Muslim Anti-Semitism?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President, has called (in translation) for
Israel to be “wiped off the map.” Recently, at the end of one of my
lectures, a student stopped me and asked whether we could define Ahmadinejad’s
statement as an example of Muslim anti-Semitism. He argued that there are similarities
between what he defined as “Muslim anti-Semitism” and Nazi anti-Semitism.
Indeed, it is not difficult to find some Arab political groups and mass media
who use anti-Zionist rhetoric as ludicrous as the infamous hoax known as the
Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” There is plenty of anti-Semitism, but at what
point should it be called “Muslim”?

Most commentators discuss the issue of Muslim anti-Semitism without telling
us what they mean by “anti-Semitism.” It means different things, depending
on who is talking about it and who is being targeted. From my personal experience,
I have collected at least seven nuanced connotations. Anti-Semitism can be:
(1) when people hate Jews, (2) hostility towards Jews, (3) intolerance towards
Judaism, (4) anti-Zionism and hatred against Israel, (5) the attempt to destroy
the Jews as a people and Israel as a nation, (6) a form of discrimination against
Semitic people, including Arabs, and (7) a form of racism and xenophobia.

Of course, each of these definitions implies a different understanding of why
a person might be anti-Semitic. However, when people speak of Muslim anti-Semitism
they are not refering to individuals but rather to the religion as a whole.
By saying that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statements are derived from “Muslim
anti-Semitism,” they are not simply saying that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is
anti-Semitic as an individual, but rather that the Alis, the Muhammads and the
Husseins whom we meet in our offices, schools, markets, streets, in everyday
interactions are anti-Semitic because they are Muslims. And they are Muslims
because they believe in Islam. Hence, Islam must be the source of Muslim anti-Semitism,
just as anti-Semitism was an operating principle of Nazi ideology. The essential
argument here is, of course, essentializing Islam as a faith rather than examining
the political context or motivation of an individual Muslim.

Some commentators, including scholars who should know better, have suggested
that the Qur’an and the Sunna might as well be Mein
. this is the bottom line of the self-proclaimed Dhimmi-jihad-voyeur,
Robert Spencer, who recently suggested that Iran was calling for a new holocaust, once again linking Muslims to the Nazis. Yet, as
anthropologist Bill Beeman observes
, the Iranian President’s remarks present
less a new threat to Israeli security than a desperate political ploy at a public
event by an increasingly unpopular leader to tie himself to Ayatollah Khomeini,
who he in fact was quoting. This is not to excuse the inflammatory statements
of Ahmadinejad, but this is not Hitler.

Another “sophisticated” essentialist spin on Islamic anti-Semitism
has been advanced by Martin
Kramer, who has argued
, “It is a sign of the times that the study of
Islam today, far from being an escape from anti-Semitism, is more likely to
be an immersion in it.” Kramer places “the origin of [Muslim] anti-Semitism”
in the Qur’an and in Muhammad’s frustration with Arabian
Jewish tribes which had rejected the Prophet’s message. Yet even Kramer
has admitted that the Qur’an lacks ththe myth of the “eternal
Jew” that Christian societies developed. So, Kramer has hypothesised that
it was the contacts with the Christian West that enhanced the anti-Semitic features
of both the Qur’an and Sunna. For Kramer, conveniently,
it was not European colonialism that spread the terrible anti-Semitic virus
to the deficiently immunized Muslims, but rather Muslim immigrants who invading
the West became exposed to the infection and brought it back to their Islamic
homelands. The blame never leaves Muslims.

