The BBC has defended its description of Israel as the “ancestral homeland” of the Palestinian people as a “straightforward summary,” before citing a report by Britain’s first Jewish cabinet minister in 1921.
Richard Hutt, director of the BBC’s executive complaints unit, defended the description used by Middle East Correspondent Tom Bateman in a BBC News report on 5 May 2019, after 74-year old retired engineer Eric Alsbury took issue with it.
Reporting on increasing confrontations between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian protesters at the Gaza border, Bateman said Palestinians were “also seeking a right to return to their ancestral homeland in Israel”.
Alsbury challenged the statement on the grounds of accuracy, but Hutt said it did not breach the BBC’s editorial standards in his written response, sent on Thursday.
Hutt cited several reports and references, including Encyclopaedia Britannica and the United Nations, in defence of Bateman’s description, as well as a report from Herbert Samuel in 1921, when he was High Commissioner for Palestine.
In this role, Samuel has been described as “the first Jew to lead the historic land of Israel for 2,000 years,” but his appointment was deeply divisive, with peers at the time questioning “the wisdom of sending a Jewish Administrator to the country at this moment”.
Samuel was the first nominally-practicing Jew to serve as a British cabinet minister, and the first to head a major British political party, after he assumed the leadership of the Liberal Party in 1921.
Alsbury, who is not Jewish, said it was “incorrect” to call Israel the “ancestral homeland” of the Palestinians, saying: “It may be that Palestinians have lived there in the past, as other nationalities have, but it is not and has never been their ancestral homeland.”
Hutt said the word “nationalities… may not be a helpful way of defining the peoples who have lived there prior to current borders,” adding that there was “ample evidence to support the proposition that the forbears of those who live in Gaza lived in what is now Israel”.
He said: “Reflecting the fact that Palestinians/Arabs have lived for some time in what is now Israel is not a statement on the rights to the land but a summary and I can see no prospect that viewers would have been misled by it”.