- The BBC’s top decision-making body, the BBC Trust, ruled on March 3, 2009 that Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen violated guidelines calling for accuracy and impartiality.
- An independent adviser solicited by the BBC deemed that an article written by Bowen was “firmly of the ‘New Historian'” perspective and “unqualified by an acknowledgment that the opposite or ‘mainstream’ opinion might have some weight too.”
- Historian Sir Martin Gilbert described aspects of Bowen’s piece as “revisionist history,” “not accurate” and “misleading … to the general reader.” Even revisionist historian Avi Shlaim, who was generally supportive of Bowen’s piece, found aspects to be “not true,” “too terse” and “not a very good formulation.”
- Bowen and others defended the piece by repeatedly cherry-picking and misrepresenting quotes while completely ignoring the significant body of information that contradicted his thesis. Those at the BBC who defended Bowen’s piece were given a choice between defending journalistic ethics or defending an unethical journalist, and they opted for the latter.
- Bowen defended his inaccurate article throught the complaints process, and is reportedly “furious” with the BBC Trust findings, which raises the question: Does he still believe it is reasonable to advocate his own view points in news reports, and withhold from readers information that contradicts those opinions? And if so, should he be replaced with a more neutral and fair-minded editor?
The findings are also causing serious concern among the many who have long felt the BBC’s news coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict is biased against Israel, and who now have further reason to be skeptical of the broadcaster’s Mideast news. British journalist and author Chas Newkey-Burden, for example, wrote in response to the ruling that "it is extraordinary to think that the BBC entrusts a man such as Bowen with coverage of such a monumentally important issue."
TIMELINE OF KEY EVENTS
|June 4, 2007:||BBC publishes original Bowen article.|
|June 8, 2007:||CAMERA submits first complaint.|
|June 15, 2007:||BBC News website rejects complaint.|
|June 26, 2007:||CAMERA appeals to Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU).|
|Oct. 29, 2007:||ECU rejects appeal.|
|Dec. 5, 2007:||CAMERA appeals to the Editorials Standards Committee (ESC) of the BBC Trust.|
|June 12, 2008:||ESC shares 'background and consideration notes' prepared by independent editorial adviser. Parties are invited to comment.|
|July 8, 2008:||CAMERA delivers comments on background notes to ESC.|
|Aug. 13, 2008:||ESC shares letters by Bowen, BBC News, ECU and complainants commenting on background notes.|
|Aug. 25, 2008:||CAMERA responds to BBC comments.|
|Dec. 5, 2008:||ESC shares updated 'background and consideration notes.' Parties are invited to comment.|
|Jan. 5, 2009:||ESC shares letters by Bowen, BBC News, ECU and complainants commenting on updated background notes.|
|Feb. 26, 2009:||ESC shares final round of comments.|
|March 3, 2009:||ESC convenes to decide on complaint.|
|April 15, 2009:||ESC publicly announces its ruling that Bowen violated guildelines calling for accuracy and impartiality.|
To its credit, the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee (ESC), which acts as the organization's final level of appeal for complaints, acknowledged some (but not all) of the problems in Bowen's piece. Its decision, which was prompted by a formal complaint prepared by the CAMERA and a separate complaint filed independently by Jonathan Turner, a member of the U.K.-based Zionist Federation, concluded that Bowen’s June 4 article, "How 1967 Defined the Middle East," contained inaccuracies and "had breached the guideline on impa rtiality."
Until now, most of what was known about CAMERA’s complaint and the ruling against Bowen has come from the BBC itself, in the form of the complaint summary appended to the Trust’s ruling and published online on April 15. (The portion of the summary and ruling related to CAMERA’s complaint is embedded at the end of this document. You can skip to that section by clicking here.)
The BBC’s document, while useful and informative, falls short in a number of ways:
• Sometimes the Trust simply got it wrong. For example, it bizarrely argued that while "Syrian refugees" who fled the Golan Heights in 1967 caused "serious political ramifications over the forty years since the conflict," Jews who were kicked out of their homes in Arab countries that year "had not created any long-lasting political problem." If anything, the opposite is true.
CAMERA's Submission to the Editorial Standards Committee: Summary of Article, Complaint, Replies and Appeals
Original Article: "How 1967 Defined the Middle East"
But as CAMERA noted in its complaint, Bowen's account of the war and its aftermath served to dramatically misrepresent rather than educate.
CAMERA’s initial complaint was filed on June 8, 2007, one day after the BBC article was first published. It detailed how Bowen rewrote history by casting Israel as the powerful aggressor of the Six-Day War, omitting context, misrepresenting Zionism, downplaying threats to Israel, ignoring Arab misdeeds and fabricating facts.
The complaint provided specific details, including quotes by a number of Arab, Israel and American leaders; a description of Israel’s willingness to give up land after the war; and a description of Palestinian refusal to compromise after the war.
The complaint is published in its entirety below. (To open a pdf in a separate window, click here.)
