Antisemitism: A History

Latter Half of the Twentieth Century: The Creation of Israel and the Reemergence of Islamic Antisemitism

After the 1948 founding of the State of Israel, the Israeli leadership found itself in conflict with diaspora leaders in the United States. Some Israeli officials had made public statements encouraging American Jews to immigrate to the new state. The advocacy organization American Jewish Committee (AJC), in particular, took umbrage with this, arguing that Israeli demands for aliyah (migration to Israel) by American Jews would enflame accusations of dual loyalty and damage the standing of the American Jewish community. In August 1950, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion addressed the issue in a letter to AJC president Jacob Blaustein:

It is most unfortunate that since our State came into being, some confusion and misunderstanding should have arisen as regards the relationship between Israel and the Jewish communities abroad, in particular that of the United States. These misunderstandings are likely to alienate sympathies and create disharmony where friendship and close understanding are of vital necessity. To my mind, the position is perfectly clear. The Jews of the United States, as a community and as individuals, have only one political attachment and that is to the United States of America. They owe no political allegiance to Israel. Charles S. Liebman, “Diaspora Influence on Israel: The Ben-Gurion: Blaustein “Exchange” and Its Aftermath,” Jewish Social Studies 36, no. 3/4 (1974): 271-80. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4466837.

As political Zionism spread in the early twentieth century, Islamic antisemitism began to creep back into the public light. The creation of the State of Israel in May 1948 immediately led to a war with the armies of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. Over the course of the next 10 years, Arab states would expel their Jewish populations. For example, prior to the 1940s, Morocco had a population of approximately 240,000 Jews. By 2015, the country had approximately 3,000 Jews left. Michael Frank, “In Morocco, Exploring Remnants of Jewish History,” New York Times, May 30, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/31/travel/in-morocco-exploring-remnants-of-jewish-history.html. Arab nations and Iran expelled approximately 850,000 Jewish citizens between 1948 and 1970. Tamar Beeri, “Israel to seek $250bil in compensation from Arab, Muslim countries,” Jerusalem Post, January 5, 2019, https://www.jpost.com/Breaking-News/Estimate-of-lost-Jewish-property-value-in-Tunisia-Libya-50-billion-576427.

In his book The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright identified antisemitism as a relatively new phenomenon within Islam that took hold in the early twentieth century as Nazi Germany increased its ties with Egypt and other newly created Arab nations. According to Wright, Nazi propaganda broadcast on radios around the Middle East and an increasing presence of Christian missionaries “infected the area with this ancient Western prejudice.” Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower (New York: Vintage Books, 2006), 45. Wright credited the prevalence of German advisers to Egyptian and other Arab governments after World War II along with the rise of Islamism for the spread of antisemitism in the Islamic world. Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower (New York: Vintage Books, 2006), 45-46.

In the mid-twentieth century, Muslim Brotherhood theologian Sayyid Qutb accused Jews of turning Muslims away from the Quran. He wrote that the “true goal of the People of the Book, whether Jews or Christians… is to lead Muslims astray from their religion to the religion of the People of the Book.” David Aaron, In Their Own Words: Voices of Jihad (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2008), 155. He further blamed Jews for “materialism, animal sexuality, the destruction of the family and the dissolution of society.” David Aaron, In Their Own Words: Voices of Jihad (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2008), 159. In his 1965 work Milestones, Qutb wrote:

World Jewry[’s]…purpose is to eliminate all limitations, especially the limitations imposed by faith and religion, so that the Jews may penetrate into body politic of the whole world and then may be free to perpetuate their evil designs. Sayyid Qutb, Milestones, (Damascus: Dar al-Ilm: 1965), 111.

