Weekend long read

1) At the Jerusalem Post, Jonathan Spyer explains ‘The Turkey-Qatar Nexus’.

“While the Mideast news headlines are currently (justifiably) dominated by the clash between the Iranian-led, largely Shia axis and its West-aligned enemies, the Turkey-Qatar-Muslim Brotherhood nexus constitutes a third force.

This alliance first came to prominence in the early, optimistic months of the “Arab Spring.” In Egypt, Tunisia and Syria, Muslim Brotherhood-associated movements played a vital early role in the popular uprisings in those countries.

Qatar offered encouragement via Al Jazeera, and financial support to Islamist insurgent groups such as the Tawhid Brigade and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria.

Turkey was the main backer for the Sunni Arab rebels throughout the Syrian rebellion, and offered active support to Mohamed Morsi’s short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt.”

2) The ITIC documents a recent example of the Palestinian Authority’s glorification of terrorism.

“The “shahid culture,” reflected in the glorification of terrorists who perpetrated terrorist activities, is a common practice in the Palestinian Authority and Fatah. It is a major component in the Palestinian heritage and part of the policy of the Palestinian Authority. Shahids are usually commemorated in various ways, including naming streets, squares, schools and public institutions after them. Special attention is given to the glorification of shahids among the younger generation in order to turn them into role models. Thus, terrorist attacks and their perpetrators become publicly legitimate, increasing young Palestinians’ motivation to follow in the footsteps of the shahids and carry out attacks against Israel.”

3) At Tablet Magazine, Liel Leibovitz takes a look at the Joint Arab List.

“When the Joint List, the Arab party that emerged as Israel’s third largest in the recent round of elections, endorsed Benny Gantz as its candidate for prime minister on Sunday, pundits took to every available perch to declare the moment historic. After all, no Arab party has ever endorsed a Jewish leader, and Ayman Odeh, the party’s Obama-esque leader, seized the moment properly by tweeting a line from Psalms. To many, this felt like a breath of fresh air, a surge of coexistence and compromise after Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line policies.

The hosannas, however, are premature: The Joint List, sadly, remains a vehemently anti-Zionist party whose members have often expressed their support for convicted terrorists.”

4) At the Hoover Institution, Tony Badran takes a look at the ‘peace process’.

“Speaking to reporters in August, President Trump said he would likely wait until after the Israeli elections in September to unveil his peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians. Although this plan has been long in the making, with the exception of the proposal to allocate investment funds to the Palestinian territories and neighboring countries, its details have remained unknown; and that’s a good thing. A peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians is the “toughest deal of all,” the American president remarked. Perhaps. It also might be, in and of itself, the least relevant. In fact, progress on this front is as low a priority for America in the Middle East as you can get. The real interest for the United States lies elsewhere. The Trump administration appears to recognize this reality full well, as the steps it has taken so far suggest.”

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Weekend long read

1) At the JCPA, Yoni Ben Menachem documents a recent Palestinian Authority story that was predictably sidelined by the BBC.

“PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas announced on August 19, 2019, that all of his advisers had completed their work, regardless of their level and titles, and the conditions afforded by their status no longer applied.

This announcement relates to dozens of advisers that Abbas employed in various capacities. The most prominent include Nabil Shaath, adviser on international affairs; Mahmoud Al-Habash, adviser on religious affairs; Gen. Ismail Jaber, adviser on security affairs; Ali Mahana, legislative adviser; and Majdi Al-Haldi, adviser on foreign affairs. […]

Fatah sources are not sure if Abbas fired all of his advisers because his decision did not include a list of all of them and their functions. Mahmoud Abbas remains vague here because some of his associates were defined as his “advisers” so that they could receive a large salary and the perks of the job, such as an office, a car, and so forth.”

2) The ITIC analyses this week’s speech from Hasan Nasrallah.

“On August 25, 2019, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah gave a belligerent speech claiming Israel was behind the two attacks in Lebanon and Syria: a quadcopter attack on the southern Shi’ite suburbs of Beirut (Israel did not claim responsibility) and the aerial attack on a base southwest of Damascus (Israel did claim responsibility). The attack in Syria disrupted an Iranian Qods Force plan to launch armed quadcopters to attack northern Israel. Nasrallah greatly exaggerated the so-called threat to Lebanon inherent in the use of explosive quadcopters (“suicide quadcopters”) which he claimed set a precedent in the attack on the southern suburb of Beirut. Such a precedent was liable, he claimed, to turn Lebanon into another arena for Israeli attacks (as he claimed Israel had done in Iraq).”

3) Writing at An Nahar, the Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing in the U.S Department of the Treasury explains “Why we sanctioned Jammal Trust Bank”.

