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Dr Zahi Hawass has always had a voracious appetite for media coverage. At the moment though, he’s had to enter damage control after two separate media interviews in which he made questionable comments about the Jewish people. Last month he posted on his website a “Clarification of Remarks on Jewish History“, aimed at defusing a growing controversy about remarks he made on Egyptian TV on February 11, 2009, including “For 18 centuries they were dispersed throughout the world. They went to America and took control of its economy. They have a plan. Although they are few in number, they control the entire world.” The Big Z’s clarification of these remarks was that he had been misunderstood: what he was doing was contrasting “the relative unity of the international Jewish community with the political fragmentation that we see among the Arabs.”

However, the controversy didn’t abate, when further investigations uncovered other dubious comments made by the superstar of Egyptian archaeology in the newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat in January:

The concept of killing women, children and elderly people… seems to run in the blood of the Jews of Palestine. [In fact,] it seems to have become part of the false faith of this people, who is tormenting us in our [own] homeland.

“When I speak of the Jewish faith, I do not mean their [original] faith, but the faith that they forged and contaminated with their poison, which is aimed against all of mankind… The only thing that the Jews have learned from history is methods of tyranny and torment – so much so that they have become artists in this field. They have done to the Palestinians what Pharaoh and Sargon [of Akkad] did to the Jews…

Yesterday, Dr Hawass posted a “further clarification” of his remarks on his website, saying “they were addressed to Middle Eastern readers, and thus were written in a rhetorical style meant to communicate specifically with this audience.” Hrmmm.

To be fair, it is a common error when discussing these sensitive topics to mean a specific group or individuals, but in saying the words come across as generalising about a complete population or culture – though some of the comments are hard to rationalise away in that manner. It’s also worth noting this 2002 article by Robert Bauval on the very topic of Egyptology and Anti-Semitism, which has other dubious comments about Jews from Zahi, as well as rather odd accusations towards Robert himself about being “a Jew”.

This probably stems from earlier tensions in Egypt with the Sphinx expedition involving John Anthony West and Boris Said, with the “redating” of the Sphinx often being viewed by modern Egyptians as an attempt to steal their history. Bauval explores some of these tensions and conspiracy theories in his book Secret Chamber, noting also that a later (officially sanctioned) Giza expedition by the Cayce-aligned Schor Foundation proposed to wear the ‘Star of David’ logo on their t-shirts (being the logo of Joe Schor’s Foundation).

Then add to those the involvement of people such as Lambert Dolphin in Giza expeditions over the years, and incidents such as the controversial gold capping of the Great Pyramid at the Millennium (echoing Masonic prophecies), and we start getting a bit lost in Zionist-Masonic-Christian Fundamentalist-New Age conspiracy theories. So forgive me for not even trying to dig further into this topic…