Resurrecting an Ancient Face of Evil
Virulent anti-Semitism is alive and well, and proliferates across the Arab world.
The Holocaust had begun to feel like ancient history, but the urgent new
focus on the Middle East reminds us all how virulent anti-Semitism lives as
a force in the world.
Just as the Nazis forged a militant fanatical hatred of Jews, Islamic
fanatics have forged a modern theory of hatred, illustrated by similar
Nazi-like depictions of Jews.
In "Peace: The Arabian Caricature: A Study of Anti-Semitic Imagery," Arieh
Stav, director of the Ariel Center for Policy Research in Tel Aviv,
documents the vicious anti-Semitic cartoons that proliferate in the Arab
world with public and official endorsement. Historically, these caricatures
are not to the Arab world, but what this book makes clear is that in
the Middle East today they are commonplace, generating stereotypes of evil,
fusing anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism.
In the present crisis, the portrait of the Jew in the Middle East emerges as
an ugly and perverse mix of theological, moral, racial, social and political
negatives. If you think these images are pushed only by the usual suspects,
such as Syria and Iraq, think again. They proliferate across the spectrum of
our so-called allies in the coalition, including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia
and Kuwait. These caricatures are all the more powerful because they're
graphically dramatic and symbolic in countries where many people cannot
Jews in the Middle East are described as a cancer in the body of the Arab world, a malignant tumor that must be surgically removed.
Jews were forced to wear a yellow patch with a six-pointed star in
"sophisticated" Europe, identifying them as vermin that had to be
exterminated. In the Middle East, the Jews of Israel are caricatured as
snakes and cockroaches, to be similarly annihilated.
Eastern European Jews were frequently described in metaphors of disease, to
be eliminated lest they infect the larger society. Jews in the Middle East
are described as a cancer in the body of the Arab world, a malignant tumor
that must be surgically removed.
Stav's book, written two years ago, illustrates how popular cartoons
generate violent attitudes toward Israel in general and Jews in particular.
Just as in Germany, where Jews over the years sometimes earned reprieve from
prejudice, Jews have enjoyed occasional protection from Muslim rulers in the
past. But it's naive to think that anti-Semitism isn't a driving force of
modern Islamist terrorism.
One of the stubborn rumors that circulated among Muslims immediately after
Sept. 11 (and among certain other Israel-bashers) was that the airplane
attacks were initiated by Mossad, the Israeli secret service. The rumor was
accompanied by the kind of lie that lent both specificity and credibility,
that 4,000 Jews who worked in the World Trade Center were warned not to show
up for work, and escaped the catastrophe.
The rumor was quickly squelched in this country when many of the dead and
missing were identified as Jews. But the rumor has the legs of "unshakable
truth" for Muslims in the streets of Cairo, Jerusalem, Riyadh, even London.
More than half a century ago, anti-Semitism was indelibly imbedded in the
psyche of the Third Reich, which led inexorably to the Holocaust. But in
recent years, the Germans have worked tirelessly to document that terrible
past and its government has spoken out boldly about the threat of Islamist
terrorism. Many Germans are humiliated that they unwittingly gave shelter to
several of the terrorists who flew the death planes.
When Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder returned home after meeting George Bush in
Washington this month after surveying the destruction of the terrorists, he
suggested that Germany is now prepared to enter a new phase in its
post-World War II history, to send its army abroad "in defense of freedom
and human rights." This is not likely to thrill millions of Europeans, but
it shows where German sentiment lies.
He expressed the "unreserved solidarity" of his government behind the United
States. He has endured criticism from the Green Party's pacifist wing and
part of his coalition, which has demanded a pause in the bombing of
Many of the Greens, however, including Joschka Fischer, the German foreign
secretary, remain mindful not only of the free world's vulnerability to the
terrorists if they are not stopped, but of the terrible treatment women,
children and minorities suffer daily at the hands of the Taliban.
These Germans have learned from their country's history and rediscovered a
conscious awareness that both words and deeds are needed to fight against
evil. They remind us all that this is no time to be a passive bystander.
This article originally appeared in The Washington Times on October 22, 2001.