“Jammal Trust Bank is a primary Hizballah banker in Lebanon, with a long and continuing history of providing an array of financial services to the terror group. Jammal Trust Bank has tried to conceal its relationships with numerous front companies for the U.S.-designated Martyrs Foundation. The malfeasance within Jammal Trust Bank runs to the core. Hizballah’s Member of Parliament, Amin Sherri, who engages in criminal behavior on behalf of Hizballah, openly coordinates Hizballah’s financial activities at the bank with its management. By working with Sherri in this way, the bankers of Jammal Trust Bank have betrayed the trust of their fellow citizens and their banking colleagues. By actively concealing Hizballah’s affiliation with these accounts from the Central Bank of Lebanon, these bankers violated their civic, social, and business responsibilities to innocent account holders, and have risked damage to the international perceptions of the Lebanese banking sector.”

4) At the FDD Jacob Nagel and David Adesnik examine “How the UN’s Nuclear Watchdog Can Restore its Credibility on Iran”.

“After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the Mossad’s discovery of a secret atomic archive in a Tehran warehouse, Amano’s response entailed a blend of procrastination and excuses. Last November, seven months after the Israeli revelations, Amano was still insisting, “We need to analyze the information, and it will take time, of course.” To this day, the IAEA has not stated whether its inspectors have ever visited the Tehran warehouse that stored the archive, or even that the agency requested a visit. Meanwhile, independent experts demonstrated, based on documents from the archive, that Iran’s nuclear weapons program had been far more advanced than the IAEA had ever known.”

Weekend long read

1) The Washington Institute for Near East Policy reports the results of an opinion poll.

“A new poll by the Palestine Center for Public Opinion, taken June 27-July 19, indicates that the majority of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza oppose their leaderships’ preemptive rejection of the Trump administration’s peace plan—despite widespread popular disapproval of the current U.S. president. The survey also shows a dramatic rise in the proportion supporting an enhanced role in peacemaking for the Arab states. More specifically, however, only a minority voice a favorable attitude toward the June regional economic workshop in Bahrain, with many saying they have not heard or read enough about it.”

2) Jonathan Spyer takes a look at Turkish ambitions in the Mediterranean.

“Turkey’s efforts at building influence and power in the neighborhood are not restricted to dry land.  Rather, an important currently developing arena for Turkish assertiveness is the eastern Mediterranean.  This area has been the site of major gas discoveries in Israeli, Cypriot and Egyptian waters in recent years.  Lebanon too is seeking to open exploration in its territorial waters. […]

As Turkey moves further from the west, and closer to alliance with Russia, so it is emerging as an aggressive and disruptive force with regard to gas development in the eastern Meditteranean.  The main area of current concern is that around Cyprus.  Israel, Egypt and Lebanon have all signed delimitation agreements with Cyprus. Turkey refuses to do so.”

3) At the INSS Raz Zimmt asks ‘Has Ebrahim Raisi been Tagged as Iran’s Next Supreme Leader?’.

“Recent months have seen increasing signs that the head of Iran’s judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, has emerged as the leading candidate to succeed Ali Khamenei as Supreme Leader. Since his appointment as head of the judiciary in March 2019, there have been increasing efforts on the part of Raisi, a conservative cleric, apparently backed by the Supreme Leader, to advance changes in the legal system, improve his public image, and increase his media exposure, particularly in view of his loss in the most recent presidential elections in May 2017. It is still too early to assess Raisi’s chances of winning the battle of succession for the leadership of Iran, which will necessarily be affected by the timing of Khamenei’s departure from the political map. However, his closeness to the Supreme Leader, his experience in the judicial authority, his tenure as chairman of the Astan Quds Razavi foundation (and the Imam Reza Shrine) in the city of Mashhad, and his hardline positions, alongside his increasing efforts to improve his public standing, make him the leading candidate at this stage in the battle of succession.”

4) The ITIC documents how Hamas is “using youngsters as a tool for violence near the security fence in the Gaza Strip”.

“The return march in the Gaza Strip on July 26, 2019, was similar in most respects to the previous marches. About 4,500 Palestinians participated, gathering mainly at the five return camps. As usual, the march was accompanied by violent activities near the border fence carried out by several dozen Palestinians, most of them adolescents and children. The violent activities included throwing IEDs, hand grenades and Molotov cocktails at the IDF. Several Palestinians tried to sabotage the security fence and some crossed the fence into Israeli territory. Videos photographed at the return march clearly illustrated the exploitation of youngsters handled for military missions, endangering their lives. Harm that may come to them serves Hamas as a propaganda and lawfare weapon against Israel, which is represented as Israel’s killing youngsters in cold blood.”

 

BBC radio audiences get ‘the word’ and ‘theories’ instead of facts and analysis

On the same day that the BBC News website published a highly partial report on the topic of new Israeli building permits, listeners to the July 31st evening edition of  the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ heard presenter James Coomarasamy introduce the final item (from 48:49 here) with the claim that security cabinet approval for those permits came a day later than was actually the case.  

