Spring/Summer 2015
Number 28

Anti-Semitism: Islamism's Indelible Marker

By
M. Zuhdi Jasser

Today, the United States and its allies are focused on the concept of “countering violent extremism” as a means of combatting the scourge of radical Islam. Yet violent extremism is but one manifestation of the Islamist ideology that threatens Western democracies and citizenry under its sway. Anti-Semitism is also a defining symptom of Islamism—and arguably a much more important one. For one can espouse radical Islamism and its totalitarian, supremacist goals of world domination without choosing violent means to do so. But it is far harder to endorse Islamist ideology without supporting anti-Semitism.

Thus, anti-Semitism is not just another “radical” symptom. In fact, if we can develop the understanding and national conviction to confront the anti-Semitism of global Islamist movements directly, we will hold the key to unraveling the very fabric and platform through which Islamist leaders spread their ideas.

The linkage is simple. Supremacists from within a particular faith community will create and exploit hatred toward another in order to rally their own followers against a common foe. Islamists utilize anti-Semitic imagery, profiling and demonization of Jews as a tool for their own ascension to power in Muslim majority communities and nations (or in Arabic, the ummah). Islamists often exploit both the Muslim ummah and the Jewish minority in order to create groupthink against the “other.” The Islamist demonization of Jews is a key feature of their worldview, because underneath that hatred lies a more global supremacism that threatens all minorities, both within and outside the faith.

Today, Europe and the West are being directly impacted by the events that have transpired over the last half-decade of the Arab Awakening. With the tumult in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria, the ascent of Islamist movements has for the most part not brought a real spring but rather the empowerment of new autocrats who wield Islamist thought as a supremacist weapon.

The challenge before the world could not be clearer. The vacuum left by the region’s long-serving dictators is a widening front in the battle for the soul of Islam: Will Muslim majority societies and Muslim leaders around the world heed the call for the rights of the individual? Will they defend the rights of the minority over the collective, the tribe, and the clerical oligarchs? Or will they ultimately just trade one autocracy for another? Here, the importance of the role played by anti-Semitism cannot be overstated.

Follow the numbers

According to Pew research surveys, “anti-Jewish sentiment” is endemic in the Muslim world. “In Lebanon, for example, all Muslims and 99 percent of Christians say they have a very unfavorable view of Jews. Similarly, 99 percent of Jordanians have a very unfavorable view of Jews. Large majorities of Moroccans, Indonesians, Pakistanis and six in ten Turks also view Jews unfavorably,” a 2005 poll by the research center noted.(1)

That outcome is hardly surprising. For generations, Arab dictators like Hosni Mubarak, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Saddam Hussein, Bashar Assad or King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, have harnessed and incubated anti-Semitism as a political tool, using their vast media machines to expand the reach and resonance of this corrosive idea. Thus, Egypt under Mubarak lionized the virulently anti-Semitic and czarist Russian forgery, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, even as state media regularly denied the Holocaust while at the same time irrationally labeling Zionism as a “new Nazism.” Saudi Arabian government media and academia are also rife with anti-Semitic imagery and the demonization of Jews, while the country’s public schools teach that Jews “obey the devil” and are those whom “God has cursed and with whom He is so angry that He will never again be satisfied.”(2) The list goes on.

The hate thereby created fueled a mass exodus of Jews. Since 1948, at Israel’s founding, there have been over 1 million Jews expelled from Arab lands with only a few remaining.(3) That exodus has carried over to the Christian community, where it is believed over two million Christians have fled the Middle Eastern Arab community in the last 20 years.(4)

Yet anti-Semitism is hardly the purview of secular tyrants alone. Rather, it serves as a primary nexus between pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism.

Hating Jews… and Israel

The intellectual origins and underpinnings of Islamist anti-Semitism are diverse. But while our Islamic tradition certainly possesses, as the scholar Martin Kramer has described, “some sources on which Islamic anti-Semitism now feeds,” it is not the only reason for it.(5) In fact, if Islamist anti-Semitism is wholly confronted by modern Muslim reformers, there is hope that it can be marginalized and ultimately defeated, ending a force which can ultimately hold sway over a quarter of the world’s population.(6) The current reality, however, is that the imams (clerics), ulema (scholars), or activists with the courage to publicly take on the anti-Semitism of Islamist leaders are sadly few in number. And when they arise, they have neither the platforms, attention, nor the backing that Islamist-linked movements enjoy around the world.

