Updated: BBC Corrects Misrepresentation of Israeli Politician’s Proposal

Update: After CAMERA pursued its formal complaint with the BBC, the news organization changed the article’s headline and key parts of the article body to more correctly reflect the facts. The headline now reads “Lieberman proposes diplomat curbs.” The current version of the article also makes clear that Lieberman’s proposal called for “only those who complete military or national service” to be eligible for foreign ministry training that “a programme of voluntary, non-military national service is open to all Israeli citizens,” and that “Druze and some Bedouin Arabs serve in the military.”

Original article–Israeli politicians are taking sides over a controversial new proposal by Israel’s foreign minister, which would require diplomats to have served in Israel’s army or national volunteer service. So is the BBC.

The partisan spin by politicians on both sides of the debate is to be expected. Israel is notorious for vigorous debate, and its foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, is no stranger to controversy. But for a major news organization to take sides and spin the story accordingly is startling. (Or perhaps it is not so startling, given that the BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen is widely seen as biased and has been censured by the BBC for lacking impartiality in a major feature about Israel.)

The BBC headlined its story about Lieberman’s proposal, “Israeli Arab diplomat ban mooted.” (The headline was later changed to “Israeli Arab diplomat curb mooted.”)

But the second sentence of the BBC’s own story makes clear that rather than “ban Arabs,” the proposal would permit only “those who complete military service,” and according to the article would thereby “exclude most Arab citizens … as well as ultra-Orthodox Jews.”

In other words, the BBC’s sensational headline incorrectly casts Lieberman’s proposal as a ban of Arabs, whereas it in fact would be an exclusion of those who do not serve the state — a group that includes many Arabs who opt not to serve, as well as a fair number of Jews.

Although military service is not compulsory for Arab Israelis, hundreds have volunteered for Israel’s military or national service, despite strong pressure from others in the Arab community who urge them to keep away from Israeli institutions.

It is, of course, possible that Lieberman secretly wants to target Arabs with his proposal, as some Israeli politicians from rival parties have suggested. It is also possible that the purpose of his proposed restrictions is exactly what he claims it is, namely, a way to ensure diplomats had participated in service to the state. The foreign minister initially said that “Anyone who wants to represent [Israel] in the outside world must take part in our obligations.” He later clarified that “It’s unthinkable that a person who represents the State of Israel does not share the burden of duties of the State’s citizens.”

Either way, news headlines from respectable news outlets are not expected to mimic rival politicians, nor act as a clairvoyant who divines the secret motivations behind an individual’s statements.

Other news organizaitons covered the proposal in a more straightforward manner, quoting opponents as well as defenders of the proposal, while refraining from stating as fact that this was a “ban” or “curb” on Arabs because of their identity. (To read some of the coverage, see here, here, here and here.)

The BBC article likewise wrongly cast previous proposals by Lieberman as pertaining to Arabs alone:

Mr Lieberman, a hard-line nationalist, has previously tried to sponsor laws requiring Israeli Arabs to swear allegiance to Israel as a Jewish state and to ban Israeli Arabs from marking the Nakba — the Palestinian “catastrophe” of 1948.

These proposals, too, did not specifically refer to Arabs, and would have also impacted segments of Jewish society. For religious reasons, some ultra orthodox Jews do not swear allegiance to Israel, and for ideological reasons, some far-left Israeli Jews mark the Nakba.

Also wrong is the BBC’s statement that the proposal would allow only “those who complete military service” to be diplomats. According to reports in the Israeli press, it would also allow Israeli Jews and Arabs who complete non-military national service.

After CAMERA contacted the BBC to point out the inaccurate language in the headline and article, a BBC editor replied that the word “ban” was deemed too strong, and it was changed to “curb.” This change, however, does not make the headline any less misleading, and CAMERA is continuing to urge an appropriate correction by the BBC.

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