JERUSALEM (JTA) — The head of Egypt’s Jewish community said in an interview with an Egyptian newspaper recently that Zionism is racism.
“Zionism is a racist movement that discriminates between people on the basis of religion,” Magda Haroun told Al-Masry Al-Youm in an interview that was translated and published Tuesday on the website of the Egyptian Independent. “The failure to draw a distinction between Judaism as a religion and the Israeli state is the result of ignorance, which is to blame on social science curricula and teachers.”
Haroun was elected head of the Egyptian Jewish community in April, shortly after the death of Carmen Weinstein, who had led the community for more than 20 years.
Approximately 40 Jews live in Egypt, mostly elderly women, split between Cairo and Alexandria.
“I am loyal to my country, not Israel,” Haroun told the newspaper. “When someone asks why we have not left the country, I feel provoked. Why would we leave the country and emigrate? And where would we go? Why do some people think that all the Jews should immigrate to Israel? Do all Muslim immigrate to Saudi Arabia?”
Haroun’s father, Chehata, was known for being anti-Zionist. He refused in 1954 to leave the country to get leukemia treatment for his 4-year-old daughter after being told he may not be let in again. The daughter died.
At one point in the interview, Haroun compared Israel to extremist Islam. “Much like some people mix up al-Qaeda and Islam, others mix Israel and Judaism up. Just like not every Muslim is a member of al-Qaeda, not every Jew is an Israeli,” she said.
Haroun, 60, says she never has nor does she ever plan to visit Israel. She added that the Jewish community of Egypt receives no material support from Israel.
She said that she learned through the local media that the Egyptian government was considering canceling its major annual grant to the community. Haroun complained that the grant until now has been a secret line item on the state budget.
“Most of the members of the community are elderly women with no source of living,” she said. “It is not wrong for the state to help them; this is a right they have much like any Egyptian citizen.”
Haroun said she took part in the June 30 demonstration at Tahrir Square in Cairo protesting the government of Mohamed Morsi, who since has been forced from office.
Gavriel Fiske contributed to this report.