BBC corrects inaccuracies in reports on Israel’s coalition government

As was noted here last week, an article which appeared on the BBC News website on May 20th inaccurately described the Yisrael Beiteinu party as bringing six (rather than five) additional Knesset seats into the coalition government.correction

An additional article published on May 25th also inaccurately described the new coalition as having 67 seats in the Knesset rather than 66.

Following communication from BBC Watch both those articles have been amended – see here and here.

The footnote added to the May 20th article reads:

correction coalition art 1

The footnote added to the report from May 25th reads:

correction coalition art 2

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BBC bungles basics in report on Israel’s new coalition

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BBC bungles basics in report on Israel’s new coalition

The consensus in Israel is that the May 25th agreement which brought the Yisrael Beiteinu party into the coalition government means that it now has a total of sixty-six seats in the Knesset whilst the opposition is left with 54.

From the Jerusalem Post:

coalition JP

From the Times of Israel:

coalition ToI

From Ha’aretz:

coalition haaretz

The BBC, however, has a different idea:

coalition

That statement appeared in an article published on the BBC News website on May 25th under the headline “Avigdor Lieberman named as Israel’s defence minister“. Five days earlier, before the agreement had been reached, BBC audiences had been told that:coalition art

“The deal would shore up Mr Netanyahu’s one-seat majority in parliament. […]

If his [Lieberman’s] six-seat Yisrael Beiteinu party joins the coalition, it will become the most right-wing in Israel’s history.”

As was noted here at the time:

“In fact, the day before this article was published, Yisrael Beiteinu had already become a five-seat faction due to the resignation from the party (but not from the Knesset) of MK Orly Levy-Abekasis.”

Whilst the May 25th article was later amended to include some decidedly predictable comment from Saeb Erekat and ‘analysis’ from Kevin Connolly which includes the apparently now standard mention of “a former nightclub bouncer”, the very simple – but distinctly less colourful – topic of how many seats the coalition government now holds remained inaccurately portrayed.

BBC’s WHYS discusses Israel’s ‘moral compass’

In recent weeks the BBC News website has published a variety of articles on the topic of political trends in Europe and the United States which include:

Is Europe lurching to the far right? Katya Adler, April 28th 2016

Guide to nationalist parties challenging Europe May 23rd 2016

Widespread revolt against the political centre Gavin Hewitt, May 24th 2016

However, BBC audiences have not been invited to ponder the question of whether the citizens of Austria (or America, Hungary, France, Switzerland, Finland or Denmark) have lost their moral compass en masse.  

That question was posed –literally – in relation to a country which the BBC has long portrayed as ‘lurching’ to the right of the political map – regardless of the inaccuracy of that framing.WHYS 20 5

The May 20th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘World Have Your Say’ (titled “Has Israel Lost its ‘Moral Compass’?“, from 00:48) based its discussion around the resignation of Israel’s Minister of Defence on the same day and presenter Anu Anand was joined by four telephone interviewees.

In contrast with usual practice, the BBC ‘World Have Your Say’ Facebook page did not run a parallel discussion and so members of the public were spared the antisemitic discourse which all too often accompanies WHYS Israel-related programmes.

Presenter Anu Anand chose to open the item with a particularly long introduction which included some interesting terminology. [emphasis added]

“But first, in Israel a political drama that cuts to the heart of the country’s troubles. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – a hawk whose coalition has a one-seat majority in the Knesset – seeks to shore-up his political strength. He’s invited an ultra-nationalist to join his cabinet, creating what many are calling the most extreme administration in Israeli history. The re-shuffle was already contentious and then today his current Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon decided to resign rather than stay in government. At a press conference today he didn’t mince his words. ‘I’m resigning both from the position of Defence Minister and as a member of parliament’ Moshe Ya’alon told the nation. He said ‘I fought with all my strength against the phenomenon of extremism, violence and racism in Israeli society. In general Israeli society is sane and seeks a Jewish, democratic and liberal state without distinction of religion, race, gender, ethnic origin or sexual orientation. But to my great regret’ he went on, ‘extremists and dangerous forces have taken over Israel and the Likud movement. The general public needs to understand the serious consequences of this take-over by an extremist minority and needs to fight this phenomenon’. So; very strong words indeed from Israel’s outgoing Defence Minister. And the man who could replace him – although this hasn’t been confirmed – is Avigdor Lieberman; a former nightclub bouncer from Moldova and today one of Israel’s most outspoken and divisive figures.”

