BBC World Service touts an ill-informed politicised caricature of Israel

Listeners to the March 26th/27th edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘The Cultural Frontline’ heard a long item (from 20:17 here) which presented a caricature of Israel and Israeli Jews from Arab lands which is rife with subtly misleading inaccuracy and omission. An abridged version of the item was promoted separately on social media.The Cultural Frontline Khaled Diab

The programme’s synopsis misleadingly describes the item as follows:

“Writer Khaled Diab explains why Mizrahi, or Eastern Jewish, music is becoming popular amongst both Israeli and Palestinian young people.”

Longtime readers of the Guardian will of course be familiar with Khaled Diab: he has after all been promoting his ‘one-stater’ ideas on its pages for years and he is the man who, in 2009, tried to persuade them that the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict ought to be modelled on his adopted homeland of Belgium – an idea which might currently seem even less plausible than it did at the time.

So let’s take a look at some of the notions Diab promotes on this generous BBC World Service platform. Following a rather long and flowery introduction, Diab gets to his subject matter:

“Although Israel’s image abroad and the self-image it projects is very Western, about half of its Jewish population originates in the Middle East.”airport sign

So far, so good but then Diab goes on to make the following assertion about a country in which Arabic is one of three official languages and everything from passports and ID cards to food packaging displays Arabic script – including the signs Diab presumably saw when he first stepped off the plane.

“But Israel is generally coy of showing its Arab face to the world while many Arabs don’t like seeing it.”

He continues:welcome to Israel sign

“Known as Mizrahi or Eastern Jews in Hebrew, the first generation were born in Arab countries. The second generation grew up in Arabic speaking households and many in the third generation are busy rediscovering their roots. The first generation had it tough. They fled their homelands out of fear following the creation of Israel.”

Diab does not elaborate on that last sentence and the significance of his sidestepping of events such as the Farhud in 1941 or the pogroms in Libya in 1945 will later become apparent.

He goes on:

“Their Arab culture, which was also the culture of the enemy, was shunned and looked down upon by the Ashkenazi pioneers who founded Israel. This led the Mizrahim to seek escape from their offending Mizrahiness [sic].”

Whilst there is no denying the cultural clashes of Israel’s early years, that simplistic caricature  erases from audience view the topic of the process of building of a national identity in the formative years of the Jewish state (and its satirisation in works such as the 1964 film Sallah Shabati which garnered unprecedented box-office success at the time) and the work of people such as Abraham Zvi Idelsohn (author of the Thesaurus of Hebrew Oriental Melodies), Shoshana Damari and Sara Levi-Tanai.

Diab continues:

“However even if their culture was shunned in public, the Mizrahim maintained it in private, speaking Arabic at home and listening to the music they had grown up with. Some of the musicians who moved to Israel were among the crème de la crème of Arabic music but found no interest from the Ashkenazi establishment. These included Daoud and Salah al Kuwaiti. Born in Kuwait to an Iraqi-Jewish family, the Kuwaiti brothers were popular with both the political elite – including Iraq’s then King Faisal – and the masses in Iraq and the Gulf, though they were expunged for decades from the Arab collective memory. In Israel they found little better. Salah and Daoud were forced to eke out an existence as shopkeepers in Tel Aviv and sang in small bars. Decades later, Daoud’s grandson Dudu Tassa revived their memory by fusing their songs with the guitar riffs he had become famous for as a rocker.”

Here is Dudu Tassa’s own account of his grandfather’s move to Israel:

“In the beginning of the 1950s, they decided to leave Baghdad and join the big wave of emigration from Iraq to the newly-established Israel. In spite of their wealth and of the wide range of possibilities before them Saleh and Daud had to leave everything behind. They emigrated to the young Jewish state without using their connections to gain permission to take their property with them.

Saleh and Daud’s status in Iraq was of no use to them when faced with the difficulties of finding their place in Israel. Their welcome in the new country was harsh due to the mass migration of Jews from oppressive Arab regimes they were sent first to live in a temporary tent camp in Beer Yaakov. Later they moved to the Hatikva quarter of Tel Aviv, there sometimes they used to play in the Noah café. Upon their arrival Saleh and Daud began playing and performing also in the Arab channel of “The Voice of Israel” (Israeli radio), soon becoming two of its leaders. They performed as guest soloists with the Arabic orchestra of the Israeli Radio led by Zuzu Mussa. For many years they gave a regular live radio performance, with thousands of people in Israel and millions in Iraq and Kuwait listening.”

