December 8, 2004 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 198

Arab Reactions to the U.S.'s Global Antisemitism Review Act of 2004

December 8, 2004 | By Aluma Dankowitz*
Egypt | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 198

In October 2004, U.S. President George W. Bush signed into law the Global Antisemitism Review Act of 2004. Under this act, the U.S. will "continue to strongly support efforts to combat antisemitism worldwide through bilateral relationships and interaction with international organizations such as the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the European Union, and the United Nations." In addition, the State Department is directed to appoint a special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism around the world.

The preface to the law states that it has been observed that "acts of antisemitism in countries throughout the world, including some of the world's strongest democracies, have increased significantly in frequency and scope over the last several years, and the sharp rise in antisemitic violence has caused international organizations … to elevate and bring renewed focus to the issue."

According to the act, by mid-November 2004 a one-time report on acts of antisemitism around the world, and on the actions taken by the respective governments to counter these acts, is to be submitted to the Senate and to the House of Representatives. Further, a section on antisemitism is henceforth to be added to the annual U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and annual reports on International Religious Freedom; this section is to include "a description of the nature and extent of acts of antisemitism and antisemitic incitement that occurred during the preceding year, including descriptions of a) acts of physical violence against or acts of harassment against Jewish people, and acts of violence against or vandalism of Jewish community institutions, including schools, synagogues, and cemeteries; b) instances of propaganda in government and non-government media that attempt to justify or promote racial hatred or incite acts of violence against Jewish people; c) the actions, if any, taken by the government of the country to respond to such violence and attacks or to eliminate such propaganda or incitement; d) the actions taken by such government to enact and enforce laws relating to the protection of the right to religious freedom of Jewish people; and e) the efforts of such government to promote anti-bias and tolerance education."

It should be noted that the preface also states that "antisemitism has at times taken the form of vilification of Zionism, the Jewish national movement, and incitement against Israel." However, this is not mentioned in the act itself, and no tracking or monitoring of such vilification and incitement against Israel and Zionism is stipulated.

Despite this fact, the law was received with opposition by shapers of public opinion in the Arab world, who claimed that according to the law any criticism of Israeli policy would be considered antisemitism. They called the act an interference in domestic affairs of states, expressed apprehension that its implementation would harm freedom of expression, and protested against what they saw as the considerable Jewish influence in the U.S. Some called the act "racist" because it disregarded the fact that Arabs too are Semites, and the fact that Arabs are also victims of discrimination and persecution. Others claimed that the U.S. was attempting, through this act, to force its values upon the world, and that its arrogance is escalating hatred of it worldwide.

Various reactions mentioned The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) as one of the organizations that brought the subject to the public eye and thus to the initiation of this law.

In the 10th OSCE Mediterranean Seminar that was held in Sharm El-Sheikh, on November 18th and 19th, Egypt managed to convince the OSCE to expand its focus so as to include Islamphobia as another subject to be monitored. According to Al-Ahram Weekly report, "The organisation is now planning to appoint three special representatives: one to monitor the escalating Islamophobia phenomenon; another for antisemitism; and a third for other types of discrimination, intolerance and xenophobia." [1]

The following are the main arguments against the Global Antisemitism Review Act of 2004:

The Act Aims at Protecting Israel and Zionism, Not Jews

The main argument against the act is that it is political, not humanitarian, and that it is aimed at shielding Israel from legitimate criticism of its policy toward the Arabs. An article in the pro-Saddam London daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi stated that it would "set in law and protect Israeli terror and give Israel's governments a green light to kill, slaughter, and destroy … and will be a drawn sword against all authors, clerics, and politicians who raise their voice in protest – particularly in the Arab homeland and in the Islamic world."