- "the intention of the article was not to provide a detailed history of the war and its causes";
- some of this history was conveyed in other BBC coverage;
- the BBC recieved "a number of emails" questioning whether it is justifiable to say there were "two Goliaths in the Middle East in 1967";
- the article mentioned two western intelligence reports supporting the view of two Goliaths;
- Bowen told the ECU that Israel's chief of staff, Yitzhak Rabin, had referred in a March 1967 interview to his country's "military superiority"; and
- "the article is based on the author's long-standing experience in the region," his "knowledge of the subject," and his "extensive research" into the period.
BBC’s reply of June 15 does not address these major points [raised in the original complaint].It asserts that “the intention of the article was not to provide a detailed history of the war and its causes.” It further notes that the piece was “part of a wider range of coverage.” While these assertions may be true, they of course do not free the BBC of its obligation to ensure that it’s history — however undetailed — is still in accord with its editorial guidelines calling for truth, accuracy and impartiality. That the BBC covered the Six-Day War in other articles as well certainly does not suggest that the article in question is objective, fair, and accurate. (Nor does it suggest that the other articles are objective, fair, and accurate.)The reply also notes that the BBC received a number of complaints about its assertion that there were “two Goliaths in the Middle East in 1967.” It argues that the article cites British and American assessments of Israeli strength, and that the author separately has pointed out that Yitzhak Rabin himself argued months earlier that Israel “enjoys superiority over her enemies which seems to be assured for many years to come.” But if Rabin’s statement in March 1967 is seen as reflecting Israel’s views at the time, surely his statements in May-June 1967 should be seen as reflecting the country’s views during the Arab military buildup. As we noted above and in our initial complaint, Rabin foresaw a "terribly hard war with many casualties,” and told his generals that “[i]t is now a question of our national survival, of to be or not to be.” Other Israeli political and military leaders made similar statements. Moreover, the British and American military assessments do not change the fact that Israeli leaders and generals — and not only its ignorant masses — were indeed extremely concerned for the security of the country and its residents during the run-up to war.Finally, the BBC reply states that the article “is based on the author’s long-standing experience in the region and knowledge of the subject ....” Our complaint is not that the author was inexperienced, but concerns specific misrepresentations that need clarifying.
The article’s omission of key context about the causes of war — that Egypt expelled United Nations troops from the Sinai Peninsula and massed its own forces near the Israeli border with plans and intent to attack; that Egypt blocked the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, a casus belli under international law; that Jordan and Syria attacked Israel before Israel “smashed” their armies — paints a skewed picture of Israel as the aggressor and Arabs as mere victims in 1967.
... it seems to me that [Jewish refugees] have not given rise to the kind of major political problems that the Palestinian refugees have raised, specifically their claim of a right of return to homes now within the State of Israel. Looking at the text of the "Road Map", there is some discussion of "refugees", but none of it refers to Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
I was referring specifically to the desire to overturn the Jordanian conquest of the Old City of Jerusalem. In his memoir The Liberation of Jersusalem (London Valentine Mitchell 1992) Gen Uzi Narkiss, who was OC Central Command in 1967 writes specifically about the feeling he had, along with his colleagues in the Palmach who had fought in 1948, about taking the Old City. Yigal Allon, in the cabinet in 1967, had also urged Ben Gurion in 1949 to capture the West Bank. At no time do I say that there was a plan to capture and hold territory.
for the BBC to suggest that Israel was looking to go back to war to take care of “unfinished business” ... while ignoring the stated Arab desire to do this very thing is not consistent with the organization’s editorial guidelines calling for truth, accuracy, and impartiality.
Quote from Yigal Allon: 'the true frontier of the State of Israel moves and forms according to the movement and location of Jewish workers of the earth. Without Jewish settlement, defence of the country isn't possible, even if we double the size of the army..' (quoted p85 in Ze'ev Schiff A History of the Israeli Army (San Francisco: Straight Arrow Books, 1974)
The Zionist settlement of Palestine started in Ottoman times with one kibbutz. Had they not had the instinct for expansion that I mention in the online piece that is where it would have stayed.
events since 1967 also bear out what was written in the article. In May 1967 no Israelis lived in the Old City of Jerusalem and the West Bank. Today more than 400,000 Israelis live on land captured in 1967.
Quite clearly Mr Begin believed, in 1950, that Israel should include Bethlehem and Hebron, and he conducted policy on that basis when he became prime minister in 1977. It therefore seems reasonable to me to suggest that the views he expressed received a significant degree of support, and it is therefore a matter appropriately within the scope of Mr Bowen's judgement to conclude there was, as he put it, a perception of "unfinished business" from 1948 among Israelis.In light of this kind of material, and an absence of any clear statement from any government of Israel on where the borders of the state should be, it seems to me that the observation that Zionism has "an innate instinct to push out the frontier" is justified by both the actions of successive Israeli governments and the public statements of leading Zionists.