Anand did not clarify the relevance to the discussion of a job Lieberman did for one year whilst he was a student at the Hebrew University but apparently she believes that it is more important for listeners to know about that than his previous positions as Minister of National Infrastructure, Minister of Transportation, Minister of Strategic Affairs, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister.

Throughout the technically challenged discussion, three of the four interviewees – including the Jerusalem Post’s political analyst Gil Hoffman – tried to explain Israeli politics in general, the context of the broadening of the coalition government in particular, the previous negotiations with the Zionist Union party for the same purpose, the background to Ya’alon’s statements and the myth of a ‘move to the right’. Anand, however, could not let her hyperbolic headline go.

“…to help our listeners understand what’s going on. We heard there the words of Moshe Ya’alon. These are pretty strong words coming from a pillar of Israeli society. He’s the head – or he was the head – of the armed forces. What’s been the reaction?”

“But some of his words are really, really strong. For example ‘has Israel lost its moral compass?’. I mean he’s talking about the country losing its moral compass. Is there any sympathy for those words, any agreement?”

“Michael, I want to put to you the outgoing Defence Minister’s words. He accuses Israel of losing its moral compass. […] What do you think about his words today in his speech?”

(In fact, Ya’alon’s reference to a ‘moral compass’ was not made in his resignation speech, but the previous day.)

“I want to steer the conversation back to the issues that Moshe Ya’alon has raised. Whether or not, you know, he’s being political – the words themselves; he’s talked about Israel losing its moral compass, about the government being hijacked by an extremist minority.”

“We’re discussing the comments of Israel’s outgoing Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon. He resigned this morning. He had some very, very strong words for Israel’s politicians. He talked about fighting against extremism, violence and racism. He said that extremists and dangerous forces had taken over Israel and the Likud movement and were destabilizing the country.”

Towards the end of the item, as Gregg Roman tried to provide listeners with insights into the Israeli political scene, Anand interrupted and refocused the discussion on the programme’s real topic:

“But can I just move you guys back to the…the….you know, the talk about how Israel is losing its values. I do understand there are heavy politics involved, but perhaps for a global audience…”

The last word was given to Anat Hoffman of IRAC when Anand asked her:

“When you talk about the erosion of values, what specifically – quickly – in your day-to-day life do you feel is being eroded?”

Hoffman’s answer included claims of “ethnocentrism, chauvinism, racism”: labels which might equally be found in any discussion of contemporary European politics.

The point is, of course, that the BBC has not to date seen fit to superficially promote to its audiences worldwide the notion (based on the words of one politician) that citizens of a rather large number of nations in Europe are losing their values or their ability to judge what is right and wrong.

Now why would that be?

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BBC audiences get a blinkered look into Israeli politics

 

BBC audiences get a blinkered look into Israeli politics

A particularly lively and fast-moving week in Israeli politics came to a head last weekend with the resignation of Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon – but that event is only one part of a much wider story.

Long-standing talks (mentored by foreign parties) aimed at bringing the Zionist Union party into the coalition government were still in progress on May 17th despite internal opposition in Yitzhak Herzog’s party.

“At the same time, Herzog excoriated former Labor head Shelly Yachimovich for trashing every effort to find common ground with Netanyahu and broaden the government, calling her the “radical left.” Indeed, many Labor legislators have been attacking Herzog lately, accusing him of “crawling” into the government without even waiting to see what policy modifications he could extract from Netanyahu. Then, in domino-like fashion, half of Herzog’s faction made clear that they would not go with him if he joined the government, making his unity bid even less attractive to others.”

Herzog’s decision to abort the talks on May 18th brought calls for his resignation from some of his party colleagues. The Jerusalem Post reported the subsequent events as follows:

“In a day of political upheavals, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went from a stalemate in coalition talks with Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog to reaching a preliminary deal with Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman in just 16 hours.

