Reaching Out to Muslim Brotherhood

American Jews Could Play Key Role With Egypt Islamists

Reaching Out: The Muslim Brotherhood won Egypt’s election. It wants to show it is ready to rule. The West wants to make sure it doesn’t take a radical path. American Jews could play a crucial role.
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Reaching Out: The Muslim Brotherhood won Egypt’s election. It wants to show it is ready to rule. The West wants to make sure it doesn’t take a radical path. American Jews could play a crucial role.

By Nathan Guttman

Published January 15, 2012, issue of January 20, 2012.
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American Jewish organizations have thus far chosen to avoid contacts with the Brotherhood, which currently does not have official representatives in Washington. While in other cases, Jewish groups have been willing to reach out in some way to most political players in the Middle East, no such outreach efforts have been made in the case of Egypt.

“It is too early,” said a Jewish activist who is with a large group and asked not to be identified. “The situation over there is in flux, and no one knows who is in charge and what they are thinking.”

For others, the troubling rhetoric coming out of Brotherhood circles makes it impossible to consider entering into talks with the group.

“For the same reasons you should not negotiate with Hamas or with the Nazis, you should not negotiate with the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America, explaining that speaking to the Ikhwan would “just legitimize them and their extreme platform.”

While Klein’s language may be harsher than most Jewish groups would choose, his objection to engaging with the Brotherhood represents the current dominant view within the Jewish organized community.

This objection runs counter to the new policy of America’s administration, which permits talks with the Brotherhood and sees value in discussing issues relating to Israel with members of what is shaping up to be the biggest political party in Egypt.

The United States refrained from engaging with the Brotherhood in previous years, fearing that it would irritate Mubarak, who was a close ally of the United States. But after Mubarak’s fall, American policy began shifting gradually, and in recent months Washington held working-level meetings with Brotherhood officials. Jeffrey Feltman, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s top Middle East adviser, led the disucssions.

These talks, the State Department believes, put to rest concerns from the United States and Israel that the Brotherhood will move to cancel Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. “We have had other assurances from the party with regard to their commitment not only to universal human rights, but to the international obligations that the government of Egypt has undertaken,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a January 5 press briefing.

But pro-Israel activists point to other statements coming from the Brotherhood, which indicate that the group views the peace treaty as “unbinding” and will refuse to recognize Israel under any circumstances.

Israel itself has adopted a practical approach to the Brotherhood and has allowed its ambassador in Cairo to engage in talks with members of the group, according to a recent press report. This could be an empty gesture at this point, since the Ikhwan has made it clear that it would not meet with any Israeli official.

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com


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