The BBC, the British Press, and the Attack on America

In much of the British press, the tragic and horrific events that shook the world on September 11, 2001 have been cynically used to further anti-Israel sentiment. The Independent, the Guardian, the Observer, and the BBC all carried news columns or commentary implicating Israel and U.S. support of Israel as a central cause for the terror attacks, some going even so far as to suggest that Israel and the U.S. are themselves guilty of terrorism. (The Daily Telegraph was a notable exception.)

While British newspapers have a limited audience outside the U.K., BBC has a global audience of well over 150 million people, with the Web site, TV and radio broadcasts delivering commentary and analysis to the world round the clock. It is, therefore, significant that throughout its coverage of the terror attacks and their aftermath, the BBC has, in effect, played the role of PR agent for the Palestinians and the Arab world, echoing their anti-Israel line and doing damage control for the Palestinians’ tarnished image.

BBC has minimized the widespread Palestinian celebrations over attacks on America, accused Israel of taking advantage of America’s distraction to victimize the Palestinians, and scapegoated Israel by “explaining” Arab anger at the U.S. in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Minimizing Palestinian Celebrations

While most American news agencies described celebrations about the attack throughout the Arab world and reported the Palestinian Authority’s attempt to cover up the magnitude of their own celebrations, BBC reporters continued to minimize and excuse the Palestinans’ public jubilation. A BBC Web site article by Heba Saleh on the day of the attack entitled “Mixed response from Arab world,” described Yasser Arafat’s “shocked” reaction to the attack and his offer to help “track down the perpetrators,” then mentioned that shots were fired in celebration at Palestinian refugee camps. At the same time she tried to explain and understand this reaction as a result of “Arab frustration.” A revised version of the article appeared the next day entitled “Mixed response in the Mid-East.” This time the number of celebrants in the Arab world was reduced to “a few,” and the paragraph about Palestinian celebrations was relegated to the very end of the article.

Reporters Caroline Hawley, James Reynolds, Orla Guerin, and others repeatedly took pains to emphasize that the numbers of Palestinian celebrants were very few and not representative of Palestinian reaction to the attack. The extent of Palestinian celebrations in Nablus and Gaza was not described nor were the Palestinian Authority’s threats against the life of an AP cameraman who had planned to release a film of the celebrations. Instead, BBC reporters continued to relay their own personal impressions of a mournful mood among Palestinians, emphasizing Arafat’s condemnation and offer to help track down the terrorists. This continuous whitewashing by BBC reporters of Palestinian celebrations, eventually came under sharp criticism by the Israeli Embassy in London whose press secretary questioned whether the “blatant and apparently coordinated attempts to guide the British audience away from making its own judgments about the pictures on their screens” was because BBC correspondents were “bowing to Palestinian pressure” or whether they “willfully and of their own accord see themselves as champions of the Palestinian cause, mobilizing at a time of a [Palestinian public relations] crisis to limit the damage to the Palestinian image abroad.”

Repeating Palestinian Accusations Against Israel

The BBC actually used the celebration story against Israel, repeating Palestinian accusations that Israel was exploiting the current emergency as a public relations ploy while taking the opportunity to employ harsher tactics against the Palestinians. On September 12, 2001, when world coverage was focused on the investigation of who the perpetrators were and how they carried out the attack on America, BBC’s Web site posted an article by Kylie Morris entitled “Arafat fears new Israeli attacks.” The story accused Israel of cruel and callous intentions while the rest of the world was distracted by the terrorist attack in the U.S. The article focused on supposed Palestinian fears that Israel would “wage a public relations campaign to tarnish the image of Arabs and Muslims, particularly Palestinians,” and suggested that “the images of Palestinians handing out sweets to celebrate what happened in the United States” was a smokescreen to cover up Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza. In fact, widespread Palestinian celebrations did occur, but the BBC tried to present the story otherwise.

