TEL AVIV – One of Egypt’s hottest young actors revealed that he is Jewish on a talk show broadcast on Egyptian television last week.
Movie star Karim Kassem, who has a Muslim father and Jewish mother, said he discovered his background when he was a schoolboy and once made fun of Jews.
“When I was a kid I didn’t even realize,’’ he said. “One day I came home from school and told my sister ‘the Jews have done this and that, they have big noses and are stingy.’ She then told me, ‘Karim! You don’t know? Your mom is Jewish.’ It was such a shock to me.”
He said that as a child, he was ashamed of his heritage but that revealing his secret today has “lifted a burden off [his] shoulders.”
Kassem said the reception of the news has been positive so far.
“The positive reactions have given me so much positive energy. As a child, I felt like the son of a black sheep, but now I can say I am proud of who I am,” he told the talk show host.
Egypt’s Jewish community was 80,000-strong in its heyday. After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 Egyptian Jews were persecuted and most of them left the country. Today, there are less than 40 Jews left in Egypt.
Even though anti-Semitism is rife in Egypt – with Jews often being depicted in the media and on television as stingy and evil – the reaction to Kassem’s disclosure may be a sign that things are changing.
“As multiculturalism comes under increasing threat in the Middle East, Kassem’s revelation taps into a nostalgia for a time when Egypt was more cosmopolitan and diverse. This nostalgia also extends to the once vibrant Egyptian-Jewish community that is now on the verge of extinction” Egyptian-Belgian journalist Khaled Diab told the Jerusalem Post.
He added that while Kassem’s revelation was “bold,” it wasn’t necessarily courageous.
“I very much doubt he runs any significant risks by making such a revelation,” Diab said.