American media outlets—including the influential Associated Press (AP) wire service—rarely discuss the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who fled under duress from Arab and Muslim countries. By contrast, news reports certainly don’t shy away from discussing Palestinian refugees and relaying their narrative.
Take, for instance, AP’s May 15, 2005 story, “Palestinians hold rallies to lament Israel’s founding 57 years ago.” That article repeatedly quotes Palestinians lamenting the anniversary of Israel’s independence and emotively describing the flight of the Palestinian refugees from Israel, implying that this exodus was the result of an Israeli “crime”:
… Palestinians on Sunday mournfully commemorated the anniversary of what they call “Al Nakba,” or “the catastrophe” – the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of their people with the 1948 creation of the state of Israel. …
“Our people will never forget and the generations will never forget,” Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said in a speech aired on Palestine TV. “On that day, a crime was committed against a people, who were uprooted from their land and whose existence was destroyed and who were forced to flee to all areas of the world.” …
“The Nakba is still a black day in the history of the Palestinian people and we’ve been suffering since that day,” said 61-year-old Gaza resident Suleiman Arabeed. …
“The Nakba and the disaster forced upon our people a life in refugee camps without an identity, in the midst of oppression, despair, poverty, and disease,” Abbas said. “The Palestinians have a homeland and it is called Palestine.”
Critics of this one-sided narrative are provided no opportunity to respond to the allegations that Israel committed a “crime” and “uproot[ed] hundreds of thousands” of Palestinians. Consequently, readers are not informed that most of the Arab refugees were not at all “uprooted” by Israelis. Many fled at the prompting of Arab leaders, and in some cases Jews implored that the local Arabs remain. According to scholar Ephraim Karsh, for example, “the Haifa Jewish leadership … went to great lengths to convince the Arabs [in that city] to stay” (Commentary, July-August, 2000). (See here for more details.)
Associated Press finally did discuss Jewish refugees (although the journalists refrained from using the word “refugee” even once) in a March 22, 2006 story about Moroccan-born Israeli politician Amir Peretz. While this was an excellent opportunity for the wire service to finally look at the often harsh and injust treatment of Jews in Arab and Muslim countries, the report instead whitewashed the situation, ignoring anti-Jewish prejudice and even massacres.
Although Jews in Morocco fared better than their co-religionists in other North African and Middle Eastern countries, almost the entire Moroccan Jewish community, which once numbered over 250,000, were driven to permanently leave their homes. AP’s story, entitled “In Morocco, an Israeli’s political climb stirs memories of gentler times,” acknowledges this dramatic exile, but gives no indication what caused the flight. It would not be a surprise, in fact, if after reading the story one were confused as to why the Jewish community virtually disappeared. Reporters Scheherezade Faramarzi and Laurie Copans describe a harmonious relationship between Jews and Muslims:
The warm ties between Arabs and Jews in the town decades ago could have been a model for a different Middle East, untroubled by religious barriers and animosity, living and trading with each other and baby-sitting each other’s kids.
‘We treated the Jews well,’ said Mohammed Aloumi, 68, who owns a hardware store in Boujad, and hoped [Israeli politician Amir] Peretz would reciprocate in his treatment of the Palestinians. …
“We were one big house, the Jews and the Arabs in our neighborhood. We had great relations. We didn’t care who was Arab and who was Jewish,” said Peretz’s uncle, Moshe Elbaz, who now lives in Israel.
When the Arabs heard that Israel had been established, “there were some street protests. But there wasn’t much violence, only at the end and never by our neighbors,” he said.
Aloumi, the hardware merchant, recalled the day the Peretz family left town.
“One day, they came over and said ‘salama, salama’ (goodbye) and left. We were sad. We wanted them to stay,” said Aloumi. “David was crying.”
According to this report, then, “some street protests” were the extent of the difficulties faced by Moroccan Jews after Israel gained its independence. But the story’s rosy depiction of historical ties between Jews and Arabs in Morocco is incomplete, at best.
The situation is summed up well by this passage from a May 19, 2003 JTA article:
Moroccan government officials like to boast of what they call the country’s “2,000 years of peaceful Arab-Jewish coexistence.”
The historical record is more complex and includes anti-Jewish pogroms. But Jews generally fared better in Morocco than in many other parts of North Africa or Europe.
But the Jewish experience in Morocco was cyclical, with favorable times followed by periods of anti-Semitism. During World War II, for example, King Mohammed V refused a request by the pro-Nazi Vichy France regime to round up the country’s Jews for deportation.
Several years later, Moroccan Jews, like others in the Arab world, were attacked by the local population during the period surrounding the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
Maurice M. Roumani’s book, “The Case of the Jews from Arab Countries: a Neglected Issue,” elaborates, describing the massacre of dozens of Moroccan Jews:
… bloody riots broke out in June 1948 against the Jews in Oujda and Djerada in Morocco. In Oujda, within three hours, five Jews had been killed, 30 seriously injured, shops and homes sacked. In Djerada, the Jewish population of 100 suffered 39 deaths and 30 severely wounded, the remainder less seriously.
And Heskel M. Haddad’s “Jews of Arab and Islamic Countries: History, Problems, Solutions” notes:
The attack on the Jews of Casablanca in 1945 may have been an additional consideration in their decision to immigrate. However, after 1948, a combination of factors led to an increased rate of immigration. With the establishment of the Jewish state, more Jews felt free to immigrate. The arrival of some Israeli emissaries helped to inform Jews of the opportunities in Israel an d encouraged their immigration. The major cause of the Jewish exocus from Morocco is the two pogroms that occurred in 1948 and 1953. Within a few years, several thousand Moroccan Jews immigrated to Israel. But mass immigration of Jews from Morocco occurred in 1954 when it became clear that France intended to grant Morocco full independence. Tens of thousands of Jews left Morocco, thereby betraying the typical anxiety of Jews in an independent Arab country.
A September 1954 article in Commentary magazine also describes problems faced by Moroccan Jews, noting that
In disputes with Moslems, or on civil commercial, and criminal issues among themselves, Jews are almost entirely subject to Islamic courts. … [E]ven under the best of circumstances [the courts] regard Jewish litigants as unclean, inferior beings.
Why is it that when AP covers Palestinian refugees, the stories often uncritically present Palestinian grievances about purported Israeli “crimes,” but when when the wire service (however infrequently) discusses Jewish refugees from Morocco, only glowing accounts of the Arab-Jewish relationship are cited, while discrimination and pogroms are overlooked completely?