December 16, 2001 No.

A Liberal Arab Columnist on the Sources of Arab Antisemitism

Hazem Saghiyah, a liberal columnist for the London Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat, discusses "The Arabs and antisemitism." Following are excerpts from the article:

"After the issue of terrorism, the issue of 'Arabs and antisemitism' has returned to the headlines. The ones bringing it back are the zealous Zionists… also bringing it back are Muslim clerics who ceaselessly justify the murder of Jews; also bringing it back is the Arab media, which engages in directing public opinion."

"Thus, once again, the [media's] focus is straying from the suffering of the Palestinian people to 'Arab hostility against the Jews!'"

"This does not mean that there is no Arab antisemitism: the celebration of Roger Garaudy [the French Holocaust denier who converted to Islam and became an Arab media hero] and his ilk; the books; the speeches; the television channels; the statements… all these prove that Arab antisemitism exists and that it is powerful, even dangerous - and therefore must be fought."

"Nevertheless, we must familiarize ourselves with its nature and its limitations. It is not the same as Christian European antisemitism, for many reasons:"

  1. Arab antisemitism is not rooted in legends, and myths - such as Jesus' crucifixion, matzos of blood, and poisoned wells - rather in the actual conflict in Palestine." "
  2. Unlike the Christian heritage, the heritage of the religion of Muhammad does not hold bitterness and anger towards the Jews. Muhammad vanquished the three Jewish tribes in the Arabian Peninsula - Qurayza, Qaynuqa', and Al-Nadhir - and the Jews did not murder him (unlike the Christian story about Jesus). For this reason, enlightened Islam managed to overcome the Islamic-Jewish problem. When [the Egyptian Islamic reformist] Muhammad Abdu was asked about this, he replied that though it is permitted to curse those who fought against the Prophet - they died, and that was the end of the story." "
  3. Antisemitism in Europe was a popular belief that started from the bottom up. In contrast, in Arab/Muslim [countries] it often descends from the top down." "4. Antisemitism in our [countries] is often combined with ethnic sentiments and loyalties in a crumbling world (Sunnis, Shi'ites, Christians, Kurds, Berbers, and so on)."

"[Comparing it] to Nazism, which was the most barbaric form of antisemitism, the differences are too numerous to count:"

"Arab antisemites lack the functional modernism of Nazism, the Nazi order, and the racist ideological adherence of European antisemitism."

"It is true that often [the Arabs] join the Western rabble in declaiming racist abominations (translated by both Muslim fundamentalists and Pan-Arab Syrians from the European antisemitic literature). But they are not party to the development and consolidation of racist theories."

"Perhaps it is possible to find a similarity between the little Nazis and the little [Muslim] fundamentalists, in that they were formed of anger and social disintegration. But ideologically, there is no similarity whatsoever in the ranks of the leadership or in the political potential [of antisemitism]."

"To make a long story short: Our antisemitism is uncivilized and totally idiotic, even in the mouths of flashy politicians and journalists. Even at the Durban conference, we made the mistake of accusing those who sought refuge [i.e. refugees from the Holocaust] of being racist."

"We confused the racist policies and actions of Israel with the [so-called] 'racism' of the Zionist movement. Ignorance also has its effect. Likewise, we are unable to differentiate between modern journalistic writing and the dangers inherent in [writing based only on personal] observation. We [tend to] look from the window, be repulsed by a sight, want to write and show solidarity with the Palestinian people, curse the Jews… and then sink into deep slumber."

"In the case of a journalist from a country whose press has been nationalized, we must add to his ignorance the fact that he is unaccustomed to freedom, and that he will choose what seems to be the easiest way to please his ruler."

"Beyond all this, there is another form of ignorance, that arises from the emigration and exile of the Jews [who were] in the Arab countries: except for Palestine, antisemitism stems from lack of contact with Jews."

"The last point to note is the Israelis: The most dangerous antisemitism is that which was formed as a result of the prolongation of the occupation and the cruelty and counter-cruelty taking root in the relations between the two peoples."

"This antisemitism, which is emerging among the Palestinians, can credit itself with the fact that it is 'familiar with' the Jew - unlike the Egyptian, Lebanese, or Saudi antisemite. The fact that this familiarity is mistakenly interpreted does not abolish its danger, or the need to act to be rid of it. Better today than tomorrow." [1]

[1] Al-Hayat (London), December 12, 2001.