in 1948 and they are also still subjected to the policy of apartheid and racial discrimination by Israeli occupation. It’s an act of collective punishment against people who will now suffer deprivation, who will lose education, who will lose healthcare. It’s a punishment of elderly people, people who are disabled, who have very basic humanitarian needs and we don’t understand why the United States continue to be complicit in Israeli policies. We don’t understand why they are using this irresponsible and inhuman act to punish Palestinians collectively and in our opinion it’s also a political decision. Clearly they are fulfilling Israeli wishes to liquidate the rights of the Palestinian refugees to return to the homes they were displaced from in 1948.”

Sharp made no effort whatsoever to challenge the falsehood that Palestinians were displaced from “their country” in 1948, the description of that territory as ‘occupied’ or the lies of “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid and racial discrimination”. Neither did she bother to clarify to listeners that Barghouti’s advocated ‘right of return’ is a scenario that any serious commentator knows will not happen. She did, however, challenge Barghouti’s description of the US decision as a “punishment”.

Sharp: “OK Doctor, but they have made it clear that it isn’t a punishment and it’s not a complete withdrawal of all the funds: it’s half of it.”

Barghouti: “The UNRWA United Nations agency is suffering already from a big deficit of its budget and when you cut off $65 million from their budget, which is more than 50% of the American contribution, it means you are driving this agency into bankruptcy. We are talking…they are already laying off doctors, nurses, teachers. You are talking about millions of Palestinian refugees not only in Palestine itself – in the West Bank and Gaza – but Palestinian refugees in Syria, which is suffering from terrible humanitarian situation, in Lebanon, in Jordan. Those children will be deprived now from the possibility of accessing education. The people who are suffering from diseases will be deprived from getting their medications and so many people will suffer.”

Sharp: “Sure.”

Barghouti: “Some people will lose their shelters. So it is an act of collective punishment against people who are…who are not victim…who are not…who have not done anything wrong.”

Sharp: “Sure but let’s look at it from the United States point of view. They are the biggest contributor here. They’re asking for reforms and they say we don’t believe that taking care of other nations and other people have to rest solely on the shoulders of the United States. That’s a fair comment, isn’t it?”

Barghouti: “No because if they are talking about reform, why now? Why they are not talking about reform for instance of World Health Organisation or food prog…food [unintelligible] or any other UN agency? No; these are political decisions that Mr Trump is taking to punish Palestinians and to force Palestinians to take wrong political decisions that affect their future. In other words Mr Trump is only fulfilling the wishes of Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, who’s trying to kill the issue of Jerusalem, to kill the issue of refugees and practically to block any possibility for future negotiations and for peace in this place. This action by the United States government will only create more instability in this region and you are talking about six million [sic] refugees who are deprived, who have suffered in their lives for six…for 70 years from being displaced by Israeli ethnic cleansing and now they are being punished by the government of the United States.”

Once again making no effort to challenge Barghouti’s “ethnic cleansing” lie or his misrepresentation of the number of people registered as refugees, Sharp closed the interview there.

In the next edition of the programme, listeners heard an edited version of that interview (from 01:22 here) in which – once again – Barghouti’s falsehoods were amplified without any challenge whatsoever.  

Barghouti: “This decision by the Trump administration is another irresponsible, reckless and harmful decision which is…which represents in our opinion an act of collective punishment against millions of Palestinian refugees who have been victims of occupation and the policy of Israeli ethnic cleansing that displaced them from their country in 1948 and they are also still subjected to the policy of apartheid and racial discrimination by Israeli occupation. It’s an act of collective punishment against people who will now suffer deprivation, who will lose education, who will lose healthcare. And we don’t understand why the United States continue to be complicit in Israeli policies.”

Moreover, Barghouti was brought back for yet another interview on the same topic in a later edition of the programme which will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

BBC News report on UNRWA funding story omits relevant background

 

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, listeners to the early edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ on January 17th heard two very similar opinions on the story of US aid donations to UNRWA from NGO head Jan Egeland and from the UN agency’s spokesperson Chris Gunness.

