Myths & Facts Online

The Treatment of Jews in Arab/Islamic Countries

By Mitchell G. Bard


“Arabs cannot possibly be anti-Semitic as they are themselves Semites.”
“Modern Arab nations are only anti-Israel and have never been anti-Jewish.”
“Jews who lived in Islamic countries were well-treated by the Arabs.”
“As ‘People of the Book,’ Jews and Christians are protected under Islamic law.”
“Muslim schools in the United States teach tolerance of Judaism and other faiths, and promote coexistence with Israel.”
The Situation Today

 

MYTH

“Arabs cannot possibly be anti-Semitic as they are themselves Semites.”

FACT

The term "anti-Semite" was coined in Germany in 1879 by Wilhelm Marrih to refer to the anti-Jewish manifestations of the period and to give Jew-hatred a more scientific sounding name.1 "Anti-Semitism" has been accepted and understood to mean hatred of the Jewish people. Dictionaries define the term as: "Theory, action, or practice directed against the Jews" and "Hostility towards Jews as a religious or racial minority group, often accompanied by social, economic and political discrimination."2

The claim that Arabs as "Semites" cannot possibly be anti-Semitic is a semantic distortion that ignores the reality of Arab discrimination and hostility toward Jews. Arabs, like any other people, can indeed be anti-Semitic.

“The Arab world is the last bastion of unbridled, unashamed, unhidden and unbelievable anti-Semitism. Hitlerian myths get published in the popular press as incontrovertible truths. The Holocaust either gets minimized or denied....How the Arab world will ever come to terms with Israel when Israelis are portrayed as the devil incarnate is hard to figure out.”

— Columnist Richard Cohen
Washington Post, (October 30, 2001).

MYTH

“Modern Arab nations are only anti-Israel and have never been anti-Jewish.”

FACT

Arab leaders have repeatedly made clear their animosity toward Jews and Judaism. For example, on November 23, 1937, Saudi Arabia's King Ibn Saud told British Colonel H.R.P. Dickson: "Our hatred for the Jews dates from God's condemnation of them for their persecution and rejection of Isa (Jesus) and their subsequent rejection of His chosen Prophet." He added "that for a Muslim to kill a Jew, or for him to be killed by a Jew ensures him an immediate entry into Heaven and into the august presence of God Almighty."3

When Hitler introduced the Nuremberg racial laws in 1935, he received telegrams of congratulation from all corners of the Arab world.4 Later, during the war, one of his most ardent supporters was the Mufti of Jerusalem.

Jews were never permitted to live in Jordan. Civil Law No. 6, which governed the Jordanian-occupied West Bank, states explicitly: "Any man will be a Jordanian subject if he is not Jewish."5

The Arab countries see to it that even young schoolchildren are taught to hate Jews. The Syrian Minister of Education wrote in 1968: "The hatred which we indoctrinate into the minds of our children from their birth is sacred."6

After the Six-Day War in 1967, the Israelis found public school textbooks that had been used to educate Arab children in the West Bank. They were replete with racist and hateful portrayals of Jews:

"The Jews are scattered to the ends of the earth, where they live exiled and despised, since by their nature they are vile, greedy and enemies of mankind, by their nature they were tempted to steal a land as asylum for their disgrace."7

"Analyze the following sentences:

1. The merchant himself traveled to the African continent.

2. We shall expel all the Jews from the Arab countries."8

"The Jews of our time are the descendants of the Jews who harmed the Prophet Muhammad. They betrayed him, they broke the treaty with him and joined sides with his enemies to fight him..."9

"The Jews in Europe were persecuted and despised because of their corruption, meanness and treachery."10

A 1977 Jordanian teachers' manual for first-graders used on the West Bank instructs educators to "implant in the soul of the pupil the rule of Islam that if the enemies occupy even one inch of the Islamic lands, jihad (holy war) becomes imperative for every Muslim." It also says the Jews plotted to assassinate Muhammad when he was a child. Another Jordanian text, a 1982 social studies book, claims Israel ordered the massacre of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatila during the Lebanon war, but does not mention the Christian Arabs who were the perpetrators.11

“We have found books with passages that are so anti-Semitic, that if they were published in Europe, their publishers would be brought up on anti-racism charges.”

— French lawyer and European Parliament member Francois Zimeray
commenting on Palestinian, Syrian and Egyptian texts
Jerusalem Post, (October 16, 2001).

According to a study of Syrian textbooks, "the Syrian educational system expands hatred of Israel and Zionism to anti-Semitism directed at all Jews. That anti-Semitism evokes ancient Islamic motifs to describe the unchangeable and treacherous nature of the Jews. Its inevitable conclusion is that all Jews must be annihilated."12 To cite one example, an eleventh grade textbook claims that Jews hated Muslims and were driven by envy to incite hostility against them:

The Jews spare no effort to deceive us, deny our Prophet, incite against us, and distort the holy scriptures.

The Jews cooperate with the Polytheist and the infidels against the Muslims because they know Islam reveals their crafty ways and abject characteristics.13

An Arabic translation of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf has been distributed in East Jerusalem and territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and became a bestseller.14

Occasionally, Arab anti-Semitism surfaces at the United Nations. In March 1991, for example, a Syrian delegate to the UN Human Rights Commission read a statement recommending that commission members read "a valuable book" called The Matzoh of Zion, written by Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlas. The book justifies ritual murder charges brought against the Jews in the Damascus blood libel of 1840.15 (The phrase "blood libel" refers to accusations that Jews kill Christian children to use their blood for the ritual of making matzoh at Passover.)

King Faisal of Saudi Arabia uttered a similar slander in a 1972 interview:

Israel has had malicious intentions since ancient times. Its objective is the destruction of all other religions....They regard the other religions as lower than their own and other peoples as inferior to their level. And on the subject of vengeance — they have a certain day on which they mix the blood of non-Jews into their bread and eat it. It happened that two years ago, while I was in Paris on a visit, that the police discovered five murdered children. Their blood had been drained, and it turned out that some Jews had murdered them in order to take their blood and mix it with the bread that they eat on this day. This shows you what is the extent of their hatred and malice toward non-Jewish peoples.16

On November 11, 1999, during a Gaza appearance with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Suha Arafat, wife of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat stated: "Our people have been subjected to the daily and extensive use of poisonous gas by the Israeli forces, which has led to an increase in cancer cases among women and children." Similar specious allegations have been made by other Palestinian officials.17

The Arab/Muslim press, which is almost exclusively controlled by the governments in each Middle Eastern nation, regularly publish anti-Semitic articles and cartoons. Today, it remains common to find anti-Semitic publications in Egypt. For example,  the establishment Al-Ahram newspaper published an article giving the "historical" background of the blood libel tradition while accusing Israel of using the blood of Palestinian children to bake matzohs up to the present time.18 Anti-Semitic articles also regularly appear in the press in Jordan and Syria. Many of the attacks deal with denial of the Holocaust, its "exploitation" by Zionism, and a comparison of Zionism and Israel to Nazism.


Egyptian Daily Al-Ahram, (May 23, 1998)

In November 2001, a satirical skit aired on the second most popular television station in the Arab world, which depicted a character meant to be Ariel Sharon drinking the blood of Arab children as a grotesque-looking Orthodox Jew looked on. Abu Dhabi Television also aired a skit in which Dracula appears to take a bite out of Sharon, but dies because Sharon's blood is polluted. Protests that these shows were anti-Semitic were ignored by the network.19

The Palestinian Authority's  media have also contained inflammatory and anti-Semitic material. A Friday sermon in the Zayed bin Sultan Aal Nahyan mosque in Gaza calling for the murder of Jews and Americans was broadcast live on the official Palestinian Authority television:

Have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, in any country. Fight them, wherever you are. Wherever you meet them, kill them. Wherever you are, kill those Jews and those Americans who are like them and those who stand by them they are all in one trench, against the Arabs and the Muslims because they established Israel here, in the beating heart of the Arab world, in Palestine.... 20

Even Palestinian crossword puzzles are used to delegitimize Israel and attack Jews, providing clues, for example, suggesting the Jewish trait is "treachery."21

