BBC Watch complaint on Partition Plan inaccuracy upheld

Readers may recall that in an edition of the Radio 4 programme ‘PM’ broadcast back in June, the BBC’s Hugh Sykes portrayed the 1947 Partition Plan as follows:

“And 70 years ago in 1947, the UN General Assembly passed the partition resolution, recommending the creation of independent Arab and Jewish states with economic union and an international regime for a shared Jerusalem. The two-state resolution 181 seventy years ago was rejected by Palestinians and by most Jewish organisations.” [emphasis added]

As was noted here at the time:

“The Palestinians – in the form of the Arab Higher Committee – did indeed reject the Partition Plan outright – but so did the Arab states; unmentioned by Sykes. While some groups such as Etzel and Lehi expressed opposition to the Partition Plan, the organisation officially representing Jews in Palestine – the Jewish Agency – both lobbied for and accepted it. Sykes’ attempt to portray the plan as having been rejected by both Arabs and Jews is egregiously inaccurate, although unfortunately not unprecedented in BBC content.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on that issue that was acknowledged on June 13th. Ten days later we received a reply from BBC Complaints stating:

“Thanks for contacting us about ‘PM’ on June 8.

We realise you were concerned about the item on the significant anniversaries in the Middle East this year. It’s clear you felt there was an error which required correction.

You’ve stated that the Jewish Agency was the official voice of the Jews in Palestine at the time, and that it was therefore incorrect and misleading to say ‘most Jewish organisations’ rejected the Two State resolution in 1947.

We raised this with the programme team and with Hugh Sykes. Hugh explains:

“My ‘most’ was intended to embrace the hugely significant, influential and powerful Jewish organisations like Hagganah and the Stern Gang who rejected the partition plan, so I think ‘most’ was a fair distillation of the balance between the organisations (not necessarily the Jewish people) who accepted or rejected UN res 181.”

So the statement was not that the organisations opposed to the resolution were official; he was highlighting the fact that there was a significant and powerful opposition.

We hope this clarifies the issue and explains why we are satisfied with its accuracy for listeners.”

BBC Watch submitted a second complaint in light of that response:

“The response to my previous complaint is unsatisfactory. Not only does it inaccurately claim that the Haganah opposed the Partition Plan but it also claims that Lehi (referred to by Sykes using the pejorative title ‘Stern Gang’) was “hugely significant, influential and powerful” when in fact that group never had more than a few hundred members and was rejected by the mainstream Jewish population.

Most importantly, however, this response does not address the body of my complaint. Sykes’ claim that “The two-state resolution 181 seventy years ago was rejected by Palestinians and by most Jewish organisations” inaccurately leads listeners to believe that the plan was rejected by Jews and Arabs alike and therefore materially misleads audiences with regard to a significant historic event. In fact, while two small Jewish organisations (not “most”) – Etzel and Lehi – expressed reservations regarding the Partition Plan, the mainstream Jewish establishment both lobbied vigorously for it and accepted it. A correction needs to be issued – including on the webpage still available to audiences – clarifying that the Partition Plan was not rejected by Jews at all.”

On July 20th we received a reply to the second complaint:

“Thank you for taking the time to contact us and we appreciate that you felt strongly enough to write to us again. We’re sorry to learn that you were not satisfied with our earlier response.

We’ve noted your points but do not consider they have suggested a possible breach of the BBC’s standards to justify further investigation or a more detailed reply. Opinions can vary widely about the BBC’s output, but may not necessarily imply a breach of our standards or public service obligations.

For this reason we do not feel we can add more to our reply or answer further questions or points. We realise you may be disappointed but have explained why we are not able to take your complaint further.”

BBC Watch then submitted a Stage 2 complaint to the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) and received a reply on September 19th informing us of the ECU’s decision to consider it as an editorial complaint.

On November 10th – over five months after the programme was originally broadcast – we were informed by the Head of Executive Complaints that the ECU had upheld our complaint.

Of course the vast majority of people who listened to ‘PM’ on June 8th will be highly unlikely to search out the relevant page on the BBC website on the off-chance that a correction may have been made to something they heard over five months ago.

