As a result of mounting worldwide criticism and perhaps in light of the upcoming renewal of the corporation’s royal charter in 2006 — BBC executives have taken a step to address complaints about Middle East coverage. Richard Sambrook, BBC’s director of news, and Mark Byford, head of the World Service division, have appointed former BBC journalist Malcolm Balen as "senior editorial advisor" to monitor the news service’s Middle East reporting. Eventually, this may improve the accuracy and balance in news about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For the moment, though, BBC’s unbalanced and negative coverage of Israel continues unabated. A BBC interactive Web site feature entitled “Guide to a West Bank Checkpoint” focuses on “the experiences of Palestinians who pass through the roadblocks and Israelis who guard them.” There is no similar display on the methods of Palestinian infiltration into Israeli centers to perpetrate mass killings of civilians, nor on the route of the weapons being smuggled into the area for use against Israelis.
On BBC’s World Service radio arm, partisan reporting is taken several steps further. Global listeners now tune in to discussion about Israel’s right to exist!
Does Israel Have the Right to Exist?
(BBC World Service News Hour, October 31, 2003)
On October 28, 2003, chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya’alon sparked a controversy in Israel with off-the-record remarks to journalists, saying that the Israeli government should be doing more to ease restrictions on Palestinians . While the government acknowledged that restrictions negatively affect the humanitarian situation of the Palestinians, one official explained that “it is a real dilemma because every time Israel tries to [ease the restrictions] it leads to more suicide bombings.” Israel’s counter-intelligence and internal security service have recommended the restrictions not be lifted due to the numerous warnings of terrorist attacks. Ya’alon later clarified his remarks by saying that he was presenting the various sides of an existing conflict within the security establishment.
But instead of neutrally presenting these various views, BBC used the issue to challenge Israel’s very legitimacy.
One-Sided Report from Rafah
Setting the scene for the discussion on Israel’s right to exist was a long, completely one-sided account of Palestinian grievances, by correspondent Barbara Plett, from the Gaza Strip. The report was comprised of interviews with Palestinians accusing Israel of reckless offensives and sinister intentions–-without any Israeli voices to counter these first-hand indictments.
Listeners heard Plett describe the plight of Palestinian families whose houses were demolished by Israeli forces, focusing only on Palestinian woes while asking rhetorical questions, such as "There are 40 people in this room? There is no water?"
Plett allowed the Palestinians to accuse Israel of ethnic cleansing, without any comment. For example, one Palestinian woman alleged:
...the Israelis don’t want the Palestinian people to be here. They want us to leave little by little, like what happened in 1948. They’re trying to do the same thing to us now.
No Israeli was interviewed to refute these claims, nor did Plett challenge this statement herself. Instead the reporter launched into a detailed description of Palestinian houses demolished and the barrier constructed by Israeli forces. The only allusion to Israel’s stated reason for its military operations, was by Plett herself saying:
Israel says it’s destroying houses used by Palestinian gunmen who regularly shoot at the soldiers. It says the aim is not expulsion, but to find tunnels used for smuggling weapons.
Plett, however, bracketed this brief reference by first stating that Palestinians accuse Israel of removing them in order to create a military buffer zone along the border, and then interviewing a Palestinian who denied there were tunnels in any case. Again, no Israeli spokesman was interviewed, nor was there any mention of the 70 weapon smuggling tunnels actually uncovered in the area by Israeli Defense Forces. Plett asked no questions at all about the purported $1000 per month payment by Palestinian weapons smugglers to families whose homes serve as an end-point for a tunnel. Nor did she mention the generous Palestinian Authority compensation to families whose tunnel-hiding homes are demolished by the Israeli Defense Forces.
Questioning Israel’s Legitimacy: The Panel
Having cast Israel as a heartless brutalizer of helpless families, BBC moved on to debate whether such an entity should exist. The assembled panel of guests included Massoud Shadjareh, Chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission; Merryl Wyn Davies, former BBC journalist and anthropologist; and Hussein Ibish, Communications Director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
Shadjareh and his group publicly proclaim their opposition to Israel’s right to exist; Merryl Wyn Davies wrote a book negatively portraying the U.S. and Israel; and Hussein Ibish has frequently leveled fraudulent, libelous attacks on Israel and its leaders; yet it was to this group that BBC posed the question of Israel’s legitimacy.
