On March 14th an article on the subject of the new coalition government in Israel, by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell, appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website.
Apart from a couple of errors, Knell’s article is very reasonable. She writes:
“Mr Netanyahu was forced to give up his alliance with the ultra-Orthodox parties: Shas and United Torah Judaism.” [emphasis added]
In the video appearing in the article – showing a similar report by Knell broadcast on BBC news – she says:
“Mr Netanyahu, the prime minister, has had to give up on what are seen as his natural allies – the ultra-orthodox parties – in forming this new government.” [emphasis added]
In fact, the possibility of a 55 seat coalition including the two Orthodox parties was very much still on the table according to local political analysts just hours before the final arrangements were agreed, and so Knell’s use of the word “forced” makes her description of events inaccurate.
Knell also states in the video:
“It is a much more secular-looking government than we’ve seen before”
The time frame of “before” is not made clear, but as anyone with a reasonable memory span will remember, Ariel Sharon’s second term as prime minister saw him construct a coalition government at the end of February 2003 – together with Shinui, led by Yair Lapid’s father – which did not include the Orthodox parties.
It is, of course, interesting to look back a few weeks at the BBC’s initial predictions surrounding the coalition talks. On February 2nd the BBC informed audiences that:
“Correspondents says (sic) Mr Netanyahu’s likeliest allies are other right-wing and religious groups, although he may also need the support of centrists.”
The fact that the two centrist parties HaTnua and Yesh Atid will make up a very significant portion of this government, holding over a quarter of the ministerial portfolios between them including the Justice Ministry, the Finance Ministry and the Ministry of Education, means that the BBC’s recurrent pre-election predictions of a country lurching to the Right were obviously based on nothing more than politically inspired guess-work. And what can be said about the prediction of a “very, very right-wing government” made by that old BBC favourite Abdel Bari Atwan back in January?
Later in the day on March 14th, an additional article by Yolande Knell on exactly the same subject also appeared on the Middle East page of the BBC News website and on March 15th, yet another report on the same subject and containing the same information appeared in the same place. Again, both these articles are by and large reasonably factual and accurate, but in the former we find the insertion of a worn old BBC mantra:
“While the Hatnua leader, Tzipi Livni, has been named as chief negotiator if talks with the Palestinians resume, her commitment to a two-state solution is not shared with other key coalition partners.
Indeed Naftali Bennett has dismissed that idea as “suicide” for Israel. His Jewish Home party includes Knesset members from Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, which the Palestinians say are the main obstacle to peace.” [emphasis added]
Of course an entirely accurate representation of that last half sentence should make it clear that the existence of settlements has not prevented the Palestinian Authority from coming to the negotiating table in the past and that the Palestinian adoption of the notion of settlements as “the main obstacle to peace” only came into existence after rookie president Barack Obama pushed the PA up that particular tree – from which they now find it impossible or inconvenient to descend.
This is far from the first time that the BBC has failed to engage in critical thinking before blindly repeating various bizarre Palestinian claims to its audiences. That habit does nothing to advance BBC audiences’ understanding of the real reasons for lack of progress in the peace process.