Antisemitism is a form of bigotry that is over 2500 years old. As such, it existed long before Arab imperialism. That said, it was the Arab Caliphates (empires) that brought antisemitism to some regions of the Middle East and North Africa — including the Arabian Peninsula and some parts of North Africa — where previously antisemitic sentiment had been virtually non-existent.
Today the Arab world is deeply antisemitic. According to the Global Index of Antisemitism, 74% of the Arab world holds predominantly antisemitic attitudes. Much of this antisemitism, of course, was brought to the region by European colonizers. But at its core, the antisemitism of the region is deeply intertwined with the violent legacy of Arab colonialism and imperialism.
I’m sorry that I have to leave the comments closed for this post, as I’m sure there could be some interesting discussion. However, I know that the comment section will quickly spiral into antisemitism, racism, and Islamophobia, and I refuse to entertain that on my page. As such, the comments will remain closed.
Jews have lived in the Arabian Peninsula since Biblical times, when parts of the Arabian Peninsula were a dependency of the Kingdom of Judah. By the seventh century, the Jews of Arabia had divided into various tribes, most notably, the Banu Nadir, Banu Qainuga, and Banu Qurayza.
In 627, Muhammad’s native tribe, the Quraysh, besieged the city of Medina. In this atmosphere, tensions mounted between Muhammad’s Muslim followers and the Jewish tribes. While initially the Jewish Banu Qurayza tried to remain neutral, they later tried to enter into negotiations with Muhammad’s enemies. Subsequently, they were charged with treason.
All of the men in the Qurayza tribe — as many as 700-900, according to the eighth century Islamic historian Ibn Ishaq — were beheaded. According to most sources, all of the women and children were taken prisoners and sold into slavery. The Qurayza tribe was completely exterminated, save for some that were able to flee. As such, historians have referred to this event as a genocide. Meanwhile, the other Jewish tribes, the Banu Nadir and Banu Qainuga, were exiled from Medina, despite the fact that they had allied with the Muslims.
Fast forward to today: Islamism — not to be confused with Islam — is an extremist, antisemitic political ideology. Islamists cite this event — the extermination of a Jewish tribe following the Islamic conquest of Medina — as the core source of their antisemitism. In other words, Arab and Islamic imperialism is inextricably tied to dangerous antisemitic sentiment in the region.
KHAYBAR KHAYBAR, YA YAHUD
In his early conquests, Muhammad and his followers faced fierce resistance from many Jews who refused conversion to Islam. Perhaps most significant was the Battle of Khaybar, an oasis about 150 km away from Medina, in the Arabian Peninsula.
Following the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Jewish tribes from Medina, Jews in Khaybar united with non-Muslim Arabian tribes to protect themselves from Muslim attacks. This alliance violated the Charter of Medina, drawn up by Muhammad a few years earlier. According to Islamic sources, Muhammad had a prophetic vision that the Jews were conspiring to kill him. As such, Muhammad and his followers attacked the Jews of Khaybar.
The attack ended in the defeat and surrender of the Jews, who were then permitted to stay in Khaybar so long as they paid a 50% tax. However, less than a decade later, the Jews of Khaybar were expelled by the second Arab Caliph (i.e. emperor), even though Jews had lived in Khaybar for over 600 years.
Today, at “anti-Israel” rallies, we still hear the chant “Khaybar, khaybar ya Yahud, Jaish Muhammad, sa Yahud,” translating to “Jews, remember Khaybar, the army of Muhammad is returning,” making direct reference to this event.
THE INDIGENOUS ISSUE
During the life of Muhammad and in the 1400 years following his death, Islam spread throughout Asia, Africa, and even parts of Europe as the result of the conquests of various Arab and Islamic empires. As such, Islam became the dominant religion in these regions and Jews — as well as other religious and ethnic minorities — became “dhimmis,” or “protected citizens” of second class status.
Following Muhammad’s death, the Islamic empires conquered lands exponentially quickly. As a result of this rapid colonization, the Muslim authorities were faced with the “problem” of how to handle the conquered Indigenous peoples that resisted conversion to Islam.
This “problem” was solved with a treaty between Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Muslims in Mesopotamia, Syria, and Jerusalem known as the Pact of Umar (this was later expanded to include other ethnoreligious minorities, such as Hindus).
This so-called treaty allowed select religious and cultural minorities (known as “People of the Book”) to practice their beliefs so long as they paid the “jizya” tax and abided by a set of restrictive, second-class citizenship laws.
In abiding by these laws, Jews and other minorities were ensured protection of their person, families, and possessions (in reality, this wasn’t always the case). In order to free themselves from this second-class status, minorities had to convert to Islam or fight alongside Muslims in battle.
THE UGLY REALITY OF DHIMMITUDE
Unfortunately, this dhimmi status has been widely glorified as evidence that the Arab Empire was “tolerant,” when, in reality, it was highly oppressive to ethnic and religious minorities, often forcing them into poverty and restricting them to ghettos, among other things. The strict enforcement of dhimmi laws varied depending on the time period and region.
