Antisemitism in the Arab world, in the modern meaning of the term, is believed to have developed since the 19th century. Jews, like other minority groups within the Muslim world, were subject to various of restriction and discrimination long before that.
Arab antisemitism has increased throughout the 20th century, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the influence of classical European antisemitism, and the rise of Arab nationalism. In addition, there is resentment of the State of Israel and support for the Palestinian cause.
For most of the past fourteen hundred years, writes Bernard Lewis, Arabs have not been antisemitic as the word is used in the West. In his view this is because, for the most part, Arabs are not Christians brought up in stories of Jewish deicide. In Islam, such stories are rejected by the Qur'an as a blasphemous absurdity. Since Muslims do not consider themselves as the "true Israel", they do not feel threatened by the survival of Jews. Because Islam did not retain the Old Testament, no clash of interpretations between the two faiths can therefore arise. There is no Muslim theological dispute between their religious institutions and the Jews.
Antisemitism in the Arab world increased greatly in modern times, due to many reasons: the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire and traditional Islamic society; European influence, brought about by Western imperialism and Christian Arabs; and the rise of Arab nationalism. In addition, there was resentment of disproportionate influence Jews had gained under colonialism, and of the Zionist movement.
While there were antisemitic incidents in the early twentieth century, antisemitism has certainly been heightened by the Arab-Israeli conflict. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Palestinian exodus, the creation of the state of Israel, Israeli victories during the wars of 1956 and 1967 served a severe shock to the Arabs. The readiness of Arab regimes to scapegoat Jews for political purposes deteriorated the situation of the Jews and almost all emigrated (some voluntarily, others under threat). By the 1980s, according to Bernard Lewis, the volume of antisemitic literature published in the Arab world, and the authority of its sponsors, seemed to suggest classical antisemitism to be an essential part of Arab intellectual life, considerably more than in late nineteenth and early twentieth century France, and almost as much in Nazi Germany.
Jews, along with Christians and Zoroastrians, typically had the legal status of dhimmi (protected minority) in the lands conquered by Muslim Arabs, generally applied to non-Muslim minorities. Jews were generally seen as a religious group (not a separate race) thus being a part of the "Arab family".
Dhimmi were subjected to a number of restrictions, the application and severity of which varied with time and place. Restrictions included residency in segregated quarters, obligation to wear distinctive clothing, public subservience to Muslims, prohibitions against proselytizing, against marrying Muslim women, and limited access to the legal system (the testimony of a Jew didn't count if contradicted by that of a Muslim). Dhimmis had to pay a special poll tax (the "jizya"), which exempted them from military service, and also from payment of the Zakat alms tax required of Muslims. In return, dhimmis were granted limited rights including a degree of tolerance, community autonomy in personal matters, and protection from being killed out-right. Jewish communities, like Christian ones, were typically constituted as semi-autonomous entities managed by their own laws and leadership, who carried the responsibility for the community towards the Muslim rulers.
By medieval standards, conditions for Jews under Islam was generally more formalized and better than those of Jews in Christian lands, in part due to the sharing of minority status with Christians in these lands. We can find evidence for this claim in that the status of Jews in lands with no Christian minority was usually worse than their status in lands with one. For example, there were numerous incidents of massacres and ethnic cleansing of Jews in North Africa, especially in Morocco, Libya and Algeria where eventually Jews were forced to live in ghettos. Decrees ordering the destruction of synagogues were enacted in the Middle Ages in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. At certain times in Yemen, Morocco and Baghdad, Jews were forced to convert to Islam or face death.
The situation where Jews both enjoyed cultural and economical prosperity at times, but were widely persecuted at other times, was summarised by G.E. Von Grunebaum:
It would not be difficult to put together the names of a very sizeable number of Jewish subjects or citizens of the Islamic area who have attained to high rank, to power, to great financial influence, to significant and recognized intellectual attainment; and the same could be done for Christians. But it would again not be difficult to compile a lengthy list of persecutions, arbitrary confiscations, attempted forced conversions, or pogroms.
The volume of anti-Semitic books and articles published, the size and number of editions and impressions, the eminence and authority of those who write, publish and sponsor them, their place in school and college curricula, their role in the mass media, would all seem to suggest that classical anti-Semitism is an essential part of Arab intellectual life at the present time-almost as much as happened in Nazi Germany, and considerably more than in late nineteenth and early twentieth century France.
