Inaccurate framing of Corbyn remarks continues on BBC Radio 4

As we saw previously when, on August 28th, the New Statesman published an interview with the former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks in which he addressed comments made by the current UK Labour party leader in 2013, listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard inaccurate framing of that story repeatedly promoted by the BBC political correspondent Tom Barton.

The same editorial policy was evident in the news bulletin heard by listeners to BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ on August 28th (from 02:30 here). [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Newsreader: “Labour has reacted angrily to allegations by the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that Jeremy Corbyn is antisemitic. Lord Sacks also described comments about a group of British Zionists made by Mr Corbyn before he became Labour leader as the most offensive by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell in the 1960s. Here’s our political correspondent Tom Barton.”

Barton: “Lord Sacks was referring to a speech Jeremy Corbyn gave in 2013 in which he spoke about a group of Zionists who, he claimed, didn’t understand English irony. The former Chief Rabbi told the New Statesman that was the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech in 1968. He said the comments implied Jews were not fully British and described Jeremy Corbyn as an antisemite. Labour said comparing its leader with the race-baiting Enoch Powell was absurd and offensive. The party added that Mr Corbyn had used the word Zionist in the accurate political sense to describe a particular group of pro-Israel activists and not as a synonym or code for Jewish people.”

As noted here previously, by the time Barton was presenting that report he had been provided with a transcript of edited parts of Corbyn’s speech which showed that he was not talking about “a particular group” of people but about British Zionist Jews. He had also been told by the man who recorded Corbyn’s 2013 speech that as far as he knew, he was the only ‘pro-Israel activist’ present. Nevertheless – and even as it was obvious that Rabbi Lord Sacks’ comments were based on the fact that he did not buy into the notion that Corbyn was referring to a “particular group” present at a particular event – Barton continued to amplify the team Corbyn framing which hinders audience understanding of those comments.

Later on in the same programme (from 22:00 here) listeners heard an item described in its synopsis as follows:

“We discuss the latest row over Jeremy Corbyn – the former Chief Rabbi has described some of the Labour leader’s remarks as the most offensive made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech.”

Presenter Chris Mason began by playing a recording of part of Powell’s 1968 ‘rivers of blood’ speech followed by a recording from the 2013 speech by the person he described as “the then obscure Labour back bencher Jeremy Corbyn”. Listeners next heard a reading of some of Lord Sacks’ related comments including:

“It was divisive, hateful and like Powell’s speech it undermines the existence of an entire group of British citizens by depicting them as essentially alien.”

Declaring that “we’re going to explore both sides of the argument”, Mason went on to introduce his first contributor as “Jewish, a journalist and a member of the Labour Party”. He did not however inform listeners of the relevant fact that Michael Segalov is a Corbyn supporter and apparently a member of Momentum.

After Segalov had tried to persuade listeners that Corbyn’s 2013 comments were “a joke he tried to make” he absurdly went on to claim that:

Segalov: “They came – let’s be clear – at a time when Israel-Palestine wasn’t at the heart of political debate in this country.”

Segalov added:

Segalov [24:10]: “…I don’t think Jeremy would have used those words today but to compare them and to conflate them with, you know, the real abhorrent racism that’s expressed in the ‘rivers of blood’ speech is frankly [a] disservice to that racism that really existed then.”

Sidestepping that signposting of antisemitism as not ‘real’ racism, Mason asked:

Mason: “What about that other point in the line from Jeremy Corbyn? Yes, there was the argument about the use of the word Zionist but there was also that line about English irony – and ultimately belonging – casting in the eyes of some Jewish people as outsiders; as somehow not properly English or British.”

Listeners again heard Segalov try to present Corbyn’s remarks as a joke fallen flat – “it wasn’t funny” and “it was clumsy language” – before he went on to claim that “he wasn’t casting an aspersion on all Jewish people”.

Mason did not bother to clarify to listeners that Corbyn’s reference to “Zionists” in fact describes the majority of British Jews before Segalov was given a platform from which to promote the claim that there is a need to “draw distinct lines between Judaism and Jewishness”.

Segalov: “And it sometimes feels that people on both sides are responsible because we don’t really draw those lines. There are people in the Labour Party, on the Left, who fail to do those things. They conflate Judaism and Zionism. But frankly many of our Jewish leaders do the same thing too. Rabbi Sacks does that in his interview to some extent. Look at our current Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis who wrote in the Telegraph a few years ago and saying those things are one and the same Judaism and Zionism. I mean we deserve better; Jewish people deserve better and Palestinian people do too.”

In the article cited (not for the first time) by Segalov, Ephraim Mirvis wrote:

“Zionism is a belief in the right to Jewish self-determination in a land that has been at the centre of the Jewish world for more than 3,000 years. One can no more separate it from Judaism than separate the City of London from Great Britain.

Open a Jewish daily prayer book used in any part of the world and Zionism will leap out at you. The innumerable references to the land of Israel are inescapable and demonstrative. Throughout our collective history we have yearned for a chance to determine our own future, to revive an ancient language and return to rejoice in our love for this tiny sliver of land. Zionism is a movement celebrated by people right across the political spectrum, all over the world, and requires no endorsement or otherwise of the particular policies of any Israeli Government at any time.” 

Listeners heard Segalov go on to claim that in order to “deal with” the issue of antisemitism in the British Labour Party there “has to be a concerted effort by the Jewish community and by the Labour Party” before again promoting the notion that there needs to be a conversation held “in the Jewish community and the Labour Party too: one that says  we need to tackle antisemitism whenever it raises its ugly head but also says Judaism is a religion, Zionism and Israel are in politics” and going on to claim that Rabbi Sacks “conflated those two things”. Segalov proceeded to refer to another part of Lord Sacks’ New Statesman interview which has nothing to do with the Labour antisemitism story, asserting “that level of ignorance does no service to debate”.

