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Editorial Complaints Unit
29 October 2014
Dear Ms Langford
“Gaza: How Hamas tunnel network grew”, bbc.co.uk
I am writing to let you know the outcome of the ECU’s investigation into your complaint about this article on the BBC news website. I am sorry that you were not happy with the response you received when you first raised this with the BBC. We have now read the article and reviewed the earlier correspondence and conducted research on the internet. I have considered your complaint against the BBC Editorial Guidelines concerning Accuracy, particularly that which says:
We should normally identify on-air and online sources of information and significant contributors, and provide their credentials, so that our audiences can judge their status.
The author of the article, Dr Eado Hecht, is described as
…an independent defence analyst and lecturer in military doctrine at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University.
You have complained that it is inaccurate to describe him as independent given his association with the Israeli military. This is described by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA):
Dr. Eado Hecht is an independent defense analyst specializing in military doctrine and its interpretation. He teaches military theory and military history at Bar-Ilan University, Haifa University and at the Israeli Defense Forces Command and General Staff College, and serves on the Editorial Advisory Panel of The Journal of Military Operations.
In response to your complaint, the Middle East desk at the BBC news website has made the point that as Dr Hecht is not employed full-time by BESA, or any other institution, the description is appropriate. They say:
Eado Hecht is independent in that he is not employed on any full-time basis by any institution, including the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (Besa). He is an external lecturer, who gets paid per course only.
At the time he was commissioned to write the article, Eado Hecht was not teaching at the Israel Defense Forces Command and General Staff College as his contract had ended. As he is independent, the General Staff College is one of a number of institutions where he has been paid to lecture. As pointed out in an earlier response: “If Mr Hecht was employed by the IDF he would have required the IDF’s express permission to write for the BBC, and then by [Israeli] law he would not be permitted to accept any payment from us.”
When Eado Hecht wrote the article, Besa was his only active contract.
I understand the point they are making but it seems to me that, particularly in this context, this is an unduly narrow definition of “independent” which, based on employment, is not one that the audience would be aware was being used. In this context, I believe that the average reader would take the word to mean the position of someone who is not aligned with a particular party in a dispute and who stands aside from it, offering independent analysis. This does not seem to be the case with Dr Hecht. Without wishing to cast any aspersions on his academic credentials, it would appear to me that articles published under Dr Hecht’s name reveal a clear pro-Israel perspective and offer guidance and analysis as to how Israel might better prosecute its dispute with the Palestinians. I note, for example, one he co-authored in 2005, entitled: “Neglect of IDF Ground Forces: A Risk to Israel’s Security” whose executive summary says:
Dramatic cuts to the IDF budget have forced the army to reduce its ground forces capabilities. This is a mistake, as the IDF still must rely on a capable and credible ground force to deal with its strategic threats, specifically the rocket-launching capabilities of Hamas and Hizballah.
In addition, Dr Hecht’s connection with BESA is not confined to that of an external lecturer paid according to the courses he teaches. His articles are also published under the imprimatur of BESA, which describes itself as advancing
…a realist, conservative, and Zionist agenda in the search for security and peace for Israel. The center conducts policy-relevant research on strategic subjects, particularly as they relate to the national security and foreign policy of Israel and Middle East regional affairs.
BESA Center publications and policy recommendations are directed at senior Israeli decision-makers in military and civilian life, the defense and foreign affairs establishments in Israel and abroad, the diplomatic corps, the press, the academic community, leaders of Jewish communities around the world, and the educated public.
This is a clearly pro-Zionist agenda and unless Dr Hecht’s articles, published under BESA’s auspices, explicitly disassociate themselves from this mission statement – which they do not – it seems to me that they must inevitably be considered part of BESA’s endeavours. The fact that BESA describes him as “independent” does not dispose of this issue given the problem of definition which I have identified above.
Finally, I note that, in 2002, Dr Hecht appeared on CBS 60 Minutes, in a report investigating Iraqi and Iranian backing for terrorism, where he was described as a senior Israeli intelligence official.
Taking all of this into account and bearing in mind the meaning that the average reader is likely to ascribe to the term, I do not believe that “independent defence analyst” is sufficiently accurate or informative in relation to Dr Hecht, and I am upholding your complaint.
As Andrew Bell explained in his earlier email, this is a provisional finding and you have the opportunity to comment on it before it is finalised. If you wish to take that opportunity, I’d be grateful if you would let me have your comments by 12 November. In the meantime, thank you for writing to us and giving us the opportunity to investigate your concerns.
Head of Editorial Complaints