Anti-Semitism, Nazis, and Muslims: Is it Islamism or Islam?

Keith Pavlischek has an interesting meditation which begins with a discussion of a debate between Andy Bostom and Matthias Küntzel about the nature of Islamic anti-semitism. This debate has recently turned even more vituperative, alas, as a result of a book review by John Rosenthal of Klaus Gensicke’s Klaus Gensicke. Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationalsozialisten: Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationalsozialisten in Policy Review. Pavlischek’s opening discussion focuses on the debate’s substantive issues and highlights their significance.

Jihad, Jew-Hatred, and Evangelicals and Jews Together

By Keith Pavlischek
Thursday, March 27, 2008, 6:14 AM

An instructive and fascinating debate has erupted over what at first glance may seem an academic point. The debate is between Matthias Küntzel, the author of Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11, and Andrew Bostom, the editor of The Legacy of Jihad and author of the forthcoming book The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History.

The debate is not over whether contemporary Islamism is vehemently anti-Jewish but over the historical roots of that Jew-hatred. Küntzel locates the current rabid Jew-hatred specifically in the influence of Nazi ideology. Bostom, alternatively, insists that the legacy of Islamic Jew-hatred is far more ancient and deeply rooted in classical Islam. Bostom assembles a wealth of historical material and concludes, “According to the full range of hadith concerning the Jews, stubborn malevolence is the Jews’ defining worldly characteristic: rejecting Muhammad and refusing to convert to Islam out of jealousy, envy and even selfish personal interest, lead them to acts of treachery, in keeping with their inveterate nature.”

Contemporary Islamic Jew-hatred, according to Bostom, cannot simply be linked to the influence of Nazi propaganda but rather with an entirely explicable reaction to the very existence of Israel. Explicable, that is, given Islam’s traditional hostility to Jews. According to Bostom, “The rise of Jewish nationalism—Zionism—posed a predictable, if completely unacceptable challenge to the Islamic order—jihad-imposed chronic dhimmitude for Jews—of apocalyptic magnitude.” He then quotes his mentor, Bat Ye’or, who explained: “Because divine will dooms Jews to wandering and misery, the Jewish state appears to Muslims as an unbearable affront and a sin against Allah. Therefore it must be destroyed by Jihad.”

One crucial implication of all this is that the Israeli-Palestinian “problem” has less to do with any particular policy pursued by Israel than with the Jew-hating ideology intrinsic to Islamist organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood (not to mention the Islamic Republic of Iran). Also, the deep-seated Jew-hatred of the Islamists should disabuse us of the notion that the threat of Islamism will wither away with the establishment of a Palestinian state.

I don’t intend to weigh in on the particulars of the Küntzel-Bostom debate, except to note that it has profound implications for how we name the enemy. Do we call them Islamofascists, which tends to suggest their current form of Jew-hatred is originally modern? Or do we call them Jihadists, suggesting a more ancient and intrinsic connection to Islamic theology and political understanding (with consequently diminished prospects for reform)? In any case, the debate is instructive, with both sides presenting plausible (and not mutually exclusive) explanations.

I agree here with Pavlischek. Not only are these issues crucial, the positions are not mutually exclusive (hence my dismay at the stridency of the debate). All of the books here discussed support the Honor-Shame Jihad Paradigm (Israel is a theological blasphemy to an honor-shame form of religiosity that can only feel good about itself when it debases its parent religion); and challenge the Western cognitive egocentrism of the Politically Correct Paradigm that insists on seeing the conflict as one of rival nationalisms that, hopefully, can be resolved by compromise. Indeed, those tempted by the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis would do well to ponder Pavlischek’s comment: “the deep-seated Jew-hatred of the Islamists should disabuse us of the notion that the threat of Islamism will wither away with the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

The rest of the article treats the matter of Jewish discomfort with Christian support for Israel. That is an entirely different issue, about which he has some interesting things to say, despite completely ignoring the major source of the discomfort — i.e., the underlying apocalyptic beliefs that fuel some of the most passionate support for Israel, beliefs that make the Zionist fervor a time-bound phenomenon, an instrument in the hastening of Jesus’ return, at which point Jews will vanish from the earth either in the battle of Armageddon or by converting to Christianity.

