Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Middle East Anti-Semitism

Here's a piece I tried to have placed as a Comment is Free article in the Guardian, wh dismissed it as exaggerated. What a surprise. I may start posting more such articles here: over the years I've built up quite a few.

‘First they came for the Jews…’

In front of me is a cartoon of a stereotypical Jew, black hat, long beard, hooked nose, glaring eyes. Grinning, he holds up a goblet filled with skulls and blood, labelled ‘the Lebanese people’. Forget the politics for a moment. This is the blood libel in modern garb. Is it from a neo-Nazi publication sold under the counter to die-hard anti-Semites? Far from it. This is in al-Watan, one of Qatar’s five mainstream daily papers. Al-Watan is jointly owned by a member of the royal family and the country’s foreign minister.
This Jew is only one of thousands who, over the years, have leered and still leer out of the pages of the mainstream Arab and Iranian press in a chilling reflection of the imagery of Der Stürmer. When I say ‘the mainstream press’, I mean prominent, state-controlled dailies and weeklies like Egypt’s al-Ahram and al-Jumhuriyya, Jordan’s al-Dustur, the Palestine Authority’s al-Hayat al-Jadida, Syria’s Tishrin, Lebanon’s al-Mustaqbal, Saudi Arabia’s al-Watan, and dozens more. Even Egypt’s state-sponsored science journal, al-‘Ilm, has featured articles claiming that Jews are spreading AIDS as part of a conspiracy. In October 2000, Ibrahim Nafi‘, editor of al-Ahram, the Egyptian equivalent of The Times, was subpoenaed by French legal authorities for the paper’s support for the blood libel.
There is no subtlety about it: Jews are horned demons, pigs, puppeteers, child killers, lechers, greed-driven financiers, snakes, cannibals, and, worst of all, Nazis. Not Israelis, mark you, but Jews, all Jews.
And it isn’t just the press. Arab and Iranian television air shows that make your hair stand on end. Egypt’s 41-part TV series, Horseman without a Horse, aired in 2002 to audiences on at least 17 channels throughout the Middle East; using the famous Tsarist forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, it convinced viewers that Jews were plotting to take over the world. Syria’s 2003 $5.1 million al-Shatat (The Diaspora), screened 30 episodes of vicious propaganda, portraying Jews as depraved killers in pursuit of Christian and Muslim blood. Just last year, Iran staged a Holocaust denial conference and an exhibition of cartoons mocking Jewish suffering in the non-Holocaust.
Mosque sermons in many Middle Eastern cities feature the sort of anti-Jewish language you might have expected to hear at a Nuremberg rally. The world’s leading Sunni cleric, Shaykh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the rector of Cairo’s al-Azhar, has called Jews ‘the enemies of God, descendants of apes and pigs’. The imam of Islam’s holiest mosque, the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, has preached that Jews are ‘the scum of the human race, the rats of the world’. Ken Livingstone’s favourite radical preacher, Qatar-based Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, said in a Friday sermon in 2005 ‘Allah, [harm] your enemies, the enemies of Islam. Allah, [harm] the treacherous and aggressive Jews.’
Hitler is widely regarded as a hero (translations of Mein Kampf, like those of the Protocols, are best-sellers) whose only offence was not having finished the job of wiping out the Jews. Some of the worst anti-Semitic sentiments and images may be found on children’s TV and in textbooks. Both Hezbollah and Hamas use the Nazi salute as a matter of course. Welcome to the Fourth Reich.
It would be comforting to say that all of this is inspired by anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist sentiment. Much of it is, of course, though it’s hard to see how that makes it any better. But this new style anti-Semitism begins before the foundation of Israel and is clearly directed at Jews, not just Israelis. We should not forget that even Nazi propaganda against enemies of the Reich like Britain never reached depths like these. When the Nazis wanted to portray people as vermin, they did not use the English: they singled out the Jews. The same thing is happening in the Middle East.
Islam has never been anti-Semitic in the racist sense. The treatment of Jews in countries like Morocco, Egypt, or Yemen was generally more tolerant and less prone to outright violence than that of Christian Europe. Even as late as the 1920s, the condition of the Jewish communities of Cairo and Alexandria was well in advance of that found in Russia, Poland, or France.

In the 1930s and 40s, however, many Arabs were drawn to German fascism, hoping the Nazis would defeat the French and British and drive out the Jews. Hajj Amin al-Husayni, the infamous Mufti of Jerusalem, spent most of the war in Berlin, broadcasting to the Arab world and building the largest of the Reich’s SS divisions. Escaping arrest, he continued his propaganda work long after the war. In the 1960s, this imported style of anti-Semitism started to hold hands with a vicious strain of religious Judaeophobia coming from radical Islamic movements like the Muslim Brotherhood. Since then, this hybrid has entered the mainstream, where it has taken hold everywhere from universities to kindergartens.
But this is probably the first time most of you will have read about any of this. Despite its obvious newsworthiness, it’s a subject routinely ignored by reporters, journalists, and documentary makers in Europe and North America. This allows most Westerners to go on fantasizing that anti-Semitism is the strict preserve of the loony right.
Would that it were so. Anti-Semitism has always known how to mutate, moving from one culture to another with the greatest of ease. Just as the medieval European blood libel slipped into the Arab world in the 19th century and survives there today, so the new Middle Eastern anti-Semitism has moved back to Europe, where it has taken up residence among two groups, extremist Muslims and sectors of the Left.
Last year’s All-Party Parliamentary Report on Anti-Semitism showed that hatred of Jews in the UK is growing, just as an earlier European report showed the same phenomenon across the continent. The UK report said ‘We received evidence of an increase in antisemitism within certain fringe elements of the Muslim community. In many cases, these are the actions and words of a small yet radical minority whose views do not represent those of the mainstream majority. However, this cannot simply be dismissed as insignificant and the views of radical Islamists do seem to be entering mainstream discourse.’
Arabic translations of Mein Kampf and the Protocols can be found on sale on the Edgware Road. Foreign-language videos on sale at some mosques contain anti-Jewish incitement. Internet sites carry anti-Semitic material. But nothing much is done. A 2006 Pew poll found that 68% of British Muslims disliked Jews, compared with 29% in France. A Populus poll showed 46% of UK Muslims believe Jews are in league with Freemasons to control the media and politics, while 37% think Jews are ‘legitimate targets’.
Meanwhile, liberals like myself are betrayed by an increasingly disturbing rise of left-wing anti-Semitism. Having built up an unbalanced hatred for Israel (for many, it’s the only country in the world they condemn), many leftists have carelessly conflated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, and pride themselves in doing so. Here’s a considered remark by University of Massachusetts professor Helen Cullen: ‘Judaism and the Jewish identity are offensive to most human beings and will always cause trouble between the Jews and the rest of the human race’.
Fair and honest criticism of Israel is one thing, but many on the left have left rationality behind to march alongside radical Muslims whose views on women, homosexuals, and Jews should send a chill down any liberal spine. It seems that the destruction of Israel, the very likely slaughter of its Jewish population, and the near-certain establishment of a deeply illiberal Islamic state have become goals for too many leftists who haven’t thought things through. Or simply haven’t thought. For too many, anti-Zionism acts as an excuse for anti-Semitism in a manner quite divorced from normal political argument.
This vicious circle, from the European right to the Middle East, back to European Muslims and the European left, to a leftist fascism and so back to radical Islam must be stopped now, before it corrupts liberals beyond hope. It’s time the silence was broken and a proper debate opened up. When liberals join forces with people who train their children to become suicide bombers and teach them to call Jews ‘apes and pigs’, something is wrong. It won’t be put right until the liberal left sorts itself out on this litmus test of a true liberal conscience.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You may be aware that the Enagge web site has linked to this article. Quetioners in the comments boxes there are asking for further clarification as to the dismissal by the Guardian - Can you help out?