Friday, August 13, 2010

See? No Antisemitism!

A few weeks ago I had a fascinating discussion with a young German historian from Berlin, who studies antisemitism in the Arab world. As a mark of his seriousness, he speaks Arabic, mostly Egyptian Arabic, and has spent lots of time in Cairo. As he sees it, hatred of Jews in Egypt is all-pervasive, very extreme, and worthy of comparison to Nazi Germany. Interestingly, however, he noted that many of the Germans who live in Cairo - German teachers, journalists, those sort of people - don't see it. When he points it out to them, they still can't see it.

He was troubled by the extent of the hate, and puzzled by the ability of Germans (Germans!) to be totally oblivious to it.

There are no Jews in Egypt, by the way, nor have there ever been large numbers of them since Hellenic times. So it's safe to say that effectively 100% of Egyptians have never met a Jew, nor have their forebears dozens of generations back. At least Poles who hate Jews can lean on the memories of their grandparents; not so the Egyptians.

Lest you think it's only silly Germans who can't see the elephant in the room, however, it occurs to me that Richard Cohen's criticism of The Economist (linked yesterday) was overly gentle. A few weeks back The Economist had a full-blown, ten-chapter special report on Egypt. Probably 20-30,000 words, I'd say, some of them quite interesting, some mildly aggravating. In the entire report the word antisemitism doesn't appear one single time. Nor is it hinted at in any way. Islamism does get one of the ten chapters, but is described as a spent force, and anyway there's no discussion of its content.

Des this mean The Economist are themselves antisemitic? No. But it does prove they're fools.


Yitzchak Goodman said...

There are no Jews in Egypt, by the way, nor have there ever been large numbers of them since Hellenic times.

I would qualify this a little bit. The pre-1948 non-large number was, as you well know, a good deal larger than the present non-large number.

NormanF said...

The Egyptians hate the Jews even no Jews live among them!

This an issue that merits its own discussion. Yes, its possible to hate a Jew even if you have never met one.

Anonymous said...

Oops! 75,000 Jews pre-1948. In the 13th century, Fostat (Cairo) was the place - that's where Rambam was. Cairo Geniza - there had to be at least a couple of Jews around to leave all those papers behind. But, never mind.

I am reading Nonie Darwash's memoir and she constantly talks about how the schools and the press indoctrinated everyone to hate Jews, Zionists and Israel.

Also, I just finished Paul Berman's book "Flight of the Intellectuals" He spends a good amount of time talking about the efforts of the Nazis to recruit the Arabs to their cause using anti-Semitism. He also talks about the broadcasts of the Mufti during the war documented in Jeff Herf's recent book.

It takes a long time to undo ingrained hatreds. Have a good shabbat.


Silke, how is that Nuland book?

Anonymous said...

and that despite the pieces every now and then in German which tell me that Mein Kampf et al is on sale there, which is remarkable if it should be true that the number of books being translated into Arabic is world-record or near to world-record low. So my explanation is they don't register it due to their version of racism which goes by the popular saying that they "only want to play".

Also for what it's worth I am getting told that we had an uptick in anti-semitism after unification via our East-German-countrymen who had met even less Jews personally as most of us in the western part.

These days the most vocal Anti-Israel party is Die Linke which grew out of the at first almost exclusively east-German PDS which was a successor of the East-German state party SED. Our MPs who were on the Marmara albeit locked into the women's deck are from Die Linke and are now touring the country telling people how terrible the IDF treated them. The monster obviously doesn't need any real life experience to thrive, evil fairy tales suffice.

Die Linke are present in Israel via the Rosa-Luxemburg-Foundation which lists these Israeli groups as their partners, none of which seems to be listed at NGO-Monitor.


Anonymous said...


the Nuland/Maimonides book arrived only a few days ago and will be tackled as night reading next - a first peek convinced me that you advised me well - I'll report on the experience.

In the meantime I make a nuisance of myself wherever I find eulogies to Cordoba as exemplary by pointing out that it can't have been all that great when Maimonides had to leave which seems to me to prove what I learned from John Julius Norwich i.e. that there were three very distinct types of regimes in Andalusia of which only the first has a claim to being praiseworthy by the standards of the time.

