Roundup of BBC coverage of the Israeli elections

חיילי גילני מצביעים 21 1
IDF soldiers stationed on Mount Hermon cast their votes on January 21st.

An overview of the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli elections up until the commencement of polling by 5,656,705 eligible voters at 10,132 polling stations on the morning of Tuesday, January 22nd 2013 shows some interesting trends. 

The vast majority of the thirty two contending parties have been totally ignored in all BBC coverage since the elections were announced.

Politicians who did get the BBC’s attention are mostly located on the right of the political map. Avigdor Lieberman was the subject of an item by Kevin Connolly broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on January 7th. Naftali Bennett of ‘Jewish Home’ was the subject of another radio item by Connolly (note the description of Machane Yehuda market as being in “West Jerusalem”) and an article by Wyre Davies. An article on Binyamin Netanyahu focused on the subject of his approach to the subject of settlements. 

More general articles on the subject of the elections also largely ignored the centrist and Left-wing parties. Tsipi Livni’s party got a mention in a December 20th 2012 article by Kevin Connolly, but only in the context of her ability to challenge Netanyahu: readers learned nothing about the policies or personalities of ‘HaTnua’. 

In his January 16th ‘roadtrip’ article, Yuval Ben Ami spent the first third of the piece claiming that a lot of people were going to vote for the Orthodox Shas party and the second part focusing on a perceived ominous rise of the right – with particular focus on Bennett and including a very thinly-veiled analogy between him and the European far-Right of the 1930s. Centrist parties get a mention in name alone. 

Under the decidedly dubious headline “Migrant politics”, the BBC informed us that Russian-born Israelis (most of whom have been in the country for at least 20 years) will be voting for the Right.

'Migrant politics'

Contrary to the picture presented in readily-available opinion polls, Wyre Davies was keen to persuade BBC audiences that the main issue in these elections is security. Kevin Connolly produced a superficial article on the subject of the low turn-out to the polls in the Arab sector which, inter alia, completely ignored the influence of the Northern Islamic Movement.

The BBC’s Q&A on the subject of the Israeli elections gets the number of parties contending wrong, inaccurately describes ‘Jewish Home’ as being one of several “new parties” (it was founded in 2008 and held 3 seats in the 18th Knesset) and provides no information about the policies of Centrist or Left parties. 

“There are 34 parties contesting the polls (14 parties are represented in the current Knesset). They range from extreme left to extreme right, and from secular to ultra-Orthodox, and there are Arab as well as Jewish parties. New parties have emerged since the last elections, most notably the ultra-nationalist religious Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party, led by Naftali Bennett, a high-tech millionaire and former adviser to Mr Netanyahu.”

Articles relating to the voters themselves included a ‘man in the street’ item which focused mainly on the Jerusalem area and Yuval Ben Ami’s bizarre piece about a fringe movement of Israeli voters donating their votes to Palestinians. 

A last minute article published hours before the polling stations opened, by Kevin Connolly, focused once more upon Netanyahu’s Likud and Bennett’s ‘Jewish Home’ parties, stating that:

“It is very hard to imagine a government led by Mr Netanyahu and with Mr Bennett somewhere in its ranks negotiating seriously about a two-state solution – something that will anger Palestinians and frustrate American and European leaders.”

That theme was again repeated in an article published just as Israelis began to vote.

The BBC’s overall coverage of this election has presented a picture which disproportionately focuses on one side of the Israeli political map.  Audiences will not only have been unable to learn anything about the policies of Centrist and Leftist parties, but will also know nothing about the people leading them. Subjects such as the involvement of Arab women in the political process – which would likely interest readers and viewers in this ‘Arab Spring’ era – have been completely ignored. 

Overall, the BBC’s selective coverage of the elections has had one very specific agenda: to present Israel as a country lurching rightwards and to depict that perceived shift as the exclusive reason for the predicted failure to make progress on the subject of the peace process.

Neither of those assumptions is anchored in reality, but the BBC continues to selectively tailor the news in order to influence audience perceptions. 

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