Monday, August 07, 2006

'The Jews are our dogs' makes a comeback

Joseph Abdel Wahed argues that as long as Arabs are taught to despise and dehumanise Jews, there is no hope for them - or for us.

A man brazenly shoots his way into the Jewish Federation of Seattle, kills a woman and wounds four others, three critically. As he opens fire, the alleged assailant shouts: "I am a Muslim and I'm angry at Israel", as if to indicate that his religious affiliation gives him permission to kill Jews.

In a second incident, Mel Gibson, a Hollywood director and actor, is arrested in Malibu, on suspicion of drunk driving. He allegedly, screams at the officer: "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world", not realizing that nearly all to-day's wars are Islamic wars. He also tells his arresting officer: "Are you Jewish?"

In the third incident, Palestinians, in the streets of San Francisco, chanted proudly in Arabic and without fear of being detected: "The Jews are our dogs".

The common denominator in all three incidents is hate, racism, intolerance and bigotry. While Jew hating is not a new phenomena, it has recently become the insult de rigueur in many parts of our society. As a human being, I deplore all forms of hate, the third incident has a special meaning to me as the following paragraphs will clearly show.

The incident happened when I was at the anti-Israel demonstration in front of the Israeli consulate in San Francisco on Thursday, July 12 organized by a Palestinian group called Al Awda. The demonstration was loud, boisterous and passionate. Suddenly, shockingly, demonstrators began chanting in Arabic, Al Yahud Kelabna, the Jews are our dogs.

My first reaction to the Palestinian chanting was one of disbelief, then I felt a mixture of fear, anger and heavy-heartedness. Terrible memories cascaded before me taking me back to when I was a young boy, growing up in Egypt. These memories included Egyptian mobs descending upon the Jewish quarter of Cairo chanting Al Yahud Kelabna, followed by violence that left some Jews dead and injured, and the community dazed.

Egyptian Muslim mobs no longer do this, because there is no longer an Egyptian Jewish community to speak of. We once were over 80,000. Today there are fewer than 50 Jews remaining in Egypt. Indeed, once thriving Jewish communities in ten Arab countries were likewise cleansed. Today, virtually no Jews remain in the Arab or Muslim world.

Arab spokesmen blame the creation of Israel, but, in reality, the situation of Middle Eastern Jewry began to deteriorate years before Israel was established.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Egypt was a much more cosmopolitan place than it is today. While not an apology for colonialism, nevertheless Egypt under the British was a place where Muslims, Jews and Christians got along fairly harmoniously. But all this began to change as the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Islamic group whose Palestinian branch is Hamas, began agitating against both the British and the Jews. Along with the rise of Arab nationalism and Arab independence, life for Jews in Egypt and other Arab countries became intolerable. All this happened decades before Israel was established.

In the end, within a 20 year period starting in 1945, nearly one million Jews were forced out of Arab countries. In the Egypt of the late 1940s, being Jewish was criminalized. In other Arab states, such as Iraq, Libya, Syria, etc. similar laws were passed. Jews began facing iron walls of discrimination and harassment by the authorities. Most of us were dispossessed. Our schools, homes, synagogues, businesses, farms, hospitals, were all confiscated by Arab governments. Our rich, 2,000 year old culture and heritage was decimated. No trial, no jury, no justice.

Also heard at the anti Israel demonstration were chants such as "Black, red, brown, white! We support Hezbollah's fight! Black, red, green, blue! We support Hamas too!" Personally, I found it rather ironic when demonstrators were screaming at me to "go back to Europe." These demonstrators' ignorance is profound: the majority of Israel's Jewish population is like me, Jews of color from Arab and other Muslim countries.

The demonstrators in San Francisco last week attacked Jews, not Israel. They did it in Arabic thinking perhaps only they would be in on the "joke." They didn't count on a group of indigenous Middle Eastern Jewish "dogs" being present at the counter rally across the street.

They clearly felt certain that we are "their" dogs. In Arab culture, dogs are considered filthy, dirty beasts, and negotiating with "dogs" is not an option. Historically Jews were often identified this way because for centuries, we were living as a subjected people under the dominant culture of Islam.

We were a "protected" minority living under a religious caste system where we had to wear identifiable clothes, pay a special tax, were not allowed to ride horses, forced to live in ghettoes, and were submitted to other indignities. Our fortunes fluctuated with the benevolence of whoever was ruling at the time. When he was fair and just, Jews prospered. Otherwise, watch out! Massacres of Jews by Arab Muslims were not unknown. While most people know how European Jews suffered, little is known of the Jews of the Arab world.

Today, the Arab and Muslim worlds are the most anti Semitic of any region. Much of their media - TV programs, cartoons, editorials - promote the kind of anti-Semitism not seen or heard since the time when Hitler walked this earth. In many mosques, too, throughout the region, religious leaders who are quick to take offense over such matters as cartoons regularly teach the vilest anti Jewish defamation.

The effects of this "education" are seen and felt even here in San Francisco, where a crowd of young Arab men and women feel perfectly free to chant "Al Yahud Kelabna"!

As long as Palestinian and other Arab children are taught such dehumanizing hatred of Jews, there is no hope for them, and there is no hope for us. Peace in the Middle East will not come with the next ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah, but only when tolerance, compassion, understanding and respect for religious freedom become the dominant value in Arab society. When Arab young people honestly feel too ashamed to chant about Jews being "our dogs," then there will be real hope.

Joseph Abdel Wahed is a member of http://www.jimena.org/

1 comment:

Albert said...

Iranian Jews grapple with crisis in the Middle East:

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/1110AP_Iranian_American_Jews.html