The BBC’s False Promise of an Israeli Perspective
In part one of this post, we discussed an interview with the Palestinian Authority’s representative in the UK, Husam Zomlot, which was aired on BBC Radio 4‘s ‘Today’ program on July 1. During that report, listeners were twice told that they would later hear the Israeli government’s view.
At 2:37:15 (link here) presenter Nick Robinson did indeed return to the topic of the still theoretical application of Israeli civilian law to specific parts of Area C, which the BBC had been covering for a month and a half (and which it had managed to convince its audiences — and itself — was definitely going to happen by July 1).
Robinson once again promoted the unsupported claim that such a move on the part of Israel would bring an end to the two-state solution:
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Robinson: “For decades the world has talked of resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians with a two-state solution: a new, independent Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel. That could all change if Binyamin Netanyahu proceeds with a plan agreed with Donald Trump to unilaterally declare Israeli sovereignty over large parts of what the world beyond the White House continues to see as the illegally occupied West Bank. Today’s the day Mr Netanyahu set for what much of the world condemns as a plan for annexation.”
In fact, July 1 was the day that was defined in the coalition agreement as the earliest possible date on which the topic could be brought to the cabinet. As we have previously noted, the process would then go on to include further discussion in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and in the Knesset.
Robinson: “We can talk first to our Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. I say, Jeremy, that today is the day but there is still doubt that Mr Netanyahu is actually going to act on this plan, isn’t there?”
Bowen: “Well he’s not going to act on it today. He said so. Ah…the politics of it have become really, really difficult for him. The politics inside his own coalition…ah…with doubts coming from the centre-Right part of it, Mr Gantz. Politics as well of what’s going on in America, worries about what Joe Biden might think if he wins the election — he’s ahead in the polls. International condemnation: the Secretary General of the UN, the king of Jordan saying that there would be a huge clash and the Palestinians themselves of course are not cooperating one iota, as perhaps you might expect.”
Robinson: “Now some will say, look the two-state solution’s been dead for years if not decades. The settlements are there and are never going to move. So what would really change if Netanyahu went ahead and in his language declared sovereignty over parts of the West Bank?”
Jeremy Bowen then gave listeners a distorted account of the arrangements in place in Areas A, B, and C, promoting the inaccurate claim that the Palestinian Authority only provides “municipal services,” when in fact it runs a government which has security control in Area A:
Bowen: “Yeah, well on one level in a sense not that much because in the West Bank Israel’s control is pretty much absolute. Wherever you go they are in command. Yes, there are some areas where municipal services and so on are controlled by the Palestinians but when it comes to security, it’s really all about what Israel thinks and wants. But it would be a milestone, a real milestone, because it would be the moment when the two-state solution is buried forever. That’s perhaps one reason why…ehm…Boris Johnson has put a piece in one of Israel’s best-selling newspapers this morning saying that he’s a great friend of Israel but actually they shouldn’t go ahead with this because it’s going to be harmful all round and that Britain would not recognize it.”
Bowen concluded with speculations about what the Israeli prime minister is “thinking’ and “wondering”:
Bowen: “There’s also another question. I think the gamble that Netanyahu has been thinking about is yeah, the Palestinians will complain, the world will complain, but the Americans are behind us and we’ll get away with it. I think he’s wondering about that right now, whether or not that will be the case. And he’s actually a man who, for all his harsh talk, when it comes to big decisions like this he’s been quite well known to dither.”
At 2:40:11, Robinson brings in Sharren Haskel who was presented as “a member of Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party, a member of the Foreign affairs and Defense Committee in the Israeli Knesset.” Using Bowen’s mind-reading speculations as a hook, Robinson asked:
Robinson: “We just heard there that your prime minister is hesitating. Are you one of those urging him to move on?”
Haskel noted that she had not heard the question, so Robinson repeated it.
Robinson: “We were just hearing there that president [sic] prime minister Netanyahu is hesitating about declaring Israeli sovereignty over parts of the West Bank: what much of the world regards as annexation. Do you think he should and will proceed?”
Listeners heard 34 seconds of Haskel’s response before she was cut off. Ignoring the fact that his interviewee had not finished her sentence, Robinson went on:
Robinson: “Well what you call sovereignty and what other people insist is annexation will mean that a large number of Palestinians are then directly under Israeli rule. Will you give them citizenship of your country? Full democratic and legal rights?”
Listeners heard no explanation of why the term annexation is not applicable to the case in point, but Robinson did then finally notice that his interviewee was not on the line.
At 2:46:05, Haskel was brought back and Robinson repeated his previous question:
Robinson: “I’m sorry your line went. The question I was asking you, Sharren Haskel, was whether after you declare sovereignty over large parts of the West Bank, what many people call annexation, will the Palestinians in those areas be given full rights as Israeli citizens? Would you treat them as full Israeli citizens?”
The audience heard less than one minute of Haskel’s reply on an extremely bad line before Robinson interrupted her with a gratuitous ‘apartheid’ analogy:
Robinson [interrupts]: “Yeah but many of your critics…just want to give you a chance to respond to the critics who say this looks like the Bantustan plans that were in apartheid South Africa which is why the British prime minister has condemned the plan, it’s why the EU has condemned the plan, which is why the leaders of many Jewish communities in Britain have condemned the plan.”
Robinson provided no evidence of a leader of a Jewish community in the UK who has said “this looks like the Bantustan plans that were in apartheid South Africa,” and the British prime minister’s op-ed made no such irrelevant comparison.
Listeners heard one minute and nine seconds of Haskel’s explanation of why the “apartheid” slur is inapplicable — again on a very bad line — before Robinson closed the interview.
As we see, the Today program’s idea of “balanced” coverage of this topic was almost five minutes of unchallenged and unquestioned propaganda from a Palestinian Authority official, nearly three minutes of comment from the BBC‘s Middle East editor, and a total of two minutes and 39 seconds of ‘right of reply’ in installments from an Israeli MK on a very bad line, peppered with interruption and highly-partial comment from the BBC interviewer.
Hadar Sela is the co-editor of CAMERA UK — an affiliate of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). Her work has appeared at The Propagandist Magazine, Harry’s Place, The Commentator and the MERIA journal among others.