Anti-Semitism re-emerges in the Arab Spring

Libyan Jew returned to Tripoli to assist in rebellion and restore synagogue only to find himself surrounded by hostile mob.

Aleppo Rally 311 R (photo credit: Reuters)
Aleppo Rally 311 R
(photo credit: Reuters)
In Middle East politics, it is traditional to blame Israel, “the Zionists” and “the Jews” for all the problems afflicting the Muslim and Arab worlds.
“The Jews” have long been used by unfriendly regimes as a convenient distraction from their own peoples’ misery, and its causes. Many hoped that the Arab Spring indicated an end to this racist and counterproductive tradition, since initially, Israel was hardly mentioned as a cause of societal problems. For once, the finger of blame was rightly being pointed at their dictatorial regimes.
However, sadly, as American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg recently noted (Bloomberg News, November 28), it is now clear that across those countries liberated from Arab dictators, “the Jews” are once again the regional scapegoats.
In Libya, reports say deposed dictator Gaddafi is now widely claimed to have been of Jewish origin, with his regime accused of acting in support of Zionism. The fact that Gaddafi called for Israel’s destruction, passed laws discriminating against Libya’s expelled Jewish population and expressed anti-Semitic views has not diminished this rumor’s popularity.
After Gaddafi’s fall, David Gerbi, a Libyan Jew, returned to Tripoli hoping to assist the rebellion and restore the main synagogue. Soon he found himself surrounded by a hostile mob, holding signs reading “There is no place for Jews in Libya.” Hatred towards Jews is also prominent in the lyrics of popular rap songs, for example: “The anger won’t die, the one who will die is Gaddafi, his supporters and the Jews.”
In Syria the opposition is spreading a rumor that Assad, no friend of Israel and a supporter of terror groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, is a Jewish agent. Syrian writer Osama al-Malouhi wrote recently on an opposition website that Jews “want that sucker of Syrian blood to remain and continue to prey and suck blood... asking myself why Jewish support of Bashar increased after they saw rivers of Syrian blood this mass-murderer spilled in Syrian towns, an old image leapt to my mind, of Jews bleeding people and using their blood to prepare matzas.”
This trend did not skip Tunisia, where Rashid Ghannouchi, the leader of Islamist party Ennahdha (which won 41 percent of the votes in the October elections and is often described as “moderate”) recently stated that he brings “glad tidings that the Arab region will get rid of the germ of Israel.” The draft Tunisian constitution prohibits diplomatic relations with Israel, apparently even if peace is made with the Palestinians.
ARAB MEDIA remains filled with politicians and religious, academic and public figures expressing anti- Semitic views. For example, Tamer Mustafa, a “Zionism researcher,” in an October 12 interview with Lebanon’s Al Manar TV somewhat ironically argued that “racism is deeply rooted in the souls of the followers of the Jewish religion,” for which he blamed the Torah, saying it was infused with “the spirit of racism.”
And in a classic example of anti- Semitic double-think on the Holocaust, he insisted both that Zionists helped “the Nazis to kill groups of Jews so that the others would be forced to emigrate to Palestine” and that the Holocaust never occurred and was simply “lies.”
Many of the worst manifestations of anti-Semitism come from Egypt, which has been a fertile ground for anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. Even liberal leaders and politicians seem convinced that Jews conspire against Egypt’s economy.
Presidential candidate and owner of Al Faraeen TV, Tawfiq Okasha, outlined his own take on alleged Jewish control over the West and the global economy on his station on October 31: “The Jews, who devised the philosophy of the American economic system, placed a pyramid and an eye on the back of the dollar bill – symbols of global Freemasonry... The US has adopted an economic policy which was established and is run by Jewish economic experts, in order to subordinate this policy to the philosophy of global Freemasonry [which] enables them to maintain their grip upon the nations.”
Okasha also blamed the Jews for the historical internal divisions in Christianity, claiming “Jewish translators” deliberately introduced linguistic differences in Christian texts “in order to distort the essence of the Christian faith.”
Egyptian cleric Amin al-Ansari is also a fan of conspiracy theories, mixed with some good-old-fashioned sexism. In an interview on Al Rahma TV on October 26, 2011, Ansari claimed that Jews manipulate women in order to maintain their control over the world, quoting from “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and adding: “...when Zionism and Judaism benefit, it means the decline not only of Muslim women, but of humanity as a whole.”
Anti-Semitism in Egypt is also prevalent in Egyptian daily life. While reporting from Cairo, BBC journalist Thomas Dinham was attacked because he was thought to be Jewish: “Someone pushed me from behind with such force that I nearly fell over. Turning around, I found myself surrounded by five men, one of whom tried to punch me in the face. I stopped the attack by pointing out how shameful it was for a Muslim to assault a guest in his country, especially during Ramadan... I was appalled by the apology offered by one of my assailants. ‘Sorry,’ he said contritely, offering his hand, ‘we thought you were a Jew.’”
Meanwhile, on the eve of parliamentary elections, Dr. Ahmed al- Tayeb, the head of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University and thus the most senior religious authority in the Sunni Islamic world, addressed a 5,000-strong rally that was chanting “Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv: Judgment Day has come,” and a Koranic statement that “one day we shall kill all the Jews.”
Bizarrely, Tayeb blamed Jews for attempting to prevent Islamic and Egyptian unity by controlling the al- Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
While entrenched dictators have been successfully toppled, it appears the entrenched anti-Semitism which they helped nurture in their societies will be much harder to uproot.
The writer is a policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council in Melbourne.