Weekend long read

1) At the Forward, Petra Marquardt-Bigman takes a look at the roots of the BDS campaign.

“Recall that the BDS movement emerged in the wake of the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa, in early September 2001. Unfortunately, the conference was hijacked by non-governmental organizations which sought to revive the notorious UN resolution equating Zionism with racism, a clearly anti-Semitic resolution seeing as the vast majority of Jews identify as Zionists and would thus be defined as racists. These NGOs issued a call for “a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state,” including “the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel.””

2) Former MK Einat Wilf discusses “Anti-Feminism and Anti-Zionism” at the Tablet.

“Feminism and Zionism are cut from the same cloth. Both movements emerged from the same intellectual and political origins, they both exhibited similar growth trajectories, becoming two of the most successful revolutions to sweep and survive through the 20th century, both continue to face ferocious backlash, and both remain vibrant and necessary in the 21st century.

Feminism and Zionism are daughters of the enlightenment. They were born of that intellectual revolution against the inevitability of the human condition as one subject to a hierarchical, divinely ordained order, underpinned by a religious system and elaborate theology. Feminism and Zionism are rebellions against that order. They are both part of the modern overthrowing of a pre-modern order in which each living creature, born into a station and role in the superstructure of society, remains in that role, carries it out dutifully and does not challenge it. Feminism and Zionism are infused with resistance against the pre-Enlightenment idea that how you are born should determine how you die.”

3) Potkin Azarmehr writes about “Iran Analysts and Their False Narratives“.

“In 2009, millions of Iranians spilled out onto the streets and protested against the rigged results of the presidential elections. The protests were brutally repressed, and the regime’s savagery was captured by the camera-phones of thousands of citizen journalists. These images were then disseminated across social media by a young tech-savvy population, who showed the world the true nature of the Islamic Republic.

As expected, many so-called experts and academics, who had their information and material fed to them by regime lobbyists, were taken aback, and provided a reading of events that was grossly inadequate. Somehow, they had to come up with a narrative that still supported their notion of “this is a popular and relatively democratic regime” fighting against the unjust imperialist West – a narrative that would validate their own lack of support for the protesters.”

4) Palestinian Media Watch has produced a report documenting Palestinian Authority and Fatah reactions to recent US administration announcements.  

“Jerusalem is only ours, only ours. They [the Americans] know it. It is a strange thing that a state that is only a little older than 200 years takes a stand toward a city that is 5,000 years old. Where was America when Jerusalem was built, that it should decide whose capital it is? And where was Israel when Jerusalem was built? Jerusalem was here before America and before Israel and before Europe and before this entire world. We were in Jerusalem more than 5,000 years ago, and we have not left it… America, which – as they say – was born yesterday, wants to decide the fate of a city whose age is greater than history.” [Official PA TV, Dec. 22, 2017]

 

Advertisements

BBC Radio Wales on the Balfour Declaration – part one

BBC Radio Wales has a Sunday morning programme called “All Things Considered” which is described as a “religious affairs programme tackling the thornier issues of the day in a thought-provoking manner”. The October 8th edition of that programme, however, was devoted to a political topic. Titled “The Balfour Declaration at 100“, the programme’s synopsis includes the following:

“One hundred years on, how should we in Wales view the Balfour Declaration.”

That strange question (do the Welsh people specifically need to hold a “view” of that century old historic event?) was repeated in the introduction by presenter Sarah Rowland-Jones.

Rowland-Jones: “A century ago, in November 1917, the British Government, under Welsh prime minister Lloyd George, gave its support to the establishment of Jewish homeland in Palestine. This was contained in a letter from the Foreign Secretary, Lord Arthur Balfour, to leaders of the British Jewish Community. The Balfour Declaration, as it came to be known, expressed the government’s intention to support a Jewish national home and to do so without undermining the rights of the people already living in Palestine. The declaration was controversial at the time and has remained so ever since. Celebrated and vilified in near equal measure, it sits behind the lasting conflict in the region. While it kindled international support for a Jewish homeland, even the British government has since acknowledged it gave inadequate protection to the political rights of Palestinians. So – 100 years on – how should we in Wales view the Balfour Declaration?” [emphasis added]

As we see, that introduction promotes the facile notion that the Balfour Declaration is the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict and that theme was repeated throughout the half-hour programme. The reference to the British government having “since acknowledged it gave inadequate protection to the political rights of Palestinians” apparently refers to a statement issued by the FCO that included the following:

“We recognise that the Declaration should have called for the protection of political rights of the non-Jewish communities in Palestine, particularly their right to self-determination.” 

