The Arab campaign against the Pokemon children’s game for its allegedly Jewish connotations is picking up steam across the Middle East.
Full-scale anti-Pokemon campaigns are under way in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Oman, Qatar and Dubai, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Pokemon, which includes video games, trading cards and cartoons with images of monsters, has only belatedly made its way to the Arab world. Some Muslim officials now claim that the word “Pokemon” means “I am a Jew” in Japanese, and believe the toy craze is part of a Jewish-Zionist conspiracy to turn Arab children away from Islam.
Despite assurances from the Japan-based Nintendo, which launched Pokemon in 1995, that the trade name stands for “pocket monsters,” the video games and related items have been stripped from store shelves in Saudi Arabia and turned away at ports. Schools have set up collection points to turn in clothing decorated with Pokemon figures.
A fatwa, or religious edict, issued by a Saudi sheik urges all Muslims to beware of the game, noting that most of the cards bear “six-pointed stars, a symbol of international Zionism and the state of Israel.”
A similar fatwa in Dubai warns that Pokemon “is based on the theory of evolution, a Jewish-Darwinist theory that conflicts with the truth about humans and with Islamic principles.”
Partly underlying the anti-Pokemon campaign may be the same frustrations felt by parents in the United States whose children played with the products obsessively.
“Our children have found in Pokemon an opportunity to lose themselves in it,” complained a magazine article, headlined “Pokemon Virus,” published in the United Arab Emirates. “They neglect their studies and prevent their parents from getting close to the television to change the channel which was broadcasting the Pokemon series.”
The original Pokemon contained 150 brightly colored characters, each a mini-monster with the potential to transform into a more powerful creature. By 1999, when the game’s popularity peaked in the United States, it had evolved into a multimedia phenomenon, with movies and television shows, clothing and toy lines – and sales in the billions of dollars.
The anti-Jewish overtones of the Arab world’s campaign have raised concerns among American Jewish leaders.
Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, is quoted in the Times as warning that “when you start saying, ‘The Jews are manipulating children’s minds,’ that is scary. And when it comes wrapped in ‘fatwas,’ as God’s truth,” then “it becomes a lot scarier.”
In 1999, ADL complained that one Pokemon card bore an image similar to a swastika. Nintendo discontinued the offending card.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.