May 29, 2008 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 442

Arab and Islamic Antisemitism

May 29, 2008 | By Menahem Milson*
Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 442

The following is a lecture delivered by MEMRI Chairman Menahem Milson at the opening of the annual international conference of the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism held in Jerusalem on Sunday, 24 February 2008:

Arab and Islamic antisemitism is today the form of antisemitism that poses the most danger to Israel and to Jews everywhere in the world. Numerous antisemitic attacks in France and elsewhere in Europe in recent years have made it very clear that the pernicious impact of this antisemitism is not confined to Arab and Islamic countries.

At the very start of this presentation I should like to make some preliminary remarks:

  • Arab and Islamic antisemitism is not a new phenomenon. However, when it comes to Arab antisemitism – there are many who prefer to look the other way. Until just a few years ago, Israeli and Jewish academics and public figures have all but ignored it. There have been a few exceptions of course (some in Israel, some elsewhere), but these have been few. The fear of being labeled "anti-Arab" and accused of being "Islamophobic" has been enough to keep the overwhelming majority of Middle East academic experts away from this subject.

The reluctance has not been only academic; it has also been quite typical of people in the media and in politics to ignore Arab antisemitism. I have already mentioned one reason for this. Another possible explanation is psychological. We must bear in mind that the entire Zionist enterprise was intended to solve the problem of antisemitism. Hence, the discovery that the hatred we thought we had escaped when we left Europe is endemic in the Middle East was something many people preferred to suppress or deny.

There is, perhaps, another, more political, motivation behind the unwillingness to deal with Arab anti-Jewish attitudes: the fear that the exposure of antisemitic sentiment on the Arab side would reinforce political intransigence in Israel and play into the hands of political groups which oppose any territorial compromise.

However, it must be recognized that shutting our eyes to Arab and Islamic antisemitism is not only intellectually dishonest but also politically misguided. Countering Arab and Islamic antisemitism is an indispensable part of our struggle to achieve peace. A de-humanized image of the Jew forms an impediment to peace and normal relations.

  • When speaking of antisemitism, I do not mean criticism of this or that Israeli policy. Mere criticism of Israel – whether justified or not – is not antisemitism. I am speaking about de-humanization and demonization of the Jews, and about the expectation of Muslims that they will slaughter all the Jews at the End of Time.
  • The issue of contemporary Arab antisemitism is quite distinct from that of Muslim attitudes to Jews and Judaism prior to the modern era. While these two issues are interrelated in various ways, their historical contexts are completely different, and therefore they should be treated separately.
  • There are those who claim that if you engage in exposing Arab and Islamic antisemitism you are guilty of Islamophobia. This is of course a false charge. To expose Arab antisemitism is not in any way to say that all Arabs or all Muslims are antisemitic. In fact, this false charge has a purpose. It is intended to stop, indeed to pre-empt the struggle against Arab antisemitism and to provide immunity to antisemites. Such manipulations should be rejected.
  • It should be emphasized that Arab antisemitic propaganda does not distinguish clearly between Jew, Zionist and Israeli; these three concepts are often used in Arab and Iranian anti-Jewish publications as though they were synonymous.

What Are the Distinctive Features of Arab Antisemitism?

The following conclusions have been formed on the basis of extensive monitoring by MEMRI of a wide variety of Arabic and Iranian publications and forums (newspapers, magazines, television programs, Friday sermons in mosques, books and websites) over the last decade.

Arab anti-Jewish propaganda appears to include three major components:

Anti-Jewish views derived from traditional Islamic sources.

Antisemitic stereotypes, images and accusations of European and Christian origin.

Holocaust Denial and equating Zionism with Nazism. This too is of course Western in origin, but its pivotal role in Arab antisemitism warrants special attention.

The Islamic component

The rise of Islamic fundamentalism since 1979 has intensified the Islamic dimension of antisemitism in the Arab and Muslim world, and has contributed to its dissemination and inculcation.

