As soon as it emerged that Israel’s acting Prime Minister Yair Lapid would tell the United Nations General Assembly this week that he supports the establishment of a Palestinian state, he was engulfed by outrage, incredulity and dismay.
Critics charged that he was endangering Israel’s security by seeking to establish a terrorist state on land to which Israel is lawfully entitled. This, they said, would incentivize yet more Palestinian terrorism.
In his actual remarks, Lapid appeared to row back from an earlier briefing by an official that he would say, “Israel must move toward a two-state solution.” Maybe as a sop to his critics, he confined himself instead to bland support for a “peaceful” Palestinian state.
Nevertheless, this was the first time in many years that an Israeli leader expressed support for such a state at the U.N.—and at a time when Palestinian radicalization and terror attacks are increasing.
Of course, Lapid’s initiative has gone down well with the left, which believes the Arab-Israeli conflict is a dispute over territorial boundaries fueled by the supposedly extremist Jewish belief in a biblical entitlement to the Land of Israel.
This ignores the fact that only the Jews—the one people for whom the Land of Israel was ever their national kingdom—have any legal, historical or moral entitlement to the land. In the 1920s, the League of Nations itself enshrined the right of the Jews alone to settle what is now Israel, Gaza, Judea and Samaria.
People in the West are either ignorant of these truths or choose to ignore them. In order to uphold their false narrative about the Middle East, they also ignore the Nazi-style demonization of the Jews that pours out of both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, framed by Islamic theology. Westerners ignore it because it doesn’t fit their narrative. Failing to grasp the significance of Palestinian Jew-hatred, they miss what is driving Palestinian rejectionism.
This doesn’t just explain why the Middle East conflict is so intractable. It also explains why the West has never faced up to the Islamist threat to itself. Many believe that fury over the absence of a Palestinian state drives both Palestinian intransigence and the Islamist war against the West. This is the wrong way round. Both Palestinian rejection of Israel and the Islamist war against the West are driven by a jihad (holy war) against the Jews.
The fundamentalist interpretation of Islam that we know as Islamism, which among others spawned the Muslim Brotherhood, Osama bin Laden and bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda terrorist group, originated in the 1920s and 1930s with the Egyptian fanatic and ideologue Sayyid Qutb.
In his 1950 diatribe Our Struggle with the Jews, Qutb declared that the Jews were the adversaries of God who were conspiring to penetrate governments all over the world to “perpetuate their evil designs,” including a plan to take control of all the “wealth of mankind.”
Qutb’s rantings became the rocket fuel behind Islamist ideology. In the 1930s and 1940s, Hitler formed an alliance with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, who pledged to annihilate every Jew in the Middle East—and who remains the hero and role model for Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
In 1998, bin Laden said, “The enmity between us and the Jews goes back far in time and is deep rooted. There is no question that war between us is inevitable. … The hour of resurrection shall not come before the Muslims fight Jews.” In a sermon in 2003, he stated, “The Jews are the murderers of the prophets, the violators of agreements … usurers and whoremongers. They will leave you nothing, neither this world nor religion.”
Matthias Kuentzel, a German scholar who has produced pioneering work on the alliance between the Nazis and the Palestinians, is one of the few who understands all this.
In a speech last week at the opening of the London Centre for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, Kuentzel pointed out that bin Laden’s hatred of the United States was based on the conviction that the Jews control all aspects of America, which he believed they abused for their own Jewish and Israeli ends. So, although 9/11 was an attack on America, its motivation was anti-Semitic hatred. But most governments, mass media and activists didn’t want to talk about this. In the section on “Bin Laden’s Worldview” in the 9/11 Commission report, the word “anti-Semitism” does not even appear.
After 9/11, this omission had disastrous consequences. Kuentzel said, “The refusal to recognize Al-Qaeda’s true motives resulted in a reversal of responsibility: The more deadly the terrorism, so many believed, the greater the American or Israeli or British guilt. The perpetrators were declared the victims and the victims the perpetrators.”
So why does the West ignore the Islamic religious roots common to both the war against Israel and the war against the West?
It’s principally because the West seeks to explain everything in terms of reason, in which it believes religion can have no place. Thus, it denies the religious beliefs behind the onslaughts against Israel and the West and looks instead for pragmatic causes. So, it fixates on the supposed illegality of Israel’s actions and the denial of Palestinian rights as the reason for Palestinian rage. In a similar vein, it tells itself that the Islamists’ war against the West must be caused by the West’s historic oppression of the developing world.
This also helps explain Western passivity regarding Iran and its nuclear program. The Iranian regime regularly announces its intention to annihilate Israel. Its Revolutionary Guards boast that they “will raze the Zionist regime in less than eight minutes.” A countdown clock in Tehran shows the number of days before Israel’s appointed end is supposed to occur.
Yet, Kuentzel said, Western governments don’t take this genocidal anti-Semitism seriously: “Why? Presumably because they are yet again in the grip of the cause-and-effect delusion, and rationalize Tehran’s Jew-hatred by believing that Israel must in some way be responsible for it.”
The core reason, however, why the West has gone through the looking-glass over all this is its total incomprehension of anti-Semitism.
No other prejudice shares the characteristics of anti-Semitism: its driving belief that the Jews control the world; that they are leaders of a conspiracy to harm others to serve their own interests; that they are a supernaturally demonic power.
Ultimately, anti-Semitism is a form of lunacy that defies explanation. But the West cannot grasp this, because it believes everything has a rational cause.
So, it seeks to explain anti-Semitism as just another form of racism, the result of jealousy towards the Jews’ astonishing achievements or something the Jews bring upon themselves by being clannish, keeping themselves separate, looking down on everyone else and other supposed offenses.
Similarly, the West tries to explain the Nazi Holocaust not as the result of psychotic anti-Semitism, but rather of Germany’s humiliation and bankruptcy after World War I. It holds that the Palestinians are driven to behave as they do by dispossession and despair. The fact that the Islamist war against the West is fundamentally driven by a religious war against the Jews is simply unknown.
Israel has never accurately presented the war against itself as an Islamic jihad. When asked, some Israelis have said this is because holy war is a supremely fearsome thing. With Israel’s nine million citizens potentially pitched against the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims, the Jewish state prefers to cast the conflict as a nationalistic struggle it can deal with by fighting the fires that break out day-by-day, week-by-week.
The result is that Israel has done a disservice to itself and to the world. It has failed to explain the murderous reach of anti-Semitism. It has allowed the West to undermine its own defenses against a holy war it doesn’t understand. It has enabled a false narrative about the Palestinians to spread without fundamental and essential challenge.
And now an Israeli prime minister has compounded the error.
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for The Times of London, her personal and political memoir Guardian Angel has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel The Legacy. Go to melaniephillips.substack.com to access her work.