BBC News ignores brewing Red Sea tensions

Back in late June we highlighted a report by the INSS on the topic of the Red Sea.

“Although the threat posed by pirates in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait has declined in recent years as a result of international action, a new threat to freedom of navigation has emerged there due to the war in Yemen, which assumed a distinctively regional character with the onset of the Saudi campaign against the Houthis in 2015. The Iranian-supported Houthi rebels have mined areas along the coast of Yemen, used explosive boats and anti-ship missiles to attack primarily American and Saudi military maritime vessels, and on at least one occasion (in April 2018) struck a Saudi oil tanker. […]

The Red Sea arena possesses considerable economic importance. The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is 29 kilometers wide and constitutes a maritime chokepoint and strategic link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.  A significant volume of the world’s maritime traffic passes through the Strait, including a daily average of some five million barrels of oil. The Suez Canal constitutes an important source of income for Egypt, as does the port of Aqaba for Jordan and the port of Jeddah for Saudi Arabia (its most important port). It is also the route of passage to the port of Eilat.”

On July 25th another attack on Saudi Arabian ships in the Bab el-Mandeb strait took place and Saudi Arabia subsequently temporarily halted oil exports via that route.

“Saudi Arabia said on Thursday it was suspending oil shipments through the Red Sea’s Bab al-Mandeb strait, one of the world’s most important tanker routes, after Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis attacked two ships in the waterway. […]

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said the Houthis attacked two Saudi oil tankers in the Red Sea on Wednesday, one of which sustained minimal damage.

“Saudi Arabia is temporarily halting all oil shipments through Bab al-Mandeb strait immediately until the situation becomes clearer and the maritime transit through Bab al-Mandeb is safe,” he said. […]

Saudi crude exports through Bab al-Mandeb are estimated at around 500,000-700,000 barrels per day (bpd), according to analysts and Reuters data. Most Gulf oil exports that transit the Suez Canal and SUMED Pipeline pass through the strait.”

Ha’aretz reported that the incident was “attracting a great deal of attention among intelligence organizations in the region and from the oil industry”.

“The tanker, the Arsan, was flying a Saudi flag and transporting some 2 million barrels of oil to Egypt. It was struck by missiles near the port of Hodeida in Yemen where Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been attacking the Houthis for the past few months. According to the Washington Institute the tankers were hit by a rocket fired from a fast-attack vessel or a ground-to-sea missile fired from Yemen, possibly a C-802, which Iran supplies to the rebels. The Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack and the Saudis announced that they were suspending tanker shipments in the Red Sea until the situation was sorted out and marine traffic was safe again.”

Despite an extensive search on the BBC News website – including its Saudi Arabia and Yemen pages and its business section – we have not been able to find any BBC reporting whatsoever on that incident.

The following day – July 26th – the BBC News website published an article headlined “Iran general warns Trump war would ‘destroy all you possess’” in which readers were told that:

“An Iranian special forces commander has warned President Donald Trump if the US attacks Iran it “will destroy all that you possess”.

Major General Qassem Soleimani vowed that if Mr Trump started a war, the Islamic Republic would end it, Iranian news agency Tasnim reported.

It follows Mr Trump’s all-caps-lock tweet warning Iran’s president to “never, ever” threaten the US. […]

Maj Gen Soleimani – who leads the Quds Force of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards – was quoted on Thursday as saying: “As a soldier, it is my duty to respond to your threats. […]

“We are near you, where you can’t even imagine. Come. We are ready.

“If you begin the war, we will end the war. You know that this war will destroy all that you possess.”

The BBC did not inform its readers that Soleimani’s threats included – as reported by the Guardian and others – a specific mention of the Red Sea.

“The senior Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani has hit back at Donald Trump’s tweeted threats against Tehran in colourful language, likening him to a gambler and a cabaret owner, and saying Iran would be the one to “end” any war between their two countries. […]

“The Red Sea which was secure is no longer secure for the presence of American [military] … The Quds force and I are your match. We don’t go to sleep at night before thinking about you,” added Suleimani, according to the Tasnim news agency. […]

Suleimani’s warning to the US about the Red Sea comes on the same day Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, suspended oil exports through the strategic shipping lane of Bab al-Mandeb due to missile attacks on two oil tankers by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels off the Yemen coast.”

Clearly any Iranian threats concerning the potential disruption of international shipping in the Red Sea are of considerable significance – and not only for countries in the region such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel

Moreover, MEMRI reports that:

“On August 6, 2018, the Iranian news agency Fars published statements by Gen. Naser Sha’bani, a top official of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), in which he noted that the regime of the Islamic Revolution had ordered the pro-Iran Ansar Allah (Houthi) militia in Yemen to attack two Saudi tankers, and that it had carried out those orders. […]

It should be emphasized that the quote about the order to attack the tankers was deleted from the Fars website after the statements were published. MEMRI has in its possession a copy of the original prior to the deletion.”

To date, however, the BBC’s funding public has seen no reporting whatsoever on this story.

 

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Framing the topic in BBC Radio 4’s ‘Any Questions?

The synopsis to the July 6th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Any Questions?‘ reads as follows: [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

“Jonathan Dimbleby presents political debate and discussion from Westminster Synagogue in London with the Vice Chair of the Conservative Party responsible for Women Maria Caulfield MP, the crossbench peer Baroness Deech, the founder of moneysavingexpert.com Martin Lewis and the Labour MP Chuka Umunna. Together they discuss the recent apparent second Novichok poisoning, Sadiq Khan’s approval of an inflatable in the shape of a baby Trump, a second referendum on Brexit, whether the UK should move its embassy to Jerusalem, whether the legalisation of recreational cannabis will follow the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal purposes.”

Presenter Jonathan Dimbleby is of course on record as saying that the BBC’s decision to uphold parts of complaints made concerning Israel-related reporting by Jeremy Bowen would “cause serious damage” to the corporation’s international standing, while describing those complaints as “lies and distortions”.   

