In September 1947, Jewish officials pleaded with the leaders of the Arab League
to make peace with the emerging State of Israel.
The League rebuffed the
offer, claiming the Arabs would eject the Jews of Palestine as the Muslims had
thrown the Crusaders out of the Middle East centuries before.
years later, Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser claimed the medieval Crusades
“represented nothing else than imperialism, domination and despotism in every
sense of these terms.”
Today, it is the jihadists – Muslim
fundamentalists calling for holy war against their enemies – who demand the
extermination of the “Zionist Crusaders.” The holy wars of the past obsess
But let us look at historical reality.
Pope Urban II addressed a council of bishops in the French city of Clermont,
calling for Christians to retake the Holy Land from the Muslim Turks. The pope’s
“Soldiers of Christ” would avenge the Turks’ harassment of Christian pilgrims to
the Holy Land and their desecration of Christian holy places in Jerusalem by
hastening “to exterminate this vile race” of Muslims.
fundamentalists have seized on the medieval pope’s words to prove that Europeans
were out to destroy Islam, the truth behind the Crusade is far more complex. In
1054 the pope in Rome and the patriarch in Constantinople excommunicated each
other during an argument over theological issues. When the Eastern Christians
called for Rome’s help in preventing the Turks from sacking Constantinople 40
years after the schism, Urban saw an opportunity to unite
This was the pope’s primary goal – not the destruction of
In 1099 the knights of the First Crusade captured Jerusalem from
the Seljuk Turks. While the crusade was a disaster for the Jews of the
Rhineland, it certainly was as severe a defeat for the Muslims.
scholar Bernard Lewis has shown, the Crusades aroused “very little interest”
The Muslim holy war to expel the Christian invaders did
not begin until almost a century after the initial Crusader
The Muslims only took action against the Crusader kingdoms
when the Christians launched a series of raids that harassed pilgrims to Mecca.
Had the Crusaders not threatened Mecca, the 1187 Muslim victory by Saladin to
take back Jerusalem from the Christians might not have taken place.
all of Nasser’s and Osama bin Laden’s boasting about ousting the “Zionist
Crusaders” from the Middle East, the reality of the Muslim response to the
Christian holy wars is very different from the way it has been mythologized by
propagandists in the post-colonial epoch.
The Crusades were far from a
“clash of civilizations.” According to historian Efraim Karsh, “there was no
total war on either side, let alone an ideological one.” The native population
of Palestine viewed the Crusaders as just another foreign power to dominate them
following the Arabs, the Egyptian Fatimids and the Seljuk Turks. Muslim
dynasties vied with each other for domination of the Middle East and were not
shy about concluding commercial treaties and political alliances with
The Crusades were not an all-out war of Muslim versus
For the past two centuries, Western domination of the Middle
East has heightened the importance of the Crusades in Muslim
Jihadists see in Saladin an inspiration to destroy Israel and
eliminate the West. The Muslim world, which not long ago exerted great power
over the Middle East, has gone into decline. The Ottoman Empire that once
besieged Vienna is now a memory. Mustafa Kemal of Turkey abolished the
traditional Islamic leadership posts of the sultan and caliph more than 90 years
While the Islamic world today decries “Crusader imperialism,” the
reality is that the West has thwarted the imperial dreams of Muslims to control
much of the world. The rise of a Jewish state in the heart of Muslim lands in
the Middle East has overturned traditional Islamic conceptions of Jews being an
inferior people who should be punished for rejecting Muhammad.
fundamentalists have reinvented the events of centuries ago to suit their
agenda. They distort history to justify murder. The jihadists libel the Jewish
people by calling the Zionists a movement of Crusaders. But the medieval knights
did not yearn for redemption in Jerusalem. The French, English and German
warriors who fought under the banner of the cross could not trace their origin
back to the Land of Israel. Palestine was not the Promised Land of the Christian
Jews have never been Crusaders.
The Jewish connection
to the Land of Israel is organic and ancient. Jewish redemption and the Jewish
future are centered on the Land of Israel. Anti-Israel propagandists can
continue to rob the State of Israel of its legitimacy by portraying Jews as a
foreign, imperialist element in the Land of Israel, yet in the end, the truth
will win out. The Zionist movement – an anti-imperialist movement to the core –
returned the Jewish people to their homeland.
The myth of the “Zionist
Crusader” is a distortion of history that has only yielded lies and
The author is the rabbi of Beth Ami Congregation in Boca Raton,