Thursday, August 19, 2010

Islamophobia as the New Antisemitism

Daniel Luban has written a timely and well-researched article in Tablet on what he calls, the "New Antisemitism," the anti-Islamic bigotry that is on the rise in the United States. Using the term "New Antisemitism" to describe this bigotry is much more appropriate than using it to describe anti-Zionism or anti-Israelism; the latter often have nothing to do with anti-Semitism, and when they do, it is with the old anti-Semitism. While it is true that the term "anti-Semitism" originally arose in Germany as an explanatory euphemism for anti-Judaism, the exclusion of an "alien semitic and oriental religion" goes quite nicely with current Islamophobia, although, of course, there are important and fundamental differences. (For both similarities and differences see Luban's article.)

It is a sign of the Jews making it in America that, with Islamophobia on the rise, many Jews now feel comfortable about joining their erstwhile enemies, the nativist (old) anti-Semitic bigots, in common cause against the newcomer religion. Add to this the Jewish antipathy towards Islam because of Arab attitudes towards Israel and Zionism (Jews tend to forget that prominent Arab anti-Zionists were Christian), plus the human propensity for bigotry and tribalism, and that pretty much explains Jewish Islamophobia – except that, I hasten to add, there is very real Arab and Islamic anti-Semitism out there in the world, again mostly because of Israel and Zionism. Still, it is the task of religious leaders to fight the very natural tendency of their flock to degenerate into bashing the other. I would like to think that most Jews will join the real Americans who reject all forms of religious bigotry – not merely because it politically correct to do so, or because it is our American duty, but because it is a core value.

Why, then, are so many Jews hemming and hawing about the Cordoba Center? Take it from me – it's all about Israel. When Jews, and I mean here liberal Jews, are open to religious dialogue with Christians and Muslims, they have no difficulty in respecting difference. But when it comes to Israel, they demand that the other side accept the Zionist narrative, or, at the very least, be open to accepting it. A reform rabbi in today's American may have good friends who are Christian. But how many anti-Zionist friends will she have? And given that most Muslim clerics are anti-Zionist, the Jews' insistence on their acceptance of Zionism is a bar to tolerance and real dialogue.

Let me take as an example of this insistence on Zionism a recent op-ed by Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin . Rabbi Salkin begins by commending his friends and colleagues for standing up to the anti-Islam hysteria. But he then explains why Jews are "permitted to worry" about the "man behind the mosque," Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Actually, Rabbi Salkin never refers to him as "Imam Rauf" but prefers to call him, rather discourteously,"Rauf". But perhaps it is understandable that Rabbi Salkin omits the religious title because in his long piece he does not write a single word about Imam Rauf's religious doctrines, his interpretation of Islam, his views of other religions such as Judaism, or his writings on spirituality. Rabbi Salkin does not say why Imam Rauf has been called by Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee (the pre-eminent Jewish figure in ecumenical relations world-wide and the former Chief Rabbi of Ireland), "an important voice of moderation." Rather, Rabbi Salkin only discusses what Imam Rauf writes about Israel and Zionism, and makes this the litmus test of his acceptability for Jews.

And what is Imam Rauf criticized for? For "simply repeating the Palestinian narrative and saying that the Muslim world is a restricted neighborhood into which a Jewish sovereign nation-state need not apply." The Imam writes that "the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is viewed in the Muslim world as being sustained by America." (One wonders whether Rabbi Salkin would have difficulty conducting a dialogue with General David Petraeus, who said something similar.)

In short, the Imam is criticized by Rabbi Salkin for not finding any room in his worldview for the Zionist narrative. He is criticized for not accepting Zionism!

I would rejoice in hearing, from his lips, an affirmation of the right of the Jewish state to exist, even in what he believes to be his Middle Eastern 'hood.