As a whole I am still mystified why we get told so little about the other paths through which the renaissance acquired knowledge of the ancient texts, the biggest silence being on what must have been a considerable chunk that came from Byzantium via Mistra or Mystras and which is likely not to have needed any translation at all. (It seems Edward Gibbon is to blame but still it remains baffling.)


Anonymous said...

Here's btw my latest info-bit on how the Imam of the Cordoba mosque honours the Cordoba-tradition-myth by "our" Yitzchak Goodman.


bataween said...

Interesting post, thanks Yaacov. Technically speaking there are only some 30 Jews still living in Egypt, almost all old ladies married to Muslims or Christians. The self-proclaimed community leader converted to Islam.
It might interest you to learn that the lady who administers the affairs of the community, Carmen Weinstein, has just been indicted for fraud and has 'gone to ground' pending her appeal. We don't know if Ms Weinstein was framed and this is the latest manifestation of Egyptian antisemitism, or if there is any truth to the allegation, but the Israeli ambassador to Egypt spoke out against a possible popular backlash (he now says he said no such thing) and the situation is extremely worrying.

Anonymous said...

Anthony Julius discusses how anti-semitism survived in English literary works during the period of expulsion, ie. about 400 years.

Trials of the Diaspora p.153


bataween said...

I've put in a link to your story here:

Anonymous said...

since you have just read Berman's book you may want to listen to "eminent" scholar Tariq Ramadan himself
giving a lecture at the London School of Economics (he sounds vacuous to me)
and here is a book talk in which there is a lot to learn about his father

Berman writing about Kouchner btw first told me as to the NGOs being on a path to exaggeration. It was on the TNR's website but isn't there any longer at least not for non-subscribers.

Anonymous said...

according to Christopher Hitchens in The Atlantic Julius got it all wrong ;-(


Anonymous said...

and last but not least I've remembered that I read a page-turner in which the Mufti featured prominently
The author Nebenzal is Hollywood aristocracy and son of a father who was German movie aristocracy. It is a harrowing read and as far as I can tell he got the history right - a pity that the movie he saw coming as he told on German radio hasn't been made (yet?)


Empress Trudy said...

Generally, there are zero Arabs who can claim that they know someone who knows someone who knows someone who's ever seen a Jew. That by itself is the best definition of the purest most insane form of antisemitism.

Sérgio said...

"...and puzzled by the ability of Germans (Germans!) to be totally oblivious to it."


I am puzzled by this guy´s puzzlement. Immediately after the begining of the cold war, when denazification was softened, forgetting the recent past was widespread in Germany. At least that´s what I get from Wildt´s book. The no. of nazis that led a "respectable" life after the war, not just party members, but those directly implicated in war crimes, is shocking. Primo Levi mentions something about german oblivion...

Anonymous said...

It is much easier to hate caricatures than it is to hate real people.

It is possible to hate real people, but the Jews that the Arab world hate are in fact the malicious inventions of decades of propaganda.

Unfortunately, the Jews whom they murder are real.


Anonymous said...

A fascinating book to read on the subject of Jews in Egypt is a book called The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, written by a Jewish New York Times reporter (Lucette Lagnado) about her father's life in Cairo in the 1920s through the 1940s, when the city was tolerant and cosmopolitan. He was a man about town there.

The book also deals with the growing intolerance of Jews and her family's eventual deportation toward the end of the 1950s. Well written, a fascinating read.

Here is the link to Amazon:

Anonymous said...

the table of contents at doesn't mention the 1920's at all - the main action seems to be in 1943.


Anonymous said...

I am currently reading "Cairo to Damascus":

It is chock full of disgusting Egyptian antisemitism. Written in 1950 by an American-Armenian gentleman. Absolutely stunning hatred.

Here it is on Google Books for free:

By the way, I found this book via the Elder of Zion. He recommended several weeks ago.


Anonymous said...

Hello Asaf

here is the book in nice printable shape for those who don't want to wait for amazon.

Until now I've only read including Chapter II but it sure looks like "good" stuff. (got it from the same source;-)

at it is compared to the US ridiculously expensive while very cheap at


An (American) Jew in Egypt said...

"nor have there ever been large numbers of them since Hellenic times"

I guess someone has never heard of the Cairo Geniza...