Qutb is widely considered to be the father of modern violent jihadism. His beliefs form the core of the ideologies of such groups as the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, and ISIS. Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri credited Qutb’s 1966 execution with igniting the jihadist movement. Dale C. Eikmeier, “Qutbsim: An Ideology of Islamic-Fascism,” U.S. Army War College 37, no. 1 (2007): 89, http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a485995.pdf;
Paul Berman, “The Philosopher of Islamic Terror,” New York Times, March 23, 2003, http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/23/magazine/the-philosopher-of-islamic-terror.html?pagewanted=all.
Qutb’s ideological descendants have since incorporated his virulent form of antisemitism, casting Jews as responsible for all of the ills that have befallen humanity and Muslims in particular. Like Qutb, Zawahiri has referred to both Christians and Jews as “enemies of Islam” and implored Allah to “annihilate the Americans and Jews and the hypocrites and apostates who help them.” “Ayman al-Zawahiri: In His Own Words,” Anti-Defamation League, July 16, 2009, http://archive.adl.org/main_terrorism/ayman+al-zawahiri250d-2.html#.U469h5RdXMc. .” Brotherhood ideologue Yusuf Qaradawi in July 2004 accused Jews of spilling Arab blood and declared: “There is no dialogue between us except by the sword and the rifle….” “Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi: ‘There is No Dialogue between Us and the Jews Except by the Sword and the Rifle,’” MEMRI, July 27, 2004, https://www.memri.org/reports/sheikh-yousef-al-qaradhawi-there-no-dialogue-between-us-and-jews-except-sword-and-rifle.

The idea of Jews being the enemies of God, cast out of favor because of their transgressions, is not limited to only well-known extremists like Qutb and Zawahiri. It has become entrenched within the Islamist narrative. Separate from Islam as a whole, Islamism is the belief in the need to establish a political order organized around sharia (Islamic law). Islamists may advocate the establishment of a sharia-based society through violent or non-violent means. “Glossary,” Counter Extremism Project, accessed September 13, 2019, https://www.counterextremism.com/glossary.

In March and April 2002, the Danish chapter of the international Islamist network Hizb ut-Tahrir distributed fliers in Copenhagen labeling Jews “a people of slander…a treacherous people” and calling on Muslims to “kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they … turned you out.” “Hizb ut-Tahrir,” BBC News, August 27, 2003, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/newsnight/3182271.stm. In a May 25, 2012, speech in Michigan, Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), asked rhetorically who has “earned Allah’s wrath” and then answered, “They are the Jews. They are the Jews.” “Importance of Al Quds in Islam,” YouTube video, 34:35, from a speech at the Islamic Organization of North America (IONA) masjid in Warren, Michigan, posted by “Dawud Walid,” May 25, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LgNxXnAAZA. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the grand sheik of Al-Azhar and one of Egypt’s leading Sunni Islamic scholars before his death in 2010, met with Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Israel Meir Lau, in Cairo on December 15, 1997. Tantawi recounted to Al Jazeera that he met with Lau because Muhammad had met with his enemies in order to contradict their false claims. In 1966, Tantawi wrote a dissertation on the atrocities committed by Jews in the Quran and how Jews seek to deceive Muslims. “The Meeting between the Sheik of Al-Azhar and the Chief Rabbi of Israel,” MEMRI, February 8, 1998, https://www.memri.org/reports/meeting-between-sheik-al-azhar-and-chief-rabbi-israel.

Osama bin Laden specifically included Jews in his February 1996 “Declaration of the World Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders.” Bin Laden railed against U.S. foreign policy and involvement across the Middle East but blamed America’s actions on a need “to serve the Jews’ petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there.” “Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders,” Federation of American Scientists, February 23, 1998, https://fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/980223-fatwa.htm. The U.S. Department of State has accused Arab media of continuing to employ blood libels and other antisemitic conspiracy theories. Cathryn J. Prince, “Jewish refugees from Arab lands seek justice at United Nations,” Times of Israel, December 2, 2015, https://www.timesofisrael.com/jewish-refugees-from-arab-lands-seek-justice-at-united-nations/;
Michael Wilner, “Despite Alignment with Israel, Arab Powers Still Spreading AntiSemitism,” Jerusalem Post, May 31, 2018, https://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Despite-alignment-with-Israel-Arab-powers-still-spreading-antisemitism-558806;
“International Religious Freedom Report for 2017,” U.S. Department of State, May 2018, https://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/religiousfreedom/index.htm#wrapper.
In December 2018, the annual Doha International Book Fair in Qatar made headlines for showcasing books such as Lies Spread by the Jews; Talmud of Secrets: Facts Exposing the Jewish Schemes to Control the World; The Myth of the Nazi Gas Chambers; and Awakening to Jewish Influence in the United States of America by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. “Qatar accused of promoting anti-Semitism at its state-run book fair,” National (Abu Dhabi), December 6, 2018, https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/qatar-accused-of-promoting-anti-semitism-at-its-state-run-book-fair-1.799626.

