Since we’re always accusing the BBC of bias against - no, let’s look it it as bias towards - certain issues, it’s helpful when sites like ITBB provide extra substance to to back up such claims. There are some inbuilt biases which we believe fatally compromise its impartiality.
The BBC’s influence on the public, on the matter of domestic politics at least, is tempered by the fact that they’re speaking to an audience that is familiar with the issues. People have grown up with them and are capable of thinking for themselves. The BBC’s ideological affinity with the Labour Party (not so much with the current leadership) is understood by the Right and denied by the Left, but the public consists of all sorts, people with entrenched views who will hardly budge no matter what the BBC puts in from of them; those who waft in the wind; rabid ideologues from the hard left and the far right; the don’t knows and the don’t cares. The Lib Dems, even. And more, I’m sure.
BBC news editors decide what is or isn’t newsworthy, and the BBC’s political pundits and experts still have a certain influence on public opinion, but access to to all stripes of politics is freely available in the press and online. The BBC no longer has the monopoly it once had on “the news”, and, as someone once said: ‘other brands are available’.
However, while the BBC’s views on domestic politics are becoming less relevant, the vast majority of the British public turns to the BBC for information concerning foreign affairs. For some reason the BBC has shown an almost obsessive interest in the Israeli / Palestinian conflict, and the BBC's negative attitude towards Israel coupled with its rose-tinted view of the Palestinian Arabs has had wide ramifications.
As we face the prospect of Sunday’s annual Al Quds march in central London, where Hezbollah flags and “Hitler was right’ banners abound, it would seem apt for ITBB to offer some kind of ‘fightback’ in the form of a ‘back to basics’ review of some relevant posts that show where the BBC is coming from when it reports, or more importantly doesn’t report - matters appertaining to the Middle East.
Our contention is that the BBC is full of Liberal-Left Arabists who report the Israel-Palestinian conflict from a purely anti-Israel perspective, but that the bias is semi-concealed from the public, many of whom are trusting enough to assume that the BBC’s impartiality obligations, as per the charter, are automatically upheld and monitored.
Tagged-on “Israel claims’” passages in the reporting of Jeremy Bowen or Yolande Knell pay lip-service to impartiality. The BBC sticks them there in order to muddy the waters and give their in-house complaints department something to clutch at.
My objections to Paul Adams’s authoritative-seeming piece on the 6-Day War were based on an instinctive hunch. (That he was no impartial authority, but a typical liberal-left Arabist.) I found just enough information online to confirm my hunch, but Daphne Anson has written blogposts with detailed background information, and they’re worth revisiting to get an understanding of the wider picture.
Craig and I have noticed that the amount of time and effort we put into a post inversely affects the response - in the short term, anyway. Our longer pieces tend to slow-burn, and they do get the readership in the end.
For that reason, over the page, I’m going to repost, with her permission, an extract from one of Daphne’s pieces from 2010 and the entire Elder of Ziyon piece from 2015, and link to two of my own posts, which relate to the same subject.
8th August 2010 Daphne Anson
We're all pretty familiar with BBC bias. But when did the BBC let slip the scrupulous objectivity demanded of it, and which once made it a respected organisation trusted round the world? Being an historically minded gal I decided to try to find out. And I believe I may have discovered the individual who began the BBC's downward spiral into biased reporting, at least as far as news about Israel and the Middle East is concerned.
Step forward the shade of Keith Kyle (1925-2007), a Liberal-turned-Labourite who later joined the SDP, and stood unsuccessfully for Parliament several times. Kyle seems to have been the first BBC broadcaster to flout the neutrality incumbent upon the BBC when, during the tension leading up to the Six Day War, he opined that "fundamentally in this dispute the Arabs are completely in the right. There can be no question about this at all." These words were also printed in the 1 June 1967 issue of The Listener, a BBC publication.
