In addition to running a live page titled “Israel election results: as it happened” on March 17th, the BBC News website also published its main article on the topic of election day in Israel under the headline “Israel election: Netanyahu seeks new term in tight race“. The report underwent many changes throughout the day but a couple of points appearing in most versions are worthy of closer examination.
The article opens with clear signposting for readers:
“Millions of Israelis are voting in what is expected to be a close race between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party and a centre-left alliance.
The centre-left Zionist Union promises to repair relations with Palestinians and the international community.
Mr Netanyahu, whose party has trailed in opinion polls, vowed on Monday not to allow the creation of a Palestinian state if he wins a fourth term.”
Later on in the article readers are told that:
“On Monday, he [Netanyahu] made his pledge to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state in a speech at the Har Homa Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem.”
But is that an accurate representation of what Netanyahu actually said in his March 16th interview with NRG? When asked if it was correct to say that “…if you are prime minister a Palestinian state will not be established”, Netanyahu replied “indeed”. Before that, however, he gave context which this BBC article does not provide to readers.
“I think that anyone today going to set up a Palestinian state – anyone going to evacuate territory – is simply giving extremist Islam territory for attacks against the State of Israel. That’s the reality which has emerged here in the recent years. Whoever does not understand that is simply putting…burying his head in the sand. The Left does that – it buries its head in the sand time after time.” [translation: BBC Watch]
“Mr Netanyahu said that ceding lands to the Palestinians would risk leaving Israel open to attacks by Islamists.
“Whoever ignores that is burying his head in the sand. The left is doing that, burying its head in the sand time after time,” he told the nrg news website.
When asked if that meant a Palestinian state would not be established if he is elected, Netanyahu replied “indeed”.”
In this article, however, the BBC elected to remove that very relevant context from the account it presented to its audience and – coming on top of the fact that the BBC rarely reports on internal Palestinian affairs anyway – that further reduces their ability to understand the background to Netanyahu’s statement.
Another section of the article states:
“He [Netanyahu] also posted a video message on his Facebook page, saying: “Right-wing rule is in danger. Arab voters are going to the polls in droves. Left-wing organisations are bringing them in buses.”
He later took the unusual step of calling the media to his official residence to issue a statement while voting was under way, to repeat his concerns about the opposition winning.”
In the next line of that Facebook post, Netanyahu referred to the V15 organisation but seeing as the BBC had avoided the topic of that group’s campaign in all of its election coverage up to that point, readers were unaware of its existence.
“The model V15 tried to implement here was the system that brought Barack Obama to the White House in the United States: a campaign to encourage voter turnout with personal appeals, through telemarketing or by going door-to-door, based on precise statistical segmentation and with an emphasis on areas that leaned toward the preferred camp – all in an effort to convince despairing voters to vote. V15, short for “Victory 2015,” also hired Jeremy Bird, the national field director of Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, to help organize its efforts. […]
The main element of the funding came from a hook-up with the OneVoice Movement – an organization founded in 2002 by the Mexican-born, U.S.-based businessman and philanthropist Daniel Lubetzky. OneVoice describes itself as “an international grassroots movement that amplifies the voice of mainstream Israelis and Palestinians, empowering them to propel their elected representatives toward the two-state solution.””
BBC audiences therefore also remained in the dark with regard to the way in which that foreign-funded campaign was viewed by some Israeli voters, just as they lacked insight into the perception of some voters concerning the fact that the Joint Arab List includes anti-Zionist parties such as Balad.
“…the catchy slogan that launched V15 – “Just change” – was a good fit with the feelings on the street and the flattering polls for Herzog. However, the underlying tectonic changes were actually going in the opposite direction, it turned out: the louder the “Anyone but Bibi” cry sounded, the more voters returned home to him.
“I don’t think we ran a campaign that was based totally on ‘Anyone but Bibi,’” said Weizmann, the morning after Election Day, ignoring the fact that the group’s campaign directly called for Netanyahu’s head.”
In contrast, readers of this article were presented with the following information:
“Zionist Union leader Yitzhak Herzog said his rival represented the “path of despair and disappointment”.
Mr Herzog told the BBC that his government would work to “correct the unfairness in [Israel’s] economy”, strengthen the country’s relationship with the US and revive negotiations with the Palestinians.
He expressed support for a two-state solution, saying: “It’s very important for the future of Israel that we separate from the Palestinians.
“We must find the right partners to negotiate with them.””
The BBC’s superficial black and white portrayal of the choices facing Israeli voters is cringingly transparent in this report. Its failure to provide readers with adequate context and background information on factors which did affect the results of the election (together with the notable absence of any reporting whatsoever on additional ones such as the speech by a participant at the Left’s rally on March 7th attended by Kevin Connolly) means that audiences were presented with a caricature view which did nothing to contribute to their real understanding of the subject.