Radio 4 listeners next heard Mason read out a Labour Party statement in which it was once again claimed that “Jeremy Corbyn described a particular group of pro-Israel activists as Zionists in the accurate political sense – not as a synonym or code for Jewish people”.

The second contributor to this item was Jonathan Goldstein of the Jewish Leadership Council who was first asked by Mason:

Mason: “Was Lord Sacks exaggerating?”

Two of Mason’s three subsequent questions presented clear signposting to listeners.

Mason: “Yeah but being precise about this intervention tonight and that comparison with the ‘rivers of blood’ speech.”

Mason: “In specific terms though, is the comparison with the ‘rivers of blood’ speech fair? Not least because Enoch Powell was a shadow minister at the time; he knew his message would be heard by a national audience and he knew it has a capacity to offend. Mr Corbyn didn’t.”

Unless the BBC’s domestic audiences are given both an accurate portrayal of the content and circumstances of Corbyn’s 2013 speech and a critical view of his supporters’ statements after it came to light, they will clearly not be able to “engage fully” with that issue or understand the ensuing criticism of the Labour leader.

However, as Radio 4’s reporting of this latest story shows, the BBC’s funding public continues to be denied that full range of information.

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BBC’s political correspondent continues to push Labour framing

Earlier this week we noted how, on the morning of August 25th, listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard unquestioning amplification of a statement put out by the Labour Party concerning remarks made by its leader in 2013 from the BBC’s political correspondent Tom Barton.

BBC political correspondent fails to fact-check team Corbyn ‘defence’

We observed that Barton had apparently not fact-checked the Labour claim that Corbyn was referring to “a group of people, pro-Israel activists who were made up of both Jewish people and non-Jewish people” before amplifying it to the BBC’s domestic audiences and that the one person who has been identified as having attended that event, Richard Millett, stated in an interview that “he does not recall any other pro-Israel activists in the audience”.

We also noted that a transcript of parts of Corbyn’s 2013 remarks that had been edited out of the video of the speech showed that he had in fact been speaking about Zionist British Jews rather than a specific group of activists at a particular event and that Tom Barton was subsequently provided with that transcript.

Later on August 25th the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM‘ aired an item (from 22:00 here) in which Richard Millett was interviewed by Tom Barton. Mr Millett told BBC Watch that he had informed Barton that as far as he was aware he was the only ‘pro-Israel activist’ at that event but that information was not included in Barton’s report.

In short, by early evening on August 25th one would have expected Tom Barton to be a lot more sceptical of what he had earlier in the day described as follows:

Barton: “And this is it, so Labour’s defence of that point is that he was talking in context, very particular, particularly about a group of people, pro-Israel activists who were made up of both Jewish people and non-Jewish people and he was using it to refer to…ah…this particular group of activists and not – they say – to the Jewish community.”

Three days later, on August 28th, the New Statesman published an interview with Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks in which he gave his view of Corbyn’s 2013 speech.

“In his first comments since Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis reached new heights this summer, Sacks told the New Statesman: “The recently disclosed remarks by Jeremy Corbyn are the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. It was divisive, hateful and like Powell’s speech it undermines the existence of an entire group of British citizens by depicting them as essentially alien.”

“We can only judge Jeremy Corbyn by his words and his actions. He has given support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate who want to kill Jews and remove from Israel from the map. When he implies that, however long they have lived here, Jews are not fully British, he is using the language of classic pre-war European anti-Semitism. When challenged with such facts, the evidence for which is before our eyes, first he denies, then he equivocates, then he obfuscates. This is low, dishonest and dangerous. He has legitimised the public expression of hate, and where he leads, others will follow.””

Tom Barton reported on that story for the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ on August 28th.  Listeners first heard a contribution by Barton in the news bulletin (from 02:30 here). [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Newsreader: “The former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has accused Jeremy Corbyn of being an anti-Semite and compared some of his remarks to those of Enoch Powell’s in the 1960s. Mr Corbyn has said his comments – made before he became Labour leader – have been taken out of context. Here’s our political correspondent Tom Barton.”

Barton: “Lord Sacks was referring to a speech Jeremy Corbyn gave in 2013 in which he spoke about a group of Zionists who he said didn’t understand English irony, despite having lived in the UK for a very long time, probably all their lives. Lord Sacks told the New Statesman that was the most offensive comment made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech in 1968. Jeremy Corbyn has said that he is now more careful with how he uses the term Zionist, saying it has been hijacked by anti-Semites, while a Labour spokesperson said comparing the Labour leader with Enoch Powell was absurd and offensive.”

Later on in the same programme, presenter Simon Jack introduced an item relating to the same topic (from 16:15 here).

Jack: “Let’s return to that story then in the headlines. The former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has described the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite who has given support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate. He made the comments in an interview with the New Statesman. Our political reporter Tom Barton is at Westminster and obviously he also described it as the most offensive since Enoch Powell. Ehm…how significant, you know, remind us of the comments that Sacks was referring to in this interview.”

Obviously Barton’s portrayal of the context to Lord Sacks’ remarks is crucial to audience understanding of the story. After having clarified that the former Chief Rabbi is “a pretty significant figure to intervene in this row about antisemitism in the Labour Party and in particular those comments from Jeremy Corbyn…” Barton went on to repeat the description of Lord Sacks’ comments given previously by Jack. He later addressed the issue of their context.

