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Israel, Palestine and the tiger of terrorism: anti-semitism and history


………………………………………………. .…  
new statesman   
29 November 2002             

AS THIS ARTICLE APPEARS tens of millions of Muslims throughout the Arab world have almost finished marking the holy month of Ramadan in the manner which has now become customary. Not only have they been fasting from dawn to dusk but they have also been watching a great deal of television. This year a 41-part drama series shown during Ramadan has ignited international controversy.

Knight without a Horse’ tells how in 1906 an Egyptian, fighting the British occupation of his country, stumbles on a document which reveals a secret international Jewish conspiracy for global domination.


The document is none other than the Protocols of the Elders of Zion which was originally created by the Russian secret police at the end of the nineteenth century and was circulated in 1919 to delegates at the Versailles peace conference. The work (whose translation into English was sponsored in America by Henry Ford) purports to reveal an international Jewish plot to take over the government of the world. Once the most widely distributed book after the Bible, and a crucial influence on Hitler, it was long ago discredited in the Western world.

The Egyptian television blockbuster, however, treats this anti-semitic forgery as genuine and blames the creation of the state of Israel on the machinations of a sinister Jewish world-conspiracy. Its unashamed anti-semitism gave rise to international protests which included a US senate resolution. The fact that the series went ahead regardless has strengthened the arguments of those who have portrayed militant Islam as the new fascism.

The front cover of a recent edition of the Spectator, to cite but one example of this tendency, carries a striking illustration which depicts

      Illustration from the Spectator,
They want to kill us all by Mark Steyn

terrorism as a tiger mauling to death a man who cowers on the ground beneath its claws. The article this relates to bears the title ‘They want to kill us all’ and is introduced by the following ‘strap’:

 Forget the ‘root causes’, says Mark Steyn, the massacre in Bali was part of the continuing Islamofascist war against the West, and those who ignore it are sleepwalking to national suicide.

Steyn is by no means alone in characterising Islamic extremists in this way. The term ‘Islamofascist’ is now frequently combined, and implicitly justified, by references to Islamic anti-semitism. In an article in the Sunday Times Andrew Sullivan recently wrote: ‘Fanatical anti-semitism, as bad or even worse than Hitler’s, is now a cultural norm across much of the Arab Middle East and beyond. It’s the acrid glue that unites Saddam, Arafat, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Iran and the Saudis. They all hate the Jews and want to see them destroyed.’

Such views are not only being expressed on the right. It was Christopher Hitchens who, in the aftermath of the events of September 11, spoke of ‘fascism with an Islamic face’. More recently, immediately after the bombing in Bali, Clive James wrote an article for the Guardian entitled ‘Don’t blame the West’. A typical Islamic terrorist, he wrote, ‘believes that Hitler had the right idea, that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a true story, and that the obliteration of the state of Israel is a religious requirement.’

The charge that militant Islam is inherently anti-semitic is, or should be, a deeply disturbing one. The first question we need to ask is ‘is it true?’. My impression is that this question tends to be avoided (or at least not adequately addressed) by commentators such as John Pilger, Robert Fisk and Noam Chomsky who have written most critically about the war on terrorism. If so, the omission is a dangerous one, for it leaves extraordinarily powerful ammunition in the sole possession of those who are the advocates of war. Those advocates sometimes seem, on this issue, to be seeing reality more clearly than their opponents do. If we are to redress the balance we need to reconsider the entire question of Islamic anti-semitism.

The case of Osama bin Laden is itself instructive. In a series of television interviews which he gave before the attacks on New York and Washington, he made it quite clear that, although America may be the prime target for the killings which he has deliberately incited, the Jihad he supports is directed against a shadowy alliance of ‘Jews and Crusaders’. He refers to this elsewhere as ‘the external archenemy, the Crusader-Jewish alliance’. Read carefully his pronouncements suggest that the ultimate enemy of extremist Islam is a sinister power of which America is supposedly but the puppet – the Jews. ‘The leaders in America,’ bin Laden says, ‘have fallen victim to Jewish Zionist blackmail.’ Inside the Pentagon and the CIA, ‘the Jews have the upper hand . . . They make use of America to further their plans for the world, especially the Islamic world.’

The world-view expressed here echoes that of the work which lies at the heart of the mythology of modern anti-semitism – the Protocols. The reasons for the pervasive influence of the Protocols within the Muslim world are not as well known as they should be. Many assume that this forged anti-semitic document disappeared finally after the second world war. In fact, however, as it began to go out of circulation in the West, it was taken up in some parts of the Arab world. In Egypt it became a key element in President Nasser’s war against Israel, and, as the current controversy illustrates, the Egyptian media remain in thrall to anti-semitic rhetoric and imagery to this day.

Even before Nasser, in the years preceding the Second World War, King Sa’ud had helped to establish an extreme form of anti-semitism in bin Laden’s own Saudi Arabia. King Feisal continued the tradition of his father and used to present visiting diplomats (including Henry Kissinger) with a copy of the Protocols. The Palestinian group Hamas invokes the Protocols in its very charter; in extremist Islamic discourse the Jewish people are sometimes depicted not only as the enemies of Muhammad, but as the friends and allies of Satan, who have laid a plan to undermine humanity religiously and ethically before seizing control of the entire world. The only effective counter-measure, it is argued by some, is to destroy Israel.

