They stole my story, then I was the story

The last thing journalist Ben Judah expected when he logged on to Twitter at home in London one evening was to find dozens of death threats from angry Egyptians.

The Jewish writer did not know he had unwittingly become a minor celebrity in the Arab state, thanks to a trail of events leading back to a satirist plagiarising his work.

Mr Judah, an expert on Russia, had an article about Vladimir Putin copied by Egyptian television star Bassem Youssef and published in a prominent Arabic newspaper last week.

While Dr Youssef — a leading critic of unprofessionalism in his country’s media — went to ground after his plagiarism was uncovered, it was Mr Judah who was hit by the backlash —and a wave of antisemitism. He explained: “Hitler was mentioned. There were death threats and promises of attacks on my family. It went on for five days.

“The thing that was most disturbing was that a lot of them were from women and English speakers, and mainly people based in Cairo. These were the middle classes.

“It confirmed a lot of what I had always, negatively, imagined about Egyptian attitudes to Jews.”

Around a quarter of the messages directed at him were from sympathetic Egyptians apologising. But the attention did not abate as international news outlets picked up on the furore.

“I refused to give interviews about it in the Western media as I didn’t want to draw more attention to the situation,” said Mr Judah.

“But my picture was on Egyptian television for three or four days running. I became the only famous Jew in Egypt. It’s an absurd thing to happen to you. You end up a celebrity for five days.”

Last updated: 12:28pm, March 27 2014