On the evening of June 6th a report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell was aired on two BBC radio stations. In both cases the item was introduced with a reference to the appointment of MK Amir Ohana to the post of acting minister of justice, with audiences told that the appointment had taken place “today” when in fact it had been announced the previous evening.
Franks: “As gay pride parades take place around the world this month, they don’t just celebrate LGBTQ communities; they also often highlight the struggle that many still face for acceptance and equal rights. Although Israel is proud of its diversity – indeed today [sic] the first openly gay man to become a minister in Israel has been appointed by the prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu – today the Jerusalem pride march highlighted how deep social and religious differences remain with angry protests along the route. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell joined the crowds.”
On the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ the item was billed “What Jerusalem’s Gay Pride march reveals about Israeli divisions” and presenter James Coomarasamy told listeners (from 26:36 here) that:
Coomarasamy: “Today’s gay pride march in Jerusalem has coincided with a first for Israel’s LGBTQ community. Amir Ohana was appointed the country’s acting justice minister today [sic], becoming its first openly gay cabinet member. As last month’s Eurovision Song Contest showed, Israel likes to demonstrate its diversity but the angry protests at today’s march also highlighted the deep social and religious differences that remain. Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell joined the crowds.”
Refraining from clarifying to listeners that the only country in the Middle East where she could ‘join the crowds’ at such an event is Israel, Knell opened her report:
Knell: “It’s late afternoon and thousands of people have already gathered here at Jerusalem’s Liberty Bell park. They’re in high spirits for this march celebrating gay pride and tolerance.”
After a vox pop interview with an unnamed woman, Knell went on:
Knell: “And there are serious messages here. In Israel civil marriages aren’t legal – let alone gay marriages – and making political change is difficult, especially with recent coalition governments made up of Right-wing, nationalist and religious Jewish parties.”
While civil marriage is not available in Israel (rather than not “legal”), ceremonies performed abroad are recognised by the state. Knell then interviewed an unidentified man, asking him:
Knell: “What rights would you like to see for gay people in Israel?”
The man replied that he sees surrogacy and gay marriage as the main issues. Knell failed to remind listeners that gay marriage has only been possible in her own country for the past five years, that it is still not permitted in Northern Ireland or that surrogacy law in the UK is currently under review. She refrained from informing listeners of the current situation on those issues in Israel, as explained here.
“The institution of marriage within the borders of the state are religious and not civil, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim etc, as it is with most of the Middle East.
These religious bodies hold the monopoly of recognized marriage ceremonies, and, as it stands today, none support civil unions.
That said, same-sex marriages performed outside of Israel are in fact recognized within the State and registered as such with the Ministry of Interior, which affords same sex married couples all the same rights as heterosexual married couples, including benefits and survivor rights.
The second is access to surrogacy, on Israeli soil, by same sex couples.
Again, using surrogacy services outside of Israel, is permitted and children brought to Israel, as a result of surrogacy, receive Israeli citizenship and are recognized as legal children to their parents.”
Knell then brought up the topic of a request refused by the Jerusalem municipality.
Knell: “There are plenty of rainbows drawn on people’s faces all around me. They’re on people’s shirts and there are flags too on display, although Jerusalem’s chief rabbi had asked the local council not to hang them up. But to encounter more vocal anti-gay sentiment, I’ve just got to cross the road. The people here are chanting ‘it’s not pride, it’s obscenity’. This is a protest organised by a far-Right group and there are signs around me ‘Jerusalem is not Sodom’, ‘stop the LGBT terror’.”
Following comment from one of the participants in that protest by a few dozen people, Knell continued:
Knell: “Now the pride march is on the move, we’re advancing up the road led by a drag queen dressed in gold, young and old Israelis. There’s a heavy police presence here – even a helicopter overhead – and this is why: we’re now passing the spot where 15-year-old Shira Banki was stabbed to death just four years ago at the pride parade.”
Knell then proceeded to amplify unattributed politically motivated allegations of ‘pinkwashing’.
Knell: “Now while the anthem of this march is all about celebrating diversity, you don’t see many Palestinian Jerusalemites here. One reason is the social taboo around homosexuality. But some accuse Israel of pinkwashing: highlighting gay rights at events like this while neglecting Palestinian rights.”
Following an interview with an Arab Muslim participant in the march – and while carefully avoiding the topic of the rights of LGBTQ Palestinians – Knell closed her report:
Knell: “It’s the end of the procession now but the pride party is going to carry on here through the evening. It’s eighteen years since the first Jerusalem march and there’ve been big advances for the local gay community in that time. But in this holy city, today’s march is also a reminder of some of the deep divisions that aren’t going away.”
This report’s take-away message for BBC audiences in the UK and around the world is amply clear: the advancement of LGBTQ rights in Israel is held back by “Right-wing, nationalist and religious Jewish parties”, reflecting “deep social and religious differences” and “deep divisions” and the Jerusalem pride march was the topic of “angry protests” by “a far-Right group”.
Interestingly though, Knell’s portrayal of the event she described as “celebrating gay pride and tolerance” did not include another ‘angry protest’ seen at the Jerusalem pride march.
“[Amir] Ohana walked through the crowds, some of whom booed at him, apparently due to his being a member of the ruling Likud party, seen as to the right of many in the gay community.
“What have you done for the gay community,” some shouted at him.”
Some of those protesting against the newly appointed justice minister gave out pre-prepared signs using his photograph.
Both the purple shirt worn by the person in that photograph and the placards themselves bear the logo of an organisation called ‘Omdim Yachad’ or ‘Standing Together’. That name should be familiar to the BBC because less than two weeks earlier, Tim Franks had interviewed a representative from that organisation in an item about the Israeli Left (from 45:04 here), describing it as “a new joint Arab and Jewish activist movement”. BBC audiences were not told, however, that the foreign funded political NGO was co-founded and is headed by a member of the far-Left party ‘Hadash’.
So while Yolande Knell’s report included several references to the Right of the political map, a narrative-conflicting demonstration of far-Left intolerance which took place right under her nose was whitewashed from the account of the 2019 Jerusalem pride march heard by BBC audiences.