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Anti-Semitism in the Arab/Muslim World

Anti-Semitism in Arab Media Fuels Incitement, ADL Tells House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee

Posted: January 22, 2008

Statement of Kenneth Jacobson
Deputy National Director
Anti-Defamation League
Before the
House Committee on Foreign Affairs
Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia
January 22, 2008

I am Kenneth Jacobson, Deputy National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.  We are grateful to you, Mr. Chairman, and to the Subcommittee, for holding this important hearing and for your years of ongoing work against the problem of anti-Semitism and incitement in the Arab media.  I am pleased to have the opportunity to share some observations and entertain any questions.  I would ask that my full statement be entered into the record and I will highlight just a few key points.

ADL has worked to expose and counter anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry since 1913.  For decades we have focused on monitoring and exposing the anti-Semitism that has pervaded the Arab and Muslim print media.  Our particular monitoring focus has been editorial cartoons, where we have found that the exaggerations intrinsic to these caricatures all too often propagate age-old anti-Jewish stereotypes and myths.

We are gratified that Congress and the Administration has made the battle against incitement against Jews and other targeted groups, a US policy priority.  We know that Members of this Subcommittee and the full Committee, time and again have raised concern with Arab leaders about the persistent incitement as an affront to democracy, human rights and as fomenting an environment in which terrorism can breed.

We share these reports on a regular basis with decision makers and influentials – from city council presidents to heads of state to business people to underscore the threat this incitement poses to the security of Jews and to democracy as a whole.

Incitement has dangerous consequences. At a time of renewed peace efforts, it must be underscored that the dissemination of hate, in this case against Jews and Israel, makes the difficult road to peace ever more difficult. Achieving breakthroughs depend not only on political leaders taking bold steps but preparing the public for peace. When those in the Arab world are continually bombarded with messages of hate, public sentiment impedes rather that embraces peace.

Beyond that, we have witnessed, historically and in today's world, the direct connection between charged rhetoric and violent action. When Jews and Israel are demonized, it takes no great leap of the imagination to see why public support for or rationalization of terrorism against Israelis and Jews is so prevalent. Incitement can create an environment conducive to, and accepting of, terrorism.  As the U.S. and other nations join in the battle against worldwide terrorism, there must be renewed vigilance against purveyors of anti-Semitism and anti-American hatred abroad – and consequences for inaction, inattention, or state sponsorship of this hatred.

We have also seen that where Jews are scapegoated and demonized, incendiary anti-American rhetoric flourishes as well,  inviting extremists to step in with violent action.

Through our daily monitoring of newspapers across the Middle East, we see Jews and Israelis depicted in a derogatory and incendiary manner. 

  • Jews and Israelis are portrayed as stooped, hook-nosed and money-hungry, as snakes (a particularly nefarious figure in the Arab world) bent on establishing world domination.
  • Israeli leaders are regularly depicted as Nazis, at the same time that other articles deny or diminish the Holocaust.  
  • United States-Israel relations are a regular feature – with stereotypical Jews shown as manipulating the United States government, as the puppeteers behind the President, the Secretary of State and Congress.  
  • Other caricatures show the U.S. and Israel as partners plotting to dominate the world, the Arabs, Iraq, and the Palestinians.
  • Jews are subtly scapegoated, depicted as fomenting and benefiting from internal conflict in the Arab World.  

While anti-Semitic caricatures are more prevalent during times of Israeli-Palestinian tensions, they also appear during periods of calm or even times of progress in peace negotiations. 

ADL documents and widely disseminates compilations of the most egregious examples we find.  In addition to featuring an "anti-Semitic cartoon of the week" on our website,  we regularly post and print compilations of anti-Semitic caricatures and analyses of recent trends in the Arab and Muslim media. 

