BBC’s Profiles Obscure Reality

More than a year ago (2001-2002), BBC posted on its Web site several profiles of Middle Eastern leaders and groups. The profiles whitewashed Palestinian terrorist figures while, at the same time, harshly disparaging the Israeli prime minister. Despite letters to BBC about its unfair and biased features, the profiles remain unrevised on the Web site. Unfortunately, the misinformation in these features has been quoted and repeated as fact in English language newspapers across the world.

For BBC to post such blatantly biased profiles is a violation of its own ethical code of impartiality, accuracy and fairness. 

Below are analyses of and links to the profiles of Israeli leader Ariel Sharon, Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, Hamas and Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. The sharply contrasting profiles of Sharon and Arafat were both written by Middle East Economic Survey editor Gerald Butt. The Hamas profile was authored by BBC correspondent Martin Asser and BBC Middle East analyst Fiona Symons composed the one on Yassin.


1. “Ariel Sharon: Controversial hardliner” by Gerald Butt

Israeli leader Ariel Sharon–never even identified in this article as Prime Minister — is the only leader labelled “controversial” or “hardliner” in the group of profiles. Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, by contrast, is lauded as a “spiritual figurehead,” while Palestinian Authority Chairman Arafat is delicately termed a “flawed symbol of Palestine.”

Expunged from the profile is any positive reference to Sharon. There is nothing about his recognized wartime heroism nor his acclaim as a master military strategist. He is described as “popular with the Israeli right” but there is no reference at all to his landslide victories in the past two Israeli election campaigns nor to his past or current tenure as Prime Minister of Israel. His career is described only in derogatory terms and his military campaigns are presented without context.

Sharon is said to have “led punitive military operations,” to have used “harsh occupation measures,” to have launched a “disastrous invasion of Lebanon,” and to harbor a “mission–his enemies call it a dangerous mission…to fight for Israel’s security, believing all the while that the end justifies the means.” Yet there is no mention of the circumstances necessitating Sharon’s successful missions.

For example, the article discusses Sharon’s counter-terrorist campaign in the 1950’s as follows:

In the 1950s he led a number of punitive military operations against Egyptian military units stationed in the Gaza Strip – one incident in 1955 resulting in the deaths of 38 Egyptian troops.

Missing from this account is the fact that Arab terrorist groups, Fedayeen, were launching attacks inside Israel from the early ’50’s onward. By the end of 1954, the Egyptian government had formally undertaken the training, equipping and launching of Arab suicide teams from army bases in Gaza and the Sinai to plant mines, boobytrap fields, ambush and murder Israeli civilians. Between 1951-1955, Fedayeen terrorist attacks from Egypt (Gaza and Sinai) were responsible for over 400 Israeli deaths. Fedayeen from Gaza were also entering Jordan and operating from there. After a wave of deadly attacks in early 1955, the Israeli government sent paratroopers led by Ariel Sharon into Gaza to eliminate their base of terrorism. The Israeli raid on the Egyptian military base was carried out on February 28, 1955 and resulted in the death of eight Israeli soldiers, in addition to 37 Egyptian ones.

No mention is made of Sharon’s courageous defense of Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. He led his troops across the Suez Canal to encircle Egypt’s Third Army after 80,000 Egyptian troops assaulted 500 Israeli defenders along the canal in a surprise attack. Perhaps the author considers this action by Sharon also a “punitive military operation.”

The profiles by Butt are written from an Arab perspective and assiduously downplay and whitewash Arab aggression and terrorism. Thus the Temple Mount area Sharon visited in September of 2000 is termed the “al-Aqsa mosque compound,” which is Arab terminology. (In fact, Sharon never visited the mosque itself. He visited the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism.)


2. “Arafat: Flawed symbol of Palestine” by Gerald Butt

In contrast to Sharon’s negative profile, Butt treats Arafat with kid gloves. While the title gently labels Palestinian leader Arafat as “flawed,” the article describes him in superlatives — “unchallenged leader of the Palestinian people,” “the Palestinians’ greatest asset,” “a brilliant leader.”

His “flaws” according to the article turn out to be — not his orchestration of terrorist campaigns against Israelis, Jews and Americans — but the “pathological refusal to share power or delegate responsibility,” and being “a hopeless organiser and negotiator.”

