Muslim Anti-Semitism, Israel, and the Dynamics of Self-Destructive Scapegoating
(There’s a shorter version of this up at the Daily Telegraph. Check out the amazing comments.)
One of my daughters recently wrote me: “I was speaking to a friend of mine who had been dating a very, very, anti Israel activist for about a year. We don’t usually breech the topic but she asked me if most of the Muslim antisemitism in Europe wasn’t based on their dislike of what is going on in Israel and not so much on religion.”
This is a widely held belief among not only anti-Zionists, but among liberals in general. It takes a number of forms, all of which serve to explain the explosive and virulent hatreds of the Muslim world for Israel and the Jews (who support it), as a function of the evil that Israel has done to the Palestinians. It includes the widely held assumption that suicide bombings were a response to the despair that Palestinians felt because Israel denied them independence and dignity. It is also directly related to the problem of “Islamophobia is the new Anti-Semitism,” in which speaking of Muslim anti-Semitism becomes a new form of anti-Semitism.
I won’t so much argue against this approach – it has some data points to deploy – as I will argue an alternative approach to the problem, then discuss the consequences of (mis)reading the situation by either approach, and let readers decide for themselves which makes more sense.
From my point of view (medievalist familiar with Christian anti-Semitic words and deeds, and a student of the current scene), the argument works exactly in the opposite direction: Palestinian anti-Semites have produced the images – icons of hatred – that, through modern media, have spread the virus throughout the Muslim world. The violence that Israel does against the Palestinians – a fraction of the violence that Arab leaders do towards their own people with far less provocation – responds to Palestinian attacks inspired by anti-Semitc propaganda.
Because the Western mainstream news media (MSNM) has mainstreamed some of this propaganda (inexcusably but pervasively), many people, including my daughter’s friend – whose only data points are the TV images of terrible violence Israelis do to Palestinians, and TV images of Palestinian hatred – assume that the hatreds are at least in part justified. The number is legion of French Jews in the early “aughts,” under assault from a wave of hostility, who heard some variant of “no wonder French Muslims hate you, look at what your brethren in Israel do to their cousins in Palestine.”
Of course, let’s grant the news media everything they claim – that Israelis “massacred” hundreds of Palestinians in Jenin (2002), that they devastated Lebanon in 2006, that they killed over 1400 Gazans mostly civilians in Operation Cast Lead. This is nothing in comparison with what toxic Arab dictators do to their own people, the over million Muslims that Saddam Hussein killed in his career, the tens of thousands that Hafez al Assad killed a matter of weeks in the city of Hama (1982), even the brutal behavior that marks the current authorities in the Arab world, despite the watchful gaze of the world. And yet we have nothing resembling the thorough “critique” of Zionism in the Arab world that tackles the far older and more widespread problem of authoritarianism in Arab political culture. In a sense, anyone who “grants” the Palestinians and other Muslims “permission” to hate the Jews “given what Israel does to them,” just reveals their unthinking racism: “I don’t really expect anything remotely rational or balanced from these folks. If you piss them off, you deserve their rage.”
But to return to the main issue, the silence of the MSNM about the pervasiveness of a grotesque hatred: it is guilty in two senses here. In addition to reporting Palestinian lethal narratives bordering on blood libels as news, they did not report the hatreds that lay behind such narratives. In the summer of 2000, before the collapse of the Oslo Peace talks at Camp David, months before the intifada, the PA was blasting hatred of Israel and calls to war on its media. Perhaps the MSNM, like Clinton and Barak, were surprised by Arafat’s “no” at Camp David because they did not listen to – or heed – what he and his friends were saying in Arabic. On the contrary, driven by a (soft millennial) belief that peace was around the corner, they felt that dwelling on such bad news would queer the peace process. I still remember someone in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem telling me they would not allow Itamar Markus to present his material (what Palestinians say in Arabic), to the foreign media, “because Israel is officially in favor of the peace process.” As if denying the problem were somehow going to bring peace.
Nor did this change once war broke out. On October 12, 2000, Palestinians shouting “Revenge for the blood of Muhammad al Durah!” tore two Israeli reservists apart with their bare hands and paraded them through the streets. The next day, Sheikh Halabiya gave a sermon calling on Muslims to slaughter the Jews (NB Jews, not Israelis) wherever they see them. Two weeks later, NYT veteran reporter William Orme wrote a piece assessing the Israeli claim that the horrendous violence of the intifada – the attacks on Israelis on both sides of the Green Line – came from the incitement of the Palestinian media. In it he never discussed the al Durah case (which he had specifically covered, and which was the most explosive component in the campaign of incitement, and which his Palestinian informant alluded to when he claimed (dishonestly) claimed that “we have no fabricated pictures, and no fabricated stories”); and when it came time to quote a passage to illustrate incitement, he quoted the genocidal Halabiya as saying, “Labor, Likud, they’re all Jews.” How could a consumer of the MSNM – much less the anti-Zionist media – know any of this?
