Monthly Archives: November 2012

The London Evening Standard yesterday covered the latest developments concerning the planning proposals for the Abbey Mills mosque building project in Newham (also reported in the Newham Recorder). Officials have made a recommendation that the plans be rejected. The council will decide whether to grant planning permission to the mosque next Wednesday.

Newham Council have said that “Officers have made a recommendation for refusal, which will be considered.

“Our planning policies promote the development of the Abbey Mills site for a mix of residential, employment and community uses, to help create a new local centre near West Ham station and regenerate the area. It is not considered this application is consistent with these policies.

“There are also concerns about the size of the proposed buildings and impact on parking and traffic.”

The paper describes the plans for the mosque as the “biggest place of worship— a “monolithic, overly dominant and incongruous” mosque in east London.”

According to the paper, “the planning office received 3,000 letters opposing the scheme. Only one per cent of the 25,000 letters of support were from people living in the local consultation area.”

The LES refers to the Tablighi Jamaat ‘sect’, which submitted the plans, and cites critics who allege the group preaches “separation and segregation”. It adds that “the July 7 bombers and shoe bomber Richard Reid have been linked” to the group.

It does state however, that “The group maintains its main objective is peaceful missionary work”.

The article also cites former Newham councillor Alan Craig, the ‘campaign director of MegaMosque No Thanks’ as saying “Now it’s up to the planning committee to follow the recommendation to reject. The building would be ugly, it would add nothing to the area and we have huge concerns about the group behind it.”

Craig last month ludicrously referred to the mosque proposals as a ‘sharia-controlled-zone’. Moreover, his views on TJ have been viewed with scepticism – both the BBC and ITV in 2008 demanded that Craig remove accusations that TJ are ‘separatist’ from his London Mayor election broadcast.

The paper attempts to lend credence to Craig’s ‘concern’ by alarmingly describing TJ’s ‘links’ to Richard Reid and the 7/7 bombers. It doesn’t, however, substantiate these ‘links’, nor give any detail of Craig’s specific ‘concerns’ about the group.

The LES did however state in a previous report that “Two of the 7/7 bombers, Shehzad Tanweer and Mohammad Sidique Khan, are believed to have prayed at a Tablighi mosque in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire”. Accusations that the group harbours ‘extremists’ have nonetheless been dismissed by academics such as Olivier Roy, who has described Tablighi Jamaat as “completely apolitical and law abiding.” This sort of smearing is similar to accusations leveled at the East London mosque because the ‘underpants bomber’, Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab, was said to have prayed there on two occasions.

As we previously noted, this sort of fear-mongering has fuelled far right groups such as the BNP, who reacting to a report on the mosque in the Daily Star, said “MUSLIMS WILL NOT BUILD THE MOSQUE IF THE SITE IS COVERED IN PIGS BLOOD (YOU MUST FILM THIS FOR PROOF)”.

One can only hope the Council in reaching its decision on Wednesday merits the application on facts and not hearsay or unfounded fears.

The local paper, Hartlepool Mail, reports on concerns over an EDL demonstration being staged in Shotton Colliery tomorrow protesting against plans to turn a pub into a Muslim education centre which will be open to all faiths.

The Mail states that “Worried Muslims are expected to flee the village they have made their home when far-right extremists stage a protest tomorrow.”

The nephew of the local businessman who put forward the plans, Imran Nadeem, told the paper, “We are very scared. There has been a Muslim presence in Shotton for at least the last 23 years, there are about five or six families, and we have been a very peaceful community.

“We will be leaving the area for our safety tomorrow and we are worried about our business.”

According to the Mail, the EDL plan this to be the ‘first of many’ protests in the region.

The MP for Easington, Grahame Morris, told the paper, that it is “outrageous that people are stirring up feelings in this way”.

According to a previous report, the EDL decided to hold the protest after being contacted by local residents about the plans for the educational centre. EDL supporters have previously been involved in hate crimes in the local area- three men were sentenced last year for racially aggravated criminal damage relating to a hate attack on a mosque in Hartlepool.  It is a bitter shame that the EDL, whose presence is likely to be disruptive and possibly violent, should once again create such fear that those living in the community should feel the need to flee their community.