One sign of the extent to which anti-semitic discourse has found a place within extremist Islam is provided by a Stockholm website hosted by ‘Radio Islam’, where the full text of the Protocols, presented as an authentic historical document, is available in Arabic, English, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, Italian, Swedish, and Spanish. On another section of the site a revisionist essay claims that the Holocaust is ‘
the most colossal piece of fiction and the most successful of deceptions’.

Evidence of Islamic anti-semitism can also be found closer to home. On my kitchen table is a white square card. Printed on it, both in English and in Arabic, are the words ‘KEEP PALESTINE TIDY’. In the centre of the card the silhouette of a man, his arm outstretched, is dropping a blue star of David into a litter bin. This powerful piece of propaganda, with its undertones of hatred and contempt, was given to me by a friend who had been handed it by an Islamic group when she attended a recent peace march in London.

One reason we hear so little about Arab and Muslim anti-semitism, except from pro-Israeli commentators, is that to draw attention to it might seem unhelpful to the Palestinian cause. It may also seem unjust to accuse of vilifying their enemies those who fight in the cause of the very group of people who are among the most vilified in the world: leading Israeli politicians have described Palestinians as ‘cockroaches in a jar’, ‘two-legged beasts’ ‘lice’ and ‘a cancer in our midst’. As Edward Said (among others) has pointed out, few national groups have been robbed of their humanity in the eyes of the world more comprehensively than ordinary Palestinian men and women.

Just as importantly, some pro-Israeli commentators and pressure groups have used the charge of anti-semitism in an attempt to silence journalists who make entirely legitimate criticisms of the Israeli government or the Israeli military. So frequently have pro-Israeli factions, in making complaints about anti-semitism, cried wolf in this manner that they have debased the entire currency of such complaints. In the climate of scepticism which has naturally resulted it has been much easier for Palestinian Islamists (such as Hamas) and other Palestinian extremists to exploit the mythology of anti-semitism without attracting censure from western liberals.

Yet demonological anti-semitism, which is almost a religion in itself, remains essentially destructive, however seemingly just the cause in which it is deployed. To demonise your enemy is to confuse issues, destroy moral judgment, and block rational analysis. Such demonisation, which invisibly licenses terrible acts of destruction, will pervert or corrupt any cause. We have seen the results in the mutilated bodies of Israelis blown up by suicide bombers; in the ruins of the twin towers in Manhattan as rescue workers sifted through rubble for body parts; or in the night-club in Bali after the recent mass slaughter. As Eduardo Galeano has written, ‘In the battle between good and evil it is always the people that get killed.’

It is precisely because it can so easily be invoked as a justification for killing innocent people that Islamic (or secular Arab) anti-semitism – which, like any form of extreme bigotry, rests on the demonisation of a hated Other – should be both fully acknowledged and resolutely and firmly opposed.

But the argument about demonisation cuts both ways. Merely to anathematise Islamic terrorists as ‘evil’ is in itself to demonise an enemy in a manner which risks deepening and intensifying the very moral wrong which is condemned. The question which we need to ask at the same time that we oppose it, is why anti-semitism has taken root within Islam. For demonological anti-semitism is not an Islamic tradition; it is a specifically western, Christian invention of which the racial anti-semitism that emerged at the end of the 19th century was a modified and secularised version.

‘Possibly,’ wrote the theologian Rosemary Ruether, ‘anti-Judaism is too deeply embedded in the foundations of Christianity to be rooted out entirely without destroying the whole structure.’ But whereas Christianity, from the Gospel of John onwards, always placed the Jews, as Christ-killers, at the very heart of its demonology, Islam, while revering Jesus as a prophet, actually rejects the view that he was crucified. This does not mean that Islam has been immune to anti-Jewish prejudice. The idea that, before Israel’s creation, Muslims and Jews always lived in harmony in Muslim lands is an idealistic distortion. At times, Muslims have subjected Jews to discrimination and persecution of a kind which has even led to violence. But although there is a significant anti-Jewish strain within the Koran, Islam has never, until recently, shown signs of succumbing to the kind of demonological Jew-hatred which has been endemic in so many versions of Christianity.

It was not until around 1900, with the growing influence of Europeans in the Middle East, and with the active dissemination of anti-semitism by European colonists, that extreme anti-semitism began to spread both among Arab Christians and among Muslims. It was the support given by the west – and above all by Britain – for the creation of a Zionist state in Palestine, which, almost inevitably, intensified the appeal of such anti-Jewish bigotry.

The future of the Jewish people and their Zionist project to settle in Palestine was, in the view of Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary and author of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, ‘of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land’.

However, the creation of a Jewish homeland in the middle east was, in part at least, itself an anti-semitic project. In 1905 (when he had been prime minister), Balfour himself had introduced the Aliens Bill to limit Jewish immigration to Britain. Later, having met and talked to Cosima Wagner, he confessed to sharing many of her anti-semitic views. The only Jewish member of the British cabinet at the time of the Balfour Declaration, Edwin Samuel Montagu, opposed it: ‘The policy of His Majesty’s Government’, he wrote, ‘is anti-semitic . . . and will prove a rallying ground for anti-semites in every country of the world.’

