"But we are Semites ourselves!" That is what an urbane Egyptian journalist will likely reply to the charge that the Egyptian media is rife with anti-Semitism. But there are few places where Jews are blamed for so many of the world's ills, from carcinogenic pesticides to the war in Iraq.
More distressing is that much of the pointing is being done by Egypt's self-described liberals -- the pro-democratic and anti-Islamist crowd on which the country's hopes for a more tolerant future supposedly rest.
The most recent episode began on Oct. 2, when the Anti-Defamation League issued a press release reporting "Surge in Anti-Semitic Messages on Online Finance Sites." An Egyptian journalist read about it in the Israeli daily "Maariv," and here is how the new, "liberal" Egyptian weekly Al-Youm As-Sabi headlined its report the next day: "Jews are the principal suspect in the financial crisis." The article ran alongside a photo of stock market readouts, captioned "why are cries against Jews growing louder in the U.S.?"
This was not the only instance in which Egypt's "liberal" intelligentsia found ways to blame Jews for the financial crisis. On Oct. 11, Abbas at-Tarabili, the editor in chief of the Al-Wafd daily -- the house organ of Egypt's leading "liberal" political party of the same name -- wrote a column purporting to show that Jews were merely manipulating the stock market as they had the price of gold in the late 1970s.
"The Jews played a filthy game," he wrote. "It is true that the Western countries -- the United States on top -- have a lot to lose, but all pours into the pockets of Jewish businessmen who control the stock markets of the world."
Two weeks later, Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt's largest independent newspaper and widely regarded as the country's only serious tribune for liberalism, ran a column baldly titled "The Jewish Conspiracy." The columnist, Khairi Ramadan, who also co-hosts one of the country's most successful talk shows, asked his readers not to ignore what is being said on the Internet "about a Jewish conspiracy in the end of Bush's term, in preparation for controlling the next president."
"The available information," wrote Mr. Ramadan, shows that "the Jews withdrew 400 billion dollars from Lehman Brothers a couple of weeks before it collapsed," adding that the collapse of the brokerage house was of a piece with the events of September 11, "when thousands of Jews did not go to the WTC."
These examples are especially notable because they have nothing to do with Israel or Zionism. They expose the falsehood -- popular with prominent scholars like John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of last year's best-selling book "The Israel Lobby" -- that hatred of Jews is not one of the great motivating factors in the Arab world's overall objections to Israel.
But these examples also raise a serious question about what passes for liberalism in the Arab world. Why bother listening to these voices on matters of economics -- much less politics, democracy or human rights -- if they also propagate hateful conspiracy theories?
There's another question: Over the past eight years, the United States has invested huge resources in attempting to bring democracy to the Middle East. But it's not clear whether that project will succeed as long as America's natural allies in the region remain themselves so profoundly irrational and illiberal.
What can be done? Here's a modest suggestion. The Egyptian state and the country's newspapers go out of their way to make a leper of any author who expresses even remote sympathy with Israel. Perhaps Western institutions could adopt a similar practice, refusing to invite to their various functions any editors who allow their pages to become Jew-hatred platforms. The cold shoulder alone might get these lunch-eaters to change their tune.
Mr. Bargisi is a Cairo-based writer and a former Bartley Fellow at the Journal.
Gerardo Joffe, President