BBC’s Jon Donnison does another make-over on Arafat

Remember Jon Donnison’s October 26th puff piece on Yasser Arafat’s ‘legacy (and look-alike) which appeared in the Magazine section of the BBC News website?  

Well here is Donnison flogging a dead terrorist yet again:

Yes – somebody at BBC TV News apparently thought that Donnison’s discovery of an Arafat look-alike was news-worthy, and so on November 13th another report on the subject appeared. 

There is little in this latest TV item which did not appear in Donnison’s previous written article (apart from a rather dismal attempt at stand-up comedy), and no significant analysis of Arafat’s real ‘legacy’ – the proliferation of terrorism and failure to make peace. Once again Donnison runs with the line “For many Israelis he was a terrorist”, as though that were a matter of mere opinion.

But Donnison also states that: 

“From his early days as a guerrilla fighter, the actual Arafat was rarely out of the headlines.”

A guerrilla fighter, by definition, “acts a member of an irregular usually politically motivated armed force that combats stronger regular forces, such as the army or police”.

In other words, guerrilla fighters act against official security forces – not against civilians.

If Arafat’s PLO – founded of course in 1964; long before any ‘occupation’ existed – was “rarely out of the headlines” as Donnison claims, that was because of its attacks on non-military targets. 

Yehuda Ohayon (aged 10), Yafa Batito (8), Mimon Biton (7), Haviva Biton (7), Chana Biton (8), Shimon Biton (9), Shulamit Biton (9) and Aliza Petretz (14) were not soldiers or policemen. They were pupils on their way to school on May 22nd 1970 when two bazooka shells were fired at their school bus by the PLO – under Yasser Arafat’s command.

Neither were the eleven Israeli athletes murdered by the PLO’s ‘Black September’ group at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972 a military target.

The 25 Israelis killed in the Ma’alot massacre – 22 of them children – in 1974 were not soldiers or policemen either. The 38 Israelis – including 13 children – murdered in the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre carried out by the PLO under Arafat were also not a military target. 

The list of Israeli civilians murdered by the various factions of the PLO with Arafat at its head goes on and on. The difference between guerrilla warfare and terrorism is of course that the latter is the intentional use of, or threat to use, violence against civilians or against civilian targets, in order to attain political aims.

Terror is precisely what Arafat was engaged in for fifty years: from his “early days” right up until his death.  And so for Donnison to re-frame Yasser Arafat as some sort of ‘guerrilla fighter’ is not only a clear attempt to distort history, but it is also plain inaccurate and obviously contradicts the BBC’s obligation to inform its audiences. 

Yet again – and despite clear BBC guidelines to the contrary – we get a glimpse from this report of Donnison’s political stance on the subject of the Arab-Israeli conflict.  

“Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal prejudices of our journalists or news and current affairs presenters on matters of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or on ‘controversial subjects’ in any other area.”

But of course, given Jon Donnison’s publicly displayed penchant for reading (and promoting) material from less than objective sources, we should probably not be surprised that the end result is inaccuracy and partiality. 

More from Hadar Sela

Impressions of Israel from BBC WS radio’s ‘The Cultural Frontline’

The November 6th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The...
Read More