Nor are we discussing the maximum security that borderlines can provide Israel. As stated, our preoccupation is only with the essential minimum. (Emphasis added)
On the first day of the war, a Jordanian force seized the hill in the no-man's land where UN headquarters had been located. It gave the Royal Jordanian troops a commanding advantage over a wide area. Up to that point Israeli commanders had been considering knocking out Jordanian artillery batteries only to prevent shelling of the Rabat David airfield in the Jezreel Valley. When the abandoned UN hill was captured, Israel decided to take it and break through to Mount Scopus adjoining the old city of Jerusalem.
Seizure of new territories in Sinai, in Judea and Samaria on the west bank of the Jordan, and the taking of the Golan Heights totally changed the strategic situation of Israel. Most of the concentrations of population and other vital targets in Israel were now out of range of Arab artillery. ... Israel's air warning system had changed completely. In the past, Arab planes had theoretically been able to reach the heart of Israel in minutes. After the war they had no such easy access.New geographic gains gave Israel security from attack, as was proven in the Yom Kippur War. The territories gained in the Six-Day War lessened the threat of Israel's extermination by a surprise military blow.
If I understand you correctly, you are suggesting that a single event, which consisted of solely of a crisis of nerves lasting no more than two days and affecting one individual, albeit the Chief of Staff, is sufficient to demonstrate that the leaders of the Israeli military were less than confident of the outcome of a war which was, by that stage, inevitable. I'm afraid I do not accept that.This patently false claim by the ECU indictates that it either did not give careful attention ot CAMERA's appeal, or willfully ignored the evidence it provided. Far from relying on a "single event," CAMERA referred to statements by the Israel's prime minister, chief of intelligence, general staff and Rabin, and only then referenced the breakdown. The quotes cited by CAMERA, moreover, should have been familiar to the ECU, as they appeared in the same Michael Oren book that it claims to have consulted. As it did with Schiff's book, the BBC excerpted out-of-context sections from Oren's book to make a point that the book itself contradicts.The ECU's assertion that Bowen merely argued Israel's military was stronger than that of its adversaries is also false. He minimized Israel's deep concerns, founded or not, that the country could suffer terrible losses, defeat or even destruction. Bowen's reference to American and British intelligence assessments are irrelevant to whether or not that fear existed.The ECU must have known of the Israeli leadership's fears, not only because the information provided by CAMERA and in Oren's book, but also because another of the books selectively cited by the ECU, Rabin's memoirs, make clear Israel's apprehensions.In the memoirs, Rabin described a conversation he had with Interior Minister Moshe Chaim Shapira, in which the minister strongly chided him for "endangering" Israel by considering preemption:... Egypt will be fighting on a single front, but we will have to fight on at least two, perhaps three. Politically, we will be totally isolated, and we won't receive arms supplies if we run short during the fighting. If we're attacked, of course, we'll fight for our lives. But to take the initiative? To bring this curse down on us with our own hands? Do you want to bear the responsibility for endangering Israel? I shall resist it as long as I draw breath!"Shapira further noted: "This war will endanger Israel's very existence!"Rabin wrote in his memoirs that "Shapira's words reflected a view that was widespread in political circles." And while the army did feel confident about its strength and abilities, the military man Rabin also harbored fears for Israel's well being and continued existence if it didn't act. He replied to Shapira,If we don't face [Egypt's] challenge, the IDF's deterrent capacity will become worthless. Israel will be humiliated. Which Power will bother to support a small state that has ceased to be a military factor? Why bother with a state whose neighbors are growing stronger and subjecting it to humiliating pinpricks? We're going to war over freedom of navigation. Nasser has threatened Israel's standing; later on his army will threaten Israel's very existence. I don't want to go to war either, but there's no way out if the American political efforts fail.Thinking to himself later, Rabin pondered "why Israel now found herself in such difficult straits," and why it had to contend with "the worst predicament Israel had faced since the War of Independence."The memoirs, then, are the third book from which the ECU cherry picked while ignoring other material that contrasted with Bowen's argument.• The ECU next addressed CAMERA's assertion that Bowen's account of the post-war years distorted history by placing disproportionate blame for the continued conflict on Israel's shoulders while exculpating the Palestinians. Bowen's portrayed the conflict as having continued for the past 40 years only because of Israel's presence and settlements in the territories, and ignored the PLO's refusal during most of those years to recognize Israel's right to exist and Israel's willingness, expressed at Clinton's Camp David meetings and elsewhere, to dismantle settlements and withdraw from the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank.The ECU said that "history has shown [former US Secretary of State] Dean Rusk to be correct" in saying that the conflict would continue if Israel held on to the West Bank. It added that it understood CAMERA's researcher to believe Palestinian behavior accounts for the present situation, but that the Palestinians would not agree with this and that "a balanced account of the present situation would need to reflect that difference of opinion." It also argued that because the article was brief, it was appropriate that Bowen judge and discuss what the problems are, and not how they came about.Rusk's prediction has no bearing on whether Bowen adhered to the BBC's editorial guidlelines. Moreover, the problem with Bowen's article was precicely that it did not reflect a difference of opinion over why the conflict continued. It supported the Palestinian narrative of the conflict. And brevity, as mentioned earlier, is not a convincing argument considering the relatively generous space and detail Bowen devoted to other issues of dubious relevance.• Finally, the ECU turned to Bowen's assertion that Israel's settlements defy "everyone's interpretation of international law except its own." After agreeing that "this is not phrased as precisely as it could be," the ECU said that "it's clear from the context" that the word everyone was meant to describe the position of governments and not indivicuals. It said that the British Government and Noam Lubell, a researcher commissioned by the BBC, view settlements as illegal, and that therefore Bowen's line was not inaccurate.Although the ECU did not uphold this complaint, the admission that Bowen's statement was not phrased as precisely as it should be was in fact an admission that he violated the BBC's guideline on accuracy, which calls for output to be "presented in clear, precise l anguage." Even if one were to accept the dubious argument that it was clear from context Bowen meant all governments, and not individuals, viewed settlements as illegal, the statement would still be false. The United States, for example, did not hold that settlements are illegal.
