Flotilla Report: BBC Plumbs the Depths

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The Turkel Commisssion of inquiry into the events surrounding the May 31, 2010 Gaza flotilla has published its findings. Some of the main points include:

  • The maritime blockade of Gaza complies with international law.
  • Israel’s policies towards the Gaza Strip comply with international and humanitarian law.
  • The takeover of the Mavi Marmara was carried out in compliance with international law.
  • Israeli soldiers only took action in self-defense after being violently attacked by the ship’s passengers and their actions complied with international law.

The BBC’s coverage of the Turkel Report, however, graphically illustrates all that is wrong with its reporting of Israel.

Rather than address the actual findings of the report, which vindicated Israeli actions, the BBC immediately begins by attempting to discredit the report by focusing on Turkish criticisms. The screenshot above is indicative of the BBC’s anti-Israel bias:

  • The headline, which sets the tone for the story, is about Turkish criticism and not the findings of the report itself.
  • This focus continues in the opening paragraphs of the story, which also highlights a negative quote against Israel from the UN.
  • The choice of photo and the accompanying caption – the photo fails to demonstrate any direct link to the story contents while the caption highlights that “one activist was shot four times in the head”.
  • The article continues by extensively quoting Turkish PM Erdogan who states: “To my judgment there is no value, nor credibility to this report.”
  • As if to drive the point home, the BBC article continues with a well-placed and visible sub-heading ‘Banditry and piracy’

The BBC is notorious not only for what it includes in its reports, but also for the vital context that it omits. Referring to the makeup of the inquiry commission, the article simply states:

The panel of inquiry was headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel, working alongside five Israeli members and two international observers.

Were the BBC interested in providing relevant context, it would have included the information that those two international observers were:

  • Lord David Trimble, the (joint) Nobel Peace Prize laureate of 1998 and a member of Britain’s House of Lords. He won the Nobel for his contribution to achieving peace in Northern Ireland. He served as professor of law at Queen’s University in Belfast. Upon being elected to Parliament in 1990, he left the teaching profession. Lord Trimble became leader of the Ulster Unionist Party and was First Minister of Northern Ireland from 1998 to 2002. He has published numerous articles and books on law.
  • Brigadier-General (Ret.) Ken Watkinwho served for 33 years in the Canadian army. His last position was Judge Advocate General; in that capacity he served among other things as legal advisor for the Governor General of Canada, the Defense Minister, the Department of National Defense and also supervised the military justice system of the Canadian Forces. Watkin was a legal advisor on the military/civilian board of inquiry investigating Canada’s military actions in Somalia, as the government advisor on inquiries and investigations following the Rwanda genocide in 1994. He received the Maritime Commander’s Commendation and is a member of the Order of Military Merit. Brigadier-General Watkin has published many articles on law, including international humanitarian and civil rights law. He is expected to receive a professorship in international law at the US Army’s Naval War College.

The commission also included two international legal experts from outside Israel. Indeed, Trimble and Watkin publicly stated: “We have no doubt that the Commission is independent.” But since when did this stop the BBC from sowing the seeds of doubt? Instead, readers are treated to an accompanying box of “Analysis” from the BBC’s newest member of its Jerusalem bureau, Jon Donnison, who writes:

The problem Israel is going to face is that many of its critics will see it as a whitewash. This was an Israeli government-commissioned inquiry and people will say it simply wasn’t balanced.

Donnison might wish to consider the role of the media, particularly the BBC, in promoting this view. Donnison adds:

The findings of this report were in stark contrast to the views of 600 pro-Palestinian activists aboard those ships.

Donnison and the article fail to mention that the “600 pro-Palestinian activists” included a number of well-organized and violent members of the Turkish Islamist IHH organization who were fully prepared to assault Israeli soldiers boarding the Mavi Marmara. Despite the fact that the Israeli commission of inquiry was headed by a supreme court judge and included legal experts and independent observers, Donnison still presents the “views of 600 pro-Palestinian activists” as somehow the equal of the Turkel Report.

Why does the BBC actively cast doubt and aspersions on the credibility of an Israeli inquiry while treating “pro-Palestinian activists” with a moral equivalence, as if they do not have a vested interest and a high level of ideological belief that is pushing their hatred and criticism of Israel. Not to mention that a number of these so-called “activists” were members of the Turkish Islamist IHH organization who came fully prepared to assault IDF soldiers – another piece of context omitted from the BBC report.

CNN’s Mann Can’t Hide His Disappointment

Meanwhile on CNN, Jonathan Mann questions Jerusalem bureau chief Kevin Flower about the Turkel Report. Despite even stating that “some of the soldiers’ own guns were used against them”, Mann can barely hide his exasperation when he asks (00:32 on the video):

What did the inquiry find that exonerated all concerned about the way that this was carried out?

At 02:46, Mann, almost scowling into the camera, appears increasingly frustrated that the Turkel Report has not indicted the IDF on serious charges. He attempts to lead Kevin Flower in that particular direction by expressing shock that the flotilla boarding may not have been “bungled”:

It would seem that the Israeli soldiers were surprised by what they found when they boarded the ship, that some of the violence, maybe all of the deaths could have been avoided. You passed over it briefly but did the commission have anything to say about the planning, about the conduct, the professionalism of the soldiers who actually carried out the raid or whether it was bungled?

Hear Jonathan Mann’s tone of voice and watch his facial expressions betray his feelings over the lack of incriminating evidence against the IDF by clicking on the video below:

Independent Charges a Whitewash

The Independent published a feature article examining the progress of Israeli investigations into incidents surrounding Operation Cast Lead. A highly critical accompanying editorial linked this feature to the Turkel Report, accusing Israel of ‘whitewashing the military’:

Many will feel that the report … only highlights a growing unwillingness on the part of Israel to subject the actions of its military in Gaza and the West Bank to scrutiny.

The Independent is clearly unconcerned with the scope, makeup or rigor demonstrated by an Israel that is fully prepared to carry out thorough investigations into its military actions. Instead, the default position is one of Israeli guilt and responsibility for ‘war crimes’ buttressed by a total and unquestioning reliance on politicized non-governmental organizations as sources of information.

Are the media outlets above interested in finding out the truth about how flotilla organizers, with the tacit support of the Turkish government, allowed a violent incident to take place that led to the deaths of nine people, injuries on both sides and the endangerment of hundreds of passengers?

Or are they interested only in how much blame can be pinned on Israel? If Israel is exonerated then the commission is at guilty of a whitewash. If the commission finds fault then the media can trumpet Israel’s self-flagellation.

Either way the outcome is clear when the media holds to a one-sided narrative of automatic Israeli guilt.

The BBC has plumbed the depths in its coverage of the Turkel Report and has clearly demonstrated its anti-Israel bias. Send your considered comments to the BBC Complaints website. For more on how to navigate the complaints process, click here for our guide on how to make a complaint to the BBC.

Send your considered comments to Jonathan Mann through CNN’s online feedback form.

Send your considered comments to The Independent – letters@independent.co.uk

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