Why has the BBC apologised?
The BBC’s Today programme aims to set “the agenda for the nation’s news every day”, according to James Harding, the BBC’s Director of News. Listeners sympathetic to the Palestinian cause were, therefore, particularly disturbed when a Today broadcast on 19 October saw John Humphrys and Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly imply that all of those who had been killed in that month’s violence had been Israeli – a suggestion that was untrue. According to Amena Saleem at The Electronic Intifada, this performance once again showed the BBC’s
tendency to convey only Israeli fears and perceptions.
In fact, she says:
the BBC’s own internal findings suggest an ingrained unwillingness at the program to challenge Israel’s spokespeople, even when they are telling blatant untruths, or to acknowledge Palestinian fatalities and their suffering under occupation.
This pattern of behaviour is precisely what led to the complaints that forced the apology from the BBC.
Why should we be so worried about the BBC’s pro-Israel bias?
There are countless reasons why the BBC’s failure to present an objective picture of the Israel-Palestine conflict is of concern. Here are just a few:
- Human rights group B’Tselem has condemned the Israeli state for transforming police officers and armed civilians “into judges and executioners” by allowing them to kill Palestinians suspected of armed attacks without trial. One victim of such extrajudicial executions, a 17-year-old girl called Dania, was murdered by Israeli forces on 25 October in a case that Amnesty International later said was “absolutely unjustified”. Amnesty has called for Israel to bring its “pattern of unlawful killings” to an end.
- Israel has allegedly been buying oil from Daesh (Isis). In fact, one industry official told al-Araby al-Jadeed that the country had “in one way or another become the main marketer of Daesh oil”.
- Over 100 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces between October and December, while 19 Israelis were killed in the same period by Palestinians.
- Palestinian families have claimed Israel has been killing people “in cold blood” in recent weeks. The number of Palestinian children placed in Israeli prisons during this period, meanwhile, has doubled. All of this in a territory where UNICEF has previously spoken of “widespread, systematic and institutionalised” abuse of youths who have been arrested by Israeli security forces.
- Israeli police beat Palestinian journalists.
- Israel plants stone throwers among Palestinian protesters.
- Stabbings are sometimes invented by Israeli forces as cover for murder.
Considering these points, it is no wonder that even Haaretz, Israel’s oldest daily newspaper, has now claimed that the country is on the “path to becoming [a] failed state” and that the word apartheid correctly describes the current situation. And these comments brought the paper in line with the likes of renowned Jewish scholar Noam Chomsky, who has said that Israeli actions in Palestine are in fact “much worse than apartheid” was in South Africa.
But in the UK, mainstream news sources like the BBC are slow to catch on. Palestinian acts of violence are covered outside of the apartheid context which has given birth to them. According to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian youths “feel desperate” because they “see no solution ahead of them”, but that type of evaluation is seldom seen on the BBC. Only the likes of Al Jazeera have sought to get into the mindset of these youngsters, speaking as it has about “the pressures of a life under occupation” which have driven them to violence.
The British state, meanwhile, even apologised for the recent arrest of an Israeli officer after the intervention of the Israeli foreign ministry. The soldier was questioned about his role in the war crimes committed in Gaza in 2014 – in which 519 children were murdered along with hundreds more civilians.
Defend those who speak out
Because of the unreliable coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict in the mainstream media, we should support forces that speak out equally against all the crimes committed in the territory.
In July, the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) think tank released a report claiming that many Jews around the world now “doubt that Israel truly wishes to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians”, while “few believe it is making the necessary effort to achieve one”. They were also said to feel “troubled by the number of civilian casualties” created by Israeli military action. And a year before, dozens of holocaust survivors went a step further, condemning Israel’s destructive attack on Gaza which killed 2,220 Palestinians (most of whom were civilians).
And Jewish criticism of Israeli actions has not stopped there. In May, Israeli group Breaking the Silence released a report which had complied over 100 testimonies from soldiers who has participated in the invasion of 2014. This investigation found that soldiers had been “briefed by their commanders to fire at every person they identified in a combat zone” – regardless of whether or not they were civilians. And because of behaviour like this, even lifelong Zionists have chosen to boycott Israel.
Outrage around the world has now seen the formation of a new international network of Jewish groups, which called in October for justice in Palestine and for an end to Israeli militarism and occupation.
In the UK, meanwhile, the Israel lobby tried its best to stop Jeremy Corbyn being elected as leader of the Labour Party earlier in the year. However, the Islington MP’s principled stance favouring a peaceful settlement to the conflict between Israel and Palestine actually proved to be very popular, and David Cameron’s attempts to label him as a terrorist sympathiser have backfired .
The Canary has been consistent in calling out the mainstream media for failing to criticise Israeli violence. At the same time, we must support the large sections of the Jewish community opposed to the Israeli apartheid system. And we must unmask the ugly propaganda attacks aimed at public figures who demand that the voices of the Palestinian people be heard. Because the BBC and other mainstream media outlets certainly won’t.