His interventions during discussion of that highlighted question are hence noteworthy.

The question from the audience member concerning the UK embassy in Israel – actually worded “why doesn’t the UK move its embassy to Jerusalem?” – came at 17:50 minutes into the programme (available here) and was immediately followed by a remark from Dimbleby:

Dimbleby: “As of course the US government has done – or Donald Trump has done…”

As was clearly stated at the beginning of the announcement concerning the relocation of the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, the decision was based on the ‘Jerusalem Embassy Act’ passed by the US Congress in 1995.

“The Congress, since the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 (Public Law 104– 45) (the ‘‘Act’’), has urged the United States to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to relocate our Embassy to Israel to that city. The United States Senate reaffirmed the Act in a unanimous vote on June 5, 2017.

Now, 22 years after the Act’s passage, I have determined that it is time for the United States to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This long overdue recognition of reality is in the best interests of both the United States and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”

As the second panelist – Baroness Deech – was giving her answer to the question, Dimbleby interrupted. 

[21:51] Dimbleby: “Do you, do you, Ruth, do you not see that there is a big diplomatic – to put it mildly – dilemma when the city is divided between two communities – two groups that are both national groups – and that until you have managed to solve the Palestinian issue, it’s very difficult not to be sending the message that it’s more important to us that Israel has the capital in Jerusalem than it is that the Palestinians have an equal right to part of Jerusalem as their capital?”

Under the terms of the Oslo Accords signed by the PLO and Israel, the status of Jerusalem is one of seven ‘permanent status’ issues yet to be negotiated. Jonathan Dimbleby is obviously in no need of such negotiations, having already decided for himself on the question of ‘rights’ to the city. However Radio 4 listeners heard him frame his own opinion as fact.

When the third panelist to speak – Maria Caulfield – had a slip of the tongue, Dimbleby quickly jumped in, putting words in her mouth.

Caulfield: “…you know some of the demolition of settlements doesn’t do the Israeli government any favours and so there’s a lot of work to be done…”

Dimbleby: “Sorry: some of the demolition of settlements?”

Caulfield: “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

Dimbleby: “The creation of settlements.”

Caulfield: “Sorry – the creation of settlements and the demolition of some of the Palestinian…”

Dimbleby [interrupts] “Palestinian homes.”

Caulfield: “…homes…doesn’t do the Israeli government any favours.”

As the BBC itself reported a year ago, no Israeli government has ‘created’ new ‘settlements’ in well over two decades. Dimbleby’s pursuit of accuracy did not however include informing his audience of the vital context of the absence of building permits in cases in which “Palestinian homes” have been demolished.

At the end of that item (28:19) Dimbleby chose to read out two listener responses of the same stripe.

Dimbleby: “Quite a lot of tweets. This from Jonathan Ross: ‘People in power like to throw their weight around. That’s why Israel and its supporters want Jerusalem as their capital’. But – or and – Steve Brooks: ‘Jerusalem is a city that belongs to a whole series of people. Israel cannot reasonably claim it all’.

Jonathan Dimbleby’s efforts to frame the impressions taken away by audiences on this topic are embarrassingly obvious.

Related Articles:

Two BBC programmes claim criticism of Israel brings accusations of antisemitism

 

 

Weekend long read

1) While Adalah is not the BBC’s most frequently quoted and promoted political NGO, it does appear in BBC content from time to time. David Collier has taken a closer look at one of that NGO’s flagship projects.

“Adalah are an NGO in Israel that claims to promote human rights in Israel in general and the rights of the Arab citizens of Israel ‘in particular’.

Adalah created a database of ‘discriminatory laws’ that has been used as a central pillar for anti-Israel boycott activities (BDS). Adalah’s database is the primary source for one of the three aims of the boycott Israel movement.

These laws are referenced everywhere. In the UN, in every anti-Israel meeting, in many European governments. There is hardly an anti-Israel book that is published that does not reference the list of laws. The list is a pillar of the boycott Israel movement.

Just one problem: The list is little more than a scam.”

2) MEMRI documents some of the Palestinian Authority and Fatah PR campaign against the anticipated US administration peace initiative.

“Even before its terms have been publicized, the Trump administration’s Middle East peace plan, known as “the Deal of the Century,” has encountered harsh opposition from the Palestinian Authority (PA), on the grounds that it does not promote peace but seeks to eliminate the Palestinian national identity and the Palestinian state and to topple the Palestinian leadership. Against this backdrop, PA elements have directed personal attacks at the U.S. officials promoting the deal. […]

Harsh criticism against the deal and its proponents was also voiced by Fatah, whose chairman is Palestinian President Mahmoud ‘Abbas. Recently the movement announced the launching of “a national campaign to thwart the Deal of the Century.””

3) At the INSS Gallia Lindenstrauss reviews “The Elections in Turkey: Strengthened Ultra-Nationalist Forces and the Possible Impact on Turkish Foreign Policy”.

“In Turkey’s June 24, 2018 elections, incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected for another term, and the ultra-nationalist parties grew stronger. This is significant first and foremost in the Kurdish context, since the nationalists can be expected to be among the main opponents of renewing the peace process with the Kurdish underground. This will also have extensive repercussions on Turkish foreign policy toward Syria and Iraq, and as such, on Turkey’s relations with the regional and global powers.”

4) At the Times of Israel Ari Ingel discusses “Israel, Gaza, and International Law”.

“Pro-Palestinian commentators and social media activists have been lambasting Israel over the course of the recent Gaza demonstrations for violating international law with proclamations of war crimes and human rights violations.

While a law degree apparently comes free with every twitter account, much of this talk is mere bluster with no foundation in the actual law itself, but rather, espoused with an intention to falsely vilify Israel and its leaders in the court of public opinion.” 

Weekend long read

1) The ITIC has produced an assessment of “Hamas’ new policy towards Israel“.

