January 20, 2021

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BBC watchdog rejects complaints on refugees

Last Monday was not a happy day for Elisha Manasseh.  He had had a third complaint rejected by OFCOM, which adjudicates on complaints to the BBC.

He first complained to the BBC in 2018, claiming that its reporting on the MENA constantly refers to Palestinian refugees, while ignoring Jewish refugees.

“I have now been through the whole system with the BBC,”  he says.

Manasseh  argued that the BBC had breached its own guidelines on accuracy and impartiality when it failed to mention Jews displaced from Arab countries in a background ‘explainer’ to the Eurovision Song Contest in May 2019, held in Tel Aviv.

The BBC retorted that  ‘impartiality’ did not mean that every reference to one side had to be matched with a reference to the other side. For example, a reference to Israel’s security concerns needed not be matched by a reference to Hamas security concerns.  They claimed that Jewish refugees arising out of the’ Arab/Israeli conflict’ were ‘irrelevant’ to the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Finally, they said, the Oslo Accords allegedly addressed Palestinian refugees but makes no mention of Jewish refugees.

In fact this statement  is incorrect, as the Oslo Accords deferred such difficult topics as borders, Jerusalem and refugees to be discussed as final status issues. The Clinton Parameters of 2000 did mention Jewish refugees. The BBC does mention the Palestinian ‘right of return’ – a euphemism for the destruction of Israel by overwhelming the country with thousands of returnees. It is essential to the audience’s understanding to explain this point, but the explanation is never given.

The BBC’s position confuses claims with facts. Both sets of refugees – Jewish and Arab – arose out of the same conflict and both should be mentioned in the context.
Some 90 percent of the Jews of Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen fled to Israel within three years of 1948. Some 90 percent of Jews fled Arab countries in the 15 years since 1948 (and many more of those would have left earlier, but were officially banned from leaving ), making this one the most dramatic examples of ethnic cleansing in the 20th century.

  There was an exchange of refugee populations between Israel and the Arab world. The BBC regularly mentions the exchange between India and Pakistan and gives equal weight to both parties.

A radio programme with the historian Simon Schama marking Israel’s 70th anniversary did mention Jewish refugees, but the Jewish side deserves equal time, not a solitary mention on a single programme.

It appears that a lone complainant will  remain a voice in the wilderness unless the Jewish refugee issue is consistently and loudly raised by  the Jewish establishment and Israeli spokespersons.

Will Elisha Manasseh now give up complaining?

“What I will be doing is just carrying on, waiting for the next time they mention the subject, and there will be a next time, I will start all over again,” he declares, undaunted.

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