Saturday, June 25, 2016

Israel, Islam, and the Clash of Civilizations

By Michael Kaplan

Israeli female soldiers of the 33rd Caracal Battalion take part in a graduation march in the Negev desert. Female warriors are an important symbol in the clash of civilizations. The IDF is the one army that ISIS fears.  Menahem Kahana/Getty Images

The world – the Western and Islamic worlds that is – has a most unhealthy and irrational obsession with Zionism, the Jewish people, and the Jewish state. An ocean of ink has been spilled over the past hundred years – and terabytes of cyberspace filled up these days – on the existential conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs.

In fact the Israeli-Palestinian conflict claims a far larger share of the world’s attention than it deserves. Geopolitically it’s not that important; “a 20th century problem surrounded by 21st century chaos,” in the words of one diplomat. Indeed, the fate of Israel and the Palestinians is far less important to the geostrategic interests of the United States than events elsewhere in the Middle East, East Asia, and beyond. Former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer is right when he asks “can it be proven that it would make a substantive – vice emotional – difference to U.S. security if . . . every Palestinian killed every Israeli, or vice versa . . . ?” The “brutal but correct” answer says Scheuer is that it doesn’t. Ethno-religious communal conflicts, like that between Israel and the Palestinians, “evoke sympathy and stir emotion,” but none of them, “regardless of who wins, endanger U.S. interests.”

Ah, but there’s the rub. While Scheuer overstates his case – Israel, as General David Petraeus points out, does have strategic value as a stable nation with an advanced economy and a powerful military that shares American cultural and political values in a part of the world that is increasingly unstable and dysfunctional – the American people do have a considerable  historical and emotional investment in Israel.

Ever since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Americans have seen themselves as the “New Israel.” “Come, let us declare in Zion the work of the Lord our God,” proclaimed the Pilgrim leader William Bradford, quoting the prophet Jeremiah. Adherents of the Calvinist faith, and this includes Puritans and Jacksonians, gave their children Hebrew names (Abraham, Samuel, David, Jeremiah, Abigail, Rachel, Esther, Sarah, Dina, etc., etc.,) and bestowed upon the New World such biblical place names as Shiloh, Bethel, Bethlehem, Jericho, and New Canaan. Preachers and pamphleteers portrayed the American Revolution as a reenactment of the biblical Exodus: the Continental Army became the “army of Israel” under the command of the providentially chosen George Washington, the Moses who led the thirteen colonies out of bondage to “Pharaoh” George III, through the wilderness of war, to the promised land of independence. The Reverend Abiel Abbot announced in a 1799 sermon: “It has often been remarked that the people of the United States come nearer to a parallel with Ancient Israel, than any other nation upon the globe. Hence Our American Israel is a term frequently used; and common consent allows it apt and proper.”

Early Americans were among the first Zionists. In 1819 John Adams wrote to the Jewish American writer and politician Mordecai Manuel Noah: “Farther I could find it in my heart to wish that you had been at the head of a hundred thousand Israelites . . . & marching with them into Judea & making a conquest of that country & restoring your nation to the dominion of it. For I really wish the Jews again in Judea an independent nation.”

Jacksonians tend to identify with Israel, ancient and modern. Nineteenth-century Jacksonians saw themselves as Israelites engaged in the holy work of winning the land from the Native American Canaanites. While fighting the Seminoles in Florida in 1818, Andrew Jackson declared that his soldiers were “like the Iseralites of old in the wilderness.Jackson believed his army acted as “the hand of heaven . . . pointed against the exciters of this war,” on a mission to scatter the enemy “over the whole face of the Earth. Present-day Jacksonians admire Israeli strength and resolve and view the Jewish state as a valuable ally in the war against radical Islam. They also see Israel as a valiant David that shares American values, surrounded by a sea of Arab Muslim Goliaths whose social, cultural, and political mores leave Jacksonians baffled, whose states and societies are in meltdown, and whose embrace of jihadist terrorism places them beyond the pale of civilization and renders them enemies of the United States.

Israel is the source of the Abrahamic faiths that claim the loyalty of at least half of mankind. Though small in number as a people the contributions of the Jews to world civilization is immense. (Though, as Yuval Noah Harari points out, Judaism as a religion has had a very minor impact on civilization, other than as the source of the ethical monotheism universalized by Christianity and Islam.) And so the historical and emotional importance of Israel and the Jews to America and the world guarantee that Israel’s actions and destiny will remain at the center of the world’s stage. (See, for example the current issue of Foreign Affairs, cover shown below.)