"... and for the love we bear to our subjects, we cannot permit the Jewish nation, whose innocence for the crime alleged against them is evident, to be worried and tormented as a consequence of accusations which have not the least foundation in truth...".
Nevertheless, pogroms spread through the Middle East and North Africa: Aleppo (1850, 1875), Damascus (1840, 1848, 1890), Beirut (1862, 1874), Dayr al-Qamar (1847), Jerusalem (1847), Cairo (1844, 1890, 1901-02), Mansura (1877), Alexandria (1870, 1882, 1901-07), Port Said (1903, 1908), and Damanhur (1871, 1873, 1877, 1891).
The Dreyfus affair of the late nineteenth century had consequences in the Arab world. Passionate outbursts of antisemitism in France were echoed in areas of French influence, especially Maronite Lebanon. The Muslim Arab press, however, was sympathetic to the falsely accused Captain Dreyfus, and criticized the persecution of Jews in France.
Antisemitism in the Arab world increased in the twentieth century, as anti-Semitic propaganda and blood libels were imported from Europe and as resentment against Zionist efforts in British Mandate of Palestine spread. British troops stationed in Palestine arrived fresh from deployment in the Russian civil war, fighting alongside the genocidal antisemitic White Movement. The British forces are credited with introducing the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to Palestine. In March, 1921, Musa Khazem El Husseini, the Mayor of Jerusalem told Winston Churchill"The Jews have been amongst the most active advocates of destruction in many lands... It is well known that the disintegration of Russia was wholly or in great part brought about by the Jews, and a large proportion of the defeat of Germany and Austria must also be put at their door.
Matthias Küntzel has suggested that the decisive transfer of Jewish Conspiracy theory took places between 1937 and 1945 under the impact of Nazi propaganda targeted at the Arab world. According to Kuntzel, the Nazi Arabic radio service had a staff of 80 and broadcast everyday in Arabic, stressing the similarities between Islam and Nazism and supported by the acivities of the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husayni. The Nazi regime also provided funding to the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood which began calling for boycotts of Jewish businesses in 1936. Bernard Lewis also describes Nazi influence in the Arab world, including its impact on Michel Aflaq, founder of the Ba'ath movement (which later dominated Syria and Iraq).
After the promulgation of the Nuremberg Laws, Hitler received telegrams of congratulation from all over the Arab and Muslim world, especially from Morocco and Palestine, where the Nazi propaganda had been most active... ... Before long political parties of the Nazi and Facsist type began to appear, complete with paramilitary youth organizations, colored shirts, strict discipline and more or less charismatic leaders.
While anti-Semitism was certainly heightened by the Arab-Israeli conflict, there were pogroms against Jews prior to the foundation of Israel, including Nazi-inspired pogroms in Algeria in the 1930s, and attacks on the Jews in Iraq and Libya in the 1940s (see Farhud). George Gruen attributes the increased animosity towards Jews in the Arab world to several factors including: The breakdown of the Ottoman Empire and traditional Islamic society; domination by Western colonial powers under which Jews gained a disproportionately large role in the commercial, professional, and administrative life of the region; the rise of Arab nationalism, whose proponents sought the wealth and positions of local Jews through government channels; resentment over Jewish nationalism and the Zionist movement; and the readiness of unpopular regimes to scapegoat local Jews for political purposes.
After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Palestinian exodus, the creation of the state of Israel, and the independence of Arab countries from European control, conditions for Jews in the Arab world deteriorated. Over the next few decades, almost all would flee the Arab world, some willingly, and some under threat (see Jewish exodus from Arab lands). In 1945 there were between 758,000 and 866,000 Jews (see table below) living in communities throughout the Arab world. Today, there are fewer than 8,000. In some Arab states, such as Libya (which was once around 3% Jewish), the Jewish community no longer exists; in other Arab countries, only a few hundred Jews remain.
Saudi Arabian media often attacks Jews in books, news articles, at their Mosques and with what some describe as antisemitic satire. Saudi Arabian government officials and state religious leaders often promote the idea that "the Jews" are conspiring to take over the entire world; as proof of their claims they publish and frequently cite The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as factual.
