Rattling Israel's BBC tormentors

A controversial ambassador more than holds her own

Tzipi Hotovely

A reliable sign that someone has managed to puncture one of the BBC’s doctrinal falsehoods is when an interviewer is sufficiently rattled to keep interrupting that individual by intoning the same false accusation that has just been persuasively refuted, or unhappily and needlessly mumbling about “right of reply”. 

These enlightening theatrics occurred last evening on BBC TV’s Newsnight, when anchor Emily Maitlis grilled Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s new ambassador to the UK, in her first broadcast interview. You can watch it here on BBC iPlayer at about 35 minutes in.

Hotovely, Israel’s former deputy foreign minister, is highly controversial because of her profile as an Israeli religious nationalist. Lefties in both Israel and Britain therefore regard her as a far-right racist colonialist warmongering white supremacist (her parents were actually immigrants from Soviet Georgia). Others may think she is truthful, principled and direct.

The Newsnight item was ostensibly about what Britain might learn from Israel’s “green” vaccination passport. Maitlis, however, appeared to be intent upon two other purposes: to skewer Hotovely personally for her supposed extremism, and to skewer the State of Israel for its supposed extremism.

Thus much was predictable. Even so, the bare-faced falsehoods the BBC disseminates about Israel do take the breath away. 

In her introduction to the topic, Maitlis noted concerns that the introduction of a British vaccination passport might widen social divisions. Then she said this: 

But in Israel, where the Palestinian population has not been inoculated at anywhere near the rate of the Israeli population, there’s plenty of concern about the passport’s ability to widen the gulf. 

Subsequently noting Israel’s impressive achievement in getting nearly 60 per cent of its population fully vaccinated, she nevertheless added: 

…but the roll-out to Palestinian citizens has been much slower at 0.5 per cent. 

Woa! Stop right there! She appeared to be suggesting that Israel was discriminating against its own Arab citizens by vaccinating them at a slower rate. This is totally untrue. Israeli Arabs have been offered the vaccination in exactly the same way as every other Israeli citizen. The 0.5 per cent figure presumably applies to the Palestinian Arabs living in the disputed territories outside Israel.  

Maitlis seemed to be conflating Israeli Arabs, who are Israeli citizens, with Palestinian Arabs who are not Israeli citizens but inhabit those disputed territories beyond Israel. Under the Oslo Accords, their health needs are delivered by the Palestinian Authority.

Possibly through sloppiness and ignorance, Maitlis proceeded to deepen this confusion. She told Hotovely that many Palestinians “right on your doorstep” hadn’t been vaccinated. This sounded like she was referring to those living in the disputed territories outside Israel. But then she went on to suggest that this would exacerbate “already existing inequalities” between vaccinated and non-vaccinated communities  and that “in Israel that divide is profound”. Which seemed to reinforce the impression that she was actually referring to Israeli Arabs — or possibly to Israeli Arabs and the Palestinians in the disputed territories, on the basis that she doesn’t understand the difference.

It was a pity that Hotovely didn’t pick her up on this confusion over who is and is not entitled to be an Israeli citizen. This elision is perpetrated time and again to blame Israel for alleged discrimination against people who aren’t its citizens because they don’t live in Israel and to whom it therefore owes no duty of care.

Nevertheless, Hotovely proceeded to hole other falsehoods below the waterline. She pointed out that the Palestinian Authority hadn’t wanted Israel to provide the Palestinian Arabs with a vaccination programme. The PA had instead wanted to provide it for them itself, and had done just that by purchasing doses of the Russian Sputnik vaccine. 

This unanswerable fact so wrong-footed Maitlis that she pulled out what she presumably believed was her killer point — that six Israeli ultra-leftist NGOs had said Israel had a “legal, moral and ethical” obligation to deliver Covid vaccinations to the Palestinians.

Hotovely kept her cool and responded with the first of her two zingers of the evening. “Let me ask you, Emily,” she said, “would you actually impose getting vaccines [on] the leaders of the Palestinians? Would you actually say [they had to] accept Israeli access and Israeli help? When they’re not interested?”

Presented with this unanswerable point, Maitlis started to talk over her by robotically intoning “legal, moral and ethical obligation”. Hotoveley, however, wasn’t having any of it and proceeded to drive her point home. Patiently, she insisted:

But you’re not answering my question. My question is very simple. Can you impose receiving the vaccine on populations [whose] leadership wants to be in charge of the programme? You’re patronising the Palestinians. 

At this point, a very small lightbulb seemed to go on inside Maitlis’s head as a result of this unexpected line of response. Incredulously, she asked: 

You’re telling me that the Palestinians didn’t want to take up the vaccinations?

Oh dear. Replied Hotovely: 

No no, they had their own programme, they bought the Russian vaccine, they had a agreement with the WHO and they wanted to run their own programme and I think we need to respect that. And when they asked for Israel’s help, we were there to help.

Boom! With the collapse of that line of attack, Maitlis switched to safer ground: the presumed awfulness of both Hotovely herself and the State of Israel that she represents. 

So it was that an item on the issue of vaccination passports found it necessary to accuse Israel of having proposed last year to annex up to one-third of the “West Bank”; and to accuse Hotovely, a former “settlements minister”, of being such a right-wing religious extremist that her appointment as ambassador had provoked 2000 liberal British Jews to petition against it. Did she or did she not, demanded Maitlis, support the “two-state solution”? Another presumed “gotcha!” moment.

To which Hotovely merely smiled, said how gratified she had been by the warm response to her arrival from the Jewish community, and calmly delivered her second zinger of the evening. More pragmatic options were needed, she said, than the “two-state solution”:

You cannot speak about a formula when the Palestinians aren’t willing to sit and negotiate with Israel. They’re not interested in any two-state solution. 

Presented with this further unanswerable truth, Maitlis desperately spluttered — again while Hotovely was speaking — something about needing to provide “the right of reply to that point”. 

From all of which we might make two observations. The first is that this was an impressive debut appearance by Tzipi Hotovely in front of Britain’s anti-Israel inquisition. Throughout this arraignment she remained calm, factual and pleasant while delivering facts that punctured the lies (and which many Brits will not have heard before).

The second is that, as illustrated by this encounter, the BBC seems to be taking its talking points not just from the Guardian, as it has done for many years, but also now from extreme-leftist NGOs who appear to be setting the BBC’s agenda. No wonder its poor presenters seem to have had their brains scrambled.

Welcome to Britain, ambassador.

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