Conventional wisdom asserts that Muslim anti-Semitism is entirely a 20th century by-product of the protracted Arab-Israeli conflict. Such thinking also contends that this anti-Semitic strain is a loose amalgam of re-cycled medieval Christian Judeophobic motifs, calumnies from the Czarist Russia "Protocols of the Elders of Zion", and standard Nazi propaganda. This construct ignores a major, uniquely Islamic component of Muslim anti-Semitism, both past and present. "Dhimmitude", the subjugated and humiliated status under which Jews, conquered by jihad wars, were forced to live for over a millennium, forms the important "Islamic substrate" for the ugly Arab Muslim anti-Semitism so visible at present. Even if all Judeophobic Christian, or Nazi themes were to disappear miraculously overnight from the Arab world, the living legacy of jihad and dhimmitude, along with their unique contribution to Muslim anti-Semitism, would remain intact. This discriminatory attitude, specific to Islamic societies, has Koranic origins, which are manifested in the actual "civilization" of dhimmitude. Muslim anti-Semitism as an original, enduring form of Judeophobic hatred (Judenhass), was personified in the 20th century by the words and actions of Hajj Amin el-Husseini.
As documented by the preeminent scholar of dhimmitude, Bat Ye'or, numerous Koranic verses and hadith (sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad) associate the Jews with hell and Satan. She notes three compelling examples of this association. First, that Ibn Abdun (d. 1134) a Muslim jurist from Spain, quoted from the Koran (58:20) to this effect in a legal treatise, "..Satan has gained the mastery over them, and caused them to forget God's Remembrance. Those are Satan's party; why Satan's party are surely the losers!". Second, a decree by the Caliph al-Mutawakkil (850), directing "..wooden images of devils be nailed to the doors of their homes to distinguish them from the homes of Muslims..". Finally, Jewish cemeteries were considered a part of Hell, to which the dhimmis were destined. Professor Robert Wistrich, a scholar of anti-Semitism, summarizes the overall Koranic image of the Jews as follows:
"..there are some notably harsh passages in which Muhammad brands the Jews as enemies of Islam and depicts them as possessing a malevolent, rebellious spirit. There are also verses that speak of their justified abasement and poverty, of the Jews being '..laden with God's anger..' for their disobedience. They had to be humiliated '..because they had disbelieved the signs of God and slain the prophets unrightfully..' (Sura 2:61/58). According to another verse (Sura 5:78/82), '..the unbelievers of the Children of Israel..' were cursed by both David and Jesus. The penalty for disbelief in God's signs and in the miracles performed by the prophets was to be transformed into apes and swine...(Sura 5:60/65)…The oral tradition (hadith) goes much further and claims that the Jews, in accordance with their perfidious nature, deliberately caused Muhammad's painful, protracted death from poisoning. Furthermore, malevolent, conspiratorial Jews are to blame for the sectarian strife in early Islam, for heresies and deviations that undermined or endangered the unity of the umma (the Muslim nations).."
Dhimmitude institutionalized these Koranic conceptions of the Jews as a people meriting humiliation. Under the yoke of dhimmitude in Muslim countries, the most degrading vocations were set aside for the Jews, including: executioners, grave-diggers, salters of the decapitated heads of rebels, and cleaners of latrines (in Yemen, in particular, this was demanded of Jews on Saturdays, their holy sabbath). Islamic societies also exhibited their own unique forms of severe oppression of Jews, not found in Christian Europe, such as: abduction of Jewish girls for Muslim harems; enslavement (including women and children) during warfare, revolts, or for economic reasons (for example, impossibility of paying the jizya, a blood ransom "poll tax" demanded of non-Muslims); the obligation in some regions (like the Maghreb) for Jews to walk barefoot outside their quarters; prohibiting Persian Jews from remaining outdoors when it rained for fear of polluting Muslims. With regard to enslavement, specifically, right up until their mass exodus in 1948, rural Yemenite Jews were literally Muslim chattel. Here is an excerpt from an essay by the scholar Bat Ye'or :
"Thus, if a Jew belonging to tribe A, is killed by a Muslim from tribe B, then a Jew from tribe B would be killed by a Muslim from tribe A. So two Jews are killed without the Muslim being arrested, a game that could go on for generations as a form of retaliation. In this legal system, a Jew like an object or a camel is excluded from human justice."
Beginning in the mid-19th century, treaties imposed by the European powers on the weakened Ottoman Empire included provisions for the so-called Tanzimat reforms. These reforms were designed to end the discriminatory laws of dhimmitude for Christians, primarily, as well as Jews, living under Muslim Ottoman governance. Following the emancipation edict (Hatt-i Humayn) of February 18, 1856 put forth by the Sultan Abd-al-Majid, European consuls endeavored to maintain compliance with at least two cardinal principles: respect for the life and property of non-Muslims; and the right for Christians and Jews to provide evidence in Islamic courts when a Muslim was a party. Unfortunately, these efforts to replace the concept of Muslim superiority over "infidels", with the principle of equal rights, failed. Indeed, throughout the Ottoman Empire, including the Middle East, emancipation of the dhimmi peoples provoked violent, bloody responses against those "infidels" daring to claim equality with local Muslims. Enforced abrogation of the laws of dhimmitude required the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire. This finally occurred after the Balkan Wars of independence, and during the European Mandate period following World War I.
