- 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?
In March 2009, the BBC Trust shook the British journalistic establishment by ruling
that BBC News Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen violated the broadcasters editorial guidelines. The ruling has been the focus of much attention in the UK press, and, according to one report
in a British newspaper, "will cause great concern within the BBC newsroom."
The findings are also causing serious concern among the many who have long felt the BBCs news coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict is biased against Israel, and who now have further reason to be skeptical of the broadcasters 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.|
This is true not only because Bowen wrote such a problematic article, but also because of his disturbing refusal, after the article's many shortcomings were brought to his attention, to take responsibility for any of those shortcomings. Instead of admitting error, Bowen and others in the BBC redoubled their commitment to the flawed article, spending their time (and British stakeholder resources) coming up with disingenuous defenses to the article's distortions.
In short, the Middle East editor and those at the BBC who initially backed his piece were given a choice between defending journalistic ethics or defending an unethical journalist, and they opted for the latter.
To its credit, the BBC Trusts 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 Bowens June 4 article, "How 1967 Defined the Middle East," contained inaccuracies and "had breached the guideline on impartiality."
Until now, most of what was known about CAMERAs complaint and the ruling against Bowen has come from the BBC itself, in the form of the complaint summary appended to the Trusts ruling and published online on April 15. (The portion of the summary and ruling related to CAMERAs complaint is embedded at the end of this document. You can skip to that section by clicking here.)
The BBCs 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.
Also problematic was that, although the complaint challenged a number of passages from Bowen's article as violating both the BBC's accuracy guideline and its impartiality guideline, the Trust's ruling dwelled only on whether these passages violated the accuracy guideline. This overly-narrow categorization of specific passages under the "accuracy" heading alone allowed the Trust to reject a number of complaints challenging Bowens half truths and errors of omission, since it could rule that these problematic passages did not technically violate the accuracy guideline.
This also means that, from a strictly quantitatively point of view, the Trust rejected more of the complaint's points than it upheld. That is, the Trust ruled only once on the impartiality guideline (it judged that the article as a whole violated this guideline) but multiple times on the accuracy guideline (it ruled separately for each questionable passage, and more often than not declined to rule that those passages were inaccurate). Qualitatively, however, the single ruling that Bowen violated the guideline calling for impartiality is more significant than any of the individual accuracy rulings, and shows that the BBC Trust recognized the validity of the complaint as a whole.
Perhaps most importantly, the Trust failed to express any concern with Bowen's blatantly dishonest attempts to defend his report attempts that should have signaled that the reporter is interested in advocating his own controversial opinions at the expense of honest and objective reporting.
For this reason, a more complete summary, with extensive excerpts and critical examination of the positions taken by various BBC employees and bodies, is necessary. We provide this needed in-depth look at the complaint by examining the correspondence between CAMERA, the BBC News Desk, Jeremy Bowen, and the BBCs Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) and others. Much of what follows, including comments by an adviser to the the BBC, Jeremy Bowen and historians Martin Gilbert and Avi Shlaim, is revealed here for the first time.
CAMERA's submission to the BBC Trust's Editorial Standards Committee provides a usefully summary of much of the correspondence leading up to the BBC's final ruling. Even though it was drafted in the middle of the complaints process after the original complaint, the BBC's first reply and CAMERA's first appeal, but prior to the publication of the adviser's notes and extended exchange of comments that followed (see timeline above) this submission is the best place to start for a general understanding of the basic issues and positions of the parties involved.
The full text of CAMERA's submission to the ESC follows. (To open a pdf of this text in a separate window, click here
The above summary conveys the essence of how Jeremy Bowen's article violated BBC's guidelines, and shows some (but not all) of the misleading attempts by the BBC News Web site, its Editorial Complaints Unit and Jeremy Bowen to defend the piece. But it is only part of the story. The details explored below reveal, in greater depth, more of the disingenuous attempts by Bowen and others to rewrite history through selective citation, falsehoods, and the sweeping erasure of inconvenient facts.
Because the above submission to the BBC Trust summarizes much of the complaints process it briefly discusses the original article, CAMERA's complaint and two appeals, and the replies by the BBC's website News Desk and ECU readers looking for an abridged overview can skip the next four sections below, read the yellow-highlighted text in the section entitled "Response from Editorial Complaints Unit" (the yellow text conveys additional information which is not not discussed above), and recommence reading beginning with the section entitled "Independent Adviser's 'Background and Consideration Notes.'"