CAMERA's Rejoinder: The Appeal to the ESCCAMERA's response to the ECU's note, which is summarized in the lavender highlighted sections above, was formally relayed in its appeal to the Editorial Standards Committee. The appeal is published above, and can be opened in a separate window by clicking here.Following CAMERA's appeal to the ESC, the BBC Trust appointed an independent "editorial adviser" to examine CAMERA's complaints and appeals and the BBC responses. On June 12, 2008 the Trust's Editorial Standards Committee shared the adviser's "Background and Consideration Notes." The ESC explained that the notes contained "all the background information that will be sent to the Committee and will form the basis for their discussion."In the notes were 1) a copy of Bowen's article; 2) the adviser's summary of the CAMERA's complaint, the BBC News website reply, CAMERA's appeal to the ECU, the ECU's reply and CAMERA's appeal to the ESC; 3) a review of the relevant BBC editorial guidelines; 4) a section entitled "investigation and editorial considerations." Because the first two sections of the notes have already been discussed above, what follows is a summary of only the third and fourth sections.Relevant GuidelinesThe notes included a section of excerpts from certain BBC editorial guidelines that the adviser deemed relevant to the investigation. Key highlights include:• "We strive to be accurate and establish the truth of what has happened. Accuracy is more important than speed and it is often more than a question of getting the facts right. We will weigh all relevant facts and information to get at the truth. Our output will be well sourced, based on sound evidence, thoroughly tested and presented in clear, precise language."• "We strive to be fair and open minded and reflect all significant strands of opinion by exploring the range and conflict of views. We will be objective and even handed in our approach to a subject. We will provide professional judgments where appropriate, but we will never promote a particular view on controversial matters of public policy or political or industrial controversy."
• "We should not distort known facts, present invented material as fact, or knowingly do anything to mislead our audiences."
• "We strive to reflect a wide range of opinion and explore a range and conflict of views so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under represented."• "We must ensure we avoid bias or an imbalance of views on controversial subjects."• "Impartiality ... requires us to be fair and open minded when examining the evidence and weighing all the material facts, as well as being objective and even handed in our approach to a subject. It does not require the representation of every argument or facet of every argument on every occasion or an equal division of time for each view."Investigation and Editorial ConsiderationsThe "investigation and editorial considerations" section is of the most interest, as it includes excerpts from conversations the editorial adviser had with editor Jeremy Bowen, mainstream historian Martin Gilbert, revisionist historian Avi Shlaim, and others. The final ruling by the BBC Trust was largely based on these considerations.The Article in GeneralGilbert generally criticized the article, and Shlaim, who has called Israel a "rogue state" that practices terrorism, generally praised it. But even the latter historian saw problems. He told the adviser that certain assertions in Bowen's piece were "not accurate"; "too terse"; "not a very good formulation"; "not true"; and go "too far." Gilbert, meanwhile, said of some of Bowen's statements: "It's a revisionist history that I don't agree with"; "it creates a rather misleading picture"; "it's not an accurate reflection"; "I would disagree with that quite strongly"; it's "very misleading indeed to the general reader."The adviser opens the "considerations" section with an acknowledgement that Bowen promotes revisionist historiography at the expense of the view held by mainstream historians:It would be unhelpful to the committee for me to start researching this subject from almost scratch when it is perfectly apparent from the correspondence so far that a huge amount of research has been done already and that it is possible to cite support for almost any point of view when discussing recent Middle East history.As with many historical debates, there are two distinct theories on the 1967 war. There is the conventional view espoused by Michael Oren in his much-praised book: “Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East.” Baldly, this takes the view that Israel was attacked by the Arab Nations, that a pre-emptive strike was necessary to ensure the survival of the nation and that there was no drive to expand the size of Israel: it was an unplanned outcome of a justified reaction to an overwhelming threat. This is the mainstream view espoused both by the complainant, Mr Ini and by other eminent historians such as Sir Martin Gilbert.The alternative interpretation, which Jeremy Bowen makes in his book and in this web-article, is the one held by the “New Historians” of Israel, otherwise known as the revisionists. Tom Segev’s “1967; Israel, the War and the Year that transformed the Middle East” is one of several of those that take this view too. This is that Israel was not threat ened with defeat in 1967 and that its leaders knew that and that the war became an opportunity to retake East Jerusalem, to push into Judea and Samaria and to secure better borders. ...In historical debate, there often the evidence to support more than one thesis and that is the