 

“Syrian President Bashar Assad on Saturday [May 5] offered a vivid, if vile, demonstration of why he and his government are unworthy of respect or good relations with the United States or any other democratic country. Greeting Pope John Paul II in Damascus, Mr. Assad launched an attack on Jews that may rank as the most ignorant and crude speech delivered before the pope in his two decades of travel around the world. Comparing the suffering of the Palestinians to that of Jesus Christ, Mr. Assad said that the Jews ‘tried to kill the principles of all religions with the same mentality in which they betrayed Jesus Christ and the same way they tried to betray and kill the Prophet Muhammad.’ With that libel, the Syrian president stained both his country and the pope....”

Washington Post editorial, (May 8, 2001)

MYTH

Jews who lived in Islamic countries were well-treated by the Arabs.”

FACT

While Jewish communities in Islamic countries fared better overall than those in Christian lands in Europe, Jews were no strangers to persecution and humiliation among the Arabs. As Princeton University historian Bernard Lewis has written: "The Golden Age of equal rights was a myth, and belief in it was a result, more than a cause, of Jewish sympathy for Islam."22

Muhammad, the founder of Islam, traveled to Medina in 622 A.D. to attract followers to his new faith. When the Jews of Medina refused to recognize Muhammad as their Prophet, two of the major Jewish tribes were expelled. In 627, Muhammad's followers killed between 600 and 900 of the men, and divided the surviving Jewish women and children amongst themselves.23

The Muslim attitude toward Jews is reflected in various verses throughout the Koran, the holy book of the Islamic faith. "They [the Children of Israel] were consigned to humiliation and wretchedness. They brought the wrath of God upon themselves, and this because they used to deny God's signs and kill His Prophets unjustly and because they disobeyed and were transgressors" (Sura 2:61). According to the Koran, the Jews try to introduce corruption (5:64), have always been disobedient (5:78), and are enemies of Allah, the Prophet and the angels (2:97-98).

Jews were generally viewed with contempt by their Muslim neighbors; peaceful coexistence between the two groups involved the subordination and degradation of the Jews. In the ninth century, Baghdad's Caliph al-Mutawakkil designated a yellow badge for Jews, setting a precedent that would be followed centuries later in Nazi Germany.24

At various times, Jews in Muslim lands lived in relative peace and thrived culturally and economically. The position of the Jews was never secure, however, and changes in the political or social climate would often lead to persecution, violence and death. 

When Jews were perceived as having achieved too comfortable a position in Islamic society, anti-Semitism would surface, often with devastating results. On December 30, 1066, Joseph HaNagid, the Jewish vizier of Granada, Spain, was crucified by an Arab mob that proceeded to raze the Jewish quarter of the city and slaughter its 5,000 inhabitants. The riot was incited by Muslim preachers who had angrily objected to what they saw as inordinate Jewish political power.

Similarly, in 1465, Arab mobs in Fez slaughtered thousands of Jews, leaving only 11 alive, after a Jewish deputy vizier treated a Muslim woman in "an offensive manner." The killings touched off a wave of similar massacres throughout Morocco.25

Other mass murders of Jews in Arab lands occurred in Morocco in the 8th century, where whole communities were wiped out by the Muslim ruler Idris I; North Africa in the 12th century, where the Almohads either forcibly converted or decimated several communities; Libya in 1785, where Ali Burzi Pasha murdered hundreds of Jews; Algiers, where Jews were massacred in 1805, 1815 and 1830; and Marrakesh, Morocco, where more than 300 hundred Jews were murdered between 1864 and 1880.26

Decrees ordering the destruction of synagogues were enacted in Egypt and Syria (1014, 1293-4, 1301-2), Iraq (854­859, 1344) and Yemen (1676). Despite the Koran's prohibition, Jews were forced to convert to Islam or face death in Yemen (1165 and 1678), Morocco (1275, 1465 and 1790-92) and Baghdad (1333 and 1344).27