“On March 30, 2018, the period of three and half years (since Operation Protective Edge) of relative quiet along the Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip came to an end. That period was characterized mainly by a drastic reduction in the scope of rocket fire attacking Israel, unprecedented since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip. […]

In ITIC assessment, Hamas’ policy of restraint was the result of a series of strategic considerations which had influenced the Hamas leadership over a long period of time. […]

In retrospect it appears that during the second half of 2017 and the beginning of 2018 the influence of those considerations on the Hamas leadership lessened: the deterrence Israel achieved in Operation Protective Edge continued to exist, but eroded over time (a process that occurred after other large operations in the Gaza Strip); Hamas’ motivation to gain time to construct a tunnel system penetrating into Israel weakened in the face of Israel’s operational and technological solutions; the difficult economic situation in the Gaza Strip, to which the PA sanctions contributed, created the need to find a direction for the Gazans to channel their rage and frustration. In addition, the attempts to effect an internal Palestinian reconciliation failed and the relations between Hamas and Egypt did not significantly improve. Apparently all of the above led Hamas to the conclusion that its post-Operation Protective Edge policy had exhausted itself and was increasingly less beneficial.”

2) At the INSS Yoel Guzansky and Oded Eran take a look at “The Red Sea: An Old-New Arena of Interest“.

“The Red Sea, and particularly its southern section surrounding the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, has in recent years become the site of competition and struggle among regional actors and superpowers alike. In addition to the states along the coast of the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa, the US, China, Turkey, and Iran – which is involved in the war in Yemen – have a presence there. Sub-state actors, such as the Islamic State organization, al-Shabaab in Somalia, the Houthi rebels, and al-Qaeda in Yemen, are also active in the region. In the meantime, there have been no disruptions to Israeli shipping and flight paths, which connect Israel to the Indian Ocean, the Far East, and Africa.”

3) At the JCPA Pinhas Inbari documents how “Erdogan’s Turkey Intensifies Involvement in Gaza and Jerusalem“.

“Turkey, under the charismatic leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is intervening in many places throughout the Middle East. In each locale, it takes care to unfurl the Turkish flag literally.

However, Turkey’s public involvement in Jerusalem appears to be more public and striking because Jerusalem is more important to Turkey than other places in the region.

Turkey has shown great interest in both Gaza and Jerusalem. It is interested in Gaza because Gaza is ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood affiliate, Hamas, which Turkey wishes to bring under its wing, and it is interested in Jerusalem to facilitate the “saving of al-Aqsa.””

4) Matthew Brodsky explains why he supports the recent US decision to leave the UN Human Rights Council.

“Of course, it is easy to conclude that the problem with the clown car isn’t the car; it’s the clowns riding in it. Sure enough, the current clowns on the UNHRC don’t bode well for the protection of human rights. They include Qatar, Congo, Venezuela, China, Cuba, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Burundi. If that isn’t mind-bending enough, the UN’s forum for disarmament, which produced the treaty banning chemical weapons, is currently headed by none other than Syria. So it is possible to blame both the clowns and the cars that enable their behavior.”

 

 

BBC portrayal of US decision to leave UNHRC – part two

In part one of this post we saw how the BBC News website’s portrayal of the June 19th US announcement that it would leave the UN Human Rights Council failed to clarify to audiences that the decision – which had been on the cards for a year – came about because the UNHRC did not carry out what the US considers to be “essential reforms”.

The same story was the topic of an item aired in the June 19th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’. Presenter Ritula Shah introduced it (from 22:35 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Shah: “Well a body that might have been charged with examining Italy’s plans for the Roma is the United Nations Human Rights Council and in the last few minutes the United States has announced that it’s pulling out of that organisation. The US ambassador to the UN is Nikki Haley.”

Listeners then heard a recording of part of the statement made by the US Ambassador at the press conference at which the US decision was announced.

Haley: “…the United States is officially withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council. In doing so, I want to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from human rights commitments; on the contrary, we take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.”

Shah: “The mission of the UNHRC is to promote and protect human rights around the world. But when it was founded in 2006 the Bush administration declined to join, complaining that it included repressive states. The US has also repeatedly accused the body of being anti-Israel. Washington relented under President Obama and the US has been among the 47 countries elected to the council three times with the last 3-year term beginning in 2016.”

Remarkably the person chosen by ‘The World Tonight’ to comment on that story was the head of a political NGO with a long-standing anti-Israel bias who himself is infamous for having something of an obsession – particularly visible on Twitter – with that country. ‘Human Rights Watch’ had put out a press release concerning the US decision prior to this programme going on air and some of its themes were recycled in the Radio 4 item.

Shah: “Well Kenneth Roth is the executive director of the international human rights organisation ‘Human Rights Watch’ and he joins me now. [….] Kenneth Roth; Nikki Haley says the US hasn’t retreated from its human rights commitments. What difference then will its departure make – from the council – make?”

Roth: “Well I mean I wish it were true that the US hadn’t retreated from its commitments. I don’t see a lot of effort to stop, you know, Syrian slaughter of civilians, to stop the Saudis from indiscriminately bombing and starving civilians in Yemen, to defend the Rohingya who were ethnically cleansed from Myanmar. So you know I would quarrel with her there but in terms of the UN Human Rights Council, you know the US seems to be making two points. One is that some abusive states sit on the council – which is true. And that’s really the fault of different regions of the world who nominate them and then don’t give the UN General Assembly members the choice. They basically say ‘here are the same number of candidates as openings: take ’em or leave ’em’. And you have no choice but to take them.”

Shah: “So among the current members: the DRC, Egypt, China – all of which could be criticized for their human rights record.”