The article disparaged President Bush's alleged submission to the American Jewish lobby, and stated that the act is racist: "U.S. President George Bush violates all moral standards by throwing himself into the arms of the Zionist movement … to get the Jewish lobby's votes and to be reelected… None disagree that antisemitism is dangerous and condemned. But what is worrying is the obvious mixing of Judaism with Zionism, and the treating of any criticism of the Hebrew state and its wars of destruction and ethnic cleansing against the Arabs in Palestine as criticism of Semites… We had hoped that President Bush would expand the framework of the act to include all kinds of religious persecution, without distinction or discrimination among the religions…

"President Bush cannot ban the plays of William Shakespeare that portray Jews with loathsome descriptions and depict them as bloodsuckers in ' The Merchant of Venice. 'But he can force the Arabs to normalize relations with Israel and reshape their religion and belief in a way that will serve this normalization, without [the Arabs] receiving the minimum of their legitimate rights. This law is racist in content, and hostile to Arabs and Muslims, on the pretext of the danger of antisemitism…" [2]

Columnist Muhammad Al-Samak wrote in the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram that the Arabs oppose antisemitism, but that the way in which the U.S. understands antisemitism sets both the U.S. and Israel against the rest of the world: "In principle, Muslims in general and Arabs in particular cannot but oppose antisemitism. This is not because the Arabs are Semites like the Jews, but because they have paid and are still paying a very high price for antisemitic acts… Antisemitism has two victims, not one: the Jews, who were persecuted, tortured, and burned in the [Nazi] detention camps, and the Arab Muslims and Christians who paid and are still paying the compensation for these crimes because of Europe's guilt complex…

"The U.S. has adopted a definition determined by dictionaries and various academic sources - that antisemitism is hatred of Jews, Zionism, or Israel. This means that any criticism of Zionism as a political enterprise is considered antisemitism, and any criticism of Israel's policy, its collective crimes in the West Bank and Gaza, its occupation of parts of Syria and Lebanon, and its threats to blow up the Iranian nuclear plant are also considered antisemitism…

"[This definition] establishes a new reality in international relations, which divides the world into two axes - one that is accused of antisemitism, which includes the Islamic world, the Catholic world (Latin America), the Orthodox world (Russia), the Buddhist world (China), and the secular world (the European Union); and another opposing antisemitism, which includes only the U.S. and Israel. Implementing this American law will answer the question of whether this policy will manage to fight or at least calm antisemitism, or in igniting it across the world – not out of hatred for Jews, but out of resentment of Israel and the U.S." [3]

Columnist Ahmad Al-Rub'i claimed in the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that the act is designed to protect Israel: "Semitism is a term that includes many peoples. The Jews are Semites, and their Palestinian victims are Semites. If the law [referred] to Semitism, the first among the guilty would have to be Ariel Sharon, who perpetrates crimes against the Semitic Palestinians, murders them, and imposes collective punishment on them. The law's aim is also not to protect the Jews, as there are many Jews in the Hebrew state and outside it who oppose Israel's policy, and American Jews who are persecuted and boycotted by the large American media institutions for criticizing Israel.

"This law is to protect Israel, but the name given it is [the law against] antisemitism. Thus it is our honor to join many authors and political commentators on the American State Department's list of antisemites – as long as Semitism in President Bush's law refers to Israel … which specializes in imitating the Nazi state…" [4]

A particularly harsh charge was leveled by Ghazi Al-Aridhi, columnist for the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh, who claimed that the law permits Israel to harm Jews and place the blame on others: "The Israeli attack on Europe, and particularly on France and some of the European societies with Jews, is developing, and this time the headline is 'antisemitism.' The Israeli intelligence apparatuses have carried out operations against Jewish targets in France, with the aim of blaming the Muslims and frightening and unsettling French Jews [so as to] underline that they must leave France for their motherland, Israel… The [Global Antisemitism Review] Act enables Israel, by means of its [security] apparatuses, to carry out any operation against Jewish institutions or individuals across the world, and to blame its 'enemies' [for it]…

"Everyone [will be subject] to condemnation and charges of antisemitism and supporting terrorism if they criticize Israel… This is a 'law against hatred of Israel,' yet at the same time the law of the jungle applies regarding hatred of Arabs and Muslims, and regarding the expropriation of their homes, property, and institutions…" [5]

The Act Harms Freedom of Expression and Constitutes Interference in Domestic Affairs