Kramer states that the formation of the State of Israel and the occupation of
Palestinian territory are not the reasons for the increase of anti-Semitic rhetoric
among some Muslims. Thus, in his view a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict
would not defuse Muslim anti-Semitism, since “neither a break with tradition,
nor a diminishing of the injustice, will stop it. It exists above all because
it is needed to complete an irrational logic.” Which logic, it is prudent
to ask? Kramer suggests the key is “the extermination of Jews.” But
do not be mistaken; this has nothing to do with Hitler’s Final Solution.
Kramer has explained that Muslims (all of them?) wish to exterminate the Jewish
population because Muslims want vengeance for the arrogant Jewish denial of
the revelation to Muhammad. So, we have to believe in some sort of genetic law
for which the tensions between the first Muslim tribes and the Jewish Arab tribes,
through social chromosomes X and Y, have been inherited by all Muslims. He arrives
at a form of “Malevolent Design” rather than acknowledging that religions
evolve through time.

Daniel Pipes, a historian by training and a controversial journalist and politician
by vocation, follows a similar historical approach to “Muslim anti-Semitism.”
In “The
Politics of Muslim Anti-Semitism”
he informs the reader that anti-Semitism
should refer only to anti-Jewish sentiments since Arabs “are as capable
of this [anti-Semitism] as anyone speaking an Indo-European language.”
Nevertheless, Pipes recognises that Jews, despite the fact that in the caliphate
they were considered to have a protected status known as Dhimmis, lived better
and safer under Islamic rulers than under Christian kings. So, Pipes has developed
his canning theory: Islam, far from being tolerant, had relegated the Jewish
population to being second-class citizens. Such a degrading status of the Jewish
population within the Islamic kingdoms prevented Muslims from developing anti-Semitism,
at least until the creation of the state of Israel.

Pipe’s cunning argument misleads more than it clarifies. The state of Dhimmis
did not imply in itself a “second-class citizen status.” Indeed, I
even doubt that Muslims in the past had the very concept of “second-class
citizens” we cite today. In medieval kingdoms money, power and knowledge,
more than religion, ethnicity, and nationality, made “status.” Medieval
Spanish documents prove that Islamic courts employed Jewish teachers, military
commanders and accountants. Reguer
has explained that in Muslim societies, Jews, although classified
as Dhimmis, could reach influential positions. Pipes goes on to claim that Muslims
and Nazis share a common hate for Jewish people [see,
For example, he reminds us of the collusion between Muslim (in particular Palestinian
and Arab) leaders and the 1930’s German Nazi government. By contradicting his
previous arguments, Pipes this time has suggested that such a controversial
relationship had its historical root in Islam itself because the Prophet, according
to Pipes, had some “uneven relations” with Jews. Pipes, however, not
only suggests an old-fashioned unilinear evolutionary vision of history, but
manipulates it. He has omitted another grim side of the dirty political battle
for Jerusalem at that time. Both some Arabs and some Zionist leaders (the so-called
Zionist-Revisionists) had contacts with the German Nazi and Italian Fascist
regimes in an attempt to achieve the same goal: a nation for their people in
the contended Holy Land. While Arabs attempted to contact the Nazi authorities,
in November 1934 the Zionist-Revisionists convinced “Mussolini [to] set
up a Betar squadron at his scuola marittima at Civitavecchia, where 134 [Jewish]
cadets were trained by the notorious Blackshirts; in 1936, Il Duce himself reviewed
his Zionist wards” (Encyclopaedia Judaica 1972:175). Why should
we be so surprised that both Arab and Zionists leaders tried to bargain with
what they considered European super-powers? Both sides were interested in the
land rather than ethics or religious precedent. To read these historical events
as the ultimate evidence of Arab anti-Semitism derived from the Qur’an
or as the ultimate proof that Zionism is the Jewish version of Fascism
is seriously misleading.