Shortly after Israel's stunning victory, the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CAABU) was set up in London in order to coordinate Arab and pro-Arab opinion in the UK. Its leading parliamentary supporters were Tory MP and Suez rebel Anthony Nutting (in 1956, when Nutting was Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anthony Eden had mentioned "the anti-Jewish spleen of you people in the Foreign Office") and Labour MP Christopher Mayhew, both inveterate foes of Israel. Funded by Arab governments, CAABU could afford a secretariat, and its director was Michael Adams, who had worked for the BBC early in his career but had later joined the Guardian. It was owing to his articles in that paper that a columnist in the Jewish Chronicle (30 June 1967) observed: "It is with a sinking feeling and eventually turning stomach that one examines the Guardian each morning." (That writer would certainly vomit daily if he read the Guardian nowadays!)
One of CAABU's first actions had been to send Adams, while he was still employed by the Guardian, on a funded trip to the Middle East, from whence he sent a series of articles biased against Israel. The Guardian had printed them without explaining that they had been subsidised by Arab money. There was also a despatch from Cairo which talked of the "forcible expulsion across the burning desert of Palestinian Arabs to Gaza". In fact, those deportees were members of the Palestine Liberation Army and a threat to Israel's security, as the Guardian grudgingly acknowledged the next day. Adams also used the offensive term "final solution" to describe Israeli policy.
It was shortly after this that Adams became CAABU's director. The Guardian continued to offend. In August it carried an advertisement from an Arab source that made "untrue and repulsive allegations about Israel's treatment of Arab civilians in the occupied territories" and in a report alleged the "collective shooting of civilians" by Israeli troops in the occupied territories as well as the discovery of "mass graves". Yet overall it seems that with Adams's departure, and that of leader writer Frank Edmead, the Guardian's coverage of Israel became more evenhanded - until it descended again into the travesty of truth and fair play that is its hallmark today.
The BBC's Keith Kyle was not slow to identify openly with CAABU. He was a keynote speaker at one of its first major rallies. The Jewish Chronicle (29 November 1968) noted "the intense anti-Jewish feeling generated in the CAABU audience - and among some of the speakers - by the very existence of the Jewish State, referred to as the Zionist State" as well as the way pro-Israel Jewish questioners were mocked and shouted down.
One of the worst features of Kyle's pro-Arab stance (apart from its infringement of the BBC Charter, of course) concerned the hijacking of an El Al aircraft at Zurich in February 1969. Through his Arab contacts he had learned of the plan, but had not disclosed the information "to avoid Israeli retaliation against it".
In the same year he presented a series of programmes on the Middle East highly slanted against Israel and replete with gratuitous comments of his own. Aghast, a Jewish Chronicle columnist (9 May 1969) observed: "The casual viewer will doubtless have been fooled into believing that the Israeli occupation of Arab territories is barbaric and ruthless."
And that summer, on the BBC's Panorama, Michael Adams spewed out vitriol about "nation-wide and even world-wide Jewish pressure" - in other words, a certain lobby.
In one of his platform appearances Adams - foreshadowing the avoidance by Al Beeb and the Guardian of the T-word - rhetorically enquired why the British press referred to "Arab terrorists": 'I can't remember calling members of the resistance in Nazi-occupied France "terrorists"', he continued. (In 1999 his son, the BBC's Middle East correspondent Paul Adams, used the prescribed Al Beeb term "Islamic militants" of suicide bombers. It was Paul Adams, when diplomatic correspondent, who in 2007 appeared to admit to BBC bias when he described Alan Johnston's job as "to bring us day after day reports of the Palestinian predicament in the Gaza Strip".)
As for Kyle, he became prominently associated with the Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA; Chatham House) and wrote tendentious books on Suez and on Israel. In 1983, when membership secretary of the RIIA, he invited as speaker Dr Israel Shahak, chairman of the so-called (and miniscule) Israel League for Human and Civil Rights, who had authored a book containing this odious assertion: "In the Jewish State, only the Jews are considered human. Non-Jews have the status of beasts."
