Anti-semitism in the Middle East:
Abbas and Hamas
How can a group determined to destroy Israel be a partner in the
By Matthias Küntzel
Seldom have the chances of a peaceful
settlement in the Middle East been greater than today. Expectantly -
with bated breath, one might even say - the world is hoping to see
the end of the conflict which has engendered the cult of suicide
bombing and spread it across the globe. At the same time, the desire
to see an end to this conflict may foster self-deception. In a
climate of impetuous hope, it is all too easy to sweep aside
anything which might dampen the good mood.
Some are declaring the war against Israel over
because Hamas has stated its readiness to make a truce - a hudna.
But they ignore how Hamas defines this ceasefire: "The hudna
is part of the struggle. It is a new phase, a kind of rest period
for our fighters." (1) What has building
up one's strength for the next battle to do with a lasting peace?
Some are already viewing Hamas as a "peace
partner" because it has declared itself ready to accept a
Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. They overlook the
Islamists' calculation: "Hamas argues that this state is a way
station toward a Palestinian state on all the territory of Palestine
– in other words, that Israel will one day disappear." (2)
A particular lack of attention is paid to the question as to why
this group wants to obliterate Israel. People ignore the Nazi-style
antisemitism which is the underpinning of Hamas' policies. Yet all
one needs to do is take a look at the Hamas Charter, which considers
"the Jews" responsible for all the evil and misfortune in the world.
According to this Charter, Jews "stir revolutions", "destroy
societies" and "colonize and exploit countries". "They stood behind
World War I…, they also stood behind World War II…, they inspired
the United Nations and the Security Council … in order to rule the
world. … There was no war that broke out anywhere without their
fingerprints on it." (3)
We should take every one of these assertions seriously. Anyone who
accepts this monstrous image of Jews as the villains of the world
must wish to kill them and must wish to see Israel - the "command
centre" in antisemitic jargon - obliterated. For them a Palestinian
state next to Israel can only be seen as a tool for achieving
an Islamic state instead of Israel. Hamas can never be a
peace partner as long as it holds on to this Charter.
I do not want to disparage the hope which has sprung up in the
Middle East since Arafat's death, but I do want to add a dose of
realism. In particular, I want to point out that the uncompromising
struggle against antisemitism in Palestine and the Arab world is a
prerequisite for any genuine peace in the Middle East.
The powerful effect of this ideology is underestimated in the West.
Many either react as if hating Jews were a feature of the Oriental
world, like hookahs or mosques. Or antisemitism among Muslims is
glossed over as a kind of "anti-imperialism of fools", and
rationalised as an alleged response to the Middle East conflict.
From this stems the hope that, with the solution of the Palestine
conflict, hatred of Jews will have vanished as well.
This hope, however, won't stand up to scrutiny. Anyone who is aware
of the history of the Middle East will recognise that the escalation
of the conflict has not been the cause of the antisemitic hatred.
Rather, this antisemitic hatred, imported from Europe, has played a
decisive role in the escalation.
The Roots of Delusion
Research and analysis by social scientists provide ample proof that
antisemitism is unrelated to the actual behaviour of Jews. The same
applies to Israeli policies. The policies of the Israeli government
may give rise to anger and wrath. But there is no Israeli policy,
however deserving of criticism it may be, that makes plausible the
antisemite's assumption that Washington is ruled by Jerusalem.
Those, however, who have fallen prey to such demonizing delusions,
will be sure to find their antisemitic prejudices confirmed by
whatever the Israeli government does or does not do.
Also considered in historical terms, Arab/Muslim antisemitism is not
an immediate result of the present Middle East conflict. As far back
as 1894, before a Zionist movement even existed, the first
translation of the German antisemite August Rohling's The Talmud
appeared in Arabic. The publication of this book – which popularized
the concept of the "Jewish threat" – can be considered as the
starting point of modern Arab antisemitism. In 1920, there followed
the first Arabic translation of one of the most repugnant
anti-Jewish publication, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion
(4). One year later, on March 14, 1921,
when Winston Churchill, at the time Britain's Colonial Minister,
paid a visit to Jerusalem, he was handed an antisemitic document by
the Palestinian Arab Congress, led by Musa Kasim el-Husseini, which
the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg could easily have written
himself: "… Jews have been amongst the most active advocates of
destruction in many lands", this memorandum
claimed without saying a single word about the actual conduct of
Zionist settlers, "… It is well known that the disintegration of
Russia was wholly or in great part brought about by the Jews, and a
large portion of the defeat of Germany and Austria must also be put
at their door. … The Jew is a Jew all the world over. He amasses the
wealth of a country and then leads its people, whom he has already
impoverished, where he chooses. He encourages wars when
self-interest dictates, and thus uses the armies of the nations to
do his bidding." (5)
It was in the spirit of such virulent antisemitism that, in the
spring of 1920 and 1921, under the command of the later Mufti of
Jerusalem, Amin el-Husseini, the ancient Jewish quarters of
Jerusalem and Jaffa were attacked and 48 Jews were killed. In 1929,
a further massacre took place in the Jewish districts of Hebron and
Safad. 133 Jews were killed. This attack as well was not aimed at
Zionists but at unarmed members of ancient Jewish communities which
had been living in the area for hundreds of years. Afterwards, the
Mufti quoted the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in order to
justify such barbaric acts. (6) Thus,
already more than 20 years before the creation of the state of
Israel, antisemitic manifestos were published and pogroms took place
in Palestine. Moreover, it is the very same antisemitism which
continues to place its stamp upon the Middle East conflict right up
to the present time.