Integral, and related, is the exploitation of Israel. As the scholar Martin Kramer has noted,

Islamists see Israel as a symptom of a larger conspiracy against them, either western or Jewish or a sinister combination of the two. Many Islamists today do not look at Israel or its policies as their irritant. They look beyond, either to America, symbol today of the power of the West or to the Jews, dispersed throughout the West where they exercise a malignant influence. These are deemed to be the real forces driving history.(7)

Kramer highlights in 1994 that Rashid al-Ghannushi, who now happens to be the leader of Tunisia’s ruling Islamist Al-Nahda party, alleged “a Jewish-American plan encompassing the entire region, which would cleanse it of all resistance and open it to Jewish hegemony from Marrakesh to Kazakhstan.”(8) Likewise, when the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (previously the Organization of the Islamic Conference) met in Malaysia a dozen years ago, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told the crowd, “The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million, but today the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.”(9) Both statements met not with widespread condemnation, but broad acceptance. Kramer thus concludes,

If these themes seem distressingly familiar it is quite likely because they are borrowings from the canon of Western religious and racial anti-Semitism. The anti-Semitism we see today in the Islamic world owes a crucial debt to the anti-Semitism of the West.(10)

The power of the pulpit

Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi is arguably the most influential Sunni cleric in the world. He escaped from Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt to Qatar in 1961,where he has since authored more than 120 books, influenced a number of highly trafficked Islamist websites, and most notably hosts a weekly program on Al-Jazeera Arabic titled “Shariah and Life” that is viewed by an estimated 60 million people globally. Yet his sermons and public statements are a treasure trove of conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic diatribes.

Qaradawi’s significance to Islamist anti-Semitism cannot be overstated. Despite being prohibited from travel to France, the United Kingdom and the United States, Qaradawi, who lives in Qatar, has long been President of the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR). ECFR is notoriously known for being a Muslim Brotherhood legal arm in the West, giving hundreds of anti-Western separatist fatwas (legal opinions) targeted at western Muslims, and weaving conspiracy theories of Jewish global domination.(11)

In 2011, Qaradawi returned to Egypt after more than a 30-year absence to lead a crowd of more than 200,000, leading scholars like Barry Rubin to remark that Egypt has gotten “its Khomeini.”(12) Yet, surprisingly, the case against Qaradawi’s hate-filled anti-Semitic speech is not so clear for many. Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution, who attended Qaradawi’s return to Tahrir Square, stated at the time that

Qaradawi is very much in the mainstream of Egyptian society, he’s in the religious mainstream, he’s not offering something that’s particularly distinctive or radical in the context of Egypt… He’s an Islamist and he’s part of the Brotherhood school of thought, but his appeal goes beyond the Islamist spectrum, and in that sense he’s not just an Islamist figure, he’s an Egyptian figure with a national profile.(13)

The threat that Qaradawi and his Islamist sympathizers pose is manifold. While the arguments against his political Islamist ideas may be nuanced, to ignore his anti-Semitism (as so many around the world do) is to imperil world Jewry and the security of all minorities and our liberal democracies. One of the most revealing tests is to note the silence of many western Muslim leaders confronted with the anti-Semitism of the likes of Qaradawi or Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Mahathir.

Understanding the linkage

One cannot help but connect the dots from Qaradawi’s anti-Semitism to an inevitable neo-theocratic fascism that is now ascending in the Middle East under the rise of Islamism. Eventually, the world will have to come to terms with how clerics with toxic positions on Jews and Americans swim in the same pool with those who have similarly hateful positions against the Shi’a community (described as deviants), the Ahmadiyya (described as apostates), or the Baha’i (described as infidels) and so many other vulnerable religious minorities who will undoubtedly suffer, and are suffering, at the hands of Islamists when they are in power.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center recently listed the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian regime as the worst offenders of anti-Semitic rhetoric across the planet.(14) We ignore the telltale signs of hate against Jews and what that portends for other minorities at the peril of all genuine democracies. One need look no further than Iran to see that an Islamist revolution, while using the democratic engine of electoral politics, will never herald real democracy until minorities have equal rights and anti-Semitism is defeated within the Islamic consciousness.

Here, what the Muslim world says—and learns—matters a great deal. According to former CIA director R. James Woolsey, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has spent nearly $90 billion spreading its ideology around the globe since the 1970s. He describes the Saudi sponsoring of the dissemination of the extremist Wahhabi strain of Islam as “the soil in which Al-Qaeda and its sister terror organizations are flourishing.”(15) According to scholars such as Gilles Kepel, Wahhabism gained considerable influence in the Islamic world following a tripling in the price of oil in the mid-1970s. The Saudi government thereafter began to spend tens of billions of dollars throughout the Islamic world to promote Wahhabism, a particularly virulent and militant version of supremacist Islamism.

