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Egyptian Jewish Leader: ‘Zionism Is Racism’

The trope has made a series of appearances this week

Adam Chandler
July 18, 2013
Magda Haroun.(Al-Akbar)
Magda Haroun.(Al-Akbar)

It’s been a strange week for the moth-eaten trope “Zionism Is Racism.” First, as Gil Troy poignantly wrote on Tuesday, Leonard Garment, the former Nixon lawyer who led the charge against the infamous 1975 United Nations “Zionism Is Racism” resolution, passed away at 89.

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s righthand man at Turtle Bay, Garment had the chance to speak against the resolution, which had been introduced as a power play by the Soviet Union.

In early October [1975], Garment called the proposed language “ominous because it treats the word racism as if it were not the name of a very real and concrete set of injustices, but merely an epithet to be flung at whoever happens to be one’s adversary. It turns an idea with a vivid and obnoxious meaning into nothing more than an ideological tool.” In words that are equally relevant today he added, “However one views the particular issues in the Middle East conflict, to equate Zionism with racism is to distort completely the history of the movement.”

Two weeks later, on October 17, 1975, Garment addressed the committee again. Speaking powerfully, eloquently, against this “supreme act of deceit,” this “massive attack on the moral realities of the world,” Garment warned “that this resolution asks us to commit one of the most grievous errors in the 30-year life of this organization.” In words that infuriated Kissinger, Garment charged the UN resolution would be “officially endorsing anti-Semitism, one of the oldest and most virulent forms of racism known to human history.” In his most controversial counterattack, he said, “I choose my words carefully when I say that this is an obscene act.”

This was one of Garment’s–and Moynihan’s—signal contributions to the debate. They argued, presciently, that the UN risked losing its way and devaluing the currency of human rights.

Nearly 40 years later, the United Nations remains the standard bearer of double standards. Yesterday, Samantha Power during a Senate committee hearing on her nomination to be the next American representative at the United Nations spoke at length about combating the institutional bias against Israel in the United Nations, even listening it as a top priority of her post.

Today, in an odd turn, it’s being reported that Magda Haroun, who is the newish Jewish head of the Egyptian Jewish community (numbering in the dozens at this point), reportedly told an Egyptian newspaper that she believed that Zionism is…well…racist.

“Zionism is a racist movement that discriminates between people on the basis of religion,” Magda Haroun told Al-Masry Al-Youm in an interview that was translated and published Tuesday on the website of the Egyptian Independent. “The failure to draw a distinction between Judaism as a religion and the Israeli state is the result of ignorance, which is to blame on social science curricula and teachers.”

This is a sad thing to say considering that many of the those who level criticism of Israel in the region are unable and unwilling to separate valid criticism of the state from virulent anti-Semitism, often imparted by social science curricula and teachers (and religious leaders, government officials, state-run media, and television, etc.). Sadly, Haroun, who is 60, never knew the Egyptian Jewish community in its prelapsarian form. JTA’s report on Haroun’s statement also included this stunning tidbit.

Haroun’s father, Chehata, was known for being anti-Zionist. He refused in 1954 to leave the country to get leukemia treatment for his 4-year-old daughter after being told he may not be let in again. The daughter died.

The demise of the Egyptian Jewish community over the years is well known in Jewish circles. After Israel was established, members of Egypt’s 100,000-plus Jewish community either left or were expelled, part of a silent nakba that ceded guardianship over the millennia-long Jewish presence in Egypt to a dwindling number of Jews. Less than 50 Jewish Egyptians are believed to live there now, mostly widows. Haroun replaced Carmen Weinstein, who led the Egyptian Jewish community for over 20 years until her death earlier this year.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.