The situation of Jews in Arab lands reached a low point in the 19th century. Jews in most of North Africa (including Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Morocco) were forced to live in ghettos. In Morocco, which contained the largest Jewish community in the Islamic Diaspora, Jews were made to walk barefoot or wear shoes of straw when outside the ghetto. Even Muslim children participated in the degradation of Jews, by throwing stones at them or harassing them in other ways. The frequency of anti-Jewish violence increased, and many Jews were executed on charges of apostasy. Ritual murder accusations against the Jews became commonplace in the Ottoman Empire.28

As distinguished Orientalist G.E. von Grunebaum has written:

It would not be difficult to put together the names of a very sizeable number Jewish subjects or citizens of the Islamic area who have attained to high rank, to power, to great financial influence, to significant and recognized intellectual attainment; and the same could be done for Christians. But it would again not be difficult to compile a lengthy list of persecutions, arbitrary confiscations, attempted forced conversions, or pogroms.29

The danger for Jews became even greater as a showdown approached in the UN. The Syrian delegate, Faris el-Khouri, warned: "Unless the Palestine problem is settled, we shall have difficulty in protecting and safeguarding the Jews in the Arab world."30

More than a thousand Jews were killed in anti-Jewish rioting during the 1940's in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Syria and Yemen.31 This helped trigger the mass exodus of Jews from Arab countries.

MYTH

“As 'People of the Book,' Jews and Christians are protected under Islamic law.”

FACT

This argument is rooted in the traditional concept of the "dhimma" ("writ of protection"), which was extended by Muslim conquerors to Christians and Jews in exchange for their subordination to the Muslims. Yet, as French authority Jacques Ellul has observed: "One must ask: 'protected against whom?' When this 'stranger' lives in Islamic countries, the answer can only be: against the Muslims themselves."32

Peoples subjected to Muslim rule usually had a choice between death and conversion, but Jews and Christians, who adhered to the Scriptures, were usually allowed, as dhimmis (protected persons), to practice their faith. This "protection" did little, however, to insure that Jews and Christians were treated well by the Muslims. On the contrary, an integral aspect of the dhimma was that, being an infidel, he had to acknowledge openly the superiority of the true believer — the Muslim.

In the early years of the Islamic conquest, the "tribute" (or jizya), paid as a yearly poll tax, symbolized the subordination of the dhimmi.33

Later, the inferior status of Jews and Christians was reinforced through a series of regulations that governed the behavior of the dhimmi. Dhimmis, on pain of death, were forbidden to mock or criticize the Koran, Islam or Muhammad, to proselytize among Muslims, or to touch a Muslim woman (though a Muslim man could take a non-Muslim as a wife).

Dhimmis were excluded from public office and armed service, and were forbidden to bear arms. They were not allowed to ride horses or camels, to build synagogues or churches taller than mosques, to construct houses higher than those of Muslims or to drink wine in public. They were forced to wear distinctive clothing and were not allowed to pray or mourn in loud voices — as that might offend the Muslims. The dhimmi also had to show public deference toward Muslims; for example, always yielding them the center of the road. The dhimmi was not allowed to give evidence in court against a Muslim, and his oath was unacceptable in an Islamic court. To defend himself, the dhimmi would have to purchase Muslim witnesses at great expense. This left the dhimmi with little legal recourse when harmed by a Muslim.34

By the twentieth century, the status of the dhimmi in Muslim lands had not significantly improved. H.E.W. Young, British Vice Consul in Mosul, wrote in 1909:

The attitude of the Muslims toward the Christians and the Jews is that of a master towards slaves, whom he treats with a certain lordly tolerance so long as they keep their place. Any sign of pretension to equality is promptly repressed.35

MYTH

“Muslim schools in the United States teach tolerance of Judaism and other faiths, and promote coexistence with Israel.”

FACT

While it is well-known that many Muslim schools in Arab and Islamic countries indoctrinate students with hatred of Jews and Israel, it was only recently revealed that similar teachings are prevalent in the United States. Islamic schools in Virginia, for example, have maps of the Middle East in their classrooms that are missing Israel. On one map, Israel was blackened out and replaced with "Palestine." An 11th grade textbook teaches that one sign of the Day of Judgment will be that Muslims will fight and kill Jews, who will hide behind trees that say, "Oh Muslim, Oh servant of God, here is a Jew hiding behind me. Come here and kill him."36

The attacks are not only against Jews, but also Christians. Students are taught, for example that the Day of Judgment won't come until Jesus Christ returns to Earth, breaks the cross, and converts everyone to Islam.

