Arab antisemitism is not a response to the creation of Israel, it is the driving force behind the Arab-Israeli conflict. Too many people reverse cause and effect. They blame the antisemitism suffered by world Jewry on the existence of Israel.
This is the central thesis in Matthias Küntzel’s book Nazis, Islamic Antisemitism and the Middle East, newly published in an English translation.
Küntzel, a German political scientist and historian, holds that the 1948 Arab-Israeli war was an aftershock of World War II and a direct result of antisemitic Nazi propaganda. In effect, the Nazi war against the Jews became the Arab war against Israel. This issue is worth revisiting in the light of new studies—notably by Professor Jeffrey Herf—into the impact of Nazi propaganda on the Arab world, as well as work that explores the role played by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin Al-Husseini.
Küntzel covered some of this territory in his previous eye-opening book Jihad and Jew-Hatred. In that work, he explained how the Germans financed both the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Mufti’s activities during the 1930s. From small beginnings, by the end of World War II, the Muslim Brotherhood had a million men under arms. After the war, ideologue Sayid Qutb provided the intellectual underpinnings for the Muslim Brotherhood’s antisemitism in his book The Struggle Against the Jews.
Antisemitism was at the core of the Muslim Brotherhood’s reactionary mass movement against modernity. The agents of this modernity, the Brotherhood believed, were the Jews. As a result, the war against Israel marked the end of what Küntzel calls Islam’s liberal phase, a time when Arab elites tried to reap the benefits of modernity. The end of this phase found expression in the mass exodus of Jews from the Arab world.
According to Küntzel, barrages of antisemitic propaganda were broadcast day and night over the entire six years of World War II from the Zeesen station in Germany. It had a considerable effect on an impressionable and largely illiterate Arab world, which continues today. As the great Middle East expert Bernard Lewis wrote, “Since 1945, certain Arab countries have been the only places in the world where hardcore, Nazi-style antisemitism is publicly endorsed and propagated.”
It is hard to gauge the extent to which Nazi propaganda translated into actual antisemitic violence during World War II. When the Nazis were winning, they and their Arab allies were preparing for the battles to follow. Nazi propaganda is often cited as one of the main causes behind the 1941 massacre of Iraqi Jews known as the Farhud. But even when the Allies reversed the tide of the war in Nov. 1942, antisemitic propaganda could have been a factor behind violence against Jews in North Africa.
Küntzel has come under fire from those who believe that Islam has always been antisemitic. The Quran does contain anti-Jewish verses, but Küntzel argues that it was the Mufti who fused those verses with European myths of Jewish power and conspiracy.
In 1937, a pamphlet called Islam and Judaism began to circulate in the Muslim world. It was the first attempt to use religion in order to spread antisemitism. It is believed to have been written by the Mufti himself, who was the main purveyor of ideological Islamic antisemitism. For example, the Mufti had already patented the myth that the Jews aim to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque and Muslims need to defend the shrine at all costs.
Islamized antisemitism was repeatedly mobilized to block compromise and normalization between Arabs and Jews, Küntzel claims. The Mufti himself terrorized the moderate Palestinian Arab majority into adopting extremist views. For example, members of the moderate Nashashibi clan and their supporters were murdered during the Arab revolt of 1936-39. Other opponents of the Mufti were killed between 1946 and 1948.
But war with Israel was not inevitable. Küntzel claims that it was only in 1947, at a meeting of the Arab League, that Egypt accepted responsibility for the struggle in Palestine. Arab elites were loath to go to war, but the mass hysteria generated by Muslim Brotherhood propaganda and the Mufti’s incitement proved irresistible.
Not all Muslims are antisemitic, just as not all Christians are antisemitic. Nonetheless, Küntzel writes, pro-Hitler sentiments are alive and well among Arabs and Muslims in Europe and the Middle East.
Last month, we received a stark reminder that such sentiments are not only rampant among the rank and file, but in the Palestinian leadership. Addressing the Fatah Revolutionary Council, Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas made blatantly antisemitic remarks, exonerating Hitler of antisemitism. This undermines the widespread Western belief that Israel is to blame for the lack of peace.
Küntzel’s book is an important one. It is a clear-sighted and timely vindication of the idea that, as Küntzel puts it, it is not “Jewish settlement blocs, but Palestinian ideological blocs, that present the biggest obstacle to a peace settlement.”