Nowhere in this programme, however, did the listeners invited to form a “view” of the Balfour Declaration hear that precisely such self-determination was, from 1937 onward, repeatedly rejected by the Arab side.

The programme’s three studio guests were then introduced:

“Rabbi Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok, professor emeritus of Judaism at the University of Wales and author of many books on the subject of Palestine and Israel, Dr Jasmine Donahaye of Swansea University, author of “Whose People? Wales, Israel, Palestine” and “Losing Israel” and the reverend Mones Farah; Church in Wales rector of Aberystwyth who is himself Palestinian.”

The first half of this programme related to the Balfour Declaration itself and the circumstances under which it was issued. After Sarah Rowland-Jones had read out the text of the declaration and asked “is this something to be celebrated or regretted?” listeners heard Mones Farah (who has lived in the UK since 1983) create false linkage between it and his family story. [emphasis added]

Farah: “For me, looking at this declaration it causes a lot of problems and difficulties for me personally because as a direct result of this we…my family and my community were made refugees. So for me it will have always that tinge of sadness and lack of celebration about it.”

Listeners then heard another negative opinion from Jasmine Donahaye, who erased the real “foundation” of Israel – the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine – from the story.

Donahaye: “Well I think it’s difficult not to understand that for many Jews at the time and since it was a matter for great celebration and continues to be because it’s the foundation upon which Israel is based and that is a question of national self-determination. But it’s not one-sided. There are two elements to it and the second element unfortunately has been betrayed. And therefore it’s something to treat with a great deal of care and critical analysis I think. So celebration – maybe not. But investigation – certainly.”

Rowland-Jones: “When you say the second element you mean the promise that it should not prejudice the civil and religious rights of non-Jewish communities?”

Donahaye: “That’s exactly what I mean. Of course there is the subsequent element that it shouldn’t prejudice the status of Jews elsewhere as well and that’s a slightly different issue but that might be something we’ll discuss later.”

That discussion did not come about and so BBC Wales audiences heard nothing about issues such as the persecution and negation of rights of the Jews in Arab lands.

Dan Cohn-Sherbok presented a more realistic view of the significance of the Balfour Declaration, even while absolving the Palestinians of all agency or responsibility.

Cohn-Sherbok: “Well I do want to celebrate the Balfour Declaration, as I think Jews would around the world. It was 100 years ago, it was the beginning of the creation of the Jewish state, so for the Jewish people it was a fundamental step forward – which is not to ignore the problems that this has led for the Palestinians. With my colleagues I do take into account the difficulties that the Palestinians have faced and are facing now. Nonetheless, I think it is a time for celebration and with Jews throughout the world, I want to celebrate what happened in 1917.”

In the next section of the programme Cohn-Sherbok gave a brief overview of the history behind the story (that included the inaccurate claim that at the time of the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 70 CE the region was called Palestine) and the advent of political Zionism.

Cohn-Sherbok: “But at the end of the nineteenth century the Jews were suffering in eastern Europe […] and the Zionists – secular Zionists – believed it was time for the Jews to return. It was the only way that they could protect themselves from onslaught, from antisemitism. It was their only refuge, they believed, and they did everything that they could to persuade those in power to allow Jews to settle in what was then Palestine. And the Balfour Declaration was an essential first step.”

However, Cohn-Sherbok’s account included the inaccurate claim that the early Zionists were exclusively secular Jews.  Rowland-Jones then raised another topic.

Rowland-Jones: “So what was going on there in the holy land – Palestine – in 1917? Mones, can you tell us something about the people who were living there then?”

Farah: “The people of the land were mainly the Arab indigenous population – the Palestinian population – in the land. By 1914 there were only 7% of the population that were of the new Jewish immigrants or Jewish communities that existed for longer times.”

While Farah mentioned the Ottoman policy of “restricting […] the migration of Jews”, he debatably claimed that the reason for that was “because it created tension with the local population” and made no mention of the expulsion of thousands of Jews already living in the region during the First World War. Ignoring events that pre-dated even the First Aliyah such as the pogroms in Tsfat in 1834, he continued:

Farah: “…I think that the communities felt by the new immigration that was opened up by the turn of the 20th century to the land, they begin to feel the tension and the stress in the land even though they themselves mostly were arable farmers. They were small communities. They were not politicized. But a young intellectual small groups and heads of clans began to agitate and they began to actually resist the new migrations coming into the land until the Balfour Declaration. So there was an increasing tension developing. But there was a population living in the land.”

