Weekend long read

1) In light of events in Jerusalem this past week (that have at the time of writing gone unreported by the BBC), a JCPA briefing on the subject of the incitement constructed around lies concerning Temple Mount provides useful background.

““Al-Aksa is in danger” is a classic libel that was embroidered in the first half of the twentieth century against the Jewish people, the Zionist movement, and, eventually, the State of Israel. The state and its institutions – so, in brief, the libel claims – are scheming and striving to destroy the mosques on the Temple Mount and build in their stead the Third Temple. The longer the libel lives, its delusive variants striking root, the more its blind and misled devotees proliferate. The libel is ramifying, taking hold of the academic, religious, and public discourse of the Arab, Palestinian, and Muslim world as if it were pure truth. Absurdly, it strikes at the Jewish people and the State of Israel precisely in the place where the Jewish state has made the most generous gesture, the greatest concession, ever made by one religion to another – on the Temple Mount, the holiest place of the Jewish people and only the third place in importance for the Muslim religion.”

2) At the Times of Israel, David Horovitz writes about the same story.

“It’s outrageous that in parts of the Muslim world, Israel is being castigated for installing metal detectors designed to boost security at the holiest place in the world for Jews and the third holiest for Muslims. Don’t they want security there?

It’s outrageous that many of those who are castigating Israel for ostensibly “changing the status quo” at the Temple Mount / Al-Aqsa Mosque compound are doing so without so much as mentioning the murderous attack that defiled the holy site and prompted the deployment of the metal detectors: On Friday, three Muslims — Israeli Arab Muslims — emerged from the compound, guns blazing, and shot dead two Border Police officers who were stationed on duty immediately outside. The two victims just so happened to be Druze — an Arabic-speaking monotheistic community incorporating many Islamic teachings. To put it really crudely then, Arabs killed Arabs at a holy place, the Jews are trying to ensure that it doesn’t happen again, and the Arab world is furious with the Jews about it.”

3) At ‘Point of No Return’ we learn of a proposed new museum in Jerusalem.

“An architect of Tunisian origin is behind a project to build a Museum to Jews from Arab Countries.  Jean-Loup Mordehai Msika explains why such a museum, in the heart of Jerusalem, is vital to inform visitors of the ancient roots of the Jewish people in the Middle East. The project, unveiled publicly for the first time on Point of No Return,  has the backing of  the coalition of associations of Jews from Arab countries in Israel and is now with the Jerusalem municipality for approval.” 

4) This week the IDF revealed details of its operations providing humanitarian aid to Syrians battling with the effects of the civil war in their country.

“Over four years ago, an injured Syrian came to the border asking for medical help from the IDF. Back then, there was no policy, just a commander’s on-the-spot decision to provide care to an injured civilian. Since then, the aid has continued on a near daily basis. In June 2016, as part of a decision to expand humanitarian aid efforts, the IDF Northern Command established the headquarters of Operation Good Neighbor.

The goal of Operation Good Neighbor is to provide humanitarian aid to as many people as possible while maintaining Israel’s policy of non-involvement in the conflict. The first activities coordinated by the headquarters took place in August 2016. Since then, there have been more than 110 aid operations of various kinds.”

Additional reporting on that subject can be found here, here and here.

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BBC’s Knell promotes unsupported allegations in Yemenite children story

On June 21st an article by Yolande Knell appeared in the ‘Magazine’ section of the BBC News website as well as on its Middle East page under the title “Missing babies: Israel’s Yemenite children affair“. The article is introduced as follows:

“In the years after the creation of the Israeli state hundreds of babies went missing. Their parents, mostly Jewish immigrants from Yemen, were told their children had died, but suspicions linger that they were secretly given away to childless families – and newly released documents have revealed some disturbing evidence.”

It opens with the 50 year-old story of a woman who “had given birth to premature twins”.

“But when Leah’s husband visited soon afterwards, only one of the twins was there. The other, Hanna, had died, he was informed.

Leah was shocked not to be shown a body or a grave – a common feature of such stories…” [emphasis added]

A similar approach to the burial of babies who died during or shortly after childbirth was of course the norm in Britain right up to the 1960s and even later – but readers of this article are not given that context.

The historical background to the story provided by Knell is limited to a few lines.

“Leah had experienced many calamities long before the loss of her baby. As a child, she and her family had joined thousands of Jews fleeing violence in Yemen. They were robbed as they trekked from one end of the country to the other and Leah was reduced to begging for food. Then they were rescued in an airlift known as Operation Magic Carpet. […]

They had arrived, malnourished and penniless, during the first Arab-Israeli war.”

Although the fact that the new immigrants from Yemen arrived in Israel in poor health after long journeys on foot to the overcrowded transit camps in Aden where disease was rife and mortality rates high is very relevant to the story she is telling, Knell does not expand further.

