BBC whitewashes Islamist antisemitism with semantics

A reader has contacted BBC Watch concerning the reply received from the Middle East desk of the BBC News website following a complaint made with regard to the May 1st 2013 article by BBC Arabic’s Ahmed Maher entitled “Tunisia’s last Jews at ease despite troubled past”. 

The complaint related to Ahmed Maher’s following claim:

“Several media reports spoke about YouTube videos that showed radical Islamists threatening Tunisian Jews. Despite searching extensively, I did not find any of them.”

The reader provided four video clips in support of the complaint – viewable here, here, here and here.

Below is the reply received. 

“Dear XXXXX

Thank you for getting in touch. We have reviewed Ahmed Maher’s article “Tunisia’s last Jews at ease despite troubled past”, and discussed your complaint with him.

Regarding the You Tube links, Mr Maher reaffirms that he conducted an extensive search in Arabic and English to find clips or links of Salafists or hardliners attacking “Tunisian Jews” – a specification he makes clear in his piece. He found clips of rallies in support of Osama Bin Laden, but stresses he did not find anything attacking “Tunisian Jews” specifically.

Mr Maher says: “The chants heard in the four links cited [in your complaint] are against ‘the State of Israel and Jews but not Tunisian Jews’. The chants were echoed across several Muslim countries in the past two years in the wake of the Arab spring (and even before the revolutions) by extremists (even lay people and leftists in Egypt in particular who attacked the headquarters of the Israeli embassy in Giza in August 2011) to protest what they term ‘the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the blockade of the Gaza strip’. They chanted it in Tunisia during the visit of the Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyah. Again, the chants, which are in Arabic, were not directed at ‘Tunisian Jews’ but ‘Israel’ in general.

“I spoke to Sheikh Bashir Bin Hassan, one of the most prominent Salafi, Wahabi sheikhs in post-revolution Tunisian, and asked him again about two things: the chants and the protest in front of the Tunis synagogue. He said: ‘The chants were not aimed at the Tunisian Jews; make no mistake. It was directed at Israel because Israel is a very sensitive issue in the Muslim world. Our Prophet Muhammad asked us to take good care and protect non-Muslims living in our countries like Christians and Jews.’

“Regarding the Tunis synagogue video, Sheikh Bashir Bin Hassan said it was ‘misleading because it was taken out of context. The protest was not against the Tunisian Jews but rather it was in support of Salafists and other Islamist forces in Egypt. The protesters were heading towards the Egyptian embassy in Tunis and they stopped for moments in front of the synagogue to express their anger at the Zionist entity’s policies’.

Mr Maher also points out that the four Tunisian Jews quoted in his piece all spoke about “media exaggeration” about oppression of Jews in Tunisia.

He says: “I was told by many Tunisian Jews indeed and I do have their contacts, chiefly the head of the Jewish community in Tunisia Peres Trabelsi, that there was too much media fuss about the ‘oppression of Jews in Tunisia’ whether past or current. I was there to make a colour piece on the annual pilgrimage itself really, but every time I spoke to a Jewish pilgrim living in Djerba, and who can tell us their experience first-hand, they were keen on ‘dismissing media reports about us as exaggerated, as if we will become non-existent any longer. We are fed up’, as I was told by many of them. I have not put words into their mouths, neither did I push them to speak on this angle. There is no question about that.”

Kind regards

Middle East desk
BBC News website” 

Get it? According to the BBC, if Tunisian Islamists (and presumably any elsewhere too) chant “Killing the Jews is a duty” or “Khaybar, Khaybar ya Yahud” or “the army of Mohammed will return”, then local Jews have nothing whatsoever to worry about because in fact they are not referring to them – or indeed to Jews at all – but to Israel, which should apparently be perfectly understandable. And the BBC website’s Middle East desk is quite sure of that because a prominent Salafist – who obviously thinks it unremarkable to chant hate speech relating to “the Zionist entity’s policies” in front of a synagogue in Tunisia – told them so.

If that is the level of understanding and interpretation prevalent among staff at the BBC’s Middle East desk, then the only conclusion can be that the licence fee payer is funding an outfit not fit for purpose. 

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17 comments on “BBC whitewashes Islamist antisemitism with semantics

  1. We are all weary of this duplicitous Arab sport. They manage all manner of other confabulations when you ask, “What about the almost million Jews who had lived in the Arab world for up to 2700 years…almost all expelled and their properties stolen after 1947?….properties reported to be five times the size of Israel.” The frightened Palestinian Arabs fled. Most could have remained in friendship, but not so the Jews in massacres and riots in ten Arab countries. The Palestinian “refugees” are the victims of the Arab League who wanted to corral them as evidence of the ” perfidy of the Jews” and insisted that no Arab country give them citizenship. It’s unfortunate, but it is all malevolent artifice: the Arab League, UNRWA et al and NOT the Jews.

