In Al Ahram on January 10th, 2003, Osama El-Baz, Husni Mubarak’s senior political adviser, offers an analysis which contrasts anti-Israel vs. anti-Semitic attitudes in the Arab/Muslim world. He concludes, "Arab opposition to Israel never emanated from antagonism by Arab Muslims and Christians towards Jews and Judaism. The Arab conflict with Israel has always been, and should always be depicted as, a contemporary conflict over usurped national rights." El-Baz asserts that anti-Semitism is a Christian/European import which does not apply to Arab/Islamic culture because Jews and Arabs share common physical and spiritual descendants.
I’ll ignore, here, the gross rationalization El-Baz is making regarding the existence of anti-Semitism in Arab/Islamic culture. (Recent counter example: "Praise unto Allah, who cursed our enemies … It is He who warned us of the Jews and of the Jews’ nature in the clearest of terms. We shall battle them and wage Jihad against them …" - Dr. Mahmoud Mustafah Najem, Nov-2-2002 sermon at Sheikh Ejlin Mosque, Gaza, shown on PA TV.). Having made his conclusion, El-Baz then uses it as a basis for a flawed prescription for change.
El-Baz asks Arabs to renounce anti-Semitic beliefs and myths (the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the blood libel, Holocaust denial, Jewish conspiracy theories, etc) in their political discourse, stating that the Arab world has sound anti-colonialist/imperialist reasons for disagreeing with Israel and does not need to rely on bogus anti-Semitic rationales. In return, El-Baz asks Israel to, amongst other things: stop settlement activity; stop killing Palestinian terrorists; redefine itself as "a state for all its citizens" rather than "a democratic Jewish state"; "withdraw unilaterally from the stretch of land it still occupies in southern Lebanon" (note that Israel already withdrew unilaterally from Lebanon and Hezbollah has now moved 8,000+ katyusa rockets into that vacuum under the benign neglect of Syria); and declare to the UN that Israel has no "expansionist designs" on Arab lands (3 or 4 Arab wars with the explicit purpose of wiping the country of Israel off the map notwithstanding).
This is a bad equation. Mr. El Baz is asking the Arab world to stop using anti-Semitic symbols and canards, which all societies should unconditionally reject, and, in return, he is asking Israel to make sweeping political, military, and national definitional changes. A balanced approach would include requests to the Arab/Muslim world such as: 1) Reject terrorist violence against Israel and Israelis and ask all religious and governmental institutions to stop funding and otherwise supporting organizations that support such violence; 2) Unconditionally recognize Israel's right to exist within secure borders; 3) Call on Islamic religious and Arab secular educational institutions to stop preaching hatred of Israel, Jews, and the West in their liturgy and curricula; 4) Demand that the Palestinian leadership work on building social infrastructure and not military capability; and 5) Remove Hezbollah rockets from southern Lebanon and stop diverting water from the Wazzani river.
El-Baz’s language and symbols further erode confidence in his sincerity by subtly denying Israel’s statehood. Every one of his recommendations to the Arab world suggests behavioral modifications towards "Jews"; none mentions "Israel", the country, except to quote Jews who criticize Israel. The first recommendation states, "We must uphold the correct perspective on our relationship with the Jews, as embodied in the legacy of Arab civilization and in our holy scriptures." Is this a prescription for accommodation with the state of Israel? When Islam was ascendant as an empire, Jews and Christians were accorded better status than non-believers ("infidels") but they were still 2nd class citizens and subject to violence, forced conversions, onerous taxes, and limited political and legal rights. They were "tolerated" as "people of the book", but were not truly enfranchised. Jews have not fared well under 20th century Arab governments either. The historic model of Islamic accommodation with the Jewish people which El-Baz is promoting is one of colonial domination, not national recognition.
In sum, El-Baz is shifting the basis of Arab arguments against Israel from ones of anti-Semitism to ones of anti-colonialism. While within this framework he admirably disavows many anti-Semitic beliefs and myths, to use a Western work-world metaphor, "you don’t get promoted for doing your job". All societies should unconditionally reject what Mr. El Baz says his should reject. On the other hand, Mr. El-Baz’s concrete prescriptions for political change are one-sided against Israel, and he continues to use rhetoric and symbolism that implicitly denies Israel’s statehood. Lastly, El-Baz, in his rationalizing about anti-Semitism in the Arab/Islamic world, fails to point to issues which, if addressed, could lead to regional peace. The UN Report on Arab Human Development of 2002 documented how Arab countries are behind the rest of the developing world in literacy, health, income, women’s rights, and political freedom. Embracing Israel and integrating it into a flourishing, modernizing economy in the Middle East is the single most important thing that the Arab states could do to bring peace to the region and improve the lives of all the people there. Until the Arab world stops being "against" Israel and "for" its own development, nothing will change.
David Landsman is a consultant for technology companies. He is also a researcher of Middle Eastern history and is active in pro-Israeli media.