On April 8th a filmed report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman was posted on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page under the headline “How far will Israel shift to the right?”.
The accompanying synopsis tells BBC audiences that:
“Israelis go to the polls on Tuesday to choose a new government.
It has come down to a race between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, a former military chief of staff.
Mr Netanyahu has faced accusations that he fostered racism in the campaign, after he oversaw the creation of an electoral alliance involving a party that calls for the expulsion of most Arabs from Israel.
Our Middle East Correspondent Tom Bateman reports, starting in the divided city of Hebron, in the occupied West Bank.
Within the city of about 200,000 Palestinians, a few hundred Jews live in settlements that are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”
Like that synopsis, the report itself – introduced as “Israel’s election and the far right” – made no effort to explain to BBC audiences that Jewish residents of Hebron live there under the terms of a twenty-two year old internationally supervised agreement between Israel and the PLO under which the then Israeli prime minister – one Binyamin Netanyahu – agreed to redeploy Israeli forces from 80% of the city and hand control over to the Palestinian Authority, thus making the city “divided” with Palestinian consent.
Lacking that essential background information, the view audiences got from Bateman’s report was inevitably distorted. [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]
“Last month, settlers celebrated the Jewish holiday of Purim in the divided city of Hebron, in the occupied West Bank. Several hundred of Israel’s most ideologically driven settlers live here, guarded by soldiers, in the city of 200,000 Palestinians.”
Bateman: “I mean on one level it’s just a party, it’s people dressing up and having a good time. But like so many things here, it just takes on a different meaning because this is so contested, this is such a tense place, it becomes about an expression of identity by people who feel that they under siege. For the Palestinians it feels like a complete provocation.”
Having heard from a man in a van that “again and again, every generation, there are nations that are trying to destroy the Jews”, Bateman went on to opine on “religious resolve (whatever that may be) and nationalism”.
Bateman: “That explains why religious resolve and nationalism are so much on display here. Those things are a powerful part of Israeli politics. And in this election, the extremes have been courted by the Israeli prime minister. An anti-Arab party called Jewish Power. They didn’t want to talk to us.”
Having tried to talk to a man in the street, Bateman went on:
Bateman: “His party wants to annex the occupied West Bank and also expel what it calls ‘enemy Arabs’ from Israel. Some of the Israelis dress up as Palestinians. So this lady here is wearing a Palestinian [sic] head scarf and carrying a plastic AK-47.”
Viewers were then told that:
“Benjamin Netanyahu wants to be elected for a fifth term. He faces corruption claims and a serious challenger: former military chief Benny Gantz. Mr Gantz is leading a political alliance in the centre ground. It accuses Mr Netanyahu of dividing Israelis and says he hasn’t been tough enough on security.”
Bateman then refocused audience attentions on Hebron, again failing to provide relevant context such as the consequences of Palestinian terrorism on freedom of movement for both Palestinians and Israelis.
Bateman: “Virtually all of the Palestinians are staying indoors while the parade goes on. Palestinian movement is heavily controlled in this part of the city, especially around the parade.”
Woman: “I feel like their lives are much more relaxed than ours. Apart from that, you can see they can do what they like. They have total freedom in the area and in all the areas that are shut down like this one. We feel sad.”
Bateman: “So what’s happened to Israel’s left wing? Well we found some of them in the market in Tel Aviv. […] I followed around the Labour Party leader Avi Gabbay. They can drum up a bit of a crowd in the market here. But the problem for the Labour Party leader is he could be looking at Labour’s worst poll ratings in this country’s history.”
Making no effort whatsoever to give viewers a real explanation of why that is the case, Bateman went on to push the core agenda behind his report.
Bateman: “After a decade in office, Benjamin Netanyahu has changed the conversation in Israel. For example the two-state solution with the Palestinians is off the agenda for either party that can win.”
In other words, Bateman would have BBC audiences believe that disillusion among Israeli voters and politicians alike with the belief that a two-state solution can be achieved is entirely down to Netanyahu having “changed the conversation” since 2009 and has nothing whatsoever to do with years of Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli citizens, Palestinian Authority glorification and rewarding of terror, Palestinian refusal to accept numerous previous offers of precisely such a solution or the Hamas-Fatah split which for over a decade has made any agreement “with the Palestinians” impossible.
Following a conversation with Ayelet Shaked of the ‘New Right’ in which she apparently did not succeed in persuading Bateman that Israeli democracy is sufficiently robust to include a broad range of opinions across the political spectrum, he continued with promotion of unsupported claims from unidentified commentators.
Bateman: “Israel has been taking a look at itself in this election. Some see the move rightwards over the last decade as decisive now. They see ideas that were once on the margins a few decades ago becoming more and more mainstream. Like the possibility of Israel annexing parts of the occupied West Bank.”
Finally, BBC audiences learned that even if Netanyahu does not win this election and even if a centrist/left coalition forms the next government, Israel has – according to the BBC – nevertheless shifted to the right for one reason alone.
Bateman: “Regardless of the result, there has been a marked shift to the right during Benjamin Netanyahu’s time in office.”
Of course this is by no means the first time that the BBC has used coverage of an election in Israel to promote the notion of a lurch to the right. Once again the lack of understanding by BBC reporters of the inapplicability of their own Eurocentric interpretations of terms such as Left and Right to the Israeli political scene is in evidence. But this time Bateman has managed to avoid any reference to Palestinian actions and choices which have made many Israelis more sceptical of their supposed peace partner’s commitment to the process while squarely placing the blame on the shoulders of the Israeli prime minister.