The debate between Küntzel and Bostom, despite the excess of heat it has generated, also sheds important light. Küntzel’s point is that although there is a long history of Jew-hatred in Islam, since Hassan al Banna, and even more, since the establishment of Israel, that hatred has shifted from what I call anti-Judaism (“we” are right and proud because you are wrong an humbled) to anti-Semitism (your very existence threatens us, we must exterminate you before you destroy us). This is the shift that the Nazis made in their turn to what Goldhagen calls “exteminationist anti-Semitism” and Friendlander calls “redemptive anti-Semitism” — i.e., salvation comes from wiping out the Jews. I think, it is correct to see the rebirth of Jihad in the 20th century as a) a virulent form of anti-Semitism that incorporated much of the European tradition — blood libels, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, etc. — even as its earlier traditions of Jew hatred provided the fertile soil for this transfer.

Bostom may well be correct in showing that even this kind of genocidal thinking existed, if not in precisely the form it now takes, throughout Islamic history. My own suggestion here is to view this exterminationist anti-Semitism as the product of apocalyptic time: that’s how it operated in Christianity (e.g., the slaughters of the First Crusade), and how it operates now in Islam. Fundamentally, as far as I can make out, Bostom and Küntzel agree on a key point: the existence of Israel has driven Muslims, long accustomed to throttling and humiiating Jews, into paroxysms of hatred. Today, for Muslims drenched in the frustration and humiliation of a tiny Israel resisting their efforts to restore the true nature of the world order and return the Jews to dhimmi status, it has morphed into a desire to kill all Jews everywhere.

So if we want to understand the dynamics, we are best advised — I think — not to look for a permanent state of genocidal Jew hatred, nor for a once-only appearance in the modern world, but for its episodic emergence in paranoid apocalyptic moments when Muslims (or Christians) think they are fighting a Jewish enemy that refuses to accept its place at the bottom of the hierarchy (as in the case of modern Zionism), and that the genocidal element takes on a particular power when Muslims and Christians believe that they are engaged in the apocalyptic battle of the Endtimes.

Hopefully this suggestion may permit us to move on to the important discussion of what is going on in Islam today, and how we can deal with it.

13 Responses to Anti-Semitism, Nazis, and Muslims: Is it Islamism or Islam?

  1. Peter B says:

    This is less a comment on your very well taken conclusion and more a discussion of the forces available to support Israel now and going forward.

    First of all, though, while I share your concern that Evangelical support for Israel is likely to be time limited because it is dependent on aspects of Christian apocalyptic theology, I don’t completely agree with you that Jewish discomfort with that theology is the main source of Jewish discomfort with Evangelicals.

    You (along with Pavlischek, and James Q. Wilson whom he quotes extensively) may be looking at American Jewry too monolithically.
    As the Left’s long march through the academy plays out, non-Orthodox American Jews born since the Yom Kippur war are at least as likely to adhere to their generation’s internationalist/Eurabian thinking as they are likely to feel a visceral attachment and loyalty to Israel. For such young Jews it is more the attachment to Israel itself that causes the discomfort; they themselves tend to be quite apocalyptic in their own thinking, just not in a traditionally religious way. They are in a sense recapitulating the deracination of Jewish international Socialists of a century ago and are similarly hostile to Jewish national loyalty, particulary since in the last century the status of “Oppressed” has been canonized and the Jewish nation has lost that favored status and is now viewed as the oppressor.

    There are some signs of a similar generational shift among Evangelicals, (the environmentalist language used by some younger Evangelicals uses the rhetoric of stewardship, but it has a definite Green Party/environmental apocalyptic tone to it and the Greens are generally very hostile to Israel) though it hasn’t shown up (yet?) in any change of Evangelical support for Israel.

  2. oao says:

    <the deep-seated Jew-hatred of the Islamists should disabuse us of the notion that the threat of Islamism will wither away with the establishment of a Palestinian state.