Original Article: "How 1967 Defined the Middle East"
Jeremy Bowens article first appeared on June 7, 2007. The piece opened with a statement signaling that its ostensible purpose was to give readers a better understanding of historical and contemporary aspects of the conflict: "To understand what is happening between Israel and the Palestinians now, you have to understand what happened in the Middle East war of 1967."
But as CAMERA noted in its complaint, Bowen's account of the war and its aftermath served to dramatically misrepresent rather than educate.
The original version of the article that prompted CAMERAs complaint and was criticized by the BBC Trust is embedded below. (To open a pdf in a separate window, click here
CAMERAs 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 Israels 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 brief response from the BBC News website generally failed to address the specifics of the complaint.
BBC News replied on June 15 that
"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.
As will be revealed below, this reference to Rabin's March 1967 interview turned out to be the first of many instances in which the BBC selectively referred to information that could be seen as backing Bowen's assertions, while ignoring the significant body of information contradicting his position.
On June 26, CAMERA appealed to the organization's Editorial Complaints Unit and reiterated that "Bowen's article misleads readers with false information, and by focusing on certain aspects of the war while ignoring other essential aspects."
After again describing the problematic aspects of the article, CAMERA addressed the inadequacy of the BBC's initial response. The ECU was informed that the Rabin quote relayed in the BBC's first response, even if representative of the chief of staff's thoughts several months before the war, was superseded by Rabin's expressions of intense concern just before the war, after conditions on the ground substantially deteriorated. (See the bolded section below, emphasis added.) Despite being informed of this later and much more relevant Rabin statement, the BBC would nonetheless again point to the March 1967 Rabin quote as supposed evidence that Israel's military officials knew they had little reason to be concerned.
CAMERA told the ECU:
BBCs 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 its 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 Rabins statement in March 1967 is seen as reflecting Israels views at the time, surely his statements in May-June 1967 should be seen as reflecting the countrys 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 authors 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.
To read CAMERA's entire appeal to the ECU, see below (or click here
The Editorial Complaints Unit's Oct. 29 response, which described itself as being based on a long letter from Jeremy Bowen and the ECU's own research, was the BBC's first attempt to address the specifics of CAMERA's complaint. It did not uphold any part of the complaint.
As demonstrated below, its arguments ranged from unconvincing to bizarre to simply dishonest.
The unhighlighted section below excerpts and summarizes the ECU's response; the section highlighted in lavender briefly summarizes CAMERA's rejoinder, as relayed in its appeal to the Editorial Standards Committee; and the section highlighted in yellow raises additional concerns that were unmentioned in this ESC appeal.
First, the ECU addressed CAMERA's assertion that Bowen omitted mention of Arab aggression. As CAMERA asserted in its note to the ECU,
The articles 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.
The ECU responded that the article's opening pargraph made clear it set out to be "a fairly brief account of why Israel won in 1967 and the consequences of victory." (The opening paragraph stated: "To understand what is happening between Israel and the Palestinians now, you have to understand what happened in the Middle East war of 1967.")
The ECU also recalled Bowen's reference to an Arab radio personality's "bloodcurdling threats," and argued that it did not believe the reference "would have left readers in any doubt that Arab countries were agressively promoting war."
The Arab aggression that prompted the war is not a mere detail that can reasonably be cut from an account of what happened in 1967. And the ECU's argument that key context was cut in the interest of brevity is specious, especially in light of the other, less important details Bowen included in his piece.
That Bowen referenced threatening rhetoric by an Egyptian radio personality but not that of Arab leaders was but another example of him minimizing the Arab threat. CAMERA had already raised this point with ESC prior to their response: "Readers will rightly see threats by radio personalities as much less serious than threats by Arab leaders, who have at their disposal modern weapons and armies."
Regarding CAMERA's point that Bowen mentioned Palestinian and Syrian refugees but ignored the Jewish refugees from 1967, the ECU stated that, "in an article about the consequences of 1967, it seems reasonable to me to concentrate on the Palestinians."
... 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.
It is telling that the ECU views it as "reasonable" to focus on how 1967 affected Palestinians and not the war's effect on Israelis and Jews. That aside, Jews expelled from their countries in 1967 are certainly no less of a political issue than than the Syrians from the Golan Heights who were internally displaced that year; yet Bowen saw it fit to mention these Syrians while ignoring the Jewish refugees.