case here, which is why going over and comparing the facts is so fruitless. It is perfectly possible to supply evidence on either or both sides. The importance is the weight that is given in the interpretation.What the ESC has to ask itself is whether it is impartial and not misleading for the assessment made by Jeremy Bowen to be firmly of the “New Historian” kind, and for it to be unqualified by an acknowledgment that the opposite or “mainstream” opinion might have some weight too. (Emphasis added)Gilbert agreed that the article represented a good example of revisionist historiography and noted that the piece in general "creates a rather misleading picture of Israel being stronger and more prepared and not being the victim at all." He concluded about the article: "It is by someone who has a particular point of view and does not understand everything. He has made no effort to put himself in the Israeli position. Everything relating to the threat to Israel is minimised."Shlaim, on the other hand, said Bowen wrote a "very good" article. "It’s a really incisive and interesting article," he said. "There is nothing banal about it and it doesn’t state the obvious and it makes a series of very powerful points."Also speaking about the article as a whole, the online Middle East editor who commissioned the piece said he wanted it to be brief, but also the website's main item about the Six-Day War:I wanted a boiled down, condensed piece to explain what happened and what the meaning was. ... [I]f you read one piece about what happened in 67 then this would be it. This is the headline piece not a re-telling with all of the facts. But for the Middle East editorial team, this is on the importance of the events. ... The target audience is a person who is not expert or ignorant … who I need to engage and inform. I have to ensure that it is detailed accurate and vivid enough that someone who knows something about the subject will read it and lucid enough that someone who knows nothing will gain from it.Web vs. Broadcast, and The Omission of Arab Military ActivityThe editorial adviser then raised the question of whether Web articles, which unlike television or radio pieces can contain links to other coverage, "should be judged in isolation" or in conjunction with the separate pieces to which it is linked. The online Middle East editor responded that he felt Web pieces should not be judged in isolation.Following up on this question, the adviser turned to one of the specific complaints, noting that although Bowen's article included some analysis of Egyptian president Gamal Nasser's motives for risking war, it said "nothing about what he did, about the actual military activity in Egypt or other Arab nations that was causing Israel such disquiet." However, the adviser continued, one of the links on the page did lead to an article describing some of Nasser's bellicose actions.The online editor insisted that such hyperlinks justify the omissions in Bowen's article. But he also admitted that "the lack of [reference to the Egypitian] blockade and the massing [of Egyptian troops] does look odd ... maybe it should have specified ...."Bowen told the adviser that the piece was not about the causes of the war as much as its legacy, and Shlaim weighed in by saying the article's omissions are justifiable "because this is not a history but a series of reflections...and it's a very good summary."The adviser then listed other specific complaints. The BBC Trust mirrored this list when it ruled on the accuracy of Bowen's article.Palestinian, Syrian and Jewish RefugeesBowen told the adviser that his article did not mention Jewish refugees along with Syrian and Palestinian refugees because he felt the Palestinians, and not the Jews, are a political issue:Jewish refugees from the Arab world have made homes in a strong and prosperous state. There may one day be the matter of compensation for them as part of an overall settlement, but they are not a political issue. The Palestinian refugees are a political issue because they live in limbo, usually in very bad conditions. Look at Gaza. Most of its population of 1.4 million are Palestinian refugees.Bowen's reference to refugees in Gaza is strange. Most Palestinians escaping the fighting in 1967 fled from the West Bank, where they had lived as Jordanian citizens under Jordanian rule, to the "East Bank" of Jordan proper, where they remained Jordanian citizens under Jordanian rule. Refugees in Gaza, on the other hand, are almost exlusively from the 1948 war.Moreover, Bowen's explanation did not address why he felt it was appropriate to mention the Syrian internally displaced. But even though Bowen said nothing about the Syrians here, it seems that he nonetheless led the adviser to wrongly believe the Syrian displaced of 1967 constitute some sort of "political stumbling block." The adviser summarized the section on refugees as follows:The ESC will want to assess whether the article mentioning only Palestinian and Syrian refugees because it is those that have been the political stumbling block - not any Jewish refugees either then or now – is duly impartial in the context of a piece looking at the problems resulting from the six day war. And to ask if is fair that this sentence is cast as it is in spite of the "many thousands of Jews expelled from Arab countries as a result of the 1967 war" that Mr Ini mentions.