Another frequent argument against the act is that it harms freedom of expression and contradicts the declared principles of the U.S. In the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, columnist Dr. Mahmoud Suleiman claimed that the new law is a blow to freedom of expression and constitutes foreign interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign countries: "According to this law, criticism of the murder of women and children, of the expulsion of thousands after destroying their homes, and of the expropriation of agricultural lands – as the Israeli occupation forces are doing – is to be included in the framework of [the term] antisemitism…

"The importance of this development lies in the transfer of the monitoring and overseeing authorities from American non-government organizations … to the official level – to the State Department… Had a neutral body prepared this bill, it would not have been interested solely in Jews or antisemitism (a term which would include Arabs), but [also] in the danger of any statement or deed characterized by racism or hostility towards the monotheistic religions, and it would equally condemn Israeli declarations full of expressions of harm to Arabs and Islam…

"The act stands in essential contradiction to all the calls by the U.S., past and present, for democracy, equality, and non-discrimination. Similarly, it stands in essential contradiction to fundamental human rights, first and foremost freedom of expression. [This act] constitutes interference in the domestic affairs [of states] because it grants the special envoy responsible for monitoring, and the members of the American missions in the world capitals, the right to monitor and oversee matters that are at the center of the domestic affairs of the state.

"Similarly, [the law] is a kind of extortion, because it links financial aid [by the U.S.] to muzzling mouths…" [6]

Dr. Mustafa Abd Al-Ghani also argued in the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram that the act is a blow to freedom of expression, saying that with this new law, "the Jews will be able to spread brazenly across the world, and do as they wish, with the imperialist master of the world standing alongside them and supporting them – and even making laws and [issuing] communiqués to protect only the human rights of the Jew. [This] is because of election interests, or under pressure by the conservative right [in the U.S.], or under the influence of people or research organizations which for the most part represent a group from among the new Orientalists… [Conservative right-wingers who support the act] have links to organizations such as MEMRI, which today fill the role of placing blame and demanding the trial of anyone tempted to say anything that could be construed as self-defense against the strong…" [7]

In another article, Dr. Abd Al-Ghani again mentions "the Zionist organization MEMRI," claiming that MEMRI "brazenly plotted against the UAE cultural center, the Zayed Center, because it was neutral and hosted many [figures] who influenced reality with their thought… The attack on the Zayed Center accused it of hostility to the U.S., encouraging antisemitism, disseminating conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial, and the like, and ultimately the center was shut down… We are in the age of Zionists, who have taken over Evangelistic thought and human thought in general, and in the name of 'the Jews' have begun to talk about acting to issue laws against others – the ' Goyim,' as they call their enemies, whose sentence is always death…" [8]

The Qatari daily Al-Sharq stated that the act was a form of "intellectual terror": "Bush's ratification of this law again underlines the Jewish influence that is spreading powerfully in the current American administration… The natural result of this law will be a kind of 'intellectual terror' by the American administration, in the guise of laws through which every opinion critical of Israel and its terrorist deeds, particularly in our Arab region, will be banned. Moreover, anyone with a [critical] opinion will stand trial. Thus we find ourselves facing new American support for Israeli policy…

"In our view, this law will expand the cycle of the enemies of the current American administration, which is going overboard in its blatant bias towards Israel…" [9]

The Americans Want to Force their Values on the World

Egyptian intellectual Dr. Abd Al-Wahhab Al-Masiri, author of the encyclopedia ' Jews, Judaism, and Zionism,'stated: "The law is part of the American attack on the world." He added: "The U.S. wants to stress its hegemony [in the world, and to this end] it sometimes uses the issue of democracy, sometimes the issue of human rights, and recently [the issue of] antisemitism. All [these issues] are tools the U.S. uses to interfere in the affairs of other countries and to force its policy and outlook upon them." [10]

Egyptian journalist Hassan Abu Taleb, editor of the ' Arab Strategic Report,' also criticized the act in the Saudi daily Al-Watan ¸ claiming that the U.S. is trying to force its values upon the world: "This is not the first time that the American legislative authority has set itself up as the legislative authority of the entire world. It is forcing its patronage on the world, and showing particular perceptions that stem from the distinct American experience, which it is trying to force on the rest of the countries… It is acting to oblige national governments to accept [these perceptions] as if national sovereignty were meaningless, and treats these national governments as if they are only local governments in an American state.