In a meeting that lasted less than an hour Wednesday afternoon, Liberman accepted Netanyahu’s offer of the defense and immigration and absorption portfolios and support for key Yisrael Beytenu- sponsored legislation. […]

Netanyahu updated Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon immediately after meeting with Liberman. While it was not final Wednesday night, a source close to Netanyahu said Ya’alon is likely to be compensated by becoming foreign minister, but Ya’alon’s office said he had not yet been offered the post. […]

Talks with Yisrael Beytenu began after negotiations with the Zionist Union failed to progress.

Netanyahu met with Herzog until 1 a.m. late Tuesday night but failed to reach agreements on diplomatic issues.

In a Tel Aviv press conference, Herzog blamed the failure to reach a deal on Netanyahu refusing to write down his commitments on diplomatic issues.

But Likud officials said Herzog had not succeeded in drafting the support of any MKs in his 24-MK faction …”

On May 20th Moshe Ya’alon announced his resignation from the government and the Knesset. Only then did the BBC begin to report the (still far from concluded) story with an article which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page under the headline “Israel politics: Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon resigns in protest“.Yaalon resignation

The original version of that article opened:

“Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon has resigned, saying he lacked trust in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It comes amid moves by Mr Netanyahu to bring hardliner Avigdor Lieberman and his party into the ruling coalition, likely offering him the defence post.”

That introduction was subsequently amended to read:

“Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon has resigned, warning that Israel has been taken over by “dangerous and extreme elements”.

It comes as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeks to bring hardliner Avigdor Lieberman into the coalition, possibly as defence minister.”

Readers are told that:

“The deal would shore up Mr Netanyahu’s one-seat majority in parliament. […]

If his [Liberman’s] six-seat Yisrael Beiteinu party joins the coalition, it will become the most right-wing in Israel’s history.”

In fact, the day before this article was published, Yisrael Beiteinu had already become a five-seat faction due to the resignation from the party (but not from the Knesset) of MK Orly Levy-Abekasis.

Remarkably, BBC audiences were not provided with the full information concerning the sequence of events which preceded Ya’alon’s resignation, the Zionist Union party’s internal turmoil or even the dabblings of John Kerry and Tony Blair in internal Israeli politics. The BBC did however find it essential to tell readers where Liberman was born and where he (but not any of the other politicians mentioned) resides.

“Moldovan-born Mr Lieberman, who lives in an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank, advocates a tough line towards dealing with the Palestinians, including the overthrow of Gaza’s Hamas rulers.”

In addition to the mention of “dangerous and extreme elements” in the article’s revised opening paragraph (but without clarifying Ya’alon’s reference to his party), the article made sure that readers went away with a very particular interpretation of the story.

“The two men had publicly disagreed after Mr Yaalon backed a senior military figure who had made controversial remarks about perceived extremist trends in Israeli society on Holocaust Day earlier this month.

Right-wing political figures have also criticised Mr Yaalon for backing a decision to charge an Israeli soldier who killed a wounded Palestinian attacker in March, in a case which split opinion in Israel.

At a news conference on Friday, Mr Yaalon said: “I fought with all my might against manifestations of extremism, violence and racism in Israeli society, which are threatening its sturdiness and also trickling into the IDF [Israel Defence Forces], hurting it already,” Haaretz newspaper reports.”

The BBC did not find it necessary to quote additional parts of Ya’alon’s announcement.

“In general, Israeli society is a healthy society and its majority is sane and seeks a Jewish, democratic and liberal state. A state which accepts all kinds of people with no distinctions of religion, race, sex, ethnic origins or sexual orientation.” [translation: BBC Watch]

The article closes with a typically whitewashed portrayal of the termination of the last round of talks between Israel and the PLO.

“France recently announced it would host an international conference on 3 June to try to revive Israel-Palestinian peace talks, which collapsed amid acrimony in 2014.”

BBC audiences are not informed that Israel and the PLO are not among the twenty countries invited to participate in that conference.