BBC News once again misleads on Egyptian Jews

On February 18th another report made for the BBC’s ‘Crossing Divides’ season appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page.

Produced by Nagham Kasem, the filmed report is titled “The unlikely friendship saving Egypt’s synagogues” and its synopsis reads:

“Two Egyptian women have come together to save the country’s lost Jewish heritage.

Magda, who is Jewish and Marwa, who is Palestinian and Muslim, meet weekly to clean, rescue and repair books, synagogues and cemeteries.

The Jewish community in Egypt shrank after the Israeli-Arab conflict in 1948. Many were exiled or felt forced to leave. With hardly any Jewish people left, the friends are battling to preserve the country’s lost Jewish heritage before it disappears forever.” [emphasis added]

That messaging is repeated in the film itself:

“Egypt once had a thriving Jewish community. But after the Arab-Israeli conflict began in 1948 the number of Jewish people fell from 80,000 to just a handful.

Magda Haroun: “After the establishment of Israel the attitude of Egyptians towards Jews changed.”

Large numbers were expelled or forced out of Egypt.”

Those portrayals would obviously lead BBC audiences to understand that prior to that prior to that unexplained “conflict”, which is inaccurately described as beginning in 1948, all was well for Egyptian Jews.

That, however, is not the case as this timeline of the measures which led to the eradication of Egypt’s Jewish community shows.

This is not the first time that BBC audiences have seen euphemistic or whitewashed portrayals of the history of Egyptian Jews. As has been noted here in the past the persecution of Egyptian Jews  did not, as the BBC suggests, begin “after the establishment of Israel” but long before Israel existed.

“The next step was the nationality laws of 1927 and 1929, which favored jus sanguinis (or right of blood). An Egyptian was from then on defined as somebody who had Arab-Muslim affiliation.

The London Convention (1936) granted Egypt independence under King Farouk, and it was followed by a worsening of the nationality laws. According to additional nationality laws (in 1950, 1951, 1953, and 1956), autochthonous Jews became stateless: 40,000 people were turned into “foreigners” in their own country.”

“In Egypt, a long process of discrimination in the public service began in 1929. In 1945-1948, Jews were excluded from the public service. In 1947, Jewish schools were put under surveillance and forced to Arabize and Egyptianize their curricula.”

Anti-Jewish violencerioting and economic discrimination also predated the existence of Israel.

“Jews in Egypt faced acute problems in the 1940s but these did not set their mass departure in motion. Rioting against Jews occurred in November 1945, then resumed in June-November 1948, the latter time inspired by the war with Israel. An amendment to the Egyptian Companies Law dated July 29, 1947, required that 40 percent of a company’s directors and 75 percent of its employees be Egyptian nationals, causing the dismissal and [loss of] livelihood of many Jews, 85 percent of whom did not possess Egyptian nationality.”

As we see, the BBC continues to erase history in order to promote its own inaccurate narrative according to which the mass departure of Jews from Egypt only happened because of Israel.

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BBC News recycles a well-told Nazareth story

On February 16th the BBC News website chose to feature a fifteen year-old story on its ‘Middle East’ page using the headline “The unlikely hostel easing hostilities” and the sub-heading “An Arab-Jewish owned hostel caused controversy but is being held up as a symbol of change”.

The article itself – credited to a US-based freelancer called Lucy Sherriff who briefly visited Israel two months ago – is headlined “Crossing Divides: The hostel promoting tourism to ease Israel’s tensions” and it also appears on the BBC News website’s page devoted to “Crossing Divides” which is described as “A season of stories about bringing people together in a fragmented world.”

That, apparently, is the sole explanation for the BBC’s publication of a story which has been told on many occasions by various media outlets and other organisations, as well as by the entrepreneurs themselves, since the hostel first opened in Nazareth in 2005 just as the Second Intifada, which severely impacted tourism in Israel, was coming to an end.  

The messaging that Sherriff wishes to promote is amply clear.

“An Arab-Jewish owned hostel caused controversy but is being held up as a symbol of change

“After gruelling and lengthy renovations the hostel opened its doors to the public, and the tourists started to come.

“We definitely had some hard times,” Maoz says. “But now we see the whole old city has changed and there are so many shops and cafes and other hostels that have opened up because we have been here. I worked hard to meet everybody in the community, so they knew that I was here as a friend, and to help.”

Despite no longer living in Nazareth, Maoz still knows most of the shopkeepers by name, and is credited with helping to heal tensions and bring Jewish visitors into the city.”

Sherriff underlines her messaging with quotes and a five-year-old paper from an academic.

