A British Jewish community leader is demanding that BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen be replaced following contentious remarks about Israel made in a BBC memo. Andrew Balcombe, chairman of the Zionist Federation of Britain and Ireland, has written to the chair of the BBC Trust, Dr Chitra Bharucha, following a leaked e-mail Bowen sent last month that questions Bowen's impartiality as he appears to put the onus of blame for the violence in the region on Israel. The Middle East editor blames the "fragmentation of Palestinian society" on the "death of hope" citing Israel as the reason for this.
The e-mail, with the subject title, Mini briefing on the Israeli and Palestinians, was sent to senior BBC staff including BBC Director-General Mark Byford, head of the BBC's Jerusalem bureau, Simon Wilson, the BBC Editorial Board and the editors of the BBC's world bureaus. "What is new in the last year, and will be one of the big stories in the coming 12 months, is the way that Palestinian society, which used to draw strength from resistance to the occupation, is now fragmenting," the e-mail read. "The reason is the death of hope, caused by a cocktail of Israel's military activities, land expropriation and settlement building - and the financial sanctions imposed on the Hamas-led government which are destroying Palestinian institutions that were anyway flawed and fragile.
"The result is that internecine violence between Hamas and Fatah is getting worse. On Thursday six people were killed in clashes between them in Gaza. The death of a major figure on either side would spark something much more serious." He continues, "Israel's major military incursion into Ramallah on Thursday, killing four Palestinians after a botched arrest operation, was a reminder of the non stop pressures of the Israeli occupation."
In his letter to the BBC, Balcombe cited the press briefing released by the BBC when Bowen was appointed as Middle East editor in June 2005. "The new role is designed to enhance our audience's understanding of the Middle East; and to provide extra commentary, focus and analysis to an increasingly complex area of the world," the briefing said. "Recent events indicate that Bowen is unable to perform this role to the standard required," Balcombe insisted. "This simply does not represent balanced reporting and does not contribute to BBC viewers' understanding of the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this way Bowen is doing a disservice to the BBC's customers." ....
"Israeli policies towards the Palestinians create hardship and tough, critical reporting is legitimate, though it may make uncomfortable viewing for Israel supporters," said Gavin Gross, campaigns director of the ZF. "However, equal time and emphasis must also be given to presenting Israel's viewpoint and the threats it faces, or else it is bad journalism. Sadly, the BBC's coverage does not meet this test, which is why we are calling for Jeremy Bowen to be replaced as Middle East editor," he said.
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