Jews of the Middle East in the eyes of BBC Arabic

This is the first in a series of posts by CAMERA Arabic showing how Arabic language channels belonging to Western media outlets frame the topic of Jews who originate from or live in the Middle East and North Africa by distinguishing ‘loyal’ Jews from ‘treacherous’ Zionists. All translations, emphasis and in-bracket remarks are by CAMERA Arabic unless otherwise specified.

“May God bless the soldiers of Israel […] may he shed his light on us, on Israel and on Tunisia, long live Israel and long live Tunisia!

Those spontaneous words, originally an excited mixture of Hebrew and a colloquial dialect of Arabic, were chanted by a woman on a bus full of fellow tourist-pilgrims, with many others in the group cheering and responding to her wishes with “amen”. Most if not all of them were Jewish Israelis of Tunisian heritage. Their journey’s destination was the al-Ghriba synagogue, one of the oldest in the world, located on the Tunisian island of Djerba. Jews have been conducting an annual celebration there every Lag b‘Omer (which usually falls in May) for generations, and this year (2019) saw the number of pilgrims and visitors to the site exceeding all previous gatherings since the country underwent the Jasmine Revolution in January of 2011.

The entire trip was documented by Rina Matsliah, a well-known Israeli journalist who was born in Tunisia herself. It was her report that brought a seemingly marginal moment to the public eye: the enthusiastic woman and her group were shown for a few seconds in an evening news program on Israel’s Channel 12. The report also revealed to the viewers that the group had the opportunity to look from outside at the house near the capital Tunis where, in 1988, Israel had assassinated Yasser Arafat’s deputy, Khalil al-Wazir (a.k.a Abu Jihad) – one of Fatah’s leading terrorists and a man responsible for the murders of dozens of Israeli civilians.

That documentation of a group of Israeli tourists proudly praising Israel and its soldiers on Tunisian soil and later looking at a site where a prominent Palestinian leader was assassinated soon sparked a scandal in the North African country.

An Arabic subtitled version of the report was promoted by Hezbollah affiliated ‘al-Mayadeen’ channel, and demonstrations and sit-ins were subsequently held in front of government buildings in Tunisia. Under the accusation of “normalization” with the “Zionist entity”, the protesters specifically demanded the removal from office of René Trabelsi – Tunisia’s minister of tourism and the first Jew ever to be appointed minister in modern Tunisian history. Trabelsi is a member of a tiny Jewish community of no more than 2,500 people.

The story was reported widely on Arabic-speaking channels, including those belonging to Western media organisations. Some quoted Arab social media without fact-checking the preposterous claims raised there. For example, a television program produced by BBC Arabic uncritically amplified outraged comments which viewed the visit as a military act.

“If this is true, Khalil al-Wazir Abu Jihad became a martyr twice, the first time when Israel assassinated him in 1988 and the second when his killers visited the house where he became a martyr in Tunis” (2:11)

I have no problem with Tunisian Jews in either Tunisia or France, I have a problem with the ‘Zionists’ who live in occupied Palestine, they’re all soldiers, whether on active duty or in the reserve forces, since military service is compulsory in the Zionist entity… I mean, [how can] we consider them tourists and their origin to be Tunisian!?” (2:26)

The BBC Arabic program also quoted an additional edited comment (1:54), by a Tunisian journalist who insisted there was nothing new about “Zionists” entering Tunisia.

The online BBC report about the same story noted that the journalist, Habib Bouajila called for the sacking of Trabelsi in order to “protect Tunisian national dignity”. Bouajila accused Trabelsi of dangerously distorting facts and inflaming tensions between Sunnis and Shi’ites because the minister had pointed out al-Mayadeen’s affiliations with Hezbollah and claimed that the channel’s translation from Hebrew into Arabic was mistaken.

The full, unedited version of Boualija’s comment as embedded in a BBC Arabic webpage, is saturated with antisemitic tropes, undertones and dog-whistles. It views the incident as a new level in the prosecution of a conspiracy against the Tunisian people, involving Jews of many countries as well as Trabelsi himself (to whom he consistently refers by his Hebrew name Roni). The hateful comment concludes with death wishes to Israel and America.