As for Egyptians having not met Jews, this is simply rubbish. Many of the older Egyptians remember "their" Jews quite fondly. Jews are remembered along with the Italians, Greeks, and Armenians (mostly all gone) as representing the cosmopolitan Mediterranean life of urban Egypt that pervaded until the Free Officers' "Revolution" in 1952.

Notable Egyptian Jews that Egyptians all love and acknowledge their Jewishness: Layla Murad (, Mrs Butros-Ghali (born Leia Nadler - yes, Ashkenazic!), and Omar Sharif (never actually Jewish...but every Egyptian on the street will swear to it).

Last but not least, the classic Egyptian films "Fatma, Marika, and Rachel" (1949) and "Hasan, Marcus, and Cohen" (1954) - by their titles alone show that Egyptians viewed Jews, along with Muslims and Copts, as part of Egypt. With Nasser that would change, and it is no surprise that the latter film was just remade as "Hasan and Marcus" - with a friendly nostalgic reference made to a missing Cohen.

But I mean, they're Arabs...they can't possibly like Jews or remember them fondly? Oh you mean they are people too and the truth is much more complicated than העולם כולו נגדנו... Shocking.

Anonymous said...

are you trying to tell me that Egyptians beat Germans in the competition of who is best at remembering Jews?


Anonymous said...

Speaking of Egyptian films there was a Jewish movie actress in the 50's whose film name was Mona Fuad (real name Feldstein!).

Philo-Semite said...

Silke wrote: "In the meantime I make a nuisance of myself wherever I find eulogies to Cordoba as exemplary by pointing out that it can't have been all that great when Maimonides had to leave which seems to me to prove what I learned from John Julius Norwich i.e. that there were three very distinct types of regimes in Andalusia of which only the first has a claim to being praiseworthy by the standards of the time."

Silke, the situation of the Jews (and others) under Islam has always been the precarious one of the dhimmi.

Read The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise.

Philo-Semite said...

American Jew in Egypt, you're a bit dense, aren't you?

What good did "fond memories" ever do the million Jews of the Sephardic nakba?

Anonymous said...

ANTISEMITISM or mere Free Speech?

This well known offensive regular columnist in the British Spectator published this very same article in the SPECTATOR. The Spectator Website in London has not yet seen fit to publish. BUT my British friends tell me that it is indeed on the latest paper edition of the important weekly.

Barry Meislin said...

There are no Jews in Egypt,
by the way,

True, basically, but only since 1948-9 and especially since the Lavon affair and the Sinai campaign (with certain exceptions, as noted above).

nor have there ever been large numbers of them since Hellenic times.

This is an "unfortunate" statement, which should be revised (as noted above). (Though I suppose one has to define what one means exactly by "large numbers".)

One of the severe problems of Egypt (but not only Egypt) is how it relates to non-Muslims. In spite of its traditional delusions of grandeur, it is an impoverished country in more ways than one (forget about the Jews---OK, we can't---but just ask the Copts) and has no signs of being able to extricate itself from the morass.

And yet, and yet, the people are friendly and hospitable....

bataween said...

Strictly speaking, Yaacov is not wrong to say that the modern community (about 80,000) was never as large as the ancient - more than 120,000 Jews according to Josephus.
Much of the modern community came from other parts of the Ottoman empire at the end of the 19th c to share in the prosperity following the opening of the Suez Canal.
I don't agree that Egyptian Jews in the limelight 'all love and acknowledge their Jewishness': you will find almost all found their Judaism an embarrassment and converted to Islam. Leyla Murad became a recluse after 1948 and constant efforts to brand her as a Zionist agent.
Even your 'honorary Jew' Omar Sharif (a Lebanese Christian) had no choice but to convert to Islam in order to be accepted.

Anonymous said...


I looked at your link and even though the text smells of all or nothing I've printed it i.e. I read it.

Life under dictators is always precarious and to the best of my knowledge, dictators were the fashion of the time, that's why I qualified "BY THE STANDARDS OF THE TIME".

Shall I tell you what by certain standards at certain times women were/are considered to be? Still I'd make a difference between times and places with more or less wiggle room.


Anonymous said...

Khaled abu Toameh on more double standards:
It's so bad even some Palestinian journalists are getting fed up.


