The editor of the largest Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, Ibrahim Nafi', who is also chairman of the Association of Arab Journalists, was subpoenaed by French legal authorities in Paris for incitement to antisemitism and racist violence. The subpoena came nearly two years after Al-Ahram published, an article on October 10, 2000, titled "Jewish Matzah is Made of Arab Blood," by journalist 'Adel Hamooda. The article was based on the 1840 Damascus blood libel in which the Damascus Jewish community was accused of murdering a priest and his assistant to obtain their blood for making Passover matzos.
Because French law prohibits incitement to hatred and antisemitism, French authorities decided to investigate the affair when they found that 1,100 copies of the Al-Ahram issue with Hamooda's article had been distributed in France. The complaint was filed by the Ligue Internationale Contre le Racisme et L'antisémitisme (LICRA). In 2000, French authorities asserted jurisdiction in an incitement case involving another foreign-based organization, the Internet portal Yahoo!. A French judge then ruled that U.S. based Yahoo! must make it impossible for French users to access sites auctioning race hate memorabilia. Yahoo! eventually banned the offending auctions from its sites. In February 1998, the Holocaust denier French Muslim intellectual Roger Garaudy was convicted of making racist statements and fined $20,000. In June 2001, French journalist and radio host Daniel Mermet was tried by the Paris Correctional Tribunal after a lawsuit was launched against him for broadcasting antisemitic remarks in programs regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. Mermet was acquitted because his attorney convinced the court that the remarks were critical of Israeli policy and that there was not necessarily a connection with antisemitism.
Nafi''s attorneys asked the French court to postpone the hearing, set for August 9, 2002, and to authorize the Egyptian legal system to conduct the investigation; the request was based on an Egyptian-French agreement signed in March 1982. The requests were answered, and it was decided that due to Nafi''s health, the hearing would be held in Cairo before a French judge.
Arab Public Opinion Rejects the Subpoena
Nafi''s subpoena was described by the Arab media as "intellectual terrorism," "a blow to freedom of expression," "a Zionist attack on the Egyptian press," "extortion by the Zionist lobby in France," and even "an insult to the entire Arab press," as Nafi' is its senior representative. The Arab press accused the Zionist lobby of attempting to "silence [the Arabs] and prevent revelations of [Israel's] racist and terrorist actions against the Palestinian people." The Arab media also claimed that Arabs could not possibly be accused of antisemitism since they themselves are Semites; instead, they accused Jews of attempting to monopolize the term "Semite." In the same vein, Jews were accused of "brandishing the sword of antisemitism" against anyone opposed to Israel and Zionism. Those who rushed to Nafi''s defense described him as a man who "writes in defense of national problems and pan-Arabism and the oppressed, a man distant from antisemitism and from hating Judaism as a religion but against racist Zionism and against the destruction and killing of the Palestinians." In the words of the Chairman of the Egyptian State Council, Al-Rahman 'Azouz, "the defense of the Palestinians has no antisemitic interpretation; it is a call to the world to awaken, to defend them and to remove the Zionist oppression from them."
Criticism of France was more reserved. The French lawsuit against Nafi' was presented as interference in Egypt's domestic affairs based on questionable motives, and calls were made to abolish the anti-incitement law because, as Deputy Chairman of the Egyptian State Council, Muhammad Kamal Munir, said, it had been "legislated under historical circumstances that no longer exist." Father Yuhanna Qalta, the Coptic patriarchal aid in Egypt, said that the investigation against Nafi' was "a clear injustice" because in France "many things against the religions are published. There are writers who are interested only in attacking religions. Moreover, much more is published in the U.S. and the West against the Arab nation and against our Islamic and Christian religion than here [in the Arab countries]. Before the West judges the Egyptian press and its representatives, it must judge its own press."
In all references to the affair, the Arab press presented the blood libel underpinning the subpoena as a "[true] historical event." Ahmad Dahbour, a poet and columnist for the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, said that Hamooda's article dealt with an "unforgettable incident… appearing in books and documented in protocols, pictures, confessions, and court rulings, and its essence is that some of Syria's Jews murdered the Franciscan priest Thomas and his servant…" Dahbour also stated that according to Zionism, "the mention of any sin of any Jew is a kind of antisemitism." The Egyptian-Islamist journalist Fahmi Huweidi portrayed Hamooda's article as a retelling of "the well-known story that took place in Damascus two centuries ago, when some Jewish rabbis slaughtered a Christian priest and gave a bottle with his blood to the chief rabbi so that he would use it to make matzos to be distributed to God-fearing Jews."
