Inaccuracies, politicised framing and salad on BBC R4 ‘Woman’s Hour’

h/t CL

Readers may recall that last month we took note of a BBC report in which the programme presenter described an Israeli Arab as ‘Palestinian’ even though the person in question had not identified himself as such.  

“According to a study carried out last year by the Israel Democracy Institute just 14% of the Arab citizens of Israel define their primary identity as Palestinian. However, even in the contemporary era of race and gender self-identification, one BBC World Service radio presenter appears to have granted himself the prerogative of deciding how Israel’s Arab citizens should be defined.”

That issue arose again in the July 12th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Woman’s Hour’ which included a segment (from 25:48 here) described in the synopsis thus:

“Writer and cook Yasmin Khan’s travels took her from the olive groves of the West Bank and the fruit markets of Jerusalem to the first micro-brewery in Bethlehem [sic]. While breaking bread with the Palestinian people she learnt about the realities of their everyday lives. Yasmin joins Jenni to Cook the Perfect…Fattoush.”

Despite Fattoush being a dish found across the Middle East, in response to a question in the introduction from presenter Jenni Murray, Khan told listeners that “Fattoush is just a classic Palestinian salad”.

Although the BBC Academy’s style guide instructs that “in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity”, listeners heard Yasmin Khan make repeated references to ‘Palestine’.  

Khan: “…I thought it was so important to try and use food as a way of sharing stories from Palestine…”

Khan:”…in Palestine the olive tree and, you know, olive oil really represents both Palestinian culture, their connection to the land and every Palestinian has an olive tree kind of in their garden…”

Every Palestinian”? Really?

Listeners also heard Khan’s politically motivated definition of other people’s identities.

Murray: “So where, apart from Jerusalem where you learned how to make this, did your travels around Palestinian kitchens take you?”

Khan: “Well I went all over really. I visited Palestinian communities in the north of Israel in Acre and Haifa […] then I went over to the Galilee…”

Having stated that she “cooked with refugees in Bethlehem” without listeners being told why there are refugees in a place that has been under Palestinian Authority control for well over two decades, Khan went on:

Khan: “And then I even, you know, found time to have a drink with workers at the Taybeh beer factory…”

The Taybeh brewery is, unsurprisingly, located in Taybeh rather than “in Bethlehem” as inaccurately claimed in the programme’s synopsis.

Murray asked: “Alcoholic beer?”

Khan: “Absolutely. I mean 30% of Palestinians are Christian so you know there’s a wonderful wine industry. They make beers, beautiful arak.”

According to the CIA World Factbook just 1 – 2.5% of the population of the ‘West Bank’ are Christians and in the Gaza Strip Christians make up less than 1% of the population. The “wonderful wine industry” in the Palestinian Authority controlled areas is primarily composed of one winery run by the same family that owns the Taybeh brewery and a winery in the Cremisan monastery.

In response to Murray’s question “how do you define yourself what is actually authentically Palestinian?” listeners heard a reply from Khan which steers readers towards the view that “millennia” old Palestinian cuisine predates other “influences”:

Khan: “Well you know Palestinian food has evolved through several millennia of different influences, whether they’re Islamic, Jewish, Roman, Persian, Ottoman.”

Later on they heard the following context-free statement:

Khan: “There is no doubt that Palestinians are going through incredible hardship especially in places like Gaza where, when we talk about food, I mean, you know, 80% of them are dependent on food aid to survive, 90% of the water is undrinkable.”

Near the beginning Murray noted that her guest had “worked as a human rights campaigner for a very long time”. Radio 4 listeners were not however told that Khan previously worked for the anti-Israel NGO ‘War on Want’ and is on record as promoting the BDS campaign against Israel and campaigning for an arms embargo on Israel.

Aired on the day that Khan’s cookery book was published, this item obviously includes political messaging that will come as no surprise to those familiar with Yasmin Khan’s campaigning record. Listeners to ‘Woman’s Hour’ were not however informed that Khan is “associated with a particular viewpoint” as BBC editorial guidelines require and hence were unable to put the politically motivated claims and messaging they heard in an item portrayed as being about food into their appropriate context. 

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Omission and agitprop on BBC R4’s ‘Woman’s Hour’

h/t BF

The September 22nd edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Woman’s Hour‘ included an interview with an Israeli-Arab film director who was also featured in an article that appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page between September 3rd and 21st inclusive.

“‘In Between’ tells the story of three young Arab women living together in Tel Aviv, Israel. Away from the constraints of their families, they find themselves caught in between the free lives they want to lead and the restrictions still imposed on them. The first major film by Palestinian director Maysaloun Hamoud has been praised by international critics but also caused controversy, Maysaloun has had a fatwa issued against her. She joins Jenni to discuss.”

During the interview (from 24:20 here) listeners heard two further references to that ‘fatwa’ from presenter Jenni Murray.

25:07: “The writer and director Maysaloun Hamoud had a religious fatwa issued against her.”

31:03: “Now the film, we know, has attracted controversy about its theme. A fatwa was issued and I know there’ve been death threats. What impact is that having on you?”

At no point were the programme’s British listeners informed what a ‘fatwa’ is, who issued the one concerned or what was demanded by the film’s opponents – as explained by Ynet:

“Upon its release, it [the film] was heavily criticized in Umm al-Fahm, including by the city’s mayor.

Located in northern Israel, Umm al-Fahm is one of the country’s largest Arab cities with around 50,000 residents and serves as a stronghold for the Islamic Movement. The film was banned from screening in the city.