The admittance of Zionists into Tunisia is not new – since the nineties everybody knows they’re entering with their Zionist passports in tourist groups or, in rare occasions, with their second passports. [This is the case] as long as all the Zionist settlers, from the minister to the last occupier-usurper, retain their original nationality, or [obtain] a western nationality, such as most members of Jewish diasporas all over the world have. The Jews of Tunisia, previous or current, and those who left it for occupied Palestine, are no exception.

This is not what’s new – the new provocation is the boldness of Roni Trabelsi, who holds the tourism portfolio and in his last statement assumed the role[s] of the [entire] Tunisian diplomatic corps, the President of the Republic and the Parliament, so that he would decide on Tunisia’s alignments along the international axes. He also assumed the role of a media analyst [who specializes in] TV-stations and affiliations, in order to classify the al-Mayadeen channel as Lebanese Shi’ite […], despite [the fact] it was merely conveying and literally translating the report of the Zionist channel. On top of that, he arrogantly surmised the ratio of Tunisians who deplore his tendencies towards normalization and shamed with what he sees as ‘disgrace’, i.e. Shi’ization and siding with the Resistance [Hezbollah]…

The audacity of the minister stems from his (admittedly correct) estimation that he is stronger than the Tunisian government and state. In a Tunisian landscape that sets his path [forward] and promotes him to be a ‘high-ranked official’, Roni is the distinguished, the selected; he has more power and importance than all the ‘indigenous’, ‘gentile’ ministers and officials. It also derives from his (admittedly accurate) understanding that the straw man of ‘antisemitism’ and the allegations of bigotry, terrorism and assaulting ‘our Jewish brethren’ will deter the cowardly politicians, commentators and academics who want to stay where they are or aspire to move up the ladder. In [such] a Tunisian landscape Roni knows, and those who fear of Roni know, that his installment, as well as the installment of his minions [lit. players], is at the hand of the great supervisor, who loves Roni and loves those who love Roni and isolates whoever hates him.

Once again and forever, past, present and future, we say to Roni and his supervisor, and to whoever loves Roni and whoever acts obsequiously towards Roni and his supervisor, and [to whoever] wants to reposition Tunisia in service of Roni’s friends and entourage in a supine Arab world and international community [lit. landscape], we say: Tunisia is Arab – Its spirit is [of] resistance despite our setbacks and breakdowns – it belongs with its [Arab/Islamic] Ummah – its compass is Palestine – and its voice is loud and clear: death to Israel – death to America – and glory to the resistance… and whoever doesn’t like it can go drink the water of La Goulette [a city on the Tunisian Mediterranean coast]. He can present himself as an ‘outside observer’ [lit. a bird at the roof] or an alcohol merchant or a civil servant, [all are] typical hypocritical stories [dipped] in nostalgia [that is made out] of Zio-Masonic [sic] flour between al-Ghriba and the Bab Bahr Cathedral [a famous church in Tunis which represents to the writer a Tunisia that’s not exclusively Arab/Muslim, like al-Ghriba]. We do not buy this position in our homeland, treacherous as it is coming from its honey-tongued proponents…”

In addition BBC Arabic’s online report also brought comments from other Tunisians who, in BBC’s words,

“feared […] that the incident would reflect badly on the Jews of Tunisia, who rejected Israel’s temptations and have confirmed their clinging to their Tunisian roots.

The protests eventually died out after the government responded by clarifying that none of the visitors has entered Tunisia under an Israeli passport. As for Trabelsi himself, he repeatedly denied any connection between Israelis who visit Tunisia and the perceived act of “normalization” that he was blamed for. In one interview, he also “firmly” condemned the tourists who, in his words, “celebrated the Israeli army on Tunisian soil.” Indeed, it seems that this time the Jewish minister has dodged the bullet. But as long as the debate that surrounds Jews who live in the Middle East is framed the way it is – framing that BBC Arabic obviously finds acceptable – it seems that he and his community will always be suspected of dual loyalty and will carry the burden of proof for their innocence.

Related Articles:

BBC whitewashes Islamist antisemitism with semantics

BBC whitewashes anti-Jewish extremism in Tunisia

Airbrushing terror: the BBC on Abu Jihad

 

 

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Weekend long read

1) The ITIC provides a backgrounder on a story the BBC failed to report last month.

