'Anti-Semitic' remark or Western media's hypocrisy? — FM Qureshi's CNN interview sparks debate

As the minister was accused of using an anti-Semitic trope, many have come to his defence.
Published May 21, 2021

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi's recent appearance CNN has garnered the attention for all the wrong reasons, with some netizens accusing him of making an "anti-Semitic" remark. However, several others, including government officials, have jumped to his defence and are justifying his statement as legitimate criticism of Israel.

The interview

Qureshi — who arrived in New York on Wednesday on a Palestine peace mission and to attend the UNGA emergency meeting — was interviewed by CNN's Bianna Golodryga.

The minister began the interview by taking about Israeli aggression and calling a ceasefire "inevitable". "Israel is losing out, they are losing the media war despite their connections. The tide is turning."

Asked about the connections he was referring to, Qureshi laughed and said: "deep pockets."

"What does the mean?" asked Golodryga. To which Qureshi replied: "They are very influential people. They control the media."

To this, the CNN anchor said: "I mean I would call that an anti-Semitic remark."

"The point is that they have a lot of influence, they get a lot of coverage. What has balanced that is the citizen journalist that has been reporting, sharing videos and that has jolted people that were sitting on the fence and they are speaking up," Qureshi responded.

He said that people were raising their voices in capitals across the world of the rights of the Palestinians, and that the UN General Assembly had sent a clear message to the UNSC that it is the latter's prime responsibility to ensure peace and security.

"Can we not separate the fact that there are calls for peace and for equal human rights for both sides with anti-Semitic talk and rhetoric? We are seeing an increase in anti-Semitism throughout the world [...] shouldn't you be condemning that?" Golodryga asked.

"I will not justify any rocket attacks and I cannot justify and the aerial bombardment that is taking place," the foreign minister replied, adding that the path towards peace lay in a two-state solution.

However, Golodryga again questioned the minister about his earlier remark. "You began this conversation [...] I personally am offended as a journalist, you began by suggesting that Israel has 'close friends and powerful friends in the media'. That is an anti-Semitic trope."

"Look at the perception the world has, you cannot ignore that ma'am," Qureshi said in response.

Later in the interview, Golodryga said to Qureshi: "If you're gonna be an honest broker then you have to approach something like this objectively and that doesn't seem to be the place where you are coming from."

"Well I am objective and will want to be objective. Loss of life I will not condone, every human life is important to me," the minister said.

The reaction

The 11-minute interview has drawn widespread criticism from people and news outlets across the world who have accused Qureshi of using an anti-Semitic trope. However, a large number have also jumped to the foreign minister's defence to argue that his comments were anything but.

Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari said: "Ridicule Islam and our Prophet PBUH and spread Islamophobia by claiming it as 'freedom of speech'. When we highlight Israelis 'deep pockets' and influence over western media and govts, it gets labelled 'anti Semitic'! Massacre Palestinians and claim it's right of self defence."

"Time to reject and counter this false narrative. Enough is enough. We cannot be bullied or blackmailed by such narratives because we don't bear the burden of the history the West is trying to shift on our shoulders," she said.

"How is this remark anti-Semitic? Shameful bias and false allegation! Cant take the truth CNN!" she wrote in another tweet.

National Security Adviser Moeed Yusuf, replying to Mazari's tweet, said: "Very well said. It is about time we unapologetically stand up for what is right by calling out hypocrisy."

Journalist Ammar Ali Jan said that Qureshi's suggestion that Israel controls media narrative in the US is not anti-Semitic.

"Noam Chomsky and a host of American intellectuals have repeatedly exposed media bias against Palestinians. Such blackmail should not distract from US complicity in Israeli war crimes," he said.

Journalist Zarrar Khuhro, who also shared a clip from the interview, said: "Where's the lie? Condemning ISIS is not Islamophobia just like condemning Israel is not anti-Semitism."

Lawyer and activist Jibran Nasir said that the CNN anchor "nonsensically" accused Qureshi of anti-Semitism to "deflect from Israel's propaganda machine which washes its crimes and does carry considerable influence over western news and entertainment media, corporations and lobbies/funds politicians, and thinktanks".

DawnNews host Adil Shahzeb said that Qureshi performed better than the "entire Organisation of Islamic Cooperation has so far".

Foreign Office spokesperson Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri also said the foreign minister's remarks "can’t be construed as anti-Semitic by any stretch of imagination".

"Any twist given to his remarks would unfortunately prove the very point he was making. The right to #freedomofexpression must be respected equally by everyone," he tweeted.

Responding to Golodryga's accusation against Qureshi, the ruling PTI tweeted from its official account that this was "highly condemnable behaviour" by her and CNN. "Which part was anti-Semitic exactly?" it asked.

But on the flip side, some have agreed with Golodryga's views regarding FM Qureshi's remark.

Journalist Mehdi Hasan was quick to respond to those defending the foreign minister. "Let’s be clear: If you are accusing Israelis of having ‘deep pockets’ and ‘controlling’ the media, then yeah, you’re invoking some pretty anti-Semitic slurs. Sorry."

Podcast host Uzair Younus used a Twitter thread to explain why he thought Qureshi's remark was anti-Semitic.

"The argument that 'they have deep pockets and own the media' is an age-old anti-Semitic slur. It was frequently used in Nazi Germany to justify the mass removal of Jews from cultural and political institutions," he tweeted.

"This is similar to a Western minister saying 'they train suicide bombers' when referring to Pakistanis. That statement would qualify as Islamophobic. Not saying Jews or calling out Israel, while deploying an anti-Semitic line, doesn’t make it ok. In fact, it’s dog-whistling," he said.

Human rights advocate and journalist Omar Waraich said remarks such as Qureshi's are "anti-Semitic tropes. Just like saying Muslims are 'dangerous fundamentalists' and 'terrorists' are Islamophobic tropes. They essentialise and demonise people."

Academic Nida Kirmani said the main issue with the controversy was that "we are now debating whether [Qureshi's] comments were anti-Semitic or not because they were very sloppily phrased when we really should be discussing Israeli war crimes. His fail and CNN’s fail both if you ask me."

Columnist and activist Mosharraf Zaidi meanwhile said that "a Muslim, by definition, cannot be anti-Semitic. The entire foundation of the belief system is constructed on Abrahamic revelation AND bloodlines".

"Sadly, the major gap between Muslims and Jews widens due to Israel’s brutal and illegal occupation of Palestine."

Being a "claimant of the Abrahamic bloodline" himself, Qureshi could not have intended to deploy the anti-Semitic trope during the interview, Zaidi tweeted.

"Ignorance is no excuse. Certainly not for a foreign minister, " he wrote, emphasising that Pakistani leaders had "a grave responsibility to prepare for engagements with the Western media. Lazy generalisations ruin important opportunities."

The analyst said Israel’s atrocities against the Palestinians "are afforded a pass when a major Muslim leader (e.g. FM of Pakistan) makes a lazy generalisation".

He noted that many of Israel's most ardent critics are devout Jews. "Greater Muslim-Jewish understanding is vital to long-term peace in Palestine," he added.

Zaidi likened the use of emotion and sentiment by newsmakers to "poison".

He further said: "Smugness and obduracy in public office will perpetuate the habit of making lazy and clumsy mistakes. Muslim leaders must do better."