Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi has never learned the first rule of holes: when he’s in one he keeps on digging. Defending himself against accusations of anti-Semitism, he made things worse. At a meeting last week in Cairo, six U.S. senators asked Morsi to distance himself from his 2010 remarks that Jews are “bloodsuckers” and “the descendants of apes and pigs.” Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) described how it went:
“He was attempting to explain himself . . . then he said, ‘Well, I think we all know that the media in the United States has made a big deal of this and we know the media of the United States is controlled by certain forces and they don’t view me favorably,’” Coons said. [ . . . ]
“He did not say [the Jews], but I watched as the other senators physically recoiled, as did I,” he said. “I thought it was impossible to draw any other conclusion.” [ . . . ]
“The conversation got so heated that eventually Senator McCain said to the group, ‘OK, we’ve pressed him as hard as we can while being in the boundaries of diplomacy,’” Coons said. “We then went on to discuss a whole range of other topics.”
The Jewish press no doubt will try to make something out of this; what the Jews in the media won’t tell you, of course, is that apes and pigs are very highly regarded in the Arab world, and President Morsi was just expressing his admiration and fondness for a people and a culture he respects.
The reality is that insane anti-Jewish conspiracy theories are the mother’s milk of political analysis in Egypt and in much of the rest of the Middle East. The emotional, visceral reaction against what is seen as Israel’s shaming, alien presence in the Arab world has fused with ugly and backward western anti-Semitism to create a turbo-charged fear and hatred of Jewish influence and Jewish power. A political and religious culture which cannot help but see the survival of a Jewish state in the region as a badge of humiliation and failure takes comfort in exaggerated ideas about Jewish power.
President Morsi didn’t think he was saying anything weird in claiming a Jewish conspiracy runs the American media. In the world in which he lives, this is like saying that the sun rises in the east. It is a cliche, not a smear.
Israeli policies can exacerbate the problem, but it is Israel’s existence not its excesses that are the heart of the problem. The Arab world will never prosper, and real peace in the Middle East will never come, until the mental disorder represented by anti-Semitism heals. That won’t happen soon—and until it does, a huge cultural gulf is going to keep Arabs and Americans apart.