Muslim Anti - Semitism, Israel and the Dynamic of Self - Destructive Scapegoating / Richard Landes

December 1st, 2011
Anti-Semitism is everyone's problem, including the Muslims'.

One of my daughters recently wrote to 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 broach the topic but she asked me if most of the Muslim anti-Semitism 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.

The argument, of course, can work inversely: Palestinian anti-Semites have produced icons of hatred that, through modern media, have spread the virus throughout the Muslim world. The violence that Israel does against the Palestinians, from targeted killings to the separation barrier, to the blockade of Gaza, responds to Palestinian attacks inspired by anti-Semitic propaganda.

Because the Western mainstream news media (MSNM) has mainstreamed some of this propaganda, 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. “No wonder French Muslims hate you,” the French would say to their Jewish co-citoyens, “look at what your brethren in Israel do to their cousins in Palestine.”

Of course such an attitude has to ignore the fact that the Israelis do a fraction of the violence to Palestinians that Arab leaders do towards their own people with far less provocation. To “grant” the Palestinians and other Muslims “permission” to hate the Jews “given what Israel does to them,” reveals unthinking racism: “I don’t really expect anything remotely rational or balanced from these folks. If you piss them off, you deserve their rage.”

The MSM is guilty in two senses for not covering the pervasiveness of this grotesque hatred. They not only reported Palestinian lethal narratives bordering on blood libels as news, they did not report the hatreds that inspired such narratives. In the summer of 2000, the PA was blasting hatred of Israel. If the MSNM were surprised by Arafat’s “no” at Camp David, it’s because they ignored what he and his friends were saying in Arabic. On the contrary, driven by a belief that peace was around the corner, they felt that dwelling on such bad news would queer the peace process.

Nor did the Oslo war make a difference. Sheikh Halabiya gave a sermon calling on Muslims to slaughter the Jews (NB: Jews, not Israelis) everywhere. William Orme wrote a piece on Palestinian incitement in which he quoted Halabiya saying: “Labor, Likud, they’re all Jews.”

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 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.

And yet, what are we to make of crowds rallied by the Obama administration-designated, "moderate" Muslim Brotherhood chant, "One day we will kill all Jews"? 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 Koran. European anti-Zionists 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 Western audiences know so little about it. It’s more than just the powerful intimidation that pervades journalism in the Palestinian territories, so visible in the Ramallah lynch affair.

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 Parisian colleague insisted, “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 reacted to their presence. By that logic, however, any attack on Islam is immediately comparable to an attack on Jews a century ago.

Even Jewish organizations designed to protect Jews from anti-Semitism share this attitude. In Germany, the Zentrum für Antisemitismusforschung in Berlin actually held a conference whose main theme was the close identity of Islamophobia and Judaeophobia. In the USA, according to a recent study, the Anti-Defamation League released only 2.6 per cent of 4,269 press releases since 1995, on either Islamic extremism or Arab anti-Semitism, of which only .005, 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: 0.002.)

Which brings us to the dilemma that faces the Western observer, especially the one who believes that moral behaviour matters. 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 resistance to assaults inspired by a paranoid and sadistic anti-Semitism.

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 per cent), 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. 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).

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 resettling their refugees out of the miserable camps they’ve been confined to since 1948. No?

But if I’m right, if it’s a profoundly rooted anti-Semitism among Arabs today, 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 engages in anti-imperialist activities – withdrawing from most of the West Bank (1994-2000), southern Lebanon (2000) and Gaza (2005) – the result was more aggression.

Nor is this merely a problem faced by Israel, despite the widespread fantasy that throwing Israel into the maw of the beast, will somehow solve the problem. For ultimately, the problem of anti-Semitism is not a Jewish but a gentile problem. Granted the Jews suffer from anti-Semitism. But the ultimate price is paid by those foolish enough to get sucked into the world of hatred and paranoia that anti-Semites peddle. 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 (New World gold and Petrodollars); and both failed to parlay that wealth into a thriving culture that made life better for its people.

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. Indeed, Judeophobia is not even the problem, but the symptom.

It’s the conspiracy thinking that blames every problem on the “other”: Muslims attack Copts? 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, 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-criticise?

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 demonising Israel, and help them learn some self-criticism, the sooner we are likely to see a real Arab Spring, one that benevolent people the world over can sincerely cheer.

Richard Landes is an American writer and medieval historian specialising in millennialism. He is associate professor of history at Boston University and the author of several books including Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience (Oxford University Press). He has also, since turn of the millennium, become a critic of the mainstream news media (MSNM), in particular its treatment of both the Arab-Israeli conflict and more broadly the issue of Islamism and Global Jihad. He has two sites dedicated to these issues: The Second Draft and a blog, The Augean Stables.

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