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Muslim antisemitism and the real apartheid

Jewish elites must change the terms of the debate.

Yemeni Jews aboard a plane to Israel during “Operation Magic Carpet” in 1949. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Yemeni Jews aboard a plane to Israel during “Operation Magic Carpet” in 1949. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Lyn Julius
Lyn Julius is the author of "Uprooted: How 3,000 Years of Jewish Civilization in the Arab World Vanished Overnight" (Vallentine Mitchell, 2018).

Over Israel’s 75-year lifetime, the failed strategy to destroy this non-Arab, non-Muslim entity in the Middle East by force of arms has given way to a political campaign of demonization that has entered academia, NGOs and the debating chambers of the West.

Alarmed at the rise in antisemitism and the ongoing campaign of delegitimization of the State of Israel in the West, Jewish organizations have been fighting back.

In 2020, the respected think tank the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) published Israelophobia and the West. Edited by Dan Diker, the study assembled essays by a constellation of leading writers and public intellectuals, such as Natan Sharansky, Alan Dershowitz, Daniel Gordis and Khaled Abu Toameh.

But the JCPA study, worthy though it was, skirted the elephant in the room: Arab and Muslim antisemitism. The introduction by Dan Diker stated, “Our concern centered around the spike in violent antisemitic attacks against Jews in Europe and the United States and the simultaneous and intensifying defamation, delegitimization and demonization of Israel—the Jewish collective. Israelophobia in Iran, the Arab states and other Muslim-majority countries requires a separate, exhaustive study.”

Israelophobia and the West then attempted to counter myths like “apartheid” and “settler colonialism” by giving voice to leading pro-Israel black and African activists rather than Jewish and minority victims of racism in the Middle East.

This is akin to talking about road accidents by focusing on pedestrians who have been knocked down on the sidewalk.

Ethnic and religious apartheid is the scourge of the Muslim Middle East. While Israel has over a million Arab citizens, some 99% of the Jewish population of Arab and Muslim countries was driven out by state-sanctioned discrimination or violence, leaving just 4,000 out of a pre-1948 population of a million.

Other non-Muslim Middle East and North African (MENA) minorities have been persecuted and their numbers much diminished. For example, the Yazidis were brutally oppressed in recent years and Assyrian Christians in northern Iraq have been fleeing in droves. Copts in Egypt and Baha’is in Iran have also suffered religious persecution.

The only author in the JCPA study who dealt with Arab and Muslim antisemitism in order to counter antisemitic anti-Zionism in the West was Prof. Shmuel Trigano, an Algerian-born sociologist who has written extensively on the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab countries.

Trigano wrote, “The best way to counter an ideology is to attack it. You cannot fight a myth or a lie with a simple defense or justification. You must instead pit the myths of the ideology against themselves. It is important not to respond to invented accusations and not to accept the terms of the opponent.”

“In this, Israeli and Jewish elites have failed miserably in neglecting the considerable history of violent liquidation of 11 significant Jewish communities in the Arab-Muslim world, most of whom became Israelis (600,000 Jews in the 1950s),” he asserted.

The mass exodus of MENA Jews was equal to or greater than the flight of Arab refugees from then-Palestine. These Jews and their descendants now comprise over half of Israel’s Jewish population. Yet Israel is held solely responsible for the Palestinian “nakba,” even though the Palestinian flight was a consequence of the Arab rejection of the Partition Plan of 1947 and a wholly avoidable invasion of Israel by multiple Arab armies.

Trigano noted, “The Nakba (the dispersal of Palestinian Arab families), an absolute source of the delegitimization of Israel in today’s anti-Zionism (‘original sin’ in the words of the post-Zionists), collapses before this comparison. … Moralistic and scholarly discourses are useless in what is a real confrontation, with every ideological attack announcing a future, violent one.”

Invoking the ethnic cleansing of MENA Jews is not just an effective talking point. It also proves that the essence of the Arab conflict with Israel has been the campaign to wipe out Jews wherever they might be in the Middle East.

Moreover, to treat Arab and Muslim antisemitism as a separate issue ignores the influence of Arab and Palestinian academics who are spearheading the current campaign of delegitimization of Israel in the West.

The Soviet Union was the architect of the campaign to delegitimize Zionism in the 1950s, but it exercised a significant influence over Arab leftist intellectuals. It was Palestinian scholar Fayez Sayegh who first extended the concept of “settler-colonialism” to Zionism in 1965. Ten years later, Sayegh would lead the U.N. effort to insert the word “Zionism” wherever apartheid, colonialism and racial discrimination appeared in U.N. reports. His efforts culminated in the 1975 passage of General Assembly Resolution 3379 condemning Zionism as a form of racism and racial discrimination.

Although the resolution was rescinded in 1991, the die was cast. From then on, comparisons between Israel and apartheid South Africa would become more and more frequent, so that today it is commonplace in the human rights industry.

Too many people hesitate to call out Arab and Muslim antisemitism for fear of being branded Islamophobes. Or they view it as a consequence of or an understandable backlash to the establishment of Israel, as if antisemitism in the Muslim world did not exist before 1948.

Supporters of Israel need to change the debate by going on the offensive. As Shmuel Trigano wrote, “If your opponent calls you a ‘fascist,’ he will not repeat it again if you call him a Stalinist.”

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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