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April 23, 2003

Harbingers of Change in the Antisemitic Discourse in the Arab World

Yigal Carmon, President of MEMRI,is very detailed in his analysis of this topic and reaches the following conclusion.


Over the last two years, there has been a change in the attitude of some shapers of Arab public opinion towards antisemitic 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 U.S., in the media, government, and Congress, induces shapers of Arab public opinion to back down from their antisemitic stances – or at least to refrain from making antisemitic statements.

It also appears that the increase in antisemitic 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 antisemitic statements. Some have expressed total objection to antisemitic ideas, explaining that they are based on false accusations of the Jews. Others reject antisemitic propaganda out of practical considerations, realizing that being perceived as antisemitic and, even more, as propagating antisemitism 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 antisemitism in the Arab world is still relatively small, and most are unwilling to rethink and reject Arab antisemitism.

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.(29) When that issue of the paper was distributed in France, the French Jewish organization LICRA(30) read a translation of the article and subsequently filed a complaint, which led to a criminal investigation of Nafi' for incitement to antisemitism.

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.