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November 23, 2016 2:54 pm

Egyptian Movie Star Reveals Jewish Roots on Live TV, Stunning Host, Viewers


avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Egyptian actor Karim Kassem during his appearance on a TV show this week. Photo: Screenshot.

Egyptian actor Karim Kassem during his appearance on a TV show this week. Photo: Screenshot.

An Egyptian movie star revealed his Jewish ancestry on a live television talk show last week, much to the surprise of the program’s host and viewers, the London-based, English-language pan-Arab publication The New Arab reported on Tuesday.

According to the report, Karim Kassem said that though his father is a Muslim, his mother is a Jew, and one of his paternal grandparents was a Christian. As such, Kassem said, he learned from a young age to embrace all three monotheistic religions.

“I feel as if I am lucky that I come from a mixed background,” he said, adding that growing up in an interfaith family has taught him about “accepting others.”

However, Kassem explained, this wasn’t always an easy feat. Indeed, he recounted, even the way he learned of his mother’s origin was shocking. It happened one day upon his return home from school, when he told his sister of certain negative stereotypes attributed to Jews.

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“Karim!” she shouted. “You don’t know? Your mom is Jewish!”

It was not only his surprise that prompted him to keep the discovery to himself, he said. It was also his shame. The 30-year-old was growing up in a country with rampant antisemitism and, in spite of its peace treaty with Israel, which did not view the Jewish state favorably.

In fact, he said during the talk show interview, the reason his mother was among the few Jewish families in Egypt that did not immigrate to Israel after its establishment in 1948 was because of his maternal grandfather’s virulent anti-Zionism. He even opposed the Camp David Accords, signed in 1978 between the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. (According to the online magazine Cairoscene, realizing that he had caught the show’s host off guard, Kassem made a point of stressing that he is a true Egyptian patriot who continues to reject Zionism.)

He told The New Arab that coming clean has not only “lifted a burden off [his] shoulders,” but has also generated positive feedback from fans.

“A lot of people have reached out to me and sent me really beautiful messages, telling me that I should be proud and happy,” he said. “This experience has given me renewed hope in this generation…As a child, I felt like the son of a black sheep but now I can say I am proud of who I am.”

Kassem’s revelation comes at an all-time high point in Egypt-Israel relations. As The Algemeiner reported on Monday, many common interests have emerged between Jerusalem and Cairo since Abdel Fattah el-Sisi became president, ousting his predecessor, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi.

Among the recent developments that point to a strengthening of ties, the report stated, are: This year’s visit by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to Israel, where he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; The reinstatement by Egypt of an ambassador to Israel, after a four-year schism; The reopening last year of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, four years after violent protests erupted on the premises; and Egypt’s vote last year in favor of Israel’s becoming a member of a UN committee — the first time in the history of the Jewish state.

Watch a clip from Kassem’s television appearance below (Arabic):

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