Examining the BBC’s track record on Jewish refugees from Arab lands

On November 30th 2013 the BBC News website’s home page and Middle East page both promoted a feature titled “In pictures: Early years of Palestinian refugees” which showcases images from the newly digitised archives of UNRWA – currently being promoted by that organization within the framework of its permanent public relations campaign. 

In pictures Palestinian refugees

Quite how the promotion of campaigning material produced by politically motivated organisations can be considered part of the BBC’s remit or in adherence to its editorial guidelines on impartiality is a (big) question in itself, but it is notable that the captions to the photographs showcased by the BBC adhere diligently to the UNRWA script, with the text accompanying the final photograph, for example, reading:

“There are now four generations of Palestinian refugees. The “right of return” to their former homes in what is now Israel remains one of the thorniest issues in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”

But of course the issue of Palestinian refugees is only half the story. The other half – that of Jewish refugees from Arab lands – has no dedicated UN refugee agency to document its history, no hereditary refugee status, no UN sponsored ‘Solidarity Day’ and no UN funded committee  to champion its ‘inalienable rights’.

The other half of that story has in fact never been mentioned in any UN resolution whatsoever in the past 66 years, as was pointed out by Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, at a special UN session held on November 21st.

“In his statement, Prosor decried the United Nations’ actions. “Since 1947, there have been 687 resolutions relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said. Over 100 of those resolutions “deal specifically with the Palestinians refugees. And yet as we speak today, not one resolution says a single word about the Jewish refugees.”  “

The special session was titled “The Untold Story of the Middle East: Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries,” and was hosted by the World Jewish Congress. The event featured testimonies from speakers including Lucette Lagnado, Linda Menuhin and Levana Zamir and the film below was also screened. In conversation with BBC Watch, Ambassador Prosor noted that only one Arab country was represented at the event. 

As readers may already be able to guess, that recent conference was not covered by the BBC’s UN correspondent. Whilst it is not true to say that the BBC ignores the issue completely (see here, here, here, here and here for example) its coverage of Palestinian refugees continues to be considerably more extensive – and notably less controversial – than that of the content it produces on the subject of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. 

A search for ‘Jewish refugees from Arab lands’ on the BBC News website produces 52 results (dating from between March 2002 and November 2013) – many of which are not actually directly related to the subject. In contrast, a search on the same website for ‘Palestinian refugees’ produces 1,304 results. 

Search BBC website Jewish refugees

Search BBC website Palestinian refugees

To use a term frequently employed by the BBC in its Middle East coverage, that ratio is of course disproportionate and – in addition to compromising the BBC’s commitment to impartiality as laid down in its editorial guidelines – also goes against the obligations of the BBC’s constitutional basis, according to which one of its public purposes is to build a “global understanding of international issues”.

Understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict cannot be promoted by consistent under-reporting of the story of hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. 


16 comments on “Examining the BBC’s track record on Jewish refugees from Arab lands

  1. If I were a Palestinian I would campaign against this blight that stunts their people, putting them on hold, barring people from working, establishing a home, making a future for the children to be proud of.

    I would protest against the child abuse that teaches children to fight and makes them see their neighbours as a blood enemy, rather than cooperating and experiencing something more productive.

    This protest is what the BBC should be aiming for instead of drumming up the sympathy for them that has as its correlative hatred for their enemy Israel and that causes them to imagine (or to know?) that not cooperating, not making peace with Israel, not building a base is approved of by the BBC and will gain them support and financing.

    • I think the fact that a people will accept to become a collective pawn and a weapon, rather than think of their own welfare, is probably a measurement of their hatred of the idea of coexistence.

      • The whole point is that they are forbidden from thinking, forbidden from questioning and compelled to submit to their leaders’ will. When their leaders are a hairsbreadth short of florid madness then the results are as we see

    • Margie, everything like this takes second place to the war against the Jews.

      And these animals would not perceive this to be child abuse. In their distorted minds they are fulfilling the commands of their prophet to war to the death with Jews and other “infidels”.

      The BBC, the Guardian and other media are complicit in this because they persistently refuse to learn what it is about Islam that causes this infamy, much less report on it honestly.

  2. Silence is the greatest weapon of Empire, a historian once said. So is empathy unproportionately awarded, another ‘divide and rule’ tool. Are you still looking to this Empire’s media for a glimmer of truth? Why? They are pre-structured to give sympathy to one camp of refugees only, their whole narrative is based on the denial of the pain of the ‘Other.’ It’s part of their demonising racket. Look away.

  3. In the case of Egyptian Jews, any fair assessment by the media would not begin its examination in the 1950’s but with the 1926 Egyptian Nationality Code. A code which left tens of thousands of Jews (for one reason or another) without nationality. The Code was an enabler of some of the 1950’s expulsions.

  4. What a pile of phony photographs! Imagine that scene of two chaps gazing across the roof tops of a nearby town from a hill opposite with the pages of books open in front of them! Whoever dreamed that Pallywood scene up is one thing, that a serious organisation can take these photographs seriously is absurd!

  5. “hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab lands”

    If one includes Jewish refugees from (non-Arab) Iran, the total of Jewish refugees from Muslim countries was just under one million, considerably more than the number of 1948 Palestinian refugees.

    The Jewish refugees spent a generation building peaceful lives, determinedly escaping from the ma’abarot and development towns – not hijacking airliners or blowing up restaurants.

  6. There is an ongoing legal battle initiated by an Egyptian Jewish family, the Bigios, to recover assets nationalised by the government when the family was forced out of Egypt. A Coca Cola plant was built on the family’s land:


    The most fascinating part of this whole saga is that the Egyptian government, having sold the assets to the national insurance company, Misr, later acknowledged the wrongdoing and tried to reverse it:

    “The government even returned the money Misr Insurance had originally paid for the illegally seized Bigio property. But Misr refused to comply, unwilling to give up the constantly appreciating land now purportedly valued at many millions …”

  7. There was a fascinating debate 5 years ago on this subject on Newshour on the World Service. The audio is long gone but the blog on the issue is here:


    Here’s the BBC’s Claire Bolderson, responding to something a guest said on the programme:

    “It would only be a miscarriage of justice if you equate Palestinian refugees with Jewish refugees from Arab countries.”

    The fact that Bolderson was really annoyed at the equation is a fine demonstration
    of BBC bias. Nobody can mess with the Palestinian refugee narrative; it’s not allowed to point out that a greater number of Jews became refugees from Arab countries at around the same time and were treated with far greater injustice by their Arab oppressors.

    The BBC has little interest in the truth of the Israeli-Arab conflict – or perhaps that would be more accurately described as a conflict between Jews and Arabs.

    • Yes, interesting. I read it and also reread most of the WHYS blog I linked to.

      So much of the bias is in the editing. Bias by omission of inconvenient and uncomfortable facts is a BBC speciality. The really excell at it.

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