Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

New Report on Anti-semitism in Arab World Called ‘bone-chilling’

May 8, 2002
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

“Bone-chilling” and “hair-raising” usually are terms reserved for horror movies, not research reports.

But those words are being used to describe a new report on Muslim anti-Semitism published by the American Jewish Committee.

AJCommittee officials hope the hate literature rampant in the Arab world no will longer be glossed over, but will become an issue that is acknowledged and confronted.

“We must not let such warnings go unheeded,” said David Harris, the AJCommittee’s executive director.

For much of the past year, American Jewish groups have been warning of the virulent strain of Muslim anti-Semitism, particularly since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, which many in the Arab and Muslim world have tried to blame on Israel.

Many observers say the spike in anti-Semitism around the world, which includes a rise in attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions in Europe, is the worst in decades.

But the AJCommittee report says special attention must be paid to Muslim anti-Semitism, because of its ferocity and its capacity to complicate already difficult peace efforts in the Middle East.

In “Muslim Anti-Semitism: A Clear and Present Danger,” Professor Robert Wistrich of the Hebrew University writes that the anti-Semitism in the Arab world’s press and governments “has taken root in the body politic of Islam to an unprecedented degree.”

Already present for a number of years, Arab anti-Semitism has become more widespread, intensive and radicalized, Wistrich said at a press conference in Washington on Tuesday.

In his view, Arab anti-Semitism is the “single biggest impediment to peace in the Middle East,” and attempts to ignore it will boomerang, Wistrich warned.

It is a mistake to consider the current wave of anti-Semitism a by-product of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Wistrich said.

Components of classical European anti-Semitism — slogans, images, stereotypes and conspiracy theories against Jews — now have been incorporated into Arab anti-Semitism.

The contents of the Muslim anti-Semitism often defy logic. Even as many Arab governments or media deny the Holocaust, they compare Israel to Nazi Germany because of its treatment of Palestinians, trying to “Nazify” Zionism, Wistrich said.

Wistrich is not the only scholar to sound the alarm. Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based think tank, says Muslim anti-Semitism is part of a larger picture.

“It is a mistake to look at terrorism in isolation and it is a mistake to look at anti-Semitism in isolation,” he said. “They are part of a totalitarian ideology of militant Islam.”

The Middle East Media Research Institute, which translates Arab media reports, has been tracking Arab anti-Semitism and incitement.

While much of the rhetoric is not new, the Internet allows the message of hate to be spread more quickly, according to Steve Stalinsky, MEMRI’s executive director.

Since completing the research for the AJCommittee report a few months ago, Wistrich has seen no sign of improvement. Arab officials have heaped praise on suicide bombers, and a Palestinian official brought up the charge that Jews killed Jesus.

Such accusations, blood libels and other charges are made against Jews and Israelis not just in Iraq, Iran and other terrorist-supporting countries. Even supposedly moderate Arab countries like Egypt are “just as bad” when it comes to spreading the message of hate, according to Wistrich.

Jewish groups have raised the issue of Arab anti-Semitism with the Bush administration. The White House has responded with words of condemnation, but nothing more.

The Anti-Defamation League, a vocal critic of anti-Semitism in the Egyptian media, was left out of a meeting in Washington in March that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called with Jewish groups.

ADL has called attention to the upsurge of Arab anti-Semitism, saying that if it is allowed to grow it could become “one of the most destructive forces unleashed in this new century.”

The AJCommittee report traces the evolution of anti-Semitism in the Islamic world and looks at the “culture of hatred” that extends to the schools and mosques. The basic message in such places is that Jews are a “hateful, loathsome people” intent on taking over the world and destroying Muslim society.

Wistrich also notes that the term anti-Semitism refers exclusively to hatred of Jews. The semantic game used by some Arabs — that they cannot be considered anti-Semitic because they are Semites as well — is “absurd,” he said.

Recommended from JTA