Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2017

As has been the case in previous years (see related articles below), Israel related content produced by the BBC during 2017 frequently included contributions or information sourced from NGOs.

BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality state:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

However, in the vast majority of cases audiences were not informed of the political agenda of the organisations and their representatives promoted in BBC content and on some occasions the connection of an interviewee to a particular NGO was not revealed at all.

For example, an interviewee who was featured on BBC World Service radio at least three times between September 3rd and December 7th (including here and here) was introduced as “a mother of two” from Gaza but audiences were not informed that she works for Oxfam.

Similarly the founder of Ir Amim and Terrestrial Jerusalem was introduced to BBC audiences in February as “an Israeli attorney and specialist on the mapping of Jerusalem” and in June as “an Israeli lawyer specialising in the geo-politics of Jerusalem”.

In September a BBC World Service history show featured an interviewee without mentioning her significant connection to Medical Aid for Palestinians and related anti-Israel activism. In October the same programme featured a sole interviewee whose connections to the NGO Euro-Med Rights were not revealed to audiences.

Interestingly, when BBC radio 5 live recently conducted an interview concerning a UK domestic story with a political activist who was inadequately introduced, the corporation acknowledged that “we should’ve established and made clear on air this contributor was a political activist”. 

On other occasions, while contributors’ connections to NGOs were clarified, the political agenda of the organisations concerned was not.

In October, when an interviewee from the Amos Trust appeared on BBC Radio 4, the NGO was inadequately described as “a Christian organisation working in the West Bank and Gaza” with no mention made of its anti-Israel activities.

A TV debate concerning the BDS campaign that was aired in February included representatives of War on Want and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign with no background information concerning the rich history of anti-Israel campaigning by both those organisations provided to viewers.

In September the BBC World Service interviewed the director of ‘Forward Thinking’ which was described as a “mediation group” while listeners heard no clarification of the relevant issue of the interviewee’s “particular viewpoint” on Hamas.

Audiences also saw cases in which BBC presenters amplified unsubstantiated allegations made by political NGOs during interviews with Israelis. In June, for example, while interviewing Moshe Ya’alon, Stephen Sackur invoked Human Rights Watch and Breaking the Silence.

In November Andrew Marr employed the same tactic during an interview with the Israeli prime minister, amplifying allegations from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International without informing viewers of the political agendas of those NGOs.

BBC audiences also saw Human Rights Watch quoted and promoted in various reports throughout the year including:

BBC promotes political NGO in coverage of Azaria verdict

BBC’s Bateman shoehorns anti-Israel NGO into hi-tech story

Political NGO gets unreserved BBC amplification yet again

Additional NGOs promoted by the BBC without disclosure of their political agenda include Adalah and the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (see here) and UJFP.

Material produced by the UN agency OCHA was promoted in BBC content without that organisation’s political stance being revealed and audiences saw a partisan map credited to UNOCHA and B’tselem used on numerous occasions throughout the year.

The political NGO Peace Now was frequently quoted and promoted (including links to its website) in reports concerning Israeli construction plans – see for example here, here and here – as well as in an amended backgrounder on the subject of ‘settlements’.

In April the BBC News website described Breaking the Silence and B’tselem as “human rights activists” without fully informing audiences of their records and political agenda.

B’tselem was by far the BBC’s most promoted NGO in 2017 with politically partisan maps it is credited as having produced either together with UNOCHA or on its own appearing in dozens of BBC News website reports and articles throughout the year, including the BBC’s backgrounder on ‘settlements’.

Mapping the BBC’s use of partisan maps

Continuing documentation of the BBC’s B’Tselem map binge

BBC Watch prompts amendment to inaccurate BBC map

BBC audiences were on no occasion informed that the organisation from which that map is sourced engages in lawfare against Israel and is a member of a coalition of NGOs supporting BDS.

The NGOs quoted, promoted and interviewed by the BBC come from one side of the spectrum as far as their political approach to Israel is concerned and some of them are even active in legal and propaganda campaigns against Israel. Yet the BBC serially fails to meet its own editorial guidelines by clarifying their “particular viewpoint” and – as in previous years – in 2017 audiences hence remained unaware of the fact that the homogeneous information they are receiving about Israel is consistently unbalanced.

Related Articles:

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred Middle East NGOs

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2014

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2015

Promoted and quoted: the BBC’s preferred NGO contributors in 2016

BBC bases rejection of complaint on word of anti-Israel NGOs


BDS campaigner’s falsehoods go unchallenged on BBC World Service

For years we have been documenting on these pages how the BBC has serially failed to provide its audiences with an accurate and impartial portrayal of the aims and agenda of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign – even as it has frequently provided that campaign and some of its supporters with free PR.

The lead story (from 00:51 here) in the January 7th late edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ was titled “Israel publishes BDS blacklist”.

“Israel lists 20 organisations whose activists will be barred from entering the country on account of their support for the boycotting of Israel. We hear from an Israeli deputy minister, and a representative of one of the banned groups.”

Presenter James Coomarasamy introduced the item, providing listeners with an inaccurate description of the BDS campaign’s roots and aims in its opening seconds.

Coomarasamy: “First though, the Israeli government says it has shifted from defence to offence in its attempts to counter the international movement which supports the boycott of the country. It’s drawn up a list of 20 mainly European and American organisations which support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – or BDS – movement and whose activists will now be prevented from entering Israel. Well BDS was launched just over a decade ago with the stated goal of applying non-violent pressure on Israel to comply with international law in its dealings with the Palestinians. So why has Israel taken this decision now?”. [emphasis added]

The BDS campaign’s roots are of course found in the infamous ‘Durban’ conference of 2001 and its goals are not concerned with compliance with “international law”.

Coomarasamy then introduced his first interviewee – Israeli deputy minister and MK Michael Oren – who pointed out that while other countries face security threats: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Oren: “…we are totally unique – indeed the only country in the world that faces threats to its very existence. There could be organisations that seek to change Israeli policies, oppose Israeli policies but we’re dealing with organisations here that actively seek Israel’s destruction and Israel has a right to defend itself against these threats; certainly against existential threats.”

Coomarasamy: “Right but these specifically are groups that are calling for boycotting Israel.”

Oren: “They’re calling for boycotting Israel – not to change Israel’s policies. That’s the difference. When you boycott Israel you’re going to bring Israel down. These are organisations that realise that attempts to destroy Israel by conventional means – the Arab-Israeli wars, which basically ended in 1973, terror against Israel, which continues today but is much less than it was in previous years – those efforts failed. The new effort to destroy Israel is legal and economic and it’s very serious indeed. It is the 21st century version of warfare and it is every bit as dangerous. We take it every bit as seriously as we took previous efforts to destroy us.”

After Oren had clarified why Coomarasamy’s description of the BDS campaign as “propaganda efforts” is not accurate and explained the rationale behind Israel’s compilation of a registry of BDS supporting organisations and ban on entry into Israel for foreign members of those groups who take ongoing, consistent and significant action to promote the BDS campaign, Coomarasamy moved on to his next interviewee.

Coomarasamy: “Well one of the blacklisted groups is Jewish Voice for Peace which supports the BDS campaign. Rebecca Vilkomerson is their executive director based in New York. What does she make of Michael Oren’s assertion that the BDS campaign is intent on the destruction of the State of Israel?”

Vilkomerson: “I would absolutely dispute that. I mean I think of course the tool of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions is one that’s been used historically across many, many different movements in many, many different times as a tool of citizens to push governments to take action when they are unwilling or unable to. And of course if you think about the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, the goal of the movement was not to destroy the country. The goal of the movement was to transform the country. Of course there is pressure as part of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions but the aim is to transform the country into one that brings all citizens to full equality and dignity and freedom and that’s of course also the goal with the BDS movement for Palestinian rights.”

