BBC’s Connolly amplifies Ha’aretz columnist’s fallacious claims

On March 24th the BBC News website published an article headlined “Israeli soldier ‘shot wounded Palestinian attacker dead’” which concerns an incident that took place on that day after a terror attack in Hebron. That article remained on the website’s Middle East page for two consecutive days.

On March 31st an additional report concerning developments in the case appeared under the title “Israeli soldier ‘faces manslaughter’ for killing wounded attacker” and it too remained on the website for two days.

Although the soldier concerned has yet to be indicted and the investigation into the incident is still ongoing, on April 11th a third article on the same topic appeared in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page. Written by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly, the article is titled “Video of Israeli soldier’s killing of Palestinian attacker fuels debate” and it opens in Connolly’s trademark style.Connolly Hebron shooting art

“Almost everything about the shooting of Abdul Fatah al-Sharif made it a very modern moment of news.

There was the time and the place.

It occurred on the edge of the Jewish sector of the divided city of Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank – a kind of crucible of the troubles here, where so many of the stabbings and shootings in the latest wave of violence have happened.”

Connolly makes no effort to inform his readers that Hebron is “divided” because the representatives of the Palestinian people agreed to such an arrangement nearly two decades ago.

But for all its repeated promotion of one-sided politicized terminology such as “the occupied West Bank”, the real aim of Connolly’s piece is to reinforce a theme that has been frequently promoted by the BBC in the past: a supposed political shift to the Right in Israeli society.

He therefore has to explain the Israeli Chief of Staff’s description of the incident as coming “from a slightly unusual source” – although in fact there is of course nothing ‘unusual’ at all about a senior IDF commander giving an accurate account of an incident. Connolly then touts the conclusion that “this appears to be an issue on which the army is out of step with Israeli society” and the ‘evidence’ he presents for that conclusion is based on a factor of which (given their past experiences of  burnt fingers) one might have thought he and his colleagues would be rather more wary: an opinion poll.

“In one opinion poll, only 5% of those questioned thought the soldier’s actions amounted to murder – and more than 80% expressed at least some degree of support.”

Connolly brings in two interviewees to support his theory, the first of whom is a representative of B’tselem which earlier on in the article he has already described as “an Israeli human rights organization”. The person who filmed the incident in Hebron on behalf of B’tselem is similarly portrayed as “the human rights activist”.

“There are some Israelis who see B’Tselem as the villain of the piece – a view that does not surprise Sarit Michaeli, who speaks for the group.

“I don’t lose any sleep over being called a traitor,” she told me. “What I do lose sleep over is whether we’ve done enough every day to expose the harms of the occupation… We’re in the run-up to the 50th year of military control over the Palestinian people… this is the meaning of occupation.””

Connolly makes no attempt to conform to the BBC’s editorial guidelines on impartiality by clarifying that B’tselem is one of the foreign funded political NGOs involved in the lawfare campaign against Israel.

Connolly’s second interviewee is Ha’aretz journalist Ari Shavit. 

“But Israeli liberals, like the columnist from the Haaretz newspaper Ari Shavit, appear a little taken aback at the strength of right-wing sentiment surrounding the case and are inclined to attribute it to a change in the nature of right-wing politics here from old-fashioned conservatism to radical populism.

“The new kind of populist right-wingers don’t respect the rule of law and human rights in the way the old conservative right used to,” Mr Shavit told the BBC.

“You have a very complex surprising situation where there is a lot of positive popular pressure in the wrong way, while the military establishment in many ways is trying to keep Israel’s old values.””

Ari Shavit (who clearly does not see a need to wait for completion of the investigation into the incident before pronouncing judgement) bases his premises on his recollections of the ‘Bus 300’ affair from 1984 as outlined in an article he published in Ha’aretz in Hebrew on March 31st and in English on April 1st.  

“But this time the uproar was very different. There was a total role reversal. The security establishment tried to maintain the image of the State of Israel, while the pressure from the media and the public supported the brutality. While the defense minister, the chief of staff and the IDF acted in a cultured and upright fashion, the Facebook society demanded that they not conduct a fair and orderly legal procedure. With a deafening roar, the masses applauded cruelty.

In many ways the Bus 300 case was a far more serious and complicated affair than what happened in Tel Rumeida. But the similarities between the cases and the polar opposite response to them cast a revealing and cruel light on the changes we’ve undergone in the past few decades. They indicate what is happening to us. Where we were then and where we are now. What we were and what we have become. And where we are going.”

Our colleagues at Presspectiva took a look at Shavit’s claims (Hebrew) and found that they do not however match the historical record.

 “From a poll by ‘Yediot Aharonot’ which was published on 30.5.1986, two years after the incident, it emerges that most of the public (61%) was against the interrogation of the head of the Israel Security Agency in connection with the circumstances of the killing of the terrorists. […] Another poll which was taken on 11.7.1986 and published in the paper showed that although there had been a fall in the percentage of those opposed to the investigation, the majority (57%) were still against it.”

In other words, Shavit’s analysis is a fiction of his own selective memory.

Kevin Connolly echoes Shavit’s fallacious conclusions in his closing words:

“But slowly the political debate that surrounds the case whatever the outcome will help to define how Israeli attitudes towards such cases are changing over time.”

Were Kevin Connolly able to read Hebrew or had he consulted one of his colleagues who can, he could have saved himself the embarrassment of promoting that redundant theory based on Ari Shavit’s inaccurate memories. However, given the BBC’s record of repeated promotion of the theme of an ominous ‘shift to the Right’ in Israeli society, the question is whether or not accuracy would even then have trumped agenda. 

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