FINALLY, A MAJOR NEWS AGENCY DEEMS ARAB ANTI-SEMITISM WORTHY OF A REPORT
[Note by Tom Gross]
Finally, a major news agency has deemed Arab anti-Semitism worthy of a report – even though the particular example given in the AP headline, saying "Thanks to Hitler" is almost a year old. Better late than never in reporting what happens in Egypt.
EGYPTIAN DAILY – AL AKHBAR HEADLINE: "THANKS TO HITLER"
Egypt's Al-Akhbar: 'Thanks to Hitler'
By Jasper Mortimer
The Associated Press
February 8, 2002
CAIRO, Egypt – For one writer in the Egyptian press, the identities of the perpetrators of September 11 were obvious – and they were not Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida fighters.
"The Jews and the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad are behind this vicious attack on the United States," Gamal Ali Zahran wrote in Egypt's most respected newspaper, Al-Ahram, on October 7. He offered no source.
Zahran, who teaches politics at Suez Canal University, Ismailiya, was repeating a rumor that had been circulating among Arabs since terrorists slammed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
He claimed several thousand Jews had worked at the World Trade Center, but none went to work on September 11 and not one Jew was killed that day. In fact, many Jews were killed in the September 11 attacks, including four Israelis. Zahran declined to comment to The Associated Press.
Zahran's article was one in a series of anti-Semitic pieces published in the Egyptian press since the Israeli-Palestinian fighting began in September 2000.
The Israeli Embassy has complained to the government many times about such articles. Before finishing his term last year, Ambassador Zvi Mazel said the Egyptian press is sowing the "seeds of hatred for the next 50 years."
President Hosni Mubarak says he cannot control the Egyptian press. However, his government appoints the editors of the three biggest circulation dailies – Al-Ahram, Al-Akhbar and Al-Gomhuriya – and it owns the newspaper printing houses.
Egypt was the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, and has stood by the 1979 treaty despite Palestinian-Israeli clashes it often blames on Israel.
But many ordinary Egyptians oppose "normalizing" – forging cultural and business links in addition to the political agreement. Allowing anti-Semitic comment in the media may be the government's way of letting its citizens release frustrations that might otherwise be directed at Egyptian authorities.
Al-Akhbar published one of the most anti-Semitic tracts, headlined "Thanks to Hitler."
"Thanks to the late Hitler, who took revenge in advance for the Palestinians on the most vile criminals on earth, though we blame Hitler because his revenge was not quite enough," Ahmed Ragab wrote last spring.
Jewish groups quoted the column in full-page ads in Western newspapers, and Secretary of State Colin Powell was asked in Congress why the United States was giving $2 billion a year to Egypt, where "government-sponsored newspapers support Adolf Hitler and incite violence against Jews and Israel."
Ragab also refused to be interviewed, but his editor, Galal Dewidar, said the column was not eulogizing Hitler but vilifying Israel for the hundreds of Palestinians killed in the current fighting.
"You mustn't take it word by word. You must take it by the feeling, the spirit. [Ragab] would like to say somebody should tell Israel to stop," Dewidar said.
But why, critics ask, is such anger not directed at the Israeli government rather than Jews all over the world?
One editor who makes the distinction is Hani Shukrallah, the managing editor of Al-Ahram Weekly – the English-language sister of Al-Ahram.
Shukrallah described the anti-Semitic rhetoric as "vulgar populism," but said it sprang from Egyptian empathy with the Palestinians.
"We're seeing our brothers being killed and murdered and we're unable to do anything," Shukrallah said.
A professor of journalism at the American University in Cairo, Abdullah Schleifer, said that if there was peace between Israelis and Palestinians, "this stuff would just disappear."