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Coomarasamy: “Now let’s hear about some developments in the Middle East because President Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East envoy Jared Kushner has been meeting Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu today. The meeting comes on the day when the Israeli government gave rare approval for the building of 700 Palestinian homes in a part of the occupied West Bank, along with permission for another 6,000 homes for Jewish settlers. The Palestinians bitterly oppose Jewish settlement building and they say this permission is simply another land seizure.”

Seeing as any building would likely take place within the boundaries of existing communities, that claim of a “land seizure” is clearly far fetched and Coomarasamy’s suggestion that the security cabinet approval stipulates the religion/ethnicity of potential residents is equally inaccurate. He went on:

Coomarasamy: “Omar Hajajrei [phonetic] lives in the affected area.”

Listeners were not informed who that interviewee is, to which organisation – if any – he belongs or what makes him qualified to comment on the topic besides his place of residence.

Voiceover translation from Arabic: “This is a lie and it’s only for the media. It’s an excuse to build settlements and to have a barrier of settlements around Jerusalem as you can see in front of us. There are around 1,500 residential units. They started six months ago and look how much they’ve built so far. They will build all around the mountain. It is a lie. Even if they will give permits, they will not give it the right way.”

Coomarasamy: “I’ve been discussing this decision with Raphael Ahren, a diplomatic correspondent of Times of Israel.”

The ‘analysis’ that listeners heard from Raphael Ahren commenced – and continued – with pure speculation.

Ahren: “It is quite unusual. Usually it’s not the security cabinet who debates and decides these issues. It doesn’t need security cabinet discussions. The word here in Israel is that Netanyahu decided to bring this topic up for discussion among the ministers so he can sort of share the blame. If people criticise them for it he can say ‘well all the ministers in the cabinet bear responsibility for that decision and it’s not just me’.”

Coomarasmay: Why might he have decided to go ahead with it?”

The answer to that question was no more evidence based.

Ahren: “Well nobody really knows. There are several theories going around. I’ll offer you two theories. One is that the American administration which is preparing to release its Israeli-Palestinian peace plan has asked him to do so.”

However Ahren then admitted that not only does he have nothing to support that speculation but it has actually been refuted.

Ahren: “This evening the US ambassador David Friedman and his people say that they made no such request and that they didn’t even hint at it. But sometimes, people say, you don’t even have to make an explicit request. Everybody knows that as the Trump administration releases its probably pro-Israel peace plan, it probably looks good to have this gesture for the Palestinians.”

Ahren then presented more evidence-free speculation:

Ahren: “The second reason I would offer had nothing to do with the Americans, had nothing to do with the forthcoming peace plan but rather with the fear of litigation in the International Criminal Court in the Hague. I heard reports tonight that the special prosecutor is in the final stages of her decision-making process whether to proceed from the currently ongoing preliminary examination in the situation in Palestine to a full-fledged investigation. According to that logic the settlements are a war crime and if then Israel only ever advances housing for Jewish residents but not for Palestinian residents of the West Bank it wouldn’t look good, it would kind of provoke her.”

Coomarasamy made no effort to question the assertion that the ICC bases its decisions on whether or not it is ‘provoked’ and Ahren continued:

Ahren: “You might have heard even last week it made international headlines that Israel demolished illegal structures in the West Bank. I toured the West Bank today where settlement leaders have different opinions on this but some people are actually saying in a world where everything’s forbidden, everything’s allowed. If we never give permits for them to build we cannot expect them not to build and then it doesn’t look good if we only destroy and we don’t let them build.”

Coomarasamy: “If it is the first of the two theories you put forward and it is a bone, as you put it, to be thrown to the Palestinians, is it one that they’re likely to touch?”

Ahren: “Well yeah I mean of course they want to be a building for their people so it’s not something that they’re going to reject. I may say, some of these houses may already have been built and these permits are sort of coming retroactively. Palestinians, as I mentioned, do not get a lot of permits to build in the West Bank and there is natural growth of the Palestinian population there and therefore a lot of illegal structures are going on. These 700 permits might just be used sort of to legalise them after the fact.”

How the BBC can possibly claim that those unsupported speculations would help BBC audiences understand the story is of course unclear and listeners to BBC Radio 4’s Midnight News on August 1st (from 22:10 here) did little better.

Newsreader: “Israel has given rare approval for 700 Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank. It also said that 6,000 homes could be built for Jewish settlers. The announcement was made as President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner arrived in Jordan to drum up support for US attempts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. From Jerusalem, here’s our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman.”

Tom Bateman of course recited the BBC’s usual partial mantra on ‘international law’.

