Stop blaming the West for the Arab world’s anti-Semitism

Jew hatred in the Middle East long predates the establishment of Israel.

Alaa al-Ameri

Topics Politics World

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This week, on TalkTV, Piers Morgan interviewed Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef about the Israel-Hamas conflict. The Piers Morgan Uncensored interview, which has already received millions of views on YouTube, provides a useful illustration of the misleading view of history many on the Western left have adopted. This history also doubles up as an excuse for Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism.

Youssef started by providing a relatively accurate bit of background. He explained that centuries of European anti-Semitism had forced Jews into ghettos and restricted them to activities like money-lending, which was seen as sinful by the medieval church. Yet Jews not only survived their persecution, they prospered, too. And that only intensified European Christians’ desire to punish them.

Youssef then jumped to the early 20th century, when Europeans’ persecution of Jews reached its historical peak. As the US and the UK restricted Jewish immigration in the 1930s and 1940s, this forced more and more Jews to migrate from Europe to the Middle East, culminating in the UN-sanctioned formation of the state of Israel in 1948. Thus, the consequences of Europe’s anti-Semitism, of its failure to answer the so-called Jewish question, were foisted on to Arabs and Muslims. It was in this context that Youssef mentioned the Deir Yassin massacre of Palestinian Arabs by Jewish militias on 9 April 1948. He compared this to Hamas’s massacre of Jews in southern Israel last month.

Youssef’s historical sketch conforms to the prevailing narrative of our time. Namely, that the conflicts that have beset the Middle East since the end of the Second World War are the product of decisions made by white Europeans, and imposed on a world filled with passive, innocent ‘indigenous people’. This means that the rampant anti-Semitism in the Middle East is effectively cast as a Western, European creation.

As an Arab and a Muslim, I recognise this story only too well. It is one that I inherited and told myself for a very long time. That was until I could no longer ignore the dishonesty of this account of Arab and Muslim history.

After all, if this tale is close to the truth, why have pro-Hamas protesters around the world been shouting ‘Khaybar Khaybar ya yahud’ – a reference to the seventh-century murder and expulsion of Jewish tribes from the Khaybar oasis in the Arabian Peninsula – rather than something that relates to Deir Yassin? If a massacre and the formation of Israel in 1948 was the catalyst for Muslim anti-Semitism, why did Izz ad-Din al-Qassam – the cleric after whom Hamas names its rockets and murder-brigades – form the anti-Semitic Islamist group, the Black Hand, as early as the 1930s? And why was the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini, (considered by both the British and Nazi Germany to be the leader of the Arab world at the time) so keen to bring the Nazi Holocaust to the Middle East?

If you had asked me those questions when I was younger, I would have reeled off a list of grievances about Jewish refugees from Europe infringing on native Arab populations in the 1920s and 1930s. But in recent years, I changed my mind. I looked around at my home city of London, which has been utterly transformed by immigrants like me, and saw the arrogance and hypocrisy of my position.

I was casting Jewish refugees from Europe as villains, while regarding myself as a worthy victim. I was justifying the actions of those who violently rejected Jewish migration into Mandate Palestine during the Holocaust, while considering myself unquestionably entitled to refuge in the West.

This same hypocrisy runs through the ‘pro-Palestine’ demonstrations that have erupted across Europe. These protests, shot through with pro-Hamas sentiments, have made Jewish communities fear for their safety in countries that promised they would never have to again.

The recent protests in the UK consist largely of recent migrants, the descendants of recent migrants and identitarian leftists, all of whom no doubt insist that there should be no restriction on migration from anywhere, for any reason, regardless of the impact on British society. And yet these are the same people who accept, without question, Youseff’s tale of how Jewish migration to the Middle East caused Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism. I wonder if the next time Youseff faces prejudice in his adopted country of the United States, will he be as understanding as he appears to be towards Arab and Muslim racism against Jews?

There is another glaring blindspot in Youseff’s story – namely, the near disappearance of Jewish life everywhere in the Middle East, except in Israel. Indeed, more than half the Jewish population of Israel has arrived there over the past 75 years from the rest of the Middle East. In my own country of birth, Libya, a Jewish presence dating back thousands of years has been utterly erased by anti-Semitism.

The Holocaust forced Europeans to face up to their dark history of anti-Semitism. But the Arab and Muslim world has never had to do the same, despite the uncomfortably close connection between Nazi Germany and the leaders of what later became modern Islamism.

The truth is that Arab and Muslim societies have their own anti-Semitism problem and it is one that they have nurtured and generated themselves. It is undeniable that the hatred of Jews by non-Jews in the Middle East, rooted in a theology and a history that deems Jews inferior to Arabs, long predates the establishment of the Jewish State. And that hatred has only become more intense the more that Jews have survived and thrived, despite their persecution.

Now more than ever, it is imperative that we do not fall for modern, Westernised justifications for the oldest hatred.

Alaa al-Ameri is the pen name of a British-Libyan writer.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics World


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