The BBC's Middle East Ombudsman

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Malcolm Balen, who was appointed last November to conduct a year-long evaluation the Beeb's coverage of Israeli/Palestine issues, is profiled in Ha'aretz. Like many news-organization ombudsmen, he is having a difficult time separating what he feels to be legitimate criticism and ranting accusation:

"I know there is a widespread belief, and it quite shocked me on taking this job, that if the BBC get something wrong, or the nuances are misplaced, there is now a virtually automatic assumption that the BBC had done that because it is biased against Israel, or worse, anti-Semitic," he says. "It is very difficult for sections of the audience to accept that it the BBC got something wrong - it is maybe because it got it wrong, and not because it is biased. This situation polarized the debate and it is very difficult to get the editorial debate back on pragmatic level."

Interesting article; whole thing here. (Link via Harry's Place.)

NEXT: No Honor Among Thieves

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  1. A few years ago, during a time of particularly intense coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the LA Times ran 2 letters to the editor on the same article. One letter complained about the blatant anti-Israeli bias of the article. The other complained about the blatant pro-Israeli bias of the article.

    When a topic is sufficiently controversial, anything that doesn't favor your side can be interpreted as bias.

  2. Which, of course, doesn't mean the critics are wrong!

  3. Perhaps if the BBC ever got something wrong in Isreal's favor, this explination would hold water. As it is, they only seem to make mistakes favoring one side. At some point it can no longer be considered a coincidence.

  4. I agree with John. The trouble isn't a stray line or story here and there, but years of open and notorious bias.

  5. Besides, how can we be biased, since the damn Yids control the media?

  6. The BBC coverage of the Israeli - Palestinian conflict is so utterly, laughably biased that no attempt at damage control at this stage of the game can possibly succeed.

    Let's face it: The European left, and to a lesser extent the American left, has become a bastion of anti-semitic bigotry last seen in the 1930s. I guess when the last generation of Nazis has died off and the crimes officially are "history" instead of seen as relevent and present, the way is clear for a new generation of losers to pick up that ancient bigotry, dust it off, and wear it (proudly in Europe, with some trepidation in America). The worst of it all is to hear the grandchildren of the SS goons calling the grandchildren of concentration camp survivors "Nazis", even as their allies in Gaza shoot pregnant women in the belly after they execute her children in front of her eyes, finally murdering her after she watches all her children, including the one not yet born, slaughtered in front of her. With cameras rolling, of course!

  7. I have known shitloads of leftists over the years, many of whom expressed strong anti-Israel sentiments, none of whom expressed any anti-Semetic sentiments, whatsoever. But I'm sure facts don't matter when it's more convenient to demonize those with whom you disagree. Blah, blah.

  8. Read carefully

  9. Fydor,

    If they are not anti-semetic, why do they hold Isreal to standards they hold no other nation, other than perhaps America, to? Why is that the occupation of the West Bank is so bad, but Syria's occupation of Lebenon is not? What is the difference other than the fact that Isreal is Jewish and democratic?

  10. Dude, learn how to fookin spell.

  11. Matthew Cromer,

    Godwin's law applies to your statements. Recently in a poll in France 2/3rds of the population described themselves as having a favorable opinion of Israel generally; Ha'aretz had an article on the poll. For such virulent anti-semites, they certainly have a high opinion of Israel. Instead of lashing out with over the top statements are almost wholly divorced from reality, please, use your brain in the future.

    John Kluge,

    "When it became a liberal, capitalist, democracy its image in Europe took a turn for the worse."

    Well, Israel was always a Democracy, even when the left liked it, so your analysis is off there. And Israel is one of the least capitalist states in the West; as any glance at its welfare-state policies, protectionism, etc. will readily demonstrate. As to it being liberal, well its better than Saudi Arabia, but given the level of press censorship and the like there, its hardly a stunning example of liberalism. These are all credible and rather mundane criticisms of Israel; yet they hardly make me an anti-semite. Furthermore, both you and your nitwit twin Cromer confuse the BBC with Europe; I would suggest that one is not a proxy for the other.

