This year, as every year, the international media noted Nakba Day, the day when Palestinians mark the anniversary of the ‘catastrophe’ of Israel’s independence and the flight of 700,000 Arab refugees from the newborn state of Israel. Noticeable by its absence was any mention of the contemporaneous Jewish ‘nakba’, the flight of around 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Lyn Julius examines media bias in the treatment of Jewish refugees in this guest post for HonestReporting:
Isabel Kershner of The New York Times is among the offenders. Leo Rennert wrote in American Thinker: “A fair reading of history demands that equal attention be paid to this Jewish “naqba.” But fairness is in short supply in The New York Times. There’s also no indication in Kershner’s piece about the different outcomes of these two “naqbas.”
Although the refugees were displaced in roughly similar numbers, the western press and media remain deaf, dumb and blind to the Jewish refugees. Do a search for “Palestinian refugees” on the influential BBC website and you get 1,197 results. Do a search for “Jewish refugees” and you get only 187 results.
Of these, the BBC contained only one story about Jews from Iraq and two references to Jewish refugees from Arab countries, neither of them emanating from BBC programs. With the exception of a 2011 radio program fronted by BBC2 controller Alan Yentob about Iraqi Jews, the only Jewish refugees discussed by the BBC website have been Holocaust survivors.
When the media does feature Sephardi or Mizrahi suffering in Arab lands, the implication is that Zionism caused their troubles. Before Israel, so the myth goes, ‘Jews and Arabs coexisted peacefully’ through the centuries.
According to David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, the western media are accomplices in a campaign to ‘deny or extinguish a Jewish presence deeper in the region’. A seasoned Middle Eastern affairs journalist had been surprised to discover that Harris’s wife had, as a Jew, been forcibly expelled from her native Libya. The journalist had no idea that Jews had ever lived in Libya nor that every trace of the millenarian Jewish presence had been obliterated almost overnight. So un-newsworthy was the story at the time, that The New York Times, Harris says, devoted exactly two tiny news briefs in 1967 to the end of the Libyan Jewish community.
The net effect of this bias by omission is that the average viewer, listener or reader has no clue that Jews lived in the Middle East and North Africa well before the Arabs, let alone were brutally ejected. He or she could be forgiven for thinking that Israel was established to atone for European sins, at Arab expense. But 50 percent of the Jewish population of Israel are there not because of the Nazis but because of the Arabs.
A jaw-dropping BBC reply to a complaint I made about the lack of coverage of Jewish refugees is that they simply aren’t enough of a stumbling block to peace:
The specific issue of Palestinian refugees is generally seen as one of the key stumbling blocks to finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. . … Jewish refugees… is not something that is generally viewed as a central issue in the peace process in the same way the Palestinian refugee issue is. Should the issue of Jewish refugees become an integral part of the negotiations in the Israeli-Arab peace negotiations or a stumbling block thereto, we would of course look at them in a more in-depth fashion.
Are we to conclude that if Jewish refugees blew themselves up in Arab supermarkets, they would get the attention they deserve?
In other ways, Jewish refugees are too much of a stumbling block. The media do not want the complication of the exodus of a million Jews from Arab countries, and their unresolved human rights, to cloud their simplistic ‘narrative’ of who the bad guys are in this conflict. You will scour the mainstream press in vain for reference to Jewish claims for compensation or restitution of property in Cairo, Jerusalem or Hebron.
The persistent failure of the media to give context to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and certainly to cover any history before 1967, means that Jews from the East are invisible. When Jerusalem Day is celebrated, you can bet that there will be more sob stories in the press about Palestinians wrongfully ejected from their homes.
Jews have neither presence nor rights in Arab countries, nor in eastern Jerusalem, and those parts of the West Bank where Jews lived before 1948. As far as the media are concerned, all Jews are settlers.