“The Israeli security forces recently revealed the identities of the terrorists who carried out shooting attacks targeting Israeli buses in the Ramallah area. The perpetrators were two Palestinians who held senior positions in the Palestinian Commission for Detainees and Ex-Detainees (officially subordinate to the PLO but in practice a PA institution). One of the terrorists was Zakaria Muhammad Abd al-Rahman Zubeidi, a senior Fatah al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades operative and an iconic figure of the second intifada. He was included in the “wanted Palestinian terrorists amnesty agreement” (2007) but nevertheless returned to terrorist activity. The other was Tarek Barghouth, a lawyer from east Jerusalem, a member of the Israeli Bar Association who has represented terrorist operatives in Israeli courts. At the same time he is also employed by the PA Detainees Commission, where he apparently became acquainted with Zakaria Zubeidi. Both Fatah and the Detainees Commission issued condemnations of Israel for detaining the two.”

2) The FDD has published a monograph on “The Iranian Land Corridor to the Mediterranean”.

“Iran and its proxy forces are establishing an unbroken corridor – dubbed a “land bridge” by Western analysts – from Tehran to the Mediterranean. The land bridge has the potential to accelerate sharply the shipment of weapons to southern Lebanon and the Golan front in Syria.

The greater the strength of Iran and Hezbollah along Israel’s northern border, the greater the risk of escalation, leading to a regional war that directly threatens U.S. allies and U.S. interests across the Middle East.”

3) The ‘Point of No Return’ blog reports on a debate held this week in the UK parliament.

“For the first time, the issue of Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa was debated in the UK Parliament. The hour-long debate in Westminster Hall, secured by MP Theresa Villiers, obtained unanimous approval by all parliamentarians present for Jewish refugees from the MENA to be ‘considered’ by the House. […]

However,  in reply to questions from MPs Zac Goldsmith and Matthew Offord,  junior minister for the Middle East Dr Andrew Murrison refused to commit the UK government to following the lead of the US Congress and the Canadian Parliament: both had passed a resolution calling for explicit recognition  for Jewish refugees.”

4) At the JCPA, Amb Alan Baker discusses the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to attend next week’s economic workshop in Bahrain.

“The wide range of Palestinian commitments throughout the peace process documentation points to a clear obligation on the part of the Palestinian leadership to advance, encourage, support, and participate in all projects and initiatives aimed at furthering economic cooperation, for the sake of the stability and prosperity of the Palestinian public.

By boycotting the Manama Peace to Prosperity meeting and by conducting a concerted political campaign to misrepresent and undermine it, the Palestinian leadership is irresponsibly undermining its basic responsibilities to seek to improve the welfare and prosperity of its people through good governance.”

 

Weekend long read

1) At the Jerusalem Post, Lyn Julius asks “Why Is The Story Of The Jewish Refugees So Little Known?“.

“More Jews (850,000) fled Arab countries than Palestinian refugees (approximately 711,000), and their exodus was one of the largest movements of non-Muslims from the region until the mass flight of Iraqi Christians. Although they were non-combatants, Jews had to run for their lives from persecution, arrests on false charges, mob violence and executions. Their property was seized and they were left destitute. The Arab and Muslim world has neither recognized, nor compensated them.

Yet the issue and its implications for peace has barely penetrated the Israel-Arab debate within Jewish communities, let alone trickled into mainstream consciousness.”

2) At the FDD Toby Dershowitz and Serena Frechter discuss a trial taking place in Paris.

“Fifteen Hezbollah-linked defendants accused of laundering millions of euros in South American drug money to Europe and Lebanon went on trial in Paris last week. The accused, mainly Lebanese nationals, allegedly collected proceeds from cocaine sales in Europe to purchase luxury goods, which they later resold in Lebanon. They then returned the profits, minus a hefty commission, to the South American cartels that delivered the cocaine. U.S. agents involved in the investigation, known as “Operation Cedar,” assert that Hezbollah used part of the profits to purchase weapons for the war in Syria.

Based on investigative leads from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), European authorities launched a year-long investigation in February 2015 that uncovered a laundering network spanning South America, Europe, and the Middle East. The DEA initiative was part of Project Cassandra, a decade-long effort to disrupt Hezbollah’s cooperation with the cartels.”

