BBC Arabic on Jews from Arab lands

BBC Arabic recently featured a programme and an article about Israeli Jews with origins in Arab countries, by Omar Abdel-Razek, titled “Arab Jews in Israel between marginalisation and integration”. The audio version can be heard here and the written version read here

Fortunately, the wonderful ‘Point of no Return’ blog has a much better version of the written article than automatic translation can provide, together with valuable insights. 

“On the plus side : the programme humanises Jews in Israel, and interviews some who voice mainstream views – notably, Eli Avidar and Levana Zamir, who deftly quash the idea of a return to Arab lands while these are being poisoned with antisemitism. On the minus side, the programme adopts a far-left discourse, assuming ‘Arab Jews’ were exploited by Ashkenazim as a labour reservoir and stripped of their culture. […] The mere fact that the programme calls them ‘Arab Jews’ diminishes their separate Jewish identity.”

Particularly interesting is this unsourced statement in the written article: [emphasis added]

“History records that Arab Jews in Israel live between marginalization and integration, but that most of them did not embrace the idea of ​​Zionism before the establishment of Israel.”

It is, of course, impossible to know the views of all of the hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab lands who arrived in Israel both before and after the establishment of the state, but certainly this one-dimensional, Eurocentric view of Zionism does not take into account movements such as E’ela BeTamar which saw thousands of Yemenite Jews make their way to pre-state – and pre-mandate – Palestine between 1881 – 1882, inspired by the spiritual belief in the importance of their re-settling of their ancient homeland which was one of the precursors to the Zionist movement.  

Contrary to the impression given in the article, the immigration of those Yemenite Jews actually pre-dated the arrival of European Jews, so whilst many did end up using their existing experience of working in agriculture, their arrival in the country was certainly not purely “as an alternative to Arab workers in the plantations of European Jews”.

Neither does this version of history take into account the existence of Zionist societies in Arab countries such as Morocco, where the first branches were established only a few years after the 1897 Basel Conference. 

Another one of those Zionist societies was located in Tripoli, Libya, and in the early 1930s one of its members – a young man named Mordechai – managed to obtain from the British Mandate authorities one of the much-coveted, rarely issued ‘certificates’ for legal immigration to Palestine for himself, his wife and their first-born son – on account of his being a carpenter: a trade given priority. Pictured below are some of the tools which in fact enabled him to overcome the obstacles to immigration set in place by the British which Zionists from all over the world – including those from Arab lands – faced at the time. 


Mordechai was this writer’s partner’s grandfather and the fourth generation of his offspring is now growing up in Israel.

Once again invoking a bizarre version of history, the BBC article states: [emphasis added]

“There are those who believe that they were forced to migrate [from Arab lands] after the escalation of the Palestinian Arab conflict.”

Mordechai’s daughter-in-law could cast some light upon that particular distortion, having experienced the pogroms in Libya in 1945 and in June 1948. It was after the latter bout of violence that her family – after hundreds of years of living in Tripoli – made hurried arrangements to move to the new Jewish state, as did over thirty thousand others. That exodus did not take place because of a “belief” that they were being “forced to migrate”, but for practical reasons of survival. The minority of Libyan Jews who remained in the country were subjected to increasing discrimination.

“1. Jews cannot vote, attain public offices nor serve in the army or police.

2. The government is authorized by law to take title to the “properties of certain Jews.”

3. Jews are prohibited from acquiring new property.

4. Jews cannot receive passports or certification of their Libyan nationality. If a Jew wants to leave the country he may obtain a special travel document which does not indicate that he has Libyan nationality. If he does not leave within six months after receiving the document, it expires and he automatically loses his nationality and property rights.”

The Six Day War in 1967 brought renewed pogroms against Libya’s few remaining Jews – and an end to 2,500 years of Jewish presence in that country. 

It is highly regrettable that the BBC chooses to entrench inaccuracies concerning Mizrachi and Sephardi Jews from Arab lands in this manner – particularly when its target audience is obviously the Arabic-speaking world.  

10 comments on “BBC Arabic on Jews from Arab lands

  1. The BBC displays a laziness in its research departments that defies belief. It seems that any production presented for airing or article for publication is fine so long as it pedals the anti Jewish narrative. I suggest again that it is compulsory for their editors and producers to read Pierre van Paassen’s “The Forgotten Ally”.

  2. Too bad your article is poorly researched and strategically designed to promote a one-sided view, which is distinctly anti-Israel. (See My relatives that came from Libya left to Israel as soon as they could in 1949. They had enough of the violent incitement against Jews and the deplorable way they were STILL treated after they were released fro the Nazi concentration camp in Jado, which was established and maintained with the help of Libyan locals. The bulk of Libyan Jewry (there for 100s of years) were betrayed by their neighbors in the most basic ways. Their property confiscated. Their women raped and/or stolen from their homes. The violence against them left people of all ages dead, blinded, maimed and fully ready to leave to the one place that they know was their real home-Israel. They told me they would have come to Israel no matter what they found there…This story is similar to all of those throughout the Arab lands. For example, the Farhud in Iraq is well documented,see See also: — there is much more that you have ignored. All of this translates into Ethic Cleansing of the Jews from Arab lands, and they don’t treat their other minorities (what’s left of them) too well today either…

  3. Some videos on subject from Corey Gil-Shuster

    1.Before 1948: Mario Libya

    2.Before 1948: Sasson, Iraq

    3.Before 1948: Marc, Egypt

    4.Before 1948: Eli, Morocco

    5.Mizrahim/Arab Jews: Do you blame Zionism for your suffering?

    6.Arab-Jews/Mizrahim: why did your parents move to Israel?

    7.Arab-Jews/Mizrahim: do you feel like second class citizens in Israel?

    8.Mizrahim/Arab Jews in Israel: Would you move back?

    • Very interesting, but it is alarming how little Mizrahim know of their own history. Mario from Libya said that the Nazis sent the Jews to forced labour camps during WW2, but it was the Italian Fascists. He said the years 1945 -7 were quiet for the Jews, but there was a major pogrom in 1945 in which 130 Jews were murdered. The Luzon family were killed in 1967.

  4. Dear Hadar
    Another excellent blogpost and thanks for the link to Point of no Return. You are of course correct to say that there were Zionist movements in Arab countries. The BBC line is that Jews from Arab lands are humiliated non-Zionist victims of Ashkenazi Zionism.
    There also a suggestion that any antisemitism mentioned was an ‘understandable backlash’ to the creation of Israel.

  5. Most of us are guilty, to one degree or another, of attempting to prove a point that is vastly more complicated than a sentence or two can provide. In this case, the point is that, for whatever reasons, roughly 850,000 Jews from Arab countries saw fit or were made to see fit to leave 10 Arab countries where many had known a relatively comfortable life in spite of periodic abuse by Arab hosts. A point to be made is that they offer an excellent landbridge culturally that could be advantageous in making the area a far better place to live for all Arab peoples. Being humiliated by Jews of other ethnicities is hard for the proud Muslims to traffic with, but the Jews from Arab countries may have the necessary sensitivities and sensibilities to provide that bridge toward peace and development beneficial to Israel and the Arab states as well.

  6. Pingback: BBC whitewashes anti-Jewish extremism in Tunisia | BBC Watch

Comments are closed.