Rabbi Salkin's wish that Muslim clerics accept the Zionist claims to Israel is on a par with the traditional Christian's wish that the Jews accept the divinity of Jesus. To demand, or even wish of the other side to accept your narrative (especially when that narrative is highly controversial, and detrimental to the other side), and to make that wish a precondition for acceptance, is to place us back in the Middle Ages. If Jews can respect and tolerate Christians, and liberals can respect and tolerate conservatives, then Zionists should be able to respect and tolerate anti-Zionists, especially Muslim and Arab anti-Zionists. Not necessarily to agree with them, of course, but to respect and tolerate them. And, in any event, it is the duty of religious leaders not to make the existence of those differences a barrier to further cooperation and search for understanding – against the orthodox bigots of the world, both religious and secular.

I am sure that there are many stands taken by the orthodox rabbinate (such as the validity of reform conversions) that may make a liberal rabbi uncomfortable. But would Rabbi Salkin write an op-ed saying why reform Jews are "permitted to worry" when an orthodox rabbi comes to town?

On one point I will agree with Rabbi Salkin. The Imam is wrong in repeating the myth of the rosiness of Jewish life under Islam, a myth that incidentally was embraced by Jewish orientalists in the nineteenth century. But the Imam is right to say that the growth and success of political Zionism was most responsible for the deteriorating relations between Jews and Arabs (and Muslims, most of whom are not Arab). And the Imam is also right to say that many Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians, even with their dhimmi status (attenuated often in the modern era) were more acculturated in their surroundings, and felt more at home there, than, say, many Jews of Eastern Europe.

In any event, one does not look to rabbis or imams for historical accuracy. And Lord help us if we look to them for political analysis. Some of us continue to look to them for ethical and spiritual guidance, despite recurring disappointment in that department.

Do Jews have to "worry" about the thought of Imam Rauf? Maybe because I live in Israel, and because I see how some orthodox rabbis, both modern and ultra-, are able to relate to Muslim clerics who are not Zionists, I don't share the fears that an American rabbi like Rabbi Salkin has. I also see other orthodox rabbis writing things in the name of Judaism more worrisome for Jews than anything that Imam Rauf has ever written.

It would be better for Rabbi Salkin simply to agree to disagree with Imam Rauf about Zionism – and not make Imam Rauf's support of the Palestinian narrative any more a cause to worry than his support of the Islamic narrative. And, when he reads the Imam's book on Islam, he should not be sensitive only to what he has to say about Israel and Palestine.

Surely someone who urges Jews to "put God on the guest list" at their bar/bat mitzvah would not exclude a priori from his spiritual fellowship opponents of the Zionist enterprise, whether they be Jews or non-Jews.


Anonymous said...

Jerry, you might be interested in a lecture an article, both from Slavoj Zizek, which I believe address some of the underlying issues you touch on in this well written entry.

1. Zizek on Anti-Semitism.

Touches significantly on Israeli Anti-Semitism

2. On Tolerance:
An even more important problem is that this notion of tolerance effectively masks its opposite: intolerance. It is a recurring theme in all my books that, from this liberal perspective, the basic perception of another human being is always as something that may in some way hurt you.

He develops this further here:


Y. Ben-David said...

Thank you for pointing out the parallel between Islamophobia and antisemitism. It is really amazing how much the Muslim and Jewish experience are alike. After all, both peoples have existed throughtout history as persecuted minorities, in an exile without a country they can call there own. Just as the Jews dreamed of returning to Eretz Israel in order to govern themselves, Muslims have dreamed of they that they could finally have a single country in which they would be the majority.
Just as Jews forgot martial arts after the fall of their Commonwealth 2000 years ago, Muslims have become a very pacific people, unused to the use of force or military skills. Hounded from place to place, Muslims learned to turn inward, and to keep their faith to themselves and not attempt to spread it which is why Islam is not a missionary religion today, just like Judaism.
Just as the Jews see a foreign religion controlling their holy site, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Muslims have seen their holy place in Mecca taken away from them and controlled by another religion.
Muslims, like Jews, have constantly faced the threat of annihilation and genocide with their continued very existence sometimes called into doubt.
Muslims, like Jews hold all other religions in the highest regard and oppose, in the places where they live, any form of discrimination against other religions. Muslim communities are knows as THE most tolerant groups towards other religions in the world.