The Jewish rejection of God and Islam memorialized in the Quran has resulted in a dehumanization of Jews by Islamists. In May 2019, Qaradawi declared that Allah punished the Jews for rejecting him by making them into “apes and pigs.” “Ramadan Religious Lesson By Muslim Brotherhood Spiritual Leader Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradawi, Published By Qatari Government Daily: The Jews Opposed Muhammad, Therefore Allah Cursed Them And Turned Them Into Apes And Pigs; The Christians Were Stricken With Ideological Blindness And Strayed,” MEMRI, May 21, 2019, https://www.memri.org/reports/ramadan-religious-lesson-muslim-brotherhood-spiritual-leader-sheikh-yousef-al-qaradawi. On July 1, 2014, Mostafa Saad Hannout, an imam at Masjid Toronto mosque, issued a prayer of solidarity on Facebook with the people of Gaza, praying for God to “give them victory over Your enemy and their enemy” and to “destroy the grandchildren [descendants] of the apes and pigs.” Jonathan D. Halevi, “Why do Canadian Imams call Jews “the sons of the pigs and apes?”’ Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, March 3, 2019, http://jcpa.org/article/why-do-canadian-imams-call-jews-the-sons-of-the-pigs-and-apes/.

The idea that God transformed Jews into apes and pigs as punishments for breaking biblical laws can be traced to three separate passages in the Quran: Suras 2:65, 5:60, and 7:166. In Sura 2:65, the phrase is referenced as a punishment for breaking the Sabbath: “You know about those of you who broke the Sabbath, and so We said to them, ‘Be like apes! Be outcasts!’” M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, trans. The Qur’an (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 2:65, 9. In Sura 5:60:

Say, ‘Shall I tell you who deserves a worse punishment from God than [the one you wish upon] us? Those God distanced from Himself, was angry with, and condemned as apes and pigs, and those who worship idols: they are worse in rank and have strayed further from the right path. M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, trans. The Qur’an (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 5:60, 73-74.

Finally, in Sura 7:166: “When, in their arrogance, they persisted in doing what they had been forbidden to do, We said to them, ‘Be like apes!’ Be outcasts!” In commentary to his Oxford University Press translation of the Quran, M.A.S. Abdel Haleem wrote that some scholars take these verses literally to mean that Jews were transformed into apes and pigs, but these verses are actually meant as figures of speech describing Sabbath transgressors. M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, trans. The Qur’an (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 9. Nonetheless, the allegation has become widespread across the Islamic world among those seeking to dehumanize Jews.

Muslim Brotherhood member and former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi also directly referred to Zionists as the descendants of apes and pigs in 2013. Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic questioned why the story did not merit more global media attention and outrage, concluding that it was a case of low expectations as the insult is common among hardliners in the Islamic world. Jeffrey Goldberg, “Egyptian President Calls Jews ‘Sons of Apes and Pigs’; World Yawns,” Atlantic, January 14, 2013, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/01/egyptian-president-calls-jews-sons-of-apes-and-pigs-world-yawns/267131/.

Omar Abdel-Rahman, a.k.a. the Blind Sheikh, extended the apes and pigs metaphor to include all Americans, which he accused of being “descendants of apes and pigs who have been feeding from the dining tables of the Zionists, Communists, and colonialists.” Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower (New York: Vintage Books, 2006), 201. Even though Abdel-Rahman applied the label to Americans, Jews (i.e., Zionists) remained the cause. One of the more recent American examples of Islamist dehumanization of Jews is Louis Farrakhan, who in an October 2018 video posted to Twitter declared that he’s not an antisemite, he’s anti-termite. Jeremy Sharon, “Farrakhan Compares Jews to Termites, Says Jews Are ‘Stupid,’” Jerusalem Post, October 17, 2018, https://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Farrakhan-compares-Jews-to-termites-says-Jews-are-stupid-569627. Twitter initially said the video did not violate its terms of service agreement. “Video of Louis Farrakhan comparing Jews to termites removed from Facebook,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, October 21, 2018, https://www.jta.org/2018/10/21/united-states/farrakhan-termites-video-removed-facebook. Twitter removed the tweet nine months later after it introduced a new rule banning “language that dehumanizes others on the basis of religion.” “Louis Farrakhan’s 2018 tweet comparing Jews to termites is gone after Twitter policy change,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, July 9, 2019, https://www.jta.org/quick-reads/louis-farrakhans-2018-tweet-comparing-jews-to-termites-is-gone-after-twitter-policy-change.

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