French Imam Hassen Chalghoumi visits the Western Wall.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
French Imam Hassen Chalghoumi, currently heading a delegation of French Muslims in Israel, said on Wednesday that anti-Zionism is antisemitism, and blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for incitement against Jews in France and Belgium.
Chalghoumi is on his second visit to Israel, which has been organized by ELNET, an NGO dedicated to strengthening Europe-Israel relations. He is leading a group of several young Muslim political, media and social leaders from France and Belgium on a tour of the country.
“Anti-Zionist propaganda is a mask; it is actually antisemitic, but is used to say antisemitic things in a more polite manner,” Chalghoumi told The Jerusalem Post
through a translator.
“What characterizes anti-Zionism is hatred. If we were simply talking about criticism of the State of Israel, we wouldn’t see the hatred and talk of the need to wipe out and destroy Israel,” the imam asserted.
Chalghoumi’s current visit has been designed to help the young Muslim leaders better understand Israel and promote Jewish-Muslim dialogue at home.
The group visited the Knesset on Wednesday and met with ministers and MKs. They later went to the Western Wall, and will also visit Yad Vashem, the Temple Mount, and Israel’s northern and Gaza borders.
After a full day of touring Jerusalem, Chalghoumi said Jerusalem is nothing like he expected.
“I thought I would find closed-minded groups who had few liberties and restricted freedoms,” he said. “Yet I find an open-minded community that are excited to welcome one another with love.... Seeing everyone living here together – Jews, Muslims and Christians – is encouraging and heartwarming.”
Chalghoumi noted that he had expected to feel particularly unwelcome at the Western Wall.
“I was surprised to see that when Arabs, both women and men, entered the Kotel, no one looked weirdly at us or said anything negative or made us feel unwelcome,” he said. “In fact, people wanted to know about our trip, they wished us ‘Baruch Hashem’ [blessed is God] and said prayers for us... We felt very welcome.”
Speaking more broadly, the imam said that he began his efforts to combat extremism and engage in interfaith work following a series of Islamist terrorist attacks in France and Belgium beginning in 2012.
Chalghoumi said that the fact that all of the attacks were carried out by young people led him to try to change the minds of French and Belgian Muslim youth.
“Youth were the heart of the matter, and therefore influencing young Muslim leaders could influence Muslim youths and moderate Muslim-Jewish relations,” he said.
Asked why antisemitism is so prevalent in French and Belgian Muslim communities, where in many neighborhoods Jews cannot wear identifiable Jewish symbols, Chalghoumi said that Islamist groups, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, have been extremely active in the region and have promoted their ideology, which includes classically antisemitic ideas.
He said that the brotherhood has made the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “a flagship issue to unite Muslims in France.” This has helped the group raise money, particularly from Turkey, Qatar and Iran, which have poured money into Islamist groups in Europe to fund their institutions.
“The Muslim Brotherhood is against the Jews and Israel. They use old antisemitic tropes, such as Jews controlling the world, being rich; promote the [fraudulent] Protocols of the Elders of Zion
; and promote hatred of Israel,” Chalghoumi said.
The imam conducts activities in the Paris suburb of Drancy where he lives, and in many of the Parisian neighborhoods with large Muslim communities, to combat these ideas, using interfaith dialogues, shared meals and similar events. Despite the challenges, Chalghoumi said he is confident progress can be made.
“You can’t succeed if you are not optimistic. I have [an ISIS] fatwa on my head, rockets are fired from Gaza to Israel. Yet people carry on and I carry on – because there is no other choice.”
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