On February 2, 2011, the Obama administration took pains to mollify American Jewish leaders concerned by the prospect of Islamist groups coming to power in Egypt. In a conference call initiated by the White House, a senior administration official reassured them that the Muslim Brotherhood would “be a minor player in Egyptian politics.” To say the administration’s prediction proved incorrect is an understatement. The MB’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has already apparently won 40 percent of the seats in the lower house and is predicting even higher final totals. What does this mean for the concerns of American Jewish groups?
The Brotherhood’s vehemently anti-Zionist stance has long been known and is reflected in the election program of the FJP, which denounces “Zionist plots” (and American plots as well). It remains to be seen whether the MB will push for the abolishment of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, though its leaders hint that they’d like to put it to a referendum at the same time that they demonize Israel to Egypt’s electorate.
Less publicized, however, is the pervasive anti-Semitism — distinct from anti-Zionism and directed towards “Jews” in general — that is a staple of the rhetoric of Brotherhood leaders. Concerns about the MB’s anti-Semitism were renewed in the wake of a pre-election Brotherhood rally which reportedly devolved into both anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic fervor. Martin Kramer commented on the rally’s repeated use of the “hiding Jew” hadith, in which Muhammad is quoted as saying that Judgment Day “will not come until the Muslims fights the Jews and kill them,” noting that “the hadith predates the State of Israel by well over a millennium, so it certainly can’t be attributed to Israeli provocation.” Indeed, the Brotherhood’s anti-Semitism is independent of its anti-Israel sentiments and can be traced throughout its history.
Brotherhood publications in the 1930s contained frequent anti-Semitic attacks, focused on Jews as Jews. In The Jews in Modern Egypt, Gudrun Krämer recounts the Brotherhood’s involvement in extensive anti-Jewish activity throughout the 1930s and 1940s, including boycotts, graffiti, and physical violence. The Brotherhood’s anti-Semitism was epitomized in Brotherhood leader and ideologue Sayyid Qutb’s infamous 1950s essay “Our Struggle with the Jews.” Qutb’s treatment of the Jews was anchored not in Palestine but rather in Muhammad’s conflicts with Jewish tribes. In his enormously influential Milestones, Qutb refers to “one of the tricks played by world Jewry … so that the Jews may penetrate into body politic of the whole world and then may be free to perpetuate their evil designs.” His assertions about the evil nature of Jews echo anti-Semitism in the vein of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, invoking blood libel, usury, and world domination, rather than anti-Zionism based on Palestine.
It seems little has changed. A 2005 BBC article examined the outspoken Holocaust denial of the seventh General Guide of the Brotherhood, Muhammad Mahdi Akef. In a 2007 Foreign Affairs article entitled “The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood,” Robert S. Leiken and Steven Brooke argue that the MB presents a “notable opportunity” for a moderate Muslim ally, but admit that “Brotherhood literature has expressed hatred for all Jews, not just ‘Zionists.’”
A 2011 Anti-Defamation League report includes more recent quotes from MB leadership. In an NBC news interview, FJP vice chairman Essam El-Erian — described by Al-Ahram Weekly as “possibly the most prominent representative of the new generation of Brotherhood leaders” — stated that “Israel cannot tolerate peace … because they want to live in war. It is the history of the Jewish people.” At an MB rally in June 2011, Mohammad Badie, the eighth General Guide of the Brotherhood, told the crowd that “Allah has warned us the tricks of the Jews, and their role in igniting the fire of wars.” Badie also claimed that there was an American-Zionist conspiracy to cause the 2011 revolution to fail: “It’s a Jewish plot to divide Muslims, old and new, and that their intentions are evident from Napoleon to Zionism’s founder Theodore Herzl.” Badie previously stated that the Brotherhood will “continue to raise the banner of jihad against the Jews,” citing them as “[our] first and foremost enemies.”
ADL’s report cites a special series of articles posted in October 2010 on ikhwanonline.com, the Brotherhood’s Arabic-language site, by Brotherhood member and Al-Azhar professor Ismail Ali Mohamed. The six-part series, entitled “The Manners of the Jews as Outlined in the Teaching of the Old Testament and Talmud,” includes such articles as “Authenticity of Perversion and Corruption in Jewish Personality” and “Hostility, Savagery and the Desire to Spread Death and Destruction.”
Islamic scholar and longtime Brother Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi has been one of the most outspoken anti-Semitic ideologues of the contemporary MB. An iconic image of Egypt’s Arab Spring was when Qaradawi made his first public speech in Egypt since 1981, in February, leading the crowds of Tahrir Square in Friday prayers. Qaradawi’s anti-Semitic tirades are too numerous to tally; his commentary on Al Jazeera in January 2009 is but one example:
Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them — even though they exaggerated this issue — he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers.
Qaradawi has also claimed that “the Jews of today bear responsibility for the deeds of the Jews of yesterday,” referring to the crucifixion of Jesus. In addition, he stated on Al Jazeera: “[T]he problem with the Jews is not one of faith or religious laws. The problem is the covetous aspirations that have characterized their attitude since the days of the Prophet Muhammad.”
Despite professing that they have no problems with Jews, Muslim Brotherhood leaders and ideologues have demonstrated just the opposite: the current of anti-Semitism runs strong through their rhetoric over many decades. After the February conference call with the White House, American Jewish Committee executive director David Harris stated that “the big question is, can they [the Muslim Brotherhood] play a constructive role or not? There are those who would like to believe they can. To put it mildly, we remain to be convinced.”
Given the Brotherhood’s virulent and persistent anti-Semitism, we all need to be convinced. Having now seen Egypt’s election results, the administration should be working to press this emerging power’s leadership to renounce its religious bigotry once and for all.
— Sarah Schlesinger is a research fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute.