For many years anti-Semitism in the Arab world was seen as a marginal issue.
Manifestations of Jew hatred were attributed to the ongoing resentments stemming
from the hostilities between Israel and the Arabs rather than to any deep-seated
prejudice. It was repeatedly pointed out that Jews living under Islam through
the centuries experienced far more tolerance than Jews in Christian Europe.
Those who wanted to make something of the issue -- calling the Arabs
fundamentally anti-Semitic -- were dismissed as individuals who were looking for
any reason to avoid moving forward a peace process that would necessitate
Now that we are simultaneously witnessing the unraveling of hopes for peace
and a spurt of Arab anti-Semitism, it forces us to take another look at the
connection between anti-Semitism and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Is anti-Semitism a more deeply ingrained phenomenon in the Arab world than we
have been willing to acknowledge and if so, what does it say about future
Arab-Israeli relations? Is current anti-Semitism in the Middle East linked to
historic Muslim attitudes toward Jews? Even if anti-Semitism were more deeply
ingrained in the Arab world, is peace still a possibility?
A look at the evolution of the Holocaust as a theme of Arab propaganda gives
an insight to this subject. Until recently, the Arabs argued shrewdly, though
falsely, in their reading of history, maintaining that they should not be paying
the price for the murder of six million Jews by Europeans. Ignoring the real
Jewish connection to the land of Israel, this argument had a certain resonance
in that it acknowledged the horror of the Holocaust but depicted the
Palestinians as innocent victims of a European guilt that needed to be atoned
for by granting the Jews a State. Now, however, there is a shift in their
Holocaust denial and revisionism. by asserting that the Jews have concocted or
exaggerated what happened during World War II in order to dupe the world into
accepting the illegitimate Jewish State in Palestine.
This change in emphasis suggests that the issue is not primarily that of the
depth of anti-Semitism but of the reduction of inhibitions about expressing such
extreme forms of hatred. The Palestinians no longer merely have to talk about
their suffering as a consequence of Jewish suffering, when they can get away
with accusing the Jews of being the perpetrators of a fraud.
What this tells us is that it is vitally important for nations and leaders
around the world to take seriously these manifestations of hatred and denounce
them. The United States and the European Union must not allow Arafat, Mubarak or
other leaders in the Arab world think that they can tolerate or encourage
anti-Semitism in their societies with impunity.
It is hard enough to overcome the political and nationalistic problems that
stand in the way of Palestinian-Israeli peace. The spreading anti-Semitic
incitement -- blood libel charges, conspiracy theories, comparing Israel to
Hitler -- will only embitter the peoples on both sides and make good faith peace
negotiations an even more distant dream.
Moreover, whether or not this surge of anti-Semitic rhetoric is deeply
rooted, it is clear that this kind of barrage, if continued over time, will
poison the minds of many in the Arab world so that anti-Semitism will indeed
become a way of life as never before. The prospects this development would hold
for greater violence against Jews, not only in the Middle East but also around
the world, are too terrible to contemplate.
Several months ago, I said that we must be as firm in denouncing Arab
anti-Semitism as any other kind of anti-Semitism. Today, I go a step further.
Arab anti-Semisim, if allowed to flourish, could become one of the most
destructive forces unleashed in this new century. History has shown us where
anti-Semitism can lead. Combating it right now must not be the task only of
Israel and organizations like the Anti-Defamation League. For the sake of peace
and a sane world, responsible governments everywhere must start to speak up.
This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post July 30, 2001