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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

January 24, 2003

The Problem Of Muslim Anti-Semitism
If you raise the issue of Arab or Muslim anti-Semitism with the average Arab/Muslim leader, you will, with just a few exceptions, get a predictable set of responses. Some of them will shamefacedly acknowledge that the problem exists, and having done so, will then abruptly change the subject to racial profiling, American imperialism, or the evils of Israel. Others will admit the existence of the problem, but insist that it survives only on the "fringes" of Arab/Muslim society, and is thus an issue of marginal concern. Some will simply fall silent. And others will tell you with disarming candor that the "problem" of anti-Semitism is no "problem" at all, because the Jews are after all a scheming and diabolical race who deserve all the abuse that can be directed at them. Multiply such leaders by the hundreds, and do so over the course of decades, and you will get some sense of why the problem of anti-Semitism has assumed the proportions it currently has in the Arab-Muslim community.
So how big a problem is Arab/Muslim anti-Semitism? Reasonable people may reasonably disagree about its scope, but no reasonable person, I think, can claim that the problem is a marginal one. As Bernard Lewis of Princeton put the point in his book Semites and Anti-Semites (1986):

"The volume of anti-Semitic books and articles published, the size and number of editions and impressions, the eminence and authority of those who write, publish and sponsor them, their place in school and college curricula, their role in the mass media, would all seem to suggest that classical anti-Semitism is an essential part of Arab [and I would add, Muslim] intellectual life at the present timeā€¦"

Lewis's assessment tallies well with my own personal experience. Contempt for Jews was a ubiquitous and inescapable phenomenon in the Arab/Muslim community in which I grew up in New Jersey in the 1970s and 1980s; the bigotry there was such that my brother jokingly referred to the community as "The Fourth Reich." And such attitudes remain in place today. Recently, The Arab Voice, an Arab-language newspaper in Paterson, N.J., was discovered serializing The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (a notorious anti-Semitic forgery) in its pages. To the best of my knowledge, not a single local Arab/Muslim leader condemned them for it. To make matters worse, local leaders not only defended the newspaper, but openly affirmed their belief in the Protocols! A depressing example, but not a unique one: I could multiply such examples further if I had the space