Montagu, who also raised concerns about the fate of the ‘Mahommedans’ then living in Palestine, may never have anticipated the extent to which European anti-semitism, having played such a significant role in providing the new Zionist colony with its population, would be adopted by Palestinian Arabs. Yet from the 1920s onwards this is what happened.

The most damaging development in this respect was itself the result of western meddling. When the Mufti (religious leader) of Jerusalem died in 1921, the recently appointed British Governor, Sir Herbert Samuel, took charge of appointing a successor, inventing the new title of ‘Grand Mufti’.

When the local electoral college of pious Muslims voted for a moderate and learned leader and placed at the bottom of their list Hajj Amin al-Husseini, a young man in his twenties, given to fanaticism and hatred of the Jews, the Governor was initially content and confirmed the appointment. However, at this point the Hajj’s powerful family, backed by right-wing extremists, launched a fierce campaign of denigration against the electoral college, accusing its members of treacherously conspiring with the Jews to appoint one of their own party.

Sir Herbert, who was himself Jewish, sought the counsel of E. T. Richmond, who acted as adviser on Muslim Affairs, and who was an extreme anti-Zionist. Richmond persuaded Sheikh Hisam al-Din, the man who had already been confirmed in the post, to stand down. He then convinced Samuel that the best way to restore order was to concede to the agitators by letting the Hajj become Grand Mufti. This was in spite of the fact that the Hajj had already been imprisoned by the British in 1920 for his role in fomenting vicious anti-Jewish riots.

The British themselves were thus responsible for turning an electoral process upside-down in order to install an extremist Palestinian leader. This abuse of power would have fateful consequences not only for the future of Israel but also for ordinary Palestinians who were now subjected to a leader they had not chosen but for whose ill-judged actions they would, in the years to come, repeatedly be held responsible.

At first, the Grand Mufti sought to rally both the Muslim masses and Islamic leaders throughout the world against Zionism by appealing to feelings of violated sanctity. His claims that the Zionists intended to re-build Solomon’s temples on the ruins of the Great Mosques used religion in order to fan the flames of nationalism and anti-Jewish sentiment.

Then, during the 1930s, a large part of the Arab world was naturally drawn towards Germany. The Middle East had been effectively taken over since 1918 by Britain and France. Now, Germany, which had itself been humiliated by the Versailles treaty, seemed set to humiliate the humiliators. German anti-semitic propaganda almost immediately began to be used by Arab campaigners against the Zionist colony which British anti-semitism had helped to establish.

Throughout the war Hajj Amin remained in touch with the German government, and in 1941, having fled via Syria and Iraq to Berlin, he held talks with Hitler in which he thanked him for the ‘unequivocal support’ he had shown for the Palestinians. During this same period, anti-semitic propaganda broadcast in Arabic from Berlin had a significant effect in Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia and in other Arab countries.

Although such propaganda disappeared from Europe after the end of the war it continued to circulate in the Arab world. In Egypt anti-semitism was taken up not only by Nasser, but also, in a particularly violent form, by Sayyid Qutb, the western-influenced ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood whom Nasser executed and who, more than anyone else, shaped the thinking of modern, militant Islam including that of bin Laden himself. In Qutb’s view, Jews, who had always rebelled against God, were inherently evil: ‘From such creatures who kill, massacre and defame prophets, one can only expect the spilling of human blood and dirty means which would further their machinations and evilness.’

What this intricate story should serve to demonstrate is that the destructive form which anti-semitism has now assumed within militant Islam, though it undoubtedly does have precursors in the Koran and in Muslim tradition, is not authentically Islamic; this new form of anti-semitism is distinctively western. Certainly, the dreams of world-domination which drive extreme Islamists have been there from the beginning. But such dreams are not unique to Islam; they are the common property of all three Abrahamic faiths. For, in that they look forward to a time when the entire world will bow down to the God they worship, Judaism, Christianity and Islam have always been, at their scriptural core, ideologies of world-domination. It was in the Christian tradition alone that the fantasy of world-domination was denied and projected onto the Jewish people.

Because the historical origins of Islamic anti-semitism are so complex it is simplistic and unhelpful to refer, as Christopher Hitchens has done, to ‘fascism with an Islamic face’. By using this formula, Hitchens – like George Bush announcing a war against ‘evil’ ­– intensifies the progressive demonisation of extremist Islam which has been going on for many years. And Hitchens’s solution is as chilling as that of the Arab anti-semites. ‘It is impossible,’ he writes, ‘to compromise with the proponents of sacrificial killing of civilians, the disseminators of anti-Semitic filth, the violators of women and the cheerful murderers of children … In confronting such people, the crucial thing is to be willing and able, if not in fact eager, to kill them without pity before they can get started.’