Yesterday’s publication of the Leveson Inquiry report features in the major broadsheet papers today – The Independent, Daily Telegraph, Guardian and The Times (£). The coverage looks at the implications of the report and its recommendations, the Government’s response, as well as the divisions that have emerged between the coalition parties and the opposition Labour party on the recommendations. Whilst all of the main parties are in agreement on the need for press reform, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have come out in favour of pushing ahead with Lord Leveson’s recommendations,  including the introduction of statutory underpinning to independent press regulation. David Cameron, on the other hand, has expressed strong scepticism for any law “which has the potential to infringe free speech and a free press”, despite a recent poll showing strong public support for reformed press regulation underpinned by legislation. The papers are, predictably, averse to any form of statute.

The Independent’s front page and headline, ‘Tomorrow’s fish and chip paper’ states “Lord Justice Leveson’s hopes that his proposals would receive broad political support were crushed”, and notes the “unprecedented split in the Coalition” on moving forward. An editorial iterates the paper’s support for many of the report’s recommendations rejecting, however, any statutory underpinning to a new press watchdog. The paper describes the prospect as “not only unnecessary, but undesirable” and refers to the “very real dangers” of any press law.

The Daily Telegraph similarly expresses hostility to legislation interfering with press regulation. An editorial today firmly states, ‘Let us implement the Leveson Report, without a press law’.

The Times (£) front page, headlining with ‘Cameron spikes Press law’, refers to the recommended composition of a new independent regulatory body; “serving editors should no longer adjudicate on complaints and should also lose responsibility for the industry’s code of practice”.  Like all of the above, the paper opposes any press law, stating in an editorial, much like the Independent that legislation “would not be right in principle and is not needed”.

The only paper to stand apart on the recommendations for statutory underpinning to independent regulation is The Guardian. The front page story, ‘PM defies press victims’, states that Cameron has “found himself accused of betrayal by the victims of phone hacking and isolated from his coalition partners” in rejecting any legislative underpinning. It describes Leveson’s proposals as ‘subtly’ “designed to win over those fearful of direct state interference in a free press”. An editorial argues that the PM “should think carefully before dismissing significant parts” of the report, and adds “The press should treat it with respect”.

The paper nevertheless warns that “the drafting of the Leveson statute requires great care, real deliberation and cross-party support to avoid endless amendments and additions that move it from light touch to something more sinister”. An interesting article in the Guardian Comment is Free by the journalist Harold Evans, tackles the report’s glossing over questions on media ownership stating it “skates over the crucial issue of ownership” and points to the “backroom deal that gave News International such sway over British public life.”

As for the Leveson report itself, commendable in its contents is its appraisal of the press’s reporting on minorities, refugees and asylum seekers. In sections of the report dealing with biased reporting on Muslims, and its impact on public discourse, (see Vol 2, pp. 486-487 and pp. 668-673), the report notes “a significant tendency” in the press concerning negative representations of minorities and women “which leads to the publication of prejudicial or pejorative references to race, religion…”. It adds that a new regulator must “address these issues as a matter of priority” and “permit third party complaints” as a way of rectifying the lack of redress posed by the extant PCC Editors’ Code of Practice. The relevant paragraphs state:

“[W]hen assessed as a whole, the evidence of discriminatory, sensational or unbalanced reporting in relation to ethnic minorities, immigrants and/or asylum seekers, is concerning. The press can have significant influence over community relations and the way in which parts of society perceive other parts. While newspapers are entitled to express strong views on minority issues, immigration and asylum, it is important that stories on those issues are accurate, and are not calculated to exacerbate community divisions or increase resentment. Although the majority of the press appear to discharge this responsibility with care, there are enough examples of careless or reckless reporting to conclude that discriminatory, sensational or unbalanced reporting in relation to ethnic minorities, immigrants and/or asylum seekers is a feature of journalistic practice in parts of the press, rather than an aberration.

“Overall, the evidence in relation to the representation of women and minorities suggests that there has been a significant tendency within the press which leads to the publication of prejudicial or pejorative references to race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or physical or mental illness or disability. Whether these publications have also amounted to breaches of the Editors’ Code in every case is debatable, but in the ultimate analysis is little to the point. That failure has, in the main, been limited to a section of the press and may well stem from an undue focus on seeking to reflect the views (even if unsuccessfully) of a particular readership. A new regulator will need to address these issues as a matter of priority, the first steps being to amend practice and the Code to permit third party complaints.”