Listeners familiar with the BBC’s dismal record on reporting on the BDS campaign may have been surprised to learn at that point that at least one the corporation’s journalists apparently is aware of its ‘end game’.

Coomarasamy: “Although there are some supporters of the BDS movement who would specifically say that they want the State of Israel to dissolve itself, to be dissolved.”

However, Vilkomerson was then allowed to downplay the fact that leaders and prominent activists in the BDS campaign openly speak of bringing an end to Jewish self-determination with no challenge whatsoever from Coomarasamy.  

Vilkomerson: “Ahm…cert…you know the BDS movement is a very, very broad movement in the way that anyone can say that they’re a supporter [laughs] certainly. So you can’t say…you know you can’t really give too much credence to that. But I think the purpose of the BDS movement as is articulated by its leadership – the broad…the broadest array of civil rights…civil society within Palestine – is three conditions that the BDS calls…specifically calls for which is the end of the occupation, the dismantling of the wall, full equality for Palestinian citizens and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. And if those three conditions are met, the BDS call will be called off.”

Vilkomerson’s claim that the BDS campaign’s leadership is found in “civil society within Palestine” is of course inaccurate (as has been admitted even by one of its prominent supporters) but Coomarasamy made no effort to challenge that deliberate falsehood. Neither did he bother to clarify to listeners that the BDS campaign’s demand for the so-called ‘right of return’ to Israel for millions of Palestinian refugees would – as its supporters know full well – bring an end to Jewish self-determination in the sole Jewish state and it is precisely that ‘condition’ which would “dissolve” the State of Israel.

The conversation continued with Vilkomerson claiming that the Israeli move is “an indicator of the growing power of the BDS movement”. When she stated that the goal of her own organisation is “to change US policy” Coomarasamy refrained from asking her exactly what that entails and so listeners did not hear, for example, that JVP has hosted and lobbied for Palestinians convicted of terrorism or that last year it launched a campaign that aims to “end police exchange programs between the US and Israel”.

Although this item dealt specifically with the subject of the BDS campaign, once again we see that the BBC did not provide audiences with the clear picture of its aims that they have lacked for years. Rather, in addition to providing an inaccurate definition of the campaign’s goals himself, James Coomarasamy allowed his second interviewee to muddy the waters even further by failing to challenge her inaccurate statements and claims.  

In addition, the photograph illustrating the programme’s webpage is inaccurately captioned as follows:

“Photo: A tourist photographs a sign in Bethlehem in 2015, calling for a boycott of Israeli products coming from Jewish settlements.”

BBC Watch asked a professional to translate the Arabic script on that sign. It makes no reference to a selective boycott of “products coming from Jewish settlements” but rather urges:“boycott your occupation…support your country’s produce” and it is credited to “the national campaign for boycott of the occupation and its goods”. 

Related Articles:

‘Jewish Voice for Peace’ Repeats anti-Israel Clichés; Post Provides a Platform (CAMERA)

BBC’s ‘The Big Questions’ brings in pro-BDS NGOs to talk Israel trade

h/t SJ

The first discussion topic in the February 12th edition of BBC One’s “moral, ethical and religious” debate programme ‘The Big Questions’ was titled “should we trade with Israel now settlements are recognised?” and it was introduced by host Nicky Campbell as follows:big-questions-12-2

Campbell: “On Tuesday, Mrs May held talks at Downing Street with her opposite number in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. Increasing trade and investment with Israel was high on the agenda. The day before, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, passed a bill legalising settlements on privately owned Palestinian land on the West Bank, in direct contradiction to a UN Security Council Resolution. Mrs May was clear that Britain opposes settlement activity and believes the two-state solution is the best way to bring peace to the region. Should we trade with Israel now the settlements have been recognised? Well, I’ve been doing debates on this issue for 30 years now. And it’s never that quiet. It’s very, very impassioned on both sides. We shall attempt to proceed in a civilised direction.” 

The programme is available here or to those in the UK here.

In addition to Ryvka Barnard – senior campaigns officer at ‘War on Want’ – panel guests included Kamel Hawwash of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Ibrahim Mogra of the Muslim Council of Britain, Paul Charney of the Zionist Federation and Tom Wilson of the Henry Jackson Society.

Notably, audiences were not provided with background information concerning the rich history of anti-Israel campaigning by both ‘War on Want’ and the PSC, the antisemitism which has come to light in both those organisations.  Neither were audiences informed of the obviously relevant fact that both organisations support the boycott campaign (BDS) against Israel – which is actually the topic of this discussion. 

Compared to some previous editions of the programme in which Israel related topics were discussed, this one was noteworthy for the fact that baseless anti-Israel propaganda and Nazi analogies promoted by some speakers were in several cases – though not all – challenged by the host, panel members or members of the audience. 

However, as can be seen from the transcript below, historical context was frequently lacking with, for example, uninformed viewers remaining none the wiser with regard to the fact that the final status negotiations concerning Area C have yet to come about because the Palestinians chose to launch the second Intifada or the fact that Israel came to control Judea & Samaria because Jordan chose to attack once again in 1967. Similarly, viewers were given a monchrome impression of ‘international law’ which was not challenged by the host. [emphasis in bold added]


Campbell: “Now, Ryvka from War on Want, many would say, ‘Are you serious? Come on! We have trade deals with Saudi Arabia, with China, with Russia, with the United Arab Emirates, some of the worst human rights abusers on the planet – none of them a democracy like Israel is. How can you possibly justify this?'”

Barnard (WoW): “Well, I think there’s a major issue with the UK. The UK should be putting human rights and international law at the centre of all of its trade negotiations with all countries.”

Campbell: “Should we stop trading with all those countries?”

Barnard: “I think it’s a question to be brought up. I think we can’t talk about trade without talking about human rights and international law. That’s why it’s important for the UK to take action right now, move beyond words and suspend its trade relations with Israel because of its systematic violations of international law.”

Campbell: “If we stop trading with countries with human rights abuses, at a time when we need friends, we’d go out of business.”

Barnard: “I think what happens when you continue trading with human rights-abusing regimes like Israel, you’re basically incentivising human rights abuse and you are giving a green light to say that violations of international law, doing things like building settlements, demolishing Palestinian homes, is OK. You know, we might say on the side, we don’t like it when you do that, as Theresa May did, but incentivising them with trade and especially things like the arms trade – the UK Government has approved over £100 million worth of arms exports to Israel in 2016 alone – those arms are used in violence against Palestinians. So it’s a real double standard to say ‘no settlements’ on one hand but then to be giving arms to the country that is building them.”

Campbell: “You refer to Israel. Paul, good morning Paul; chairman of the Zionist Federation, former tank commander with the IDF. There’s a couple of things I need to ask you and then we’ll throw it out. I want to hear from the audience, because, of course, hands going up already. But Ryvka referred to, in unequivocal terms there, Israel as a human rights abuser. How would you respond to what she said there?”

Charney (ZF): “Well, that needs to be qualified. Israel, certainly by Freedom House, is recognised as the only free country in the Middle East. It has a very strong democracy. It has a Supreme Court which is not subservient to the executive. It will look at this legislation and it will decide whether it’s legal or not. There is a huge social housing crisis amongst the Palestinians and amongst the Israelis and these towns that are expanding need to expand. So, it is a controversial issue and you can disagree, but the same time, if the UK disagreed with every country, with every political decision, certainly it wouldn’t be dealing with China, it wouldn’t be dealing with India over Kashmir, it wouldn’t be dealing with Turkey over Northern Cyprus, and the opposite would be true. It’s not like Spain would cease dealing with the UK over Gibraltar, or Argentina would cease dealing with the UK over the Falkland Islands. What we need is to understand to put this into perspective, that the settlements are an issue but they’re one issue, since 1967, that needs to be dealt with in the much larger framework of a peace agreement which the Palestinians require and when they want to build a home in a state for themselves more than they want to destroy and boycott Israel. When that priority changes then peace can be achieved.”

