Anti-Semitism in Arab Countries 1997
This is one of a series of reports prepared by the Stephen Roth Institute relating to Arab Anti-Semitism.
The year 1997, which marked the centennial of the first Zionist Congress in Basel, preoccupied Arab writers and commentators, providing them with an opportunity to re-examine and reassess Zionism as a national political movement and ideology. This culminated in the reinforcement of the equation of Zionism with racism and Nazism, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as its ultimate embodiment. The collapse of Zionism was thus deemed inevitable -- a conviction which was further corroborated by Qur`anic references.
Yet, 1997 also witnessed the emergence of new voices. Critical of the stagnation of the "Arab mind," they called for the revision of the Arab perception of the Holocaust and for the recognition of Jewish suffering as an essential step toward mutual understanding and coexistence.
As in previous years, political events and incidents, such as the declared intention to build a new settlement at Har Homa (Jabal Abu Ghnayim) in the vicinity of Jerusalem in March, the shooting of Israeli schoolgirls by a Jordanian soldier at Naharayim (al-Baqura), and the Tatiana Susskind leaflet defaming the Prophet Muhammad, generated a heated anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Israeli and Jewish protests against anti-Semitism in the Arab media were reinforced. Anti-Semitic expressions in the Palestinian media were surveyed regularly by the Prime Minister's office, and a special report was prepared and submitted in December to US Foreign Secretary Madeleine Albright.
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This chapter is a general presentation consisting of four parts:
Anti-Semitic expressions continued to be widespread in the Arab press in 1997 although they decreased somewhat in comparison to 1996. This might have been a result of growing pressure by Jewish organizations and Israeli officials on Arab regimes, especially Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, to contain the media (see below). Another more probable reason is a shift of emphasis. With 1997 marking the centennial of the Zionist movement, the Arab press was more preoccupied with Zionism and the issue of normalization of Arab-Israeli relations. In many ways this also reflected indirect criticism of the regimes which pursued the peace negotiations.
It has always been difficult to assess the extent of anti-Semitic expressions in the Arab press since coverage of all the dailies, weeklies, magazines and other publications published in the Arab countries is nearly impossible. As in the former annual reports, this presentation is based on various newspapers, mainly Egyptian, Jordanian, Lebanese and Palestinian, representing mainstream as well as Islamist and opposition views, and books published during the year.
The major motifs referred to in previous reports continued to characterize Arab anti-Semitic manifestations, especially in Islamic fundamentalist literature. Aiming basically at delegitimizing the State of Israel and constructing a Palestinian history, books and articles by historians, religious scholars and journalists continued to deal repeatedly with what they allegedly saw as:
This portrayal of the Jews leads to the inevitable conclusion, which is part and parcel of the Islamists' ideology, that the conflict between the Jews and Muslims is irreconcilable and the destruction of Israel is not only destined according to the Qur`an but also imperative in order to save humanity and civilization.
Does this discourse necessarily reflect the the existence of deep, widespread anti-Semitic feelings in the population at large, or is it confined to a relatively small group of intellectuals, journalists and writers? Although a definite answer cannot be provided, several incidents and reports indicate that anti-Semitism has struck deeper roots. If in the past it was assumed that anti-Semitism was inculcated from above as a by-product of the Arab-Israeli conflict, in 1997 popular resentment from below was directed not only toward the peace process but was also expressed in traditional Jewish stereotypes.
In Egypt the weekly paper Ruz al-Yusuf (October 6) published an article by Dr. `Abd al-Basit `Abd al-Mu`ti, professor and head of the social sciences department at the Women's College of `Ayn Shams University, containing the results of a study presented at a conference entitled "The Image of the Other," held earlier in Cairo. Based on a survey carried out among the educated as well as among the common people, the research dealt with the image of the Israeli among Egyptians. The conclusions, summarized in the title and the highlights of the article, speak for themselves:
This image, which was illustrated with pictures, was reflected, according to the researcher, also in Egyptian television dramas. A few positive traits, such as intelligence and wit, mentioned by some of the educated respondents, were rejected by the common people because they also typified Egyptian society, explained the researcher.
In Jordan placards hostile to normalization with Israel, in a demonstration held during a trade fair in January, read: "The Jordanian people opposes normalization with the killers of the Prophet Muhammad and the enemies of Islam" (Ma`ariv, January 13). A handwritten sign displayed in a shop stated: "No dogs, no Jews." In response to a remark made by Jordanian journalist Rami Khouri that this sign was actually contrary to Arab and Islamic morality, the shopkeeper reportedly retorted angrily that some people objected to the reference to dogs, but not to Jews (Jordanian Times, January 7).
Slogans such as "Death to the Jews" accompanied with swastikas were painted on shirts in Lebanon (Ma`ariv, March 16), and even in a bus by Arab Israeli students in the Galilee (Hatzofeh, March 24). A new Palestinian Internet tri-lingual site was launched from Hebron. It included The Protocols of the Elders of Zion alongside information on Islam and Middle East politics (www.hebron.com -- MSANEWS, July 29; Hatzofeh, November, 21).
