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Mubarak and Anti-Semitism: A Boomerang Effect?

American pundits say that the deposed Egyptian president fomented anti-Semitism in Egyptian society. But on closer examination, the charges again reveal the anti-Semitism of the opposition that toppled him.

by
John Rosenthal

Bio

February 13, 2011 - 6:00 pm

Mubarak is gone, chased from power by the pressure of the Egyptian “street,” but also by that of Western capitals and the Western media. The latter made itself virtually as a whole into the propaganda arm of the “revolution,” ceaselessly extolling its virtues, while steadfastly refusing to see, much less examine, its dark side.

As I showed in two previous PJM reports (see here and here), the evidence of anti-Semitic and/or anti-Israeli sentiment among the anti-Mubarak protests was extensive. Moreover, the evidence reveals not only the protestors’ hostility to Israel and/or Jews as such, but also that this hostility was inseparable from their opposition to Mubarak. Hence, the numerous portraits of Mubarak with a Star of David scrawled on his face or forehead. Arabic speakers have confirmed to me that many of the signs carried by protestors identified Mubarak as an Israeli “agent” or “spy.”

As such evidence began trickling out, a common response among supporters of the “revolution” was to suggest that the pro-Mubarak forces were also employing anti-Semitic insults against the protestors and/or foreign journalists. Such claims were typically unsupported by any evidence at all, let alone the mass of evidence revealing the anti-Semitic/“anti-Zionist” current among the protestors themselves. The ultimate source for the claims appears to have been Al Jazeera.

There is also, however, a more sophisticated variant of the same sort of argument. According to this variant, Mubarak has fallen victim to a kind of “boomerang effect.” He had himself been responsible for fomenting the widespread anti-Semitism in Egyptian society, and hence if he had now become the principal target of this anti-Semitism, he was merely reaping what he had sowed.

Now, there has been some evidence offered in support of the latter charge. Such evidence was gathered, notably, in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by Max Boot titled “Hosni Mubarak, Troublesome Ally.” Boot accuses Mubarak of “turning a blind eye to the rabid anti-Semitism and anti-Westernism that polluted Egypt’s state-controlled news media and mosques,” and he cites several examples culled from the Middle East media watchdog group MEMRI.

The problem, however, is that the evidence adduced by Boot is weak and highly ambiguous. Indeed, some of the supposedly “state-controlled media” from which the examples derive are not state-controlled at all. They are private media. More to the point, not only are they private media, but they are private media that are associated precisely with the opposition that brought down Mubarak.

Let us consider Boot’s examples one-by-one. Immediately after invoking Mubarak’s “state-controlled media,” Boot cites a sermon in which the Egyptian cleric Hussam Fawzi Jabar stated that “Hitler was right to do what he did to the Jews.” The sermon — in effect, an extended anti-Semitic tirade — was televised. Excerpts from it are available on the MEMRI website here. The sermon was not, however, broadcast on any “state-controlled” channel, but rather on the private religious channel Al-Nas.

The broadcast of Jabar’s sermon took place in July 2010. Just three months later, in October, the Mubarak government banned Al-Nas and several other religious channels, citing, among other things, their “incitement to religious hatred.” (See the report in the English edition of the Egyptian daily Al Masry Al Youm here.) This is hardly, then, a probative example of Mubarak “closing his eyes.” Ironically, the ban was mentioned in the Western media as evidence of the Mubarak government “cracking down” on press freedoms and attempting to “muzzle” the opposition. Combined with warnings issued to other religious channels, the ban prompted Muslim Brotherhood attorney Montasser Al Zayat to complain of “government harassment.”

Al-Rahma, another of the religious channels affected by the ban, has a long history of broadcasting anti-Semitic tirades and calls to jihad. An extensive selection is available on the MEMRI website here. Al-Rahma appears to have specialized in having “child preachers” recite its anti-Semitic sermons. (See examples here and here.)

In April of last year, French authorities banned the transmission of Al-Rahma programming on French satellite television. Like the later Egyptian decision, the French decision cited the channel’s “incitement to religious hatred.” Thanks to the “total liberty of the press” demanded by the protestors and Western governments, the anti-Semitic incitement of Al-Nas and Al-Rahma will now be able to thrive on the Egyptian airwaves. The greatest irony is that Al-Rahma will remain prohibited in France, where — as in much of the rest of Europe — no such “total liberty” exists.

Boot’s second example can be dealt with more swiftly. It concerns a historical revisionist essay, titled “The Lie About the Burning of the Jews,” that appeared in 2004 in the journal of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party. Obviously, it is no stretch to hold Mubarak responsible for articles that appeared in a journal of the very political party he chaired. Nonetheless, the affair can hardly be treated as an unambiguous example of Mubarak “closing his eyes to” or tolerating anti-Semitism. As Boot himself acknowledges, the editor of the journal was subsequently fired on account of the publication. In addition, as related in the MEMRI report here, the journal published a formal apology for the article and the author was banned from writing for it again.

(Boot relativizes the response of party authorities, by noting that it occurred “under heavy American pressure.” He provides no source for this claim. When we confer the Memri report, we discover that the ultimate source is “the pro-Saddam London daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi.”)

The third and final example provided by Boot is undoubtedly the most enlightening — especially as regards the latest developments in Egypt. It concerns A Knight Without a Horse: an Egyptian television series based on the infamous anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The series was broadcast in 2002 on Egyptian public television. According to John Hammond’s monograph Pop Culture Arab World!, it was also broadcast on some 20 other television channels throughout the Arab world. As documented by MEMRI here, the controversy surrounding the series prompted Hosni Mubarak’s chief political advisor, Osama Al-Baz, to publish a series of three articles denouncing the Protocols and other anti-Semitic “fallacies and myths that originated in Europe.”

It is true that Egyptian public television was one of the television channels to air A Knight Without a Horse. Boot, however, suggests that Egyptian public television also produced the series. This is simply false. The producer of the series was the private Egyptian satellite channel Dream TV.

Dream TV? Last Monday, a young Google employee named Wael Ghonim gave an emotion-laden interview on a popular Egyptian television talk show. In the interview, he discussed his detention by Egyptian security forces and praised the heroism of anti-Mubarak protestors who had lost their lives. “Whoever was killed is a martyr,” a somber Ghonim declared. While images of the fallen “martyrs” flashed across the screen — and the host implored “Don’t cry, Wael!” — Ghonim broke down in tears. The talk show interview quickly made Ghonim into the “face” of the Egyptian revolution. The show in question was produced and broadcast by none other than Dream TV.

That is right: the “face” of the Egyptian revolution was created by the very television channel that in 2002 produced a 41-part series based on the single most notorious piece of anti-Semitic literature of all time.

The question of what part of responsibility, if any, Hosni Mubarak bears for the spread of anti-Semitism in Egyptian society is one that is better left to historians and Middle East scholars rather than “pundits.” When I asked Martin Kramer of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem for his assessment, he responded unequivocally that Mubarak “was not responsible for this” and added that the anti-Semitism “actually surfaced precisely in those parts of the media that were allowed to operate with greater freedom.” The examples discussed above clearly confirm this view. It turns out that the specific instances of anti-Semitic incitement that Max Boot attributes to Mubarak and the “state-controlled media” are in fact the product of the independent media that helped to bring about Mubarak’s downfall.

John Rosenthal writes on European politics and transatlantic security issues. You can follow his work at www.trans-int.com or on Facebook here.
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