The prime minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, informed the world this month, among other things, that "Jews rule this world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them." Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. national security adviser, described Mahathir's comments as "hateful, they are outrageous."
But she then added, "I don't think they are emblematic of the Muslim world." If only she were right about that.
In fact, Mahathir's views are precisely emblematic of current Muslim discourse about Jews -- symbolized by the standing ovation his speech received from an all-Muslim audience of leaders representing 57 states. Then, a Saudi newspaper reports, when Western leaders criticized Mahathir, "Muslim leaders closed ranks" around him with words of praise ("very correct," "a very, very wise assessment").
Although anti-Jewish sentiments among Muslims go back centuries, today's hostility results from two main developments: Jewish success in modern times and the establishment of Israel. Until about 1970, however, Muslim resentment remained relatively quiet.
But in the 1970s, political radicalization combined with an oil boom gave states like Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Libya the will and the means to sponsor anti-Jewish ideas worldwide. With barely a Muslim voice to counter ever-more-outlandish theories, these multiplied and deepened. For the first time, the Muslim world became the main locus of anti-Jewish theories.
By now, notes Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, "Hatred of Jews is widespread throughout the Muslim world. It is taught in the schools and preached in the mosques. Cartoons in Muslim newspapers routinely portray Jews in blatantly anti-Semitic terms."
Indeed, Mahathir is hardly the only Muslim ruler to make anti-Jewish statements. President Bashar al-Assad of Syria said in 2001 that Israelis try "to kill the principles of all religions with the same mentality in which they betrayed Jesus Christ." The Iranian ayatollahs and Saudi princes have a rich history of anti-Jewish venom, as of course do Egyptian television and Palestinian textbooks.
Of the myriad examples, one stands out for me: a June 2002 interview on Saudi TV with a 3-year-old girl named Basmallah, made available by the Middle East Media and Research Institute:
Anchor: Basmallah, are you familiar with the Jews?The little girl is wrong about the Koran, but her words show that, contrary to Rice's analysis, Muslim anti-Semitism extends even to the youngest children. That Mahathir himself is no Islamist but (in the words of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman) "about as forward-looking a Muslim leader as we're likely to find" also points to the pervasiveness of anti-Jewish bias.
Anchor: Do you like them?
Anchor: Why don't you like them?
Basmallah: Because . . .
Anchor: Because they are what?
Basmallah: They're apes and pigs.
Anchor: Because they are apes and pigs. Who said they are so?
Basmallah: Our God.
Anchor: Where did he say this?
Basmallah: In the Koran.
The Muslim world today resembles Germany of the 1930s.
In its attitudes toward Jews, the Muslim world today resembles Germany of the 1930s -- a time when state-sponsored insults, caricatures, conspiracy theories and sporadic violence prepared Germans for the mass murder that followed.
The same might be happening today. Wild accusatory comments like Mahathir's have become banal. Against Israelis, violence has already reached a rate approaching one death per day over the past three years. Outside Israel, violence against Jews is also persistent: a Jewish building blown up in Argentina, Daniel Pearl's murder in Pakistan, stabbings in France, the Brooklyn Bridge and LAX killings in the United States.
These episodes, plus calling Jews "apes and pigs," could serve as the psychological preparation that one day leads to assaulting Israel with weapons of mass destruction. Armaments chemical, biological and nuclear would be the successors of Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Dachau. Millions of Jews would perish in another Holocaust.
As in the 1930s, the world at large -- including the U.S. government -- again seems not to note the deadliness of processes now underway. Anti-Jewish rhetoric and violence are decried, to be sure, but with little sense of urgency and even less of their cumulative impact.
Condoleezza Rice and other top-ranking officials need to recognize the power and reach of the anti-Jewish ideology inculcated among Muslims, then develop active ways to fight it. This evil has already taken innocent lives; unless combated it could take many more.