Yes, the Muslims, even more than the Jews, have endured monumental suffering throughtout history as a powerless minority and so it is incumbent on all of us to increase our sensitivity to Muslim distress.
Thank you for drawing our attention to this major problem, and for putting us on alert for the potential that is lurking in the US and other countries for genocidal Islamophobia to arise.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the analysis. A different, more abstract level, for a change.

My only comment:
"Anti-Semitic" may apply to the generic American case as much as it applied to the German case, but when used to describe Arab attitudes it becomes an oxymoron; according to the mythological frame of reference of the term. Don't you think?

pabelmont said...

I am an anti-Zionist who has no trouble (as it appears some do) with "permitting" (if it were mine to permit) "A Jewish State in Middle East." For me, as perhaps for many Moslems (I am not a Moslem), the problem is not "a" Jewish state but "this" Jewish state, occupying an unspecified amount of territory (unspecified but always expanding), expelling and then excluding indigenous inhabitants, denying rights to non-Jews, dynamiting houses, destroying towns (even as I write!).

Some people may think this is a lovely sight, but to me (and, I imagine, to many) it is a frightful abomination.

Imagine Manhattan if Maldive Islanders (say) invaded it, expelled 9 million of 10 million New Yorkers, denied them a right to return, and made second-class citizens of the 1 million New Yorkers who somehow remained.

Who (except Maldive Islanders) would celebrate such a thing (or fail to be appalled by it)? And would our view change when we considered that Global Warming is is thought to threaten the Maldives with disappearance under the sea? And is GW not a human-caused holocaust?

NJP said...

I am both professionally and personally puzzled by otherwise thoughtful people who expect Muslim clerics and leaders, and ordinary Muslims, to accept the Zionist narrative. That doesn't mean the narrative is wrong or wholly wrong, only that there is a world of difference between working for and calling for the destruction of Israel, and opposing its existence as a Jewish state. The first is good reason to label someone beyond the pale of discourse, the latter is reason to engage in torturous discussion about the Israel-that-is and how to fix matters to allow both peoples some justice and peace.

My organization has no position on the mosque as we work only in Israel. Personally I am embarrassed for the American leaders who are using this issue as a xenophobic point-getter in the upcoming elections. American Jews who hop on the anti-mosque bandwagon seem to forget that when the majority makes its lists of minorities to exclude, sooner or later we turn up on those lists. Bet on it.

evets said...


Are we Jews only allowed to care for those whose history is the exact lachrymose equivalent of Jewish history? I guess that would limit us to caring only about Jews.

Why not try to prevent American Muslims from undergoing the sort of ostracism which so often followed the Jews? Would doing so make you feel less fulfilled as a religious Jew? Would it constitute a betrayal of Jewish history?

Anonymous said...


You wordiness is not a substitute for real intelligence and facts.

So get a life ...

Anonymous said...

YBD's complaint is silly. It's possible for some Muslims to be the targets of racism even if most Muslims throughout history lived in Muslim states. And racists are very unoriginal people--they tend to use similar sorts of accusations against whoever the target group happens to be.

Incidentally, the claim that Jews lost all martial skills for 2000 years is an exaggeration. Try reading about the events leading up to the Emperor Heraclius's planned genocide of the Jews in the early 6th century. I'd say the massacre of tens of thousands of Christians suggests a certain level of martial prowess. And since this is YBD I'm dealing with, it's probably necessary to point out that I don't think anything justifies what Heraclius planned, nor did Christian persecution of Jews justify the massacre of Christians. But this episode suggests that there's an underlying commonality in how people behaved back then when they had power.


Anonymous said...

y ben david with a brilliant tongue in cheek post...thank you for the laugh

Jerry Haber said...

