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Jewish World ReviewMay 3, 2001 / 9 Iyar, 5761

The Pokemon Plot

By Michael Freund

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- TO be honest, I think that this time the Arabs have really crossed the line. It is one thing to accuse the Jews, as they have done in recent years, of everything from spreading AIDS to undermining the virility of Egyptian men. Indeed, Israel is now being blamed for Mad Cow disease.

But the recent campaign in various Arab countries to ban the popular children’s game Pokemon, labeling it a "Zionist and Jewish plot" --- now that is just going too far. Way too far.

As the Los Angeles Times reported recently, "Pokemon has become a target of religious leaders throughout the Arab world who charge that the game promotes theories of evolution, encourages gambling and, at its core, is part of a Jewish conspiracy aimed at turning children away from Islam."

After carefully researching the link between Pokemon and Zion (ever notice how the two words rhyme?), I must admit that the evidence is intriguing. I discovered that if one pronounces Pikachu (a popular Pokemon character) with a heavy Yiddish accent, it does sound strikingly similar to "Pick a Jew," which could be interpreted as a covert Zionist plea for voters across the world to elect Jewish candidates. And there are various Pokemon characters that bear an extraordinary resemblance to former Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy on a bad hair day.

But how can any decent, self-respecting anti-Semite think that the Jews could find enough time in their schedules to invent such devious children’s toys? Surely, as the anti-Semites will tell you, the Jews already have their hands full running the Western media and controlling the American government. So when exactly do they manage to concoct these brilliant schemes – in between cabinet meetings?

But the most troubling aspect of this phenomenon is that there are those who are ready and willing to believe such nonsense.

After decades of demonizing Israel, Arab propagandists have come to believe their own fabrications, simultaneously attributing super-human powers to Jews even as they dehumanize Israel by calling for the destruction of the Jewish state.

Do proponents of the "Pokemon is a Zionist-Jewish plot" hypothesis really believe that a country willing to divide its eternal capital, flood itself with millions of hostile Palestinian refugees and arm its adversaries would be cunning enough to produce a worldwide marketing phenomenon like Pokemon? Israel’s Foreign Ministry finds it difficult to mount a decent hasbara campaign, let alone to try to persuade millions of consumers around the globe to part with their hard-earned money in exchange for a children’s fad.

The only Jewish plot I know of is an age-old desire to live freely in the Land of Israel, where the Jewish people can serve G-d in peace and tranquility, building a model society that will set an example for the rest of the world. Why so many people seem to find such noble ambitions to be so threatening is perhaps one of the greatest enigmas of modern times.

Hence, the Arab fear that Pokemon is a Zionist plot is only partially correct. Pokemon is indeed a plot, but it has nothing to do with the Jews. Rather, it is a classic example of a capitalist scheme, in the good sense of the word, of course.

Pokemon’s success demonstrates how an enterprising corporation can identify a lucrative opportunity, create demand for an otherwise unknown product, and reap the benefits of building a brand name. Quite simply, it is the triumph of the free marketplace, a concept that seems as foreign to our Arab neighbors as is tolerance and understanding of Jews.

And that, perhaps, is the only thing that Pokemon and the Jews truly have in common: Arab antipathy and suspicion.

Michael Freund served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office from 1996 to 1999. Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, Michael Freund