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August 5, 2015 0

Egypt’s New Interest in its Jewish Past

There has been much dis­cus­sion about  the recent Egypt­ian TV drama The Jew­ish Quar­ter, which depicts the Jew­ish com­mu­nity in Egypt in the 1940s through a love story between a Jew­ish woman and a Mus­lim Egypt­ian army officer.

ADL noted that despite some expec­ta­tions that it would depart from the usual anti-Semitic canards typ­i­cally found in Ramadan-period pro­duc­tions, The Jew­ish Quar­ter divides Egypt­ian Jews into two cat­e­gories:  “good” Jews and “bad” Jew.  The good Jews are loyal to Egypt and sup­port its war against Israel while Zion­ist Jews, are depicted as wicked, liars, evil and try­ing to betray Egypt.

At the same time, as flawed as The Jew­ish Quar­ter is, it appears to reflect a new inter­est among Egyp­tians in its once-thriving Jew­ish community.

Exam­ples include, the 2012 Egyptian-made film, Jews of Egypt , which doc­u­mented the  his­tory of the com­mu­nity and a num­ber of recent arti­cles which have exam­ined the Jews’ his­tor­i­cal role in the country’s success.

the jewish quarter egypt

“No one can deny the role played by Egypt’s Jews through­out its his­tory, a role con­sid­ered vital and impor­tant”, noted one arti­cle pub­lished in Egypt’s Al-Wafd news­pa­per (July 21), adding that “They’ve always been part of Egypt­ian cul­tural and social fab­ric”. Other news­pa­pers go even fur­ther in their superla­tives as they invoke promi­nent Egyptian-Jewish fig­ures from the past, such as leg­endary singer Layla Murad (who later con­verted to Islam and was out­spo­ken in her crit­i­cism of Israel),  a fea­ture about whom was recently pub­lished in the country’s Al-Yawm As-Sabi news­pa­per (July 13): “She is the voice of love in her days, in ours and in every day”, says the arti­cle. “She is capa­ble of bestow­ing upon you pos­i­tive energy through which to face life’s futil­ity; capa­ble of mak­ing you sense the beauty of life; and capa­ble of cre­at­ing a new heart between your ribs, one that will know a new mean­ing of love and life.”

Why is there now this renewed inter­est in Egypt’s Jew­ish com­mu­nity of seven decades ago?  An arti­cle pub­lished (July 18) about The Jew­ish Quar­ter TV series in Egypt’s most widely cir­cu­lated daily – Al-Ahram – sug­gests one pos­si­ble answer, which is that it’s not about the Jews in and of them­selves. Dr. Hala Mustafa writes, “Nat­u­rally, this isn’t a his­to­ri­og­ra­phy of Jew­ish pres­ence in Egypt, but rather a demon­stra­tion of one fea­ture of Egypt­ian cul­tural lib­eral legacy. It is char­ac­ter­ized by diver­sity, wealth and plu­ral­ism in their fullest sense and exceeds the imme­di­ate polit­i­cal con­text. Jews were only part of a big­ger sys­tem which embraced cit­i­zens of non-Egyptian ori­gins and for­eign emi­grants, such as Greeks, Ital­ians, Arme­ni­ans, French and oth­ers. This nat­u­rally led to a mix­ture of West­ern and Ori­en­tal cul­tures, even­tu­ally pro­duc­ing a dis­tinct tol­er­ant Egypt­ian culture.”

It seems that in the midst of Egypt’s tremen­dous insta­bil­ity, with the country’s lead­er­ship mov­ing from sec­u­lar to Mus­lim Broth­er­hood and back again to a sec­u­lar regime; fight­ing Islamic ter­ror in Sinai; strug­gling over the country’s very ethos, the Egypt of the 1940’s sim­ply rep­re­sents a more lib­eral and tol­er­ant coun­try that some long for in these times of reli­gious extrem­ism and Islamic polit­i­cal awakening.

Whether this new inter­est will endure, much less trans­lates to a new approach to Jews and the Jew­ish State, remains to be seen.

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July 31, 2015 2

Significant Increase in Anti-Semitic Incidents in UK for 2015

CST, ADL’s part­ner in UK, reported today a sig­nif­i­cant increase in anti-Semitic inci­dents for first half of 2015, com­pared to the same period in 2014, but cau­tioned against alarm: “Detailed analy­sis of the tim­ing, con­tent and sources of every one of these recorded anti­se­mitic inci­dents sug­gests that, while they may partly reflect a real rise in inci­dent lev­els, the pri­mary expla­na­tion for the rise is most likely to be a greater will­ing­ness by peo­ple to report anti­semitism, either to CST or Police.”

CST report

The report does con­tain, how­ever, some dis­turb­ing findings:

-          Forty-four vio­lent anti-Semitic assaults were recorded dur­ing the period, includ­ing two instances of “griev­ous bod­ily harm.”  The num­ber of vio­lent inci­dents dou­bled from 2014.

-          Syn­a­gogues were tar­geted 25 times in first half of 2015.

-          Twenty inci­dents occurred at Jew­ish schools; 10 at pub­lic schools; and 14 inci­dents involved Jew­ish chil­dren or school staff on their way to or from school.  Three of the inci­dents involv­ing chil­dren were clas­si­fied under “Assaults.”