Y Ben David,

Since I said there were fundamental differences between current Islamaphobia and classical anti-Semitism, I have no idea why you bothered with your attempt at humor (that tickled bacci40).

And for those readers of my blog who want to read of the history of Jewish violence against gentiles, or against gentile objects when they didn't have the power to go up against gentiles themselves, may I recommend Prof. Elliot Horowitz (of the Jewish History dept. of Bar Ilan)'s book Reckless Rites: Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence.

And, as I have told YBD before, but has failed to answer, our own "Jewish Jihadist", was the Rambam, who said that anybody who did not accept the Noahide laws in lands under Jewish sovereignty would be put to death. I am not sure whether he would have countenanced the whole sale slaughter of Christians, who were violaters of the Noahide laws in his eyes, since they were idolaters. The dhimmi status accorded to Jews by Muslims, was accorded to those who accepted the Noahide laws. So clearly Christians were better protected under Muslim sovereignty than they were under Jewish sovereignty -- whereas Muslims and Jews would have been on the same dhimmi status.

Eric said...

For a wonderful serio-comic take on competing narratives see the film The Infidel Infidel

Why do we always have to claim the gold medal in the suffering Olympics? Yes we won them in Berlin 36 and Munich 72
but it's time we withdrew as undefeated champions.

Peter Schwartz said...

Jerry says: "And, as I have told YBD before, but has failed to answer, our own "Jewish Jihadist", was the Rambam...whereas Muslims and Jews would have been on the same dhimmi status."

It's a little hard to know what your point here is: We did it too, so we shouldn't be so critical when others do it?

We did it worse than others did it or did it to us?

We did it too or worse, so we have it coming to us?

Being a dhimmi wasn't all that bad; Jews treated their dhimmis worse?

You sort of tiptoe around the Rambam As Jihadist issue. OTOH, he thought that non-Noahidists should be put to death. OTOH--for some reason I guess--you think he wouldn't have countenanced their wholesale slaughter and so, I guess, didn't. But if that was TRULY his belief, why not?

Anyway, to come full circle, it seems pretty clear that Muslim jihadists DO countenance wholesale slaughter, and not just in words that rationalize their actions, but in deeds and almost every day it seems.

Jerry Haber said...

Peter, I think my point is clear. But I will try to explain it to you.

YBD likes to show that all was not hunky dory for the Jews (or Christians) living under the rule of Islam, that Islam developed a totalitarian and unegalitarian strategy towards religious minorities. He suggest that the Jews have treated their religious minorities better, and that Jews turned inward and were less persecutory. I suggest that while he is right that Jews did not persecute minorities, it is because they did not have the political power to do so. Had they political power over gentiles they would have treated them in similar ways, i.e., as dhimmis. I brought Rambam as an example.

By the way, I can give you a list of rabbis today who argue that in a medinat halakha, that's the way it should be.

So my point is that there is nothing unique to Islam about this -- if you want to bash Islam about religious intolerance, you should also bash Judaism and all traditional religions - and that is exactly what secularists have been doing since the Enlightenment.

You wrote:

" OTOH--for some reason I guess--you think he wouldn't have countenanced their wholesale slaughter and so, I guess, didn't. "

Point to something I wrote that gave you that implied what you attribute to me. If wholesale slaughter was necessary, Rambam would have not only approved it -- he says that Jewish law requires

Anonymous said...

Yet, the point remains that even if the Rambam said it or believed it, Jews were not in a position to act on such beliefs. The historical record implicates Moslems and Christians but not Jews. Perhaps it's only because Jews weren't able to act, but the fact remain that those who could act did and those who couldn't didn't.

As if the historical record isn't sufficient for you, even language eludes you. Muslims, even in America, do not have to deal with anywhere near the persecution that Jews had to live with as recently as 40 and 50 years ago. The notion that there is a correlation between antisemitism and "Islamophobia" because of the response of most Americans to Muslims seeking to build a mosque near the site of an Islamic attack on America is nothing less than a joke. A big, bad joke.