Bateman: “The government decision gives the go-ahead for a significant number of new homes in settlements – which are seen as illegal under international law – and is said to further extend Israeli presence in the occupied West Bank. But it is Israel’s approval for Palestinian homes that is unusual. It is not clear whether these would be 700 new constructions or merely legal consent for existing homes in what is known as Area C. Here, Israel has full control and builds new settlement houses but new Palestinian homes are frequently demolished as Israel virtually never gives them building permission.”

Bateman next amplified an obviously absurd Palestinian claim and presented listeners with yet another speculative theory.

Bateman: “The Palestinian leadership called the announcement piracy. The timing, with Mr Kushner’s visit to the region underway, may be significant. The White House’s faltering attempts to deliver what Mr Trump has called ‘the ultimate deal’ between Israelis and Palestinians is based on money and backing from Arab states. This may have been one way of trying to convince them to take part in the process and address the long-held criticism that the administration’s support is heavily weighted towards Israel.”

That, apparently, is what the BBC thinks it can pass off as “a range and depth of analysis and content not widely available from other United Kingdom news providers”.

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More repetition of the BBC’s partial narrative on construction

On the afternoon of July 31st the BBC News website published a report headlined “Israel backs West Bank homes for settlers and Palestinians” on its ‘Middle East’ page.

Unfortunately for any reader hoping to gain a better understanding of the broader topic behind the specific story, the report offered nothing but a repeat of well-worn framing intended to advance a particular political narrative.

As usual the report employs partisan terminology to describe Israelis living in places the BBC believes they should not and the communities and region in which they reside. [emphasis added]

“Israel has approved the construction of 6,000 new homes for Jewish settlers and 700 homes for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

The decision about new homes in settlements further extends the Israeli presence in the West Bank.”

As usual readers are presented with a partial portrayal of ‘international law’.

“Israeli settlements in the West Bank are seen as illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

Moreover, embedded into the report is a video narrated by the Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell which first appeared in June and in which it is claimed that ‘international law’ not only applies to places but also to people.

 Settlers are seen as illegal under international law but Israel rejects that.” 

Later on – under the sub-heading “Why are settlements such an issue?” – the report claims that:

Israel has settled about 400,000 Jews in West Bank settlements, with another 200,000 living in East Jerusalem.”

Of course Israelis residing in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem which were illegally occupied by Jordan between 1948 and 1967 do so because that is their own personal choice and not because they were “settled” there by any Israeli government. The use of that terminology is a nod to the claim that Israeli towns and villages in those regions are ‘illegal under international law’ based on the Fourth Geneva Convention which states “[t]he Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.

The article tells readers that:

“It is not clear whether the Palestinian homes would be new constructions or merely legal approval for 700 already existing homes in what is known as “Area C” of the West Bank – where Palestinian villages often lie close to Israeli settlements, and where Israel has full control of the territory.”

It does not however inform audiences that “Israel has full control” of Area C – including planning -because the Palestinians agreed to that nearly twenty-four years ago and the absence of that information means that readers are unable to put the predictably unquestioned and unqualified Palestinian claims promoted in the next two paragraphs into their correct context.

“The Palestinian leadership dismissed the announcement, saying it rejected any Israeli construction or controls over Palestinian construction in the West Bank.

It said it was “evidence of the dark colonial mentality of the rules [sic] in Israel and which ignores all United Nations resolutions, international law and the signed agreements”.”

Providing no evidence to support its claim concerning a plan which has not even been published, the report goes on:

“The move comes ahead of a visit by US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who heads the White House’s faltering attempts to broker a peace deal.”

As has so often been the case in the past, the BBC conceals the fact that in 1995 the US Congress passed the ‘Jerusalem Embassy Act’ – a law declaring that “Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel; and the United States Embassy in Israel should be established in Jerusalem no later than May 31, 1999.”

“In 2017 Mr Trump announced that the US recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, overturning decades of official US policy.”

While the BBC continues to ignore allegations of corruption at the top of UNRWA management and the related suspension of funding by Switzerland and the Netherlands, readers are also told that:

“Last year the US stopped contributing to the UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa), which has been supporting Palestinian refugees since 1949.”

UNRWA was actually only set up in December 1949 and clause 6 of the relevant UN resolution refers to the commencement of “direct relief and works programmes” from January 1st 1950.

Readers see more unquestioning amplification of Palestinian messaging with no alternative view and no information concerning Israel’s past evacuations of communities in Sinai, the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria provided.

“What happens to the settlements is one of the most contentious issues between Israel and the Palestinians – Palestinians say the presence of settlements makes a future independent state impossible.”

The report closes with a characteristically euphemistic portrayal of past events:

“Peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have been at a standstill since 2014, when a US-brokered attempt to reach a deal collapsed.”

Readers are not informed that those negotiations actually collapsed because, in addition to breaching an undertaking to avoid acts of accession to international institutions during the period of negotiations, the Palestinian Authority chose to opt for ‘reconciliation’ with Hamas.