Perhaps we should not be too surprised that Kyle's obituary in the Guardian (27 February 2007) declared that Kyle "would have made a wise foreign secretary".
Elder of Ziyon April 2015 / Daphne Anson
On 5 June 1969, the second anniversary of the outbreak of the Six Day War, a four-page advertising spread appeared in The Times and other major British newspapers. Sponsored by the League of Arab States, and issued by the Anglo-Jordanian Alliance, it proclaimed that the Alliance’s committee “salutes the Palestinians rendered homeless and those in occupied territory”. Beneath were the names of five Labour MPs: Margaret McKay, William Wilson, David Watkins, John Ryan, and David Ensor. As well as a quotation from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Rosalind and Helen”:
Fear not the tyrants shall rule forever,
Or the priests of the bloody faith;
They stand on the brink of that mighty river,
Whose waves they have tainted with death
The four-page spread contained nine articles, by contributors including Ian Gilmour, Christopher Mayhew and Anthony Nutting, three MPs prominently associated with the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU), which, funded by Arab money, had been established immediately after the Six Day War. (David Watkins, mentioned above, was also a zealous member; indeed, he would serve as CAABU’s director from 1983 to 1990.) Retired diplomat Sir Geoffrey Furlonge (1903-84), another contributor, would serve as treasurer of CAABU and write Palestine is my country: the story of Musa Alami (London, 1969); also a contributor was retired diplomat Sir Harold Beeley (1909-2001), who that same year had begun lecturing at London University, and would eventually chair the World of Islam Festival Trust.
The article by Gilmour – a born-with-a-silver-spoon-in-his-mouth future Secretary of State for Defence under Edward Heath, whose government so appallingly refused to supply Israel with spare parts for British-made tanks during the Yom Kippur War – was referred to the Race Relations Board as “likely to have an unsettling effect on race relations”; however, the Board declined to proceed with the complaint, citing a lack of remit.
The extract from Shelley’s poem caused a furore, as the second line was widely believed to refer to Judaism. Anglo-Jordanian Alliance president Margaret McKay – a working-class firebrand feminist who nevertheless espoused the Arab cause with vigour, wore Arab dress in Parliament, and ended up living in Dubai – wrote to The Times (10 June 1969) explaining that the line referred to “the Zionists”. Ensor – a colourful upper-middle-class member of the Labour benches – apologised for the extract; the other three refused to do so. In any case, many supporters of Israel, Jew and non-Jew alike, remained unconvinced by Mrs McKay’s assurance. (She would make headlines later in the year when she declared in New York that Britain’s Middle East policy was controlled by the fact that 62 Jews sat in Parliament.) The Times itself had in the very issue in which the advertisement appeared distanced itself in a leading article from the contents, which it called “extremely partisan” and “not calculated to bring a settlement any nearer”; on 7 June, beneath a complainant’s letter, it added that it “much regretted” publication of the “grossly offensive” Shelley extract, which it would not have carried had the advertisement, owing to a mix-up, not escaped the usual practice of being “submitted for editorial clearance”.
