When the Foreign Minister of Bahrain and his accompanying delegation arrived in Israel on November 18th for meetings concerning the normalisation of relations – including the opening of embassies and direct flights – the BBC did not produce any stand-alone coverage of that visit.
In contrast, an overlapping visit to Israel by the US Secretary of State was given extensive multi-platform coverage, including on the domestic radio station BBC radio 4.
Listeners to that station’s ‘Today’ programme on the morning of November 19th heard two separate speculative items concerning what was categorised as a private visit to Psagot Winery, the first of which is available from 13:52 here.
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Husain: “In these final two months of President Trump’s administration, his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Israel and is expected to visit a Jewish settlement in the West Bank today. Yolande Knell is our Middle East correspondent. How significant will this be, Yolande?”
Knell: “Well if it happens it will be very significant indeed because the US Secretary of State would be the first of the top US diplomats to visit a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank. We’re told that he’ll go to Psagot Winery close to Ramallah. This is something that is being widely reported in the Israeli media although we haven’t had an official schedule for Minister Pompeo for today. This winery took over privately owned Palestinian land. It’s already named a bottle of wine after Mr Pompeo following his announcement a year ago that settlements were not necessarily illegal under international law. That’s a position that Israel agrees with but most other countries don’t.”
Other Western media outlets covering the same story qualified claims made by Palestinians to some of the land on which the winery’s vineyards are located. The Guardian, for example, stated that the winery is “built on land Palestinian families say was stolen from them”, as did AP and Reuters. Yolande Knell, however, reported those Palestinian claims as fact both in this audio item and in ‘analysis’ she contributed to a written article on the same topic published on the BBC News website on the same day.
Interestingly, Knell’s presentation of that issue is identical to that of the political NGO ‘Peace Now’ which produced a pre-emptive statement on the US Secretary of State’s visit referencing claims of “stolen land” to an article written in 2019 by the Ha’aretz journalist Gideon Levy (whose objectivity on the topic is demonstrated in his recent description of the location of Pompeo’s visit as an “Israeli apartheid winery”) and the foreign funded political NGO ‘Kerem Navot’.
Knell: “And what we’re also being told is that he could go to the baptism site in the Jordan Valley: another part of the West Bank that Palestinians want for part of their hoped-for future state. Palestinians have been very angry about all of this. They held protests near the settlement of Psagot yesterday.”
Knell then indulged herself with some blatant editorialising:
Knell: “It’s also suggested Mr Pompeo will go to the Israeli occupied Golan Heights. This is land captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. This White House officially recognised that as part of Israel, which could set a troubling precedent.”
The item continued with what has in recent weeks become a very popular BBC theme: speculation as to what the next US president will or will not do.
Husain: “Of course he won’t be Secretary of State for much longer. What is the Israeli government expecting under a Joe Biden administration? Might he consider moving the US embassy back to Tel Aviv?”
Knell’s answer was based on what unidentified “people say”:
Knell: “He’s not expected to move the US embassy back from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv but what people say is that he will return in general to a more traditional US approach. He will put Jerusalem back on the negotiating table. He will look to re-establish ties with the Palestinians that have been cut off under the Trump administration. That could mean reopening a consulate for Palestinians in the east of Jerusalem, reopening a Palestinian representative office in Washington; things like that.”
Knell then unquestioningly amplified debatable claims made by the political NGO ‘Peace Now’ concerning construction plans in Givat HaMatos which had appeared days earlier in a written BBC report on the topic.
Knell: “He’s expected to return to a more traditional position on settlements, which is why…eh…anti-settlement Israeli campaign groups are accusing the Netanyahu government at the moment of trying to rush through controversial settlement plans while they have a more favourable US administration in place. I should say as well that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not something that people here acknowledge will be a top priority for a President Biden because he’s just gonna have such a full domestic in-tray when he reaches the White House and internationally what he’s gonna be looking at much more is other problems in Iran, in Russia and China.”
The framing of this story and the political narrative promoted by Yolande Knell in this report are blatantly obvious. Radio 4 listeners may however be asking themselves why they need to pay the obligatory licence fee in order to hear little more than rehashed versions of messaging from the political NGO ‘Peace Now‘ which they could just as well access online for free.
That three-minute item however was not the end of the ‘Today’ programme’s coverage of the US Secretary of State’s visit. Later on listeners heard nearly six more minutes on the topic from the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen which will be discussed in part two of this post.