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Harbingers of Change in the Anti-Semitic Discourse in the Arab World

by Yigul Carmon

A NOTE: This illuminating research is the epitome of professionalism and honesty. It was written by Yigul Carmon, the founding father and president of MEMRI. His conclusion is that there is a little light at the end of the Arabic tunnel of hate to Jews, hate to Israelis, perhaps a process of erosion in their dream to destroy Israel, "the Zionist entity."

In the past, manifestations of anti-Semitism in the Arab world aroused no domestic criticism to speak of. Moreover, Western criticism of anti-Semitism only increased anti-Semitic statements in the Arab press, and sparked no rethinking. For example, the February 1998 conviction of French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy and the March 2000 conviction of British Holocaust denier David Irving enraged the Arab world and brought about increased Holocaust denial in the Arab world, along with greater insistence that Jews had cast their hegemony on the entire world.

In the past two years, however, the Arab media has reflected significant criticism of, and reservations regarding, manifestations of anti-Semitism in the Arab world. The following are noteworthy examples of this kind of reaction in the Arab media, and a discussion of their causes and characteristics.


Over the last two years, there has been a change in the attitude of some shapers of Arab public opinion towards anti-Semitic statements. This change may reflect the impact of translating material from the Arab media into Western languages. This exposure of the material in the Western media, and the resulting criticism in the West, particularly the US., in the media, government, and Congress, induces shapers of Arab public opinion to back down from their anti-Semitic stances or at least to refrain from making anti-Semitic statements.

It also appears that the increase in anti-Semitic propaganda in the Arab media since the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada two and a half years ago has led some Arab intellectuals to rethink the matter and reject anti-Semitic statements. Some have expressed total objection to anti-Semitic ideas, explaining that they are based on false accusations of the Jews. Others reject anti-Semitic propaganda out of practical considerations, realizing that being perceived as anti-Semitic and, even more, as propagating anti-Semitism harms both the Arab image and Arab chances of gaining positive international public opinion.

It is still too early to say whether this is an ongoing and consistent trend among some Arab intellectuals or merely passing statements, and whether these critical stances will change the nature of the anti-Jewish discourse in the Arab world. However, the number of those criticizing anti-Semitism in the Arab world is still relatively small, and most are unwilling to rethink and reject Arab anti-Semitism.

The most significant example of such entrenchment is that of the editor of the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, Ibrahim Nafi', who published a blood libel in his newspaper. When that issue of the paper was distributed in France, the French Jewish organization LICRA read a translation of the article and subsequently filed a complaint, which led to a criminal investigation of Nafi' for incitement to anti-Semitism.

When Nafi' launched a campaign in support of his right to publish such material, Arab and European intellectuals rushed to his aid. Since the August 2002 announcement that Nafi' was to be subpoenaed in Paris, his newspaper, Al-Ahram, has been inundated with declarations of support from Egyptian and Arab public figures and organizations. Various organizations such as the Arab Lawyers' Association in Britain have expressed willingness to help with his legal defense, while clerics, politicians, diplomats, newspaper editors, journalists, jurists, intellectuals, businessmen, financiers, and many Arab organizations published statements of solidarity.

Among these are (according to Arab media sources): top clerics such as the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Muhammed Sayyed Tantawi and Egyptian Coptic Patriarchal Aide Father Yohanna Qalta; politicians and representatives such as Egyptian State Council Chairman Abd Al-Rahman Azouz, Chairman of the Egyptian People's Assembly Ahmad Fathi Sroor, Chairman of the Egyptian Shura Council Mustafa Kamal Hilmi, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, and Jordanian Ambassador to Cairo Hani Al-Mullqi; jurists such as the attorney for French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy Dr. "Ali Al-Ghatit and Arab Lawyers Association Chairman Sameh "Ashur; journalists such as editors of the Egyptian opposition papers Al-Wafd, Al-Ahali, Al-Midan, Al-Usbu, Al-Arabi and Al-Zaman and the Palestinian Journalists Association; businessmen and financiers such as the chairman of the Union of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture in the Arab Countries Khaled Abu Isma'il, Egyptian Businessmen's Association Chairman Jamal Al-Nader, and Egyptian Bankers Union chairman Bahaa Al-Din Hilmi; Arab organizations and associations and their members such as Arab Pharmaceutical Industries Association, Egyptian Physicians' Association Chairman Dr. Hamdi A1-Sayyid, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, and Arab Artists' Association Chairman Dr. Fawzi Fahmi; and foreign functionaries and organizations such as Union of Journalists in Finland President Tekka Lame, French international law professors and lawyers [no details mentioned] and Rabbi Yaakov Koenig, leader of the world Jewish group Neturei Karta.

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