An Arabic orchestra belonging to Israel’s state-run radio? An Arabic channel run by the same official radio station? That of course is a very different picture to the one painted by Khaled Diab who would have listeners believe that such culture was “shunned and looked down on” by the “Ashkenazi establishment” but indeed the state-run ‘Voice of Israel’ radio station did have an in-house Arab orchestra from 1948 until 1993.

Diab then tells listeners that:

“Recent years have seen Mizrahi music come out of the home and onto radio, TV and the club scene. You can hear it at parties, weddings and even on Saturday nights at Mahane Yehuda; Jerusalem’s covered market.”

Diab does not clarify what he means by “recent” but obviously his definition is somewhat different to that of the dictionary given that in 1971 the Israeli Broadcasting Authority produced the first Mizrahi song festival which was aired on radio and screened on television. Apparently he has never heard of Zohar Argov’s smash hit ‘The Flower in my Garden’ from 1982.

Diab goes on to tell listeners that “numerous young artists have reclaimed the Iraqi, Yemeni and North African music of their ancestors” before moving along the route to his core agenda.

“Despite the Palestinian distrust of Israel and the growing hatred towards Israelis in Palestinian society, Mizrahi music in Hebrew has a surprisingly strong following among young Palestinians. Even more bewildering; a trickle of Palestinian artists are singing Mizrahi music in Hebrew, such as Nasreen Qadri who has found mainstream success.”

Audiences might have been somewhat less bewildered had Diab told them that Nasreen Qadri is an Arab-Israeli born and raised in Haifa. Had he done so, however, the use of the word “occupier” in his next sentence would obviously have required explanation.the cultural frontline diab abridged

“While Palestinian activists I know dismiss this interest in Mizrahi music as a form of assimilation with the occupier and an expression of self-hatred, I think its causes run deeper. Despite their disparate politics, young Mizrahim and Palestinians have a lot in common. They are socially and economically marginalized. Their forbearers were uprooted and their culture has been under threat. As is the case with African-Americans, the fact that Mizrahi music has become hip and mainstream doesn’t mean that the Mizrahim are no longer marginalised. Despite some success stories, the Israeli establishment and upper echelons are still firmly Ashkenazi.”

Diab provides no source or evidence for his claims of ‘marginalisation’ and makes no attempt to clarify to listeners how that process ostensibly takes place. But propagation of the notion of an ‘Ashkenazi elite’ – despite the fact that increasing numbers of Israelis have mixed Ashkenazi and Sephardi or Mizrahi heritage and that Mizrahim are to be found in prominent positions in all fields of Israeli society – serves Diab’s ultimate take-away messaging.

“This growing cultural pride has not translated into greater sympathy for Palestinians and Arabs among Mizrahim. In fact, there’s been a hardening of sentiment and a troubling surge in anti-Arab racism. This is disheartening to Mizrahi activists I know who entertain the dream that their community’s Arab roots can help bridge a gaping chasm separating Israelis and Palestinians.”

In addition to the fact that yet again Diab brings no evidence to support his claim of a “surge in anti-Arab racism” among Mizrahim, it is very obvious that since he first began banging this particular drum in an article titled “Israel’s other Arabs” published seven years ago at the Guardian, he has done nothing to inform himself of the circumstances and background to the mass exodus of almost a million Jews from Arab and Muslim lands – and the related collective memories of Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews.

Whilst we would of course expect nothing better from such a seasoned polemicist as Khaled Diab, it is however regrettable that the BBC World Service elected to give such a generous platform to his recycled, uninformed and politicized caricature of Israel and Israeli Jews from Arab lands which not only does nothing to meet the corporation’s remit of enhancing audience understanding of “international issues” and “different cultures from around the world” but actively – and intentionally – hinders such understanding.

BBC News and BBC World Service report on airlift of Yemenite Jews

The news that some of the last remaining members of the Jewish community in Yemen had been airlifted to Israel brought some rare BBC reporting on the topic of Jews from Arab lands.