Although I recognise that there is an increased use of anti-Semitic rhetoric
among some Muslims and the Arab mass media, it is not difficult to see how some
“anti” anti-Semitism has been more interested in rehabilitating
the extreme political right from its anti-Semitic “sins” rather than
presenting a realistic analysis of anti-Semitic attitudes among Muslims. “Muslim
anti-Semitism” has been discussed from an ultra-essentialist stand based
on the idea that the Qur’an exists above and beyond Muslims interpretations,
beyond emotions and feelings, beyond political passions. Although Kramer and
Pipes seem to agree with some Muslim extremists that Islam is only one view,
we know that Muslims do have different opinions on anti-Semitism. Emotions,
feelings and environment influence the ways in which Muslims read the Qur’an,
the hadith and live Islam. So how can these universal forces not also
operate in the politically charged arena surrounding Zionism, the modern state
of Israel and relations with the Palestinians?

Gabriele Marranci

3 thoughts on “Muslim Anti-Semitism?

Add yours

  1. That is exactly right Stefan – praying, fasting, dressing modestly….that is definitely ‘the devils work’.

    Just a quick question to you – if Islam is the devils work….what exactly is God’s work????

    Oh, I see…’God’s work’ is saying that everyone else is following the devil.

  2. Great post 🙂

    “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (evidently a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.” (related by al-Bukhari and Moslem).

    Its true that believing such a prophecy is dangerous , I consider it a false prophecy.

    Muslims are doing the same thing the Jews were doing before Mohamed.

    They are following the footsteps of the Devil.

    You will understand why “Islam” is a failure when you study the Quran and Hadith as two different books .

    Please visit


  3. I agree that it is absurd to essentialize Muslims as being inherently anti-semitic. Yet this article is SO evasive and qualified that it made fearful that you’re not really addressing the issue – how widespread anti-semitism is in Muslim societies (seeing as you mention Christian societies on these terms, surely you’re not going to object to this formulation of the problem you’re meant to be addressing in this post!). I just saw the Channel 4 prog by Richard Littlejohn and it seems it’s alive and well here in the UK so it would have been great to see a responsible piece by someone based here who is obviously contemplative and smart, which says something about how some, apparently many, Muslims seem to have difficulties with Jews and their support for Israel. Even Imam Sajid, who is otherwise known as being moderate and sensible, and does a lot of interfaith work, was heard on the programme counselling Jews to speak out about their opposition to Israel. This was his major answer to the problem of anti-semitism within the Brit Muslim community. He didn’t say it was unacceptable for Muslims to hold Jews responsible for Israel – just as Muslims are constantly said to be concerned by the plight of Muslims wordwide (although curiously less in places like Darfur), why isn’t the same sentiment OK for Jews who are worried about Israel’s genocidal neighbours on so many fronts (currently in the North and South of the country)? Instead, he said Jews should demonstrate not solidarity with their fellow co-religionists but opposition, by shouting out loud all manner of criticism against Israel. Where has he been all this time if he does not know that Jews DO speak out about Israel all the time, some of the most famous amongst them no less – indeed, some of Israel’s most vociferous and dangerous critics are Jews (saying things about Israel which are just as dangerous as many Muslims perceive the comments of someone like Hirsi Ali to be), often used by Israel-demonizers as proof that these latter are not anti-semitic since they are joined by Jews: you know, that famous avoidance strategy of ‘some of our best friends are Jewish’.

    I know that many more Jews would speak out about the aspects of Israeli policy that are questionable if the general debate were not so full of hatred and bigotry. As things stand, there are so many people dumping on Israel at the moment that it is most unconducive to joining in that particular hate fest, especially if one is Jewish – the one thing it make me want to do is to shout out about how Israel seems to be being used as the world’s scapegoat: it is now being blamed apparently in the whole of the Muslim world for the many problems there; and now too, the liberal left in the West are blaming Israel for all the horrible things Western gvts are doing in Mid East. As if history hasn’t given us any lessons: just over half a decade after a Jewish genocide, here we are again in the same place: looking to blame the Jews for everything bad under the sun.

    It would have been good if you could have addressed some of these points. Your evasion needs to be investigated a bit more I think. A start would be to explain Hamas’s charter (article 7) which quotes Hadith on terms that:

    “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (evidently a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.” (related by al-Bukhari and Moslem).


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