Campbell: “Let’s go to the audience first. Right behind Paul. Good morning. Your microphone is coming! This gentleman here.”

Audience Member 1: “We’re in an age where Trump wants to build walls and impose travel bans and impose restrictions on people based on their religion or identity and, surely, what we want to be doing is reaching out to countries, reaching out to different communities…

Campbell: “Israel for example?”

Audience Member 1: “…and to Israel…and to engage and to challenge, constructively, and to say this is wrong but also to say, we recognise you are a democracy, we want to work with you. We want to build those trade links, build those partnerships, improve relationships for all the peoples in the world, rather than being isolationist.”

Audience Member 2: “You keep saying it’s a democracy. It’s not a democracy. It’s a democracy similar to what South Africa was in the apartheid time. You know, so many people are disenfranchised, they don’t have any say in the running of Israel and they keep saying it is a democracy. The Palestinians…”

Campbell: “It has women’s rights, it has trades-union rights, it has Gay rights. That is one angle on it.”

Audience Member 2: “It’s the biggest concentration camp in the world. It’s almost a prison.”

Campbell:  “OK, let’s get a…Paul, do you want to respond to that? I need to be very careful bringing the points back and forth, so that it is fair.”

Charney: “You have to be very careful with the terminology that you use, and that’s hugely harmful for what is recognised internationally as a democracy. As we said, we have all the minorities as heads of Supreme Court, as doctors, as heads of hospitals, heads of universities. Minorities from across the board; Arab, Druze, Christian. And this is recognised across the Middle East as a beacon for what could be seen as a free country that all the rest of the countries around can look and see this is what we want to have. This is the beacon. This is your ultimate.

Campbell: “Gentlemen there, first of all, there is a point you made, the first speaker, so what’s your name?”

Audience Member 1: “Leon.”

Campbell: “The point Leon made I want to put to you, Professor Hawwash, which is an interesting and many would think a very significant one. First of all, good morning. How are you?

Audience Member 3: “Good morning. Very well, thank you. I mean, I’m just shocked that you have reduced the Palestinian question and the crisis in the Middle East to a housing problem. I think you said that it’s a housing problem that exists for Israelis and Palestinians and you are expanding these towns because there is a housing crisis that needs to be addressed. It’s the continued colonisation of Palestine. You’re demolishing houses. You are chasing and removing, and let’s call it out for what it is. It’s ethnic cleansing going on in these areas that have gone on for decades.”

Campbell: “OK, I’m going to put that point to Tom. OK, go on Leon, come back on it.”

Audience Member 1: “I think it’s really important to have a debate but we need to be so careful with our language because we want to have a civilised debate here and using words like ‘concentration camps’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ is really offensive, not just to Jews but to all people who have actually suffered that extreme genocide and persecution. So please don’t use language like ‘concentration camps’ because it is not concentration camp.”

Audience Member 2: “Well, it’s a fact, isn’t it? It is a fact. All these people have been disenfranchised. I mean, the building settlements, Palestinian houses are being demolished.”

Campbell: “Professor Harwwash, let me put a point to you that Leon did make, that trade means links, means diplomacy, means influence. It means you can make progress. OK, Zimbabwe. We have sanctions on Zimbabwe. We have absolutely zero influence there. We cannot help the people who are suffering egregiously at the hands of Mugabe and his thugs. The only way we get to Zimbabwe is through the back channels of South Africa, and that’s difficult enough. Would you want to create a situation where we have no influence, no trading links with Israel?

Kamel Hawwash (PSC): “You said you have been covering this topic for 30 years and during this period the number of settlers in the West Bank has increased by something like 100,000, to now 600-700,000 people. It will reach a million unless we do something to stop it, because if people really are interested in peace, you need to look at the situation of the Palestinians, who didn’t choose to be occupied, to have their land taken, to have another state created in our homeland – and I speak as a Palestinian. We didn’t choose any of that. So what this is about is the rights of the Palestinian people. Paul talked about housing, building houses. It’s just ludicrous. These houses are built for only one type of person: a Jewish Israeli. Not for Palestinians. If Israel was serious about solving the housing crisis, why doesn’t it open up the settlements out to Palestinians? Even better, not build on someone else’s land.”

Campbell: “Paul?”

Charney (ZF): “It’s never been Palestinian land. You’ve never had a state and we want to help you create a safe, but prior to ’67 it was owned by the Jordanians and the Jordanians would not allow you to own your own land. And prior to that the British and prior to that it was the Ottomans. This land is called ‘disputed’ for that very fact. We want to help you.”

Hawwash: “Do we Palestinians exist as a people?”

Charney: “We want to help you.”

Hawwash: “Do we Palestinians exist as a people, do you think? Do you recognise us as a people?”

Charney: “Absolutely. And you should have a state and you should live alongside us and you should…”

Hawwash: “Right, so why don’t you put pressure on the Israeli government?”

Charney: “…put down your arms and stop glorifying terrorists.”

Campbell: “Wait, wait! Let me intervene right there. So, Tom, is this not the situation now, with the settlements having been legitimised in the Knesset? Does that not put a…someone mentioned a wall just now; does that not put a massive wall up to the possibility of a two state solution? Massively counter-productive.”

Wilson (HJS): “This is a proposed law. We’ll see if it gets through the Supreme Court, because Israel does have quite strong checks and balances on its democracy. I think it’s very concerning that we think the presence of Jewish people in the West Bank in some way negates there being able to be a Palestinian state. Why is it assumed this Palestinian state has to be Jew-free? Why couldn’t Palestinian state have a Jewish minority, just as Israel has an Arab and Muslim minority? I don’t think we can criminalise an entire community just because they’ve ended up on the wrong side of an Armistice line. The fact is, as we’ve said, there are about half a million people there, they are not going anywhere so it’s better that we learn for the two sides to be able to accept a minority within one another’s countries.”

Campbell: “Ryvka, do you want to come back on that?”

Barnard (WoW): “Yes, I think it’s important for us to recognise that the settlements, like people have referred to, it’s been a policy of the state of Israel for decades now and the reason why settlements exist in the West Bank is not because they ended up on the wrong side of the Armistice line. It’s a policy of expansion and colonisation, as somebody has mentioned. And it’s against international law – and that’s undisputed. And it’s against UK policy.

Campbell: “Would you boycott…as a consumer, would you boycott products from Israel?”

Barnard: “Absolutely.”

Campbell: “How do you feel when you use Google, because they have a major research and development centre in Israel? How do you feel about that?”

Barnard: “It think it’s less about an individual consumer, though. People should make…”

Campbell: “You just said you definitely would do that. If you had a list of choices would you radically transform your habits and stop using Google?”

Barnard: “I think the important thing is for the UK Government to take action in line with its own policy. So the UK foreign policy recognises settlements as illegal under international law. It’s important for the UK to act on that policy. You know, we talked a little bit about engagement and you raised the question of whether the UK would have more influence through engagement. If viewers remember Margaret Thatcher’s days in relation with South Africa, the policy was constructive engagement. Now, in retrospect, it’s recognised that that actually prolonged apartheid and that actually allowed apartheid to deepen. Constructive engagement as a policy was rubbished after apartheid fell finally, because of economic pressure like sanctions. So I think it’s important for us to recognise that as an important tool that the UK Government has and it is time again to move beyond words and condemnation and into action.”

Campbell: “Paul? And then we’ll come to more from the audience in a second. Paul, just come back on that.”