Farah then went on to promote a myth popular in anti-Israel circles:

Farah: “…I take on what Dan said about the Zionist secularist movement of the late 19th century and its declaration of a need for a Jewish state. One thing I will hold against some of those statements is that they wanted a state for a people without land for a land without people. And I think that is one of the things that actually had such an influence in the public opinion or of the people of power at the time which wasn’t true at all because there was a population living in the land…”

The phrase “A land without a people for a people without a land” – not “a land without people”, as Farah claimed – was in fact not widely employed by early Zionists but mainly by British religious and political figures.

Following discussion of the Welsh aspect of the story of the Balfour Declaration, listeners heard another myth that frequently crops up in BBC content.

Rowland-Jones: “So why did the Lloyd George government issue the declaration at this time? Was it just about seeking allies at a difficult juncture in the First World War?”

Cohn-Sherbok: “It was a very complicated situation. The Balfour Declaration though I wish to celebrate it, was in a sense not straightforward. The British government had previously made promises to the Arabs. The British government had said if you help us in the First World War – if you attack the Ottoman Empire – then we’re gonna give you an Arab independent homeland or Arab independence. That was a promise that was in fact betrayed. They never did. And there was also a meeting between the British and the French prior to the 1917 Balfour Declaration where they essentially divided up the entire world – that Arab world. So I think the Arabs quite rightly feel somewhat betrayed or very betrayed by the British government. The Jews welcomed the Balfour Declaration. It was something they desperately, deeply wanted. But the seeds were sown from the very beginning in the Balfour Declaration of the difficulties that we are currently feeling.”

Those “promises” are of course the McMahon correspondence which – despite the inaccurate claims from Cohn-Sherbok and Farah – did not promise the area of land concerned to the Arabs, as was clarified in the British government’s White Paper of 1922.

“With reference to the Constitution which it is now intended to establish in Palestine, the draft of which has already been published, it is desirable to make certain points clear. In the first place, it is not the case, as has been represented by the Arab Delegation, that during the war His Majesty’s Government gave an undertaking that an independent national government should be at once established in Palestine. This representation mainly rests upon a letter dated the 24th October, 1915, from Sir Henry McMahon, then His Majesty’s High Commissioner in Egypt, to the Sharif of Mecca, now King Hussein of the Kingdom of the Hejaz. That letter is quoted as conveying the promise to the Sherif of Mecca to recognise and support the independence of the Arabs within the territories proposed by him. But this promise was given subject to a reservation made in the same letter, which excluded from its scope, among other territories, the portions of Syria lying to the west of the District of Damascus. This reservation has always been regarded by His Majesty’s Government as covering the vilayet of Beirut and the independent Sanjak of Jerusalem. The whole of Palestine west of the Jordan was thus excluded from Sir Henry McMahon’s pledge.” [emphasis added]

The second part of this programme included some personal stories which will be discussed in part two of this post.

 

 

 

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part two

In part one of this post we saw how an item by Trevor Barnes relating to the Balfour Declaration that was aired in the October 1st edition (from 18:14 here) of the BBC Radio 4 ethics and religion show ‘Sunday‘ promoted assorted historical inaccuracies.  

Trevor Barnes’ fourth interviewee likewise began by promoting an inaccurate claim, suggesting (from 21:10) that “Israel and Palestine” were British colonies.

“I think Britain doesn’t come out of any of the colonial history of Israel and Palestine in that good a light.”

Barnes: “Chris Rose – director of the Amos Trust; a Christian organisation working in the West Bank and Gaza.”

That description of the Amos Trust is grossly inadequate and fails to inform listeners of that NGO’s political agenda and anti-Israel activities as BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality require.

Rose: “Even Balfour himself a couple of years later on said that Zionism be right or wrong is more important than the wishes of the 700,000 Arabs. Our call is to the British Government now, if it is determined to celebrate the Balfour Declaration, to do so in the only real meaningful way by working tirelessly for full equal rights for everybody who calls it home.”

The statement by Lord Balfour shoddily paraphrased by Chris Rose (who has in the past attributed Palestinian terrorism to “high unemployment and poor amenities“) comes from a memorandum written by Balfour in 1919 and its context – the question of the selection of mandatories in various regions of the Middle East – is important. 

