This is my new year challenge to those running BBC news. Oh yes, and those in charge of Channel 4 news, too. And actually, now I’m thinking about it, it should be extended to editors and foreign editors at all UK national newspapers as well.
If you wish to prove that you are genuinely even-handed on the Israel-Palestine conflict; if you wish to disprove once and for all the widely-held perception that rather too many in UK media have drunk so deeply of the Palestinian kool-aid that they are prepared to present Palestinian press releases, rumour and allegations as if it was “news” and “facts,” then this challenge is the perfect opportunity to prove that is not the case. In particular, this is a challenge for the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen, Orla Guerin and Fergal Keane; for C4’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Jon Snow and pretty much everyone – apart from Jonathan Freedland – at The Guardian, which published a news story online at the weekend with the shockingly iinaccurate and mendacious headline, “Palestinians excluded from Israeli Covid vaccine roll-out as jabs go to settlers.”
Here is the challenge: You have to unring a bell…
Yes, yes, it’s impossible in a physical reality, but as an analogy, a metaphor for rescinding or erasing a malign idea you sent into the world, it may be just about possible.
The malign idea you must correct – sorry, the bell you must unring – is the vaccine libel: the oft-repeated calumny that Israel was responsible for any failings in Palestinians’ healthcare during the Covid crisis, including failing to vaccinate Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. This should be rescinded, erased and corrected because it is a lie. Well, not a complete lie but it is, like so many of the “assertions” made by Israel’s enemies (often originating with the Palestinian PR machine) a half-truth. That is, it’s half true insofar as Israel did not vaccinate Palestinians. But the whole truth is that Israel did not do so because it is not responsible for the health or vaccination programmes of the Palestinians. It is not because, under the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority (the PA) is responsible for health care in the West Bank, and Hamas is responsible in Gaza. And that includes vaccinations. However, all Arab citizens of Israel are being vaccinated (or will be vaccinated) as part of Israel’s super efficient vaccination programme.
In recent weeks, two UK national newspapers, The Times and The Telegraph, have both libelled Israel by implying, through omission, that Israel was responsible for failures in vaccinating Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The Telegraph, in a seemingly neutral sentence, noted that Israel’s vaccination programme covered “…all Israeli citizens over 16 but currently excludes the millions of Palestinians under its control….” By using the phrase “under its control” and without making it explicit that Israel had no responsibility to do so, The Telegraph, helped collude (perhaps inadvertently) in making Israel seem culpable.
It is not my view, that The Telegraph, or before it The Times, published this lie – or, more accurately, this insinuation – deliberately. It may have been a simple failure to check facts or sources or, who knows, maybe a sub-editor cut a sentence noting that the PA and Hamas are responsible for healthcare and vaccinations and not Israel. And if so, perhaps he or she cut it merely to make the copy fit rather than to fit a narrative. But regardless of why, both left their readers with the clear impression that Israel was responsible for the failure; that Israel was taking care of its own and leaving the Palestinians to fester in Covid hell. And, I’d be willing to bet, that if members of the general Palestinian population complained about healthcare or vaccinations in Gaza, Nablus, or Ramallah, the explanation was pitched to the them that way, too.
Here are the details of my challenge: UK newspapers should publish a news report or a news feature of at least 1,000 words, while broadcast reports should be at least 3 minutes long, though bearing in mind that certain broadcast organisations have a lot of bell un-ringing to do, some should air a 30-minute “special report.” The topic, obviously, is a piece about Covid and the Palestinians, filed from the West Bank or Gaza and stating clearly that any deficiencies in healthcare or any delays in delivering vaccinations to the population are entirely due to the PA and/or Hamas.
It must also state explicitly that the the PA and/or Hamas is responsible for healthcare, including vaccination programmes. At some point, it must also state clearly and categorically that all of Israel’s Arab citizens are being (or will be) vaccinated as part of the country’s vaccination programme because there have been hints, allegations and unfounded speculation suggesting the opposite.
The rules are simple: weasel words, equivocations and omissions are not allowed; spin is not allowed, and half-truths that imply, infer or attribute blame to Israel are not allowed. Only sourced facts are permitted. And, by the way, if any facts point to shortfalls in the budgets of the PA or Hamas leading to poor health outcomes for the Palestinian people, it must be made absolutely clear in reports that this is due to the PA or Hamas spending its resources on terrorism.
And if that should turn out to be the case, your report may not – repeat may not – try to suggest, infer or imply that really, this is still all Israel’s fault for “stealing” the Palestinians’ land in the first place. Please keep in mind that that is yet one more libellous idea and yet another bell in need of un-ringing. The rockets and terrorism are due simply to Israel’s existence.