Charney (ZF): “Yes, I just like to bring something constructive into it, and the blame game is not going to get us to a peace deal and I’d like to see the Palestinian Authority take more control over its own people and over the peace process and be wanting a Palestinian state more than it wants to destroy and denigrate an Israeli state. I think there is goodwill around the world and in Israel to help you do that. But you must remember that with all the wars that came in, that Israel had to defend itself. It has given back the Sinai. It has given back Gaza. It is ready to concede…”

Campbell: “What about the gentleman’s point that a proportion of our audience…a proportion of our audience…I’m just going to put that to him…a proportion of our audience will be wondering, and it’s the point represented by that gentleman: taking land from people, land that is not yours. How do you respond to that?”

Charney: “Firstly, this is disputed territory with Palestinians living on it and Jews living on it. Please allow me to speak. Please allow me to speak.”

Hawwash (PSC): “No, it isn’t disputed territory. It is occupied. It’s illegally occupied.”

Charney: “When the Israelis left Gaza, every inch of Gaza, all the Palestinian land, gave it back and said ‘Create a state! We are leaving you greenhouses. We are leaving you businesses’, what was created was a mini terrorist state with only the development of bombs and warfare. The problem is that if Israel does the same thing immediately and retracts from the West Bank, we’re going to have the same extremist ideology coming out of there. We cannot trust and rely without a strong security presence. We cannot trust and rely on these states like Hamas to automatically become democratic and allow Gays and Christians to flourish. That’s not happening.”

Campbell: “Kamel, Professor Hawwash, I will be with you. You will have the next voice on the front row, and Ibrahim will be in as well. And Tom will be back. First off though, more audience comments. Leon, you’ve had a good say. Let me go to the gentleman at the back. Good morning.”

Audience Member 4: “It is important to realise, I believe, after the United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union, and other factors coming into the 21st-century, that Britain is no longer the global player in the world that it was in the post-colonial period after 1945 at the end of the Second World War.”

Campbell: “So what should we do?”

Audience Member 4: “The diminishing power, I believe, you know, we haven’t got a responsibility to police the world in the same way and we haven’t got the capability.”

Campbell: “So what do we do about Israel?”

Audience Member 4: “We shouldn’t boycott them in any sense at all because in respect of trading with places like Dubai, trading with places like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, even trading with Pakistan…”

Campbell: “Where there is a blasphemy law.”

Audience Member 4: “…Israel is democratic and free, as the gentleman said.”

Campbell: “A point made earlier on and expressed well by yourself as well. Go on.”

Audience Member 5: “Good morning, Nicky. This question is about trade. My concern is that the Brexit vote will lead to our leaders, Prime Minister May and others, only giving criticisms of countries that are abusing human rights behind their hands, whispering it instead of saying it forcefully.”

Campbell: “Because we need friends?”

Audience Member 5: “Because we need friends. So I worry that that ethical foreign policy that Robin Cook wished for is not going to happen because we are in no position to criticise others.”

Campbell: “Realpolitik. Is there such a thing as an ethical foreign policy?”

Audience Member 5: “I think there should be.”

Campbell: “Professor Hawwash, you pointed at Paul. You wanted to come back.”

Hawwash (PSC): “Yes, in the age of Trump, it seems that trade trumps human rights and that is something we should all oppose and oppose very strongly. Paul talked about the Palestinians should take more control of their people and so on. Well I’ll just give you an example. Under the Oslo Accord, an area called Area C, which is the most fertile part of Palestine, is currently under Israeli security and administrative control. It was to be passed over. It isn’t being passed over. In fact Naftali Bennett – and a number of Israeli ministers – say it should be annexed. They actually have no interest in a Palestinian state emerging. Naftali Bennett only yesterday advising Prime Minister Netanyahu, who’s going to Washington next week, said “Two words you should not use. You should not utter two words, ‘Palestinian’ and ‘state'”. So if there is no Palestinian state, I would very much like to hear from Paul and others what the solution is where there are almost an equal number of Palestinians and Jewish people in that land”

Campbell: “Tom, what’s the solution and how strategically important do you believe Israel is to this country?”

Wilson (HJS): “It is very strategically important in terms of…you know, we’ve got a growing hi-tech economy in Israel certainly, and things like counterterror. But that is by-the-by and I think that the issue here is the moral issue; is the issue of human rights. I think we are being very selective in how we are talking about human rights. I mean, War on Want is being particularly selective with their targeting of Israel for boycotts. They say they care about international law. I don’t hear them calling for boycotts of other countries with similar issues. And on the issue of Palestinian human rights, it seems that many people in this audience are more angry about the building of Jewish houses in the West Bank than they are about the abuse of Palestinian rights by Palestinians. If your starting point is Palestinian human rights why don’t you call out the Palestinian Authority for its extra-judicial killings of Palestinians, for torture of Palestinians, for harassment of journalists and for detention without trial? And yet we hear silence on all of this. The focus is exclusively on finding reasons to boycott and demonise the world’s only Jewish state.”

Hawwash (PSC): “We are talking about Palestinian rights and freedom. What the other side is talking about is simply sustaining the status quo. The status quo has led us to a situation where there is a lot of unhappiness and anger and abuse of the Palestinians by the Israeli state. We need to be free for there to be peace in Palestine.”

Campbell: “Ibrahim Mogra, from the Muslim Council of Britain, do you recognise Israel’s right to exist?”

Mogra (MCB): “Within internationally recognised borders, yes. I think we have brought Israel into our embrace far more than I would have liked to see. They are participants in the football Euro competitions. They are participants in the Eurovision Song Contest and we don’t even share a border with them. So in response to your point about isolating Israel, we have actually remained in at least cultural and political contact with them. The important thing here is international law has to be applied equally across the board. It is not about Israel, whether it’s Saudi Arabia, Pakistan was mentioned, the Gulf states were mentioned, China. Whichever state it is, if we as human beings [who] subscribe to international law, fail to apply the UN resolutions equally across the board, what are we showing to the world? That democracy is selective. That powerful nations will pick on the weaker nations. That self-interest and national interest will trump all the other global interests. So the question here is are we applying the same yardstick to measure all the different behaviours of government? We have gone into Iraq, we’ve gone into Libya because their leaders – corrupt and dictatorial as they were – flaunted UN security resolutions. How many resolutions has Israel overlooked over time? As long as…”

Campbell: “We’ve got to leave it there because we have other things to debate, but your point came across loud and clear. Not that everybody watching is going to agree with it. It’s a perilous line, this debate, always, but I think that was pretty calm. Do you reckon? Do you reckon? Everyone? Yes? OK, let’s do the next one!”

BBC failure to adhere to editorial guidelines highlighted by ‘War on Want’ story

In an article titled “War on Want chief quits amid claims of anti-semitism” the Times informs us that:

John Hilary, 'War on Want' (photo: Twitter)

John Hilary, ‘War on Want’ (photo: Twitter)

“The head of a controversial charity is leaving without a job to go to amid investigations by the Charity Commission into the organisation’s “campaigning and political activities”.

John Hilary, executive director of War on Want, will step down next month after growing controversy about the charity’s work against Israel. War on Want funds Israeli Apartheid Week, an event at universities that Jewish Human Rights Watch has accused of “targeting and harassing Jewish students and inviting anti-semitic speakers to campuses”. […]

British law says an organisation cannot be a charity if its purposes are political, but War on Want explicitly says it is a “political organisation” that believes in “justice, not charity”. […]

The Charity Commission said it had received complaints about War on Want, “particularly in respect of its campaigning and political activities”, and would be publishing an “operational case report” into the charity, a rare procedure that is carried out only when there is “significant public interest in the issues involved” or “lessons that other charities can learn” from it.”WoW 1

Readers who are familiar with the record of the self-described political NGO ‘War on Want’ will perhaps not be surprised by news of the Charity Commission’s investigation. It is however worth remembering that despite its long history of controversial activity, the BBC has engaged in fundraising from which that NGO has benefited, has provided a platform for the promotion of the political agenda of a member of its staff – sometimes without informing audiences of her affiliations as editorial guidelines demand – and earlier this year brought in John Hilary himself as a contributor to a debate on the issue of boycotts without adequate clarification of his organisation’s political agenda.

