WHY THE "NEW" ANTI-SEMITISM IS AN ATTACK ON AMERICA
A few years ago, Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles asked me to interview radical Islamic clerics during a reporting trip I was making through Syria, Jordan, and Gaza. He suggested I ask them about The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious anti-Semitic forgery invented by the intelligence service of the Russian czar in 1895, and whether they believed that Jews had a plan to conquer the world, as it asserted. I thought he was joking. "Just ask the question," Rabbi Cooper insisted. "See what they say."
The results, which I published in a monograph with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, were stunning. Not only did every one of the people I asked believe in the anti-Semitic lies put forward in the Protocols; some offered to pull out their own copy just to show me that it was real. None questioned the authenticity of the Protocols, which claimed to be the actual minutes of conspiratorial meetings of Jewish leaders. Most offered up their own anecdotes as proof that "world Jewry" had a plot to dominate the world and destroy Islam.
Americans will be stunned to discover the depth and extent of anti-Semitic hatred in today's Middle East and that Arab leaders from Saudi Arabia to Egypt are not just encouraging it, but spending a great deal of money to spread the kinds of lies inherent in the Protocols and other anti-Semitic tracts, even as they declare their support for peace in the Middle East. They will be even more shocked to learn that anti-Semitic attacks are reemerging in Europe less than sixty years after the Holocaust and that hatred of the Jews is spreading with incredible speed on college campuses and among left-wing politicians and intellectuals in America, a land that provided one of the first sanctuaries from oppression to European Jews.
It is vitally important that Americans of all backgrounds understand that much of today's anti-Semitism, while aimed at Jews, stems from a belief system that equally rejects America and indeed Western civilization as a whole. When Jews are killed in Jerusalem, or synagogues are attacked in Britain and France, Americans in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago become more vulnerable. When Arab leaders invent new versions of the old blood libels, blaming the Israeli Mossad for the September 11 attacks and claiming that Jewish law requires that Passover matzah be made from the blood of gentile children, the Arab street sees more justifications for attacking America. Jews are like the canary that miners take down into the pits to warn them when they are about to die. Jews get attacked first, when the enemies of America can't attack Americans. But make no mistake: we're next. It begins with the Jews, but it never ends with the Jews.
Just as the Jews throughout history, Americans see themselves as "special," a chosen people, with a mission for the world. Just as the Jews, America believes it embodies eternal values of absolute good that we seek to spread to others. The same cultural, religious, and national identity that has maintained the Jews as a separate people for thousands of years is now being championed by America as the world moves hesitantly toward global values and global rules. We use different terms--the rule of law, not Torah; freedom, not God; republic, not nation--but the absolute and transcendent nature of the concepts underpinning the American way of life are obvious and present a constant challenge to other peoples with competing (and less successful) ideologies. If you hate the Jews, you must also hate America. Such is the simple logic of the anti-Semite when facing a complex world. Such, increasingly, is the logic of the Middle East. It is a message that is reinforced day in and day out by the official Arab media.
In an infamous fatwa issued in February 1998, Osama bin Laden called on Muslims to kill Christians and Jews throughout the world--not just military personnel, but civilians--because we have seized and occupied Arab land. Our treachery, bin Laden claims, started with the Christian conquest of Andalusia from the Muslim caliphs in the thirteenth century! On state-sponsored Al-Jazeera television, portrayed complacently as the "CNN of the Arab world" by mainstream media organizations in the United States and Europe, bin Laden and Muslim preachers who openly sympathize with him spread their message to the Arab masses and intellectual elites. Murdered Americans are not victims but oppressors who are the legitimate targets of holy war, they argue. Those who die while killing us are blessed of Allah. For as long as they are physically capable, bin Laden and his followers will strike at America. To their mind, September 11 was just an opening act.
Today's hatred of America and of Western values is an ancient story that is little different from the virus that has erupted periodically into anti-Semitic pogroms in Europe and resulted in the Holocaust. In one sense, the terrorists and their enablers in government and in the mosque are looking for someone to blame, a scapegoat. The Arab world shines for its lack of democracy, its political systems based on arbitrary rule, and the abject corruption of its leaders. Many young Arabs see nothing in their societies that appeals to their sense of pride other than the dreams of a glorious past. Increasingly, that past is being rewritten by the leaders and their proxies to openly anti-Semitic themes--including revisionist interpretations of the Koran and allegations of Jewish plots--to focus the attention of their people elsewhere than on their own failure. Arab leaders have failed to transform their fabulous oil wealth into real power or build any lasting monument to civilization, but when they look around to ascribe blame, they can find only the Jews.
