The origins of Palestinian antisemitism

Nazi propaganda in the Arab world haunts us to this day.

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini visits a Galilee village on April 23, 1947. Photo: The IDF and Defense Establishment Archives in Tel Hashomer (Tel Aviv).
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini visits a Galilee village on April 23, 1947. Photo: The IDF and Defense Establishment Archives in Tel Hashomer (Tel Aviv).
Paul Schneider
Paul Schneider is an attorney, writer and member of the Board of Directors of the American Jewish International Relations Institute (AJIRI), an affiliate of B’nai B’rith International.

In a television program this past July, Palestinian cleric Mahmoud al-Habbash asserted that Jews follow Satanism and “have left the path of humanity.” Indeed, he claimed, Jews are Satan himself. In an earlier broadcast, Habbash had called Jews “creatures that Allah created in the form of humans. They are cursed descendants of apes and pigs.” These gems and more have been documented by Palestinian Media Watch (PMW).

Habbash also denies that Jews have any historical connection to the Land of Israel. He maintains, “There was no First Temple and no Second Temple, and there also will be no Third Temple.” He has further claimed, “Israel’s very existence contradicts international law. On what right do you bring people who have no connection to this land and plant them here?’

Unfortunately, Habbash is not an outlier. He is the Supreme Shariah Judge of the Palestinian Authority and an advisor to P.A. chief Mahmoud Abbas on religious affairs and Islamic relations. When he speaks, he speaks for the P.A.

Moreover, Abbas appears to agree with his antisemitic views. For example, in an Aug. 24 speech, Abbas said, “They say that Hitler killed the Jews for being Jews, and that Europe hated the Jews because they were Jews. Not true.”

Instead, Abbas asserted, Hitler “fought” the Jews “because of their social role, and not their religion.” This has been confirmed, Abbas said, by “Jewish authors.”

Where did the Palestinian leadership’s antisemitism come from?

The German political scientist and historian Matthias Kuntzel addresses that question in his important new book Nazis, Islamic Antisemitism and the Middle East.

Kuntzel “sets forth the methods used by Nazi Germany from 1937 onward to disseminate its antisemitism in the Middle East in the Arabic language and the role that this antisemitism would play 11 years later, when the Arab armies fell upon the newly founded Jewish state of Israel.” He goes on to show that this Nazi-inspired antisemitism dominates Palestinian politics to this day.

He begins with a discussion of the Quranic roots of Islamic antisemitism. However, he claims that “the watershed” came in 1937, when a pamphlet entitled Islam and Judaism was published in Cairo. The pamphlet was attributed to Amin al-Husseini, the deposed grand mufti of Jerusalem, who would shortly become a Nazi collaborator.

“This document,” Kuntzel writes, “might well be considered the founding text of Islamic antisemitism.” He calls it “the first full presentation of the construct of a direct connection between Muhammad’s clashes with the Jews in Medina and the contemporary conflict in Palestine.”

Citing various statements from the Quran, Islam and Judaism portrayed Jews as “the most bitter foes of Islam.” It ended with a call for genocide, quoting a hadith in which Muhammad says, “The day of judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. Then stones and trees will say: ‘O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’”

As Kuntzel explains, this hadith was essentially dormant and “hardly ever mentioned in the mosques. Then, in August 1937, it was retrieved from oblivion and for the first time presented to a mass audience. Subsequently—and especially after the Six-Day War—it has gone on to become one of the most frequently cited hadiths of all.” Indeed, in 1988, it made its way into the Hamas charter.

During World War II, the Nazis distributed Islam and Judaism throughout the Middle East. There, Kuntzel says, it “reached the literate elites of the Arab world. Nazi Germany, however, also wanted to arouse the Jew-hatred of the ‘Arab Street.’ For this purpose, an Arabic short-range radio was the perfect instrument.”

As historian Jeffrey Herf has documented in his groundbreaking book Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World, this involved thousands of hours of radio broadcasts, produced by Husseini. The central theme of the broadcasts is captured in Husseini’s repeated exhortation to “kill the Jews wherever you find them.”

After the war, the Nazis fell out of favor almost everywhere, except in the Arab world. There, Nazi propaganda continued to shape the political climate. Moderate voices were silenced. Indeed, those who resisted Islamic antisemitism risked being assassinated. Thus, by 1948, no Arab leader could resist the ideology of Husseini and the Muslim Brotherhood and their desire for war against the Jews of then-Palestine.

As Kuntzel concludes, Nazi propaganda “had a huge impact on the Middle Eastern conflict and so on the Arab world as we have known it since 1948. And we can go further: the legacy of the Nazis’ influence continues to affect us to this day.” Indeed, the Palestinian leadership remains committed to that legacy.

Kuntzel adds, “Once, however, we accept the fact that Nazi propaganda made a crucial contribution to antisemitism in the region, then our view of the Middle Eastern conflict has to change. Because then it is not Jewish settlement blocks but Palestinian ideological blocks that present the biggest obstacle to a peace settlement.”

Hopefully, Kuntzel’s book will enjoy a wide readership.

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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