The ECU's assertion that the "road map" peace plan does not mention Jews is true, but extremely misleading. The peace plan does not explicitly mention Palestinian refugees either. It refers only to "refugees" in general.
The ECU note went on to relay Bowen's defense of his insinuation that Israel's military wanted war in order to "finish the unfinished business of Israel's independence war of 1948." Bowen said:
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.
It then turned to CAMERA's assertion that
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 organizations editorial guidelines calling for truth, accuracy, and impartiality.
Again, the ECU pointed to the article's reference to a belligerent Egyptian radio host, saying that this was "an adequate account of the Arab view of 'unfinished business.'"
In defense of his sweeping statement about "Zionism's innate instinct to push out the frontier," Bowen, apparently hoping to convince the ECU that one statement by one individual at one historical moment can define a broad, multi-faceted movement such as Zionism, cherry-picked a quote by Yigal Allon. Bowen wrote:
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)
Bowen also makes the odd argument that
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.
The ECU then referred to Israeli leaders views about Jerusalem, arguing that "it is quite clear from a variety of material that the founders of the State of Israel did not accept the division of Jerusalem, which happened in 1948."
In an attempt to back this claim, it cited David Ben-Gurion's assertion in a 1949 debate that, "we see fit to state that Jewish Jerusalem is the heart of the State of Israel. ... Jewish Jerusalem will never accept alien rule after thousands of its youngsters liberated their historic homeland for the third time, redeeming Jerusalem from destruction and vandalism."
It also cited Menachem Begin in that same debate arguing that "all" of Jerusalem, including the old city, belongs to Israel, and in 1950 saying that the annexation of the West Bank by Jordan should not be legitimized, and that this territory is part of the Jewish homeland.
The ECU continued:
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.
It was clear that Bowen and the ECU were not so interested in the overall "actions" and "statements" of Israelis and Zionists, but rather just those actions and statements that could be used, fairly or not, to support Bowen's narrow opinions. They selectively cited quotes and actions that appeared to support claims of Israeli "unfinished business" and an "innate instinct" to expand, but ignored numerous other quotes and undertakings that contradict those claims. For example, even if Allon urged Ben Gurion to capture the West Bank in 1949, as Bowen said in defense of his claim that Zionism is innately expansionist, a majority of (Zionist) Israeli cabinet members actually voted against such a proposal during the 1948 war. One prominent Zionist leader who argued against expansion, for example, was Moshe Sharett, who had insisted that Israel should not expand beyond its post-1948 boundaries.
Bowen's citation of Yigal Allon's statement that "the true frontier of the State of Israel" is dictated by Jewish settlement is not what the journalist made it out to be. He noted that the quote was taken from Ze'ev Schiff's 1974 book, A History of the Israeli Army. What he failed to note, though, is that Schiff cites the first edition of Yigal Allon's book, A Curtain of Sand, which was published in 1959. That is, Allon's reference to frontiers and "settlement" has nothing to do with today's "settlements" or boundaries, which came to exist only after 1967. In 1959, the West Bank and Gaza Strip were in the hands of Jordan and Egypt, avowed enemies of Israel, and the idea of settling those territories in an attempt to influence Israel's border did not exist. Instead, as Schiff's book suggests, Allon seemed merely to be referring to the Labor party philosophy of working the land, and the idea of helping to secure Israel's recognized, sovereign territory by encouraging farming of the uninhabited hinterland.
It is, moreover, somewhat ironic that Bowen cites Allon as evidence that Zionism is inherently expansionist. To be sure, Allon, like many others in Israel and beyond, was concerned with the precarious lack of strategic depth afforded by the 1948 armistice lines. But his desire for more stable and secure borders certainly did not amount to an "instinct to push out the frontier," a point evinced by the plan devised by Allon and named after him.
The Allon Plan, which was developed after the Six-Day War increased the amount of territory under Israeli control, actually called for Israel to turn over a large portion of the territory it had caputured from its belligerent neighbors. His plan called for defensible borders, which meant, as he explained in an 1976 essay in Foreign Affairs magazine, that Israel must adjust of the frontier in a way that ensured an "essential minimum of security," but must do so "without a desire for territorial expansion per se." In describing his plan, Allon recalled what Bowen had to conceal to make his points, namely, that "Israel expressed more than once its willingness to withdraw from the cease-fire lines of 1967." Allon again expressed this willingness: "According to the compromise formula I personally advocate, Israel within the context of a peace settlement would give up the large majority of the areas which fell into its hands in the 1967 war." He explained why he called for withdrawing from land as follows:
Nor are we discussing the maximum security that borderlines can provide Israel. As stated, our preoccupation is only with the essential minimum. (Emphasis added)
Once again underscoring his lack of expansionist instinct, Allon reiterated in the essay that "Israel would be prepared to concede all that is not absolutely essential to its security within the context of an overall peace settlement" (Foreign Affairs, October 1976, "Israel: The Case for Defensible Borders").
