The Arab World Fighting Antisemitism

How Arab countries have become the new leaders in the fight against growing antisemitism.

By Rolene Marks

There is a pervasive sense of optimism winding its way through the Middle East since the signing of the Abraham Accords. Hardly a day goes by without a major announcement of new Memorandums of Understanding signaling co-operation in some or other field; friendships between Bahrainis, Moroccans, Emiratis and Israelis are blossoming on social media and Israel even managed to pull off a sporting miracle – beating the Emirati team 33-0 in a friendly rugby match.

It is proof of what happens when peace takes flight!

Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion once said that in order to live in Israel, one had to be a realist and believe in miracles. And where better than in a land where decades of strife and disorder and now being turned into normalization, recognition and mutual co-operation?

Perhaps the greatest miracle of all is the one that is poised to undo generations of suspicion, incitement and even hatred. The Arab world is fast becoming a great example of how to lead in the fights against antisemitism.

For decades and at least since the beginning of the 20th century, antisemitism has spread throughout the Arab world as a result of a number of reasons. The fall of the Ottoman Empire, the spread of Western Imperialism, the relations between Nazi leaders and the Arab world are some reasons why anti-Jewish propaganda found eager recipients in many parts and bred resentment against Jews and Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people.

Jews had experienced a relatively protected existence against persecution in Arab countries. Long seen as “People of the Book”, Jews were granted dhimmi status. This meant that they were not treated equally and were subject to specific laws, restrictions and taxes (called jizya) but protected against being killed. We could scoff indignantly (and should!) at this but in other countries where Jews were a minority, they endured far worse.

From Khartoum With Hate. A summit of the heads of Arab League countries, held in Khartoum, Sudan following the Arab defeat in the Six Day War in June 1967, the leaders in a press release expressed: “no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel.”

In the 20th century as Pan-Arabism and Islamism spread, an estimated 850 000 Jews were expelled from Arab lands following the establishment of the modern State of Israel.  The communities that thrived in Libya and Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Morocco and so many others, dwindled down to few or ceased to exist.

Decades later, anti-Jewish sentiment would spread through these countries and also manifest itself as hatred against Israel, the Jewish state. Who can forget the infamous 3 No’s of Khartoum? No recognition, no negotiation, no peace.

But something remarkable has happened with the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel, the USA, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates as well as Morocco and the Sudan.

The signing of these Accords is more than just recognition or normalization. While hardly a day goes by without news of yet another investment or area of cooperation, perhaps one of the most important clauses is tolerance and promotion of education against antisemitism. Tolerance education has been policy in Bahrain and the UAE since before the Accords were officially signed and it is so evident in the exchanges between Emiratis, Bahrainis and Israelis online. But this connection is deeper than 120 characters on Twitter. It is also evident in the interfaith events that have almost become the order of the day. A sukkah (temporary decorative shelter) nonchalantly perched outside the Burj Khalifa in Dubai during the Jewish festival of Sukkot spoke volumes, just as the minyan (quorum of 10 men required for prayers) at the synagogue in Manama, Bahrain. These are just glimpses into the relationships that are being built on a daily basis.

Constructive Engagement. Amongst Dubai’s towering skyscrapers, a tine structure surprisingly rose in  October 2020 – a Sukkah at the base of the world’s tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa. The sukkah – a temporary shelter where Jews gather to celebrate the weeklong harvest festival of Sukkot  – was set up following the US-brokered deal to normalize relations between the UAE and Israel.(AP)

But there is something more “tachlis” that is happening on the ground. Arab countries that have normalized ties with Israel are starting to institute policies that take major steps that help fix decades of mistrust, incitement and hatred.

The signing of the Abraham Accords itself stands as historical. The recognition of Israel in the Arab world says this Jewish state exists, it is a part of our region, we will no longer ignore or deny its sovereignty and we will build strong and lasting ties. This is profoundly significant at a time when daily attacks on Israeli sovereignty come from quarters in the far right and far left and when peace in the Middle East was thought to be contingent on an agreement between Israel and her Palestinian neighbours. Former US Secretary of State, John Kerry must feel a fool because this was a theory he espoused many times. The three No’s have become the three yesses. Yes to recognition, yes to negotiation and yes to peace.

Bahrain Bounces Back . At the end of a synagogue service occurring on the sidelines of the US administration’s economic peace workshop held in Bahraini capital Manama in 2019 the men, clad in prayer shawls, broke out in song, walking around the bimah and singing “Am Yisrael Chai” – the people of Israel live.