“”When I first heard about this hostel opening, I thought wow… this is unusual,” says Alon Gelbman, a professor of tourism management at Kinneret College in Galilee [sic]. “But it became a success story quite fast.” […]

A decade after the inn opened, Prof Gelbman decided to use Fauzi Azar as a case study for his paper on how tourism could be used to heal conflict and divided communities.

“The partnership became a symbol,” says Prof Gelbman. “Because we don’t see too much cooperation between Jews and Arabs.

“And the question we set out to answer was not ‘can peace promote tourism?’, but instead, ‘can tourism promote peace?’ Can we use tourism to encourage more peaceful and better relationships in communities?

“Can we use the fact that people are meeting each other, talking, becoming more familiar with other communities, to start a change, bottom-up?”

Prof Gelbman’s report, which he wrote with Daniel Laven, a professor at Mid Sweden University, concluded that tourism could indeed help create shared interests between communities that are characterised by cross-cultural conflict.”

“Shared interests” (as expressed in the article’s closing quotes from the two entrepreneurs) are of course not the same as “easing hostilities”, “heal[ing] conflict” or “promoting tourism to ease Israel’s tensions” and sharp-eyed Hebrew fluent readers may have noticed the political ‘Nakba’ graffiti in the background of the article’s second photograph.

While the majority of visitors to the BBC News website will of course not click on the link to read the academic paper, those who do will find quotes from “Interviewee B” who is the same Suraida Shomar Nasser appearing in Sherriff’s article.

“Interviewee B described the importance of engaging guests in this story in very strong terms:

I sit with guests – [and] many of them are Jews – and I share with them that [my] grandpa [Fauzi Azar] fought against the occupation. And [sometimes they] ask me, “Do you still call it occupation?” I say, “Excuse me, maybe for me it is still occupation.”. … . Sharing this story with [our] guests is giving us [an opportunity] … to tell [visitors] that here are Arab Christians. Ok, we have Israeli identity cards but it doesn’t mean that we don’t feel [a sense of] belonging to the Palestinians, or we are not Palestinians anymore. […]

Interviewee B sees the guesthouse as a potential empowerment vehicle for acknowledging and validating her family’s experience in this conflict. This is important because of Interviewee B’s minority status in Israeli society. The tourism element is also important here because it is the inn’s guests that create the opportunity to share this experience. Without guests, there would be no audience with which to transfer the story.”

There is no obvious reason for the BBC’s decision to publish this article at this particular time beyond the fact that its messaging and agenda fit the ‘Crossing Divides’ mission of telling “stories about bringing people together in a fragmented world”. However what BBC audiences find is a superficial report by a freelance journalist with no known Middle East expertise on a brief visit to Israel which casts no new light on one already well-told story and makes no effort to provide background information and context to what it blandly touts as “Israel’s tensions” and “divided communities”.

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The BBC returns to an old obsession

Long-time readers may recall that back in early 2013 the BBC exhibited something of an obsession with one Israeli football club.

The BBC, football racism and Israel

Obsession: four BBC ‘Beitar’ articles in under a week

As was noted here at the time:

“Yes – there is a serious problem with a group of racist fans of one football club out of dozens – most of which (as even acknowledged in the BBC article on the subject) have players from many different religious and ethnic backgrounds – in a country which includes players from minority ethnic and religious groups on its national teams

Deplorable as the racism among some fans at Beitar Jerusalem is, its existence makes Israel no different and no worse than most countries on the planet which have also failed to eliminate racism from football. It certainly does not justify the over-generalised headline “Football racism fears in Israel” or the placing of two separate reports on two home pages of the BBC News website for a relatively prolonged period of time. 

Unless, that is, this incident is being exploited to try to advance a specific narrative about an entire country.” 

In 2016 the BBC’s Middle East editor promoted an irrelevant comparison – and false equivalence – between incitement and glorification of terrorism sanctioned and organised by the Palestinian Authority and its main party Fatah with the behaviour of a specific group of Israeli football hooligans.  

“Hate-filled Palestinian rhetoric against Israel is not hard to find. It cuts the other way too.

Fans of one of Jerusalem’s professional football clubs, which has roots in a right-wing Zionist youth movement, are notorious for chanting “Death to Arabs” during games.”

On December 20th the BBC returned to the topic of the Beitar Jerusalem football club in a flurry of reports by BBC Sport’s Alex Capstick.

A written report headlined “Beitar Jerusalem: How do you change ‘the most racist’ club in Israel?” was published on the BBC Sport website and on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page.

