Anti-Semitism in the Egyptian Media


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.

Jewish Stereotypes

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 world.

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 president’s 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.

Israelis as enemies of peace

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 Hitler’s 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 world’s political and cultural arbiter, Egypt’s 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.

Images and Accusations

In Egypt, anti-Semitic images and accusations have withstood war, periods of tension, and the advancement of peaceful relations. Prevalent since the founding of Israel in 1948, they continued after the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, and have not diminished even after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 and Israel’s continuing negotiations with the Palestinians. Also, contrary to some impressions, incidents of anti-Semitism in the Egyptian media are not aimed exclusively at particular Israeli political parties or officials, but have remained relatively consistent through Labor and Likud administrations.

The anti-Semitic images and accusations in the Egyptian media are prevalent in news stories, editorials, and most flagrantly, in political cartoons and caricatures. There are several common themes: Jews as a "satanic" force trying to undermine Islam; an international cabal of Jews seeking domination of the Middle East and the world; Jews controlling the American government; the equation of Jews with Nazis which often depends on illustrations of Israeli leaders wearing a swastika;

Jews As Nazis

conspiracy theories alleging Israeli attempts to poison or corrupt Arab youths; an Egyptian version of the medieval "blood libel"; and graphic displays of Jews as demonic and sub-human figures bent on killing innocent Arabs.

Jews as demonic killers

In recent years, outbursts of anti-Semitic rhetoric and imagery have intensified virtually automatically in response to periods of political strain between Egypt and Israel. The continuing dispute over Israel’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the allegations of Israeli troops killing Egyptian prisoners-of-war in 1956 both triggered waves of anti-Semitic attacks in the media, as did the dispute over Israeli settlements and the controversy over the opening of a new exit to a Hasmonean tunnel in Jerusalem in September 1996.

Caricatures: Der Stürmer on the Nile

Of the many forms of anti-Semitic expressions in the Egyptian media, the most sinister and dangerous is the use of caricatures depicting Jews in classical stereotypes. These cartoons, often boldly displayed on newsstands, can inflame passions in a country where illiteracy is significant and where young people may not read the newspapers, but obtain a clear and distorted impression of Jews from the illustrations.

Such anti-Semitic caricatures in the Arab press invoke stereotypes of the Jew as wicked, dangerous and cunning. They not only reflect some Arab attitudes toward Jews, but they also have the capacity to incite hatred against their Jewish neighbors. The purpose is not only to vilify’ the Jew, it is also to remove any credibility to Israel’s intention to live in peace with its neighbors.

The characterization of Israelis and other Jews in the Egyptian press owes more to the 20th-century images in the Nazi propaganda organ Der Stürmer than any other source. The most common depiction is the stooped, bearded man wearing a black robe and with a long, crooked nose — the same distorted stereotype of a European Jew used by the Nazis and later found in Communist Russia.

During times of political tensions between Israel and Egypt the caricatures are at their most malicious. For instance, the Jew-as-Nazi theme predominated in the spring of 1996 when Israel moved into Lebanon following repeated Hezbollah rocket attacks across Israel’s northern border. At that time, AI-Goumhuriyya showed a cartoon of Hitler shaking Shimon Peres’s hand amid burning buildings with the ground scattered with skulls. Hitler says to Peres, "I made a mistake by not apprising the importance of American support."

Hitler to Peres: I made a mistake

When allegations surfaced in mid-1995 that Israeli troops had killed Egyptian prisoners of war in 1956, Al-Ahram ran a caricature of an Israeli soldier, carrying a flag transformed from the Star of David into a swastika and gunning down unarmed Egyptians. In Al-Goumhuriyya, August 1995, Hitler say’s to retired Israeli General Ariel Sharon as both stand on bones and skulls, "My son, this is a crime that even I didn’t dare to commit." An October 1995 cartoon in the opposition Ros al-Yusuf presents an Israeli soldier, with a swastika overhead, a bloody knife in hand and the dates 1956 and 1967. The soldier holds up a mask of a smiling face of the new Israeli ambassador to Cairo.

The threat of Jewish-Israeli economic domination is a common theme. (See below: "Conspiracy Theories") During the Cairo Economic Summit in November 1996, readers of Egypt’s major newspapers were treated to caricatures of a hooknosed, bent, black-clad man entering the Summit with a suitcase labeled "domination plots." The summit hall itself was depicted in the shape of a Star of David.

Accusations of Jewish-Israeli domination of the United States are also constant.

Jews Controlling US Government

In February 1993 Al-Goumhuriyya showed the stereotypical short, bearded, hooknosed Jew telling U.S. President Bill Clinton, "We don’t want to bother you each time, so why don’t you give us the [U.N.] veto and we’ll use it whenever we need to!" A December 1994 cartoon in AI-Ahram depicts the stereotypical Jew crossing a gulf between occupied and unoccupied land via a bridge made of an American dollar. A May 1995 cartoon in Ros al-Yusuf shows a hooknosed, bearded man running away with Jerusalem, as the United States and other Arab nations look on benignly.

Conspiracy Theories

One of the most enduring motifs of Egyptian anti-Semitism is that of a dark and unrelenting Jewish-Zionist conspiracy to infiltrate and destroy its neighbors in the region and take over the world.

Here, Jews are seen as the origin of evil and corruption, spreading AIDS, prostitution and the insidious destruction of Egyptian society. One theory growing in popularity is that of Holocaust denial, accusing Jews and Israel of using the myth of the Holocaust to garner international sympathy and support.

