Friday, April 16, 2021

BBC Arabic downplays Jewish suffering in Iraq

Following the March 2021 passing of one of Baghdad’s very last Jews, 61-year-old Dr. Dhafer Fouad Eliyahu, BBC Arabic published a piece drawing on an Agence France Press report. But key passages referring to the persecution of the Jews were excised, thus giving a misleading picture. The BBC has form in downplaying Jewish suffering. CAMERA Arabic has published this analysis:


Dhafer Fouad Eliyahu, who died in March 2020, leaving three Jews in Iraq.

 Parts of the report were based on a March 28th AFP Arabic report on the same story. (A similar English version from March 27th is found here). Notably, the edits BBC Arabic made to the original AFP text consistently downplayed the suffering experienced by the local Jewish community, often at the hands of the Iraqi state, as well as surrounding Muslim majority. 

Below are the relevant AFP Arabic language passages (translation from Arabic is largely based on the corresponding AFP English report, with CAMERA Arabic’s alterations in cases the two disagree), with BBC Arabic’s omissions in italics and additions in bold:[One mostly prays at home”, a source knowledgeable of the city’s Jewish community, who also chose to remain anonymous, told AFP. Jews also suffer “when they deal with government bodies, they will not be well received once it is known they are Jewish”, he added.] 

Prayers for those followers of the Jewish religion who remained in Iraq are mostly held at home. According to Edwin Shuker, a Jew born in Iraq in 1955 and left it for Britain when he was 16, “there are only four Jews with Iraqi nationality who are descendant of Jewish parents” left in the country.,[not including the Kurdish region. ]

[In the early 1940s, the Jews were subject to a pogrom known as the “Farhud”, which left more than a hundred of them dead, properties looted and homes destroyed]. Throughout Iraqi history, Jews consisted a key part of the country’s diverse religious and social fabric. In 1948, Israel was created amid a war with an Arab military coalition that included Iraq. Subsequently, almost all of Iraq’s 150,000 Jews left the country, involuntarily at large. 

After Israel’s establishment, the number of Jews in the country exceeded 150,000. Then it began to decrease, as their identity cards were taken away and replaced by documents for Jewish people only that made them targets wherever they showed them, according to AFP. The majority then preferred to sign documents saying they would “voluntarily” leave and renounce their nationality and property. Still today, Shuker said, Iraqi law forbids the restoration of their citizenship. 

By 1951, 96% of the community had left. Almost all the rest were to follow when emigration rates resurged, after the 1969 public hangings of mostly Jewish merchants denounced as “Israeli spies”, together with the Ba’ath party rising to power by a coup.  [“Promotion of Zionism” is punishable by death and that legislation has remained unchanged. ] Decades of conflict and instability — with the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, the invasion of Kuwait, an international embargo, the 2003 American invasion and the ensuing violence — completed the erosion of the small community. By the end of 2009, only eight members remained, according to a US diplomatic cable. 

[Nevertheless,] violence against members of the community has been persisting. A jeweler threatened by militiamen who coveted his goldsmith’s work went into exile. In short, BBC Arabic saw fit to edit out the following information from a report about Iraqi Jews and their history: 
* The occurrence of the early 1940s” (June 1941) Farhud pogrom, which killed “more than a hundred” (179) of them. 
* That Iraq was party to the 1948 war with Israel. Iraqi Jews were forced to forgo their nationality and property in exchange of the authorities allowing them to flee the country. 
*That Jewish individuals are still being targeted in Iraq even in the passing decade, reportedly having suffered mistreatment at the hands of local authorities, as well as violence at the hands of militias. 
*That “promoting Zionism” is punishable by death in Iraq even today.

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