A politicised BBC report on a new train line

On November 1st an unattributed filmed report titled “On board the new Jerusalem-Tel Aviv fast train” appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page with the following synopsis:

“It’s been a long time coming, but Israeli commuters are finally able to board double-decker high-speed trains on a new link from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.

Construction has been plagued by engineering and planning challenges, and the last section of the line is still not open. The route has also angered some Palestinians, as part of the track runs in tunnels under the occupied West Bank.

Transport Minister Yisrael Katz hopes it will eventually whisk passengers from secular, liberal Tel Aviv to a “Donald Trump Station” next to the Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites.”

Roughly halfway into the film, its focus changes from the subject of the new train line itself to politicised messaging.

“But Palestinians in this village in the occupied West Bank are angry. A tunnel runs under part of the area but many Palestinians don’t have permits to enter Israel, so can’t use the train.”

Issa Odeh al-Jamel, Beit Surik resident:

“This train passes through Beit Surik land and we are not even allowed to use it. This is itself is a catastrophe for us.”

“Palestinians say Israel is illegally using occupied territory.”

The village of Beit Surik is located in Area B and its residents are Palestinian Authority citizens. The land under which – rather than “through” – the railway tunnel runs is located in Area C which, under the terms of the Oslo Accords, is under Israeli control – including planning. Of course the BBC did not bother to clarify to audiences that it was the Palestinian Authority instigated Second Intifada which made permits necessary for residents of PA controlled areas. Neither were viewers told that there are no stops near Beit Surik or anywhere else along the line running from Jerusalem to Ben Gurion airport.

The film continues:

“Villagers fear they may lose access to some of their land.”

Muhammed Abdul Razik, Beit Surik resident:

“We don’t have enough information about the route of the train. It definitely passes under the lands of the village of Beit Surik but whether it is above the land or under the land, it is the same problem. For us the damage is the same. I am sure we will not have the freedom to work on our lands.”

Seeing as that tunnel – Tunnel 3 – was completed over four years ago, the claim that the route is not clear is an obvious red herring which the BBC chose nevertheless to include in its report. The BBC provides no evidence to support the specious claim that the existence of the tunnel will have any effect on access to farming land.

The film goes on to tell BBC audiences that:

“The Israeli Transport Ministry has not commented. The full route is not open yet. […] And next, Transport Minister Yisrael Katz wants to tunnel underneath Jerusalem’s historic, politically sensitive Old City. He wants to build “Donald Trump Station” near the Western Wall after the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem. More controversy is likely.”

While there are indeed plans to extend the train line from its current final stop in Jerusalem towards the city centre and the Old City, those plans – including the route – are still under Planning Committee discussion and so the BBC’s suggestion that construction will take place “underneath Jerusalem’s historic, politically sensitive Old City” is at best premature.

As we see just over half of the BBC’s anonymous report on this new train line is devoted to amplification of politicised messaging. Coincidentally or not, that messaging just happens to align with that put out by Saeb Erekat and the PLO when the train line was opened.

 

 

Advertisements

BBC misleads on Western Wall yet again

Just over two years ago we noted that a video on the BBC Academy website that is presented to BBC journalists as a guide to Judaism includes several inaccuracies – including the claim that the Western Wall is:

“…the remains of the outer wall of the Jewish Second Temple, built by King Herod the Great.”

Unsurprisingly, that inaccurate claim continues to appear in BBC content from time to time and last year a BBC department rejected criticism of its description of the Western Wall as part of the Temple in a video for schools.

“The Western Wall formed part of the second temple complex.  It was a section of the retaining wall of the temple plaza.  Because the terms ‘temple complex’ and ‘temple’ can be, and are, used interchangeably, the Western Wall could reasonably be described as part of the temple.” [emphasis added]

The January 28th edition of the BBC Radio Ulster “religious and ethical news” programme ‘Sunday Sequence‘ included an item (from 00:01 here) about ‘Jerusalem syndrome’ which was introduced by presenter Audrey Carville as follows:

Carville: “There are concerns that a County Down man missing in the north of Israel since late November may have been affected by what’s known as Jerusalem syndrome.”

In fact – as the BBC has previously accurately reported – the missing tourist was last known to be in southern Israel.

Towards the end of the discussion with the person brought in to explain ‘Jerusalem syndrome’ – Rev. Dr. Paul Bailey – listeners heard the following description of one case:

“…there was an example of a man trying to tear chunks out of the Western Wall of the Temple, believing himself to be Samson.”

Shortly after that Carville closed the item saying:

Carville: “Well Paul, you have educated us a lot this morning…”

Unfortunately for listeners to this BBC religious affairs programme, however, that ‘education’ once again included promotion of the inaccurate notion that the Western Wall is part of the Temple that was destroyed in 70CE.  

Related Articles:

What does the BBC Academy teach the corporation’s journalists about Judaism?

The BBC, Jerusalem and historical framing

On December 28th the BBC News website published an article titled “Israel: Minister leads prayers for rain to end drought” which informed audiences that:

“Israel’s Agriculture Minister, Uri Ariel, has joined with the country’s religious leaders in an attempt to use the power of prayer to end a drought.

Mr Ariel is an Orthodox Jew and led prayers on Thursday at Jerusalem’s Western Wall.

Severe drought for four years has left the country’s water supplies at low levels.

Critics said the minister should tackle the crisis more practically.”

The short report continued:

“Israel’s drought has had a significant impact on farming communities and caused the country to become reliant on its desalination plants on its Mediterranean coast.

“We significantly lowered the cost of water, we are carrying out many studies on how to save water in different crops, but prayer can certainly help,” Mr Ariel said.

The newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth wrote: “Prayer is not a bad thing, but the minister has the ability to influence [matters] in slightly more earthly ways” – such as promoting policies to reduce climate change, it suggested.”

Notably, the BBC did not inform its audiences that, with or without Mr Ariel’s call for a prayer for rain, prayers would have taken place at the Western Wall on that particular day anyway because it was the 10th of Tevet: a minor fast in the Jewish calendar that marks the day on which the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem began in the year 588 BCE – an event which eventually led to the destruction on the Temple in 586 BCE and the first exile of Jews from Israel. 

Could it be that for the BBC – which consistently portrays the history of Jerusalem as having commenced in June 1967 – that was too much information?

 

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part two

In part one of this post we began looking at two contributions from Jane Corbin to the BBC’s extensive Balfour Declaration centenary coverage: a filmed programme first aired on BBC Two on October 31st under the title “The Balfour Declaration: The Promise to the Holy Land” (available for a limited period of time in the UK here, transcript here) and a written article that appeared on the same day in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “The Balfour Declaration: My ancestor’s hand in history“.

While both reports repeated themes seen in additional BBC coverage such as incomplete presentation of the entire text of Arthur Balfour’s letter, on the other hand they did present audiences with a very rare glimpse of the grave consequences of British restrictions on Jewish immigration.

Filmed: “In 1939, the British Government bowed to the pressure of the Arab revolt, drastically restricting Jewish immigration. The immediate consequences were to be disastrous for the Jews. The timing could not have been worse. Hitler’s Final Solution was soon to come into devastating effect.”

Written: “Leo was bitterly disappointed at the British cap on Jewish immigration and I visited Atlit, one of the British internment camps, with 80-year-old Rabbi Meir Lau. He spent two weeks here when he arrived in Palestine as an eight-year-old survivor of Buchenwald extermination camp. Many other refugees were turned back – to Europe.

“It was against humanity after six years of horror,” he said, shaking his head in sorrow as we walked along the rusty barbed wire fences. “Where was the nation of the United Kingdom then? Lord Balfour would not have believed it.””

Both reports informed audiences of the Arab refusal to accept the 1947 Partition Plan but in the filmed report Corbin provided a debatable motive for the ensuing attacks by Arab states.

Filmed: “…but the Arabs would not sign up to the UN plan. All-out war followed, as Arab armies from neighbouring countries invaded in support of the Palestinians.” [emphasis added]

In her written report Corbin presented a whitewashed portrayal of events:

Written: “But Arab countries refused to sign up to the UN’s plan and, in the violence on both sides that followed, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced to flee the new State of Israel.” [emphasis added]

Corbin’s filmed report inaccurately portrayed the PLO as having begun its life as a terrorist organisation after – and because of – the Six Day War rather than three years before any ‘occupation’ existed. 

Filmed: “The occupation sparked an armed struggle by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, under its leader, Yasser Arafat. Exiled from Palestine, the PLO carried out hijackings and bombings on the international stage. They killed Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Israel sent hit squads to hunt down those responsible.”

Equally inaccurate was her portrayal of the Western Wall:

Filmed: “Israel insists that Jerusalem, the site of their holiest place, the Western Wall of the temple, must be their eternal undivided capital.” [emphasis added]

Her description of the al Aqsa Mosque was no less misleading:

Filmed: “The great mosques of Islam are here, too…”

Corbin presented a highly simplistic portrayal of the failure of the Oslo peace process to achieve its aim which refrained from adequately clarifying that negotiations continued after Rabin’s death and completely airbrushed the Palestinian Authority initiated second Intifada out of the picture.

Filmed: “Despite the hopes, the peace deal was quick to unravel, under pressure from extremists on both sides. The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas rejected the peace deal and set out to undermine it by bombing Israeli buses. And Yasser Arafat’s security forces failed to prevent the attacks. […]

 Two years after the agreement, a Jewish extremist opposed to giving up land for peace, assassinated Yitzhak Rabin. […]

The Oslo Accords are the closest I’ve ever known to the kind of peaceful ideal that Balfour and Leo Amery had for Palestine. But for me, despite the progress made, the death of Yitzhak Rabin spelled the end of the Oslo peace process…”

Written: “The optimism created by the historic handshake on the White House lawn between the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was shattered when a Jewish extremist assassinated Israel’s prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and the PLO’s chairman Yasser Arafat failed to stop suicide bombings launched by the Islamist extremist group Hamas.”

In typical BBC form, Corbin amplified Palestinian messaging by telling viewers of the filmed report that there is one prime “barrier to peace”: Israeli communities in Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem.

Filmed: “Well, it may not look much but I’m actually now crossing over from Israel into the West Bank where the Palestinians live. And here, an even greater barrier to any peace deal has emerged: Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian land. Since Oslo, Israel has more than tripled the number of settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. There are now more than 500,000 Israelis living in around 140 settlements. Heading north, I’m on my way to an Orthodox Jewish settlement called Tappuah. The international community considers all Israeli settlements illegal. It’s very different today than when I first came on the West Bank 30 years ago. So many more Israeli settlements on all the hills around and so many more Israeli settlers.”

While viewers of the filmed report got some insight into the issue of Hamas’ refusal to “ever recognise Israel’s right to exist” based on their conviction that Israel is “Arab” and “Islamic” land, readers of the written report saw nothing at all on that topic.

Corbin’s take-away messaging in both reports, however, completely ignored the uncompromising approach of Hamas and additional Palestinian factions as she promoted a narrative of equivalent blame for the absence of peace that completely failed to address the century-long key issue of the basic Arab refusal to accept Jewish self-determination in the region.

Filmed: “I do believe that Leo Amery was right when he thought violence wasn’t inevitable here. It resulted from the wrong political decisions. And I think that still holds true today.  For me, what’s needed is the kind of vision that Oslo brought. Strong and inspired leadership, a leap of faith on both sides. And without that, there’s a danger that time is running out. The bloodshed and intransigence will make peace impossible for decades still to come.”

Written: “Was Leo’s vision that Jews and Arabs could live and prosper together in peace doomed to failure and was violence inevitable? These were the questions I wanted to answer when I came to Israel again this time. […]

Leo never thought violence was inevitable here. He believed it was the result of wrong political decisions and the bloody and unpredictable events of history – as I discovered myself after the Oslo peace agreement.

Now there is a danger that extremism and intransigence on both sides will make peace impossible for decades still to come.”

Like most of the rest of the BBC’s Balfour Declaration centenary coverage, these two reports by Corbin promoted the narrative that implementation of that declaration was incomplete. In the filmed report Corbin even went so far as to describe its intention as “[t]he Balfour vision of Arabs and Jews living together in the same country”.

While the Balfour Declaration’s commitment to the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people was eventually realised (some might say despite the best efforts of the British mandate), Corbin made no reference at all in either of her reports to the fact that part of the territory originally assigned to that purpose was subsequently made over by the British (with League of Nations approval) to the creation of the Arab state known today as Jordan.

Another very significant omission in both of Corbin’s reports – particularly in light of her repeated references to Palestinian refugees – is the subject of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands: people whose rights were also supposedly safeguarded by the Balfour Declaration but whose existence and story has barely been acknowledged in the BBC’s coverage of this centenary.

Related Articles:

The BBC’s Haneen Zoabi show

Jane Corbin’s BBC documentary on plight of ME Christians promotes jaded Israel-related narratives

One to watch: BBC’s Panorama on ‘The War of the Tunnels’

BBC’s Corbin sidesteps prime issues in Balfour reports – part one

 

 

BBC Teach to edit inaccurate educational video

Readers may recall that last month we noted some inaccuracies in BBC produced educational videos. Using BBC Watch’s post, Mr Dennis Levene contacted BBC Teach to raise the problematic points.

In the response received, BBC Teach’s producer denied that in the video titled “J is for Jesus“ viewers are told that the Jews “…turned against him [Jesus] and had him executed by the Romans; nailed to a cross.”

BBC Teach stated:

“We don’t […] say that ‘The Jews’ turned against Jesus and had him executed.  The script says: “Eventually, many of the religious teachers and the people… turned against [Jesus] and had him executed by the Romans’.  This is fair reflection of widely-accepted events.”  [emphasis added]

Apparently it is not sufficiently clear to BBC Teach that – like Jesus himself – those “religious teachers and the people” were Jews or that the ‘Jews killed Jesus’ calumny has been at the root of Christian antisemitism for centuries.

The video titled “T is for Temples” tells viewers that:

“Centuries later the Jewish people were able to rebuild, only to have the Second Temple destroyed by the Roman as punishment for a rebellion. But a small part – the Western Wall – still stands and it is the most sacred place for Jewish people.”

And:

“It’s [Jerusalem] also where the prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven. The rock he ascended from was incorporated into the Islamic shrine the Dome of the Rock. It’s built where the Jewish Temple used to stand and is sacred to both Jewish people and Muslims.”

BBC Teach’s response to Mr Levene’s email states:

“The Western Wall formed part of the second temple complex.  It was a section of the retaining wall of the temple plaza.  Because the terms ‘temple complex’ and ‘temple’ can be, and are, used interchangeably, the Western Wall could reasonably be described as part of the temple.” [emphasis added]

However, BBC Teach did concede two other points.

“The Rock is sacred to the Jewish and Muslim faiths.  But, as ‘BBC Watch’ points out, the Dome of the Rock isn’t sacred to Jewish people.  I don’t believe the script writers intended to say it was, but I can see how the phrasing of the sentence could give that impression.”

And:

 “‘BBC Watch’ is right to say that Temple Mount is the most sacred place for Jewish people, not the Western Wall. The Western Wall should have been described as the most sacred place where Jewish people can pray.”  

BBC Teach producer Sam Datta-Paulin added:

“The producers of this content consulted with specialist educational consultants throughout the film-making process.  The mistake about the most scared [sic] place was made in good faith and we apologise.

We are having the film edited to correct errors and confusion, and ensure it is correct in future.”

At the time of writing the film remains available in its original form and has not yet been edited.

 

BBC resource for teachers spreads inaccuracies about Judaism

Last year the BBC launched a project called ‘BBC Teach’ which it describes as follows:

“With the increased use of the internet in classrooms, teachers now have unprecedented access to a whole range of resources to help with delivering the curriculum. While there is plenty of content available to access, teachers come to the BBC because we are a trusted brand and recognised provider of quality teaching resources. We wish to build on our reputation with BBC Teach, a new and exciting platform for schools and teachers.  

BBC Teach aims to support teachers by curating the best of BBC videos, clips and other curriculum-related resources for use in the classroom. The BBC Teach brand is a dedicated teaching resource site hosted on YouTube.”

Along with lots of other material, the BBC Teach website currently offers a new series titled “A to Z of Religions and Beliefs” that is described as “an animated A to Z guide exploring and introducing a variety of religious topics for students aged 11 – 14”.

One would of course expect material touted as “quality teaching resources” produced by a self-described “trusted brand” to take particular care to be accurate and impartial and to refrain from propagating archaic religious stereotypes. That, however, is not the case in all the videos in that series.

In the video titled “J is for Jesus“, the target audience of 11 to 14 year-olds is told that the Jews:

“…turned against him [Jesus] and had him executed by the Romans; nailed to a cross.”

The video titled “T is for Temples” tells viewers that:

“Centuries later the Jewish people were able to rebuild, only to have the Second Temple destroyed by the Roman as punishment for a rebellion. But a small part – the Western Wall – still stands and it is the most sacred place for Jewish people.”

The Western Wall is of course not a “part” of the Second Temple but a section of the retaining wall of the plaza on which the Temple stood. Neither is it “the most sacred place for Jewish people”: that title belongs to Temple Mount.

Later in the same video, pupils are told that:

“It’s [Jerusalem] also where the prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven. The rock he ascended from was incorporated into the Islamic shrine the Dome of the Rock. It’s built where the Jewish Temple used to stand and is sacred to both Jewish people and Muslims.”

The Dome of the Rock is of course not “sacred” to Jews as suggested by that wording: Temple Mount – on which it and additional structures stand – however is.

Obviously any teacher considering using BBC Teach material needs to carefully fact check its content before doing so.  

Related Articles:

What does the BBC Academy teach the corporation’s journalists about Judaism?

BBC R4 and WS inaccurate on Western Wall yet again

BBC Radio 4’s ‘Sunday’ misleads on Western Wall and the Waqf

BBC ‘explains’ its claim that Western Wall is Judaism’s holiest site

BBC R4’s ‘Today’ fails to give full account of Western Wall story

Back in late June the BBC News website produced an article about a dispute concerning prayer arrangements at the Western Wall which failed to provide readers with a comprehensive view of its subject matter.

