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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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June 23, 2015 0

Egyptian TV Series “Jewish Quarter” Defines A Good Jew

The first episodes of “Haret El Yahood” [The Jew­ish Quar­ter], a new Egypt­ian TV series that started air­ing last week on many satel­lite chan­nels in the Arab world, rein­force com­mon anti-Semitic nar­ra­tives despite some expec­ta­tions that it would depart from the usual anti-Semitic canards typ­i­cally found in Arab media.haret-el-yahood

The show, which presents the Jew­ish com­mu­nity in Egypt in the 40s through a love story between a Jew­ish girl and a Mus­lim Egypt­ian army offi­cer, attempts to present the dif­fer­ence between “good” Jews and “bad” Jews; the good Jews are the ones who are loyal to Egypt and sup­port its war against Israel while Zion­ist Jews, who are loyal to Israel, are depicted as wicked, liars, evil and try­ing to betray Egypt. Mid­hat Al-adl, who wrote the script for the show, told Al Jazeera that the show “con­demns Israeli Zion­ism and racism.”

The first scene of the first episode fea­tures an Egypt­ian fam­ily run­ning to seek shel­ter inside the Jew­ish syn­a­gogue in Cairo dur­ing an Israeli air strike. A con­ver­sa­tion between the father of the fam­ily and a young neigh­bor­hood girl sets the tone for the rest of the show. The Jew­ish man by the name of Aaron says, “More airstrikes and more of turn off the lights, we were relieved Hitler was gone and his days were over.” The girl then responds, “The prob­lem is, uncle Aaron, the same ones whom Hitler killed and expelled are the ones killing and uproot­ing the Palestinians.”

The show’s main char­ac­ter, a Jew­ish girl by the name of Layla, falls in love with a Mus­lim Egypt­ian army offi­cer who is fight­ing in the war against Israel. Layla is fea­tured as an exam­ple of a good Jew who stands against Israel unlike her brother, Moses, who is depicted as an ardent Zion­ist con­spir­ing against his coun­try and family.

The show also appears to prop­a­gate the con­spir­acy the­ory that Zion­ist Jews were allied with the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood Move­ment in Egypt since 1948. A scene in the first episode shows a Jew­ish man instruct­ing a Mus­lim Broth­er­hood leader at one of their camps. Sub­se­quent episodes sug­gest that events lead­ing to the mas­sive immi­gra­tion of Jews from Egypt to Israel were part of a Zionist-Muslim Broth­er­hood con­spir­acy. For exam­ple, an explo­sion planned by the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood at the Jew­ish quar­ter is por­trayed as ben­e­fit­ing Zion­ist Jews because it trig­gered fear among Egypt­ian Jews and com­pelled them to con­sider immi­grat­ing to Israel.

Haret El Yahood, which received huge pub­lic­ity across the Arab world, is cur­rently aired on sev­eral satel­lite TV sta­tions across the Arab World includ­ing CBC, Dubai TV, Dream and MBC. Ramadan with Google, a page ded­i­cated by Google for the holy Mus­lim month of Ramadan, fea­tured the show on its land­ing page.

In the past, ADL exposed attempts to exploit the Muslim’s holy month of Ramadan, a prime time TV sea­son in the Arab world, to air anti-Semitic TV shows.

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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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