As a result, the ferocious strain of anti-Semitism in Palestinian irredentism, from the Mufti – who visited Hitler in Berlin 70 years ago today, discussed his contribution to the “final solution,” and pumped the Arab world with Nazi propaganda – to the escaped Nazis who fled to Egypt and Syria to continue their work, to Arafat and his pseudo-secular patter of “national liberation,” to Hamas’ apocalyptic paranoia, has gone largely undocumented and unknown to the average observer of what’s quaintly known as the “Middle East conflict.” Nor is this merely a quirk of journalism, but a widespread practice of the “post-colonial” field of Middle East studies in the wake of Edward Said’s masterpiece of cognitive warfare forbidding Westerners from “othering” Muslims.
Why the Arab/Muslim anti-Semitism? In a book published in the 1986, Bernard Lewis noted that by and large, even though Arabs adopted anti-Semitic material from the worst European sources as part of an anti-Zionist campaign, they remained friendly to Jews personally: 9-5 anti-semitism of the workplace.
No longer. Jews have been driven from places like Egypt, and now “democracy” crowds rallied by the Obama-administration-designated “moderate” Muslim Brotherhood chant, “One day we will kill all Jews.” (As Barry Rubin noted, does that make them “moderate” because they don’t want to do it this week?) Since 2000, Arab and Muslim news media have been awash with gory video depictions of the Elders of Zion carrying out their blood sacrifices of innocent Muslim youth. Specialists disagree over whether this is primarily an import from the worst of European hate-mongering, especially the Nazis, or an indigenous growth with roots in the Qur’an.
From a the point of view of a medievalist who studies millennialism, both these sources share a single genealogy, that of supersessionist, invidious identity formation activated by honor-shame insecurity. Both Islam and Christianity arise as apocalyptic offshoots of Judaism – Jesus and Muhammad were both “roosters” announcing in the former case, the imminent arrival of the kingdom of heaven, in the latter, the imminent Last Judgment. In both cases, early on, the founding prophets included Jews in their scope of those to whom they preached in the hopes of winning them over into apocalyptic time. In both cases their effort to win over the Jews and their prophecies failed: still today, neither kingdom of heaven, nor the Last Judgment have occurred. In both cases, one strain of belief blamed the Jews for the apocalyptic failure.
In both cases, the newer religions developed a replacement theology whereby they did not just become a new and additional chosen people, but had to replace the previous claimant(s). I make myself look bigger by making others (in this case, people I have been directly inspired by) look smaller. I can only be chosen of God if He has rejected you.
In the honor-shame, zero-sum variant of monotheism, one proves the superiority of one’s beliefs by subjecting those who do not share it to humiliations. Christianity took this attitude towards the Jewish minority in their midst (centuries before shariah law of dhimmis, Theodosius forbade Jews to build new synagogues or to have any synagogue higher than the Christian churches); and Muslims took the same honor-shame attitude towards both Christians and Jews under their power. And, not surprisingly, Christians and Muslims fought it out as only imperialist monotheists can do for well over a millennium.
As Gavin Langmuir pointed out decades ago, virulent anti-Semitism (which he distinguished from garden-variety anti-Judaism or dislike of Jews, but rather a demonization of the supernaturally evil Jews) arises when the supersessionist religion has a crisis of faith and becomes radically insecure. This can be provoked by a variety of circumstances – in the case Langmuir studied, it was a theological crises around the high medieval doctrine of transubstantiation (i.e., the wine and the wafer actually become the blood and body of Christ in the course of the mass). In any case, insecurity denied and weaponized can lead to apocalyptic paranoia and its genocidal hatreds.
In the current case of Islam, the realization that the West has far outstripped the Muslim world in technology and power, that Islam stands humiliated in the world scene, that modernity threatens to castrate Islam, and the belief that the Jews stand at the heart of modernity, has led to a virulent strain of not just anti-Zionism – itself the ultimate insult of modernity, a tiny bunch of should-be dhimmi who defeat Arab armies ten times their size – but of anti-Semitism.