The story was reported on the BBC News website on March 21st in an article titled “Yemeni Jews brought to Israel in secret mission“. That accurate and impartial report even included information omitted in previous BBC reporting.

Yemenite Jews airlift art

The BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ also reported the story in an item (from 30:07 here) which included an interview with the Jewish Agency spokesman Avi Mayer and then later (at 38:55, following a technical fault) with historian Tudor Parfitt.

During that conversation presenter Razia Iqbal posed the following question-cum-statement:

“…the absence of the Jewish history and culture in not just Yemen but other Arab countries is a really sad reflection of the sectarianism that exists now in the Middle East.”

Given the paucity of BBC reporting on the topic of the long history of Jews from Arab lands in general and the religious roots of some of the hostility towards them in particular, it is rather unlikely that statement would have contributed much to audience understanding of background to this story – especially with the curious insertion of the word “now”. 

Nevertheless, it was good to see some reasonable reporting on a much neglected topic.

BBC reporting on the topic of Jewish refugees from Arab lands

As Lyn Julius of Harif reminds us:

“On June 23, 2014, the Israeli Knesset passed a law designating November 30 as an official date in the calendar to remember the uprooting of almost one million Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran.

The date was chosen to recall the day after the UN passed the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine. Following bloodcurdling threats by Arab leaders, violence erupted against Jewish communities all across the Mideast. The riots resulted in the mass exodus of Jews from the Arab world, the seizure of their property and assets, and the destruction of their millennarian, pre-Islamic communities. In 1979, the Islamic revolution resulted in the exodus of four-fifths of the Iranian-Jewish community.”search Jewish refugees

Anyone searching the BBC News website for material on the subject of ‘Jewish refugees from Arab Lands’ will currently find very few results which actually do relate to that subject. At the top of the page is an article by Yolande Knell dating from 2012 which, although titled “Israel campaign throws spotlight on Jewish refugees from Arab lands“, actually devotes more of its word-count to the amplification of Palestinian views than to informing BBC audiences about the topic in its headline.

The second article appearing in that search – “London summit on Jewish refugees” – dates from 2008 and includes the following comment; curiously from an ‘Arab affairs analyst’ rather than a ‘Jewish affairs analyst’.

“The BBC’s Arab affairs analyst Magdi Abdelhadi says the subject is highly controversial as the numbers of Jews who left, and the conditions under which they left, are disputed.”

Over the past year, we have recorded the appearance of two items of BBC content which broadly relate to the topic of Jews from Arab Lands: a World Service radio programme about the experiences of Libyan Jews in 1967 and a written article on the BBC News website titled “The Jews of Arabia”. 

One bright note was the addition of a paragraph to the timeline in the BBC’s profile of Israel on its website:

“1949-1960s – Up to a million Jewish refugees and immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, plus 250,000 Holocaust survivors, settle in Israel.”

Nevertheless, the topic of Jewish refugees from Arab Lands remains a subject very much under-reported by the BBC.  

BBC WS radio’s ‘balanced’ account of the Six Day War excludes Israelis

Listeners to the June 14th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘The History Hour’ were told by presenter Max Pearson that the next broadcast would include “the Israeli view” of the Six Day War.

“…we’re going to take a close look at one of the twentieth century’s defining events in the Middle East. In 1967 what quickly became known as the Six Day War broke out between Israel and the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria. It resulted in a rapid redrawing of the region’s de facto borders and a significant humiliation for the Arab powers. Of course this is a deeply controversial topic with highly charged views on both sides. So, for obvious reasons, we’re going to hear from both sides – next week: the Israeli view. But right now Louise Hidalgo hears from two Palestinians about their memories of that time.”

However, by the time “next week” came around, “the Israeli view” had been side-lined and Pearson introduced the June 21st item (from 13:33 here) as follows:History Hour 21 6

“Next, as promised last week, we’re going to get a second personal view of the Arab-Israeli Six Day War in June 1967. We’ve already heard a graphic account of the Palestinian experience of the conflict which pitted the Jewish state against the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria so it’s only right and proper that we hear now from the other side and that other side doesn’t just mean those living in Israel. There was at the time a Jewish population scattered throughout the Middle East and beyond. Louise Hidalgo has been talking to someone from the Jewish community in Tripoli who was forced to flee when anti-Jewish riots broke out in Libya.”

