BBC World Service radio has a programme called ‘Focus on Africa’ which purports to provide listeners with “reports and analysis of the day’s political, economic and sports news from across Africa”. The programme includes a section titled “Art from Focus on Africa” where audiences can “listen to interviews, news and reviews of arts from Africa” and indeed most of the items in that category relate to African artists and performers.
On March 2nd however the programme included an interview (which was also promoted separately on social media) with a writer who is not from Africa. The synopsis to that clip reads:
“Tens of thousands of illegal migrants from Africa live in Israel, many of whom come from Eritrea and Sudan.
What kind of story might unfold if an Israeli citizen becomes involved with one of those migrants? What challenges might they face personally and socially?
These are questions explored by Israeli author Ayelet Gundar-Goshen in a new novel called Waking Lions.
She has been telling BBC Africa’s Mary Morgan more about the book’s central character.”
Much of the item relates to Gundar-Goshen’s novel about what she describes as a “Left-wing liberal doctor who votes for the right party” but is “completely unaware of the fact that he’s actually a racist”. However at one point presenter Mary Morgan takes the conversation away from fiction:
“How do you think most Israelis feel about and interact with African migrants?”
Listeners then hear the following assertion from Gundar-Goshen:
“Well I think most Israelis interact with African migrants but they just don’t think about it. It’s the people who clean our houses. It’s the people who clean our table. Israel is a very white society. It’s not like here. So almost all the black people that you meet are illegal refugees and I think things that will sound racist here are not even considered racist in Israel. Like the sentence when he [the novel’s main character] says ‘they all look the same for me’. I think to your eyes like this is like someone would never even dare to say. This is something that you say only inside your heart. And in Israel this is actually something that you could say and be OK.” [emphasis added]
The claim that “Israel is a very white society” can of course only be made if one ignores the fact that as of 2009, 50.2% of Israeli Jews were of Mizrachi or Sephardi background with origins in Africa and Asia. It can only be made if you ignore the 1.5% of the Israeli population of Ethiopian descent along with the Israelis with roots in places such as Yemen and Cochin, the African Hebrew Israelite community, around 10,000 black Bedouin of African descent and additional sections of Israeli society.
The BBC World Service did manage to ignore all that – with the result that listeners were fed information which, whilst it may well serve the purpose of promoting the interviewee’s work of fiction, certainly leaves them with a distorted and inaccurate view of the facts concerning a country which is actually far more diverse than “here” – i.e. the UK.