Exclusive: This is CNN (& BBC-UNRWA connection revealed)

March 18, 2009

* CNN Jerusalem producer’s shocking public outburst against Israel (see video below)

* Revealed: UNRWA spokesman who lied about Israel’s shelling of a school previously worked at the BBC with Jeremy Bowen

* Emmy and Golden Globe award winner Roseanne Barr, a bitter critic of Israel, writes on her website that Israeli forces are firing rockets from Gaza into Israel as a trick to make people think they are being fired by Palestinians


Update, March 25, 2009

Over 25,000 people viewed the Nidal Rafa video within four days of my posting it, and dozens of websites have linked to the post below. Among websites picking up on this dispatch, HonestReporting have also added further information about Nidal Rafa, and if you so wish you can read further comments about the post below at other websites, for example on the sites of Melanie Phllips, Tim Montgomerie and on this BBC monitoring site.



1. This is whom CNN employs
2. CNN responds
3. Revealed: UNRWA spokesman who lied about Israel previously worked at the BBC
4. This is the BBC’s idea of a correction?
5. Roseanne Barr’s latest anti-Semitic conspiracy
6. Bowen diary: Is this the end? (BBC news online, January 17, 2009)
7. Two biographies of Chris Gunness, UNRWA spokesperson


[All notes below by Tom Gross]

Earlier this month, I attended a debate for journalists in Jerusalem between two members of the Israeli Knesset: Danny Ayalon (Israel’s former ambassador to Washington) and Jamal Zahlaka, a Knesset member for Balad, an Arab nationalist party, who before entering politics, qualified as a medical doctor at Israel’s Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Both Ayalon and Zahlaka were professional, courteous and generally reasonable in what they had to say. So were the journalists present who asked the questions, including Ethan Bronner, The New York Times’s senior Jerusalem correspondent.

But one journalist, sitting in the row in front of me, was far from courteous and I have today posted on YouTube a video of her extraordinary tirade against Danny Ayalon, in which she harangues and berates him, uses expletives and calls him “fascist, fascist.”

You can watch it here:

The journalist in question is Nidal Rafa, who for some years has been one of CNN’s senior producers in Jerusalem, during which time she has been as partisan as she continues to be now.

None of the other four dozen journalists present witnessing the episode, including Ethan Bronner of The New York Times, seem to have mentioned Rafa’s outburst in their reports.



Rafa is an Israeli Arab, born in the Haifa area, and is well-known around town not only as a CNN producer but also as an extremely vocal critic of Israel. For example, she engaged in another anti-Israeli outburst at an IPCRI (Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information) event in Jerusalem in February.

On other occasions in 2007 and 2008, while employed by CNN, she has publicly called for Israel to cease to exist as a Jewish state. Several years ago, in an article on how Western reporters interview Palestinians about their views on terrorism, Israel’s leading liberal paper Ha’aretz noted that “Nidal Rafa [then working for another American TV network] decides what to translate [from Arabic for the American correspondent] and what to leave untranslated.”

“The person who finally decided what the news channel would broadcast from Bartaa was Nidal Rafa,” observed Ha’aretz.

In the past, Rafa has also worked on programs for the BBC and NPR.



I spoke with Kevin Flower, the Jerusalem Bureau chief for CNN, and he says Rafa’s contract with CNN has been discontinued though he declined to provide a specific reason.

Despite this, Rafa handed out her CNN business card to several people, including myself, after her outburst against Danny Ayalon, and said she was still working for CNN. Even if she no longer works there, the question is why CNN employed someone like this for at least the last two years?

(There are many examples of anti-Israeli articles co-authored by Rafa on cnn.com. For example, “Jewish settlers on ‘terror’ rampage,” December 4, 2008.)

When I spoke to Rafa it was clear that, like many (but by all means not all) Arab journalists working for CNN, Reuters, the Associated Press and other major Western news providers in the Middle East, she didn’t think there was any contradiction between working as a journalist for an international news outlet and holding extreme anti-Israeli views.


Among my own past writings on the problems of impartiality among some of the Arab journalists employed by major Western news providers in the Middle East, please see this article.

I should emphasize that other Palestinians employed by Western media in the Middle East are honest and courageous and withstand persistent threats by both Hamas and Fatah, in order to try and provide impartial news.



The Ayalon-Zahlaka debate took place on March 3, 2009, at the offices of MediaCentral, a Jerusalem-based organization which provides balanced media services and resources that foreign correspondents in Jerusalem say they find increasingly useful.

For those interested, you can watch the whole hour-long debate on MediaCentral’s site, where it’s linked to Google videos here.



I have previously outlined on this website the concoctions of the well-funded UN body UNRWA which have resulted in defamations of Israel and physical attacks on Jews in many different countries around the world.

For example, UNRWA has now admitted that their claim that Israel shelled a school in Gaza in January and killed 32 Palestinian civilians is completely false. The shell in question, it turns out, was in response to Palestinian mortar fire at civilians in Israel and killed nine Palestinian adults, none of whom were in the school. Seven of those killed were armed operatives and two were civilians.

The sensational and false claims of UNRWA led to headlines around the world such as “UN accuses Israel of herding 110 Palestinians into a house then shelling it, leaving 30 dead” (London Daily Mail Online UK, Jan 9 2009 11:59AM GMT).

The false reports led to anti-Israel riots and attacks on Jews in all six continents of the world.



Now, it turns out that Chris Gunness, the UNWRA spokesman who went on several different international TV networks in January to accuse Israel of “war crimes” on account of the supposed school incident, is in fact a former BBC journalist and a close colleague of the BBC’s notoriously anti-Israel Chief Jerusalem Correspondent Jeremy Bowen.

In a diary article which Jeremy Bowen posted on BBC online, he states:

“I just broke off writing for a couple of minutes to take a call from Chris Gunness, who is the spokesman for Unrwa, the UN agency that looks after Palestinian refugees.

“He was ringing to say that Unrwa wanted an investigation into whether Israel has committed war crimes in the Gaza Strip. Civilians are protected by the laws of war.

“I have known Chris for years, as he used to be a BBC foreign correspondent. He wanted to make sure that we knew he was using the phrase for the first time. He said that the attack this morning on a UN school in Gaza looked as if it was a war crime.”

Tom Gross continues:

In three occasions in the past when I have criticized the BBC, the BBC online editors have then subtly changed their website so as to delete the part I criticized without letting readers know it had ever been there in the first place.

For the record, at the end of this dispatch, I attach Jeremy Bowen’s full diary entry (in which he makes the remarks above), together with two biographies of Chris Gunness. Gunness worked for the BBC for 23 years in senior editorial positions in both television and radio.

So it turns out that the UNWRA spokesman condemning Israel for “war crimes” that in fact never happened, is a former BBC World Service correspondent and producer who is a close friend of the current BBC Chief Middle East Correspondent who helped spread these allegations. Can it be that the false claims about Israel coming from two august institutions, the BBC and UNWRA, are in the hands of two friends who might just have a world view not sympathetic to Israel?

The BBC World Service and UNRWA are both funded by the British government. UNRWA receives huge amounts of money from many other countries too. Earlier this month, the Obama administration announced it would add hundreds of millions of dollars to the considerable funds it has already supplied UNRWA, an organization accused of allowing the promotion of suicide bombing and martyrdom to be taught at the schools it pays for and administers.



In January, Jews in Britain suffered a level of anti-Semitic attacks on a level not seen since the 1930s. This can be attributed to at least in part by the inflammatory and false coverage of Israel by the BBC and other British media.

The BBC has finally added a small footnote correction to the end of one of its stories that falsely claimed Israel shelled a school in Gaza.

The BBC wrote that “40 Palestinian civilians sheltering at the Fakhura school in Jabaliya” had been killed by Israel, and also broadcast that false statement on countless occasions on its multitude of domestic and international radio and television networks. BBC radio broadcasts in dozens of languages around the world.

Below is the BBC’s small correction, which they placed at the foot of one of their online stories, a correction that fails to state that nine Palestinians died, not 40; that none were at the school; that seven of the nine killed were militants; and that Israel had not fired first but was responding to rocket fire by those militants at towns and villages in Israel.



BBC Update: In February 2009, the United Nations said that a clerical error had led it to report that Israeli mortars had struck a UN-run school in Jabaliya, Gaza, on 6 January killing about 40 people. Maxwell Gaylord, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Jerusalem, said that the Israeli Defense Force mortars fell in the street near the compound, and not on the compound itself. He said that the UN “would like to clarify that the shelling and all of the fatalities took place outside and not inside the school”.



Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning Hollywood actress Roseanne Barr is one of a small but vociferous band of academics, journalists and celebrities who are using their Jewish origin as an excuse to spread vicious anti-Israel (and often anti-Semitic) slurs.

In Roseanne Barr’s latest posting on her popular blog, she states that the rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel are actually being fired by Israeli forces, not by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Such a conspiracy is almost on a par with the anti-Semitic slur that Israel was behind the 9/11 attacks.

Barr has previously written of “concentration camps in Gaza”.

Objectionable as Nidal Rafa is, I can at least understand where she is coming from. Roseanne Barr is worse.

[All notes above by Tom Gross]


Bowen diary: Is this the end?
BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen is writing a diary of the conflict between Hamas and Israel
BBC NEWS online
Published: 2009/01/17 12:32:21 GMT


17 January -- Is this going to be the war’s last day? The Israelis are saying that it might be. At the end of the Jewish Sabbath, after the sun goes down tonight, Israel’s security cabinet is going to meet.

The prime minister’s spokesman, Mark Regev, told me late last night that they had what they needed for a ceasefire.

He expects the proposal to be put to a vote, and he expects it to pass.

What does Israel think it has? First of all the deal with the Americans about a joint effort to stop arms smuggling into Gaza to rearm Hamas.

The memorandum of understanding is most important as a political symbol.

It allows Israel to say that one of its main ceasefire demands has been satisfied. Add that to the army’s conviction that it has done serious harm to Hamas, and they can tell themselves they have a convincing basis on which to declare victory.

Israel doesn’t want to bestow any legitimacy on Hamas by making an agreement with it. But to me that smacks of spin control. The reality is that Hamas is part of the Palestinian landscape. It has played a full part in the ceasefire talks that have been mediated by Egypt.

Cairo has passed on the views of Hamas to Israel. When this is over, and when Israeli troops pull out, Hamas will still be in charge in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas has its own demands for a ceasefire. It wants Israeli troops out within a week and the end of the Israeli blockade of Gaza which destroyed the economy long before the war started.

War crime claims

I just broke off writing for a couple of minutes to take a call from Chris Gunness, who is the spokesman for Unrwa, the UN agency that looks after Palestinian refugees.

He was ringing to say that Unrwa wanted an investigation into whether Israel has committed war crimes in the Gaza Strip. Civilians are protected by the laws of war.

I have known Chris for years, as he used to be a BBC foreign correspondent. He wanted to make sure that we knew he was using the phrase for the first time. He said that the attack this morning on a UN school in Gaza looked as if it was a war crime.

He told me: “When you have a situation where you have a direct hit on a UN school where around 1600 people have taken refuge and two people have been killed, there has to be an investigation to determine whether a war crime has been committed.”

And he added that “there has to be accountability, accountability, accountability.”

He said that Unrwa had been keeping a catalogue of attacks that could be war crimes. Their record amounts to hundreds of emails recording in real time what has been happening.

One more thing: when this misery ends both sides will say that they won.




During his 23-year career at the BBC, Gunness held senior on-air and editorial positions in both radio and television, including BBC World anchor, BBC World Service anchor and producer, BBC’s Today Programme news correspondent, and BBC’s Newsnight reporter. In addition to his extensive broadcast background, Gunness previously served as Spokesman for the United Nations Secretary General in the former Yugoslavia.




As a child in Trinidad, West Indies, Chris and his family had listened as a matter of daily routine to the BBC World Service.

So, when his traineeship ended, Christopher first worked as a producer in Bush House.

As he is half Indian, he then moved to the World Service’s Eastern Service as a reporter, and between 1986 and 1989 he worked in most of the countries in the Asian region.

In 1990 Christopher was posted to the United Nations in New York as the BBC correspondent.

Within weeks of his arrival, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the UN was suddenly reborn.

Gunness reported for all domestic radio and television outlets on the Iraq crisis, as well as the deployment of UN forces in the former Yugoslavia, which fell to pieces just as the new world order was happening.

After New York in 1992, he worked as a BBC news correspondent for domestic radio and television and spent six months reporting on Newsnight.

Christopher then had a break from the corporation between 1994 and 1995, as spokesman for the UN in the former Yugoslavia - a PR brief from hell, given that a quarter of a million people died under UN auspices.

Since returning from the Balkans, Christopher has presented daily current affairs programmes for the World Service, and several of his documentaries for BBC Radio 4 and the World Service have won awards.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.