Barton: “Well first of all just let me remind you exactly what Jeremy Corbyn said that…the former Chief Rabbi was referring to. So this was a speech that Jeremy Corbyn made in 2013. He was talking about pro-Israel campaigners who he said at a meeting a few days earlier after a speech by the Palestinian [sic] Liberation Organisation’s representative in the UK, they said he had been berated by these campaigners. Now he described them as Zionists and said that despite having lived in the UK for a very long time, probably all their lives, they didn’t understand English irony. Now that statement in particular has been taken by some to be a suggestion that Jewish people living in Britain were somehow not properly British and Lord Sacks shares that view. He said today that those comments imply that no matter how long they’ve lived here, Jews are not fully British and he said that that’s the language of classic pre-war European antisemitism. Now Labour have dismissed this intervention, saying that it is absurd to – and offensive – to compare Jeremy Corbyn to – quote – the race-baiting Enoch Powell. They say Jeremy Corbyn described a particular group of pro-Israel activists as Zionists in, they say, the accurate political sense; not as a synonym or a code for Jewish people.”

As we see, despite having received the transcript of the missing parts of Corbyn’s 2013 speech that clearly shows that Corbyn was not talking about “a particular group of pro-Israel activists” at a specific event and despite having been told that there was not “a group” at that meeting but one man who he had interviewed three days earlier, Barton continued to amplify team Corbyn’s talking points.  

Immediately after that programme Radio 4 listeners heard another report from Barton during a long item in the Six O’Clock News in which both he and the newsreader repeated the same framing.

Newsreader: “One of Britain’s most respected religious figures, the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, has accused Jeremy Corbyn of being antisemitic. Lord Sacks was reacting to remarks which Mr Corbyn made five years ago before he became Labour leader but which came to light last week. During a meeting of pro-Palestinian activists, he accused a group of Zionists of not understanding English irony, despite living in the country for a very long time.”

Barton: “Lord Sacks was referring to a speech made by the Labour leader when he was a back bench MP. He talked about pro-Israel campaigners who, he said, had berated the Palestinian [sic] Liberation Organisation’s representative to the UK at an event a few days earlier. Describing them as Zionists he said that despite having lived in the UK for a very long time, probably all their lives, they didn’t understand English irony. Lord Sacks told the New Statesman that that was offensive. […] The party said the Labour leader had described a particular group of pro-Israel activists as Zionists in the accurate political sense; not as a synonym or code for Jewish people.”

Although Barton is obviously aware of the fact that Corbyn’s remarks have “been taken by some to be a suggestion that Jewish people living in Britain were somehow not properly British” he did not bother to clarify to the BBC’s domestic audiences how wide that view of the remarks is. He did, however, continue to promote and amplify the inaccurate framing put out by Corbyn’s supporters, thereby hindering audience understanding of the story.

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BBC political correspondent fails to fact-check team Corbyn ‘defence’

The August 25th edition of the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme included an item relating to the story which had been reported in the same station’s news bulletins the previous evening: that of Jeremy Corbyn’s 2013 remarks concerning British Zionists who he said:

“…clearly have two problems. One is that they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, don’t understand English irony either.”

Co-presenter Justin Webb introduced that item (from 11:39 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original]

Webb: “A statement last night from Jeremy Corbyn on those remarks about British Zionists and their failure to understand irony. Our political correspondent Tom Barton is here. What’s he saying now, Tom?”

Barton: “Well of course for months Jeremy Corbyn’s faced criticism over the way the Labour Party has handled complaints of antisemitism and one of the key issues has been about the words people use and in particular how that term – Zionist – can be used to attack the Jewish people as a whole. And now Jeremy Corbyn has had to defend his own use of that word after a speech in 2013 where he talked about British Zionists who he said may have lived in this country for a very long time, perhaps all of their lives, but – who he said – didn’t understand English irony. Now he was talking in particular about a group of pro-Israel activists who he said had berated the Palestinian representative to the UK following a speech in Westminster a little before that speech that he made in 2013. It drew criticism though from several Labour MPs including Luciana Berger who said the comments were inexcusable. Well last night Jeremy Corbyn published a statement saying that he used the term Zionists – in his words – in the accurate political sense to describe pro-Israel campaigners and not – he said – as a euphemism for Jewish people. He also though said that he is now more careful about how he uses the term Zionist because he says it has been increasingly hijacked by antisemites as code for Jews.”

Justin Webb then apparently tried to raise a relevant point which had been glaringly absent from BBC Radio 4’s previous coverage of the story.

Webb: “But when he said…when he said ‘having lived in this country for a long time, probably all their lives’, that then doesn’t sound as if he’s referring to a group that isn’t in a sense ‘other’.”

Barton: “And this is it, so Labour’s defence of that point is that he was talking in context, very particular, particularly about a group of people, pro-Israel activists who were made up of both Jewish people and non-Jewish people and he was using…”

Webb: “I see.”

Barton: “…it to refer to…ah…this particular group of activists and not – they say – to the Jewish community.”

Did Tom Barton bother to fact check that Labour “defence” before regurgitating it on air? Did he ask the Labour Party how exactly it had determined the religion/ethnicity of people it claimed attended an event in Parliament over five and a half years ago? Apparently not.

The person who recorded the PLO envoy’s speech in Parliament in January 2013 was Richard Millett. As i24 News reported:

“Millett says he does not recall “berating” the Palestinian envoy at the end of the 2013 event in Parliament, but is convinced that Corbyn was referring to his blog criticizing Hassassian’s remarks, saying he does not recall any other pro-Israel activists in the audience.” [emphasis added]

In the video of Corbyn’s 2013 speech he does not mention “a group of people” – let alone their ethnic/religious origins – but refers only to “Zionists”.

Moreover, from remarks made by Corbyn before that ‘English irony’ claim – remarks which were edited out of the video – it is obvious that he was indeed talking about Zionist British Jews rather than “this particular group of activists”.

