For years we have been documenting on these pages how the BBC has serially failed to provide its audiences with an accurate and impartial portrayal of the aims and agenda of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign – even as it has frequently provided that campaign and some of its supporters with free PR.
“Israel lists 20 organisations whose activists will be barred from entering the country on account of their support for the boycotting of Israel. We hear from an Israeli deputy minister, and a representative of one of the banned groups.”
Presenter James Coomarasamy introduced the item, providing listeners with an inaccurate description of the BDS campaign’s roots and aims in its opening seconds.
Coomarasamy: “First though, the Israeli government says it has shifted from defence to offence in its attempts to counter the international movement which supports the boycott of the country. It’s drawn up a list of 20 mainly European and American organisations which support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – or BDS – movement and whose activists will now be prevented from entering Israel. Well BDS was launched just over a decade ago with the stated goal of applying non-violent pressure on Israel to comply with international law in its dealings with the Palestinians. So why has Israel taken this decision now?”. [emphasis added]
Coomarasamy then introduced his first interviewee – Israeli deputy minister and MK Michael Oren – who pointed out that while other countries face security threats: [emphasis in italics in the original]
Oren: “…we are totally unique – indeed the only country in the world that faces threats to its very existence. There could be organisations that seek to change Israeli policies, oppose Israeli policies but we’re dealing with organisations here that actively seek Israel’s destruction and Israel has a right to defend itself against these threats; certainly against existential threats.”
Coomarasamy: “Right but these specifically are groups that are calling for boycotting Israel.”
Oren: “They’re calling for boycotting Israel – not to change Israel’s policies. That’s the difference. When you boycott Israel you’re going to bring Israel down. These are organisations that realise that attempts to destroy Israel by conventional means – the Arab-Israeli wars, which basically ended in 1973, terror against Israel, which continues today but is much less than it was in previous years – those efforts failed. The new effort to destroy Israel is legal and economic and it’s very serious indeed. It is the 21st century version of warfare and it is every bit as dangerous. We take it every bit as seriously as we took previous efforts to destroy us.”
After Oren had clarified why Coomarasamy’s description of the BDS campaign as “propaganda efforts” is not accurate and explained the rationale behind Israel’s compilation of a registry of BDS supporting organisations and ban on entry into Israel for foreign members of those groups who take ongoing, consistent and significant action to promote the BDS campaign, Coomarasamy moved on to his next interviewee.
Coomarasamy: “Well one of the blacklisted groups is Jewish Voice for Peace which supports the BDS campaign. Rebecca Vilkomerson is their executive director based in New York. What does she make of Michael Oren’s assertion that the BDS campaign is intent on the destruction of the State of Israel?”
Vilkomerson: “I would absolutely dispute that. I mean I think of course the tool of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions is one that’s been used historically across many, many different movements in many, many different times as a tool of citizens to push governments to take action when they are unwilling or unable to. And of course if you think about the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, the goal of the movement was not to destroy the country. The goal of the movement was to transform the country. Of course there is pressure as part of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions but the aim is to transform the country into one that brings all citizens to full equality and dignity and freedom and that’s of course also the goal with the BDS movement for Palestinian rights.”
Listeners familiar with the BBC’s dismal record on reporting on the BDS campaign may have been surprised to learn at that point that at least one the corporation’s journalists apparently is aware of its ‘end game’.
Coomarasamy: “Although there are some supporters of the BDS movement who would specifically say that they want the State of Israel to dissolve itself, to be dissolved.”
However, Vilkomerson was then allowed to downplay the fact that leaders and prominent activists in the BDS campaign openly speak of bringing an end to Jewish self-determination with no challenge whatsoever from Coomarasamy.
Vilkomerson: “Ahm…cert…you know the BDS movement is a very, very broad movement in the way that anyone can say that they’re a supporter [laughs] certainly. So you can’t say…you know you can’t really give too much credence to that. But I think the purpose of the BDS movement as is articulated by its leadership – the broad…the broadest array of civil rights…civil society within Palestine – is three conditions that the BDS calls…specifically calls for which is the end of the occupation, the dismantling of the wall, full equality for Palestinian citizens and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. And if those three conditions are met, the BDS call will be called off.”
Vilkomerson’s claim that the BDS campaign’s leadership is found in “civil society within Palestine” is of course inaccurate (as has been admitted even by one of its prominent supporters) but Coomarasamy made no effort to challenge that deliberate falsehood. Neither did he bother to clarify to listeners that the BDS campaign’s demand for the so-called ‘right of return’ to Israel for millions of Palestinian refugees would – as its supporters know full well – bring an end to Jewish self-determination in the sole Jewish state and it is precisely that ‘condition’ which would “dissolve” the State of Israel.
The conversation continued with Vilkomerson claiming that the Israeli move is “an indicator of the growing power of the BDS movement”. When she stated that the goal of her own organisation is “to change US policy” Coomarasamy refrained from asking her exactly what that entails and so listeners did not hear, for example, that JVP has hosted and lobbied for Palestinians convicted of terrorism or that last year it launched a campaign that aims to “end police exchange programs between the US and Israel”.
Although this item dealt specifically with the subject of the BDS campaign, once again we see that the BBC did not provide audiences with the clear picture of its aims that they have lacked for years. Rather, in addition to providing an inaccurate definition of the campaign’s goals himself, James Coomarasamy allowed his second interviewee to muddy the waters even further by failing to challenge her inaccurate statements and claims.
In addition, the photograph illustrating the programme’s webpage is inaccurately captioned as follows:
“Photo: A tourist photographs a sign in Bethlehem in 2015, calling for a boycott of Israeli products coming from Jewish settlements.”
BBC Watch asked a professional to translate the Arabic script on that sign. It makes no reference to a selective boycott of “products coming from Jewish settlements” but rather urges:“boycott your occupation…support your country’s produce” and it is credited to “the national campaign for boycott of the occupation and its goods”.