Friday, June 20, 2008

BBC on Jewish refugees: opportunity or stitch-up?

This Saturday 21st June, the BBC World Service programme Newshour will be devoting 30 minutes to the story of the hundreds of thousands of Mizrahi Jews who left or were forced out of Arab countries. The radio programme goes out at 12.05 GMT and will take calls and questions from listeners around the world. The planning editor has already taped interviews with two Iraqi-born Jews and an Egyptian-born Jew.

In addition, the BBC's World Have your Say has started a blog on which people can leave comments.

Is this our long-awaited opportunity to put the case for Jews from Arab Countries to an audience of millions? Or has the BBC something more sinister in mind?

The pre-recorded slots with Jewish refugees themselves will only amount to four or six minutes. The rest of the programme will feature so-called experts taking live calls in the studio.

It is not a good sign that this programme is being scheduled to go out on Saturday, when observant Jews will not be able to listen or take part, including much of the active leadership of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC). The planning editor only set about contacting Sephardi communities and websites on Tuesday - that's at five days' notice.

Neither is it a good sign that the 'historian' chosen to answer calls in the studio is an obscure post-Zionist leftist academic named Zvi Ben Dor whose main claim to fame is a research paper arguing that Iraqi Jews in Israel are in exile from their true homeland, Iraq. (Click on 'The invisible Exile'.)

Apparently the BBC was offered Sir Martin Gilbert, who is writing a book on Jews from Arab lands. After much prodding, the planning editor somewhat guiltily let slip that they had already chosen Ben Dor.

Thankfully JJAC are flying in David Matas, the human rights lawyer, from Canada to take part, but it is far from certain that the programme will not end-up being a stitch-up and a vehicle for the peddling of lies and myths.

If you are concerned that the case for Jewish refugees should get a fair hearing, please leave comments on the BBC Newshour blog and try to contribute to the live discussion by telephone.

Update: Mira Rocca has been asked to read passages from the book Memories of Eden on the programme.

Update to the update: some reactions to the programme have now been posted on the BBC's blog.

My reaction:. The discussion was designed to undermine the very premise that Jews were refugees. The programme mostly quoted Arab contributions to its blog. 'Historian' Zvi Ben Dor threw back in the Israeli government's face the rhetoric that the Mizrahi Jews were not refugees but Zionists returning to their homeland. The programme began with a report from Morocco, emphasising the symbiosis between Jews and Muslims over time and quoting two dhimmified Jews in the Moroccan public eye, Simon Levy and Andre Azoulay, whose statements should not be taken at face value.

JJAC's David Matas saved the day for the Jewish refugees. Yes, conditions did vary from country to country and Jews left for a variety of reasons, just as Palestinians had done. Even if the Jews were no longer refugees -their situation had been 'mitigated' and the Arab refugees' situation had been 'aggravated' - the Jews were still refugees at their departure. And bravo, David, for arguing that raising the plight of Jewish refugees actually legitimises the issue of the Palestinian refugees.

The presenter Claire Bolderson tried to appear fair, saying that the BBC was aware that observant Jews were not able to listen to the programme as it was being broadcast on Shabbat. The BBC would be repeating the programme that evening ( not realising that for many Jews around the world it was still Shabbat.)

Although Ellis Douek's pre-recorded interview made the point effectively that the Jews of Egypt had been persecuted and had no wish to return, what was most telling was what the editors chose to leave out: one Iraqi Jew's taped 20-minute account of post-1967 arrests, persecutions and harrassment must have been too hard for the BBC to swallow, as was Mira Rocca's reading of her family's experience of the 1941 Farhoud pogrom. (Now we can't disturb those preconceived notions of pre-Zionist harmony between Arabs and Jews, can we?)

All in all, though, the programme was not too bad - and thanks to David Matas, listeners were most probably left with the overriding impression that the Jewish refugees did have a case.

I would like to see the BBC use those interviews it taped but didn't use in a follow-up programme : If the Newshour editors have learned anything from planning this programme it may be this: that they have barely scratched the surface of this important story.

If you missed the programme you can listen again for the next seven days. Click on Newshour Saturday 13.00 GMT.


Anonymous said...

