Don’t know much about history…

Jewish refugee girl in a tent camp or ma’abara in Israel in the 1950s (Magnum Photos)

With thanks: Lily, Sylvia

At last, one journalist who ‘gets it’. Ed West, who writes for The Daily Telegraph, laments the almost complete lack of historical context in news reporting, especially by the BBC.

TV news is driven by the emotional soundbite and the arresting image, but the result is that the viewer remains almost completely in the dark if he or she wants to know who is doing what to whom and why.

This is never truer than in the case of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The fact that 850,000 Jews fled Arab countries and did not stay long in ‘camps’ completely alters the issue, West writes:

“One of the side effects of the decline in history teaching, which I suspect was killed off by the introduction of progressive “imagine you’re a peasant in the 14th century” methods that made the subject so unutterably dull and pointless that everyone gave up, is that news is reported in a history-less vacuum.

“Throughout the coverage of the Yugoslav Wars, news reporting, especially by the BBC, was woefully inadequate in explaining the historical causes. Why were these people fighting? No one at home would have had the slightest idea that, for instance, Croatian Fascists murdered half a million Serbs in World War 2, and that this was a primary cause of the war (and why they did not want Serbian areas of Croatia, such as the Krajina, to be ruled by Zagreb). Likewise in Kosovo one has to turn to slightly fruity websites to find out that until the 20th century Serbs were the majority. This is not to justify Serbian atrocities in either region; but one gets a completely skewed idea of what’s going on without history.

“Coverage of the Holy Land conflict is little better; everyone knows that large numbers of Jews fled from Europe and in particular the Nazis, and that as a consequence roughly one million Arabs fled Palestine in 1948 (in fact there were no more than 750,000 or even fewer – ed). Yet few BBC viewers would know that 750,000 Jews (in fact 850,000 – ed) fled from Arab countries during the same period, a historical fact that completely alters the issue (the difference is that they’re not still in camps) (my emphasis -ed). Likewise “Zionism” is presented as a religious ideal led by crazy Jews and their crazy Christian supporters; yet until recently Zionism was an overwhelming secular and Left-wing, indeed borderline Communist, cause – most people are ignorant of this. Again, this is not to justify everything the Israelis do, but a bit of history would help.”

Denial creeps into the comments threads – one commenter disputes whether the Jews were ever put in camps. Another questions whether they were refugees.

But the fact that a mainstream journalist is now aware of the Jewish refugee issue is news indeed.

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