Accepting the Reality of Islamic anti-Semitism
by Charles Jacobs
Last week Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad told the world's Muslims to modernize and unite to defeat the world's Jews. At a major gathering of Islamic leaders of 57 countries, he said, "The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule this world by proxy: They get others to fight and die for them." The Malaysian prime minister received a standing ovation. None of the leaders objected to his assertion of Jewish supremacy. Many European leaders and President Bush denounced the hateful remarks.
The emergence of the new global anti-Semitism has signaled the end of the post-Holocaust respite where Jew-hatred as a mobilizing force, was put on the shelf. Last week's conference was an indication of the growing indecency enveloping the undemocratic leadership of many Islamic countries.
Why? Bernard Lewis, the wise man of Islamic studies, writes that Islam is a civilization which feels humiliated in the face of modern progress: it cannot provide its people with decent economies, political life, democracy, women's rights. When it asks, "What Went Wrong?" (The title of Lewis's exquisite analysis) it takes the easy path, excuses itself, and blames the Jews.
Jews have known about Islamic anti-Semitism for decades: Saudi royals routinely hand out The Protocols to visitors of the Kingdom; the Syrian Defense Minister Mustapha Tlass, published a book offering "evidence" Jews use blood to make matzah. Throughout the Oslo years, the Palestinian Authority taught children that Jews are less than human, have no right to self-determination, and deserve to be killed. Egypt's government-controlled television last year aired a series based on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It was broadcast throughout the Islamic world. The Saudis fund the teaching of Jew-hatred in Wahabi mosques and schools throughout the Islamic world.
The increasing Muslim immigration to Europe and America raises concerns that some of the new arrivals will bring with them the culture of anti-Semitism so prevalent in their home countries.
Indeed, the Jews of Europe, now dwarfed by the Muslim immigrants, are under significant stress. Synagogues and cemeteries and Jews themselves are attacked. Some Jews in France are contemplating leaving their country.
Even in America, the Washington Post revealed that Muslim schools in Virginia teach that Judgment Day will come when Muslims kill Jews and Christians. Steven Emerson has secretly filmed meetings in several American cities where Muslim leaders call for people here to kill the Jews.
The problem of Islamic anti-Semitism is one that the Jewish community has largely ignored over the past decade, although it recently has been getting more attention.
Why? I see four general reasons:
* Psychological denial. Who wants to think, 60 years after the Holocaust, that a new, religious campaign against the Jews could be taking shape? We liked to think the hatred from the Arab world was "street talk" that would dissipate "when peace came." It probably won't.
* Selective reporting by the media. The media is reluctant to discuss the religious dimensions of the conflict in the Middle East because its preferred prepackaged view is that this is a secular struggle for national liberation. It is also reluctant to report negatively about Islam. Steve Emerson is boycotted by PBS.
* Jewish politics. Many in the Jewish community want to believe that the war in Israel is primarily over borders, where compromise is possible. To think that the conflict is about the Jewish right of self-determination in the Islamic realm is daunting. They are also concerned that examples of Islamic anti-Semitism may be used to justify certain Israeli policies.
* Political correctness. We are a liberal people and do not want to speak badly about a race, religion or a people. We seem unable to distinguish between simple factual truth and bigotry. In our multicultural society, we have not yet developed a public language to describe Islamic anti-Semitism without potentially being accused of insensitivity or prejudice.
Some Jewish organizations with a mission to protect us from anti-Semitism, have been slow to deal with the new global anti-Semitism. They seem to be fighting the last war. But hatred is a weapon of mass destruction; anti-Semitic rhetoric has already killed hundreds of Jews in the Middle East and Europe. We must cut through the Jewish political confusion and the political correctness that stymies an honest understanding of the situation. Moreover, the broader American population must also confront Islamic anti-Semitism because too often "the Jews" are a proxy for the West and its values.
We have a responsibility to educate ourselves about this threat. Given today's sensitivities, we cannot always rely on the media or even on some of our secular or religious leaders, who may not feel comfortable speaking about these things, and prefer not to be labeled alarmists.
Dr. Charles Jacobs is president of The David Project (http://davidproject.org/), a grass roots initiative that promotes a fair and honest understanding of the Middle East conflict.