In his review for The Guardian of Sir Martin's new book, Liberal rabbi David Goldberg is at pains to qualify the broad sweep of Arab antisemitism uncovered by Sir Martin with references to the Spanish Golden Age and how Zionism 'fuelled' anti-Jewish Arab anger and violence, while reproaching the author for failing to come to conclusions of his own. On the other hand, Robert Fulford in the National Post takes the opposite view: Arab and Muslim antisemitism has its roots in the Koran and the trouncing of the Jews at Khaybar by Muhammed's army has a resonance amongst Islamists today (with thanks: Eliyahu):
David Goldberg writes in The Guardian:
"The feared doyen of Judaic scholars in the US is Professor Jacob Neusner, an abrasive curmudgeon who, to borrow football manager Sir Alex Ferguson's description of an opposition player, could start a fight in an empty room. (...)
"Neither a brash TV personality nor a young turk revisionist, Gilbert writes broad-brush narrative history of the old-fashioned kind. By now his method is well rehearsed: a balanced overview is produced, based on exhaustive research of all the available material, and then illuminated with individual case stories or a telling quotation. It is a technique that proved popular in his books about the Holocaust, the state of Israel and Churchill. Now he brings it to bear on the history of Jews in Muslim lands.
"Perhaps that well-oiled modus operandi is why there is a sense Gilbert is going through the motions here. He dedicates In Ishmael's House, somewhat preciously, to the 13 million Jews and 1,300 million Muslims in the world "in the hope that they may renew the mutual tolerance, respect and partnership that marked many periods in their history". In truth, however, there is little fresh to be said about that long and complex relationship because it has all been covered before by more specialist scholars. Gilbert simply quotes his sources and summarises their conclusions, without attempting to offer many of his own.
"Shrewdest of the quoted sources is Bernard Lewis, the foremost contemporary authority on Jews under Islam, who wrote in Semites and Anti-Semites that their situation was "never as bad as in Christendom at its worst, nor ever as good as in Christendom at its best". On the one hand, there is nothing in the history of Muslim-Jew relations to parallel the Spanish inquisition, the Russian pogroms or the Holocaust. On the other, there is nothing to compare with the progressive emancipation and civic equality accorded to Jews in the democratic west since the French revolution.
"Gilbert reveals his inexperience in this particular field on the very first page, when he misdates the compilation of the Babylonian Talmud by at least 500 years and the choice of Jerusalem as the Jewish capital by around 200. Thereafter – apart from appearing to regard the Biblical fable of Queen Esther as authentic – he provides a soberly accurate account of the 1,400 year propinquity between Jews and Muslims since Mohammed first proclaimed himself God's prophet, appropriating many of Judaism's beliefs and practices. The so-called Pact of Omar in the early 8th century formalised the rights of non-believers under Muslim rule: in return for personal safety, security of property, freedom of worship and communal autonomy, Jews and Christians had to accept inferior dhimmi status and consent to payment of the jizya (poll) tax to the local ruler.
"As in Christian Europe, the stringency or leniency with which these rules were applied – along with ancillary ones forbidding Jews to build new synagogues, wear certain clothing, ride horses or employ Muslims – varied from ruler to ruler and depending on Jewish utility to the state. Under the fanatical Almohad dynasty, Jews faced ferocious persecution – the great Moses Maimonides was one who temporarily converted to Islam to escape death during that period. But in Toledo, Seville and Granada, before Ferdinand and Isabella expelled both Jews and Muslims in 1492, many Jews rose to high office while relations with followers of Islam were so convivial that it is still referred to as the "Golden Age of Spanish Jewry". By the same measure, conditions for Jews were generally benign throughout the Ottoman empire for centuries.
"The influx of Zionist pioneers into Palestine from 1897 onwards, and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, had a fateful impact on Jewish-Muslim coexistence. In such a bitter conflict we are all parti pris and even a scrupulous recorder like Gilbert is drawn into polemics and apologetics. For example, in detailing the shocking Arab riots of 1929 – in which 133 Jews were killed and 339 wounded – he might have mentioned that the violence was fuelled in large part by the provocations of Zionist activists at the Wailing Wall (as with Ariel Sharon's walkabout on the Temple Mount before the second intifada). And while it is pertinent to point out that 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands have been fed, housed and absorbed by Israel since 1948 while 750,000 Palestinian refugees languish in camps, dependent on United Nations handouts, this does not invalidate the crucial fact that the latter suffered a grave injustice at Israel's founding.
"The pogroms in Baghdad, Tripoli, Cairo and Tangier that followed events in 1948 were almost as bad as any atrocity perpetrated against Jews in medieval Europe, with its accusations of poisoned wells and revival of the "blood libel" – the accusation, recurrent throughout history, that Jews use Muslim or Christian blood in their religious rituals. The Suez crisis of 1956 and the 1967 six-day war intensified the hostility palpable in Arab streets and hastened the exodus of virtually all remaining Jews from countries such as Egypt where they had lived for over two millennia. In recent decades, growing religious fundamentalism on both sides has added a toxic new ingredient, exacerbating still further an intractable geopolitical dispute.
"For Gilbert to conclude with the wish that his book contribute to a better future for Muslims and Jews does credit to his faith in humanism – but also, some might say, signifies the triumph of hope over experience."The long history of Jews in Muslim lands by Robert Fulford (National Post):