The BBC’s own editorial guidelines on impartiality state:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

The ‘War on Want’ example once again highlights the need for consistent adherence to those guidelines, which are currently all too frequently ignored.

Related Articles:

Not funny: BBC supported ‘Comic Relief’ and the demonization of Israel

BBC R4 promotes unchallenged anti-Israel propaganda and warped histories of Jerusalem

BBC promoted NGO supplying props for ‘Israel Apartheid Week’

BBC R4’s ‘Moral Maze’ sidesteps the moral issues behind the BDS campaign

UK government halts funding to BBC quoted and promoted charity

The Telegraph informs us that:

“The government has ceased funding a British charity which sponsored events accused of promoting hatred and violence against Jews. 

The Department for International Development (Dfid) said that it no longer supported War on Want, which helped pay for “Israeli Apartheid Week” in February this year. […]

War on Want, whose logo appears on publicity materials for Israeli Apartheid Week and the meeting, has received £260,000 in funding from Dfid over the last two years.

The subsidy is doubly embarrassing because the Government has recently banned local authorities and other public bodies from implementing boycotts of Israel.

A Dfid spokesman said last night that it has ceased funding of War on Want, apart from a small project with a distinct branch of the charity in Northern Ireland.”

As was reported here last year, this is not the first time that ‘War on Want’ has been active in the organisation of ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ in British universities and its activities include additional forms of anti-Israel campaigning.WoW 1

Among the other bodies funding ‘War on Want’ is the charity ‘Comic Relief which – as has been noted here before – receives considerable support from the BBC. In addition, BBC Radio 4’s charity appeals slot has featured ‘War on Want’ on several occasions.

In light of the circumstances which prompted the decision taken by the Department for International Development, one would of course expect that ‘Comic Relief’ and additional funders of ‘War on Want’ will be reviewing their position.

That same background should of course also prompt the BBC to ensure that on the fairly frequent occasions upon which it hosts representatives of ‘War on Want’ on its programmes, care should be taken to meet the existing BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality which require that audiences be made aware of the association of contributors with a “particular viewpoint”.

BBC R4’s ‘Moral Maze’ sidesteps the moral issues behind the BDS campaign

The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Moral Maze’ is billed as providing audiences with the opportunity to hear “[c]ombative, provocative and engaging live debate examining the moral issues behind one of the week’s news stories”. The February 20th edition of the show was titled “Banning Boycotts” and part of its synopsis explains the timing of this particular debate.Moral Maze 20 2

“Now the government is planning a law to make it illegal for local councils, public bodies and even some university student unions to carry out boycotts. Under the plan all publicly funded institutions will lose the freedom to refuse to buy goods and services as part of a political campaign.”

The programme (available here) is well worth listening to in full and some of its notable aspects relate to both practical and philosophical issues.

One of the pro-boycott ‘witnesses’ invited to the programme was John Hilary – introduced as “the executive director of ‘War on Want’ which has been leading the campaign against this ban”. Listeners were not told, however, that ‘War on Want‘ is also a principal player in the BDS campaign and its anti-Israel agenda was – as usual – not clarified despite the requirement to do so under BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality.

Hilary was allowed to make the inaccurate and misleading claim that the BDS campaign began in 2005 as the result of a call from “Palestinian civil society” and listeners were not informed of the actual roots of the campaign in the ‘Durban Strategy’ conceived in 2001. Together with the second pro-boycott ‘witness’ – Rob Harrison of ‘Ethical Consumer’ magazine – Hilary was not challenged on the inaccurate claim that the boycott campaign against Israel relates solely to what he termed “illegal settlements” and what Harrison called “stuff going on in the occupied territories”.

John Hilary, 'War on Want' (photo: Twitter)

John Hilary, ‘War on Want’ (photo: Twitter)

But the most notable feature of this programme is to be found in the discrepancy between the across the board agreement amongst its participants that boycotting is a “tactic” – i.e. a means to an end – and the reluctance to discuss the true nature of that end and the “moral issues” arising from it.

‘Witness’ Daniel Johnson of Standpoint magazine made an attempt (from 18:03) to raise an issue rarely – if ever – addressed in BBC programmes or reports: the real end-game of the anti-Israel BDS campaign.

“The BDS movement does not accept Israel as a Jewish state. It wants to destroy that state.”

Panel member Matthew Taylor quickly interrupted:

“But…it….we’re not discussing the specifics…the specificities of that; we’re talking about boycotts in general.”

Towards the end of the programme – at around 35:40 – panelist Melanie Phillips also tried to highlight the same issue but was similarly interrupted by presenter Michael Buerk.

MP: “…as Daniel Johnson was getting at, it’s to do with the bullying nature of this. And why is it bullying? It is because it is based on a singular unfairness and injustice. It is based on the telling of lies. […] But on this case you have blood libels and incitement which are not to do with enjoining justice…

MB: “Melanie….that…”

MP: “…but with destroying a country. That’s what Daniel Johnson was saying and that’s why it is bullying.”

MB: “Yeah but this programme is not specifically about that.”

As has been documented too many times on these pages the BBC has consistently avoided telling its audiences what the BDS campaign it so often showcases really seeks to achieve. In this programme listeners actually had a rare opportunity to hear from informed contributors what that campaign’s tactics are aimed at bringing about: surely an important piece of information for members of the BBC’s funding public trying to make up their own minds as to whether they are in favour of the tactic of boycotts or not and what they think about the UK government’s new rulings.

Instead, audiences heard a discussion of the “moral issues” relating to the symptom and the cowardly sidestepping of the “moral issues” of the far more important topic which the BBC continues to do its level best to avoid.  

Related Articles:

BBC coverage of UK government’s action against BDS fails to fully inform

No BBC coverage of antisemitism at event organised by its most promoted NGO

An anti-Israel demonstration which took place in the heart of London on September 9th, ostensibly to protest a two-day visit to the UK by the Israeli prime minister, received no coverage on the BBC News website on the day that it took place.

That editorial decision is all the more interesting when one considers that the Palestine Solidarity Campaign – which organised the protest – and some of its supporting groups are not infrequently promoted on BBC platforms.

demo London organisers

demo London woman with placard

credit: Sussex Friends of Israel

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign was in fact the non-Israeli NGO most promoted in BBC Israel-related content during 2014. Only recently BBC audiences saw coverage of another event organised, among others, by the PSC, the Stop the War Coalition and Friends of Al Aqsa. FoAA’s Ismail Patel has appeared on various BBC programmes, as have the spokesperson for ‘War on Want’ and representatives of FOSIS.

It would therefore have been relevant for audiences to be made aware of the fact that an event organised by groups to which the BBC frequently gives a platform was marked by hate speech, antisemitism and support for terrorism.

For example, as the Jewish News reports (link includes video):

“A pro-Palestinian protester waved a penny at pro-Israel demonstrators and shouted “you only understand money”, before police placed handcuffs on him. […]

In the short clip filmed outside Whitehall by the Zionist Federation UK, he tells pro-Israel demonstrators: “Here have a penny..” adding “you only understand money” a number of times.”demo London Hizb flags 2

A woman identified as Pamela Hardyment felt free to advocate ethnic cleansing and genocide of Israeli Jews on camera.

“In another incident caught on camera, a […] woman tells Israel supporters that the Jews in Israel should “go into the sea, they’re not coming here.

“We would absolutely march against Zionists coming here as refugees,” added the woman, clad in a keffiyeh and carrying an umbrella bearing the word “Palestine.”

“So you want another Holocaust?” the pro-Israel activist asks her. “I don’t know what the Holocaust is,” she replies.

