By Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook
Palestinian antisemitism has long been recognized as a vehicle of hatred. From academics teaching that Judaism permits murder and rape of non-Jews, to religious leaders teaching that Islam demands the extermination of Jews, Palestinian antisemitism is a compelling force driving hatred and terror.
The Palestinian Authority depicts Jews as the archetypal force of evil throughout history. Jews are said to be responsible for all the world’s problems: wars, financial crises, even the spreading of AIDS. Jews are a danger to humanity. Whereas this paradigm has been used before, the Palestinians take it a step further, turning demonization of Jews into the basis for Palestinian denial of Israel’s right to exist and a central component of Palestinian national identity. Because of Jews’ evil nature, according to this Palestinian principle, nations of the world have been involved in continuous defensive actions to protect themselves.
The antisemitic oppression, persecution and expulsions suffered by Jews throughout history are presented as the legitimate self-defense responses of nations. Ibrahim Mudayris, a PA religious official, delineated this ideology: “The Jews are a virus similar to AIDS, from which the entire world is suffering. This has been proven in history… Ask Britain!… Ask France!… Ask Portugal… Ask czarist Russia – who invited the Jews and they plotted to murder the czar!… Don’t ask Germany what it did to the Jews, since the Jews are the ones who provoked Nazism to fight the entire world” (PA TV, May 13, 2005).
The apex of this Palestinian ideology, and possibly its purpose, is to use this demonization of Jews as the basis for denying Israel legitimacy and to present Palestinians as the ultimate victims. According to this Palestinian model, the Jews, who are said to have no history in the land, would never have considered coming to “Palestine”: Europeans created Zionism as the final act in the long series of self-defense measures, to rid themselves of the “burden” of the Jews.
Political commentator Fathi Buzia recently explained this on official PA television: “Europe, led by Britain, founded Israel… The Jews in the time of Herzl caused European societies to lose sleep. They wanted to be rid of them, and implanted them in Palestine” (PA TV, June 17). Dr Riad al-Astal, a history lecturer at Al Azhar University in Gaza, explained it this way: “In aiding Zionism, Britain’s first aim was to be rid of the Jews, who were known to provoke disputes and disturbances and financial crises in Germany, France and other European states” (PA TV, December 28, 2003).
This demonization of Jews as the reason for delegitimizing Israel has been an integral part of Palestinian ideology, voiced by political, academic and religious leaders since the establishment of the PA. Already in 1998 the official PA daily described both Hitler’s attempt to exterminate the Jews and British support for Zionism as defensive measures: “Hitler did not have colonies to send the Jews so he destroyed them, whereas Balfour… [turned] Palestine into his colony and sent the Jews. Balfour is Hitler with colonies, while Hitler is Balfour without colonies.
They both wanted to get rid of the Jews… Zionism was crucial to the defense of the West’s interests in the region, [by] ridding Europe of the burden of its Jews” (Al-Hayat al-Jadida [Fatah], June 12, 1998). This is not merely incitement; this is the foundation of Palestinian ideology. Israel is denied legitimacy and Palestinian victimhood becomes the foundation upon which a Palestinian national identity is created. Therefore, the Palestinian antisemitism construct is so problematic and hard to dislodge.
Since the aim of Palestinian antisemitism is not merely to promote hatred, but part of a systematic demonization of Jews to deny Israel’s right to exist, proving that Jews are evil has become an element of the ongoing Palestinian narrative. Indeed, even in the period of the Annapolis Conference, the PA has never stopped disseminating a steady diet of hatred of Jews and Israelis. It has accused Jews and Israel of spreading AIDS among Palestinians, causing drug addiction among youth, planning to destroy the Aksa Mosque, and murdering Yasser Arafat.
Jews are said to have lived in ghettos not because of European hatred, but because they see themselves as superior and do not want to mix with non-Jews, while the Palestinian chief religious justice recently said that the Koran warns of the Jews’ inherently evil traits. Zionists are said to have forced Palestinians to undergo “selections” during the War of Independence, whereby the fit were put in labor camps and the unfit killed – some even burned alive. All this and much more, since the renewal of the peace process.
The tragic reality is that this Palestinian antisemitism and its conclusions may already be ingrained in Palestinian society. During a talk show for teens on official PA TV, a young girl explained the reason Jews live in Israel: “About the problem of the Jewish presence: You’d agree that the Jewish presence in the land of Palestine was nothing but the liberation of all the countries of the world from the source of evil.
The evil that is found in the Jews has become a germ among us, which is a cancer that buried us and is still burying. And we are the ones who suffer from this cancer” (PA TV, June 23, 2002). The adult moderator did not correct her. And why should he? She was merely reiterating the basis of Palestinian national identity.
In other countries, antisemitism has been a tool to promote hatred for a variety of internal reasons. As such, when hatred was no longer necessary, antisemitism as a government policy could be eradicated, as in post-Nazi Germany. But the goal of PA demonization of Jews transcends mere hatred.
Antisemitism is its political tool to defame Zionism, deny Israel’s right to exist and create victimhood as the glue that cements Palestinian national identity. Because this political goal will exist as long as Israel exists, Palestinian antisemitism will be much harder to uproot. If there is ever to be peace in the region, Palestinians must define a new Palestinian national identity – one that doesn’t rely on antisemitism and the eradication of Israel’s legitimacy as its foundation.
Itamar Marcus Israeli political activist; founder and director of Palestinian Media Watch , which studies Palestinian society by monitoring and analyzing the Palestinian Authority through its media and schoolbooks
Barbara Crook is associate director and North American representative of Palestinian Media Watch. She teaches at the School of Journalism and Communications at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.