Arab Public Figures and Organizations Mobilize in Support of Nafi
Since the August 2002 announcement that Nafi' was to be subpoenaed in Paris, Al-Ahram has been inundated with declarations of support from Egyptian and Arab public figures and organizations. Various organizations expressed willingness to help with his legal defense, while top clerics, politicians, diplomats, newspaper editors, journalists, jurists, intellectuals, businessmen, financiers, and many Arab organizations published statements of solidarity. A partial list of the public figures and organizations can be found in the appendix of this report.
Among the reactions to the subpoena, the notion of proposing a practical approach for dealing with the "Zionist onslaught" figured prominently. Daoud Al-Shiryan, Saudi columnist for the London Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat, compared this incident with that of the March 2002 article by columnist Dr. Umayma Ahmad Al-Jalahma in the Saudi daily newspaper Al-Riyadh, which addressed "the same content" [i.e. disseminated a blood libel]. In that instance, he explains, "the matter did not reach the court, but was settled with an apology from the editor and the condemnation of the paper and the writer by the important media in the U.S." However, he says, this comparison indicates "an escalation in punishing the Arab press that is opposed to the Jews; if this time they settle for a hearing, this type of article is likely in the future to lead to the author's imprisonment, the paper's closure, and to payment of monetary compensation."
In light of this shift, says Al-Shiryan, "leaving the Al-Ahram affair without a general Arab stance and without implementing the principle of reciprocity on the Western newspapers and media that treat Arabs and Muslims with incitement, hatred, and racist language means that activities [against the Arab media] will develop further. We would not be surprised if later one of the Jewish organizations demands changes to the Koranic verses or historical scriptures, claiming [that they disseminate] racist hatred."
Among the practical ideas that recurred in the Arab public discourse was a call by Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab league, for corresponding lawsuits against Israeli clerics and politicians "who spoke blatantly about how the Arabs breed like mice and are like insects that must be destroyed." According to Egypt's State Council Vice Chairman Mahmoud Al-'Atar, there must be a call for exploiting "the media opportunity [of the lawsuit] in order to condemn the intellectual Zionist terrorism and to expose its shame to public opinion in France." International Federation of Human Rights Vice Chairman Hafez Abu Sa'ada sounded a call to organize protest demonstrations in front of the Paris courthouse, with posters bearing the names of "racist Israeli leaders" and "statements by leaders and rabbis who spoke of annihilating the Arabs and Palestinians." According to Al-Ahram columnist Salama Ahmad Salama, there must be a call for "activating the civilian Arab groups in France to defend their rights and fight these accusations in positive ways, including suing Western [French] newspapers and media that attack the Arabs and the Muslims with dozens of articles appearing in books and in the French media, all of which express contempt and hatred for the race and religion [of Islam] in accordance [with the definition] of the French law itself and behind whom stand, for the most part, Jewish writers and authors."
Nafi''s published response to the charges against him included most of the above mentioned claims. Nafi' maintained that the French investigation was part of the "periodic attacks" by the American and European Zionist lobby against Egypt, against its leaders, and against its prominent politicians and intellectuals. Headlined "The Tale of Antisemitism in the Egyptian Press," Nafi''s article states that accusing the Arab media, particularly the Egyptian media, of antisemitism and of encouraging Jew-hatred is characterized by "great foolishness and [is] no more than a blatant attempt at extortion."
First, "as Arabs we are part of the Semitic race and therefore we cannot be against ourselves. One of its groups [i.e. the Jews] cannot monopolize the Semites. This accusation could be good if it was directed at groups that do not belong to the Semitic race..."
Second, "the main part of the accusation directed at us in this matter is racism." Here he claims that racism is not the issue, explaining: "There are fixed definitions of racist acts and racist statements, which in principle are manifested in emphasizing fixed and unchangeable signs of race attributed to a particular race, such as lying, evil, thievery, vulgarity, and cowardice. If we accept this definition of racism, we find that the accusations directed at the Egyptian press with regard to antisemitism or racism are baseless, because most of what is published in it is criticism of aggressive Israeli policy against the members of the Palestinian people, and expressions of bitterness about the murder and terrorism carried out by the Israeli occupation forces. While we accept this definition of racism, we find on the other side [i.e. in Israel] dozens of statements against the Arabs – Muslims and Christians – by Israel's political and religious leaders, which are essentially one kind of display of racism."