And as Tom Barton’s Twitter feed shows, he knew that video had been edited and was later provided with the transcript of the rest of Corbyn’s speech.

Webb and Barton closed the item by discussing the potential effects of Corbyn’s statement would “make a difference” within the Labour Party itself.

As we see not only were the BBC’s domestic audiences once again not given any explanation as to why Corbyn’s remarks were regarded by many as offensive and antisemitic, but the BBC’s political correspondent quickly quashed that line of discussion with unquestioning repetition of an obviously inadequately checked statement given to him by team Corbyn.

So much for the BBC’s public purposes pledge to its funding public:

“The BBC will provide accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming of the highest editorial standards so that all audiences can engage fully with issues across the UK and the world.”

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BBC R4 news reporting of Corbyn ‘irony’ story to domestic audiences

On August 23rd a video emerged of the UK Labour Party leader speaking at a 2013 event hosted by the Hamas-linked Palestinian Return Centre in which he claimed that British Zionists:

“…clearly have two problems. One is that they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, don’t understand English irony either.””

The Jewish Chronicle reported on the same day that a Labour spokesman had claimed that:

“Jeremy is totally opposed to all forms of antisemitism and is determined to drive it out from society. At this event, he was referring to a group of pro-Israel activists misunderstanding and then criticising the Palestinian Ambassador [sic] for a speech at a separate event about the occupation of the West Bank.”

As shown by the part of Corbyn’s speech which preceded those remarks but was edited out of the video, the claim that he was referring to a specific “group of pro-Israel activists” who ‘misunderstood’ a speech given several days earlier is highly questionable.

Nevertheless, listeners to BBC Radio 4 on August 24th heard uncritical amplification of team Corbyn’s ‘explanations’ while the links between the event organisers and Hamas was erased from audience view and no effort whatsoever was made to explain to the BBC’s domestic audiences why Corbyn’s comments were objectionable.

Six O’Clock News (from 07:44), BBC Radio 4, August 24th:

Newsreader: “The Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has said that Jeremy Corby’s comments that British Zionists don’t understand English irony have been taken out of context. A number of Labour MPs have strongly criticised Mr Corbyn for the remarks which he made at a Palestinian conference in 2013. Mr McDonnell said the Labour leader had devoted his life to securing peace in the Middle East. Our political correspondent Jonathan Blake has this report.”

Blake: “The comments in question were made by Jeremy Corbyn during a speech at the Palestinian Return Centre, which represents Palestinian refugees, when he was a back bench Labour MP. Mr Corbyn referred to a disagreement between a group of people he described as Zionists and the Palestinian representative to the UK, Manuel Hassassian, after he spoke at an event in the Houses of Parliament.”

Recording Corbyn 2013: “This was dutifully recorded by the thankfully silent Zionists who were in the audience on that occasion, and then came up and berated him afterwards for what he’d said. They clearly have two problems. One is that they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, don’t understand English irony either.”

Blake: “The Labour MP Luciana Berger said Mr Corbyn’s comments were inexcusable and made her feel unwelcome in her own party. She said that she had lived in Britain all her life and didn’t need any lessons in history or irony. Several of her parliamentary colleagues supported her but the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said Mr Corbyn’s comments had been taken out of context.”

Listeners then heard an edited version of part of an interview with McDonnell which had been aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme (from 02:43:39 here) earlier in the day.

McDonnell: “In certain contexts certain phrases are appropriate. To take them out of context is unacceptable and I think is not helping issues. It’s exacerbating the issue. Where we want to get to now is let’s recognize there is antisemitism in our society. Let’s have a real serious debate about the actions needed to tackle that antisemitism wherever it’s displayed.”

Blake: “In a report into antisemitism within the Labour Party in 2016, the Labour peer Lady Chakrabarti said that the term Zionist was used by some as a euphemism for Jew and that it should be used carefully. The party’s code of conduct states that such language may otherwise provide evidence of antisemitic intent. A spokesperson for Jeremy Corbyn said he was totally opposed to all forms of antisemitism, adding that he was referring to a group of pro-Israel activists misunderstanding and then criticising the Palestinian ambassador.”

The World Tonight (from 03:38), BBC Radio 4, August 24th:

Newsreader: “The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has denied using the term Zionist to refer to Jewish people. He was recorded making the remarks at a Palestinian conference five years ago. This evening it’s emerged that Mr Corbyn has been reported to the Parliamentary standards watchdog by a Conservative MP in connection with the comments. With the details, here’s our political correspondent Jonathan Blake.”

Blake: “In a speech in 2013 Jeremy Corbyn referred to a group of people who had disagreed with the Palestinian representative to the UK after a speech he’d made at an event in the Palace of Westminster as British Zionists. He said that they had two problems. One is they don’t want to study history and secondly, he said, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either. Several Labour MPs criticised Mr Corbyn’s remarks. In a statement he said he used the term Zionist in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people, adding that he’s now more careful using the term Zionists because it has been increasingly hijacked by antisemites as code for Jews.”

Midnight News (from 07:40), BBC Radio 4, August 25th:

Newsreader: “The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has defended comments he made about Zionists when he was a back bencher five years ago. A Conservative MP has reported Mr Corbyn to the Parliamentary standards watchdog after it emerged that he told a Palestinian conference that British Zionists did not understand English irony. Mr Corbyn has denied using the term to refer to all Jewish people. With the details, here’s our political correspondent Jonathan Blake.”

