Director draws criticism for documentary on Egypt's Jews
Critics say "Jews of Egypt," a film about Jews in Egypt before 1956, promotes normalizing ties with Israel • Egyptian film director says intention was to distinguish between being Jewish and being Israeli or Zionist, but says film is clearly anti-normalization.
Israel Hayom Staff
"Jews of Egypt" film poster.
Photo credit: "Jews of Egypt" official website
An Egyptian documentary film about the lives of Jews in the country before their mass departure in the 1950s has stirred controversy in Cairo, according to a report by the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news channel.
"Jews of Egypt" was screened on Saturday at the Fifth European Film Panorama, held from Oct. 3-9 in Cairo at two major local movie theaters. The festival was an initiative of Misr International Films, the film company founded by the late, famed Egyptian director Youssef Chahine in 1972.
The film's director, Amir Ramsis, has been accused of promoting normalized ties with Israel by attempting to bolster the audience's sympathy for Jewish Egyptians, most of whom are viewed as Zionists by many Egyptians.
“Those accusations are absolutely groundless,” Ramsis told Al Arabiya. “Those who think the film promotes normalization either did not watch it or analyzed it very superficially.”
Ramsis said the documentary was actually anti-Israel and clearly against normalization of relations between the two countries.
He told Al Arabiya the purpose of the film was to clear up misconceptions that many Egyptians had about Jews: “Many people do not distinguish between being Jewish and being Israeli or Zionist. Many Egyptians automatically consider Jews enemies. The film showed how Jewish Egyptians were against the creation of Israel before the July 23, 1952 revolution, and that many Egyptian anti-Israeli institutions were actually led by Egyptian Jews."
Ramsis said the film did not seek to embellish the image of Jews, but to “present the truth,” as well as his own point of view. The film's subjects are Jews still living in Egypt or in Europe.
Ramsis and his colleagues sought to address changes that Egyptians experienced during the 20th century, shedding light on a general shift from tolerance and diversity to mixing religion with politics and refusing to accept those different from themselves.
“Egyptian Jews were apprehensive about taking part in the film because they were afraid they would be hunted down by state security at the time of Mubarak,” he said. “They were actually given clear instructions not to make any media appearances.”
Despite the pre-production obstacles and the post-screening criticism, Ramsis told Al Arabiya that the film was very well received.
“I did not expect that it would be admired that much by critics, journalists, and viewers alike when it was screened as part of the European Film Panorama in Cairo,” he said.
The 95-minute film deals with the Jewish community in Egypt during the first half of the 20th century, before the mass exodus in 1956 in the wake of the Suez Crisis.