On August 18th, with no reason explained or apparent, the BBC Radio 4 news and current affairs programme ‘Today‘ revisited that story (from 01:21:30 here). Listeners were told by the programme’s presenter that:

“The Western Wall in Jerusalem is the holiest place that Jews can pray but it’s been the focus too of a very long-running controversy. Women must pray separately from men in a smaller place, barred from some religious rituals reserved for their male counterparts.”

Listeners unfamiliar with Jewish religious practices (in other words, the majority of this programme’s audience) were not informed that such arrangements are in effect at Orthodox synagogues around the world and not just at the Western Wall. The introduction continued:

“The issue came to a head earlier this year when Israel’s right-wing coalition shelved plans for an official egalitarian prayer space at the wall – a decision that’s strained relations with liberal Jewish diaspora groups, including in Britain and the US. Our Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman reports from Jerusalem.”

Clearly listeners would be likely to inaccurately conclude from that introduction that, with plans having been “shelved”, no “egalitarian prayer space” exists at the Western Wall.

Tom Bateman’s report included two interviewees, one of whom is a regular BBC contributor – although listeners were not informed of that fact.  

Bateman: “Laura Janner-Klausner – senior rabbi to Reform Judaism – is one of those who want the authorities to modernise the rules at the Kotel, as it is called in Hebrew: as site whose running has become a potent symbol for control over their faith.”

Janner-Klausner: “The place is administered by an ultra-Orthodox – strictly Orthodox – religious authority. A lot of the trigger points are around who can pray from a Torah scroll here. That’s the incendiary device: the bible as grenade.”

Later on listeners heard Bateman say:

“The ground skirmishes between progressives and the strictly Orthodox have given way to a broader battle. The Israeli government last year agreed officially to upgrade a temporary mixed-gender area by the wall; a so-called egalitarian prayer space championed by liberal Judaism. But this summer the deal fell apart, sparking outrage from many Jewish diaspora groups who felt shunned.”

Janner-Klausner: “Here you have one group – the Israeli government – who have, in order to get a very narrow win, sold out on the religious aspirations of millions of Jews internationally. This is corrosive for relationship.”

Although uninformed listeners would not know it, what Bateman describes as a “temporary […] egalitarian prayer space” has in fact existed for seventeen years and – despite the impression given in this report – it continues to be open to anyone wanting to use it.

As was explained here last time the BBC reported on this subject, the aspects of the ‘Kotel deal’ of January 2016 which were affected when it “fell apart” as Bateman puts it are plans for a communal entrance to all the various prayer areas at the Western Wall and plans for a joint committee to run the mixed gender prayer area.

This report did not inform audiences that even before the ‘Kotel deal’ fell apart, the issue had been taken to the High Court.

“Then there is the High Court petition, submitted by the Reform and Conservative Movements together with Women of the Wall, which demanded that the government either implement the compromise resolution of January 2016 or allocate them prayer space in the main plaza, splitting it into three sections – two separate areas for men and women and one for egalitarian prayer.

It is conceivable that the High Court will rule that by stymieing the compromise proposal for the southern Western Wall the government has created a situation of fundamental inequality in the ability of progressive Jews to pray at a government- mandated holy site at the Western Wall in accordance with their customs.

If it were to take this position, dividing the main plaza into three is a possible, and explosive, outcome.”

Listeners were also not informed that interviewee Laura Janner-Klausner has expressed public support for that High Court petition.

The High Court will hold a hearing on August 31st.

“The state’s position was outlined on Tuesday in its response to a petition from the progressive Jewish movements and the Women of the Wall organization, demanding that either the cabinet decision from January 2016 be implemented or that a section for progressive Jewish prayer be created at the main Western Wall site. […]

According to the state’s response to the High Court petition, the Prime Minister’s Office is investing NIS 19.2 million in upgrading and developing the current egalitarian prayer platform which will closely resemble the physical upgrades planned under the original resolution but without the shared entrance that was a key demand of the progressive Jewish movements and WoW [Women of the Wall].

The site will be managed by the state-run Company for the Development of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, and a steering committee under the control of representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office will provide oversight to ensure that the relevant services are being provided to visitors.

An additional NIS 2.2m. per year will be provided by the PMO to fund various facilities and services required at the site.”

Unusually, after listeners had heard an opposing opinion from the second interviewee, Janner-Klausner was brought back in to have what some may view as an antagonistic last word.