Recent Themes in Editorial Cartoons:

The November 26, 2007, Annapolis Conference and President George W. Bush's January 2008 visit to the region was the subject of scores of editorial cartoons.  Most were critical of Israel and the United States and many featured age-old heinous anti-Semitic stereotypes.  In them, Israel was depicted as using the conference to manipulate the Arab world and the international community to further its own belligerent agenda.  Many used blatantly anti-Semitic images of Jewish control of the United States and the world and of conniving Jews hoodwinking the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the Arab world and the international community.  The caricatures appeared in state-run and opposition newspapers in countries who participated in Annapolis such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Jordan.  They also appeared in newspapers in Iran and those controlled by Hamas – both entities which oppose Arab-Israeli reconciliation. 

Arab media Editorial cartoons critiqued President Bush's visit to the region this month and depicted what they posit were his true motivations and allegiances in the region.  A common portrayal was of President Bush deceiving Arab states and working in concert with Israel against the interests of the Palestinians.  These cartoons also caricatured Jews using classic stereotypes and painted them as aggressive, untrustworthy, and manipulating the US government.

Where do these cartoons appear?

Our decades-long work has found that anti-Semitic articles and caricatures regularly appear in newspapers in countries and entities across the full spectrum: those with whom Israel is at peace – namely Egypt and Jordan; those who have been negotiating partners – the Palestinian Authority, Syria and Lebanon; and those not formally engaged in negotiations with Israel – the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, and others. 

In many countries, these caricatures are prevalent in newspapers that are considered "government affiliated" (and generally government-funded) or those considered "opposition."  This is true in Egypt and the Gulf States.  In others, such as Jordan, such anti-Semitic depictions appear primarily in "opposition" newspapers.  It should be noted that in many Arab countries, the government heavily influences even "opposition" newspapers.

For many years, ADL analysts found Egypt to be the leading propagator of these images.  That is no longer the case, although anti-Semitic depictions continue to be a feature on Egyptian opinion pages.  In the past year or so, it is newspapers in the Gulf States – notably Oman and Qatar – which feature the most heinous images of Jews. 

It is interesting to observe how newspapers in different countries tend to stress different anti-Semitic themes.  This appears to correlate with different approaches of and levels of contact states have with Israel and with Jews.  For example, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan and Syria are participants in the peace process and are involved in the Palestinian conflict, and their anti-Semitic manifestations tend to be related to current policy issues.  In contrast, the Gulf states are more removed from day-to-day developments and policies, and their depictions of Jews relate more generally to classical anti-Semitic canards and stereo-types. 

In Egypt, Jordan and Syria – the cartoons and articles focus on three main themes:

  • Comparing Jews\Israelis to Nazis.  This comparison is used to de-legitimize the Israeli government's policy relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (making use of Nazi symbols such as the swastikas, Nazi uniforms etc.).
  • Depicting Jews as animals with negative, predatory characteristics – dogs, foxes, pigs, wolfs, preying sharks, tortuous worms, devious snakes, octopus, blood-sucking insects etc.  
  • Demonizing Zionism, linking it to the anti-Semitic forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – asserting a Jewish aim to control the world and manipulate the West.
In the Palestinian Authority, cartoons frequently use the image of the blood-thirsty Jew, depicting Israel and its leaders as butchers driven to murder.  Such depictions are directed at criticizing contemporary Israeli policy in the territories, but invoke the age-old anti-Jewish blood libel. 

In Saudi Arabia the cartoons mainly focus on Jewish control over international media and finance.

In Iran, there are frequent feature articles denying (fully or partially) the Holocaust. These articles reflect government statements (by President Ahmadinejad and others) that, even if the Holocaust did happen, the numbers of the Jews killed are exaggerated.  

Cartoons featured in the Gulf countries typically deal with three main themes:

  • Portrayal of the stereotypical Jew
  • Absolute collusion between Israel and the US
  • Jews\Israel as chief beneficiaries of Arab and Muslim internal conflict

In Bahrain, the papers demonize the Jew, using images of a devil seeking control over the world and creating conflict between nations.

In Oman and Qatar, Jews are portrayed as the embodiment of evil in their facial expressions, in traditional Jewish garb (skull cup, long coat), with big noses and marked with the Star of David.

