Lebanese publisher Hesham Bahari
With thanks: Torbjorn
The name Togo Mizrahi may not ring many bells in the Arab world, but the work of this Egyptian-Jewish film director of the 1930s and 40s is a useful instrument for Hesham Bahari, a Lebanese publisher, to spread revisionist propaganda in the Swedish newspaper Newsmill. Bahari waxes lyrical about the so-called brotherhood of Jews and Muslims promoted in Mizrahi’s films. The turning point was ‘when Israel replaced Palestine’ in 1948, as if Palestine was a pre-existing Arab state. (The article approves Mizrahi for choosing, like a true patriot, to go into exile not in the ‘Zionist entity’, but in Italy). Bahari suggests that Nazism was a purely European phenomenon, ignoring the growing influence of the fascist-inspired and antisemitic Muslim Brotherhood and its Egyptian founder, Hassan al-Banna. To imply that Jews and Muslims shared the same views and were persecuted for them is dishonest in the extreme: in Egypt, Jews were killed, interned and expelled purely for being Jews. Here is an extract from Bahari’s article:
“In spite of its cinematic simplicity, this masterpiece from the 30’s with Jewish and Muslim actors and an Egyptian-Jewish director is an eye-opener for our time. The situation that the film portrays, the social and spiritual affinity between Egyptians of different religions, is definitely not a fantasy born out of a well-meaning director’s brain. Born in the early fifties, I myself have experienced this closeness to Egypt’s “last Jews.” Today in Egypt just a few hundred Jews remain of the original fifty thousand, all apparently in their nineties.
“1948, the year when Israel replaced Palestine, decimated the Egyptian-Jewish community. Already Togo Mizrahi had to leave the country that year. But, like most Egyptian Jews, he refused to emigrate to the newly formed Israel. He chose to go into exile in Italy where he lived until he died in the mid-eighties. Between 1930 and 1946 Mizrahi directed and produced 32 films that still fascinates by their modesty and tolerance. In the forties, he launched Layla Murad, a Jewish woman who became the Arab world’s foremost singer and actress, with five films. Few people in Egypt today know his name, although all have seen Layla Murad’s films, which still appear on TV, like the old great classics they are.
I ask myself, after seeing “The two delegates,” the inevitable question. How would it have looked like today in Egypt and the Middle East if Israel had replaced Palestine, the Jews had to remain in their homelands? What losses did these countries suffer through this tragedy! The Jews were a living part of those communities. They felt that they never like strangers. They sang the same songs, played the same games, ate the same food, were dressed in the same galabiyas, told the same jokes, campaigned against the colonial masters and was thrown into the prisons of the same government, the criminal gangs who cooperate with the international mafias. When I see Mizrahi’s movies, I get the feeling that he speaks to the future, he tries to reassure those who long to return to this forgotten sense of belonging.”