Jews Protest Arab TV Drama
By Roya Aziz, December 2, 2002 08:01 PM
at City's Egyptian Consulate
SAN FRANCISCO -- Jewish demonstrators protested outside the doors of the Egyptian consulate here this evening to demand an end to a controversial Arab television series airing in that country.
The 100 protestors called the 41-episode series, "Horseman Without a Horse," anti-Semitic and "blood libel."
The Egyptian soap opera concerns the decades-long British occupation of Egypt and alludes to the controversial "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," a century-old Russian document containing minutes of alleged secret meetings by Jewish leaders who conspire to control the world.
Scholars believe the document to be a fake, forged by the Czar in Russia to spread anti-Semitic propaganda in the late 19th century.
Many of the protestors interviewed outside the Pacific Avenue consulate today, including organizers with the Jewish Community Relations Committee, said that they not seen episodes of the series nor read the show's script.
Holding a sign that said "Egypt TV Sponsors Hate," Carol Russell, 58, said she considers "Horseman Without a Horse" state-sponsored anti-Semitism.
"It's a terrible batch of lies," she said about the "Protocols." "The show stirs up feelings of hatred. They have revived that terrible blood libel."
Henda Lea, a Hayward resident, said the show is an example of attempts by Arab leaders to divert people's attention away from domestic problems and grievances about their own governments.
"Before they said it was about Israel and Zionism, but now it's about the Jews, period," Lea, 57, said. "And when you're talking about anti-Semitism, you're endangering my grandchildren, my children and me."
The show has spurred debate in the Middle East and Arab press, and friction between the U.S. and Egypt. The U.S. State Department has criticized President Hosni Mubarak for allowing the show to air on the state-controlled station. The Egyptian government controls all the nation's broadcasts.
State Department spokesperson Philip T. Reeker said last week that the show undermines Egypt's role as a peace partner in the Middle East conflict.
"We have conveyed our deep disappointment and serious concern to the Egyptian government and we will continue to do so," Reeker said in a Nov. 27 press briefing.
Reeker did not specify during that briefing whether there is a link between the show and reduced U.S. aid to Egypt, currently tied to aid to Israel as part of a 1979 peace accord. Both countries receive nearly $3 billion annually in U.S. assistance.
Today's protest mirrors similar actions that have occurred outside Egypt's embassy in Washington D.C. Jewish rights groups organized two protests, once before and once after the show began airing Nov. 6, at the start date of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Apparently in response to the pressure, the Egyptian government has since provided a disclaimer midway through the program, reading "the series is not out to prove the authenticity of the so-called Protocols of Zion," according to Al-Ahram, Egypt's establishment paper.
The San Francisco protest began with peace songs and the lighting of the fourth candle marking the eight days of Hanukkah. Speakers included Gina Waldman, who said she was a Jewish refugee from Libya.
During her speech, she faced the consulate and said "shame on you," in Arabic, and a few members of the crowd echoed her sentiment, saying "go to hell."
Other speakers said the Egyptian government has defended the series on grounds of freedom of speech, yet jails human rights activists and others critical of the Mubarak government.
The protest was organized in part to urge consulate representatives to meet with local Jewish leaders, according to Abby Michelson-Porth, assistant director of the Jewish Community Relations Committee.
Michelson-Porth said the group sent a letter to the Egyptian consuls but has received no response. The letter, dated Nov. 1, urged the Egyptian government to overturn its decision to air the show.
Near the protest's end, an organizer rang the consulate's door to present an enlarged version of the letter addressed to the Consul General of Egypt, Afaf Elmazariki.
Protestors cheered when a man inside quickly opened the white iron gate door to receive the letter, which states that the show is "nothing more than incitement against Jews."
A spokesperson for the consulate echoed statements made by Egypt's Ministry of Information, which has said that the government does not consider the show to be anti-Semitic.
"Egypt respects freedom of creativity and of course we have respect for all religions," said Ahmed Sharaf.
According to plot summaries published by a web site, cairolive.com, the show so far only includes only a few scenes dedicated to the "Protocols."
The show's co-writer and star, Egyptian actor Mohamed Sobhi, does not deny that the Protocols are forged, according to Arab media reports. In the show, Sobhi's character discovers that while he has been fighting occupation, the British have given Palestine to the Zionists, who he thinks are his real enemies.