This furore took place against the backdrop of what the late Professor Lionel Kochan, in his review of events in Britain for the American Jewish Committee’s Year Book, described as “an intensification of pro-Arab propaganda” – which had made headway in the United Nations Association, Oxfam, and Save the Children Fund, and was tightening its grip on sections of the Labour and Liberal parties. Michael Foot (later a life peer), former editor of the left-wing weekly Tribune, had recently been recruited to the Arab cause. Nastiness had infiltrated the Movement for Colonial Freedom (an organisation with many Labour Party parliamentarians, including that future foe of Israel, Tony Benn) whose monthly bulletin for September carried two offensive cartoons: one using a dollar sign to depict Israel, the other bearing the inscription “Apartheid-Zion Nazi system”.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) was consolidating. It, to quote Kochan, consisted of “most of the members of the General Union of Arab Students (with about 30 branches at the universities, and a variegated collection of British and Commonwealth New Left groups dominated by Trotskyites and Maoists” and was supported by a number of extreme left expatriate Israelis. Thirty left-wing British students were reportedly among 145 students from Europe and the United States who flew out of Jordan to join Arafat’s Al-Fatah. It was suspected that the person who bombed the Zim Shipping Line’s Regent Street offices was not an Arab but a far left adherent of the Arab cause. The year saw numerous attacks on Jewish premises in London, including bombs at a Marks & Spencer store, and more attacks were warned of by the Amman-based PFLP leader George Habash, who added that
“Our enemy is not Israel full stop. Israel is backed by imperialist forces…. Consequently, if the West continues to back Israel, we have to regard the west as part of … the enemy.”
A Scotland Yard Special Branch officer told The Times:
“Frankly, keeping an eye on all these places is almost impossible. All we can do is hope for the best luck in the world.”
CAABU was also gaining influence. Unlike the PSC, CAABU was the respectable face of the anti-Israel cause. One of its contributors to the 1969 advertisement mentioned above – Christopher Mayhew (1915-97; created a life peer as Baron Mayhew in 1981; a Labour MP until 1974, when he joined the Liberals ) – received in 1969 from Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan of Dubai £50,000 to set up an Arab Friendship Foundation in Switzerland. Mayhew recalled in 1977 (see the pamphlet CAABU's Tenth Anniversary, published in London that year by the Arab-British Centre):
"Those who founded CAABU, at a meeting here in the House of Commons ten years ago, took on a formidable task – to challenge the deeply held beliefs about Palestine of the overwhelming majority of the British people.
An opinion poll just published by the Sunday Times had shown that only 2% of the British people supported the Arabs. It was almost universally agreed that the 1967 war had been planned and started by the Arabs with Russian support; that the Arabs were racialists who aimed to drive the Jews into the sea; that the Palestinian refugees had left Israel in 1948 and should resettle elsewhere in the Arab world; that the refugee camps were kept in being by the Arab Governments as a political weapon against Israel; that Israel, a small country surrounded by numerous enemies, had no designs at all on Arab territory unless, reasonably enough, to secure her own security; and that, in general, after the appalling sufferings of the Jewish people, Israel was entitled, on moral, legal and historical grounds, to the wholehearted support of the civilised world.
To make things worse, these opinions were shared at that time by almost all newspaper proprietors and editors, almost all the directing staff of the BBC and ITV, almost all MPs, and almost the entire publishing and film industries.
They were also supported, with enthusiasm and sincerity, by the great bulk of Britain's large, lively and influential Jewish community, many of whose members were totally dedicated to Israel's cause and were willing to make great sacrifices of time and money to support it…
None of the founders of CAABU, I feel sure, expected to enjoy the experience of challenging the Zionist lobby ... but it was plainly a job that had to be done by someone…”
Another of the contributors to the advertisement, baronet’s son (Sir) Anthony Nutting (1920-99), a Foreign Office Arabist who became a Conservative MP in 1945 and was once talked of as a future prime minister, had resigned as Minister of State for Foreign Affairs during the Suez Crisis of 1956, and soon afterwards lost his seat in the Commons. On 12 November 1969 the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that he had been refused entry to Israel
‘because of "hostile" remarks he was reported to have made while visiting Arab countries…
Mr. Nutting attributed the Israeli ban to his remark that the Israel-occupied West Bank was "one large prison" [sounds familiar!] adding that they "must have something terrible to hide."
An Israeli spokesman said yesterday that Mr Nutting would have been welcomed to visit the West Bank and see conditions for himself. He was barred because of a speech he made to students in Beirut several days ago in which he reportedly said that the Palestine question can be solved only by force and that it was up to the Palestinian guerrillas to impose such a solution. The spokesman called those remarks inimical to Israel's security.’
