The Oct. 7 massacre and its apologists in historical perspective

Today’s left is following in the footsteps of its predecessors’ support for bloodthirsty pogroms.

The Farhud, Baghdad 1941. Credit: Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi Archive.
The Farhud, Baghdad 1941. Credit: Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi Archive.
Eunice G. Pollack
Eunice G. Pollack
Eunice G. Pollack, Ph.D., is the author of Black Antisemitism in America: Past and Present and Racializing Antisemitism: Black Militants, Jews and Israel, 1950‒Present.

The few commentators who have provided historical context for Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre compare it to European pogroms, mainly Kishinev (1903). Strangely, they have not situated it on the long and bloody continuum of pogroms in Arab lands.

Like many Western leftists, commentators appear to have been caught in the web of myths Arab political and religious leaders have spun and promoted since the 1917 Balfour Declaration. These myths claim, as the Palestinian Sami Adawi avowed, that over “many eras of civilization,” it was in Arab lands that Jews “could pursue their daily lives in perfect freedom and equality.” All attributed the “peaceful coexistence to Islam … a most tolerant faith.” There were no pogroms in this wonderland.

This paradise was lost, however, as the Institute for Arab American Affairs declaimed in 1946, with the rise of the “Zionist chauvinists,” who “conceive themselves as a nationality” and “spread the Jewish problem to … Muslim countries, where it had never existed before.”

It is within this context that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi recently informed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that “the Jews were never targeted … throughout the whole history” of Egypt.

All of this erases or minimizes the centuries during which Jews in Arab lands lived only as subjugated dhimmis. They were persecuted, debased and eternally punished for being too “puffed up with pride” (Quran 2:87) to accept that Allah had granted his “final revelation” to Muhammad.

Although Muslims perceived any violation of dhimmitude, real or imagined, as an occasion for a pogrom, the historian Stuart Schaar, seeking to minimize the enmity, claimed that “angry Muslims would invade the Jewish quarters” only “once in a while” or “during periods of social breakdown.” But, as the historian Jane Gerber found, the incursions into the Mellahs (the Jewish ghettos of Morocco), for example, did not reflect “extraordinary situations” and were not confined to times of social disintegration.

Commentators ignored the accounts of rabbis and the head of a Jewish school in Morocco that Muslims, filled with contempt, animalized the Jews, chasing them “like a herd of beasts across fields” and “making us eat the dust.”

The barbarism of the pogroms in Arab and Muslim lands foreshadowed Hamas’s massacre. In the early years of the 20th century—before the establishment of the French Protectorate—pogromists attacked the Mellahs across Morocco, the “cunning” attackers “closing any escape route.”

Harrowing accounts by the head of the aforementioned school and by those who tried to aid the survivors exposed the savagery unleashed in the Casablanca Mellah, where “not a house, not a family, not a person was spared”—30 Jews were murdered and 60 wounded. “More than 250 young women, girls, children [were] abducted” and “all the young girls were raped.” A merchant added, “You know the daughter of Israel, who is pretty; all the Arabs had her. … Married women suffered the same fate; their husbands no longer want them.”

Although overlooked by current analysts, American progressives and the European left have been following in the footsteps of their far-left forebears who misrepresented the pogroms in Arab lands and the antisemitism that fueled them. While today’s leftist demonstrators recast the Hamas massacre as the uprising of “colonized” Palestinians against “settler-colonialist” Israelis, and earlier leftists celebrated pogroms as the revolt of the peasants and the proletariat, in each case the paradigm distorted their view. Then and now, the left would not acknowledge the driving force of Muslim antisemitism or explained it away.

The 1929 Arab pogroms across Palestine prefigured not only Hamas’s barbarism, but also their progressive/leftist supporters’ attempts to justify the attacks. Screaming “Allah is great! Kill the Jews!” Arabs beheaded Jews with axes, cut off Jews’ hands, gouged out their eyes, raped the women, castrated two rabbis, burned another alive, and murdered more than 130 Jews, wounding almost 400.

Yet, as Stephen H. Norwood has shown, the American Communist Party (CP) “dismissed the reports in the Western press of Arab atrocities against Jews as fabrications by ‘Zionist’ physicians.” The CP characterized the Arabs as heroic “peasants launching a class war” against the British and its “Zionist agents,” the “Hebrew bourgeoisie.”

