Did Arabs oppose the creation of Israel out of pure antisemitism?

The brief answer is yes, but it may not have been “pure”!! And I explain why below.

In dealing with a conflict — any conflict — there must be a willingness to go beyond propaganda.

In order to be understood the Arab-Israeli conflict must be viewed in the context of history as well as the existing culture of the region.

It would be wrong to state that every Arab is anti-Semitic, but there is, unfortunately, no doubt that much of the rhetoric in the Arab media and education systems, today, as then, claiming that Israel ought not to exist at all is fuelled by distaste for the Jews and for the revival of Jewish life that Israel has made possible.

The Muslim claim that Islam has superseded both Christianity and Judaism, and that Mohamed is the last prophet (as they see it, superseding both Jesus and Moses) may take centuries and many new generations to change, if change is indeed possible.

But it is this religious facet that is at the root of the antisemitism that is the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

I say this because even though Arab opposition to the creation of Israel included political, economic, and Islamic anti-Semitic facets, the strongest and most sustained opposition to the creation of the Jewish state was offered in the name of an anti-Semitic Islam.

Spokesmen for Islamic movements then, as now, use racist arguments, and specifically draw on the rich resources of hatred provided by European anti-Semitism. Standard anti-Semitic themes have become commonplace in the propaganda of Arab Islamic movements like Hezbullah and Hamas, just as those same tropes stirred Arab Muslim hatred for Jews when used by the Mufti of Jerusalem in the 1940s.

Some of these anti-Semitic Muslim tropes include rewriting history to make Jews disappear from the ancient Middle East (“Palestinians” are Canaanites/Phoenicians/ Phillistines, anybody BUT migrating Arabs looking for work and security).

Textbooks used in schools under the Palestinian Authority lack few allusions to ancient Jewish history. For them, the history of Palestine begins with the retroactively Arabized Canaanites and jumps from them to the Arab conquest in the seventh century C.E., entirely omitting the Old Testament, its people and their history.

Other anti-Semitic Muslim Arab tropes are Holocaust denial and the current PA President’s thesis deals with just this topic: either the Holocaust never happened, or if it did, it was on a small scale and—some add—the Jews brought it on themselves or that the Zionists were the collaborators and successors of the Nazis.

It is however, accurate to state at this point, that European anti-Semitism, in both its theological and racist versions, was essentially alien to early Islamic traditions, culture, and modes of thought.

But to an astonishing degree, by the start of the 20th century, the ideas, the literature, even the crudest inventions of the Nazis and their predecessors were internalized and Islamized. The major themes—poisoning the wells, the invented Talmud quotations, ritual murder, the hatred of mankind, the Masonic and other conspiracy theories, taking over the world—remained; but with an Islamic, even a Qur’anic twist.

The classical Islamic accusation, that the Old and New Testaments are superseded because Jews and Christians falsified the revelations promised to them, is given a new slant: the Bible in its present form is not authentic, but a version distorted and corrupted by the Jews to show that they are God’s chosen people and that Palestine belongs to them.

It is also true that Muslim Arabs residing in Israel are, on the whole educated for the most part, contrary to massive illiteracy among their counterparts in Arab states in the region. But, arguably, that education has not in any way changed their culture or their belief in religious exclusivism.

For this non-Israeli Arab mass, Israel is anathema to the Muslims as a whole since the seventh century Jews, when Mohammed of Arabia, who desperately sought acceptance for the religion he created, was rejected by the Jews.

Since that time, Islam has been, and is, the key to political violence carried out in the name of Islam by Muslims.

Israel is a highly westernised country. In accomodating themselves to the cultural and intellectual demands of the West, the Jews have successfully made the transition from having religious beliefs which preceded Christianity and Islam, to a country where those beliefs are inextricably woven with modernity, change and future solutions while keeping its distinctly Jewish character.

Islam is in conflict with westernised society. They did try though, to change.

Muslims tried emulating the liberal West (Great Britain and France primarily) in the era 1800-1920 to seek the sources of power and wealth without success; then they emulated the illiberal West (Italy, Russia, and Germany) between 1920 and 1980, and that also failed. In the past 50 years, they have turned back to their own history. This too is failing as witnessed that that very history is the source of well covered internecine savagery and butchery to the present day.

Thus, with the re-creation of the democratic and forward thinking State of Israel in 1948, Muslim Arab leaders in the region saw it as a threat not only to their personal power base(s) but as a slight on the ideology of Islam which for the past 1000 years had seen no rival to its religious hegemony in the region.

Anti-Semitism is a highly adaptive virus; it has taken on theological, racial, and economic forms in the past. It was no different in the Arab-colonised Middle East and the various forms that virus took when we remember the “Zionism-is-Racism” Durban conference, the failed BDS campaign and the PA’s astonishing statement that Jews have “nothing to do with Jerusalem”.

Today we see much less race-based animus toward the Jews, but instead of attacking the “Jewish race,” anti-Semites today direct their venom at the Jewish state.

From here, it is but a short hop to seeing that the Arab opposition to the creation of the State of Israel was borne mostly out of antisemitism.

In the end, if a Palestinian state is to do for the Palestinians what Israel has done for the Jews, Palestine is going to have to foster a variety of Islam that is equally open.

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