BBC Arabic, you are being watched! A report on 6 November ostensibly provided a timeline to the history of Jews in Syria, while actually leaving out important events such as the Damascus Blood Libel of 1840 and the 1947 Aleppo riots, according to CAMERA Arabic. The report focused on a promise by President Putin to help the Jews of Syria (a cost-free exercise to gain brownie points with the West), but asks, ‘where are they ?’ This is a reasonable question, as there are fewer than 20 Jews from a 1948 community of 38,000 still living there. (Via BBC Watch)
BBC Arabic video clipfrom August 2019 showing one of the last of the Damascus synagogues. Three of the last Jews in the city are interviewed
1. The BBC removed JIMENA’s account of the 1840 Damascus blood libel, a true landmark of 19th century history of the Jewish people as a whole. To quote the original JIMENA timeline (originally in English, in-bracket remarks by CAMERA Arabic): “1840 –Eight members of the Jewish community were falsely accused of ritual murder of a Christian monk during the Damascus Affair. The men were tortured, killed and forced to convert to Islam [all tortured, and some of them were either killed or forced to convert]. The Jewish synagogue of Jobar is destroyed [its interior was pillaged and vandalised by an angry mob]”.
Notably, the affair influenced not only the Jews in Damascus (and the Ottoman Empire which controlled it between 1516-1918) but was also pivotal to world Jewry – operating globally to protect fellow Jews in a way that was unbeknown to remote communities until then.
To get a better idea of just how gross of an omission it is to remove the Damascus blood libel from a chronicle of Jewish history in Syria, it should be emphasised that it appeared not only in all of JIMENA’s three webpages, but also in many otheronlinechronicles of the history of Syrian Jews.
2. The BBC kept the following entry in place: “In 1850, many Jewish families leave Syria for Egypt, then [depart] from it to England”. However, it removed JIMENA’s phrase that made a connection between the departure and the blood libel, thus creating the false impression that it was spontaneous or due to an unknown reason.*
3. The BBC added an entry, stating that “in the 1800s Jews were granted a legal status known as ‘Dhimmis’, and they were required to pay the head tax [Arabic: Jizya جزية]”.
In fact, the Dhimmi legal status, historically granted to members of some religious minorities who were subjected to Muslim rule, as well as the obligatory Jizya tax that was imposed on them along with it, are both thought to be almost as old as Islam itself; a few of the most ancient Islamic texts (in the case of Jizya, even the Qur’an) refer to them.
Specifically regarding the Jews of the areas which now consist modern Syria, their designation as Dhimmis who owe mandatory tax to the state was in effect up to 1856, under the Ottoman Empire as well as under the Muslim rulers that preceded it. Between 1856-1909 Jizya was replaced with a different tax, “Badal Askari”, that Jews and Christians paid in order to become exempt from military service. However, at least some of them considered the new tax as “Jizya with a new name”.
*One factor was the opening of the Suez Canal which deprived many Jews of their livelihoods. Another was the 1960 – Druze- Christian war.