A fishy tale of literary promotion by the BBC

There are days when one wonders if the Guardian and the BBC are actually joined at the hip. May 20th was one of them, when a report titled “Keeping alive Gaza’s culinary traditions” by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell appeared in the Features & Analysis section of the Middle East page of the BBC News website, where it was subtitled “Preserving the spice of life when ingredients and power are scarce”. The same report was also featured in the website’s ‘Magazine’ section; there it was subtitled “Preserving the spice of life under blockade”. 

Magazine GAza food

So what has this to do with the Guardian? Well – by complete coincidence – that paper’s Jerusalem correspondent, Harriet Sherwood, produced an amazingly similar article on precisely the same subject and promoting the exact same themes just six days earlier.

Both Knell and Sherwood wax lyrical about Gazan salads and seafood dishes – with both stressing the subject of the fishing zone, but without mentioning that after it had been extended to 6 miles in November 2012, following the ceasefire which brought an end to Operation pillar of Cloud, it had to be reduced again in March 2013 due to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. Incidentally, the zone was re-extended to six miles on May 21st 2103. 

Both Knell and Sherwood make much of supposed food shortages in the Gaza Strip and stress the subject of UNRWA food aid – without making any effort to tell readers of other sides to the storyBoth Knell and Sherwood emphasise the issue of power cuts and gas shortages. And of course both Sherwood and Knell blame any and every shortage on Israel, but at least the former does not make the same mistake as Knell by claiming (yet again) that the naval blockade on the Gaza Strip was “tightened” in 2007, when in fact it did not exist until 2009. 

But the most glaring similarity between the two articles is the fact that they both promote the same cookbook – just in time for its UK launch. Knell writes:

“However, a new cookbook – The Gaza Kitchen – that went on sale in the UK this month, tries to give an alternative perspective by focusing on the distinctive, and piquant, local cuisine.

“We had an intuition that this would be a really remarkable way of telling the story of Gaza – the connection between the people, the land and the history,” says co-author Laila el-Haddad, who is Gazan but lives in the US.”

As pointed out on our sister site CiF Watch, Kuwaiti-born, Saudi Arabia-raised Laila el Haddad is no ordinary food writer. She is in fact a professional anti-Israel activist and a proponent of the eradication of Israel through the ‘one-state solution’. It therefore will come as no surprise to readers to learn that the launch of her latest book in the UK has been promoted by the London School of Economics’ Middle East Centre, the London BDS website and the Mosaic Rooms which belongs to the AM Qattan Foundation – a trustee of which, Nadia Hijab, is also director of the ‘one-state’ promoting ‘think tank’ Al Shabaka, for which Laila el Haddad is a policy advisor.  

One must of course at this point wonder whether the culinary trip or trips to Gaza made by Yolande Knell and Harriet Sherwood were in fact organized – and perhaps even sponsored – by Laila el Haddad and/or her publisher, because this almost simultaneous free advertising for a professional anti-Israel activist and her cause from both the Guardian and the BBC’s Jerusalem-based staff is certainly something of a bizarre coincidence.

Whilst we’re at it, we should probably also ask how the promotion of this book in the body of an article on the BBC News website squares up with the BBC’s restrictions on advertising to UK readers of that site.


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