Of course with the previous programme having been devoted to the stories told by two Palestinian interviewees, a truly balanced presentation of the Six Day War would have included accounts from Israelis equally affected by the war at the time. Such accounts could have included an explanation of the sense of impending disaster which gripped Israelis in the weeks preceding the outbreak of war and the feeling of fighting for their very existence. It could also, for example, have recounted the experiences of those who had been expelled from their homes in the Old City of Jerusalem or Gush Etzion nineteen years previously by Jordan and told stories of the first visits by Israelis to the holy sites from which they were barred throughout the years of Jordanian occupation.

But curiously, the BBC chose to tick its impartiality box by comparing apples to oranges. Whilst the story of the Libyan Jewish community is obviously important and interesting – and its airing a very rare event in BBC broadcasting – this is not “the other side” of the narrative heard the previous week by BBC audiences.

The same item by Louise Hidalgo broadcast on ‘The History Hour’ also appeared in the June 19th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Witness’ – available here – where it was described as “…the second of two programmes about the effect of the Six Day War between Israel and the armed forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan”. Hidalgo’s presentation of the background to the outbreak of conflict is as follows:Witness 19 6

“The war started in early June. Tensions had been rising for months, as had anti-Israel rhetoric. Israel made the first strike – in self-defence, it said – and in six days had defeated the Arab armies. They were six days that would change the shape of the Middle East and have repercussions far beyond the borders of the countries actually involved in the fighting.”

Hidalgo’s very superficial and brief reference to “tensions” of course does nothing to inform listeners of the real background to the conflict and the build-up of Egyptian forces in Sinai – but notably it was deemed necessary to inform them that “Israel made the first strike”.

Hidalgo presents a brief history of the Libyan Jewish community but fails to mention that some Libyan Jews were also sent to Nazi concentration camps in Europe and that pogroms against Jews in Libya actually took place three years before the establishment of the State of Israel.

“Jews had lived in Libya since before the time of the Romans. At its height the community had numbered about forty thousand but during the Second World War thousands were sent to concentration camps in North Africa by Libya’s colonial ruler Italy and after the creation of Israel in 1948 many left after riots in which more than a hundred Libyan Jews were killed. By June 1967 there were only about four thousand Jews left in Libya. By the end of that month almost all of those too had gone.”

Hidalgo also makes the following claim, ignoring the already existing context of years of persecution and anti-Jewish violence long before the Six Day War broke out.

“Demonstrations in Arab capitals that started as shows of support for the Palestinians quickly turned in Tripoli and elsewhere into attacks on Jews.”

Towards the end of the item listeners are told that:

“By the end of June 1967 there were only around 200 Jews left in Libya and across the Arab world tens of thousands more left countries that many had lived in for generations.”

Unfortunately, the story of those tens of thousands – and the hundreds of thousands more who had to leave Arab lands before them – is rarely told by the BBC and whilst this account from a Libyan Jew is undoubtedly worthy of broadcast in its own right, it is however not a true representation of “the other side” of the story promoted in the previous week’s programme.

 

BBC’s Israel profile updated to include Jewish refugees from Arab lands

On December 13th an article by Matthew Teller titled “The Jews of Arabia” appeared in the Features & Analysis section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page and in its Magazine section.Jews of Arabia

Based on material recently digitized by the British Library, the article represents one of the rare occasions on which the BBC relates to the topic of Jews from Arab lands. However, it also includes the following statement:

“…Bahrain has a tiny Jewish minority, comprising only a few families – though they wield significant power. Until last year, Bahrain’s ambassador to the US was a Jewish woman, Houda Nonoo.” [emphasis added]

According to most accounts, there are about three dozen Jews in Bahrain. Their one synagogue is permanently closed and they are not permitted to visit Israel. The BBC would nevertheless have audiences believe that, in an absolute monarchy ranked ‘not free’ by Freedom House in 2014, those thirty-odd people “wield significant power” without giving any further details with regard to what that power entails and how it is “significant” in that authoritarian regime, beyond the fact that one Jewish woman served as an ambassador for five years. 

