BBC-WATCH: The BBC on Egyptian Anti-Semitism

BBC’s Web site recently showcased an article on Egyptian anti-Semitism by Cairo correspondent Kate Clark (“Interpreting Egypt’s Anti-Semitic Cartoons,” August 10, 2003). Anti-Semitism in Arab countries — especially in a country supposedly at peace with the Jewish State — is indeed an issue worthy of examination. But rather than confronting the prevalence of Jew hatred and Holocaust denial parading as journalism in the Egyptian government-sponsored press, Clark presented an apologia, ultimately placing the blame on the victim — the State of Israel.

BBC’s Cairo correspondent has swallowed the Egyptian line completely. Her article is a platform to expound upon the official Egyptian position. Comprised of long quotes by four Egyptian journalists and man-in-the -street interviews with an Egyptian couple at a café, the article also includes the author’s own remarks echoing the Egyptian rationale. Compare Clark’s own statement in the article with the official apology put forth by Mubarak’s political advisor Osama Al-Baz in the official Egyptian daily Al Ahram (January 2003). 

AL-BAZ: Antisemitism… is a purely European phenomenon, a manifestation of specific psychological, sociological and historical realities. And if, in the 20th century, this phenomenon has sometimes extended beyond the European continent, it has never done so with anything approaching Europe’s fanaticism. Have the Arabs or Muslims ever been antisemitic, in the sense of anti-Jewish? I believe that the impartial scholar must reply in the negative...

BBC: Most of the anti-Semitic imagery in the Egyptian media originally came from Europe: there is no indigenous tradition of anti-Jewish racism in the Muslim world.

Al-Baz wrongly characterizes historic relations between Arab Muslims and Jews as possessing the “spirit of brotherhood” only to be ruined by the “creation of the State of Israel.” Unsurprisingly, the Egyptian official makes no mention of the “dhimmi,” or second-class status afforded Jews (and Christians) living under Islamic rule historically. Nor does he refer to the expulsion and dispossession of Jews from Egypt after the State of Israel was established.

Clark, as well, ignores these historical facts and picks up where Al-Baz leaves off, concluding that:

The use of anti-Semitic imagery in the Egyptian media… is not based on any historical hatred of Jews as a race. It has more to do with the need to be seen supporting the Palestinians, even if only in a purely symbolic way. That means that if and when real peace comes, the Egyptian media are likely to quickly forget their anti-Semitic line.

Clark overlooks the fact that “real peace” supposedly came when Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in Washington on March 26, 1979 and the outpouring of anti-Semitism is a violation of that peace agreement. Beyond this, the anti-Semitism disseminated by state-run media and endorsed by the Egyptian government, goes way beyond criticism of Israel’s policies to include blood libels against the Jewish people, such as accusing Jews of using the blood of an Arab Palestinian youth to bake Matzas (“The Murder of Father Toma,” Al Ahram, October 28, 2000); Holocaust denial, and accusations of international Jewish conspiracies.

By dismissing harmful state-sponsored racism and incitement against the Jewish people as temporary and inconsequential, the BBC correspondent not only violates factual accuracy but encourages continuation of the dangerous prejudice.

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