And so, the BBC’s partly outsourced complaints system (which one could be forgiven for thinking is primarily designed to make members of the public give up and go away) continues to do a disservice to licence fee payers by ensuring that by the time a material inaccuracy is addressed, virtually no-one will receive the corrected information.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Hugh Sykes tells R4 listeners that Jews rejected the Partition Plan

Another ‘stealth’ correction on the BBC News website

Another BBC News correction misses its point

New BBC complaints procedure finalised following consultation

 

 

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BBC’s Hugh Sykes tells R4 listeners that Jews rejected the Partition Plan

As noted here previously, on June 8th Hugh Sykes produced two reports for BBC Radio 4. The second of those reports was broadcast in the programme ‘PM‘ (from 45:16 here) and presenter Eddie Mair introduces it as follows: [all emphasis in italics in the original]

Mair: “In Israel there’s a triple anniversary this year, as our correspondent Hugh Sykes explains from Jerusalem, which itself has experienced numerous car rammings and knife attacks recently. On Radio 4’s the World at One Hugh heard from Jewish Israelis who want to end the occupation. Here’s Hugh’s report for PM.”

As was the case in that earlier report, Sykes’ portrayal of attacks against Israelis (rather than the city of Jerusalem, as Mair bizarrely claims) does not include any use of the term terror. Once more, Radio 4 listeners do not hear any background information explaining why the Six Day War happened and the 19 year-long Jordanian occupation of Judea & Samaria and parts of Jerusalem until 1967 is again erased from audience view.

Sykes: “Since September 2015 there’ve been 58 vehicle ramming attacks here in Israel and 177 stabbing attacks on people presumed to be Jewish, killing 50 – most of the dead; Israeli Jews. 250 of the Palestinian attackers were killed by Israeli security forces – figures from the Israeli government. And these anniversaries? It’s 50 years since the 1967 Six Day War in which Israel fought against Syria, Jordan and Egypt and Israel won. 2017 is also the 50th anniversary of the occupation which ensued.”

Sykes then presents listeners with an inaccurate claim relating to the 1947 Partition Plan.

Sykes: “And 70 years ago in 1947, the UN General Assembly passed the partition resolution, recommending the creation of independent Arab and Jewish states with economic union and an international regime for a shared Jerusalem. The two-state resolution 181 seventy years ago was rejected by Palestinians and by most Jewish organisations.”

The non-binding recommendation known as UN GA resolution 181 of course limited ‘corpus separatum’ status of Jerusalem to a period of ten years, after which “the whole scheme shall be subject to examination by the Trusteeship Council in the light of experience acquired with its functioning” and “the residents the City shall be then free to express by means of a referendum their wishes as to possible modifications of regime of the City”.

The Palestinians – in the form of the Arab Higher Committee – did indeed reject the Partition Plan outright – but so did the Arab states; unmentioned by Sykes. While some groups such as Etzel and Lehi expressed opposition to the Partition Plan, the organisation officially representing Jews in Palestine – the Jewish Agency – both lobbied for and accepted it. Sykes’ attempt to portray the plan as having been rejected by both Arabs and Jews is egregiously inaccurate, although unfortunately not unprecedented in BBC content.

Sykes then goes on:

Sykes: “Civil war broke out between Jews and Palestinians, the State of Israel was declared in 1948 immediately followed by the first Arab-Israeli war which Israel won. Many Israelis are celebrating this year as the 50th anniversary of salvation because they won the Six Day War. Palestinians are marking 50 years of occupation – a word that many Israeli Jews reject. Here are two settlers voicing views that I’ve heard here many times.”

The edited and unidentified voices that listeners then hear are of a genre the BBC so often finds fit to amplify. Sykes commences by suggesting to listeners that individuals – rather than states – are ‘occupiers’.

Sykes: “Do you feel you’re an occupier?”

Woman 1: “Hmm…I don’t know that I’d use that word. I just live here. I’m not familiar with…I don’t use that word. I do not like the word occupying. I am not.”

Sykes: “You’re 20 kilometers inside the West Bank; inside what most of the world describes as illegally occupied Palestinian territory.”

Woman 1: “Let’s just say I don’t agree with the world. Just because the whole world thinks something is right doesn’t make it right.”

Woman 2: “The solution between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East is in the Bible. The land of Israel was promised to the sons of Jacob and Israel and this is why the name of the state is Israel and not Palestine. Palestine is Philistines. The Philistines have disappeared from the map of the world. In Israel, Israel is the boss.”