Those on the right who have taken up the chant of ‘Islamofascism’ repeatedly enjoin us to ‘forget the root causes’. Yet the vaunted purpose of the military and political decisions which are being taken now is to eliminate or lessen the peril which we face. It has been said on many occasions already, and should be said again, that if we ignore history in doing this, we may actually increase that peril. For, given the blind folly of the middle eastern policy we pursued at the beginning of the last century, there is a very real danger that the cure we now prescribe for the new Islamic militancy will not be a cure at all but a further and yet more malignant cause.

If we are to avoid such an outcome we should above all recognise that the proximate cause for the transfer of a murderous form of anti-semitism from Christianity to Islam can only be found in the decision of the great powers, and above all of Britain, to back the Zionist project.

By underwriting the establishment of a Jewish colony in Palestine, the great powers were not, as some politicians misguidedly believed, providing a radical solution to the problem of European anti-semitism. On the contrary they were in some respects guaranteeing the continuation, and even intensification, of one of the most destructive forms of prejudice there has ever been. In choosing Palestine they had not succeeded in finding what Zionists understandably sought – a safe haven for the Jewish people. Instead they had agreed to locate the new homeland in one of the most dangerous of all territorial enclaves, where conflict with Palestinian Arabs was inevitable. When Britain itself imposed an extremist and anti-semitic leader on ordinary Palestinians, it helped to create in the Middle East a crucible of hatred. 

It was, or should have been, entirely predictable that a historically oppressed people, placed in these circumstances, and subjected at times to violent anti-semitic attacks, might in the long term feel themselves driven, in order to ensure their future safety, to attempt to take what they had not been given. As early as 1923, Vladimir Jabotinski, the founder of the Union of Zionist Revisionists, argued that Zionism was essentially a colonial enterprise and that it should therefore be militarised: ‘Zionism is a colonising adventure and it therefore stands or falls by the question of armed force. It is important to build, it is important to speak Hebrew, but, unfortunately, it is even more important to be able to shoot - or else I am through with playing at colonisation.’ Only an ‘iron wall of Jewish bayonets’, he said, could force the Palestinian Arabs to accept the inevitable - ‘the transformation of Palestine into Eretz Israel.’

What Jabotinski implicitly recognised was that any attempt to settle on land already occupied by another national group was inherently aggressive and would inevitably be perceived in this way. Although the initial Zionist colonisation of Palestine was achieved almost entirely by peaceful means, Jabotinski was entirely correct in anticipating that the Palestinians would increasingly resort to violence in an attempt to preserve their ownership of a land which they naturally considered theirs both by history and by right. In doing so they were reacting not so much to the acts of Zionism, but to its evident colonial intentions. Within the Zionist movement these were sometimes made explicit. As David Ben Gurion put it in 1936: ‘I favour partition of the country because when we become a strong power after the establishment of the state, we will abolish partition and spread throughout Palestine.’

Given the terrifying alternatives, particularly when these were confirmed historically by the rise of Hitler and the mass-killings of innocent Jewish people which took place in the Holocaust, it should not be surprising that Zionists would increasingly accept the kind of arguments which Jabotinski put forward, and would seek to secure their newly acquired territory by arming themselves.

The state of Israel itself was established only after a campaign of deliberate killing which was waged against the British military in order to force them to withdraw and allow the creation of an Israeli state. When, in February 1947, the British government effectively conceded that Palestine was ungovernable and handed the entire problem over to the United Nations, this goal was within grasp. Once the UN had voted to partition Palestine, however, in November 1947, the Jewish colonists found themselves under attack from a Liberation Army assembled by the Arabs. It would seem clear that this Liberation Army was, to some degree at least, driven not simply by considerations of self-preservation, but also by anti-semitism. As Azzam Pasha, secretary-general of the Arab League, said in a radio broadcast: ‘This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre.’

The ensuing conflict almost inevitably led into a spiral of violence. In April 1948, after a number of Arab attacks on Jewish settlements, the two most extreme Zionist organisations, the Irgun and the Stern Gang, attacked the Arab village of Deir Yassin outside Jerusalem in reprisal. After a fierce battle, a horrific massacre took place during which as many as two hundred men, women, children and old people were killed and their bodies mutilated. Although Menachem Begin, the leader of the Irgun, cannot have known at this point the details of what had taken place, his reaction was nevertheless significant. He sent out his congratulations ‘on this splendid act of conquest .... As at Deir Yassin, so everywhere, we will attack and smite the enemy. God, God thou hast chosen us for conquest.’

The establishment of the state of Israel took place on 14 May 1948 when Ben Gurion read out the Scroll of Independence in the Tel Aviv museum. The next day, as the last of the British left, the Arab armies invaded. In the course of the conflict that followed the Israeli army established military supremacy over territory which still remains in its possession. As almost 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled Israeli-occupied land, and took refuge in Jordan, Transjordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and the Gaza strip, the modern Arab-Israeli problem was created. 

The pattern set during the brutal conflict of 1947-8 is one which has been continued since. It is a pattern in which Jewish colonists, partly because of the extremity of their own situation, and the vicious anti-semitism they have experienced at the hands both of some Europeans and some Arabs, have frequently felt justified in evicting Palestinians from their homes, expropriating their land and ruthlessly crushing any resistance.

Given such treatment it was only to be expected that Palestinians would react like any group of dispossessed people. And that both sides should increasingly succumb to extremist leaders or factions who saw in violence the only solution to their conflict. 

