THE JERUSALEM POST
BBC program portrays Israeli spy Vanunu as hero (UPDATE)
The British Broadcasting Company, in a program aired today on BBC TV World News entitled "Israel's Secret Program" portrayed Israeli spy Mordechai Vanunu as a hero.
Vanunu, a former technician at the Dimona nuclear center, was arrested on October 7, 1986. He was convicted of treason, espionage, and selling state secrets by the Jerusalem District Court on February 27, 1988.
He was sentenced to 18 years in jail from the day of his arrest.
The program compared Israel's democracy to the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. Both were said to possess weapons of mass destruction, but the program said that the Bush administration was preoccupied with Iraq.
When interviewed, former prime minister and current Labor party leader Shimon Peres harshly criticized the comparison. He said that, while Israel is a responsible democracy, Iraq was a dictatorship, that Saddam was a killer and he ruled Iraq as if it was "a mafia."
Once again, drawing a comparison to Saddam Hussein, the BBC program claimed that an Israeli commission of inquiry found Sharon "personally responsible" for the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps, in Lebanon.
Not mentioned by the BBC was that the Phalangists, a Christian Lebanese militia, committed the killings.
The 1983 Kahan Commission stated that "no Israeli was directly responsible for the events which occurred in the camps."
Sharon, who was then defense minister, was chastised for not anticipating that the Phalangists would attack Palestinian civilians.
In addition, the program showed footage of Palestinians suffering from the effects of tear gas. It then quoted Palestinians who accused the IDF of using a new, mysterious gas to quell riots in the territories.
When asked by the BBC why Israel would not reveal its military secrets, Peres replied: "you are now having a dialogue with yourself."
Israel has broken off contact with the venerable broadcasting organization known as "Auntie".
According to the report, confirmed Sunday by the Government Press Office, Israeli officials will refuse BBC interviews, impose visa restrictions, and be decidedly unhelpful to the BBC at road blocks and Ben-Gurion Airport.
"The BBC will discover that bureaucracy can be applied with goodwill or without it. And after the way that they have repeatedly tried to delegitimize the State of Israel, we, as hosts, have none left for them," Daniel Seaman, director of the government press office, told The Times.
He said that Israel has come to believe that the overall BBC attitude towards Israel is "verging on the anti-Semitic".
"We decided that we had to draw a red line rather than just complain about a consistent attitude in which successive BBC programs attempt to place us in the same context as totalitarian, axis-of-evil countries such as Iraq and Iran," Seaman continued.
"The attitude of the BBC is more than a pure journalistic matter," he explained to The Times. "It is dangerous to the existence of the State of Israel because it demonizes the Israelis and gives our terrorist enemies reasons to attack us."
Gideon Meir, the Foreign Ministry's deputy director-general for public affairs, dismissed the argument that Israel will be the big losers by not having its spokesman get Israel's message across on the BBC, saying he does not want to give the BBC an opportunity to "hide behind the fig leaf of objectivity" by putting Israeli officials on the air.
"We are not trying to punish the BBC," Meir said. "In any event they will continue to put us down. It doesn't make a difference whether our spokespeople appear or not, the BBC has targeted Israel."
Meir said that by having Israeli spokespeople appear on the BBC, the network can say they give all sides the chance to express themselves, when in actuality they are engaged in a "crusade" against Israel.
Meir said that cooperation with the BBC will now be judged on a day-by-day, case-by-case basis.
Meir said that on a recent visit to London, Jewish leaders he met with cited the BBC as one of the reasons for an increase of anti-Semitism in Britain.
The BBC is not the only network that airs critical reports of Israel, Meir said. But the difference, he added, is that with networks like CNN and Sky News, Israel has an ongoing dialogue with the executives, something that does not exist with the BBC.
Israeli cable television operators dropped the British Broadcasting Corporation's BBC World news channel from their roster of stations in April.
Cable company spokeswoman Aliza Khoury said the decision was based on the British station's low viewer ratings and not on the BBC's reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been widely criticized in Israel as unbalanced and supportive of Palestinian terrorism.
(Herb Keinon and Joel Leyden contributed to this report)