UK Jews charge 'bias' in BBC peace series

Letter from London: Complaint prompts change in trailer that blamed Israel for failures.

By JERRY LEWIS
October 11, 2005 05:30
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A new BBC documentary series that began Monday night and examines recent peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians shows that the BBC still has some way to go to satisfy the many critics of its Middle East coverage. But following a complaint from an Anglo-Jewish activist to the BBC's overseer of Mideast coverage, the BBC did at least reword a trailer for the series, replacing language that placed all blame on Israel for the failure of peace efforts. The three-part series, “Elusive Peace: Israel and the Arabs,” has already elicited a flood of protest letters, mostly e-mails, from activists in the British Jewish community against alleged anti-Israel bias. The series is produced by Norma Percy, who won an award for her 1998 documentary “The Fifty Years War” on the same subject. It attempts to chart the negotiators' progress from former US president Bill Clinton's first efforts up to Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in August using interviews with several of the key players. The first episode opens with then-premier Ehud Barak's attempts to negotiate peace with Syria during a visit to Washington and Clinton's subsequent trip to Geneva for abortive talks with the late Syrian president Hafez Assad. The scene then switches to Camp David where Barak and the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat lock horns and fail to agree on the next stages of peace negotiations, before examining Clinton's last-ditch efforts to seal a deal on his visit to Jerusalem prior to giving up his presidency. One viewer, activist Joy Wolfe, lodged a formal complaint to the BBC over pro-Palestinian bias even before the program was broadcast. “How are we supposed to give any credence to the BBC's constant claim it is not biased when even in a trailer for an important series on the Israel-Palestinian conflict that bias and injection of opinion is there for all to see?” she wrote in an e-mail to senior BBC executives including Malcolm Balen, the BBC executive who serves as a kind of ombudsman for coverage of this region. The trailer in question heralded, “The story of how Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Barak persuaded President Clinton to devote his last 18 months in office to helping make peace with Yasser Arafat. But Barak got cold feet twice. Then Ariel Sharon took a walk around Jerusalem's holiest mosques, and peacemaking was over.” “Firstly, there is absolutely no evidence to back the view that 'Barak got cold feet twice,'” wrote Wolfe. “He and Arafat shook hands on the most generous peace settlement terms the Palestinians could have ever hoped for. “It was not Barak who got cold feet, but Arafat, who walked away to unleash more violence as his answer.” A senior BBC source derided the complaint, telling The Jerusalem Post that such is the situation with constant and often inaccurate complaints that many inevitably are given perfunctory replies and little or no notice is taken of them. The Jewish community does itself no favours with these interventions, the source added, and as for writing in before a program has even been shown, that takes quite some hutzpa. Balen plainly took a different view, however, writing back to Wolfe to say that the trailer “was not written by a journalist and does not reflect the programme... It will be changed.” And, indeed, it was, to state: “The story of how Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Barak persuaded President Clinton to devote his last 18 months in office to helping make peace with Yasser Arafat. But after tense negotiations the deal was never made.” While the BBC board of governors has just appointed an independent panel to examine whether the publicly-funded corporation's Middle East coverage is for accuracy, fairness, context, balance and bias, “actual or perceived,” the series appears to underline inherent problems in its approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, some critics charge. Robert Malley, a former special assistant to Clinton for Arab-Israeli affairs who has been frequently quoted as blaming the talks' failure on Barak rather than Arafat, is one of the documentary's main sources of information a telling choice by the Brook Lapping production company which made the documentary. Key Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, who was intimately involved in all the stages of the Clinton administration's dialogues with both parties, and who, like Clinton himself, has publicly rejected the notion that Barak bears primary blame for the failure, was not interviewed. It has been reported that Barak feels he has not been accurately or fairly portrayed in the documentary over a number of aspects, including the suggestion that it was he who rejected the Camp David formula. In his memoirs, published last year, Clinton flatly blamed Arafat for making a “colossal mistake” in refusing peace terms at Camp David. The talks ended, the former president wrote, when “again, Arafat said no... It was hard to know why he had moved so little... An Israeli government had said that to get peace, there would be a Palestinian state in roughly 97 percent of the West Bank ... and all of Gaza... Perhaps he [Arafat] simply couldn't make the final jump from revolutionary to statesman.” The BBC said the series deals with seven years of crisis as “presidents and prime ministers, their generals and ministers tell what happened behind closed doors as peace talks failed and the intifada exploded.” When featuring Sharon's ill-fated trip to the Temple Mount in late September 2000, which the documentary suggests triggered the Palestinian uprising, scant mention is made of the rock-throwing onto Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall that immediately followed his visit. Viewers instead get the perception that it was Israeli measures against Palestinians on subsequent days that acted as the trigger for the intifada. The second installment is said to depict how Sharon reacted to the Netanya Passover suicide bombing by launching Operation Defensive Shield which included the “bombing of Arafat's compound to rubble.” The final episode is said to tell the inside story of the “birth and death of Bush's road map to peace” and how Arafat's death has “changed everything.” It includes an interview with Sharon recorded two weeks ago in which he looks forward after the Gaza disengagement. As for accuracy, one story prominently leaked from the series has already been undone. The Guardian newspaper (not known for its pro-Israel stance) covered an extract from the program in which it was claimed Bush revealed to Palestinian negotiators that God had told him to help create a Palestinian state, as well as invade Afghanistan and Iraq. Since that story appeared, Bush's spokesman as well as the Palestinian negotiators in question have all confirmed that their memories of the quotation were considerably different from the report in the BBC documentary.