At the Durban Conference, Shadjareh represented the Islamic Human Rights Commission as part of an NGO delegation working actively to pass a resolution declaring Zionism as racism and to condemn Israel for genocide. In an account of his actions, he said:
..If you get rid of Zionism then we have no problem living together --Jews and Muslims-- either here or anywhere else...it is the evil of Zionism which is actually preventing this...the one thing we went down there to remove is the fear that the minute you stand against Zionism you are going to be accused of being anti-Semitic and we wanted to remove this fear and we felt if we remove this fear and expose this, then ordinary NGO’s will stand up on the right side and this is exactly what happened–the NGO declaration included "Zionism is racism, Israel is an apartheid state, and Israel has commited genocide." (From lecture given by Shadjareh on October 7, 2002; quoted on British Islamic Web site: http://www.inminds.co.uk/durban-conference.html)
Shadjareh has also gone on record supporting terrorist groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hizballah as “resistance movements” by “indigenous populations against illegal occupation.” And he has essentially defended Palestinian suicide bombings, as well. At a pro-Palestinian rally in London April 13, 2002, he said:
...for those who are pointing their finger at the Palestinians and crying suicide bombers and terrorists...they should realize that this whole scenario has been created by the United States and the West because if they supplied the Palestinians the same weapons which they have donated freely to the Israelis then those who have to sacrifice their life would have been able to use F-16's and F-15's and U.S.-made helicopter gunships and air conditioned tanks. The issue here is that you cannot equate the violence which is being used by oppressors and occupiers to the violence that is necessary to be used by those that are defending their homes, their children and their lives... (Quoted on British Islamic Web site: http://www.inminds.co.uk/palestine-rally-13apr02.html)
Is it any wonder that when questioned by the BBC, he responded, "No, [Israel] doesn’t deserve to exist"?
Merryl Wyn Davies
As a Welsh convert to Islam living in Malaysia, Davies frequently articulates a Muslim perspective on a wide array of issues. Her animosity toward Israel reflects this perspective as does her recent book, "Why Do People Hate America?" co-authored with Ziauddin Sardar.. In it, she faults " ‘America,’the political entity based on authoritarian violence, double standards, self-obsessed self-interest and a historical naivety that equates the Self with the World" for alleged worldwide hatred of the United States. The accusation of "double standards" refers in large part to U.S. policy toward Israel which is negatively portrayed.
Davies’ response to the BBC’s question of Israel’s legitimacy was also negative. She declared:
A state that becomes an increasingly exclusive Jewish state with a Zionist ideology has to be a problem.
In the past, Ibish’s frequent incendiary, anti-Israel articles for the student newspaper, The Collegian, included fraudulent, libelous attacks on Israel and its leaders. And he continues to slander the Jewish State and its supporters in op-eds and television broadcasts, often fabricating facts in order to bolster his arguments. For example, in an August 24, 2001, Ibish falsely claimed that “every aspect of life in the occupied territories–East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza depends on one’s ethnicity...the entire range of social services all are administered in favor of Jews by Israel in a manner at least as discriminatory as that of apartheid-era South Africa.” In fact, Israeli policies are not based on ethnicity but on nationality, and are the furthest thing from apartheid.
Ibish, like Davies, has condemned the U.S. for its support of Israel and tends to use any question about Israel as a springboard to slander the Jewish State. For example, a May 14, 2002 appearance on MSNBC’s “Alan Keyes is Making Sense” program included the following Ibish rant:
...We’re giving Israel $5 billion a year and all the military hardware they need, to maintain tens of thousands of troops in someone else’s country, steal their land and destroy their cities....
...Members of Congress are not willing to stop at any level, to pander to the pro-Israel community, to search for votes and funding and money. And we're willing to debase ourselves continually, in order to hug Israel and identify with its colonial occupation...
...But let me challenge the congressman on what we get for our $5 billion a year in aid to Israel. We have gotten not a military ally, but a military albatross. We have gotten the reputation of funding the only foreign military occupation in the world today. And our weapons, which we sent Israel, have killed over 1,400 Palestinians, most of them unarmed civilians. Many of them, you know, killed by American weapons, our Apache helicopters, our Black Hawk helicopters, tank shells made in the United States and other things. This constant giving of aid to Israel when our money is being used to slaughter people living under occupation has really destroyed our reputation in the Middle East.
As representative of an Arab American group trying to portray itself as mainstream, however, Ibish was forced to be more circumspect in his response to BBC’s question of Israel’s legitimacy. Towing his group’s line, he suggested that a choice must be made between “the creation of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories, in all of the occupied territories along the’67 borders” and “a single state that would be neither Israel nor Palestine, but another state, a bi-national state based on one person, one vote for everyone.”
Each guest was given ample time to demonize Israel:
Shadjareh declared the entire concept of Israel illegitimate:
Israel as an ideology which believes in apartheid system, in creating an apartheid system–the only apartheid system that is left in the world after the fall of South Africa...the only way forward is to actually undermine and reject this Zionist ideology and to remove it the same way we removed the apartheid in South Africa, so people can actually begin to live together.
Davies implied a comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany:
The awful thing about the report we just listened to and it’s really, really important to make this point. How many overtones does this have, with what happened in Europe to Jewish communities–group punishment, vicarious destruction of property and marginalization and ghettoization of communities. This is so awful.
And Ibish confined himself to demonizing the Israeli government:
...the Israeli government which is an extreme right-wing government absolutely rejects [the creation of a two-state solution] and uses its army to prevent that from happening. It constructs walls to prevent that from happening. It constructs settlements and colonization programs to prevent that from happening.
BBC has again crossed a journalistic red line. In reckless disregard for the most basic principles of fair play and ethics, it first excoriates Israel in a propaganda segment about Gaza, and then polls a panel of known Israel-haters to deplore Israel’s very existence.
BBC’s new “senior editorial advisor” should make his first and foremost task an investigation of the corruption of journalism – exemplified in this and other abhorrent assaults on Israel.