A prank Egyptian talk show that infuriates guests by duping them into believing they are on Israeli TV reveals the antipathy many hold for the Jewish state despite a wintry peace treaty between the neighbours.
“Judgement after Deliberations,” aired nightly by private Nahar satellite television during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, invites guests on the air under the pretence that they are participating in a German talk show.
But once the show is under way, they are told that they are on Israeli television.
The guests — artists, politicians, writers — are invariably outraged.
One of them, an actor, slapped the anchor woman. Another grabbed an actor playing the show’s producer and shakes him by the hair.
The show, which has also run during previous Ramadans, provides a glimpse into the suspicion, and in some cases outright hatred, Egypt’s cultural elite reserves for Israel.
How people continue to be duped is a mystery, but the anger is palpable.
In a recent episode, comedian and guest Ayman Qandil became progressively more agitated as the hostess questioned him about his views on Israel.
Then an actor pretending to be a member of the audience called in, telling Qandil she was dismayed to see him on Israeli television.
Qandil erupted and attacked one of the show’s cast members before slapping the hostess to the floor.
Another actor and guest, Mahmud Abdel Ghafar, shouted “It’s enough, what’s happening in the country. I don’t want to be part of the conspiracy,” before punching the “producer” and shaking him by the hair.
More than 30 years after Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, many in the public, and particularly intellectuals, remain opposed to Israel, said one of the show’s guests.
Actors and journalists can face professional ostracism if they are seen to invite normalisation with Israel.
The animosity comes from four wars Egypt fought with Israel between 1948 and 1973, and Israel’s policies towards Palestinians, said political columnist Abdullah al-Sinawi, who appeared on the show last Ramadan.
“The Palestinian cause is not simply a matter of solidarity. There has been blood, and martyrs,” said Sinawi.
Ofer Gendelman, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the show encourages hatred of the Jewish state.
“I watched a few episodes of that show and it is clear that it promotes general hatred towards Israel. This show fights Israel and peace with Israel. There is no such show in the world like it — especially in a country that signed a peace agreement with Israel,” he told AFP.
“Audience applauds violent anti-Semitism on Egypt TV,” said a headline about the show in Israel’s right-leaning Jerusalem Post.
The reactions by some of the show’s guests reveal a level of anti-Semitic stereotypes intertwined with the political hostility towards Israel.
Among her objections to Israel, one guest averred that God “cursed” Jews, and another mentioned the anti-Jewish forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which purports to show that Jews want to control the world.
“The show sends a message,” Sinawi insisted. “They should not see it as anti-Semitism. They should see it as a deep rejection of the Israeli occupation.”
This year’s season comes amid a regional upheaval in which long-time dictators have been ousted by democratic rebellions.
Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s veteran dictator who upheld the peace treaty with Israel, was pushed aside last year by an 18-day uprising. That ushered in military rule and then, in June, an Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, who was also an anti-Israel activist.
Mubarak had managed to keep anti-Israel hostility mostly under control, but after his ouster, militants began to regularly bomb a fuel pipeline to Israel before the Egyptian provider annulled the gas contract, allegedly for lack of Israeli payment.
And in September, activists forced the Israeli embassy to close after raiding its reception in a high-rise building and tossing thousands of documents out the window.