Blake: “For months Jeremy Corbyn has faced criticism that he has not done enough to tackle antisemitism within the Labour Party. Now he has defended his own actions after several Labour MPs spoke out against comments he made during a speech in 2013. Mr Corbyn was addressing a group representing Palestinian refugees and described a group of what he called British Zionists berating the Palestinian representative to the UK after he made a speech at the Palace of Westminster. He said the group had two problems: they didn’t want to study history and didn’t understand English irony either. In a statement the Labour leader said he’d used the term Zionist in the accurate political sense and not as a euphemism for Jewish people, adding that he was now more careful because the term had increasingly been hijacked by antisemites as code for Jews. That is something which the Labour peer Lady Chakrabarti warned against in a review of antisemitism within the Labour Party in 2016.”

As we see, the focus of all three of those news reports was amplification of the Labour claim that Corbyn’s remarks had been misunderstood, with no attempt made to explain to the BBC’s domestic listeners why they were so widely seen as offensive and antisemitic.

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Weekend long read

1) NGO Monitor has published a study of The Latin American BDS Network.

“Anti-Israel campaigns in Latin America, specifically in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico, have grown in recent years. For decades Latin American governments generally had strong ties with Israel, but this shifted during the 2000s when many governments demonstrated solidarity with Palestinians by recognizing a Palestinian state and condemning Israeli actions in Gaza. Still, countries such as Mexico and Argentina have substantial trade with Israel and have called for greater economic cooperation with the State. Furthermore, several of the Latin American countries that unilaterally recognized a Palestinian state chose to abstain in the UN vote on the US decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – demonstrating ties to Israel.

In contrast to the strong economic and diplomatic ties with Israel, many local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are active in promoting BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions), lawfare, and various other delegitimization campaigns against the State of Israel. These campaigns are often accompanied by demonizing and antisemitic rhetoric. These organizations appear to receive no government support and therefore rely on international BDS groups, as well as American, European, Israeli, and Palestinian NGOs for assistance in their campaigns.”

2) At the Fathom Journal Dr Simon Waldman discusses “the urgent need to rethink UNRWA”.

“Bureaucratic, badly managed, constantly overspending, UNRWA is almost always in a state of crisis and in the need of a bail out. And not only does it get one every year, but it receives its yearly lifeline without being obligated to restructure or reform. This is not to say that UNRWA does not do good work. It does plenty. Shelter, healthcare and education benefit millions not only in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but also in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. There’s also emergency relief, sanitation and psychological support for the 1948 Palestinian refugees (and to some extent 1967 refugees), and their descendants.

But here lies the problem. Instead of weaning refugees from dependency as was originally intended, over the course of decades Palestinians became reliant on UNRWA, whose operational definition of a ‘refugee’ includes the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of the original refugees. In doing so, instead of encouraging the resettlement and rehabilitation of descendants of the original refugees, UNRWA, with the support of western nations, has perpetuated their misery.”

3) At the New York Times James Loeffler writes about “The Zionist Founders of the Human Rights Movement“.

“Starting in the early 1960s, even before the Six-Day War of 1967, the international human rights community began to parrot the Soviet and Arab propaganda lines about Israeli racism and Zionist fascism. When Jewish leaders raised the subject of anti-Semitism at the United Nations in the 1970s, they were answered with a horrible meme that went viral: “Zionism is Racism.” That same decade, Amnesty International broke with its longstanding policy of not sponsoring prisoners who use or endorse violence and took up the cause of Palestinian Fatah members.

Furthermore, a deeper, insidious logic is also at work for many human-rights organizations. They readily point to the Holocaust as history’s wake-up call that sparked the human rights movement. But they selectively ignore a key fact of that history: it was Zionist activists who gave us so many of the ideals and instruments of modern human rights. They fought for human rights out of their particular experience as Jews — which is the very thing that drove them to embrace Zionism.”

4) At the JCPA, Dr Dore Gold takes a look at relations between Russia and Iran against the Syria backdrop.

“Russia is not cutting its ties with Iran. But it is clearly cutting back Iran’s freedom of action in Syria. The idea that Russia would back Iran’s use of Syria as a platform for operations against Israel or Jordan is not tenable. Still, Russia would remain the primary supplier of Bashar Assad’s army in Syria as well as his strategic partner. Unquestionably, Iran would need to reassess its Middle Eastern strategy after Moscow’s pronouncements calling for it to leave Syria and not continue to be perceived as the force that put at risk all that Russia had achieved as a result of the Syrian civil war.” 

BBC News ‘explanation’ of antisemitism promotes the Livingstone Formulation

On March 27th an article titled “Jeremy Corbyn told to act on ‘stain’ of anti-Semitism in party” was published in the ‘politics’ section of the UK page on the BBC News website.

Relating to the previous day’s protest organised by two British Jewish community bodies, the article includes an insert ostensibly intended to help readers understand the story.

Titled “What is anti-Semitism?”, the insert commences by giving a definition attributed to the Oxford English Dictionary.

“Anti-Semitism is “hostility and prejudice directed against Jewish people” (OED)”

BBC audiences are then told that:

“Campaigners for Palestinian rights – a popular left-wing cause – say they are against Zionism rather than anti-Semitic”

The insert goes on to give an explanation of Zionism which, notably, does not include the term self-determination.

“Zionism refers to the movement to create a Jewish state in the Middle East, roughly corresponding to the historical land of Israel, and thus support for the modern state of Israel. Anti-Zionism opposes that.”

Obviously an insert purporting to explain antisemitism to BBC audiences should have clarified that according to the IHRA working definition (adopted by the UK government, among others), opposition to the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in the Jewish state is defined as one possible manifestation of antisemitism.

