CAIRO — When Ben Judah, a writer currently based in London, penned an article for Politico Magazine earlier this month entitled “Why Russia No Longer Fears the West,” he never expected to become the center of an Egyptian media scandal.
But on Tuesday, controversial comedian Bassem Youssef, known as Egypt’s Jon Stewart for his quick wit and biting political criticism, plagiarized Judah’s article in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Shorouk. What followed was a wave of unanticipated attention and rage on social media from a country Judah had never written about nor visited. Many of the Egyptians who took to Twitter to bash the writer focused on one thing: Judah is Jewish and pro-Israel.
Egypt and Israel have had a tumultuous relationship since Israel’s creation in 1948, with a handful of bloody wars and endless political disputes. Most Egyptians support the Palestinian cause.
“I will f**k your family one by one,” threatened one Twitter user whose bio says he’s from Mansoura, Egypt.
“Isreal [sic] under my shoes holocaust b***h lol hitler b***h hahahaha if I were hitler I will burn u all,” another Twitter user, whose bio says he’s from Cairo, tweeted at Judah.
“Jews curse of God on earth,” said another.
Youssef apologized on Twitter for the plagiarism hours after his article was published, saying he meant to link to the author’s original article. A number of Egyptians also apologized to Judah for the anti-Semitism from their fellow Egyptians.
Youssef, a former surgeon turned comic, has become known for stirring up controversy in Egypt, often going after the country’s leaders. He became a celebrity during the 2011 revolution when he began uploading satirical clips to YouTube about the government. Later, he faced legal charges under former Islamist President Mohammed Morsi for insulting him and his religion, and in 2013 his show was canceled for criticizing the country’s new military-backed government.
His widely-watched show is now back on the air on a different channel, yet he still faces criticism and technical interference during the broadcast. Time magazine voted Youssef one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2013.
Judah tweeted on Wednesday that he went on BBC Arabic to accept Youssef’s apology.
“I knew very little about him,” he said in the interview. “I had no knowledge of his role in Egyptian politics and fighting for Egyptian free media. Since I’ve learnt about his role in fighting for free media in Egypt, this is something hugely important. I respect that very greatly.”
Judah declined to comment to The WorldPost on the controversy, saying that the “wave of hatred” in his direction has dissuaded him from getting further involved.
“Dear Egyptians,” he wrote on Twitter early Thursday morning. “I sadly have to inform you I have taken the decision never to visit your country. Too much hate. Shalom!”