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Pakistan Official's Alleged Antisemitic Remarks Spark Controversy

FILE - Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi gestures as he speaks during an interview at the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 1, 2020.

Pakistani officials pushed back Friday against allegations the country’s foreign minister made antisemitic remarks in a Thursday television interview while discussing the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The controversy erupted after Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told CNN anchor Bianna Golodryga that Israel is losing “the media war, despite their connections.” The anchor swiftly asked the Pakistani leader to explain those “connections.”

“They [Israel] are very influential people,” Qureshi responded. “I mean, they control media.”

The CNN anchor shot back, saying “I would call that an antisemitic remark.”

Critics swiftly took to Twitter to denounce Qureshi’s comments.

However, the Foreign Ministry dismissed those assertions in a statement Friday, saying the remarks could not be “construed as anti-Semitic by any stretch of the imagination.”

”Any twist given to the foreign minister’s remarks would unfortunately prove the very point he was making,” the statement said, “The right to freedom of expression must be respected equally by everyone.”

Pakistani government officials and social media commentators have defended Qureshi’s remarks.

“Ridicule Islam & our Prophet PBUH [Peace be upon him] & spread Islamophobia by claiming it as ‘freedom of speech’; when we highlight Israelis ‘deep pockets’ & influence over western media & govts, it gets labelled ‘anti Semitic’! Massacre Palestinians & claim it's right of self defence,” Shireen Mazari, the Pakistani minister for human rights, tweeted Friday.

“Time to reject and counter this false narrative. Enough is enough. We cannot be bullied or blackmailed by such narratives bec[ause] we don't bear the burden of the history the West is trying to shift on our shoulders,” she wrote.

Pakistan’s national security adviser, Moeed Yusuf, hailed Mazari’s statement.

“Very well said @ShireenMazari1. It is about time we unapologetically stand up for what is right by calling out hypocrisy,” Yusuf tweeted.

Qureshi’s interview aired shortly after he spoke at the United Nations General Assembly meeting on Israel-Gaza in which he highlighted the plight of Palestinians, saying the responsibility lay with Israel to stop the weeklong violence.

Hours later, a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was announced, which returned an uneasy calm to Gaza and Israel Friday morning.

“Let's be clear: When Pakistan's FM goes on CNN and deploys tired anti-Semitic tropes -- slurs originally directed at Jews long before Israel's independence -- he doesn't advance the cause of the Palestinians,” tweeted Michael Kugelman, South Asia senior associate at Washington’s Wilson Center research institute.

“Instead, he scores an own goal and risks alienating his target audience,” Kugelman wrote.

“I see some people trying to defend the Pakistani foreign minister’s remarks as anti-Israeli & not anti-Semitic but 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,” tweeted Mehdi Hasan, a U.S. television host.

However, Rabia Akhtar, director of the Centre for Security, Strategy and Policy Research, a Pakistani research institute, defended the comments.

“Such a shame that Pakistan's FM's remarks @SMQureshiPTI are being termed as antisemitic when all he did was talk about Israel's lobby and how it influences US foreign policy, which is a fact and not antisemitic slur! Israel has nukes and it has a lobby. Let's not ghost these facts,” she said in response to Hassan’s tweet.