by Hugh Fitzgerald
Now that the BBC has admitted that one of its presenters was wrong in claiming that Israel had a “duty” to vaccinate the Palestinians, the kind of admission it so seldom makes when it comes to righting the wrongs of its malevolent coverage of the Jewish state, it might be worth looking at some of the grand panjandrums of the BBC who form part of its anti-Israel cabal.
Until recently, John Simpson was the World Affairs Editor of the BBC for more than 30 years; he has spent a total of 53 years at the BBC. In this position, he was one of the most powerful mind-molders in the British broadcast media. He had a say on everything: assignment of correspondents abroad (who’s in, who’s out, and where they are to be sent), stories (what to cover, and what not, and whether to treat an event lightly or at length), and of course on how to preserve, or plausibly appear to do so, the BBC’s stated aim of “impartiality.” Simpson gets along very well with Jeremy Bowen, the Middle East correspondent for the BBC between 1995 and 2000, and since 2005, the BBC’s Middle East Editor. Bowen, who is well-known for his pro-Palestinian sympathies – the BBC Trust has censured him several times for statements he has made in his coverage of the Arab-Israeli dispute – shares the same view as Simpson on Israel and the Arabs: distaste for Israel, and sympathy for the “plight of the Palestinians,” living in wretched refugee camps in Arab countries or in “occupied Palestinian territories” where Israeli soldiers and “settlers” (always described as “armed” and often as “fanatical”) continue to oppress them. And neither Simpson nor Bowen seems particularly worried about the ideology of Islam or the observable behavior of Muslims who take Islamic texts and teachings to heart.
I had occasion some time ago to write about Bowen’s reckless disregard of important facts. As one example of this, I noted that he has been cavalier about the numbers of terrorist attacks that Israelis have had to endure. In an interview Bowen gave to Paul Blanchard, he claimed that “plenty of Palestinians feel very threatened by settlers, armed settlers, by soldiers, by raids in the middle of the night, by helicopters, you name it. And many Israelis have been hurt by and continue to be worried about attacks by Palestinians, though there haven’t been all that many in recent years.”
What Bowen means by “recent years” is not entirely clear, but in 2015 there were 2,398 terror attacks in Israel (of which the BBC reported 3.2%). In 2016, there were 1,415 attacks (of which the BBC covered 2.8%), in 2017 there were 1,516 attacks – less then one percent of which were reported by the BBC – and in 2018, the BBC covered at most 30.2% of the 3,006 attacks launched. During the first nine months of 2019, the BBC reported 23.6% of the 1,709 attacks which took place.
Given those figures, no fair-minded person would agree with Bowen’s dismissive remark about attacks by Palestinians against Israelis, that “there haven’t been all that many in recent years.” And it was a shock for me, and I assume it will be for you, to find out just how many terror attacks the Israelis have endured since 2015 – more than 7,000 separate attacks – and how the BBC, on which so many around the world depend for their news, chose to report only 1370. And that number reflected a sudden, unexplained, great increase in the last two years, where someone at the BBC decided the under-reporting of terror attacks in Israel was scandalous, leaving the organization open to severe criticism, and thus more of them had to be reported. And so they were.
There was the astonishing upswing from reporting on less than 1% of such attacks in 2017 (15 instead of 1516), to reporting on 30% of them in 2018. Reporting on 30% of terrorist attacks is still not acceptable, but at least it’s an improvement on the BBC’s report on only 1% of terror attacks that it made during the previous year.
Which brings me back to Jeremy Bowen’s friend Simpson. Simpson’s own coverage, both of Israel and of Islam, like that of Bowen himself, has always left much to be desired. John Simpson once proclaimed at his website that he was “doing my best to make sense of a crazy world.” On the subject of Islam, he was among the BBC’s stoutest apologists. When he interviewed Pim Fortuyn, he infuriated that supremely intelligent man with his absurd charges about Fortuyn’s “racism,” and his obstinate refusal to accept Fortuyn’s statement of the obvious, that Islam is not a race; the courtly Fortuyn ordered Simpson and his BBC crew to leave his home after accusing the newsman of “failing to show him any respect.” You can read online Simpson’s report on the man he called “Holland’s anti-Islam dandy.” Notice the sneer in his description of Fortuyn’s “high-camp charm” and how the Dutchman “sat in his garden bower like an 18th century dandy whose wig had fallen off.” There’s a lot of this dismissive stuff, and hardly anything about what it was that made Fortuyn so apprehensive about Islam. Fortuyn was only quoted as saying that the Netherlands was already “too crowded,” but he had much more to say about Islam, which didn’t appear to interest John Simpson. Of course, even knowing exactly nothing about Fortuyn’s views on anything other than Islam, Simpson went right ahead and pasted on Fortuyn that all-purpose epithet “right-wing.” He didn’t pick up on Fortuyn’s remarks about the treatment of women and homosexuals in Islam; apparently that wasn’t worth Simpson’s while. He was too busy describing Fortuyn — quite unfairly — as a supercilious and dandiacal coxcomb.