Anonymous said...

I think Hitchens is trying too hard to fit everything into his anti-religious paradigm. Like many leftists and former leftists he still sees only the anti-Semitism of the right as dangerous. The Left has always been infected by anti-Semitism, including conspiracy theories about capitalist Jews and the anti-Semitism rampant in the Soviet Union.

His bringing up the subject of the Phalangists Nationalist Socialism past is interesting. Are Jews supposed to remain weak and morally pure? As for the large Israeli protest, the possible turning of a blind eye by some in the Israeli government was rightly the concern of Israeli voters. Surely the actual murders should have been the primary focus of all third parties? But then someone might ask about the lack of interest in previous cases where the two sides had whacked each other.

Btw, Julius makes Balfour sound like a much more complex case than Hitchens suggests. I haven't read enough about him to make any sort of judgement.

I might have more to say after I re-read some parts of Julius. I think there might be a discussion to be had over the need to investigate ‘mild’ anti-Semitism.


Anonymous said...

An (American) -

"Omar Sharif (never actually Jewish...but every Egyptian on the street will swear to it)."

According to Nonie Darwash, he and his movies were boycotted in Egypt after he portrayed Nick Arnstein opposite Barbra Streisand in "Funny Girl." He portrayed a Jew and kissed a Jewish actress potraying a Jew.


Yaacov said...

Hi Folks,

Thanks for focusing my attention on the Cairo Geniza and tens of thousands of Egyptian Jews, but I stand by my original statement. In 1940 there were about 18,000,000 Jews in the world, perhaps 0.4% of them in Egypt. A few years later their proportion was still less than 1%. The two significant Jewish communities of Egypt together were about the size of one mid-sized Polish community. At any moment in the past 5,000 years (or more?) a large majority of Egyptians lived (and still live) outside the two large cities; unlike, say, Germany, where there were tiny Jewish communities in every village, the Egyptian villages generally had no Jews, so the villagers never met them.

I had no intention of denigrating Egyptian Jewry, nor of pretending the Geniza wasn't important - of course it was. Yet the Geniza attests to longevity of the Jewish community in Egypt, not it's size.

Anonymous said...


when some years ago I felt the need to finetune where I am on religion I faithfully listened to all the prominent atheists (Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and last Hitchens) and found all of them wanting i.e. they bore me pretty soon (possibly with the exception of Dennett) while presumably pious believers like Paula Fredriksen and Rudolf Lill made a lot of sense to me and even though they may say things I knee-jerk oppose I still find them worth listening to.
as to Hitchens and all these British professors who preach atheism I suspect them of not being able to live without a doctrine/an ism i.e. there is a hole that Marxist or whatever theory has left that needs filling. I guess once you had an explain all no matter how mind-boggling at your fingertips it is hard to live without.
IMHO Hitchens is good at writing pithy sentences but I've decided a long time ago that he is too lightweight i.e. too little without doubt about himself for me to trust him with shaping my opinions.


Anonymous said...

just to support Yaacov's claim on remote German villages:

even when it wasn't beautified as it now seems to be it was quite an impressive building compared to what's common in the area (castles exempted)
(the area is not very supportive to successful farming and long after the war the village streets looked downright poor - it is close to from where most Hessians were sold into the US war of liberation)

to add a little local colour to it:
in about 2002 I had a clash with a local luminary (a successful craftsman's wife) that went like this:

she: you have no idea how bad the Jewish lifestock traders treated the peasants/farmers around here ...

I: yes but what special to Jews about it? think of all those insurance salesmen who stole East Germans blind?

she: Oh they only wanted to make a living


Victor said...

Interesting factoid. As most of the Jewish Egyptian community pre-1948 was well to do, if not wealthy, many of its members never knew the heat of a Middle Eastern summer.

Abba Eban's wife was of Egyptian Jewry, and the first time she encountered serious summer heat was in her 20s, after the young Eban was tasked to liaison with the Hagganah for the development of a Jewish battalion in Palestine in preparation for a possible German breakthrough to the Levant.

In the first half of the 20th century, Egyptian Jews, as most of Egypt's middle upper class and up, would leave the country in early June for cooler summer retreats in Western and Central Europe and not return until September.