Egypt's Jews and the Brotherhood’s surprise offer

Analysis: Essam el-Erian outburst latest example of deep-seated hostility of Brotherhood toward Israel.

MOHAMED MORSI, center, prays at Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
MOHAMED MORSI, center, prays at Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In the midst of an unprecedented economic and political crisis, one of the leading figures of the Brotherhood saw fit to call on Egyptian Jews to come back.
Essam el-Erian, vice president of the Justice and Freedom Party – the party of the Muslim Brothers – was at the time adviser to President Mohamed Morsi. Behind that somewhat bizarre call was Erian’s belief that the State of Israel is bound to disappear within ten years. And no, he was not worried about the fate of the Jews but wanted them to move out to make room for the Palestinians.
Needless to say, the returning Jews would have to be content with their status as second- class citizens - dhimmi bowing to the rules of the Shari’a and maybe having to pay a special tax as such, as was the case for non-Muslims in the Ottoman Empire.
There are calls in Egypt today to revive the tax that was abolished toward the end of the nineteenth century.
There was an immediate uproar, one which led to Erian having to resign his position as adviser to the president. Not because he had expressed his confidence that Israel, at peace with Egypt for more than thirty years, could not endure. No, he did far worse and departed from the consensus.
First, he blamed former leader Gamal Abdel Nasser for the mass departure of the Jews. Second, he promised to return their wealth, by spurring one of the organizations representing former Egyptian Jews to put in a claim for 30 billion dollars only a matter of hours after his statement.
Erian’s claims had never been said before and political figures, lawyers and media protested loudly, some saying that he had acted to curry favor with the United States and with the Zionist lobby.
Nasser never caused the Jews to flee, they argued, and Erian was endangering Egypt by encouraging their demand for compensation.
A few voices were raised in dissent, pointing out that not only had Jews been forced to leave – notably because of repeated attacks by the Brotherhood – they had had to abandon their considerable wealth as well. Some went as far as saying that the country would have to come to term with the facts “one day” – but not now, when Egypt was facing more burning issues. To no avail.
Most Egyptians will tell you that the Jewish community lived for centuries in peaceful harmony with its Muslim neighbors and that some Jews fled the country during World War II because Rommel’s armies were getting close and others left later to move to the Jewish state.
Israel allegedly fomented troubles in Egypt to drive more and more Jews to leave.
Egyptians conveniently forget the emergence of the Brotherhood in the 1930s and their attacks against the Jews, including what can only be described as pogroms in the old Jewish quarter of Cairo in the early 1940s.
They point out the many Jews who rose to the top, including famed singer Leila Mourad or Joseph Cattaoui, who was finance minister to King Fuad; Al Ahram Weekly waxes lyrical at the 988,000 Jews who lived in Egypt before the war – never mind the fact that their number never exceeded 80,000.
There were other reactions as well. An incensed Islamic Jihad leader said that, should Jews return to Egypt, they would be attacked, the Shari’a commanding that they be killed. A lawyer sued Erian for harming the country’s security and caused panic. Morsi merely said that Erian had been voicing his own opinion, which he did not share.
However the media storm showed no sign of abating.
Suddenly, the deep-seated hatred toward Israel and the Jews as well as the stark refusal of the Egyptians to face reality was thrown in vivid relief.
That hatred is rooted in the Koran, where Jews are reviled for having refused to recognize the prophet Muhammad and bow to the superiority of Islam. Since its creation in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood has targeted the Jews, accused of fighting Islam throughout the world, and incited the faithful against them. Hassan el-Banna, founder of the movement, corresponded with Hitler; the Brothers published a translation of Mein Kampf under the title My Jihad. Another leader, Sayed Qutub, wrote, My Fight against the Jews, the first of many books reviling the Jews, while religious leaders published countless fatwas – religious edicts – against them.
Under Mubarak, the media was openly anti-Semitic, as were most of the elites, but it was more of a political issue – there being almost no Jews left in the country – aimed at painting Israel negatively and fighting normalization between the two countries.
However the fall of the regime, and the subsequent rise of the Brotherhood brought to the fore the deeply entrenched form of anti-Semitism in their doctrine.
Clerics rant on a daily basis against the Jews from their pulpits in mosques or in the media. They feel they have the support of the government and can look forward to the elimination of the Jewish state in the near future as a step toward the establishment of a renewed caliphate. Didn’t Morsi himself – then merely one of the many leaders of the Brotherhood - declare in September 2010 that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians were a waste of time, and that no progress could be expected, with war as the only solution? In March of that year, he went even further, telling Al Quds Tv that “the Zionists have no right to the land of Palestine and there is no place for them on that land.”
“We must confront that Zionist entity; all ties of all kinds must be severed,” he added.
Unfortunately, Erian’s outburst is yet another example of the deep-seated hostility of the Brotherhood toward Israel. Egypt, the largest and most important Arab state, is now under their sway. So far, the president, wishing to preserve what the West calls his pragmatic approach, has avoided attacking Israel and the Jews while letting religious leaders stoke the fires. But for how long?
The writer, a fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.