One of the issues highlighted by ENGAGE in our written and oral testimony to the Leveson Inquiry (available here and here), was the inadequacy of the PCC Editors’ Code of Practice in dealing with complaints surrounding inflammatory, discriminatory and inaccurate reporting on Islam and Muslim
s. We stated in our recommendations to Lord Hunt (available here), that a reformed regulator should introduce a ‘third party’ discrimination clause to correct this failing in the PCC’s regulatory remit.

That the Leveson report contains such recommendations is significant. The role of the media in stoking Islamophobia has been documented in publications by for example, Peter Oborne- ‘Muslims Under Siege’. If a new Editors’ Code of Practice were to include a clause permitting third party complaints, this would be a significant step in providing an avenue for the redress of grievances created by irresponsible reporting which impact on the Muslim community as a whole. However, if a new regulator is to command public confidence it is imperative that it is truly independent- even if this requires statutory underpinning. As Lord Leveson observed in his statement yesterday, any system of self-regulation essentially amounts to the industry “marking its own homework”.

The executive summary of the Leveson report is available here.

The full report, in four volumes, is available here.

BBC News reports on a controversy involving schools in Lancashire where Muslim students are being urged to boycott meat used in preparation of school meals because of concerns over its compliance with accredited halal slaughter.

The Lancashire Council of Mosques (LCM) stated that the meat suppliers used by the local council do not meet the correct criteria for halal food. Hanif Dudhwala of the LCM said “The county council should pick suppliers who are accredited to the Lancashire Council of Mosques and until they can find those suppliers there is no reason why they cannot give Muslim children vegetarian options or fish options.”

The report states that the LCM set its criteria for halal after consulting with Muslim scholars in Lancashire. However, according to the BBC, the leader of the county council, Geoff Driver, “said it was “unacceptable” to use meat from animals which had not been stunned.” He stated that “This is non-negotiable”.

“This is acceptable to Muslims in the rest of the country and I am really, really sorry if the Lancashire Council of Mosques won’t accept that.”

“It is misleading to say the suppliers we have chosen are not accredited Halal suppliers – the body which accredited our suppliers was the body which accredited the meat for the Olympic Games.”

The issue of religious slaughter has become increasingly pertinent in public and political discourse in recent years and is often portrayed as a trade-off between animal rights and religious rights. In Europe, the issue has often been couched in a way that specifically refers to religious slaughter in the Islamic tradition, thereby singling out Muslims for criticism but not kosher meat or Jewish communities. In particular, it has been picked up by the Islamophobic far-right who instrumentalise the issue of halal slaughter under the guise of animal welfare to attack Muslims.

The issue has been particularly prominent in the Netherlands (where religious slaughter without stunning is now banned), and in France. Just this week, Poland’s courts ruled slaughter without stunning as unconstitutional which is likely to have a significant impact on the country’s Muslim and Jewish populations.

In the UK, the government has undertaken a public consultation on the ‘welfare of animals at the time of killing’ in response to an EU council regulation on the ‘protection of animals at the time of killing’. The regulation however, “respects the freedom of religion and the right to manifest religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance, as enshrined in Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union”.

With Lord Justice Leveson’s final report on press regulation now published, Prime Minister David Cameron is due to make a statement on the report at 15.00 today. You can watch him make his statement live on, as well as on BBC iPlayer.

There is also live coverage on the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph and the BBC.

The executive summary of the Leveson report is available to read online here.

The full report is available here.

Ahead of the vote on enhanced observer status for Palestine at the UN General assembly today, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, laid before the House of Commons the Government’s intention on voting on the issue.

In a statement to the House yesterday, the Foreign Secretary set out “to inform the House of discussions the Government has had about this with the Palestinian leadership, and how we intend to proceed.”

Reinforcing the Government’s firm belief on returning to the negotiation table, Hague said the Government’s preference, and its diplomacy to date, had been focused on “ask[ing] Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas not to move a resolution at the UN General Assembly for the time being.”

“Our view was that it would be better to give the US administration the opportunity to set out a new initiative. We pointed out that a UN resolution would be depicted by some as a move away from bilateral negotiations with Israel. We were also concerned about the considerable financial risks to the Palestinian Authority, at a time when their situation is already precarious, if a vote led to a strong backlash from Israel and within the US political system.

