The Daily Telegraph’s new “Beebwatch” feature (10/7/03) demonstrated BBC’s partisan coverage of the most recent Palestinian terrorist bombing of a Haifa restaurant. On October 4, 2003, a female suicide bomber, member of Islamic Jihad, targeted both Arabs and Israelis, murdering 19 people, including four children and several families.
According to Beebwatch, BBC’s focus was less on the terrorist attack and more on speculation about an Israeli response. There was no mention of “terrorism” or “murder,” and almost nothing was heard from Israeli witnesses or family members. Editorial comments about Israel “point[ing] the predictable finger of blame” prefaced an interview with an Israeli minister.
The pattern of dismissing Israeli victims while shining the spotlight on Israel’s defensive measures is familiar to listeners of BBC World Service broadcasts and has been been well documented by CAMERA.
BBC World Service’s October 7 NewsHour broadcast, however, went a step further. In a lopsided indictment of Israel’s response to the Haifa attack, the segment concluded with a generalized justification of Arab terrorism against Israel.
Focusing on Syria’s accusation that Israel is dragging the Middle East into a wider war, BBC reporter Julian Marshall interviewed Israeli foreign policy advisor Zalman Shoval (~2 minutes), Jordanian Ambassador to the U.S. Karim Kawar (~4 minutes), and Patrick Seale, whom he introduced simply as a writer on Syria and the Middle East (~3.5 minutes). In fact, Seale is more accurately be described as a Syrian propagandist who echoes even the most absurd claims by the nation’s rulers. (He alleges that Israel was behind Palestinian arch-terrorist Abu Nidal’s actions, and that Nizar al-Hindawi, who tried to blow up an El Al plane in 1986, was actually a double agent controlled by Israel.) The broadcast devoted almost four times as much time to Israel’s accusers as it did to its defender.
Marshall, as usual, reserved his most aggressive tone for the Israeli guest. Two comments were directed to Shoval — the first, a demand that he admit that Israel was causing problems and the second, a defense of Syria.
BBC-MARSHALL: Whatever Israel’s justification for this attack on Syria, do you acknowledge though that you’ve upped the tempo...ratcheted up the temperature in the Middle East?
Shoval did not acknowledge this and told Marshall that Israel hoped to achieve the opposite effect with the air strike, viewing it as a warning to Syria.
BBC-MARSHALL: But Syria argues that it is not allowing its territory to be used by these Palestinian militant groups. You just don’t accept that.
Shoval responded that the Syrian leader publicly proclaimed that his government would not act against terrorists, belying an earlier promise to U.S. Secretary of State Powell, and that under international law, Israel has every right to act against a country sponsoring aggression against it. Marshall quickly moved on.
Marshall’s interview with the Jordanian representative, was not only longer but much more respectful. Marshall made no editorial comments, but began by asking whether Syria has any sort of obligations to move against Hamas and Islamic Jihad on its territory. Ambassador Kawar lost no time in assailing Israel:
KAWAR: Well all countries have to work towards lowering the level of violence that we have seen escalate but I would call on Israel to restrain. Certainly the attack on Syria is unjustified and we condemn it. But the question I would ask the Israeli government is how does this attack contribute to the security of Israel?...The escalation of violence is very dangerous for us and violence will not resolve this problem.
Only once did Marshall refer to Palestinian terrorism, and this in an apologetic query to the Jordanian ambassador. Unlike his smug assertions to the Israeli foreign advisor, Marshall questioned Kawar tentatively:
BBC-MARSHALL: Correct me if I’m wrong, but if I understand it, your foreign minister has said recently that it is time to review the actions of the Palestinian side which prompts such Israeli responses, and this in the aftermath of the suicide bombing in Haifa. What did he mean by that?
Marshall followed that question with one equating the Palestinian bombing and murder of families in a restaurant to Israel’s air strike on a terrorist training camp. He asked about approaches for ending what he termed the “degener[ation] into tit-for-tat violence.”
The moral confusion implicit in Marshall’s line of questioning became even more evident when he compared Hamas and Islamic Jihad “dedicated to the elimination of the State of Israel” with those who “would like to see a greater Israel encompassing the Palestinian territories.” (Marshall wrongly attributed the latter to Israeli government groups.) In Marshall’s opinion, “those sort of elements” as he sneeringly refers to them, are the same — i.e. Palestinian terrorist groups whose avowed goal, according to its leaders is to “purify” Palestine “from the Jews” (Ismail Abu Shanab, New York Times, October 28, 2000) and to “kill Jews everywhere” (Abdel Aziz Rantisi, Chicago Tribune, July 23, 2002) and Israeli individuals who do not advocate the murder of their neighbors but wish to establish communities and live in disputed territory which they see as their historic birthright.
Explicit and implicit in all the Jordanian ambassador’s responses was blaming of Israel for the Road Map’s failure. But Mr. Kawar’s charges seemed mild and measured in comparison with the indictment of Israel by Patrick Seale. Given an unchallenged platform to blame Israel for everything from its air strike in Syria to Arab suicide bombings, Seale heaped abuse on the state and its leader.
SEALE: The [Arab world] is united behind Syria as it faces this aggressive act by Israel.It seems obvious to many, many observers that Prime Minister Sharon of Israel is lashing out to distract attention from his failures at home. It’s obvious to many people that his pursuit of his greater Israel ambition is leading his country to disaster. The security situation has never been worse. The economy is on its knees, needs to be bailed out massively. Israel faces international isolation...
Later he offered a particularly twisted cover-up of terrorist organizations sworn to the destruction of Israel. Presenting Arab terrorism as an effort to “contain Israel,” to create a “deterrent capability,” Seale included in his defense even Al Qaeda.
SEALE: The [Arab]governments are militarily too weak to take on Israel with its American ally. And so, in a sense, that task of attempting to contain Israel is passed to non-state actors, like Hizballah in Lebanon, like Hamas and Islamic Jihad and indeed even in its different way Al Qaeda. What these groups are trying to say to Israel is, ‘ if you hit us, we will hit you.’ And what does that mean? It means they are trying to acquire a deterrent capability. Now, Hizballah has managed something of that sort in Lebanon. There are many things in Lebanon which Israel can no longer do or, at least, if it does them, it risks Hizballah rockets on Israeli towns and villages. Hamas, in a sense, and Islamic Jihad, in my view, are trying to achieve the same sort of deterrent capability using this awful weapon of suicide bombers.
Marshall did not utter a word of challenge to Seale’s Orwellian reversal of reality. He simply concluded by reiterating his guest’s credentials as a “writer on Syria and the Middle East” – as if to give weight to his words.
Thanks to Myron Kaplan for help in providing material for BBC-WATCH.