Caricatures also persisted as a common anti-Semitic expression, "an amalgam of hook-nosed, long-bearded thugs worse than the Nazis"; "wily plotters in an international Jewish quest for domination, and unclothed, immoral women bent on corrupting the unaware" (two general reports were published by Yediot Aharonot, April 4; New York Times [NYT] , April 20). On March 31, a group of 15 cartoonists organized an exhibition of their work outside the Arab League headquarters in Cairo in response to accusations that they fomented anti-Semitism (see also below) (NYT, April 20; The Jerusalem Report, May 1).
Another disturbing phenomenon was a series of studies carried out in Egypt on the history of the Jewish community there, before its exodus in the wake of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Egypt's Akhir Sa`a reported, on December 25, 1996 on an MA dissertation by Mustafa Muhammad `Abd al-Nabi, revealing "the real role of the Jews in Egypt. Their abuse of the national revolution ... domination of the economy and gold smuggling." This dissertation was published in 1997 as a book The Golden Age of the Jews in Egypt (reviewed in al-Sha`b, July 29, August 12).
A book The Jews of Egypt. The Barons and the Wretched, by `Arfa `Abduh `Ali published in 1997, also presented a negative image of the Jews in Egypt, emphasizing their collaboration with the monarchy (between the two world wars) and with the British, their domination of the Egyptian economy and their spying activities, as well as their religious rituals and segregation. This newly expressed interest in the history of the Jews in Egypt, which is contrary to the formerly prevailing image of cooperation and peaceful coexistence, seems to stem from a desire to taint it with the unflattering perceptions connected with the conflict with Israel and to prove the impossibility of coexistence.
Even the current efforts by the few remaining Jews, especially the head of the community, Carmen Weinstein, to preserve some of the Jewish legacy in Egypt by erecting a museum, were met with criticism. Since this involved a purchase of land, it was interpreted as an attempt to reclaim control over the former Jewish Basatin area, with the assistance of the Israeli Academic Center and the Israeli embassy. It was feared that this would lead to further domination of lands and to the immigration of Jews as part of the "Greater Israel" scheme (Sabah al-Khayr, October 16; see also al-Sha`b, April, 29; al-Hayat al-Jadida, August 10).
The Holocaust continued to figure in the Arab discourse as part of the wider debate on the Arab-Israeli conflict, Zionism and normalization. In the wake of the peace process and despite the stalemate in the peace negotiations, a growing group of writers and intellectuals called for fresh Arab insight on the Holocaust, which would bring about a recognition of the suffering of the Jewish people, thus paving the way for Jewish recognition of Palestinian suffering and hence coexistence. An extraordinary three-part article even called for the revision of Arab perceptions of the Jews.
Saqr Abu Fakhr, an Arab writer living in Lebanon, was the author of the article, "Seven Prejudices about the Jews," published in al-Hayat (November 12, 13, 14). After criticizing Arab ignorance and narrow-mindedness, and the denial of science and facts, he set out to prove how Arab thought about the Jews and the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict was full of misconceptions and myths, examining the most common ones:
He showed systematically that each of these prevailing beliefs was unfounded and that despite the abundant evidence refuting them, they continued to circulate undisturbed throughout the whole Arab world.
The Egyptian press seemed to take the lead in disseminating charges against Israel and the Israelis which invoked stereotypical images of the Jews. Lurid tales of Israeli plots to undermine the country, whether by penetrating its most sacred institutions or deliberately infecting young people with AIDS, circulated in opposition as well as mainstream papers. Following the arrest of the Arab Israeli 'Azzam 'Azzam and several Egyptians on charges of spying for Israel in November 1996, a barrage of articles was published, often accompanied by caricatures of the wicked, money-loving Jew and sensational photographs of seductive Israeli women. "Israel exports death to Egypt! The Mossad planned to flood Egypt with drugs and forged dollars and seeds infected with viruses" (al-Wafd, December 30, 1996); Ruz al-Yusuf (January 13) added sex and booby-trapped letters to the list; The Israeli penetration was intended to dominate the Egyptian people through economic aid, claimed Sabah al-Khayr (January 30). These themes continued to appear frequently during the year (al-'Arabi , April 21; Egyptian Gazette, May 9; al-Sha'b, March 14; May 2, 9; July 29; al-Wafd, August 10; October 19).
Apart from the 'Azzam 'Azzam affair, which provided the pretext for series of articles such as "Spies in the Age of Peace" (al-Sha'b, May 13-June 27) and depicted the age-old Jewish spy at his best, other imaginary issues ignited the wrath of the Egyptian media.