Zionist immigration and the purchase of land by Jews doubtlessly
created all manner of conflicts and disagreements. It is noteworthy
however, that the Mufti's antisemitism was challenged by Palestinian
Muslims during the 1920s. For example, members of the influential
Nashashibi clan defended Judaism against antisemitic slander. In
addition, many village sheiks signed petitions which rejected the
Mufti's line and even welcomed Zionist immigration. (7)
But Amin el-Husseini, who had been appointed Mufti by the British
mandate authority and had been courted by the British for decades,
prevailed. From the mosques, the Mufti declared the relentless
struggle against the Jews as the most important obligation of all
believers. Those who dared to resist his anti-Jewish orders were
publicly denounced and publicly threatened during Friday prayers.
In 1937, when Arab Palestinians were offered their own state next to
a tiny Jewish one (the "Peel Plan"), not only did the Zionists agree
to this plan, but also the moderate Arabs represented by the
Nashashibi clan gave their consent. It was only the veto of Amin
el-Husseini that caused this two-state-solution to fail. In 1947,
when the United Nations passed its Resolution of Partition of
Palestine, the Mufti vehemently opposed the partition plan and saw
to it that the Arab camp rejected the resolution, in order to
prepare instead for war against the nascent Israeli state. (8)
Thus the scandalous fact that el-Husseini, who was sought in Europe
as a Nazi war criminal and once counted Heinrich Himmler among his
friends, succeeded in becoming once more the spokesperson for the
Arab Palestinians, has influenced the course of history to this day.
Later, the former Mufti acted as patron and financier of the Fatah
movement, founded in 1959, and he unofficially appointed Jassir
Arafat as his successor. "Amin el-Husseini had the impression that
Arafat was the proper leader for the Palestinian nation", reported
Muheidin al-Husseini, the Mufti's son-in-law. (9)
Today, it is above all the Islamist movement Hamas which has
taken up the heritage of the Mufti of Jerusalem. This Palestinian
branch of the Muslim Brotherhood not only persistently undermines
every possible point of departure for a peaceful solution to the
Middle East conflict, it has also adopted the antisemitism of the
Nazis in its 1988 Charter.
In light of these facts, even those who blame Israeli policy for
human rights violations cannot help but recognize that from the very
beginning the Zionist movement and the Jewish state have been
confronted by an opponent which, as a rule, was not moved by
rational motives but rather by antisemitism and the determination to
annihilate the Jews or the Jewish state. It is not the escalation of
the Middle East conflict which has given rise to antisemitism; it is
rather antisemitism which has given rise to the escalation of the
Middle East conflict – again and again.
But if it was not the conflict over the possession of land that
caused the antisemitic spark in Palestine to develop into an
Arab-Islamic conflagration, what was it? Antisemitic ideologists
have always treated Jews and the threatening dimensions of
capitalist modernity as being of one piece. For this purpose, the
facts of European history had to be twisted. Not so in the case of
Palestine, however. Here, the correlation between the arrival of the
Zionist immigrants and the arrival of rapid modernization was not
imagined but real.
At the beginning of the 20th century when progressive Jews flocked
to Palestine from Russia after the failed revolution of 1905, large
parts of the Arab community in Palestine were still leading mostly
pre-modern lives dominated by patriarchy, the subordination of
women, strict loyalty to one's clan, and the unquestioning adherence
to one's religion. These new Jewish immigrants, however, were
embarking on quite a different mode of life. To most of the rural
population in Palestine, they personified the subversive and,
therefore, the threatening aspects of modern life, such as
secularisation, the individual pursuit of happiness, freedom of
opinion and the equality of women. Moreover, the new immigrants had
no intention of recognizing the subordinate status which traditional
Islam accords Christians and Jews. There is hardly any other region
in the world where such different life-styles and social ideals have
clashed so sharply.