Roth’s agenda then became apparent:

Roth: “Absolutely. But even given that, the Human Rights Council has done a lot of good. It has actually done very serious investigations and condemnations in places like Syria, Yemen, North Korea, Myanmar. The problem is, it also criticises Israel and what this is really about…”

Shah [interrupts]: “But it’s a bit more than just criticising Israel, isn’t it? Israel is the only country that actually has a permanent space on its [the UNHRC] agenda – so-called Agenda 7 – which stipulates that alleged Israeli human rights abuses in the Palestinian conflict should be reviewed every council meeting.”

Roth: “That’s true and that’s something that the US has complained about a lot. But the truth is the US votes against resolutions criticising Israel even under other agenda items that apply to everybody. So it’s a bit hypocritical. Yes, they can complain about Agenda Item 7 but it never criticises Israel’s human rights abuses under this administration.”

Shah: “But it is strange that in that sense the US isn’t the only country that’s pointed this out. Even Ban Ki Moon the former UN Secretary General and the EU have pointed out that singling out Israel when there are human rights abuses all over the world is strange and slightly undermines the council’s credibility.”

Roth: “Well you know ‘Human Rights Watch’ has pointed this out as well but the real issue is, you know, does the Human Rights Council do more good than harm and it does enormous good in many places around the world.

Roth’s claim that HRW “has pointed this out” is apparently based on previous statements the NGO’s staff such as this one last year from its Geneva director, John Fisher, in which he effectively compared Israel’s human rights record to those of two repressive dictators infamous for murdering their own people:

“Fisher said Israel’s human rights record did warrant Council scrutiny, but the special focus was “a reasonable concern”.

“It is an anomaly that there is a dedicated agenda item in a way that there isn’t for North Korea or Syria or anything else,” he said.”

Roth went on to promote more of the messaging found in his NGO’s press release, even using the same words:

Roth: “But the Trump administration basically has a one-dimensional human rights policy. Ahm…it wants to defend Israel from criticisms above all else. So even given this…ahm…this fault in the council that it has this idiosyncratic stand-alone item for Israel, none the less most governments say we’re gonna work with the council; we can try to amend that Agenda Item but it does a lot of good. But the Trump administration’s in essence saying that we want to undermine the council because it criticises Israel…”

Shah: “Well it is interesting though….”

Roth: “…and the rest of the good work it does can be damned.”

Shah: “Item 7 was inserted after the organisation was formed. Perhaps if some sort of reform of the council to make it more balanced, to take into account the points that you’ve made at the beginning that it also includes countries that actually could be accused of human rights abuses, when actually its formation, its purpose is supposed to defend human rights and demand of its members the highest standards in defending human rights – those issues could have been tackled, couldn’t they?”

Shah failed to inform listeners that the US had been trying for a year to introduce exactly such reforms. Neither was it clarified to audiences that the “reform process” subsequently referred to by Roth is not the same one that the US was promoting or that his organisation – along with others – had actively opposed the US’s proposed reforms.

Roth: “Yes, there’s actually an active reform process underway at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. And the US government was participating in that process until now. Now it’s walking away. So ironically it’s less likely to get any reforms by turning its back on the council but that’s why I don’t think this move is really about reform. This move is about trying to discredit the council because the council criticises Israel and that one-dimensional policy is just fortunately not where the rest of the world is. The rest of the world recognises there’s a need to address serious problems elsewhere in the world as well.”

Ritula Shah closed the item there. Listeners were not informed – as BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality require – of the “particular viewpoint” of Ken Roth and Human Rights Watch on Israel despite that being of obvious relevance since his messaging was given an almost unchallenged stage.

And so, listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard a person presented as the head of an authoritative sounding “international human rights organisation” telling them repeatedly that the US withdrawal from the UNHRC is actually “really about” Israel and – as was the case in his organisation’s press release – that because of Israel, human rights in the rest of the world will suffer.  

Related Articles:

BBC portrayal of US decision to leave UNHRC – part one

BBC News website amplifies the NGO echo-chamber

 

BBC portrayal of US decision to leave UNHRC – part one

When the US Secretary of State and the US Ambassador to the UN announced on June 19th that their country would be leaving the UN Human Rights Council, the reason for that decision was made perfectly clear by Ambassador Haley:

“One year ago, I traveled to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. On that occasion, I outlined the U.S. priorities for advancing human rights and I declared our intent to remain a part of the Human Rights Council if essential reforms were achieved. These reforms were needed in order to make the council a serious advocate for human rights. For too long, the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias.

Regrettably, it is now clear that our call for reform was not heeded. Human rights abusers continue to serve on and be elected to the council. The world’s most inhumane regimes continue to escape scrutiny, and the council continues politicizing and scapegoating of countries with positive human rights records in an attempt to distract from the abusers in their ranks.

Therefore, as we said we would do a year ago if we did not see any progress, the United States is officially withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council. In doing so, I want to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from human rights commitments; on the contrary, we take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.”

In other words, the US decision – which had been on the cards for a year – came about because the UNHRC did not carry out what the US considers to be “essential reforms” within the stated time period.

The BBC News website reported that story on June 19th in an article with an interestingly punctuated headline: “US quits ‘biased’ UN human rights council“.

In a subsection that was added to later versions of the report with the title “Why has the US decided to quit?” BBC audiences were not told that the answer to that question is because reforms intended – as Ms Haley clearly stated – to “prevent the world’s worst human rights abusers from gaining Human Rights Council membership”, to “stop the council from protecting the world’s worst human rights abusers” and to end the “disproportionate focus and unending hostility towards Israel” did not receive sufficient public support from what the US Ambassador described as “like-minded countries”.

Instead, BBC audiences found an unclear and unhelpful narrative which makes no mention of the US reform plan – or the countries that declined to support it.

In another sub-section titled “What’s been the reaction?” readers were told that:

“UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the decision was “regrettable”, arguing that while reforms are needed, the UNHRC is “crucial to holding states to account”.”

Interestingly, BBC audiences were not told that just one day before the US announcement, the UK Foreign Secretary had criticised the UNHRC’s treatment of Israel.

“Britain on Monday urged the UN Human Rights Council to reform its treatment of Israel, joining the United States in demanding an end to what has been described as the body’s bias against the Jewish state.

Addressing the opening of the 38th council session, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson criticized the council’s controversial Agenda Item 7, a permanent fixture on the schedule exclusively devoted to discussing rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“We share the view that the dedicated Agenda Item 7 focused solely on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is disproportionate and damaging to the cause of peace, and unless things change we shall vote next year against all resolutions introduced under Item 7,” Johnson said.”

Readers may recall that the British government made a similar statement in March 2017:

“We are putting the Human Rights Council on notice,” Britain warned in a statement. “If things do not change, in the future we will adopt a policy of voting against all resolutions concerning Israel’s conduct in the Occupied Syrian and Palestinian Territories.””

However, the BBC failed to report that story at the time and continues to present criticisms of the UNHRC’s infamous anti-Israel bias as coming solely from the United States while sidelining the bigger question of why democratic states did not join America’s efforts to bring about reform at the UN body. 

In part two of this post we will look at how the US announcement was presented on BBC radio.

Related Articles:

BBC article on Israel & UN HRC omits important context

BBC fails (again) to give audiences the full story in UN HRC article

UK government’s UNHRC statement not newsworthy for the BBC

BBC does free PR for UN HRC

What BBC audiences aren’t told about the UNHRC

Unbalanced promotion of UNRWA PR on BBC World Service radio

Both before and after 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 produced numerous reports on that story (see some in ‘related articles’ below), many of which included promotion of the UN agency’s PR messaging.

However, none of those reports provided the BBC’s funding public with background 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.

On June 13th the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ returned to that topic with a report by BBC North America’s New York and UN reporter Nada Tawfik that made absolutely no effort to provide listeners with a balanced view of the story and was in fact little more than an exercise in free PR for UNRWA and its spin-off non-profit organisation.

Presenter James Menendez began (from 38:10 here) with context-free presentation of a biased UN GA resolution – proposed by Algeria and Turkey – that made no mention of Hamas terrorism. He continued with an equally partisan portrayal of the violent rioting and attacks on the Gaza border since March 30th, failing to inform listeners that over 80% of those killed have been linked to terror groups.

Menendez then promoted the inaccurate claim that Gaza’s chronic electricity problems are the result of “years of conflict” when in fact – as the BBC well knows – they are entirely rooted in inter-factional Palestinian rivalries. [emphasis in italics in the original]

Menedez: “Now the UN General Assembly is expected to hold an emergency meeting on the situation in Gaza later today and vote on a resolution calling for better protection for the 2 million Palestinians who live there. That’s after last month’s clashes with Israeli forces which left a hundred people dead and many more injured. Years of conflict have left Gaza in ruins. Infrastructure’s crumbling, the economy’s paralysed and basic supplies such as electricity are in crisis. Despite this the United States has cut off vital funding to the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees: UNRWA. But as Nada Tawfik reports, across the US American citizens are now filling the void.”

Listeners then heard a recording from an event that took place on June 5th in New York – which Tawfik apparently attended – in which once again the topic of electricity was raised without BBC audiences being given any factual background information on that issue.  

Woman’s voice: “The lights go out like this all the time. Electricity is scarce here. Many times we eat in complete darkness just like we’re doing right now.”

Tawfik: “To imagine the life of Palestinian refugees in Gaza the lights are turned down and just one lantern shines at Casa la Femme restaurant in New York. In the dim room those picked out from the crowd of 200 read out powerful accounts from refugees.”

Woman’s voice: “My husband, our two small children and I live in one room together. The bathroom serves as the toilet, the shower, the sink for bathing, cleaning and even cooking.”

Tawfik: “This iftar, or meal, is just one of 50 dinners being held across the country by the charity UNRWA-USA during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to feed refugee families in Gaza. And it comes at a critical time; just as a key life-line for these refugees is under threat.”

Man’s voice: “We could run out of money for that food in Gaza in one month.”

Tawfik: “Peter Mulrean is the New York director of UNRWA – the UN’s relief and works agency for Palestinian refugees. It provides critical services such as food, health care and education. He says the agency now faces an existential crisis after the United States – its top donor – suddenly withheld $300 million in funds. I asked if he was concerned that this decision by the Trump administration was politically motivated.”

Notably, Tawfik’s presentation of the figure $300 million is based on what the UN claimed it was expecting the US contribution to be rather than the sum actually withheld.

Listeners then heard Peter Mulrean – a representative of a blatantly politicised campaigning UN agency – opine on “neutrality”.

Mulrean: “We’re very concerned about the fact that that appears to be the case. One of the clear humanitarian principles is the question of neutrality: that you base your decisions on humanitarian assistance solely on the need of those who are out there. And if that’s not the case, then this is a terrible precedent that the US is setting. A country that used to be one of the leaders of humanitarian policy turning in a different direction.”

Tawfik: “That was also a worry of many others in attendance such as Abigail Metzger and Megan Burn [phonetic] who do not agree with their government’s decision.”

Tawfik did not clarify whether or not the Abigail Metzger whose opinions she chose to promote is the Pax Christi member of the same name.

Woman 1: “It is just unbelievable that our government would…would even think to renege on a commitment. I feel like we have been, you know, told that we have to make a choice and we don’t have to make a choice. We can support the Palestinian struggle without abandoning our alliance and full support of Israel.”

Woman 2: “Especially in the current political climate people get very ensconced in their own biases and sort of forget to think about the day-to-day lives of human beings.”

Woman’s voice: “Just $150 can feed a refugee family of six for an entire summer.”

Tawfik: “This one iftar will raise $50,000 for UNRWA’s food assistance programme and a global fundraising campaign has brought in new funding. Still, it’s unlikely that the agency will be able to overcome its current deficit without the United States. In the long term though, UNRWA hopes these events and crowdfunding will help field financial and public support and that’s something Abby Smardon who is the executive director of the charity UNRWA-USA says she’s already seeing.”

