- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A leading Muslim Brotherhood member and adviser to Islamist President Mohammed Morsi created a stir in Egypt when he called on Egyptian Jews in Israel to return home because Egypt is now a democracy and because the Jewish state won’t survive.

Essam el-Erian’s remarks in a TV appearance put the Brotherhood, which holds power in Egypt, on the spot as opponents — and some allies — jumped on the comments to denounce the group.

Mr. Morsi’s office last week disassociated the president from the comments, saying they were Mr. el-Erian’s personal opinion.

The criticism ran an unusual gamut of Egyptians’ attitudes toward Jews, Israel and the Brotherhood itself.

Some denounced the Brotherhood for trying to put up a veneer of tolerance by inviting Jews to return while Egypt’s other religious minorities, particularly Christians, increasingly are worried about persecution under the new Islamist rulers and an Islamist-slanted constitution.

Others saw the comments as a sort of outreach to Zionists, considered the enemy, and as a new example of how the Brotherhood has had a hard time melding its longtime anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish rhetoric with its new responsibilities since coming to power.

Under Mr. Morsi — who hails from the Brotherhood — the government has continued cooperation with Israel and upheld the two countries’ peace deal. Mr. Morsi in November helped mediate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist terrorist group that governs the Gaza Strip.

Some warned that Mr. el-Erian was opening the door for Egyptian Jews to demand compensation for property taken from them or left behind in Egypt and could even undermine the Palestinians’ right to return to homes in Israel.

Still others were simply outraged that a Brotherhood official would invite back Jews, and one hard-line Islamist politician threatened any Jews who come back.

And there were a few voices calling for Egypt to sincerely look at past treatment of its Jewish community — including why they left or were expelled — and whether they should have the right to return.

The Jewish diaspora

Speaking on private ONTV, historian Khaled Fahmy suggested taking Mr. el-Erian’s comments at face value.

“I am taking the call seriously,” he said. “I would like to see it in part as respectable, as addressing morals and high principles.”

Mr. Fahmy said Egyptians should talk about the past “harm to Egyptian Jews” and consider them as still having Egyptian nationality. “I wish this was put to a public discussion,” he said.

Egypt’s once-thriving Jewish community largely left Egypt more than 60 years ago amid the hostilities between Egypt and Israel.

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