Despite the fact that three separate commissions of inquiry have determined that the overwhelming majority of the children died, Knell nevertheless amplifies unsupported allegations.

“Many Yemenite Jews spent periods in transit camps before being settled in homes, and stories of babies going missing began to arise immediately.

Some reports talk of children disappearing after visits to the camps by wealthy American Jews.

In other cases children appeared to be recovering in hospitals from relatively minor ailments when the parents were suddenly told they had died.

On kibbutzes [sic], where some of the Yemenites settled, it was typical for youngsters to be separated from their parents and looked after together, and here too it’s said that some children vanished.

Estimates of the number of missing children range from hundreds to thousands.

In many cases the parents believe their children were really kidnapped and given or sold to families of European Jews – occasionally Holocaust survivors who had lost their children – or Americans.”

Only in the twenty-seventh paragraph of her article does Knell tell readers that:

“Three government inquiries have looked into the Yemenite Children Affair, as it is known, since the 1960s, and all have concluded that most children died of diseases and were buried without their parents being informed or involved.”

However, that is immediately followed by a paragraph again promoting entirely unproven speculations:

“But many of the families involved suspect a cover-up and continue to believe that there was an organised operation to snatch children, involving health workers and government officials.”

Later on in the article, Knell half concedes that allegations of “an organised operation” are unproven:

“Whether there was an organised conspiracy to snatch Yemenite babies and give them away for adoption remains unproven though, according to historian Tom Segev, who has written books on Israel’s early years and served as an expert witness for one government inquiry.

He points out that hundreds of thousands of immigrants arrived in Israel at a time of war, and in the years immediately afterwards, when the country was still reeling.

“All these people came in very, very difficult conditions and it’s a story of chaos,” Segev says.”

Nevertheless (while conveniently ignoring the fact that her own country was not exactly free of prejudice and discrimination in the 1950s) Knell uses this story to promote a clear take-away point to readers:

“One of the disturbing aspects of the Yemenite Children Affair is the way the darker-skinned immigrants appear to have been treated as second-class citizens. The founders of Israel were mostly Ashkenazi Jews, of European descent, some of whom expressed fears that Mizrahi (literally “Eastern”) Jews brought with them a backwards “Oriental” culture that might damage the new state.”

Perhaps it was the urge to promote that notion that prevented Knell from informing BBC audiences that not only “darker skinned” children were said to have disappeared at that chaotic time but also children of immigrants from the Balkans and Eastern Europe.

The Yemenite children affair as it is known in Hebrew is for obvious reasons a sensitive subject in Israel and one that has been under examination and discussion for decades.

However, any journalist wishing to present an objective account of that story would take care to provide an accurate portrayal of the conditions in which a new country that was still at war at the time took in hundreds of thousands of impoverished refugee immigrants from dozens of different countries and cultures despite a grave lack of facilities and resources and the absence of a common language and efficient communication. An objective journalist would of course also take into consideration that in Israel – as in other countries – societal norms on topics such as the death of a child have changed during the decades that have since passed.

Yolande Knell, however, prefers to tell a story that amplifies assertions of “a cover-up”, that promotes evidence free claims of an “organised operation to snatch children” and – unsurprisingly – touts allegations of Israeli racism.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Knell regurgitates Ha’aretz slurs 

 

BBC ME editor gives context-free, omission rich potted history of Israel’s creation

Episode six of Jeremy Bowen’s 25-part BBC Radio 4 series ‘Our Man in the Middle East’ was broadcast on May 22nd. Titled ‘Crossing the Divide’, the programme begins with a tale highlighting Bowen’s unfamiliarity with the subject of gas fittings before moving on to broader subject matter.

Bowen: “It felt like every part of life was touched by the conflict; it was exhausting. It might have been more fun to live in Tel Aviv, which feels like another country. It’s a hedonistic, mainly secular city on a Mediterranean beach. In the winter I’ve scraped the ice off the car in Jerusalem to find an hour later in Tel Aviv that people are strolling in shirt sleeves in the sun. Sometimes Israelis who live there say they’re in a bubble that lets them forget the conflict. Jerusalem was the opposite: everything was infected by the conflict. And, whenever I drove past Ben Gurion airport I fantasized about catching a plane home.” [emphasis added]

Tel Aviv is of course far from immune to terror attacks and that was also the case immediately before and during the period of time in which Bowen was stationed in Israel (1995–2000). He goes on:

Bowen: “The peace process was collapsing after the assassination of Israel’s Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin. It was all bad news – but that’s what journalists like.”

