Another BBC report on Iraqi Jews omits the Farhud

The December 3rd edition of the BBC Radio 4 religious affairs programme ‘Sunday’ included an item (from 16:05 here) described as follows in the synopsis:

“The story of what happened to the last Jews of Iraq is the subject of a new documentary “Remember Baghdad”. Edward talks to David Dangoor about his great grandfather who was a former Chief Rabbi of Baghdad.”

However, as was the case in a previous BBC World Service radio item on the same topic, listeners expecting to get an answer to the question of what happened to the ancient Iraqi Jewish community would have been disappointed. Presenter Edward Stourton introduced the item:

Stourton: “The story of the last Jews of Baghdad is told in the documentary which is being screened in selected cinemas from tomorrow to mark the 100th anniversary of Britain’s seizing control of the city. It was one of the great world centres of Judaism from the days of Nebuchadnezzar right up to the 1940s and 50s. The film – Remembering [sic] Baghdad – explores that history through the eyes of some of the Jews who left. David Dangoor was one such and he told me how he remembers the city.”

Listeners heard Mr Dangoor’s portrayal of a “good life” with a “rich cultural tapestry” before Stourton went on to ask about “relations with the city’s Arabs” and to what extent Jews were “integrated”. Mr Dangoor told of joint business ventures between Jews and Arabs before saying that:

“During the troubles, many Jewish people were given refuge and protection by their Muslim friends.”

Listeners did not however hear what those “troubles” actually were.

After Stourton had asked questions about Mr Dangoor’s great-grandfather and his mother – the first ‘Miss Baghdad’ – he went on to inaccurately claim that the idyllic life portrayed so far had ended because of the establishment of the State of Israel.

Stourton: “You, I think, were born in the year that the State of Israel came into being. What began to change then?”

Dangoor: “We need to remember that Zionism, which is Jewish nationalism, grew at the same time as Arab nationalism in the early part of the 20th century. So it became a point of contention in many Arab countries between Jewish people in Arab countries and their Muslim neighbours. There were clashes from time-to-time and that began to become a bigger problem until of course in 1948, as you say, the Jewish state was formed and the enmity grew. Jews were seen as potential spies for what they called the Zionist entity and there was some hostility.”

In the rest of the item listeners heard how Mr Dangoor’s family left Iraq in 1958 after the murder of the royal family, of his nostalgia for Baghdad and how he believes Jews will one day return to Iraq.

Nowhere in this item, however, did listeners hear a proper explanation of the Farhud pogrom that took place seven years before Israel came into being and was the real turning point that triggered the demise of the Jewish community in Iraq.

Once again we see that on the rare occasions when the BBC does produce content relating to the topic of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands, it fails to tell a complete story.

Related Articles:

BBC WS claims Israeli ‘pressure’ and ‘incentives’ led Jews to flee Iraq

 

 

 

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BBC WS claims Israeli ‘pressure’ and ‘incentives’ led Jews to flee Iraq

The November 19th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Weekend asked “what happened to the Jews of Baghdad?” but listeners hoping to get an accurate and full answer to that question would have been disappointed.

Presenter Julian Worricker introduced the item (from 43:47 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Worricker: “Now in 1917 a third of the people living in the Iraqi city of Baghdad were Jewish. A hundred years on, among the city’s six and a half million people only a handful are Jews. There was more than one factor behind the exodus of Baghdad’s Jewish population and a new documentary that premiered in London last week has been exploring what happened to some of them, among them Edwin Shuker. In 1971 he left Baghdad as a child and came to Britain with his parents and he says he still wants to maintain a bond with Iraq.”

The documentary concerned is called ‘Remember Baghdad’ and listeners heard a short clip from that film before Worricker interviewed Edwin Shuker. After Mr Shuker spoke about the 2,600 year-long history of the Jewish community in Iraq and the background to some of the scenes in the film portraying his visits to Iraq, Worricker continued:

Worricker: “…you went to what I think is now the only still potentially functioning – and I say potentially for good reason – synagogue. It is a building in good condition but it is the only one like that and there are now said to be only five Jews left in Iraq. How has it come to that?”

Shuker: “Well, it was ethnic cleansing. In…”

Worricker [interrupts]: “That’s how you see it?”

Shuker: “That’s how the world should see it. In 1948 there were 150,000 Jews. Many of them would have stayed. Then there were some very racist laws. Law number 1951 which stripped them from their nationality but more than that, it stripped every Jew who ever leaves Iraq for whatever reason for more than six months – and only the Jew – stripped him from his nationality without the possibility of recovering it.”

Worricker, however, went on to propose another reason for the decline of Iraq’s Jewish community to BBC World Service listeners.