Listeners heard nothing of that UNRWA spin-off charity’s political agenda (and record) before Smardon was given the unchallenged stage.

Smardon: “Now with things like social media and having the ability to actually see the situation in real time with a more unfiltered view, people are starting across the United States to see this issue very differently than they once did and they’re starting to understand that Palestine and support of Palestinian refugees is a social justice issue and so I can tell you that, you know, countless new supporters that we have that have no personal connection to the issue of Palestine or Palestinian refugees but they care about social justice and they care about human rights.”

Having carefully avoided inconvenient topics such as Hamas and its terrorism all the way through her report, Tawfik closed the item by erasing the Gaza blockade imposed by Egypt because of that terrorism from audience view. 

Tawfik: “The people of Gaza have endured multiple conflicts and an eleven-year blockade by Israel. The risk is that the US decision will only add to their misery.”

To be honest, it is difficult to imagine how this report could be more unhelpful to BBC audiences trying to understand either the situation in the Gaza Strip, the reasons behind the US decision to withhold part of its voluntary funding of UNRWA or the role and record of UNRWA itself.

Obviously though, this blatantly one-sided and context-free item (which was repeated in the evening edition of ‘Newshour’ on the same day – from 39:44 here) was not intended to meet the BBC’s public purpose remit of enhancing audience understanding. Rather, it was just yet another blatantly transparent exercise in the provision of free PR to UNRWA.

Related Articles:

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part one

BBC WS listeners get a homogeneous view of US aid to Palestinians – part two

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

BBC’s Yolande Knell amplifies UNRWA’s PR campaign

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR yet again – part one

BBC WS facilitates UNRWA PR again – part two

 

 

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part four

In previous posts we looked at how the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem and the rioting along the Gaza Strip-Israel border were portrayed as they happened in the May 14th afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio flagship news and current affairs programme ‘Newshour‘ (available here).

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part one

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part two

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part three

In this post we will look at what BBC audiences worldwide were told in real-time about the context to the poorly portrayed violence along that border.

The long introduction given by presenter Razia Iqbal included misrepresentation of the locations of previous ‘Great Return March’ events – which actually were confined to the Gaza Strip border. Iqbal also promoted the blatant falsehood that the displacement of all Palestinians in 1948 was “forced”.

01:28 Iqbal: “Dates are significant here. It is the 70th anniversary of the foundation of Israel and there has been a six-week protest by Palestinians in Jerusalem, the West Bank and – the most deadly – in Gaza. Scores have been shot dead by Israeli soldiers on the Gaza-Israel border. The protests are to culminate on May the 15th, tomorrow, called the Nakba or catastrophe by Palestinians as the day when they were forced from their land and homes as Israel was established.”

In contrast to the very clear – but inaccurate – impression given by Razia Iqbal, the facts are of course much more nuanced:

“Historians agree that there was no single cause of the Arab flight from Palestine. In large part, the masses fled because they saw the Palestinian elite doing the same thing. In part, it was in response to exhortations by Arab military and political leaders that Palestinian civilians evacuate their homes until the end of the fighting. Vast numbers were simply fleeing the heavy fighting that surrounded them, or that they expected to soon disrupt their lives. In some instances, Palestinians were forced from their homes by the Jewish military.”

The vast majority of the context to what was, as we saw earlier, overwhelmingly portrayed as “peaceful marches” and “protests” came in Yolande Knell’s report near the beginning of the programme.

05:15 Iqbal: “Yolande, just remind listeners that this has been going on for several weeks now and it’s very specifically to mark a day tomorrow for the Palestinians.”

Knell: “That’s right. This has been called the Great March of Return by the Palestinians. It was organised in Gaza over the past 6 weeks. The 15th of May is always a date of protest for Palestinians when they remember how, back in 1948, more than 700,000 people lost their homes on land that became part of Israel. [….] The people [Knell spoke to in Gaza] were saying that they really felt that the historic injustice as they saw it was at the heart of all the modern-day problems that they have in Gaza, where they have chronic electricity shortages, this long-time blockade that’s been enforced by Israel and Egypt which now means that the Gaza Strip is an extremely poor place – it suffers from extremely high unemployment.”

Obviously the fact that there are chronic electricity shortages in the Gaza Strip has nothing whatsoever to do with the refugee issue (it is, as Knell well knows, in fact due to infighting between Hamas and Fatah) and neither do the counter-terrorism measures imposed by Israel and Egypt in response to the surge in terrorism since Hamas’ violent coup in the Gaza Strip in 2007. Knell went on:

Knell: “One woman told me ‘I wouldn’t have come down here if Gaza wasn’t in the state it was but people need to see what the issues are for us’. They felt that this was putting back the suffering of people in Gaza back into the spotlight. Also a lot of concern…they think that the issue of Palestinian refugees – which is a key issue in the Israel-Palestinian conflict – they feel that there have been attempts – particularly by Washington – to try to push this off the table of any future negotiations. They say that because of course earlier this year the US did announce big cuts to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.”

Yolande Knell (nor anyone else in this programme) made no effort to inform listeners why Palestinians – even when living under PA or Hamas control – are still kept in refugee status by UNRWA, their own leaders and the leaders of Arab countries seventy years on.

Listeners were also told that:

Knell: “Now on top of that, another key issue – the future status of Jerusalem. That is also at stake and of course that’s just added fuel to the flames, brought more people out for these demonstrations. “

As we see, listeners to this broadcast were wrongly led to believe that Palestinians were ‘protesting’ on the border because of a bad electricity supply, high unemployment and poverty – even as the BBC serially ignored the repeated attacks by ‘protesters’ on the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Additional factors cited included “the future status of Jerusalem” and the anniversary of a “historic injustice” which Knell failed to put into its correct context. Interestingly, while BBC reports on previous bouts of ‘Great Return March’ violence had touted the ‘right of return’ that is supposedly the publicity stunt’s raison d’être (see for example here and here), in this report that topic was largely avoided and listeners were not informed of the basic fact that the Palestinian demand for ‘right of return’ means rejection of the two-state solution and that its real intention is to threaten the existence of Israel as the Jewish state. 