As is the case in any BBC report concerning building tenders and construction in the areas occupied by Jordan for nineteen years, the corporation once again demonstrates that its professed commitment to ‘impartial’ reporting is pure fiction.

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No dots to join in BBC News Gulf crisis backgrounder

The BBC News website currently has a backgrounder titled “Iran and the crisis in the Gulf explained” on its Middle East page.

For a self-defined explanatory article, some of its wording is remarkably vague. For example, under the sub-heading “What is the crisis about?” BBC audiences are told that:

“Behind the latest tensions is the fact that Iran and the US have increasingly accused each other of aggressive behaviour.

The US says recent activity by Iranian and Iranian-backed forces is destabilising the region and threatening US interests, while Iran says the US is trying to use military force and economic pressure to bring down its government.”

What is that “recent activity”? Who are “Iranian-backed forces”? How does “destabilising the region” manifest itself? The BBC isn’t telling.

Similarly, under the sub-heading “Why does the crisis matter?” readers find a rather trite statement which is not given any further exploration or explanation:

“…if the crisis erupts into a war, the consequences will be devastating.”

One of the places where “the consequences” of any such armed conflict will be felt is – as Iranian officials have said quite plainly – Israel and that is because Iran has protégés in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip on call for precisely such a scenario.

While Hizballah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad are Iran’s main investments on Israel’s borders, it has also been rebuilding relations with Hamas, after ties took a blow in 2011 when the terror group refused to side with Iran’s Syrian partner, Bashar al Assad.

Although Hamas delegations have traveled to Tehran fairly regularly in recent years – including for Rouhani’s second inauguration – the latest of those visits included something of a novelty. For the first time in seven years, Hamas representatives (including Saleh al Arouri, Husam Badran, Osama Hamdan and Mousa Abu Marzouk) met with Iran’s ‘supreme leader’ Ali Khamenei.

“Iran’s state TV says a delegation from the Palestinian militant group Hamas that is visiting Iran has met with the country’s supreme leader.

The TV report on Monday says Ayatollah Ali Khamenei held talks with Hamas’ deputy chief, Saleh al-Arouri, who is heading the delegation. The Hamas delegation also met with Kamal Kharrazi, an adviser to Khamenei.

“Hamas is Iran’s first line of defense,” said Al-Arouri following the meeting.”

The Jerusalem Post added:

“Referring to recent escalations between the US and Iran, the Hamas official added that Hamas expressed “solidarity with the Islamic Republic of Iran and emphasize that any hostile action against Iran is actually hostile to Palestine and the current of resistance. We consider ourselves to be at the forefront of supporting Iran.”

Al-Arouri addressed how the capabilities of the Hamas terrorist group have advanced through the years, adding that “today, all of the occupied territories and the main Zionist centers are in the crosshairs of Palestinian resistance missiles.””

The significance of that Hamas visit to Tehran was clearly recognised by many major media organisations such as AP, the Washington Post and the New York Times. The BBC however apparently did not consider it newsworthy and so readers of the BBC’s backgrounder on the Gulf crisis are deprived of information which could go some way towards ameliorating its often opaque and unhelpful language.

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No BBC coverage of US designation of Hizballah MPs

The imposition of terror-related sanctions by the US Treasury on sitting members of parliament in another country is a story one would expect major media outlets to cover and indeed the New York Times, the Washington Post and the AP and Reuters news agencies, among many others, have done just that.

The BBC, however, has to date chosen to ignore the July 9th announcement concerning the designation of three members of Hizballah.

“Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated key Hizballah political and security figures leveraging their privileged positions to facilitate Hizballah’s malign agenda and do Iran’s bidding.  Specifically, OFAC designated Hizballah Members of Parliament Amin Sherri and Muhammad Hasan Ra’d, and Hizballah security official Wafiq Safa, for acting for or on behalf of Hizballah.  These individuals were designated under Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, which targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism.”

AFP noted that:

“It was the first time the U.S. Treasury had placed Hezbollah lawmakers on its blacklist, which forbid U.S. individuals and businesses with a U.S. branch – including leading international banks – from doing business with those sanctioned.

“It is time we believe for other nations around the world to recognize that there is no distinction between Hezbollah’s political and military wing,” a senior administration official who insisted on anonymity told journalists.”

Reuters reported that:

“Lebanon’s dollar-denominated sovereign bonds fell and the cost of insuring exposure to its debt rose on Wednesday after the sanctions move. […]

Lebanon is saddled with one of the heaviest public debt burdens in the world.”

Meanwhile, the most recent entry on the BBC News website’s ‘Lebanon’ page dates from June 24th.

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Political messaging eclipses context in BBC WS Fourth of July report

Listeners to the afternoon edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on July 4th heard a report from Yolande Knell in which information and context were side lined in favour of political messaging.

