BBC News inaccurate on expulsion of Libyan Jews

Early on the morning of August 28th a report appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Africa’ and ‘Middle East’ pages under the headline “Protests erupt in Libya over contact with Israel”.

Originally credited to Alex Binley, that report was updated several times over the next three hours and is currently presented as having been written by Alex Binley and Raffi Berg.

The last line of the first three versions of the report read as follows:

“Under Gaddafi, who was a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause, thousands of Jews were expelled from Libya and many synagogues were destroyed.”

The fourth version of the report stated:

“The announcement by Israel that talks had taken place was surprising given that it was not known to be courting Libya, a staunch foe and champion of the Palestinian struggle, especially under former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. During his rule, thousands of Jews were expelled from Libya and many synagogues were destroyed.”

In fact, as documented by Yad Vashem, when Gaddafi took power in September 1969, barely a hundred members of Libya’s two-and-a-half-thousand-year-old Jewish community, which had numbered over 30,000 people on the eve of World War Two, remained in the country.

“In November, 1945 there was a vicious, three-day pogrom against the Jews in Tripoli: 120 Jews were murdered, hundreds more were wounded, and at least five synagogues were completely destroyed. The rioters not only destroyed and looted the city’s synagogues, but they also ruined hundreds of homes and businesses as well.

Again in 1948, coinciding with the declaration of the State of Israel, anti-Semitism escalated and rioters killed 12 Jews and destroyed 280 homes. This time, though, the Jews fought back and prevented even more deaths and injury. As a result of the rampant anti-Semitism, 30,972 Jews immigrated to Israel.

A new law in 1961 required a special permit to prove Libyan citizenship. Virtually all Jews were denied this permit. By 1967 the Jewish population had decreased to 7,000. Following Israel’s Six Day War, antisemitic rioting began again. The King of Libya, as well as Jewish leaders, urged the remaining Libyan Jews to emigrate. An Italian airlift saved 6,000 Jews and relocated them to Rome, though they were forced to leave behind homes, businesses and possessions. In 1969, when Muammar al-Qaddafi came to power, there were only 100 Jews remaining in Libya. His government confiscated all Jewish property, cancelled Jewish debt [debt owed to Jews – Ed.] and made emigration for Jews legally prohibited. Some Jews still managed to get out. By 2004 there were no Jews left in Libya.”

The claim that thousands of Jews were expelled from Libya during Ghaddafi’s rule is therefore inaccurate and misleading given that most of the Libyan Jewish community had already had to leave the country due to pogroms in the 1940s and in 1967 which were completely erased from the  first four versions of the BBC’s report.

CAMERA UK submitted a complaint to the BBC on that issue and has yet to receive a reply. However, after the submission of that complaint, the report was again updated with the inaccurate claim removed and the following paragraph added:

“Libya’s Jewish community was one of the most ancient in the world. However it was persecuted by Nazi occupiers in WWII, and tens of thousands fled to Israel in the wake of antisemitic riots and policies in the decades that followed. Gaddafi repressed the tiny community of Jews which remained until there were none left in Libya by the turn of the century.”

Update:

On August 31st we received the following response from the BBC News website:

“Many thanks for getting in touch with us. We take all feedback and complaints seriously.

I’m one of the journalists at BBC News and I have taken your complaint directly to our experienced Middle East Editor, Raffi Berg.

You were right to bring this error to our attention, and we would like to sincerely apologise for this error. The journalist who wrote the piece took the line from other reputable news outlets.

The article has been amended to remove the incorrect line, and reflect the fact that not many Jews remained in Libya when Gaddafi came to power.

For the sake of transparency, we have also added a note of correction at the bottom of the story.

We value your feedback and I’d like to thank you once again for bringing this to our attention.”

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