The BBC’s public purposes – as laid out in the Royal Charter – include “[t]o support learning for people of all ages”.
“…the BBC should help everyone learn about different subjects in ways they will find accessible, engaging, inspiring and challenging.”
One topic on which the BBC has done little to help enhance its audience’s knowledge is that of the history of Jews from Arab lands.
On August 13th BBC World Service radio aired a repeat edition of ‘Heart and Soul’ titled “Morocco’s Jews: Hospitality or Hostility?“.
“Morocco’s Jewish community was once the biggest in the Muslim world. More than a quarter of a million Jews called the North African country home. Most Moroccan Jews left after the establishment of Israel in 1940s and 50s. The understanding between the two religious communities, who used to live side by side, has slowly been forgotten.
Young people especially feel a growing disconnect with the communities of the past. Many Muslim Moroccan’s [sic] are bringing a middle eastern Islam to the country; different to Morocco’s traditionally Sufi inspired moderate version of the faith
Nina Robinson asks what the future will be for the co-existence of Muslim and Jewish communities in this unique Muslim country?”
Given that synopsis, one would have expected the background to the exodus of Jews from Morocco to be accurately and fully explained to BBC audiences and indeed that topic was raised by Nina Robinson at 16:23 minutes into the programme.
Robinson: “…an important question remains: if life was always so harmonious, why did most of the Jewish people leave?”
Listeners then heard from interviewee Joseph Sebag – sometimes dubbed ‘the last Jew in Essaouira’.
Sebag: “Every family has reasons, personal reasons, to stay or leave for political reasons, for ideological reasons. They wanted not necessarily to leave but to be buried in the holy land. But there was Zionism movement that infiltrated the community and created what we say psychose [psychosis] that they scared the local people and a lot of Jews left because of that. In 1948 a lot of Jews, Orthodox Jews, have left to Israel and then you have the 6 Day War as they call it and in ’73 the Yom Kippur war. These are the three major dates in the Moroccan Jewry.”
In other words, according to the account presented to BBC World Service radio listeners, the fact that the overwhelming majority of Moroccan Jews upped and left the country inhabited by their ancestors for hundreds or even thousands of years had nothing at all to do with conditions in Morocco and everything to do with Israel and false scares “created” by ‘Zionist infiltrators’.
BBC audiences have of course heard in the past similar portrayals of Jews living harmoniously in Arab lands until Zionism and Israel came along but unfortunately for those hoping to learn about the topic, that narrative is inaccurate.
The Jewish community in Morocco had suffered periodic pogroms and forced conversions throughout history, including in the 18th and 19th centuries and in the early 20th century tens of Jewish families from Morocco had already emigrated to what was at the time Ottoman ruled Palestine. One event which was still within living memory at the time when the significant exodus of Jews from Morocco began was the pogrom in Fez in 1912. During World War Two, Morocco – at the time a French protectorate – came under pro-Nazi Vichy rule and Jews were subjected to anti-Jewish legislation.
Following a serious episode of anti-Jewish violence in Oujda and Jerada in June 1948, thousands of Jews emigrated. As Morocco moved towards independence in late 1955, new fears arose within the Jewish community and indeed between 1956 and 1961 Moroccan Jews were prohibited from emigrating to Israel. In the three years following the lifting of that ban, a further 80,000 Jews left Morocco for Israel.
None of that obviously relevant background was however included in Nina Robinson’s programme and so BBC World Service audiences were once again steered towards the inaccurate belief that – just as they have in the past been told happened in Libya, Tunisia and Iraq – Moroccan Jews lived in perfect harmony with their Muslim neighbours until the creation of Israel.