“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

Finally, the insert presents readers with a dose of the Livingstone Formulation:

“But some say “Zionist” can be used as a coded attack on Jews, while others say the Israeli government and its supporters are deliberately confusing anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism to avoid criticism”

As regular readers will be aware, this is far from the first time that the BBC has promoted the notion that “the Israeli government and its supporters” deliberately and dishonestly raise the issue of antisemitism in order to delegitimise criticism of Israel.

Neither is this the first time that the BBC has tried – and failed – to explain antisemitism and anti-Zionism to its audiences. Indeed, this insert was obviously for the most part recycled from the opening paragraphs of a ‘backgrounder‘ first published in April 2016.

In other words, in nearly two years of BBC coverage of the issue of antisemitism within the UK Labour party, audiences have not once been informed of the existence of accepted definitions of antisemitism which have already answered the question of whether anti-Zionism – i.e. the denial of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination – is an expression of antisemitism.

Moreover, it is obvious that even the high profile of the latest related story covered in this article did not prompt the BBC to come up with an accurate definition of its core issue.

Given the fact that the BBC still does not work according to an accepted definition of antisemitism and in light of its own record on that issue and its repeated failure to inform audiences what anti-Zionist groups such as the PSC and the BDS campaign really stand for despite frequently showcasing their agendas, that is perhaps hardly surprising.

But this insert does demonstrate once again is that the BBC is currently incapable of properly serving its funding public’s interests on this topic.

Related Articles:

IHRA adopts working definition of antisemitism: when will the BBC?

BBC News tries – and fails – to explain antisemitism and anti-Zionism

BBC article on antisemitism report recycles problematic backgrounder

BBC again ignores the existence of accepted definitions of antisemitism

 

 

 

 

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ hosts Ahmad Tibi – part two

In part one of this post we discussed the first half of a ‘Hardtalk’ interview with Israeli MK Ahmad Tibi which was aired on a variety of BBC platforms on March 7th.

Tibi next brought up the subject of the October 2000 incidents. [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

AT “Thirteen of us, Stephen, were shot by snipers and killed in 2000 – citizens of the State of Israel – because we just demonstrated against Ariel Sharon getting into Al Aqsa Mosque. Thirteen of us. From that point, until today, 55 Arab citizens were killed by the Israeli security authorities without being prosecuted. We are in danger because of the way Israeli police is dealing with us as enemies – not as citizens. But I am not in a position to preach Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank how to resist. It is the natural way people, nation, under occupation are resisting…” 

Sackur failed to inform audiences that Ariel Sharon did not ‘get into’ Al Aqsa Mosque at all but made a visit to Temple Mount that had been pre-coordinated with Palestinian security forces. Neither did he bother to tell BBC audiences that Tibi’s claim that those killed in October 2000 were “just” demonstrating is not supported by the findings of the official investigation into those incidents:

“The events of October 2000 shook the earth. The riots in the Arab sector inside the State of Israel in early October were unprecedented. The events were extremely unusual from several perspectives. Thousands participated, at many locations, at the same time. The intensity of the violence and aggression expressed in the events was extremely powerful. Against security forces, and even against civilians, use was made of a variety of means of attack, including a small number of live fire incidents, Molotov cocktails, ball bearings in slingshots, various methods of stone throwing and the rolling of burning tires. Jews were attacked on the roads for being Jewish and their property was destroyed. In a number of incidences, they were just inches from death at the hands of an unrestrained mob.” 

Sackur also refrained from asking Tibi how many of the Arab-Israelis he claims were “killed by the Israeli security authorities without being prosecuted” were at the time involved in acts of terrorism.

SS: “It’s not…it’s not your fight, really it’s not your fight, is it?”

AT: “It’s my nation fight. I am a Palestinian also and I… “

SS: “Well but you’re also an Israeli. You happen to have the vote. You happen to have a seat in the Knesset. You know this…there is a distinction between you and those Palestinians who live on the West Bank, who live under military occupation and of course we can talk about the subset – the other Palestinians living in exile beyond the borders…”

AT: “They are suffering much more…”

SS: “Yes but I’m interested in the position of the Arab Israelis and it seems to me amongst Arab Israelis, the overwhelming feeling is one of weary acceptance. If you look at opinion polls – and there have been several in the last year which show that actually a clear majority of Arab Israelis have a positive feeling about their lives in Israel. A positive feeling.”

AT: I am smiling because I am living there. Arabs – Arab citizens of the State of Israel – are discriminated in all field of life and in polls – scientific polls; not polls of Israeli rightist newspapers – they are saying that they feel second or third degree. Not only they are feeling the discrimination in land allocation but budget, employment, agriculture, no industrial zones. We are discriminated in all fields of life.”

All Israeli citizens are of course entitled to equal rights by law. To take Tibi’s claim that Arab citizens of Israel have “no industrial zones” because of discrimination as an example – the Ministry of Economy and Industry lists at least eighteen industrial zones in Arab, Bedouin and Druze communities – from Rahat in the south to Sakhnin in the north. Once again, however, Tibi’s falsehoods went unchallenged by Sackur.

SS: “Well the Israel Democracy Institute ran a major poll last year. Most Arab-Israelis – 60.5% – describe their personal situation as good or very good. It doesn’t seem to match what you’re saying at all.”

AT: “I don’t agree with these results. We are living there but there are other points that you are not bringing here saying that at least 75% of the Arab citizens are saying that they do believe the state is dealing with them as enemies not as equal citizens.”

Sackur then promoted a partisan view of ‘international law’ as fact.

SS:” Why do you think thousands of Arabs living in Jerusalem – and they have a very difficult grey area status because of course under international law East Jerusalem is occupied territory – but they are regarded, since the annexation by Israel of East Jerusalem, as people with rights to residency and, indeed, the right to apply for citizenship in Israel and thousands have indeed applied for citizenship. What does that tell you?”

AT: “Only thousands. We are talking about almost 300,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem; you are talking about thousands. And it says a lot. Those Palestinians in East Jerusalem are facing strangulation policy, deportation, revoking their identity card, sending them out of Jerusalem – thousands of them. It is to say that the education system in East Jerusalem is one of the worst education system conditions led by the Israeli authorities. It is to say that those in East Jerusalem – Palestinians – not all of them are free to get into Al Aqsa Mosque. Demolition orders in East Jerusalem, but more also in other villages, in Arab villages inside Israel, because of lack of planning and housing. Do you know, Stephen, that there is a law called community villages law forbidding, preventing me, Ahmad Tibi, as an Israeli citizen, Arab citizen, from living in 800 community villages. I can live here in London or in Manhattan but not in these areas.”

Sackur failed to note the context of security considerations which sometimes limit access to the Al Aqsa Mosque to males under a certain age. He refrained from asking Tibi whether his claim that residents of East Jerusalem are being ‘deported’ or having their ID cards ‘revoked’ in fact relates to a small number of terrorists, their accomplices and family members of terrorists. Curiously – considering that between 1967 and 2014, the percentage of Arabs making up Jerusalem’s population rose from 26% to 37% – Sackur did not ask Tibi to provide evidence to support his claim that “thousands” have been ‘sent out’ of Jerusalem.

The law Tibi describes as “community villages law” is the Cooperative Associations Law and it relates to fewer than five hundred – not “800” – small communities of up to four hundred families that are situated in the Negev or the Galilee. Such communities are entitled to have an admissions committee which can screen potential residents. In contrast to the impression given by Tibi, all applicants of any creed or ethnicity meet with the admissions committee and the law expressly states that communities cannot reject applicants for reasons of race, religion, gender or nationality. Stephen Sackur, however, made no effort to relieve audiences of the false impression deliberately propagated by Ahmad Tibi.

Making no effort to explain to audiences what Zionism actually is, Sackur went on:

SS: “Are you saying – and using the words of that resolution from the United Nations in 1975 – are you saying that you still regard Zionism as racism?”

AT: “The practice of Zionism daily is to say that Jews are superior to non- Jews in Israel.”

SS: “Well answer this because it is a very famous UN resolution and it was repealed…repealed…one of the only UN that has ever been repealed 16 years later because consensus across the world that that language was unacceptable and wrong. I’m just asking you whether you actually still use that phrase.”

AT: “We Palestinians – mainly Palestinians inside Israel or outside the Green Line, [are] victims of Zionism because of racism of many aspects of Zionism against non- Jews, mainly original or indigenous Palestinians.”

Sackur then turned the conversation to the topic of elimination of the Jewish state.

SS: “You see I think this debate is important because right now there is a discussion both inside Israel, amongst Arabs outside of the territories but also amongst Palestinians and Arab Israelis, about what is going to happen if the two-state solution is dead. And we’ve discussed Donald Trump and we’ve discussed the current political situation and nobody would pretend that the two-state solution looks alive right now. So there is a unitary state solution and if there is to be a unitary state, do you believe it would be acceptable for the Jewish Israeli population to be in a minority?”

AT: “The speech of Mr Trump adopted the Israeli narrative and it was a bullet in the head of the two-state solution, of the two-state vision. Instead of two-state solution it became two-state illusion. That’s why there are more and more talk about one state solution.”

SS: “You’ve talked about it.”

AT: “I’ve talked about it.”

SS: “You even posited the notion that you might run for Prime Minister of a unitary state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River and you said ‘if it was a run-off between me and Mr Netanyahu, I would win, no doubt about it’.”

AT: “If this will be the case, and equal right will be there between Jews and Arabs from the sea to the river, a Palestinian will win the post of the Prime Minister.”

SS: “I very advisedly asked you, can you countenance…do you think it is in any way realistic to think that the Jewish population of Israel will ever accept a situation in which they are in a minority? This is the country that was set up under a UN resolution as the homeland for the Jews after the Second World War. You understand that, I believe, better than most Arabs because you made a very famous speech understanding the impact of the Holocaust on the Jewish people and on the creation of the state of Israel. So I put it to you again; can you imagine a unitary state where the Jewish population is in a minority?”

AT: “”We, I, as a victim of the victim in that speech, can tell you that I know, I realise that for the Israelis, it’s a nightmare to talk about equal one democratic state. That’s why, when you are giving two choices for them, two-state solution or one-state solution, they are immediately choosing the third choice, which is not there, the status quo. That is why I am saying two-state solution is the optimal solution that the international community is supporting. But the condition is immediate ending of the occupation and Israel is rearranging the occupation.”

SS: “Yeah, but you don’t just say that. You say very inflammatory things. In an interview not so long ago, you allowed your imagination to run. You said ‘we will, if there is to be a unitary state, we will annul the declaration of independence from 1948. In its place, we will write a civil declaration that represents all citizens – Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze’. You said ‘it is untenable for a democratic state to have a declaration of independence that is fundamentally Jewish’. You were asked what would the country’s name be? You said ‘I don’t know: its Parliament will decide’. What about the flag? You were asked and you said ‘yes, that will have to change’. Now when you say these things, how do you think Israelis – Jewish Israelis – respond?”

Sackur could also have raised the no less relevant point that in the same interview, Tibi declared that the Law of Return “would automatically be annulled, because the country would no longer be a Jewish state as it is today”.

AT: “When Israelis are killing Palestinians, how we would react? It is a democratic vision. I think that any democratic in Europe, in the international community, should respect my vision of democracy if there will not be a two-state solution. Yes, I want to be equal with Israeli Jews. I want to be equal with anybody in Tel Aviv and Tayibe, Nazareth and Hadera. But I will never accept to be inferior to any Israeli Jew just because the state is defining itself as a Jewish state. Because defining yourself as Jewish and democratic, it’s an oxymoron, Stephen and this is an oxymoron that we are fighting against day by day.”

