On March 6, 2019, Britain’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission launched a probe into claims that the country’s Labour Party, currently led by the lifelong Trotskyite Jeremy Corbyn, is “institutionally anti-Semitic”.
We are all too familiar with the development that the conflation of antisemitism and antizionism may be found today within politics. Challenging this distortion remains a priority in Western countries. Fortunately, as recent events within Britain’s Labour Party have shown, many constituents are rejecting the overt antisemitism and anti-Israel extremism of the groups who have often underhandedly taken control of their party.
It increasingly seems as if one source of antisemitism — as shown by more than one survey in Europe and in the United States — is that there often seems to be widespread antisemitism within Muslim communities (here, here and here).
Islamic hatred of Jews is deeply rooted. It can be seen in the later verses of the Qur’an, in Muhammad’s expulsions, mass executions, and enslavement of the Jews of Medina, or in the attack on Jews in the oasis of Khaybar.
Islamic antisemitism continued to have a largely negative impact on Jews living under Muslim rule in the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Europe down the centuries. Sometimes Jews were treated better than they were in Christian countries, for instance during the Inquisition; at other times, there were massacres; but in all instances, Jews suffered a variety of humiliations as second-class “dhimmis”: people with a scripture who were due protection by Muslims but demeaned for their failure to recognize the prophet Muhammad as the true Messiah.
The German political scientist Matthias Künzel summed it up:
Islamic anti-Semitism, although not restricted to the Islamist movements, is a key factor in the Islamists’ war against the modern world.
It lies behind Tehran’s desire to destroy the “cancerous tumor” of Israel and motivated the recent Iranian attack on Israel by an armed drone. It inspires Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s threat that Israelis won’t be able “to find a tree to hide behind”, a clear allusion to a hadith that demands the killing of Jews. It causes Mahmoud Abbas to deny any connection between Jerusalem and the Jews and transforms the political conflict between Israel and the Arabs into a religious struggle between right and wrong.
Islamic antisemitism mobilizes the terrorists of the Islamic State to murder Jews in Europe and it ensures that not only in Amman, but also in Berlin and Malmo Arabs threaten Jews with this particular war cry: Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews; the army of Muhammad will return. Khaybar is the name of an oasis inhabited by Jews that Mohammed conquered in blood in 628. It is also the name of an assault rifle made in Iran and a type of rocket used by Hezbollah to fire at Israeli cities in 2006.
A 2014 survey of antisemitism by the US Anti-Defamation League (ADL) covered 100 countries. It found that all the countries in the top 10 most antisemitic locations were in the Middle East or north Africa region, with an overall figure of 73%. The West Bank and Gaza came at the top, with 93% of Palestinians expressing antisemitic views.
A smaller survey of 19 countries published by the ADL in the following year found that Muslim populations in general had the highest levels of antisemitism in Europe:
For the first time, the ADL poll measured Muslim attitudes in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the U.K. An average of 55 percent of Western European Muslims harbored anti-Semitic attitudes. Acceptance of anti-Semitic stereotypes by Muslims in these countries was substantially higher than among the national population in each country, though lower than corresponding figures of 75 percent in 2014 for Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
In the United States, a 2017 report on antisemitism in general
, identified much of the hatred as coming from the Muslim community, notably on college campuses:
It is particularly disturbing that anti-Semitism appears to be relatively common in the American Muslim community, including among its leaders.
Muslim expression of anti-Semitic views has become especially common on American college campuses.
Several Muslim attacks on Jews, synagogues and more are listed in the report. Here, anti-Jewish prejudice is, as often as not, conflated with anti-zionist ideology and activism. Again, that distortion, in turn, leads many people, most often on the left, to indulge Muslim antisemitism, to join Islamic protests, and even, as Britain’s Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn did for many years, to call Muslim terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah “friends”.
