I lost count of how many times during the Egyptian revolution against the Mubarak regime people here pointed out how anti-Israel sentiment was a key issue in the country, and how this was constantly played down by the BBC. I’m sure any worrying here was summarily dismissed by defenders of the indefensible as being typical nonsense from “Israel Firsters” or the inane mewlings of people who see anti-Semitism everywhere à la Jerry Seinfeld’s Uncle Leo.
I’ve also lost count of how many times the BBC has tolerated the notion that Jews anywhere in the world must suffer for their support – or even assumed association – with Israel. We often try to point out the difference between criticism of Israel and demonizing it, and the latter is a problem with BBC reporting. The BBC even censored news of what’s happened to the Jews in Malmö, Sweden, where even the mayor says that whatever happens to them is deserved if they support Israel. The BBC has still never reported any of that. They’ve censored lots of news of violence against Jews in Europe, another example being the story of how the Dutch police had to start a sting operation where cops posed undercover as orthodox Jews as a way to catch the increasing number of people attacking them.
So imagine my surprise when I saw this “From Our Own Correspondent” piece about anti-Jewish sentiment in Egypt. In fact, I was almost as surprised as the BBC’s Thomas Dinham was to see evidence of the rampant anti-Semitism there.
How I was the subject of anti-Semitic abuse in Cairo
Relations between Israel and Egypt have become increasingly strained in recent weeks, and in the Egyptian capital there is a mounting sense of tension, including incidents of anti-Semitism.
Okay, let’s ignore the nonsense about how it’s only a recent thing. Give the poor Beeboid a chance.
Suspicion is a feature of everyday life in Egypt, and a fondness for conspiracy theories is as much a part of the landscape here as the constant traffic jams and their accompanying symphony of blaring car horns.
With the democratic certainties that greeted the immediate aftermath of January’s revolution having faded, however, the climate of mistrust and unease about the hard-won gains of the revolution is becoming increasingly palpable.
As disquiet sets in, so does the fear of foul play, backroom deals and, increasingly, malign foreign influences.
Back on solid ground here. This is the normal way of things in any Arab/Muslim country, as anyone who has spent more than five minutes anywhere in the region would know. To be fair, this kind of magical thinking – believing the most outrageous, quasi-supernatural causes for anything and everything – exists in many parts of the less developed world, from Africa to Asia. So good for Dinham for using those keen journalistic instincts to notice.
Dinham begins to relate his experience of sitting at a restaurant in Cairo, and beginning to notice the suspicious stares of the Egyptian men around him. A conversation soon starts, and he discovers they think he’s an Israeli. He doesn’t take it very well.
I was shocked. In nearly six months of living in Syria, where orchestrated hysteria about Israel is integral to the very identity of the state, I had never heard the accusation surreptitiously levelled against me.
Neither am I from Israel, nor am I Jewish, but as someone of unmistakably European appearance, I have found myself constantly associated with Israel in Egyptian eyes.
Dinham seems to miss the point here. Anti-Israel sentiment is spread in many ways in Egypt, not just by the government. And here it’s time to clearly separate the notion of legitimate criticsm of Israel from demonization. Most of this is demonization, not criticism. There’s the Muslim Brotherhood for a start. In fact, half the anti-Mubarak noise we heard during the protests was about how wrong he was for making peace with Israel. Assad and the Syrian government have never had to worry about that accusation, so there’s much less reason for people in Syria to be fretting over Israel the way Egyptians do, especially now. If he thinks it’s just the government who spread this stuff, he’s seriously out of touch.
So his story continues. A few days after this, a nearby bridge collapses, making a loud noise, and immediately the locals suspect foul play. Like I said, this is to be expected from people with this magical mindset. Dinham now expects it, too. But then he tries to play it down.
Israel is just one of a panoply of worries that exercise the conspiracy theorists that frequent Egypt’s cafes.
The standard fare of political gossip tends to revolve around the trial of [former President Hosni] Mubarak, internal corruption, and the causes behind the dire economic woes Egypt is currently experiencing.
A prosecuting lawyer at Mr Mubarak’s trial even introduced the novel idea that the ex-president had died years ago, and that the man on trial was none other than an impostor.
Again, this is typical of that mindset. The more wild and supernatural the idea, the more it spreads, and the easier it is to use as an explanation for just about anything. So Dinham doesn’t quite get this, and plays down the Israel angle.
I would hazard a guess that Israel struggles to make it into the top-five political issues discussed in Egypt.
“Political issues”. The problem is that the anger towards Israel is anything but simply political. Does he not realize this?
Israel has probably been less of a concern than the rising power of Shia Iran in the region, which apparently worries many in this overwhelmingly Sunni country, partly thanks to a constant stream of stridently sectarian rhetoric broadcast from Saudi Arabia.
Sounds like somebody has spent too much time speaking with the educated elite, and not so much with regular people.
In the Byzantine politics of the region, hearing strident opposition to Israel and its greatest regional foe, from the same person, almost in the same breath, is commonplace.
Again, magical thinking, not rational. This the result not of legitimate criticism of Israel, but of a relentless campaign of demonization, where Israel is the sole instigator, genocidal, always to blame, the root cause of all ills in the region. No surprise to us, but obviously very confusing to Dinham. So he’s been shrugging it off the whole time, staying inside the elite thought bubble. Until now.
Nevertheless, a strong and sometimes violent dislike of Israel is a fact of Egyptian life, something I was unfortunate enough to discover after a cross-border raid by Israel killed several Egyptian security personnel.
The Israelis had been chasing a group of gunmen who had attacked an Israeli bus close to the border between the two countries.
He’s not blaming Israel for starting it, for a change. He’s just saying the event was a catalyst for what was to come, which is probably correct.
While walking in the street someone pushed me from behind with such force that I nearly fell over.
Turning around, I found myself surrounded by five men, one of whom tried to punch me in the face.
Fortunately, Dinham had an intelligent response:
I stopped the attack by pointing out how shameful it was for a Muslim to assault a guest in his country, especially during Ramadan.
I applaud this. It makes a wonderful counterpoint to what I heard on the BBC News Channel back when Muslims in
Paksitan Afghanistan started killing people out of anger against the idea that Pastor Jones in Florida was thinking about burning a Koran. At the time, Huw Edwards was speaking with some MCB mouthpiece about the incident, and expressed his concern that the response from the Muslims was less “nuanced” than some would like. The MCB guy said the violence was perfectly understandable because it was the end of Ramadan, and as people had spent the last month deep in prayer and spiritual contemplation that it was only natural that they’d want to kill. I’m not making that up, and we’ve heard that excuse a lot. So it’s nice to see a BBC journalist stating that violence in Ramadan is not acceptable. In any case, Dinham’s enlightenment continues:
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.”
Too bad his colleagues aren’t equally appalled when this happens all over Europe.
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.
Congratulations, Thomas Dinham. Welcome to the real world. We’ve only been saying this for years, while the BBC has tolerated it, played it down, and swept it under the rug. Let this be a lesson to all Beeboids. Jews everywhere are expected to suffer because of Israel, and the demonization of Israel is a direct cause of anti-Semitism and violence against Jews worldwide. Not criticism of Israel, mind, but demonization. There’s a difference.
It’s time the BBC was honest about it.