BBC World Service programme on Jews from Arab lands – part 1

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. 

11 comments on “BBC World Service programme on Jews from Arab lands – part 1

  1. The BBC blurb reads:

    “Based in Israel, part one examines what happened to the 850,000 Jews that have lived in Arab countries since Biblical times.”

    There were no Arabs in biblical times.

  2. By the way – this concept of “Arab Jews” is really a misleading attempt to try to whitewash the discrimination suffered by generations of Jews by giving an impression that they were integrated peacefully into an Arab population. This is what Albert Memmi had to say about this in 1975 and the false memories of the wonderful life in Arab countries:

    “* The term “Arab Jews” is obviously not a good one…..

    The fifth and last factor is our own complicity, the more or less unwitting complacency of us Jews from Arab countries – the uprooted who tend to embellish the past, who in our longing for our native Orient minimize, or completely efface, the memory of persecutions. In our recollections, in our imagination, it was a wholly marvelous life, even though our own newspapers from that period attest the contrary.

    How I wish that all this had been true – that we had enjoyed a singular existence in comparison with the usual Jewish condition! Unfortunately, it is all a huge lie: Jews lived most lamentably in Arab lands. The State of Israel is not the outcome only of the sufferings of European Jewry. “

    • Akus

      A passage from Andre Aciman’s “False Papers: Essays on Exile and Memory”:

      “I am, it finally occurs to me, doing the most typical thing a Jew could do. I’ve come back to Egypt the way only Jews yearn to go back to places they couldn’t wait to flee….”

  3. Related to one of the families expelled from the Arab lands (Egypt) I know their story and had mixed feelings about this programme – for the reasons stated here and in Bataween’s article.

    i was struck by the similarity of some of the experiences. The Egyptian lady spoke of officials walking into her home and helping themselves to whatever they wanted. This, too, was my in-laws experience. Another man – an Iraqi, I believe – spoke of having his remaining goods (and certificates) taken from him at the airport. Again, the same experience as my family. All they were allowed were two suitcases containing clothes. Absolutely everything else was taken. The callousness of destroying the certificates – the proof needed to forge a new and half-way decent life – speaks volumes about the attitudes prevalent at the time.

    Part II is yet to come. Our original Egyptian family now has sons and daughters-in-law of Moroccan and Tunisian heritage so I shall listen with interest.

    I am hoping to hear the name ‘Haj Amin al-Husseini’, the Mufti of Jerusalem who spent a few years as Hitler’s guest, broadcasting anti-Allied and anti-Jew sentiment aross the Arab world during the war years.

    If BBC Watchers are interested in personal stories of Jews expelled from Egypt I can recommend Andre Aciman’s ‘Out of Egypt’ and Lucette Lagnado’s “Man in the White Sharkskin Suit’.

  4. ‘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.’

    Indeed. Still misrepresentation and omission BBC style.

    Here is a link to a somewhat large document:

    The relevant text is relating to the 1830s approx in Algiers on ‘the coast of Barbary’ and the writer is just a somebody who is there with no special axe to grind.

    Of Jews, there is an immense number scattered all over the coast of Barbary. The city of Algiers contains about eight thousand, most of whom have swerved considerably from the belief of their ancestors, following the Talmud and Kabbala, with the exception of those called free, who generally come from Leghorn to this place, and are allowed entire liberty in their movements. The unhappy sons of Israel, so badly treated in other countries, can expect little indulgence from the barbarians ; consequently there is no species of outrage or vexation to which they are not exposed. They are prohibited from writing or speaking Arabic, to prevent their being able to read the divine Koran. They cannot ride on horseback, but are obliged to go on mules and asses ; the first being too noble an animal for them. When passing a mosque, they are obliged to go bare-footed. They dare not approach a well or fountain, if there be a Moor drinking there ; or sit down opposite a Mahometan. Their clothing Is obliged to be black ; which colour is held in contempt by the Moors. The Jewish women are only permitted to veil a part of their features. The indolent Moor, with a pipe in his mouth and his legs crossed, calls any Jew who is passing, and makes him perform the offices of a servant. Others amuse themselves by smearing the hands, visage, hair, and clothes of the Jewish boys, with paint or mud ; while the Turkish soldiers often enter their houses, insulting the females, without the heads of the family having the privilege of desiring them to retire.

  5. I’ve begun listening to the programme and the reason why the BBC is reporting this has become clear.
    It was all the fault of Zionism (should have guessed). The intolerance all started “once word of Zionists expelling Palestinians from their villages began to come through”

    There you have it. As ever, the Jews are responsible for their own persecution.

  6. Akus:

    “There were no Arabs in biblical times”

    But there were. It’s just that they didn’t live in Israel, Palestine, Egypt. Iraq, etc etc

    • There were Assyrians, Persians, Babylonians, Edomites, Moabites, Canaanites, people of Lebanon (Lebanese), Egyptians, Libyans, Shebans (today’s Yemen) , Philistines, Ethiopians, etc. in biblical times There was no group known as Arabs. There were Jews, Israelites, Jews of Judah and Samaria, most of today’s Syria under David and Solomon were Israelite possessions.

      The word “Arab” does not occur in the Old Testament to the best of my knowledge so saying that “Jews lived in Arab countries from Biblical times” conflates today’s Arab countries with the empires of the ancient world.

  7. Pingback: BBC World Service programme on Jews from Arab lands – part 2 | BBC Watch

  8. Pingback: BBC report on Jews in Tunisia tainted by agenda-driven addition | BBC Watch

Comments are closed.