Apes and pigs

It is very common for Jews to be called "apes and pigs" or "descendants of apes and pigs." This insult appears not only in Friday sermons but also in political articles. It is based on a number of Koranic verses which state that some Jews were turned into apes and pigs by God as punishment for violating the Sabbath.[1]

This insult should not be dismissed as mere vulgar invective, nor should the belief that God once turned some Jews into apes, pigs or other creatures be considered merely as an indication of primitive magical thinking. Repeated reference to Jews as despised beasts dehumanizes them and provides justification for their destruction. The following are just a few examples of the use of this insult in a variety of forums:

The following is from a sermon by Saudi sheikh Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sudayyis, imam and preacher at the Ka'ba mosque in Mecca, the most important shrine in the Muslim world. He said:

"Read history and you will understand that the Jews of yesterday are the evil fathers of the Jews of today, who are evil offspring, infidels, distorters of [God's] words, calf-worshippers, prophet-murderers, prophecy-deniers... the scum of the human race 'whom Allah cursed and turned into apes and pigs...' These are the Jews, an ongoing continuum of deceit, obstinacy, licentiousness, evil, and corruption..."[2]

This image has pervaded the public consciousness, even that of children. In May 2002, the Saudi satellite television station, Iqraa, which, according to its website, seeks "to highlight the true, tolerant image of Islam and refute the accusations directed against it," interviewed a three-and-a-half-year-old "real Muslim girl" about Jews, on a program called "The Muslim Women's Magazine." Asked whether she liked Jews, the little girl answered, "no." Asked why not, she said that Jews were "apes and pigs." "Who said this?" the moderator asked. The girl answered, "Our God." "Where did He say this?" "In the Koran." At the end of the interview, the moderator said with satisfaction: "No [parents] could wish for Allah to give them a more believing girl than she... May Allah bless her and both her father and mother."[3]

MEMRI TV Clip No. 924, "3-Year-old Egyptian Basmallah: Jews Are Apes and Pigs (Archival Material)"

The Attempt to Poison the Prophet Muhammad

Another common anti-Jewish charge is that the Jews conspired to assassinate the Prophet Muhammad. One such attempt is particularly notorious: the alleged attempt by a Jewish woman to poison the Prophet Muhammad.

MEMRI TV Clip No. 1184, "Egyptian Cleric Sheik Muhammad Sharaf Al-Din on a Children Show: The Jews Are the People of Treachery, Betrayal, and Vileness"

The Promise of the Stones and the Trees

Another very common anti-Jewish traditional motif is "The Promise of the Stone and the Tree." According to a widely quoted prophetic tradition (hadith), before Judgment Day, the Muslims will fight the Jews and kill them. The Jews will hide behind stones and trees, and the stones and trees will call out, "Oh Muslim, oh Servant of Allah, a Jew is hiding behind me. Come and kill him." According to this tradition, the world must be cleansed from Jews before the coming of the Hour.

MEMRI TV Clip No. 669, "Palestinian Friday Sermon by Sheik Ibrahim Mudeiris: Muslims Will Rule America and Britain, Jews Are a Virus Resembling AIDS"

Western Elements

Arab antisemitism has also adopted all the European antisemitic myths, even those that have been discarded by Western anti-Semites as too primitive. The most obvious examples are: the notorious blood libel, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the charge that the Jews killed Jesus – which is rather strange for Muslims considering that according to the Koran, Jesus was never crucified.

The Blood Libel

The blood libel is still current in the Arab and Muslim world, and crops up even in the most important government newspapers. The most notorious case of spreading the blood-libel myth is that Mustafa Tlas. Tlas – who until 2004 was Syria's vice-president and defense minister – published a book (1983) called The Matzah of Zion, in which he tells the story of the Damascus 1840 blood libel, except that he tells it as though the Jews were actually guilty of committing the crime.[4]

Some writers rehash and recycle the ritual murder accusations, putting a new twist on them, claiming, for example, that in honor of the Jewish holiday of Purim, Jews use human blood to make their traditional pastries.

Blood libel accusations in the Arab media are most commonly encountered in the context of criticism of Israel's actions against the Palestinians. One instance of this caused the Paris Supreme Court, in August 2002, to subpoena Ibrahim Nafi', editor of the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram. Nafi' was charged with incitement to antisemitism and racist violence for having permitted the publication of an article entitled "Jewish Matza is Made from Arab Blood" in the October 28, 2000 edition of Al-Ahram. The article compared Israel's activity in the occupied territories with the 1840 Damascus blood libel.