The introduction given by programme host Dan Damon (from 18:08 here) included the claim that there is such a thing as “international policy”.

[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Damon: “As the United States celebrates Independence Day, in Israel local officials and American diplomats are marking what they say are their closest ever ties. For the first time the US embassy to Israel has held its 4th of July party in Jerusalem; this of course after President Trump recognised that city as Israel’s capital – a controversial departure from long-time international policy. Palestinians and Left-wing Israelis have criticised recent actions by US Ambassador David Friedman in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of their hoped-for future state. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell reports.”

Listeners heard the sound of fireworks before Knell began with an incomplete and context-free portrayal of part of a speech made by Israel’s prime minister. While listeners could be forgiven for assuming that Netanyahu had compared “relations with this White House” to those with previous US administrations, he did not. 

Knell: “Off with a bang. The US embassy held its first ever Independence Day party in Jerusalem this week. Watching the fireworks with their wives: the ambassador and Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He celebrated his close relations with this White House.”

Recording Netanyahu: “…and it’s wonderful to have the greatest power on earth not opposing the Jewish state but supporting the Jewish state. What a twist.”

Listeners then heard that archaeology is “an Israeli Right-wing nationalist agenda”, although it is doubtful that they would be aware of the background to Knell’s reference to the opening of an archaeological site seeing as the BBC has failed to produce any reporting on that story.

Knell: “And breaking past conventions, there’ve also been some unusual shows of US support for an Israeli Right-wing nationalist agenda. Wielding a hammer, Ambassador David Friedman smashed through an underground wall to open a controversial Jewish archaeology centre in East Jerusalem.”

Recording Friedman: “Why would an American ambassador come to this event and speak at this event? Some people – not necessarily friends of ours – are obsessing about my being here.”

Listeners heard the unexplained sound of some sort of machinery working before Knell continued:

Knell: “Above the site in Silwan, tunneling has badly damaged some Palestinian homes. And the action of the top diplomat was seen as confirmation that the US is recognising Israeli control over East Jerusalem and supports the presence of Jewish settlers here on land the Palestinians want for their own state.”

Knell’s promotion of the claim made by local activists that houses in Silwan have been “badly damaged” by the archaeological dig is not supported by an interview with a local resident which appeared in the Jerusalem Post:

“There are cracks in some walls. But this is not new. This has been going on for years. Some residents have hired lawyers to ask for financial compensation to renovate their homes. I heard that some people did receive compensation.”

Knell refrained from informing audiences that the people she dubbed “Jewish settlers” reside in legally purchased properties. Interestingly, the BBC’s own definition of ‘settlements’ is as follows:

“Settlements are residential areas built by the Israeli government in the territories occupied by Israel following the June 1967 war.” [emphasis added] 

That is not the case in Silwan, where some Israelis live in previously existing housing. However Knell steered listeners towards a narrative which characterises the purchase of property in certain areas of a city by people of a specific faith and ethnicity as “illegal” and undesirable. One of course doubts very much that the BBC would encourage its audiences to view neighbourhoods of mixed religion, ethnicity (and perhaps colour or sexual orientation) in any other city in such a light.

Knell also failed to inform listeners that Silwan was also previously known as Kfar Shiloach, that its Jewish residents were expelled by British Mandate forces after waves of Arab rioting and that, like the rest of the area conquered by Jordan in 1948, its subsequent annexation by Jordan was not recognised by the international community.

Knell next inadequately introduced her first interviewee:

Knell: “Jawad Siam lives locally.”

In breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality, she did not bother to inform listeners that the professional political activist Siam (who has previously appeared in BBC content) has been campaigning against the archaeological dig for years.

Siam: “We are used that the USA supporting Israel but even it didn’t reach this level. He behaved like any other settlers in Palestine. He behaved like the Right wings in the Israeli parliament, in the Knesset. He does not see Palestinians have any right neither in Jerusalem nor Palestine.”

Knell continued with a reference to another inadequately presented event.

Knell: “Nearby, a musician plays the oud as the call to prayer rings out from the Al Aqsa Mosque. This gathering was at a sensitive spot by the Western Wall – the holiest site where Jews can pray. It was hosted by a pro-Netanyahu newspaper owned by a US billionaire who’s also a donor to President Trump and the discussion was about Washington’s latest peace efforts.”

That “sensitive spot” is the Davidson Center and the “gathering” was the ‘Israel Hayom Forum on US-Israel Relations’. Listeners then heard an edited recording of part of a speech made by US special Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt at that event.

Recording Greenblatt: “We might get there if people recognise that vague terms such as ‘international law’, ‘UN resolutions’ and ‘internationally recognised parameters’ are not always clear-cut…”

Knell: “The president’s advisor, Jason Greenblatt – just back from a workshop in Bahrain.”

