September 10, 2002 Special Reports No. 8

A NEW ANTISEMITIC MYTH IN THE MIDDLE EAST MEDIA: The September 11 Attacks Were Perpetrated by the Jews

September 10, 2002 | By Tom Lantos*
Egypt | Special Reports No. 8

One of the most shocking and upsetting developments of recent decades has been the emergence of full-blown, old- European-style antisemitism in the Arab world. As a holocaust survivor, I am particularly saddened — indeed sickened — by this phenomenon, for it occurs during a half-century when antisemitism in Europe has been mainly in decline. Indeed, it is tragic that the Arab world, which has rejected Europe’s freedoms and democratic institutions, imported only the worst ideas Europe had to offer.

Writing in 1986, Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis explained contemporary Arab antisemitism as a reaction to the sense of humiliation Arabs feel at repeated military defeats at Israel’s hands, blows made all the more painful because they were inflicted by a people, Jews, long presumed to be inferior.

According to Lewis, Arabs were accustomed to viewing Jews as no better than "a tolerated subject minority, and ... by appearing as conquerors and rulers the Jews [in Arab reckoning] have subverted God’s order for the universe."[1] Whatever its cause, the cancer of antisemitism has metastasized and spread throughout the Arab world. Jews, both as Israelis and simply as Jews, are demonized daily in the Arab press, electronic media, and textbooks, often with ugly illustrations and "political" cartoons on a par with the worst of Julius Streicher’s Die Sturmer. Indeed, Nazi-style imagery and conspiracy-thinking abound in the Arab world, and all the ills of the world are attributed to "the Jews." As a recent article in the New York Times noted, "Stay in a five-star hotel anywhere from Jordan to Iran, and you can buy the infamous forgery Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Pick up a newspaper in any part of the Arab world and you regularly see a swastika superimposed on the Israeli flag."[2]

This worsening problem carries dire implications for the Arab-Israeli conflict, adding a racist and religious-warfare dimension to an already exceedingly difficult political problem. Moreover, in an obscenely bizarre twist, the Middle East may now be exporting to Europe the antisemitism it originally imported from there. Since the latest phase of Arab violence against Israel began in September 2000, there have been hundreds of antisemitic incidents reported in Europe, particularly in France.

Some of the ugliest examples of Arab antisemitism came in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States, as detailed in this important publication. The Arab media reaction to the September 11 horror reflected all the elements of Nazi-style defamation — particularly, Jewish conspiracy.

Here we can read the now-famous claims that Mossad organized the September 11 attacks; that 4,000 Jewish employees, forewarned, avoided work at the World Trade Center that day; and that Jews exploited their foreknowledge of the tragedy to profit from the stock market. We observe the shocking sense of cultural inferiority — self-serving but nonetheless real — of Arab commentators who "prove" Jewish complicity in the September 11 murders by pointing out that "only the Jews are capable of planning such an incident, because it was planned with great precision of which Osama bin Laden or any other Islamic organization or intelligence apparatus is incapable." And we learn of the grisly, Nazi-type punishment one Egyptian cleric wishes on the Jews of America.

But the totality of what is presented in the following pages also reflects a sad reality: the Arab world’s inability, first, to come to terms with the fact that Arabs planned and carried out the evil deeds and, second, to reflect productively on how and why that happened. Such is the classic utility the antisemite finds in his antisemitism: scape-goating Jews for problems of his own making.

I am full of admiration for the work MEMRI has done in putting together this book and, more generally, in its dedicated exposure of Arab antisemitism. Until MEMRI undertook its effort to review and translate articles from the Arab press, there was only dim public awareness of this problem in the United States. Thanks to MEMRI, this ugly phenomenon has been unmasked, and numerous American writers have called attention to it.

To cite one interesting example: A recent series of articles in a Saudi newspaper invoked the ancient "blood libel" against Jews, claiming Jews use human blood (non-Jewish, of course) to prepare their holiday delicacies. MEMRI translated and disseminated the series, which evoked widespread outrage, including a Voice of America editorial condemning Arab antisemitic incitement. The surprising result? The editor of the paper was embarrassed by the exposure and felt compelled to acknowledge publicly that the accusations in the articles are "not based on scientific or historical facts" — a rare victory for truth in the Arab world. One can only hope that publicizing and embarrassing the Arab media about their prejudiced provocations will more often have a salutary effect.

I congratulate MEMRI for its pioneering work in bringing Arab antisemitism to light, and I commend it for this fine book. For laymen, diplomats, and scholars of the Middle East and conflict resolution, this book highlights like few others one of the most troubling phenomena of our time, how antisemitism has come to pervade Arab culture.

By the Honorable Tom Lantos
Ranking Democrat, International Relations Committee
U.S. House of Representatives
May 1, 2002

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[1] Lewis, Bernard, Semites and Anti-Semites: An Inquiry into Conflict and Prejudice (W.W. Norton & Company, New York/London, 1986), pp. 239-240.

[2] The New York Times, April 27, 2002, "Anti-Semitism is Deepening Among Muslims: Hateful Images of Jews Are Imbedded in Islamic Popular Culture" (by Susan Sachs), pp. A19, A21.

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