Click here to send us your comments >> Howard, Pacific Coast, USA: Recall the context of the Camp David failure. Barak had withdrawn unilaterally from Lebanon in response to American pressure and as a means of restarting the peace process. It had turned into a disorganized shambles, with the SLA deserting their posts and Hizbullah receiving accolades for "driving Israel out of Lebanon." Arafat and Hamas both thought that the Palestinians looked weak for negotiating with Israel instead of using terror tactics; they thought that Barak would cave in as they believed he had done in Lebanon, and they would be lionized as heroes. When Barak offered them almost everything they wanted as an opening position for negotiation, they did not even bother to negotiate -- in good faith or bad. Instead, they effectively declared war. They would have done this regardless of Sharon's little stroll. Much as I disagreed with Sharon's action at the time, taking a walk on the Temple Mount is legal; it is not legal or ethical grounds for a terrorist rampage by Palestinian gangs. The Palestinians have never tried the one tactic that actually works in a civil society: non-violence. It is apparently not macho enough for the gangsters who lead them. Arafat and Hamas were dead wrong. The Palestinian people have paid in spades for this delusion. The BBC documentary amounts to yet another example of revisionist history, myths spun by people with anti-Israel agendas. The sad truth is that these myths will fire the hatred of deluded, ignorant people for decades to come. By perpetrating such propaganda and reinforcing the lies and excuses of the terror groups, the BBC is actively working against the peace process. Thanks a lot, BBC. Inna: I am forever dumbfounded when I hear that a Jew's trip to Judaism's holiest site was a "legitimate" reason for violence. One would have thought that in this politically correct world, even if people think such things they would know enough about how unacceptable racism is to keep quiet about it. H. Branch, Norfolk, Virginia, USA: I wish to respond to the comments of F. Murphy of Australia, because those views reflect an all-too-common misperception of events and causes. F. Murphy believes the visit of Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount [on 28 Sept 2000] sparked the “Intifada." Like most others in the world who are informed only by British and other "mainstream" media, this person has not been told that the "Intifada" began with the murder of an Israeli security patrol officer - by his "Palestinian" partner, while on their assigned joint-patrol duty, during a coffee break at a Jericho cafe on the previous day [27 Sept 2000]. Also, at least one news reporter that I know had learned in early May 2005 that Faisal Husseini, the PA Minister for the Jerusalem District [at Orient House, Jerusalem], had boasted in early April of that year that a 'new Intifada' had already been planned and that Arafat was simply waiting for any event to occur that could be used as justification for a supposedly spontaneous outburst of Palestinian rage. That reporter disclosed that information in a conference in May 2000 (which was recorded on audio tape at that time). Please note that western media always allow for and accept and condone childish, immature, and rash behavior of the masses of the Arab world -- as though they were all little children of whom one could not and should not expect more maturity and self-control. This is a very patronizing and condescending viewpoint -- which also may be the source of the de facto double standard that the world uses against Israel. Israel [and each Israeli person] must naturally always act the part of a totally mature and self-restrained adult (one that is required to 'turn the other cheek' at all times) even in the face of potential mayhem, murder and annihilation (of self, family and community). This then is the impossible double standard the world media seek to foist only upon Israel and upon all Jews - but not upon themselves or upon any other peoples. That is a fraud. Justification of that position in any way is fraudulent. It is an impossible philosophical or moral or legal position to take. I ask everyone out there to think this matter through and to reject every argument that derives from such a fraudulent philosophical point of view. Dan, Berkeley, California: As an avid reader of the BBC news website I am totally not surprised by the biased nature of this 'documentary'. I do not allege, I know the BBC is pro-'PAL' because I read the shameful 'news' that they report from Israel on a daily basis. Recently, following repeated factual errors and editorial content that is obviously published to mislead the English and international media reading public about the reality in Israel, I have stopped reading the stories about Israel other than to look for anti-Israeli propaganda and report it to the online editors. I believe there should be more e-mail sent to the BBC about the shameful and flat-out dishonest reporting on the events and history of Israel and its long ago conquered territory. For instance, no other legally captured territory in the world, such as N Ireland, Tibet, S. Thailand, California, or Texas is constantly referred to as 'occupied' like East Israel is. This is corrupt journalism and I vow to fight against it with truth and love. In other words, as in the case of this biased documentary, the BBC uses mainly Arab terminology, mythology, and pro-Palestinian sources to concoct its stories with. Real journalists should use information from all sides of the conflict to write news with, not just the Israeli or Arab side. I only wish more decent English people and British Jews would stand up and demand that their tax dollars not be spent promulgating ignorance, hate and other aspects of Arab propaganda. If other sections of the BBC remain unbiased, why do events in Israel get such bad and inaccurate coverage? I won't mention anti-Semitism because I hope that no one at the BBC wants to finish the Jews, but like it or not we are fighting for our survival, and the BBC seems to be regularly standing on the Arab side of the battle lines. This new movie is only the latest incident. I will never see this 'documentary' because I am boycotting. Dave Loev, Sunnyvale, CA: The Jewish community must get serious about the leftists' policy of blatant, genocidal discrimination directed against the people of Israel. Independent documentaries must be produced, depicting BBC's consistent pattern of whitewashing Islamist atrocities all over the world, especially in Darfur. According to the highly "enlightened" BBC talking heads, the life of one Palestinian is more important than lives of 1000 African Christians. If this is not racism, I do not know what is! Alan, Phoenix, USA: Honestly, after Sharon's capitulation to Hamas and the decision to send 50,000 men and women to force out 10,000 Jews - I really don't know whether or not I can believe any Israeli "leader" anymore. We know the Palestinians are born liars - but the last three or four Israeli governments with maybe the exception of Bibi's - the ones since Menachem Begin don't seem to be much better. Having said that, I did watch "Elusive Peace" last night, and there is some truth to a bias in favor of the Palestinians. The scenes of carnage and body parts of dead Jewish children at the Netanya Park or in other bombings was swiftly panned over, while dead and wounded Palestinian kids in Jenin and Gaza had full photographic coverage. Also - while Zinni was really no friend, this documentary did show that he was on to Arafat over the Karin A, but never showed his reaction to the Park Plaza (according to his memoirs, he was disgusted with Arafat and felt the process was dead). The BBC too, put words in the mouth of President Bush that he never said. On the other hand, Ehud Barak is exposed as the craven fool and toady of the Clintons that he was (how Israelis could vote for such an ignoramus and a betrayer of Israel's only Arab ally is still beyond me) - but what is also telling is Mofaz's intimacy with Mohammed Dahlan - once one of Arafat's young Turks in Fatah. Mofaz showed much more interest and compassion in helping the Fatah boy than he did in helping his fellow citizens in Gush Katif. Nayla: Why didn't the US Jews protest against PBS's broadcasting the same series, all at once, three hours long. Ethan Lewis, Philadelphia, US: The BBC's view shows the extent to which Israel's detractors have allowed themselves to be blinded to reality. No thought is given to the fact that while Israel made a series of offers (which finally became a capitulation) no offer was ever made by the Palestinian side. Moreover, there is no evidence that any discussion was ever had by the Palestinian or other Arabs whether to make an offer. The direct, logical and obvious conclusion to be had from this data, that there is no offer the Palestinian side is willing to make, is never considered by the BBC or other detractors of Israel. The fact that the members of the Palestinian Authority openly admit to provoking riots knowing that Israel will be blamed (see e. g. the title article in September's issue of the Atlantic) doesn't seem to raise any eyebrows either. However, it does demonstrate to those who think rationally, that Palestinian violence is rewarded by criticism of Israel. As one of Israel's most dogmatic, persistent, and stubborn critic's, the BBC could do a lot better then looking to Israel for the source of middle east violence, it could look in a mirror. Neil Adelman, USA: Some things will never change. I remember being in Rafah, Gaza during the first Intifada (when I was a soldier) and listening to the BBC world service reporting on how Israeli soldiers had killed 3 Palestinians that day in Rafah. The only problem was, that during that day, it was absolutely quiet in Rafah. You could hear a pin drop in the streets. I knew then what the BBC was all about. This is just outright