Israel Protests Airing of Anti-Semitic Egyptian Television Series

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - A special Egyptian television series represents only the "tip of the anti-Semitic media iceberg" and violates the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, Israeli officials are saying.

The series "Fares Bila Jawad" ("Knight Without a Horse") is based on a fabricated book ("The Protocols of the Elders of Zion") about an alleged Jewish plot to take over the world.

It is due to air on the Dream Channel, a private satellite television station owned by an Egyptian businessman, during the upcoming Muslim holy month of Ramadan in November.

Egyptian authorities claim they cannot prevent the 30-part "comedy" series from being broadcast because it is a matter of freedom of expression.

But Israeli officials charge that even the privately-owned and produced media is controlled by the government authorities.

The Ministry of Information, headed by Minister Safwat a-Sharif, is responsible for deciding if the program will be aired, an Israeli diplomat said. A-Sharif is close to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Before any production can begin the script must be approved by a censor from the Ministry of Information and after the program is produced it must be approved by another censor from the Ministry of Culture, said the diplomat who asked not to be named.

The program was produced in the equivalent of Egypt's Hollywood, a city called October 6 - named for the day the Yom Kippur War with Israel began in 1973, which the Egyptians consider to be a victory for them. Films and programs produced in the city are controlled by the government, the diplomat added.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior earlier expressed his regrets over the Egyptian decision to allow the program to be screened.

"Unfortunately, we are not speaking about a single event but rather the tip of a huge iceberg of anti-Semitism in the media," Melchior said in a statement.

"This is not the way to educate the next generation," he said.

Egyptian newspapers, which are controlled by the government, regularly print anti-Semitic and anti-Israel cartoons and editorials.

Melchior said he hoped that the Egyptian authorities would not allow the series to be screened since in his opinion it would severely harm cooperation in the Middle East.

The Israeli diplomat also noted that the production is in contravention of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace accord, which calls on both sides to prevent incitement against each other. Egypt was the first Arab nation to sign a full peace treaty with Israel.

Anti-Defamation League spokeswoman in Jerusalem Laura Kam-Issacharoff said that nothing is produced in Egypt without the approval of government censors.

"For anybody to imply that this is freedom [of expression] is totally disingenuous," Kam-Issacharoff said.

"The government may say it is freedom of artistic expression, but the government approved the script [and production] every step of the way," she added.

According to a translation of an article about the upcoming program in an Egyptian weekly ("Mussawar"), the series examines the Zionist ideas starting in the 1900s and the relationship Arabs had to what it called the "new" idea of Zionism and its connection to British, French and Turkish imperialism in the region.

"Zion" is a biblical term relating to the Land of Israel, which was later applied to the millenniums-old desire of the Jewish people to return to the holy land.

The program also examines the "centrality of Jerusalem in the eyes of the Arabs," the weekly said.

Main actor and co-writer of the series Mohammed Subhi Saher is widely known for his programs with anti-Israel themes, the paper said.

Subhi was quoted as saying that he had read "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" from an early age and was amazed at the broad conspiracy of evil revealed in the protocols. The book is readily available in Egyptian bookstores.

"Mussawar" refers to an earlier program in which Subhi participated. In it, Egyptian citizens lose their way while riding on a bus to Sharm e-Sheikh -- the site of many Israeli-Arab peace negotiations. A traitor on the bus -- who favored normalization of relations with Israel -- was responsible for the travelers losing their way.

The travelers had to decide if they take refuge from the extreme heat and cold of the desert in the bus on the border of Israel, thereby subjecting themselves to humiliation and shame; or if they would die rather than have a relationship with Israel. They chose the latter course, to preserve Egyptian honor.

Qatari newspapers were quoted as describing the current series as patriotic and not anti-Semitic or hostile. But, they said, it revealed the Jewish conspiracy to steal Palestine.

Israel lodged a complaint with the United Nations last year over a program aired on Abu Dhabi television during Ramadan. Dubbed a political satire, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was portrayed in that series offering a toast of the blood of Arab children together with a grotesque-looking Orthodox Jew.

In another scene, Sharon was said to be preparing to bottle a new cold drink made from the blood of Arab children.

According the Israeli diplomat, Abu Dhabi has expressed interest in broadcasting this year's program. The producers are also trying to persuade the Egyptian government to air the series on state television.