With regard to Hamooda's controversial article in Al-Ahram, Nafi' pointed to the French source on which Hamooda had drawn: "The vast majority of the article is taken from a book by a French author, who told of historical events in Damascus in 1840 that were documented in the Shari'a courts of Aleppo, Hamat and Damascus. The French orientalist Charles Laurin copied the facts from the protocols of the Shari'a court and published them in his book, which is titled The Tale of the Murder of Father Thomas and his Servant Ibrahim Amarah. The book was translated into Arabic by Dr. Yusuf Nasrallah and was published in Cairo in 1898. The book tells of the complaint filed by the French consul in Damascus at the [Muslim] Governor's Office about the disappearance of the Christian Father Thomas after entering the Jews' neighborhood, and includes details of the investigation and the testimony of two Greeks who said that they had seen the Jewish rabbis murdering Father Thomas and taking his blood to use for making Passover matzos."
Nafi' stated, "Although ultimately the article belongs in the category of criticism of Israeli government policy towards the Palestinian people, the Jewish French Association [sic] petitioned the courts in France against Al-Ahram, claiming that the article belongs in the category of 'antisemitic actions.'" Nafi' expressed his opinion on this matter as well: "This is no more than a kind of intellectual terrorism, and an attempt to restrict the freedom of the Egyptian and Arab press, particularly because what appeared in the article… can in no way be compared to the dozens of articles and declarations commonly [issued] by Israeli officials, who revile the Arabs night and day and use facile racist descriptions in depicting them."
Also in his rebuttal, Nafi' addressed the accusations against the Egyptian media made by Israel and the Zionist lobby, and stated that what they are calling antisemitism is actually "the authors' personal views of Israeli policy and the war crimes being carried out by the Israeli occupation forces against the Palestinian people and nothing more." "Articles describing Israeli policy as Nazism and comparing Sharon to Hitler" are, he says, also criticism of Israeli policy: "We know exactly what these descriptions can represent in European thought, which remains imprisoned by the experience of Nazism," admits Nafi', "but everyone should know that we in Egypt and the Arab world are not prisoners of this experience. Nazism was a racist movement that carried out massacres against humanity, and as far as we are concerned it is no more than a racist movement that carried out abhorrent acts in Europe. Therefore, it is the right of every writer or thinker to see Sharon's policy as essentially similar to the policy of the Nazis, even if there is a difference in the number of victims. As far as the way [of thinking] is concerned, there is no great difference between Nazi ideology and the ideology of extremist Zionist groups. This is not my personal opinion, nor is it an opinion restricted to Arab writers. The late Israeli thinker [Israel] Shahak previously reached [this conclusion] in his book on Jewish fundamentalism…"
Appendix and Endnotes: A Partial List of Public Figures and Organizations Expressing Support for Ibrahim Nafi'
All names and titles are as they appear in the Arab press sources.
Clerics: Sheikh of Al-Azhar University Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi; Hamas spiritual leader Ahmad Yassin; Coptic Patriarchal Aide Father Yohanna Qalta; Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs Deputy Chairman Abd Al-Sabour Marzouq; Al-Azhar University President Ahmad Omar Hashem; former dean of Al-Azhar University's Faculty of Religious Law and Legal Studies Dr. Muhammad Ri'fat Usman.
Politicians and Representatives: Egyptian State Council Chairman Abd Al-Rahman Azouz; Chairman of the Egyptian People's Assembly Ahmad Fathi Sroor; Chairman of the Egyptian Shura Council Mustafa Kamal Hilmi; Egyptian Information Minister Safwat Al-Sharif; Secretary-General of the Arab League Amr Moussa; Arab League Palestinian Representative Muhammad Sbeih; Jordanian Ambassador to Cairo Hani Al-Mullqi; Algeria's first communications minister Muhammad Yazid; Yemen Prime Minister Abd Al-Qader Bajamel; Yemen Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi; Workers' Party Secretary General and Shura Council Secretary General Muhammad Marsey; Egyptian State Council Vice Chairman Yahyah Al-Khadari; former chairman of the Egyptian Peoples' Assembly's Committee for International Relations Dr. Muhammad Abd Al-Liya; People's Assembly Committee for Arab Affairs Vice Chairman Al-Qashef Muhammad Al-Qashef.
Jurists: Former president of the Supreme Constitutional Court Dr. Awadh Al-Mur; attorney for Roger Garaudy, Dr. 'Ali Al-Ghatit; professor of international law at Cairo University and former judge at the International Criminal Court Dr. Fuad Abd Al-Mun'im Riyad; professor of international law at Egypt's Zaqaziq University and former dean of the university's faculty of law Dr. Hazem Jum'a; professor of international law at Ein Shams University, Dr. Abd Al-Aziz Sirhan; professor of international law at Al-Azhar University, Dr. Ja'far Abd Al-Salam; professor of international law at Cairo University Dr. Salah Al-Din Amer; professor of law and political science at Suez Canal University Dr. Abdallah Hadiya; professor of criminal law at Alexandria University Dr. Suleiman Abd Al-Mun'im; professor of criminal law at Cairo University and former chairman of the Peoples' Assembly Constitutional Committee Dr. Fawziya Abd Al-Satar; Arab Lawyers Association Chairman Sameh 'Ashur; Arab Lawyers Association Secretary-General Farouq Abu Issa; dean of the Faculty of Law at Zaqaziq University and member of the Union of the Egyptian International Law Jurists Nabil Ahmad Hilmi; Egyptian Association for International Law Chairman and Alexandria University Deputy Chairman Muhammad Al-Said Al-Daqaq; professor of constitutional law and Shura Council Constitutional Committee Deputy Chairman Shawqi Al-Sayyid.