At the point in the conflict which we have now reached it is not only the case that both sides have engaged in war; both have also resorted to the application of terror against civilians and engaged in ‘targeted killings’ (for we should make no mistake that suicide-bombing too is a form of targeted killing, directed deliberately and indefensibly against innocent Israeli citizens).

The conflict has reached this stage in part because of our own inaction. In watching silently, or with insufficient protests, as the newly created state of Israel became an expansionist power, we have allowed the hatred engendered by this colonial project to deepen inexorably. And by failing to recognise the extent to which, over a period of almost a century, murderous forms of Western anti-semitism were being spread by word of mouth, by written propaganda, and by Arabic editions of the Protocols, throughout the Middle East and beyond, we have produced one of the most dangerous conflicts in history.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is that, by massively underwriting and financially supporting only one side in this conflict, and by failing to address imaginatively, or even at all, the plight of the Palestinians, the United States, often with the help of other western powers, has unintentionally multiplied the hatred on both sides.

Partly because the truth of what is happening in the Occupied Territories has been kept from the American people both by the politicians who are paid to serve them and by too many of the journalists who claim to inform them, ordinary American people have themselves become unwitting participants in the conflict. The taxes which they have paid have been used on a massive scale to help sustain the brutal occupation of parts of the land of one of the most beleaguered and defenceless nations in the world

What makes the conflict potentially even more deadly than it otherwise would be is that the creation of the state of Israel overlapped historically with the establishment throughout the Middle East of western-led or western-inspired regimes which set out to marginalise or crush traditional religious observance. In Egypt, in Tunisia, in Iran and elsewhere, such secularism enraged devout Muslims. In Iran, for example, Britain and America directly sponsored the regimes of two westernising tyrants, the Shah and his father, who used torture and terror in their efforts to undermine ordinary Muslim piety. The result was a brutal Islamic revolution which unleashed anti-Israeli and anti-American terrorism on an unprecedented scale.

The response of militant Islam to the continued interference by the West in Muslim affairs has, by its sheer brutality, daring and ruthless cruelty, licensed (or appeared to license) a counter-response from the West on a scale which would once have been unimaginable.
Militant Islamists have now provided America with the seemingly perfect justification to intensify the policy of world-domination it has long pursued. By adopting a strategy of murderous terror and by striking principally against American citizens, they have enabled the naked imperial ambitions of the United States to be clothed with seeming reasonableness. By embracing extreme forms of anti-semitism which are unislamic, and a medieval form of shariah law which is not supported by millions of moderate Muslims, they have assisted their own demonisation. By calling for the murder of innocent civilians they have betrayed the ideals of the Prophet and perverted the very faith that they profess.

The effect of their actions has in many respects been the opposite of what they seek. In the United States a foreign policy strategy, many elements of which were actually formulated before September 11, and which would once have aroused substantial opposition even inside America, has now been made to appear, in the eyes of many, ethically respectable.

It is certainly true that, when they stress the repressiveness of militant Islam, its misogyny, its anti-semitism and its religious dreams of world-domination, commentators like Hitchens, the contrarian leftist, and Andrew Sullivan, the Catholic Republican, point to aspects of Islamist thought which are real. Although a grasp of these is essential to any understanding of our present predicament, they have often been absent from the left’s analysis of September 11 and its aftermath.

The great danger of the left’s omissions, and in particular its failure to engage with the problem of Arab anti-semitism, is that Hitchens, Sullivan and all those commentators who have characterised their opponents as ‘Islamofascist’, are currently succeeding in persuading many people of what is false by urging upon them what is true.

Contrary to what they suggest, the greatest threat to world peace we now face is not that posed by Islamist dreams of world-domination; it is that which is posed by our failure to understand that these cruel and destructive dreams are themselves intimately related - by a complex process of reciprocal influence - to western fantasies of world-domination.

Largely because of the massive increase of military and economic power which has taken place in America over the last half-century, it is these western fantasies which are much nearer to being realised. Yet precisely because the imperialism of the United States is the habitual environment in which we live, these fantasies have been rendered, like the ocean to the fish, all but invisible to us. So too has the extent to which we have dislocated the rest of the world in order to turn them into reality.

As the history of Islamic anti-semitism enters a new phase and the myth of the Protocols is disseminated further through the Arab world by a television blockbuster, the partial truths which Hitchens and Sullivan have enunciated so fiercely cannot be dispensed with.

But the idea that there is some kind of autonomous ‘Islamofascism’ which can be crushed, or that the West may defend itself against the terrorists who threaten it by cultivating that eagerness to kill militant Muslims which Hitchens urges upon us, is a dangerous delusion.

The symptoms that have led some to apply the label of ‘Islamofascism’ are not reasons to forget root causes. They are reasons for us to examine even more carefully than we have done up to now what those causes actually are.

When we do so, we find that one of the keys to the problem remains in the history of Western colonialism in the middle east, and above all in Palestine. It is there, and not in Iraq, or Iran or Syria that our main political energies and our strategic intelligence should now be deployed.

This revised edition posted 21.00 GMT, 4 January 2003.