    This is precisely what the west cannot bring itself to contemplate. Which is why demopathy is so effective

    its episodic emergence in paranoid apocalyptic moments when Muslims (or Christians) think they are fighting a Jewish enemy that refuses to accept its place at the bottom of the hierarchy

    Which explains why the most christian west is so readily willing to sacrifice the jews to islamism to save their ass.

    There was an sketch on the Daily Show when a chritian and muslim argue and fail to agree on anything. then stewart make a comment and they immediately agree that the jew is the problem.


  3. Eliyahu says:

    I pretty much agree with you, RL, that the old Judeophobia of the Muslims has adopted the EuroJudeophobia, including Nazi notions, the Protocols, etc. I agree that Kuntzel and Bostom’s positions are not necessarily mutually exclusive, as far as I know the two positions. I DO NOT agree with Bernard Lewis who [Semites and Anti-Semites] that antisemitism in Islam began with the influence of early 19th missionaries and Western officials on Christian communities in the Middle East, which Judeophobic influence was transmitted to the Muslims. Yes, that did happen in regard to particular, specific notions like the blood for matsah libel [as in the 1841 Damascus Affair]. But such notions reached fertile ground in the preexisting Muslim bigotry and prejudices.

    See Carlo Panella, Il ‘Complotto Ebraico’ [Torino 2005]. This book is very good at showing the medieval roots of Islamic Judeohobia.

  4. Stu says:


    Perhaps part of the stridency of this debate stems from the risk to a key point not yet touched upon. While I agree with you that the two positions are not mutually exclusive, there may be a particular danger lurking beneath the idea that Nazism bears most of the blame. If Nazism is to blame, then it is the West–once again–at fault for the current state of things. Thus–once again–Arab-Muslims need not look inward for problems or solutions.


  5. […] Richard Landes, invoking understandably, his background as a Medievalist, with a special interest in millenarian movements—attempts a thoughtful “reconciliation” of what he attributes to be the positions of Matthias Kuntzel, and myself, vis a vis Islamic Antisemitism. But Landes’ discussion has two fundamental flaws.  […]

  6. Stephen Fox says:

    It’s excellent to read such thoughtful analysis. Many thanks for this post.
    Does not the ‘Jewish enemy that refuses to accept its place at the bottom of the hierarchy’ equally provoke to rage two proud, masculine cultures which are themselves outraged at finding themselves at the bottom? Germany’s attempts at developing an empire had largely foundered, and the huge power and richness of Islam at its height reached its final nadir at the same moment, at the end of the First World War. Surely it is no coincidence that the deep-seated anti-semitism of both cultures became pathological at the same moment in history.
    It is in no sense to excuse either to understand how this might occur, any more than understanding the rage of a defeated or humiliated individual that drives him to kill leads us to excuse the killing. Except that as I write, the French idea of ‘crime passionnel’ comes into my mind, and draws me back to the context of your ‘Augean Stables’, Richard. French law does to some extent excuse some murders, on precisely that basis. Anglo-Saxon law does not, seeing only the bully saying, ‘I want that give it to me, or I will kill you’.
    Watch a champion at Roland Garros, and hear the French howl for the underdog to pull him down. If they can make it happen, by sheer force of willpower, they do, every time.

  7. Sophia says:

    I hope these two scholars can reconcile as both have a great deal to say.

    I had been leaning almost 100% toward Kuntzel’s theories but feel Bostom has a point too – having recently communicated with him and more carefully read some of his work.

    I also feel the relationship between judenhass and Eastern Christianity is overlooked and should be examined – in my own experience this can be quite potent and is probably playing a role in the M.E. and with Israel’s problems in the UN, etc., today.

    There’s something else going on here that’s bothering me though, and that’s what I perceive as a false distinction between “East” and “West,” with much handwringing and distress on the part of Westerners who fear we’re all going to hell in a handbasket on the one hand and on the other, distress that the “West” is constantly being blamed for all the ills in the world.

    Obviously the former may be globally true but the latter is manifestly false – but that said – my point is this: there is no real hard and fast, black/white demarcation on this planet between “East” and “West” and the persistent belief in this dichotomy is in itself causing unnecessary grief just as the quarrel between Kuntzel and Bostom is unnecessary and misleading (though potentially thought provoking as RL points out).

