Why Egyptian hate speech, and ‘NYT’ reporting on it, matter

Imagine if the 'New York Times' adequately held Palestinian leaders to account, as it did with the Egyptians.

Egyptian President Mohamad Morsi in CNN interview 370 (photo credit: Screenshot)
Egyptian President Mohamad Morsi in CNN interview 370
(photo credit: Screenshot)
Would it be a problem if a society, following the encouragement its leaders, nursed millions of children on hatred for a religious group? Would it matter if a people was taught that bigotry is a form of worshiping God? Few would deny that such incitement does matter, as it would have a dangerous impact on both those encouraged to hate and on the targets of that hatred.
So it is important that The New York Times reported Tuesday on Mohammed Morsi’s chilling 2010 entreaty to Egyptians: “We must never forget, brothers, to nurse our children and grandchildren on hatred for them: for Zionists, for Jews.” The children of Egypt, Morsi said, shortly before anti-regime protests swept him to the presidency, must “feed on hatred.... The hatred must go on for God and as a form of worshiping him.” In a separate speech, brought to light in recent days by MEMRI, Morsi evoked the anti-Semitic slur casting Jews as “the descendants of apes and pigs.”
It is important that Times correspondent David Kirkpatrick wrote about this because such rhetoric serves as potent fuel that can overwhelm – for generations to come – attempts to extinguish the Arab-Israeli conflict, along with the suffering and bloodshed it causes.
And it is important because the Times has all too often ignored, at the expense of reader understanding of the conflict’s complexities, the ongoing phenomenon of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel indoctrination in Palestinian society and in the wider Arab world.
Indeed, readers have too often been presented with a picture of Arab leaders simply responding to the public’s hostile attitudes, leaving them unaware that it is those same leaders who have actively engendered anti- Semitism and anti-Israelism.
Egypt’s rulers, the Times has explained in story after story, have long had to contend with “popular resentment of Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians,” or “the Egyptian public’s overwhelming anger at Israel over the issue of the Palestinians,” and “anti-Israeli sentiments on the street.” And the country’s current president, the newspaper has likewise repeated, faces the same challenge: “As Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mr. Morsi must respond to a public deeply angry at Israel and eager to rally behind the Palestinians.”
This, the newspaper has claimed, puts Morsi “in a...bind.”
UNTIL NOW, the Times has left little doubt about the cause of the anger. “The overwhelming feeling here,” Kirkpatrick once explained to readers, “is that Israel has failed to live up to its end of the Camp David Accords leading to the peace treaty because it has not recognized a Palestinian state and instead allows settlements to continue on territory envisioned as part of that state.”
The clash between Palestinians and Israelis certainly plays a significant role in shaping hostile Egyptian attitudes.
But as Kirkpatrick’s latest article makes clear, anti- Jewish indoctrination also influences attitudes and cultivates prejudices, as relentless propaganda is bound to do.
Yes, Morsi must “respond” to public anger, as the Times has reported. But that is in large part because the public has itself responded to Morsi’s glorification of hatred, and similar demonization by other Arab leaders.
If those leaders find themselves in a corner, it is a corner in which they have painted themselves by bombarding the people with stereotypes that long precede the Arab-Israeli conflict.
If it is important to understand that Egyptian hostility is not solely about Israel but is also about Egypt, and not merely about the Jewish state’s actions but also about its Jewishness, it is all the more important to realize that this dynamic plays a key role in the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Palestinians deny Israel’s legitimacy not because it is illegitimate, but because they are taught that the Jews have no connection to Zion and told that the idea of two states for two peoples should never be accepted.
They strap bombs on themselves not merely as a reaction to perceived Israeli transgressions, but also in reaction to explicit calls to violence by Palestinian leaders, to clear messages that those who kill civilians are heroes, and to repeated rhetoric no less vile than what we have heard from Morsi.
Palestinian leaders have repeatedly rejected peace plans, not because those plans would not have led to an independent Palestinian state – they would have – but in part because those leaders have raised the masses on the idea that the so-called right of return, widely seen as a way to demographically destroy Israel, is holy, and that Tel Aviv, Haifa and other Israeli cities are actually Palestinian cities in need of liberation.
THE TIMES must educate readers about the malevolent role played by delegitimization, demonization and incitement to violence, not only by Hamas but also by Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority.
It matters not only because readers deserve to know the whole story about why the Palestinian-Israeli conflict continues, but also because coverage that looks frankly at these realities can make a positive difference.
Consider what happened with Morsi’s anti-Semitic rant.
First, MEMRI translated the speech and brought it to light. Then Richard Behar at Forbes called out American press for largely (though not entirely) ignoring the revelation, citing CAMERA’s monograph critiquing New York Times coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg referenced the Forbes story when asking why Morsi’s anti-Semitic formulation had not been covered more widely. And then the Times piece, which asserts that the story was in progress for several days, appeared.
And from the front page of the Times, it spread like wildfire: To the White House, where a spokesman termed the comments “offensive” and “unacceptable”; to the State Department, where a spokeswoman explained that the rhetoric ran “counter to the goals of peace”; to an editorial in the Los Angeles Times, which reminded readers that “Slurs and stereotypes about Jews aren’t confined to a political fringe in Egypt and other Arab societies,” but are also found “in newspaper columns, in political cartoons, in children’s textbooks and in the discourse of many educated elites”; to an editorial in the New York Times, which asserted that “Teaching children to hate and dehumanizing one’s adversaries is just the kind of twisted mentality that fuels the conflicts that torment the region.”
And with such heavyweights condemning the rhetoric, the message was heard loudly and clearly in Egypt, where a presidential spokesman was forced to address the scandal. If Morsi had any thoughts of repeating his anti-Jewish attacks, those thoughts are now dispelled.
Because despite his call in the 2010 video for a boycott of the United States (an interesting quote that was left out of Kirkpatrick’s report), he and his country continue to rely on American aid.
Imagine if the New York Times adequately held Palestinian leaders to account, as it did with the Egyptians.
Might the Palestinian Authority – never mind Hamas – rethink its practice of celebrating terrorists in West Bank summer camps? Might they cease broadcasts on state-run television celebrating the turning of “heartbeats into bombs,” announcing that “with our rifle we will impose our new life,” and describing Jews praying at the Western Wall as “sin and filth”?
Unless the New York Times begins to treat not only Egyptian hate speech but also Palestinian incitement with the seriousness it deserves, we will never know.
The writer is a senior research analyst at CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.