"We have seen this behavior in the past, in the American law on religious freedom in the world. This law assumes that the situation of religions across the world is like the American model, where anyone can establish a religion as he pleases … without addressing the fact that there are sacred monotheistic religions that must not be harmed in any way, and anyone who is not a member of them and does not believe in them is forbidden from expressing an opinion on them…

"The Bush administration is planning to directly interfere in what is written, published, and distributed by the Jewish phenomenon in the Arab and Islamic countries – as if there is a need to give absolute protection to the Jews, because they are a select group that must not be criticized in any way. This is a group that stands above the law and above international human rights conventions that do not differentiate among groups according to any criterion.

"The danger is becoming more evident in light of the meaning that the accursed law has adopted – according to which all criticism of Israel, particularly of its inhumane and barbaric actions against the Palestinians, is included in the term 'antisemitism.' The law ostensibly says that anyone who dares criticize the Jewish state, Israel, even politically, no different than [criticism leveled] at any country in the world – including the U.S. itself – is expressing hatred of the Jews…

"The accursed law does not recognize that the Arabs are Semites, nor that discrimination against them is increasing … in some European countries and in the U.S. itself, [facts] that should have been mentioned [in the law] – [at least] in a single word. [By ignoring these facts] the law constitutes outrageous discrimination on the basis of religion and race…

"It is not enough to ignore the existence of the law… The minimum [required] is for the Organization of the Islamic Conference to issue a communiqué rejecting the law altogether, and [by so doing it will] serve as a model for the Islamic countries not to maintain relations with the special American envoy for antisemitism.

"The minimum is also for the Arab countries to unite against the law and reject every form of interference [in their affairs] that aims to prevent freedom of expression and creativity, [including] criticism of the ugly face of Israel's policy..." [11]

Support for the Act:
Every Law Fighting Racism Benefits Arabs and Muslims Too

Standing out in contrast to the criticism of the act and the opposition to cooperation with the U.S. in its implementation was the response of Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, former editor of the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat and current director-general of Al-Arabiyya TV.

Calling on Arabs to support the law, he wrote: "There is concern that the law … will become [a law] against Arab rights in their struggle with Israel. Yet despite the possibility that the word 'antisemitism' will be misinterpreted, we must understand the law as it is – as a law for monitoring, not punishment.

"Second, the law fights racism, and it is fitting that this war will earn our encouragement, not our condemnation.

"It is appropriate for us to say 'yes' to the law, and we should demand that it be expanded to include anyone who incites to racism against Muslims, blacks, or any minority. Such a resolution will have greater significance and greater public support than if it is limited to one group of people.

"At the same time, we must not make a mistake and confuse Israel with Judaism, or extremist nationalist Zionist thought with the Jewish religion. [If we do], we will stumble into blatant racism no different than the racism of those hostile to Arabs and Muslims because of the acts of some of us.

"The historic truth that is unknown to many is that protecting the Jewish Semites from racism in Europe serves the interests of the Arabs and Muslims who immigrated to the continent by the millions after World War II. Following the defeat of the racist Nazi thought, strict laws came into being [in Europe] against racist discrimination of religious and ethnic minorities… Many of the laws that we see today in the West protecting mosques, giving citizens of Arab and Muslim origin their rights, and punishing anyone who discriminates on the basis of race or religion in public functions and in public life, originated in this humanitarian movement committed to the [idea that] the tragedy of racism prior to and during World War II … will not happen again…

"Any new law for the struggle against racism, as limited as it might be at first, ultimately realizes the supreme goal – war on racism, in all its forms, worldwide…" [12]

*Aluma Dankowitz is Director of MEMRI's Reform Project.

[1] Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt), November 25, 2004.

[2] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), October 18, 2004.

[3] Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 3, 2004.

[4] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), October 17, 2004.

[5] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), October 31, 2004.

[6] Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 10, 2004.

[7] Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 15, 2004.

[8] Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 29, 2004.

[9] Al-Sharq (Qatar), October 17, 2004.

[10] Aakher Sa'a (Egypt), November 3, 2004.

[11] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), November 8, 2004.

[12] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), October 18, 2004.

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