BBC 'justifies violence' by calling Israelis 'settlers'

MPs from across political spectrum demand probe into ‘bias’ at Corporation over reporting of violence at Temple Mount


Palestinian demonstrators hurl rocks during clashes with Israeli security forces inside Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque complex, early on April 22, 2022. - Israeli police clashed with Palestinian protestors again at Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound, raising fears of further escalation. (Photo by Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images)

The BBC has been accused by politicians of “effectively condoning terrorist violence” in Jerusalem by suggesting that Israeli Jews “have no right to live in their own country”.

BBC Arabic has described ordinary Israelis as “settlers” on at least four occasions since 18 April, when reporting on the violence on Temple Mount.

The term was also used in English on the World Service, when BBC correspondent Muhannad Tutunji said “hundreds of settlers entered the courtyard of al Aqsa Mosque”.

Former Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb MP said: “It is deplorable that the BBC should use the term ‘settlers’ to describe ordinary Israeli citizens.

“It implies they have no right to live in their own country, and that it has no right to exist — and so amounts to the adoption of the narrative used to justify terrorist violence.”

MPs from across the political spectrum condemned the failure and called for a probe, with Labour’s Graham Stringer saying the BBC “needs to look closely at itself”.

Last night, the BBC admitted to the JC it had “erroneously” described Israeli Jews as settlers.
While the terms “settlers” has been widely used to refer to those who live in settlements in the West Bank, critics object to it being used to describe the millions of Israelis who live within the 1967 borders.

Using the term may imply that the entire state of Israel is as disputed as the West Bank, potentially fanning the flames of violence.

Manchester MP Mr Stringer, who served as Cabinet Office minister under Tony Blair, said: “The BBC needs to look extremely closely at itself and what is being broadcast on its Arabic service if it is to retain its reputation for being objective and unbiased.

“When it comes to the Middle East, there is bias in the system. It is simply wrong to refer to people who live in Israel as ‘settlers’. Israel is recognised as a country by almost every nation in the world and is a member of the UN, and this term delegitimises it.

“The BBC should also not be employing anyone who approves violence and holds such partisan views, and it is simply wrong for it to do that too.”

The corporation is also under fire for recently featuring controversial pundit Abdel Bari Atwan.
He appeared on the BBC Arabic service to comment on terror attacks in Israel, despite the fact that he had described last month’s Tel Aviv gunman as a “hero” on YouTube.

When the JC brought the video to the BBC’s attention, the broadcaster said Mr Atwan’s appearance was “justified”, adding it did not ban contributors, and guests were considered on a “case-by-case” basis.

Mr Crabb, the Parliamentary Chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, told the JC: “The BBC is currently conducting a review of its output, and these broadcasts show that its Arabic service needs to be thoroughly examined as a matter of urgency.

“It is also deplorable that Abdel Bari Atwan should appear on any BBC channel, given his recent praise for terrorist killers.”

Against a backdrop of increased scrutiny by observers such as media watchdog CAMERA, last summer the BBC restricted online access to its “journalists’ guide to facts and terminology” on Israel and the Palestinians, making it password-protected.

The guide had previously been open to the public and had showed the broadcaster’s policies on how to describe individuals and places in the region.

Before it had been removed from public view, the guide had specified that the terms “settlers” and “settlements” should be used to refer only to residents of the West Bank, as opposed to all Jewish Israelis or those from elsewhere in Israel.

Bob Blackman, the Conservative MP for Harrow East, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Israel, said that the BBC was “obviously ignoring its own guidelines” by claiming that Israeli citizens with “an absolute right to live in Israel” were “settlers”. He said: “I understand, of course, there are arguments to be had about settlements across the Green Line. But to describe Israelis who do not live on the West Bank in this way is effectively to condone terrorist violence.”

Lord Polak, Conservative Friends of Israel’s honorary president, added: “The BBC has a long way to travel on these issues before anyone can possibly judge them as being fair-minded.

“It is not all journalists or editors but there are a number who seem to allow their personal agendas to influence some unfortunate decisions, which can bring the whole organisation into disrepute.”

Steve McCabe, the Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak and chair of Labour Friends of Israel, said that the evidence against the BBC Arabic service was “troubling”, and added that it appeared it had “fallen short of the high standards that we expect from our national broadcaster.

“The inviting of an individual — who has attacked the UK Jewish community and referred to terrorists as ‘heroes’ — to comment on recent terror attacks is unacceptable. We look forward to the BBC Arabic Service setting out the changes necessary to avoid repeating such incendiary and insulting mistakes.”

The BBC Arabic and World Services are funded by the Foreign Office rather than from the licence fee.

CAMERA has issued a formal complaint to the BBC about its imbalanced use of language concerning Israeli-Palestinian affairs in both its Arabic and English content.

A BBC spokesperson told the JC: “We accept that within our coverage of the recent Israeli Palestinian tensions, there were several instances where we erroneously referred to groups of Israeli Jews as settlers.

“We have addressed this with all the BBC Arabic journalists concerned and have taken steps to correct this and ensure it is not repeated.

“Regarding the hosting of Abdel Bari Atwan on BBC Arabic TV on 30 April, we believe it was editorially justified to hear his views, which were challenged on-air by an Israeli guest.”
The spokesperson added: “We believe that the discussion was rational and balanced.”

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