The supposed injection of 305 Palestinian children with the AIDS virus was one of them. Allegedly based on a report in the Israeli daily Yedi'ot Aharonot, al-Ahram published an article on January 23 on the "new crime" committed on some of the children of the intifada in Israeli hospitals, under the supervision of the Israeli authorities. Commenting on this allegation, Dr. Mufid Shuhab, president of Cairo University and head of the Committee on Arab Affairs and National Security in the parliament, said that if this should be established, then it was a crime against humanity. Rajab al-Bana, a regular columnist of al-Ahram called (January 26) on Arab intellectuals to demand that international organizations conduct a trial like the Nuremberg trials of Nazi criminals. Further extending the comparison with the Nazis, he claimed that Israel built concentration camps similar to those of the Nazis. Following the protest of Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Zvi Mazel, al-Ahram printed a full retraction few days later (January 28; Yedi'ot Aharonot, January 29). Nevertheless, the story continued to circulate. The Hizballah paper al-'Ahd published it on January 31 and the Free Arab Voice (of Ibrahim Alloush) disseminated it on its Internet News Bulletin on May 15 and June 3. In March Nabil Ramlawi, a Palestinian observer to the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, tried to make use of this charge again, but was met with strong condemnation (JTA, March 18).
Satan worship was another vice allegedly perpetrated by Israel as part of a greater Jewish scheme to undermine religion and corrupt Egyptian society. About 80 students were arrested on January 22 for belonging to a Satanic sect which encouraged sexual freedom, atheism, heavy metal music, alcohol and drugs (Washington Post, February 5; Civil Society, February; Time, March 3). While discussing this phenomenon, the press "fed on widespread resentment, fears of plots, true or imaginary, hatched abroad to corrupt Arab youth" (Washington Post, February 5).
Israel was naturally blamed for exporting the practice and orchestrating it. The Satanic sect uncovered in Egypt, asserted Sayyid 'Abd al-'Ati in opposition paper al-Wafd (February 6), was "not simply a group of young people who have sunk in the swamp of drugs and digression," but rather a link in a long chain of secret groups and organizations that operate in Egypt and which sprang up and were nurtured by Zionism. They implement The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to the letter and the principles of secret Zionist organizations such as the Free Masons. "The Zionists strive to harm Arab and Muslim societies, spliting and weakening them in order to gain control over them."
The same theme appeared also in the semi-official paper Akhbar al-Yawm (February 15), which claimed that the Jehovah Witness sect derived from ancient Jewish ideas aimed at disseminating heretical beliefs. Al-'Ahd (January 31) was also quick to report the story, adding that the Jews themselves were the devils who, acting like worms, were gnawing from within. Not surprisingly, the most extensive coverage was in the opposition fundamentalist paper al-Sha'b, which boasted that long before the police crackdown it had warned of this phenomenon and of its direct link with Israel, Zionism and the Jews (January 3, 28; February, 4, 14, 18, 21, 25, 28). "We should not forget that the Jews were behind the heresy of communism," wrote Mustapha Mashhur. "They fight the non-Jewish religions, especially Islam, and they are the strongest enemy of the faithful [alluding to a Qur'anic verse]" (al-Sha'b, February, 4). Although there were Egyptians who considered the affair to be blown up far beyond its real significance, the one voice which strongly opposed it was Lebanese writer and editor Hazim Saghiya. In an editorial (al-Hayat, February 13), he linked the affair to the rejection of the Copenhagen declaration of January 31 (a declaration of principles by a group of Egyptian, Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli intellectuals on peace and normalization). Both, he said, stemmed from the same Arab cultural stagnation, fear of anything different and suspicion of "the other." Therefore, anyone who was different -- be they a group of adolescents listening to rock music and behaving like their counterparts worldwide, or a group of intellectuals who resisted the state of "no peace, no negotiations, no recognition" -- was labeled treacherous, Satanic and a danger to the Arab existence.
Another ostensibly innocent act, which caused an uproar and led to anti-Semitic insinuations was the Ranan Lurie affair. Hired as the cartoonist of the leading Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram on March 24, Lurie was dismissed three weeks later (al-Ahram, April 15) after a fierce attack on him by cartoonist and writer Jum'a Farhat of Ruz al-Yusuf. Lurie was accused of being an Israeli paratrooper, who fought and killed Arabs, and a mercenary in the French Foreign Legion in Algeria (Ruz al-Yusuf, March 31; April 14, 28. See also Daniel Pipes, "Egypt's Problem with Ranan Lurie," Middle East Quarterly 3 [September 1997]). The April 28 issue of Ruz al-Yusuf contained another Farhat cartoon and article attacking Lurie from a different angle. The cartoon showed an orthodox Jew standing on a pile of the New York Times (NYT) and undressing the Statue of Liberty. This was probably in response to an article published in the NYT on April 20 on the anti-Semitic motifs in Arab, and specifically Egyptian, caricatures. Farhat wrote that the Jews "do not forget any German who took part in killing the Jews ... and they follow him to his grave ... so why should we forget a cartoonist who took part in killing Arabs." "I'm often asked," he continued, "why my colleagues and I draw the Israeli leaders and soldiers with Nazi insignia ... at my answer that this is because of their Nazi behavior, they seem puzzled and reproachful ... The Zionist propaganda filled the world and raised the sword of anti-Semitism against anyone who tries to publicize the truth on the Jewish victims of Nazism or who even dares discuss the subject." 'Adil Hammuda, deputy editor of Ruz al-Yusuf, who reinforced Farhat's accusations (April 7, 14) concluded an article in the April 28 issue with the statement : "The press is a mirror which reflects the truth, and the truth is that Israel is a racist, fascist, Nazi state."