A version of this article appeared in the New Statesman on 29 November, 2002.

A library of links

This web-based bibliography is still being compiled and will gradually (and probably slowly) expand. 

After reading an earlier version of this essay, one American commentator, who maintains an interesting and at times unusually well-written online journal under the title De Spectaculis, relayed to his readers his own response. The essay itself was worth recommending, he wrote, but ‘the real treasure is the collection of links at the end. Read the articles. Think about them. Wrestle with the implications. There are opportunities for understanding collected here, opportunities for peace.’

I can only endorse that appeal. For the links collected here are offered not as an appendix to the main article, but as a part of it. And because they represent the voices of moderate Palestinians and Israelis who are seeking ways of ensuring peace and co-existence, they are indeed, I believe, the most valuable part.

(It should be noted that all the Palestinian voices represented here implicitly or explicitly accept that some form of reconciliation with or co-existence with Israelis will be a part of any solution to the conflict.  A century ago the entire question of Zionism and of the right of the Jewish people to their own homeland was a matter of open debate. Today, after more than a century of Zionism and half a century of Israeli history, Israel’s right to exist is not, or should not be, at issue among serious commentators in the west. It may not be anti-semitic to raise this question; but it is, as many moderate, peace-seeking Palestinians would agree, generally unhelpful. At the same time it is important to recognise that Israel’s right to exist is not generally conceded by Islamists and by some other extreme Palestinian groups. The fear, felt by most Israelis at some level or another, that there are those in the region who are dedicated to destroying Israel and removing it from the map of the Middle East is not an irrational anxiety; it is grimly realistic.)

Introductory essentials

Sharon's best weapon
by Naomi Klein

In this acute and politically wise article, Naomi Klein argues in the Guardian that Israel's prime minister Ariel Sharon and the Zionist right thrive on anti-semitism and on the failure of others to oppose it:

'It's easy for social justice activists to tell themselves that since Jews already have such powerful defenders in Washington and Jerusalem, anti-semitism is one battle they don't need to fight. This is a deadly error. It is precisely because anti-semitism is used and abused by the likes of Sharon that the fight against it must be reclaimed.'

'When anti-semitism is no longer treated as Jewish business, to be taken care of by Israel and the rightwing Zionist lobby, Sharon is robbed of his most effective weapon in the indefensible and increasingly brutal occupation.'

Two Wronged Peoples
David Astor

The classic 1967 editorial written by David Astor, the Observer's greatest editor.

My Fellow Muslims, we must fight anti-semitism
by Joseph Algazy

Article from Ha'aretz (the liberal-progressive Israeli newspaper). In it Tariq Ramadan, a Muslim and the grandson of Hassan Al-Bana, founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, speaks out against anti-semitism.

A Horseless Rider
by Quais S. Saleh

In Counterpunch Quais Saleh, a Palestinian Arab, opposes the broadcasting of the Protocols TV blockbuster:

'Bigotry should be rejected, regardless of who it is directed against. Feeding Arab families (including the children) carefully measured doses of hatred is morally repugnant and will eventually come back to haunt us when this cycle of bigotry starts enveloping the next target. Taking the program off-air will be a victory for reason, universal values, and the old Arab tradition of tolerance that now seem to be under constant attack.'

The Second Intifada: A Palestinian Perspective
by Samah Jabr

Samah Jabr is a young Palestinian doctor who was born and brought up in Jerusalem where she still lives and works. A child during the first Intifada, she reflects here upon the second, taking as her starting point the kind of defamation and demonisation for which there is no convenient name like 'anti-semitism' but which is just as dangerous and just as destructive:

'During the horror that faces us daily on the West Bank, these are some of the interviews heard on television. 

Said one Israeli settler when asked how he felt about the death of 12-year-old Muhammad Al-Durra, a Palestinian boy in Gaza:  "Our kids are the kids of God; theirs are the kids of Satan." 

"They [Palestinians] are not humans...they are animals," said another . . . '.  

In her article Jabr goes on, with simple and moving eloquence, to convey the human tragedy of present-day Palestine.

We can never lose
by Samah Jabr

Here Jabr explores the central moral dilemma of all those who find themselves victims of oppression - how to resist those who demonise you without demonising them in return:

'Dehumanizing one’s enemy is nothing new to our world; it seems to be a universal human fault. It is a self-engineered ploy and an immature defense mechanism that helps people to feel less guilty about the crimes they commit against others. It is also an ominous sign, predictive of one nation’s desire to eradicate another. 

'We will win the cultural battle only if we don’t fail to see the human in our enemy, and if we preserve the moral aspect of our cause. When we rise above the atrocities we have been exposed to, and never subject others to them, we’ll never get psychologically defeated . . . We are a nation of unarmed civilians and although a nuclear power like Israel can surely win the military battle, and kill most of us, no military power can destroy our love, pride and dignity.'

Propaganda and war
by Edward Said

How can it be that, in the first section of a web bibliography about Israel and Palestine which is headed 'introductory essentials' there are (including this one) five articles written by Palestinians or Muslims and only one (which is also critical of Israel) by a writer who is Jewish?  

