BBC headline promotes a lie

A perusal of the BBC News website’s Middle East page turned up a link to a programme called ‘Fast Track’ from July 31st 2012 with the caption “Are tourists being forced to reveal their personal emails to security on arrival in Israel?”.

Clicking on the link leads to a report by Keith Wallace which was apparently broadcast on BBC television news and is headlined with the statement: “Israeli security ‘read’ tourists’ private emails”. 

The blurb asks “How would you feel if when you arrived at your holiday destination, security staff demanded to read your personal emails and look at your Facebook account?” and continues:

“Israel’s attorney general has been asked to look into claims that security officials have been doing just that – threatening to refuse entry to the country unless such private information is divulged by some tourists.”

However, the film report itself tells a somewhat different story – especially if one fills in the blanks left by Wallace. 

The subject of the film is American architect Najwa Doughman, aged 25, who on May 26th 2012 arrived at Ben Gurion airport for her third visit to Israel, together with a friend. In his introduction, Wallace informs viewers that almost three million people visited Israel last year, adding “other people go there for very different reasons”, before showing footage of the April 2012 ‘flytilla’ as an illustration of the political activists and ‘resistance-chic’ genre of tourism which also arrives at the airport. 

Wallace claims that stopping groups of political activists should be “straightforward enough” but then puts forward the assertion that “methods used to security check individuals at Ben Gurion airport have overstepped the mark”.  

Wallace does make it clear that Ms Doughman had “written about the 2008 Israeli assaults on Gaza for her university newspaper” and that she had worked at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Lebanon in 2010, suggesting that this might prompt “extra questions” at the airport. 

In fact, Najwa Doughman (whose article on Gaza – complete with Nazi analogy – can be read here) was president of the University of Virginia branch of ‘Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine’; an organization which supports Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, employs ‘apartheid’ rhetoric against Israel and promotes the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees together with their ‘repatriation’ to their previous homes or those of their ancestors, along with the expulsion of all Jews from what it terms ‘Arab’ areas. Ms Doughman’s stay in Lebanon – according to her Linkedin profile – lasted 13 months, ending in January 2011. 

In Wallace’s interview with Doughman she recounts how she was asked by a member of the security staff at the airport to open her e-mail account (which she presumably agreed to do) and that her e-mails were searched and read. Doughman says that the security officer told her to “tell your friends that we don’t only Google your names; we search your e-mails too”.

However, the account of the same story which Najwa Doughman wrote previously for the ‘Mondoweiss‘ site puts a somewhat different light upon the subject. 

In that article, Doughman wrote:

“Little did I know that my father’s Arab name would make me guilty until proven innocent.”

However, the fact that this was her third visit to Israel indicates that her insinuations of racism are far from justified.

Doughman went on to write:

“I typed in my username and password in complete disbelief. She [the security officer] began her invasive search: “Israel,” “Palestine,” “West Bank,” “International Solidarity Movement.” “

“The security officer opened an email from a friend living in Jerusalem who had advised me to remove myself from internet searches. “They are heavy on googling names at the airport recently,” he had written. “See if you can remove yourselves, not crucial but helpful.” “

Next, Wallace goes on to interview Hagai Elad of ACRI  – after giving an anodyne description of that organization quoted from its own blurb –  and after that he conducts an interview with Fred Schlomka of Green Olive Tours who claims to have heard similar stories to that of Ms Doughman from his clients. 

What Wallace does not tell his viewers is that Fred Schlomka was operations manager for ICAHD between 2001 and 2003, is a former member of its board and has written a series of ‘reports‘ for the organization. Wallace does also not inform his readers of the political nature of the congenial, juggling Mr Schlomka’s ‘tour company’, including the fact that for $695 he will arrange a three-day trip to Beit Ummar hosted by an ISM volunteer and a man who has spent time in an Israeli prison due to his activity with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.  

Wallace ends the report by showing footage of the terror attack in Bulgaria as an illustration of why security is necessary in Israel and by interviewing an expert on aviation security who explains very clearly why Najwa Doughman would have raised suspicions at the airport. He even admits that ACRI is pursuing only three cases of this type, which – considering that almost three million tourists visited Israel last year – clearly indicates that only a very small minority of visitors with specific intentions which do not include normal tourist activities have any reason to believe that they may be asked to open their e-mail account as part of security measures. 

Clearly, the assertion in the report’s headline – “Israeli security ‘read’ tourists’ private emails” – is not only based entirely on unproven hearsay from Najwa Doughman, but is also inaccurate: genuine tourists to Israel do not have their private e-mails read. 

Clause 3.4.12 of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines states that:

“We should normally identify on-air and online sources of information and significant contributors, and provide their credentials, so that our audiences can judge their status.”

Clause 4.4.14 states that:

“We should not automatically assume that contributors from other organisations (such as academics, journalists, researchers and representatives of charities) are unbiased and we may need to make it clear to the audience when contributors are associated with a particular viewpoint, if it is not apparent from their contribution or from the context in which their contribution is made.”

In this report, once again, the BBC has failed to make clear the connections of interviewees to politicized NGOs and/or organisations with a specific political agenda before promoting their claims.

It is particularly regrettable that a respected and trusted organization such as the BBC should be taking its lead from anti-Israel sites such as Mondoweiss and regurgitating the type of politically motivated non-stories designed solely to besmirch Israel which one so often finds there.  

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