Bahrain signed another important agreement. The Gulf state signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the US department of State where they adopted the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of antisemitism, becoming the first Arab country to do so. Under the agreement, both sides vowed to promote and share the best procedures for tackling antisemitism and anti-Zionism, including efforts to delegitimize Israel. This is a far cry from many countries around the world, including in Europe where antisemitism is rising to astronomical levels.

Another Arab world first is the decision by Morocco to include Jewish history and culture as part of the school curriculum. Islam is the official state religion and according to Education Minister Said Amzazi and the heads of two Moroccan associations who signed a partnership agreement this will pave the way “for the promotion of values of tolerance, diversity and coexistence in schools and universities.”

Morocco’s King Mohammed V1, is also “Commander of the Faithful,” has pushed for a tolerant Islam that ensures freedom of worship for Jews and foreign Christians.

These Arab countries are paving the way through practical, important and sincere examples of how to lead in the fight against antisemitism.  They are not relying on platitudes but are putting words into actions, something that many other countries should be cognizant of.

Winds of Change. With Morocco to become first Arab nation to teach Jewish history, culture in schools, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI visits the Bayt Dakira Museum in Essaouira.  King Mohammed VI’s declaration that he will normalize ties with Israel has had “the impact of a tsunami,” says head of the Council of Jewish Communities of Morocco. (Photo: AFP via the Moroccan Royal Palace)

It is hoped that more Arab countries will join the ever growing circle of peace. This will go a long way to winning increasing battles in the fight against antisemitism, however it may manifest itself. The proof is in the interaction that is growing not just between governments but ordinary citizens who value tolerance and co-existence.  This is an example that the rest of the world could and should be following.

This celebrates three new yeses. Yes to tolerance. Yes to education. Yes to peaceful co-existence.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs

A Walk In The Park A Return To The Dark?

Avoid this one in Istanbul, it honours an antisemitic Nazi supporter

By David E. Kaplan

What is it about Turkey these days that from being one of the most popular tourist destinations for Israelis, where hoteliers and restaurateurs in its tourist hotspots spoke Hebrew to welcome Israeli visitors in their multitudes, has turned not only anti-Israel but antisemitic?

The latest disturbing action – mostly ignored by the international media – was in November 2020, when the Istanbul metropolitan municipality named a park after a notorious antisemite – Hüseyin Nihal Atsız (1905–1975). The park – following a request made by members of İyi Parti (the Good Party) – is located in Istanbul’s Köyiçi region of Maltepe district, where Atsız spent most of his life.

Troubling Times. The name of Turkist Hüseyin Nihal Atsız was given to a park in Istanbul Maltepe. IYI Party thanked Istanbul mayor, Ekrem İmamoğlu.

What is “good” about this decision?

As much of the pre-Corona Western world made headlines of crowds storming statues and ripping them off their proverbial pedestals for their racist pasts, the Turks are fine with naming a park after someone who wrote in 1934:

 “As the mud will not be iron even if it is put into an oven, the Jew cannot be Turkish no matter how hard he tries.”

While the world media dissected the controversial pasts of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and even Abraham Lincoln, they ignore the Turkish nationalist writer, novelist, poet, historian and philosopher who also wrote that:

 “Turkishness is a privilege; it is not granted to everyone, especially to those like Jews…If we get angry, we will not only exterminate Jews like the Germans did, we will go further…”

How much “further” could they “go”? To name a park in Istanbul after a man who wants to compete with the Nazis as to how to treat or deal with Jews?

Apparently we should not be surprised according to Dr. Nikos Michailidis,Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Mediterranean Studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and an expert on Turkey, who earlier this month told The Jerusalem Post that:

It’s not shocking for those who know Turkey well that Ekrem Imamoglu, the supposedly ‘social democrat’ Mayor of Istanbul, supported and approved a bill to name a park in the city after a prominent ultra-nationalist writer and Nazi sympathizer. Turkish ultra-nationalist and supremacist ideology is not a marginal phenomenon, but rather the mainstream.”

Writing on the Wall.  Ekrem İmamoğlu is the mayor of İstanbul, the largest city in Turkey with 15 million inhabitants, nearly 20% of the entire country’s population. If as President Erdoğan said in an AKP meeting  2017, “Who wins Istanbul wins Turkey” and today this belief dominates Turkish politics, approving a park in Istanbul honouring those advocate exterminating Jews is a major concern.