    In fact, some of the richest and most fertile manifestations of “Western” culture come from the East or from an overlap between “East” and “West” – look at Judaism for example. Aren’t Jews of the East? Is Greece really “West”? People who know Greece know it ISN’T – that it carries echoes of the pagan world and the Ottoman world as well as the seeds of Plato and Aristotle. And Christianity itself – how does that square, really, with The Age of Reason? Is the West – what?

    Further – what about flamenco? Isn’t that a fusion of Eastern and Western music and dance? And what of ancient Egypt – doesn’t time itself cease to matter when such cultures continue to vibrate in the mind? What of the Aztecs for that matter? Their accomplishments, art and mythology resonate among imaginative, learned people to this day.

    Anyway – apologies if I’ve strayed off topic. But I believe that dualism in itself is causing arguments between people, like Kuntzel and Bostom, who are fundamentally both on the same side – the side of reason and historical accuracy – and both are right in many respects.

    This reminds me a little of the academic battles between “neo-classicists” and “romantics” in the 19th century – both in fact were aspects of a rapidly evolving art and world-view and together they formed a modernizing, adaptive whole which was dealing with rapid technological changes as well as man’s wholesale plunge into the world of science, the rising importance of the self-conscious individual, and growing awareness of different cultures – both ancient and contemporary.

    Back on point: I do think that the dark picture of Jewish conditions in the Muslim world varied substantially, from time to time and from place to place, and weren’t necessarily as dark and terrible as sometimes portrayed – indeed it’s a fact that Jews were integral parts of society from Morocco to China and specialized in certain professions, crafts and trades – though obviously always a minority with the precariousness this entails.

    But in my opinion, Christian stereotyping of Jews has actually been much more damaging – after all in the Christian schema we are guily of deicide – the ultimate blood libel – and there is much in the New Testament that is downright antisemitic – or has been interpreted as such – I can’t be alone in having been shocked to read of Sabeel and their philosophy, nor that of certain “liberation” theologies in the US, and their point of view regarding Jesus and his status as a “Palestinian” or even a black person – I’m not sure that Israel’s existence even has much to do with this! Jesus becomes the face of Oppressed People, regardless – and regardless of any historic reality. Israel – the Jews – thus become the Romans – or worse – the Nazis.

    It’s this ability to toss facts out the window which, among other things, is frightening. And young people here are as just as susceptible to it as anybody anywhere in the world – especially when “the lobby’s” supposed manipulation of the press is the topic of university courses!

    In sum, both our religious “children,” Chistianity and Islam, seem threatened by our very existence and neither have treated us too well – it’s almost as though it’s hard for adherents of either to accept our continuing existence – whilst simultaneously absorbing and co-opting our history and our books – and that is a tragedy and a shame. It also explains why both “East” and “West” and “Left” and “Right” are susceptible to antisemitism: the ground is already ripe. The most powerful religions of both Europe and the Middle East predispose a certain tendency regardless of economic theory or political philosophy, and that tendency has led to the marginalization and victimization of Jews.

    But where do you place modern-day Nazism in either of those religious paradigms? I don’t think it really fits into either – it’s something horrible, something both new and atavistic; and has fastened onto people both in the West and in the M.E. and rears its head in the strangest places – you hear antisemitism from the president of Malaysia – where there are no Jews – and can read antisemitic rants in “progressive” blogs and magazines as well as on the far right – most of which have absolutely nothing to do with Israel – or with Jews – vos de atzlan for example – Israel has become a paradigm of “the oppressor”.

    In conclusion I think the exterminationist theories of Nazism are something prefigured by neither Islam nor Christianity, though misojudaism in both obviously has played into Nazi and unfortunately, some Socialist themes. What baffles me is how to fight it, particularly as it HAS found a resonance in the modern Middle East as well as remaining potent in the Western far right, and increasingly on the modern far left.