Although Grand Mufti Amin al-Husseini’s antisemitic tirades fueled the attacks, Norwood found that the Trotskyists “adamantly refused” to label the massacres “pogroms” and minimized the role played by Islam. Dismissing the religious leaders “from the Grand Mufti to the lower-class sheiks” as mere “agents of British imperialism,” they were certain they would have “no influence” on the masses in the approaching dictatorship of the Palestinian proletariat.

A bloodthirsty 1934 pogrom in Constantine, Algeria also foreshadowed the Oct. 7 massacre, but in that case—while the left’s paradigm again eclipsed reality—unlike today, the mainstream press reported the central role Islamic Jew-hatred played in stoking the savagery.

The number murdered remained unknown because “Arabs had [allegedly] hidden the bodies of many slain Jews.” Other bodies disappeared in the debris of homes in which pogromists had locked the families before setting them on fire. In many cases, the London Times reported, families were “dragged into the streets and butchered like sheep.” Jewish girls were raped. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency correspondent saw that “their breasts [had been] cut off.” Most bodies in the morgue, including those of young children, had been mutilated, their throats slit.

The left in France, Norwood points out, dismissed the depictions of “slaughterers and ignoble bandits” as mere distortions of the “bourgeois” press. Then, as now, the narrative prevailed.

To a limited degree, The New York Times traced the slaughter to the increasingly “precarious existence” of Arab farmers, who directed their anger at Jewish “merchants, shopkeepers and moneylenders.” But the Times nonetheless stressed the overriding importance of “centuries” of Muslims’ “anti-Jewish feeling.” It located the pogrom within “Algeria’s long and lurid history of anti-Jewish disorders,” inflamed by the “extreme [religious] fanaticism” that “characterized … the Arab side,” due to which “an insignificant incident” would readily become the “spark setting off a powder train.” Similarly, The Washington Post attributed the pogrom to “the sons of the Prophet, fierce haters that they are, [who] express these feelings periodically with daggers and stones and bullets.”

Although initially, the Western press accepted the Muslims’ explanation that the attacks were a response to a “drunken” Jew defiling a mosque, reporters soon recognized this never happened and retracted the story—even as pogromists continued to cry “Mahomet has been outraged … by a Jew!” This soon became “by the Jews!” In those years, the press did not characterize Islam as a “religion of peace.”

The American CP, however, denied that Islam played any role in the attacks. At most, it allowed that French politicians had used “antisemitic agitation” as part of a strategy to divide and thereby rule “the working masses.” The CP in France identified the attack as “a legitimate act of political defiance” by proletarian Arabs “fighting against oppression and famine.” Then, as now, the narrative precluded reality.

Precursors to Hamas’s current slanders of Israelis are also readily discernible and prevalent in Arab lands. Yet here too, the few commentators who have sought antecedents to Hamas’s libels have found them in Europe, citing Christianity’s claims that Jews, needing the blood of innocents for Passover matzah, murder children.

These commentators disregarded the numerous libels featuring bloodthirsty Israelis that Arabs have crafted since the mid-1960s. These libels now appear, slightly updated, in claims that Israelis targeted a hospital in Gaza City, killing 500 innocents—a blatant lie.

Such fevered fabrications have a long history. Among other things, it has been claimed that “Zionists,” driven by bloodlust, target Arab “children coming out of school,” dropping “small parcels resembling children’s toys and candy boxes … full of explosive charges.” Other favorites portray a “sly and vicious enemy” ever in search of innocent Arab prey, who “decide to drop rockets or bombs on schools or medical centers.”

Muslims have long been instructed to expect and dismiss Jews’ denials of these slanders. The Quran taught that Jews are congenitally “deceitful, never to be trusted.” Textbooks used in Jordan reminded Arab youth that, unlike Allah, the Jewish god is “bloodthirsty … harsh and greedy. He is pleased with imposture and deceit.” Then, as now, Arabs readily mocked Israeli evidence that proved Israel’s innocence.

Having reconfigured or lost any knowledge of Muslim and Arab antisemitic libels, Hamas’s Western allies—and now, the sympathetic mainstream media—cling to their narrative, their holy text, loath to challenge the latest demonic fable crafted by the “colonized.” Evidence notwithstanding, they are reluctant to accept the documentation provided by the “settler-colonialists” and unwilling to relinquish the paradigm they use to reinforce their own sense of moral superiority.

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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