Four days after their meeting, Fortuyn was murdered by a man who resented his views on Muslims. John Simpson felt no need to stop and express dismay. Instead, he described Fortuyn as the “archetypical right-winger” (there was nothing to support this assertion unless you think that Fortuyn’s opposition to Islam is enough to make him “right-wing,” and all kinds of well-known left-wingers, including the late Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci and Oxford professor Richard Dawkins, have been just as, or even more, anti-Islam than Pim Fortuyn) and ended with this bit of nastiness, very much in the john-simpson vein: Fortuyn, he concluded his “tribute,” is more likely to be remembered for “the hatred he gave rise to than for his own achievements.”
Though soft on Islam, Simpson was always very hard on Israel.
You will not be surprised to learn that John Simpson’s reports on Israel were always consistently, almost comically, unfair. This decades-long anti-Israel bias, with Israel being presented as an aggressive little Sparta, always hell-bent on making trouble for innocent Palestinians, is a staple of BBC reporting, usually on the lines of “the Israeli tail seems to wag the American dog.” In 2001, Simpson described Ariel Sharon as “the architect of the massacre at Sabra and Chatila in 1982.” As everyone knows, it was not the Israelis, but the Christian Phalange, settling scores because of the PLO massacres of Christians in northern Lebanon, who were responsible for Sabra and Chatila. But twenty years after the massacre, John Simpson was still blaming the Israelis. Let it be noted that this anti-Israel bias made him no different from most of his colleagues at the BBC. All in all, this crew presents a hair-raising spectacle, and no matter how well-reasoned and soberly fact-based the torrent of complaints about its Middle East coverage may be, the BBC continues to largely ignore such criticism.
John Simpson was also greatly impressed with one of the most insidious charges brought against Israel, one that is a favorite of antisemitic websites. This is the claim that in the middle of the Six-Day War, in all the confusion, anxiety, alarm, misidentification, miscommunication, exhaustion, contributing to the well-known “fog of war,” Israeli planes deliberately attacked the the U.S.S. Liberty, knowing it was an American ship, and killed 34 Americans and wounded more than 100, and did so at the urging of the American government. Exactly why Israel would have wanted to attack a ship belonging to its closest ally no one has ever made clear, though that has not stopped conspiracy theorists from conspiracy-theorizing. The most detailed account of the whole affair, including material newly released, is that by the historian Michael Oren, which is well worth a careful read.
John Simpson, however, was so enamored of the story of a conspiracy, so convinced that Israel was guilty of deliberately attacking an American vessel, though he was no better at offering a plausible reason for such an attack than anyone else, that he chose to write an enthusiastic introduction to one of those books about a supposed U.S.-Israel conspiracy to “hush up” the real reason for the attack on the U.S.S. Liberty. John Simpson’s respectful treatment of one of the favorite fantasies of antisemites apparently did not disqualify him from running the BBC World Services. The book for which he wrote the introduction, Operation Cyanide, is by Peter Hounam, a journalist who specializes in many sorts of conspiracy theories, as in his Who Killed Diana?, which purported to prove that she was “murdered” by shadowy figures. Here is the summary of this preposterous book, Operation Cyanide: “This hard-hitting investigation shows that on that day in 1967, the world came closer to all-out nuclear war than ever before — this incident made the Cuban Missile Crisis seem tame by comparison. Peter Hounam reveals that the attack was part of a clandestine plan between the US and Israel known as ‘Operation Cyanide,’ designed to ensure victory for Israel in the Middle East. By blaming the attack on the Arab world, retaliation on a grand scale would be justified.”
This book will shock any reader interested in Middle-East affairs, as it shows that the U.S. was prepared to sacrifice its men and risk nuclear war to ensure victory for Israel.
This is the kind of thing John Simpson apparently took – and takes — seriously. But it’s not his palpable antipathy to Israel that was most disturbing. Even more alarming was his coverage of Islam or, rather, his failure to have the BBC cover the subject adequately. He is the man who called Aung San Suu Kyi a “monster” because she did’t share his one-sided views – total support for the Muslim Rohingyas, and no sympathy for the Buddhists with their historic memory of Rohingya aggression — on the situation in Myanmar. He is the man who a few days after the bombings in the London Underground and on buses in 2005 wrote that “Thursday was a terrible day for London; yet we mustn’t forget that much the same number of people died that day in Iraq, and no one dedicated acres of newsprint to them.” And he was all for minimizing the reaction to such attacks, belonging, as he does, to the “that’s-what-the-terrorists-want” school of idiocy, insisting that “If there is journalistic overkill, there is also security overkill.” A decade later, he was still at it, attacking the British press for paying too much attention to Muslim terrorism in Europe; “It’s [the press] grotesquely selective actually [sic]. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I think the [Paris attacks] don’t matter, it matters hugely what happened in Paris. It’s one of the most important things of this decade. It’s just that you know, 130 people die in other countries and we shouldn’t let ourselves be blinded.” If you think the Western media is giving too much attention to Muslim terrorism, John Simpson is the man for you.