It is worthwhile noting that the charges against Nafi', who was chairman of the Arab Journalist Union, aroused a storm of protest and outrage throughout the Arab world. They were described in the Arab media as "intellectual terrorism," "a blow to freedom of expression," "a Zionist attack on the Egyptian press," "extortion by the Zionist lobby in France," and even as "an insult to the entire Arab press," – the latter charge being a testament to Nafi''s influence and importance.

MEMRI TV Clip No. 972, "Political Analysts on Iranian TV: The Jews Killed Children and Used Their Blood for Passover"

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

Since 1925, when it was first translated into Arabic, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion has been frequently used in anti-Jewish discourse in the Arab world, to back up claims that there is a "Jewish plot to take over the world." Many Arab shapers of public opinion cite this fabricated document claiming that the Jews' malicious plan, as set out in the Protocols, is now coming to fruition. The Jews are accused of using devious methods to accomplish their goal: controlling the economy and the media, corrupting morals and encouraging international and internal conflict.

The use of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the Arab media became a topic of discussion worldwide in late 2002, when an Egyptian satellite station began to air the Egyptian television series Knight Without a Horse throughout the Arab world over Ramadan (November-December).[5] In Ramadan 2003, also during prime-time hours, Hizbullah's TV station Al-Manar aired another antisemitic series: a Syrian produced series called Al-Shatat (The Diaspora). This series purported to show Jewish life in the Diaspora and the emergence of Zionism. It included gruesome scenes such as the ritual murder of a Christian boy and the ritual murder of a Jew who married a Gentile. The series also shows how Amschel Rothschild, the founder of the purported secret world Jewish government, instructed his sons from his deathbed to start wars and corrupt society all over the world in order to serve the financial interests and the political goals of the Jews.[6]

An official tenth-grade history textbook published in 2004 by the Palestinian authority includes a chapter on the history of Zionism. The chapter summarizes the resolutions of the first Zionist Congress in Basel. After a section in which the book gives a factual presentation of the main official decisions of the Congress, it goes on to say: "There are a number of secret decisions issued by the Congress known as 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion', which aim at taking control of the whole world."[7]

MEMRI TV Clip No. 934, "Fares Explains to His Friends about the Zionist Serpent's Movement throughout History in Egyptian-Produced Drama 'Knight without a Horse' (Archival Material)"

When the Protocols are mentioned in the Arab media, they are referred to as unquestionably authentic. To be sure, there are many Arab writers who are well aware that the Protocols are a forgery. Nevertheless, many continue to make use of the Protocols, arguing that, "it does not matter whether they are fact or fiction: their 'predictions' have largely come true."

The following incident is very revealing: in November, 2003, the Arabic translation of the Protocols was put on display next to the Torah and the Talmud as part of an exhibit on the sacred books of the three monotheistic religions in the Alexandria library. Dr. Yousef Zeidan, director of the Centre for Arabic Manuscripts at the Alexandria library, proudly reported to the Egyptian weekly Al-Usbu': "When my eyes fell upon the rare copy of this dangerous book, I immediately decided to place it next to the Torah. Although it is not a monotheistic holy book, it has become one of the Jews' sacred [texts] and part of their basic constitution, their religious law, and their way of life. In other words, it is not merely an ideological or theoretical book. Perhaps this book of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is more important to the Zionist Jews of the world than the Torah."

There are, as mentioned above, a few notable exceptions, among them some prominent figures, who publicly denounced the Protocols as forgeries. These include Syrian philosopher Dr. Sadeq Jalal al-'Azm, President Mubarak's advisor Usama al-Baz, and Dr. Abd al-Wahhab al-Masiri, an Egyptian authority on Jewish history and author of an Arabic-language encyclopedia of Judaism.