Right after the film was first screened in Israel, the mayor of Umm al-Fahm Sheikh Khaled Hamdan called Hamoud a heretic during a speech delivered in a mosque in January. Soon after, the Higher Islamic Council issued a fatwa, a religious Islamic ruling that determined that Hamoud was harming Islam and that the film was sinful. […]

The Umm al-Fahm city hall also sought a countrywide ban on In Between, and wrote a letter to the Israeli Ministry of Culture demanding that the film be removed from all Israeli theaters, describing it “offensive to the religion of Islam and to the residents of Umm al-Fahm in particular.””

Similarly, when Jenni Murray asked Hamoud about criticism of the source of funding for the film by “some people”, listeners were not told that the criticism came from supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign or that the film fund in question is financed by the Israeli Ministry of Culture and Sport.

29:45 Murray: “Now I know you were funded from Israeli film funds. Why were some people critical of that?”

Murray made no effort to question or clarify the claims of ‘discrimination’ and ‘tenth class citizen’ included in Hamoud’s response.

Hamoud: “I also ask why some people critical on that when they don’t remember [an] important thing: that I am a Palestinian [but] in the same time I am a Israeli citizen. I pay taxes, I have all my duties to the state that I deserve to get back – OK – as a citizen. But because I am a Palestinian citizen, so I am not second, even third or – I don’t know – tenth citizen class for the Israeli and we are discriminated [against] so we don’t really get our budgets that we deserve so I need to take not just that money that I took for my movie. I need – we as Palestinian artists, filmmakers or not just filmmakers – need to get our what we deserve so I see all the people who criticize this as really non-connected to reality.”

Neither did Murray bother to provide listeners with relevant information which would help them put Hamoud’s politicised portrayal of ‘history’ into its appropriate perspective.

28:33 Hamoud: “The Palestinian cinema is still so young. We cannot actually forget that we as a Palestinian had a very big, big, dramatic point in our history – it called the Naqba, OK – ’48 in creating of Israel. And let me say [it] smashed all the Palestinian society so after that dramatic historical – crucial, actually – point you start to build society from zero, from scratches [scratch], and not just in the culture aspect: in everything.”

In other words, while listeners to this item did not get a proper explanation of the religious and political sources of opposition to the film and its funding, they did hear completely unchallenged, one-sided, politicised portrayals of Israeli society and history that have considerably less relevance to the topic of discussion. 

 

 

Human Rights, anti-Israel campaigners and the BBC

The misappropriation of the term ‘human rights’ by political campaigners and the self-classification of various often opaquely-funded anti-Israel groups as ‘human rights’ organisations has not abated since the infamous events which overshadowed the Durban I UN conference over twelve years ago. 

The underlying principle of human rights is of course that they are – as it says on the packaging – universal, applying to every person regardless of gender, colour, religion, sexual orientation, wealth, ethnic background and so forth. Hence, it is actually quite easy to distinguish organisations which are truly interested in promoting the human rights of the Palestinian people from those who merely exploit the halo of the term ‘human rights’ in order to co-opt its associated legitimacy for a political campaign. 

One simple litmus test for ‘pro-Palestinian’ organisations is the examination of their activity in the field of women’s rights. Do they speak out on subjects such as enforced dress codes and ‘modesty’ patrols, inheritance and child custody laws, domestic violence and lenient sentences for so-called ‘honour’ killings? Do they promote women’s education and financial independence? Or do they – as is now sadly so often the case in the ‘liberal’ West – regard issues such as polygamy, gender segregation, forced marriage and female genital mutilation as part of the untouchable ‘culture’ of a patriarchal society which their own cultural relativism prevents them from criticizing? 

Some of the most disadvantaged women in Israel are to be found in the Bedouin sector. Despite being illegal under Israeli law, polygamy is still high in that sector and birth rates are the highest in the country. Even though considerable progress has been made regarding the number of years of education, the educational gap is still large for Bedouin women. Rates of women’s employment outside the home remain low, perpetuating the cycle of poverty. 

One woman trying – and succeeding – to make a difference to the lives of Bedouin women is Amal Elsana Alh’jooj – herself the first Bedouin woman in Israel to attend university. Recently Amal was the recipient of an award recognizing her work and during the time she was in London to receive it, she was interviewed by the BBC for Radio 4’s ‘Woman’s Hour’ (from around 17:11 here) and for the BBC World Service programme ‘Outlook’ (from around 12:53 here). 

In those two very interesting interviews Amal spoke movingly about her position as the fifth girl born to a family in which female babies are of lower value than male ones and of her mother’s fear that her birth would prompt Amal’s father to take another wife. She explained her strategies for making progress on the front of women’s employment in a patriarchal society and spoke of the violence directed towards her when she married outside her own tribe and towards her father when he allowed her to go to university. 

All that, however, is of no interest whatsoever to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign which registered its dissatisfaction with the interview in a letter to ‘Woman’s Hour’ according to Amena Saleem who took to her keyboard to condemn the BBC for ignoring what she erroneously terms “ethnic cleansing” in its two interviews with Ms Alh’jooj. 

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is of course one of several organisations currently exploiting the Bedouin for its campaign of delegitimisation of Israel. It therefore comes as no surprise that the PSC regards Amal Elsana Alh’jooj’s award-winning work promoting the rights of Bedouin women as insignificant and undeserving of coverage by the BBC, because what really interests the PSC is clearly not the human rights of the Bedouin or the Palestinians, but one-issue political campaigning against Israel.

One can only hope that “senior BBC executives remember that the next time they are invited for a chat with PSC representatives.