Having inserted the BBC’s standard portrayal of ‘international law’ (which endorses one narrative concerning what is actually an unresolved dispute), Sykes goes on to present a conversation with a shopkeeper in Jerusalem that is remarkable for his own prompting and numerous closed questions.

Sykes: “A conversation in a book shop in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem. East Jerusalem is annexed and governed by Israel and there are now more than half a million Israeli settlers living in what international law regards as the occupied West Bank, though Israel disputes that. The bookshop owner is Imad Muna [phonetic].

Muna: “I was born in 1964 so on 1967 I was 3 years old. So all my life was under occupation. So I don’t know what is the difference between occupation and freedom.”

Sykes: “Do you think the occupation is permanent now?”

Muna: “I think what they call it the national project – the Palestinian national project – I think it’s fall down.”

Sykes: “It’s finished?”

Muna: “I think it’s fini…almost. Some of the people they say that it’s OK to be under occupation, under the Israeli law. So we are not united any more against the occupation. We are used to the occupation, which is dangerous. But this is our situation.”

Sykes: “Dangerous to accept it?”

Muna: “Dangerous to accept because then it will be normal; part of life.”

Sykes: “So if occupation goes on forever, which you’re suggesting, does something happen to stop it or does it just go on and on?”

Muna: “Nothing to stop it because also we are weak. As a Palestinian we are weak. We cannot do anything. The Palestinians – most of them – they’re against fighting and stabbing and bombing. Against that. “

Failing to inform listeners of the relevant issue of Palestinian Authority’s payment of salaries to convicted terrorists and its quotidian incitement and glorification of terrorism, Sykes goes on:

Sykes: “Do you blame your parents’ generation for rejecting the United Nations resolution which offered partition between Jews and Palestine?”

Muna: “Yes.”

Sykes: “A two-state solution in 1947 – should that have happened?”

Muna: “Yes. Yes – completely right.”

Sykes: “Do you also blame the violent Palestinians – mostly of Hamas but also of Islamic Jihad and also Fatah – for mounting that sustained suicide bombing campaign in which more than 800 people in Israel were murdered? Did that give Israel permission to remain occupiers forever?”

Muna: “It was wrong. The wall, the isolation – all the things happen because of the bombing that we did.”

Sykes: “So violent Palestinian organisations like Hamas wounded Palestinians?”

Muna:”That’s right – exactly, exactly. Every time we do it it’s come back to us.”

Sykes: “Imad Muna. In 2011 the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said that the 1947 Arab rejection of the UN Partition Plan had been a mistake and if the occupation does never end,  intense Palestinian anger may return, like that expressed by a farmer I met during the second Intifada – uprising – 15 years ago.”

Listeners then hear a voiceover of an unidentified man saying:

“Three days ago the Israelis came with their bulldozers. They were uprooting olive trees and beans which we used to plant in this area. This is like cancer in the Palestinian body.”

Sykes: “A farmer in the West Bank shortly before the so-called security barrier was erected across his land.”

If a section of the anti-terrorist fence really was erected on the man’s land, he would of course have received compensation but Sykes does not trouble his listeners with such details. He closes:

Sykes: “And this year’s third Israel anniversary? It’s a hundred years since the Balfour Declaration. In 1917 the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour, sent a letter to Lord Rothschild in which he declared ‘His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment of a national home for Jewish people’.”

Sykes of course misquotes that part of the short text which actually reads:

“His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” [emphasis added]

He continues:

“His letter goes on ‘it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine’.”

With the suggestion obviously being that those rights have been prejudiced, the item closes there:

Eddie Mair: “Hugh Sykes reporting.”

Yet again we see in this item promotion of the politicised and inaccurate narrative according to which the modern-day conflict is rooted entirely in the outcome of the Six Day War – in particular ‘occupation’ and ‘settlements’. Sykes’ inaccurate portrayal of Jewish acceptance of the Partition Plan obviously needs rapid and prominent correction and one can only hope that misrepresentation does not signal a taste of things to come when that anniversary is marked later this year.