“I want them out of Israel,” the woman says later in the video, referring to Israeli Jews.

“You’ll have to kill them all,” says a voice off camera. “Well, so be it,” she responds as she walks off.”

The first mention of that demonstration came a whole day after it took place in an article titled “Netanyahu urges action to stop Middle East ‘disintegrating’” which appeared on the BBC News website’s UK and Middle East pages on September 10th. There readers were told that:

“Campaigners clashed ahead of the visit.

Protesters demanding Mr Netanyahu’s arrest for alleged war crimes in Gaza clashed with pro-Israel activists on Wednesday.”

Clearly that is not an accurate or comprehensive portrayal of the demonstration, so perhaps the BBC would like to share with its funding public the editorial considerations behind the airbrushing of antisemitism, hate speech and support for terrorist groups from the picture it presented to its audiences?

Related Articles:

When criticism of Israel crosses the line to extreme antisemitism: London edition   (UK Media Watch) 



BBC promoted NGO supplying props for ‘Israel Apartheid Week’

One BBC-related issue which we find ourselves having to raise on these pages with disturbing frequency is that of the inadequate introduction of guests or interviewees linked to political NGOs. In our round-up of NGO contributors to BBC content in 2014 we noted that:

“In some instances an interviewee or contributor to BBC content was presented to audiences by name and with the title of his or her organization, but more often than not the political agenda of that organization and the interviewee’s resulting “standpoint” were not adequately clarified – as demanded by BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality. The same practice was evident when quotes were used from organisations’ press releases without being attributed to a specific person. […]

In other cases, interviewees or contributors were presented by name only and – again in breach of editorial guidelines – BBC audiences were not informed of their affiliations with campaigning organisations or of the fact that their contribution should be assessed within the context of a particular political agenda.”

On at least two occasions last year the ‘Senior Campaigns Officer’ for ‘War on Want‘, Rafeef Ziadah, was interviewed on BBC Radio 4. On one occasion – in a programme about Jerusalem – Ziadah’s employment at ‘War on Want’ and her activism in the BDS movement were not clarified to listeners at all, whilst on the other – in a programme about drones – her position at ‘War on Want’ was mentioned but the BBC did not bother to meet its own editorial guidelines by informing audiences about that organisation’s anti-Israel campaigning.

One recent manifestation of that political campaigning comes in the form of an offer from ‘War on Want’ to supply props to student groups organizing ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ events at UK universities. Students are encouraged to:WoW 1

“Organise an Apartheid Wall display on your campus to raise awareness about the ongoing destruction and human rights violations caused by the Wall. Props available to borrow are:

Six wall panels. Each panel measures approximately 2 metres x 1 metre and is heavy and must be supported. Your group may borrow some or all of the panels.

One watch tower measuring 2 metres by 70cm diametre. It is very heavy.

Four  cardboard/paper mache over sized guns measuring 1.5 metres each (new – not in picture)”

In other words, the BBC has provided audiences with information on Israel-related issues by means of a representative of an organization with a very clear political agenda which has been repeatedly concealed from listeners.

An additional aspect of this issue is the fact that among the bodies funding ‘War on Want’ is the UK charity ‘Comic Relief’ which is supported by the BBC.  This year’s annual fundraising drive – known as ‘Red Nose Day‘ – will take place on March 13th, with much BBC One programming devoted to the event. As we noted here two years ago:

“As a publicly funded body committed to impartiality, it is imperative for the BBC to ensure that – via its partnership with Comic Relief – it is not associated with organisations such as War on Want which demonise Israel as part of a racist campaign to deny self-determination to one specific ethnic group.” 

Unfortunately, not only has nothing changed on that front since those words were written, but BBC collaboration with the amplification of the ‘War on Want’ political agenda by means of inadequately introduced interviews with its ‘Senior Campaigns Officer’ appear to have become the norm.

If the BBC’s Director of Television is as concerned about antisemitism in the UK as his remarks last December suggest, a serious review of the activities of organisations funded via his programming is just as urgent as examination of the corporation’s failure (despite the repeated lip service paid to that issue) to adhere to its own editorial guidelines on impartiality when introducing guests and interviewees.  

BBC Radio 4 programme on UAVs lacks transparency and adherence to editorial guidelines

On October 6th BBC Radio 4 aired a half-hour programme titled “The Year of the Drone”. The programme was commissioned from Whistledown productions and was presented by Will Robson and produced by Harry Graham. It can be heard here for a limited period of time and its synopsis reads as follows.Drones R4

“Will Robson gets exclusive access to some of the British military’s most secretive, sophisticated and controversial drones, and talks to the men and women who operate them. He gets an insider perspective on what it means to fight a war remotely, and finds out how long distant combat affects those at the controls.

In a remote corner of west Wales, in a matt green shipping container, a group of engineers and military officials crowd around a high-tech bank of screens and joysticks. A monitor feeds them live aerial footage of the Carmarthenshire coastline. The image is crisp, they can make out dolphins swimming in the wake of a fishing trawler. They’re testing the limits of the British Army’s Watchkeeper surveillance drone, one of a new fleet of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) which have an £850m pound price tag.

The British military is a global leader in UAS technology, and Watchkeeper is just one element. As drones become ever more important to the way Britain fights its wars, the Government’s Select Defence Committee are demanding more transparency.

While the military have welcomed UAS as a way of reducing costs and casualties, not everyone is convinced. Critics say that drones could bring an age of airborne occupation and dispassionate warfare. They claim that when war can be fought without consequence to the aggressor, violence quickly becomes easier than diplomacy.

Will Robson explores the debate around one of this generation’s most divisive military technologies.”

Three minutes and forty-four seconds into the programme, listeners hear an unidentified female voice saying:

“The result is a lot of dead civilians and a lot of people unable to live in their own houses. It has brought safety to nobody.”

The identity of the unidentified speaker will not be a mystery to anyone who happened to be listening to Radio 4 on September 3rd: she is “Palestinian performance poet and human rights activist” (and now apparently also UAV expert) Rafeef Ziadah. At 06:45 Ziadah appears again – this time with an introduction.

Robson: “But that’s of little comfort for campaigners like Rafeef Ziadah of War on Want who believes that drones lead pilots into a state of dangerous disconnect.”

Ziadah: “It’s somebody sitting in an air-conditioned room miles away deciding who should die, who should live. There have already been many mistakes made and a lot of civilian casualties killed by drones. It really is not saving anyone.”

Robson: “Do you need to look your enemy in the eye before you kill them?”

Ziadah: “Does it make it easier to kill the enemy if you don’t look them in the eye? It’s the ability to wage war, to kill people and not feel anything about it or justify it because you are not there on the ground that is a very dangerous development. It was actually people within the militaries that said it’s better when people are not on the battleground. However, already there’s documentation of how drones pilots do get affected by what they’re doing, so I don’t think the psychological impacts are completely gone. We haven’t studied them enough.”

Listeners may by this time be wondering what the somewhat self-contradicting arguments of a campaigns officer for a charity which supposedly “fights poverty” are doing in a programme ostensibly dealing with the topic of unmanned aerial vehicles but – as is all too well known – War on Want long since departed from the agenda of fighting poverty and ventured into political campaigning. The connection between that and Ziadah’s appearance in this broadcast will soon become clear, but in the meantime it is notable – and of course entirely predictable – that Rafeef Ziadah has nothing to say about Palestinian terrorists who launch rockets at Israeli civilians from “miles away” without looking their intended victims “in the eye”. 

At 18:50 Robson introduces another contributor.

Robson: “Israel is also reported to be using armed drones over Gaza, although the Israel Defence Force has never confirmed or denied this. Chris Cole-Smith – formerly an officer in the Royal Regiment of Artillery – has carried out recent Amnesty International investigations on the ground in Gaza.”