3) In a ‘Rosner’s Domain’ podcast at the Jewish Journal:

“Shmuel Rosner chats with Einat Wilf and Adi Schwartz, the writers of the book “The War for the Palestinian Right of Return”, about the Palestinian refugees, the right of return and the existence of UNRWA.”

4) At the Jewish News, Scottish journalist Stephen Daisley recounts impressions from his first visit to Israel.

“The Star of David might be on the flag and the menorah and olive branch on the crest but the crane is the real emblem of Israel. Everywhere you go, giant steel jibs signpost a country under permanent development.

There are cranes over Tel Aviv, over Jerusalem, over Sderot — where they’re putting up houses at a rate that must tempt the odd Hamas rocket technician to throw in the towel.

There’s even one stretching over the Western Wall plaza right now. If the moshiach turns up any time soon looking to rebuild a temple, he’ll be spoiled for choice on contractors.”

 

Weekend long read

1) At the JCPA Yoni Ben Menachem discusses Hamas’ attack tunnels.

“According to Hamas sources, despite a noticeable improvement in the IDF’s technological capability to locate the tunnels, and in spite of the giant, deep land barrier that Israel has built around Gaza to stop the penetration of attack tunnels, the military wing of Hamas has not finished building these tunnels and is continuing to invest millions of dollars into their construction.

This raises the question of what logic is behind all of this. Why does Hamas continue to invest so many resources into this project, as it is clear that Israel is managing to deal with it successfully and even to defeat it?”

2) A report titled “Representing the People or the Regime? Iranian Clerics and the Ongoing Erosion of their Status” by Raz Zimmt appears at the INSS.

“Recently published testimonies by Iranian clerics reflect their concern over the ongoing erosion of their public status, and offer a glimpse into the population’s growing alienation from them. Although this is not a new phenomenon, coverage of the issue in the Iranian media attests to its dimensions and the increased awareness within the religious establishment of its possible implications. As the Islamic Revolution approaches its fortieth anniversary, religion’s influence on Iranian society is waning and public confidence in the country’s clerical institutions continues to decline. In light of the intensifying economic crisis and the Islamic Republic’s failure to address adequately the hardships faced by Iran’s citizens, the clerics associated with the regime are perceived as largely responsible for its failings. The ongoing erosion of their status threatens to undermine the very legitimacy of the regime and to make it difficult for the Islamic Republic to ensure the continuation of “the rule of jurisprudence,” especially when Ali Khamenei will no longer be the Supreme Leader.”

3) The Fathom journal carries an interview with Lynn Julius about her new book.

“It all ended in the space of a generation. Some 850,000 Jews fled 10 Arab countries; most found refuge in Israel, where over half the Jewish population has roots in Arab or Muslim lands. Israel organised unprecedented airlifts and rescue operations. A greater number of Jews were displaced than Palestinian Arabs from Israel, and it was the largest exodus of non-Muslims from the Middle East until the mass flight of Christians from Iraq after 2003.

However, the plight and dispossession of the Jewish refugees remains an unresolved and unrecognised injustice. Age-old communities are now extinct and only some 4,000 Jews remain in the Arab world. So, with the exception of Morocco, the physical presence of the Jews has been wiped out almost completely from the Middle East and North Africa outside Israel. Memory was also erased; the younger generation often had no idea that Jews ever lived in their lands.”

4) At the NYT Matti Friedman takes a nostalgic look at a train line in Israel.

“An early account of the train was written by Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, who rode it in 1898 from the port of Jaffa, adjacent to modern-day Tel Aviv. At the time, the train was the only one in this remote and impoverished corner of the Ottoman Empire. Herzl, a Vienna journalist who’d come part of the way east on the luxurious Orient Express, thought it was awful. “It took an hour merely to leave the Jaffa station,” he wrote. “Sitting in the cramped, crowded, burning-hot compartment was pure torture.” One day, Herzl thought, there would be a modern Jewish state here, and a wonderful network of electric rails.” 

 

BBC World Service promotes standard narrative on Jews from Arab lands

The BBC’s public purposes – as laid out in the Royal Charter – include “[t]o support learning for people of all ages”.