The arguments advanced to deter the Palestinian Authority as bizarre indeed. As if to suggest that the Palestinians would do well not to antagonise Israel by pressing ahead with a vote at the UN when Israel has in its power the ability to cease tax revenue payments to the PA, or indeed, to force Israel back to bilateral negotiations by improving Palestinian standing in the international arena. To evince arguments buttressing the Palestinians’ relative weakness to the Israelis as a reason not to provoke the stronger party is disturbing to say the least. It is a threat made by the Israelis with Avigdor Lieberman, the hardline Foreign Minister threatening “to withhold Palestine’s tax revenues, to cut off their electricity and water supplies and to flood the occupied territories with new settlements if they go ahead with the UN vote,” according to EU Observer.

With the ball in Abbas’s court, Hague explained the Government’s conditions to voting positively on the motion if presented to the UNGA. He said, “…while there is no question of the United Kingdom voting against the resolution, in order to vote for it we would need certain assurances or amendments.

“The first is that the Palestinian Authority should indicate a clear commitment to return immediately to negotiations without preconditions.

“The second assurance relates to membership of other specialised UN agencies and action in the International Criminal Court.

“Our country is a strong supporter across all parties of international justice and the International Criminal Court. We would ultimately like to see a Palestinian state represented throughout all the organs of the United Nations. However we judge that if the Palestinians were to build on this resolution by pursuing ICC jurisdiction over the Occupied Territories at this stage it could make a return to negotiations impossible. This is extremely important given that we see 2013 as a crucial year for the reasons I have described for the Middle East Peace Process.

“…we would like to see language in the resolution which does not prejudge any deliberations by the United Nations Security Council, and for it to be clear that the resolution does not apply retrospectively.

“Up until the time of the vote itself we will remain open to voting in favour of the resolution, if we see public assurances by the Palestinians on these points.

“…in the absence of these assurances, the United Kingdom would abstain on the vote. This would be consistent with our strong support for the principle of Palestinian statehood but our concern that the resolution could set the peace process back.”

The Foreign Secretary’s statement is hard to digest without contemplating a degree of double-speak at play. Hague states that the UK is “a strong supporter across all parties of international justice and the International Criminal Court” but goes on to argue a prerequisite to Britain’s support for Palestine is its abandoning its right to justice and redress of legal grievance at the ICC.

Sam Kiley for Sky News notes the implications of the pre-conditions set down by Hague. “What he [Hague] means is that UN observer status could give the Palestinians a platform for challenging Israel in an international court, thereby strengthening its position on issues such as settlements, which are illegal under international law, and the “right of return” for Arabs who fled their homes in what is now Israel in 1948 and 1967 – which is enshrined by UN resolution 194.

“In bilateral negotiations these are issues for negotiation and dilution.

“There is little room for such finesse in an international court room.”

An interesting dilemma for the Palestinians indeed – to seek the UK’s support for enhanced observer status or not given that her support comes at the cost of issues like challenging Israel over the illegal Jewish settlements, Palestinian refugees’ right of return, the status of Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states. The UK’s support at this price would make any semblance of a Palestinian state in the future a bleak one indeed. It is shameful that the Government should place on the Palestinians the burden of choosing between preserving its rights under international law or garnering the UK’s support for its bid.

The Hobson’s choice the UK presents the Palestinians is a severe one when one considers that among priorities for the Conservative government elected in 2010 was changing the law on universal jurisdiction to allow Israelis suspected of war crimes to enter the UK without fear of arrest and prosecution. Is the UK’s “strong support” for “international justice and the International Criminal Court” demonstrated by its own actions?

The shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, responded to Hague’s preconditions on UK support for the vote saying,

“It is also a matter of record that Israel is not a party to the ICC treaty, and does not accept its jurisdiction within its own boundaries. Given that, as recently as two weeks ago, the British Government were urging Israel to adhere to international law, will the Foreign Secretary explain why the UK Government now apparently wish to exempt it from possible actions in the ICC for any future breaches of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories?”

“Does he [Hague] really believe that threats issued by a Republican-controlled Congress to punish the Palestinians for taking this diplomatic step are a reasonable basis on which to determine British policy? Does he really believe that Israel’s threat to withhold tax and customs revenues that it collects on behalf of the Palestinians, which legally belong to the Palestinian
s, are a reasonable basis on which to determine British policy on this vote? When will the Foreign Secretary understand that statehood for the Palestinians is not a gift to be given, but a right to be acknowledged?

