Planned BBC smear on UK Palestinians will rely on Israeli spy source

A man with glasses interviewing someone

John Ware will soon front a new BBC attack on British Palestinians. (BBC/Al Jazeera)

Citing Israeli “terror” allegations, the BBC plans to broadcast an attack on prominent British Palestinians in a television program presented by pro-Israel reporter John Ware.

The Electronic Intifada has learned that the episode of Panorama is likely to be based partly on “confidential evidence” which has almost certainly been provided by Israeli spies.

The BBC and Panorama declined to comment when asked a series of detailed questions about the forthcoming program.

Panorama is the BBC’s flagship current affairs program. The episode is scheduled for 19 February and is titled “Hamas’ Secret Financial Empire.”

Ware’s producer Leo Telling sent out letters last month to at least four prominent British Palestinians and Muslims, offering an opportunity to respond to allegations raised in the episode.

Ware and Telling were also behind a discredited 2019 episode of the show which alleged “anti-Semitism” in Labour, the UK’s main opposition party, during the leadership of Palestine solidarity campaigner Jeremy Corbyn.

The producer wrote that they “intend to broadcast a 30-minute Panorama documentary primarily about Hamas,” the Palestinian resistance group, and “how support for Hamas has also grown beyond Gaza, including in the UK.”

Addressing Anas Altikriti, a prominent British Iraqi campaigner and broadcaster, producer Telling asserted that the program “may also include evidence of the support you have voiced for Hamas, which as you know is designated as a terror group by the UK government.”

As “evidence” of such “support” for “terror,” the producer cited four posts to X (formerly Twitter) by Altikriti, where he called into question some of Israel’s most high-profile atrocity propaganda about the Palestinian military assault on 7 October.

These Israeli narratives have been widely discredited and called into question across the world.

While the producer conceded that “there is currently no evidence (at least, of which we are aware) that 40 babies had been beheaded,” he claimed to have “gathered evidence” of other crimes.

Telling’s equivocal wording comes despite the fact that the “40 babies” claim has been definitively proven to be a total fabrication, and not simply an unproven claim.

Despite Telling trying to give the impression of new evidence, the claims he makes in the letters about Hamas fighters’ alleged behavior on 7 October strongly resembles already discredited and debunked Israeli claims about the alleged killing of babies and alleged sexual violence.

“Babies were shot in the head at very close range,” “women were raped and sexually molested” and “breasts were cut from women” the producer claimed.

But even official Israeli government figures do not support such claims.

The database of names of “Victims of October 7” maintained by Israeli newspaper Haaretz lists the death of one baby that day: 10-month-old Mila Cohen.

According to press reports, Cohen was killed by a stray Palestinian bullet fired in the course of breaking into a settlement home in order to take captives – and not executed as claimed by the BBC.

Furthermore, the graphic Israeli claim the producer put forward about alleged mutilation of a women’s breasts very closely resembles a discredited, fiction-like Israeli account put forward in a now-infamous New York Times piece from December by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Jeffrey Gettleman.

As my colleague Ali Abunimah explained last month: “The article is an emotionally manipulative fraud aimed at justifying or distracting from Israel’s genocide in Gaza.”

Central to the fraudulent Times story was the claim that an Israeli woman called Gal Abdush was raped and killed on 7 October. But Abdush’s family – no friends of the Palestinians – have denied this, insisting there’s is no evidence the woman was raped and saying they were misled by the Times.

Gettleman’s article has sparked growing dissent within the Times newsroom.

An episode of the paper’s high-profile podcast The Daily based on his reporting was scrapped before broadcast “amid a furious internal debate about the strength of the paper’s original reporting on the subject,” The Intercept revealed.

Despite such loud Israeli claims about “mass rape” on 7 October, not a single alleged victim has come forward. The Electronic Intifada Podcast’s livestream and other independent media sources have repeatedly debunked Israel’s “mass rape” story as atrocity propaganda.

A similar letter went out from the Panorama producer to Azzam Tamimi, a prominent British Palestinian academic and broadcaster, who has written two books about Hamas.

The producer similarly accused Tamimi of “support you have voiced for Hamas.”

Instead of tweets, Telling cited two public talks Tamimi gave in November.

In those talks, Tamimi emphasized that Hamas are “a Muslim movement. They train their members on Islamic values before they train them on resistance tactics. And they are told that in warfare in Islam, you don’t ever harm noncombatants.”

Tamimi accused Israel of lying propaganda.

He said that, “the Israeli story [about 7 October] that was marketed to the Westerners was mostly lies. They claimed that Hamas went in, killed civilians and beheaded babies. And it’s nonsense.”

As well as promoting Israeli propaganda narratives, the BBC producer’s letters also twisted basic facts.

Putting the program’s allegations to Altikriti, the producer described one of the campaigner’s tweets as a response to “a post by UK women.”

Yet the tweet Telling cites was actually a response to a pro-Israel lobby group, We Believe in Israel, which was spreading the Israeli propaganda about rape. The group is actually run by a man, Luke Akehurst, and the post in question does not quote women.

After another similar post to X by @Israel – an account run by the Israeli foreign ministry – Altikriti had responded that they were “murdering liars.”

Yet in his letter, producer Telling misleadingly described this as “a post by Israeli women,” neglecting to mention that it was an official government account.

These inaccuracies do not bode well for the integrity of the upcoming BBC program.

The Electronic Intifada has spoken to a third campaigner, a British Palestinian, who has received a similar letter from the same producer. They asked not to be named, citing potential pre-broadcast legal action.

The Electronic Intifada also understands that a fourth recipient of the letters from Telling cited “the Israeli authorities” providing “confidential evidence” against that person.