Listeners also heard nothing of the fact that the ‘Great Return March’ events were organised by factions including Gaza-based terror groups. They were not told of the payments made by Hamas to participators or of the organisers’ calls for breaching of the border fence and martyrdom. Even Yahya Sinwar’s March 31st statement of intent – “We will take down the border and we will tear out their hearts from their bodies” – did not receive any BBC coverage either in this programme or elsewhere.

Sadly it is all too obvious that both of the topics covered in this May 14th ‘split screen’ edition of Newshour – the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem and the rioting on the Gaza border on the same day – were presented in a manner intended to amplify a specific political narrative rather than to provide BBC audiences with “accurate and impartial news […] of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues” as required by the corporation’s public purposes.

In the context of the question of whose interests this edition of ‘Newshour’ served, it is worth noting what Hamas’ leader Yahya Sinwar had to say about the Western media’s ‘split screen’ reporting two days after this BBC programme was broadcast:

“Our people have imposed their agenda upon the whole world. There was supposed to be a romantic picture of the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on the world’s television screens, but our people, in their collective consciousness, forced the whole world to split the television screens between the footage of fraud, deception, falsehood, and oppression, manifest in the attempt to impose Jerusalem as the capital of the occupation state, and between the image of injustice, oppression, heroism, and determination painted by our own people in their sacrifices – the sacrifice of their children as an offering for Jerusalem and the Right of Return.”

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part one

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part two

BBC WS radio’s ‘Newshour’ and the split screen – part three

BACKGROUNDER: PALESTINIAN ARAB AND JEWISH REFUGEES (CAMERA)

 

 

 

BBC’s special report on Palestinian refugees avoids the real issues

Ever since the BBC began covering the media-orientated ‘Great Return March’ at the end of March it has avoided providing its audiences with a clear picture of the bodies behind its conception and organisation.

BBC audiences have however heard repeated promotion of the theme of Palestinian ‘ancestral lands’ and that was again the case in the introduction given by presenter James Coomarasamy to a report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell which was aired in the May 9th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ (from 14:08 here). [emphasis in italics in the original]

Coomarasamy: “Protests along Gaza’s border with Israel are expected to reach their peak in the coming week as Palestinians mark the 70th anniversary of what they call the catastrophe – the displacement of more than 700 thousand people following the creation of the State of Israel. At least 40 Palestinians have been killed and thousand [sic] injured during five weeks of demonstrations. Israel says that many of the dead were members of armed groups. Palestinians want the right to return to their ancestral homes which are now in Israeli territory. Israel rejects that demand, saying that it is a threat to its Jewish majority. Well, in the first of three reports about the key issues in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell considers the future of Palestinian refugees.”

Coomarasamy’s use of the euphemism “armed groups” obviously did not adequately clarify to listeners that some 80% of those killed during the six weeks of violent rioting to date have been shown to be linked to terror organisations.

Knell’s opening description of the ‘Great Return March’ agitprop severely downplayed its violent nature.

Knell: “A young Gazan man is shot by an Israeli sniper and raced to hospital. Palestinians have been hurling stones at soldiers across the border here and launching kites carrying fire bombs. Israel’s army says its troops open fire to stop anyone trying to cross the perimeter fence illegally and to protect Israelis living nearby from possible attacks. I’ve come to find out what’s driving these deadly demonstrations.”

Obviously after making that latter statement any serious journalist would have clarified the involvement of various Gaza Strip based terror factions in the organisation of the weekly rioting but Yolande Knell instead uncritically painted precisely the picture that the agitprop’s organisers wish to promote.

Woman: “We want to go back to our land. Those are our lands that the Jews took and this is our right.”

Knell: “In the protest camp I meet Najla. Like most of Gaza’s 2 million residents, she’s a refugee.”

Woman: “We have to return to al Aqsa Mosque and all our lands. All of the land is Palestine.”

Failing to explain which party initiated the “Arab-Israeli war” or why, so many decades later, Palestinian refugees are deliberately kept in that status and in refugee camps, Knell went on:

Knell: “In 1948 hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes as the Arab-Israeli war began. Today many of their descendants still live in refugee camps. Past peace deals promised a fair solution but there are questions about what President Trump will now put forward in his promised peace plan. Another protester, Mohamed Rantissi, says this Gaza action sends a message.”

Rantissi: “It came in the critical time when the world neglected our rights of return back. They are trying their best to dissolve this Palestinian issue by what is called the Trump [unintelligible].”

Listeners then heard a relatively rare mention of the topic of Jewish refugees from Arab lands

Knell: “Well I’ve moved now to Jerusalem’s bustling Mahane Yehuda market to get an Israeli perspective. Long before the country was founded this was a popular spot for Jewish stall holders who’d come from other parts of the Middle East but many more arrived in 1948 and the years that followed. They were Jewish refugees escaping persecution.”

Man: “We have the Kubeh soup which is sort of dumplings stuffed with meat in a vegetable soup. This is the most popular food because you have many Jewish Israelis that come from Iraq, Syria, Turkey, the Kurds Jewish; this is the traditional food.”

Knell: “Moshe Shrefler works in his father’s restaurant Azura.”

Man: “My father was born in Turkey and was having a problem with the Turkish people because they didn’t like their Jewish neighbours and my mother she came from Iran with all the family. They left everything over there and they came here just to save their lives.”

Knell: “Jewish refugees left behind land and property in Arab countries and were absorbed into the new Israeli state along with Holocaust survivors from Europe. Like many Israeli politicians former deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon argues that Arab states must now assimilate Palestinian refugees, making them citizens – as most aren’t at present – and he questions the way the refugees have inherited their status.”