“If the United Kingdom abstains tomorrow it will not be a measure of our growing influence, it will be confirmation of our growing irrelevance to meaningful engagement in the search for peace. Abstention tomorrow would be an abdication of Britain’s responsibilities.”

The Honorary Vice President of the Conservative Middle East Council, Nicholas Soames MP accused Hague of adopting a “one-sided and grossly unfair” position.

The conditions set down by the UK to the Palestinians are indeed one-sided and grossly unfair. Perhaps no more so than for its demonstrating that while the UK demands that Muslims condemn acts of terrorism, it willingly frustrates the ability of Palestinians and their supporters from pursuing Israelis for war crimes committed in the Occupied Territories.

Ahead of the publication of the final report of the Leveson Inquiry this afternoon, the Guardian yesterday reported on a YouGov poll commissioned by the Media Standards Trust into public opinion on media regulation. The poll, conducted between the 21st and 23rd November with a sample of 3620 adults suggests overwhelming public support for statutory regulation of the press.

Some of the key findings are summarised below:

•  60% of respondents agreed that the government should implement Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations, compared to 6% who agreed that the recommendations shouldn’t be implemented. 34% stated that they didn’t know.

•  47% of respondents stated that they ‘trust Lord Justice Leveson to make fair and effective recommendations on regulating the press’, whilst 33% said that they didn’t.

•  When asked how newspapers should be regulated, 79% chose the option ‘There should be an independent press regulator, established by law, which deals with complaints and decides what sanctions there should be if journalists break agreed codes of conduct.’ The figure varied between 74% (The Sun) and 90% (The Guardian) across readers of different newspapers. Only 9% agreed that newspapers should establish their own body to deal with complaints and decide what sanctions there should be if journalists break agreed codes of conduct.

•  86% of respondents agreed that there is a risk of ‘a repeat of unethical and illegal practices’ such as those revealed during the Leveson Inquiry if the press continue to regulate themselves. Only 5% agreed there was no risk.

•  82% agreed that newspapers should be obliged by law to join a regulatory system. Only 5% believe that newspapers should have the choice to opt out.

•  84% agreed that ‘after the phone hacking it is no longer acceptable for newspaper owners and editors to control the system for dealing with complaints about press behaviour”, whilst only 4% disagreed.

•  Only 11% agreed with the statement, ‘we can trust newspaper editors to ensure that journalists act in the public interest’, whilst 70% disagreed.

The results support other recent polls which suggest a public desire for independent regulation of the press. This includes a poll commissioned by Hacked Off in October, which found that 78% of those polled support an independent regulator established by law. Another poll commissioned by The Sun found that 42% of respondents supported media self- regulation, however it also found that almost two thirds of people trust neither politicians nor the media to set up a fair system of press regulation.

The results come during a political and media frenzy pending the publication of Lord Justice Leveson’s report. Although over 70 MPs, and a number of academics have expressed their support for some form of statutory regulation, a letter published in yesterday’s Guardian– signed by 86 parliamentarians- expressed opposition to any statutory press regulation.

Lord Justice Leveson’s report has been shrouded in secrecy, resulting in confusion and speculation as to how the Government may respond. The Daily Mail over the weekend reported that the government will reject ‘full-blown statutory regulation’. However, The Guardian yesterday reported that Whitehall appears ‘set to reject’ proposals for media self-regulation “and will open the door to a form of regulation that is more independent of the industry.” It cites comments make by Prime Minister David Cameron in Prime Minister’s questions this week. He stated:

“Whatever the changes we make, we want a robust and free press in our country.

“One of the key things that the Leveson inquiry is trying to get to the bottom of is how can you have a strong, independent regulatory system so you don’t have to wait for the wheels of the criminal justice system or the libel system to work.

“People should be able to rely on a good regulatory system as well to get the sort of redress they want, whether that is prominent apologies or fines for newspapers or the other things that are clearly so necessary.”

You can read ENGAGE’s recommendations for a reformed press regulator in our letter lord Lord Hunt, here.

The full results of the poll are available here.

The Independent and local newspaper, The Argus, have both reported on the arrest of a 16 year old boy for throwing ham at Broadfield mosque in Crawley, West Sussex.

The Independent states that worshippers witnessed the scene as they left the mosque at around 4pm last Tuesday.

The police arrested and later released the teenager on bail pending further inquiries. Police are also investigating disorder which broke out following the incident.

Sergeant Jim Collen, of Sussex Police said “This was a very unpleasant incident which has naturally caused real anguish and anxiety amongst worshippers at the mosque.

