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

 

 

What do BBC audiences know about Abbas’ potential successor?

Back in October 2016 the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell produced an article on the topic of succession within the Palestinian Authority but since then the BBC has failed to report on subsequent related events such as violent clashes between supporters of Abbas and Dahlan, Abbas’ unanimous re-election as head of the Fatah party, the seventh Fatah party congress and the appointment of a new Fatah vice-chair in February 2017.

The Fatah Revolutionary Council recently held a three-day meeting in Ramallah and according to reports, the man appointed vice-chair last year has now been named as Mahmoud Abbas’ successor.

“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will be replaced by his deputy, Mahmoud al-Aloul, if he becomes unable to fulfill his duties, Fatah’s Central Committee decided in Ramallah on Saturday.

According to Palestinian media outlets, Fatah’s Central Committee decided that should Abbas, 82, were unable to continue in his role, al-Aloul will be appointed “acting president of Palestine for a period of three months until elections can be held.” […]

“The amendment to Palestinian law on the matter of transferring Abbas’ presidential authorities to his deputy Mahmoud al-Aloul, was made in light of rumors regarding Abba’s failing health,” one council official said.”

So what do BBC audiences know about the man apparently set to replace Mahmoud Abbas? The answer to that question is very little indeed. While BBC audiences saw no reporting on Aloul’s appointment to the position of vice-chair of Fatah in February 2017, in an article published seven months later he was described simply as “Fatah’s deputy leader”. In a BBC report from 2004 Aloul’s name is among those described as “prominent Palestinians” who signed what the BBC portrayed as an “appeal for calm” – even though the text concerned states:

“…we call upon our people, for the sake of our national interest and in order to bring an end to the occupation, to repress their rage and rise once again in a widespread popular intifada…”

A profile of Aloul compiled by the Washington Institute for Near East policy in 2015 includes the following:

“Following the 1967 Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Mahmoud al-Aloul was arrested by the Israeli army for participating in organized violence against the army. Three years later, the army freed Aloul, deporting him to Jordan. He immediately joined other Fatah members and leaders in Jordan and was appointed to the “Committee for Deportees from the Homeland” and the “Western Sector,” the Fatah wing responsible for organizing militant activities in the Palestinian territories and Israel. However, in 1973, a little more than two years after his arrival, Jordanian authorities banished him and he relocated to Lebanon. There, he engaged more deeply in military activities and the Western Sector, serving as an assistant to Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad), a top advisor to Arafat and Fatah military leader, and leading a military brigade in both the Mount Sannine and Mount Lebanon areas in central Lebanon. After Israel occupied southern Lebanon in 1982, he commanded the “special forces” units in Tripoli (Lebanon) and the Beqa Valley responsible for capturing six Israeli soldiers in 1983 and facilitating a major prisoner swap between Israel and the Palestinians.

Shortly after the Palestinian leadership was expelled from Lebanon, Aloul moved to Tunis and remained Wazir’s special assistant but also began forming special forces units in different Arab states. When Wazir was assassinated in 1988, Aloul was promoted to the position of secretary-general of the occupied territories committee. After the Oslo Accords, Israel initially did not allow Aloul to return to the Palestinian territories because of his previous military activities, but did permit him to return in 1995. He was immediately appointed governor of Nablus and served until he was elected to the PLC and appointed labor minister in 2006. He was elected to the Fatah Central Committee in 2009 and currently serves as the commissioner of mobilization and organization.”

Photo credit: PMW. A photograph of Aloul with Arafat posted on Fatah’s Facebook account

As CAMERA’s Sean Durns has noted, the man to whom Aloul was “special assistant” was responsible for the murders of scores of people.

“…Abu Jihad oversaw the assassination of US diplomats in Khartoum, Sudan, in March 1973. Abu Jihad was also responsible for perpetrating and planning numerous terrorist attacks against Israelis, including the 1978 Coastal Road massacre, in which 38 civilians, including 11 children, were murdered.

In addition to his involvement in murdering no less than 124 Israelis, Abu Jihad also served as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Fatah’s liaison with the Soviet Union, the Syrian Baathist party and the Muslim Brotherhood.”

