An open letter to the BBC’s Director General, written by Palestine solidarity activists, is calling for the removal of BBC journalist Anthony Reuben from all reporting on Palestine following the publication of an online article in which he attempts to sanitize Israel’s killing in Gaza.
Reuben is the BBC’s “Head of Statistics,” a role created in February, he claims in his Linkedin profile, specifically for him.
Writing as “Head of Statistics” in August, Reuben authored an article for the BBC website headlined “Caution needed with Gaza casualty figures.”
When he wrote the article, 1,948 Palestinians had been killed in Israel’s assault on Gaza, the majority of them men.
Reuben uses the fact that more men than women had been killed as an opportunity to argue that Israel was carrying out targeted attacks, aimed only at fighting men, and wasn’t pursuing the wholesale slaughter of civilians and the wanton destruction of homes and infrastructure.
He writes: “If the Israeli attacks had been ‘indiscriminate,’ as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women.”
BBC gives credence to Israeli claims
It is an incredibly twisted use of statistics in an attempt to spin a story so it backs up the claims of the Israeli government, claims which were being visibly destroyed on television screens and social media on a daily basis.
So why did a supposedly impartial BBC journalist feel the need to try and give credence to those claims?
The answer may lie in Reuben’s journalistic background. His Linkedin profile shows that he completed an internship at The Jerusalem Post, a notoriously right-wing Israeli newspaper which is vocal in its support of Israel’s occupation.
In the open letter to the BBC’s director general, Palestine Solidarity Campaign writes: “The views which are apparent in that Israeli newspaper appear to have seeped into Reuben’s reporting for the BBC. What is more, his writing for the BBC has been quoted approvingly in other right-wing Israeli press, including Times of Israel and Ynet.”
The letter, which is now available on PSC’s website for the public to sign, and will be delivered on 29 September, adds: “We therefore call on the BBC to assure its audiences that Reuben will no longer be assigned to reporting on Palestine and Israel, as his impartiality and journalistic integrity on this subject cannot be guaranteed.”
In the meantime, Reuben continues to write about Gaza for the publicly funded broadcaster. This month, he contributed to an online article titled “Gaza crisis: toll of operations in Gaza,” and links to the one he wrote in August.
This is despite the fact that the August article was condemned by Chris Gunness, spokesperson for UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, as “an appalling piece of journalism.” Gunness was quoted in the British print magazine Private Eye. The article, in the “Media News” section, is not available online.
UNRWA complained to the BBC about Reuben’s twisted interpretation of the death toll statistics, and his offending sentence (“If the Israeli attacks had been ‘indiscriminate,’ as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women”) was removed from the article several days later.
An attempt was also made to insert some balance into the previously one-sided piece, with comments added in from academic Jana Krause explaining that Palestinian men were more likely to be killed than women, not because they were fighters, but because they left shelters to search for food and water and to care for abandoned homes.
However, the fact remains that the BBC, with a stated commitment to balanced and accurate reporting written into its Royal Charter, was willing to publish Reuben’s article in its original form and present it to its audiences as impartial journalism.
Are children fighters too?
The BBC has foisted Israeli and pro-Israel commentators, masquerading as independent experts, on its audiences at times of full-scale Israeli attacks on Gaza.
These allegedly neutral commentators would be used in various ways. During Israel’s November 2012 assault, Guglielmo Verdirame, a professor in international law at Kings College, London, wrote an article for the BBC justifying the attack in legal terms.
Verdirame has also been used by the British-Danish security firm G4S to write a report which attempts to vindicate the company’s involvement in the Israeli prisons where Palestinians, including children, are held and tortured.
In July this year, three weeks into Israel’s most recent assault, the BBC published an article by Eado Hecht which defends Israel’s attacks by providing florid, but unsubstantiated, descriptions of tunnels in Gaza “booby-trapped with explosives.”
Readers were not informed by the BBC that Hecht is a lecturer at the Israeli military’s Command and General Staff College.
With Reuben, the BBC appears to have gone one step further, pushing onto its global audiences a supposedly independent staff journalist who may not be as impartial as he should be.
Reuben could have crunched the tragic statistics on Palestinian children killed by Israel in Gaza — 456 dead when his article was published on 8 August — in order to come to a more realistic conclusion on whether Israel’s attacks were indiscriminate or targeted solely at fighters. But he chose not to.
More children were killed than women — 237 women had been killed at that stage. What conclusions would the BBC’s “Head of Statistics” draw from that figure? That the children, like the men who were also killed in greater numbers than the women, were fighters too?
Large portions of Gaza were decimated by Israel during July and August, reduced to rubble. Towns were flattened, entire families wiped out, water sources destroyed and UN shelters bombed at night.
And during all this, Anthony Reuben, a BBC journalist, used his position to try and spin the story that Israel was doing its best to wage a limited war. And the BBC let him.
There are, the saying goes, lies, damned lies and statistics. And there is also Anthony Reuben and the BBC. When it comes to reporting on Palestine, beware of them both.