Bowen's admission that he had consulted Schiff's A History of the Israeli Army is of further interest because that book, penned by an expert in Israeli military history, makes clear the gaping holes in Bowen's piece.
"No prior thought was given to grabbing Arab territories and holding them," Schiff wrote. While Bowen eventually acknowledged as much in his communications with the ECU "At no time do I say that there was a plan to capture and hold territory," he admitted to his colleagues his article gave readers the exact opposite impression.
Schiff also recalled that Israel sent a message to Jordan's King Hussein saying it did not seek a fight, and would only strike Jordan if it was first attacked from that territory. Nonetheless, Jordan shelled Israel and, as Schiff explained:
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.
In other words, contrary to Bowen's insinuation, Israel sought to avoid battling over Jerusalem and the West Bank.
As with Bowen's article, a section of Schiff's book was devoted to describing the consequences of the war. But unlike Bowen, who focused only on the post-war effects that overlapped with Palestinian grievances, Schiff made perfectly clear the war had other consequences related to Israeli security:
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.
Bowen, having consulted Schiff's book, should have known of these key consequences; and yet he ignored them. Likewise, he should have known of Israel's hope to avoid fighting the Jordanians; but he still insisted his reference to "unfinished business" referred to "the desire to overturn the Jordanian conquest of the old city."
Bowen's defense falls flat not only because of Israel's hope to avoid battling Jordan, but also because he makes no such qualification in the article, and moreover failed to demonstrate any dominent desire among Israelis to "overturn" the conquest.
Additionally, contrary to the ECU's claim, the Ben-Gurion quote about "Jewish Jerusalem" clearly had nothing to do with any supposed desire to "overturn" Jordan's annexation of Jerusalem. Ben-Gurion was specifically expressing his opposition to "Jewish Jerusalem," the western sector of the city already under Israeli control, coming under international control.
Finally, while Menachem Begin did proclaim the West Bank rightfully belonged to Israel, it is absurd to suggest that one man, who at the time of his comments represented a party that garnered just 10 percent of the vote, speaks for the entire Zionist movement. Indeed, Begin's comments were made as part of an arguement with other Israeli Zionists who strongly disagreed with his territorial views. Bowen, predictably, does not share this with the ESC.
Another inconvenient truth for Bowen, who argues that we must take into account the "actions" of Israeli governments, is that when Begin gained power he oversaw the largest territorial contraction in Israeli history by agreeing to give up the Sinai peninsula.
To support the article's insinuation that Israeli politicians and military leaders were not especially worried by the Arab threats, and that civilians were scared only because they were "left to their own fears" by their leaders, the ECU argued that Bowen was "doing nothing more than suggesting ... Israel's military was superior to the combined Arab armies," and pointed to contemporary estimates by the United States and United Kingdom showing these countries' belief that Israel was indeed militarily superior to its Arab adversaries.
The ECU relayed Jeremy Bowen's assertion that an unnamed IDF planner told him Israel began laying the foundatiouns for victory in 1967 as early as 1950. Bowen also paraphrased a divisional commander who referred to "the great confidence of the generals."
The ECU also noted that it consulted Michael Oren's book Six Days of War, and found that the Americans were indeed confident that Israel was capable of winning a war against Arab countries.
Turning to CAMERA's reference to Rabin's nervous breakdown, which CAMERA noted in its appeal was "hardly something one would expect from the 'hugely self confident' generals described by Bowen," the ECU quoted from Rabin's memoir the his attempt to explain this incident, before relaying Bowen's comments on the breakdown. Bowen again brought up Rabin's superceded (see above) March 1967 interview, in which he referenced Israel's military superiority, and asked: "Which was Rabin's true view? His moment of panic after he had been chewed over by Ben Gurion, or what he said before the crisis started?" Being that Israel one the war, Bowen argued, the view he gave in March "was correct."
The ECU, apparently already having forgotten the numerous quotes by multiple Israeli leaders CAMERA provided in its appeal (and countless others that were not included in the appeal), absurdly stated that CAMERA's case against Bowen's insinuation of Israel's "hugely" confident generals hinged only on the Rabin incident:
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 language." 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 ESC
CAMERA'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.
The 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 Considerations
The "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 General
Gilbert 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 Segevs 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 threatened 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. "Its a really incisive and interesting article," he said. "There is nothing banal about it and it doesnt 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 Activity
The 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 Refugees
Bowen 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 Goliath
The 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.
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.
The two Goliaths as opposed to one is alright but I can see why some would reject it. Its a revisionist history that I dont agree with. The Arabs were not ready for combat
but they were in a stronger position overall so its 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.
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 its bald but its accurate. Israel had overwhelming conventional superiority and a nuclear monopoly.
Israels 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 Israel
The 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: "Israels 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 that
Its correct though its 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 wasnt 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.)
On 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 Dayans 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 didnt 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
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.
Its very misleading indeed to the general reader.
On this, Shlaim also parted ways with Bowen:
Its 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 didnt want lots of Arabs in the state.
It was true some of the right wing generals Weitzman, Sharon, Zeevi ... 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 its not true.
After the adviser told Shlaim of Bowen's insistence that "unfinished business" was meant to refer to Jerusalem, Shlaim protested, "But he doesnt say Jerusalem
Its a bit too terse and too many claims its not accurate and is a bit misleading in suggesting the army was single-minded, it didnt 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.)
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 Zionisms 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:
Thats OK but its 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 wasnt reconciled They didnt 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 its 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.)
A Defensive War
Regarding 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.
Israels 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 dont 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.)
The 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 couldnt 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, its 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.
Bowen, though, again insisted it was clear he did not mean "everyone" as referring to individuals and, ignoring evidence to the contrary, contended that the US deems settlements illegal. He told the adviser:
I think that in the context of the piece it is clear that my mention of everyone refers to states and international organizations, not to individual academics. Settlements are a major legacy of 1967 and high on the agenda in the Annapolis peace process
I am not aware of any countries that accept Israels view of the legality of settlements. I think Micronesia and other South Pacific nations have voted with Israel a couple of times in the General Assembly. Crucially for the Israeli government, the US does not endorse its view. Many Israelis dont either. I know there are various academics who endorse the Israeli view but they are in a small minority.
The BBC's online Middle East editor said that "If 'everyone' means people and not governments then I would have to say that the language was loose," but also argued there was a consensus among organizations and governments, and that the Bowens language is correct if one understands him to be referring to governments.
Also quoted was Christopher Greenwood, whom the adviser described as "the UK's leading barrister on international law." Greenwood argued that Bowen's assertion was not inaccurate, but "not frightfully bright" either, and said the editor was "dressing up opinion as fact":
There are no grounds for saying that is inaccurate. ...a bit hard to say its wrong
but youd find people who would dispute this especially in the US. ...It is the prevailing view among governments.
Its what the International Court of Justice said in 2004 by 14 to 1 and the one disagreed on other grounds... .This was given in the context of an opinion on the security barrier.
They said Israel was contrary to Article 49.6 of the fourth Geneva Convention ... and the Security Council says that the settlements is a policy that has no validity. ...
If you take it to literally mean everyone well, not everyone even knows of the existence of the settlements ... but you could say everyone except Israel and its supporters who is reputable in international law would agree.
Even the American government is not keen on the settlements.
But its not frightfully bright to express it like that
its dressing up interpretation as fact. It might have been better worded but I wouldnt uphold a complaint that it was biased.
Again turning to the article as a whole, the adviser recalled CAMERA's assertion that the article was "tilted towards the pro-Palestinian narrative," and asked the Trust to whether this was the case.
Another broad question the editor asked the Trust to consider, in light of the BBC guideline banning personal opinions on controversial topics but allowing professional judgments, was whether Bowen's article was a "personal opinion" or a "professional judgement."
On July 8, 2008, CAMERA sent the ESC its comments on the adviser's notes. Excerpts of those comments follow:
Also commenting on the adviser's background notes were Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen, Director of BBC News Helen Boaden and the ECU's Head of Complaints Fraser Steel. The ESC shared those submissions on Aug. 13, 2008.
All three expressed roughly the same reasons for their unease with the adviser's notes.
Comments by Jeremy Bowen
Bowen argued that the notes had "serious flaws." He was disturbed that the adviser described him as embracing the "New Historian" narrative; insisted that Martin Gilbert and Michael Oren should not be seen as "mainstream," apparently due to their "support of the Jewish state" and Zionism; and cast the controversy about the New Historians' revisionist historiography as being driven by "right wingers."
[The adviser] sets up a false dichotomy and suggests, incorrectly, that I have taken sides in a historical controversy, supporting the new historians against the the mainstream view.
That is a fundamental misunderstanding of what I am employed to do as Middle East Editor of the BBC. My job is to report events in the Middle East, adding analysis and context to make them more understandable. That means I need to make judgements.
Judgements need to rest on something. Mine are based on my journalistic experience .... They are also based on what I know about the history of the region ....
The article that is the subject of this investigation rests on work I did for a book on the 1967 Middle East war that was published in 2003. The book was the result of a considerable amount of original research ...
The advisers analysis is weakened by her misunderstanding of the historiography of 1967. She is wrong to characterise Sir Martin Gilbert, whom she quotes extensively, as the mainstream view. Sir Martin, one of Britains best known historians, was Winston Churchills official biographer. But his large body of work on Israel, while highly respectable, needs to be read in the context of his life-long strong support of the Jewish state.
The same applies to Michael Oren. Like Sir Martin, he is a well known and respected historian but his work also follows a conventional Zionist narrative. The Shalem Center, the research institute at which he is a senior fellow in Jerusalem praises his book on the 1967 war because it restores the Zionist narrative of this conflict as one of defense [sic] and not aggression, and as a story of heroism. The adviser omits this context. She says simply that the book was much-praised and that it espouses the conventional view. ...
By the same token, it is misleading of the ESC editorial adviser to state that the complainant Mr Ini represents the mainstream view ....
As for the new historians their work is controversial in some circles principally among Israeli right wingers and their sympathisers abroad because they uncovered documents in declassified archives that challenge what had been the conventional wisdom about the creation of the Jewish state and its history since 1948. But outside those circles they are hardly mavericks. Some might even argue that they are now closer to the mainstream than Sir Martin Gilbert and Michael Oren. ...
The study of history has always created controversies. It is part of its appeal. But to suggest that the article I wrote for the website about 1967 should be seen as picking a side over another is wrong. I wrote an article as a BBC journalist, albeit one with some very specific knowledge based on my own extensive original research. ...
Comments by Helen Boaden
The director of BBC News was similarly unhappy that the adviser asked the ESC to decide whether it was impartial for Bowen to embrace the "New Historian" narrative at the expense of the mainstream narrative. She argued that it was "subjective" for the adviser to call Martin Gilbert and Michael Oren's view the "conventional" or "mainstream view," and suggested that the adviser gave more weight to this view than to the "revisionist" view held by Avi Shlaim and Tom Segev. She also claimed that because the adviser referred to Shlaim as a "self confessed New Historian," there is reason to believe the adviser regarded the revisionist historiography as "unrighteous."
I would suggest that, rather than this approach, the key issue for the ESC to consider is instead the one the adviser has identified only in passing on page 30 - whether the article was a 'professional judgement' rather than a 'personal opinion' and, if it was, whether Mr. Bowen's analysis was evidence-based and was therefore a reasonable one for him to put forward. ...
I believe ... that this is the main question for the ESC to consider.
I would add that the BBC's editorial guidelines state that: "impartiality must be adequate and appropriate to our output .... it does not require the representation of every argument of facet of every argument on every occasion or an equal division of time for each view. " The adviser has omitted this section from her presentation of the guidelines ....
(Contrary to Boaden's claim, the adviser did in fact reference this section in her presentation of the guidelines.)
Finally, commenting on "the terminology used by Mr Bowen ... over whether Israel's settlements are illegal," Boaden noted that the BBC Governors commissioned an analysis of legal points by Noam Lubell, and asserted that BBC News "continues to use the terminology which the report endorsed."
