Media are said to mirror or reflect the ideas, values, and attitudes of society.
If this adage holds true, what was aired on Egyptian TV recently should serve as an ominous warning about the prevailing hateful sentiments that Egyptian Arabs hold for Jews.
On July 20, an Egyptian T.V. show prank where famous Egyptian actors believed they were being interviewed by a German T.V. station, turned into mayhem when they were told they were being interviewed on an Israeli network. After hearing this "shocking" revelation, celebrated Egyptian actor, Ayman Kandeel, slapped the show's hostess so hard so hard she fell over and cowered in the corner of the studio. Apparently for Kandeel, dealing with Israelis is so intolerable that violence against women, threats, and obscenities was an appropriate means of recourse.
In another segment, actress Mayar Al-Beblawi is shown declaring that "In that country [Israel], they are all liars. You wouldn't believe it. They are real liars. They keep whining all the time about the Holocaust, or whatever it's called. With all the Palestinians that you have killed, you are still whining about the Holocaust and its lousy figures?!"
Al-Beblawi adds later: "These people sawed off [the head] of John the Baptist. They are the slayers of the prophets, what else can we say about them? Allah did not curse the worm and the moth as much as he cursed the Jews."
A third pranked actor, Mahmoud Abd Al-Ghaffar, erupts in anger when he thinks his interviewer is a Jew. He grabs the show's producer by the hair and demands to know the truth. "Who are you? Tell me who you are?"
Assured by the producer that "this is a candid camera show," he protests that "you brought me someone who looks like a Jew..."
He says to the female anchor, "If you weren't a girl, the moment you told me you were Jewish... I hate the Jews to death."
Without irony, the show's organizers held the bigoted reactions of these actors to be expressions of "patriotism" rather than racism. In so doing, their reactions reflect their audience's sentiments.
The clips from Al-Nahar TV were transcribed and distributed by the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a non-profit group that seeks to "bridge the language gap between the Middle East and the West by monitoring, translating, and studying Arab, Iranian and Turkish media, schoolbooks, and religious sermons."
Far from being an isolated incident, this prank gone wrong is revelatory for how anti-Semitism and displays of hatred against Jews remain deeply entrenched in Egyptian society as government officials, religious leaders, and media outlets permit a culture of daily incitement against Jews and Israelis. Egyptian citizens are fed with a steady diet of literature that assimilates Jews to Nazis, commentary rife with odious Jewish conspiracy theories, and your standard fare of cartoons that demonize Jews as hook-noosed, greedy, and as having ambitions to control the world.
News articles deny or diminish the Holocaust and television dramas revive classic medieval blood libels. Toronto Star columnist Haroon Siddiqui, not one to shy away from criticizing Israel, recently described Egypt's state media as having "spew(ed) poison at Jews." It's not surprising that when Tahrir Square became ground-zero for anti-Mubarak protests, anti-Semitic caricatures, placards, and epithets were uttered and embraced by Egyptian protestors. So much for the peaceful, moderate, and pluralistic state of the Arab Spring portrayed by our media.
Consider what happened to CBS reporter Lara Logan in February 2011. Logan, who's not Jewish, was attacked and sexually assaulted by a mob in Tahrir Square. Yelling "Jew, Jew," they violently set upon her. BBC reporter Thomas Dinham told a similar story about being the subject of an anti-Semitic attack in Egypt in September also last year. Dinham recounted that he was "relieved that a seemingly random assault was over, I was appalled by the apology offered by one of my assailants. 'Sorry,' he said contritely, offering his hand, 'we thought you were a Jew.' Shaking his head in disbelief on hearing the news, an Egyptian friend sympathised: 'That's stupid, you are obviously not a Jew.' The chilling implication I was left with was that, had I been Jewish, the assault would have apparently been justified."
It's little wonder that despite observing a cold peace with Israel since the Camp David peace accords in 1979, that a Cairo mob last year assaulted the Israeli embassy in an attempt to lynch Israeli diplomats who had to flee for their lives. With the fall of the Mubarak regime, increasing lawlessness along the Egypt/Israel border has seen countless bombings of natural gas pipelines, kidnappings, weapon smuggling, and increased terror which over the weekend, saw a group of 35 gunmen storm an Egyptian checkpoint on the Gaza border killing 16 Egyptian soldiers after they commandeered two vehicles which they used to attack the nearby Israeli border. Thanks to Israel's military intelligence and the swift action of its soldiers, a massacre was averted.
With the Muslim Brotherhood having taken the reins of Egyptian politics, various stakeholders, in and outside of Egypt, have expressed fear that the peace treaty with Israel will be abrogated, and that Egypt's minorities, specifically women and its non-Muslim population, may be targeted. To that effect, it's been reported that Egyptian Christians will increasingly see Canada as a place of refuge.
While Egyptian intolerance of Jews was on full display in the Egyptian TV prank show, it's important to note the huge disconnect between how Israeli Jews view and treat Arabs. As evinced in an Israeli hidden camera TV show aired last year called "What Would You Do," producers staged a scene in the Israeli city of Holon to determine if Israeli society was racist or tolerant.
A store clerk (played by an actor) refused to sell to an Arab woman (also played by an actor), but the people waiting in line witnessing the discrimination were real customers. Time and again, Israeli citizens stood up for the rights of the Arab patron by entering into verbal barbs with the racist clerk. They demanded that the clerk give the Arab woman equal service and due respect. Some Israelis went so far as to walk out, refusing to give the store their business in protest, and others purchased products and handed them over directly to the Arab woman in a show of solidarity.
If Egypt legitimately wants to promote peaceful coexistence and warm relations with Israelis and Jews, incitement must end and tolerance must be promoted. It's time for Egypt's citizenry, state actors, and media to embrace pluralism, seek harmony, and stand shoulder to shoulder with Israeli Jewry once and for all.