The BBC World Service’s recent two-part ‘Heart and Soul’ programme on the subject of Jews from Arab lands was, to many, a refreshing piece of reporting on the whole.
(See our posts here and here.)
Presenter Magdi Abdelhadi’s visit to Tunisia was also featured in the Magazine section of the BBC News website on October 24th, with the article reflecting much of the radio broadcast’s content.
Somebody, however, apparently could not resist adding to Mr Abdelhadi’s report a side panel of ‘facts’ titled “The Exodus”, where we are informed that:
“As reports of Zionist settlers driving Palestinians off [sic] their villages hit Arab capitals during the 1940s anti-Jewish sentiment hit new heights”
So, despite numerous examples, including the massacre of Jews in Baghdad in 1828, mass forced conversions in the Persian city of Meshed in 1839, the Damascus blood libel in 1840, the pogroms in Morocco in 1905, the 1929 Hebron massacre and the Farhud in 1941, the BBC once more returns to the simplistic narrative of contextualising prejudice and violence against Jews from Arab lands solely as a reaction to Israel and Zionism.
What a shame it is that Magdi Abdelhadi’s insightful report from Tunisia has been tainted by the reversion to agenda-inspired versions of history.
In the second part of the BBC World Service ‘Heart and Soul’ programme entitled ‘Arab Jews: A Forgotten Exodus’ (which can be listened to here), presenter Magdi Abdelhadi travelled to Tunisia to meet members of its tiny Jewish community.
To his credit, Abdelhadi did a much better job in this second episode than in the first. Not only did he not shy away from presenting the various threats posed by Islamist extremists to the continued existence of Tunisia’s remaining Jewish community, but he vigorously challenged Rachid al Ghannouchi – leader of the En-Nahda party which heads the coalition in Tunisia’s current government – on his ‘double speak’ regarding attacks on Jews and his party’s relationship with the Salafists carrying them out.
Al Ghannouchi has often been portrayed by some members of the Western media (and even by some Western governments) as a ‘moderate’, despite – among other things – his party’s feting of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh last January and his own long extremist history.
Magdi Abdelhadi, however, seems to have got Ghannouchi’s number. Perhaps he could help out with some sorely-needed editing on the BBC’s ‘Country Profile’ page for Tunisia, where interim president Moncef Marzouki is presented as a “counterweight” to the Islamist En-Nahda party – despite his having earlier this year sponsored a conference co-organised by the Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood-linked ‘Palestinian Return Centre’ - and where a profile of the En-Nahda party includes the claim that Ghannouchi is “widely viewed as a moderate, reform-minded Islamist”.
If you happened to miss the first episode of the BBC World Service ‘Heart and Soul’ programme entitled ‘Arab Jews: A Forgotten Exodus’ which we mentioned in a previous post, it can be heard here.
To give credit where it is due, the programme did try to boldly go where no BBC reporter has gone before and in general gave the impression of trying to present a reasonably balanced picture. However, little – if any – context was given in relation to anti-Jewish discrimination or pogroms in Arab lands prior to the emergence of the Zionist movement and the establishment of Israel.
Neither did the programme relate to the additional influence of attitudes and ideologies imported by European colonialists or the consequences of, for example, the Vichy regime in North Africa.
In addition, several of the interviewees perhaps gave the impression that Jews in Arab lands were not interested in Zionism which – although perhaps the case for some – is by no means true of all. Consequently, listeners may have been left with the impression that the persecution of Jews in Arab lands has a background exclusively related to Zionism and Israel.
Impressions of the programme as recorded by Bataween at the ‘Point Of No Return’ blog can be read here.
Part two of the programme – in which the presenter will visit the Jewish community in Tunisia – is still to come.
Readers may be interested in having prior notice of a programme scheduled to be broadcast on the BBC World Service this coming Saturday, October 13th 2012, with repeats the following day.
The two part programme is entitled “Arab Jews: A Forgotten Exodus”.
For background on the use of the term ‘Arab Jews’, see this article from the blog ‘Point Of No Return’ and this essay by Lyn Julius from ‘Jewish Quarterly’.