Some anti-zionism is bolstered by the widespread rationalization that Palestinian resistance to Israel is in harmony with one’s own secular political convictions. Palestinians and their supporters across the Islamic world are thought to be protesting and fighting for nationalistic, anti-colonial, and economic motives combined with an anti-apartheid pro-refugee set of priorities. Fatah, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s leading party, for example, is proclaimed as a “secular, nationalist” entity. The first article in the PLO’s 1964 Covenant reads: “Palestine is an Arab homeland bound by strong Arab national ties to the rest of the Arab Countries and which together form the great Arab homeland.”
Some in the international community came to see the Palestinian struggle for a state as a natural successor to their actions over the Vietnam War, the anti-Apartheid Movement, and general anti-imperialist values. Religion, let alone old-fashioned land-grabs, did not (and still do not) enter into their thinking on this and related issues.
The 1988 Covenant (Mithaq) of Jeremy Corbyn’s good friends (and Israel’s enemies), however, could not be more religious in nature. It opens with the words:
Praise be unto Allah, to whom we resort for help, and whose forgiveness, guidance and support we seek; Allah bless the Prophet and grant him salvation, his companions and supporters, and to those who carried out his message and adopted his laws – everlasting prayers and salvation as long as the earth and heaven will last.
It continues: “Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious.”
Note that they say they are fighting “Jews”, not “Israelis”.
Article One reads:
The Islamic Resistance Movement: The Movement’s programme is Islam. From it, it draws its ideas, ways of thinking and understanding of the universe, life and man. It resorts to it for judgement in all its conduct, and it is inspired by it for guidance of its steps.
Article Five reads:
By adopting Islam as its way of life, the Movement goes back to the time of the birth of the Islamic message, of the righteous ancestor, for Allah is its target, the Prophet is its example and the Koran is its constitution. Its extent in place is anywhere that there are Moslems who embrace Islam as their way of life everywhere in the globe. This being so, it extends to the depth of the earth and reaches out to the heaven.
Its 2017 Covenant speaks of Palestine as “The land of the Arab Palestinian people” and, even though it plays down overt antisemitism, it opens with the words, “Praise be to Allah, the Lord of all worlds. May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon Muhammad, the Master of Messengers and the Leader of the mujahidin, and upon his household and all his companions.” Moreover, its Preamble contradicts in its second line the nationalist tone by stating that:
Palestine is a land whose status has been elevated by Islam, a faith that holds it in high esteem, that breathes through it its spirit and just values and that lays the foundation for the doctrine of defending and protecting it.
Corbyn’s other friend, Hezbollah, does not have a Covenant, but does have something very like it — its 1985 al-Risala al-maftuha (or Open Letter) in which its founding spiritual mentor, Shaykh Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, set out the movement’s program. Its second paragraph reads:
We are an umma [people] linked to the Muslims of the whole world by the solid doctrinal and religious connection of Islam, whose message God wanted to be fulfilled by the Seal of the Prophets, i.e., Muhammad.
The following paragraph continues:
As for our culture, it is based on the Holy Koran, the Sunna and the legal rulings of the faqih who is our source of imitation (marja’ al-taqlid). Our culture is crystal clear. It is not complicated and is accessible to all.
A client of Iran, Hezbollah, although based in Lebanon, continually threatens to destroy Israel and includes Israel among its enemies:
Friends, wherever you are in Lebanon… we are in agreement with you on the great and necessary objectives: destroying American hegemony in our land; putting an end to the burdensome Israeli Occupation.
Hezbollah is not alone in its focus on Israel and the Palestinians, ostensibly derived from an underlying religious conviction that it is impermissible under shari’a law for non-Muslims to occupy land that had for centuries endured under Islamic rule — just as many Muslim continue to claim a “right of return” to “al Andalus” in most of Spain.
Curiously, while this rule applies to other lands, such as Spain and Portugal, they are regularly ignored in favour of “Palestine”. In a 2017 article titled “The deep reason Muslim world hates Zionism”, Rafael Castro writes:
Cultural and political demands advanced by Berbers, Kurds and Chechens have been frustrated. Muslim claims over Mindanao and Southern Thailand have been crushed. Yet Islamic solidarity and support for the Palestinian cause dwarfs the solidarity and support provided to urgent Muslim causes elsewhere.