Listeners then hear undated, context-free snippets from some of Bowen’s past reports, including the claim that in Hebron, “Jewish settlement still takes up one fifth of the town” without any clarification regarding the relevant Hebron Protocol. Bowen continues:

Bowen: “I read more, spoke to more people and started to understand why life could be so difficult. As for Jerusalem – my adopted home – the city had been desired and venerated for 3,000 years by a procession of dynasties and peoples. Struggle and conflict were normal. It took two or three years but to my surprise Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories and Jerusalem – especially Jerusalem – started pulling me in. […]

Even the food tasted of the ethnic tangle. Not just the old Israeli and Palestinian argument about who invented falafel and hummus. I learned about the heritage of Jews who’d emigrated to Israel from North Africa, Yemen and Iraq by eating their food, usually in the raucous streets around West Jerusalem’s main market; Mahane Yehuda. These days its edges have been blurred by gentrification and the fact that food has become fashionable.”

Mahane Yehuda market

As he did with Tel Aviv, Bowen erases the topic of the terror attacks on Mahane Yehuda market during that time period from his account. His rare mention of Jewish refugees from Arab lands (which he fails to identify as such) continues:

Bowen: “[…] But in the 1990s Mahane Yehuda was a noisy, teeming symbol of the ethnic divide between Israeli Jews. Brown-skinned Mizrahis from the Middle East and North Africa who felt excluded by European Jews – the pale-faced Ashkenazis from Poland, Russia and Germany who created the Israeli state and often behaved as if they owned it.”

Bowen then gives a potted history rife with deliberate omission of relevant context. Failing to tell listeners of the pogroms that prompted the First Aliyah, erasing the arrival of Jews from Yemen in the same period and refraining from clarifying the significance of the particular area to the Jewish people, he says:

Bowen: “European Jews started emigrating from Russia in 1882. An Austrian journalist Theodor Herzl pioneered the idea of Zionism – creating a state for the Jews – and organized the first Zionist congress in 1897. The Zionists wanted Palestine but Arabs already lived there. In the end, Jewish immigrants from Europe outmanoeuvred and out-fought Palestinian Arabs and built a state in waiting.” [emphasis added]

In other words, Bowen recycles his long promoted theme of ‘European’ Jews taking over ‘Arab land’, erasing from audience view the existing Jewish communities in Jerusalem, Hebron, Tsfat and elsewhere. Failing to explain why the British were in Palestine and with no mention of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine he goes on:

Bowen: “At the end of the Second World War the bankrupt and exhausted British were reduced to holding the ring as Arabs and Jews fought a civil war.” [emphasis added]

Bowen’s use of the phrase ‘holding the ring’ inaccurately implies to listeners that the British Mandate authorities were not involved in the conflict despite actions such as restrictions on Jewish immigration both before and after the war. As the BBC’s own profile of the Arab League states, the creation of that body was “mooted in 1942 by the British” and its agenda was primarily devoted to “preventing the Jewish community in Palestine from creating a Jewish state”.

After a BBC archive recording from March 1948, Bowen continues:

Bowen: “Britain turned the problem over to the United Nations. The UN voted to partition Palestine into two states with Jerusalem under international control. The Jews agreed, the Arabs did not. As the British left in the summer of 1948, David Ben Gurion read Israel’s declaration of independence.”

He fails to clarify that the Partition Plan limited the period of international control over Jerusalem to ten years, why the Arab nations rejected it or that the Arab refusal to accept the recommendations of UN GA resolution 181 meant that it became irrelevant. The latter omission enables him to go on to inaccurately tell BBC audiences that Israel acquired land to which it was not entitled.

Bowen: “Ben Gurion became Israel’s first prime minister. The neighbouring Arab states invaded to try to strangle the new Israel at birth. They failed. Israel, victorious, took much more territory than the UN had given it. Palestinians use the Arabic word ‘naqba’ which means catastrophe to describe what happened to them in 1948. Up to 760,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled. Their descendants are still refugees.” [emphasis added]

Bowen of course does not tell listeners that Palestinians pass on refugee status to their descendants or that the Arab nations have for 69 years deliberately ensured that they are “still refugees”.

Failing to explain why the Six Day War happened or to mention subsequent Israeli withdrawals from Sinai and the Gaza Strip, he continues:

Bowen: “Another war came in 1967 which created the current shape of the conflict. In six days Israel added the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights. From the beginning Israelis set about building a new country and made sure every part of government did its bit, including the town planners.”

Listeners then hear a recording of undated archive report by Bowen:

Bowen: “It’s very hard for Palestinians in Jerusalem to get permission to build. A lot of their houses have been demolished recently. Most building permits here are issued to Jews. Yasser Arafat believes that Israel is trying to squeeze Palestinians out of Jerusalem. At the Palestinian legislature today he said that he’d lost patience with Israel. Palestinians, he said, had to defend their rights in Jerusalem with all means. Building more homes for Jews in the desert to the east is part of Israel’s latest scheme to strengthen its grip on Jerusalem. This is land captured by Israel in 1967. Its future was supposed to be negotiated with the Palestinians.”