    "All of the sudden Europe found a way to exercise its guilt about the holocost..."

    Which of course explains why European governments are so fond of building monuments, museums, etc. to the holocaust, and why so many of their citizens visit them; why schools emphasize the study of the holocaust when discussing 20th century history; etc. When you an actually bring evidence to bear to support your position I can take you seriously; so far your comments ring more like the sort of national chauvanism and bigotry you accuse Europeans of.

    "This explains why Nazi is a favorite insult hurled at Isreal."

    I suspect its the favorite insult of some on the left for the same reason why Nazi is your favorite insult for Europeans; because it has a nice visceral emotional effect.

  12. John Kluge,

    "If they are not anti-semetic, why do they hold Isreal to standards they hold no other nation, other than perhaps America, to?"

    Do they? Establish this with hard data please.

    "Why is that the occupation of the West Bank is so bad, but Syria's occupation of Lebenon is not?"

    Is there a qualitative difference between the two?

    "What is the difference other than the fact that Isreal is Jewish and democratic?"

    Well, you need to establish such a difference exists (as you have not done such, your question is unripe).

  13. John Kluge,

    Why, why, why, indeed! Since I'm speaking of others, I would let them defend their position on their own. But I shall point out there's an infinite number of reasons why we humans see things very differently from each other. Evidently, only one reason will satisfy you in this regard. Personally, if someone demonstrates no general antipathy towards Jews, I would say that that is plenty of evidence that there is some other explanation for their harsh criticism than anti-semitism. But obviously it will never be enough evidence for you.

    BTW, my own attitude towards the Mid East conflict could probably be best summarized as a plague on both their houses. And I'm Jewish meself.

  14. John Kluge,

    So criticizing Sharon and Israel is proof that one is anti-semitic, eh?

    Then I will assume that anyone criticizing Robert Mugabe is a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

  15. John Kluge,

    BTW, you are committing a logical phallacy that I believe is called "assumption by ignorance," or some such. An example of this phallacy is when two people see something strange in the sky and one says, "Look! A alien spacecraft!" When the other protests it couldn't be that, the first says, "Well then what ELSE could it be?" The fact that the second cannot explain it does not prove the first right. Ditto for criticism of Israel that either of us may find overly harsh. As I say, there's an infinite number of reasons why people may take such positions. Lawd knows, there's no lack of wacky opinions out there! But if someone exhibits absolutely zero antipathy or intolerance towards Jews, I thinks it's asinine to automatically attribute his criticism of Israel to anti-Semitism, no matter how inconsistent you might consider his views.

  16. Also, to anyone out there, because I know I don't know everything and am always interested to learn, does Syria really "occupy" Lebanon? I know they have a military presence there, but do they really run Lebanon such that Lebanon does not currently exist as an independent nation?

    Just curious...

  17. Yep, pretty much. Lebanon's kind of a "rump nation" similar to Finland and the Rooskies or Hong Kong and China. Syria was supposed to pull out back in '92 but didn't. "It's our turf", said Assad.

    Nobody's thought it worth a war to settle the situation except Israel, who would love to kick their ass.

    http://www.meib.org/articles/0103_l1.htm

  18. Hmmm. I don't think anyone would have said the Soviet Union "occupied" Finland, would they? I don't doubt that Lebanon jumps when Syria says jump. But as long as they have a government that could even decide whether or not to do what Syria says, even if there's not much doubt, then I don't think that would be what I'd consider occupation. Palestine and Iraq at the moment, on the other hand, don't even have that option, and that's what I think of as occupation. And at the moment I don't think that's really an accurate description of Lebanon. Am I wrong?

  19. Gary: Where's the hard data for all the statements you make? How about it? You're certainly not a hypocrite, are you? Or should we simply accept your remarks as truth while you insult John with "you and your nitwit twin", "use your brain", and then demand "hard data" for his remarks?