“Without further considering whether the political picture drawn by the Covenant [of the League of Nations] corresponds with anything to be found in the realms of fact, let us ask on what principle these mandatories are to be selected by the Allied and Associated Powers

On this point the Covenant speaks as follows:—

‘The wishes of these communities (i.e., the independent nations) must be a principal consideration in the selection of a mandatory.’

The sentiment is unimpeachable; but how is it to be carried into effect? To simplify the argument, let us assume that two of the ‘independent nations’ for which mandatories have to be provided are Syria and Palestine? Take Syria first. Do we mean, in the case of Syria, to consult principally the wishes of the inhabitants? We mean nothing of the kind. According to the universally accepted view there are only three possible mandatories—England, America, and France. Are we going ‘chiefly to consider the wishes of the inhabitants’ in deciding which of these is to be selected? We are going to do nothing of the kind. England has refused. America will refuse. So that, whatever the inhabitants may wish, it is France they will certainly have. They may freely choose; but it is Hobson’s choice after all.

The contradiction between the letter of the Covenant and the policy of the Allies is even more flagrant in the case of the ‘independent nation’ of Palestine than in that of the ‘independent nation’ of Syria. For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country, though the American Commission has been going through the form of asking what they are. The four Great Powers are committed to Zionism. And Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long traditions, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.”

Referring to Chris Rose, Trevor Barnes continued – with noteworthy use of the word Jewish rather than Israeli:

Barnes: “His claim is that the second half of the declaration has still to be honoured. While the first half favoured a Jewish homeland, the second reassured explicitly – quote – ‘that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities’ which Chris Rose says hasn’t happened in practice, though for the Board of Deputies Richard Verber defends the Jewish record on religious freedom post-Balfour.”

Verber: “Well there are many cases in Israel proper where religions do indeed co-exist in harmony. Jerusalem has its flash-points but you go and you see Jews, Muslims, Christians, Bahai, Druze walking around. Many have their own areas and places of worship. Israel is of course the only place in the Middle East where Christians are free to worship without persecution.”

Rose: “If you live in Bethlehem you may well not be able to go up to Temple Mount to pray, to worship. If you want to go and worship in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre you pretty won’t be able to do that and so while yes there’s religious freedom in that respect, there has to be recognised that there’s also major constrictions on freedom of movement which restricts people from having their religious freedom.”

Unsurprisingly Chris Rose did not bother to tell listeners that residents of Bethlehem and other areas that have been under Palestinian Authority control for over two decades can apply for permits to visit religious sites in Jerusalem (among other reasons) or that “constrictions on freedom of movement” are the unfortunate outcome of Palestinian terrorism. While Trevor Barnes did tick the impartiality box by paraphrasing the Israeli view, he too failed to make any reference to Palestinian terrorism. Listeners were then told that Jewish self-determination is a “hotly contested concept”.

Barnes: “Chris Rose of the Amos Trust. For its part the Israeli government has repeatedly said that such restrictions as there are are driven solely by security concerns and by the imperative legitimately to ensure the country’s survival. And in essence, says Richard Verber, the right of Israel to exist in the first place is at the heart of any religious definition of that hotly contested concept Zionism.”

Verber: “Zionism is a religious imperative. It’s a core belief in Judaism today. The word Zionism is clearly a newer invention – we’re talking here 19th century – but the idea of there being a desire among the Jewish people to have autonomy in their own homeland dates back 3,300 years when the Jewish people first entered what was then the land of Canaan – Cna’an. I think Jewish people have long understood the importance of living alongside their religious brethren; whether that be Christian or Muslim or indeed any other stripe or people of no faith at all.”

Barnes: From its inception Zionism itself did not have the backing of all Jews – especially religious Jews who argued that a return to the land of Israel was to be the work of the Messiah and couldn’t be engineered by any human agency. Events of the Second World War and the Holocaust, however, put paid to many reservations and the promise of the Balfour Declaration was made actual in 1948. Indeed Richard Verber for the Board of Deputies argues that the founders of the State of Israel referenced the Balfour Declaration, repeating and reinforcing a commitment to civil and religious freedom. The Amos Trust, however, isn’t convinced and they’ve launched a campaign ‘Change the Record’ calling for equal rights for all in the holy land.”

Listeners then heard a recording promoting that political campaign currently being run by the inadequately presented political NGO: a campaign which aims to persuade the British government that “the seeds of today’s injustice, inequality and violence were sown by the Balfour Declaration in 1917”. 

Barnes went on to say:

Barnes: “Those celebrating – rather than mourning – the Balfour Declaration dispute that reading of events. But either way Nicolas Pelham says it changed the religious make-up not just of Palestine but of much of the Middle East.”

Pelham: “Until the Balfour declaration, under the Ottoman Empire religious communities had lived essentially as that – as holy communities – and what the Balfour Declaration does is to transform religious communities into religious national movements so that instead of sharing space they have conflict over space. Instead of having holy communities in the region, we have holy lands and the battle between sects for control of the land.”

Listeners to this unbalanced item heard inaccurate and blatantly politicised ‘history’ and were steered towards the false impression that the Middle East was a region blessed with idyllic inter-religious harmony until the day Arthur Balfour put pen to paper. They were also informed that Jewish self-determination is a “contested concept” and exposed to an ongoing political campaign run by a partisan NGO that engages in delegitimisation of Israel.

How this item by Trevor Barnes can be said to meet BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality is unclear.  

Related Articles:

Politicising the Balfour Declaration on BBC Radio 4 – part one

Reviewing BBC portrayal of the Balfour Declaration

BBC’s ME Editor misrepresents the Hussein-McMahon correspondence

BBC’s Connolly contorts Israeli – and British – history to fit his political narrative

 

What does the BBC tell audiences about the first Zionist Congress?

August 29th will mark the 120th anniversary of the first Zionist Congress in Basel. So what information can BBC audiences find online concerning that historic event and its background? The answer to that question is very little.

Still available online is an undated page in a backgrounder called “A History of Conflict” that appears to have been published over a decade ago. Titled “First Zionist Congress“, that backgrounder (a version of which also appears in Turkish) provides the following information:

“The First Zionist Congress met in Basle [sic], Switzerland, to discuss the ideas set out in Theodor Herzl’s 1896 book Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State). Herzl, a Jewish journalist and writer living in Vienna, wanted Jews to have their own state – primarily as a response to European anti-Semitism.

The Congress issued the Basle [sic] Programme to establish a “home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured by public law” and set up the World Zionist Organisation to work for that end.

A few Zionist immigrants had already started arriving in the area before 1897. By 1903 there were some 25,000 of them, mostly from Eastern Europe. They lived alongside about half a million Arab residents in what was then part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire. A second wave of about 40,000 immigrants arrived in the region between 1904 and 1914.”

Another piece of BBC content still available to audiences is an item in the BBC World Service archive dating from 1997 which is titled “Theodor Herzl and the Jewish State“.

“Basel, Switzerland was the venue for the first Zionist Congress in 1897. It was called to campaign for a land which Jews could call their own, and where they could be safe from persecution.”

The unidentified presenter of that programme rightly tells listeners that:

“What spurred Herzl on was antisemitism. The Jewish State was to be a refuge from it.”

Bernard Wasserstein is then heard saying:

“He tried to find the most realistic solution and the most realistic solution as he saw it was not integration in states which did not want to have Jews as integrated elements. It was not the dissolution of Jews in an international socialist revolutionary movement. No; he saw the separating out of the Jews in a state of their own through which they could become part of the modern world.”

Presenter: “They weren’t part of the modern world where antisemitism was worst; in eastern Europe.”

The next contributor is Noah Lucas.

“The Jews had been impoverished and viciously persecuted. The persecution of the Jews was pretty endemic in eastern Europe. Of course in today’s terms, following the Holocaust, the extent of persecution and its severity was really almost trivial. I mean you’re talking about scores – sometimes at most hundreds – of Jews perhaps being killed in the entire continent. But nevertheless; persecution and impoverishment and cruel official antisemitism very often in the case of Russia.”

Presenter: “In western Europe, by contrast, the spread of liberal ideas had enabled Jews to advance in society as never before. But this inspired antisemitism in those who saw them as rivals or just too pushy.”

Later on (10:46) the presenter tells listeners:

“And it didn’t seem to occur to Herzl that the Arabs living in Palestine could possibly object to his plans.”

Lucas: “He saw the Jews as people who would bring beauty and light to the country. They would build and there would be an economy in which everybody there would thrive and everybody would be brothers and there was no sense of an impending conflict with the indigenous population of the country. This was a very typical attitude of course. The Palestinians living there were some half a million perhaps in number. They had no national consciousness at that time. They didn’t themselves exert a claim to statehood in Palestine as it was. Palestine was a political vacuum in that sense.”

Other than those two items, members of the BBC’s audience would have difficulty finding any available information concerning the birth of political Zionism and its context. Given the way in which Zionism and the birth of Israel are often presented in contemporary BBC coverage, accurate and impartial information on that topic is clearly lacking.

