EDITORIAL: An Inconvenient Mistruth

Jewish Light Editorial

Will the real Mohamed Morsi please stand up?  

For Israelis who Tuesday went to the polls in national elections influenced by concerns about the status of the Egypt-Israel relationship, they took no comfort in recent news about the Egyptian president.

Since taking office as Egypt’s first democratically elected president, the Muslim Brotherhood member has emerged as a perplexing figure. He successfully brokered a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas which prevented a possible bloodbath in the Gaza Strip — diplomacy which won widespread praise. Within just days of this triumph, however, Morsi set off a firestorm of protests and widespread condemnation by suddenly suspending the authority of the courts, the parliament and the existing constitution and granting himself unchecked dictatorial powers.

If these seemingly contradictory actions were not enough, the mercurial Morsi’s latest headlines involved a hate-filled, rabidly anti-Jewish speech and later television interview, both in 2010. They were brought to recent attention in a page-one article in The New York Times by David D. Kirkpatrick.

In the speech, the TimesMorsi urged Egyptians to “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred” for Jews and Zionists. In the TV interview around the same time period, Morsi described Zionists as “these bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs.”

The story notes that “the exposure this month of his virulent comments from early 2010, both documented on video, have revealed sharp anti-Semitic and anti-Western sentiments, raising questions about Mr. Morsi’s efforts to present himself as a force for moderation and stability. Instead, the disclosures have strengthened the position of those who say Israel’s Arab neighbors are unwilling to commit to peace with the Jewish State.”

The Associated Press soon thereafter reported that Morsi’s office claimed the quotes were taken “out of context,” and rejected violence and discrimination on the basis of religion.

United States’ officials called Morsi’s tepid response inadequate. His comments were denounced by the White House, the State Department, and by several senators in a delegation visiting Egypt and Morsi. The critical voices straddled the political aisle, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

The American response is a decent start, as any remarks that deliberately invoke hatred of Jews and illegitimacy of Israel are grossly repugnant and inappropriate. Apologists who insist that Morsi’s remarks were intended only for “local consumption” and thus somehow excused are far, far off base. That’s akin to saying it’s acceptable to spread ethnic, racial and religious seething some of the time as long as it’s not done all of the time. What kind of a justification is that?

The late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser was a master at giving venomous speeches in Arabic, then expressing himself as the voice of sweet reason to gullible Western reporters. The same tactic was favored by Yasser Arafat, the late leader of the Palestinian Authority who would call for “jihad,” meaning “holy war” against Jews, and then tell Western media that “jihad” merely means “struggle.”

The trouble with the American reaction isn’t what’s been said to date; it’s rather how insistent we will be over time in our expectations of Morsi. Some around the world have already translated words to action: JTA reports that best-selling Dutch novelist Leon de Winter vowed to withhold taxes so that they will not reach Cairo and thus benefit the Morsi regime.

Truly, financial assistance is something that Egypt sorely needs, as its economy is heavily dependent on tourism, which is threatened by the intolerance sought by the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies. Last year the European  Union pledged $6.4 billion in aid to Egypt, which was approved earlier this month by the European Commission in Brussels. The U.S. has pledged $l.7 billion a year in aid to Egypt, provided that Egypt continues to honor its treaty with Israel.

While his pragmatic side has caused him to thus far honor the treaty with Israel, Morsi shouldn’t be able to have it both ways. Either he is sincerely committed to peace with Israel and in the volatile Middle East region, or not. Either he respects the rights of Jews and Israelis to live in peace or he does not.

It is fair and right for Morsi’s international funders to insist on an outright statement that he and his coalition are in support of Israel’s continued safe and secure existence, that he is not an anti-Semite and that he recognizes the brutal pain inflicted, and mistrust engendered, by his past statements. Only then will we be able to move forward with an expectation that a lasting peace and relationship with Morsi’s Egypt can be sustained.