1. Jonathan Freedland's untruth
Freedland:“Back in 1971 was this the first ever case where a commercial scheduled passenger jet had been hijacked, taken over by a government?”
Learmount: “I think that was pretty much unique at the time…”
BBC Radio 4 hosts a weekly programme, The Long View, where Jonathan Freedland takes a prominent news item and links it to similar past events. This week (29 June 2021) he looked at the air hijacking of a civilian airliner to kidnap a political dissident on a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania. The aircraft was forced by Belarus fighter aircraft to land in Minsk on May 23.
The BBC website claims the latest programme “explores the history of state sponsored air-hijacking”. The claim is false; Freedland used his BBC platform to conceal Israel’s pioneering role in introducing “state sponsored air hijacking” to the Middle East.
The Long View produced guests to discuss two cases where military aircraft forced a scheduled international civilian flight to divert from its planned route in order to seize political figures whom “an authoritarian regime” wanted to silence; the recent Belarus air piracy and a 1971 Libyan state hijacking of a British ciivilian flight to seize two Sudanese military officers.
At one point (10.45 in) Freedland asks “long time aviation expert”, David Learmount, Consulting Editor of Flight Global: “Back in 1971 was this the first ever case where a commercial scheduled passenger jet had been hijacked, taken over by a government?”
Learmount replies: “I think that was pretty much unique at the time…”
That claim was never questioned, even though Freedland must have known – half way competent programme researchers would have told him - that sixteen years earlier Israeli warplanes had forced a Syrian Airways scheduled flight over the Mediterranean to divert from international airspace to Lydda Airport in Israel.
Israel's Foreign Minister Sharett confided to his diary at the time that the 1954 hijacking of the Dakota airliner was part of a plan "to get hostages in order to obtain the release of our prisoners in Damascus", five soldiers captured four days earlier on a spy mission in Syria. Sharett added:
"I have no reason to doubt the truth of the factual affirmation of the U.S. State Department that our action was without precedent in the history of international practice…our military leaders seem to presume that the state of Israel may - or even must - behave in the realm of international relations according to the laws of the jungle."
Whilst shutting his eyes to Israel’s record, Freedland approvingly shared the response of the UK Government Minister to the Libyan state hijacking:
“Her majesty's government takes a most serious view of the action taken by the Libyan authorities which is clearly in complete violation of International civil aviation practice. On hearing of the matter I immediately summoned the Libyan ambassador and told him that his government's action had been outrageous. I protested in the strongest possible terms at an action which we condemned as inexcusable. I demanded that the Sudanese who had been removed from the plane should be released at once and allowed to proceed to Khartoum or to return to London as they wished I demanded an apology and told him that his government's action was bound to have a severe effect on our relations with Libya."
British outrage at the 1971 air piracy was not obvious with Israel in 1954. Far from Israel's behaviour having a "severe effect on our relations with" the apartheid state, Britain and Israel joined with France just over a year later to invade Egypt and seize the Suesz Canal. Israel felt able to shoot down a Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114 in 1973, killing 108 passengers and crew. This savagery meant other aircraft told to divert to Israel in later years knew they had to comply or be shot down.
Why did the BBC long view stop at 1971 rather than 1954? Were BBC researchers really unaware of the Israeli extended history of air piracy or that Israel insists on its right to engage in acts of air piracy when it sees fit?
There would seem to be no defence for Freedland to omit pioneering Israel from his supposed “history of state sponsored air-hijacking” but I suspect the deception will be defended on the basis that a Dakota civilian airliner was not jet powered.
The BBC might well claim that Freedland specified “authoritarian states” and Israel is a democracy, however flawed by its denial of any civil rights to the millions of Palestinians under its control.
Airbrushing Israel’s introduction of air piracy into the Middle East is a deception, from a BBC programme run by a committed defender of the crimes of that state. Freedland's question and his acceptance of the answer by Mr. Learmount is indefensible.
1st July 2021
Below is the BBC's reply which
- ignores the untruthfulness of Freedland's claim that the 1971 Libyan and not the 1954 Israeli air piracy was "the first ever case where a commercial scheduled passenger [aircraft] had been hijacked, taken over by a government”.
- focuses on my emotional state - "unhappiness" - supposedly because the BBC didn't "highlight" Israel's air piracy. My point is not that the Israeli crime wasn't highlighted but that the Libyan example was falsely claimed to be "the first ever case".
- asserts that presenter Jonathan Freedland's airbrushing out of Israel's traiblazing role in state air piracy and attributing that role to an Arab regime "is not indicative of any bias", despite Mr. Freedland's very prominent role defending the Israeli state and attacking its opponents.
The programme concealed from the public a historical fact that Israel introduced air piracy into the Middle East and falsely attributed that innovation to Libya. Will the BBC issue a correction? To be continued.
2. Reply from BBC Complaints Team to complaint
Jul 6, 2021, 6:54 AM Reference CAS-6831569-T2G8T0
Dear Mr Napier
Thank you for contacting us regarding Radio 4’s ‘The Long View’ which was broadcast on 29 June.
We note your unhappiness that the programme did not highlight the 1954 hijacking of a Syrian civilian airliner by Israel.
This edition of ‘The Long View’ looked at the history of state-sponsored air hijacking and focused on two examples, one of them recent and another from half a century ago.
This selective approach is in keeping with the nature of the series and it is not indicative of any bias. It would, of course, not have been possible to provide a comprehensive history of this practice within the space of a show lasting 28 minutes.
Whilst we appreciate that you would have liked to hear Israel’s past involvement in such actions discussed, choosing the information to include in any programme is a subjective matter and one which we know not every member of our audience will feel we get right every time.
Nevertheless, we do value your feedback about this. All complaints are sent to senior management and we have included your points in our overnight report.
These reports are among the most widely read sources of feedback in the company and ensures that your concerns have been seen by the right people quickly. This helps inform their decisions about current and future content.
Thank you once again for getting in touch.
BBC Complaints Team
3. Reply to the BBC Complaints Team: 07 07 2021
For the avoidance of doubt I did not complain, as you suggest, "that the programme did not highlight the 1954 hijacking of a Syrian civilian airliner by Israel" or even that the incident was not included in the broadcast. My complaint is that Mr. Freedland claimed that Libya rather than Israel introduced the practice into the Middle East - this is false.
Will the BBC please issue a correction?