SS: “If I may say so, it seems to me your speech was based on empathy and a genuine effort to understand the Israeli mindset. One aspect of the Israeli mindset is that they see more than a decade ago when the Palestinians had a free election, that a majority, at least in Gaza, voted quite clearly for Hamas – a movement that is dedicated in its original constitution to the destruction of the State of Israel.”

AT: “Stephen, do you want new rules for democracy? It’s election. It’s democracy. Palestinian people, like in England, like in Germany, like in France, like even in the United States – who just elected very bizarre president – we Palestinians are free to elect exactly what the Palestinians want. Once it is Fatah, once it’s Hamas.”

SS: “And you think the Israelis are going to listen to this and your belief that, oh, the Palestinians can choose Hamas if they want to and still believe that there is any possible reason why they should listen to you talking about unitary state?”

AT: “They can listen to me talking about two-state solution. They are not listening. Neither for that, nor for that. And what is Netanyahu proposing for Israelis and Palestinians? More and more war, more and more confrontation, more and more friction, more and more bloodshed. I am proposing peace. I am proposing freedom for Palestinians and peace for Israelis and Palestinians. It is challenging.”

Sackur then brought up a topic which audiences would no doubt have had difficulty understanding seeing as the BBC has studiously avoided reporting it.

SS: “It is. If you wanted to build some bridges and build some confidence, there are certain things you could do. I mean for a start, you could denounce your fellow Arab-Israeli member of Knesset who is now in prison because he was smuggling telephones to Palestinian prisoners – Mr Ghattas. What did you make of what he did and how disappointed were you in him?”

AT: “The 13 MKs of the Joint List, all of us, are not using this way of struggle in order to act as parliamentarians. It is not the way. He said so. His colleagues in Balad said so. We, myself and others said so, and he is paying the price in the jail.” 

Sackur failed to inform audiences that, despite Tibi’s claims to the contrary, neither Ghattas nor some of his Joint List former colleagues have shown any sign of having reached the conclusion that “it is not the way”.

SS: “And why did you boycott Shimon Peres’ funeral?”

AT: “Because…I carried my condolences to his daughter…”

SS: No, you didn’t go to the funeral. Even Mahmoud Abbas went to the funeral. I’m just wondering again what kind of signal you are sending to the Israelis.”

AT: “Am I obliged to act exactly as the consensus – the Israeli consensus – is demanding from me? There is historical problem. I can understand Israelis when they cannot do something that hurt their feelings. Please understand our feeling as national leaders.”

SS: “I just wonder whether you pay heed to the words of the first Arab-Israeli to be a Supreme Court justice – and that in itself tells you something about the Israeli system. Salim Joubran, you know, he served in the Supreme Court, he was proud to do so, and toward the time he was leaving, he said, ‘yes, I complain a lot about the State of Israel’s treatment of Arab Israelis, but I am also complaining about us – leaders of the Arab community. We must take responsibility and handle problems’. Hasn’t got a point there? That you spend so much time grandstanding about the long-term prospects for a peaceful solution between Arab… between Palestinian and Israeli, you don’t spend much time trying to deliver a better life for your constituents.”

AT: “You are mistaken, Stephen, because according to the statistics and numbers of the Knesset activity, 85% of our activity is focused on social and economical issues of our community. And there is misleading coverage of our activity. Yes, we are responsible for the well-being of our community. We should be much more interested, focusing, acting in the issue, for example, of violence in our community, which is almost devastating.”

SS: “It’s a scourge – particularly violence against women inside Arab-Israeli communities.”

AT: “And who is taking part in every demonstration against that? Who issued a motion against that? Who issued a motion against using weapons in community events? Myself.”

SS: “And I guess that what the Israelis – I can hear the voices in my head – the Israelis watching this will say yes, and you are much freer to make those sorts of protests and to demand better from the community inside Israel that you would be if you were living in a village in the West Bank or indeed a different Arab country.”

AT: “Say it; in Syria or in Libya. Say it.”

SS: “Well, you can say it.”

AT: “It is a racist notice. You know why? Because to tell me, Ahmad, that because I am Arab that I should move to Syria, as they are demanding day by day in the Knesset, or I should compare myself to Third World countries, non-democratic, totalitarian regimes, when Israel is claiming it is democracy. The control group and the control states, Stephen, should be Sweden, France, England – not Libya, not Syria, not third states…Third World states in Africa or south America. I want to be equal, exactly like citizens in Kochav Yair, in Tel Aviv and I do not want to be compared with totalitarian regimes, but with democratic states. It is the test. Can you accept the idea that an Israeli citizen who is Arab is willing to be equal? “

SS: “It’s a good way to end this interview. Ahmad Tibi, thank you very much for being on Hardtalk.”

The people referred to by Sackur as “Israelis watching this” are of course not in need of a BBC programme to enlighten them on the topic of Ahmad Tibi’s record, views and agenda: they have after all spent nearly two decades watching him function as an anti-Zionist MK in their own parliament – perhaps the best refutation of his claims of ‘discrimination’ that there could be.

While it can be said that Stephen Sackur did question Ahmad Tibi on some of the positions he holds, the fact remains that BBC audiences around the world watching or listening to this programme went away with a plethora of inaccurate impressions about Israel due to the fact that Sackur refrained from challenging any of the multiple smears, falsehoods and distortions promoted by Tibi in this interview.

Related Articles:

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ hosts Ahmad Tibi – part one

 

 

 

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]

 

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