The Roots Of Anti-Semitism

Bernard Lewis offers penetrating insights into Western and Islamic anti-semitism – it’s an echo of the Nazis, except this time the Jews win.

Lewis specializes in the history of Islam and the interaction between Islam and the West. His book What Went Wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response is a classic (though it doesn’t really explain what went wrong!).

This summarizes his latest essay on Islam and the Jews.

Until the late 1800s, Islam was a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution in Europe!

…until fairly modern times there was a much higher degree of tolerance in most of the Islamic lands than prevailed in the Christian world. For centuries, in most of Europe Christians were very busy persecuting each other; in their spare time, they were persecuting Jews and expelling Muslims—all at a time when, in the Ottoman Empire and some other Islamic states, Jews and several varieties of Christians were living side by side fairly freely and comfortably.

…the limited but substantial tolerance accorded to Jews and other non-Muslim communities in the Muslim states until early modern times was certainly vastly better than anything that was available in Christendom.

Islam tolerated Jews because they had useful skills and were stereotyped as unwarlike:

A late Ottoman joke may serve to illustrate this. The story is that in 1912, at the time of the Balkan war, when there was an acute threat to the Ottoman Empire in its final stages, the Jews, full of patriotic ardor, decided that they, too, wanted to serve in the defense of their country, so they asked permission to form a special volunteer brigade. Permission was given, and officers and ncos were sent to train and equip them. Once the Jewish volunteer brigade was armed, equipped, and trained, ready to leave for the front, they sent a message asking if they could have a police escort, because there were reports of bandits on the road.

However, Muslim attitudes towards Jews changed in the 19th and 20th centuries, and in 1933:

:…within weeks of Hitler’s coming to power in 1933, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem got in touch with the German consul general in Jerusalem…and offered his services.

In 1940 the French surrender gave the Nazis new opportunities for action in the Arab world…From Syria they extended their activities to Iraq, where they helped to establish a pro-Nazi regime headed by Rashid Ali al-Gailani.

This was overthrown by the British, and Rashid Ali went to join his friend the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in Berlin, where he remained as Hitler’s guest until the end of the war. In the last days of Rashid Ali’s regime, on the first and second of June 1941, soldiers and civilians launched murderous attacks on the ancient Jewish community in Baghdad. This was followed by a series of such attacks in other Arab cities, both in the Middle East and in North Africa.

The Nazi propaganda impact was immense. We see it in Arabic memoirs of the period, and of course in the foundation of the Ba’ath party.

We can see the Nazi propaganda impact here:

Things got worse when a tiny band of the “unwarlike” Jews beat the crap out of 5 Arab armies:

We have some vivid descriptions at the time of the expectations and reactions of 1948. Azzam Pasha, who was then the secretary-general of the Arab League, is quoted as having said: “This will be like the Mongol invasions. We will utterly destroy them. We will sweep them into the sea.”

The expectation was that it would be quick and easy. There would be no problem at all dealing with half a million Jews.

It was then an appalling shock when five Arab armies were defeated by half a million Jews with very limited weaponry. It remains shameful, humiliating. This was mentioned at the time and has been ever since. One writer said: “It was bad enough to be conquered and occupied by the mighty empires of the West, the British Empire, the French Empire, but to suffer this fate at the hands of a few hundred thousand Jews was intolerable.”

Since then, in 1956, 1967 and 1973, the world became accustomed to images of long lines of surrendering Arab armies, miles of destroyed Arab tanks, and airfields full of burned Arab planes.

The West held Israel to civilized standards but accepted Arab violence:

On November 29, 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the famous resolution calling for the division of Palestine into a Jewish state, an Arab state, and an international zone of Jerusalem.

Just over two weeks later…the Arab League adopted a resolution totally rejecting this UN resolution, declaring that they would use all means at their disposal, including armed intervention, to nullify it—an open challenge to the United Nations that was and remains unanswered.

At the end of the initial struggle in Palestine, part of the country was under the rule of the newly created Jewish state, part under the rule of neighboring Arab governments. A significant number of Arabs remained in the territories under Jewish rule.

It was taken then as axiomatic, and has never been challenged since, that no Jews could remain in the areas of Palestine under Arab rule, so that as well as Arab refugees from the Jewish-controlled areas, there were Jewish refugees from the Arab-controlled areas of mandatary Palestine…notably the ancient Jewish community in East Jerusalem, which was totally evicted and its monuments desecrated or destroyed.

… the response of the United Nations to (Jewish and Arab) refugees was very different. For Arab refugees in Palestine, very elaborate arrangements were made and very extensive financing provided.

Then, as memories of the Holocaust faded, anti-semitism reappeared in the West:

For more than half a century, any discussion of Jews and their problems has been overshadowed by the grim memories of the crimes of the Nazis and of the complicity, acquiescence, or indifference of so many others. But inevitably, the memory of those days is fading, and now Israel and its problems afford an opportunity to relinquish the unfamiliar and uncomfortable posture of guilt and contrition and to resume the more familiar and more comfortable position of stern reproof from an attitude of moral superiority. It is not surprising that this opportunity is widely welcomed and utilized.

So we have a humiliated Islam that seeks revenge, backed by resurgent anti-Semitic Western nations and pseudo-nations.

Lewis does not analyze the effect on the Jews and their enemies of this long conflict.

My view is that Israel has become what Arnold Toynbee calls a Marches state – holding the frontiers of civilization, they’ve learned to excel in battle and the technologies that support it.

Of course Israel has had great support from the US, but – because of Jewish scientific and technical excellence – they’d probably have prevailed anyway. Almost all the team that built the Atomic bomb was Jewish.

Conversely, Israel’s opponents have been weakened by the support of their friends and easy money from oil – Palestine is a welfare-dependent dump, and its Arab supporters are impoverished and incompetent. Toynbee would predict this too – an easy life for the rulers brings decadence.

So the Israeli struggle is a rerun of the Jews against the Nazis, and this time the Jews are winning.


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