Last month President Obama noted, as he does with all major religious events, the start of the Muslim holy month Ramadan and commemorated the holiday by calling it a time to “cherish family, friends, and neighbors, and to help those in need.” That was an appropriate statement but in much of the Islamic world, it also appears to be a time to indulge in Jew hatred. While holiday specials in the United States are noted for their saccharine tone, Ramadan specials appeal to a very different sort of sentiment. As the Anti-Defamation League noted on Thursday, the 30 days of fasting and prayer has been marked in a number of Muslim countries with special television programs that are rife with anti-Semitism and intended to foment hatred of Jews and Israel.
The significant factor about these shows is not just that they are drenched in the traditional tropes of anti-Semitism in which Jews are portrayed as cheap as well as cheats and villainous victimizers of Muslims. It is that these programs are clearly crafted to appeal to a popular audience throughout the Middle East. While they can be rightly accused of promoting hatred at the same time they must also be understood as a reflection of the attitudes prevalent in Muslim societies. The producers of these shows are guilty of pandering to the deeply ingrained prejudices of the Islamic world as much as they are feeding them. That some of these shows like the Egyptian “Firqat Naji Attalha” are comedies in which the bias against Jews is merely the backdrop for humor tells us more about popular opinion in these countries than anything else. According to the MBC network, which is broadcasting the show throughout the Middle East, “Firqat Naji Attalha” gives audiences “the sweetest jokes about the ‘cheap Jew.’”
The Egyptian comedy portrays the exploits of an attaché at the country’s Israeli embassy that performs acts of sabotage in Israel including robbing a bank disguised as an ultra-Orthodox Jew. The show includes lots of references to negative Jewish stereotypes and celebrates terrorist attacks on Israel.
Other Ramadan television highlights are less funny but not less disturbing. “Ashar il Sabt” runs twice a week in Egypt and features an Egyptian professor who pretends to be an expert on Hebrew literature and discusses anti-Semitic libels such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as part of an effort to trash Judaism.
Another Ramadan favorite is the Egyptian version of the old American standard “Candid Camera.” As we previously noted in Contentions, one episode centered on tricking Egyptian celebrities into thinking they were appearing with Jews on Israeli television which sent the victims in paroxysms of rage and violence, salted with anti-Semitic invective.
Also playing on Arab television screens this month is a production of the popular Al Manar channel run by Hezbollah. Their contribution for the holiday is a series called “Al Ghalibun” that predictably depicts Israelis as cruel invaders of Lebanon while treating anti-Israel terrorism as laudable.
As the ADL reports, this isn’t the first time Ramadan has been used by Arab and Islamic television to promote hatred of Jews. Both Egyptian television and Al Manar have run blatantly anti-Semitic shows in the past. Indeed, the entertainment industry in the region appears to believe such shows are exactly what their audiences want most during the holiday.
Those who believe such attitudes are caused by West Bank settlements or the refusal of Israel to make enough concessions to the Palestinians need to understand that the hatred of Jews is not so much a function of politics but of culture. Until there is a sea change within the Muslim world in which this kind of hatred is not only no longer popular but rejected by mainstream opinion, Middle East peace is just a dream.