There are two reasons. First, 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, second, an enormous ignorance about the origins of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world and its centrality to the Muslim Brotherhood’s worldview.
In his book Terror and Liberalism, 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.” Berman painstakingly documents 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 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.