On September 12th the ‘Magazine’ section of the BBC News website published an article by Yolande Knell titled “Who, What, Why: What is skunk water?“.
The hook for Knell’s article is evident in the article’s opening paragraph.
“Police departments in the United States are reported to have bought a foul-smelling liquid developed in Israel to repel protesters. What is “skunk” and how is it used, asks Yolande Knell.”
However, only those 31 words and a further 39 towards the end of the article relate to the reported purchase of the riot control method by US police departments. The report’s remaining 627 words are employed by Knell for more of her signature political campaigning.
One of the article’s notable features is the language used by Knell to describe the circumstances in which the Israeli security forces use Skunk spray.
Having already informed audiences in the opening paragraph that the substance is used “to repel protesters“, the article also states: [all emphasis added]
“Invented by Israeli firm Odortec, skunk water was first used by the Israeli military against demonstrators in the occupied West Bank in 2008.”
“In the West Bank village of Kafr Qaddum, skunk has been used to break up weekly rallies against Israel’s closure of a nearby road.”
“Protesters, demonstrators, rallies”: none of Knell’s chosen terminology contributes to audience understanding of the fact that Skunk and other methods of crowd control are in fact used against violent rioters. The only hint concerning that comes in a quote from the IDF but Knell herself refrains from clarifying the issue to readers, leaving them with the mistaken impression that Skunk is used against people marching quietly with placards.
“A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) told the BBC that skunk is “an effective, non-lethal, riot dispersal means” that can reduce the risk of casualties.”
Knell promotes statements from two political NGOs but – in breach of BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality – refrains from providing audiences with any information on the obviously relevant topic of their political agenda. The foreign funded NGO ACRI is quoted as follows:
“Israeli security forces have been accused of misusing the stinking liquid.
Last year police sprayed large quantities of it in East Jerusalem neighbourhoods, at a time of widespread unrest.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel complained that this was “disproportionate“, affecting the lives of tens of thousands of Palestinians.
It documented cases where homes, shops and schools were hit with the foul liquid long after rioters had left the area.” [emphasis added]
The local NGO most quoted and promoted by the BBC in its Israel-related content in 2014, B’Tselem, provides the video embedded in the article – and apparently the source of an unverified allegation – as well as a quote.
“In the West Bank village of Kafr Qaddum, skunk has been used to break up weekly rallies against Israel’s closure of a nearby road. The protest organiser claims his home has also been singled out.
“Several times they purposefully targeted my house,” says Murad Ishtewe. “Once the high pressure of the jet broke the window so the water came inside. All my furniture was ruined.”
The IDF said it was not aware of such an incident.
“For us it’s a complex picture,” says Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem.
“The authorities ought to find non-lethal ways of maintaining law and order. The problem is the way Skunk is used. Very often it is a form of collective punishment for a whole area.”” [emphasis added]
The inclusion of the terms “disproportionate” and “collective punishment” – both of which have legal connotations not relevant to this story – is of course particularly notable given the BBC’s similar misuse of legal terminology during Operation Protective Edge, often whilst amplifying the agendas of political NGOs engaged in lawfare.
Knell also throws in inferences of racism:
“Many Palestinians view the offensive smell as a humiliation, as skunk is used almost exclusively against them. Exceptions are rare. One came in April this year, when it was sprayed (possibly diluted) at Ethiopian-Israelis protesting against what they saw as racially motivated police violence.”
She neglects to inform readers that the use of Skunk in Jerusalem on April 30th came about after the protest turned violent and does not disclose her source for the claim that in that case the solution was “possibly diluted”.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to find any Israel-related report by Yolande Knell which does not promote her embarrassingly transparent political agenda. Not infrequently her work (and that of other BBC journalists too) relies on contributions from a selected group of political NGOs, without any effort being made to duly inform BBC audiences of the agenda which lies behind their claims and statements. Yolande Knell clearly has no qualms about acting as a medium for foreign funded Israeli NGOs but that of course is not the same as accurate and impartial reporting of the news – which is, after all, what licence fee payers are entitled to receive.