The Jews Murdered Jesus

The ancient Christian accusation that the Jews murdered Jesus has become standard in Arab antisemitic discourse. One example: Arafat's advisor Bassam Abu Sharif referred in the Saudi London-based daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat to the statue of the Virgin Mary that was damaged by Israeli gun fire during the siege on the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. He wrote, "The sad smile of the Virgin Mary as she shields her son the Messiah did not prevent the soldiers of the Israeli occupation from shooting at the face of this Palestinian angel [i.e. Jesus] and murder the smile… so as to murder what they hadn't managed to murder throughout 2,000 years."[8]

(This is just one example of the way in which this Christian image is put to use in present-day Arab propaganda)

For Muslims to call the Jews Christ-killers as part of anti-Jewish Arab propaganda is particularly ironic, because, according to the Koran, Jesus was never crucified and thus did not die on the cross. The Christian belief that Jesus died on the cross is considered by Muslims to be a blasphemous lie.[9]

MEMRI TV Clip No. 1249, "Sheik Yousef Al-Qaradhawi: The Jews of Today Bear Responsibility for Their Forefathers' Crime against Jesus"

Holocaust Denial and the Slogan "Zionism is Nazism"

The Holocaust denial appears in all of its notorious variations.

Related to Holocaust denial is the claim that the Zionists actually collaborated with the Nazis, in order to motivate the Jews of Europe to emigrate to Palestine.[10]

Another very common trend today in the anti-Jewish propaganda is to equate Zionism with Nazism. Articles and public discussions in the Arab world draw a similarity between the two movements. They claim that just as the Nazis believed in the superiority of the Aryan race, the Zionists believe that the Jews are the "Chosen People." They also claim that the Zionists like the Nazis maintain an expansionist policy.

Further, Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people is equated with the Nazis' treatment of the Jews – or said to be even worse.

The political significance of these claims is clear: if the Holocaust never happened, the Germans need feel no guilt toward the Jews; moreover, the Germans – and the rest of the Western world – owe the Palestinians. Also, if Jews are now doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis purportedly did to the Jews, then the whole international community should fight Israel.

This is where Arab antisemitism and Western antisemitism interconnect, creating a strategic antisemitic axis.

Demonizing the Jew

As a so-to-speak logical conclusion of all the above comes the demonization of Jews, individually and collectively. Despite the information accumulated about the identities of the perpetrators of the September 11 terrorist attacks – officials, journalists, and religious leaders throughout the Arab and Muslim world have continued to claim that the perpetrators of the attacks were not Arabs or Muslims. The claim that American and or Jewish/Israeli elements carried out the attacks has become an accepted, common myth in the Arab and Islamic world.[11]

What Can Be Done?

Finally, the question is: What should be done to counter Arab antisemitism?

The first step is to understand the dangers posed by Arab and Islamic antisemitism. It shapes public opinion throughout the Arab and Islamic world and creates an atmosphere in which Jews, individually and collectively, are not considered to be fully human. This is – to use the phrase coined by Norman Cohn – a warrant for genocide. I do not need to spell out the sinister implication of this.

Countering Arab anti-Semitism is, therefore, not merely a matter of combating falsehood and prejudice: it is a vital component in the struggle of Jews in Israel and elsewhere for safety, peace and human dignity.

On a practical level what needs to be done is the following: Arab antisemitism must be monitored and its manifestations must be made available to Western media and opinion-makers. Its publications must be translated into Western languages in the hope that exposure of these virulent materials will lead to international protests and diplomatic pressure on the relevant Arab governments and institutions.

There are those who argue that this kind of response draws attention to the views of a minority of cranks who would otherwise go unnoticed. This position overlooks the fact that much of this anti-Jewish hate literature appears in mainstream newspapers and magazines – many of which are government sponsored – and on highly popular and influential TV channels. Turning a blind eye to this will only encourage the most extreme elements in the Arab and Islamic world to flourish unchecked and increase their malignant political influence.

Experience has shown that Arab governments and intellectuals are not indifferent to protests and outside pressures. Usama al-Baz's articles in December 2002, in which he denounced antisemitism, were a welcome step forward. Equally significant is the news that the Institute of Islamic Studies at the religious Al-Azhar University in Cairo has recommended that Muslim preachers refrain from comparing Jews to pigs and apes.[12] It is unlikely that either of these steps would have been taken were it not for the protests and criticism in the US congress and the Western media.[13]

For all these reasons I believe that there is no alternative but to continue unremittingly in the task of monitoring and exposing the appalling products of Arab and Islamic antisemitism; and at the same time we must encourage those voices within the Arab world that denounce antisemitism and promote a culture of tolerance.