Calls on Arab Leaders to Denounce Cartoons:

On numerous occasions, ADL has called on Arab leaders to denounce the anti-Jewish manifestations featured in their newspapers.  As the Members of this Subcommittee have no doubt experienced first hand, Arab leaders have always responded with excuses, equivocations and downright denial of the problem. Instead of responding with disgust and condemnation, they rigorously defend these ugly pictures as legitimate manifestations of political commentary.

Some government leaders, such as Egyptian Prime Minister Hosni Mubarak, have cited freedom of the press as the reason they cannot control anti-Semitic manifestations in their state media.  This argument rings hollow given the reality that in Egypt, as in most Middle Eastern countries, the only real freedom the media appears to enjoy is the freedom to scapegoat Jews and Israel.  Moreover, the respect for press freedom, which we certainly champion, does not absolve political leaders of the responsibility to exercise moral leadership and to publicly denounce these expressions of gutter-level anti-Jewish hatred.   

We have also heard from Arab leaders that these caricatures are not anti-Semitic, but are legitimate expressions of criticism of Israel and Israeli policy.   This is clearly not the case.  In no way should images such as a contorted, stereo-typical Jewish figure, straight out of Der-Sturmer crushing the Arab world, or of Israel as a snake strangling Uncle Sam (images which harkens back to age-old canards of Jews power) be construed as fair criticism of Israeli policy. 

There is a growing international recognition that we can no longer abide by the defense of this anti-Jewish incitement as political criticism or commentary.  The 27 nation European Union's antiracism monitoring body's
Working Definition of Anti-Semitism includes instances such as the comparison of Israel or its policy to Nazism.  The monitoring in the 56 states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe uses the same definition.  The State Department's 2005 report on Global Anti-Semitism acknowledged the increase of anti-Semitism masked as criticism of Israel: "The demonization of Israel, or vilification of Israeli leaders, sometimes through comparisons with Nazi leaders, and through the use of Nazi symbols to caricature them, indicates an anti-Semitic bias rather than a valid criticism of policy concerning a controversial issue."

On occasion, we have heard some Arab leaders say that the Israeli media is guilty of demonizing Arabs, implying that this somehow balances out the scales.  We respectfully reject such equations.  When, on occasion, there is a case of an insensitive or even demonizing depiction of Arabs or Muslims in the Israeli media, government leaders, non- governmental organizations and community leaders are quick to condemn it.  This is the case outside of Israel as well.  In the infamous controversy over the Danish cartoons in 2006, Jewish organizations, including ADL, called on the media to take into account the sensitivities of racial, ethnic and religious groups, while defending the right of newspapers to be free to publish controversial content without fear of censorship or intimidation of their writers and editors.  This has also been the case in the United States, when on numerous occasions American Jewish organizations have supported American Muslim complaints about insensitive depictions of Arabs or Muslims in film, television programs and in editorial cartoons.

While there have been notable op-eds and articles by Arab personalities condemning Arab anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, they have been few and far between compared to the unrelenting stream of anti-Semitism.  

Anti-Semitism in the Electronic Media:

Anti-Semitism is also broadcast on television across the Arab world.  

Among the most infamous examples are two dramatic, multi-part, mini-series which were broadcast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan – the major "sweeps" period for Arab television.  The Egyptian-produced Horseman Without a Horse –aired on Egyptian state television in 2002, and the Syrian-produced Ash-Shatat – aired in 2003 on the Hezbollah owned Al-Manar satellite network.   (Al-Manar has a long record of incendiary anti-Jewish, anti-Israel and anti-American programming.  It appears to be the source of the conspiracy theory that claimed that 4,000 Israelis were absent from their jobs at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, thereby implying that Israel was in some way behind the attack. The story was posted on its Web site on September 17, 2001 and picked up by extremists around the world.   It has been banned from broadcasting several European countries and the United States.) 

