If one were to ask
the average Egyptian what a Jew looks like, it would not be surprising if he or she
described a dark, bearded, hooknosed man clad in black with a demonic appearance. (cartoon example) As for
Judaism, the Egyptian might say it is a sinister religion, based upon cabals and blood
rituals, whose purpose is to corrupt and destroy Islam as part of a plan to rule the
These responses would hardly be shocking given the consistently derogatory images of
Jews and Judaism presented in the Egyptian media, and also found in popular and academic
books, publications and cassette recordings of religious sermons. The government backed
and controlled press, including the respected Al-Ahram, Al-Goumhuriyya and the
popular magazine, October, whose editors are often appointed by the
presidents office and whose salaries are paid by the government, is no less
restrained than the opposition in its anti-Semitic expressions.
For the promoters of these images, anti-Semitism often serves as a political device
intended to undermine normalization with Israel. (cartoon example) For Egyptian intellectuals and media,
there is little or no distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. In fact, Israel
is often portrayed as the frontline of an international Jewish conspiracy. The
result is to dehumanize and therefore delegitimize the presence of Jews as a national
entity in the Middle East.
Since the election of Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in May 1996, there has
been a steady barrage of criticism against the Israeli leader, much of it cloaked in
familiar anti-Semitic dressing. A repetitive theme is the comparison of Netanyahu to
Hitler. On October 27, 1996, Mustafa Amin wrote in Al-Ahbar, "If he continues
Hitlers policies, he will end like Hitler." Another establishment newspaper, Al-Goumhuriyya,
recently described Israel as a "militaristic and Nazi violent criminal" and
charged it with crimes "worse than the Nazi dismemberment of Czechoslovakia." In
October 1996, Al Dastur featured a photo of the Israeli Primer Minister with a
superimposed Hitler-style mustache and a swastika on his forehead. Following Israeli
protest, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stopped the distribution of the newspaper.
Egypt, of course, is not the only Arab country where anti-Semitism is found in the
press and official or quasi-governmental organs. In Jordan, Morocco, the Gulf States, and
the hostile nations of Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq, there are abundant examples of
vitriolic anti-Semitic imagery and literature.
However, as the Arab worlds political and cultural arbiter, Egypts
anti-Semitic propaganda is more disturbing and dangerous. Egypt led the Arab world in
reconciling with Israel. As such, it was expected that it would lead its population and
the rest of the Arab world toward changing public attitudes toward Israel. Indeed,
this expectation is built into the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, which calls upon the
parties to "abstain from hostile propaganda." Moreover, as the intellectual hub
of the Arab world, Egypt exports newspapers, magazines and books throughout the Middle
East. The concepts and images portrayed within these publications have a powerful
influence in shaping popular opinion throughout the region.
The result of these unrelenting attacks is that an entire generation has come of age
since the 1979 peace treaty being exposed to the same negative presentation of Jews and
Israelis as its parents generation. Jews portrayed as demons and murderers are
people to be feared and avoided, and certainly not to be allowed to enter into normal
discourse and relations. These anti-Semitic stereotypes have constituted a major setback
to the normalization of ties with Israel.
Next: Images and Accusations