BBC Radio 4 misleads with inaccurate portrayals of Israeli citizenship law

The July 6th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ included an item (from 16:57 here) introduced by presenter James Coomarasamy as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Coomarasamy: “It has not taken long for the tensions inherent in Israel’s new eight-party ruling coalition to surface. Just three weeks into office, in one of his first big tests, prime minister Naftali Bennett has suffered a defeat in the Knesset over the renewal of legislation that prevents Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens from gaining citizenship. The legislators usually renew this ban every year but yesterday’s vote produced a tie after right-wingers from the now Benjamin Netanyahu-led opposition who’ve previously supported the measure decided to oppose it.”

As noted in a previous post concerning the BBC News website’s portrayal of the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, the legislation in fact applies to people from Judea & Samaria and the Gaza Strip (along with citizens of enemy countries) rather than Palestinians in general as suggested by Coomarasamy. As explained by the MFA in 2005, the law:

“…does not prevent any Israeli citizen, from uniting in Israel with spouses from Arab or Palestinian origin, who do not reside in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. The criterion is only whether the spouse is a resident of the West Bank or Gaza Strip.”

Failing to provide listeners with any “appropriate information about their affiliations, funding and particular viewpoints” as required by BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality, Coomarasamy then presented a recorded statement from the political NGO HaMoked which again misled listeners as to whom exactly the law applies.

Coomarasamy: “Jessica Montell is executive director of a human rights organisation based in Jerusalem. It’s called HaMoked and it represents families opposed to the law. She explained how it affects Palestinians.”

Montell: “Anyone else around the world who marries an Israeli can get into a graduated process of temporary residency, permanent residency and citizenship in order to live in Israel with their spouse. For Palestinians, this law prevents that. For younger couples, they’re completely prohibited from living together. Older couples can get a one-year stay permit for their spouse so they are living in this limbo of renewing these permits year after year.”

Coomarasamy next brought in Israeli journalist Noga Tarnopolsky.

Coomarasamy: “Just explain the origin of this law. It was a regulation originally, wasn’t it?”

Tarnopolsky: “Yes, it’s actually an emergency regulation and that is how this really blatantly bigoted law that discriminates against one specific nationality – it’s not a law, forgive me – has been able to skirt judicial review, because the parliament can pass emergency regulation that doesn’t have the full force of law and that’s why they always have to be renewed every year.”

In addition to Tarnopolsky’s misrepresentation of the law as applying to “one specific nationality” rather than people from specific geographic areas, her claim that it “has been able to skirt judicial review” is inaccurate. The political NGO Adalah brought the issue of law’s constitutionality to Israel’s High Court of Justice in 2004 and 2005 (cases 7052/03 & 7102/03 Adalah and others v. The Minister of the Interior). 

Tarnopolsky: “Its origins are in 2002 and 2003 at the height of the second Intifada when there were a few attempts by armed Palestinians – some of them carrying a lot of explosives – who attempted to gain legal access to Israel by marrying Israeli citizens and that’s where this regulation began.”

Tarnopolsky’s portrayal of “a few attempts” clearly does not provide BBC audiences with the full background necessary to understand why the law came into being and erases the fact that numerous terror attacks were carried out by Palestinians originally from Judea & Samaria or the Gaza Strip who had received Israeli citizenship through family reunification, killing 135 Israelis and injuring over 700.

Coomarasamy: “So talk us through why it hasn’t been renewed.”

Tarnopolsky: “Well it hasn’t been renewed for the most cynical reason which is that the Likud party, this – you know – right-wing party led by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that authored the regulation and then has voted to renew it every single year for the last almost 20 years…ahm…decided to vote against it this time.”

While the July 31st 2003 law was indeed passed when the Likud party headed the government, the prime minister at the time was Ariel Sharon.  

Tarnopolsky: “It’s a law – a regulation – they’ve always supported. What they claim is that they now support a much more rigid constitutional law which would somehow enshrine in Israel’s basic laws – the Israeli version of the constitution – this discrimination against Palestinians who marry Israelis as opposed to any other foreigner marrying Israelis.”

Yet again Coomarasamy failed to challenge that inaccurate and misleading claim of “discrimination against Palestinians” and to clarify that the law in fact relates to people from specific locations rather than people of a specific nationality or ethnicity.

As was the case in the BBC’s written report on the same topic, we see that BBC Radio 4 failed to provide its audiences with an accurate picture of the legislation and the reason for its coming into being, while at the same time uncritically promoting partial opinions concerning its supposedly ‘discriminatory’ nature.

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