The answer to this question is given by Edward Said in one of the most powerful of all his articles. As he implicitly recognises, every supporter of Israel will be anxious that Zionist points of view should be widely disseminated and widely understood. But, to a very large degree, that has already been achieved in the western media. As Said points out in this article from Al Ahram, 'Israel has already poured hundreds of millions of dollars into what in Hebrew is called hasbara, or information for the outside world (hence, propaganda).'

It is the Palestinian view which has been marginalised or suppressed and that is why I have deliberately sought to 'over-represent' it in this section of the bibliography. 

Said goes on to say this:

'Overall, then . . . Palestinians are viewed neither in terms of a story that is theirs, nor in terms of a human image with which people can easily identify. So successful has Israeli propaganda been that it would seem that Palestinians really have few, if any positive connotations. They are almost completely dehumanised.'

'In the American mind, analogies with South Africa's liberation struggle or with the horrible fate of the Native Americans most emphatically do not occur. We must make those analogies above all by humanising ourselves and thus reversing the cynical, ugly process whereby American columnists like Charles Krauthammer and George Will audaciously call for more killing and bombing of Palestinians, a suggestion they would not dare do for any other people. Why should we passively accept the fate of flies or mosquitoes, to be killed wantonly with American backing any time war criminal Sharon decides to wipe out a few more of us?'

Said then relays the news that the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) is, at the time he writes, about to launch 'an unprecedented public information campaign in the mass media to redress the balance and present the Palestinians as human beings - can you believe the irony of such a necessity? - as women who are teachers and doctors as well as mothers, men who work in the field and are nuclear engineers, as people who have had years and years of military occupation and are still fighting back.'

'This new ADC campaign,' Said writes, 'sets out to restore [to the Palestinians] their history and humanity, to show them (as they have always been) as people "like us", fighting for the right to live in freedom, to raise their children, to die in peace. Once even the glimmerings of this story penetrate the American consciousness, the truth will, I hope, begin to dissipate the vast cloud of evil propaganda with which Israel has covered reality. . . And then, we can hope again.'

What went wrong? The answer is provided by the date on which this article appeared. It was the issue of Al Ahram dated 30 August - 5 September 2001.  A week later the plan to restore to Palestinans their humanity in the eyes of American beholders was one of the casualties which, along with thousands of innocent citizens, would be found among the rubble of the Twin Towers in Manhattan.

In the September attacks bin Laden did not only kill US citizens. Without ever intending to, he destroyed the most intelligent and far-sighted campaign which had ever been conceived in America on behalf of one of the most beleaguered of all nations; he bombed the hopes of ordinary Palestinians.  

Israeli and Jewish perspectives

Manufacturing Anti-Semites 
by Uri Avnery

Uri Avnery, a leading figure in the Israeli peace movement, argues that, because of the policies of Sharon, Jewish people throughout the world are trapped in a dangerous vicious circle: 'Sharon's actions create repulsion and opposition throughout the world. These reinforce anti-Semitism. Faced with this danger, Jewish organizations are pushed into defending Israel and giving it unqualified support. This support enables the anti-Semites to attack not only the government of Israel, but the local Jews, too. And so on.'

Of Murder and Suicide
Ami Isseroff

A sceptical Israeli view which, while sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinian people, depicts some of the latest terrorist murders as 'an inevitable result of the chaos and gangsterism that govern Palestinian society

This Land is Your Land
Jacqueline Rose

Literature professor Jacqueline Rose reflects on a recent visit to Israel.

Interview with the historian Ilan Pappe:
Israeli Jewish myths and the prospect of American war
interviewed by Joseph Cooper and Kristin Karlson

Illan Pappe is, along with Benny Morris and Avi Shlaim one of the 'new historians' who have attempted to re-write the history of the birth of Israel, rejecting the orthodox Israeli view that the majority of Palestinian refugees who fled during the conflict of 1947-9 left of their own accord. Pappe's own work is contested by many of his fellow scholars. A particularly fierce controversy continues to rage around his role in Teddy Katz's MA thesis concerning a massacre which allegdly took place in Tantura in 1948.

Benny Morris and the Reign of Error
Efraim Karsh

Karsh's attack on Morris's scholarship has sometimes been portrayed as a successful exercise in discrediting the man who was once regarded as the leading Israeli 'new historian'.

Peace? No Chance
Benny Morris

The radical historian changes tack and in this article, published in February 2002, launches a fierce attack on the Palestinian leadership.

A Betrayal of History
Avi Shlaim

In a reply to Morris's article, his fellow 'new historian' Avi Shlaim characterises the view of his erstwhile intellectual ally as 'simplistic, selective and self-serving'.

Christians who hate Jews
Melanie Phillips

An unusual and disturbing perspective on Christian anti-semitism and the role of 'replacement theology' in rekindling traditional Christian anti-semitism.

The doctor and the ambassador

An exchange of letters between Ismail Zayid and Norman Spector

Dr. Ismail Zayid, a retired physician and exiled Palestinian, is President of the Canada Palestine Association. Norman Spector is a former Canadian ambassador to Israel who is now a columnist for the Toronto-based  newspaper, the Globe.  In this exchange Dr Zayid reaffirms the view that Palestians were indeed systematically driven out of Palestine in 1948. For the home page of his pro-Palestine website, which forms a rich resource of information and links, click here.

Peace Movements and Possible Solutions

Gush Shalom

Israeli peace movement

Courage to Refuse

Israeli soldiers who have declared that 'we shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people.' Perhaps the most powerful part of this website are the articles written by some of those who have refused. 

A State for All Its Citizens - One Palestinian’s Dream of Peace
by Samah Jabr

Can a two-state solution work?

Arab and Islamic Anti-Semitism

If the first section of this bibliography might appear to over-represent the views of Palestinians, the essays and article in this section are almost all written by Jewish scholars from a pro-Israel point of view. Their perspective on bigoty and demonisation is in nearly all cases a narrow one, and almost nowhere in them is there any recognition of the plight of the Palestinians, or of the extent to which they have been dehumanised and demonised in the imagination and language of right-wing Zionists and others. The essays are included here not because I necessarily endorse their arguments or conclusions (or share their perspective), but because, in most cases, they contain valuable material which ought to be better known than it is.

Muslim Anti-Semitism: A Clear and Present Danger
by Robert S. Wistrich

This long, 18,000-word essay is the most substantial and detailed account of Islamic anti-semitism available online. It is published by the American Jewish Comittee and written by Robert S Wistrich, Neuberger Professor of Modern European and Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. (For my 1992 review of Wistrich's Anti-Semitism: The Longest Hatred, a book which contains four chapters on Islamic anti-semitism, click here.)

The Islamic Fundamentalist View of Life as a Perennial Battle
by David Zeidan

An extremely helpful survey which includes a section on the anti-semitism of Sayyid Qutb which is directly relevant to the beliefs of bin Laden.

The Long Trail of Arab Anti-Semitism 
by Efraim Karsh

Efraim Karsh is Professor of Mediterranean Studies at King’s College, University of London. This article originally appeared in Commentary in December 2000.

On the Salience of Islamic Anti-Semitism
by Martin Kramer

The text of a lecture delivered at the Institute of Jewish Affairs in London in 1995. Martin Kramer is a former director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University. He has recently achieved a degree of notoriety as an ally of Daniel Pipes and a supporter of Campus Watch (1)    (2) .  Given his current profile, this article is a surprisingly measured and helpful contribution. Particularly worthy of note is his assessment of the role played by anti-semitism in Islamism, something which he saw much earlier and much more clearly than many: 'Islam is not inherently antisemitic. But Islamism is, and anyone viewing the world through its prism will inevitably see conspiring Jews.'  Although this may overstate the position, in that it fails to allow for the many different forms which Islamism can take, it comes much closer to being an accurate assessment of the dominant form of modern Islamism than the views expressed by most middle eastern scholars in 1995 - or even today.

Kramer, who has a website of his own, is now the editor of the Middle East Quarterly - part of the Daniel Pipes think-tank, Middle East Forum

Islamic Anti-Semitism as a Political Instrument
by Yossef Bodansky

Yossef Bodansky is the director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare and a former senior consultant to the U.S. Departments of Defense and State.

What Went Wrong?
by Bernard Lewis

Bernard Lewis, whose book Semites and Anti-Semites (1986), was one of first full-length studies of the rise of Islamic anti-semitism, writes here of Islam's sense of failure and its search for external scapegoats - including the Jews - to blame for its modern predicament.

Muslim Anti-Semitism
by Bernard Lewis

Lewis on the Islamization of the classic motifs of Western anti-semitism and on the consequences of this for the peace process.

The New Anti-Semitism
by Daniel Pipes

In an article whose tone and perspective renders it likely to increase the very kinds of intolerance it opposes, Pipes examines the prevalence of anti-semitism among western, and particularly American Muslims. 

by Andrew Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan reflects in the New Republic (30 October, 2001) on his own reluctance to acknowledge the reality and depth of Islamic anti-semitism.

Think tanks and pressure groups


The Middle East Media Research Institute. For a critical perspective on the role of this organisation, see Brian Whitaker's Guardian article, Selective Memri

Anti-Defamation League

Long-established Jewish organisation campaiging against anti-semitism. Commentary to follow.

Middle East Forum

The Daniel Pipes think-tank which unashamedly declares as its aim that of working 'to define and promote American interests in the Middle East'. This includes seeking 'a stable supply and a low price of oil'.


Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information. Describes itself as 'the only joint Israeli-Palestinian public policy think-tank in the world. It is devoted to developing practical solutions for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.'

Alternative Information Centre

A Palestinian Israeli organisation which seeks to disseminate news 'while promoting cooperation between Palestinians  and Israelis based on the values of social justice, solidarity and community involvement'.  

Palestine Solidarity Campaign

UK based campaigning organisation dedicated to the Palestinian cause. 

Jews for Justice for Palestinians

A recently founded network of British Jews, including a number of prominent figures, 'who oppose Israeli policies that undermine the livelihoods, human, civil and political rights of the Palestinian people'.

The MidEastWeb Group

An internet based group, whose 'goal is to weave a world-wide web of Arabs, Jews and others who want to build a new Middle East based on coexistence and neighborly relations'.


© Richard Webster, 2002