In a later edition of the same programme, Gunness was interviewed again (from 02:09 here) by presenter Shaimaa Khalil.  

Gunness began by telling listeners that: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Gunness: “The reason why UNRWA’s budget runs out when it does is because the number of refugees we serve goes up and up and up because without a political resolution of their plight, their children remain refugees and that is the case with UNHCR refugees and other refugee populations around the world.”

While Gunness has been promoting that claim for years, it bears closer examination because, as pointed out by Steven J Rosen:

“Unlike its sister agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is responsible for millions of non-Palestinian refugees worldwide, it [UNRWA] does not have an active program for “local integration” of refugees where they now reside nor “resettlement” in third countries.”

Rosen notes that:

“In 1950, its first director told the General Assembly that the “agency has decided that a refugee is a needy person, who, as a result of the war in Palestine, has lost his home and his means of livelihood.” His definition made no reference to descendants.

Not until 1965, fifteen years after its creation, did an UNRWA commissioner-general decide, against objections from the United States government, to create “an extension of eligibility, subject to need, to the third generation of refugees (that is, to children of persons who were themselves born after 14 May 1948).” […]

In 1982, or thirty-two years after its creation, UNRWA took another step forward by extending eligibility to all generations of descendants. It did so by obtaining a General Assembly resolution instructing UNRWA “to issue identification cards to all Palestine refugees and their descendants” without any limitation on how many generations of descendancy this practice would continue. […]

UNRWA went still further in 1992 by adding a provision that those descendants of Palestine refugee males who “are eligible to register for UNRWA services” and are registered with UNRWA, should be “referred to as Registered Refugees or as Registered Palestine Refugees” though they do not meet UNRWA’s own standard of having lived in Palestine prior to May 1948.”

Regarding Gunness’ claim “that is the case with UNHCR refugees”, Rosen notes:

“UNHCR confers derivative refugee status on the basis of family unity where there is a relationship of dependency. “As a matter of general practice, UNHCR does not promote the reunification of … grandchildren… unless they can be determined to be eligible under the principle of dependency.” This can mean financial dependency, “but also taking emotional dependency into consideration.” […]

It is true that, UNHCR’s basic standard is the nuclear family and that subsequent generations are given derivative refugee status only on an exceptional basis while UNRWA automatically grants grandchildren and great-grandchildren refugee status. But UNRWA defenders such as Gunness can argue that the two agencies are guided by the same basic principles.”

Unchallenged by Khalil on that important point, Gunness (who in his previous interview claimed to “maintain the highest standards of neutrality”) continued:

Gunness: “And the refugees we serve are not only just going up in number but the vulnerabilities they face are also intensifying. In Syria there’s this cruel war raging into its 7th year. In Gaza we see a blockade – a collective punishment in violation of international law – and in the West Bank we’ve seen 50 years of Israeli occupation.”

That Gunness failed to offer any legal basis for his allegations concerning the blockage and refrained from mentioning the terrorism that made it necessary is not surprising. As former UNRWA senior official James Lindsay has noted:

“In 2008, UNRWA issued comparably fewer calls for engaging Hamas. Instead, it has focused on criticizing the Israeli blockade of Gaza […]. In this regard, the agency echoes the Hamas view of the conflict with Israel. For example, when UNRWA ran out of fuel supplies in late April–early May 2008, it implied that its shortage was caused by the Israelis (who were blocking deliveries to Hamas but not to UNRWA) rather than by Hamas’s actions (which included allowing demonstrators to prevent delivery of fuel to UNRWA as well as intimidation of the Petrol Station Owners Association, which subsequently refused to distribute fuel delivered to Gaza by Israel). This propensity to echo Hamas views extends to other issues as well.”

Gunness continued:

Gunness: “What we need to resolve UNRWA’s budget problems is a political settlement. We need a just and durable solution for 5.3 million Palestine refugees who to this day, 70 years after their original exile and dispossession, have remained exiled. They remain stateless and in many cases they are deeply vulnerable. That is what causes UNRWA’s budget problems. UNRWA is an expression of the political failure of the political echelons to bring dignity and resolution to a community that for far too long has been deprived of those things.”

As also noted by Lindsay, UNRWA’s idea of a “political settlement” echoes Palestinian claims of ‘right of return’:

“Regarding the resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem, UNRWA’s sympathies are not with resettlement or “repatriation” to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, but with “repatriation” to Israel.”

Shaimaa Khalil made no effort to question Gunness on the issue of the estimated 2 million people defined as Palestinian refugees who hold Jordanian citizenship before going on to ask:

Khalil: “But what do you say to the point being made that the United States has the right to know where the money is going and the point that UNRWA has poorly planned the resources?”

Gunness’ answer to that question repeated claims he made in the first interview of American ‘praise’ for UNRWA during a visit by its commissioner-general to Washington last November. Khalil went on:

Khalil: “Just on the point that your budget is over a billion dollars – this is just $125 million [sic] that’s being withheld. Don’t you think that other countries could step in and provide that amount?”

After Gunness answered that UNRWA is “going after other donors”, Khalil asked him “how will this shortfall affect your operations?” to which (despite having claimed in the previous interview that “what is at stake [is] nothing less than the security and stability of the Middle East”) he replied:

Gunness: “Well let us be clear. The commissioner-general said in his statement that we intend to robustly defend our mandate and we are determined that services will not be impacted. And that remains our position. It is premature to talk about cuts. We will do everything I can…we can a) to go after additional funds and b) to protect the mandate and make sure that the dignity of these people living in such fragile and vulnerable circumstances can continue to be protected with the services that we deliver.”

As we see, not only was Gunness not asked any in-depth questions about UNRWA’s record and agenda that would help BBC audiences understand this story better but his inaccurate and misleading claim concerning hereditary refugee status and his politically motivated allegations concerning Israeli counter-terrorism measures were not challenged at all.

Moreover, not only was the same interview rebroadcast in a later edition of the same programme (from 00:35 here) but the BBC World Service also chose to promote a slightly edited version of it on social media.

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BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

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BBC World Service amplifies UNRWA’s political campaigning yet again

Lyse Doucet’s blatant political propaganda on BBC WS WHYS – part two

BBC WS ‘Newshour’ provides a platform for UNRWA’s political campaigning

 

BBC WS Newsday coverage of UNRWA aid story – part one

The top story in the various editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday‘ aired on January 17th was described as follows:

“The US is withholding more than half of a $125m (£90m) instalment destined for the UN relief agency for the Palestinians, American officials say. It will provide $60m in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) but will hold back a further $65m.”

In the early edition of that programme, listeners around the world heard from two contributors voicing similar opinions. The item was introduced (at 00:48 here) by presenter Paul Hawkins as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Hawkins: “But first to the news that the US is withholding millions of dollars in aid for the UN relief agency for Palestinians known as UNRWA. The White House has sent $60 million in its kind of first installment of 2018 but it’s withholding the remaining $65 million and has urged other countries to pay more. The US is UNRWA’s largest donor and supplies nearly 30% of its total budget of over a billion dollars. Here’s the reaction of Jan Egeland, a former UN undersecretary general and current head of the Norwegian Refugee Council.”

Despite the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality, as is all too often the case listeners were not given any information regarding that NGO’s political agenda and activities before they heard its representative speak.

Egeland: “This is horrible news for us who are actively trying to provide humanitarian relief in the Middle East to all parties including to Palestinian refugee children. UNRWA is the number one provider of education, health care, even food and shelter for Palestinian refugees and their children: people who in Gaza, in Lebanon, in Syria have nowhere else to go, no job opportunities, no hope. It is a dangerous politicisation of humanitarian aid that grown, well-fed politicians and diplomats say we will now cut relief to the most vulnerable people because we disagree politically on, for example, the future of Jerusalem. Cannot do like that.”