(The BBC Trust, following the adviser's framing, would later rule that Bowen's assertion on refugees did not violate the accuracy guideline.)David and GoliathThe next subcategory of the "consideration notes" was ostensibly devoted to CAMERA's complaint that Bowen rewrote history to cast Israel, and not the Arab world, as the aggressor in 1967.Unfortunately, while the complaint argued that this misperception stemmed from the article's omission of Arab aggression, its exaggeration of Israeli confidence and its description of Israelis as itching to fight a war of expansion, these issues were not discussed in this section. The entire section was devoted only to the question of whether the sides' relative strength in 1967 justified Bowen's assertion that there were "two Goliaths in the Middle East." In fact, CAMERA only mentioned the David/Goliath analogy in passing, and did not at all discuss the relative strength of the parties. In other words, this section on the David/Goliath did not address an actual focus of CAMERA's complaint.That said, Bowen, Gilbert and Shlaim did discuss with the adviser the David/Goliath metaphor and the relative strength of the parties.Bowen said:The article explains that Israel was strong. Had it not been, it would not have won the war so quickly.At the time, especially in the western press, the war was seen as the Israeli David against the Arab Goliath. In other words, Israel, weak and outnumbered scored a victory against the odds. Religious Zionists and others would go further and say that God granted the Jewish people a miracle and delivered them the holiest parts of Jerusalem, and the historic mountain heartland of the Jewish people in Judea and Samaria. That feeling still powers the settler movement.In fact Israel took on the armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan and smashed them in less than a week. In modern warfare that does not happen accidentally. It was the product of planning that started in the early 50s, according to former IDF officers to whom I spoke.Gilbert said:The two Goliaths as opposed to one is alright but I can see why some would reject it. It’s a revisionist history that I don’t agree with. The Arabs were not ready for combat …but they were in a stronger position overall so it’s not an accurate reflection…
To say “the Jewish Goliath had never been stronger” was not true – it was well armed to DEFEND itself against attack. I would disagree with that quite strongly.Shlaim said:Israel had a formidable military machine and the leaders knew it…among the public was a deep and real anxiety…the army was raring to go but the politicians were hesitating…the army was like a coiled spring – it lashed out at all the Arabs. They had to go in first because they could not sustain a prolonged mobilisation ... the David and Goliath is a figure of speech – we all know what that means…Maybe it’s bald but it’s accurate. Israel had overwhelming conventional superiority and a nuclear monopoly.
Israel’s survival was not at issue although people thought it was. The outcome supports the view that it was not the underdog and there was no weakness. It had military superiority over the entire Arab world all together and the war proved it.(The BBC Trust, following the adviser's framing, would later rule that Bowen's assertion on David and Goliath did not violate the accuracy guideline.)Fearless Generals and the Threat to IsraelThe adviser described the next subcategory as addressing CAMERA's complaint that Bowen implied Israel exaggerated the threat it faced.But again, although it was a combination of passages from Bowen's article that contributed to the perception that Israel willfully fooled its public, the adviser tied the issue to only one assertion from the piece: "Israel’s generals were not taken in. They all knew that the only way Israel would lose the war would be if the IDF did not turn up." Other relevant passages — Bowen's references to a "Jewish Goliath," to Israeli civilians being "left to their own fears," and to Israel's "inevitable" victory — were not addressed under this subcategory. (They were mentioned under separate subcategories.) Regrettably, this artificial fragmentation diluted the complaint.About Bowen's narrow statement that Israel could only lose if "the IDF did not turn up," Gilbert asserted:The generals knew the only way they would lose was not if the IDF did not turn up, but if Egypt and Syria could take to the air — so they did the pre-emptive strike.Shlaim stated thatIt’s correct – though it’s not a very good formulation. There was no question of Israel losing the war. But the generals wanted to move fast – they knew the longer they waited the higher the casualties would be…they would have been higher if they had waited. The air force was confident…with the element of surprise, they seized the initiative.The US/UK intelligence was confirmed by the outcome… it wasn’t touch and go – there was no evidence the Arabs would win.(The BBC Trust, following the adviser's framing, would later rule that Bowen's assertion on the IDF "not turning up" did not violate the accuracy guideline.)Unfinished BusinessOn the article's statement that Israeli generals had been training to "finish the unfinished business of Israel's war of 1948," an assertion that in reality describes the way Arab countries viewed their fight against Israel, Bowen told the adviser:I was referring specifically to the desire to overturn the Jordanian conquest of the Old City of Jerusalem. In his memoir The Liberation of Jerusalem (London Valentine Mitchell 1992) Gen Uzi Narkiss, who was OC Central Command in 1967 writes specifically above the feeling he had, along with his colleagues in the Palmach who had fought in 1948, about taking the Old City. Yigal Allon, in the cabinet in 1967, had also urged Ben Gurion in 1949 to capture the West Bank.
