When imitation isn’t flattery

This is one of my favorite political stories that falls under the strange but true category. The first time Arab-Americans made a serious effort to form a lobby was in 1972. The National Association of Arab Americans (NAAA) was consciously patterned after its pro-Israel counterpart, AIPAC. In fact, the NAAA even duplicated AIPAC’s stationery, changing only the name. More brazen, however, was the nascent lobby’s request for help from AIPAC. Both AIPAC’s former executive and legislative directors told the story of being outside a hearing room on Capitol Hill and having NAAA director David Saad come over and say, “How would you guys like to earn some extra money? Train my staff.”

This may have been one of the first cases where Israel’s detractors copied a successful approach used by Israel’s friends. You might expect Arab Americans to be savvier, but many believe, along with their Middle Eastern brethren, in the mythology of the omnipotent Jewish lobby. Even while they denigrate Jews and Israelis they imitate us. What distinguished the detractors then and now, including those now roiling college campuses, was put best by AIPAC’s former legislative director, Douglas Bloomfield: “Their position was always, ‘This is what I want you to do to Israel, never anything positive we can do for the Palestinians.’”

The Arab lobby also adopted the terminology of the Israeli lobby and turned it against Israel. For example, Palestinians, like Jews, now live in the “Diaspora” even though Palestinians living abroad did not have to flee pogroms or a holocaust (unless you count the massacres carried out by their fellow Arabs in places such as Jordan, Lebanon and now Syria). Israelis are compared to Nazis, and their actions are characterized as “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide.” The Arab lobby also succeeded in turning the disputed territories into the “occupied West Bank and Gaza.”

Perhaps the most successful appropriation (misappropriation is more accurate) of what Muslims, in particular, see as the Jewish way to silence critics is the invention of “Islamophobia.” In fact, the differences between anti-Semitism and “Islamophobia” are stark.

Anti-Semites do not hate Jews because of anything they have done, or because they are a threat, their animosity is driven by the mere existence of Jews. Anti-Semitism is real and regularly manifested by attacks on Jews. Radical Muslim anti-Semites, like some Christians, believe they have been given divine instructions to hate or destroy the Jewish people. While a critic of Israel might occasionally be inaccurately labeled anti-Semitic, those falsely accused of Jew-hatred are by no means silenced. Usually the more vociferous the critic, especially if they are Jewish, the more attention they receive.

I do not doubt that some people hate Muslims just because they are Muslims. Ignorance of the religion, customs, and distinctions between extremists and most Muslims may lead to bigotry. The same could be said for most types of bigotry. Unlike Jews, Muslims are not the routine targets of attacks – except by their fellow Muslims. In the United States, FBI crime statistics show that except for a brief upsurge after 9/11, the number of hate crimes committed against Muslims has been a small fraction of the number of attacks recorded against Jews.

While Jews are despised simply for being Jewish, most criticism of Islam is directed at the actions of Muslim extremists and specific passages from Islamic scriptures that are problematic, such as the section that says on the Day of Judgement the trees will speak and say, “Oh Muslim, Oh servant of God, here is a Jew hiding behind me. Come here and kill him.”

Moderate Muslims will say the scriptures are misinterpreted or misused, as in the case of the word “jihad,” which they will say refers to a personal struggle. The extremists, however, believe a jihad is a holy war against the infidels.

A phobia, moreover, is an irrational fear and, unless you have been asleep since 9/11, there is good reason to feel threatened by radical Islam. Moreover, the term is not wielded with any subtlety; all critics of Islam are labeled “Islamophobes.” If you pay attention to the usage, it is evident that this is a smear invented to silence critics.

During the last several months, Israel’s detractors on campus, and Muslims seeking to muzzle any unfavorable analysis of Islam, are now adopting the argument Jews have been making that they feel unsafe and that many campuses have a hostile environment toward them. Now, suddenly, Muslim students are complaining to university administrators that they feel vulnerable and that the environment has become hostile toward Muslims. As a result, following the example of the Jews, Muslims have sought protection recently from discrimination by asking the Department of Education to investigate possible violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

I won’t dispute that Muslim students may suffer discomfort or be victims of bigotry, but their experience cannot be compared to what Jews experience. The most important reason is that there is no organized effort to create a hostile environment for Muslims on campus while the nationwide anti-Semitic boycott, divestment and sanctions movement targeting Israel is intentionally designed to unnerve Jewish students. How else can you explain the mock checkpoints, “die-ins,” and eviction notices used by Israel deniers to try to intimidate their Jewish peers?

Law-abiding Muslim citizens and students deserve the same freedoms and protections as any other Americans. When certain Muslim organizations or student groups try to adopt the language and strategies of Jews who face real discrimination in the hope of gaining sympathy and silencing critics, however, their imitations are the most insincere form of flattery. 

Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.