Greenblatt: “We might get there if people stop pretending settlements – or what I like to call neighbourhoods and cities – are the reason for the lack of peace.”

Knell then made sure that listeners did not forget the BBC’s standard partial mantra on ‘settlements’.

Knell: “Jewish settlements are seen as illegal under international law, although Israeli authorities disagree. As Left-wing Israelis worry about changes in US language and long-held policy in East Jerusalem, I meet Hagit Ofran from the NGO ‘Peace Now’.”

Listeners were told nothing of the political agenda of ‘Peace Now – not least the fact that it organised a demonstration against the opening of the ‘Pilgrimage Road’ archaeological site – again despite BBC editorial guidelines stipulating that the “particular viewpoint” of interviewees should be clarified.

Ofran: “This is the most delicate place of our conflict – the volcanic core – a few meters from the Temple Mount, Haram al Sharif, al Aqsa mosque. You cannot come with sledgehammers and say this is Israel sovereignty. You should come with tweezers and settle this place in a way that respects everybody.”

Knell closed her report with more promotion of a specific narrative:

Knell: “Back at the embassy’s Independence Day party, most Israelis are delighted about this White House’s strong backing for their country. But there are warnings too: that by losing credibility as a peace broker with the Palestinians, it could make it harder to resolve the conflict here and that would ultimately go against Israel’s interests.”

While Knell was apparently not interested in reporting on the Second Temple era archaeological discoveries that she portrayed as “controversial”, she clearly was interested in using them to advance an overtly political and completely one-sided narrative on Jerusalem – and the Israelis living in one of its neighbourhoods.

Related Articles:

Excavating the Washington Post’s narrative on the Israel-Islamist conflict  (CAMERA)

BBC’s Bowen continues to pronounce the demise of the two-state solution

BBC’s Middle East editor Tweets about ‘attitudes’

BBC presents property purchased by Jews as ‘settlements’

 

 

Weekend long read

1) Jonathan Spyer takes a look at “Hizballah’s Deep State: the creeping annexation of Lebanese State Institutions and political life”.

“In the political arena, Hizballah dominates a bloc which in turn controls both executive and legislature. Thus, it dominates both the decision making process and the process of implementing decisions. In the military arena, Hizballah posesses an armed force stronger than and of equal size to the official state military. It also clearly has a presence within and influence within the official armed forces. In the field of internal security, an ally of Hizballah commands the most powerful internal security body, and fellow travellers of the organization or appeasers of it command all the others. In economics Hizballah controls an economic empire of its own and can intimidate or implicate any bodies seeking to act against it.

The result is that it is impossible today in key areas of Lebanese life to determine exactly where the official state begins and Hizballah’s shadow state ends. The latter has penetrated and taken up residence in the former.”

2) At the Long War Journal, David Andrew Weinberg has documented how “Gulf governments sponsored anti-Semitic hate preachers during Ramadan 2019”.

“Ramadan is a holy month in the Sunni-ruled Gulf monarchies.  In addition to daylong fasting, one other aspect of the festival in this region is that governments sponsor a range of religious programming in order to burnish their religious credentials, particularly at state-run mosques and on state-owned television stations.

However, many Gulf governments fail to provide adequate oversight when sponsoring Ramadan programming, arranging events that feature religious leaders who have a longstanding record of anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry.  Even if such preachers are more measured in their remarks at these particular government-sponsored events, their state hosts still run the risk of legitimating proponents of bigotry.”

3) Miriam Elman explains why “BDS ‘Anti-Normalization’ Is a Mockery of Progressive Values” at the Algemeiner.

“Anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) promoters have long tried to stake out the moral high ground — depicting themselves as the champions of the oppressed, and positioning their movement as being on the right side of history.

But the reality is that BDS rarely acknowledges, or works to prevent, harm to Palestinians that is meted out by their own governments and societal extremists.

What’s even worse is that BDS leaders often egg on and incite these depredations with an anti-normalization campaign characterized by coercion and strong-arm tactics against peace activists and co-existence groups — along with just about any Palestinian who dares to cross the BDS picket line to cooperate with or even just talk to Israelis.”

4) Mark Dubowitz and Saeed Ghasseminejad of the FDD take a look at new US sanctions on Iran.

“President Trump issued a new executive order last week that mandated sanctions on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader’s Office, and several categories of related entities and individuals. The president’s order points toward the imposition of sanctions on key components of Khamenei’s massive business empire that have so far escaped sanctions.

Khamenei controls at least $200 billion of assets through three foundations: the Execution of Imam Khomeini’s Order (EIKO), the Mostazafan Foundation, and the Razavi Economic Organization, the business arm of Astan Quds Razavi. These tax-exempt organizations have amassed wealth via corrupt practices such as the confiscation of dissidents’ properties. Their proceeds fund repression inside Iran and terrorism abroad.”