Janner-Klausner: “What is pure Judaism, what is authentic Judaism is the fact that we have evolved. We’re no longer in the desert, we no longer sacrifice and we no longer run according to high priests. People become rabbis not because of who their parents are but because of their knowledge. That is pure, authentic, evolving Judaism and that is what has kept the Jewish people surviving for thousands of years. The innovation that you cannot innovate is not Jewish.”

Listeners to Bateman’s report did not hear from anyone representing the Israeli government and once again, audiences were not provided with the full range of information essential for complete understanding of the story and what the dispute is really about. Essentially, therefore, this item is an advocacy piece featuring a regular BBC contributor who supports a petition that will be the subject of a court hearing in just a few days’ time.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Western Wall report fails to provide adequate information

BBC WS fails to inform on political NGO links of interviewee on topic of PA’s UNSC bid

BBC’s Western Wall report fails to provide adequate information

On June 26th the BBC News website’s Middle East page ran an article headlined “Jewish group cancels Netanyahu dinner over Western Wall decision” which opened as follows:

“A leading Israeli Jewish group has cancelled a gala dinner with Israel’s PM after his government froze plans to upgrade a mixed-gender area for prayer at Jerusalem’s Western Wall.

The board of the Jewish Agency, which facilitates Jewish immigration to Israel, said it “deplored” the move.”

The article later includes further reporting of, and a link to, the Jewish Agency’s statements together with those of two additional organisations; the UJA and ‘Women of the Wall‘.

“The [Jewish Agency] board later passed a resolution warning that the “dangerous and damaging steps” had a “deep potential to divide the Jewish people”.

“We call upon the government of Israel to understand the gravity of its steps and reverse its course of action accordingly,” it added.

The United Jewish Appeal-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York said the Israeli government’s actions “would destroy the fundamental principle that Israel, our Jewish homeland, is a place where all Jews can and must feel at home”.

Women of the Wall (WOW), a liberal group that campaigns for the right of women to perform the same prayer rituals as Orthodox men there, said Sunday had been a “terrible day for women in Israel” and accused Mr Netanyahu of “kow-towing to a handful of religious extremists”.”

But how is the core story that is the subject matter of this article portrayed?

In addition to being told in the opening paragraph that the Israeli government “froze plans to upgrade a mixed-gender area for prayer at Jerusalem’s Western Wall”, readers are informed that:

“Every year, millions of Jews from all over the world visit the [Western] wall to pray. It is administered by the Orthodox rabbinate and, in accordance with Orthodox tradition, men and women must pray in separate areas.

For years the more liberal Reform and Conservative movements, which have large followings outside Israel, campaigned for a mixed-gender prayer space.

Since 2013, a temporary prayer area for mixed worship was opened at the southern end of the wall and in 2016, Mr Netanyahu’s cabinet voted in favour of plans to upgrade it.

But after two ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition raised objections to the plans, ministers voted at a meeting on Sunday to suspend their implementation.”

Right at the end of the article readers are told that:

“Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman later issued a statement stressing that it was important to Mr Netanyahu that “every Jew is able to pray at the Western Wall” and that he had issued three directives on Sunday which had “gone unnoticed”.

“First, the prime minister instructed that work to prepare the southern plaza be expedited so that Jews from all streams may pray at the Western Wall. Second, that Jews from all streams be able to continue praying there – as they are able to do today. Third, the prime minister instructed Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and me to continue dialogue in order to try and reach a solution,” the statement said.”

Obviously uninformed readers would not be able to understand from the conflicting statements presented by the BBC in this report whether or not the mixed prayer space at the Western Wall continues to exist or what the practical implications of this cabinet decision actually are. Fortunately, the Times of Israel has a much clearer explanation of the story.

“Starting in the year 2000, following a long legal and public awareness battle, liberal Jews have had the right, granted by the State of Israel, to pray in the southern section of the Western Wall plaza. Alongside other liberal Jewish movements, the Israeli Conservative movement has since maintained prayer shawls and prayer books there in an effort to encourage pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall. […]

This area adjacent to the Western Wall currently contains two main areas of temporary prayer platforms, which are built over and among the archaeological remains. […]

The 450-meter larger platform was opened […] in August 2013 by Naftali Bennett, then the religious affairs minister. At the time, Bennett said it was meant to be “an interim but primary place of worship for Jewish egalitarian and pluralistic prayer services.” […]

The 2013 temporary platform was met by skepticism — and in some cases disdain — by leaders of Diaspora Jewry and the Women of the Wall, who at that point sought a space at the more normative Western Wall complex, or, at the very least, a permanent solution.