From his comfortable extravagantly-paid perch at the BBC, John Simpson has been misinforming people now for more than fifty years, on matters big and little, doing his best “to make sense of a crazy world.” His best was not nearly good enough; it wasn’t good at all. How much better informed would the BBC’s radio audience worldwide have been had John Simpson never been promoted or, better still, never been hired in the first place.
There so many others at the BBC who rival Simpson in their antipathy to, and unfairness about, Israel. There is Doucet, the “award winning Chief International Correspondent and Senior Presenter for BBC World News television and BBC World Service Radio.” She has never had a good word for Israel – her antipathy is, like Simpson’s, palpable – but she does have a soft spot for Palestinians, and for Muslims. Reporting on the “Je-suis-Charlie” marches of sympathy and solidarity in Paris in 2015, she was determined to find good Muslims in the crowd whom she might interview as the rule rather than as the exception.
Here is how her report on that march went:
In these marches all over France, Muslims were almost entirely absent. Oh, a few could be seen, here and there (very much here and there), apparently, and apparently, too, every news reporter tried hard to find a Muslim to interview in order to show that the Muslims in France were just as horrified as anyone else, and that this was indeed a Unity Rally, a Rally for France And Free Speech. There was not a hijab in sight, and the handful of Muslims interviewed — fewer than a dozen, in a day of reporting, appeared to be either from black Africa (and thus their Islam had been diluted by non-Islamic elements and easier-going attitudes), or young people of the kind who are “Muslims-for-identification-purposes-only Muslims, yet still hoping to protect, for reasons of filial piety, the image of Islam. The most amusing of these interviews was that of Lyse Doucet (she who for the previous decade reported for the BBC so nastily, so cruelly, and so unfairly , showing not the slightest understanding either of the Jihad waged against Israel, or of Islam, or of Israel’s attempts to defend itself and its people). She had found two people whom she thought were Muslims — one was a young man, nondescript, and another, with a kindly, intelligent face, named “Osama.” No doubt in her careful search for “representative” Muslims to interview — to give BBC audiences the illusion that there were Muslims participating, whole-heartedly, and in large numbers, in denouncing the killings at Charle-Hebdo (but even Lyse Doucet didn’t dare suggest any outpouring of sympathy and grief by Muslims over the killing of Jews at the Hyper Cacher) — she thought she’d hit pay dirt with the highly presentable Osama. Imagine how flustered and annoyed she was to discover, as she said, sure of the answer, “So Osama, you are a Muslim then” before asking him about his participation in the march, only to have him say, on camera, that “no, I’m a Christian.”
Another BBC standout is Plett, now Barbara Plett Usher, once the BBC correspondent in Israel. In October 2004, she reported on Yassir Arafat being taken by helicopter from Ramallah, en route to a hospital in Paris where he eventually died. While apathetic Palestinians declined to give him a heroic sendoff, Plett asked:
But where were the people, I wondered, the mass demonstrations of solidarity, the frantic expressions of concern? Was this another story we Western journalists were getting wrong, bombarding the world with news of what we think is an historic event, while the locals get on with their lives?
Yet when the helicopter carrying the frail old man rose above his ruined compound, I started to cry… without warning.
And she added, preposterously, that “Mr Arafat’s life has been one of sheer dedication and resilience.” Yes, I suppose it did take “sheer dedication” by that “frail old man” to amass a fortune of between one and three billion dollars, stolen from the aid money that was supposed to go to the people he pretended to care so much about.
Which brings us back by a commodious vicus to what we started with: the BBC’s admission that when Shaun Ley, one of its presenters, insisted on January 16 that Israel was obligated to provide the coronavirus vaccine to the Palestinians –a claim easily refuted in five seconds of searching on the internet – he was dead wrong.
That admission by the BBC that it, or its presenter, had been wrong – wrong! – in its latest installment of maligning Israel, was not exactly earthshaking. It doesn’t deserve what Charles James Fox wrote about the taking of the Bastille: “How much the greatest event it is that ever happened in the world, & how much the best.” But still….
First published in Jihad Watch.