When you have studied the output of anti-Israel activists for as long as I have, you know not only that anti-Zionism is usually just a flimsy façade for antisemitism, but also that the hypocrisy and bigotry that sustains the intense hatred for the world’s only Jewish state inevitably shapes a broader ideology. Even on issues that have nothing to do with Israel, it is therefore often easy to predict how anti-Israel activists will react. In the immediate aftermath of the massacre at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, I was thus not surprised to see that anti-Israel activists did not join the outpouring of solidarity that swept social media.
Just a few hours after two Islamist terrorists had killed 12 people, veteran Israel-hater Ali Abunimah fumed on Twitter: “US ‘responded’ to 9/11 by invading Iraq. Which country do Internet idiots think France should invade to ‘in response’ to Paris attack?” He then immediately added: “Of course France assisted in many invasions already. Perhaps it can afford one or two more?” In order to leave no doubt that he indeed wanted to blame France’s policies for the terrorist attacks, he clarified his stance a few hours later.
Obviously angered by the solidarity expressed under the trending hashtag #JeSuisCharlie, Abunimah also made it absolutely clear that he preferred maligning the victims of the terror attack by implying that the magazine should be compared to the neo-Nazi site Stormfront.
The often vulgar and always deliberately provocative material published in Charlie Hebdo might seem an easy target for accusations of racism – at least if one overlooks the fact that the magazine is firmly grounded in the centuries-old tradition of radical French anticlericalism and that it has also featured plenty of caricatures offensive to Christian and Jewish (and Israeli) sensibilities. But this is of course something that people eager to accuse Charlie Hebdo of “racism” against Muslims were resolved to ignore.
Moreover, while the horrific attack in Paris initially had nothing whatsoever to do with Israel or Jews, anyone even vaguely familiar with Islamic extremism would have no illusions about the central role of Jew-hatred in this pernicious ideology. By the time an accomplice of the Charlie Hebdo attackers proceeded to prove this point by targeting a kosher supermarket in Paris, anti-Israel activists were keeping themselves busy spreading the argument – helpfully elaborated in a Guardian illustration and an Intercept post by Glenn Greenwald – that anyone who supported Charlie Hebdo caricatures that offended Muslims also had to endorse Nazi-style antisemitic caricatures for the sake of free speech.
Much to the delight of his fans, Greenwald gleefully suggested on Twitter that he had unmasked the anti-Muslim bigotry of Charlie Hebdo supporters: “The professed love for cartoons which malign religions & their adherents sure dissipates fast when applied to some groups rather than others.”
To make his point, Greenwald reproduced several antisemitic cartoons – some of them from Arab/Muslim media – which he acknowledged as “blasphemous and otherwise offensive.”
He contrasted these examples with what he described as “some not-remotely-blasphemous-or-bigoted yet very pointed and relevant cartoons by the brilliantly provocative Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff.”
As Greenwald surely knows, much of Latuff’s Israel-related work has been criticized as antisemitic, and Latuff himself actually doesn’t mind mingling with Jew-haters: in 2006, Iran’s Holocaust-denying president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used the pretext of the Danish Mohammed cartoon controversy to sponsor a “Holocaust Cartoon Contest” in which Latuff took part, sharing the second prize with a French entry depicting “The myth of the gas chambers.”
While Greenwald claimed he was focusing on “cartoons which malign religions & their adherents,” he tellingly included a Latuff cartoon from 2006 that was apparently drawn in support of Ahmadinejad’s “Holocaust Cartoon Contest.”
It is beyond the scope of this post to explain why supposedly intelligent 21st-century progressives would argue that, if it is acceptable to caricature people who are regarded by believers as historic religious leaders, it must be equally acceptable to caricature the industrialized mass-murder of a long-persecuted minority in 20th century Europe.
But in the unlikely case that Greenwald would like us to somehow ponder Muslim religious leaders and the Holocaust in a context relevant to the atrocities in Paris, one could cite the enormously influential Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi who has described Hitler as a tool of divine punishment for the Jews and expressed the hope that “Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers.” In this context, one could also point out that when Qaradawi implored his god to “take this oppressive, Jewish, Zionist band of people” and “count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one,” he did so based on the apparently widely shared Muslim belief in a divinely ordained battle “between the collective body of Muslims and the collective body of Jews i.e. all Muslims and all Jews.”
It is this kind of beliefs – which, as far as I know, have not been explicitly repudiated by any influential Muslim cleric – that continue to allow radicalized Muslims to feel that they act piously when they commit atrocities like those in Paris. While there are liberal Muslims who have highlighted the urgent need for Muslim self-criticism and reforms, it seems that, as far as anti-Israel activists and their supporters in the media are concerned, these problems must be kept out of the spotlight. So when an Islamist terrorist targets a kosher supermarket in Paris, it’s just another great opportunity to make the case that a 7th century businessman and warlord who founded a religion cannot be mocked in cartoons as long as the almost successful 20th-century attempt to wipe out Europe’s Jews cannot be ridiculed. No doubt Jew-haters everywhere would agree with this approach.