In 2012, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tapped Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky and then Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit to aid in leading negotiation efforts to reach a compromise acceptable to liberal Jewry, the Women of the Wall, and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, otherwise known as the rabbi of the western wall, Shmuel Rabinovitch. […]

…after years of negotiations, on January 31, 2016, the government passed a decision, colloquially called the “Kotel deal” […] The egalitarian prayer would continue in the southern area of the Western Wall, but there would be one entrance for all to the Western Wall plaza, which would lead to the different pluralistic, men’s and women’s pavilions.

There was to be a joint committee of two Reform leaders, two Conservative leaders, two non-Orthodox women representatives, the Jewish Agency chairman and six government officials overseeing the southern area. The existing Orthodox prayer pavilion would be administered by Rabinovitch. Additionally, the temporary prayer platforms would double in size and be more connected.”

Another explanation of the situation can be found in a video uploaded to Facebook by Naftali Bennett in which he explains that what has been ‘frozen’ is the new entrance and the formation of the joint committee. The actual mixed prayer space remains accessible and in use and – according to Bennett – will be expanded. Next month, there will be a hearing on the issue in the High Court.  

It would obviously have been helpful to BBC audiences trying to understand this story – and seeking to put comments such as [a] “terrible day for women in Israel” into context – had the corporation clarified that the mixed prayer space that has been in use for years has not in fact been affected at all.  

A predictable view of Jerusalem from the BBC’s ‘Man in the Middle East’

On May 18th listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard the fourth part in Jeremy Bowen’s series of programmes ‘Our Man in the Middle East’.

Titled ‘Jerusalem’, the programme is both rambling and predictable, with Bowen’s portrayal of the city focusing on blood, violence, religion, power and nationalism at the expense of any mention of its diversity and eclectic coexistence.

From his opening sentences onward, Bowen places the spotlight firmly and exclusively on ‘the conflict’:

“The first thing to understand about the struggle for Jerusalem is that they’re fighting over a tiny piece of land. Down there in that walled compound around the golden dome is the single most contested piece of land in the Middle East; probably the most contested piece of ground in the world.”

Following reminiscences of a poorly explained incident during the first Intifada, Bowen tells audiences that:

“The incident in Azariya was a soft introduction to the hard reality of the city of peace – which is the Hebrew translation of Jerusalem. In real life I can’t think of a city with a more blood-stained history. Tension, hatred and violence simmer alongside piety. Sometimes they’re part of it.”

Seeing as the name Jerusalem in English and other European languages derives from Latin and Greek translations of Hebrew texts, it would clearly have been more accurate for Bowen to refer to the Hebrew meaning of Jerusalem rather than “translation”.

Recalling his first trip to Jerusalem, Bowen downplays Palestinian terrorism – including international aircraft hijackings – by making a generalised and falsely equivalent reference to “violence in the Middle East”.

“When I changed planes in Zurich I saw flights to Israel had their own separate terminal [sic]. A small armoured car lumbered behind the bus to the aircraft. Violence in the Middle East had leaked into the rest of the world.”

Following archive recordings of news reports of events including the Munich Olympics massacre and the Entebbe operation, Bowen indulges himself with the claim that mere reporting from the region – rather than inaccurate or biased reporting – sparks objection.

“The tectonic plates of religion and culture come together in Jerusalem. When they move, we all feel it. Reporting the conflict between Arabs and Jews is a great way to make enemies. Many people feel connected to it even if they’ve never been to the Middle East.”

The man who once invented a new quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem goes on to provide a context-free account of “access restrictions” which again erases Palestinian terrorism and violence from the picture.

“Jerusalem is one of the most complicated issues and you can get a good idea just by walking around the walled Old City, which is what I’m going to do. I’m going in through Damascus Gate which is the main entrance for Palestinians more or less. It’s early evening so the shops are starting to close up. There’s a boy there who’s shouting out; selling bread to the Palestinians going home. There used to be more people selling things outside Damascus Gate: women who’d wear embroidered village dresses selling herbs. Now you see fewer of them these days and the reason for that is that they simply can’t get into Jerusalem and that’s because of the access restrictions that Israel has put in.”

In a section about “European imperial powers”, Bowen once again promotes his misrepresentation of the Hussein-McMahon correspondence to BBC audiences.

“In fact the British were without any humility at all, carving up the Middle East, making contradictory promises to Arabs and Jews and setting them up for conflict.”

Bowen goes on to give an inaccurate description of the Western Wall.

“So it’s dark now and the moon’s out and I’m at the place really that is the hub of it all. This is the Western Wall Plaza; the big open space going down to the…what was known for many hundreds of years as the Wailing Wall; the holiest place in the world for Jews to pray.”