Several incidents triggered venomous responses in the Arab press during the year, beginning with the shooting in January of Palestinians in Hebron by the soldier Noam Friedman; the decision in March to build a new settlement in Har Homa (Jabal Abu Ghnayim); the killing of seven schoolgirls by a Jordanian soldier at the border area of Naharayim (al-Baqura) in March; the suicide attacks in Mahane Yehuda and Ben Yehuda street, Jerusalem, in July and August; the attacks on tourists in Cairo and Luxor in September and November, respectively, and the botched attempt in Jordan on the life of Hamas political bureau chief Khalid Mash'al, in September.
The shooting in Hebron was not an isolated incident, wrote Bassam `Umush, in the Jordanian semi-official daily al-Ra'y (January 6). It reflects the Talmudic and religious education of the Jews and their ghetto mentality. The Jordanian soldier Ahmad Daqamsah was considered a hero among the common people, explained Majid Abu Diyak in Islamist weekly al-Sabil (March 18), because his act was not only a result of the alleged giggling of the students at his prayer but a culmination of his frustration over Israeli policies and repeated atrocities (Palestine Times, June). In a joint statement two Egyptian fundamentalist movements praised the soldier for shooting "the grandchildren of the apes and swine" (al-'Alam , March 29). The suicide attacks in Jerusalem were considered jihad (holy war) operations, which had to be undertaken in order to retrieve Arab land, since God ordered the Muslim umma (the community of the faithful) to fight its enemies (al-Sabil, August 5; al-Majd, September 8).
At his trial, following the attack on a tourist bus in Cairo on September 18, in which nine tourists were killed, one of the defendants, an Islamic extremist, said he was ready to kill 100 or even 200 Jews. He confessed that he was trying to avenge the cartoon distributed by an Israeli extremist in Hebron (see below) (Ha'aretz, October 13; Boston Globe, October 15). When the judge read the verdict, one of the defendants shouted "Jews, Jews! The army of Muhammad is coming!" (Boston Globe, October 30). Two months later another incident against tourists, mistake for Jews, occurred in Luxor, in which 58 European tourists were killed. The Egyptian media was quick to accuse the Jews who allegedly wanted to put Islam to shame and harm Egypt (al-'Arab al-Yawm, al-Jumhuriyya, November 19; al-Ahram Weekly, November 27; December 18). A member of Egypt's Shura Council claimed that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was to blame for the massacre, asserting that the Jews were an accursed human race and that even God meant to exterminate them (MENA, December 28).
Netanyahu wanted to bake the matzah of Zion with Khalid Mash'al's blood, wrote a member of the doctors association in Jordan, in response to the botched assassination attempt of September 25 (al-Sabil, October 21). 'Abd al-Mun'im Abu Zanat repeated his allegation that the Jews sowed corruption on earth and called for the closure of the Israeli embassy (al-Sabil, October 7).
The pig leaflet. The most explosive incident during the year was undoubtedly the leaflet distributed on June 28 by Tatiyana Susskind, an art school dropout with extremist political views. It depicted the Prophet Muhammad as a pig writing the Qur'an (Ha'aretz, June 29; Jerusalem Post, June 30). The leaflet enraged the Muslim world. The act was perceived as insulting the Prophet, and the perpetrators deserved the death penalty (al-Akhbar, July 1; Ha'aretz, July 2; al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 16). "What can we expect from the killers of the Prophets" and "the descendants of apes and swine," asked al-Sha'b (July 1). Iran's Kayhan (July 10) saw it as further proof of the enmity of the Jews toward Islam since its advent. Ayatollah Muhammad Yazdi declared in Tehran that "Israel should be razed" (International Herald Tribune, July 7). Pursuing this same line, various newspapers denounced the Jews as criminals, racists, fanatics, heretics, traitors and killers of the prophets (al-Sha'b, July 4, 8, 22; al-Sabil, July 8; al-Wafd, July 5; Akhbar al-Yawm, al-Majd, al-'Usbu', al-Ra'y, July 7).
In reaction to the leaflet, protest marches and demonstrations took place in Cairo, South Africa and Bangladesh, during which anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish slogans were chanted (Mideast Mirror, July 31).
The Moroccan paper al-Mustaqil (July 16) implored God the Almighty and his Prophet to inflict upon the Jews a blow that would satisfy the hearts of the faithful, while the Mufti of Oman called the Jews "the enemies of God and humanity" (al-Khalij, July 20). The Saudi paper al-`Ukkaz (August 9) published an article which, inter alia, referred to the inferiority complex of the Jews and their drive to incite a religious war. Despite their technological and scientific progress, it said, the Jews were still trapped in their false religious beliefs and were still culturally and morally backward. Syria's al-Thawra (August 15) also wrote about the psychological barriers of the Jews and their hatred, which bred plots and cruelty. The affair also angered Israeli Arabs. The Islamic movement's weekly, Sawt al-Haq wal-Hurriyya (July 11), attacked the Jews for exploiting religion to further their interests and alluded to the distortion of the Torah.