Castro links this view to a seemingly mythical Islamic version of history:
According to Islamic tradition, the biblical Abraham, Moses, David and Solomon were Muslim prophets. The Israelites were also originally Muslim. The corollary is Islamic supersession, namely the belief that Muslims—and not Jews—are the legitimate heirs to the Israelite faith and homeland.
Anshel Pfeffer, a left-wing secular British journalist who has specialized in Israeli affairs wrote in 2014, “The Israel-Palestine conflict is not just about land. It’s a bitter religious war”:
Celebratory images of blood-stained cleavers, popularised in Isis beheading clips, quickly flooded many Palestinian websites and Facebook pages. It did not matter that the chosen targets were elderly civilians inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders.
This is what a religious war looks like, and we should stop kidding ourselves that this is not what has been happening in the Middle East. In various degrees it’s been going on for a century. Yes, it is also a conflict over a piece of land between two nations, and not all Israelis and Palestinians – hopefully still a minority in both societies – want to see this as a struggle between Muslims and Jews, but there are enough of them who do.
Mohammad Galal Mostafa, a former Egyptian diplomat and researcher at Brandeis University, wrote an essay in 2018 that also focuses on the religious dimensions of the conflict:
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is driven by several factors: ethnic, national, historical, and religious. This brief essay focuses on the religious dimension of the conflict, which both historical and recent events suggest lies at its core. That much is almost a truism. What is less often appreciated, however, is how much religion impacts the identity of actors implicated in this conflict, the practical issues at stake, and the relevant policies and attitudes — even of non-religious participants on both sides. It follows that religion must also be part of any real solution to this tragic and protracted conflict.
Finally, the secularist Palestinian Authority and other Palestinian leaders have also recently decided to emphasize the religious element in their struggle. They really are not that emphatic about either religion or the truth. They are not even that emphatic about having a state. They are emphatic about obliterating Israel.
In an article dated March 4, 2019, the award-winning Arab journalist Khalid Abu Toameh identified a trend in both secular and religious Palestinian authorities in Gaza and the West Bank. This trend, he noted, aims to counter political moves in parts of the Arab world to normalize relations with Israel, and does this by returning to religious themes as a justification for rejecting attempts normalization. Abu Toameh observes that:
In a recent move, Palestinians have begun resorting to Islam to justify their vehement opposition to normalization of relations with Israel. Palestinian leaders and activists have long cited political and nationalist reasons to explain their opposition to any form of normalization with Israel — but Islam is a new factor in the mix.
Abu Toameh draws special attention to a group of religious scholars in Gaza:
a group of Palestinian Islamic scholars issued yet another fatwa (Islamic religious opinion) on March 3 warning against any form of normalization with the “Zionist entity.”
The scholars are hoping that their fatwa will rally Muslims worldwide to the Palestinian campaign against normalization with Israel. By issuing such fatwas, the Palestinians are clearly hoping to turn the conflict with Israel into a religious one.
The Gaza-based group, called Palestinian Scholars’ Association, said in its fatwa that according to the rulings of Islam, “normalization with the Zionist enemy, and accepting it in the region, is one of the most dangerous penetrations of the Muslim community and a threat to its security, as well as a corruption of its doctrine and a loss of its youths.”
The scholars go on to explain that “normalization and reconciliation means empowerment of Jews over the land of the Muslims, surrender to the infidels and loss of religion and Islamic lands.”
What is not said, of course, is that there also seem to be increasing incursions, religious or otherwise, into lands that have never historically been under the rule of Islam – for instance Nigeria, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The underlying Islamic antisemitism, however, so long denied by many Palestinians and many of their left-oriented supporters, has been slowly coming to the fore. Although it has been there all along, it now appears in the context of the Islamic revival that has taken place over the past four decades. In the end, the only thing that can oppose it will be a renewal of a secular reform that once had a deep impact in many Muslim countries, only to falter after the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979. Without that, peace may never return to the Middle East.