Thus the Jewish slap on the faces of the Christians continues, who apparently enjoy and allow this sort of humiliation and attack, and give them their other cheek so that the Jew can continue to slap the Christians—just as we see—ruling them in Europe through the Masons who dig the grave of Western civilization through corruption and promiscuity. The Crusader West continues like a whore who is screwed sadistically, and does not derive any pleasure from the act until after she is struck and humiliated, even by her pimps—the Jews in Christian Europe. Soon they will be under the rubble as a result of the Jewish conspiracy. (Arif, Nihayat al-Yahud , 85, cited in Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic, 220; discussed in Landes, Heaven on Earth, pp. 455-57).
European anti-Zionist may like their fantasy that their attitude is not anti-Semitic, but in the case of the Arab and Muslim world, the slide from opposing Israel to ranting about “al Yahud” everywhere is effortless.
Given the power of genocidal anti-Semitic sentiments in the Arab and Muslim world – press and TV, mosques, public officials – one might wonder why the Western silence on the subject. Indeed it is so deafening, so understudied and underreported, that a less-well informed person might think that it doesn’t exist and my complaint is really just paranoia. It’s not enough to point to the degree of intimidation that pervades journalism in the Palestinian territories (and other places where state terrorists dominate the scene), an intimidation that came through loud and clear in the aftermath of the Ramallah lynch affair. Although that explains much of the behavior of journalists on the scene, like NYT reporter Steven Erlanger who waited until he left the region before – at long last – mentioning the problem in an article.
It’s also related to a particularly dangerous form of political correctness, in which speaking badly of Muslims is the new form of Anti-Semitism. As a colleague said to me in Paris, “The experience of the Muslims in Europe today is exactly the same as the Jews a century ago.” Of course, that’s not the case at all: both in terms of the wildly different behavior of the two minorities, and in terms of how the European elites behaved and behave towards them. By that (completely erroneous historical) logic, however, any attack on Islam is immediately comparable to a 19th century attack on Jews. To claim that Muslims want to take over Europe is the same as believeing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion; to accuse them of planning terror attacks, is the same as believing in the blood libel. Little matter that Islamists themselves say they want to take over Europe, and they want to bring a holocaust on the European infidel, that they actually do carry out terror attacks. The triumph of the will over reality.
Demonstrations outside Danish Embassy in London over Muhammad Cartoons (February 2006). Police tried to prevent observers from photographing a protestor wearing a mock suicide vest, this 6 months after the 7-7 London suicide attacks.
This problem is everywhere. Even Jewish organizations designed to protect Jews from anti-Semitism spend much more of their time sponsoring inter-religious dialogues, opposing Islamism, and applauding human rights initiatives, than even discussing, much less mobilizing against Muslim Anti-Semitism. In the USA, the once legendary ADL has become a 20th century relic in the 21st century, still pursuing the nice, liberal policy of protecting everyone’s rights in the (dashed) hopes that others will come to their defense when they need it. A recent study shows that only 1.3% of the ADL’s 4269 press releases (1995-present) focused on Islamic extremism and another 1.3% on Arab anti-Semitism. Of the 57 press releases devoted to Islamic extremism, only 13, about .005 were issued in the ten years since September 11, 2001, precisely when the threat to Jews from Islamic extremism dramatically increased. (That’s almost as small as the percentage of Jews in the world, or the percentage of the Arab world “occupied” by Israel – .002.)
In Germany, the Zentrum für Antisemitismusforschung in Berlin actually held a conference whose main theme was the close identity of Islamophobia and Judeophobia. Challenged, they replied indignantly that the mafioso tactics of their opponents (public criticism) were intolerable. A German colleague was surprised when I told him that Hamas is much closer to the Nazi attitude towards Jews than the neo-Nazis. These latter are closer to violent but garden variety xenophobes, and Jews barely register on their list of concerns, while Hamas shares the same fevered (apocalyptic) paranoia and genocidal loathing of Jews that the Nazis did.
Which brings us to the dilemma that faces the Western observer, especially the one who believes that moral behavior matters, and wants to support those who behave well and oppose those who behave badly. We are faced with two opposing narratives: one in which the Muslims (especially the Palestinians) are victims who might be forgiven their hatred of the imperialist Israelis, one in which the Israelis are victims, who might be forgiven their violent resistance to Palestinian and Muslim anti-Semitic assaults.
Why not toss a coin?
Because (aside from the fact that in so doing one would greatly increase support for the imperialist Zionists to 50%), there are serious consequences to misreading this situation. If I am wrong, and Palestinian hatred is merely a result of the “occupation”, then concessions from the Israelis should lead to a lessening of Palestinian hatred, and the road to peace. As Stephen Bronner, prominent scholar of Anti-Semitism noted in an article on the Protocols,
Nevertheless, it makes sense to believe that an anti-Semitism that has only grown with the success of Israeli imperialist policy will diminish with a change in that policy.