“…the BBC should help everyone learn about different subjects in ways they will find accessible, engaging, inspiring and challenging.”

One topic on which the BBC has done little to help enhance its audience’s knowledge is that of the history of Jews from Arab lands.

On August 13th BBC World Service radio aired a repeat edition of ‘Heart and Soul’ titled “Morocco’s Jews: Hospitality or Hostility?“.

“Morocco’s Jewish community was once the biggest in the Muslim world. More than a quarter of a million Jews called the North African country home. Most Moroccan Jews left after the establishment of Israel in 1940s and 50s. The understanding between the two religious communities, who used to live side by side, has slowly been forgotten.

Young people especially feel a growing disconnect with the communities of the past. Many Muslim Moroccan’s [sic] are bringing a middle eastern Islam to the country; different to Morocco’s traditionally Sufi inspired moderate version of the faith

Nina Robinson asks what the future will be for the co-existence of Muslim and Jewish communities in this unique Muslim country?”

Given that synopsis, one would have expected the background to the exodus of Jews from Morocco to be accurately and fully explained to BBC audiences and indeed that topic was raised by Nina Robinson at 16:23 minutes into the programme.

Robinson: “…an important question remains: if life was always so harmonious, why did most of the Jewish people leave?”

Listeners then heard from interviewee Joseph Sebag – sometimes dubbed ‘the last Jew in Essaouira’.

Sebag: “Every family has reasons, personal reasons, to stay or leave for political reasons, for ideological reasons. They wanted not necessarily to leave but to be buried in the holy land. But there was Zionism movement that infiltrated the community and created what we say psychose [psychosis] that they scared the local people and a lot of Jews left because of that. In 1948 a lot of Jews, Orthodox Jews, have left to Israel and then you have the 6 Day War as they call it and in ’73 the Yom Kippur war. These are the three major dates in the Moroccan Jewry.”

In other words, according to the account presented to BBC World Service radio listeners, the fact that the overwhelming majority of Moroccan Jews upped and left the country inhabited by their ancestors for hundreds or even thousands of years had nothing at all to do with conditions in Morocco and everything to do with Israel and false scares “created” by ‘Zionist infiltrators’.

BBC audiences have of course heard in the past similar portrayals of Jews living harmoniously in Arab lands until Zionism and Israel came along but unfortunately for those hoping to learn about the topic, that narrative is inaccurate.

The Jewish community in Morocco had suffered periodic pogroms and forced conversions throughout history, including in the 18th and 19th centuries and in the early 20th century tens of Jewish families from Morocco had already emigrated to what was at the time Ottoman ruled Palestine. One event which was still within living memory at the time when the significant exodus of Jews from Morocco began was the pogrom in Fez in 1912. During World War Two, Morocco – at the time a French protectorate – came under pro-Nazi Vichy rule and Jews were subjected to anti-Jewish legislation.

Following a serious episode of anti-Jewish violence in Oujda and Jerada in June 1948, thousands of Jews emigrated. As Morocco moved towards independence in late 1955, new fears arose within the Jewish community and indeed between 1956 and 1961 Moroccan Jews were prohibited from emigrating to Israel. In the three years following the lifting of that ban, a further 80,000 Jews left Morocco for Israel.

None of that obviously relevant background was however included in Nina Robinson’s programme and so BBC World Service audiences were once again steered towards the inaccurate belief that – just as they have in the past been told happened in Libya, Tunisia and Iraq – Moroccan Jews lived in perfect harmony with their Muslim neighbours until the creation of Israel.

 

 

 

BBC’s special report on Palestinian refugees avoids the real issues

Ever since the BBC began covering the media-orientated ‘Great Return March’ at the end of March it has avoided providing its audiences with a clear picture of the bodies behind its conception and organisation.

BBC audiences have however heard repeated promotion of the theme of Palestinian ‘ancestral lands’ and that was again the case in the introduction given by presenter James Coomarasamy to a report by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell which was aired in the May 9th edition of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ (from 14:08 here). [emphasis in italics in the original]

Coomarasamy: “Protests along Gaza’s border with Israel are expected to reach their peak in the coming week as Palestinians mark the 70th anniversary of what they call the catastrophe – the displacement of more than 700 thousand people following the creation of the State of Israel. At least 40 Palestinians have been killed and thousand [sic] injured during five weeks of demonstrations. Israel says that many of the dead were members of armed groups. Palestinians want the right to return to their ancestral homes which are now in Israeli territory. Israel rejects that demand, saying that it is a threat to its Jewish majority. Well, in the first of three reports about the key issues in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell considers the future of Palestinian refugees.”