Note also the last line, which refers to the West Bank. Yigal Allon was very influential in 1967, with many followers in the IDF, and was Dayan’s main rival to become Minister of Defence. For Israel, the unfinished territorial business that mattered about 1948 concerned Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Yes, the Arabs also had unfinished business. For many of them ending the existence of the Jewish state would have been highly desirable. That is why, after quoting the chief Arab propagandist Ahmed Said, I wrote, referring to his Arab listeners ‘The problem for the Arabs was they believed Ahmed Said and his colleagues too, and convinced themselves that an easy victory was coming.’ I also wrote that those who didn’t expect an easy victory were ‘...King Hussein of Jordan, and most of the Egyptian generals - with the exception of the inept and corrupt commander-in-chief, Field Marshal Abd al Hakim Amer.’
I think that is clear. Both sides’ viewpoints have been reflected. But I repeat, I was only putting in enough about the run up to the war in to make the legacy comprehensible. I believe I did that well, and understandably…Gilbert responded:If he meant the unfinished business was the capture of Jerusalem, then he should have said the capture of “East Jerusalem” The training to finish unfinished business adds to the picture of Israel being stronger.
It’s very misleading indeed to the general reader.On this, Shlaim also parted ways with Bowen:It’s not accurate – the unfinished business of the 48 was capturing the West Bank…in 48 could have captured the West Bank…Ben Gurion said no – he didn’t want lots of Arabs in the state.
It was true some of the right wing generals Weitzman, Sharon, Ze’evi ... these were expansionist and waiting for the opportunity. But that was not true of the army ... they had plans for all eventualities…[Jeremy Bowen] goes too far in implying the Israeli Army was planning and plotting to capture the West Bank – it’s not true.After the adviser told Shlaim of Bowen's insistence that "unfinished business" was meant to refer to Jerusalem, Shlaim protested, "But he doesn’t say Jerusalem…It’s a bit too terse and too many claims – it’s not accurate and is a bit misleading in suggesting the army was single-minded, it didn’t have a plan to finish unfinished business."(The BBC Trust, following the adviser's framing, would later rule that Bowen's assertion on unfinished business violated the accuracy guideline.)Zionism's "Innate Instinct to Push Out the Frontier"Bowen defended his charge that Zionism is innately expansionist by repeating what he told the ECU:The Zionism settlement of Palestine started in Ottoman times with one kibbutz. Had there been no ‘instinct to push out the frontier’ how would Israel have developed into a highly successful nation-state? On both sides of politics, in the yishuv in the years before independence and afterwards in Israel, there was a yearning for land far away from the territory that Israel ended up with in 1948….Events since 1967 also bear out what I wrote. In May 1967 no Israelis lived in the Old City of Jerusalem and the West Bank. Today more than 400,000 Israelis live on land captured in 1967. In the current Annapolis peace process Israel seems to be making it clear that the separation barrier, much of which runs through occupied territory, might become its eastern border. That physically pushes out the frontier from the boundary that held until 1967, i.e. the 1949 armistice line.(Bowen's reference to "events since 1967" necessarily ignores that territory under Israel's control substantially contracted after the Six-Day War.)Said Gilbert:It is extreme Zionism that is described here not the mainstream, which has always compromised. In 1937 Zionists accepted partition, and in 1947 they accepted the borders to Israel. Between 1947 and 67 they made no attempt to push out the frontier. The settlements were a result of a moment of victory and a small group of extremist Zionists who rejected Zionism’s innate instinct to compromise.The adviser also recounted what Shlaim wrote in his book The Iron Wall — that the war reopened the theretofore-settled question about the territorial aims of Zionism, with the "wide range of ideological opinions" including the Herut's view that the West Bank was part of Israel and the General Zionist and Mapai view that "accepted the prewar territorial status quo" — before quoting Shlaim's inconsistent assertion about Bowen's language:That’s OK but it’s very terse and bald. It is reasonable. My view is that it is inherently expansionist, a movement for land-grabbing. In '48 Israel settled for its borders and signed deals with Jordan and the West Bank but the Right wasn’t reconciled They didn’t say Israel should go to war over the West Bank but did say that if war came, we should take it. Begin always called them not “occupied” but “liberated” territories….there was an expansionist streak or tendency with the conservatives. I would just qualify it – it was not the Zionist movement that had an innate instinct but the right wing – it’s not accurate enough but is a generalisation. (Emphasis added)In sum, although Shlaim's assertion in The Iron Wall backs the complaint's assertion that Zionism is not expansionist, he told the adviser that he felt Bowen's langauge was okay, reasonable and in accord with his own view — before noting Bowen was not accurate enough since the Zionist movement as a whole didn't have an innate instinct to expand.(The BBC Trust, following the adviser's framing, would later rule that Bowen's assertion on Zionism's "innate instinct" violated the accuracy guideline.)< /DIV>A Defensive WarRegarding the complaint that Jeremy Bowen concealed information showing that Israel saw the Six-Day War was a defensive war and not a war of expansion, Gilbert said:In this article, everything relating to the threat to Israel is minimized. Israel believed it was threatened with destruction. It did not smash the enemy in a vacuum. Had Egypt and Syria won Israel would have had a terrible fate — Israel escaped it because the fortunes of war went Israel's way.Shlaim agreed:Israel’s wars divide into wars of choice and wars of no choice, and I say this as a “new historian”, I still regard 1967 as a war of no choice…as a defensive war. Israel was challenged and provoked and was right to pre-empt. I don’t see it as an expansionist war but one of defence.The adviser called on the Trust to consider this aspect of the complaint in light of the BBC's impartiality guideline, saying that the ESC should "consider whether, given that there are opposing views as to the threat to Israel, its need for a first strike and the debate about the extent to which this was a defensive war, these nuances are explored in an impartial way in the article."(The Trust stated in its eventual findings, "Although the complainant had raised this matter under accuracy as well as impartiality, it was not something which could be discussed under accuracy," and thus ruled that this aspect of the complaint was thus not upheld with regard to accuracy. Its statement did suggest that the matter was considered as part of the ruling that Bowen violated the impatiality guideline. What the Trust failed to make clear in its ruling is that many of CAMERA's other challenges, including some the Trust similarly rejected with regard to accuracy, were likewise raised in light impartiality guideline.)Israeli confidenceThe next subcategory dealt with Bowen's statement that Israeli generals were "hugely self-confident."Like with other statements that CAMERA protested, this assertion by Bowen was not challenged as being, in isolation, innaccurate. CAMERA's complaint, which acknowledged that Israel's military leadership indeed "felt assured in their army's capabilities," argued that Bowen's statement about hugely self-confident generals, in combination with other statements highlighting Israeli power and downplaying the country's concerns, as well as Bowen's failure to note Arab aggression and Israel's sense that the situation was a grave crisis, led to an inaccurate understanding of the conflict.Bowen addressed the isolated question of Israeli confidence as follows:The IDF generals did not just believe that they could win, but were super-confident that they could do it in double quick time. Hod accepted that the surprise attack on the Arab air forces was a gamble, but he said in effect that the odds were more than acceptable as they had been planning the attack for such a long time.There was a major difference in outlook between the generals, almost all sabras in their late 30s and early 40s, and the politicians, who were mainly eastern European immigrants in their 60s. The generals, all veterans of the fight for independence, believed that the politicians carried with them the weakness of the Diaspora. When PM Eshkol came to address them at the command HQ in Tel Aviv they gave him a terrible roasting, which he regarded as at least half a putsch. I spoke to General Elad Peled who was there, who told me that some of them used very insulting and contemptuous language to the Prime Minister.
I think it should be obvious that army generals, per se, are concerned about the security of their country. I did not say they were not concerned. But as I said in the piece they were not taken in by Arab propaganda… ‘They all knew that the only way that Israel would lose the war would be if the IDF did not turn up’.
They believed that an opportunity had arisen to inflict the kind of crushing defeat on the Arabs that they had been planning for most of their careers. The war had come a couple of years sooner than they expected, but they were ready.Gilbert painted a different picture:The two or three Generals I knew were not confident, they were petrified and feared the war going on so long they could not mainain it."And Shlaim argued that Bowen's statement was reasonable. It is, he said,a generalization that holds…look at Sharon, Weizmann, deputy chief of staff…there was almost a revolt of the generals who wanted a decision to unleash war….and had a low opinion of the Arabs. One general – the chief of staff – Rabin did have a nervous breakdown because he could not get a decision out of the cabinet. He kept getting summoned to cabinet meetings and couldn’t prepare for war…but it was not a breakdown because he was afraid the Arabs would win. The day before he had had a meeting with Ben Gurion who said “You involved Israel in terrible danger, you are responsible, it’s a crisis and our army is not ready.”(The adviser asked the Trust to consider whether the generalizaton was accurate and duly impartial. The Trust's ruling noted only that the complaint was not upheld on accuracy, but did not specify whether the statement was considered as part of its conclusion that Bowen was not impartial.)Settlements and "Everyone's Interpretation of International Law"The adviser's final specific subcategory was about Bowen's statement that Israel's settlements are illegal under "everyone's interpretation of international law except its own."The adviser reiterated CAMERA's assertion that the hyperbolic statement is demonstrably false considering, for example, assertions by Julius Stone, Eugene Rostow, Ronald Reagan and Mike McCurry about the legality of settlements; that it was not, as the ECU argued, "clear from the context" that Bowen was referring to the position of governments and not individuals; and that subsequent US governments starting with Reagan did not deem settlements illegal.
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