He goes on to say that “With the exception of the pro-Kurdish HDP, and some liberal as well as a few social democrat politicians, all the other parties in the Turkish parliament are inspired – to different degrees – by openly racist ideologies.”

Madness – Marginal to Mainstream

If for years Atsiz’s haircut resembled Hitler’s, his rhetoric mirrored the Nazi leader’s genocidal antisemitism.

Unabashed Racist. An early militaristic photograph of Hüseyin Nihal Atsız (1905–1975) – an anti-Semite and Turkey’s most prominent Nazi sympathizer.

Some of the other tirades documented from Hüseyin Nihal Atsiz include:

  • The Jew here is like the Jew we see everywhere. Insidious, insolent, malevolent, cowardly, but opportunistic Jew; the Jewish neighborhood is the center of clamor, noise and filth here as [the Jewish neighborhoods] everywhere else… We do not want to see this treacherous and bastard nation of history as citizens among us anymore.”
  •  “The creature called the Jew in the world is not loved by anyone but the Jew and the ignoble ones… Phrases in our language such as ‘like a Jew’, ‘do not act like a Jew’, ‘Jewish bazaar’, ‘to look like a synagogue’… shows the value given by our race to this vile nation.””

So Jews are a “vile nation” to a man Turkey sees fit to name a park after!

This not only happened in the 1930s; this happened in 2020!

Appearances Aside. Despite the resemblances Atsız (left) had with Adolf Hitler (right), he denied these claims as he started to publish his ideas even before Hitler was well-known in Turkey.

According to the late Prof. Jacob M. Landau of the Hebrew University’s Department of Political Science, “Atsiz was a great admirer of the race theories of Nazi Germany, expressing some of them repeatedly in his works during the 1930s and 1940s.”

Bad enough as Atsiz was as a product of his time, far more worrying is that he has no shortage of fans today in modern-day Turkey. Evidence of this is the annual commemorative ceremonies held in his honour attracting members from a number of political parties and now – a park in Istanbul!

Dr. Efrat Aviv, a senior lecturer in the Dept. of Middle Eastern Studies at Bar-Ilan University and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies reveals:

 Atsız wrote several articles accusing Jews of unrestrained greed and national disloyalty, and of being communist and cosmopolitan at the same time. Atsız labeled Jews and communists Turkey’s two main rivals, and claimed in an issue of Orhun published in November 1933 that “Germany has become the first country to solve the Jewish problem.” In 1944, he wrote that Jews are the secret enemy of all nations.”

The danger of Atsiz’s poison pen moved beyond imaginings  to the real, reminiscent of the insightful quote of Heinrich Heine that:

Wherever they burn books, in the end will also burn human beings.”

Cause for Concern. Nihâl Atsız in the 1930s again popular in the 2020s.

Motivated by the writings of Atsız and other antisemitic authors,continues Aviv, “Turks targeted the Jews of eastern Thrace in pogroms from June 21 through July 4, 1934, collectively known as the “Thrace Incidents”. The pogroms began with a boycott of Jewish businesses and descended to physical attacks on Jewish-owned buildings, which were first looted, then set on fire. Jewish men were beaten and some Jewish women reportedly raped. Terrorized by this turn of events, many Jews fled the region.”

When asked by the Post what can be done about Turkey’s glorification of Atsız and its disturbing direction, Dr. Nikos Michailidis suggested:

primarily through extensive sanctions  and with the use of other innovative diplomatic, economic, educational and cultural tools, the EU and the US can design and implement policies for the ‘de-Nazification’ of the Turkish political system and its irredentist, nationalist ideology.”

Grass no longer Greener! Young people enjoy Istanbul park before its renaming of a racist, antisemite and Nazi supporter.

However, how likely is this to happen when as Michailidis notes that while the EU and the US rightly criticize and oppose the rise of Nazi ideologies in European countries, “they fail to raise the same criticism when it comes to Turkey, a NATO member-state and once an aspiring candidate for EU membership.”

They are also not helped by a global press that is rather reticent on Turkey’s disturbing direction.

If the message that Turkey sends to Jews is to honour those today that pride on killing Jews of yesterday, then maybe the message Jews can send to Turkey is – AVOID IT!

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs