Why Muslims must be at the forefront of fighting anti-Semitism

Jews and Muslims are almost identical victims of European racist hatred.

Muslims against anti-semitism - Reuters
People attend a national gathering to protest the rise of anti-Semitic attacks in Paris, France, February 19, 2019. Banner reads "Muslims against anti-Semitism". [Philippe Wojazer/Reuters]

On October 27, 2018, a gunman entered the Tree of Life Synagogue at the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, while Shabbat morning services were being held. He shot and killed 11 and injured another seven. The murderous act was considered the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States. The suspect, 46-year-old Robert Gregory Bowers, was arrested and charged with dozens of federal crimes. He was a notorious racist with a history of anti-Semitic hate speech on social media.

In 2006, a young Jewish man, named Ilan Halimi, was kidnapped in France by a gang demanding substantial ransom money from his family, “believing them to be rich because he was Jewish”. He was tortured for three weeks and then was found dumped in the suburb of Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois. He died on the way to a hospital. Earlier this year, a tree planted in his name was chopped down.

In England, the record number of anti-Semitic acts in recent years include: “a man who was walking to a synagogue when food was thrown at him from a car, a woman who was spat at in the face on a bus, a Jewish bakery that was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti, and a brick that was thrown at a synagogue’s glass front door”.  

The numbers are staggering and Europe-wide. “Antisemitism is rising sharply across Europe, experts have said,” according to a recent report by the Guardian, “as France reported a 74 percent increase in the number of offences against Jews last year and Germany said the number of violent anti-Semitic attacks had surged by more than 60 percent”. The article further says: “The figures confirm the results of three recent Europe-wide surveys showing Jewish people feel at greater risk, and are experiencing markedly more aggression, amid a generalized increase in racist hate speech and violence in a significantly coarser, more polarized political environment.”

The deep roots of anti-Semitism in Europe are widespread and murderous. From a prolonged history of pogroms to the Crusades to the horrors of the Holocaust, and a long and nasty history in between, European Jews have been the consistent subject of baseless slander, vicious defamation, malignant lies and rumours, wild and vilifying conspiracy theories, all resulting in massacres and ultimately genocide under Nazi Germany. In no other continent, country, or culture have Jews ever been so brutalised as they have been in Europe.

Although no other clime or continent is entirely immune to it, anti-Semitism is a specifically European disease, with European Christianity a main culprit in the carnage. The implications of the Pope Pius XII (1876-1958) during the European Holocaust has earned him the title of “Hitler’s Pope”. In Roots of Hate: Anti-Semitism in Europe before the Holocaust (Cambridge, 2003), William I Brustein offers a wide spectrum of the religious, racial, economic, and political roots of this European disease.

Critique of Zionism is not anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism is a horrid fact, and Zionists have turned anti-Semitism into an even more horrid false charge. The recent examples of Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar and Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party in the UK, exemplify the consistent and systematic abuse of the charge of anti-Semitism levelled against anyone anywhere who dares to raise her or his voice in support of Palestinians criticising the murderous history of Zionism in the course of the occupation and theft of Palestine.

Submit to the Zionist theft of Palestine and slaughter of Palestinians silently – anything other than that you are an anti-Semite to Zionists. They rode on that hobby horse until their delusional ship ran aground. 

Based on their public positions, neither Omar nor Corbyn is anti-Semitic. They are merely and mildly critical of the Israeli policies, and in the case of Omar of the inordinate and pernicious power of the Zionist lobbies in the US. That does not make them anti-Semites. That makes them critical of a colonial project and its active propaganda machinery.

The charge of anti-Semitism is not light. The Zionists know what they are doing. They unleash the charge to silence, paralyse and neutralise their political opponents. For a long time, they were successful, until their trick became known around the globe.

The Zionists claim that the establishment of the state of Israel is to protect Jews against persecution. This is a false claim. The establishment of the state of Israel in Palestine, where Jews have always lived alongside Muslims and Christians, was a European colonial project and as such has exacerbated the terror coming towards the Jews. 

Today, anti-Semitism is real and Zionists are categorically unqualified even to detect, let alone to fight it. Jews are the victims, Zionists the beneficiaries of anti-Semitism. The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, freely and openly elected as the top political figure of the Zionists, is a rank racist with a widespread coalition with all other racists, including anti-Semites, chief among them the US President, Donald Trump.  

Zionists have weaponised the charge of anti-Semitism and seek to paralyse, punish, and neutralise those who dare to speak on behalf of Palestinians. This very violent act disqualifies Zionists from bringing the charge against anyone – even, and in fact in particular, against the real anti-Semites. To fight anti-Semitism, the fighter must have moral authority. As a racist apartheid state, Israel lacks that moral authority. As an ideology of racist occupation of Palestine, Zionism lacks that moral authority. As active, hardcore or liberal advocates of that ideology of land theft, occupation and incremental genocide of Palestinians, Zionists lack that moral authority.

Crying wolf

Zionists have two deadly weapons at their disposal, both of which are now entirely useless and outdated: first is their massive stockpile of nuclear weapons and second their empty slander of anti-Semitism.  

From when they write highfalutin opinion pieces in Haaretz or the New York Times or anything else in between to when they demand and exact masses of billions of dollars of military extortion from the US, Zionists rely on these two weapons – that they are the only nuclear power in their region at the service of the empire and that anyone daring to tell them they are a gang of racist European settler colonial thieves stealing Palestine one settlement at a time, they start kicking and screaming, like that proverbial shepherd: “Wolf!”

They have for so long for so many times and on so many false occasions cried wolf to silence their political adversaries that today no one believes them even if they detect real anti-Semitism.  

If not Zionists, then who has the moral authority to detect and fight anti-Semitism?

First and foremost, Jews themselves have been fighting against anti-Semitism for a long and sustained history. They are the victims of this deadly European disease. They have paid heavily and dearly for that hatred. They lead the way on the global battle against all kinds of racism, of anti-Semitism in particular.

In a recent piece titled, “Debunking the myth that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic”, Peter Beinart has rightly pointed out “all over the world, it is an alarming time to be Jewish – but conflating anti-Zionism with Jew-hatred is a tragic mistake”. It is more than a “mistake”. It is a treacherous trap. Beinart is one among countless other critical thinkers and progressive Jews and Jewish organisations that have openly, boldly and persuasively argued against equating the critic of Israel or even Zionism with the hatred of Jews.

As a matter of principle, I disagree with a critical thinker first declaring he is Jewish before engaging in a critic of Israel or Zionism. I would never begin my critique of militant Islamism, or of ISIL (or ISIS), or of Saudi Arabia, or any other ruling Muslim regime, by first declaring – “I am a Muslim”. Jews have always been at the vanguard of all sorts of social justice movements. Their opposition to Israel or Zionism is not an exception. It is the success of the Zionist propaganda if we ever identify Judaism with Zionism.

Politicians like French President Emmanuel Macron who equate the critique of Zionism with anti-Semitism are demonstrating their historical and intellectual illiteracy. As Azmi Bishara points out in a recent essay, anti-Zionism is a substantially Jewish phenomenon. Jews have been at the forefront of battling Zionism. In his historical ignorance, or political charlatanism, or a combination of both, Macron is turning Jews against themselves.

Muslims must be at the vanguard

It is the moral and political duty of Muslims to join Jews in their fight against anti-Semitism. Muslims must be at the forefront of fighting anti-Semitism because Islamophobia is the other side of the selfsame disease. Neither Israel, nor Saudi Arabia, nor any other Muslim country on planet earth is in a moral position to join Jews and Muslims in this fateful battle.

As the horrific massacre of Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15 shows, Muslims and Jews (as well as African Americans and indeed any other community that these “Whites” consider foreigners in their settler colonies) are the identical victims of racist White supremacists the world over.  

For more than a decade now, I have argued that Islamophobia is the most recent rendition of the selfsame animus that has fuelled European anti-Semitism. Jews and Muslims are almost identical victims of European racist hatred. Historically, Jews have been the internal and Muslims the external other of racist Europeans. In India, Myanmar and China, the ruling Islamophobic elite mimic European racists in their practices.

The recent migration of Muslims into Europe has exacerbated that hatred and rechannelled anti-Semitism into Islamophobia. The European support for Israel, it is crucial to keep in mind, and hatred of Muslims are interconnected. They want European Jews to leave Europe and go to Israel with the same intensity that they wish Muslims to go back to their own countries. European xenophobia is predicated on the selfsame delusional racism that gave birth to Nazism in Europe.

Jews and Muslims are natural allies in this battle against racism in the intertwined forms of entrenched anti-Semitism and widespread Islamophobia. Zionists and racist Europeans know this. The conflation of Zionism and Judaism, as recently staged by Macron, is a false flag to confuse the issue and prevent the active solidarity of these two main victims of their racism.  

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.