The context of the letter’s citation of “confidential evidence” suggests that its ultimate source was the Shin Bet, Israel’s local spy agency, notorious for its assassination and torture of Palestinians.

Ware has a long history of promoting the Israeli military and intelligence establishment’s narratives and of relying on Israeli spies as his main sources.

On Monday Altikriti responded to Panorama on X, writing that “I have no idea,” why the BBC were coming to him (a British Muslim campaigner) to comment on a program about Hamas.

“There used to be a time when the BBC’s Panorama … shaped events and public opinion,” Altikriti wrote. “But for a while now, most of its outings seem to be more befitting of CBeebies” – a TV channel for young children.

He said that he would not be taking the BBC’s request for comment seriously and described Ware as “discredited.”

Tamimi also posted to X, quoting Altikriti’s post and writing: “I too received a similar request from the BBC Panorama team. John Ware is a discredited journalist who does not deserve attention.”

“Entirely misleading”

John Ware and Leo Telling were also behind a much criticized episode of Panorama in 2019. “Is Labour Antisemitic?” seemed determined to scupper Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s chances in the then-upcoming election.

The episode relied almost entirely on Israel lobby sources, often without even disclosing the sources’ agendas or names.

In one particularly contentious part of the program, Panorama claimed that two left-wing Labour activists – summoned by party officials for questioning as part of the “anti-Semitism” witch hunt – had asked Jewish party official Ben Westerman, “Are you from Israel?”

Panorama did not seek the activists’ side of the story, or even name them. Rica Bird and Helen Marks – both Jewish women – stridently denied Westerman’s account, and even produced an audio recording which verified their version of events.

Bird later told Al Jazeera that Westerman’s claim was “an absolute lie.”

In a 14,000-word essay later posted to the website of Israel lobby publication Fathom, Ware stood by Westerman as “honest” but speculated that he may have “misremembered.”

An independent barrister tapped by Labour to investigate claims of racism in the party described the episode as “objectively entirely misleading.”

Martin Forde told Middle East Eye last year that “I had a fuller picture [than Panorama] because I interviewed not only some of the participants in the programme; I also interviewed those who hadn’t participated in the programme from the alternative faction.”

Forde was referring to the fact that the episode relied heavily on the partisan claims of pro-Israel lobby group the Jewish Labour Movement, ignoring pro-Corbyn groups like Jewish Voice for Labour.

Eight out of the 10 anonymous Jewish speakers in the episode claiming to have been the victim of “anti-Semitism” in the party were actually current or recent senior JLM figures. The very first speaker was Ella Rose, who was both former JLM director and former officer in the Israeli embassy itself.

But Ware and Panorama’s history of relying on Israeli sources has a much longer history.

Back in 2006, Ware fronted another Panorama attack on British Muslims and Palestinians, titled “Faith, Hate and Charity.” Its primary target was Interpal, a British charity focused on aid to Palestinians.

The episode posited a global Muslim conspiracy, led by Hamas, to use various charities around the world “to avoid being labeled terrorists.”

One of the episode’s primary sources was Reuven Paz, a former senior Shin Bet officer.

An investigation launched by the Charity Commission – the British government’s regulator – soon after Ware’s broadcast ultimately concluded there was no evidence of the documentary’s central claim of an Interpal “terror” link.

The BBC also had to apologize and pay undisclosed libel damages after accepting the program had defamed Waseem Yaqub, former general manager of Islamic Relief UK.

After the program aired, the Muslim Council of Britain called Ware “an agenda-driven pro-Israeli polemicist.”

Israeli spy agencies have for many years falsely accused Palestinians in Britain of being “Hamas affiliates.”

No comment

Telling was a producer on the 2019 Panorama episode but is now executive producer on this episode about Hamas – a promotion perhaps awarded after he helped besmirch Corbyn.

As well as putting the main points of this article to them before publication, John Ware, Leo Telling and the BBC were all asked about the nature of their contact or collaboration with Mossad, Shin Bet, Unit 8200 or other Israeli spy agencies in the making of this upcoming program.

A spokesperson for the BBC declined to comment: “We do not comment on investigations.” Leo Telling also declined to comment.

John Ware declined to comment on the forthcoming program and therefore did not deny collaboration with Israeli spy agencies.

But he did deny being “discredited,” and asserted that his 2019 Panorama episode had been “vindicated in court proceedings.”

He did not deny neglecting the basic journalistic duty to seek Bird and Marks’ side of the story. But his Fathom essay alleged that Westerman “could not remember” the women’s names.

He also asserted that “Mr. Forde’s criticism was itself objectively entirely misleading” and pointed to another 14,000-word essay on the Fathom website.

Finally, he denied that his 2006 program had relied heavily on the Shin Bet.




Thanks. We're out here today collecting on behalf of the BBC's Finance and Business Division. And when you hear what we've just uncovered, you're going to get out the jolly old Visa card and top up your license fee in appreciation. Now then. Let me tell you about Hamas. They've got these tunnels. All through the financial system. Just imagine- innocent bankers and hedge fund CEOs sleeping peacefully in their beds, and all the while right underneath the floor terrorists are digging away, hauling out funds and transferring money orders without so much as a by your leave. It's enough to make a national security branch director tear out an underling's hair. And wait till you hear about these so-called "charities". No, we have plenty of time- the light isn't going to change. Our own Mr. Ware is seated over there, you can just make him out at the judge's table with his traffic control device. Excuse me- excuse me! (pause) He drove off. Bloody anti-Semite. This road's chock full of them. I tell you, we need some tougher laws. Am I right, Mr. Ware? (louder) I said, am I right?

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Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London. He is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada and co-host of our podcast.

He is author of the bestselling book Weaponising Anti-Semitism: How the Israel Lobby Brought Down Jeremy Corbyn (OR Books, 2023).