    You answer John thusly:
    "Why is that the occupation of the West Bank is so bad, but Syria's occupation of Lebenon is not?"

    ?Is there a qualitative difference between the two??

    Then you later answer his remark:
    "This explains why Nazi is a favorite insult hurled at Isreal."

    ?I suspect its the favorite insult of some on the left for the same reason why Nazi is your favorite insult for Europeans; because it has a nice visceral emotional effect.?

    Gary, reach deep down into that "powerful" and derisive intellect of yours and ask yourself if there is a qualitative difference between a Jew being called a Nazi and a Jew accusing a European (suspected home of Nazism, but I have no hard data to show you) of Nazism for making what he believes to be anti-Jewish statements?

    You and fvodor are simply trying to shut down debate with demands for references you do not provide for your own remarks as well as sneering insults for those who disagree with you.

    John pretty much says it all in his very first comment: "Perhaps if the BBC ever got something wrong in Isreal's favor, this explination would hold water. As it is, they only seem to make mistakes favoring one side. At some point it can no longer be considered a coincidence." If you and "I'm Jewish meself" fvodor disagree with his statements then just say so. I think most of his comments are on the money, but Hey, if you believe the BBC takes an evenhanded approach to MiddleEast news, then you are welcome to that and I and others will judge your objectivity and intelligence appropriately.

  20. fyodor,

    Read the article for more on Syria & Lebanon.

    http://slate.msn.com/id/2101603/

  21. Did you get that, thoreau? When you take exception to being accused of racism, you're shutting down debate. Is that clear?

  22. Mischaracterizing my comment (if you actually read it) is just plain lazy, Joe.

  23. Mr. Balen pretty much nails it: journalism attracts "liberals" and "leftists". No grand conspiracy, just a giant echo-chamber of folks who mostly never worked an honest year of physical labor nor experienced the hard light of science. These soft-headed, self-anointed intellectuals exhibit classic symptoms of battered wife syndrome. Israel is held to a high standard, while the wife-beating child abusers are given the benefit of the doubt in the hope that they will change if the reporters keep loving them.

    Also, since the face of Israelis progressively fades to a lighter shade of euro-pale, the bias is more likely due to self loathing that rich white liberals love to wallow in. The Palestine Arabs are the more pure Semite group in the region; the liberal BBC "reporters" reveal their repressed white supremacy by making excuses for their stupid and poor brown brothers.

  24. fvodor: To be honest, most of my "shutting down debate" comment was meant to be directed toward Gary's hypocritical call for "hard facts" and ad hominum remarks directed at John. I included you because of your "assumption by ignorance" comment and your plea to the effect that, since anti-Semitism is not the only possible reason for consistent stances against Israel it is wrong for John (or others) to accuse someone or some organization of it. I take that kind of sophistry to mean that I cannot express an opinion about anyone?s motives or agenda since in this universe there may be another explanation for their actions. So John and I should just shut up and not point a finger at those who consistently find fault with only one side in a conflict. Do you really think it is only ignorance that drives our curiosity when we see various media and pundits attack Israel for killing Hamas leaders while refusing to condemn Palestinians who blow up discos filled with teenage Jews? How many UN resolutions have been passed specifically condemning Israeli actions against their attackers? DOZENS. How many have been passed specifically condemning Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians? ZERO.
    And we are supposed to see this as coincidence and not jump to the "ignorant" conclusion that maybe the historical hatred for Jews that runs throughout the Arab world and parts of Europe plays any part in this? If what you say is true, why do so many ME Islamic leaders talk of driving the JEWS out of Israel or the ME? People like me see the celebrations that the Palestinians hold whenever Israeli (or Americans) civilians are killed. We compare that to the self-criticism and hand wringing that Israelis put themselves through when their actions result in Palestinian deaths. Guess who I think holds the moral ground? Guess who I think are the hypocrites?