Related Articles:

BBC claims Ben Gurion “opposed” the Partition Plan

The BBC and the 1947 Partition Plan

Radio 4’s Hugh Sykes joins the BBC’s ‘it’s all down to the occupation’ binge

 

Radio 4’s Hugh Sykes joins the BBC’s ‘it’s all down to the occupation’ binge

On June 8th BBC Radio 4 listeners heard two reports from the latest BBC correspondent on a flying visit to Israel – Hugh Sykes.

The first of those reports was broadcast on the “World at One’ programme (from 14:30 here). Presenter Mark Mardell gave an introduction devoid of any context concerning the reasons for the outbreak of the Six Day War.

Mardell: “Now it’s…in Israel it’s 50 years since two major events which changed the history of the region. On the 5th of June 1967 a war began between Israel and Syria, Jordan and Egypt. Six days later Israel emerged victorious. At the end of that war a half a century ago, Israel’s occupation and settlement of Gaza and the Palestinian West Bank began.”

The 19 year-long Jordanian occupation of what Mardell terms “the Palestinian West Bank” is clearly not deemed relevant to the story. Mardell continues:

“The Gaza settlers were evacuated in 2005. Those in the West Bank – more than half a million now – are still there. Our correspondent Hugh Sykes is in Jerusalem for the World at One.”

After a recording of music playing, Hugh Sykes begins his item. Curiously (but, given BBC editorial policy, predictably) Sykes’ descriptions of the second Intifada do not include any mention of the word ‘terror’. [all emphasis in italics in the original]

Sykes: “A saxophone player on Jaffa Street [sic – Jaffa Road]. People sitting at café tables under parasols on a sunny spring day here in Jerusalem. The first time I walked here 15 years ago the shops had security guards with automatic rifles checking your bags. There was a wave of almost routine suicide bombings, many of them killing dozens of people on buses here in Jerusalem. Between 1989 and 2008 across Israel altogether 800 people were killed by Palestinian suicide bombers.”

Sykes’ information – apparently gleaned from Wikipedia – of course does not tell the whole story. In just five of the 19 years cited by Sykes – 2000 to 2005 – 1,100 Israelis were murdered in terror attacks that included – but were not limited to – the suicide bombings on which he has chosen to focus. He continues:

“Since then the security barrier – the walls and the fences and the extensive checkpoints –have been put up, cutting off the West Bank; the main source of the suicide bombings. Though the counter argument is that the bombings have stopped because the Palestinians have largely stopped trying to send suicide bombers here, partly because it led to the security barrier being put up and their lives being made much more difficult. So, it’s calm here now. But this is an illusion Daniel Seidemann tells me. He’s an Israeli lawyer specialising in the geo-politics of Jerusalem.”

Of course BBC regular Daniel Seidemann is not just a “lawyer”: he is also the founder of two politicised campaigning groups – ‘Ir Amim’ and ‘Terrestrial Jerusalem’ – both of which receive foreign funding including, in the case of the latter, from the UK tax payers listening to this programme. Despite the existence of BBC editorial guidelines stating that the “particular viewpoint” of contributors should be made clear in advance to audiences, Hugh Sykes makes no effort to clarify Seidemann’s political agenda and links to politicised campaigning NGOs to listeners before they go on to hear that contributor’s cliché-ridden statements.

Seidemann: “I consider the greatest threat to the Jewish people in this generation to be perpetual occupation and Israelis are in a state of clinical denial.”

Sykes: “Why is occupation a threat to Israel?”

Seidemann: “We are sipping cappuccino on the edge of a volcano. Go to my friends in Tel Aviv and ask them about occupation. They’ll say ‘occupation – what occupation?’ We live in a bubble and bubbles burst. Israel has no future if we continue to occupy. It may take 50 years, it may take a hundred years.”

Sykes: “What’s the mechanism that brings Israel to an end if you don’t disengage from occupation?”

Seidemann: “Decay, isolation, ahm…”

Sykes: “That’s all psychological.”

Seidemann: “No, no it’s not.”

Sykes: “The rest of the world doesn’t care anymore. Sympathy for the Palestinians was pretty much lost when they mounted the second Intifada and started blowing up children with suicide bombers on buses here in Jerusalem. And the rest of the Arab world doesn’t care about the Palestinians, do they? So Israel is secure, isn’t it?”

Seidemann: “Both Israelis and Palestinians are deeply traumatised people and we’re living something on an emotional overdraft. I am not telling you what will happen tomorrow morning. Look out the window, OK? In that city there are 850,000 people. 37% of them are Palestinians. This is a bi-national city and in this bi-national city one national collective has all the power and the other is politically disempowered.”

Of course even those Arab residents of Jerusalem who chose not to exercise their right to apply for Israeli citizenship (and hence the right to vote in legislative elections) are entitled to both run and vote in municipal elections in the city. Hugh Sykes however does not bother to clarify those facts relating to people who have just been inaccurately described as “politically disempowered” before continuing:

Sykes: “And more than half a million settlers now live in the West Bank. If there’s ever going to be any progress towards agreeing two nations here, a plan that’s often been discussed is land swaps, allowing more than 400,000 Jewish settlers to remain in what are now substantial high-density suburbs of Jerusalem. But this would leave 156,000 settlers in settlements which would have to be evacuated, as all the settlements in Gaza were 12 years ago but that was just 8,000 people.”

Seidemann: “It can be done. If Israel has the will and the capability to relocate 156,000 settlers, the two-state solution is alive. If we don’t – it’s dead. Israel needs and deserves recognition in order to assume our rightful place among the family of nations. And that will happen when a Palestinian embassy opens down the street here in West Jerusalem and an Israeli embassy opens in East Jerusalem. That provides as much security as another brigade of tanks.”

Obviously any serious examination of this topic would at this point go on to address the issue of what happened after those 8,000 Israelis were uprooted from their homes and livelihoods in the Gaza Strip (along with residents of four communities in northern Shomron which Sykes and his guest appear to have forgotten) twelve years ago. Such a discussion would have to address the fact that the move did not advance peace and in fact the number of terrorist missile attacks on Israeli civilians increased. It would also have to address the fact that international bodies and nations which lauded the Gaza disengagement, promising understanding should Israel subsequently have to act against terrorism in Gaza, quickly swapped that pledge with condemnation.

Sykes, however, chooses to ignore those inconvenient facts, opting instead to reinforce his messaging.

Sykes: “Daniel Seidemann. And the recent retired director of the Mossad – Israel’s equivalent of MI6 and the CIA – Tamir Pardo, said last month that the occupation and conflict with the Palestinians was – as he put it – Israel’s one existential threat; a ticking time-bomb. But there are non-negotiable absolutists on both sides here. Palestine is Palestine from the River Jordan to the sea. And this is Jewish land: God gave it to us.”

Remarkably, only the Jewish “absolutists” in Sykes’ portrayal are religiously motivated.

Sykes’ last contributor is Jerusalem Post journalist Amotz Asa-El. During their conversation listeners hear the following:

Sykes: “Does the compromise include having Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and of Israel?”

Asa-El: “I can envisage splitting it, which I’m told is simpler to do than to share.”

Nevertheless, at the end of the item Sykes inaccurately sums up that response as follows:

Sykes: “Amotz Asa-El raising the possibility that Jerusalem could be the shared capital of Israel and of a new state of Palestine.”

Obviously this report is yet another contribution to the campaign of opportunistic politicised messaging already seen on the BBC News website. It too advances a narrative according to which the modern-day conflict is exclusively rooted in the outcome of the inadequately explained Six Day War – in particular the ‘occupation’ and ‘settlements’ – while erasing from audience view the underlying and far older refusal of Arab states and Palestinian leaders to accept and recognise the existence of the Jewish state.

Sykes’ second report of the day will be discussed in a future post.

 

BBC R4 discovers ‘the evolution of the kibbutz’ – a decade and a half late

One can get a good glimpse of the kind of received ideas about Israel prevalent in BBC corridors from presenter Eddie Mair’s introduction to an item (available from 40:37 here) which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ programme on September 29th.

“The word ‘kibbutz’ might conjure images of utopian Israeli farming communities based on socialist principles and communal ownership, idealistic young volunteers from overseas. But a kibbutz isn’t that simple anymore; many have diversified into industry. From Israel: Hugh Sykes on the evolution of the kibbutz.”