anti-Semitism when they purposely distort the truth about the Jews- If it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck... Rai O'Brien, USA: Let's get real here. Clinton wanted to broker this deal to enhance his future "legacy". Israel wished to deceptively "allow" a Palestinian state, albeit one with no true sovereignty. This "generous offer" has been debunked extensively. Blame indeed. It was a poisoned pact from the beginning. Let's face facts. Israeli policy is to make life so unbearable for the Palestinian population that they will voluntarily leave the West Bank, allowing "Greater Israel". The US policy at present is to pursue a "Greater Israel" to facilitate Biblical Revelations doomsday, wherein it will allow 166,000 new formerly Jewish, then Christian converts. These formerly Jewish few, and the American fundamentalist Christians, will then be lifted up to God, leaving the rest of us to hideous deaths here on a doomed planet. That is the insane plan behind US indifference at the present. Israel has shown by its Gaza pullout just what could have been expected if Arafat had accepted the "Bantustan" proposal by Clinton and Barak. It would have been for an "open air prison" where Palestinians could exercise a false and fixed self-determination, doomed to failure and permanent Israeli control. "Peace" was only a goal because of the wish to prevent a rationale for terrorism on the part of Palestinians (their only viable weapon, unfortunately). Michael Lee, UK: The BBC program was excellent since it covered the myth put out by Israel that the Palestinians did not accept an offer of peace at Camp David. I understand Israel and British Jews not being happy that the truth came out and it was watched by millions of people. Israel is an apartheid state bent on ethnic cleansing and land grabbing. It's also the worlds 3rd largest nuclear weapon state and the 4th largest arms dealer in the world, willing to sell to any country that has the money. Its ignored more UN Resolutions than any other country in the world, it's in essence a "nasty piece of work". The International Community under the UN should impose sanctions against Israel until it learns to behave. Al Ramey, Los Angeles: The best thing Israel can do with the BBC is make them sign an official document in which they agree to report truthfully, accurately and fairly. It will take no time before they go over the 3 strikes and you are out. At that point, an arbitration between local media, government representatives and foreign media based in Israel will decide if the report indeed reflects the history of the report. As last resort, the BBC bureau should have its reporters shipped back to the U.K the same way that Jerome DeLay of AP was sent packing during the evacuation from Gaza. Israel is no angle! But there is no need to get piled by the European Left just because they have an agenda. Ilan, USA: The answer to removing BBC bias is to expose their bias through competing news channels that also influence many. People believe the BBC automatically, so they influence a great many people. If BBC bias regarding Israel shows up on CNN and Fox News, exposing the BBC's lack of journalistic integrity, we would get a lot closer to an unbiased BBC regarding Israel. The BBC wood then have to clean house because they need to, not because they were told to. Adam Steil, Washington, DC, USA: I watched the entire three-part series and it had a clear anti-Israel bias, both in what was shown and in what was left out. The fact that Robert Malley, the sole person at the Camp David meetings who claimed Barak did not offer Arafat all that he did, was shown over and over again while Dennis Ross and others who played a far more prominent role in the negotiations (and who blamed Arafat for the failure of the talks) were not even interviewed, shows BBC stacked the decks against Israel from the very beginning. This so-called documentary lacks any journalistic credibility whatsoever. Dov Koret, Givat Olga All three of the BBC programmes were show on PBS in the US & Canada last night Oct 10th. Debby Mayer, Jerusalem, Israel: I do hope that after all this time the Jews of the UK are able to do something about the way the BBC reports its Israel-Palestinian news. That news channel and radio broadcasting station are treated by the UK powers-that-be as though they were Jesus Christ Almighty and the Disciples themselves! And indeed, it's reputation worldwide is such that no one doubts their integrity for a moment. Hence, if the BBC says that the whole Palestinian question is due to Israel's bad behavior, their entire worldwide audience believes it, with the possible exception of any Jews listening. The BBC is well aware of their power in the world, and instead of using that power for the good by reporting the situation without prejudice, they have chosen to do just the opposite, falling in league with the "goyim-against -Jews" behavior we have known for time immemorial. Not being British, and having heard