To the BBC question WHY NOW, the answer is so simple. When my parents were expelled from Egypt, with just one suitcase per person and 20 pounds, their whole world coollapsing in a few hours, it was too much of a trauma. They had to struggle in exile, to begin their life from zero, to raise their children, to give them adequate education, etc. etc. etc. Many courageous men of that generation, died from a broken heart. As for us, the younger generation, we had to prove ourself in a new country, to cope, to assimilate, to forget our past as oriental Jews, which at that time was not a privileged status nowhere. Hearing about the Shoah, we felt a shame to talk about our miseries, as enormous as they could be. That is WHY NOT THEN. But today, that young generation is not young anymore, and we are looking back to our past, and we know. We want the whole world to know too.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

bataween, you smelled a rat. And knowing the bbc from watching and listening to bbc radio, I think that it was entirely reasonable for you to be suspicious of anything that the bbc plans. The fact that they picked a very non-representative "expert" to appear on the show, instead of somebody like Sylvia Haim or Martin Gilbert or Moshe Sharon or spokesmen for WOJAC or similar bodies demonstrates their basic hostility to Jews. I note that a David Matas is supposed to represent WOJAC. But why is the issue treated in an adversarial manner with Ben Dor's position being given numerical equality with that of Matas??? Why isn't there simply a panel of experts who may have somewhat different views but are not diametrically opposed?? And if someone should be there to defend the reputation of the Arabs/Arab states on this issue, then why not an Arab League spokesman instead of a "post-Zionist" Israeli??? Can't Arabs speak for themselves, or is Ben Dor's presence meant to depress the Jews?? And why does it seem that Ben Dor's participation was hidden and only reluctantly admitted??

yet, I did not listen to the program. Could you give a brief report on it on Point of No Returj??

by the way, the bbc reported the Holocaust late and reluctantly. This was becuse of UK govt policy. See link:

bataween said...

Eliahu - you can listen to the programme (see link) over the next seven days

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

I listened to the BBC discussion. David Matas is a very poor spokesman, in my view. He did not mention the long history of oppression of Jews in Arab-Muslim lands in the status of dhimmis. Nor did he mention the premeditated Arab design to expel Jews from Arab lands in order to confiscate their property, etc. [see discussion in Malka Shulevitz's book, Forgotten Millions]. Nobody mentioned the 1941 Farhud in Iraq, neither Matas nor Ben Dor. Then, there was a gentleman, born in Egypt, now living in Britain, who thought that things were fine before 1947. He's right that Greeks, Armenians, and other "non-Egyptians" were persecuted in those years. But years before 1947, the Muslim Brotherhood was agitating against Jews, the Free Officers group was collaborating with the Nazis, etc. Mr Douek is unaware of the history, and perhaps naive. He should study more history.

The discussion about Morocco was simplistic since no one mentioned that Morocco was under French control until the mid-1950s, so Arab persecution of Jews could not take on full force before then. Judging from the Judeophobic attitudes of Moroccan immigrants to Europe, the Jews got out of there not a moment too soon. A Mr Levy said that Jews in Morocco were attached to Arab and Berber tribes in order to perform certain professions. This is simply too mild a description of reality. The Jews' status with these tribes was a state of humiliation, described as serf-like in some accounts. As for the "professions" that they performed, one may assume that they were not any prestigious occupation.

By the way, a neighbor in my building had her parents still living in Morocco until about 1995-96. They then came to Israel to join their children. I don't hear any eagerness from my Moroccan neighbors to go back there.

On the whole, the program on bbc may be seen as a beginning but not an especially aurpicious one.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Malka Hillel Shulewitz, ed., The Forgotten Millions -- see article by Yaakov Meron, "The Expulsion of the Jews from the Arab Countries."

I would refer both Mr David Matas and Mr Douek to this article.

Anonymous said...

I would suggest that you look at the BBC news website article on the Jewish refugees. Half the article is devoted to a matter of fact description of the group but the other half is given over to their distinctly Arab sounding middle east correspondent who posits a half dozen excuses for minimizing the Jewish exodus (While at the same time obviously trying to contrast it with the version of the "Palestinian" exodus so beloved of those on the far left) I think to paraphrase his argument would be "The Jews had it coming to them". At any rate I have officially complained to the BBC about this terrible and bigoted lapse in what is left of their Journalistic standards but if you want the truth it seems that the Middle East section has been throughly taken over by those who see Israel in only one light and not a good one at that

bataween said...

See post above'The BBC distorts Jewish refugees issue on website."