The centennial of the Basel Congress, which marked the formal launching of the Zionist movement, gave rise to a wide-ranging discussion in the Arab press on the ideological origins of the movement, its goals and future prospects. This discussion was exacerbated by the debate on normalization, especially following the Copenhagen declaration of January 31, and the subsequent formation of an international alliance for an Arab-Israeli peace (al-Hayat, February 25; Ha'aretz, February 3; March 21; June 5). Normalization was considered another Zionist ploy, a trap for the Arabs, and mainly desired by Israel. The participants in the Copenhagen declaration were labeled "agents of Satan" by Majdi Qarqar in al-Sha`b (February 28), and "traitors" (al-Sha'b, May 20). In one caricature they were depicted as running toward a crooked-nosed, bearded Jew, who held a basket in one hand and extended the other to pull the runners into the basket with America's blessing, symbolized by an American flag with a star of David (al-Sha`b, February 28).
Although the discourse on Zionism was not new and one might even argue that it was not necessarily anti-Semitic, the equation of Zionism with Nazism and racism seems to have been reinforced, despite its formal rejection by the international community with the abolition of the infamous UN Resolution adopted in 1974. Referring to the Israeli government protest to the Egyptian authorities over the media's depiction of Netanyahu as a Nazi and of Israeli policies as Nazi-style, `Arafat Hijjazi provided an explanation for the Jews' sensitivity to this allegation. Nazism in Jewish history had two associations, he said. The first was the Nazi persecution of the Jews, and the second was the Jewish roots of Nazism, or more specifically, its basis in "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which embodied the Jewish philosophy" (ad-Dustour, April 16).
Israel was depicted as a Nazi, ethnic and racist entity, identified with Nazism and fascism but also with imperialism and Western interests (see for instance al-Kilani, pp. 32-37; 50-58; Qnews, November 15, 1996; al-Hayat, February 27; November 13; al-`Arab (weekly), April 4; al-Hayat al-Jadida, September 3; Akhbar al-Usbu`, July 17; September 4; Radio Damascus, January 30; Tishrin, March 19; al-Ahram, October 4). Its extinction was thus inevitable. But while the Islamic fundamentalist discourse referred to the Qur'an, providing a religious basis to establish this claim, this line of argument used historical precedents -- the fall of the Nazi and fascist regimes -- to deduce its certain demise (al-Sha`b, May 20; June 17; Annashra, June; al-Sabil, September 2). Zionism was worse than the Jewish legacy and European racism, argued Fahd al-Rimawi in Jordan's al-Majd (March 17), Khadr Zahran in Jordan's Akhbar al-Usbu` (September 11) and Raf`at Munir in Egypt's al-Jumhuriyya (October 26).
Zionism was an abnormal phenomenon, claimed those who opposed normalization with Israel, and hence no normalization was possible without the annihilation of Zionism (Impact International - MSANEWS, March 31; al-Hayat, February 25, 27; al-Sha`b, February 28; May 9). "The end of Zionism, the beginning of peace," wrote Jamil Matar in al-Hayat (March 13); "The present Zionist era is not the end of history," explained `Ali `Aqla `Arsan, head of the Arab Writers Association in Syria in an interview to al-Majd (March 17). "The Zionist scheme is the source of all evil and tribulation in the region," concluded Egyptian Islamist commentator Fahmi Huwaydi, who defined the settlements as "a kind of expansionist colonialism" similar to the Nazi method of racial cleansing (al-Ahram, April 8).
Another recurring theme in this context was the depiction of Netanyahu as "a dictator," "a new Hitler" or "a new Pharaoh" in much of the Arab press. For instance, Taysir Busha wrote in Jordan's Islamist paper al-Liwa' (January 29) that Netanyahu represented the racist brain of the Likud and adhered to the rules of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Fahd al-Rimawi in al-Majd (March 17) claimed that Netanyahu embodied the Jewish mentality. Egypt's al-Ahram wrote of his arrogance, his sense of power, his racism and his disregard for international agreements, which were reminiscent of former dictators (al-Ahram, March 29; April 5, 12, 13). Syrian papers, too, referred to Netanyahu as the new Hitler (al-Ba`th, April 10; July 24); al-Ba`th editor Turky Saqr repeatedly warned the US and the international community against conducting an appeasement policy, like that directed toward Nazi Germany, in its dealings with Netanyahu, which might encourage rather than discourage his expansionist ideas and aggressive warlike inclinations (al-Ba`th, May 15; July 24; October 2). Even Moroccan papers made this comparison (Le Quotidien, March 31; L'Opinion, April 5), while the Palestinian daily al-Hayat al-Jadida likened Netanyahu's book to Hitler's Mein Kampf (October 16; see also al-Ayyam, September 3). It is worth noting that some Palestinians criticized this comparison and the use of Nazi terms in the Palestinian discourse against the Zionist occupation (al-Bilad, September 14, 1996). A similar critical view was also expressed by a few Egyptian writers, among them `Abd al-Mun`im Sa`id and Mahir Shafiq Farid -- both supporters of the Copenhagen declaration (al-Ahram, March 13).