  2. I shouldn’t be surprised at the naivete of your reporters. It is the practice of folks from different cultures, depending on the situation, to tell the inquirer what he/she wants to hear or in this case, Tunisian Jewish complaints today would make them subject to attack or expulsion. Of course, the Arabs are impotent in the face of Israel’s skills and strength and take their revenge on any Jew elsewhere as the Tunisians did 1948 and drove out 35,000 Jews, who had they been Zionists, would have long since gone to Palestine. This was true of most of the Jews in the Arab world. In spite of millenia of abuse as recounted by Andrew Bostum, not many Jews in Arab countries Zionist enough to pioneer there although their prayers have always voiced their hoped for return to Zion. Most journalists fail to realize any land conquered by the Muslims remains Muslim forever. That is why Muslims are insistent on their retaking both Andalusia and the Holy Land.
    I have been listening to BBC for at least 60 years and on occasion looking at the Guardian and simply cannot believe that folks as civilized as the Brits can be about as careless with the truth as much of the third world and militant Muslims. You should be embarrassed and running your stuff by your likely critics first.

  3. The preacher yells: Kill the Jews [Yahud]!
    The mob shouts: A duty! [wajjid]
    But but but, nobody actually said “Kill the Jews”. Nobody except for the preacher. The others only said: A duty.
    Maybe they were referring to the duty to pay taxes and be kind to the elderly and treat women with respect.
    Maybe some Zionists are paranoid.
    Some Zionists like me.

  4. I have entered into correspondence many times, (all kept and documented), with the “middle east” desk of the BBC, every reply I have had comes from a well know pro-Palestinian Arab activist. This is what the BBC licence payers are funding, it is not objective journalism, but anti -Israel activism.

  5. ‘The BBC is not fit for purpose’ – well said, Hadar. Do they think they can keep pulling the wool over their viewers’ eyes? That BBC reply beggars belief.

    • You know, I rather think they do believe they can continue along their well-worn path. The BBC appears to suffer from Nero complex – a blind belief that it can continue to ignore that which really should be swiftly attended to.

  6. They are going from bad to worse. Maher’s mealy-mouthed justification for his bias and propaganda is typical. The headline to his article is chilling, perhaps unintentionally, perhaps not:

    “Tunisia’s last Jews [my emphasis] at ease despite troubled past.”

    Meanwhile the World Service has cut its MW broadcasts to Israel on that old-fashioned device called the radio from almost 24 hours daily to 5 hours, 2 of them from midnight to 2am Israel Time. But there is an FM broadcast to Gaza and the West Bank, in Arabic and English, with the frequencies helpfully listed on the World Service Summer Schedule for 2013 – and no FM broadcasts to Israel.

    The BBC is a fine example of the unholy alliance between the European left and radical Islam.

  7. As I said before, the BBC is always right and you are always wrong.

    Geoffrey Bernstein

  8. Why do mainstream post-colonial medias like the BBC whitewash “indigenous” antisemitism ? Frankly, I don’t care. I inherited a rather thick skin and I am used deal with prejudiced people, even intelligent ones.

    What is more worrying to me is that the Middle East desk at the BBC sank to the standards of official arab news agencies.

  9. “He says: “I was told by many Tunisian Jews indeed and I do have their contacts, chiefly the head of the Jewish community in Tunisia Peres Trabelsi, that there was too much media fuss about the ‘oppression of Jews in Tunisia’ whether past or current. I was there to make a colour piece on the annual pilgrimage itself really, but every time I spoke to a Jewish pilgrim living in Djerba, and who can tell us their experience first-hand, they were keen on ‘dismissing media reports about us as exaggerated, as if we will become non-existent any longer. We are fed up’, as I was told by many of them. I have not put words into their mouths, neither did I push them to speak on this angle. There is no question about that.”
    What about getting in contact with Trabelsi in order to verify or falsify Maher`s assertion?

  10. I have lived in the ME too long to believe that asking Trabesi would get you an honest answer. One always has to be fearful of what says and what the consequences may be. As a Sephardi myself, I can tell you that after up to 2700 years in the Arab world, many Arab habits of thought and self expression have been inculcated and absorbed by Mediterranean Jews. It creates a cultural gap in Israel between the Ashkenazim and the Sphardim/Misrachim in many cases. It’s a generalization that I offer with a large degree of caution.

  11. Interesting comment on different mentalities.
    Anyway, Trabelsi could verify a call of Maher about the issue.

  12. Pingback: Salafist quoted in BBC rejection of complaint supports Jihad in Syria | BBC Watch

  13. “Our Prophet Muhammad asked us to take good care and protect non-Muslims living in our countries like Christians and Jews.” Why are Christians and Jws living in Muslim states in fear of their lives?

  14. Pingback: BBC article on rising bigotry hosts antisemitic comments | BBC Watch

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