Even in the midst of the post-World War I Mandate Period, a strong Arab Muslim irredentist current promulgated intensified Koranic teaching in all schools (to all students, including non-Muslims), and the restoration of dhimmitude. This trend was exemplified by the Muslim Brothers, created in 1928, and the founder of the Palestinian Arab movement, Hajj Amin el-Husseini, the former Mufti of Jerusalem. Both movements, most notably, the Palestinian Arab movement under Hajj Amin el-Husseini, relied upon virulent anti-Jewish incitement to garner popular support.
Hajj Amin el-Husseini was appointed Mufti of Jerusalem by the British High Commissioner, in May 1921, a title he retained, following the Ottoman practice, for the remainder of his life. Throughout his public career, the Mufti relied upon traditional Koranic anti-Jewish motifs to arouse the Arab street. For example, during the incitement which led to the 1929 Arab revolt in Palestine, he called for combating and slaughtering "the Jews", not merely Zionists. In fact, most of the Jewish victims of the 1929 Arab revolt were Jews from the centuries old dhimmi communities (for eg., in Hebron), as opposed to recent settlers identified with the Zionist movement. With the ascent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, the Mufti and his coterie intensified their anti-Semitic activities to secure support from Hitler's Germany, Bosnian Muslims, and the overall Arab Muslim world, for a jihad to annihilate the Jews of Palestine. Following his expulsion from Palestine by the British, the Mufti organized a brutal anti-Jewish pogrom in Baghdad (1941), concurrent with his failed effort to install a pro-Nazi Iraqi government. Escaping to Europe after this unsuccessful coup attempt, the Mufti spent the remainder of World War II in Germany and Italy. From this sanctuary, he provided active support for the Germans by recruiting Bosnian Muslims, in addition to Muslim minorities from the Caucasus, for dedicated Nazi SS units. The Mufti's objectives for these recruits, and Muslims in general, were made explicit during his multiple wartime radio broadcasts from Berlin, heard throughout the Arab world: an international campaign of genocide against the Jews. For example, during his March 1, 1944 broadcast he stated: "Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history, and religion.".
Hajj Amin made an especially important contribution to the German war effort in Yugoslovia where the Bosnian Muslim SS units he recruited (in particular the Handzar Division) brutally suppressed local Nazi resistance movements. The Mufti's pamphlet entitled, "Islam and the Jews", was published by the Nazis in Croatian and German for distribution during the war to these Bosnian Muslim SS units. This hateful propaganda served to incite the slaughter of Jews, and (Serb) Christians as well. Indeed, the Bosnian Muslim Handzar SS Division was responsible for the destruction of whole Bosnian Jewish and Serbian communities, including the massacre of Jews and Serbs, and the deportation of survivors to Auschwitz for extermination. However, these heinous crimes, for which the Mufti bears direct responsibility, had only a limited impact on the overall destruction of European Jewry when compared with his nefarious wartime campaign to prevent Jewish emigration from Europe to Palestine. Invoking the personal support of such prominent Nazis as Himmler and Eichmann, the Mufti's relentless hectoring of German, Rumanian, and Hungarian government officials caused the cancellation of an estimated 480,000 exit visas which had been granted to Jews (80,000 from Rumania, and 400,000 from Hungary). As a result, these hapless individuals were deported to Polish concentration camps. A United Nations Assembly document presented in 1947 which contained the Mufti's June 28, 1943 letter to the Hungarian Foreign Minister requesting the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Poland, includes this stark, telling annotation: "As a Sequel to This Request 400,000 Jews Were Subsequently Killed". The Mufti escaped to the Middle East after the war to avoid capture and possible prosecution for war crimes.
The Mufti was unrelenting in his espousal of a virulent Judeophobic hatred as the focal tenet of his ideology in the aftermath of World War II, and the creation of the State of Israel. The esteemed journalist and writer David Pryce-Jones elucidated the pre-eminent status of anti-Semitism in the Mufti's bitter legacy:
"These, then, were the images and preconceptions to which Hajj Amin could appeal once he became the leading Palestinian power holder. In memoirs written at the end of his life, when the bankruptcy of these images and preconceptions was starkly visible, he was still speaking of the Jews as '..notorious for perfidy and falsification and distortion and cruelty of which the noble Koran provides the strongest testimony against them..'. His hatred for Jews was instinctive, tribal; he wished to cut them down, declaring to their face, '..Nothing but the sword will decide the future of this country..'. That this came true amid calamity and ruin was Hajj Amin's memorial to posterity".
Pryce-Jones insights underscore the profound impact of the Mufti's personal convictions and hateful messages on the development of Arab and Palestinian political culture in the latter half of the 20th century, to the present. It is undeniable that the Mufti's virulent anti-Semitism continues to influence Arab policy toward Israel. Not surprisingly, Yasser Arafat, beginning at the age of 16, worked for the Mufti performing terrorist operations. Arafat still considers the Mufti his primary spiritual and political mentor.
Andrew G. Bostom, MD, MS, is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Brown University Medical School.