In recent years we have witnessed a prevalence of Islamophobia around the world, as a result of which Islamophobia has been denounced globally and the freedom to practice different faiths has been demanded. But before we point fingers at others, it is important to look within Muslim communities and examine the extent to which we are impartial when it comes to different religious groups. Anti-Semitism is still prevalent in different Muslim countries and diaspora communities. It is rather surprising to see Anti-semitism in Muslim communities today because for much of history Muslims and Jews lived in harmony. In fact, Jewish historians often regard the centuries when Jews lived among Muslims to be a “golden age” for Jewry.
Muslims’ hostility towards Jews began to grow in the twentieth century with the Jewish immigration to Palestine leading up to the formation of Israel. The animosity did not just grow in Arab countries. Journalist Mehdi Hasan pointed out the commonality of Anti-Semitic attitudes in Pakistanis as well, even though Pakistan has an almost non-existent Jewish population.
Similarly, Malaysia too has often displayed an anti-Semitic stance. Malaysia’s former Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, on different occasions suggested that Muslims and Jews are natural enemies. However, it did not emerge because of Malaysia’s small population of Jews. Instead, it has been attuned because of Israel’s ascendance and the subjugation of Palestinians.
The brewing conflict between Israel and Palestine paved the way for anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. It is commonplace to turn to Anti-Semitism during times of conflict. Mainstream politics in many Muslim countries use prejudices against Jews to explain political and economic issues in the country. As Malaysia Journalist S. Thayaparan put it, “Anything wrong with the Muslim world is blamed on the Jews.” However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the Anti-Semitic attitude is often fueled by Anti-Israel and Anti-Zionist sentiment.
It is important to distinguish between Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism. Zionism is a movement that was established in the nineteenth century aimed at countering anti-Semitism and establishing a Jewish homeland. Therefore, anti-Zionism is opposition towards the Zionist movement and ideology. This, often, involves opposition towards Israel as well. It can be understood as an Anti-Israel attitude, which involves criticism of the Israeli government, politicians, and its policies.
Anti-Semitism, however, is a form of prejudice or discrimination against Jews as a religious or racial group. It is important to understand that the condemnation of the Israeli government must be distinguished from the condemnation of Jewish people at large.
In recent years, many Muslims have confronted and opposed anti-Semitism. A video that went viral in 2019 shows a Muslim woman confronting an anti-Semite on the London underground. Other instances include the American Muslim groups that raised voice for the victims of Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting last year and the Norwegian Muslims who formed rings of peace to protect Jewish places of worship from similar attacks.
It is not entirely uncommon for diaspora Muslims to stand aside with Jews when it comes to racial abuse or prejudice. Perhaps, because they understand that intolerance and discrimination is not something that can be combatted divisively. However, within Muslim majority countries, anti-Semitic behaviors are largely prevalent. One of the reasoning behind this could be that anti-Semitism is often conflated with anti-Zionism.
The conflict between Israel and Palestine, however, is a political one and not an ideological one, although, religion has served as a backdrop for the conflict. Some of Israel’s most assertive policies in the region — including the controversial “nation-state” law — are fueled by explicitly religious arguments from the country’s right-wing. The religious rhetoric is also reflected in the Palestinian and Arab resistance movements, most of which have an Islamic flavor. The conflict is, however, broader than just religion.
The conflict between Israel and Palestine needs to be considered in a broader scope than that of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Similarly, anti-Semitism need not be considered in the scope of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Whilst, Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism may have differing origins and sources. Both, however, manifest intolerance and discrimination. Drawing on the history of Muslims and Jews, it is vital that Muslims and Jews should be allies in the fight against intolerance and discrimination.
Get The Tempest in your inbox. Read more exclusives like this in our weekly newsletter!