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Anti-Semitism is on the march from Kuwait to Tunisia

It has always surged to the surface in times of social, political and economic uncertainty, now made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

Tunisian President Kais Saied. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Tunisian President Kais Saied. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Amjad Taha
Amjad Taha

Anti-Semitism is on the march. From Tunisian President Kais Saied’s recent remarks blaming the country’s unrest on “thieving Jews,” to Kuwait’s top preacher Othman Al-Khamees calling Jews “the brothers of apes and pigs” and declaring that the United Arab Emirates’ Abrahamic Family House should not be shared with Jews, anti-Semitism has been given a new lease of life.

Recent anti-Semitic statements made by the prominent Al-Khamees have sparked widespread controversy on social media and in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) societies. He claimed that the Jewish people are a nation of no faith and condemned the construction of an interfaith center in the UAE, the Abrahamic Family House, which will include a synagogue, church and mosque.

Al-Khamees went so far as to claim that the three-in-one religious complex constitutes an act of “infidelity.” He denounced placing what he referred to as the “distorted Bible and Torah” next to the Koran, questioned the project’s motives and claimed that the Jews are people of “no belief and dignity.”

In addition, he uploaded a video to his public YouTube channel (dated Dec. 23) stating that the Jews can be referred to “as the brothers of apes and pigs because essentially, they became like them.”

The question is: How can countries such as Kuwait, which is considered a constitutional sovereign state with a semi-democratic political system considered a liberal constitution in the GCC, allow and give Al-Khamees a platform to attack the Jewish people and the Abrahamic Accords in such anti-Semitic terms. Meanwhile, Kuwait continues to host thousands of U.S. military personnel and contractors, many of whom are from a Jewish background.

Anti-Semitism can be manifested in many ways—ranging from expressions of hatred and discrimination against individual Jews, to organized pogroms by mobs or police forces, to attacks on entire Jewish communities and the Jewish faith. The recent speeches made by Al-Khamees are a clear example of anti-Semitic incitement.

The Jewish community has seen and experienced these acts of anti-Semitism on multiple occasions. From the first accusation made in the second century (false claims that faulted the Jews for the death of Jesus), the blood libel, the pogroms, the dissemination of the forged document commonly called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to the Nazi attempt to carry out Die Endlösung (“The Final Solution”), anti-Semitism continues to take many forms.

The Abraham Accords hope to bring change to situations like these. In order to gain true justice, radicals such as the Islamist cleric in Kuwait should be condemned and confronted for his anti-Jewish acts.

Sadly, Al-Khamees is not alone. The Middle East saw another recent example of controversy over anti-Semitism with the remarks made by Saied. Amid a heated discussion about the ongoing political unrest in the country, the Tunisian president casually referred to the Jews as “thieving Jews,” implying that they might be behind Tunisia’s turmoil.

Saied, a political newcomer elected back in 2019 in an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, is no stranger to anti-Semitic remarks as he continues to maintain a strong anti-Israeli stance. During his campaign, he said that any attempt to normalize ties with Israel, which he referred to exclusively as a “Zionist entity,” constitutes high treason.

Anti-Semitic acts have always surged to the surface in times of social, political and economic uncertainty, such as our current global context, now made much worse by the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the fact that health authorities the world over unanimously agree that COVID-19 originated in China, anti-Semites in the Gaza Strip, Iran and Yemen have found a way to blame the pandemic on Jews.

During these times, unity between all is vital, and there should be no tolerance for preachers and leaders who choose to frighten or threaten us. We will thrive together with the Jewish state of Israel, and stand against brutality and racism. The Abraham Accords has created a new and different future for the Middle East—one in which anti-Semitism is rejected, and harmony between all religions is embraced.

Amjad Taha is the Bahrain-based regional director of the British Middle East Centre for Studies and Research, the author of “The Deception of the Arab Spring” and an adviser to senior GCC government officials.

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