Journalists: World Journalists Organization [sic] chairman and head of the Al-Rai center for Studies and Research in Jordan Suleiman Al-Qudat; Union of Jordanian Journalists chairman Tarik Al-Mamany; former head of Cairo University's Faculty of Communications and Journalism Dr. Muhyi Al-Din Abd Al-Halim; editors of the Egyptian opposition papers Al-Wafd, Al-Ahali, Al-Midan, Al-Usbu, Al-Arabi and Al-Zaman; editor of the Jordan daily Al-Dustour and former Jordanian communications minister Mahmoud Al-Sharif; Libyan Journalists Union chairman Mahmoud Al-Bousifi; Secretary-General of the Association of Arab Journalists Salah Al-Din Al-Hafez; Association of Arab Journalists vice president and Association of Yemeni Journalists chairman Mahboub 'Ali; Algerian Journalists Union chairman Rabah Abdallah.
Businessmen and financiers: Chairman of the Union of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, and Agriculture in the Arab Countries Khaled Abu Isma'il; Egyptian Businessmen's Association chairman Jamal Al-Nader; Egyptian Banks Union chairman Bahaa Al-Din Hilmi; director of the Center for Islamic Economics at Cairo University Dr. Muhammad Abd Al-Halim Omar.
Functionaries, Organizations and Associations: Afro-Asian Lawyers' Association for Human Rights chairman Dr. Ismat Al-Mirghani; Cairo University vice president Dr. Hamed Taher; Arab Labor Organization general manager Dr. Ibrahim Quwidar; General Committee of the Regional Union of Civilian Organizations in Cairo chairman Omar Abd Al-Akhar; Union of Graduates of Universities and Academic Institutions chairman Dr. Mahmoud Hamdi Shweiqa; Afro-Asian Writers' Association Delegation chairman Dr. Muhammad Majdi Mirjan; The General Board of the Association for the Protection of the Environment in Egypt chairman Dr. Wahid Mahmoud Imam; Egyptian Physicians' Association chairman Dr. Hamdi Al-Sayyid; Arab Artists' Association chairman Dr. Fawzi Fahmi; Guardians of the Nile Association of Thinkers, Intellectuals, University Lecturers, Experts, Media and Law Figures and Youth and Pop Stars chairman Abd Al-'Aati Al-Shafi'e; World Islamic Council for Da'wa and Humanitarian Aid secretary-general Kamal Al-Sharif; Palestinian Journalists Association; Egyptian Journalists Association; Arab Journalists Association; Egyptian Association for International Law; Egyptian Trade Union Federation; Arab Lawyers' Association in Britain; Association of Arab Journalists in Germany; The Professional Union of Yemeni Lawyers; The Professional Union of Lawyers in Algiers; National Union of Moroccan Journalists; The Kuwaiti Journalists Union; The Egyptian Journalists Union; The Association of Arab Journalists; Union of Mining, Oil, and Chemical Industry Workers; Arab Pharmaceutical Industries Association, Egyptian Organization for Human Rights; The Egyptian Writers' Association.
Foreign Functionaries and Organizations: Union of Journalists in Finland President Tekka Laine [sic]; acting manager of the Finnish Peace Organization [sic] Timo Meitin Baro [sic]; diplomatic corps delegations in Cairo [no details mentioned]; French international law professors and lawyers [no details mentioned]; Rabbi Yaakov Koenig, leader of the world Jewish organization Neturei Karta; The Union of Journalists in Finland.
 Nafi' himself denied the Holocaust and compared "Nazi crimes" with "Sharon's crimes": "For the first time in half a century, there are heard, at demonstrations spreading across London… calls against the Jews as a race and as a religion. This was prohibited for half a century, since [the spread of] the false accusation of the Nazi annihilation, which appears to be one of the greatest lies in the international arena, and that has begun to pale in the face of Sharon's crimes, which are even more Nazi." Al-Ahram (Egypt), April 15, 2002.