But there is much more at the heart of this than just scapegoating. If the Muslim world were just seeking a scapegoat, then economic development and education should be sufficient to conquer hate. Yet in many Arab societies and in Iran, it was precisely when they were awash in petrodollars and their societies yearning Westward that the anti-American and anti-Jewish virus erupted in full force. It was precisely to prevent that Westward yearning (for which the Iranians invented a special term--gharb-azadeghi, meaning "besotted by the West") that Ayatollah Khomeini and his acolytes exhorted young Iranians to hate, identifying America as the "Great Satan" and Israel as the "Little Satan." Similarly, to prevent young Saudis, who had grown up spoiled on oil from turning Westward, the Saudi government poured billions of dollars into the anti-Soviet crusade in Afghanistan in the 1980s and shipped radical mullahs to Pakistan, where they built a vast network of religious schools, steeped in anti-Semitic beliefs, that have spawned the anti-American, anti-Western jihadis who are faithful to bin Laden and his cause.
Scapegoating, ignorance, underdevelopment, poverty: all have been used as excuses for the visceral hatred of Jews and America now rampant throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Yet just as with Nazi Germany, these explanations fall wide of the mark. "It was not because of racism that Nazis hated Jews but because of their hatred of Jews that the Nazis utilized racist arguments. The Jew-hatred came first. . . . It was, like all other forms of anti-Semitism, hatred of the challenges posed by Jews and Jewish values." With today's anti-Semites and anti-American fanatics, nothing has changed. The hatred and the rejection of others come first; the rationale can always be invented later.
In November 1997 I made one of my periodic trips to Gaza. It had already been four years since the signing of the Oslo Accords, which granted Palestinian autonomy and brought Yasser Arafat and his PLO clique to Gaza to assume control; yet during that time little had changed. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid and international development assistance, the city's streets still turned into rivers of mud whenever it rained, the beachfront was awash with sewage and trash, and the only new buildings that had gone up were government offices and villas owned by Palestinian Authority (PA) officials. When I asked the owner of the hotel where I was staying why no one had ever thought to clean up the beach, he said, "There is no money. The PA is broke. We can do nothing because of the Israeli occupation." When I pointed out that the occupation had ended in Gaza four years ago he just kept repeating that their lives were a misery because of the Jews.
Preachers of Hate is not intended to replace the numerous works of scholarship or analysis on anti-Semitism; it is a layman's guide to the wave of anti-Jewish and anti-American hatred sweeping across the Arab world, Europe, and even America. But this book is also a journey of discovery by a reporter who thought he knew the Middle East well, as he comes to grips with hatred and bigotry masquerading as the will of God. I felt it was essential to include my own impressions of the Arabs, Iranians, and Europeans I encountered and interviewed, to give a personal flavor to what otherwise could appear as a mind-numbing litany of racism, irrationality, and hate. From afar, the demented rhetoric that spews from the anti-Semitic mind appears almost surrealistic. Sixty years after the Holocaust, such thinking is inconceivable to most of us in the West. But from up close, where the intended victims are just around the corner, the words of many of the people quoted in this book are nothing less than an incitation to murder. Preachers of Hate is aimed at helping Americans to understand why they, too, have become targets of hate, just as Jews have been for centuries. This is the very essence of the war on terror.
September 11 should have shown us that we can no longer ignore the preachers of hate and their rhetoric, nor can we continue to make excuses for their behavior based on supposed "cultural differences," "oppression," or "hopelessness." We are not faced with a social problem, which liberal policies and public money can solve; we are facing dedicated murderers. If we are to craft serious and effective policies to combat them, we must begin by recognizing the uncompromising depths of their hatred. The first step is to open our eyes, open our ears, and open our minds to understand what they are saying about us and about themselves. We have not a moment to lose.
1. Kenneth R. Timmerman, In Their Own Words: Interviews with Leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Muslim Brotherhood (Los Angeles: Simon Wiesenthal Center, 1994); forty-two pages, plus ten-page appendix containing the text of the 1988 Charter of the Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (HAMAS).
2. "For thousands of years, Judaism has consisted of three components: God, Torah, and Israel--that is, the Jewish (conception of) God, Jewish law, and Jewish nationhood. Jews' allegiance to any of these components has been a major source of antisemitism because it has rendered the Jew an outsider, and most important, it has been regarded by non-Jews (often correctly) as challenging the validity of the non-Jews' god(s), law(s), and/or national allegiance." Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin, Why the Jews: The Reason for Antisemitism (New York: Touchstone, 1985; originally published in 1983 by Simon & Schuster), p. 22.
3. Sometimes translated as "Westoxication," the term was invented by an Iranian Communist named Jalal al-e Ahmad, a well-known short-story writer. According to Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, "After the 1963 riots and his 1964 pilgrimage to Mecca, Ahmad called for rejection of all Western ideologies including Marxism. He vigorously defended the ulema as the bastion for protecting Iran's identity. He was a highly respected intellectual and was central in forming the intellectual/ulemma alliance of the 1970s--and one of the figures the shah had in mind when he spoke about the Red/Black alliance (Communist/ulema) against progress." (Private communication with the author)
4. Prager and Telushkin, Why the Jews, pp. 152-153.
Excerpted from Preachers of Hate by Kenneth R. Timmerman. Copyright © 2003 by Kenneth R. Timmerman. Excerpted by permission of Crown Forum, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.