All too often, this hate-filled ideology has led to violence and terror. For example, the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks in India, which killed 164 and wounded 308 over the Thanksgiving weekend, including the Nariman Jewish Community Center known as the Mumbai Chabad House, were found to have been launched by members of Lashkar e-Taiba, a group that adheres to Saudi Arabia’s austere Wahhabi creed.(16) Other examples of Islamist-inspired anti-Semitism leading to terror against Jews are, sadly, too numerous to list here.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has long been at the forefront of monitoring the hatred disseminated in educational textbooks that originate in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. What it has found is horrifying. For example, a ninth grade textbook published by the Saudi Ministry of Education states that “the Jews and Christians are enemies of the believers and they cannot approve of Muslims.” An eighth-grade text similarly states, “The apes are the people of the Sabbath, the Jews; and the swine are infidels of the communion of Jesus and Christians.”(17) As former USCIRF commissioner Nina Shea notes,

The kingdom is not just any country with problematic textbooks. As the controlling authority of the two holiest shrines of Islam, Saudi Arabia is able to disseminate its religious materials among the millions making the hajj to Mecca each year. Such teachings can, in this context, make a great impression. In addition, Saudi textbooks are also posted on the Saudi Education Ministry’s website and are shipped and distributed by a vast Sunni infrastructure established with Saudi oil wealth to Muslim communities throughout the world. In his book, The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright asserts that while Saudis constitute only 1 percent of the world’s Muslims, they pay “90 percent of the expenses of the entire faith, overriding other traditions of Islam.”(18)

Shea adds that despite four years of pressure from the U.S., and despite pledges from Riyadh that it had cleaned up its textbooks, the reality is that they have not. To their credit, American publishing leaders have recently banded together to shed light on this important issue, stating that “hate speech is the precursor to genocide, first you get to hate, and then you kill.”(19)

Canary in the coal mine

A better understanding of the link between anti-Semitism and Islamist movements and its supporters is just a first step. The next is to implement long-lasting solutions. These solutions will not only provide Europe and the West with a bulwark against the infiltration of anti-Semitic ideas from Islamist movements in the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia, but will also serve to better secure us against the threat of militant Islamism. For where anti-Semitism thrives, so too does the eventual threat against other faith minorities and the very foundations of democracy.

M. Zuhdi Jasser is the President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, based in Phoenix, Arizona. A former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander, he is author of A Battle for the Soul of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot’s Fight to Save His Faith. He is also the Vice-Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The opinions expressed herein are purely his own.


1.   “Support for Terror Wanes Among Muslim Publics,” Pew Global Attitudes Project, July 14, 2005, http://www.pewglobal.org/files/pdf/248.pdf.

2.   Nina Shea and Jeanne Hoffman, “Teach Your Children Well: Classic Anti-Semitic Literature in Arab Schools,” Weekly Standard, August 14, 2006, http://www.hudson.org/research/4569-teach-your-children-well-classic-ant....

3.   Ya’akov Meron, “Why Jews Fled the Arab Countries,” Middle East Quarterly 2, no. 3, September 1995, http://www.meforum.org/263/why-jews-fled-the-arab-countries.

4.   Ibid.

5.   Martin Kramer, “The Salience of Islamic AntiSemitism,“ Institute of Jewish Affairs Report no. 2, October 1995, http://www.martinkramer.org/sandbox/reader/archives/the-salience-of-isla....

6.   Ibid.

7.   Ibidem.

8.   Martin Kramer, “The Jihad Against the Jews,” Commentary, October 1994, 38-42, http://www.martinkramer.org/sandbox/reader/archives/the-jihad-against-th....

9.   Carl Schrag, “Malaysia’s Casual Anti-Semitism,” Slate.com, October 20, 2003, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/international_papers/200....

10.  Kramer, “The Salience of Islamic Anti-Semitism.”

11.  Ian Johnson, “Islamic Justice Finds a Foothold in Heart of Europe,” Wall Street Journal, August 4, 2005, http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB112311814949504607.

12.  Barry Rubin, “Egypt Gets Its Khomeini,” Jerusalem Post, February 20, 2011, http://rubinreports.blogspot.com/2011/02/egypt-gets-its-khomeini-qaradaw....

13.  Sarah Lynch, “Egypt Revolution Unfinished, Qaradawi Tells Tahrir Masses,” Christian Science Monitor, February 18, 2011, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/0218/Egypt-revolution-un....

14.  “Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Tops Anti-Semitic Rhetoric List,” JTA, December 28, 2012, http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/jewish-world-news/egypt-s-muslim-bro....

15.  “Fueling Terror,” Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, n.d., http://www.iags.org/fuelingterror.html.

16.  Mark Mazzetti and Salman Masood, “Pakistani Role is Suspected in Revealing U.S. Spy’s Name,” New York Times, December 17, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/18/world/asia/18pstan.html?_r=0.

17.  Robert L. Bernstein and Harold Evans, “Saudi Textbooks Incite Hate, Say Leaders of American Publishing,” The Daily Beast, October 17, 2012, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/10/17/saudi-textbooks-incite-....

18.  Nina Shea and Bonnie Alldredge, “Saudi Textbooks: Still Teaching Hatred,” National Review Online, June 29, 2010, http://www.hudson.org/research/7125-saudi-textbooks-still-teaching-hatred.

19.  Robert L. Bernstein et al., “Saudi Textbooks Incite Hate, Say Leaders in American Publishing,” The Daily Beast, October 17, 2012, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/10/17/saudi-textbooks-incite-....