Still, during the first decades of the 20th century, not a few Arabs
considered these modernising effects of Zionist immigration in a
favourable light. For example, the editor the Egypt's daily
wrote in 1913: "The Zionists are necessary for this region. The
money they will bring in, their intelligence and the diligence which
is one of their characteristics will, without doubt, bring new life
to the country." (10) During the 1920's,
prominent leaders in Egypt believed "that the progress of Zionism
might help to secure the development of a new Eastern civilisation,"
as Mr. Kisch who was at that time Chairman of the Palestine Zionist
Executive noted in his diary after visiting Cairo in 1924. (11)
In 1924, the modernising model of Kemal Atatürk had replaced the
caliphate in Turkey and beginning in 1925, the Shah of Iran, Resa
Khan, had embarked on the secularisation of his country.
In Palestine, however, the Mufti's policy left no room for reformist
or modernist Islamic development. The opposite was the case.
Speaking at a religious conference in 1935, the Mufti complained:
"... We have begun to see some women in objectionable attire … as
well as places of entertainment, the cinema, the theatre and some
shameless magazines published in the name of Art and Culture, but
open to all vices. These highly detrimental publications enter our
houses and courtyards like adders, where they kill morality and
demolish the foundation of society." The Jews were blamed for this
alleged corruption of moral values, as demonstrated by another
statement of Amin el-Husseini: "… They [i.e. the Jews] have also
spread here their customs and usages which are opposed to our
religion and to our whole way of life. Above all, our youth is being
morally shattered. The Jewish girls who run around in shorts
demoralize our youth by their mere presence." (12)
For el-Husseini, "Jerusalem" was the focal point of the "rebirth of
Islam" in its pure version, and Palestine was the center from which
the struggle against modernity and thereby against the Jews was to
It is revealing how Giselher Wirsing, a leading Nazi journalist and
admirer of the Mufti, judged those different currents in Palestine.
"… In Palestine, the capitalist way of thinking and living (as well
as its Marxist equivalent) is exclusively embodied in Jewry", he
wrote. However, as far as Islam is concerned, "… the ideas of the
West have not succeeded in casting doubt on the essence of the
traditional way of life." In Palestine, due to the rule of the
Mufti, "… the breakthrough of liberalistic ideas has barely taken
place. Apparently, for those ideas, only the Nashashibis family
would have been suitable, and for this reason … they received
support from England, in particular." (13)
At the behest of the SS, Wirsing visited Palestine twice during the
period of the "Arab revolt" (1936-1939). Backed by Nazi Germany and
orchestrated by the Mufti, from 1937 on this revolt was directed
mainly against Palestinian moderates and supporters of
modernisation. In those territories of Palestine which the Mufti
controlled during the revolt, the very first Islamist reign of
terror was established: Palestinians who did not abide by the
Mufti's anti-Western dress code or who did not strictly obey Sharia
law, were immediately put to death. (14)
As a result of the revolt, the Palestinian's moderate wing paled
into insignificance. This development not only represented a turning
point in the history of Palestine, it has influenced the subsequent
history of the entire Arab world. Throughout the region, hatred of
Jews was incited, in order to combat the subversive elements of
modernity that the Zionist immigration had introduced and to protect
the existing societal order from their effects.
The interrelationship between antisemitism and anti-modernism
accounts for the attraction of the antisemitic tract The
Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the Arab world. The text is
designed to discredit liberalism: in order to advance the combating
of individual liberties, the latter are denounced as the essential
tool of a global Jewish conspiracy. The fabrications that were
disseminated 100 years ago by the secret agents of the Tsar in order
to rescue the Russian monarchy have been repeated for the last 50
years by the successors of Ibn Saud to save Arab feudalism or, in
the case of Egypt, to preserve the existing power structure.
No one should nourish the dangerous illusion that it would simply
require some political concessions by Israel to stop anti-Jewish
hatemongering within the Arab-Islamic world. Israel and Islamic
antisemitism are indeed connected, but in quite a different way than
is usually assumed. This hatred of Jews is not caused by what
Zionists do, it is caused by what Zionists are. Just like Nazi
antisemitism during the 1930's, Islamic antisemitism today
represents the key element of a regressive revolution. The Middle
East conflict is not the cause of antisemitic attacks all over the
world, but merely the pretext for them; the negative image of Ariel
Sharon is just a platform for agitation and a disguise. If you lift
this mask ever so slightly, it is the Protocols of the Elders of
Zion that peek out from under it. For Islamists, the issue at
stake is not the welfare of individual Palestinians but the
abolition of enlightenment, reason, and individual freedom in favor
of a repressive sharia dictatorship.
Europe is the problem
Today, following the devastation caused by the rule of Husseini and
Arafat, the Palestinian national movement is for the first time led
by both more moderate and more modern forces. But how strong is
their influence and how extensive their authority?