“Sussex Police take all reports of hate crime extremely seriously and this investigation will be no exception.”

“We are aware of a relatively minor altercation that we hope to resolve using our restorative justice programme.

“It must not be allowed to take the focus away from our investigation of the hate crime as this remains our priority.”

This sort of religiously aggravated damage to Muslim property is sadly not uncommon. Only last week it was reported that police are investigating a hate incident in which a cross wrapped in ham was left outside a Muslim family’s home. A number of other incidents have taken place where pig heads have been left on mosque premises (see here, here, here and here).

Independent columnist, Owen Jones, in his latest column for the paper referred to his appearance on BBC Question Time last week, alongside Yvette Cooper, Iain Duncan-Smith and Charles Kennedy, saying the debate on the Israel-Palestine conflict was an example of the “nuance, rather than substantial policies” that divide politicians.

Drawing attention to the increasingly narrow socio-economic backgrounds from which MPs are drawn, Jones discusses the paucity of oppositional politics and policies of difference between the parties. He writes:

“Appearing on Question Time last week with Yvette Cooper, Iain Duncan-Smith and Charles Kennedy, it struck me just how suffocating the political consensus has become. Kennedy – who once courageously spoke out against the obscenity of the Iraq war – could not bring himself to challenge the Government’s line on Israel’s onslaught on Gaza.

“When I pointed out that it was Israel that had broken the ceasefire, and asked which people would tolerate decades of occupation, siege and illegal settlements, it was hugely appreciated by the audience – simply because it was a widespread view that no mainstream politician had attempted to articulate. In a frustratingly curtailed debate on welfare with Duncan-Smith, I found myself despairing that I was being forced to do what the Labour leadership was still failing to do. Opposition, I think they call it.”

The QT programme to which Jones refers aired last week. A discussion on the Gaza bombing ensued following a question from a member of the audience who asked the panel if they thought “Israel was justified in bombing Gaza after months of rocket attacks on Israeli civilians?”

Charles Kennedy, the first to respond, stated that he agreed with the government line that “Israel has the right to defend itself”. He added that “the Palestinians are not justified in doing what they have been doing, but equally, Israel’s response is a council of despair”.

Jones responded saying it was “not true” that Hamas had broken the ceasefire; rather, Israel broke it in October. Jones said no country on earth would tolerate a siege “which stops basic supplies getting in…a 45 year old…brutal occupation…and illegal settlements all over the West Bank in total violation of international law”. He alluded to comments made by Israeli ministers calling for Gaza to be ‘sent back to the middle ages’; for a holocaust to be inflicted on Gaza; as well as comments by the son of former Israeli leader Ariel Sharon, Gilad Sharon, suggesting that ‘Hiroshima’ and ‘Nagasaki’ were possible solutions for Gaza.

Iain Duncan Smith MP described the situation as a ‘tragedy’ and pointed the finger at the west – America, Europe and ‘us’, for having done nothing to aid a resolution in the past few years due to a fixation on the Arab Spring. He spoke of the central role played by Egypt in recent months, and said that with American support a solution must be forged with each side agreeing to acknowledge that the other had a right to exist.

Yvette Cooper MP commented on the upcoming vote at the UN General Assembly to give Palestine enhanced observer status saying it was an opportunity for a diplomatic solution to the conflict. She added that the immediate trigger for the recent escalation in violence was rocket attacks on Israel and that Israel should not have to ‘endure fear’.

Owen Jones raised the point of the support given by the West to Israel, including arms and weaponry, and argued that it was up to the US and EU to exert pressure on Israel.

Recent events have reignited public and political interest in the Middle East conflict, and Jones’ point about the nuances that differentiate different parties is pertinent. Apart from comments on West Bank settlements, none of the representatives from the main parties paid reference, as Jones did, to Israel’s constant flouting of international law and the sheer one-sided nature of the conflict, whereby Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, with the support of the west, is ignored in the constant rehearsal of the line on its ‘right to self-defence’. Nor is any similar regard shown for Israel repeated violations of international law and its inhumane blockade on Gaza.

As one audience member illustrated, when President Ahmedinejad of Iran talks about ‘blowing Israel into the middle ages’, there is ‘wide scrutiny’ whereas when Israeli ministers (or the son of a former Israeli Prime Minister) make remarks to a similar effect little attention, or opprobrium, is heaped  on them.

