Throughout January and February 2021, the BBC engaged in multi-platform promotion of an opportunistic campaign to delegitimise Israel using the subject of vaccinations against Covid-19.
The timeline of events – together with examples of relevant BBC content – is as follows:
On December 20th 2020 Israel began its vaccination drive which was initially aimed at health workers, over 60s and vulnerable people. On the same day the Palestinian Authority clarified that it had not asked Israel for help with its own vaccination programme.
“A senior official with the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health said that the Palestinians do not expect Israel to sell them, or purchase on their behalf, the vaccine from any country.
The official told The Jerusalem Post that the Palestinians will soon receive nearly four million Russian-made vaccines against COVID-19. […]
Another PA Ministry of Health official said that he expected vaccinations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to begin next month. He, too, clarified that the PA has not asked Israel to supply the Palestinians with the vaccine. “We are working on our own to obtain the vaccine from a number of sources,” the official added. “We are not a department in the Israeli Defense Ministry. We have our own government and Ministry of Health, and they are making huge efforts to get the vaccine.””
Two days later, on December 22nd, a group comprising ten political NGOs put out a statement demanding that “the Israeli authorities to live up to their legal obligations and ensure that quality vaccines be provided to Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and control in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as well”.
The first mention of Israel’s vaccination drive by the BBC came in a short report published on its website on December 24th. On the same day another NGO – ‘Rabbis for Human Rights’ – launched a petition claiming that Israel had a “moral imperative” to supply vaccines to Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens.
On January 2nd 2021 the BBC News website published a report headlined “Coronavirus: Israel leads vaccine race with 12% given jab”. Later the same day listeners to BBC World Service radio heard the first of many reports promoting the notion that “Israel is also obligated to provide vaccines for many Palestinians”:
On January 3rd listeners to the same radio station heard the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman amplify the campaign launched by 10 political NGOs less than two weeks earlier:
Bateman failed to identify what he described as “human rights and aid organisations”. He made no effort to inform listeners of their records – which include a history of lawfare campaigns against Israel and, in two cases, links to a terrorist organisation – or their political agendas. Subsequent references to those NGOs in additional reports by Bateman and other BBC staff likewise failed to provide audiences with the full range of information concerning those NGOs presented as ‘human rights groups’.
January 5th saw the first mention of the topic on BBC regional radio, with a clarification later issued by BBC Radio Ulster. The following day BBC World Service radio again amplified the campaign by “some human rights groups”.
“…some human rights groups they say it’s really Israel’s obligation, they would say, as an occupier to roll out vaccines also for Palestinians.”
On January 8th the topic was promoted on BBC television and the following day Israel’s ministry of health clarified that it had not received any formal request from the World Health Organisation concerning vaccines for Palestinian health workers.
On January 14th Tom Bateman again promoted the campaign by what he described as “human rights groups” while presenting the relevant part of the Oslo Accords as something ‘Israel says’ is the case. The same day saw the appearance of a partisan statement put out by two UN special rapporteurs – Michael Lynk and Tlaleng Mofokeng – which subsequently received considerable promotion from the BBC with inadequate and even inaccurate presentation of its source.
Two days later – January 16th – BBC TV viewers saw a distorted portrayal of the Oslo Accords which subsequently had to be clarified:
On January 17th the political NGO ‘Human Rights Watch’ put out a statement claiming that “Israeli authorities should provide Covid-19 vaccines to the more than 4.5 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip”.
On the same day BBC TV viewers were informed that Israel “has faced criticism it hasn’t supported inoculation in Palestinian territories” and on January 19th listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard Tom Bateman claim that “human rights organisations” and the UNHRC – rather than two special rapporteurs – “have been calling on Israel to say as the occupying power, it is its responsibility to supply vaccines to Palestinians in those areas”.
Bateman also promoted the campaign on the same day on another regional radio station.
On January 24th BBC One viewers saw Andrew Marr quote and promote the ‘Rabbis for Human Rights’ petition and misrepresent the statement put out by the two special rapporteurs as coming from the UN:
“The United Nations says it’s your legal obligation to make sure the Palestinian people under occupation have a swift and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccinations. Why aren’t you doing this?”
The same day saw BBC World Service radio provide a platform to a representative of ‘Human Rights Watch’ without any mention of the statement his NGO had put out days earlier. In the same item listeners heard a quote from “two UN human rights experts” but as has uniformly been the case in all the relevant BBC content, no effort was made to inform listeners of the obviously relevant anti-Israel record of one of the authors of that statement.
On January 25th the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell made her contribution to the campaign and the following day the BBC News website published an article by the BBC’s ‘fact-checking’ department:
Also on January 26th the TV and radio programme ‘Hardtalk’ promoted the notion that “Israel is flouting international law in its refusal to offer the vaccine to millions of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation” while citing the ‘Rabbis for Human Rights’ petition and misrepresenting the statement by the special rapporteurs as “a recent report from the UN office for human rights”.
February 9th saw the appearance of the clarification concerning the inaccurate portrayal of the Oslo Accords on ‘Dateline London’.
The publication of that clarification did not however prevent subsequent multi-platform presentation of the relevant parts of the Oslo Accords as something that ‘Israel says’ is the case.
On February 11th BBC World Service radio provided a platform for a representative of ‘Medical Aid for Palestinians’ without clarifying that NGO’s involvement in the related delegitimisation campaign against Israel. Also on that date the same radio station told listeners to a podcast that Israel’s “reluctance to include Palestinians living under occupation has attracted international criticism”.
On February 13th Tom Bateman again cited “human rights groups” and portrayed Article 17 of the 1995 Oslo Accords as something that ‘Israel says’ is the case on BBC Radio 4.
BBC Radio 4 continued to ignore the corporation’s own clarification concerning Palestinian healthcare and the Oslo Accords on February 14th and on February 15th an article on the BBC News website did the same. On February 17th visitors to the same website were once again told that Israel “rejects the argument of some human rights group that as the occupying power it should do much more” and on February 22nd listeners to BBC World Service radio heard that Israel had “come under some pressure” from “aid agencies”.
On February 24th and 25th listeners to BBC Radio 4 heard gratuitous mentions of the topic of vaccinations for Palestinians in reports supposedly about Israel.
Those two months of BBC self-conscription to an overtly political campaign raise several notable points:
1) Although the BBC generously quoted and promoted campaigns initiated by assorted political NGOs, not once were audiences told anything of the record and agenda of those organisations.
2) Likewise, BBC audiences were never informed of the names of the two UN special rapporteurs and the highly relevant record of one of them.
3) On two occasions the BBC interviewed representatives of NGOs participating in the delegitimisation campaign without clarifying that fact and without complying with BBC editorial guidelines on ‘contributors’ affiliations’.
4) The BBC’s presentation of the relevant parts of the 1995 Oslo Accords was overwhelmingly inadequate and even after the February 9th clarification, BBC staff continued to portray that issue badly.
5) At no point throughout those two months did BBC audiences see or hear any factual and objective discussion on the topic of the relevance of the 4th Geneva Convention to the issue.
There is of course nothing novel about BBC self-conscription to campaigns run by political NGOs framed as ‘human rights groups’ or ‘aid agencies’. In this case, however, the BBC severely damaged its reputation for impartiality by running an intense two-month-long campaign on a topic very much in the news cycle spotlight but without making any serious effort to provide its audiences with the “range and depth of analysis” obliged by its public purposes. CAMERA UK currently has five outstanding complaints – the earliest dating from the beginning of January – relating to this coverage to which we have yet to receive responses.