Anthony Reuben, BBC journalist serving Israel

Anthony Reuben, BBC Head of Statistics

By Nureddin Sabir
Editor, Redress Information & Analysis

The BBC has crossed a new threshold in its pro-Israel propaganda. It has appointed a journalist with a solid, right-wing Zionist background who has produced one of the most distorted apologies for Israeli war crimes ever written in the corporation’s history.

The journalist in question, Anthony Reuben, is “Head of Statistics”, a role created in February, he claims in his Linkedin profile, specifically for him.

His background, according to the profile, includes an internship at the Jerusalem Post, a notoriously right-wing Israeli newspaper which is vocal in its support of Israel’s occupation.

Last month Reuben wrote an article headlined “Caution needed with Gaza casualty figures“. The article was published in the BBC website’s Middle East section, which is headed by the notorious Israel flag-waver, Raffi Berg (see “BBC editor tells staff to be soft on Israel” and “BBC News website editor strikes again for Israel”, among others).

Reuben wrote his article at a time when 1,948 Palestinians had been killed in Israel’s onslaught on Gaza, the majority of them men.

“An incredibly twisted use of statistics”

Using spurious reasoning, Reuben said the fact that more men than women had been killed proved that Israel’s attacks were not indiscriminate but were aimed only at fighting men.

Anthony Reuben

Anthony Reuben previously worked for the Jerusalem Post, a notoriously right-wing Israeli newspaper which is vocal in its support of Israel’s occupation

He wrote: “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.”

But, as the Electronic Intifada website observes,

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.

Furthermore, as the academic Jana Krause argues,

Assessing estimates on civilian versus combatant deaths requires understanding of civilian behaviour on the ground. A potential explanation other than combatant roles could be that families expect young men to be the first ones to leave shelters in order to care for hurt relatives, gather information, look after abandoned family homes or arrange food and water…

Nonetheless, as the Electronic Intifada says, “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.

It is, the Electronic Intifada adds, “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”.

Drone footage reveals the shocking extent of the indiscriminate damage done to Gaza City by the Israeli Wehrmacht’s 50-day bombardment in July and August 2014

“An appalling piece of journalism

Reuben’s deliberate distortion prompted Chris Gunness, spokesperson for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which deals with Palestine’s refugees, to condemn it as “an appalling piece of journalism”, according to the print version of the British magazine Private Eye.

For its part, UNRWA complained to the BBC about Reuben’s twisted interpretation of the death toll statistics, and this resulted in the 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” – being removed from the article several days later.

Despite this, 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 distorted one he wrote in August.

Consequently, Palestine solidarity activists have written an open letter to the BBC’s director-general, Tony Hall, calling for Reuben’s removal from all reporting on Palestine.

What you can do

The letter is available on the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s website for the public to sign and will be delivered on 29 September. It notes that the views which are apparent in the Jerusalem Post “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 calls 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.”

Reuben, Berg and other Israel flag wavers are only one part of the the BBC’s problems. The BBC’s entire coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the problem.

Eight years ago the BBC’s governing body commissioned an independent report which concluded that BBC coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “does not consistently constitute a full and fair account of the conflict but rather, in important respects, presents an incomplete and in that sense misleading picture”. The reasons for this have long been the subject of serious academic studies, the best known of which is Greg Philo’s and Mike Berry’s More Bad News from Israel.

Since the BBC’s independent report, however, matters have got worse, as we have highlighted on a number of occasions.

This is now a matter of grave public concern because not only is the BBC a publicly-funded news organisation, but it is also self-regulated, which means that it can more or less get away with anything.

It is past time to act.

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