That the government has, according to The Guardian yesterday, given backing to the Palestinian bid for enhanced status at the UN is a significant step. However, the decision is nonetheless marred with politics. For example, the condition that the Palestinian Authority does not pursue the legitimate aim of referring Israel to the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

Owen Jones claims that “the electorate are thirsty for anything that defies the sterile Westminster consensus”. On the Palestine/Israel issue he is absolutely right and as the Palestinians prepare for the vote at the UN General Assembly on Thursday, the Government has a real opportunity to defy this sterile debate and back the bid for enhanced status.

You can watch the Question Time debate here on BBC iPlayer. The debate on the Israel-Palestine conflict begins at 25.05 mins.

You can write to your MP to raise your concerns about the ongoing conflict via

The media monitoring site Spinwatch draws attention to a rather interesting recent example of BBC ineptitude which seems not to have been picked by the mainstream press.

Hilary Aked on Spinwatch writes of the BBC’s frequently inviting Jonathan Sacerdoti onto the channel during Israel’s most recent bombardment of Gaza under the guise of director of the Institute for Middle Eastern Democracy. What the BBC appear not to have realised, or sought to investigate, was Sacerdoti’s prior and deep involvement in pro-Israeli activism as the former director of public affairs at the Zionist Federation.

Aked notes that Sacerdoti “appeared four times on BBC News between 14-15 November defending Israel’s actions in Gaza, without viewers ever being informed of his history of pro-Israeli activism.”

If viewers were not informed, it was because BBC News took no pains to introduce Sacerdoti as such, or indeed ensure that his interventions were challenged by a pro-Palestinian advocate.

So rattled is Sacerdoti at having been bamboozled, that he “began removing videos, photos and written evidence of his former role with the pro-Israel group hours after our article questioning his BBC appearances appeared.”

According to Spinwatch, “Sacerdoti scrambled to hide the video evidence of his previous appearances for the Zionist Federation in the media.

“The absence of significant details from Sacerdoti’s LinkedIn profile and his subsequent attempts to wipe the proof of his pro-Israel partisanship from the internet beg the question of whether he misrepresented his position to the BBC.”

Whether he willingly misrepresented his position to gain airtime to espouse pro-Israeli views is one matter. To have been allowed to do so without due diligence checks at the BBC is quite another.

In recent years there has been much made by the pro-Israeli lobby of the infamous Balen report, with much money and time spent by pro-Israeli supporters to force the corporation to disclose its contents on suspicion of its alluding to a pro-Palestinian bias at the BBC. While obsessively focused on the Balen report, the lobby seems to have been much less concerned about academic analyses produced by Greg Philo and Mike Berry of the Glasgow University Media Group, or indeed, of that by Tim Llewellyn, former Middle East correspondent for the BBC, which points to a marked and consistent pro-Israeli bias in coverage of the Middle East conflict by the BBC.

Lord David Steel in his review of the book, The Battle for Public Opinion in Europe, published by Middle East Monitor, writes of Llewellyn’s contribution to the book, “I found the chapter by former BBC correspondent Tim Llewellyn particularly disturbing on how biased under pressure BBC reporting of the Israel/Palestine conflicts had become. Let us hope that under the new wise chairman, Chris Patten (one of my successors as President of British charity Medical Aid for Palestinians), things will improve, for he is on record on the subject of the European trade agreement with Israel as saying: “If Europe is to write more cheques, surely we should insist on some political movement.””

It would seem Lord Steel’s hopes are misplaced if the debacle over Sacerdoti’s frequent appearance on BBC News this month is anything to go by.

Raheem Kassam of The Commentator, the website behind the FOI request on BBC newspaper consumption, wrote in last week’s Jewish Chronicle how “efforts [by the pro-Israeli lobby] in highlighting BBC bias over the years have not gone to waste,” adding “I did have the pleasure of stating, live on air, that I was in Israel’s capital when I was in Jerusalem. Previously, they might have bleeped that out.”

If the BBC can barely run background checks to ascertain the persuasion of individuals invited on to speak on significant events, let alone advise viewers of the individual’s bias, it is hardly surprising it missed the fact check on Kassam’s claims to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

You can raise your concerns at the BBC’s apparent breach of its code on due impartiality via its online complaints form here, or in writing to BBC Complaints, PO Box 1922, Darlington, DL3 0UR.