Egyptian actor shocks fans after revealing Jewish heritage

Egyptian actor shocks fans after revealing Jewish heritage

3 min read
22 November, 2016
An Egyptian film star has surprised fans by revealing his Jewish heritage on a television show - a daring move in a country with deep seated anti-Israeli sentiments.
More than 80,000 Jews lived in Egypt before the creation of Israel [YouTube]

An Egyptian film star surprised his fans last week when he opened up on live television about his Jewish heritage - a daring move in the deeply anti-Israeli society.

Karim Kassem recently revealed to talk show host Mona al-Shazly that his late mother came from one of a handful of Jewish families that remain in Egypt, following the creation of the state of Israel.

"I feel as if I am lucky that I come from a mixed background. My whole life I have observed all religious celebrations: Christmas, Ramadan and Jewish New Year," Kassem said in front of a live TV audience.

He said that his unique combination of faiths has granted him the gift of "accepting others" and "embracing diversity".

"When I was I kid I didn't even realise. One day, I came home from school and told my sister: 'the Jews have done this and that, they have big noses and are stingy'," Kassem said.

"She then told me: 'Karim! You don't know? Your mum is Jewish!' It was such a shock for me."

More than 80,000 Jews lived in Egypt before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, which marked the start of an exodus - yet today only around seven remain.

      Adly Synagogue in downtown Cairo serves the few
remaining Egyptian Jews [Getty]

With the many wars waged between Egypt and the Jewish state - anti-Semitism has increased. Most Egyptian-Jews were either expelled or pressured to leave the Arab world's most populous country.

Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, however, the deal has been unpopular with many Egyptians who want it rescinded.

Jews on Egyptian television have usually been relegated to stingy, crafty characters with stereotypical nasal voices that try to outwit the secret service but eventually end up getting nabbed, or becoming malevolent politicians.

Kassem told The New Arab that as a schoolboy he was ashamed of his roots - but that finally disclosing his lifelong secret has "lifted a burden off his shoulders".

"The reception has been very positive so far. A lot of people have reached out to me and sent me really beautiful messages, telling me that I should be proud and happy. This experience has given me renewed hope in this generation," Kassem added.

"The positive reactions have given me so much positive energy. As a child, I felt like the son of a black sheep but now I can say I am proud of who I am."

Kassem's Jewish grandfather Shehata Haroun refused to emigrate to Israel, condemning Zionism as a racist movement and even opposing the Camp David accords.

His paternal grandmother was a French-Christian, who moved to Egypt after marrying Kassem's Muslim grandfather.

Many people have taken to social media to express solidarity with the 30-year-old actor's brave move.

"His mother is Egyptian and her religion is a matter between her and God," said one commentator, "Being Jewish does not automatically make you a Zionist. There are many Jews opposed to Israel," said another.