There was a pogrom in Egypt Friday night.

The intentions of the mob were obvious. According to eyewitness, Rev. Giovanni Esti – a Catholic priest and missionary of the Comboni order— “We saw the group that attacked the Israeli embassy. It is hard to think that it was a spontaneous event. It was a planned event. This attack was carried out by recruited football fans. What is most disturbing is that the embassy was not adequately defended,” said the missionary.

Had the Egyptians penetrated the Israeli Embassy’s last security door, they would have set upon and likely killed anyone they found. The rioters smashed the offices, and tossed equipment and files to the streets. Although some of the details are unclear, the 85 members of the diplomatic core and security agents were evacuated by Egyptian commandos to the airport and flown to Israel on military jets.

The Israeli Embassy, a symbol of peace and normal diplomatic relations lay trashed and occupied until the morning by the rioters.

They had tried before.

On Saturday, August 20th, they attacked the building, and one Egyptian managed to scale the twenty-story building to replace the Israeli flag with an Egyptian one.

The Egyptian military authorities then built a 12 foot high security wall – but that only seemed to have enraged them.

On Tuesday, August 23, organizers of the attack called for a million-man march on the Embassy to call on Egyptian authorities to kick the “Zionists” out.

One week later, on Tuesday, August 30th, marking the first day of the Muslim feast Eid Al-Fitr, thousands of Egyptians held a massive protest in front of the Israeli Embassy. This time Egyptian security forces had been increased and no one managed to infiltrate the grounds of the embassy building.

However, on the night of Friday, September 9th, at the start of the Jewish Sabbath, the rioters came with enough people, battering rams, tools, and weapons to actually succeed. There were no Egyptian security people there; they also attacked a nearby police station.

The attacks on the Israeli Embassy according to many were premeditated and planned, and the organizers were waiting for the right moment. With the death of three Egyptian soldiers on August 19th during clashes between Israeli soldiers and terrorists on the Israeli Egyptian border, they found the provocation they needed. Despite Israel’s immediately issued an apology of deep regret over the deaths and a vow to convene a joint Israeli/Egyptian investigation, the organizers had all they need to provoke angry mobs to do their bidding.

Up until then, those who had been calling for the removal of the Israelis relied on Egyptian anger over Israel’s close relationship with Hosni Mubarak.

“I insisted on climbing on the roof and take down the flag of the Zionist entity,” said Ahmad A-Shahat to Al-Jazeera, the one who scaled the Israeli Embassy on August 20th, “because that was one of the goals of the revolution – to depose Mubarak and all his friends, among them the Zionist entity.” .

The series of events that took place follow a predictable pattern common of pogroms, when emotional hatred against Jews can be physically acted out.

Those who perpetrate pogroms — a Russian word to describe a form of violent riot against a particular minority group — aim to not just murder, maim, and defile, but also to destroy property, homes, institutions, sacred objects. Without the safety of a place to live or work, the hated are unlikely to return.

Pogroms have been instigated by accidental deaths, but often don’t require an actual victim. Rumors, prejudice, and jealousy often suffice. With enough preparation, it doesn’t take much to inflame the passions of those already predisposed to hate.

Pogroms are often orchestrated by governing authorities to divert attention from the cruel poverty, repression and unfulfilled promises of the government. Pogroms are also notoriously organized by opposition groups to destabilize governments. What transpired at the Embassy was not spontaneous and it will be interesting to see who the authorities eventually blame for the Pogrom.

There are many questions that remain unanswered about this pogrom:

Why was Egypt lax in protecting the Israel Embassy that night when a Facebook event announced the intentions of the mob? Did the Muslim Brotherhood have a hand in organizing the attacks and if so, what are the repercussions? What is the fate that awaits Egypt’s persecuted Coptic Christians? Who is to benefit from the re-imposition of martial law?

Not all Egyptians support the rioters and the pogrom.

Egyptian opposition leader Wael Ghonim wrote “what we are witnessing now is contrary to what I dreamt of. We need to wake up quickly.” He is joined by millions who do not want to see their new-found freedom undermined by undemocratic Islamic groups.

However, when it comes to bigotry, hate, and prejudice, it is difficult to undo quickly what generations of propaganda have instilled. When it comes to anger over socioeconomic trouble, nothing is better than a scapegoat.

Thanks in part to televised dramas and other programs, many in the Arab world believe that Jews use blood in bizarre matzoh rituals, desire world domination, and use sorcery and witchcraft. The fall of dictators has destabilized local economies. Add to this poisonous mix the belief that Jews occupy Muslim land and holy sites, and there is fertile ground for greater and more pogroms, perhaps culminating in a new Arab-Israeli war.

Sadly, if history offers any lessons, the pogrom this past Friday night is a precursor for how Jews and Israel will be treated on the streets of “liberated countries,” and in diplomatic hallways around the world for some time to come.

Unless stopped by internal forces, these attacks may continue until all vestiges of Israel are gone from Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world.

*For a detailed hour-by-hour account of the assault see Wikipedia

About the author

Rabbi Yonah


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  • I think the term “pogrom” is misapplied here. But I am relieved that none of the Israeli personnel was hurt.

    • Is a pogrom defined by the attempt to murder Jews or a successful attempt? What would you have called it if out of desperation Netanyahu hadn’t called Obama and the Americans hadn’t threatened the Egyptians to save the Israelis?

  • Is a pogrom defined by the attempt to murder Jews or a successful attempt?

    A pogrom is when the target population is a native, civilian population. That simply isn’t the case for an embassy.

    Now if they had attacked an Egyptian Jewish neighborhood, that would be a different situation. But they didn’t. The Egyptian Jews all left.

    Too many pogroms.

    • Hmmm, interesting. So then, the riots in Hebron in 1929 were a pogrom and suicide bombings against Israelis are pogroms, but attacks on Shomer Hatzair kibbutzim back in the 1920s were not pogroms because all the young kibbutzniks were non-natives?

      Or is a pogrom a mass attempt to kill a large number of Jews?

    • DK wrote “A pogrom is when the target population is a native, civilian population.” WTF?!?!

      A pogrom has nothing to do with the targeted group being native or not native! In fact it is usually the case where the targeted group is not native and are targeted for precisely that reason.

      The word originated in East Europe, and Jews are not ‘native’ to East Europe. The Jewish population was routinely fleeing persecution in one locale only to face violence and persecution (pogrom) in their attempted sanctuary.

      A simple google search wil provide you with all the usual dictionary sites and none suggest the targeted population is reqired to be ‘native’.

    • A pogrom is an attempt to drive out a particular group through harassment, mayhem and devastation.

      The Egyptians have been doing this to the Coptics forever.

      The Jews were also chased away.

      I hear you that this is not the usual application – which is why i used it.

      • It isn’t just Egypt. It is across all the wider Arab and to varying degrees across the Muslim world.

        With the exception of Israel, Christian population across the entire Middle East is in decline. That includes the Lebanon where so much extra effort was made to guarantee their safety.

  • I can tell you exactly what is to come: the Egytpians will be successful in making a permanent diplomatic Israeli mission there impossible. Then, everybody will be fine, Egypt will suddenly flourish, all their problems are solved and the country will not descend into a bloody civil war.