Of course in contrast to the impression given by Mair, there is actually no connection whatsoever between the fact that most kibbutzim run some sort of industrial enterprise and the reforms which took place within the kibbutz movement in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Kibbutzim have been engaged in both agriculture and industry for decades – as the fact that the Kibbutz Industries Association was established over half a century ago indicates.

“The Kibbutz Industries Association, which was established in 1962, is the umbrella organization representing more than 250 industrial enterprises in kibbutzim, collective moshavim and regional enterprises, which are located across the country, mostly in the peripheral areas.”

Reporting from Kibbutz Gadot – where the plastics factory presented as evidence for this ‘new’ industrialisation of kibbutzim has in fact been in existence for thirty years – Hugh Sykes promotes the equally inaccurate notion that the running of kibbutzim as a business is an innovation.

Kibbutz Gadot

Kibbutz Gadot

“The crops [are] chosen according to commercial demand. Gadot, like most kibbutzim nowadays, is a business.”

“…he didn’t expect to end up working for a profit-seeking commercial business.”

“So kibbutzim have mutated into co-operative capitalist businesses…”

Of course kibbutzim always chose their crops “according to commercial demand” (what farmer does not?) and the communally owned branches of agriculture, industry or tourism were always run as profit-seeking business operations which traded with the outside capitalist world – because that was how the communities managed to support themselves.

There is plenty of journalistic material in the story of how the majority of kibbutzim (around 25% still function according to the original kibbutz model) adapted themselves to the economic and social circumstances which endangered their existence in the 1990s. That story, however, does not include promotion of the inaccurate notion that kibbutzim have recently discovered industry and become businesses.

There is also an interesting story to be told about why, when economic crisis came along, those “utopian” socialist principles touted by Eddie Mair in his introduction were ultimately found to fall short. Given recent political developments in the UK, that is a story which might have interested listeners to Radio 4’s early evening news and current affairs show – but one which received ideas similar those underpinning the introduction to this report apparently did not permit telling. 

 

Examining a BBC correspondent’s recommended reading on Egyptian Jews

This is a guest post by the Point of No Return blog. 

Editor’s note: Among the BBC employees who have recently provided reading material for their Twitter followers is Hugh Sykes

Tweet Egyptian Jews

In light of the fact that the subject of Jewish refugees from Arab lands is one with which few people in the West are very familiar, BBC Watch asked one of the foremost experts on that subject – the Point of No Return blog – to comment on the recommended article. 

Khaled Fahmy seems to be the Simon Schama of Egyptian history – a smooth, western- educated history professor at Cairo’s American University. Lately, he seems to be in much demand in the Egyptian media, giving his two piastres-worth on Egypt’s thorny Jewish question in Al-Ahram – approvingly Tweeted by BBC producer Hugh Sykes. But how objective a scholar is Fahmy, asks Point of No Return blog – and has he broken with the Arab tradition where historians are propaganda agents for the regime? PoNR’s comments are interspersed below.

“Since Muslim Brotherhood leader Dr Esam El-Erian issued his call some two weeks ago to Israeli Jews of Egyptian origins to return to Egypt the social and print media have been abuzz with all kinds of speculation about the meaning, purpose and possible repercussions of this call. And while clear answers are yet to be found, the fact remains that this call has triggered public debate about a topic that has been taboo for decades. 

Like many other topics of our modern history, the modern history of Egyptian Jews, as well as the timing of and reasons for their departure, has been tackled from a political and ideological perspective in near complete absence of Arabic scholarly work on this topic.”

PoNR: True enough. Two thousand years of Jewish history in Egypt have been well-nigh erased from Egypt’s history books.

“And while there are many reasons for the scarcity of solid academic research on the history of Egyptian Jews in Arabic (there are a number of good works in English), the fact remains that one of the main reasons for this sad situation is the unavailability of original official documents, a fact that one easily experiences in the Egyptian National Archives (ENA).File:Jewish Temple, Abbasyia, Cairo.JPG

For while one finds ample documentation in the ENA about all aspects of Egyptian Jewish history during, say, the Ottoman period (ie 16th-19th century), one would be hard pressed to find a single document about Jewish life in the 20th century.

This, in turn, has many reasons, chief among them is the paranoid concern of the “security agencies” who are primarily interested in spotting the malicious foreign researcher who claims to be working on the history of charitable foundations when, it is suspected, he is after original title deeds of confiscated Jewish property.”

PoNR: Not just foreigners but greedy Egyptians have sought access to these title deeds. Access even to communal documents  – the state claims these as its property – has been  denied to the rightful Jewish owners, lest Jews use them to try and recover or demand compensation for property lost  – that the Egyptians themselves have estimated worth $30 billion. Egypt is terrified of disclosing historical records which would show the scandalous scale and manner that its 80, 000 Jews were dispossessed and ‘ethnically cleansed’.

“In the absence of authentic historic records, all kinds of questions are raised. Since El-Erian made his bravado statements, I have been receiving a barrage of questions from news channels, the press, friends and family: Is it true that there were Jews in Egypt? If so, were they genuinely Egyptian? Or was their citizenship fake and their loyalty to Egypt tenuous?”

PoNR: After 1948, the penal code made Zionism a crime. The charge of disloyalty could be leveled against any Jew. But talk of disloyalty is a bit rich, when as early as the 1920s, Egypt was practicing a double standard on citizenship.  As a result of Egypt’s 1929 Nationality Law, more than 90% of Egyptian Jews were denied citizenship, regardless of how many generations they had lived in Egypt. In the 1940s, roughly one quarter of Jews held foreign passports, less than one quarter held Egyptian citizenship and the remainder were stateless.

“Have these Jews been living in Egypt for many centuries or were they new arrivals? When did they leave Egypt and why? Where Lingering Signs: Egypt’s Jews were expelled after Israel’s founding but their long presence remains visible in Cairo’s Harat Al-Yahud, or Jewish Quarter, abutting the city’s famous Al-Azhar Mosque.did they go after they left Egypt? Is it true that most of them ended up in Israel? If so, is that not proof of their Zionist beliefs and lack of loyalty to Egypt? And who was behind their exodus from Egypt?

Given the unavailability of reliable original sources, it is difficult to answer any of these questions with any degree of certainty. Thus, the following facts should be accepted as true until someone comes along to refute them with documented information.

There were indeed Egyptian Jews. Before 1948, they numbered between 65,000 and 80,000; in Cairo, a few of them lived in the Jewish Quarter (Harat Al-Yahud) and in Darb El-Barabra, while in Alexandria they lived in Harat El-Lamon; but the majority lived everywhere else in Cairo in the districts of Abbassiya, Gamaliya, Abdeen and Sayeda, and everywhere else in Alexandria and in many cities in the Delta.

A few of these Jews had settled in Egypt since ancient times, sometimes well before the Arab conquest of Egypt, but the majority came to Egypt in the 19th century, fleeing the European pogroms.

Others were lured by the dolce vita that Egypt offered at that time.”

PoNR: Some Jews arrived from Russia fleeing Tsarist pogroms but it is misleading to suggest that the majority of 19th century immigrants came from Europe. Most arrivals came from other parts of the Ottoman Empire – Greece, Turkey, Syria, Iraq (where the Jews had lived 2,500 years). They were not in search of the Dolce Vita, as Fahmy frivolously puts it, but moved to Egypt because the Suez Canal had opened new trading opportunities. 

“Historical evidence suggests that the majority of these Jews were wholeheartedly Egyptian, with strong bonds and compassion to their Muslim and Coptic brethren. Some of them spoke Arabic besides three or four other languages, while others, such as Grand Rabbi Haim Nahum, were so eloquent in Arabic as to be a founding member of the Arab Language Academy (1932).

Some were wealthy and owned fancy department stores and considerable real estate, such as Youssef Cicurel whose family came to Egypt in the 19th century, and was a founding member of Banque Misr. Others were poor skilled workers: every neighbourhood in Cairo had a Jewish electrician, grocer, secretary or seamstress.

Historical evidence also shows that the majority of Egyptian Jews left Egypt after the 1956 war, not the 1948 war, and the majority of them did not go to Israel, but settled in other countries. Thus, it is wrong to accuse the entire Egyptian Jewish community of being Zionists who were sitting on their suitcases anxiously waiting for the first opportunity to relocate to Israel. What is true is that the majority chose to stay in their motherland as long as possible and did not leave Egypt except when their lives had become impossible.”

PoNR: This is broadly true – and Fahmy should be given credit for saying so. 

