Omission and addition in BBC reports on a Jerusalem property deal

On June 20th listeners to the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newsday’ heard a report from the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell (from 16:58 here) which was introduced as follows by presenter Rob Young: [emphasis added]

Young: “Now a property deal in Jerusalem’s ancient old city, which lies at the heart of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, has caused fury among the historic Armenian community. One quarter of their land – long of interest to Israeli settlers – was secretly sold to a Jewish businessman on a long-term lease.”

Throughout the rest of the item, listeners also heard the following statements:

Knell: “It appears that a Jewish-Australian businessman has bought a large chunk of land…”

Interviewee: “It undermines any future political solution to Jerusalem. As you know, according to international law it’s an occupied land that is subject to negotiations.”

Knell: “And there’s a reminder here [Jaffa Gate] of how plots of land are fiercely fought over. Two landmark Palestinian-run hotels were secretly sold to radical Jewish settlers by the Greek Orthodox Church.”

Interviewee: “It enforces the illegal settler presence in Palestinian East Jerusalem.”

Also on June 20th, the BBC News website published a written report by Knell headlined “Controversial land sale puts Jerusalem Armenians on edge” which, several days after its initial appearance on the ‘Middle East’ page, was moved to the ‘features’ section. That article includes statements similar to those heard in the radio report:

“What has emerged is that some 25% of the Armenian Quarter has been sold on a 99-year lease to a mysterious Jewish Australian businessman for a luxury development.”

In line with near-standard BBC practice, Knell erases the highly relevant issue of the illegal British-backed Jordanian invasion of parts of Jerusalem in 1948 and the subsequent 19-year occupation:

“Israel captured East Jerusalem – including the Old City – from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East War and went on to occupy and annex it in a move that is not recognised internationally. In the decades since, it has been at the heart of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, claimed by both sides as their capital. Plots of land here are fiercely fought over.

There is a reminder of that near to the Armenian Quarter, at Jaffa Gate – the iconic entrance to the Christian Quarter.

Here, two landmark hotels, run by Palestinians, were secretly sold to foreign firms acting as fronts for a radical Jewish settler group. The Greek Orthodox Church lost a two-decade-long battle to cancel the deal in the Israeli courts and last year settlers moved into part of one of the hotels.

Armenian elders say that in the past, there have been frequent approaches by settlers wanting to buy land in their quarter and increase the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem. The Armenian Quarter is located next to the Jewish one, which makes it especially desirable.

However, a spokesman for the settler group which bought the Jaffa Gate properties told the BBC he had no knowledge of the Armenian land sale.

Meanwhile, in interviews in the US, the cast-out priest, Baret Yeretsian, has dismissed the idea that the buyer of the land lease – named as Danny Rothman but also Daniel Rubinstein in some documents – is driven by ideology.

Nevertheless, Palestinian Christian leaders say the sale has political implications.

“It undermines any future political solution to Jerusalem,” says Dimitri Diliani, president of the National Christian Coalition of the Holy Land. “According to international law, it’s on occupied land that is subject to negotiations and this kind of reinforces the illegal settler presence in Palestinian East Jerusalem.””

Unfortunately for BBC audiences trying to understand this story and others, there is nothing at all novel about the BBC’s unquestioning promotion of the politically motivated narrative whereby the presence of Jews in parts of Jerusalem in which they lived for centuries before being ethnically cleansed by the Jordanian armed forces is ‘illegal’.

Clearly members of the BBC’s audience who encountered either or both of these reports by Yolande Knell would receive the impression that on some level this story is connected to “Israeli settlers” or “radical Jewish settlers”.

Two weeks prior to the appearance of Knell’s written and audio reports, the Times of Israel (based on AP reporting) provided background information on the same story which – remarkably – is completely absent from Knell’s accounts.

“There is very little information available about Rothman, who also has used the last name Rubinstein, according to a 2016 Cyprus regulatory decision fining him for falsifying his academic background.

His LinkedIn page describes him as chairman of a hotel company called Xana Capital. Records show the firm — formed in the United Arab Emirates — was registered in Israel in July 2021. Weeks later, a dozen Armenian priests raised the first alarm about a property deal being struck without their consent.

A sign recently popped up marking the Armenian parking lot as the property of Xana Capital.

Rothman, who is based in London, declined to comment when reached by The Associated Press. […]

The self-exiled priest, Yeretsian, said that Rothman plans to develop a high-end resort in the Armenian Quarter. The project, he added, would be managed by the One&Only hotel company based in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, which established diplomatic relations with Israel in 2020. […]

Kerzner International, owner of One&Only Resorts, also declined to comment. The Dubai-based company said only that it is “always exploring opportunities to grow its portfolio of ultra-luxury resorts.”

Renowned Israeli architect Moshe Safdie told the AP that Rothman would fund the project and that he would design it. Construction, he said, would start following excavations at the parking lot.” 

Interestingly, that reported connection of UAE based companies in the hospitality industry to this story is completely absent from Knell’s account. Instead, not for the first time, a story related to Christian churches in Jerusalem has been exploited for the purpose of promotion of a blatantly political narrative concerning “settlers”.

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