By David A. Harris, May 2, 2000
As Israeli and Palestinian negotiators move toward a much-awaited permanent
settlement, there has been a shocking rise in vitriolic antisemitism across
the Arab world. This extraordinary paradox of Israeli and Arab political
leaders attempting to build peace while official Arab media, schools,
religious leaders and intellectuals actively demonize the Jewish people is startling.
When the Islamic mufti of Jerusalem made deeply painful comments repudiating
the facts of the Holocaust, they received wide attention in the Western
world because they came during the remarkable visit to Israel of Pope John Paul II.
Likewise, when the official Syrian government newspaper Tishreen
recently asserted that “Zionists created the Holocaust myth to blackmail and
terrorize the world’s intellectuals and politicians,” the editorial gained
broad attention and condemnation because it appeared amid efforts to
jump-start the stalled Israeli-Syrian peace talks. Less noted was the fact
these two outrages are the rule, not the exception.
Across the Arab world the language of Holocaust denial has become common.
Editorials and columns similar to the one in Tishreen can be found in
Al-Ahram, Al-Akhbar and Al-Gumhuriya, three of the official daily newspapers in Egypt.
In recent weeks, Arab papers have stepped up their attacks on
Israel–and on the Jewish people–by labeling in vile words and in gross
caricatures Israel’s prime minister and foreign minister as Nazis, and
accusing Israel of the most bizarre machinations.
The official newspaper in Qatar, one of two forward-looking gulf nations to
open commercial ties with Israel, has warned that Israel dispatches
beautiful women to advance trade — and undermine the sheikdom.
“Whether these women are from Israel or from Russia, they have one thing in common: the
transmitting of disease and evil in order to cause the collapse of our
economy,” states Al-Sharq.
The official Qatari paper goes on to quote from
the notorious antisemitic forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,”
which is widely available in the Arab world and is often cited by papers in
other Arab countries.
While the Palestinian Authority is obligated through signed agreements with
Israel to work against incitement, its official news organs do not hesitate
to join in the vituperation of Israel and Jews.
Arab schools are in dutiful step with the editorial writers and columnists.
For example, a new study by the Middle East Media Research Institute reveals
that Syrian textbooks for grades 4 to 11 are replete with antisemitism,
Holocaust denial, demonization of Israel and, most appalling, an open call
to exterminate Jews from the earth. Arab media extol the skewed and widely
repudiated views of Holocaust deniers.
While the United Nations has declared antisemitism a form of racism that
must be condemned, Arab intellectuals are preaching it as gospel. As the
noted Johns Hopkins University scholar Fouad Ajami has observed in “The
Dream Palace of the Arabs,” “the custodians of political power” in the Arab
world determined some time ago that “diplomatic accommodation would be the
order of the day, but the intellectual class was given a green light to
agitate against the peace.”
This has long been the situation in Egypt, where as recently as March 28 several
Israeli diplomats invited to a conference at the University of Cairo were denied entry
when they arrived.
But it also is true in Jordan, where, despite the Hashemite Kingdom’s
landmark peace with Israel, professional associations remain adamantly
opposed to any interaction with Israelis.
When we raised our concerns about antisemitism in the Arab media during an
American Jewish Committee mission to five Arab countries last month, our
interlocutors proclaimed this the price of a “free” press and assured us
that comprehensive peace would moderate the media.
At the same time, when pressed on improving their relations with Israel,
government officials plead for patience because, after all, while the
government is more than willing to deepen ties with the Jewish state,
“public opinion” is not yet ready.
What a peculiar situation. Is there no acknowledgment of linkage between
people’s perception of Israel and the daily venom fed them through the Arab
media and school curriculum–all sanctioned by the respective Arab
Israel is prepared to take calculated risks to achieve peace. But the
antagonistic posture of the Arab media, schools, religious leaders and
intellectuals hardly contributes to the climate and culture that are
desperately needed to turn the region from conflict to cooperation.