Later on in the same programme (at 18:30) Hawkins returned to the same topic and after a short introduction, brought in UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness.

Hawkins: “First of all the US State Department says that this decision is not aimed at punishing anyone, it’s not punitive and they just simply want your agency to reform itself. Do you believe them?”

Gunness: “Well first of all let me say that this reduction of US funding is regrettable, it is abrupt and it is harmful. The decision threatens one of the longest standing, most successful and innovative human development endeavours in the Middle East and at stake is the access of over half a million boys and girls to over 700 UNRWA schools. At stake is the dignity and the human security of millions of Palestine refugees. We tend to the sick, the elderly, the dying, the vulnerable children and women. So that is what is at stake: nothing less than the security and stability of the Middle East

As far as reform is concerned, UNRWA has always been open to reform and the United States, most recently to our commissioner-general on a visit to Washington in November, was fulsome in its praise of UNRWA and its reforms. We remain committed to reforms but we have to say that this decision is extremely worrying because at stake is, as I say, the dignity, the human security of millions of Palestine refugees.”

Despite the rosy picture painted by Gunness, past US donations to UNRWA have not come without conditions and criticism.

Hawkins: “Well you say you remain committed to the reforms – it seems like the current White House administration is fed up with the agency being committed to reforms but not actually following them through. We’ve spoken to one expert who’s heard from the White House that UNRWA…when the US provides around $200 million a year to UNRWA, the agency burns through the budget within its first eight to ten months and then it has to go round asking for more money and this is the kind of thing that the US is a bit fed up with.”

Gunness: “Well as I said the US has consistently commended our high impact, our transparency and our accountability and as I’ve just said this was reiterated once again during the visit to Washington last November. The reason why, as you say, we burn through our budget is that the number of refugees continues to grow. The vulnerabilities they face in places like Gaza – because of the blockade – in Syria – because of the war that is now in its 7th year – and in the West Bank where the occupation is 50 years old. The reason why the budget of UNRWA goes up is because the numbers are going up and what we say to all stakeholders of the political echelon is what will stop this and what will put UNRWA out of business is a just and durable solution for the refugees in accordance with international law and based on UN resolutions. That is what is going to obviate the need for UNRWA to – as you put it – burn through the budget. So let’s get some political action to resolve the refugee issue because year on year the numbers are going up and there is increasing demand therefore our budget goes up.”

Hawkins made no effort to help listeners understand what part UNRWA’s unique policy of automatically awarding hereditary refugee status plays in causing the number of Palestinian refugees to rise, why refugee camps still exist in areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas or why Palestinians with Jordanian citizenship are still classified as refugees. 

Hawkins: “Just very quickly because we’re running out of time, Chris – apologies for that – but there’s also been a few questions raised about UNRWA’s…about the money that UNRWA provides – a lot of it going to political activity and what some may think is a questionable use of funds.”

Gunness: “Well we are one of the most audited of UN organisations on the planet. We maintain the highest standards of neutrality. The aid pipeline which we have is…it guarantees…I don’t understand where you say…I don’t understand where these accusations are coming from. Our funds are used for the purposes they’re intended for and that is a matter of public record and it’s something which we achieve to the satisfaction of all our major donors.”

The interview ended there, with no further questioning of Gunness’ (frequently touted) claims of “neutrality” despite his own well-documented activities and the agency’s record of political advocacy.

Once again, BBC audiences heard nothing of the UNRWA employees who were elected to the Hamas political bureau, of the Hamas tunnels dug underneath UNRWA schools  or of the antisemitic incitement posted on social media by UNRWA employees.  

That, however, was not Gunness’ only interview on ‘Newsday’ on that particular day and his second appearance will be discussed in part two of this post.

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