Islam Co-opts the Jewish Satan
By Eliahu Salpeter
Demonizing the Jew as the personification of evil was the image hovering between the lines of documents drafted at this week's UN conference against racism in Durban. This evokes the sad thought that identifying the Jew with the devil - an early Christian invention - has now become the province of Islam. And it is not restricted to the world of Islamic fundamentalism - countries whose regimes are far removed from fundamentalism are employing the demonic images generally favored by Iran and Hezbollah.
Demonization has throughout history served as a means to sharpen the distinction between "us," the good people with right on our side, and "them," the bad people who err in their ways. This breakdown has characterized Christianity's relationship with Judaism since the former came into being. In fact, Christianity may not have developed at all without identifying the Jew, the "other," as Satan.
Now one cannot but wonder whether Muslim fundamentalists are not trying to coopt demonization of the Jew not only for its struggle against Israel but also for strengthening Islam's own identity, as was the case with Christianity. Demonization in the political realm is evident in the descriptive phrases chosen by Iranian religious leaders: While the Arabs have portrayed Israel as the tool of American imperialism, the Iranians have described America as "the Great Satan" and Israel as "the Little Satan."
There is some basis for the claim that the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation has played a not insignificant role in exacerbating extremist Muslim anti-Semitism. Arab propaganda has enlisted anti-Jewish images for domestic incitement against Israel while coopting the West's Christian anti-Semitism for use in its political struggle against the Jewish state. What happened in Durban proved how large the reservoir of European anti-Semitism remains, appearing now in the guise of anti-Zionism, and how much it has been and continues to be augmented by Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism.
Because the Holocaust caused so much revulsion in the West, anti-Semitism is still deemed a contemptible phenomenon in respectable Western society. In Arab propaganda, however, and to a great extent in Arab consciousness, the Holocaust does not have an unequivocally negative connotation. It is not perceived as a terrible crime against the Jewish people, but rather the reason for the price the Palestinians were required to pay - in the form of the founding of the Jewish state on their soil - so that Europe's pangs of conscience could be assuaged.
In Arab propaganda, "there's no serious distinction between Jews, Judaism, Zionism, world Jewry, and Israel," writes Professor of History Robert Wistrich in his book, "Antisemitism: The Oldest Hatred." He recalls the words of Abdel Halim Mahmoud, then-rector of Al Azhar University in Cairo, after the Yom Kippur War: "Satan's best friends today are the Jews. They have prepared a plan for the religious and moral subversion of humanity."
Holocaust denial is a central component of Arab anti-Semitism. The Holocaust serves as a link between neo-Nazi ideology in the West and Muslim political-religious anti-Semitism. In a study by Getz Nordbroch at the Vidal Sasoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism at the Hebrew University, for instance, we learn that the notorious Holocaust denier Roge Garoudi was a guest at last year's international book fair in Cairo. And the Palestinian Authority does not lag behind in this sphere. The PA's appointee as mufti of Jerusalem last year proclaimed: "Six million Jews died? Let us desist from this fairy tale exploited by Israel to buy international solidarity."
Israel ought to be particularly worried by the fact that the demonization of "the other," the Jew, has filtered into Palestinian schoolbooks. Textbooks used in refugee camps (publication of which is funded by the UN Relief and Works Agency), describe Jews as the enemy of God and the enemy of Islam. Anyone looking for the roots of Holocaust denial at the Durban conference can find them in Palestinian textbooks that claim, sometimes in the same breath, that the Holocaust never happened and that the founding of Israel was compensation paid by Europe to the Jews for the Holocaust. Similar ideas also appear in Palestinian Authority textbooks, whose publication is subsidized by the European Union. Israel and Jewish organizations have been warning of this phenomenon for years, but it's doubtful whether diplomatic and propaganda efforts needed to banish it have in fact been invested.
The Durban conference has thus served as an urgent reminder that Israel and Jewish organizations must devote more attention, more effort and larger propaganda budgets to the struggle against Holocaust denial and demonization of the Jew. It's obvious now that the absence of such efforts is liable to permit the image of the Jewish Satan, on the wane in the Christian world, to find fertile ground in the Muslim world of the 21st century.