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May 14, 2013 9:57 am

BBC Whitewashes Islamist Antisemitism with Semantics

avatar by Hadar Sela

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A reader has contacted BBC Watch concerning the reply received from the Middle East desk of the BBC News website following a complaint made with regard to the May 1st 2013 article by BBC Arabic’s Ahmed Maher entitled “Tunisia’s last Jews at ease despite troubled past”.

The complaint related to Ahmed Maher’s following claim:

“Several media reports spoke about YouTube videos that showed radical Islamists threatening Tunisian Jews. Despite searching extensively, I did not find any of them.”

The reader provided four video clips in support of the complaint – viewable here, here, here and here.

Below is the reply received.

“Dear XXXXX

Thank you for getting in touch. We have reviewed Ahmed Maher’s article “Tunisia’s last Jews at ease despite troubled past”, and discussed your complaint with him.

Regarding the You Tube links, Mr Maher reaffirms that he conducted an extensive search in Arabic and English to find clips or links of Salafists or hardliners attacking “Tunisian Jews” – a specification he makes clear in his piece. He found clips of rallies in support of Osama Bin Laden, but stresses he did not find anything attacking “Tunisian Jews” specifically.

Mr Maher says: “The chants heard in the four links cited [in your complaint] are against ‘the State of Israel and Jews but not Tunisian Jews’. The chants were echoed across several Muslim countries in the past two years in the wake of the Arab spring (and even before the revolutions) by extremists (even lay people and leftists in Egypt in particular who attacked the headquarters of the Israeli embassy in Giza in August 2011) to protest what they term ‘the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the blockade of the Gaza strip’. They chanted it in Tunisia during the visit of the Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyah. Again, the chants, which are in Arabic, were not directed at ‘Tunisian Jews’ but ‘Israel’ in general.

“I spoke to Sheikh Bashir Bin Hassan, one of the most prominent Salafi, Wahabi sheikhs in post-revolution Tunisian, and asked him again about two things: the chants and the protest in front of the Tunis synagogue. He said: ‘The chants were not aimed at the Tunisian Jews; make no mistake. It was directed at Israel because Israel is a very sensitive issue in the Muslim world. Our Prophet Muhammad asked us to take good care and protect non-Muslims living in our countries like Christians and Jews.’

“Regarding the Tunis synagogue video, Sheikh Bashir Bin Hassan said it was ‘misleading because it was taken out of context. The protest was not against the Tunisian Jews but rather it was in support of Salafists and other Islamist forces in Egypt. The protesters were heading towards the Egyptian embassy in Tunis and they stopped for moments in front of the synagogue to express their anger at the Zionist entity’s policies’.

Mr Maher also points out that the four Tunisian Jews quoted in his piece all spoke about “media exaggeration” about oppression of Jews in Tunisia.

He says: “I was told by many Tunisian Jews indeed and I do have their contacts, chiefly the head of the Jewish community in Tunisia Peres Trabelsi, that there was too much media fuss about the ‘oppression of Jews in Tunisia’ whether past or current. I was there to make a colour piece on the annual pilgrimage itself really, but every time I spoke to a Jewish pilgrim living in Djerba, and who can tell us their experience first-hand, they were keen on ‘dismissing media reports about us as exaggerated, as if we will become non-existent any longer. We are fed up’, as I was told by many of them. I have not put words into their mouths, neither did I push them to speak on this angle. There is no question about that.”

Kind regards

Middle East desk
BBC News website”

Get it? According to the BBC, if Tunisian Islamists (and presumably any elsewhere too) chant “Killing the Jews is a duty” or “Khaybar, Khaybar ya Yahud” or “the army of Mohammed will return”, then local Jews have nothing whatsoever to worry about because in fact they are not referring to them – or indeed to Jews at all – but to Israel, which should apparently be perfectly understandable. And the BBC website’s Middle East desk is quite sure of that because a prominent Salafist – who obviously thinks it unremarkable to chant hate speech relating to “the Zionist entity’s policies” in front of a synagogue in Tunisia – told them so.

If that is the level of understanding and interpretation prevalent among staff at the BBC’s Middle East desk, then the only conclusion can be that the license fee payer is funding an outfit not fit for purpose.

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