only wonderful things about the BBC, you can imagine my shock when I made aliyah and began to listen to the World Wide News as reported by the BBC daily. It was and is difficult to understand why the BBC has taken this stand, but now I dare to have some little hope that perhaps, just perhaps, that situation will be rectified once this panel meets and goes through the records. Nicola, England: This series is another example of the long running bias at the BBC. By repeating this Arab propaganda they are giving credence to those who perpetrate it, including those individuals who disguise their anti-Semitism in criticism of Israeli policies and as Holocaust deniers. This is an insult to every victim of the Holocaust and every Allied soldier who fought to end Nazi tyranny, and should be treated as such. Paul: Living in Israel for the first two years of the Israeli 'peace process', I'm still dumbfounded by Israelis and others who can imagine it was anyone else's fault but Israel's. The Palestinians still have 3 core demands, land, return, and mosque. And none of those can be negotiated away. Without land free from Israeli terrorism there will be no prosperity hence no peace. No leader within occupied Palestine has any mandate concerning the right of return of refugees caused by the Independence or succeeding wars. Foreign financing of terror will continue until Moslem access to the al-Aksa Mosque is not controlled by infidels. Guys you can negotiate all you want but screaming 'anti-Semitism' at reality won't bring the stability to Israel required for my family to return there. And yes, agreeing to all these terms won't bring instant peace, but kicking somebody on the ground and complaining he is messing your shoe so you keep kicking don't work either. Good luck. Isaac Barr, Bloomfield Hills, Mi, USA: The BBC bias is typical: exclude Dennis Ross who was the main architect of the Camp David discussion because he does not fit the preset theory that ran through the program: the Israeli are guilty of the failure of Camp David accord. Thus anybody who defies this theory is excluded unless there is no choice such as quoting president Clinton. Dennis Ross not only wrote a book "The Missing Peace" which rimes on the BBC program but the BBC also excluded the documents that support this book. It is the need for a fair and balanced approach that was the hallmark of the BBC. This is now gone. What else, what other misinformation does the BBC feed us? I stopped watching the BBC (and NPR). Seth, Washington, DC: Nothing pleases me more than seeing lame-brained and frustrated Europeans going to the trouble of attacking Israel via Israeli newspapers and websites. One would think they would spend their time on the Guardian website. These are descendants of the same strain of virulent Anti-Semitism that either perpetrated or facilitated violence and prejudice against the Jews over the past two thousand years. These are the type of people who qualify their obsession with Israel by telling you that "some of my best friends are Jewish." What really frustrates them is to see Jews thriving around the world - especially in Israel that has 5% GDP, dramatically lower losses from terror attacks, Nobel Prize Winners and, especially, widening acceptance by the world community. These are the same people who spend little or no time on real issues - expecially China's ethnic cleansing and annexation of Tibet. Why don't they care about Tibet? David Frey, USA: The BBC made an excellent documentary on the Palestinian-Israeli situation and they should not be influenced by racist thugs who scream bloody murder every time they are offended. I for one would like to apologize to the BBC on behalf of my foolish Jewish friends for their childish behavior. Kate, London, UK: As someone who watches very little television, I unfortunately missed this program. However I will certainly watch out for repeats. The BBC frequently shows extreme bias in its documentaries, so I am not surprised to hear these allegations. At one time the BBC was renowned for unbiased and objective reporting that could be trusted. Unfortunately now it just keeps throwing out the same old socialist, anti-Semitic, anti-west nonsense. This is made possible by a complete lack of accountability. They are guaranteed an income no matter what their viewing figures or quality. When complaints are made they are investigated (and usually dismissed) by members of the BBC board instead of by a truly independent body. It's time to dismantle this dinosaur. F. Murphy, Australia: It is obvious to me that the recent outbreak of violence was triggered by Sharon's provocative visit to the Temple Mount. Furthermore, I believe he did it knowing the consequences of his visit. Thus, the blame for the many lives that were lost, both Jewish and Palestinian, can be laid at his door. And what's been gained for trail of blood, more hate, and a smaller Israel than there was 5 years ago.


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