Wednesday, November 23, 2011

BBC to broadcast radio programme on Iraqi Jews

Alan Yentob, the son of Iraqi Jews

Good news from the BBC - a radio programme on the last Jews of Iraq will go out next Tuesday on BBC Radio 4 at 8pm - to be repeated the following Sunday. The programme-maker is Alan Yentob, himself the son of Iraqi Jews. The question remains: why did Yentob, who has worked for the BBC since leaving university, wait till there were only seven Jews left (actually six, as one is now in Jordan) to do this programme?

Jews in Iraq? Alan Yentob investigates a 2600 year old community, now almost disappeared. Once they thrived as a third of Baghdad's population, now only seven Jewish people remain.

Few people realise there was once a thriving Jewish community in Iraq - in 1917 it was a third of Baghdad's population. Jewish people had government jobs and dominated the music scene. They were an integral part of the community, living peacefully with Arab neighbours. The Jews had been in Iraq for more than two and a half millennia, since it was called Babylon, and remembered in Psalms. For centuries it was the centre of Jewish learning. Alan speaks to people who remember a life in Baghdad characterised by integration, religious diversity and colourful traditions.

In the 40s, everything changed. Nazism, Arab-nationalism and anti-Zionist feeling created a wave of anti-semitism. Violent pogroms flared up, young Jewish men were publically hanged, Jews were forced from jobs. By the 1970s nearly all had left, many in 1951 when 110,000 people were flown to safety in Israel. We hear from those who remember the community's traumatic final days.

Now those few Jews who remain are hidden away. They will certainly be the last of the ancient Babylonian Jewish line, says Canon Andrew White, the 'Vicar of Baghdad'.

In a very personal programme, BBC Creative Director Alan Yentob, himself the child of Iraqi Jewish immigrants, looks into his heritage and uncovers the hidden history of the Jews of Iraq. Although the community is now almost vanished in Iraq itself, its traditions survive though around the world. With interviews, archive recordings and contemporary music, Alan brings its vibrancy to life.

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Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

There is a significant lie in this bbc writeup. First of all, its a puff job for tolerance and coexistence in Arab lands, a myth fitting in well with bbc policy. Secondly, it falsely claims that everything changed in the 1940s. As Bataween has written before, anti-Jewish laws and governmental practices were started in the 1930s.

bataween said...

Well spotted, Eliyahu! I was saving up my comments and criticisms for the programme itself...

barry hyman said...

It's not a BBC lie Eliyahu. I'ts ignorance. Basically the Beeb is independent and not beholden to Government like most of the World's broadcasters.

At least its on air and is a story to be told.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Barry, the bbc was under direct control of the Foreign Office for its foreign affairs reporting and broadcasts. This was true during the Holocaust when the bbc reported on the Holocaust only very reluctantly and late in the day. The UK foreign secretary was Anthony Eden who was very pro-Arab and saw to it that information about Nazi persecution and mass murder of Jews was limited.
The arrangements were changed after WW2 at some point, but the bbc foreign affairs reporting still is basically under the Foreign Office and/or Brit psywar agencies.