In his book The Flight of The Intellectuals, Paul Berman noted a pivotal point in Arab antisemitism during the WWII-era alliance between Adolf Hitler and Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Palestine. One of Husseini’s greatest “achievements” was to take Nazi anti-Jewish tropes and not only translate them into Arabic, but to put them in terms that made sense to the Muslim Arab population in the Middle East.
Decades later and the depth and degree of antisemitism in mainstream Arab discourse has become extremely confronting. A quick glance over all of our posts tagged with “antisemitism” will show how common this phenomenon really is, and for those of us who watch constantly see this material, the volume is unfortunately enough that we become a little desensitised to it.
That said, there will be times when anyone will be jolted out of their complacency. For this writer, the below video did the job. Translated by MEMRI, the video contains a clip from an Egyptian candid camera show, where Egyptian celebrities are being interviewed and, at one point in the interview, are informed that they are on an Israeli channel (transcript HERE).
There are a number of observations to make regarding this material. Firstly, note the Western style of dress of most of the staff and guests — the female presenter wearing heavy make-up and with her hair exposed, the men all clean-shaven and with neat hair. Aside from maybe the second guest, the show is not made by and does not feature Islamists. Rather, it is a reflection of “secular”, “liberal” Egypt.
Secondly, the first guest is relatively civil with the supposedly “Israeli” producer while he thinks that the show is off-air and only begins his angry rampage once he thinks the cameras are rolling. This indicates that he does not feel particularly strongly about being on an Israeli show himself, but may believe that publicly he must put on a show of violent animus towards Israelis in order to prevent the damage to his career that appearing on Israeli television would cause. This is horribly revealing about the general standards of Egyptian culture.
It is also revealing that he hits the woman and then not only shows no remorse, but subsequently makes a sexual advance towards her. This is a stark indication of the regard in which he holds women.
Thirdly, note the far more overt antisemitism in the second guest:
Mayar Al-Beblawi: In that country [Israel], they are all liars. You wouldn’t believe it. They are real liars. They keep whining all the time about the Holocaust, or whatever it’s called. With all the Palestinians that you have killed, you are still whining about the Holocaust and its lousy figures?!
These people sawed off [the head] of John the Baptist. They are the slayers of the prophets, what else can we say about them?
Iman Mubarak: You’ve got it wrong, They are the Chosen People…
Mayar Al-Beblawi: The Chosen People?! Allah did not curse the worm and the moth as much as he cursed the Jews.
And in the extremely violent reaction from the third guest, who grabs the producer by the hair and begins kneeing him in the head:
Mahmoud Abd Al-Ghaffar: You brought me someone who looks like a Jew… If you weren’t a girl, the moment you told me you were Jewish… I hate the Jews to death.
Also note that the interviewer’s attempt to rebut Beblawi’s antisemitism while playing her ‘Israeli’ character is itself a little antisemitic, insinuating that Jews use the title of ‘Chosen People’ to rebut any alleged sins. This entirely misrepresents the concept of the ‘Chosen People’ — which is seen as more of a burden than some kind of exceptionalism.
Finally, as Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin observes, these violent and hateful reactions are praised as “patriotic” by the cast of the show, who, while mildly critical of the first guest’s striking a woman, are entirely uncritical of the general sentiment expressed by the guests and of the physical attacks on the male producers.
The way that the Western media tends to dismiss this aspect of Egyptian society is extremely troubling. This is proof once again of how far Egypt has to go to become any form of liberal society.]