Horseman featured base stereotypical depictions of Jews living in nineteenth century Egypt plotting to take over Palestine, the Middle East, and the entire world, guided by the infamous anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of ZionAsh Shatat was saturated with horrifying stereotypes of Jews, references to the Protocols, and included a shocking dramatization of the slitting of the throat of a Christian child by a rabbi draining his blood to make matzah.  In both dramas, Jews were presented as conspiring, violent, evil, and manipulative, characters who would quickly betray their native country and even their community for their own interest.

In more recent years, Arab dramas produced for Ramadan have focused more on drama and romance, and less on Jews.  However, organizations monitoring major Arab satellite and state-run television networks, as well as television stations affiliated with the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, have documented anti-Jewish statements and characterizations permeating news programs, religious broadcasts and documentaries.   

  • Iranian television regularly broadcast speeches by Iranian leaders, such as President Ahmadinejad, questioning the Holocaust, and talk shows featuring infamous Holocaust deniers.  
  • MEMRI (The Middle East Media Research Institute) released the transcript of an October 2007 program on Lebanon's NBN television network (associated with parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri) which examined the Protocols and alleged a Jewish/ Israeli/ American plot to "annihilate the nations and peoples of the world, using drugs and causing anxiety, and numbing the mental, psychological, and physical capabilities of non-Jews, as written in the Talmud or The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."   
  • Palestinian Media Watch exposed a children's program on Hamas-owned Al Aqsa Television, called Tomorrow's Pioneers, which aired in April 2007 which featured a Mickey-Mouse-like character, Farfur, who encouraged comments from children such as a call to "annihilate the Jews."  The controversy which erupted over the program led to Farfur's replacement with the character Nahool the Bee, who serves a similar incendiary purpose. 

The Impact of These Images:

The result of decades of these demonizing depictions is that the vast majority of Arabs in the Middle East have only encountered Jews as images of evil, threatening, subhuman figures to be feared, hated and fought against.  Compounding this problem, is the instantaneous, global transmission of these images via the internet and satellite television, from the Middle East to Europe, Africa, and the United States, reaching and potentially radicalizing a much larger audience. 

Take, for example, an Egyptian born in 1979 at the time of the signing of the Camp David Accord, the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.  He or she is now approaching the age of 30 and has lived an entire life in the era of peace between Israel and Egypt.  Yet, given the images in the media and other influences in society, it is more likely than not that this Egyptian has incorporated the age-old anti-Semitic canards about Jews and Judaism into a world view.  He or she has also been educated to believe anti-Semitic conspiracy theories – told that Jews introduced AIDS to Egypt; that Israel developed a special gum sold in Egypt that promotes promiscuity among young Egyptian girls; even a claim in the Egyptian weekly Al-Usbu' that Israel was responsible for the Tsunami as a result of an Israeli nuclear underground test that was conducted in the Indian Ocean.  Given these ingrained prejudices, this Egyptian, more likely than not, doesn't understand or support Egypt's diplomatic relationship with the Jewish state.  Even deeper prejudice, hatred and suspicion of Jews would likely be found on the streets of Saudi Arabia, Syria, the Gulf States and others.  

In the most extreme case, such demonization of Jews leads individuals to justify and even carry out violent attacks against Jews and Israelis.  Anti-Semitic tenets are deeply rooted in the founding manifestos of al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and other Islamic extremist groups. 

These images in the Arab media also obstruct hopes for any kind of Israeli-Arab reconciliation by their impact on Israelis.  The demonization of Jews conveys to Israelis that the Arab/Muslim world will never be reconciled to the existence of the Jewish state, and that peace is impossible. 