 

 

One to listen out for on BBC Radio 4

The webpage for the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Beyond Belief’ includes a section relating to upcoming broadcasts which at the moment shows the next two scheduled episodes.

beyond-belief-upcoming

Promotion of the programme to be aired at 16:30 UK time this coming Monday, November 28th, does not currently provide any details of the topic to be discussed, instead giving the general description “Discussion programme in which guests from different faith and non-faith perspectives debate the challenges of today’s world”.

That programme will apparently include a discussion on the topic of Zionism and anti-Zionism. The invited guests apparently include Dr Yaakov Wise, journalist Jessica Elgot and Robert Cohen who describes himself as follows:

“Robert Cohen lives in North Yorkshire in Britain and began writing on Israel-Palestine in 2011. His work has been regulary [sic] published at Mondoweiss, Tikkun Daily and Jews for Justice for Palestinians. Writing from the Edge broadens Robert’s remit to wider issues of Jewish interest from a British perspective.  Expect some radically dissseting [sic] views on Isreal [sic], commentary on Jewish-Christian interfaith issues and life as the Jewish husband of a Church of England vicar.”

And:

Post Zionist Jew? Well, I do think as a response to 2,000 years of European oppression of Jews, Zionism has proved itself to be, at the very least, disappointing. It’s created more problems than the one it set out to resolve. For the future of Jews and Judaism we could with a new big idea.

Luckily, I’ve got one. And it turns out to be a very old idea.

Anti-Zionist Jew? Yes, certainly. When Zionism becomes an ideology that’s used to justify atrocities against another people, then I’m anti-Zionist.”

 

In which BBC Radio 4 tries to explain Zionism without the history

The April 10th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Sunday’ included an item (from 25:21 here) described in the synopsis as follows:R4 Sunday Zionism

“In the on-going anti-Semitism row in the Labour party, one issue being raised is about how the term Zionism is used and whether there is confusion about the term. Jonathan Freedland writes for the Guardian and the Jewish Chronicle – he gives his analysis.”

Freedland begins as follows:

“It’s been used probably in the way that we understand it now since the middle or late 19th century where it referred to the movement of Jewish nationalism – the Jewish yearning for self-determination – that felt itself to be alongside other almost romantic nationalist movements of the same period.”

He then continues with an explanation of the term itself which refrains from informing listeners that – far from being “abstract” – the word Zion is a synonym for Jerusalem which appears over a hundred times in the Hebrew bible.

“The word itself was…it was the obvious one because the biblical liturgical term the Jews will have used in synagogues around the world, even this weekend, was Zion – meaning the abstract Jewish homeland.”

Host Edward Stourton then comes in:

“At the time all sorts of ideas were kicked around – as I recall – of a Jewish homeland in bits of Africa, bits of Latin America. But Zionism came, did it not, to symbolise or to mean quite specifically a Jewish homeland in what we now call Israel.”

Had listeners been accurately informed of the real meaning of the word Zion and of the significance of the topic of the ingathering of the exiles to the place that word describes in Jewish prayer and tradition, they would obviously have been better equipped to understand that point.

Freedland responds:

“That’s right. So I think probably historians would want to call early movements Jewish nationalist movements. If you were a Zionist rather than just any old Jewish nationalist it meant you saw the Jewish homeland as being in Palestine.”

Significantly, neither Freedland nor Stourton make any effort to inform listeners why Jews see their homeland as being in the place Freedland elects to call “Palestine” no fewer than three times during this item but which most Jews would call Eretz Israel – the Land of Israel. Audiences hear absolutely nothing about the Jewish nation’s history in that location, the connection of Jewish traditions and festivals to its land and seasons or the significance of specific sites and landmarks in Jewish religious practices such as the direction of prayer or the mention of Jerusalem at the Pessah Seder and in the Jewish marriage ceremony.

Thus, the portrayal presented by Freedland and Stourton steers listeners towards the inaccurate impression that Zionists just happened to haphazardly prefer that location (which, as noted above, is repeatedly referred to as “Palestine” – crucially without any clarification of what that meant in the 19th century) to the additional options available.

Freedland then goes on to introduce a borrowed device that he has used on several occasions in past articles.

“Now I think probably if you’re using it you’re referring to it to mean one is no more or no less than somebody who supports the existence of a Jewish home in Palestine. Where that home is, what its exact borders are, are arguments within Zionism if you like and the best description I’ve heard is by the Israeli novelist Amos Oz who says that Zionism is a family name. You need a modifier – a first name – in front of it to know what kind of Zionist someone is. Because you could have a moderate, liberal Zionist; you can have a socialist Zionist, religious Zionist. Those people will all have arguments about what shape and size and content this Jewish state in Palestine should be but that there should be a home at all – that makes you a Zionist.”

Stourton later goes on to say:

“But just to confuse things further, you referred earlier to religious Zionists which I take to mean for example settlers who believe that land was given to them by God – and that despite the fact that originally most Zionists were secular.”

That stereotype of course conceals the fact that over a third of the people the BBC terms “settlers” are not religious.

Freedland continues, managing to ignore the immigrants from Yemen during the First Aliyah, religious Zionists such as Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever and Rabbi Jacob Reines and the fact that by the time the Second World War broke out there had been five waves of immigration to Israel spread over 57 years.

“The very first modern political Zionists were if anything anti-religious because the religion had taught until the mid-nineteenth century that the return to Zion was something that was the work of God alone and if anything, it was an act of usurpation for the Jews to take themselves.  The experience of the Second World War – and of course the Holocaust – if you like converts the Jewish world to Zionism because Zionism is seen to have – very glumly – to have won the argument because it’s been saying it’s impossible for Jews to live permanently as a minority around the world; we need a place of our own. And therefore the Jewish world shifts. But Jewish religion doesn’t shift entirely. To this day ultra-orthodox Jewish religious communities often stand against Israel and Zionism but there was this shift and it did even happen among religious Jews who suddenly got their heads around the idea that they could – rather than waiting for God’s will – they could give God’s will a nudge if you like.”

Remarkably, a significant portion of this item is devoted to Freedland’s own preferences concerning the term he has supposedly been brought in to explain to BBC audiences.

Freedland:

“And it’s partly why I tend to almost never use the word now myself because it’s so misunderstood that it’s actually become almost functionally useless as a word. People think it means you support what the Israeli government did yesterday. That’s a complete misunderstanding of the term.”

Stourton:

“And if you want to avoid getting embroiled in the sort of conversation we’ve just had, don’t use the word I suppose.”

Freedland:

“Unless they’re speaking really about this historical, philosophical argument I think it’s not a useful word and it can sometimes have a rather ugly connotation and that’s because Zionism has become in part a kind of bridging code word that enables people to get from attacking or criticizing Israel to hinting at a wider global Jewish force that sometimes is a bit shadowy and sinister and that is the traditional anti-Semitic idea of a global Jewish conspiracy. Ah…and therefore it’s just…it’s a word that carries so much baggage it’s almost collapsing under the strain.”

In his introduction to this item Edward Stourton told listeners that the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews had:

 “…complained that the word Zionist was being treated as if it were some kind of term of abuse by certain circles on the far-Left.”

Stourton then went on to ask “So what does it mean?” and we might therefore reasonably conclude that the aim of the item was to provide listeners with an answer to that question, thereby to enhance their understanding of the above statement from the President of the Board of Deputies and to enable them to be better informed with regard to the various stories concerning the British Labour party and antisemitism such as the one recounted by Stourton at the beginning of his introduction.

Effective explanation of any term hinges upon the provision of an accurate definition and in this case an appreciation of the rich background to the term Zionism is obviously crucial to understanding. The absence of accurate representation of the historic context of the millennia-old bond between Jews and Israel in this item prevented its aim from being met.  

BBC Radio 5 live phone-in misleads listeners on Zionism

h/t: RG

The BBC’s editorial guidelines include a section titled “Interacting with our Audiences” which outlines the editorial principles behind such activity and includes the following:

 “When we offer interactivity to our audiences we should ensure that it:

  • adds public value and enhances our output in a way which fits our public service remit.”

The public service remit mentioned above includes “Reflecting UK audiences” and “Promoting education and learning“, with the definition of the former including a statement from the BBC Trust according to which “[t]he BBC should give people opportunities to understand the beliefs of others…” and the definition of the latter including the Trust’s declaration that “[t]he BBC should enable people to learn about many different topics”.

 The guideline includes a sub-section about phone-in programmes. There we learn that:

“presenters should be adequately briefed on BBC Editorial Guidelines and the law and be able to extricate the programme from tricky situations with speed and courtesy.”

One might therefore expect that when listeners are given inaccurate and misleading impressions by contributors to a BBC phone-in programme, the presenter would intervene to dispel those impressions.