Relatedly, via the Point of No Return website, we learn that an addition has apparently been recently made to the timeline on the BBC’s Israel profile which, despite its many other faults, now includes the following:

“1949-1950s – About a million Jewish refugees from Arab countries, plus 250,000 Holocaust survivors, settle in Israel.”

That at least is a step in the right direction. 

 

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. 

 

BBC Arabic on Jews from Arab lands

BBC Arabic recently featured a programme and an article about Israeli Jews with origins in Arab countries, by Omar Abdel-Razek, titled “Arab Jews in Israel between marginalisation and integration”. The audio version can be heard here and the written version read here

Fortunately, the wonderful ‘Point of no Return’ blog has a much better version of the written article than automatic translation can provide, together with valuable insights. 

“On the plus side : the programme humanises Jews in Israel, and interviews some who voice mainstream views – notably, Eli Avidar and Levana Zamir, who deftly quash the idea of a return to Arab lands while these are being poisoned with antisemitism. On the minus side, the programme adopts a far-left discourse, assuming ‘Arab Jews’ were exploited by Ashkenazim as a labour reservoir and stripped of their culture. […] The mere fact that the programme calls them ‘Arab Jews’ diminishes their separate Jewish identity.”

Particularly interesting is this unsourced statement in the written article: [emphasis added]

“History records that Arab Jews in Israel live between marginalization and integration, but that most of them did not embrace the idea of ​​Zionism before the establishment of Israel.”

It is, of course, impossible to know the views of all of the hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab lands who arrived in Israel both before and after the establishment of the state, but certainly this one-dimensional, Eurocentric view of Zionism does not take into account movements such as E’ela BeTamar which saw thousands of Yemenite Jews make their way to pre-state – and pre-mandate – Palestine between 1881 – 1882, inspired by the spiritual belief in the importance of their re-settling of their ancient homeland which was one of the precursors to the Zionist movement.  

Contrary to the impression given in the article, the immigration of those Yemenite Jews actually pre-dated the arrival of European Jews, so whilst many did end up using their existing experience of working in agriculture, their arrival in the country was certainly not purely “as an alternative to Arab workers in the plantations of European Jews”.

Neither does this version of history take into account the existence of Zionist societies in Arab countries such as Morocco, where the first branches were established only a few years after the 1897 Basel Conference. 

Another one of those Zionist societies was located in Tripoli, Libya, and in the early 1930s one of its members – a young man named Mordechai – managed to obtain from the British Mandate authorities one of the much-coveted, rarely issued ‘certificates’ for legal immigration to Palestine for himself, his wife and their first-born son – on account of his being a carpenter: a trade given priority. Pictured below are some of the tools which in fact enabled him to overcome the obstacles to immigration set in place by the British which Zionists from all over the world – including those from Arab lands – faced at the time. 

SONY DSC

Mordechai was this writer’s partner’s grandfather and the fourth generation of his offspring is now growing up in Israel.

Once again invoking a bizarre version of history, the BBC article states: [emphasis added]

“There are those who believe that they were forced to migrate [from Arab lands] after the escalation of the Palestinian Arab conflict.”

Mordechai’s daughter-in-law could cast some light upon that particular distortion, having experienced the pogroms in Libya in 1945 and in June 1948. It was after the latter bout of violence that her family – after hundreds of years of living in Tripoli – made hurried arrangements to move to the new Jewish state, as did over thirty thousand others. That exodus did not take place because of a “belief” that they were being “forced to migrate”, but for practical reasons of survival. The minority of Libyan Jews who remained in the country were subjected to increasing discrimination.

“1. Jews cannot vote, attain public offices nor serve in the army or police.

2. The government is authorized by law to take title to the “properties of certain Jews.”

3. Jews are prohibited from acquiring new property.

4. Jews cannot receive passports or certification of their Libyan nationality. If a Jew wants to leave the country he may obtain a special travel document which does not indicate that he has Libyan nationality. If he does not leave within six months after receiving the document, it expires and he automatically loses his nationality and property rights.”

The Six Day War in 1967 brought renewed pogroms against Libya’s few remaining Jews – and an end to 2,500 years of Jewish presence in that country. 

