Why the U.S. Slammed an Arab TV Series, and Why the World Should Take Heed

The holy month of Ramadan, in addition to its religious significance, has the added distinction of being a popular time to watch prime-time television. Special programming during this solemn month of fasting and prayer boasts very high viewership across the Muslim world, as families gather to break the daily fast and watch entertainment infused with both religious and secular themes.

This year, one of the most anticipated shows was "Khaiber," which dramatizes a seventh-century battle between followers of the Prophet Mohammed and the Jews of the town of Khaiber in Arabia. More than just an ancient war story, the show engages in flagrant anti-Semitic motifs and stereotypes that depict Jews as conspiring to undermine Islam.

Produced by Echo Media Qatar with a reported multi-million-dollar budget, the series is being aired in the Middle East and across the world on a number of regional TV channels, including Dubai TV, Algerie 3, and Egypt's Dream TV.

The Anti-Defamation League has spoken out against the series and, in a letter to Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the U.S., urged the U.A.E. -- and Dubai in particular -- to condemn its virulent anti-Semitism.

The U.S. stands alone as one of the few countries who have spoken out against such manifestations of anti-Semitism in the Arab and Muslim world. The special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Rashad Hussain, has publicly rejected anti-Semitism in visits to various Muslim countries.

Hussain recently published an article in the Arabic-language press (an English translation may be found here) denouncing the airing of "Khaiber," arguing that "rather than emphasizing the Prophet's efforts to establish peaceful relations between religious communities, this television series does just the opposite."

He also condemns a double standard that is all but rampant in the Muslim world, writing that "communities that become outraged at negative depictions of Islam must condemn this divisive and anti-Semitic effort."

His actions are consistent with the Obama administration's effort to call out anti-Semitism and other forms of religious intolerance in the Muslim world, as articulated last year by President Obama in his speech at the United Nations.

According to some traditional Islamic sources, the Battle of Khaiber took place between followers of the Prophet Mohammed and the Jews of the city of Khaiber, resulting in the execution of thousands and the subjugation of the Jews of Arabia. The story is often used by extremists as a touchstone for protesters at anti-Israel rallies, galvanizing supporters by glorifying the historic defeat of the Jews in the Arabian Peninsula millennia ago.

In the episodes broadcast to date, Khaiber rabbis are portrayed as secretly conspiring to fuel war between the Arabs in order to weaken them, while the main character, the Grand Rabbi in Yathrib, sows conflict to promote the Jewish-controlled arms industry.

Another character named Rabbi Shas (a not-so-subtle reference to a leading religious Israeli political party) is depicted as a symbol of Jewish hatred for the Prophet Mohammed. Other Jews living in the city are depicted as cheap, greedy and immoral merchants profiting from the Arabs.

The only Jewish character depicted positively is one who converts to Islam.

The show reinforces the dehumanization of Jews in the Arab world in the same manner that previous Ramadan TV programs have, including the 2003 Egyptian television series "Knight Without a Horse," which was based on the notorious forgery, "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion."

"Khaiber" writer Yusri Al-Jindy made a point of this during an interview with an Egyptian news agency, where he explained that "the goal of the series is to expose the naked truth about the Jews and stress that they cannot be trusted."

Ahmed Maher, one of the Egyptian actors in the show, suggested that the series can serve as an analogy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

"Through the events of the show, we will discover how this category of humans represents one of the ugliest groups that appeared in history. This is not strange; we see it in Palestine today. [The Jews] are a people with no morals and cannot be trusted."

For decades, the type of anti-Semitism and extreme anti-Israel sentiment found in "Khaiber" has been rampant throughout the Muslim and Arab media, evidenced daily by demonization on television talk shows, op-eds, and editorial caricatures featured in government-run and private television networks.

Such blatant and ubiquitous contempt for the Jewish people has helped fuel a culture of hatred within Muslim and Arab societies.

Hussain's condemnation of "Khaiber" and of anti-Semitism in the Muslim and Arab world is significant. The uprisings in the Arab and Muslim world have revealed a hunger in the Middle East for democracy, accountability, and the development of an effective civil and pluralistic society. The U.S. plays a pivotal role in emphasizing to the rest of the world that tolerance and religious liberty should be enjoyed by all groups, and that anti-Semitism has no place in any civilized society.

Influential figures, particularly political and religious leaders in the Muslim and Arab world, should emulate Ambassador Hussain's example and condemn "Khaiber" and other instances of anti-Semitism in the media.

Following this example, other responsible governments in the Middle East and around the world will join the U.S. in ensuring that television in the Arab world, during Ramadan and otherwise, remains free of anti-Semitism.

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