  25. "since anti-Semitism is not the only possible reason for consistent stances against Israel it is wrong for John (or others) to accuse someone or some organization of it. I take that kind of sophistry to mean that I cannot express an opinion about anyone?s motives or agenda since in this universe there may be another explanation for their actions"

    Well, you can do anything you like, and if speculating on people's motives without any corroborating evidence is your bag, well by all means go for it. But to be intellectually honest, you need to acknowledge that speculation is all it is. And when I have presented evidence to the contrary (at least where rank and file American leftists are concerned, which is all I ever intended to address), and when the charge is as nefarious as is the charge of anti-Semitism, then yeah, now that you've brought it up, perhaps it does rise to the level of being "wrong." But it wasn't my intention to shut you up, despite your hyperventilating implication of such. (Hey, there's plenty of "passion" on both sides of this issue, doesn't seem to have gotten anyone very far, has it?) No, my only purpose was to cite direct anecdotal evidence to the contrary of what Mr. Kluge was saying. Because when someone paints a nasty picture with a broad brush that very clearly doesn't apply to some of the bristles you know personally (to torture a metaphor!), you feel compelled to speak up. And to go a little further, I really don't think that charges of anti-Semitism does the debate or the tragic situation one damn bit of good.

    Heh, not that anything else seems to... 🙁

  26. None of my statements ever accuse the BBC or Europeans of being anti-Semitic. In fact, they offer other explanations for the unfavorable treatment of Israel; namely gilt over the holocaust translating into a desire to find something wrong with the Jews, a general loathing of democracy and capitalism, and a western self hatred that refuses to hold any non-western societies to any standard of behavior while hoisting western societies onto a petard for the slightest offense. All of these tendencies make Israel and its protective cousin America perfect targets for irrational hatred and bias. In that sense its not specifically Jewish. As I said in my second post, I have no doubt that if the Palestinians started acting more like Americans and Jews and less like barbaric Arabs, they would cease to be sympathetic in the eyes of the people who now claim to be so concerned about them.

  27. Apologies to John Kluge. Rereading up-thread I realize it was Matthew Cromer and not you who called the American left "a bastion of anti-semitic bigotry" (although less so than the European left, how temperate!). But then, if this position differs from your own, why didn't you say so right away rather than argue with me, saying, "If they are not anti-Semitic, why do they..." etc., etc?

  28. fvodor: "if speculating on people's motives without any corroborating evidence is your bag.."
    Well, yes. What is your idea of sufficiently corroborative evidence? A signed confession? A blueprint? I think that any reasonable person could look at the history of anti-Semitism in Europe, then at the venom spit at Israel for defending herself and conclude that it's the same old story. I don't consider that to be jumping to conclusions, as you apparently do. It is just sensing that the same type of prejudice is manifesting itself again. Certainly Europeans have gotten tired of having to apologize for trying to kill off the Jews and it must seem satisfying to be able to, in my view, show their hatred by defending Palestinian terrorists as freedom fighters while accusing Israel of war crimes for trying to defend her citizens. It must feel delicious to finally be able to spit at one's old nemesis without having to defend the indefensible. Middle East countries have been trying to destroy Israel since it was founded. Israel was founded as a safe haven for Jews from the European powers that wished to wipe them out or, most benignly, to separate them from the national life. So I am suspicious of the double standards that Israel's critics employ to condemn her. If that seems unduly rash to you, then so be it.
    I don't think that leftists are by nature or belief anti-Semites. In fact, historically, Jews show a good deal of sympathy for leftist causes. But leftists are always looking for the next vanguard as shock troops in the "revolution". In the US, it was the violent black panthers that would start a race war and lead leftists to their rightful place as leaders of the "rule by people". I think leftists now see the turmoil in the ME as the next possible sparkplug for the revolution that the fall of the Soviet Union robbed them of. And I think that (and not anti-Semitism) is why leftists have realigned themselves now against Israel and her Jews. That observation in no way relieves leftists of the responsibility for their actions. Their motivations may seem pragmatic and unsullied by anti-Semitism, but adopting the tactics of the objectively anti-Semitic leaves them looking and smelling like anti-Semites, if you'll forgive me that.
    Neither I, nor John I?ll assume, feel that all peoples of any given group can be ?painted with a broad brush?. I don?t ascribe everything I said above about leftists and leftism to each and every leftist or leftist group. But I hope that you are not implying that we cannot use general terms in discussion since not all self described ?whatever? would fit a universal definition.