It is highly regrettable that the BBC chooses to entrench inaccuracies concerning Mizrachi and Sephardi Jews from Arab lands in this manner – particularly when its target audience is obviously the Arabic-speaking world.  

BBC report on Jews in Tunisia tainted by agenda-driven addition

h/t David

The BBC World Service’s recent two-part ‘Heart and Soul’ programme on the subject of Jews from Arab lands was, to many, a refreshing piece of reporting on the whole. 

(See our posts here and here.) 

Presenter Magdi Abdelhadi’s visit to Tunisia was also featured in the Magazine section of the BBC News website on October 24th, with the article reflecting much of the radio broadcast’s content. 

Somebody, however, apparently could not resist adding to Mr Abdelhadi’s report a side panel of ‘facts’ titled “The Exodus”, where we are informed that: 

“As reports of Zionist settlers driving Palestinians off [sic] their villages hit Arab capitals during the 1940s anti-Jewish sentiment hit new heights”

So, despite numerous examples, including the massacre of Jews in Baghdad in 1828, mass forced conversions in the Persian city of Meshed in 1839, the Damascus blood libel in 1840, the pogroms in Morocco in 1905, the 1929 Hebron massacre and the Farhud in 1941, the BBC once more returns to the simplistic narrative of contextualising prejudice and violence against Jews from Arab lands solely as a reaction to Israel and Zionism. 

What a shame it is that Magdi Abdelhadi’s insightful report from Tunisia has been tainted by the reversion to agenda-inspired versions of history. 

BBC World Service programme on Jews from Arab lands – part 2

In the second part of the BBC World Service ‘Heart and Soul’ programme entitled ‘Arab Jews: A Forgotten Exodus’ (which can be listened to here), presenter Magdi Abdelhadi travelled to Tunisia to meet members of its tiny Jewish community. 

To his credit, Abdelhadi did a much better job in this second episode than in the first. Not only did he not shy away from presenting the various threats posed  by Islamist extremists  to the continued existence of Tunisia’s remaining Jewish community, but he vigorously challenged Rachid al Ghannouchi – leader of the En-Nahda party which heads the coalition in Tunisia’s current government – on his ‘double speak’ regarding attacks on Jews and his party’s relationship with the Salafists carrying them out. 

Al Ghannouchi has often been portrayed by some members of the Western media (and even by some Western governments) as a ‘moderate’, despite – among other things – his party’s feting of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh last January and his own long extremist history

Magdi Abdelhadi, however, seems to have got Ghannouchi’s number. Perhaps he could help out with some sorely-needed editing on the BBC’s ‘Country Profile’ page for Tunisia, where interim president Moncef Marzouki is presented as a “counterweight” to the Islamist En-Nahda party – despite his having earlier this year sponsored a conference co-organised by the Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood-linked ‘Palestinian Return Centre’  – and where a profile of the En-Nahda party includes the claim that Ghannouchi  is “widely viewed as a moderate, reform-minded Islamist”. 

BBC World Service programme on Jews from Arab lands – part 1

If you happened to miss the first episode of the BBC World Service ‘Heart and Soul’ programme entitled ‘Arab Jews: A Forgotten Exodus’ which we mentioned in a previous post, it can be heard here

To give credit where it is due, the programme did try to boldly go where no BBC reporter has gone before and in general gave the impression of trying to present a reasonably balanced picture. However, little – if any – context was given in relation to anti-Jewish discrimination or pogroms in Arab lands prior to the emergence of the Zionist movement and the establishment of Israel. 

Neither did the programme relate to the additional influence of attitudes and ideologies imported by European colonialists or the consequences of, for example, the Vichy regime in North Africa.  

In addition, several of the interviewees perhaps gave the impression that Jews in Arab lands were not interested in Zionism which – although perhaps the case for some – is by no means true of all. Consequently, listeners may have been left with the impression that the persecution of Jews in Arab lands has a background exclusively related to Zionism and Israel. 

Impressions of the programme as recorded by Bataween at the ‘Point Of No Return’ blog can be read here

Part two of the programme – in which the presenter will visit the Jewish community in Tunisia – is still to come.