  1. Tell Arab leaders: Silence is complicity.  The United States must make clear to Arab leaders that their silence in the face of anti-Semitism in their media makes them complicit in this perpetuation of incitement. Members of Congress, the Secretary of State, and the President himself, should urge heads of state and ministers to speak out against the use of anti-Semitic images in the media.  The difference between a tolerant and an uncivil society does not lie in the biases within the hearts of its people, but in the public reaction of its leaders to manifestations of hate and bigotry. Even where the press is not state run, governments should take leadership in condemning anti-Semitism and incitement against all groups and to set a civil tone for discourse.  We urge the Subcommittee to follow up on this hearing with the relevant governments.  We welcome your support helping ensure that that this issue is raised by every Member of Congress who travels to the Region and that the Committee raises this with all visiting officials and dignitaries from the Middle East.
  2. The US should follow up on the Annapolis Statement of Principles on confronting incitement and make it a fixture of negotiations.  A failure to focus on this issue will be an impediment to lasting Arab-Israeli reconciliation.  The inclusion of the incitement issue in the core document in Annapolis, and priori agreements like the1998 Wye River Accord reflect an understanding that the ongoing dehumanization of Jews provides a context and rationalization for terror.  The work on this issue, for example the efforts of the U.S./Palestinian/Israeli Anti-Incitement Committee, has been sidelined and too often takes a back seat to other political issues.  In retrospect, we recognize that the failure to create an environment where peace between peoples could be forged contributed to the failure of successive agreements.  Alongside political negotiations, lasting peace will require meaningful efforts by Arab and Muslim leadership to change public perceptions of Jews and the State of Israel. 
  3. Embassies must follow up on human rights reporting and demarche governments. Anti-Semitic incitement is a violation of human and is embodied in international treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  The Secretary of State should instruct U.S. Embassies and missions to demarche governments as a follow up to U.S. reporting on anti-Semitic incitement in state media.  Ministries of Communication and leaders at the highest level of governments should be reminded that US diplomats are serious about monitoring anti-Semitic incitement as a key human rights issue.
  4. Build capacity of U.S. diplomats to recognize and counter anti-Semitic incitement in the media.  The U.S. has made the fight against anti-Semitism a key priority, most recently with the appointment of the State Department Special Envoy on the issue. US reporting on anti-Semitism as a human rights and religious freedom issue is an indispensable tool in spotlighting the problem as well as a tool for diplomacy.   As with any reporting which originates in embassies around the world, it varies from place to place.  In order to bolster the consistency of reporting on this sometimes complex phenomenon, the State Department's Foreign Service Institute should include core training on anti-Semitism to help human rights officers and all diplomats to easily recognize and counter the nuanced and mutating forms of anti-Semitism. 
  5. The U.S. must promote peace education in the Arab world as part of democracy building efforts.  ADL would be eager to work with this subcommittee to suggest positive programming opportunities.  For example, ADL's signature anti-bias training program, A World of Difference® Institute, recognized as an important tool against discrimination has been adapted and implemented in Hebrew and Arabic among students and teachers in Israel.  We would welcome the opportunity to adapt our Arabic language programs for other school systems to help challenge prejudice teach youth skills necessary to live in a diverse world.
  6. Reach out to participants in the International Visitors Leadership Programs.  The US brings approximately 5,000 visiting leaders in government, politics, the media, education, labor relations, the arts, business and other fields from around the world.  Many of them express an interest in meeting with a Jewish organization and the Anti-Defamation League has been happy to introduce them to the American Jewish community and its agenda.  Although this is a modest goal, we would welcome the support of this Subcommittee for encouraging the State Department to utilize the visits of the many groups from the Middle East to introduce them to an organization like ours.  This could be a modest first step toward breaking the broadly held stereotypes of Jews in the region.  Forging contacts between civil society leaders could spark initiatives that might make a contribution down the road.
We urge our government to put a spotlight on the problem of anti-Semitic incitement because it flourishes in precisely those parts of the world where democracy, human rights and free speech are the most limited.  Hatred of Jews or Americans is not an expression of freedom, but rather it is too frequently used to cynically divert energy and focus from the lack of internal freedoms which plague those societies.

We are grateful that this subcommittee, the Congress and the Administration view combating incitement as squarely within America's wide-ranging democracy building agenda.  We are grateful for your leadership and stand ready to be a resource to you as you move forward.

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