Peter Schwartz said...

When you wrote this...

"I am not sure whether he would have countenanced the whole sale slaughter of Christians, who were violaters of the Noahide laws in his eyes, since they were idolaters." suggests to me that you have doubts as to whether he would have countenanced wholesale slaughter.

The word "necessary" (which you add now) shifts things a bit and opens up a whole new can of worms, as I'm sure you can appreciate. After all, if something is "necessary," it's necessary. But we can always argue whether something is truly necessary, or simply necessary given one's views about Noahidite laws, etc. IOW, it's a judgment call.

But it does sound to me that you had some real doubts about whether the Rambam would have "countenanced" wholesale slaughter.

I'm much, much, much less learned than you or almost anyone here. I just read and think about what I read based on the meaning of the words. I understand you and YBD have a long-running dialogue, and I'm butting in and don't have all the context.

I guess I'd add one thought about what you say here:

"Jews did not persecute minorities, it is because they did not have the political power to do so. Had they political power over gentiles they would have treated them in similar ways, i.e., as dhimmis. I brought Rambam as an example."

First, you're asserting a hypothetical and putting it up against a long-standing actual. Not, IMO, a real winning argument. Maybe Jews would have; maybe they wouldn't have. We can't know.

Isn't there a lot in the Torah that even Orthodox Jews "accept" but don't follow literally for all kinds of reasons, e.g., an eye for an eye? Just because something is written down doesn't mean the Jews would've followed it as we now interpret it.

There's a big difference between what's written or what one says one would do in such and such a situation...and what one actually does. It's commonplace to hear people say that, yes Nasser said XYZ, but he wasn't going to do it. Here, you're saying the Rambam said XYZ and WOULD have done it, QED.

Further, I'd ask: Is it irrelevant that Muslims sought and gained this sort of power while Jews did not (or perhaps weren't successful at it--a different thing, I know)? The choice to turn inward was a choice, no? It has some moral weight, no? Similarly, the choice to conquer and gain power over others is also a choice with some moral weight to it.

Peter Schwartz said...

In case my previous comment didn't go through...

Jerry writes: "OTOH--for some reason I guess--you think he wouldn't have countenanced their wholesale slaughter and so, I guess, didn't. "

"Point to something I wrote that gave you that implied what you attribute to me..."

Sure, you said this...

"I am not sure whether he would have countenanced the whole sale slaughter of Christians, who were violaters of the Noahide laws in his eyes, since they were idolaters."

This means, to me, you have doubts (for some reason) that the Rambam would have countenanced the wholesale slaughter of Chritians despite his belief that they were violators. Seems like the plain meaning of your words.

Anonymous said...

Wondering why Jews don't appear to have a warrior culture/martial tradition running through their history so, bar_kochba132, I thank you for this:

"Just as Jews forgot martial arts after the fall of their Commonwealth 2000 years ago,"

Why the "forgetting"?

....and where do the sicarii fit in?

Jerry Haber said...

Peter S

Quick comment, while I adjust my scholar's kippah.

Not doubts but qualifications, or better, caveats.

First, there is a general question that hovers about the Maimjonides' code of law (Mishneh Torah) as to whether it was to be read as a practical manual or not.

Then, there is a question as to what is Maimonides' view on the status of Christians in a Jewish state, i.e.,whether they are idolaters or not, and how they should be handled.

And, finally, there is a question as to how *he* would have implemented the laws had he been an advisor to the Jewish king.

This last question is, of course, a perennial one. In theory, for example, Jews and Christians were supposed to be subservient and menial in traditional Muslim society. In practice, depending on time and place, things varied considerable, and some rose to the highest ranks. Maimonides himself was a physician to Sultan Saladin's chief minister in Egypt. His wife's kinsman was a royal secretary. I need not tell you about Shmuel ha-Nagid and others. There was nothing comparable to this in Christian Europe until the end of the High Middle Ages (although individual rabbis were on good terms with clery).