BBC impartiality – a case study

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality state that: (update: link to new version here

“News in whatever form must be treated with due impartiality, giving due weight to events, opinion and main strands of argument. The approach and tone of news stories must always reflect our editorial values, including our commitment to impartiality.”

And:

“Across our output as a whole, we must be inclusive, reflecting a breadth and diversity of opinion.  We must be fair and open-minded when examining the evidence and weighing material facts.  We must give due weight to the many and diverse areas of an argument. […]

Impartiality does not necessarily require the range of perspectives or opinions to be covered in equal proportions either across our output as a whole, or within a single programme, web page or item.  Instead, we should seek to achieve ‘due weight’.  For example, minority views should not necessarily be given equal weight to the prevailing consensus.

Nevertheless, the omission of an important perspective, in a particular context, may jeopardise perceptions of the BBC’s impartiality.  Decisions over whether to include or omit perspectives should be reasonable and carefully reached, with consistently applied editorial judgement across an appropriate range of output.”

The corporation’s coverage of the recent US initiated economic workshop in Bahrain provides an opportunity to look more closely at the issue of impartiality in BBC coverage ahead of a debate in the UK Parliament on that topic on July 15th.

Between June 20th and June 26th 2019 various BBC departments put out content relating to the conference in Bahrain. Common threads running through that coverage included:

  • Heavy promotion of Palestinian Authority and PLO talking points both by BBC journalists and by means of interviews with Palestinians.
  • Promotion of the notion of ‘the Palestinians’ as a homogeneous entity under one leadership with no mention of the long-standing splits between Palestinian factions and the fact that the PA and PLO do not represent the Palestinians as a whole.
  • The absence of any mention of the fact that Hamas and additional factions reject the idea of a peace agreement with Israel.
  • Exclusive promotion of the PLO’s interpretation of the ‘two-state solution’.
  • Use of partial terminology such as “illegal settlements”.
  • The absence of any mention of the participation of Palestinian businessmen in the conference and subsequent events.
  • Downplaying – and in most cases, ignoring – Palestinian terrorism and its role in creating the need for counter-terrorism measures.

While the table below is not exhaustive, it gives an overview of how the BBC addressed its obligation to “give due weight to the many and diverse areas of an argument” and to reflect “a breadth and diversity of opinion”.

As we see, the BBC chose to provide air-time to three times more Palestinian officials than Israeli officials and did not include any interviews with US officials in its coverage at all. Audiences saw or heard extensive and repeated comment from Palestinian civilians while just two Israeli voices were heard in a single item. Interviews were conducted with two representatives from US think tanks, one Saudi Arabian journalist and one inadequately presented UN official. 

[1] BBC Radio 4 provides a platform for the PLO’s ‘apartheid’ smear

[2] More PLO propaganda and polemic on BBC WS radio – part one & More PLO propaganda and polemic on BBC WS radio – part two

[3] BBC radio ‘impartial’ on payments to terrorists

[4] https://twitter.com/ZionistFed/status/1141985649131757569 & https://twitter.com/ZionistFed/status/1141986084525674496

[5] Another PA official gets unchallenging BBC radio air-time

[6] BBC widens its ‘illegal under international law’ mantra to include people

[7] More monochrome BBC WS radio reporting on the Bahrain workshop

[8] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-48743663

[9] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-48743429

[10] BBC R4 Bahrain conference coverage continues – part one & BBC R4 Bahrain conference coverage continues – part two

[11] BBC WS ‘Newshour’ listeners get little more than PA talking points

[12] BBC’s Mishal Husain promotes dubious peace plan framing – part one & BBC’s Mishal Husain promotes dubious peace plan framing – part two

Across a variety of BBC platforms, audiences were given a very specific and overwhelmingly one-sided view of the Bahrain economic workshop and the US peace initiative in general. “Due weight” was not given to opinions dissenting from the BBC’s chosen framing of the topic and audiences did not hear “a breadth and diversity of opinion” at all. 

Whether or not the fact that BBC journalists were given a ‘briefing’ by a Palestinian Authority representative three days before coverage began (a BBC decision which in itself is detrimental to “perceptions of the BBC’s impartiality”) had an effect on the chosen framing is of course difficult to determine but certainly the corporation’s coverage of the Bahrain economic workshop did not live up to its supposed standards of editorial impartiality. 

The purpose of those editorial standards is of course to enable the BBC to meet its public purpose obligations, including the provision of “duly accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming to build people’s understanding of […] the wider world”. In this case it is abundantly obvious that BBC journalists were far more intent on establishing a specific narrative than they were committed to providing accurate and impartial news reports. 

Related Articles:

BBC journalists get a ‘briefing’ from a past interviewee

No BBC reporting on arrest of Bahrain workshop participant