Nazis, Islamic Antisemitism and the Middle East
Lyn Julius, Jewish News Syndicate, September 19, 2023
Nazism’s legacy in the Arab world
A new book shows that Arab antisemitism is not a backlash but the cause of the conflict with Israel.
Arab antisemitism is not a response to the creation of Israel, it is the driving force behind the Arab-Israeli conflict. Too many people reverse cause and effect. They blame the antisemitism suffered by world Jewry on the existence of Israel. This is the central thesis in Matthias Küntzel’s book Nazis, Islamic Antisemitism and the Middle East, newly published in an English translation.
Küntzel, a German political scientist and historian, holds that the 1948 Arab-Israeli war was an aftershock of World War II and a direct result of antisemitic Nazi propaganda. In effect, the Nazi war against the Jews became the Arab war against Israel. This issue is worth revisiting in the light of new studies—notably by Professor Jeffrey Herf—into the impact of Nazi propaganda on the Arab world, as well as work that explores the role played by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin Al-Husseini.
Küntzel covered some of this territory in his previous eye-opening book Jihad and Jew-Hatred. In that work, he explained how the Germans financed both the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Mufti’s activities during the 1930s. From small beginnings, by the end of World War II, the Muslim Brotherhood had a million men under arms.
After the war, ideologue Sayid Qutb provided the intellectual underpinnings for the Muslim Brotherhood’s antisemitism in his book The Struggle Against the Jews.
Antisemitism was at the core of the Muslim Brotherhood’s reactionary mass movement against modernity. The agents of this modernity, the Brotherhood believed, were the Jews. As a result, the war against Israel marked the end of what Küntzel calls Islam’s liberal phase, a time when Arab elites tried to reap the benefits of modernity. The end of this phase found expression in the mass exodus of Jews from the Arab world.
According to Küntzel, barrages of antisemitic propaganda were broadcast day and night over the entire six years of World War II from the Zeesen station in Germany. It had a considerable effect on an impressionable and largely illiterate Arab world, which continues today. As the great Middle East expert Bernard Lewis wrote, “Since 1945, certain Arab countries have been the only places in the world where hardcore, Nazi-style antisemitism is publicly endorsed and propagated.”
It is hard to gauge the extent to which Nazi propaganda translated into actual antisemitic violence during World War II. When the Nazis were winning, they and their Arab allies were preparing for the battles to follow. Nazi propaganda is often cited as one of the main causes behind the 1941 massacre of Iraqi Jews known as the Farhud. But even when the Allies reversed the tide of the war in Nov. 1942, antisemitic propaganda could have been a factor behind violence against Jews in North Africa.
Küntzel has come under fire from those who believe that Islam has always been antisemitic. The Quran does contain anti-Jewish verses, but Küntzel argues that it was the Mufti who fused those verses with European myths of Jewish power and conspiracy.
In 1937, a pamphlet called Islam and Judaism began to circulate in the Muslim world. It was the first attempt to use religion in order to spread antisemitism. It is believed to have been written by the Mufti himself, who was the main purveyor of ideological Islamic antisemitism. For example, the Mufti had already patented the myth that the Jews aim to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque and Muslims need to defend the shrine at all costs.
Islamized antisemitism was repeatedly mobilized to block compromise and normalization between Arabs and Jews, Küntzel claims. The Mufti himself terrorized the moderate Palestinian Arab majority into adopting extremist views. For example, members of the moderate Nashashibi clan and their supporters were murdered during the Arab revolt of 1936-39. Other opponents of the Mufti were killed between 1946 and 1948.
But war with Israel was not inevitable. Küntzel claims that it was only in 1947, at a meeting of the Arab League, that Egypt accepted responsibility for the struggle in Palestine. Arab elites were loath to go to war, but the mass hysteria generated by Muslim Brotherhood propaganda and the Mufti’s incitement proved irresistible.
Not all Muslims are antisemitic, just as not all Christians are antisemitic. Nonetheless, Küntzel writes, pro-Hitler sentiments are alive and well among Arabs and Muslims in Europe and the Middle East.
Last month, we received a stark reminder that such sentiments are not only rampant among the rank and file, but in the Palestinian leadership. Addressing the Fatah Revolutionary Council, Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas made blatantly antisemitic remarks, exonerating Hitler of antisemitism. This undermines the widespread Western belief that Israel is to blame for the lack of peace.
Küntzel’s book is an important one. It is a clear-sighted and timely vindication of the idea that, as Küntzel puts it, it is not “Jewish settlement blocs, but Palestinian ideological blocs, that present the biggest obstacle to a peace settlement.”
Dr. Alex Grobman, The Jewish Link, August 18, 2023
Reviewing: “Nazis, Islamic Antisemitism and the Middle East: The 1948 Arab War Against Israel and the Aftershocks of World War II” by Matthias Küntzel. Routledge. 2023. ISBN-13: 9781032437767.