Coomarasamy’s use of the euphemism “armed groups” obviously did not adequately clarify to listeners that some 80% of those killed during the six weeks of violent rioting to date have been shown to be linked to terror organisations.

Knell’s opening description of the ‘Great Return March’ agitprop severely downplayed its violent nature.

Knell: “A young Gazan man is shot by an Israeli sniper and raced to hospital. Palestinians have been hurling stones at soldiers across the border here and launching kites carrying fire bombs. Israel’s army says its troops open fire to stop anyone trying to cross the perimeter fence illegally and to protect Israelis living nearby from possible attacks. I’ve come to find out what’s driving these deadly demonstrations.”

Obviously after making that latter statement any serious journalist would have clarified the involvement of various Gaza Strip based terror factions in the organisation of the weekly rioting but Yolande Knell instead uncritically painted precisely the picture that the agitprop’s organisers wish to promote.

Woman: “We want to go back to our land. Those are our lands that the Jews took and this is our right.”

Knell: “In the protest camp I meet Najla. Like most of Gaza’s 2 million residents, she’s a refugee.”

Woman: “We have to return to al Aqsa Mosque and all our lands. All of the land is Palestine.”

Failing to explain which party initiated the “Arab-Israeli war” or why, so many decades later, Palestinian refugees are deliberately kept in that status and in refugee camps, Knell went on:

Knell: “In 1948 hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes as the Arab-Israeli war began. Today many of their descendants still live in refugee camps. Past peace deals promised a fair solution but there are questions about what President Trump will now put forward in his promised peace plan. Another protester, Mohamed Rantissi, says this Gaza action sends a message.”

Rantissi: “It came in the critical time when the world neglected our rights of return back. They are trying their best to dissolve this Palestinian issue by what is called the Trump [unintelligible].”

Listeners then heard a relatively rare mention of the topic of Jewish refugees from Arab lands

Knell: “Well I’ve moved now to Jerusalem’s bustling Mahane Yehuda market to get an Israeli perspective. Long before the country was founded this was a popular spot for Jewish stall holders who’d come from other parts of the Middle East but many more arrived in 1948 and the years that followed. They were Jewish refugees escaping persecution.”

Man: “We have the Kubeh soup which is sort of dumplings stuffed with meat in a vegetable soup. This is the most popular food because you have many Jewish Israelis that come from Iraq, Syria, Turkey, the Kurds Jewish; this is the traditional food.”

Knell: “Moshe Shrefler works in his father’s restaurant Azura.”

Man: “My father was born in Turkey and was having a problem with the Turkish people because they didn’t like their Jewish neighbours and my mother she came from Iran with all the family. They left everything over there and they came here just to save their lives.”

Knell: “Jewish refugees left behind land and property in Arab countries and were absorbed into the new Israeli state along with Holocaust survivors from Europe. Like many Israeli politicians former deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon argues that Arab states must now assimilate Palestinian refugees, making them citizens – as most aren’t at present – and he questions the way the refugees have inherited their status.”

Ayalon: “If really there is an earnest and honest will to bring about peace in the Middle East, I think there is only one humane, fair and logical solution for the Palestinian refugees and this is either to absorb them where they are – remember, we are talking about second, third, fourth generation, you know, so they should be Lebanese, Syrians or whatever – or, if there is a Palestinian state, these refugees, if they want to leave their host countries, should go into this Palestinian entity.”

Knell then revisited a subject that was covered very generously by the BBC back in January and February but yet again BBC audiences heard no in-depth reporting on the issue of UNRWA’s purpose, its agenda, its record or its efficiency.

Knell: “Here in Amman there’s a rally in solidarity with the protesters in Gaza. Across the Middle East there are 5 million Palestinian refugees supported by the UN agency UNRWA. This year UNRWA’s biggest donor, the US, cut the donations it planned to give, saying it needed to make reforms and now in Jordan there’s concern about what that could mean financially and symbolically. Muhammad Momeni is the information minister.”

