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.