Matthias Küntzel, a German political scientist and historian, has written another extremely significant book, which should be read together with his “Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11.” In “Jihad and Jew-Hatred,” he contends that antisemitism is part of the ideological center of modern jihadism, and not simply an additional component. He argues that “during and after the World War II, the center of global antisemitism shifted from Nazi Germany to the Arab world, above all to the radical Islamist currents in and around the Moslem Brotherhood of Egypt.” This shift did not occur only because of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Quite the reverse. The “ideology of and policy of radical Islamists” actually made the clash worse.
In “Nazis, Islamic Antisemitism and the Middle East,” Küntzel focuses on the influence of Nazi antisemitism in the Middle East, which he notes “remains gravely under-researched.” He describes how since 1937, the Germans disseminated antisemitic propaganda throughout the Middle East in the Arabic language and how this antisemitism played a “decisive factor,” leading the Arab armies to attempt to destroy the nascent Jewish state. Amin el-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, explained why Israel’s 1948 War of Independence was, for the Muslims, a war against the Jews. “Our battle with world Jewry,” he said, “is a question of life and death, a battle between two conflicting faiths, each of which can exist only on the ruins of others.”
The Muslim Brotherhood claimed that partition of Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states, which was recommended by the British Peel Commission in 1937 as a solution to the conflict, would deprive the Arabs of all of their rights. “No single Arab will ever consider, let alone accept it.” They did not regard the Jews “a party to the problem, they are mere thugs and usurpers who came under the shadow of spears and trickery to a land which does not belong to them. …” In this way, the Arabs transformed a political dispute into an “antisemitic war” to ensure that a Jewish state would not be created.
The war also precipitated the flight of Arab refugees, which has been a major source of contention ever since. The perception that the actual “catastrophe” of the war was the establishment of the state of Israel, conveniently ignores that it was the invasion by the Arab armies that resulted in the exodus of Arab refugees to Jordan and other Arab countries.
By introducing “genocidal antisemitism to the Arab world,” beginning in 1937, Küntzel asserts, we see there is “an ideological link between the Nazi war against the Jews and the Arab war against Israel three years later, [that] can be interpreted as a kind of aftershock of the great catastrophe of 1939-1945.”
Nazi leaders considered radical antisemitism and anti-Zionism an “indispensable” means of engaging the “hearts and minds” of Muslims and Arabs, observes historian Jeffrey Herf. He noted that in the radio broadcast to the people of Egypt on July 2, 1942, the Mufti said that the initial successes in North Africa of German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, commander of the Deutsches Afrika Korps, “filled all Arabs in the whole Orient with joy.” The English and the Jews were “common enemies” of the Arabs and Axis powers, who were now waging a war against the Bolsheviks. With the possibility of Germany occupying Egypt, the Mufti saw a parallel between Egypt’s attempt to free itself from British imperialistic domination with the struggle of the Palestinian Arabs against the “concentrated British power and its alliance with the Jews.”
During World War II, the Allies avoided refuting Nazi antisemitic propaganda in order not to be viewed as “Zionist-lovers.” After the war, the Allies refrained from placing the Mufti on trial for his war crimes so as not to hinder their relations with the Arabs. Winston Churchill called the Mufti “that ton of dynamite on two legs.”
Küntzel points out he was not alone in recognizing the parallels between German antisemitism and that found in the Middle East.
Thirty years before, Bernard Lewis, an expert on the history of Islam and Islam’s interaction with the West, said, “Since 1945, certain Arab countries have been the only places in the world where hard-core, Nazi style antisemitism is publicly endorsed and propagated.” This profound German influence can be seen in a number of areas: the similarities between the Arab anti-Jewish caricatures and those found in Julius Streicher’s “Der Stürmer”; the millions of copies in Arabic of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”; many editions of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” and the pro-Hitler attitude among Arab youth.
A Final Note
Küntzel rejects the claim advanced by many Arab writers that after 1945 the Arabs were forced to pay the price for Nazi anti-Jewish policies. He says Palestinian Arabs must share “at least indirect responsibility for the Holocaust.” It was their anti-Zionist campaigns that compelled Britain to limit the number of Jews permitted to enter Palestine. Without a place to seek refuge, Jews remained vulnerable to the Germans’ decision to annihilate the Jewish people throughout occupied Europe. Thus, a significant number of Arabs living in Palestine at the time “bore some responsibility for the impending tragedy.”
Visit https://www.routledge.com to find out more and purchase the book.
Michael Mobasheri, AZADI-Magazine No.7, Vol.14, August 2023
This book is inevitable for understanding Islamic-Antisemitism, its roots and how it manifests itself in our present age.
“Nazis, Islamic Antisemitism and the Middle East: The 1948 Arab War against Israel and the Aftershocks of World War II” is a new book by Matthias Küntzel, a prestigious German political scientist, author and historian with focus on the Middle East, Iran, Islamism, Antisemitism and German and Western policies toward the Middle East and Islam. His previous books include “Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11 (2009)” and “Germany and Iran: From the Aryan Axis to the Nuclear Threshold (2014)” -The latter is also available in Persian translation (2012).
Based on new archive findings his new book presents unknown episodes of Germany’s past and its focal role in igniting “Islamic–Antisemitism” in the Middle East which has led to a fierce ongoing Anti-Jewish hatred as well as substantial impact on the Middle East societies and cultures ever since.
This magnificent documentary book illustrates the ties between the Nazis and the Muslim-Brotherhood ideology and shows how Germans launched a vast and systematic propaganda via radio broadcasting in several Middle East languages to export and implement Antisemitism in the Arab world.
The content of this book is inevitable for understanding Islamic-Antisemitism, its roots and how it manifests itself in our present age. Only when we understand how strongly modern Middle East history is shaped by the German Nazi Ideology will we be able to correctly interpret the hatred of Jews and Israel in the Arab world, the Islamic jihad ideology and its echo worldwide among Muslims in order to develop crucial and effective countermeasures.
Dave Rich, Director of Policy at the Community Security Trust, London:
Matthias Küntzel’s new work is a fascinating and important exploration of the influence of Nazi propaganda during a crucial period in the formation of the modern Middle East. Like all the best books, it challenges the reader to consider familiar terrain from a new perspective, with a fresh analysis rooted in archival sources and rigorous research. The story it tells is, as the title suggests, shocking in its implications.
Günther Jikeli, Indiana University, USA:
This book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the roots of antisemitism and hatred of Israel in the Middle East. Nazi propaganda introduced genocidal antisemitism to the Middle East by exploiting traditional anti-Jewish attitudes in Islam. Küntzel illustrates this with previously unseen documents, such as the Nazi pamphlet “Judaism and Islam,” published in 1937 in Arabic, and evidence of the Nazi collaboration with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Meir Litvak, Tel Aviv University, Israel:
This important book sheds light on the unexplored yet crucial impact of Nazi anti-Semitism on modern Islamist movements since the 1930s and their role in mobilizing mass political hostility and military opposition to Israel. In analyzing these aspects of modern Islamist anti-Semitism, Küntzel’s book offers a major contribution both to scholarship and to the struggle for a more humane world.
R. Amy Elman, Kalamazoo College, USA:
This book is required reading for anyone wanting to discover the antisemitic roots of the Middle East conflict and its devastating consequences. Küntzel deftly transcends prevailing assumptions about the region to reveal how adept the Nazis were at exporting genocidal antisemitism to the region.
Joseph S. Spoerl, Saint Anselm College, USA:
Combining original archival research with a magisterial survey of the existing scholarship, Matthias Küntzel demonstrates that Islamic anti-Semitism is not a byproduct but an originating cause of the Palestinian-Zionist conflict from at least 1937 on, helping to explain its ongoing violence and intractability.
David Hirsh, Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London:
This short and accessible book shows that a significant proportion of antisemitism in today’s Middle East results from Nazi efforts to influence Islamist and Arab Nationalist thinking. The impact of Soviet antisemitism is already well documented. If antisemitism is not only an effect but also an ongoing cause of conflict between Jews and Arabs, then Matthias Küntzel’s scholarship will require many people to think again. It also sheds new light on how this local conflict came to be regarded as globally significant.
David Patterson, University of Texas, USA:
With his usual depth and insight, Matthias Küntzel demonstrates two points that are essential to any understanding of the Islamic antisemitism that pervades not only the Middle East but also the rest of world. First, he explains the centrality of Nazi exterminationist Jew hatred in Islamic Jihadist ideology, particularly as that ideology emerged from the Muslim Brotherhood. Second, he brings out the dangerous ways in which the hybrid of Nazi and Jihadist antisemitism continues to spread throughout the region, from Ankara to Tehran. Making crucial connections between history and contemporary realities, this book is a must-read for anyone who seeks to fathom the complexities of today’s Middle East and what they bode for tomorrow.
Jeffrey H. Herf, University of Maryland, USA:
Matthias Küntzel, author of the pioneering work Jihad and Jew-Hatred, has offered another bold and pathbreaking study of the impact of Nazi Germany on the Middle East, on the emergence of Islamic antisemitism, and of important causes of the Arab Israeli war of 1948.
He writes in the spirit of the postwar West German and then German tradition of honest reckoning with the realities and the aftermath of the crimes and hatreds of Nazi Germany. In so doing, he offers a work that synthesizes a sizable scholarly literature, offers new and important archival findings, recasts conventional periodization, and sheds light on persons and ideas that comprised the era of “post-Nazism” in the Middle East, and should stimulate debate and fresh thinking.
With clarity, boldness, and scholarly rigor, he offers us a work that anyone with an interest in these issues in the academy and among general readers, should read and ponder.