    It’s the latter that scares me the most because the Left is supposed to be working against this stuff – against racism, against the victimization of the little people – against religious superstition – the Left – supposedly – is rational. Yet the Soviet Union victimized Jews and supported the PLO, Libya and the UAR and modern leftists sometimes find common cause with Hamas.

    The best Gandhi could do was advise the Jews of Europe to peacefully accept their fate – and this in turn plays into the antiwar, “anti-imperialist” disgust with Israel – the tiny state, formed of people who’ve survived genocide and centuries of abuse and dispossession – who insist, go figure, on trying to stay alive.

    It truly DOESN’T make much sense.

  8. oao says:


    there may be a particular danger lurking beneath the idea that Nazism bears most of the blame.

    you got it.


    Does not the ‘Jewish enemy that refuses to accept its place at the bottom of the hierarchy’ equally provoke to rage two proud, masculine cultures which are themselves outraged at finding themselves at the bottom?

    absolutely. that’s precisely why the nazi ant-semitism found such a willing audience in islamists. its scriptures primed them for it, but it was in a similar context of societal failure.

  9. Michael B says:

    “Not only are these issues crucial, the positions are not mutually exclusive (hence my dismay at the stridency of the debate).”

    I’m a big “fan” of both Kűntzel’s and Rosenthal’s writings, but I do think Bostom scores some substantial refuations of parts of what Kűntzel forwards, most recently in his “Richard the Reconciliation-Hearted” reply, linked herein. For example, I find the conception of “anti-Judaism” as used here at Augean Stables very nearly incoherent or at least unhelpful in terms of better clarifications that might be forwarded. In considering 1) anti-Semitism, 2) anti-Judaism and 3) anti-Zionism (anti-Israelism), it seems far more apt, respectively, to assign them to 1) racial, ethnic and socio-cultural categories, 2) religious and socio-religious categories and 3) socio-political and national categories and to do so, obviously enough, in a manner that allows for ample overlap, both practically and conceptually.

    Imo, to think of anti-Judaism as an attenuated form of anti-Semitism tends to obscure rather than illuminate. After all, it’s not as if moderate vs. less moderate or even virulent forms of anti-Semitism cannot be recognized and fully articulated, no?

    Also, though this is likely to be interpreted as an unnecesasry and perhaps even a rude interruption, in virtually every use herein, both in the original post and in subsequent commentary, the term “Christian” or “Christianity” should be supplanted with the term “Christendom” or some similar term to suggest a social/political entity rather than Christianity qua Christianity. Obviously, people can criticize both Christianity and Christendom, but generally they are best treated as more or less distinct objects of criticism, assuming more rather than less clarity is desired. If anyone truly wishes to criticize Christianity qua Christianity they would need to review it’s most inspired teachers, e.g., a Watchman Nee (China), a Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Simone Weil, to name some 20th century notables.

    Or another and more immediately accessible way to view it is ably described by E. Ottolenghi, not quite half way into the final video, here, for example where he contrasts the “North American” religious experience with that of Europe, wherein state mechanisms variously and essentially coopted substantial quarters of Christianity. But that is one example only in Ottolenghi’s thoughtfully summarized ten or twelve minutes. All this only scratches at the surface of what needs to be explicated in far more detail, philosophically, socio-politically and otherwise, but it serves as a thematic comment nonetheless concerning a set of topics very much related to what is being discussed, overtly in some parts and more intrinsically and, admittedly, ambiguously in other parts.

  10. ER says:

    Man, you guys are nuts if you think there’s anyway to reconcile such mutually exclusive views–how can it be that jihad and Islamic antisemitism arose in the 20th century yet also was inherent in the Islamic texts of Qur’an, Hadith, and Sira, as well as practiced for centuries before the 20th century? Both cannot be true. One person is spreading nonsensical falsehood that can be disproved by very simple factchecking, and it’s not Bostom!