A filmed report titled “How Beitar Jerusalem’s football club owner took on racism and won” was also posted on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page and in its ‘Crossing Divides’ section. That film promotes the following bizarre claim:

“In Israel pulling people together in a common cause is difficult.”

The BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ included an item on the same story (from 14:05 here) with presenter Tim Franks telling listeners that:

“One of the more unpleasant football matches I’ve ever attend was fifteen years ago in Jerusalem where the top club, Beitar, had a truly terrible reputation for a hardcore of racist fans and so they proved to be, screaming ‘death to Arabs’, waving blood-curdling banners – you get the ugly picture. But when the high-tech business mogul Moshe Hogeg became the new owner, he decided to take the numbskulls on and his at-time confrontational style seems to be working.”

The filmed report tells viewers that Beitar Jerusalem is “the only one [team] in the top division never to have selected as Arab player”. However none of Capstick’s reports inform BBC audiences just how prevalent Muslim players actually are in Israeli football teams – including the national squad which is currently captained by Circassian footballer Bibras Natkho.

Obviously the BBC continues to find it more ‘newsworthy’ to promote the exception to the rule by continuing to focus audience attentions on one particular Israeli football club.

BBC again mainstreams ‘one-state’ without an explanation

In late March the BBC announced a ‘global season’ called ‘Crossing Divides’ commencing on April 23rd.

“In the week of 23 April, BBC News is presenting a global season looking at the ways in which people connect across the fractures that divide societies – fractures between people who believe in different politics, religion or of different races, classes or ages.” 

And:

“From 23 April the BBC uncovers more than 40 stories of how people across the globe are working together to find solutions in a polarised world.

The week-long season on radio, TV and online features encounters between people who have different political beliefs, faiths or are of different races, classes and generations.”

Five days prior to that stated launch date, on the day that Israelis were celebrating 70 years of independence, the BBC News website posted a filmed report by Richard Kenny for a BBC programme called ‘World Hacks’ which is described as “An innovative new weekly programme looking at how we can solve the world’s problems”.

Titled “The peace talks with a difference“, the film is described as being about “How one man is getting ordinary Palestinians and Israelis to talk peace with each other”.

“There’s a new set of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. But no politicians. Just ordinary citizens. […] The Israel Palestinian conflict shows no sign of ending and the two governments aren’t talking to each other. So one Israeli academic has taken the initiative.”

BBC audiences are not told that the organisation showcased in this report – ‘Minds of Peace’ – was set up over seven years ago and that even when “the two governments” were engaged in negotiations in January 2014, its activities were strongly opposed by some Palestinian factions.

“Israeli peace activists who arrived in Ramallah recently were forced to leave the city under Palestinian Authority [PA] police protection.

The activists were escorted out of Ramallah in police vans after Palestinian protesters attacked the hotel where a “peace conference” between Israelis and Palestinians was taking place.

The event in Ramallah was organized by Minds of Peace, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is “Grassroots Peace Making and Public Diplomacy: A novel approach to the peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”

Although the event in Ramallah was supposed to last for two days, during which Israelis and Palestinians would talk about peace and coexistence, as soon as the conference began at City Inn Hotel in Ramallah, scores of Palestinian activists arrived at the scene, chanting slogans against the presence of Israelis in Ramallah. […]

The protest finally forced the organizers of the conference to call it off, with the Israelis quickly leaving Ramallah out of concern for their safety.

“The situation outside is very tense and we have to stop here,” Ibrahim Enbawai, one of the Palestinian participants in the conference declared after a brief chat with the police commander. “There are hundreds of people outside and the police have asked that we stop the event.”

The following day, January 9, the Israeli and Palestinian activists tried to meet at the Ambassador Hotel in Jerusalem. But here, too, they were confronted by dozens of Palestinian “anti-normalization” activists who forced the Israelis and Palestinians to leave the hotel in a humiliating manner.”

Viewers did however see context-free and inaccurate statements made by participants in the filmed meeting (which, incidentally, took place on March 9th and was advertised with promotion of the BBC’s coverage) highlighted in the BBC’s report.

“Before that we lived together in peace. But the occupation is a big reason for this thing.”

“The environment in the checkpoints is inciting a lot of violence.”

The BBC’s film mainstreamed the notion that the one-state ‘solution’ is one legitimate option for resolution of the conflict:

“They try to cover all issues such as should there be a one-state or a two-state solution.”

Apparently the BBC is comfortable with the idea that “working together to find solutions in a polarised world” can include mainstreaming the one-state ‘solution’ – but without bothering to inform audiences (once again) that such a ‘solution’ in fact means eradication of the Jewish state and elimination of the Jewish right to self-determination.

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