Sha’i’ ben-Tekoa’s Book Review of “Islamic Anti-Semitism as a Political Instrument”
Islamic Anti-Semitism as a Political Instrument
by Yossef Bodansky,
The Ariel Center for Policy Research and
the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies, 1999.
Reviewed by Sha’i ben-Tekoa
This report on one of the great taboo subjects of our time belongs on every foreign policy-maker’s desk immediately. Dr. Yossef Bodansky, Director of Research for the International Strategic Studies Association and Director of the United States Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare has put together a compendium of virtually medieval Jew-hatred spoken and written not by occidental cranks and skinheads but leading oriental politicians and respected clergymen prominent in the Arab world.
In a clear, methodical process he surveys the historical hatred of Jews in Islam which existed for about 1,250 years before the birth of what is today called anti-semitism, and for about 1,230 years before the birth of Herzlian Zionism. He does not shy from quoting the Qu’ran when it preaches that of all Islam’s enemies, none are greater than Jews. Bodansky also mercifully feels no need to conjure up any imagined Golden Age of Arab-Jewish harmony; even if there had been one, by logical definition, it was the exception, not the rule, which is why it was called “golden.” As a rule, Jews were as mistreated in Islam as in Christendom, if not in identical ways. To his credit, Bodansky is utterly clear-eyed as to the meaning for Jews of having been a dhimma people within Dar al-Islam, ruled over by its tyrants–the only kind of government Arabs have ever known–as an inferior, subject, oppressed people dispossessed of its Land and Covenant, both of which Ishmael proudly inherited. He understands that the Zionist movement from Day One was anathema to Islam, and that it despises Ramat Aviv Gimmel in North Tel-Aviv no less than Bet El in the hill country of Benjamin.
But the history of Arab-Jewish relations concerns him less than documenting today’s never-ending cascade of shameless anti-Jewish bile pouring from government-controlled media outlets everywhere in the Muslim Middle East. If, after World War II in Euro-American culture, anti-semitism became gauche and anti-Jews had to go underground for a couple of decades until the invention of the “Ancient Palestinians” gave them a new and fashionably acceptable, albeit cloaked, excuse for returning to public Jew-hatred, open, shameless anti-Jewism has never been out of style in the less-developed Arab world; it is common coin in all strata of society, especially among the elite. To this day, Syria’s Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass continues in his post more than a decade after having published a book, The Matza of Zion, his pseudo-scholarly “study” of the Jews’ vampiric need for human blood as an ingredient in Passover matza. Imagine a member of Bill Clinton’s cabinet, or a minister in Tony Blair’s government, or even in the administration of the anti-semitic Jacques Chirac, publishing such a book and remaining in office for more than five minutes, and one begins to get a whiff of the utter otherness of the Arab world in its feelings about Jews and its absence of any shame about expressing them.
Bodansky has done a great service by exposing the facts which lead him to the honest exposure of Islam as a problem for Israel independent of latter-day “Palestinian Nationalism,” this generation’s cloaked excuse for hating Jews. The book’s title is nonetheless somewhat misconstrued, for the phrase “Islamic anti-semitism” is not quite accurate. Anti-semitism is a pseudo-science, an attempt to re-wrap the age-old fear and loathing of the Jew in an intellectual-sounding term; to pretend that a certain body of ideas is an “ism,” a theory like anarchism or socialism. As a term, anti-semitism is only some one hundred twenty years old, invented in the 1870’s in France and German-speaking Europe. Its purpose then was to legitimize the resistance of many Europeans to the Emancipation of the Jews, the granting to them of social equality and citizenship, which had begun in France in 1790 and spread across the continent under Napoleon. Many Europeans could not cope with this, and anti-semitism sprouted in order to explain, in a pseudo-scientific way, why it was okay to feel this way.
In the 1870’s, Friedrich Neitzsche was preaching that G-d was dead, hvs, and indeed the “Age of Reason” of the previous century had been a euphemism for the loss of faith in Christianity. (The phrase “Age of Reason” had been coined by Tom Paine for the title of his 1793 book of the same name, which was basicly a debunking of Christianity.)
And in that 19th century European milieu of shattered faith in the Nazarene, the charge of deicide against the Jews also lost meaning: If Jesus was no longer anything more than a moral teacher (as Thomas Jefferson, Paine’s friend, had envisioned him when he published his own version of the New Testament with the miracles edited out), then the Jews were no longer guilty of deicide and their persecution made less sense than ever.
Anti-Semitism arose to “scientifically” explain the residual Jew-hatred when religious excuses no longer held water. The anti-semitic babblers concocted a pseudo-anthropological thesis according to which Jews should not be allowed to assimilate into European culture, not because of their religion but because they were Asiatics, non-Europeans, Semites-a word until then used only by linguists studying the similarities between Akkadian, Hebrew, Ugaritic, Syriac, Arabic and other Semitic languages. What the first anti-Semites did was to borrow the term and fantasize a group culture and personality which in fact had never existed. In effect, the new propagandists said, “We have nothing against Jews and Judaism per se. It’s the fact that they are Semites from another continent, who are culturally inassimilable among Europeans. That’s why we reject (and hate) them.”