The private schools are legally allowed to teach whatever they want as long as they meet state requirements.

A Los Angeles Muslim foundation insinuated similar hateful views into the public schools. The Omar Ibn Khattab Foundation donated 300 copies of a translation of the Koran that contained footnotes describing Jews as “arrogant” and “people without faith.”37 After discovering the anti-Semitic passages, the books were removed.

THE SITUATION TODAY

 

Notes

1Vamberto Morais, A Short History of Anti-Semitism, (NY: W.W Norton and Co., 1976), p. 11; Bernard Lewis, Semites & Anti-Semites, (NY: WW Norton & Co., 1986), p. 81.
2Oxford English Dictionary; Webster's Third International Dictionary.
3Official British document, Foreign Office File No. 371/20822 E 7201/22/31; Elie Kedourie, Islam in the Modern World, (London: Mansell, 1980), pp. 69-72.
4Howard Sachar, A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time, (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), p. 196.
5Jordanian Nationality Law, Official Gazette, No. 1171, Article 3(3) of Law No. 6, 1954, (February 16, 1954), p. 105.
6From a letter sent to M. Rene Mheu, Director General of UNESCO, and reproduced in Al-Thawra, (May 3, 1968).
7The Religious Ordinances Reader, (Syrian Ministry of Education, 1963-1964), p. 138.
8Basic Syntax and Spelling, Syrian Ministry of Education, 1963.
9Religious Teaching, Egyptian Ministry of Education, 1966.
10Modern World History, Jordanian Ministry of Education, 1966, p. 150.
11David K. Shipler, Arab and Jew, (NY: Times Books, 1986), pp. 167, 170, 203.
12Meyrav Wurmser, The Schools of Ba'athism: A Study of Syrian Schoolbooks, (Washington, D.C.: Middle East Media and Research Institute (MEMRI), 2000), p. xiii.
13Wurmser, p. 51.
14Middle East Media and Research Institute (MEMRI); Parade, (June 23, 2002), p. 13.
15Jewish Telegraphic Agency, (March 4, 1991).
16Al-Mussawar, (August 4, 1972).
17Middle East Media and Research Institute (MEMRI),
18 Al-Ahram (October 28, 2000)
19Jerusalem Post (November 19, 2001)
20Palestinian Authority television, (October 14, 2000)
22 Palestinian Media Watch, http://www.pmw.org/ (March 15, 2000)
22Bernard Lewis, "The Pro-Islamic Jews," Judaism, (Fall 1968), p. 401.
23Bat Ye'or,The Dhimmi, (NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1985), pp. 43-44.
24Bat Ye'or, pp. 185-86, 191, 194.
25Norman Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands, (PA: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1979), p. 84; Maurice Roumani, The Case of the Jews from Arab Countries: A Neglected Issue, (Tel Aviv: World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries, 1977), pp. 26-27; Bat Ye'or, p. 72; Bernard Lewis, The Jews of Islam, (NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984) p. 158.
26Stillman, pp. 59, 284.
27Roumani, pp. 26-27.
28G.E. Von Grunebaum, "Eastern Jewry Under Islam," Viator, (1971), p. 369.
29New York Times, February 19, 1947).
30Roumani, pp. 30-31; Norman Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times, (NY: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), pp. 119-122.
31Bat Ye'or, p. 61.
32Bat Yeor, p. 30
33Louis Gardet, La Cite Musulmane: Vie sociale et politique, (Paris: Etudes musulmanes,1954), p. 348.
34Bat Ye'or, pp. 56-57.
35Middle Eastern Studies, (1971), p. 232.
36Washington Post, (February 25, 2002).
37Esquire, (February 2003).


See also: Virtual Jewish History Tour
Arab Anti-Semitism

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