This is what dhimmitude was really like for Jews:
Jews were forbidden from building new synagogues. Synagogues could not be taller than mosques and the homes of Jews could not be taller than the homes of Muslims. Jews could not raise their voices during Muslim prayer times. Jewish children could not be taught the Quran. Jewish funerals had to be quiet and Jews could not be buried near Muslims. Jews had to show deference to Muslims; for example, if a Muslim wished to sit where a Jew was sitting, the Jewish person had to give up their seat. Muslims were prohibited from converting to Judaism. Jews had to dress differently than Muslims. Jews had to wear identifying yellow belts or turbans and had to cut off their sidelocks. Jews could not ride the same animals as Muslims and could not use a saddle. Jews were forbidden from taking Muslim titles. Jews could not own weapons. Jews had to host Muslim passerbys for 3 days. Jews could not govern, lead, or employ Muslims. Jews could not buy a Muslim prisoner or slaves who had been allotted to Muslims. Jews could not engrave Arabic inscriptions on signet seals. Jewish witnesses were not admissible in court. Jews were subject to a “jizya” tax. Jews could not join the military or work for the government. When harmed by a Muslim, Jews had to purchase Muslim witnesses, which left Jews with virtually no legal recourse. Jews could not marry a Muslim woman. Jews could not criticize Islam or the Quran on penalty of death.
Pan-Arabism is a political ideology that advocates for the unification of countries in North Africa and Southwest Asia (the Middle East) in an effort to reunify what was once the Arab Empire. In other words, it’s a modern iteration of Arab imperialism. Pan-Arabism is closely tied to the beginnings of Arab nationalism.
The rise of modern Arab nationalism can be dated to 1911, when Arab intellectuals from across the Levant (Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and parts of Turkey) met to form an Arab nationalist club with the stated goal of “raising the level of the Arab nation to the level of modern nations.” In 1913, they met for the Arab Congress, where they asserted a growing desire for independence from Ottoman rule.
During World War I, Great Britain sponsored Arab nationalism as a means to weaken the Ottoman Empire, so much so that the pan-Arabist flag, which represents the various stages of Arab imperialism, was designed by none other than Mark Sykes, most known for negotiating the Sykes-Picot Agreement (a secret plan between Great Britain and France to carve up the Middle East for themselves). To this day, most Arab national flags, including the Palestinian flag, derive from the pan-Arabist flag.
Nazism also deeply influenced pan-Arabist movements, which I will discuss in the last slide.
Pan-Arabism, Arab imperialism, and the intersection of both with antisemitism is hardly a thing of the past. Hamas, the militant terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip, for example, accuses Jews of instigating World War I as a plot to break up the Arab Empire (Article 22). The current charter of the Palestinian Authority — the internationally-recognized Palestinian government — states that Palestine is “an indivisible part of the Arab homeland” (Article One). The “Arab homeland,” of course, refers to the entirety of the Arab world. The “Arab homeland” is Arabia. Palestine — and the rest of the “Arab world” — only became Arab because of Arab imperialism.
Antisemitism is deeply ingrained and systemic in West Asia and North Africa, so much so that according to the Global Index of Antisemitism, 74% of the population of the region holds predominantly antisemitic attitudes. As such, most of the region, whether Arab/Arabized or not, subscribes to antisemitic tropes and falsehoods about the Jewish People.
For this reason, colonizers and those in systemic power throughout the region — generally Arabs or, in the case of Iran, Persians — commonly smear Indigenous independence movements as “Zionist.” They know that such an accusation will delegitimize their local Indigenous Peoples’ fight for sovereignty in the eyes of the public. In other words, colonizers engage in antisemitism to silence the Indigenous Peoples of the region.
Some examples of this:
(1) In 1966, Iraqi defense minister Abd al-Aziz al-Uqayli claimed that the Indigenous Kurds aimed to establish a “second Israel” in the Middle East, and that, should they be successful, the Arab world would face “a second Nakba.” To this day, the Arab media compares Kurdistan to “Yahudistan” (“Yahud” meaning “Jew” in Arabic), positioning Israel as the ultimate evil in the region.
(2) the popular book “B*rbère de Sion” claims that Indigenous Amazigh identity is a French and Zionist “invention.” Imazighen are an Indigenous People of North Africa, with an identity that dates back thousands of years, long before the Arab conquest of the region.
(3) the Iranian regime recently accused “Zionists” for supposedly instigating the current protests against the Islamic Republic.
(4) for decades, Imazighen in Morocco have fought for recognition and civil rights. In 2010, Al Jazeera and other local outlets accused Zionists of “manipulating” the Imazighen in Morocco to destabilize the Moroccan Arab regime.
BRITISH, NAZI, & SOVIET IMPERIALISM, & THE INTERSECTION OF ALL 4
The region of the Middle East and North Africa has experienced numerous waves of colonialism and imperialism at the hands of a plethora of different empires. The Arab Caliphate was neither the first nor the last empire to swallow the region. It was European colonizers that brought European antisemitic tropes to the Arab world.
The British Empire began its colonization of the Middle East in 1798. By the aftermath of World War I, the British controlled an enormous part of the region, including Palestine and Egypt. They also extended their sphere of influence to the Arabian Peninsula. British colonial officers were deeply antisemitic. For example, Sir John Bagot Glubb, who later became the British Commander of the Jordanian Arab Legion against Israel during the 1948 war, considered Jews “unlikeable, aggressive, stiff-necked, vengeful, and imbued with the idea of [being] a superior race.” It was British colonial officers that brought the deeply antisemitic forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” to the Arab world.
While Nazi Germany did not establish colonies in the Middle East in the manner that the British Empire did, it still did what it could to extend its sphere of influence to the Middle East, which is a form of imperialism. Many of the earliest Arab nationalists and pan-Arabists, including the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, were quite literally SS members. The Nazis unabashedly spread their antisemitic propaganda in the Middle East, so much so that it was pro-Nazi sentiment that instigated the Farhud, an anti-Jewish massacre (pogrom) in Iraq that killed up to 1000 Jews.
After World War II, the Soviets took a similar approach to the Middle East, exerting their sphere of influence across the region. In the 1950s, the Soviet Union — itself a major enemy of the Nazis — began exporting actual Nazi propaganda films to the Arab world to further turn Arab public opinion against Israel.
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