His terror campaigns as leader of the PLO, on the other hand, are termed “military campaigns,” and Arafat himself is praised as one who “never lacked for personal courage.” The entirety of the terrorist assaults under his helm ( ex. murder of 25 civilians in Lod airport, massacre of Israeli athletes at the Olympics, kidnapping and murders of a U.S. Ambassador to Sudan, a US Chargé d’affaires and a Belgian diplomat, murder of schoolchildren in Ma’alot , hijacking of an Italian cruise ship and murder of a wheelchair-bound man) is buried in the following sentence:

Led by Arafat, the PLO took up arms themselves, hijacking airliners and committing other acts of violence.

Recent evidence implicating Arafat as paymaster for suicide bombing attacks in Israel and for importing weaponry from hostile Arab countries, and for his active role in training terrorists (for more, click here) is completely ignored. Instead Butt describes Arafat’s “errors of judgement,” such as his support for Saddam Hussein during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait which left him “penniless and friendless” and forced him to “make peace with Israel from a position of weakness.”

As a virtual apologist for Arafat, Butt attributes the failure of the peace process — not to PLO chairman’s utilization of violence to achieve his goals — but to his “weak” bargaining “position,” which left him “little [to] do but accept whatever he was offered.”


3.  “Who are Hamas?”  by Martin Asser

Contrary to the BBC’s sanitized account, Hamas does not merely oppose the Oslo peace process and advocate establishing an Islamic state in Israel; it is a virulently anti-Semitic group that calls for the obliteration of Israel and Jews in general. For example, the Hamas charter of 1988 includes the following statements:

1. Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it. (Preamble, Hamas Charter [excerpts])

2. The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight Jews and kill them. Then, the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and the trees will cry out: “O Moslem, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him” (Article 7)

3. [The Jews] took control of the world media … With their money they stirred revolutions in various parts of the globe … They stood behind the French Revolution, [and] the Communist Revolution. (Article 22)

4. They stood behind World War I, … they were behind World War 2, through which they made huge financial gains. (Article 22)

5. [The Zionist scheme] has been laid out in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. (Article 32)

  • Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, presented as “the moderate face of the Palestinian Islamists” who occasionally lapses into “fiery” speech, promotes the virulent anti-Jewish/anti-Israel message of Hamas. He has been quoted as saying: “reconciliation with the Jews is a crime…”(Filastin al-Muslimah, March 1995); “struggle in all its forms and resistance to the occupation should be escalated,” (Saut Al-Haqq wa Al-Hurriyya, July 17, 1998); and “the day in which I will die as a shahid [martyr] will be the happiest day of my life.” (Al-Quds, July 26, 1998)


  • Hamas glorifies terror attacks against Israeli civilian women and children, what it calls “acts of martyrdom.” Rallies and gatherings of Hamas members are convened after “successful” suicide attacks to praise the attackers and encourage youngsters to follow in their footsteps. For example, at a gathering Hamas convened at a local high school in Tulkarm to commemorate and honor two “martyrs,” Hamas activists distributed posters of the last 10 suicide martyrs to the crowd which included young children and future suicide bombers in white garments and bandanas. Hamas Politibureau Head Khaled Mash’al, glorified the “martyrs,” stating:

Hamas has tens of martyrs who are willing to carry out attacks against Israeli targets. An operation of such Martyrs exceeds that of Arab armies who fought the Hebrews. The importance of the weapon of such martyrs is no less than the importance of nuclear weapons. (MEMRI, Special Dispatch No. 234 – PA June 28, 2001)


4. “Sheikh Yassin: Spiritual figurehead”  by Fiona Symon

Described on the BBC website as a “spiritual figurehead” and a “symbol of Palestinian resistance,” Yassin has often voiced his uncompromising devotion to the cause of Israel’s destruction. According to an Oct 8, 1997 statement:

[T]he rights …[he] wants from the Jews consist of an entire Palestine from the river to the ocean. …He stressed the need to pursue violence to liberate all of Palestine…

In response to a question concerning his health, Sheikh Yassin said: “Today I am like iron, and tomorrow I will be like an incendiary bomb in the face of the occupiers.” (Also, see above)

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