Bowen fails to clarify to listeners that the final status negotiations stipulated in the Oslo Accords never came about because Arafat chose instead to launch the Second Intifada terror war.

Bowen: “Meron Benvenisti was the Israeli deputy mayor and chief planning officer of Jerusalem during much of the 1970s. Twenty years later he stood with me on the Mount of Olives; the hill that overlooks the Old City.”

Benvenisti: “Each housing project fits into a strategic plan. It’s not the planners who are planning Jerusalem; it’s the politicians who are planning Jerusalem. The politicians are planning Jerusalem as generals who are planning a battlefield.”

Bowen: “Benvenisti explained how roads could be as much about nation building as traffic. That extended to the occupied territories, he said. Israel girded Jerusalem with roads as it sliced up the West Bank which Palestinians want for a state. Many are political highways, aimed at controlling Palestinians, safeguarding Jewish settlers and strengthening the occupation. ‘You know’, Benvenisti said, ‘we’ve spent millions and used all the energy of the state to try to make this city more Jewish. But despite all that, the ratio of Jews to Arabs in Jerusalem is the same as it was in 1967. They make more babies than we do’. Demography is politics here too.”

While that information concerning birth rates has been out of date for several years, Bowen of course does not question his politically motivated interviewee’s use of it to support his questionable claims.

Using the Arabic pronunciation of the name of the Jerusalem neighbourhood Ein Kerem and with a context-free reference to Dir Yassin, Bowen continues:

Ein Kerem

Bowen: “Ayn Karem where we lived is a desirable Israeli suburb. But until 1948 it was a Palestinian village. The Palestinians in the village fled after Jewish forces carried out their most notorious massacre of the 1948 war in a neighbouring village called Dir Yassin. For the new Israeli state to be Jewish, the Palestinians could not be allowed back. Laws were passed that permitted the state to seize property that landlords had – in Israeli legal terms – abandoned. The reality was that they weren’t allowed back to reclaim it and that applied to Ayn Karem too. Most of the Palestinian villages that were captured by the new Israeli state in 1948 were blown up or bulldozed. Ayn Karem survived. Its traditional stone houses were given to new Jewish immigrants from North Africa.

Israel absorbed hundreds of thousands of Jews who no longer wanted or were permitted to live in Arab countries. A Moroccan synagogue still exists in Ayn Karem but most of the elegant Arab houses have been bought up and modernized by well-off secular Israelis.” [emphasis added]

Significantly, Bowen’s sketchy portrayal of Jewish refugees from Arab lands sanitises the widespread government-led persecution and violence against them and refrains from informing listeners of the property and lands they left behind. He closes the programme as follows:

Bowen: “I used to like running in Jerusalem forest, just up the hill from Ayn Karem. It’s a beautiful spot and I puffed my way round it. The forest tells part of the story of the conflict too. It was planted in the 1950s, covering terraced hillsides that were once worked by Palestinian farmers who lost their lands in 1948. On my jogging route a German wagon from the Second World War projected out of the trees on a fragment of railway line leading back to the past. It’s part of Yad Vashem; Israel’s centre for remembrance of the six million Jews who were killed by the Nazis.

We’re all made by our history. The Holocaust is one reason why Israel often feels vulnerable despite its armed forces, its nuclear weapons, hi-tech economy and its alliance with the United States. It also made absolute the moral case for the establishment of a state for the Jews in Palestine. I learnt a lot about the conflict running through the forest and looking down the valley at Ayn Karem. For Palestinians the forest and the village are symbols of dispossession – among many others. For Israelis they’re part of their hard-won independence and their remarkable success and a reminder of their survival. If the two sides can’t make peace with history, they’ll never make peace with each other.”

Bowen’s basic story is, as ever, a very simple one: according to him, white “pale-faced” Europeans took over a land inhabited by passive ‘indigenous’ Arabs. In order to promote that politically motivated version of events, he has to omit context and relevant background information which would enhance BBC audiences’ understanding of the story as it stands today. As we once again see, Jeremy Bowen has no problem at all doing that.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 launches a new ME series by Jeremy Bowen

BBC’s ME Editor misrepresents the Hussein-McMahon correspondence

A predictable view of Jerusalem from the BBC’s ‘Man in the Middle East’

BBC ‘world view’ of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations laid out by Jeremy Bowen

BBC ME editor recycles his ‘Israeli Right killed the peace process’ theory

BBC Bowen still misleads about Jewish refugees (‘Point of No Return’) 

 

 

 

 

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.