One Saudi Arabian government newspaper suggested that hatred of all Jews is justifiable. "Why are they (the Jews) hated by all the people which hosted them, such as Iraq and Egypt thousands years ago, and Germany, Spain, France and the UK, up to the days they gained of power over the capital and the press, in order to rewrite the history?
Saudi textbooks vilify Jews (and Christians and non-Wahabi Muslims): according to the May 21, 2006 issue of The Washington Post, Saudi textbooks claimed by them to have been sanitized of anti-Semitism still call Jews apes (and Christians swine); demand that students avoid and not befriend Jews; claim that Jews worship the devil; and encourage Muslims to engage in Jihad to vanquish Jews.
Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the PLO, published a Ph.D. thesis (at Moscow University) in 1982, called The Secret Connection between the Nazis and the Leaders of the Zionist Movement. His doctoral thesis later became a book, The Other Side: the Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism, which, following his appointment as Palestinian Prime Minister in 2003, was heavily criticized as an example of Holocaust denial. In his book, Abbas wrote:
"It seems that the interest of the Zionist movement, however, is to inflate this figure [of Holocaust deaths] so that their gains will be greater. This led them to emphasize this figure [six million] in order to gain the solidarity of international public opinion with Zionism. Many scholars have debated the figure of six million and reached stunning conclusions—fixing the number of Jewish victims at only a few hundred thousand."
The Egyptian government run newspaper, Al-Akhbar, on 29 April 2002, published an editorial denying the Holocaust as a fraud. The next paragraph decries the failure of the Holocaust to eliminate all of the Jews:
With regard to the fraud of the Holocaust… Many French studies have proven that this is no more than a fabrication, a lie, and a fraud!! That is, it is a 'scenario' the plot of which was carefully tailored, using several faked photos completely unconnected to the truth. Yes, it is a film, no more and no less. Hitler himself, whom they accuse of Nazism, is in my eyes no more than a modest 'pupil' in the world of murder and bloodshed. He is completely innocent of the charge of frying them in the hell of his false Holocaust!!
The entire matter, as many French and British scientists and researchers have proven, is nothing more than a huge Israeli plot aimed at extorting the German government in particular and the European countries in general. But I, personally and in light of this imaginary tale, complain to Hitler, even saying to him from the bottom of my heart, 'If only you had done it, brother, if only it had really happened, so that the world could sigh in relief [without] their evil and sin.'
In an article in October 2000 columist Adel Hammoda alleged in the state-owned Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram that Jews made Matza from the blood of (non-Jewish) children.. Mohammed Salmawy, editor of Al-Ahram Hebdo, "defended the use of old European myths like the blood libel" in his newspapers.
Articles in many official Arab government newspapers (notably those of the Palestinian Authority, Libya, and Saudi Arabia) claim that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, reflects actual facts, and thus points to an international Jewish conspiracy to take over the world.
In 1984 Syrian Defence Minister, Field Marshal Mustafa Tlass, published a book 'The Matzah of Zion' which claimed to prove that Jews had killed Christian children in Damascus to make Matzas (see Damascus affair). His book inspired the Egyptian TV series Horseman without a Horse (see below) and a Syrian TV spinoff The Diaspora whose broadcasting on the Hizbullah network, al-Manar (see below) led to al-Manar being banned in Europe.
Al-Manar recently aired a drama series, called The Diaspora, which is based on historical anti-Semitic allegations. BBC reporters who watched the series said that:
Correspondents who have viewed The Diaspora note that it quotes extensively from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious 19th century publication used by the Nazis among others to fuel race hatred.
In another incident, an Al-Manar commentator recently referred to "Zionist attempts to transmit AIDS to Arab countries". Al-Manar officials deny broadcasting anti-Semitic incitement and state that their position is anti-Israeli, not anti-Semitic.
Due to protests by the CRIF umbrella group of French Jews regarding allegations of anti-Semitic content, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin called for a ban on Al-Manar broadcasting in France on December 2, 2004; just two weeks after al-Manar was authorised to continue broadcasting in Europe by France's media watchdog agency.
In 2001-2002, Arab Radio and Television produced a 30-part television miniseries entitled "Horseman Without a Horse", a which contains dramatizations of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The United States and Israel criticized Egypt for airing the program, which includes racist falsehoods that have a history of being used "as a pretext for persecuting Jews.