Appearing at Harvard University shortly before his death in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. responded to an apparently hostile question from an audience member about Zionism, saying, “When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism.”
Is this universally true? Does criticism of Zionism always equal anti-Semitism?
On the one hand, the answer is no, criticism of Zionism does not always equal anti-Semitism. There are Israeli Jews and American Jews who are critical of the modern State of Israel, and they can hardly be called anti-Semites (unless we are willing to brand all of them self-hating Jews). Similarly, there are Christians who love the Jewish people and believe that, in a unique way, God is with them, and yet take strong exception to many Israeli policies. They too can hardly be called anti-Semites.
On the other hand, it is quite often true that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are two sides of the same ugly coin, especially in the Muslim world. The recent comments of Mufti Muhammad Hussein, the religious leader of the Palestinian Authority, serve as a stark reminder of just how deeply anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are often intertwined.
In a speech celebrating the 47th anniversary of Fatah and aired on Palestinian Authority TV on January 9th, the Mufti cited a well-known Hadith (an Islamic tradition attributed to Muhammad): “The Hour [of Resurrection] will not come until you fight the Jews. The Jew will hide behind stones or trees. Then the stones or trees will call: ‘Oh Muslim, servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’” (As reported by Palwatch.org, a July, 2011 poll sponsored by the Israel Project indicated that a staggering 73% of Palestinians “believe” this Hadith.)
These sentiments are enshrined in the Hamas charter, with Article 7 citing the identical anti-Semitic Hadith, prefaced by this comment: “Hamas has been looking forward to implementing Allah’s promise [to annihilate the Jews], whatever time it might take.”
In the Mufti’s speech, and in keeping with Islamic tradition, Hussein also stated that the only tree behind which a Jew will be able to hide himself is the Gharqad tree (since it will keep silent). “Therefore,” he explained, “it is no wonder that you see Gharqad [trees] surrounding the [Israeli] settlements and colonies.” (We can assume that the Mufti actually believes this.)
So, the hostility expressed towards the Israelis is simply the continuation of historic, Islamic anti-Semitism.
The moderator who introduced the Mufti stated (with passion) that, “Our war with the descendants of the apes and pigs [meaning the Jews] is a war of religion and faith,” basing himself on another anti-Semitic tradition found in Islam, a tradition often cited by contemporary Muslim leaders.
For example, “in a weekly sermon in April 2002, Al-Azhar Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, [then] the highest-ranking cleric in the Sunni Muslim world, called the Jews ‘the enemies of Allah, descendants of apes and pigs’,” while in 2001, “Saudi sheikh Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sudayyis, imam and preacher at the Al-Haraam mosque – the most important mosque in Mecca – beseeched Allah to annihilate the Jews. He also urged the Arabs to give up peace initiatives with them because they are ‘the scum of the human race, the rats of the world, the violators of pacts and agreements, the murderers of the prophets, and the offspring of apes and pigs.’”
Similar examples, from recent years and from past centuries, could easily be multiplied. In fact, the Nazis were able to exploit the Jew-hatred found in many Islamic traditions in forming a coalition with prominent leaders in the Arab world, the most important being the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. (Remember that this predates the reestablishment of Israel in 1948.)
This deep, historic hatred of the Jews continues to fuel anti-Zionism in the Muslim world today. And so, during the demonstrations in Egypt’s Tahrir Square in last year’s so-called Arab Spring, Yehudit Barsky noted that protestors brandished pictures of former President Hosni Mubarak with a Star of David on his forehead, invoking the “image of a conspiracy by Jews to control world leaders, including their own.”
The alleged conspiracy Barsky refers to is, of course, the notorious anti-Semitic forgery known as “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” The book remains a perpetual bestseller in the Muslim world and has also been dramatized for Islamic viewers, most notably in the 41-part series titled “Horseman Without a Horse,” broadcast on Egyptian state television in 2002. In the final episodes of the series, “the Jews are portrayed as leading a conspiracy to form a Zionist state in Palestine while taking the lives of anyone who stands in the way. The series comes to a close with an inscription: ‘Who fights the occupation is not a terrorist’ and contains other thinly veiled political comment on the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Whole books could easily be written on this subject with almost endless examples cited, but the lesson should be clear: While not all anti-Zionism can be fairly equated with anti-Semitism, in the religious Muslim world, the two are deeply intertwined.
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.