    Don’t you see the danger–if Kuntzel’s idea is pushed that the jihad and Islamic antisemitism actually stems from Hassan al-Banna and the Muslim Brotherhood, then the whole war on terror is going to be confronted with a fundamentally flawed understanding of who/what the enemy is–which is political Islam, not just those Qutbist groups that trace their roots to Hassan al-Banna. We’re going to continue with the oft-repeated, but misleading idea that there’s a big difference between “moderates” and “extremists.” We’re going to say that if Nazi socialism was the problem, then how did we deal with it and then adopt such an approach. Our foreign policy will be wrong, and we will actually end up helping those we wrongly perceive to be moderates, but who also adhere to Jew-hatred and supporting jihad (different tactics).

    Nazism was just a blip of an influence when one looks at the entrenched role of jihad and Jew-hatred for over 1000 years. I’m really shocked Kuntzel can get away with such a crazy thesis. It’s totally reckless.

  11. Eliyahu says:

    In re the Bostom-Kuntzel dispute. There is evidence that Hitler was influenced by the Islamic jihad doctrine. It was not for nothing that Haj Amin el-Husseini, British-appointed mufti of Jerusalem, told an audience of Bosnian Muslim SS troops in the Handschar [khanjar] SS division, that there was much in common between Islam and National Socialism. See link:

    I don’t claim that the dispute is a matter of which came first, the chicken or the egg. Rather, I would point out the pre-existing Muslim bigotry against Jews predisposed the Arabs for the Nazi claims, the Protocols, etc. This Judeophobia is noticeable in the Qur’an and the Hadith [consider the medieval fable of killing Jews in quoted in Article 7 of the Hamas Charter].
    The Germans, on the other hand, had a worse, more murderous version than other European Christian countries/cultures. Consider the vicious Judeophobia expressed by Luther –surpassing the hatred of Jews usual in the Roman Catholic tradition. Luther’s hatred was passed down to many German theologians, philosophers, scholars, notably to Kant, Fichte, Hegel, and from them to Marx, among others, including Biblical scholars [higher criticism], archeologists, classicists, historians of ancient times. Peter Viereck’s Megapolitics does not go far enough in my view into the Nazi connection to Kant & Hegel in the formation of its extreme German nationalism and Judeophobia. The meeting of 20th century Islam and National Socialism was the meeting between two Judeophobic traditions.

  12. Andrew Bostom makes a powerful case for Muslim anti-Semitism that originated with the the Qur’an and the Hadith. Matthias Küntzel makes a compelling case for Nazi Influence on Arab politics, and on many strains of modern Islam. Egos get in the way of seeing the value in both studies. A interesting further line or research might be the transfers of anti-Semitic ideas and behaviors from Muslim societies to Europe and North America.

  13. Michael B says:

    Marx, Kant, Fichte and Hegel were capable of thinking for themselves. Or, via this allusion or logic you’re forwarding, Eliyahu, if Luther’s late in life antiSemitism was responsible for such prominent thinkers, then shall we assume rabbinic Christophobia – including that exhibited during the twenty-plus decades prior to Constantine, including passages in the Talmud and including some of the most vituperative and vicious language ever used by one group against another group – was responsible for later anti-Semitic writings and actions among some?

    Something tells me the answer is a resounding “no,” as well it should be. Problem is, we’re suppose to be nuanced and take care to refrain from sweeping generalizations when it comes to one group, but if there’s ever an opportunity to generalize about Xians, or overly leverage Luther’s antiJudaic and antiSemitic writings, then nuance and attention to much detail is thrown out the window and in its place we are treated to Goldhagen-like repetitious arguments posing as scholarship or similarly specious generalizations.

    Fact is, and reflective of those rabbinic writings even prior to Constantine, many among the Jewish community, whether secular or religious, simply don’t like Xians and Xianity and are more than willing to apply sweeping generalizations and overly leveraged historical instances exceedingly far beyond what is warranted, Goldhagen is but one of the latest testaments to this historical and contemporary fact.

    And all this, from the pre-Constantinian rabbinic vituperations on through to Goldhagen’s preposterously inveighed and hate-filled “scholarship” is not worth a moment’s consideration, much less being made accessible to thoroughgoing rational inquiry, to the mind; hence repetitions in lieu of those rational critiques and a blind, kowtowing acceptance rather than a conscientious regard for fact and truth.

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