Monday, May 06, 2013

BBC pulls documentary for taking ancient Jewish history too seriously or not seriously enough.

BBC pulls documentary claiming story of Jewish exodus from Jerusalem is a 'myth’
Israeli-born filmmaker accuses BBC of bowing to 'political naivete’ and 'subconscious political pressure’.

By JTA | May.02, 2013 | 2:01 PM | 58

An Israeli-born filmmaker is slamming the British Broadcasting Corp. for pulling his documentary on the Jewish exodus from Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

Ilan Ziv said in a blog post on April 27 that the BBC exhibited "a mixture of incompetence, political naivete, conscious or subconscious political pressure and ultimately, I believe, a lack of courage of broadcasters when they are faced with the complexity of the Middle East issue and the intense emotions, fears and aggression it generates."

At issue is the documentary “Exile: A Myth Unearthed,” which theorizes that many Jews did not leave Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple, and that many modern-day Palestinians may be in part descended from those Jews. The BBC had been scheduled to show the documentary, cut and renamed "Jerusalem: an Archaeological Mystery Story," late last week before it was taken off the schedule at the last minute.

The blog post by Mr. Ziv is here.

As usual with these things, it is hard to know exactly what is going on from the sketchy media reports. If JTA is representing the content of the film accurately, it sounds pretty wacky. Ziv himself says the following in his blog post:
An “unnamed” BBC insider who I was told “liked the film,” claimed that the film props up the myth of Exile “ which we all know did not happen, in order to support his political analysis”. I learned that the cut I was given was now irrelevant, since some internal review deemed one scène with the Palestinians to be “too emotive” and they were asked to cut it down. Realizing that a mini political storm was brewing around the film and attacks lodged against its integrity, I asked and was promised that I would be given at least a summary of the essential charges so I could answer them in length. I am obviously very familiar with some of them and could easily and in detail refute them. I told the programming executive that my reply would help them to defend the film in the Channel. After all, they professed to love the film and seemed genuinely interested to show it. I told them it was very easy for me to prepare a detailed rebuttal with citation of sources for every word of the narration, the overall analysis and for every scene. I told them that some of the academic participants in the program who saw the cut and are reputable scholars in their field did not find any factual errors or misrepresentations of facts or of the historical narrative. In other words, I argued that such a detailed and substantial defense would convince any objective reader and observer of the editorial integrity of the film. I repeated the request several times yet I never got a reply. Instead, I received an email telling me that they decided to pull it out of the schedule, citing the “ short timetable and my work load “( !) A few days later I saw the “official” version that went to the public:
This makes it sound as though the problem was Palestinian objections to the film taking "the myth of Exile" too seriously as history, but the JTA article says the following:
According to the watchdog group HonestReporting, critics of the decision to drop the film have accused the BBC of succumbing to “unnamed pressure groups,” which HonestReporting says is a reference to “Jews” or “Zionists.”

Simon Plosker of HonestReporting wrote in his blog on the group's website that the BBC may have been "more concerned at upsetting anti-Israel elements by showing a film with such a heavy concentration on Jewish history in the Land of Israel."
At this point all I can say is that I would like to know what the film actually claims. If it is what JTA says, then I would like to see the case argued in peer-review publications before anyone airs a documentary about it. Television documentaries are not serious enough venues to make any kind of scholarly case about historical matters.

UPDATE: Dorothy Lobel King e-mails that the documentary can be rented here (UK) or here (Canada). Enjoy.