But of course, no person has ever used the term ‘anti-semitism” to apply to an irrational hatred of, say, Amharic-speaking Christian Ethiopians, or Arabic- or Aramaic-speaking peoples. The very term anti-semitism is itself anti-Semitic, for it is a euphemism, a lie, which has never really meant “against-Semites.” Everybody knows that “anti-Semite” means Jew-hater.
Which is why the title of this excellent book is a tad misleading, for so much of the material Bodansky has assembled is Islamic in character, with its own vocabulary independent of the fanciful claptrap of “classical” 19th century “anti-Semitism.” Muslims have always hated Jews, which is why Arabs were dead-set against Zionism from Day One; which is why the Jewish villages and towns (a.k.a. settlements) in Judea and Samaria and Gaza today have nothing to do with Arab belligerence toward Israel. The current generation of anti-Jews (Muslim, Christian and Jewish alike) who wave the banner of “Palestinian Nationalism,” have conveniently forgotten that today’s settlements followed numerous attempts at genocide (1948, 1967, 1973). No casus belli, the settlements are result of a prior casus belli.
Bodansky is first-rate in emphasizing the blurring of the terms “Jew” and “Zionist” in contemporary Araby. After reading this book, no intellectually honest person can maintain that there is a serious distinction between the Arabs’ feelings for the traditionally humiliated and persecuted Jews, and their feelings for Zionists.This book needs to be read by people who believe that the settlements are an obstacle to peace, like policy-makers in Washington, London, Paris, or in the newsrooms of Israel’s clone of the New York Times, Haaretz, or the country’s television stations, for while the book’s low-key author stands on no soapbox, he might agree that the classical, secular Zionist goal of “normalizing the Jewish people,” as Shimon Peres or Ezer Weizman might put it, has failed. It is well and good for some Israelis to tout their Israeli-ness as their normalness (i.e. non-Jewishness), but the world, in general, ain’t buying, and neither, in particular, are the Arabs. Shimon Peres may have said in 1996 after losing to his fellow secularist Mr. Netanyahu that, “The Jews won and the Israelis lost,” but this too falls on deaf Arab ears. The Children of Ishmael recognize only the Children of Israel, and given their fervent religion–practiced with a medieval enthusiasm assimilated Jews and Western Christians no longer understand, in a culture which never underwent an Enlightenment which had made light of religion-the Arabs remain warm Believers in the Jews as Islam’s Public Enemy No. 1.
Bodansky’s yeoman research offers scores, even hundreds of examples of how today’s so-called Islamists (also a misleading term) see Jews as “immersed in a conspiracy to dominate the Middle East as a first step in their drive to dominate the world.” Bodansky does not say it, but I will: These people think like Nazis, and Nazism was paganism re-born, which is why Nazis hated Jews so much, for since Abraham, Judaism has been at war with paganism. What makes a book like this one so chilling is the thought that the prominent Arab politicians and religious authorities in Islam (including non-Arab Egyptians, Persians, Afghanis, etc.) quoted herein, are not marginal personalities like a Timothy McVeigh, who blew up that federal office building in Oklahoma City in 1995, or any of the pathetic and anonymous skinheads who scrawl swastikas on the walls of public toilets in Idaho, about whom the Anti-Defamation League is so deeply concerned, but the movers and the shakers of the Arab world, about whom the ADL hardly sounds the alarm..
Bodansky, willy-nilly, without fanfare, has lifted up a rock on one of the great taboos of the age: When was the last time you read an editorial or op-editorial in the New York Times on the pandemic of anti-Semitism in the Arab world and especially among the “Ancient Palestinians” in Judea, Samaria and Gaza? When was the last time National Public Radio or the Public Broadcasting Service did an essay on the medieval Jew-hatred of Islam?
Of course, little is to be expected of such Western media outlets when Israel itself is no less into hysterical denial on this matter. Whenever the Israeli police find a dead Jew, hvs, and suspect other than common criminal activity, they report to the press that the murderer probably acted out of “nationalistic motives,” as if Israel and its enemies were locked into a normal contest of wills between two normal nationalities. Who has ever heard an Israeli official say that a Jew had been murdered in the country by a homicidal anti-Semite?
This virtually psychotic denial should be harder to maintain after reading this quiet survey of hundreds of expressions of fear and loathing worthy of Nazi hooligans either in the 1930’s or among today’s euphemistically miscalled “neo-Nazis.”
Bodansky’s writing is simple to the point of dryness; after a while, the litany becomes mind-numbing, even repetitive, but that only happens toward the end of this short book and should not distract anyone who cares about Israel, and fears for the poor prospects of true (vs. Oslo-style) peace, from the necessity of reading it. The author is refreshingly candid in clearly stating that the Palestinian Authority “is at the forefront of the anti-Semitic propaganda and incitement”–yet again, don’t expect official Israel to acknowledge this. Let this work be a first step toward that goal.
– Sha’i ben-Tekoa