(photo credit: REUTERS)
Arab book fairs give us a unique insight into the obsessive-compulsive nature of anti-Semitism.
This is particularly the case for the Saudi and Gulf State fairs of the past weeks, as these governments find themselves in a tactical “engagement” with Israel against the common threats from Iranian nuclear designs,Tehran-sponsored Shi’ite mayhem, and Sunni radicals.
In cooperation with its director, we began 12 years ago by monitoring the Frankfurt Fair, the largest book fair in the industry. Back then, most problematic were neo-Nazi texts “indexed” (banned) by German law. Their stands had become magnets for skinheads and their leaders. Very quickly, we discovered growing anti-Jewish incitement at Arab and other Muslim states’ stands. Our reporting such stands, on the grounds of violation of the exhibitors’ contractual commitments with the fair, would be followed up by police confiscation and the banning of recidivist publishers.
Each year, we would announce a “Worst Offender Award.” Turkey won the award for three years, but despite its constant anti-Israel rhetoric, Ankara has cleaned up its act. For the past two years, its over 30 stands have remained hate-free.
Iran, another of our “laureates,” is delinquent not just for anti-Semitism but for glorification of jihad and martyrdom on children’s literature stands.
Malaysia “won” the award four years ago, but its government has since taken action.
The worst offenders currently are the stands of Egypt, Syria (under the guise of Lebanese addresses), Qatar and the Palestinian territories.
Country stands cannot be penalized, only publishers. The following year, publishers that we have exposed reappear, hiding under the cover of Arab publishing consortia, thereby revealing their true identity only on the book covers.
This led us to first monitor the Casablanca SIEL Book Fair, the most important in the Middle East and North Africa, where the Arab publishers show their true colors. After six years of protests, last year Moroccan Culture Minister Mohammed Amine Sbihi telephoned me in Paris to discuss measures. I described the Turkish best practices, which he told me he would embrace. Two weeks later he wrote claiming books calling for the death of Jews were anti-Zionist and therefore not unacceptable to Islam.
Ironically, the list I sent him included The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Henry Ford’s International Jew and Hitler’s Mein Kampf – all of which preceded the “Zionist entity.”
This year we took more extensive action. Realizing that these books, especially the ones aimed at the young, were a low-tech recruitment tool for jihadists, we again monitored Casablanca, but also Qatar, Muscat, Riyadh and, this very week, Abu Dhabi.
Doha (Qatar) is practically inviolable due to its financial clout. The fair there was held under the patronage of the culture minister, Hamad bin Abdul Aziz Al Kuwari, who, at the opening, was announced as a candidate for the next director-general of UNESCO. This evokes memories of the 2004 candidate, Egyptian culture minister Farouq Hosni,who promised that if “he were to find one Hebrew book on Egyptian soil, he would burn it.” I responded publicly at the time that he who speaks the language of Goebbels could not lead the intellectual arm of the UN.
The problem with the fact that over 100 Jew-hating titles were displayed at the Muscat fair was that it was held under the auspices of the US Embassy; Oman serves as an important US base.
The ambassador promised to protest, and we are still waiting.
In Riyadh, where some 420 titles were removed by the “religious police” as contrary to Islam, the huge number of volumes inciting to violence against Jews were left in place, surrounding a double stand of the US State Department.
We will,of course advise the Frankfurt fair management of the hatemongering publishers at each of these fairs, calling for these publishers to be blacklisted for the autumn 2015 event.
Most worrying are the English, French, German and Spanish versions of the Arabic texts, reportedly for distribution in schools of the Muslim diaspora. Educators,through their professional associations, must denounce this wave of noxious titles and ensure that they are barred even from Muslim schools in their countries. Alongside book fair monitoring, we will now campaign – especially in Europe and Latin America – against hatred in school textbooks.The author is director for international relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.