Morsi’s Anti-Semitism

I wish I could say that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s anti-Semitism surprised me half as much as it seemed to surprise The New York Times.  (“Egyptians should nurse our children and grandchildren on hatred” for Jews and Zionists, Morsi declared in a videotaped speech three years ago. “They have been fanning the flames of civil strife wherever they were throughout history. They are hostile by nature.”)

But the rampant use of anti-Semitic imagery in political rhetoric both in Egypt and in other Muslim countries (“apes,” “pigs,” “bloodsuckers,” said Morsi) is hardly news.  It comes right out of the convoluted paranoia of The Protocols of the Elders of the Zion, which far too many Egyptians still take for fact instead of the fictional fake it was long ago proved to be.  What concerns me is how it seeps into even the best-intentioned minds, in far less obvious but nonetheless insidious ways.

Consider, for instance, an exchange like this one, which I seem to have had a number of times over the past several years:

— “What do the Jews think they’re doing in Gaza?”

— “The Jews?  All Jews?  Which Jews?”

— “The Israelis, of course.”

— “Which Israelis?”

— “Well, the Israeli government.”

— “So why do you not say ‘the Israeli government’ instead of ‘the Jews’?”

This is what you might call the low-level shadow of anti-Semitism.  My interlocutors (I love/hate that word) would never dream of using Morsi’s inflammatory language of hatred.  They’re liberal and moderate American Muslims (some are believing mosque-goers, others self-described agnostics or atheists).  And yet even they are not always immune to that conflation of politics and ethnicity, of Israeli policy and Jewishness.

Each time such an exchange occurs, there’s a pause in the conversation — a moment of discomfort as my interlocutor (that word again!) realizes what I’m responding to.  And then comes a nod of acknowledgement, one that takes considerable courage, since none of us appreciate being called to account.  Call it a small moment of sanity.

I recognize this because it’s mirrored in Israel, where talk of “the Arabs” — a generalization as bad as “the Jews” — veers more and more not just into outright racism, but into a kind of gleeful pride in that racism, as shown in David Remnick’s long piece on “Israel’s new religious right” in the current New Yorker.

Israeli politicians have taken to presenting themselves as defenders of “the Jewish people,” regularly using “Jew” as a synonym for “Israeli,” even though — or because — over 20% of Israeli citizens are Muslim or Christian Arabs.  They do this deliberately, of course, just as the Morsi-type anti-Semitic rhetoric is deliberate.  The emotional resonance of “Jew” is deeper and far older than that of “Israeli,” and thus far more useful as a carrier of both covert and overt pride and prejudice.

As a Jew I find this political claim to represent me both insulting and obnoxious.  Like an increasing number of American Jews, I’m appalled by the policies of the Netanyahu government (let alone those of its predecessors), and at the development of what has clearly become an apartheid regime.  I deeply resent being lumped together with the Netanyahus of this world — and I equally deeply resent the attempt by the Netanyahus of this world to lump themselves in with me and define my Jewishness.  How dare they?  And how dare Morsi?

I’d ask “have they no shame?” but the answer is obvious.

9 Responses

  1. I am surprised that Egyptian President Morsi is described as antisemite. Morsi too is a semite. Anti-semetism according to history tracks originated from the Christians who claimed that the Jews killed Jesus one of their brethen […] Your accusation means that you are acclaiming President Morsi as a non follower of Muhammad Rasulullah […]

    • Antisemitism needs to be called out, not excused. The same, I might remind you, goes for Islamophobia.
      The case for antisemitism as anti-Islamic could indeed be persuasively made, and needs to be made far more, by Muslims. Instead, too many argue precisely the opposite.

      • Lesley, I quote your words.
        “The case for antisemitism as anti-Islamic could indeed be persuasively made, and needs to be made far more, by Muslims. Instead, too many argue precisely the opposite.”
        I am a Muslim, but I cannot agree more with you on this. Islam does not advocate hatred for Jews as a people. The Prophet’s many interactions with the Jews of Madinah prove the opposite. For Muslims the father of Jews, Israel (Jacob) and their leader Moses are beloved figures. The quarrel that arose between sections of the latter days Jews and Muslims in Madinah is not a racial one, but a political issue. Today, if the democrats and republicans don’t see eye to eye, does it mean there is hatred between them?. Today’s Muslims’ view of Jews has become conditioned by the actions of the State of Israel.

        Muhammad Siddique

  2. Lesley, I have been in similar discussions from an early age. I always try to redirect the speaker: “You mean zionist, don’t you?” or, “you mean Israeli, don’t you?” There is no political correctness movement or enlightenment in the Middle East to help people un-learn their bigotry.

    A generation ago, Jews, Muslims and Christian Arabs lived together throughout the middle east. Many went to mixed schools and had friends of other religions. Now, this is restricted, even where the different groups co-exist. It is a tremendous loss. It is so much easier to paint people with a broad brush when you don’t actually know them.

  3. You ask “which Jews” but I think it is not correct to turn a blind eye on the sentiments of the mainstream citizen of Israel. It is well documented that the Jewish people living in Israel see the Arabs inferior. I also remember reading in the news that the Israeli drafted soldiers (which means regular people, not professional killing machines) wearing t-shirts with visuals that implies they delightfully killed Arabs, or Israeli school children writing massages on bomb shells that they know will explode in a village in Palestine.

    Years of violence poisoned everybody in that unfortunate corner of the middle east. I hope they get back to their senses soon.

    • You might want to read my post again and examine your own thinking, Hakan. “The Jewish people living in Israel see the Arabs as inferior,” you say. Really? Not some, not even many, but all of them? Thanks for denying the existence of, among others, Israeli liberal activists and reporters, without whose work we would know little of what’s happening in the West Bank and Gaza. Instead, you repeat apocryphal tales from unsubtantiated sources — basically, urban legends based in prejudice. Years of violence have poisoned many people, true. But not “everybody.”

  4. Only an agnostic can be even-handed. I do appreciate your piece. I watched your recent video defending Prophet Mohamed before large audience under the title Muhammad, you and me. Keep up your good work. But surely, I am no agnostic.

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