Will the demise of Zionism bring about the ultimate end of Israel as a Jewish state? "Israel is not a Jewish state," asserted `Abd al-Wahhab al-Masiri. "It is a Zionist one," and its presence is "an accident of history." Although he is ready to accept that Israel is the homeland of the Israelis living in it, he rejects the notion that it is the homeland of all the world's Jews. "The homeland of the Jew is wherever he lives" (QNews, November 15 1996; al-Hayat, February 27).
Al-Masiri, an Egyptian professor and expert on Jewish studies, was no doubt the most prolific writer and outspoken advocate of this equation between Zionism and Nazism. He published two books in 1997 -- Zionism, Nazism and the End of History and The Secrets of the Zionist Mind. The first book received considerable exposure and was reviewed in al-Sha'b (February 14), al-Wafd (July 29), Filastin al-Muslima (July) and al-Mustaqbal al-'Arabi (September). The book, dedicated to Roger Garaudy and with a preface by Muhammad Hasanayn Haykal, was an expansion of his earlier studies on Zionism, demonstrating the close "cognitive and cultural links" between Zionism and Nazism. This book, according to the author, provides a revision of the hegemonic, historical view on Zionism, Nazism and the Holocaust. His main conclusion is that Nazism, in contrast to the prevailing misconception in Western studies, was not a deviation from Western civilization and values, but rather its natural offshoot and one of its major trends, as was Zionism. The book consists of four chapters: The Nazi Extermination and Western Civilization; Some Aspects of the Extermination of European Jews; The Cooperation between Some of the Jewish Organizations and the Nazis; and The Nazi Extermination in the Western Psyche.
Al-Masiri also expressed a new approach toward the Holocaust. He criticized the limited scope of Arab studies on the issue, their political nature and their linkage to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The concern with numbers of victims, the gas chambers and Israel's political exploitation of the Holocaust, he claimed, lacked depth and complexity and did not touch upon the really important questions. He set out to remedy this flaw, providing a systematic, pseudo-scientific analysis of the alleged symbiotic relations between Zionism and Nazism. Yet, al-Masiri unwittingly joined a new, emerging trend in the Arab world by suggesting that the human facet be isolated from the discussion on the Holocaust and that Jewish suffering be acknowledged.
Probably triggered by the peace process and influenced by international events, this new trend, although limited to a small group of Arab intellectuals, called for a new approach to the Holocaust. The Lebanese writer and editor of al-Hayat Hazim Saghiya is one of its most prominent representatives, which include Palestinian English literature professor at Columbia University Edward Said and Jordanian Palestinian political commentator Rami Khouri. Apart from his newspapers articles, Saghiya published a book in 1997 entitled Defending Peace (Beirut: Dar an-Nahar).
In line with al-Masiri's acknowledgement of the human aspect of the Holocaust, Saghiya argued that as members of the international community, Arabs should not exclude themselves from responsibility for the calamity. In order to really understand Western and world sympathy toward Israel, the Arabs should try to understand the Holocaust. Saghiya challenged the traditional Arab notion of "the Holocaust does not concern us," and showed that this notion resulted from a limited understanding of European history and modernity, laziness, lack of curiosity and a certain degree of opportunism. He blamed the Palestinians for concentrating on the political dimensions of the tragedy, and for their envy of the Jews for being recognized as "victims." At the same time they denied the tragedy, tried to minimize the number of victims, adopting any Western propagandist who cast doubts on the Holocaust. Moreover, he said, the Arab attitude to the Holocaust was further complicated by the Palestinian imitation of Jewish symbols and terms, and even practices of the Zionist movement. The terms "diaspora," "massacre" and "memory," are used repeatedly in the Palestinian and Arab discourse, although they were all invented by the Jews (see pp. 63-94; and also Ha'aretz, March 21; al-Hayat, November 10, 14, 15, 18, 28; December 18).
Saghiya's acknowledgment of the Holocaust is instrumental. The Arabs, he said, could surely not be blamed for the Holocaust but they should show more sensitivity and understanding of the Jewish tragedy in order to gain worldwide respect and sympathy for the Palestinian tragedy. Mutual sensitivity would help overcome the barriers on the road to peace.
Edward Said, in his search for bases for coexistence, and influenced by his exposure to the prominence of the Holocaust in the West, also reached the conclusion that the Arabs should "accept the Jewish experience in all that it entails of horror and fear ... This act of comprehension guarantees one's humanity and resolve that such a catastrophe should never be forgotten and never again recur." Said claims that a link exists between what happened to the Jews in World War II and the catastrophe of the Palestinian people, and unless this connection is made there would be no foundation for coexistence. "I attach no conditions to such comprehension and compassion ... yet such an advance in consciousness by Arabs ought to be met by an equal willingness for compassion and comprehension on the part of Israelis and Israel's supporters" (al-Hayat, November, 5; al-Ahram Weekly, November 6).