Momeni: “We have more than 2 million Palestinian refugees living in Jordan and hundreds of thousands of students in UNRWA schools.”

Knell: “So how worried is Jordan about this big hole in UNRWA’s finances?”

Momeni: “We’re very worried. Not only because it will immediately reflect on the type of services but also because it’s a political commitment by the international community to resolve the issue of the Palestinian refugees. If you stop financing UNRWA, basically you are telling the world that you are not committed to this issue any more and according to international resolutions, this is a final status issue and it must be dealt with through negotiation and in a way that will bring justice to them.”

Knell refrained from making any effort to clarify to listeners to which so-called “international resolutions” Momeni was referring – and whether or not they actually exist.

Knell: “Back at the Gaza protest camp there’s traditional Palestinian dancing. Here the case for right of return is uncompromising but Israel rejects that demand, pointing out it would destroy its Jewish majority. Leaks on previous peace talks suggest they focused on compensation for Palestinian refugees and return for just a token number. It remains to be seen what Washington will propose on one of the most painful issues in this long-running conflict.”

As we see, notwithstanding that rare mention of Jewish refugees, Knell’s report was essentially superficial. She failed to clarify that the whole point of the demand for ‘right of return’ is the destruction of the Jewish state and that Palestinian refugees have for decades been used by their leaders as pawns to further that aim. UNRWA’s role in keeping millions of Palestinians in refugee status was not explained to listeners and neither was that of the Arab League.  

While giving the impression of balance with her visit to Mahane Yehuda and interview with Danny Ayalon, Knell nevertheless managed to both avoid the real issues behind the topic she ostensibly set out to ‘consider’ and promote a portrayal of the topic that amplifies the messaging of the ‘Great Return March’ organisers.

Related Articles:

Hamas agitprop requires BBC journalists to brush up on UN resolution

British connections to upcoming Gaza agitprop ignored by BBC News

BACKGROUNDER: The Palestinian Claim to a “Right of Return”  (CAMERA)

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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)

 

More BBC Balfour Declaration centenary reporting from Yolande Knell – part one

The BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell produced two similar reports – audio and written – concerning the Balfour Declaration centenary, one of which was broadcast on the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour‘ on November 1st (from 14:06 here) and the other published in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on November 2nd under the title “Balfour Declaration: The divisive legacy of 67 words“.

As has been the case in all the BBC’s coverage of the centenary (including a previous report by Knell), her portrayal of the document itself erased from audience view the part safeguarding “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country” and no mention was made of the 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands.

In the audio version, Knell’s paraphrasing failed to clarify to listeners that the document specifically referred to the “civil and religious rights” of non-Jewish communities.

Audio: “…Britain pledged its support for a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine which, it said, shouldn’t prejudice the rights of existing non-Jewish communities.”

Written: “It stated that the British government supported “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”.

At the same time, it said that nothing should “prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities”.”

As was seen in additional BBC coverage, these two reports also promoted the notion of “competing narratives” without providing audiences with the tools to judge their validity.

Audio: “Our Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell reports now on how the Balfour Declaration is at the heart of two competing narratives.”

Written: “The British peer Arthur Balfour barely makes an appearance in UK schoolbooks, but many Israeli and Palestinian students could tell you about him.

His Balfour Declaration, made on 2 November 1917, is taught in their respective history classes and forms a key chapter in their two very different, national narratives.”

Both reports promoted Palestinian Authority/PLO messaging portraying the Balfour Declaration as the cause of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but without adequate clarification of the fact that the conflict actually began decades before the State of Israel came into being and that the Arab riots of the early 1920s targeted long-existing Jewish communities in places such as Jaffa and Jerusalem.

Audio: “Meanwhile the Palestinians are planning protests and demanding an apology from the UK government. They see its historic decisions as the source of their unresolved conflict with Israel.”

“The Palestinian education minister Sabri Saydam says it [the Balfour Declaration] led to the modern conflict with Israel.”

Saydam: “We continue to remind our pupils of the pain that’s resulted from the Balfour Declaration, the misery the Palestinians continue to witness every day. The prolonging of the Israeli occupation is seen to be a by-product of the Balfour Declaration.”