Among CAABU’s enthusiasts was journalist Michael Adams (1920-2005), its inaugural director. He had worked for the BBC early in his career (his son Paul is its chief diplomatic correspondent) but had later joined The Guardian. It had been one of his articles which prompted a columnist in the Jewish Chronicle (30 June 1967) to observe:
"It is with a sinking feeling and eventually turning stomach that one examines the Guardian each morning."
While still employed by The Guardian, Adams had gone on a CAABU-sponsored trip to the Middle East, which resulted, as intended, in a series of articles biased against Israel. The Guardian printed them without explaining that they had been subsidised by Arab money. There was also a despatch by Adams from Cairo which talked of the "forcible expulsion across the burning desert of Palestinian Arabs to Gaza". In fact, those deportees were members of the Palestine Liberation Army and a threat to Israel's security, as The Guardian afterwards grudgingly acknowledged. Adams also used the offensive term "final solution" to describe Israeli policy. In the summer of 1969, on the BBC's Panorama, a flagship weekly current affairs programme, Adams spewed out vitriol about "nation-wide and even world-wide Jewish pressure" – in other words, a certain lobby. And in one of his platform appearances, he foreshadowed the avoidance by the BBC and its ideological twin The Guardian of the T-word, rhetorically enquiring why the British press referred to "Arab terrorists".
Nevill Barbour (1895-1972), an Oxford-educated Arabic scholar from Northern Ireland, was another CAABU activist with influence at the BBC. He had lived in Tangier and then Cairo for some years before moving to Palestine in the 1930s with his wife and children, acting as local correspondent for The Times, and editing the Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society. Following the outbreak of the Second World War he returned to Britain, joining the BBC in 1940 as Arabic Public Relations Officer. He launched the magazine Arabic Listener and subsequently became Assistant Head of the BBC's Eastern Service, retiring in 1956. The best-known of his publications, Nisi Dominus: A Survey of the Palestine Controversy, was published in 1946.
Yet another facilitator of a CAABU/BBC nexus was Doreen Ingrams (1906-97), wife of a British colonial administrator, Harold Ingrams (1897-1973), who had been stationed in Zanzibar, Hadhramaut, and southern Arabia, dressing like the locals. Her diaries of the couple’s travels formed the basis for her book A Time in Arabia (1970). Adams himself wrote her obituary in The Independent (31 July 1997):
'Doreen Ingrams spent 12 years as a Senior Assistant in the Arabic Service of the BBC, where she was in charge of talks and magazine programmes, especially programmes for women. Gathering material for these, she travelled widely and after her retirement in 1967 she kept closely in touch with developments in the Arab world.
In 1972 she made use of little-known archive material to produce a work of lasting historical significance in Palestine Papers 1917-1922 with the subtitle Seeds of Conflict, pinpointing the responsibility of British ministers and officials for the subsequent tragedy in Palestine. She was a founder-member of [CAABU] and served for many years on its Executive Committee. At a reception in her honour in 1994 the members of the Arab Club in Britain presented her with a silver tray as a symbol of "her outstanding contribution to the promotion of Arab-British understanding"....'
But it was the BBC’s Keith Kyle (1925-2007) who, thumbing his nose at the terms of his employer’s Charter, provided CAABU with its biggest boost from that quarter. Kyle seems to have been the first BBC broadcaster to flout the neutrality incumbent upon the BBC when, during the tension leading up to the Six Day War, he declared that
"fundamentally in this dispute the Arabs are completely in the right. There can be no question about this at all."
These words were also printed in the 1 June 1967 issue of The Listener, a BBC publication.
Kyle thus anticipating Jeremy Bowen and the rest of today’s BBC Israel-bashing coterie by several decades. However, unlike Bowen, so infuriatingly and risibly out of his depth, the intellectual Kyle clearly possessed an academic knowledge of history and politics which, but for the overt bias in which he unashamedly indulged, undoubtedly fitted him for his post as a foreign correspondent. The Oxford-educated son of an Anglican clergyman, he joined the BBC following five years as Washington correspondent of The Economist.