Worricker: “Part of that sharp fall in numbers in the early 1950s was also due – was it not – to what the then first Israeli prime minister David Ben Gurion was offering to Jews by way of…you can call it pressure, call it incentive…to move to what was then the new Jewish state.”

Quite what ‘incentives’ Julian Worricker believes Ben Gurion had to offer Iraqi Jews at the time – apart from a shack unconnected to mains water or electricity in a transit camp, dubious employment prospects and loss of social status – is unclear.

Notably though, while Worricker did find time in this item to suggest that Israel ‘pressured’ Jews to leave Iraq, listeners heard nothing at all about the main turning point in the story of that community – the Farhud in 1941. Neither did they hear any explanation of the political events that led to that pogrom or – beyond the one law mentioned by Mr Shuker – the legislations by the Iraqi government that resulted in Jews being criminalised on suspicion of being Zionists, dismissed from government employment and stripped of their assets. No mention was made of another seminal event that contributed to the exodus of Jews from Iraq: the show trial and hanging of a prominent Jewish businessman in 1948.

During the subsequent conversation with Worricker’s studio guests Jonathan Steele and Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, listeners heard the latter describe Iran as having “a vibrant Jewish population” along with the claim that Jews who did leave the country did so “because they didn’t want their boys going off to fight in the Iran-Iraq war”. They did not however hear any mention of the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran as a factor that caused Persian Jews to flee the country.

With the BBC having a very dismal track record on reporting the topic of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands, listeners to this programme would not be well placed to fill in its serious omissions for themselves. Hence, the question presented as a description of this item was clearly left largely unanswered.  

Related Articles:

BBC WS radio promotes Avi Shlaim’s historical misrepresentations – part two

Guardian frames expulsion of Iraqi Jews in 40s and 50s as “easygoing, pluralistic prosperity”  (UK Media Watch)

BBC Amends Faulty Article on Iraqi Jews, Acknowledges Farhud  (CAMERA)

 

BBC WS radio promotes Avi Shlaim’s historical misrepresentations – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, on May 31st Oxford professor Avi Shlaim appeared on the panel of BBC World Service radio’s ‘Newshour Extra’. There – unhindered by host Owen Bennett-Jones – Shlaim was given a platform from which to promote assorted inaccurate and politically partisan versions of Middle East history as well as the risible notion that the root cause of the absence of peace, security and stability in the entire region is the Arab-Israeli conflict. In addition, the BBC platform was used to mainstream to millions of listeners around the world the notion that the only way to achieve peace in the Middle East is by dismantling the Jewish state and denying Jews the right to self-determination.OBJ radio

No less insidious was Shlaim’s idealisation of Jewish life in Iraq – all the more pernicious given Shlaim’s title of ‘historian’.

“My family had lived in Iraq all these years. There were very good harmonious relations between Jews and Muslims in Iraq. The Jewish community was very well-integrated. We were Jewish Arabs. We spoke Arabic. We had no interest or understanding of Zionism. Zionism was a European idea and a European project and very few Iraqi Jews had any interest in going to live in a Jewish state in Palestine. But then there was the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The Iraqi army fought against the Israelis in that war and there was a wave of hostility towards the Jews in all the Arab lands, including Iraq. Life became insecure and unsafe in Iraq and we moved to Israel in 1950 along with about one hundred thousand Iraqi Jews because there was a backlash after the Arab defeat in 1948 against the Jews. That’s why we ended up in Israel – not out of commitment to the Zionist project.”

So according to Shlaim the historian, all was sweetness and light for Jews in Arab lands in general and Iraq in particular until the Arabs lost the war they initiated against the newly declared Israeli state in 1948. One might have thought that a historian would have remembered to mention the one of the most important events in the Iraqi Jewish community’s modern history – the Farhud of 1941 – especially as that event’s anniversary was marked just one day after this programme was broadcast.

Of course anyone familiar with Avi Shlaim’s record will be well aware of the fact that more often than not his political views – along with his self-awarded role of “judge and jury” – shape his accounts of history and his portrayal of Zionism as “a European idea and a European project” in this broadcast is a classic example of Shlaim’s seemingly unlimited ability to ignore inconvenient facts such as the First Aliyah wave of immigrants from Yemen and the event – the Farhud – which signalled that relations between Iraqi Jews and their neighbours were not quite as “harmonious” as Shlaim would have listeners believe.

The trouble with this BBC programme is that the vast majority of those listening to the radio show will not be familiar with the prolific political activities of the learned professor and will not be able to apply the necessary context of his underlying agenda to the ostensibly neutral and academic analysis he provides. And of course the real issue is that Owen Bennett-Jones and his BBC colleagues made no effort whatsoever to provide audiences with the information necessary for them to appreciate that any application of context and critical thinking was required at all.