Written: “It [the Balfour Declaration] can be seen as a starting point for the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

BBC audiences also found some debatable portrayals of history in these two reports – as will be discussed in part two of this post.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

BBC News portrays propaganda installation as a “museum”

BBC report on UK Balfour dinner follows standard formula

 

BBC report on UK Balfour dinner follows standard formula

In addition to the items relating to the Balfour Declaration centenary already discussed here (see ‘related articles’ below), on November 2nd the BBC News website’s Middle East page carried an article titled “Balfour Declaration: Theresa May hosts Israeli PM for centenary“.

Embedded in that article are two filmed reports by Tom Bateman and Yolande Knell and a link to another article promoting anti-Israel theatricals and amplifying the PA/PLO’s politicised messaging on the Balfour Declaration – all of which also appeared separately on the same webpage.

Comparatively little of this article relates to the subject matter described in its headline but almost 30% of its 538 words (not including the insert of analysis from the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent) are devoted to promotion of the PA/PLO chosen narrative (along with references to “their land”) including – once again – a link to an op-ed by Mahmoud Abbas that appeared in the Guardian.

“…Palestinians regard it as a historical injustice. […]

In the Palestinian territories, thousands of Palestinians held protest marches in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, denouncing what they say is a betrayal which left them dispossessed.

Palestinians regard the Balfour Declaration as having robbed them of their land and have demanded that Britain apologises.

Some held black flags and called for Palestinian refugees to be allowed to return to land which became Israel.

About 400 protesters from a fringe group of Jewish anti-Zionists marched from Downing Street to the Houses of Parliament, calling on “God to dismantle the Israeli State”. […]

However, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the Balfour Declaration was “not something to be celebrated”.

Writing in the Guardian, Mr Abbas said the past was still “something that can be made right”, and called on the UK to recognise a Palestinian state in territory occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war, with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

As has been the case in all the recent BBC coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary, portrayal of the document itself erased from audience view the part safeguarding “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country” and no mention was made of the expulsion of ancient Jewish communities from Arab and Muslim lands.

“Britain’s pledge, on 2 November 1917, was made in a letter by the then-Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community.

The letter said the government viewed “with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, so long as it did not “prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities”.”

The article failed to adequately clarify that the Mandate for Palestine was issued by the League of Nations and that Britain was selected to administrate that mandate on its behalf.

“The Balfour Declaration was the first international recognition by a world power of the right of the Jewish people to a national home in their ancestral land and formed the basis of Britain’s Mandate for Palestine in 1920.”

Once again, the fact that the armed forces of five Arab countries invaded Israel the day after independence was declared was airbrushed from the BBC’s account, as was the fact that a considerable number of the Palestinian Arabs who left their homes around that time did so at the advice of Arab leaders.

“The British Mandate terminated on 14 May 1948 and the Jewish leadership in Palestine declared an independent Israeli state. In the Arab-Israeli war that followed, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs fled or were forced from their homes.”

The above-mentioned insert of analysis from Jonathan Marcus encouraged readers to believe that there are two “competing narratives” concerning the Balfour Declaration (while of course ‘impartially’ refraining from discussing their validity) but avoided the topic of the Palestinian Authority’s long-standing politicisation of that document.

“Much of the current focus on the Balfour Declaration is due to the fact that it supports the competing narratives of the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership.

For the Israelis it highlights the legitimacy of the Jewish national enterprise, while for Palestinians, it underscores the role of the major powers in helping to create Israel, while – in their view – the legitimate Palestinian aspirations to statehood were ignored or side-lined.

Thus both sides have a very different interpretation of the declaration’s significance – one that serves today’s arguments about one of the region’s longest unresolved struggles.”

As we see from this report and others, BBC coverage of the Balfour Declaration centenary has conformed to a standard formula focusing on unquestioning amplification of PA/PLO messaging while completely erasing the part of the document relating to “the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country” and the topic of Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Bateman amplifies PLO’s Balfour agitprop

More Balfour Declaration agitprop promotion on the BBC News website

BBC News portrays propaganda installation as a “museum”

Mahmoud Abbas’s Guardian op-ed illustrates the dishonesty of the ‘Palestinian narrative’ (UK Media Watch)