Comments by Fraser Steel
The ECU's head of complaints felt that "The appropriate question ... is whether any of its contents exceed the scope allowed for BBC journalists to provide professional judgements, and (for example) constitute expressions of personal opinion which are not allowable in such a context." Like Bowen and Boaden, he argued that the question of professional judgement should be the starting point for the ECU:
The [background and consideration] notes appraisal of the piece, which proceeds by measuring Jeremy Bowens statements against the views of two contrasted strands of historiography, is misguided. Its implicit assumption is that the piece, if not deemed to be a personal view and entitled to the latitude this allows, is under an obligation to reflect both strands in a balanced way. This approach is necessarily flawed, because it ignores the possibility of other strands of historiography. There is, for example, a Palestinian narrative of the 1967 war, and the New Historians have been criticised for underplaying it. To properly apply the concept of balance adopted in the notes, the Committee would have to measure Jeremy Bowens statements against not two, but an indefinite number of competing narratives. This difficulty evaporates, however, if the notes approach is avoided and the Guideline on professional judgements by BBC presenters is taken as the starting-point.
CAMERA addressed the shortcomings of Bowen, Boaden and Steel's assertions in an Aug. 25 note to the ESC. That note follows:
On Dec. 5, 2008, The ESC shared the adviser's revised background notes. These were essentially the same as the original notes, with two added paragraphs about the American view on the legality of settlements:
I enquired of the US Embassy about the American policy on the legality of the settlements. The researcher there was unable to come up with any material demonstrating the US government describing the settlements as illegal. This next quote is from a report from the Congressional Research Service in June 2008 which seems to state the American position as clearly as it can be expressed:
Settlements. All recent U.S. Administrations have disapproved of Israels settlement activity as prejudging final status issues and possibly preventing the emergence of a contiguous Palestinian state. On April 14, 2004, however President Bush noted the need to take into account changed realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers (i.e., settlement blocs), asserting it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949. He later emphasized that it was a subject for negotiations between the parties.
Another round of comments by the BBC and CAMERA about the revised background notes resulted in little new information, with the exception of an added comment by ECU's Head of Complaints Fraser Steel about CAMERA's critique of the BBC's response to the first background notes. "In order to guard against incorrect assumptions," he said in a Dec. 23 note, "I should begin by making clear that my note was drafted independently of Ms Boaden and Ms Bowen, and not in consultation with them. The preferences of BBC News did not figure among my concerns ...."
He also argued that "the reading of the Editorial Guidelines which Mr Ini proposes under this heading is semantically tenable, but as a matter of fact incorrect," though he does not explain why he feels this way.
Under the heading Re: Two Prominent Views, Mr Ini, taking up the reference to difficulty in my note of 2 July, writes The ESCs role is not to avoid difficulty. Rather, it is tasked
with monitoring compliance with the editorial guidelines even if fulfilling this role might sometimes entail making difficult judgements. This is unexceptionable as a general statement, but it misses my point. My suggestion was not that the Committee should seek to avoid difficult judgements, but that the difficulty in this case was indicative that an incorrect approach had been taken in the Editorial Advisers note. However, in the event that the Committee chooses to follow that approach, I see nothing in the Editorial Advisers note which would assist it in measuring Jeremy Bowens statements against the relevant range of competing narratives. Mr Inis comment that there may be an infinite number of narratives, but it would be reasonable to generalise that there are two prominent ones does not seem to me to surmount this problem, as it leaves Palestinian perspectives entirely out of account.
The Trust then solicited yet another round of comments.
Helen Boaden on Feb. 18, 2009 rejected the charge that Jeremy Bowen is biased, and again insisted that the article was a "product of Mr. Bowen's professional and impartial judgement on the history of the 1967 war and its resonance today...." She said that although the editorial guidelines do not require "'the representation of every argument of racet of every argument on every occasion or an equal division of time for each view,'" BBC News Online nevertheless took clear steps to provide an ecumenical approach, having presented its audience with "a diverse range of material and views about the 1967 war." Bowen's article was not meant to stand alone from other articles, she added, before listing some of the links on the article page, and some excerpts from the articles linked to.
She additionally argued that
If Mr Ini's allegation is upheld it would set an unwelcome precedent of requiring articles on historical events to contain within them a wide range of academic interpretations even when they are set within the wider context of an overall website provision.
Jeremy Bowen on Feb. 11, 2009 argued that CAMERA sought to suggest that Yigal Allon represented extreme Zionism, even though he is a mainstream figure. (In fact, as CAMERA's submissions posted above show, CAMERA never argued that Allon represented extreme Zionism.)
He argued, apparently in an attempt to defend his view that Zionism is instinctually expansionist, that although CAMERA was correct in noting that an Israeli redeployment to the security barrier "would mean less territory controlled by Israel," the country would nonetheless still be in control more land than in the 19 years between 1948 and 1967. Whether Israel controls part of the West Bank or all it, he argued, "it's all still expansion."
