Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Can the Arab world leave antisemitism behind?

Richard Cohen

It ought to be considered aberrant, but antisemitism in the Arab world continues to be unremarked on - like anti-fluoride protests in the US, Richard Cohen writes in The Washington Post. Most of what Cohen writes is sensible, but his conclusion that now is a propitious moment for Israel to settle with the Palestinians is odd, considering that antisemitism in the form of rejection of the Jewish state, not the absence of a Palestinian state, seems the main reason why the Palestinians have been unwilling to make peace hitherto.

During World War II, the leader of the Palestinians lived in a Berlin villa, a gift from a very grateful Adolf Hitler, who clearly got his money's worth. Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem and as such the titular leader of Muslim Palestinians, broadcast Nazi propaganda to the Middle East, recruited European Muslims for the SS, exulted in the Holocaust and after the war went on to represent his people in the Arab League. He died somewhat ignored but never repudiated.

Husseini might have been a Nazi to his very soul, but he was also a Palestinian nationalist with genuine support among his own people. The Allies originally considered him a war criminal, but to many Arabs, he was just a patriot. His exterminationist anti-Semitism was considered neither overly repugnant nor all that exceptional. The Arab world is saturated by Jew-hatred.

Some of this hatred was planted by Husseini and some of it long existed, but whatever the case, it remains a remarkable, if unremarked, feature of Arab nationalism. The other day, for instance, about 1 million Egyptians in Tahrir Square heard from Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an esteemed religious leader and Muslim Brotherhood figure whose anti-Semitic credentials are unimpeachable. Among other things, he has said that Hitler was sent by Allah as "divine punishment" for the Jews. His al-Jazeera program is one of that TV network's most popular.

I have read the assurances of scholars and journalists alike that the Muslim Brotherhood has mutated into the Common Cause of Egypt (Jordan, too) and that its anti-Semitism is merely an odd and archaic quirk, like the anti-fluoride positions of some American conservatives. I hope this is the case. But in truth, I put more faith in the staying power of anti-Semitism than I do in the forecasting gifts of my colleagues. If they are right, wonderful. If not, we all have something to worry about.

The trouble with democracies is that they tend to cater to the prejudices of the people - not just to their good sense. This explains why almost all the nations of Central and Eastern Europe turned rabidly anti-Semitic when democracy was instituted after World War I. Anti-Semitism was a popular sentiment and it was exploited by unprincipled politicians. The result in Poland, for instance, was the stated policy of declaring the Jews - about 10 percent of the country - personae non gratae. By then, they had been in Poland for only about 1,000 years.



There are nearly no Jews in Arab lands - they were kicked out after Israel was established in 1948. Nowhere in the Middle East is peace with Israel popular. Nowhere in the Middle East is anti-Semitism considered aberrant or weird. It is inconceivable to me that Arab politicians will not attempt to harness both sentiments, combining nationalism with anti-Semitism - a combustible and unstable compound. History instructs about what follows.

Israeli leaders are well aware that they face a new reality in their region. Whatever regime arises in Egypt, it is likely to chill even further what is already called a cold peace. The same might hold for Jordan. King Abdullah is secure for now - the Bedouin tribes need him to avoid chaos - but he, too, will have to listen to popular sentiment.

Consequently, now would be the propitious time for Israel to settle with the Palestinians.

Read article in full

No, a peace deal would not diminish antisemitism by Jennifer Rubin

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