January 30th saw the appearance of an article titled “Scarlett Johansson quits Oxfam role over SodaStream row” on the BBC News website’s US & Canada and Middle East pages.
The article opens:
“Actress Scarlett Johansson has quit as an ambassador for Oxfam amid a row over her support for an Israeli company that operates in the occupied West Bank.
A spokesman for the actress said she had a “fundamental difference of opinion” with the humanitarian group.
She will remain a brand ambassador for SodaStream, which has a factory in the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim.”
Actually, the SodaStream factory is located to the east of Ma’ale Adumim in the Mishor Adumim Industrial Park and in an area which, under any reasonable scenario of a peace agreement between Israel and the PLO, will remain under Israeli control. Notably, the BBC – as usual – does not bother to inform audiences of that aspect of the story.
The report continues:
“Oxfam opposes trade from settlements, considered illegal under international law – something Israel disputes.
About 500,000 Jews currently live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.”
As usual, no attempt is made to clarify to readers that contrasting legal opinions also exist outside Israel and the BBC presents selected views as indisputable fact.
At no point in this report is any attempt made to inform readers of the context of Oxfam’s record of politically motivated campaigning against Israel. Likewise, at no point is any attempt made to explain to audiences that Oxfam’s stance is the result of its alignment with the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) and that the aim of that movement is the dismantling of Israel as the Jewish state through a campaign of delegitimisation.
“With pressure imposed by the international community through a BDS campaign a la anti-Apartheid campaign which brought Apartheid South Africa to an end, we believe that Israel itself can be transformed into a secular democratic state after the return of 6 million Palestinian refugees who were ethnically cleansed in 1948, a state for ALL of its citizens…therefore, we think that one of the major tools of the struggle towards a secular democratic state is BDS.” Haider Eid, 2009
“So BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state…I view the BDS movement as a long-term project with radically transformative potential… the success of the BDS movement is tied directly to our success in humanizing Palestinians and discrediting Zionism as a legitimate way of regarding the world.” Ahmed Moor, 2010
“BDS represents three words that will help bring about the defeat of Zionist Israel and victory for Palestine.” Ronnie Kasrils, 2009
The BBC’s report quotes from a statement issued by Oxfam:
“Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.”
Despite the obviously downright bizarre nature of that statement, the BBC makes no attempt to clarify to readers that the 500 or so Palestinians working at SodaStream enjoy the same rates of pay, benefits and rights as their Israeli colleagues or that unemployment in the PA controlled areas stood at 19.1% in the third quarter of 2013 according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics and that employees of SodaStream earn several times the average wage of 88 shekels a day in PA controlled areas.
Towards the end of the report, the BBC once again stoops to quoting second-hand unverified hearsay from an unnamed source.
“However, away from the factory, Reuters quoted one unnamed Palestinian employee as saying “there’s a lot of racism” at work.
“Most of the managers are Israeli, and West Bank employees feel they can’t ask for pay rises or more benefits because they can be fired and easily replaced,” he added.”
In the film below, however, are some named SodaStream employees talking about their experiences and here readers can watch an interview with the factory’s manager and hear a conversation with production manager Mohamed Barhum conducted by our colleague Adam Levick of CiF Watch last year.
It takes about half an hour even in bad traffic to drive from Jerusalem to Mishor Adumim. Surely someone from the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau could have popped down there to do some proper reporting instead of BBC News resorting once again to recycling unverified quotes from second-hand sources.
Had that been done, BBC journalists would have discovered that SodaStream is far from the only firm employing Palestinians at that industrial park and that some of the businesses operating in the Mishor Adumim complex are Arab-owned. They could then have approached Oxfam for a statement on whether those companies too are deemed worthy of boycott simply because of their physical location.
Such a statement might well have contributed to BBC audiences’ understanding of the real roots of Oxfam’s campaign and the true nature of the BDS movement. Unfortunately for BBC audiences however, it seems that once again the corporation is more interested in the amplification of a specific unquestioned narrative than in providing them with a range of information which will allow them to form their own views on the subject.
This report joins many others in raising the very obvious question of why the BBC’s funding public should be obliged to pay to read second-hand recycled quotes from sources they could have accessed for free themselves. It also raises an additional issue: sources such as Reuters (quoted in this article), AP and AFP (frequently quoted in other reports) are of course not bound by the same editorial standards as the BBC. That fact prompts the question of whether any sort of mechanism exists to ensure that information sourced by the BBC from other media outlets is checked for accuracy and impartiality before it is recycled to BBC audiences.