This is the prevailing paradigm that currently dominates thinking about the Arab-Israeli conflict. It projects a kind of positive-sum rationality on Arab political culture, and assumes that if something’s wrong, it is the fault of the stronger party unwilling to compromise (Israel). It’s the same mentality that gives us the universal and universally wrong excitement of the MSNM about the “Arab Spring” – get rid of a dictator… get democracy. No? No.
Of course, if the Palestinians really are rational, really want their own state (rather than to destroy Israel), then they should, in principle, be amenable to making some important moves towards reconciliation, like, say, cutting off the hate incitement on TV, and building settlements in the land they control (Area A of the West Bank and all of Gaza) to resettle their refugees. No? No.
But if I’m right, if it’s a profoundly rooted anti-Semitism among Arabs today, one that has been “cooking” for over a century, got jacked up on steroids during the Nazi period, and hit a rolling boil in 2000 with the al Durah blood libel, then it’s another story entirely. If I’m right, then “solving the refugee problem” by allowing these poor victims of war to have a real home is not on the Palestinian agenda – even if they got their state. On the contrary, these “refugees” are designated victim-weapons in a war of annihilation.
If I’m right, then every time Israel makes concessions, it encourages further aggressions. Thus, despite what the politically correct paradigm, based on projecting our own liberal mentality on others, anticipated, every time Israel engaged in anti-imperialist activities – like withdrawing from most of the West Bank (1994-2000), all of southern Lebanon (2000) and all of Gaza (including uprooting 8000 settlers) – the result was more and more vicious aggression.
Nor is this merely a problem faced by Israel. (I know there are many anti-Zionists out there who treasure the thought that if only they throw Israel into the maw of the beast, that they’ll be spared, but that too is a piece of cognitive egocentrism in which their imagined distinction between the West (us) and despised Israel (them) is shared by the Jihadis.) Israel is to Europe dealing with Jihadi Islam what the Sudetenland was to the French and English in dealing with the Nazis. The difference is that, thankfully for the West, Israel is armed and refuses to commit suicide – even though that infuriates those who would prefer they do so quietly.
For ultimately, the problem of anti-Semitism is not a Jewish but a gentile problem. Granted the Jews suffer from anti-Semitism, indeed they’re often the first to suffer. But the ultimate price is paid by those foolish enough to either get sucked into the world of hatred and paranoia that anti-Semites peddle, or ignore its presence as a sad but inevitable part of life. As any historian of World War II can tell you, if six million Jews were murdered, more than ten (!) times as many non-Jews died in that madness.
The Arab world in the latter half of the 20th century offers a striking parallel to Spain in the 16th century. Both worlds had expelled their Jews (Spain in 1492, Arabs in 1948); both experienced a flood of wealth (Spain got New World gold and the Arabs got Petrodollars); and both were failed societies unable to parlay that wealth into a thriving culture that made life better for all its people. As Ruth Wisse put it recently: “Arab leaders do not yet acknowledge that they sealed the doom of their societies in 1948 when they organized their politics against the Jewish state rather than toward the improvement of their countries.” And they’re doing it again, this time not from the top down, but from the bottom up.
In a recent article, Jeffrey Goldberg tried to acknowledge the problem of anti-Semitic sentiments pervading the “Arab Spring” all the while preserving the belief that “The people of the Middle East are finally awakening to the promise of liberty.” But the two are intimately related. The Judeophobia of these alleged “liberty-seekers” isn’t some deplorable but ultimately separate issue. The Judeophobia is not the problem, but the symptom. It’s the conspiracy thinking that blames every problem on the “other”: Muslims attack Copts? It’s the Jews. Police turn violently on the crowds? It’s the Jews. Arab Spring turning into Islamist Winter? It’s the Jews (or, if you’re on the BBC, “outside forces”). How can one possibly inaugurate, foster, and sustain a democratic culture of freedom, one that, the in words of Isaiah Berlin, considers it “shameful not to grant to others the freedom one wants to exercise oneself,” without an ability to self-criticize?
Anti-Semitism is everyone’s problem, especially the Muslims. And the sooner the “progressives” who want to help them, stop feeding their anti-Semitic vulnerabilities by joining them in demonizing Israel, and help them deal with the problem of self-criticism (a virtue to which the “left” could well afford to renew its commitments), the sooner we are likely to see a real Arab Spring, one that benevolent people the world over can sincerely cheer. Of course that would mean that anti-Zionists would have to overcome their own scapegoating fantasies.