Cole-Smith: “You know, the population are pretty much used to it now. They are a constant presence. Virtually every trip I’ve made into Gaza there has been the whine of drones overhead. They know they’re under constant surveillance. The population know very well that these drones have the capacity to kill people instantaneously and very accurately. Well, I’ve looked into the eyes of so many families of children who’ve been killed by the so-called state of the art weapons system which is just making far too many mistakes. One child was given a coin by his grandfather to go out and buy a new pen for his baby sister. Walking down the street he was struck by a drone missile. Now where’s the legitimacy in that?”

Robson: “You’ve obviously seen the effects of drones in conflict zones. Do you think the British public are as aware of the issues surrounding drones, or are there some misconceptions out there in the people you’ve talked to?”

Cole-Smith: “I do not think the British public are at the moment fully aware of how drones are being used in certain areas of the world and they certainly are not aware of the huge number of errors that is taking place in some of this targeting and needs to be made much more public.”

Robson: “The Israeli Embassy told us that as there was no detail on the alleged incidents they could not judge their veracity. But they did say that the IDF operates within international law while facing an enemy which operates from civilian areas.”

So in other words, Robson and producer Harry Graham thought it was perfectly acceptable to amplify Cole-Smith’s unproven third-hand anecdote whilst at the same time finding it completely unnecessary to clarify to listeners the fact that it is the numerous Islamist terrorist organisations operating in the Gaza Strip which are the target of Israeli surveillance – not the civilian population.

We will return to Mr Cole-Smith later, but in the meantime Robson continues with more amplification of Rafeef Ziadah’s real agenda at 20:24.

Robson: “Rafeef Ziadah from War on Want is concerned none the less.”

Ziadah: “Israel continues to rely deeply on drones. Not only that: they then export them to the rest of the world saying that they are field-tested. And currently the British government is importing this technology to produce a new drone called the Watchkeeper drone. This drone is based on a model that’s for Elbit Systems – Israel’s largest military company. It’s completely, completely wrong for the UK to be importing this technology.”

And at 26:13 Ziadah is heard again saying:

Ziadah: “So drones are a way to continue wars by remote control. This raises questions of accountability. When do we know how these wars are being launched? How they’re being stopped? The UK government is saying it’s going to leave Afghanistan, yet do we know that the drones programme – the drones flying over Afghanistan – is going to stop? There has been no indication of that.”

As regular readers well know, the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality and accuracy (applicable to all BBC content, including commissioned items) state that contributors should be properly identified, with the section titled “Avoiding Misleading Audiences” including the following statement:

“We should normally identify on-air and online sources of information and significant contributors, and provide their credentials, so that our audiences can judge their status.”

So let’s take a look at some of the “credentials” of Will Robson’s interviewees which were not disclosed to listeners to this programme and yet, along with other facts, have bearing on its declared subject matter.

First of all, no mention is made of War on Want’s BBC-related funding via Comic Relief – a charity with no fewer than three BBC executives on its various boards.  Neither are listeners told about War on Want’s long-established record of anti-Israel campaigning and support for the anti-peace BDS movement. They are not even told of the very pertinent fact that War on Want has been running an anti-drone campaign for quite some time, with one of the main aims of that campaign being the promotion of a two-way military embargo on Israel.  

Had listeners been made aware of those very relevant facts, they would have been able to both comprehend Rafeef Ziadah’s motives for participating in this programme and place her contribution to it in its correct context. Notably, they were not informed of those factors and so the result is free BBC promotion for an organization which campaigns virulently against Israel on various fronts. 

It would also have been appropriate for audiences to be informed of the fact that War on Want is part of what is known as the ‘Drone Campaign Network’ and that another member of that group is an organization called ‘Drone Wars UK’ which is run by someone named Chris Cole: an extraordinarily similar name to that of the person appearing in this BBC programme. That Chris Cole is also ‘convener‘ or ‘coordinator‘ for the Drone Campaign Network. In addition, Cole is also a member of Pax Christi: an organization which does its own fair share of anti-Israel campaigning and promotion of BDS and is also a member of the ‘Drone Campaign Network’.

Coincidentally or not, this BBC commissioned programme was aired during the Drone Campaign Network’s “Drones Week of Action 2014” which includes events sponsored by Pax Christi and Friends of Sabeel UK, the publicity for which includes a link to Cole’s website. One of those events is a “vigil” at the Elbit Systems factory in Shenstone which has already been the target of previous actions by anti-Israel campaigners, supported – inter alia – by the ‘Drone Campaign Network’, Amnesty International and War on Want.

It is of course very revealing (and hardly coincidental) that the only “critics” of UAVs heard by listeners to this programme are those who also have an anti-Israel agenda, even though – as is noted in the programme – around a hundred countries manufacture drones. As is all too apparent, the claim made in the synopsis of this programme that it would “explore the debate” surrounding UAVs is actually nothing more than an opening for the context-free amplification of professional activists from organisations which employ the subject of UAVs as part of their political campaigns to delegitimise Israel. 


We have been informed that the interviewee in this programme was Chris Cobb-Smith of Chiron Resources. Cobb-Smith has a history of co-operation with Amnesty International which includes the promotion of the notions that Israel illegally used white phosphorous in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead and carried out a ‘massacre’ in Jenin in 2002. He also worked as a ‘news safety advisor’ for the BBC between 1999 and 2005.  

BBC R4 promotes unchallenged anti-Israel propaganda and warped histories of Jerusalem

On September 3rd BBC Radio 4 aired an edition of a programme called ‘Agree to Differ’ which will be repeated on the evening of September 6th and is available here. The title of the edition is “Jerusalem” and the programme is presented by Matthew Taylor – today the chief executive of the RSA and formerly Chief Adviser on Political Strategy to Tony Blair during his premiership.R4 Agree to Differ

At the beginning of the programme Taylor informs listeners:

“…we’re going to give you a completely new way to understand a controversial issue and to decide where you stand.”

“We’re looking at a dispute that’s almost as old as civilization itself. We’re exploring the respective claims of Palestinians and Israelis over the city of Jerusalem.”

That historical illiteracy unfortunately continues throughout the programme with Taylor promoting a variety of bizarre and inaccurate interpretations of historic, political and legal issues as we will soon see. 

Taylor’s guests are Rabbi Barry Marcus of the Central Synagogue in London and Rafeef Ziadah who is introduced only as a “Palestinian performance poet and human rights activist”. Listeners are not informed that Ziadah is a leading anti-Israel campaigner whose day job at ‘War on Want’ is titled Senior Campaigns Officer (Militarism and Security)“. Neither are they informed that she is a prominent BDS activist who sits on the steering committee of PACBI and campaigns for the dismantling of the Jewish state. So much – once again – for the supposed BBC commitment to “summarizing the standpoint” of interviewees as part of its editorial guidelines on impartiality.

Rafeef Ziadah’s political propaganda – which Taylor fails to challenge throughout the entire 42 minute programme – begins early on with her introduction of herself.

“My family are refugees, originally from Haifa. They were forced out of Palestine in 1948 and ended up in Lebanon. My grandfather died in a refugee camp still holding the key to his home in Haifa and wanting to go back.”

History, however, shows that the Arabs who left Haifa in 1948 were not “forced out” at all.

“In early April [1948], an estimated 25,000 Arabs left the Haifa area following an offensive by the irregular forces led by Fawzi al­Qawukji, and rumors that Arab air forces would soon bomb the Jewish areas around Mt. Carmel. On April 23, the Haganah captured Haifa. A British police report from Haifa, dated April 26, explained that “every effort is being made by the Jews to persuade the Arab populace to stay and carry on with their normal lives, to get their shops and businesses open and to be assured that their lives and interests will be safe.” In fact, David Ben-Gurion had sent Golda Meir to Haifa to try to persuade the Arabs to stay, but she was unable to convince them because of their fear of being judged traitors to the Arab cause. By the end of the battle, more than 50,000 Palestinians had left.