Ayalon: “If really there is an earnest and honest will to bring about peace in the Middle East, I think there is only one humane, fair and logical solution for the Palestinian refugees and this is either to absorb them where they are – remember, we are talking about second, third, fourth generation, you know, so they should be Lebanese, Syrians or whatever – or, if there is a Palestinian state, these refugees, if they want to leave their host countries, should go into this Palestinian entity.”

Knell then revisited a subject that was covered very generously by the BBC back in January and February but yet again BBC audiences heard no in-depth reporting on the issue of UNRWA’s purpose, its agenda, its record or its efficiency.

Knell: “Here in Amman there’s a rally in solidarity with the protesters in Gaza. Across the Middle East there are 5 million Palestinian refugees supported by the UN agency UNRWA. This year UNRWA’s biggest donor, the US, cut the donations it planned to give, saying it needed to make reforms and now in Jordan there’s concern about what that could mean financially and symbolically. Muhammad Momeni is the information minister.”

Momeni: “We have more than 2 million Palestinian refugees living in Jordan and hundreds of thousands of students in UNRWA schools.”

Knell: “So how worried is Jordan about this big hole in UNRWA’s finances?”

Momeni: “We’re very worried. Not only because it will immediately reflect on the type of services but also because it’s a political commitment by the international community to resolve the issue of the Palestinian refugees. If you stop financing UNRWA, basically you are telling the world that you are not committed to this issue any more and according to international resolutions, this is a final status issue and it must be dealt with through negotiation and in a way that will bring justice to them.”

Knell refrained from making any effort to clarify to listeners to which so-called “international resolutions” Momeni was referring – and whether or not they actually exist.

Knell: “Back at the Gaza protest camp there’s traditional Palestinian dancing. Here the case for right of return is uncompromising but Israel rejects that demand, pointing out it would destroy its Jewish majority. Leaks on previous peace talks suggest they focused on compensation for Palestinian refugees and return for just a token number. It remains to be seen what Washington will propose on one of the most painful issues in this long-running conflict.”

As we see, notwithstanding that rare mention of Jewish refugees, Knell’s report was essentially superficial. She failed to clarify that the whole point of the demand for ‘right of return’ is the destruction of the Jewish state and that Palestinian refugees have for decades been used by their leaders as pawns to further that aim. UNRWA’s role in keeping millions of Palestinians in refugee status was not explained to listeners and neither was that of the Arab League.  

While giving the impression of balance with her visit to Mahane Yehuda and interview with Danny Ayalon, Knell nevertheless managed to both avoid the real issues behind the topic she ostensibly set out to ‘consider’ and promote a portrayal of the topic that amplifies the messaging of the ‘Great Return March’ organisers.

Related Articles:

Hamas agitprop requires BBC journalists to brush up on UN resolution

British connections to upcoming Gaza agitprop ignored by BBC News

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

 

 

 

BBC News continues to link terror to US embassy move

On the afternoon of March 16th a vehicular attack took place near Mevo Dotan.

“A Palestinian driver hit four Israeli soldiers with his car Friday afternoon, killing an officer and a soldier and seriously injuring the others, outside the Mevo Dotan settlement in the northern West Bank. One of the injured soldiers suffered severe head trauma and was fighting for his life.

The military confirmed that the incident was a terror attack. It said the troops were hit while standing near a military guard post.”

A few hours later the BBC News website published a report headlined “Israeli soldiers killed in West Bank car attack” on its Middle East page.  

In line with standard BBC practice, the word terror does not appear anywhere in this report.

“A Palestinian man has driven his car into a group of Israeli troops in the north of the occupied West Bank, killing an officer and a soldier, the Israeli military says. […]

Two other soldiers were injured in the incident.” [emphasis added]

Readers were not told that at the time the article was published, one of the injured soldiers was in serious condition after suffering severe head trauma. Neither were they informed that the terrorist received treatment in an Israeli hospital after the incident.

“The suspect fled from the scene but was later detained. Reports said he was lightly injured.”

The report states:

“The Israeli military said the soldiers had been securing routes near the settlement of Mevo Dotan.”

Readers were not informed that the soldiers were securing that route because – as the Jerusalem Post and others reported:

“Palestinian protesters had been throwing rocks and molotov cocktails toward the road”.  

The BBC did, however, include its standard partial mantra on ‘international law’ in the report.

“The incident happened near the Jewish settlement of Mevo Dotan, west of the Palestinian town of Jenin. […]

The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.”

As has so often been the case in BBC reports relating to Palestinian terrorism and violence published since early December 2017, this article suggests linkage between the attack and US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel over three months ago.

“The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas hailed the car-ramming incident but did not say it was behind it.

The incident happened amid high tension on Friday after Hamas called for protests to mark 100 days since US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”

Hamas had in fact called for a ‘Day of Rage’ rather than “protests” and the attack was also praised by additional Palestinian factions: the PIJ, the DFLP and the PFLP.

The report goes on:

“The US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has been welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but has infuriated Palestinians.

The declaration broke with decades of US neutrality on the issue and put it out of step with the rest of the international community.”

In fact, the US Congress of course voted to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital over two decades ago.

The BBC’s article closes with a quote from an AFP report:

“More than 30 Palestinians and four Israelis have been killed in violence since Mr Trump’s declaration, AFP reported.”

Once again, readers were not told how many of the Palestinians killed were engaged in terror attacks or violent rioting at the time and the BBC refrained from clarifying that a higher number of  Israelis were murdered in terror attacks by Palestinians in the three months before the US president made his declaration than in the three months since. 

Related Articles:

BBC News goes from not reporting car rammings as terror to not reporting at all

BBC News continues to blame Palestinian violence on US

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ promotes equivalence between violent rioters and victims of terror