  29. "What is your idea of sufficiently corroborative evidence?"

    For anti-Semitism, it is antipathy and intolerance displayed towards Jews, not just political opinions about the state of Israel. And this is what I do not witness among ANY leftists I have met.

    "And I think that (and not anti-Semitism) is why leftists have realigned themselves now against Israel and her Jews."

    Now here you seem to be backing away from the anti-Semitism charge. Good, but better had you not made it ("I think that any reasonable person could look at the history of anti-Semitism in Europe, then at the venom spit at Israel for defending herself and conclude that it's the same old story." and "show their hatred") in the first place.

    "I don?t ascribe everything I said above about leftists and leftism to each and every leftist or leftist group."

    But my experience with leftists is that they are so consistently devoid of anything close to what I would consider genuine anti-Semitism that I would consider the existence of such to be much more likely the exception than the rule. And again, that's based on direct experience with real people, not the speculative assumptions about why people are choosing the political positions they do.

    "But I hope that you are not implying that we cannot use general terms in discussion since not all self described ?whatever? would fit a universal definition."

    Once again, (sigh) you can sure as hell do anything you like, but you have offered no evidence that any leftists exhibit what I consider anti-Semitism, i.e., anitpathy and intolerance towards Jews. To the contrary, you are simply demonizing political positions with which you strongly disagree, and then in the next breath take it back.

    "So I am suspicious of the double standards that Israel's critics employ to condemn her."

    As well you should be. Although on this issue, double standards abound because most people only look at the sins of one side or the other and have differing views of the genesis of the conflict. Believe it or not, your opponents likley consider your own views every bit as full of double standards as you accuse theirs of being. Some of them might even go so far as to accuse you of bigotry and bias against Muslims. Go figure.

  30. "...double standards abound because most people only look at the sins of one side or the other and have differing views of the genesis of the conflict."

    Bravo, Fyodor!

    I would add that this is aggrevated by most people's tendency to view their favorite side strictly as victims.

    Mikam,

    "And we are supposed to see this as coincidence and not jump to the "ignorant" conclusion that maybe the historical hatred for Jews that runs throughout the Arab world and parts of Europe plays any part in this?"

    You imply that the perceptions of Jews in Europe and Middle East are the same and long-standing. They are quite different. The anti-Semitism that has been a feature of Europe (and to a more limited extent, the U.S.) is a baseless, aggressive bigotry (racial or religious, depending how you define "who is a Jew?") against Jews for being Jews.

    I would describe the historical perception of Jews in the Middle East as a chauvinism common to most religious or racial groups (actually, humans in general, including many Jews). This is a bigotry against Jews (and Christians, Zoroastrians, Baha?is, etc) for not being Muslim or against Shiites for not being Sunni. Until the arrival of Zionism and Israel, the Muslim attitude toward Jews was mostly characterized by benevolent disinterest to disinterest.

    This post obviously doesn't do the topic justice. Bernard Lewis' excellent book, The Jews of Islam, addresses this topic in detail.

  31. ??????

    what the fuck do test tubes or ditch digging have to do with good or bad reporting?

    i assume this stream of manichean gibberish will only get worse as the election approaches?

