The most popular program on the Qatari-based channel al Jazeera is a weekly debate broadcast Tuesdays at 9p.m called "The Opposite Direction," in which two people of diametrically opposite views on a current political issue are pitted against one another. The anchor, Dr. Faisal al-Qassem, a Syrian Druze, tries to heat up the atmosphere so as to provoke his guests into carrying on a shouting match with one another. There have been instances where guests who were present in the studio attacked one another physically, while sometimes the participants are in different countries and their opinions are beamed live by satellite.
The program is produced by an independent broadcasting company owned by al-Qassem, not by Al Jazeera itself, and is sold to the channel as a finished product. Faisal al-Qassem decides on the participants and edits the program as he wishes to – and if once in a while things are said which do not suit the agenda of Al Jazeera, the Qatari channel chalks that up to its motto: "Opinions - and other opinions."
I received an invitation to participate in the program broadcast on December 12, dealing with President Donald Trump's declaration recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital city, an act condemned in the entire Arab and Islamic world. This is not surprising since the declaration grants international recognition to the country that the majority of Arabs and Muslims would like to see erased from the face of the earth.
On the program, I declared that my people, the Jews, monotheists worshipping the One and Only Creator, have been in Jerusalem for 3000 years, establishing their capital city while Muslim antecedents were still drinking wine and hard liquor, burying females alive and worshipping idols. Later on, when the moderator asked if I am not apprehensive about the effect of Trump's declaration on the possibility of a peace process, I told him that the Arab world doesn't have a clue as to what peace is all about, because it is deeply mired in blood, fire and tears resulting from the murderous battles going on within its ranks - between Shiites and Sunnis, against different Arab entities (the Kurds, for example), and among tribes in Libya and Yemen. Try a peace process among yourselves first, I suggested, and when that comes about, we can consider joining it.
What riled viewers the most was when I took a verse from the Quran "You (Muslims), the best nation among mankind" and changed one word, saying: "You (Muslims) are the worst nation among mankind." And I continued: "Who wants to talk to you? The Arab world is a failure, the Islamic world is a failure, mired in blood, fire and tears." The other guest, Sheikh Abed Al-Rachman Koki, a Syrian Islamist whose opinions are somewhere between Hamas and al Qaeda, manifested a profound ignorance on the subject of the history of the Land of Israel and the Jewish people.
From the morning following the broadcast, Arab media are fulminating over the fact that I was invited to the program and over the things I said on it. There have been tens of articles in newspapers and on websites, endless comments on media broadcasts, thousands of posts on Facebook and Twitter, a few supporting me, but most expressing their fury at me about the things I said, at al Jazeera for broadcasting them and at Faisal al-Qassem for inviting me.
The Al Khaleej newspaper, published in the Persian Gulf area, included an article by Dr. Abdallah Al- Savitchi titled: "Oh, al Jazeera, are we really the worst nation?" in which he attacks the moderator, Faisal al-Qassem for favoring the Israeli over the Muslim guest. He may be right, because one of the questions Al-Kassam asked the Sheikh was the barbed "So what are you doing about liberating Jerusalem? Launching Twitter missiles? Facebook bombs?"
Interspersed in the program were clips taken from speeches made by today's leader of Arab anti-Israel sentiments, Hassan Nasrallah, contrasting his enthusiasm when talking about Hezbollah's intervention in Syria with his calm tones when speaking about Israel. He called for using every kind of weapon against Syrian rebel forces, but when it came to Israel, called for using social media.
One of the small group who supported my words, tweeted: "That Israeli s.o.b. is right, we are a very problematic people for sure." Another wrote that "the violence and slaughter that have infected us in the name of Islam (read ISIS) are our problem, not Israel's."
That, however, is the exception, not the rule. Arab media are filled with the opposite message, and someone, probably a Palestinian Arab, sent me the following Facebook message: "Are you really a researcher in the field of the Arab and Islamic world? I think that's a bit much, and I believe you are really a despicable spy who earns his living at the expense of those suffering in the region. The stereotype of the Jews among the nations of the world has not altered. The Jew is still an opportunist, liar, and coward, who assumes a false mask of righteousness and confuses us all. The Jew loves money and gives up his life, honor, and everything he has to acquire it. Rest assured, Mordechai, that your presence on Palestinian land is temporary and your exit from that land is inevitable according to the laws of international physics. Your temporary presence in Palestine is only due to the Crusaders, whose interests you served."
"You are merely a function of the historical period and once the reasons for your appearance in our country disappear, you will as well... Know well, Mordechai, that the curse of Allah will follow you along with the curses of all of Mankind. Every country in the world hates you, all are repelled by you and hope to see you eliminated as soon as possible - because they know you well, even though today they go along with you and agree with you temporarily. Your heretic politics and mendacious claims of ownership over Palestine are the continuation of your religious heresy (when you rejected Mohammed). You had no real existence in the past and therefore you will have none in the future. And if you are betting on the Arab regimes and their role in strengthening your presence in Palestine, you are leaning on a slim reed and will fail - absolutely. You know very well that your real enemy is not the Arab world but the Palestinians, they are your everlasting curse, one that will follow you for hundreds of years until the Day of Judgement. Shame on you, Mordechai, because you are Jewish."
Others accuse Faisal al-Qassem of betraying the Arab nations for allowing the Zionists to spout their poison against the Islamic and Arab world, and others are convinced that al Jazeera is operated and financed by no less than the Israeli Mossad.
Things are actually even more complicated. I have been told by sources in al Jazeera that there was strong opposition to broadcasting the program in which I appeared, with the main opposition coming from the chief anchorman, Jamal Rian, who is also responsible for content. He is a 64-year-old Palestinian Arab born in Tul Karem, raised in Jordan and rumored to have been active in the Muslim Brotherhood, the reason King Hussein banished him from Jordan. Rian turned to Qatar, was a member of the group that established al Jazeera and was the first to broadcast in November 1996, when the station went on the air for the first time.
Jamal Rian interviewed me on the news program he presented on July 1, 2008, Jerusalem Day eve, and asked about Israeli construction in Jerusalem. We argued back then on the rights of Jews to build in the city that has been their capital for 3000 years – when, as I said to him, Muslim forbears were drinking the wine forbidden by Islam, burying their daughters alive and worshipping idols. He never invited me back and it seems he does not want to see me on al Jazeera again. That explains his opposition to my appearance on al-Qassem's program, but, as I mentioned earlier, that program is produced in a broadcasting studio run by the moderator, who insisted on airing the show as is.
The media storm has not yet abated, and as a result, I have come to a clear conclusion: Israel must find people who are fluent in literary Arabic and knowledgeable in the fields of Arab history, culture and Islam – people confident enough to get their point across – who can face the Arab media and public on their own turf. If Israel wants to be accepted in the Middle East, it must radiate power, steadfastness, and knowledge, because this is what the Middle East respects and understands.
Someone wiling to give up his house, land, and rights is seen as a a lowly weakling in the Middle East, worthy of being kicked straight to oblivion. If Israel wants to live in peace with its neighbors, it must radiate strength and a firm belief in the justice of its cause wherer the Arab public can hear it. Only then will it gain respect and be left alone.
Translated from Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky