Wednesday 12 November 2008

On Islamic antisemitism

An expert scholar on the Islamic Middle East is Bernard Lewis. In a "specialised sense" he defined antisemitism as:

that special and peculiar hatred of Jews, which has its origins in the role assigned to Jews in certain Christian writings and beliefs concerning the genesis of their faith, and which has found modern expressions in such works as the Protocols and similar portrayals of a universal Jewish plot against both God and mankind.
 Based on this definition, he comments:

anti-Semitism did not exist in the traditional Islamic world. True, Muslim religious and other literature provide ample evidence of prejudice against Jews, and Muslim history records not a few cases of persecution. But - and this is surely the crucial point - these attitudes and these persecutions were not accompanied by the demonological beliefs and conspiratorial fantasies that are characteristic of Christian anti-Semitism in both medieval and modern Europe, and do not differ significantly from the hostility and persecution to which other religious minorities, besides the Jews, have been from time to time subject.

Noting that the Qur'an shows greater hostility to Jews than to Christians he states that nevertheless: 

the Muslim law makes no such distinction, but treats both subject religions on a footing of equality with each other. In practice, in medieval and in Ottoman times, Jews often fared rather better than Christians, for the obvious reason that unlike their Christian compatriots, they were not suspected of treasonable sympathies with the Christian enemies of the Islamic empires.

The conservative commentator Daniel Pipes concurs with these point from Lewis. Both Pipes and Lewis also agree that things changed in the 19th century when the Muslim world started to employ antisemitic imagery and themes more common in Europe. This more familiar style of antisemitism was imported into the Middle East from Christian Europeans to Christian Arabs and did not originate from Islamic sources. In effect, Muslims began to ape the antisemitism of European Christians. 

Robert Wistrich, a  noted expert on antisemitism, wrote a very interesting paper in 2002 for the American Jewish Committee entitled, Muslim Anti-Semitism: A Clear and Present Danger. He provides  examples where Jews are depicted as the enemies of Islam in the Qur'an but notes that in practice, Jews, like Christians, were afforded the status of dhimmis (“protected peoples.”)  Whilst Jews had to pay  a jîzya (poll tax) they were accepted as ahl al-kitab (“peoples of the Book”) and were allowed to practice their faith. Whilst Jews were discriminated against by being dhimmis, it is important to realise that this discrimination was not specifically anti-Jewish, as Christians suffered similiarly. Quoting the work of someone else, Wistrich states:

Dhimmis were often considered impure and had to be segregated from the Muslim community. Entry into holy Muslim towns, mosques, public baths, as well as certain streets was forbidden them. Their turbans—when they were permitted to wear them—their costumes, belts, shoes, the appearance of their wives and their servants had to be different from those of Muslims in order to distinguish and humiliate them; for the dhimmis could never be allowed to forget that they were inferior beings.

This is not to say that there were never incidents of violent antisemitism in the Muslim world. As Efraim Karsh points out in his study published two years ago:

The last and most powerful Jewish tribe – Quraiza – suffered more profusely following the abortive Meccan siege of Medina in the spring of 627. Charged with collaboration with the enemy, the tribe’s 600–800 men were brought in small groups to trenches dug the previous day, seated on the edge, then beheaded one by one and thrown in. The women and children were sold into slavery and the money they fetched, together with the proceeds from the tribe’s possessions, was divided among the Muslims. This process was completed on Muhammad’s deathbed in the form of an injunction ordering the expulsion of Jews (and Christians) from the peninsula: ‘Two faiths will not live together in the land of the Arabs’

The relevant issue is that  Muslims took (and still take), in the words of Daniel Pipes, "a somewhat patronizing view of other religions." As he states:

A Muslim believes so confidently in the perfection of Islam that he cannot quite comprehend why Jews and Christians continue to follow their outmoded and imperfect versions of the truth. 

All these scholars note that Muslim antisemitism became rife in the 20th century. As a phenomenon, it has clearly exploded post 9/11, but this does not mean to say that antisemitism per se is traditionally Islamic. It would be far more accurate to argue that opposition to all other religions has been a fundamental theme in Islamic history. 



Anonymous said...


I hope you see this - I don't know how else I could contact you.

I believe you wrote the comments below about UCU boycotter Haim Bresheeth on Harry's Place some time ago, but sadly they have now disappeared from that blog's archive. However, they are a very useful resource on Bresheeth (the only one I am aware of) and could be important to the anti-boycott campaign. Is there anyway you could reinstate them on this blog?

Thank you

For those not familiar with the despicable Bresheeth he was associated with the notorious but defunct RETURN magazine and infamously wrote an article for that magazine entitled "Zionism and the Holocaust."

This particular article makes absurd suggestions that the Zionists in Nazi German had "political power" when of course they had no such power. The whole purpose of the article is to try and argue that the "lives of individuals, Jews and non Jews" were secondary to "the Zionist enterprise in Palestine" and that is why the Zionists were involved with "collaboration" with the Nazis "over the death of almost a million Jews." [1] Bresheeth's article is simply ahistorical and full of distortions of the truth. The litany of errors is truly frightening. It argues that Eichmann's first act after the Nazis invaded Hungary was to appoint "Zionist federation members, headed by Kastner, as the agent and the clearing house for all Jews in their relationship with the SS." This was not the case. Kasztner's committee was not appointed by the Nazis, it was formed in late 1942/early 1943 before the Nazis even invaded Hungary. Moreover Kastner was not head of that committee. It's head was Otto Komoly. Furthermore the Nazis had dealings with the Jewish Council – a body that Kastner was not a member of. Three mistakes in one sentence alone. What is more concerning is what Bresheeth leaves out. For example, when discussing the Kastner matter, Bresheeth does not mention that is ruled by the Supreme Court in Israel that he had not collaborated with the Nazis despite the views of Bresheeth. [2] One wonders if Bresheeth had even read the Supreme Court judgment because Bresheeth discusses that collaboration was "the price paid" of rescuing the Jews on the Kastzner train. Had Bresheeth read the ruling of the Supreme Court he would know that that argument was ruled to be wholly wrong and Kastner's actions were reasonable .[3]I can continue here - Bresheeth argues that Kaszner persuaded Hannah Senesh to give herself up. This is a blatant lie. Senesh was arrested virtually as soon as she crossed the border in Hungary on June 9, 1944 and it had nothing to do with Kastner.[4]He argues "Kastner acted as a result of his strongly held Zionist convictions" but fails to mention that other Zionists such as Moshe Krausz who was with hi in Hunagry and who were also strong Zionists disagreed with the actions of Kastner. [5] He spends a long time discussing the Ha'varah (Transfer Agreement) that enabled Jews to leave Germany for Palestine. Pehaps Bresheeth would have preferred it those Jews who were saved by this agreement would have stayed in Germany and met the same fate as millions of other Jews in Europe.

He states "Zionism agrees with the basic tenet of anti-Semitism, namely that Jews cannot live with non-Jews." This is a ludicrous and false argument. There are many non Jews living in Israel and no serious Zionist thinker in the mainstream has suggested that Israel should purely be for Jews.

The above is just about one article and I could go on pointing out distortion after distortion - but I believe I have made the point so I will leave you with a review of Bresheeth's book on Holocaust that was written for school children.

Editorial Reviews
From School Library Journal
"Grade 9 Up-This strange and contradictory book is not an introduction to the Holocaust; it is a statement of the authors' revisionist political beliefs about that dark period of history. Written and illustrated in a graphic-comic format, it promulgates the view that the Nazis did not intend "to destroy European Jewry physically" but rather, that "many forces within the German state as well as outside it helped to bring it [the Holocaust] about." The authors do not deny that the Holocaust occurred, but assert that the Nazi policy of genocide evolved only after Hitler was unable to expel all the Jews. They indict Western nations for refusing to accept Jewish refugees and argue that Zionists worked to impede immigration to all countries other than British-controlled Palestine. They also postulate that middle-and upper-class European Jewish communities colluded with the Nazis instead of resisting them. The "Aftermath" presents the revisionist stance that Israel today has become the executioner instead of the victim, the colonial oppressor rather than the oppressed. In addition to the bizarre and unproven propaganda permeating the text, the authors' account negates one of their primary assumptions; they demonstrate repeatedly that the killing fields and concentration camps were the results of Nazi policy initiated by Hitler and his henchmen. There is no reason why libraries serving young people should consider this highly politicized, inconsistently argued, and misleading title. Steer them instead to Milton Meltzer's Never to Forget (HarperCollins, 1976), Barbara Rogasky's Smoke and Ashes (Holiday, 1988), or Art Spiegelman's "Maus" books (Pantheon)."
Jack Forman, Mesa College Library, San Diego
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.[6]

[1] Haim Bresheeth "Zionism and the Holocaust" RETURN issue 1 March 1989 pp.25-26 (subsequently reproduced on the following web site
[2] Yechiam Weitz "Kasztner, Rudolf (Israel) (1906-57)" in Walter Laqueur ed. The Holocaust Encyclopedia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001) pp. 379-82
[3]Leora Bilsky Transformative Justice: Israeli Identity on Trial (USA: University of Michigan, 2004) pp. 41-66
[4] Judith Tydor Baumel "'Parachuting to Their People' – the Operation of the Parachutist-Emissaries During World War II in Historical Perspective" Yad Vashem Studies Vol XXV 1996 pp. 137-180
[5] Anna Porter Kasztner's Train: The True Story of Rezso Kasztner, Unknown Hero of the Holocaust (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 2007) pp. 395-6
Posted by: Mikey at October 30, 2007 03:11 PM

Mikey said...

That is correct, I did make that comment. I am not sure why I bothered to use Anna Porter's book for the reference for footnote 5 as Porter's book, in my opinion, is unreliable. A better reference for the same point from a far more reliable scholar is the following:

Randolph L.Braham, The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary, Volume 2, (New York: Columbia University Press, Revised and Enlarged Edition, 1994) p.1,115

Anonymous said...

Thank you. That is very helpful. If it's not too much trouble... any chance you could reproduce the comment as a new post on this blog as something to which it is easy to direct people?

Mikey said...

This has now been carried out - with some further information on Bresheeth's book

Anonymous said...
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