Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Morsi’s Anti-Semitism Reveals More About Us Than Him

January 21, 2013 2:57 am 1 comment

Mohamed Morsi. Photo: Jonathan Rashad.

It’s a story that began with an eagle-eyed Jewish blogger who writes under the pseudonym “Challah Hu Akbar” and progressed all the way to the White House. In the process, it has reignited the debate as to whether Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood President, Mohamed Morsi, is really the pragmatic moderate that many believe him to be.

On Jan. 3, Challah Hu Akbar tweeted an item from the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) in which Morsi, in a 2010 speech, uttered what is a standard Islamist anti-Semitic slander, namely that Zionists are descended from “apes and pigs.” A little more than a week later, noticing that Morsi’s statement had barely registered with the wider media, The Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg wrote a blog post with the entirely apt headline, “Egyptian President Calls Jews ‘Sons of Apes and Pigs;’ World Yawns.” At Forbes magazine, Richard Behar made an identical point, adding that in the same set of remarks, Morsi had called for a boycott of the United States—whose taxpayers have provided Egypt with billions of dollars in aid—because of its support for Israel.

Eventually, the Morsi story found its way into the New York Times, which felt duty-bound to point out that “Mr. Morsi and other political and Brotherhood leaders typically restrict their inflammatory comments to the more ambiguous category of ‘Zionists.'” Actually, it’s not ambiguous at all. Especially since the Second World War, the word “Zionist” has always been code for “Jew” in the capitals of the Muslim world, as well as in the capitals of the late, unlamented communist bloc of states. And in case there was any lingering doubt, a subsequent Morsi item posted by MEMRI, also from 2010, showed the Muslim Brotherhood leader helpfully urging his people “not forget to nurse our children and grandchildren on hatred towards those Zionists and Jews.”

Unusually, given the prevailing view that accusations of anti-Semitism are a smear cooked up by an unscrupulous Jewish—sorry, I mean Israel—Lobby, condemnation of Morsi did follow. The New York Times published an editorial urging President Obama to directly convey to Morsi that such offensive comments ran counter to the goal of peace. White House spokesman Jay Carney also issued a statement, declaring, “President Morsi should make clear that he respects people of all faiths, and that this type of rhetoric is not acceptable or productive in a democratic Egypt.”

Of course, no apology from the Egyptians was forthcoming. Instead, Yasser Ali, Morsi’s spokesman, claimed that his boss’s comments had been taken “out of context,” and were really directed at Israeli “aggression” in Gaza. In fact, Ali’s statement is far less stupid than initially appears; anti-Semites in the Arab world know that there is a strong current of opinion in the west that regards their fulminations against Jews as justified, if unfortunately-worded, anger towards Israel. Ali was playing to that particular gallery.

And that leads to a broader, far more important observation. In its editorial, the New York Times asked, “Does Mr. Morsi really believe what he said in 2010? Has becoming president made him think differently about the need to respect and work with all people?” Disgracefully, the Times also argued, “Israelis are not immune to responding in kind either” (a sentence that appeared to have been overlooked by establishment Jewish groups like the American Jewish Committee, which rushed to welcome the editorial.) As for the White House’s Carney, his statement categorized Morsi’s remarks as “religious hatred,” a term that barely scratches the surface of what is really at issue here.

For the Morsi affair tells us much more about how anti-Semitism is understood in the West than it does about the nature of Islamist anti-Semitism. If the Times is to be believed, then the episode is merely a depressing example of how both sides dehumanize each other with nasty rhetoric. Similarly, the White House wants us to think that Morsi’s offense was religious intolerance.

As I’ve long argued, anti-Semitism isn’t just another form of bigotry. It is a method of explaining why the world is as it is; incendiary rhetoric against Jews, therefore, isn’t just an afterthought, but the natural consequence of the genuinely held belief that our planet is in the grips of a Jewish conspiracy. One has to assume the Times would not have questioned whether the anti-Semitic outlooks of Hitler and Stalin were genuinely held, so why do so with Morsi?

There are two reasons. Firstly, the misguided view that anti-Semitism is essentially a European phenomenon, and thus an alien import into the Muslim world that will disappear once the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved. That reflects, secondly, an enormous ignorance about the origins of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world and its centrality to the Muslim Brotherhood’s worldview.

In his masterpiece “Terror and Liberalism,” the scholar Paul Berman quotes Sayid Qutb, the leading theoretician of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was formed in 1928, as writing that “most evil theories which try to destroy all values and all that is sacred to mankind are advocated by Jews.” Elsewhere in the book, Berman painstakingly docments Qutb’s frankly Hitlerian view of the Jewish role in world history, including his repeated assertions that Jews had conspired against Muslims from the dawn of Islam.

These were the ideological foundations of the Muslim Brotherhood then, and they remain firmly in place now. Any compromise with the Jews, such as a peace treaty with Israel, would therefore be another twist in the same conspiracy. According to Qutb and his followers, the only honorable path is to vanquish the Jews entirely.

These are the same beliefs of Mohamed Morsi. They may be insidious, but they are authentically held. Asking him to recant them, as the White House did, is like asking Hitler to apologize for Mein Kampf.

A far more productive approach would be to integrate the persistence of Islamist anti-Semitism into policy analysis of our relationship with Egypt. Critically, we need to ask whether someone who really believes that there is a hidden Jewish conspiracy at work—and that, consequently, political relationships are camouflage for that—can be a partner in any sense of that term.

Going by their reactions to Morsi’s remarks, neither this White House nor its supporters in the commentariat are up to that task.

Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for JNS.org. His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Ha’aretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Sports Two Decades Before Cleveland’s First NBA Title, LeBron James Walked Onto a JCC Court

    Two Decades Before Cleveland’s First NBA Title, LeBron James Walked Onto a JCC Court

    JNS.org – The seed for the city of Cleveland’s first professional championship in a major sport in 52 years may have been planted at the Shaw Jewish Community Center on White Pond Drive in Akron, Ohio, nearly 20 years ago. That’s when a tall, lanky kid from Akron named LeBron James walked onto the hardwood court and changed the game of basketball forever. Coach Keith Dambrot, now the head basketball coach at the University of Akron, conducted those sessions that attracted […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    JNS.org – In 2008, Yoram Honig was a producer and director living in Jerusalem, fresh off his first international hit, when the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) came to him with a challenge: build a film industry from scratch in Israel’s capital. “When we started here, was nothing in Jerusalem,” he said during an interview in his office in the Talbiya neighborhood. Now, the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund, which Honig heads as an arm of the JDA, pumps 9 million shekels […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas will wear a leotard bearing Hebrew lettering when she competes at the P&G Gymnastics Championships over the weekend. Douglas’ Swarovski-outlined outfit will feature the Hebrew word “Elohim,” meaning God, on its left sleeve. The Hebrew detailing honors the athlete’s “rich heritage of faith,” according to apparel manufacturer GK Elite, which produced the leotard and released a preview of it on Wednesday. The company said Douglas’ sister, Joyelle “Joy” Douglas, created the Hebrew design. The outcome of the P&G Championships will help […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    Britain’s world heavyweight champion, Taylor Fury, should be banned from boxing for making Nazi-like comments, a former world champion from the Ukraine said on Thursday, ahead of their upcoming match. “I was in shock at his statements about women, the gay community, and when he got to the Jewish people, he sounded like Hitler,” Wladimir Klitschko told British media, according to Reuters. “We cannot have a champion like that. Either he needs to be shut up or shut down in the ring, or […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Hanoch Hecht just made television history; but, unfortunately, he couldn’t have his rugelach and eat it too. Hecht became the first rabbi to compete on the hit show “Chopped,” where contestants are forced to use four random ingredients in their recipes, and have 20-30 minutes to create an appetizer, a main course and a dessert. A contestant is eliminated after each round. Hecht, 32, said that while the dishes and utensils were new, the kitchen was not kosher, so he couldn’t taste […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox singer and entertainer Lipa Schmeltzer is starring in a new Pepsi Max commercial for the company’s campaign in Israel. The commercial begins with a bunch of Jewish men eating at a restaurant, when Schmeltzer walks in and tries to decide what to order. An employee at the obviously Israeli eatery offers him a variety of foods, but the entertainer in the end decides on a bottle of Pepsi. Everyone in the restaurant then joins him, drinking Pepsi Max and dancing to […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Book Reviews Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    JNS.org – “Writing is a messy process,” says author Elizabeth Poliner. “People who don’t write fiction would be surprised to see what early drafts could look like.” But readers wouldn’t know “what a mess it was for the longest time,” as the Jewish author puts it, when reading Poliner’s critically acclaimed latest book, As Close to Us as Breathing. The volume garnered Amazon’s “Best Book” designation in March 2016 as well as rave reviews from the New York Times,W Magazine, NPR, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Sundance Tour Features Short Film About Elderly Jewish Woman’s Decision to Eat Bacon for First Time

    Sundance Tour Features Short Film About Elderly Jewish Woman’s Decision to Eat Bacon for First Time

    The Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour, which started on Friday in New York City, features a mini-documentary about an elderly Jewish woman whose journey away from Orthodoxy leads her to taste forbidden food for the first time in her life. In Canadian director Sol Friedman’s Bacon & God’s Wrath, Razie Brownstone talks about ending her lifelong observance of keeping kosher as her 90th birthday approaches. The recently declared atheist said the discovery of the search engine Google spurred a lapse in her Jewish faith and made her decide to […]

    Read more →