An article published by the FDD after Aloul’s appointment as vice-chair of Fatah notes that:

“Within Fatah’s upper echelons, al-Aloul assumed the portfolio of mobilization and organization within the party, and in that role he has had an active presence. He is frequently spotted leading protests in the West Bank, and in November of last year, he gave a speech where he declared: “When we talk about our enemies, we talk about the [Israeli] occupation and the United States.””

However, given that the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s chronic under-reporting of internal Palestinian affairs persists, audiences remain unaware of the record of the man who could replace Abbas as president of the Palestinian Authority at any moment.

Related Articles:

BBC News ignores the story of the new Fatah vice-chair

Airbrushing terror: the BBC on Abu Jihad

 

 

 

Airbrushing terror: the BBC on Abu Jihad

On November 1st an article appeared in the Middle East section of the BBC News website concerning the declassification of an Israeli newspaper report about the 1988 assassination of Fatah founder Khalil al Wazir – aka Abu Jihad. 

Entitled “Abu Jihad killing: Israeli censor releases commando’s account“, the article goes into considerable detail regarding the assassination itself, but makes scant reference to its context. 

“Abu Jihad – whose real name was Khalil al-Wazir – founded the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) with Yasser Arafat and was blamed for a string of deadly attacks on Israelis.” [emphasis added]

The ‘related stories’ and ‘More on This Story’ promoted on the same web page amount to one article entitled “Long history of Israel’s ‘covert killing'”. No information whatsoever is provided about Khalil al Wazir’s involvement in terror. 

Unlike the BBC, the Palestinian Authority is quite certain about al Wazir’s connections to terror attacks in which hundreds of Israelis were killed and injured. In fact, as recently as April 2012 the PA organized a week-long celebration of the man and his terror attacks, including the naming of sporting events in his honour, TV broadcasts of footage of him planning a terror operation and the presentation of 125 Israelis killed in attacks he planned as an ‘achievement’. 

“Abu Jihad was killed by the Israeli Mossad in Tunisia on April 16, 1988… and was crowned the Prince of the Martyrs of Palestine… Among the military operations planned by Abu Jihad: the explosion at the Zohar reservoir in 1955; the operation to blow up the Israeli National Water Carrier in 1965; the operation at the Savoy Hotel in Tel Aviv, which killed 10 Israelis, in 1975; the blowing up of a truck bomb in Jerusalem in 1975; the killing of Albert Levi, the senior sapper, and his assistant, in Nablus in 1976; the Dalal Mughrabi operation (i.e., bus hijacking), in which more than 37 Israelis were killed, in 1978; the shelling of the Eilat Port in 1979; the Katyusha fire on the northern settlements [in Israel] in 1981…” [WAFA and Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, April 16, 2012]

Abu Jihad: “After we strike the [Israeli] headquarters, Allah willing, we will close off the streets [of Tel Aviv]. On one street, for example, we will hold 500 people [hostage]. 500 people at once. Can anyone bargain over them? No one, without exception, is allowed to go there unless he sets up the fuse and the explosives. At any moment, he can blow up everyone. Blow up their building, or the whole thing, no matter how many people are there. Our dagger will be a poisoned dagger in our enemy’s heart, and we will take down as many as possible. We want to land on enemy territory (Israel) and to be like a single fortress. When we get there, Allah willing, we will begin to fire, to fire on our enemy. We will dig in his throat and heart with the massacres that we spoke about. We want to turn the Tel Aviv day black. We want to turn the Tel Aviv day into destruction, Allah willing. We will turn the Tel Aviv day so it will be remembered in the history of Tel Aviv as black Saturday, black Sunday. Tel Aviv will be closed that whole day with blood and destruction.”

קובץ:PikiWiki Israel 10326 savoy hotel terror attack memorial in tel aviv.jpg

Savoy Hotel terror attack memorial, Tel Aviv

File:Coastal Road massacre statue.jpg

Coastal Road Massacre memorial, near Gilot Interchange.

The failure by the BBC to provide any information whatsoever about the terror attacks perpetrated by al Wazir renders the article disturbingly lacking in context, imbalanced and inaccurate.