The November 22nd edition of the Stephen Nolan show on BBC Radio 5 Live included an item (available for a limited period of time from 24:49 here) about a story described in the programme’s synopsis as follows:Stephen Nolan 22 11

“And after the refusal of leading UK cinemas to show an advert featuring the Lord’s Prayer, Stephen takes your calls on whether you think that was the right decision or not.”

One of the two callers put on air made the following remark:

“But I mean where is this going to end? Are we going to have Zionists and Jihadists clogging up the cinemas with their message?”

The second caller responded:

“…we have robust laws against hate speech. […] So, you know, to say we’re gonna have Zionists or ISIS adverts; I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen.”

Presenter Stephen Nolan, however, made no effort to relieve listeners of the obviously false impression that UK laws against hate speech might theoretically be applied to content relating to the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in the Land of Israel. His failure to do so clearly hindered enhancement of the corporation’s remit to “give people opportunities to understand the beliefs of others” – with “others” in this case including many if not most of Britain’s Jewish community.

The BBC ‘explains’ Zionism

The BBC Editorial Guidelines on the subject of impartiality state that:

4.4.7 

When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.  Opinion should be clearly distinguished from fact.

4.4.12

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

4.4.13

Presenters, reporters and correspondents are the public face and voice of the BBC – they can have a significant impact on perceptions of whether due impartiality has been achieved.  Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal prejudices of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any other area.  They may provide professional judgements, rooted in evidence, but may not express personal views in BBC output, including online, on such matters.

[All emphasis added]

An anonymously written article from March 1st 2013, which appeared on the Europe and Middle East pages of the BBC News website, related to the subject of reactions to the recent statements made by the Turkish Prime Minister during the keynote address at the UN sponsored ‘Alliance of Civilisations’ conference in Vienna in which he described Zionism as “a crime against humanity”. Erdogan article

Interestingly, the BBC chose not to relate to the offensive nature of Erdogan’s remark itself, but focused on the American and Israeli reactions to the slur.

The BBC article presented a one-sided picture of the 2010 events aboard the IHH ship the Mavi Marmara, describing the Islamists who initiated the violence as “activists” and neglecting to mention either their actions or to give any context regarding the reasons for the naval  blockade’s initiation.  

“At a news conference in the Turkish capital, Mr Kerry said he had already raised the issue with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and would also discuss it with Mr Erdogan himself.

Mr Davutoglu defended Mr Erdogan’s comments.

The foreign minister again criticised Israeli troops for killing nine Turkish activists in 2010. The activists were aboard a flotilla of aid ships trying to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.

“If some countries acted in a hostile way against our citizens’ right to life, allow us to reserve our right to make a statement,” Mr Davutoglu said.”

But most egregiously, whoever wrote this article (and is it not high time that the BBC began identifying the writers of online articles?) then decided to take it upon himself to ‘explain’ Zionism to BBC audiences. 

“Zionism is an ideology or movement that asserts that the Jewish people have a right to a national home or state in what was the Biblical “Land of Israel”.

There is no consensus among Zionists as to where the borders of the state should be.”

The obvious attempt to portray Zionism as a religiously based belief (with implied mythical connotations), rather than a political movement for Jewish self-determination, is as mistaken as the implied territorial expansionism in this ‘explanation’. That description of Zionism is neither accurate nor impartial, but clearly communicates the political views of the writer. 

The sentence which follows leaves no doubt as to the writer’s prejudices:

“For Palestinians, the success of Zionism has meant the frustration of their national aspirations and life under occupation.” [emphasis added]

The amount of history ignored in this one sentence is staggering. No mention is made of the Arab refusal to accept the 1947 Partition Plan, thereby preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state which by now could have been almost 65 years old. Neither does the writer acknowledge the 19 year-long Jordanian and Egyptian occupations – beginning in 1948 – of Judea & Samaria and the Gaza Strip, during which no attempt whatsoever was made either by the Palestinians themselves or the occupying powers to meet any kind of “national aspirations”. And of course the fact that there would have been no “life under occupation” whatsoever had Arab nations not chosen to take another shot at wiping Israel off the map in 1967 is also completely ignored. 

Instead, the writer absolves the Arab nations in general and the Palestinians in particular of all responsibility and agency for their fate, blaming Zionism for all ills. One might even wonder if this particular BBC journalist moonlights as a speech writer for Erdogan. 

Clearly, this article contravenes BBC Editorial Guidelines on impartiality: a correction and an apology should be issued urgently.