While Maimonides has some very stern things to say about Karaites and Karaism, his position seemed to soften somewhat when he arrived in Egypt and had to deal with Karaits.

Anyway, you may want to look at Elliot Horowitz's book that I mentioned in my response to YBD. He talks about the history of Jewish violence towards gentiles and gentile objects.

And let's not forget the exploits of the Jewish king, Dhu Nuwass, who is said to have slaughtered 20,000 Christians after they surrendered. The story was an embarrassment to the Jewish historians of the nineteenth century, who tried to throw doubts on its historicity. I am sure that he would now be embraced by the "tough Jews" who are in search of historical models for their machoism.

Peter Schwartz said...

Dhu Nuwass: I'm tempted to say, his conversion was probably incomplete-:)

As this debate plays out today, I think Jews are afraid to admit that there have been violent and bad Jews because, they fear, such admissions will be used as justifications for anti-Semitism. "See? They had it coming. They're just as bad as everyone else."

Well, in a way, Jews are only human and so are just as bad and just as good as anyone else. But that doesn't provide a justification for anti-Semitism.

Though I find it personally challenging, Jerry, I appreciate your attempt to debunk a lot of Jewish myths. It's purgative.

That said, I half expect you to write a post about the son of the Italian rabbi who wrote a book that purported to substantiate instances of Jews eating Christian babies and the like saying there is something to his thesis.

But maybe that's one myth too far-:)

Anonymous said...

re: the thread on the new antisemitism in Tablet Magazine.
You are a coward and a liar. You reneged on your arrogantly and publicly stated "deal", and you don't have the balls to acknowledge or refute the same. Shame on you.

ImadK said...

I thought that I would also add this link regarding Isaac Asimov and his views regarding Anti-Semitism and Prejudice:

I particularly was fascinated by the section of his debate with Elie Wiesel, such as this section:

"Give me one example of the Jews persecuting anyone!"

Naturally, I was expecting this. "At the time of the Maccabees, in the second century BCE, John Hyrcanus of Judea conquered Edom and gave the Edomites the choice of conversion to Judaism, or death. Not being idiots, the Edomites converted, but afterwards they were still treated as inferiors because even though they had become Jews, they were still originally Edomites".

Wiesel, even more upset, said: "There is no other example."

"There is no other period in history where Jews have exercised power", I replied. "The only time they had it, they behaved just like the others."

But I think that you'll enjoy the rest of the excerpt as well.

Peter Schwartz said...

That's an interesting exchange Imad.

But shouldn't we expand the conversation and look at how many times the Jews SOUGHT power?

And shouldn't we also look at how many times Jews, despite their lack of power over others, were singled out for blame for things that were not under their control or under their exclusive control?

But I agree that people who argue that Jews are incapable of evil or never do evil things are silly. The prophets, for one, would never agree with this. In fact, my reading of them suggests that they did single out Jews for special opprobium. Jews read about this, and are supposed to take it to heart, every Saturday. So it's a little silly for a Jew to make this argument as Wiesel appears to be doing.

Perhaps when people get blamed a lot for things they didn't do, there's a tendency to flip to the other side and claim they NEVER do ANYTHING wrong. I don't know.

Anonymous said...

bad news for jerry and daniel...the fbi stats show that hate crimes against muslims are rare

Jerry Haber said...

Bad news for bacci40 -- reading carefully takes effort.

FBI statistics for hate-crimes in the article quoted are for 2008 and do not take into account at all the phenomenon Daniel and I were talking about, which was the rash of anti-Islamic writing and agitation. The hate-crimes are a small part of the picture, and they are on the rise due to recent events.

Second, the FBI statistics are notoriously unreliable for total numbers.

Third, I am happy to hear that you condemn hate crimes against Muslims and others, as well as both the Islamophobic and anti-Jewish literature.

Anonymous said...

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