‘Tens of thousands of Arab men, women and children fled toward the eastern outskirts of the city in cars, trucks, carts, and afoot in a desperate attempt to reach Arab territory until the Jews captured Rushmiya Bridge toward Samaria and Northern Palestine and cut them off. Thousands rushed every available craft, even rowboats, along the waterfront, to escape by sea toward Acre (New York Times, April 23, 1948).’

In Tiberias and Haifa, the Haganah issued orders that none of the Arabs’ possessions should be touched, and warned that anyone who violated the orders would be severely punished. Despite these efforts, all but about 5,000 or 6,000 Arabs evacuated Haifa, many leaving with the assistance of British military transports.

Syria’s UN delegate, Faris el-Khouri, interrupted the UN debate on Palestine to describe the seizure of Haifa as a “massacre” and said this action was “further evidence that the ‘Zionist program’ is to annihilate Arabs within the Jewish state if partition is effected.”

The following day, however, the British representative at the UN, Sir Alexander Cadogan, told the delegates that the fighting in Haifa had been provoked by the continuous attacks by Arabs against Jews a few days before and that reports of massacres and deportations were erroneous. The same day (April 23, 1948), Jamal Husseini, the chairman of the Palestine Higher Committee, told the UN Security Council that instead of accepting the Haganah’s truce offer, the Arabs “preferred to abandon their homes, their belongings, and everything they possessed in the world and leave the town.” “

The propagation of such historical inaccuracies continues throughout the broadcast, with the first question put by Taylor being as follows:

“Who has the greater attachment and entitlement to the city and for whom Jerusalem has the greater religious, cultural, historical, political importance.”

Initially unable to get a straight answer out of Ziadah regarding Palestinian history in Jerusalem and obviously unwilling throughout to curb her exploitation of any and every question posed to promote baseless political slogans such as “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing”, Taylor eventually asks:

MT: “Rafeef, to what extent is your argument that there was a de facto Palestinian state before 1948, for example if you take that particular moment; the establishment of the State of Israel?”

RZ: “Historically in that part of the world even referring back to Roman times that area was referred to as Palestine. There is a Palestinian nation. I’m a Palestinian person. I know that within Israeli and Zionist mythology they say Palestinians don’t exist but the reality is Palestinians have always existed in that territory.”

Taylor then asks his other interviewee:

“Do you recognize, Barry, that in the rich history of Jerusalem there certainly was a time when it effectively was part of a Palestinian nation?”

Taylor then promotes his own remarkably unrealistic and embarrassingly anachronistic New Labour-style view:

“OK, now let me suggest a proposition that you might agree about and see whether you’re happy with this. Jerusalem is a city that experienced many, many different rulers, different peoples in charge; that we must respect different historical and religious claims, but that no one claim can ultimately trump the others.”

He further labours the point:

“There is a recognition from both of you […] for the diverse history of Jerusalem both politically and religiously. There is a commitment that you both have that this should be a city that respects those traditions.”

Of course anyone who is familiar with Jerusalem knows full well that since June 1967 all cultures and religions have free access to their places of worship and sites of cultural importance. Later on, Taylor promotes the following notion:

“Since Israel took control in 1967, around 400 Jewish families have moved there [the Jewish Quarter in the Old City] and in 1981 Israel’s High Court ruled that to maintain its character, non-Jews were not allowed to buy property there.”

Significantly, at no point does Taylor inform his listeners that in 1948 all Jewish residents of the Old City were expelled by the Jordanians and their property taken over. Although he does not specify the court case to which he refers, Taylor apparently alludes to the Burkan case in which Jordanian citizen Mohammed Said Burkan was refused residency in the Jewish Quarter because he did not meet the requirement of being an Israeli citizen who had served in the IDF or was exempt from service. The court’s main point (p138) was that the State of Israel had an interest in the restoration of the historic Jewish Quarter from which Jews had been expelled by the Jordanians and was therefore entitled to employ positive discrimination to encourage Jews to return to the Jewish Quarter.

As is all too often the case in BBC depiction of Israel, Taylor elects to mislead audiences by discounting any history before 1967, failing to note the San Remo declaration and the Mandate for Palestine. Listeners are at no point informed that the city of Jerusalem has had a Jewish majority population since the mid-nineteenth century and furthermore he fails to point out to listeners that Jordan’s 19-year occupation was not recognized by the international community.

MT: “Before the Six Day War in 1967 Jerusalem was divided into the east annexed by Jordan and the west controlled by Israel. Since the war, Israel has controlled the whole city and many Jewish settlements have been established on the eastern side. The international community deems the Israeli occupation to be illegal, but how important is international law based on the pre-1967 boundaries?”

Listeners are – as usual and in breach of BBC guidelines on impartiality – not informed of the existence of differing legal opinions and the inaccurate myth of “pre-1967 boundaries” which were in fact 1949 Armistice Lines with no legal standing is promoted.

Taylor devotes a significant part of his programme to the discussion of “international law” and Jerusalem but revealingly, at no point does he enlighten listeners by informing them to which clause of “international law” in which document he refers or what that supposed “law” actually says. Instead, the entire discussion is based on the unsubstantiated premise that somewhere there is a legal document which rules that Israeli control of parts of a city which was only ever divided by the belligerent actions of Jordan is illegal. But the really interesting part of this programme – and what appears to be its actual aim – is Taylor’s promotion of his own view of the ‘solution’ to the issue which – remarkably or not – dovetails with existing BBC policy.

MT: “Take the religious dimension out of it. What about the United Nations proposal after the Second World War that the Old City with its key religious sites be a corpus separatum that is basically an independent city-state governed by the international community. What’s your view on that?” […]

“Barry what do you think of that United Nations idea that the Old City be a kind of separate statelet under international supervision? You think that might help things?”

Of course Taylor is misrepresenting this issue from two points of view. Firstly, he inaccurately portrays the corpus separatum idea as relating to the Old City alone when in fact it related to a considerably larger area, including parts of the territory today governed by the Palestinian Authority. Taylor also neglects to inform listeners that the plan had a ten-year time limit.

Map UN Jerusalem 1947

Secondly, as has been noted here on previous occasions, that UN proposal formed part of the 1947 Partition Plan (resolution 181) which, as Rabbi Marcus points out in the programme, was rejected by the Arab side outright and has no legal binding whatsoever because its adoption was conditional on the agreement of both parties.  

The BBC, however, not only stubbornly refuses to recognize the fact that resolution 181 has no significance but also continues to implement an editorial policy of promoting it, as can be seen in some of its Editorial Standards Committee’s distinctly odd decisions.

“The [BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards] Committee noted that while there is no expectation that in a two-state solution West Jerusalem would become Palestinian territory, a UN resolution passed in 1947 has not been rescinded. It calls for the whole of Jerusalem to be an international city, a corpus separatum (similar to the Vatican City), and in that context, technically, West Jerusalem is not Israeli sovereign territory. “

Matthew Taylor appears to have taken it upon himself to promote this red herring too in a programme which – far from achieving its stated aim of giving audiences “a completely new way to understand a controversial issue” – can only contribute to their further confusion with its misrepresentation of history and “international law”, its unchallenged promotion of baseless political propaganda such as “ethnic cleansing” or “apartheid” and its advancement of a totally irrelevant ‘solution’ which was rejected almost 70 years ago by the same Arab nations who then invaded Israel – causing people such as Rafeef Ziadah’s grandfather to become refugees and dividing Jerusalem for the first and only time in its history.

Had Matthew Taylor chosen to accurately and impartially represent those events as they actually happened, he may actually have succeeded in bringing audiences a “new way” to understand the topic: one which is not based on anti-Israel political propaganda and his own redundant culturally specific beliefs.