MEMRI TV Clip No. 653, "Former Dean of Islamic Law at Qatar University 'Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari: We Instill Love of Death, Not Love of Life, in Our Youth"

MEMRI TV Clip No. 242, "President Mubarak's Advisor Osama Al-Baz Condemns Holocaust Denial"

*Menahem Milson is professor emeritus of Arabic Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Chairman of MEMRI.


[1] Koran, 2:65, 5:60, 7:166. Two of these texts (2:65 and 7:166) specify that violation of the Sabath was the cause of the transmogrification. In one instance (5:60), it is mentioned as a punishment brought upon ahl al-kitab ("the people of the book," a term signifying both Jews and Christians) who refused to accept the true faith.

[2] See MEMRI Special Report No. 11 (November 1, 2002), by Aluma Solnick. Al-Qa'ida Fighters On Attacks Against Americans<BR>(English Video Excerpts)

[3] Iqraa Television, May 7, 2002.

[4] An infamous affair in which the death of a Capuchin friar Thomas and his Muslim servant were blamed on the Jews who were accused of engaging in ritual murder.

[5]On November 6th, 2002 (the first night of Ramadan), some Arab television channels (including the Egyptian State Television) aired the first segment of a 41-part serial called "A Knight Without a Horse," which is based on "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." It should be noted that the nights of Ramadan are considered peak time of television viewing in Arab and Muslim countries. The series sparked protests in the West, with the U.S. State Department calling on the Egyptian government to prevent the broadcast – a demand that was rejected out of hand by Egyptian Information Minister Safwat Al-Sharif. The series aroused much debate in the Egyptian and Arab press. Most writers supported the airing of the series, but a few criticized Egypt's obsession with antisemitic writings. The series was viewed and approved for broadcast by a committee appointed by the Egyptian Censor. A committee from the Egyptian Radio and Television Association declared the series "a landmark in the history of Arab drama." The Egyptian Information Minister stated that "the dramatic views expressed by the series contain nothing that can be considered antisemitic." See MEMRI’s Inquiry and Analysis Series, nos. 109, 113 and 114 (Nov. 8, Dec. 10 and Dec. 20, 2002, respectively). A video cassette of the relevant sections with English subtitles is available from MEMRI.

[6] It is interesting to note that the producers of Al-Shatat, conscious of the previous years' outcry against Knight Without A Horse, preceded each episode with a disclaimer stating that the series was not based on the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion but on historical facts and research, including writings by Jews and Israelis.

[7] Tarikh al-'alam al-hdith wa'l-mu'asir (Modern and Contemporary World History), The State of Palestine Ministry of Education, Ramalla-Al-Bireh, 2004, p. 63. Incidentally, the preparation of this textbook received financial support from Belgium.

[8]Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, March 20, 2002

[9] Koran 4:156-157.

[10] Such claims are the focus of a 1982 doctoral dissertation by top Palestinian Authority official and PLO Executive Committee Secretary-General Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, at Moscow's Institute of Oriental Studies. The Arabic version of the dissertation was published in 1984. See Yael Yehoshua, "Abu Mazen: A Political Profile" (MEMRI, Special Report No. 15, April 29, 2003) chapter V (Zionism and Holocaust Denial). ‘Iran is Capable of Conducting a Fission Reaction’ - Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani

[11] A New Antisemitic Myth in the Middle East Media: The September 11 Attacks Were Perpetrated by the Jews (MEMRI, Special Report No. 8, Washington, DC: MEMRI, 2002). A NEW ANTISEMITIC MYTH IN THE MIDDLE EAST MEDIA: The September 11 Attacks Were Perpetrated by the Jews

[12] Published in the Saudi daily Al-Watan on March 14, 2003

[13] Yigal Carmon, "Harbingers of Change in the Antisemitic Discourse in the Arab World" (MEMRI, Inquiry and Analysis Series, No. 135, April 23, 2003). Harbingers of Change in the Antisemitic Discourse in the Arab World.

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