Rami Khouri was another proponent of the acknowledgment of Jewish suffering. Reporting on a conference of Arabs and Israelis held in al-Bireh in April to commemorate the 49th anniversary of the massacre at Dir Yasin, he referred to the issue of national memory and the role of forgiveness and reconciliation in conflict resolution. The conference was one component of the Dir Yasin Remembered project launched in 1995 and aimed at raising funds to erect a permanent memorial at the site of the former village of Dir Yasin, which is within sight of Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center. Khouri supported this venture as part of a necessary process of mutual re-humanization and transformation of the current cycle of mutual denial to "a more morally responsible and historically constructive cycle of acknowledgement of the past, understanding, compassion and ultimately, forgiveness and reconciliation" (Jordan Times, April 22; Ha`aretz, April 24).
The traditional discourse on the Holocaust, nevertheless, was still the more dominant, and was evident in various articles and books. (See for instance: al-Siyasa (Kuwait), June 15; al-Hayat al-Jadida, September 3; al-Sharq (Qatar), October 24; Munir al-Humsh, p.359). But two issues - the attitude to Roger Garaudy (see also ASW 1996/7) and the restitution of Jewish property, highlighted the conflicting approaches.
Roger Garaudy continued to enjoy great respect in the Arab and Muslim worlds. He participated in a conference organized by the Center for Civilizational Dialogue of Malaya University on September 15-17 and was quoted extensively in the Arab press. The Palestinian monthly Annashra continued publishing his book, The Founding Myths of Israeli Politics, begun as a series in 1996, until October 1997. The BBC weekly al-Mushahid Assiyasi (3/56, April 6) interviewed Garaudy after the publication of his new book The United States ... The Vanguard of Decline. Garaudy, who was reportedly very concerned about his trial that was due to be held in France in January 1998, reiterated his views about the racist origins of Zionism, considered by him as even worse than Hitler's racism, and the imminent danger of Israel's policies to world peace.
A month later the weekly provided Garaudy with an opportunity to publish a ten-part series (3/60-69, May 4-July 6), expositing his opinions on various topics, including the new world order, the idea of a single market and the conspiracy against the Islamic revolution. Three of the articles dealt with Israel, "The Talmudic Logic in Reading the Torah" (3/66, June 15), "From the Conquest of Lebanon to the Second Gulf War" (3/65, June 8) and "Israel Threatens International Peace" (3/64, June 1). The same ideas were expressed in an article by Garaudy in Egypt's al-Sha`b (July 15). He was also quoted in articles which called for imposing an economic boycott of Israel (al-Sha`b, May 5) and deplored the alleged terrorism of the mind and free expression by the Jewish-controlled international media (Egyptian Gazette, May 28; al-Kilani, p.11). The general secretariat of the Arab Lawyers Union considered forming a delegation of Arab and foreign lawyers to defend Garaudy in the French courts (Egyptian Gazette, May 28).
In this context Holocaust denier David Irving was also mentioned as being outcast by the media for his newly published book Nuremberg: The Last Battle (Focal Point Publications, 1996) (al-`Alam, April 5). But Garaudy was also condemned by some Arab writers. `Abd al-Rahman al-Rashid in the Saudi-backed weekly al-Majalla (December 29, 1996), entitled "The Celebration of Garaudy's Heroism," criticized the unbalanced Arab approach to Garaudy. Nowhere in the world did people relate to his book as the Arabs did, he reasoned, while those familiar with Nazi history denounced it. Unfortunately, he concluded, the support of Garaudy stemmed from political considerations and from his hatred for the Jews (see also responding letter, al-Majalla, January 26). Edward Said criticized Arab efforts "to enlist people like the degraded Roger Garaudy in order to cast doubt on the six million victims" (Al-Ahram Weekly, November 6), and Hazim Saghiya referred to him as the anti-Christ and a crook -- statements which provoked responses defending Garaudy and his brave stance (al-Hayat, November 12, 18; December 4).
Restitution of Jewish property was another issue which reflected the cracks in the traditional Arab approach to various aspects of the Holocaust. On the one hand, one could find neutral reporting on the negotiations over the claims (al-Hayat, February 25; March 26, 27), and the controversy among the Jews about the distribution of recovered assets (al-Hayat, November 25). On the other hand, one could find articles presenting the issue as Jewish robbery (al-Sha`b, January 28); "Jewish pressure on Switzerland to finance Israeli projects" (al-Sha`b, February 7); "Switzerland surrendered to Zionist-American robbery and is paying out billions of dollars" (al-Sha`b, March 14). Jamil `Atiyya Ibrahim wrote in the Egyptian weekly al-Musawwar (January 10) of "the biggest operation of political robbery in the 20th century." What interests us as Arabs, he concluded, is to avoid this heinous robbery since the Arabs have already paid the price of the compensation that Israel received from Germany. Al-Ahram also linked the restitution issue with Jewish power to exert pressure on international organizations and with their drive to control the world economy (al-Ahram, August 3; December 7). Another article wondered who would compensate the Palestinians for their loss of lands and assets (al-Ahram, May 5). Similar themes appeared in Hizballah's al-`Ahd (April 11), Jordanian al-Majd (May 5; December 15) and even in Qatar's al-Watan (March 6).