  32. fvodor: Almost all of my comments regarding anti-Semitism are in discussion of the ME and Europe, not leftists specifically. It is only at the end when I decided to answer your repeated references to leftists that I said that leftists are not inherently anti-Semitic, merely pragmatic and have adopted anti-Semitism as a tool. I don't see how what I said can be seen to be backing off. You mixed two different subjects (ME/Europe and leftism) and my opinion of how anti-Semitism relates to them. I see the roots of anti-Israeli opinion in Europe and the ME as anti-Semitism. It is only in leftism that I see it as the matter of a convenient victim and not more deeply rooted.
    I don't know what to make of yours and Patrick's reassurances about double standards. I'm not willing to simply discount them as "everybody does it" as you two seem to want. If you are a leftist, fvodor, I'm flabbergasted that you have suddenly found little of interest in double standards and what they say about a people and a society. I find them to indicate prejudice. Has leftism dropped that corollary? Wow.
    Patrick: I read Lewis also. You make some good factual points, but again I am not comforted by the fact that the ME could live with a few Jews, but not a bunch. If anything, your point reinforces mine. It's about their Jewishness, not Palestinian rights. That is why the Protocols sit in an Islamic museum and why Islamics make repeated blood libels about Jews (not just Israelis) drinking gentile baby blood and trying to control the world etc.
    Anyone want to talk about what preceded the Crusades, or speech codes on campus, or how "free speech is a tool of the oppressors"? Just for a change?
    Thanks for the discussion, guys.

  33. mikem,

    I'm trying to shut down debate?? How about YOU address what I've actually SAID before tossing about accusations at me?!? What I've said is that I've met and known loads of leftists in my life, both currently and in the past, including many who have been harshly critical of Israel, and I've NEVER seen any evidence of genuine anti-semitism (defined by attitudes and feelings about JEWS, not just political opinions) in ANY of them! And being Jewish myself, I might just possibly be sensitive to such. I think that's DAMN good evidence that it's presumptuous, to put it mildly, to attribute leftist criticism of Israel en masse to anti-Semitism, whatever other weaknesses one may find in leftist rhetoric. Care to address THAT?

    Please also note that what I'm saying has nothing to do with the BBC's purported bias in the matter, on which I don't have a strong enough opinion to bother expressing at the moment.

  34. fyodor - while i generally agree with your assessment i have noticed a general rise in what used to be the domain of paranoid right wing conspiracy theories in the middle of the 20th century amongst a few NOTBUSH type folk. including all sorts of lame elders of zion type shit, david icke sado-paranoid stuff.

    which is pretty fucking weird, no matter how you slice it. not so much the conspiracy as the going back in time to all sorts of old goofiness from the other side of the spectrum because NOTBUSH is fucking with their brains.

  35. dhex,

    Partisan politics will do that to ya!! 🙂

  36. Mikem,

    "...I am not comforted by the fact that the ME could live with a few Jews, but not a bunch."

    And I am not comforted by the fact that Israel could live with a few non-Jews, but not a bunch.

    I would suggest that for many who see Jews strictly as victims the ?historic hatred for Jews? blinds them to many of the unpleasant realities of Israel. It also leads to ?pro-Semitism? where Israel is defended simply because is it Jewish versus the anti-Semitism that attacks it because it is Jewish.

    Indeed, the reality of Israel is a pro-Semitic double standard. Israel is founded on Zionism, i.e. there should be a state for Jews. It is a self-described Jewish state. Regardless of the underlying spirit of Israel?s view of individual rights, government policy and enforcement favor Jews simply because they are Jews. Israel is a vibrant democracy where a wide variety of political views are in play but it is still predicated on the idea that there must be more Jewish than non-Jewish voters. The settler movement, subsidized by the Israeli government, is all about getting more land and water for Jews (Armenian Israelis aren?t living in Gaza) and making as many non-Jews as uncomfortable as possible so they leave.

    We both condemn the anti-Semitism spreading in the Middle East. The difference is you see it as evidence to reinforce support for Israel. I see it as further evidence that race/religion/tribe oriented ideologies are fundamentally flawed and immoral and that neither side of this conflict should get my support or my country?s.

    Who holds the moral ground? Neither, both are standing in a moral sink hole. Just because Israel stands taller in that hole doesn?t mean it should receive unqualified support. Who are the hypocrites? They both are.

    Anyway, yes, good discussion. Frustrating to deal with such a complex subject with posts and have to make a living on the side. 🙂

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