The longest hatred

Jerusalem Post   August 17, 2011

Until Arab hostility gives way to recognition and acceptance, the conflict and its tragedies will endure

The US State Department has awarded a $200,000 grant to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) to conduct a project that will document anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and Holocaust glorification in the Middle East.

The welcome announcement last week serves as an occasion to address, once again, the import of anti-Jewish propaganda within Arab societies – virtually the only places in the world where anti-Semitism is publicly endorsed, and where to this day it flourishes unabated.

Too many segments of Arab societies continue to be nourished by time-worn anti-Semitic tropes, now disseminated ever more swiftly through the Internet. In style and in substance, much of this venom, until recently absent in the Islamic world, has been imported – one of the few Western imports Islamic fundamentalists seem eager to accept. Arab anti-Semitism builds on the myths of the immoral Jew that once haunted the European imagination.

For confirmation, just ask one of the 800,000 or so Jews born in the Middle East who fled the Arab and Muslim world in the 20th century and who were expelled for being Jewish. Better yet, ask one of the millions of Egyptian viewers of a 41-part series broadcast on state-run television based on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Or ask Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, a man who has declared: “If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew.”

Holocaust denial, to take another example, once an exclusively European product, has come to pervade the Islamic world, from the 2006 Tehran conference asserting the Holocaust’s fictitiousness to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s doctoral thesis: “The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and the Zionist Movement.” Earlier this year, a proposed United Nations plan to teach the Holocaust in Gaza schools drew furious condemnation from Hamas teachers and officials, including the education minister.

Classical anti-Semitism has now been more than successfully grafted onto Arab life, amounting to what the Hebrew University professor Robert Wistrich calls “a contemporary culture of hatred…that has not been seen since the heyday of Nazi Germany.”

In a recent book, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World, the historian Jeffrey Herf shows how Nazi propagandists imparted to Arab audiences the vocabulary of anti-Semitism.

Indeed, as Israelis are in the best position to acknowledge, in some respects the Arab case of the anti- Semitic infection is even worse than its predecessors. As the historian and current Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren has noted, “For all the kudos discretely given SS killers by the regime, Nazi Germany never publicly lionized them, never plastered their pictures on the streets, or openly encouraged children to emulate them.

That kind of adoration for mass murderers can only be found, in abundance, among the Palestinians.”

Some imagine that anti-Semitism will disappear only with the disappearance of the Jewish state – that hostility to Israel causes hostility to Jews. In fact, the reverse is closer to the truth. Anti-Semitism is nothing if not a surpassingly expedient political fantasy, and anti-Zionism is merely the most expedient form of contemporary anti-Semitism.

As former Soviet refusenik and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky has remarked, “The Jewish state is no more the cause of anti-Semitism today than the absence of a Jewish state was its cause a century ago.”

In the end, one cannot understand the underlying impulses of the Arab-Israeli conflict – and why it has for so long eluded the grasp of negotiators – without coming to terms with the Arab hostility to the Jewish people and its land, with the ways that hostility informs Arab political culture and Islamic fundamentalism both, and with the dissemination of that intransigent hostility through the media and mosques and schools and textbooks.

The conflict is not fundamentally territorial. Until the region’s autocratic regimes surrounding Israel cease to see the Jews – and the liberal democratic society they have built – as an affront, until Arab hostility gives way to recognition and acceptance, the conflict and its tragedies will endure.

For that reason, as MEMRI and others remind us with jarring regularity, the insidious ideology that Wistrich has dubbed “the longest hatred” is ignored at our peril.

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