Among the most malicious of these conspiracy canards are accusations against Zionists and Jews of spreading poisons and deadly disease among Arabs. In January 1995, Al-Ahram accused Israel of spreading the AIDS virus among 305 Palestinian youths in Gaza and the West Bank, citing (falsely) the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot as the source. When the Israeli daily denied publishing such a story, Al-Ahram published a rare correction.

AI-Shaab, an opposition newspaper, has long been preoccupied with nefarious Judaic-Israeli conspiracies. It has accused Israel of spreading AIDS and other diseases and Jews of distributing illicit drugs and narcotics and luring Egyptian youth into a Satanic cult.

Several Egyptian newspapers published articles in 1993 claiming Israel was flooding their country with fruits and vegetables laced with poisons. In 1996, rumors surfaced in the press that Israeli-made chewing gum, exported to Egypt, was intended to make Arab women promiscuous.

Another recurring motif is that of Judaism as an evil and immoral religion which aims to corrupt Islam and invoke blood rituals that call for the murder of gentile children. In June 1995, Al-Ahram termed Judaism "inherently aggressive." Al-Wafd recently published an article stating that Jews sacrifice Christian and Moslem children in order to use their blood for various ceremonies. The writer also emphasized that, "Jews have gained great skill in kidnapping children."

Throughout 1995 the pro-government religious weekly, Aqidati, published numerous articles citing the Talmud and other sources to document Israeli "take-over schemes." In June 1995, one writer claimed the Jews established the Rotary clubs "to humiliate Christian and Islamic nations."

In a March 1995 article in Al-Ahram, Mustafa Mahmud claimed "an international conspiracy is being conducted against Islam and is being carried out by industrial countries steered by Jewish money." The following November, Mahmud described Jews as "abnormal." He wrote, "They are like monkeys and other jungle dwellers." Massacre, murder and genocide, Mahmud claimed, are central tenets of the Jewish religion.

Shimon Peres’s concept of a "new Middle East," one based upon regional cooperation and common markets, unleashed a storm of accusations by the Egyptian press declaring his idea proof of Israel’s intent for regional economic domination.

Jewish Conspiracy to Achieve Economic Domination

The foreword to the Egyptian edition of Peres’s book, The New Middle East, published by AI-Ahram press, carried the following: "When the Protocols of the Elders of Zion were discovered about 200 years ago by a French woman and disseminated in mans’ languages, including Arabic, the international Zionist establishment tried its best to deny the plot. They even claimed that it was fabricated and sought to acquire all the copies on the market in order to prevent them from being read. And now, it is precisely Shimon Peres who brings the cutting proof of their validity. His book confirms in so clear a way that it cannot be denied that the Protocols were true indeed. Peres’s book is yet another step in the execution of these dangerous plots."

In February 1997, after the Anti-Defamation League complained to the government-owned English-language Egyptian Gazette of an article promoting a "scientific" studs’ with blatant anti-Semitic motivations, the Gazette published a response claiming it was "not against the Jews or Judaism," but that at the same time, "The Zionist Wisemen of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, described by the ADL fax as age-old anti-Semitic writing, is a book acknowledged by many world institutions to be telling the secret motivations of the Zionists’ intentions and plots."

The theme of Judeo-Zionist plots also extended to manufacturing the myth of the Holocaust. In a ten-part series from December 1995 through February 1996, Salah Muntasir published his impressions of a visit to Israel. He concluded that Jews perpetuated myths and stories. The most important myths of the 20th century were those of the Nazi crematoria and the Arab threat. The myth of the crematoria was used to gain the world’s sympathy as a people. while the myth of the Arab threat gained them the world’s support as a nation and a state. Roger Garaudy, the French Holocaust denier who argued that Israel uses "the myth of the six million to build its state and justify attacks on Palestinians," visited Egypt in November 1996, where he was hailed by the Egyptian press and intellectuals as "a great man.

The Media As Political Instrument: Delegitimation, Not Normalization

In his 1987 book, Semites and Anti-Semites, the distinguished Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis notes that in regard to the anti-Semitic press in Arab countries, "The demonization of Jews goes further than it had ever done in Western literature, with the exception of Germany during the period of Nazi rule. In most Western countries, anti-Semitic divagations on Jewish history, religion, and literature are more than offset by a great body of genuine scholarship.… In modern Arabic writing there are few such countervailing elements."

In Egypt, the use of vicious anti-Semitic attacks has become an acceptable and familiar element of hostility against Israel. Such overt racist attacks have gone unanswered by the Egyptian intellectual or political leadership. Indeed, the government tolerates and perhaps even sanctions these attacks.

Lewis asks, "Given the scale on which all these activities are taking place, the question is no longer whether some Arab governments are pursuing anti-Semitic policies; the question is, why were these policies adopted, how far have they gone, and how deep is their impact."

With regard to Egypt, the answer to the last question is clear: the demonization of Jews, Judaism and Zionism not only impedes the development of normal Israeli-Egyptian relations and the rooting of the peace process, but is an affront to Jews in other countries as well as enlightened people everywhere who oppose racism.

Egypt and Israel have enjoyed many benefits from their 18-year peace. Egypt itself continues to play a crucial role in facilitating a reconciliation between Israel and Jordan, the Palestinians and the Gulf states. Yet 20 years after Anwar Sadat’s revolutionary visit to Jerusalem, there remains within Egyptian society, on the most basic level, a deep hostility toward Judaism, Jews and Israel. Until these deep-rooted anti-Semitic images and perceptions are corrected, there is little hope that Israel and Egypt will move beyond their "cold peace," toward a reconciliation which is accepted and encouraged by Egyptian society.

1997 Anti-Defamation League