In accord with his views on the integral place of the Arabs in the European social, political and cultural fabric, Hazim Saghiya assessed the broader implications of the affair, suggesting that it be viewed from a neutral and more moral stance. The Arabs should see the affair not as "a Jewish conspiracy" in the context of the conflict with Israel, but rather they should learn from European repentance in order to enlighten the Palestinians so that they will not continue to pay a price for the sins committed by others (al-Hayat, February 1, 23).
Rami Khouri expressed his admiration for the Jewish determination to pursue Nazi criminals and demand moral and material compensation. Although he rejected any equation of the Holocaust with the Palestinian national catastrophe, he expected "a significant body of Jews and Israelis" to acknowledge the valid Palestinian claim for compensation or return of property and other assets that they lost during the establishment of the state of Israel (Jordan Times, February, 25). In fact, 23 Swiss of Palestinian origin reportedly sent a letter to the Swiss president, asking him to intervene with the Israeli authorities in order to help them in their demand for compensation (al-Hayat, March 7).
Protest over anti-Semitism in Egypt. The protest over anti-Semitic manifestations in the Egyptian media, first lodged by the ADL in 1995, was followed up and reinforced by the Israeli embassy in Egypt. In addition to the report submitted to President Mubarak, the ADL conducted a campaign in the US in the spring, which coincided with Mubarak's visit there, urging Egypt to at least adopt "a tone more fitting to its role as a pioneer of peace." In response, after producing examples of his negative portrayal in the Israeli press, Mubarak claimed that he could not exert influence over the Egyptian press (Jerusalem Post, March 9, 31; Egyptian Gazette, March 10, 23; April 14; al-Ahram, March 23; New York Times, April 20). Mubarak's failure to condemn the anti-Jewish manifestations in government-supported newspapers, led the ADL to ask members of Congress to withhold $100 million from Egypt's aid package (JTA, April 14) - a request which did not materialize.
Egyptian caricaturists mounted an ad-hoc, counter exhibition on March 31, on the railings outside the Arab League headquarters in Cairo. "They say we are racists," said Ra'uf `Ayyad, one of the artists, "well, we are as long as they make no concessions in the peace process" (Ruz al-Yusuf, April 28; The Jerusalem Report, May 1). Muhammad `Amara refuted the charge that the Arabs were anti-Semites. The Jews, and specifically the Zionists, used this allegation, but "the Jews who monopolize Semitism number 15 million, while we the Arab Semites number 350 million." He then tried to prove that the Jews were not Semites and in fact were not even Jews, since they were descendants of the Khazars and not the Hebrews (al-Sha`b, May 20).
The Israeli embassy in Egypt was also alert to anti-Semitic references in the Egyptian media. Israeli Ambassador Zvi Mazel had reportedly lodged protests to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry and the Awqaf (Endowments) Ministry over sermons made by imams, which amounted to an instigation to war, and over insults leveled against Prime Minister Netanyahu and the embassy staff (Filastin al-Muslima, February; al-Sha`b, February 18; al-Hayat, February 26). In response, Samir Ragab wrote in the Egyptian Gazette (May 23): "Your protest, ambassador, is flatly rejected at least from the popular point of view."
Nevertheless, it seems that the Egyptian government has been trying to restrict the anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli content of the imams' sermons (al-Musawwar, January 10; al-Wafd, January 27), probably to prevent their deterioration into uncontrolled mass demonstrations against the regime itself.
Protest over anti-Semitism of the Palestinian Authority (PA). The Israeli government released several protests during the year. The first was an appeal to the UN Committee of Human Rights against the decision by the PA to impose the death penalty on any local Arab who sold land to Jews (The Times, May 22). A month and a half later, and apparently in conjunction with the uproar raised by the pig leaflet in Hebron, another protest was lodged over hate caricatures in the PA official newspaper al-Hayat al-Jadida. One of them depicted Netanyahu bathing in Arab blood and showing the world his bleeding finger (Ha'aretz; Ma`ariv, July 4). Another protest was submitted following an interview on Palestinian television with Palestinian writer Hasan al-Agha. He reportedly agreed with the moderator that "the Jews exaggerate the scope of the Nazi genocide" as "an investment," and added that "when it comes to economics and investments, the Jews have experience since the days of The Merchant of Venice" (Agence France Press, August 27; Ma`ariv, September 12; Response, Fall 1997).
On December 16, the Israel Government Press Office released a special report -- A Compendium of Hate: Palestinian Authority Anti-Semitism since the Hebron Accord -- for submission to US Foreign Secretary Madeleine Albright. The report documented over 50 anti-Semitic statements, made during the year by the Palestinian media, categorized according to six recurrent themes:
The report was also submitted to the UN secretary general in January 1998 (Independent Media Review & Analysis -- IMRA, December 16, 19; Ha`aretz, December 17; January 5, 1998).
Direct protest over anti-Semitism in the Arab world is a relatively new phenomenon. Ironically, it is possible only with states which maintain peace with Israel. The efficacy of such protests remains unclear. Yet, even if in 1997 they did not lead to an immediate change in attitude and at times aroused, as in the case of Egypt, a public outrage, they did not go unheeded. They generated a more open discussion of the issue, in which opposing views were also heard.
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