Outrageously – why did the BBC let him get away with it? – he identified openly with CAABU from its infancy. He was a keynote speaker at one of its first major rallies, where the Jewish Chronicle (29 November 1968) noted "the intense anti-Jewish feeling generated in the CAABU audience – and among some of the speakers – by the very existence of the Jewish State, referred to as the Zionist State" as well as the way pro-Israel Jewish questioners were mocked and shouted down.
One of the worst examples of Kyle’s pro-Arab stance concerned the bungled hijacking attempt (with innocent casualties) by PFLP terrorists of an El Al aircraft at Zurich Airport in February 1969. He had learned of the plan from Arab contacts in Damascus, but had not disclosed the information "to avoid Israeli retaliation against it". In a subsequent attempt to prevent him visiting Israel there were threats of him being prosecuted as “an accessory before the fact” if he set foot there.
In the same year he presented on BBC programmes such as 24 Hours reports on the Middle East highly biased against Israel and replete with gratuitous comments of his own. For example, he suggested that the nine Iraqi Jews convicted on trumped up charges of spying charges and publicly hanged in Baghdad in January were indeed guilty, accused Israel of violating the 1949 Geneva Convention on the treatment of populations under occupation, and denounced Israel’s policy of “massive retaliation”. Aghast, a Jewish Chronicle columnist (9 May 1969) observed:
"The casual viewer will doubtless have been fooled into believing that the Israeli occupation of Arab territories is barbaric and ruthless."
On behalf of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Sir Barnett Janner (later Lord Janner; 1892-1982) and Victor Mishcon (later Lord Mishcon; 1915-2006), discussed communal concerns regarding Kyle’s “slanted” reports with the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the BBC, Lord Hill. But following an investigation of the transcripts – by the BBC itself, as all complaints of bias to the BBC still are – the BBC (to quote Lionel Kochan again)
“were apparently satisfied with the objectivity of their reporter, who happens to be political and foreign affairs adviser to the BBC TV Current Affairs group”
Kyle was quoted in The Times (16 July 1969) as saying:
“I simply refuse to discuss the Middle East in terms of pro- and anti. I am not a Middle East expert. I went there to look at the situation afresh … I have a bias towards peace.”
Lionel Kochan considered that
“The balance was restored, to some extent, when opportunity was given to Kyle’s critics, in July, to confront him on two separate occasions in the studio. With Kyle in the chair, a confrontation between Tel Aviv University professor Zvi Yavetz [the distinguished Romanian-born historian] and [American University of Beirut] Professor Yusaf [Yusuf] Sayigh – who refused to appear in the same studio – representing the PLO – was widely held to have been a verbal victory for the Israeli. A week later, Kyle met four of his Jewish critics in the studio in a “Talkback” programme.”
(The latter may or may not have been have been the occasion on which, according to The Times (19 July 1969), Kyle was due to face David Pela, deputy editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Professor Zvi Yavetz, and non-Jewish Labour MP Raymond Fletcher.)
Also incensed by Kyle’s bias was Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban, who cancelled a scheduled interview with the BBC journalist. Kyle, on entering Israel, was refused security clearance to examine the work of the UN observers in the Suez Canal zone. He subsequently became prominently associated with the Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA; Chatham House) and wrote tendentious books on Suez and on Israel. In 1983, when membership secretary of the RIIA, he invited as speaker Dr Israel Shahak, chairman of the so-called (and miniscule) Israel League for Human and Civil Rights, who had written a book containing this evil claim:
"In the Jewish State, only the Jews are considered human. Non-Jews have the status of beasts."
Need we be surprised that Kyle's obituary in that infamously anti-Israel newspaper The Guardian (27 February 2007) observed that Kyle "would have made a wise foreign secretary"?