Scapegoating Israel

Most troubling of all was the distorted commentary by BBC’s Tehran correspondent, Jim Muir. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, on September 12, BBC’s Muir offered the Arab view that Israel was at the root of the current crisis while speculating that Israel would take advantage of the situation for its own purposes. Muir did acknowledge that the terrorist attacks “triggered jubilation among many ordinary Palestinians,” but sought to rationalize this in the form of an “analysis:”

“The fact is that for more than five decades, in defiance of countless UN resolutions and of international law, the Palestinians’ land has been occupied and their rights ignored by Israel, with full diplomatic cover and open-ended financial and military backing from Washington.”

There is no international law making Israel’s occupation of the territories illegal; over 97% of Palestinians live under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority who determine their civil rights; Israel has never received open-ended financial or military backing from the U.S.

Muir’s attempt to depict Israel as a factor in the attacks on the U.S. stopped just short of justifying these attacks. However a week later, the BBC offered another strikingly anti-Israel analysis by Muir. The article, entitled “Explaining Arab Anger” was posted on the BBC Web site on September 19, 2001 and remained there as part of its special coverage on the attack against America for almost a week. BBC removed it from its prominent place on September 25 while the UK sought to heal the diplomatic rift with Israel over British Foreign Minister Jack Straw’s comments in an Iranian newspaper explaining the terror attack as result of Arab anger about “events over the years in the Palestinian territories.” (It is noteworthy that BBC’s World Service is both answerable to and funded by grants from the British Foreign Office.) The analysis remains accessible on BBC’s website through its search engine.

Muir’s analysis was striking in its denunciation of Israel and its leader and for its seeming justification of the terrorist attacks in the US as a byproduct of legitimate Arab anger. Muir not only blamed Israel for angering the Palestinians but equated Israel’s military actions against PLO terrorists to the atrocities of September 11 by Muslim suicide bombers. Muir launched his article with a long, graphic description of the collapse of a building destroyed by Israeli jets almost 20 years earlier in Beirut. He implied that Israel’s anti-terrorist actions at the time were comparable to the suicide attacks against the US, and he presented Israeli leader Ariel Sharon as trying to capitalize on America’s tragedy:

“They [Israeli forces] were acting on the orders of then Isra eli Defence Minister, Ariel Sharon. Now he is Israel’s prime minister, and he’s eagerly signing up to take part in America’s new crusade of good against evil.”

Blaming Israel and America, Muir leveled sweeping, distorted accusations:

Muir declared that “Washington’s enabling alliance with Israel may be the biggest element in the Arab and Muslim anger, hatred and despair which are focused on America,” and he repeated without any caveat or rebuttal propaganda charges against Israel:

“…for them [Arabs], Israel is a terrorist, gangster state which has usurped Palestinian land and water, demolished Palestinian homes and stopped at nothing in pursuit of its interests and enemies, including torture, murder and pioneering the use of the car bomb in the region.”

The BBC reporter offered no proof for any of these fallacious charges, nor any hint of Arab aggression, terrorism, and rejection of non-Muslim, non-Arab groups in the “Arab” Middle East. Israel was cast as bearing all blame.

Muir ended his article with the outrageous conclusion that the September 11 terrorist attacks against the US were merely the expression of decades of similar horror at the hands of Israel:

“For decades, people in the Middle East have lived with countless images not unlike the horror pictures coming out of New York…many people in and from the region had a deep gut feeling that decades of accumulated poison somehow found expression on 11 September 2001.”

Muir turns truth on its head by casting Israel as the terrorist, when it is the Jewish state that has been the victim of relentless terror assaults on its civilians. Muir studiously ignores that Israelis have been targeted as they are traveling in buses, shopping in malls or walking on city streets. Not surprisingly, Muir also ignores that during the Mandate some British soldiers actively participated in Arab terrorist attacks against Jews.

By casting the brutal killing of thousands of innocents in terms of what he describes as legitimate Arab anger, Muir cynically justifies international terrorism and even helps foster a climate for further attacks in the future.


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