Infor­ma­tion on per­pe­tra­tors and moti­va­tions was also reported, though with caveats about the reli­a­bil­ity of infor­ma­tion from vic­tims about the per­pe­tra­tors’ eth­nic­ity.  The report cat­e­go­rizes the per­pe­tra­tors’ “eth­nic appear­ance” as:

-          54% “white – north European”

-          23% “south Asian”

-          13% “black”

-          6% “Arab or north African”

-          3% “white – south European”

-          1% “east or south-east Asian”

Polit­i­cal dis­course was reported in just 36% of inci­dents, with far-right lan­guage mak­ing up the vast major­ity.   Ref­er­ences to Israel, Zion­ism or the Mid­dle East were reported to have been made in less than 7% of incidents.

These num­bers should put to rest the com­monly held mis­con­cep­tion that anti-Semitic inci­dents are pri­mar­ily dri­ven by reac­tions to the Mid­dle East con­flict.  Yes, fight­ing between Israelis and Pales­tini­ans can trig­ger an upsurge, but right-wing extrem­ist anti-Semitism remains a seri­ous con­cern in the UK and elsewhere.

For more data on anti-Semitic atti­tudes in the UK, see ADL’s 2014 Global 100 sur­vey and 2015 fol­low up.

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May 19, 2015 3

The Distorted Image of Israel

Anti-Israel pun­dits con­tinue to invent new ways to use dis­tor­tions and half-truths to attack the Jew­ish state, pre­sent­ing Israel in a neg­a­tive light as racist, inhu­mane and entirely objec­tion­able. These Israel haters will often invert a pos­i­tive aspect of Israeli soci­ety, flip­ping it on its head in an effort to dele­git­imize the Jew­ish State.

This most well-known of these tac­tics is dubbed Pinkwash­ing by its inven­tors. It takes Israel’s proud record on LGBT issues and the open­ness Israeli soci­ety demon­strates towards the LGBT com­mu­nity, and absurdly argues that Israel uses this issue to deflect atten­tion away from its treat­ment of Palestinians.

Ken Roth, the direc­tor of Human Rights Watch, recently engaged in a sim­i­lar “deflec­tive” prac­tice with Israel’s life-saving efforts in Nepal fol­low­ing the dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake.  In response to Israel’s announce­ment that they were send­ing a del­e­ga­tion to pro­vide med­ical and search-and-rescue assis­tance, Roth cyn­i­cally tweeted: “Eas­ier to address a far-away human­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter than the nearby one of Israel’s mak­ing in Gaza. End the block­ade!”
Ken Roth

Another avenue used by Israel-hating activists is the so-called “Buz­zfeed model” of try­ing to main­stream dis­torted and overly sim­pli­fied lists of Israeli transgressions.

In a recent post­ing for Alter­net, anti-Israel writer Zaid Jilani con­cocted a list of “6 Crazy Things Israel Has Done to Main­tain Racial Purity.” The title is a dead give­away of the tac­tic — trum­pet­ing the hyper­bole and dis­tor­tions in the arti­cle to fol­low. And while there are grains of truth to each of the exam­ples listed, they all lack full con­text, and are spun in the most neg­a­tive of ways to accom­plish out­landish offence towards Israel.

One of the exam­ples listed is that only Jews are enti­tled to the right-of-return law, which pro­vides for auto­matic Israeli cit­i­zen­ship. This law does give spe­cial immi­gra­tion sta­tus to Jews and is gen­er­ally cham­pi­oned as a pos­i­tive ini­tia­tive by Israel, enabling Jews from around the world, and their descen­dants up to four gen­er­a­tions, to call Israel their home. Many of the Jews, espe­cially in the early years of the State, were sur­vivors of the Holo­caust and refugees from vio­lent expul­sion by hos­tile Arab coun­tries. Dur­ing the 1980s and 1990s, over a mil­lion Jews from the Soviet Union and tens of thou­sands from Ethiopia were able to escape oppres­sive con­di­tions and build new homes in Israel, thanks to this law. As the his­toric home­land of the Jew­ish peo­ple, Israel right­fully and proudly sees this law as one of its most impor­tant and pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tions to the safety and well-being of Jews from around the world. Other immi­grants to Israel are required to apply for cit­i­zen­ship, pur­suant to laws that are sim­i­lar to those in other democ­ra­cies, and are not guar­an­teed auto­matic cit­i­zen­ship status.

Israel is not a per­fect county. Like all West­ern democ­ra­cies, it is faced with its fair share of domes­tic and inter­na­tional chal­lenges. But it has also accom­plished a great deal in its short his­tory, and is home to a thriv­ing progressively-minded society.

It is sad that Israel can do no good in the eyes of the Pinkwash­ers and peo­ple like Roth and Jilani. No mat­ter Israel’s accom­plish­ments and con­tri­bu­tions to the world, these voices, cloaked in a mar­ble of right­eously pro­mot­ing a human-rights agenda, seem bent on invent­ing new ways to use hate-filled rhetoric hate-filled to upend Israel’s pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tions to soci­ety and the world to unjustly vil­ify the Jew­ish State.

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