This guest post was written exclusively for HonestReporting by Lyn Julius, the co-founder of Harif, a UK group representing Jews from the Middle East and North Africa.
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.
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: