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 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 headline, “Egyptian President Calls Jews ‘Sons of Apes and Pigs;’ World Yawns.” At Forbesmagazine, 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 were 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 toward 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 Timespublished 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 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 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 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, 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 Morsi’s offense was religious intolerance.
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?