Additionally, he stated that If Zionism didnt have 'an innate instinct to push out the frontier' it's hard to make sense of how the yishuv (the pre-state Jewish community in Palestine) grew from a handful of immigrants on a few patches of land into the powerful and rich regional superpower Israel has become." As Jonathan Turner noted in his complaint to the BBC, Bowen's implication is that Israel could not have become "powerful" or "rich" without stealing land. Bowen's hostility toward Israel apparently prevents him from considering that Israel's power developed as a result of its need to defend itself against neighbors who sought to destroy it, and its affluence is to a great degree driven by the technological innovation driven both by its defense needs and the high value its society places on education.
Finally, seemingly concerned that the substance of his arguments would not be enough to sway the BBC Trust, Bowen launched an irrelevant and inaccurate ad hominem attack on CAMERA. He insisted that the organization is "hawkish" and that its purpose is "not to be impartial," and referred to a Wikipedia-related controversy driven by the pro-Palestinian advocacy organizaiton Electronic Intifada.
CAMERA responded on Feb. 26:
In what appears to be a desperate attempt to avoid the substance of our complaint, Mr. Bowen resorted to character assassination relaying misinformation about me and about CAMERA.
He falsely casts CAMERA as not being interested in impartiality, and claims it represents a "hawkish" view of the conflict. We categorically reject his imputation, and would like to note that impartiality is indeed a key concern for CAMERA, and that, as a media watchdog organization which has long addressed misrepresentations of Israel, we do not represent a "hawkish" (nor a "pacifist") view of the conflict.
Regardless, these allegations have absolutely no relevance to the substance of our complaint, and should not distract the BBC Trust from carefully and seriously addressing the information we have relayed. The key issue, after all, is Mr. Bowen's accuracy and impartiality, which must be examined by the Trust.
Mr. Bowen also raises the issue of a dispute revolving around Wikipedia in order to cast aspersions on my character. His points are highly deceptive. We have indeed called on our membership and the general public, via mass emails and articles on our Web site available for all to read, to edit Wikipedia articles that they feel are skewed. The ability to edit and improve articles, of course, is what Wikipedia is all about. As to his statement that I "urg[ed] my supporters to conceal their identities," this is true. I explained that those who intended to create Wikipedia accounts should not use their real names. But contrary to his innuendo that this should be seen as in some way sinister, I was in fact relaying Wikipedia's own guideline. The Wikipedia sign up page explicitly urges that "You should strongly consider choosing a username that is not connected to you." (See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special:UserLogin&type=signup&returnto=Main_Page)
Once again, though, none of this is at all relevant to the substance of our complaint, and Mr. Bowen's innuendo should not distract the Trust from examining our evidence on its merits.
Note that CAMERA has respectful working relationships with the largest and most authoritative media organizations worldwide. These organizations do not seek to avoid the substance of issues we address by raising ad hominem arguments. We expect no less from the BBC, which has thus far treated numerous complaints raised by CAMERA with the seriousness they deserve.
BBC Trust Findings
Finally, on April 15, 2009, almost two full years after CAMERA first submitted its complaint, the BBC Trust publicized its findings. The portion of the findings related to CAMERA's complaint is published below.
(You can also open this pdf in a separate page by clicking here
, or view the Trust's complete findings, which include discussion of both CAMERA's complaint and the one filed by Jonathan Turner, by visiting this
page on the BBC Web site.)
After the BBC Trust published these findings, CAMERA shared with the Trust its serious concern with one of the findings' key passage.
For Bowen to have satisfied the BBC guidelines calling for impartiality, the BBC Trust wrote, "All that was required was a clear statement signposting that there were alternative theses subscribed to by respectable historians."
But surely, if a reporter consistently promotes only one particular point of view and fails to relay in any serious depth other significant, mainstream theses embraced by reputable historians, this reporter is not fulfilling the duty to be impartial. In other words, if a reporter merely "signposts" the existence of alternative theses without exposing readers to their substance, he or she will have failed to adhere to the BBC editorial guidelines requirement that journalists "avoid bias or an imbalance of views on controversial subjects" and give "due weight" to the wide "range of significant views and perspectives."
The Trust's statement about "signposting," then, weakens the BBC editorial guidelines by providing a loophole around the impartiality guideline.