Hamas denies that Mahmud Abbas represents the will of the
Palestinian people and has seen its position strengthened by the
victory in the Gaza local elections at the end of January 2005. (15)
It refuses to cease production of more Qassem rockets, let alone
hand over its weapons. For the time being, it is not using those
weapons, but only because in a counter-move Mahmud Abbas "has agreed
to unfreeze Hamas funds held in a number of Palestinian banks." (16)
Last but not least, it is receiving massive support from Iran and
its puppet, Hizbullah. On January 30, 2005 Sheikh Hassan Nasrullah,
head of Hizbullah, and his Hamas counterpart Khaled Mashal issued a
joint declaration pledging coordination of their military efforts.
As Mashal put it, "we are partners in the march against Israel, the
common enemy. We hope that the same path which led to the liberation
of southern Lebanon will lead to that of the whole of Palestine". (17)
Hizbullah's involvement has since reached such a level "that even
the PA leadership is sounding the alarm and begging the world to
help it cut off those throwing oil on flames that it is trying to
There is no reason to declare that the new start in the Middle East
has already failed. However, Europe and the Arab world in particular
must now do all they can to counter antisemitism in the region and
strip Hamas and Hizbullah of their legitimacy. Regrettably, only one
week after the Sharm al-Sheikh summit, the European Union drew the
opposite conclusion. By refusing to place Hizbullah on its list of
terrorist organisations at its meeting on February 16, the EU dealt
a severe blow to the peace process. (19)
This decision gave a green light to the antisemitic propaganda of
Hizbullah and Hamas. It was a slap in the face not only of Israel
but also of newly-elected Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmud
Published on February 20, 2005 by the American
Organization "Scholars for Peace in the Middle East" (http://spme.net/articles/articles.html)
(1) According to Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri,
in an interview with the German newsweekly Der Spiegel, no.
5/2005, January 31, 2005, p. 102.
(2) Greg Myre and Steven Erlanger, Palestinian
Security Forces Move to Stop Attacks in Gaza, New York Times,
January 21, 2005.
(3) The Hamas Charter can be consulted at:
(4) See: The Development of Arab Anti-Semitism. An
interview with Meir Litvak in: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs,
Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism No. 5, February 2 2003, p 2.
(5) The memorandum is documented in: Martin
Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, Volume IV Companion Part 2 Documents
July 1919 – March 1921, pp.1386 - 1388.
(6) Gudrun Krämer, Geschichte Palästinas, München
2002, pp. 246-250; p.272.
(7) David Th. Schiller, Palästinenser zwischen
Terrorismus und Diplomatie, München 1982, p. 92.
(8) On November 29, 1947, the United Nation's
General Assembly decided to divide Palestine into a Jewish state (56
% of the territory for 500,000 Jews and 500,000 Muslim Arabs) and an
Arab state (43 of the territory for 750,000 Arabs and 10,000 Jews)
while putting Jerusalem under international control.
(9) Cf. Janet Wallach and John Wallach, Jassir
Arafat, München 1994, p. 143.
(10) Stefan Wild, Zum Selbstverständnis
palästinensisch-arabischer Nationalität, in: Helmut Mejcher, Die
Palästina-Frage 1917-1948, Paderborn 1993, p. 79.
(11) F. H. Kisch, "Palestine Diary", Victor
Gollancz Ltd, London 1938, p.110.
(12) Uri M. Kupferschmidt, The Supreme Muslim
Council. Islam under the British Mandate for Palestine, E. J. Brill,
Leiden 1987, p. 250 and p. 252.
(13) Giselher Wirsing, "Engländer Juden Araber in
Palästina", Jena 1939, quoted according to the 5th edition, Jena
1942, p. 132 and 136.
(14) Kurth Fischer-Weth, "Amin el-Husseini.
Großmufti von Palästina", Berlin 1943, pp.81-82; Schiller,
(15) "On the Monday following the elections,
Hamas leader Hassan Yussef immediately put his finger on the fact
that over half the 1.3 Palestinians eligible to vote had, in one way
or another, not expressed support for the consensus candidate Abbas,
who got about 483,000 votes." (Neue Züricher Zeitung, January 11,
2005). In the Gaza local elections Hamas won 77 out of 118 seats.
The ruling Fatah party won 26 seats, independents took 14 and the
radical Popular Front won one seat (Jerusalem Post, January 28,
(16) "In 2003, under pressure from the US, Abbas,
who served as prime minister, ordered the freezing of several bank
accounts belonging to nine charities affiliated with Hamas."
(Jerusalem Post, February 14, 2005).
(17) Newsletter of the Israeli Embassy in
Germany, February 1, 2005.
(18) Cf. Jerusalem Post editorial "Europe and
Hizbullah", February 14, 2005.
(19) Steven R. Weisman, Allies Resisting as U.S.
Pushes Terror Label for Hezbollah, New York Times, February 17,