BBC 4 presenter Rajesh Mirchandani avoids confusing audiences with facts

The August 5th edition of BBC 4’s ‘World News Today’ (available here to UK readers only for a short period of time) included an interview with Neri Zilber – Visiting Fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.Mirchandani

At the end of a long answer to one of the questions posed, Mr Zilber said:

“I think it’s very important to remember that the blockade in Gaza didn’t just happen coincidentally.  It was very much due to a Hamas coup in 2007.  Very much due to Hamas’s non-relinquishment of their own arms and the option of terrorism.”

To that, BBC interviewer and self-described “nerd for global affairs” Rajesh Mirchandani responded:

“You call it a coup. They did win an election. They do have a mandate in Gaza.  They were the democratically elected authorities in Gaza.”

The last time elections were held for the Palestinian Authority’s parliament – the Palestinian Legislative Council – was in January 2006. The results of those elections were valid until January 2010 but since then, elections have not been held. In other words, Rajesh Mirchandani’s claim that “they [Hamas] do have a mandate in Gaza” – with its use of the present tense – is clearly inaccurate.

Mirchandani also says “they [Hamas] did win an election” and indeed Hamas did receive 44.45% of the vote in the January 2006 elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council and in March 2006 established a Hamas-run government. The PLC, however, is the legislative body of the Palestinian Authority, which signed the Oslo Accords. Those agreements include recognition of Israel and the renunciation of violence and Hamas, of course, was and is prepared to do neither. Hence the Hamas-led government was not recognized by the US, the Quartet, Israel and other members of the international community and sanctions were imposed due to the PNA government’s de facto refusal to abide by its existing agreements with Israel. By 2007 the Hamas government was unable to pay salaries or manage government affairs and in March 2007 a national unity government (Hamas and Fatah) was sworn in.

In June 2007 fighting erupted between the two parties to that unity government, with the end result of nearly a week of heavy fighting in the Gaza Strip, in which over a hundred people were killed, being an armed takeover by Hamas which ousted its unity government partners from the territory. Most people would term that a coup according to the definition of that word – “a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power from a government”.

But not Rajesh Mirchandani, apparently, whose claim that Hamas “were the democratically elected authorities in Gaza” is not only inaccurate but distracts audiences from reaching the understanding that Israel’s declaration of the Gaza Strip as hostile territory – and the resulting implementation of tightened restrictions on its border with that territory – came about three months after the violent Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in response to the rise in missile attacks from that territory.

With the subject of border restrictions implemented by Egypt and Israel currently a main topic in the news, it is obviously vital that BBC presenters portray this issue accurately and impartially if their audiences are to be able to “participate in the global debate on significant international issues” as promised by the BBC.  

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