Previously we reviewed the BBC News website’s reports relating to a short visit to Temple Mount by an Israeli politician on January 3rd:
In those articles BBC audiences found promotion of the PLO recommended terminology “Al Aqsa Mosque compound” – or even just “Al Aqsa Mosque” – to describe the area that the BBC style guide says should be referred to as Temple Mount and Haram al-Sharif. One of those articles – co-written by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell – also included the repetition of a myth long promoted by the BBC: the inaccurate claim that a visit to Temple Mount by Ariel Sharon in 2000 sparked the second Intifada.
Those issues and others also arose in early BBC radio reporting of the same story.
A couple of hours after Itamar Ben Gvir’s quarter-of-an hour-long visit to Temple Mount on January 3rd, the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Today’ aired an item [from 1:15:21 here] which was introduced by presenter Mishal Husain as follows:
[emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]
Husain: “The far-Right Israeli politician who has just taken office as security minister in the coalition that’s brought Benjamin Netanyahu back to power has in the last few hour visited the Al Aqsa Mosque compound: the contested site around the Dome of the Rock which is known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Haram al Sharif or noble sanctuary. Yolande Knell is the BBC’s Middle East correspondent. Tell us first about the visit, Yolande, and why it’s significant.”
Knell: “Well it had been clear for the last couple of days that Itamar Ben Gvir planned to enter this week. He’s been a regular visitor in the past before becoming a minister and when he was just a member of parliament his visits were always seen as problematic. Now he’s actually in control of the police who control access to the site. Ehm…this morning, after consultation with the police we understand, he entered flanked by security guards. I’ve just seen one photo in one Israeli newspaper so far. Ahm…now currently only Muslim worship is permitted at this site. It’s Islam’s third holiest site after Mecca and Medina, Judaism’s most sacred – believed by Jews to be the location of two ancient temples.”
In other words, Knell suggested (while erasing Christians from the picture) that the historic existence of the “two ancient temples” on Temple Mount is a matter of Jewish belief rather than archaeological fact (as acknowledged by media outlets including Deutche Welle, Reuters and the New York Times) and in doing so promoted a politically motivated talking point.
She continued with unnecessary qualification of the current discrimination against non-Muslims at the site as well as uncritical amplification of statements from a terrorist organisation and a ridiculous characterisation by the Palestinian Authority:
Knell: “And Ben Gvir had stated during and after the election that he wanted to bring about a change relating to what’s known as the status quo at Temple Mount, allowing Jews to pray there as well. He even said that on the eve of the election, that he would demand, he said, that Benjamin Netanyahu introduce what he called equal rights for Jews on the mountain. Now we’ve got no indication that he prayed during the latest visit but of course Palestinians anticipating and saw it as a huge provocation. There were these warnings that came in particular from Hamas, saying it could lead to an explosion. Then, Mr Ben Gvir saying that he wouldn’t submit to Hamas threats. Ahm…and so that’s all the background to this. It’s been condemned by the Palestinian foreign ministry in Ramallah this morning, calling it a break-in at the Al Aqsa Mosque in an unprecedented provocation. But Hamas’ al Aqsa TV is downplaying it, saying that it was a…he looked very tense, he only stayed for a very short time and he didn’t dare to announce the timing of the visit.”
Husain: “And do we know if his desire to change access arrangements for Jews and what they are allowed to do, that was a condition of his support for Benjamin Netanyahu and whether therefore it might be a policy of the new Israeli government?”
Listeners then discovered that Knell knows full well that Palestinian claims concerning any change to the status quo are at present premature.
Knell: “Well so many controversial policies did make it into the coalition deals but I think on this one it’s really important to note that Mr Netanyahu tried very much to reassure Israel’s allies that he would not allow changes because they know just how explosive the issue of Temple Mount Al Aqsa Mosque can be. He actually had a clause put into his coalition deals stipulating that the status quo with regard to the holy places would be preserved. There had been warnings in advance from Jordan’s King Abdallah who’s the custodian of Muslim and Christian holy places in East Jerusalem that this was a red line for Jordan and lots of warnings from other international allies too. But you still have many critics pointing out…saying, you know, that there’s been anyway a gradual erosion of this status quo policy because you often now do see orthodox Jews going early to the site escorted by Israeli police and they can be seen praying there in recent years without the police intervening.”
Notably, just last November the BBC corrected the inaccurate claim that Jordan is the custodian of “Christian holy places” in Jerusalem.
Mishal Husain then introduced the myth that the BBC has been promoting for so many years that it has apparently come to believe it itself:
Husain: “And some listeners will remember, Yolande, that it was in 2000 after a visit by Ariel Sharon that the second Palestinian Intifada or uprising began.”
Knell: “That’s right and it’s often seen as one of the triggers of the second Palestinian Intifada, that visit by Ariel Sharon eh…who was escorted with a heavy police presence. Ehm…and that’s really what people look back to and that’s why it sets off these alarm bells when you have a visit of this kind. I don’t think…although at the moment…ehm…this visit is being sort of downplayed – we’re not seeing a reaction from Gaza at the moment – I don’t think that we’ve heard the last of this at all.”
With no explanation of who “people” (or the previously mentioned “many critics”) are, the item closed there. However an additional contribution from Knell in a news bulletin later in the same programme [from 2:05:21] indicated that her previous promotion of the inaccurate notion that the existence of the temples is merely a matter of belief was not an error:
Knell: “Itamar Ben Gvir entered the compound that houses Al Aqsa Mosque early in the morning under heavy security. It’s Islam’s third holiest site after Mecca and Medina and Judaism’s most sacred, believed by Jews to be the location of two biblical temples.”
Later in the day Knell again promoted that same anti-Israel talking point in an edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ [from 24:41 here] and in an edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘OS’ [from 18:50 here].
The same edition of ‘PM’ also included more promotion by Knell of the myth that Ariel Sharon’s 2000 visit triggered the second Intifada and that inaccurate claim was also extensively touted by presenter Razia Iqbal in the lead item of an edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ [from 00:12 here] aired on the same day.
In the same edition of Radio 4’s ‘PM’ and in the lead item of a later edition of ‘Newshour’ [from 00:12 here] the respective presenters (Evan Davis and James Menendez) repeatedly referred to “Al Aqsa Mosque” and “Al Aqsa Mosque compound”.
Menendez: “…it’s known as Haram al Sharif or Al Aqsa Mosque: we’re talking about the whole compound.”
As we see, the adoption of partisan and politically motivated terminology and talking points – as well as historically inaccurate myths – has become standard practice across BBC platforms in the corporation’s serially one-sided but energetic reporting about a site holy to three faiths. Notably, the BBC continues to be considerably less enthusiastic about initiating any principled discussion about the fact that only one of those faiths currently has freedom of worship at that site.