It’s no secret that media in the Palestinian Authority, as in much of the Muslim world, present depictions of Jews that would not have been out of place in the most anti-Semitic of Nazi publications. But are such depictions laying the groundwork for genocide?
Natan Sharansky, Israel’s minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, called a news conference Tuesday to present a report by Palestinian Media Watch on anti-Semitism in the Palestinian Authority. The report charges that the P.A.’s religious, political and academic leaders promote “an ideology of virulent hatred of Jews and Israel that mandates the killing of Jews as a religious obligation.”
While the revelations are not new, the report collects them systematically and argues that the Palestinians are following the Nazi pattern of portraying the Jews as subhuman creatures who are a danger to mankind — steps that may help create a mindset condoning the killing of such threatening figures.
“As in Nazi Germany, there is an entire ‘culture of hatred’ in Palestinian society today, from textbooks to crossword puzzles, from day camps to TV music videos,” said Sharansky, who heads the government’s struggle against anti-Semitism. “And calling for the murder of Jews, as Jews, is the end result.”
Tuesday’s news conference followed the Israeli government’s release of its annual report on global anti-Semitism, timed to coincide with Israel’s “National Day Against Anti-Semitism” on Thursday. This year the date also is the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, which is being marked as Holocaust Remembrance Day in Europe.
Palestinian Media Watch scrutinizes local media for anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli bias. Some Middle East experts are critical of the organization, charging that it distorts a situation that, even without exaggeration, is grave enough. But others defend its scholarship.
“Palestinian anti-Semitism has intensified in the past few years, ” Hebrew University professor Menahem Milson told JTA. “This is so because the media has become more sophisticated, particularly satellite TV and the Internet.”
Milson, a professor of Arabic literature, is the academic adviser for the Jerusalem-based Middle East Media Research Institute, which monitors Arabic-language media in general.
“In the past, when an anti-Semitic sheik insulted Jews on a Friday sermon in the mosque,” calling them ancestors of pigs and apes or other degrading terms, “only those in the mosque heard him,” Milson said. “But today the message passes on, sermons are aired on television, and are compiled in Web sites all over.”
Anti-Semitic messages also are spread through popular books, textbooks and political statements. Demonizing Israelis in particular and Jews in general serves to legitimize acts of terrorism, experts say.
“We receive from Palestinian society three messages: The Jew is essentially wicked, therefore he is dangerous to us and to the world, and therefore we need to fight against him,” Palestinian Media Watch director Itamar Marcus told JTA.
In the run-up to Palestinian Authority presidential elections Jan. 9, PLO chief and eventual winner Mahmoud Abbas met with the head of the Palestine Broadcasting Authority and asked him to check all programs aired on P.A. television to prevent the broadcast of inciting material.
Marcus conceded that nationalistic programming calling for violence against Israel has decreased somewhat, but said anti-Semitic rhetoric depicting the Jews as subhuman, dangerous creatures has even increased.
He pointed to a religious sermon broadcast Jan. 14 on Palestinian TV where the imam spoke about “the Jews who rule the world” and said Prophet Mohammad expelled them from Medina in “retribution for their hostility toward Islam.”
Sharansky said the Palestinians have upgraded the conflict from a political stalemate over borders to “a battle of God against the Jews.”
Palestinians said that wasn’t the case.
“We oppose incitement. We don’t believe incitement leads to anything. We are just covering events,” Radwan Abu-Ayyash, director-general of the Palestine Broadcasting Authority, told JTA. “We want to alert public attention to what’s going on around us.
Israel Prime Minister Ariel “Sharon is the editor-in-chief of the Palestinian media, because he controls everything,” he added.
But sometimes there are slips, the veteran journalist admitted.
“Our programs cost a lot of money, so that we have lots of talk shows in which people talk freely. We cannot always predict what those people might say, and we cannot censor the sheik in the mosque because it is against our religion,” he said.
In fact, Palestinian media adjust to fit the mood on the street and the political directives coming from above. Thus, under the late P.A. President Yasser Arafat, strong incitement against the Jews was welcome. With Abbas in charge, the atmosphere seems to be changing.
Abbas himself used to indulge such anti-Semitism, Milson pointed out: Abbas’ doctoral dissertation, written in 1984 at Moscow’s Institute of Oriental Studies, minimized the number of Holocaust dead and claimed that Zionists collaborated with the Nazis to annihilate the Jews of Europe.
Since the Zionists considered Palestine the only appropriate destination for Jewish emigration, they refrained from humanitarian efforts to rescue Jews, Abbas argued, according to Milson.
When they’re not denying the Holocaust, Arab anti-Semites often try to belittle Nazi crimes by comparing them to Israeli actions. Hamas leader Abdul Aziz Rantissi, who was killed last year by the Israel Defense Forces, once wrote, “It is impossible to spell out all Zionist crimes in one article. We mentioned some of their crimes. Had they been attributed to the Nazis, the Nazis would have been very offended.”
Though it’s possible to change the tone of the media fairly quickly, it takes much longer to change textbooks — and Palestinian textbooks are full of anti-Israel propaganda.
A new book teaches sixth-graders what they must do for “occupied Palestine,” their “stolen homeland”: “Islam encourages” love of the homeland “and established the defense of it as an obligatory commandment for every Muslim if even a centimeter of his land is stolen.”
“Certainly we need to do some soul-searching,” Samih abu-Ramila, chairman of the parents’ committee in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Kafar Akeb, told JTA.
“You cannot avoid referring to Israeli occupation as occupation, but one must stress the difference between political and religious disputes,” he said.
That task is huge. Today’s anti-Semitism is spread throughout the world and is one strand in the weave of Islamic radicalization that has taken place in recent years.
Arab scholars routinely engage in Holocaust denial, and Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” which presents the Jews as a scheming and bloodthirsty lot, was a blockbuster in the Arab world.
Adel Hamudah wrote in the Egyptian daily al-Ahram, in a translation provided by MEMRI, that the film amounted to “a courageous protest against Jewish communication, financial and political powers, which have shrugged off responsibility from their crimes throughout history all over the world, including the blood of the Messiah.”
Hebrew University’s Milson is convinced that the best way to fight Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism is to expose it, because Arab opinion leaders are sensitive to criticism from the West.
Faced with strong criticism from the United States, Osama el-Baz, a political adviser to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, wrote an article denouncing anti-Semitism. The Institute of Islamic Studies at Cairo’s religious Al-Azhar University has recommended that Muslim preachers refrain from comparing Jews to pigs and apes.
“It is doubtful that either of these steps would have been taken were it not for the recent protests and criticism in the U.S. Congress and media” according to Milson.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.