“Regarding the thorny question of why they left, evidence also shows that Israel had a key role in that. Israel recruited a spy network in 1954 to carry out terrorist attacks in Cairo and Alexandria, known as Operation Susannah. According to most analyses, this covert operation (known in Israel as the Lavon Affair, or the unfortunate affair) aimed to implicate all Egyptian Jews so as to turn public opinion against them and force them to leave to Israel, since Zionism does not believe Jews should remain in “Diaspora.” “

PoNR: It is not worthy of a historian to dredge up the 1954 Lavon affair – the stock propaganda argument blaming the Zionists for the exodus of the Jews. The affair was an embarrassment to Israel but had minimal impact and caused no casualties. There is no causal relationship between the Lavon affair in which three bombs failed to go off and Nasser’s expulsion of 25,000 Jews two years later.

“But this does not eliminate the responsibility of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s regime which closed in on Egyptian Jews and used Operation Susannah, and later the Suez War, to put limitations on them through Egyptianisation and nationalisation policies that hit wealthy Jews. The Nasserite authorities also did not issue passports to less wealthy Jews and stamped the passports of those who had passports with “final departure — no return” if they left the country, effectively preventing them from returning home.”

PoNR: Nasser did not just target wealthy Jews, but all Jews. He didn’t just target French and British passport-holders because of the Suez crisis. Even Jews of Greek and Italian and Egyptian nationality were expropriated, sacked from their jobs and forced out.

“One of the most heart breaking tales of this Nasserist “policy” is Shehata Haroun’s, a Jewish leftist activist, whose daughter fell ill with leukemia which required her to travel overseas for treatment. When he was preparing to accompany her abroad, the authorities warned him that they would stamp his passport with that obnoxious phrase, but he refused because he wanted to stay in his own country, and tragically he lost his daughter.”

PoNR: A nice story which humanises Jews to Fahmy’s Egyptian readership – an all too rare occurrence. Haroun was a member of a group of Jewish communists. The fact that these were not Zionists but were forced out or prevented from returning, along with the rest of the Jewish population, shows the antisemitic nature of Nasser’s policy.

“The Muslim Brotherhood also had a hand in this exodus since its leaders and thinkers throughout the 1930s and 1940s raised doubts about the loyalty of Jews to Egypt. Muslim Brotherhood publications from the period are replete with articles that did not distinguish between Judaism and Zionism. Theses publications also used the crudest and cruelest anti-Semitic language to turn Muslims and Copts against their Jewish compatriots. Muslim Brotherhood youth also carried out terrorist attacks in the Jewish Quarter in Cairo in 1945 and 1948 which resulted in burning down Jewish property and synagogues, and the death and injury of dozens of Jews.”

PoNR: Copts were also targeted by the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1940s. Elsewhere Fahmy says that the Muslim Brotherhood had ‘more than a hand’. Here he says that ‘much of responsibility’ for the Jewish exodus lay with the Muslim Brotherhood.  Fahmy seems to shift the blame between Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood and Nasser depending on his audience or his mood.

“If available historic evidence enables us to give preliminary answers to some of the questions that El-Erian’s statements stirred, the most bitter question remains: Can this happen again? In 1941, a smash hit play was performed on Emad Eldin Street, Cairo’s Broadway. Titled “Hassan wa Morcos wa Cohen,” it proved to be an instant hit. More than 70 years later, another smash hit was produced, this time a movie titled “Hassan wa Morcos.” Is it conceivable that Morcos leaves as Cohen did before him? And what about Hassan and his brother, Hussien? What if Hussien turns out to be a Shia or a Baha’i? And what if Hassan’s Islam turns out not to be to the liking of the Salafis, who are roaming the country from one end to the other brandishing their swords and accusing people of treason and apostasy wherever they go?”

PoNR: Where has Fahmy been these last years? There has been a steady exodus of Copts over decades. In the last two years, since the Arab Spring brought the Islamists to power, the trickle has swelled to a flood – some 100, 000 are estimated to have left.  Yes, it could well happen to Morcos.

In summary, Fahmy, who obviously has no great love for the Muslim Brotherhood, should be given credit for trying to correct some of the distortions which plague the way the exodus of the Egyptian Jews is presented – but he still has some way to go before he could be considered ‘objective’.