The Western Wall is of course the holiest site at which Jews can currently pray but Bowen refrains from informing his listeners that Jews are not allowed to pray at the holier site of Temple Mount due to objection by the Waqf.

Delaying the start of the Muslim siege of Jerusalem by two years, Bowen tells listeners that:

“Then in 638 Arab followers of the new religion of Islam besieged the city. It was by Jerusalem’s blood-soaked standards a peaceful conquest.”

Later he recycles a visit he made to an archaeological site in 2014, telling listeners that:

“East Jerusalem was captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 war and it’s claimed by the Palestinians as capital of their future state.”

No further context is provided and as was the case in his original report, audiences are not told of Jordan’s belligerent occupation of part of the city in the 19 years prior to the Six Day War or that those nineteen years were the only time that the city was divided.

Quoting writers Amos Elon (whom he calls Amos Alon), Amos Oz and Mahmoud Darwish, Bowen closes the item while reinforcing his main message:

“It’s impossible in Jerusalem to disentangle religion from power.”

In summary, Radio 4 listeners heard nothing new: the same jaded themes that Bowen has promoted over the last 25 years have simply been recycled and condensed into this latest item. Deliberately short on context, downplaying Palestinian terrorism and misrepresenting history, Bowen’s report tells BBC audiences nothing of real life in a city which is much more than just part of the much wider conflict.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bowen invents new quarter in Jerusalem

BBC Radio 4 launches a new ME series by Jeremy Bowen

BBC’s ME Editor misrepresents the Hussein-McMahon correspondence

 

Third time unlucky for BBC audiences trying to understand UNESCO charades

The BBC News website’s reporting on the latest ignominious resolution concerning Jerusalem that was adopted by UNESCO on October 26th was to be found tagged onto the end of a report concerning an archeological discovery titled “Jerusalem reference found on ancient wine ledger“. Readers were told that:jerusalem-papyrus

“The discovery was announced on Wednesday shortly after the United Nations Organisation for Education, Science and Culture (Unesco) adopted a second resolution in a week that Israel said denied Judaism’s ties to Jerusalem.

The resolution, according to copies seen by news agencies, mentions only the Islamic name for a key holy site in the city known to Jews as the Temple Mount and al-Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) to Muslims.” [emphasis added]

According to the Times of Israel:

“A draft of the resolution obtained by The Times of Israel on Sunday once again referred to the Temple Mount compound solely by its Muslim names, “Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif,” and defined it only as “a Muslim holy site of worship.”

As the site of the biblical temples, the mount is the holiest place in Judaism. Unlike last week’s resolution, the draft likely to be adopted Wednesday will not mention the importance of Jerusalem’s Old City for “the three monotheistic religions.””

The BBC, however, was apparently incapable of informing audiences in its own words that such language does indeed deny the ties of Judaism (and Christianity) to Jerusalem, preferring instead to employ its jaded – and redundant – “Israel says” formula. The article closed:

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticised the “absurdity” of Wednesday’s decision and said he would recall his country’s ambassador to Unesco for consultations on how to proceed.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said the resolution was aimed “at reaffirming the importance of Jerusalem for the three monotheistic religions”.”

While amplifying that particular part of the PLO-NAD issued statement, the BBC failed to balance it by informing readers that officials from both Fatah and Hamas lauded the previous UNESCO resolution’s denial of Jewish history.  

“A spokesman for the Gaza-based terror group Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement that his group “welcomes” the resolution’s wording to the effect that “al-Aqsa is of purely Islamic heritage.” He said the decision marks a “victory for the Palestinian people.”

Abu Zuhri added that the UNSECO text “demolished the Israeli fiction” concerning the Temple Mount, the holy area Jews consider to be their most sacred place as the site of the two biblical temples.”

Readers were also not told of the threats issued by the Palestinian and Jordanian delegations to members of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee ahead of the vote.

As was the case in the BBC News website’s previous two reports concerning UNESCO (see ‘related articles’ below), audiences learned nothing of prior UNESCO motions and resolutions which have similarly erased Jewish ties to historic sites or of the all-important context of this latest UNESCO resolution in the long-standing Palestinian campaign to erase Jewish heritage and history as part of the tactical delegitimisation of Israel. 

With this being the third report concerning Palestinian and Arab abuse of the UNESCO forum for political ends that the BBC News website has produced in twelve days, it is by now very obvious that the corporation has no intention whatsoever of providing its funding public with the information which would enhance their understanding of this particular “international issue” – as its remit obliges.

Related Articles:

Another deficient BBC News report on UNESCO denial of Jewish heritage

BBC report on UNESCO row marred by lack of context and previous omission

BBC R4 programme on UNESCO omits negation of Jewish heritage