Of course when it comes to Israel and the Jews it’s just not possible for most observers to be fair and balanced, or engage in calm, reasoned discourse. Israel and the Jews push too many hot buttons for too many people – religious, historical, cultural, psychological, and political – for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. Friends and foes of Israel, living in alternate realities, committed with passionate intensity to uncompromising positions, engage in take-no-prisoners ideological jousts that inevitably devolve into incoherent paroxysms of righteous anger and rage. (And yes, most of the anger and rage against Israel, these days largely on the Leftis driven by anti-Semitism. Walter Russell Mead calls this new incarnation of Jew-hatred the Israel Outrage Industry. See: Helen Thomas.) There is simply too much historical and emotional baggage for all involved.

I certainly make no claim to “objectivity.” As an American, a Jew, and a Jacksonian, my sympathies are with Israel and her people. I believe wholeheartedly in Zionism, the rebirth of Israel, its language, culture, and historical heritage as a modern Jewish nation in its ancient homeland. A nation that works to realize its commitment to democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and the highest moral aspirations of Judaism, however imperfectly, in the most trying of circumstances.

As to the other side, let me say up-front that I have little sympathy for the Arab Palestinians or their cause. There are 22 Arab states in the world, many increasingly violent and dysfunctional (ISIS caliphate anyone?); I see no pressing need for a twenty-third. (Nor do Henry Kissinger and Adam Garfinkle.)

Israel, more than the United States and Europe, is on the front lines of a war of blood and faith with large parts of the world of Islam. “There is not much in human affairs that is absolute,” writes anthropologist Philip Carl Salzman, “but the Arab rejection of Israel is as close to absolute as possible.” The deep tribal roots of Arab culture (“I and my brother against my cousin), the insistence on Islamic supremacy (what Richard Landes calls “triumphalist” Islam), the belief that Jews can only be subordinate dhimmis, and the call to avenge the humiliations of wounded honor in an honor-shame culture, make it almost impossible for Arabs and Muslims to accept a sovereign Jewish state in the heart of the dar al-Islam. Arab Muslims, like Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, have been taught to believe that Jews are unclean creatures whose filthy feet defile the sacred soil of Jerusalem.

The creation of Israel in 1948 is condemned by Arabs and Muslims as a catastrophe (nakba) that displaced between 400,000 and 750,000 Arab Palestinians (estimates vary; a larger number of Mizrahi Jews were expelled from Muslim countries – a Jewish nakba), and overturned the natural order of the world where Muslims rule and infidels submit. Political scientist Ian Lustick writes that for Arabs and Muslims, Israel’s “very creation and existence, constitute an unbearable injustice.” He questions “whether Israel, as a Jewish country, can be stomached by the vast Arab and Muslim majorities of the Middle East.” Hatred of the “Zionist entity” among Arab Muslims is so intense, Lustick warns, that it may be politically and psychologically impossible for them to see any future for Israel “other than the fate of the Crusaders.” That Israel is a successful, prosperous, dynamic modern society while contemporary Arab societies are catastrophic failures, only deepens the Arab sense of shame and humiliation and intensifies the Arab commitment to eliminate the “Zionist entity” as the only way to redeem honor and attain justice. 

(Update: All this may be in the process of changing at the state level. The Iranian and ISIS threats have led to a tentative thaw between Israel and the Sunni Arab states. However Arab societies and the Arab street remain virulently anti-Semitic.)

Arab Palestinians are an integral part of the broader Arab nation. The Arabs who live on both sides of the Jordan are the same people with the same culture, language, and mix of ethnic and religious sects. Indeed the same can be said for the entire Levant or “Greater Syria” (Bilad ash-Sham, a claim frequently asserted by the late Hafez al-Assad). Testifying before Britain’s Peel Commission in 1937, Awni Bey Abd al-Hadi, leader of the Arab nationalist Istiqlal Party, asserted:
There is no such country as Palestine. “Palestine” is a term the Zionists invented. There is no Palestine in the Bible. Our country was for centuries part of Syria. “Palestine” is alien to us. It is the Zionists who introduced it.
Zuheir Moshen, one-time leader of the as-Sa’iqa faction of PLO, declared in 1977 that there never was a separate Palestinian nation. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians, and Lebanese.” In 2015, PA President Mahmoud Abbas stated that Palestinians and Jordanians are “one people living in two states.” A Jordanian government minister agreed with Abbas, saying that “Jordan and Palestine are one body with one spirit.” In other words, Jordan is Palestine. The existence of a distinct Arab Palestinian people was put forth solely as a weapon to fight Zionism.

Far from dating back to “time immemorial,” today’s Palestinian Arab population descends in large part from immigrants who arrived between the 1830s and 1947. During the first twenty years of the British mandate (1919-1938) some 419,000 Arabs migrated to Palestine. In those same years they were joined by 343,000 Jews. In the words of Evelyn Gordon, “both Palestinians and Jews comprise small indigenous populations augmented by massive immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries.” 

Take for instance Rana Baker, a Gaza-born blogger at The Electronic Intifada, graduate of SOAS, University of London, and Ph.D. student at Columbia University, who declares that resistance to settler-colonialism justifies violence targeted at Israeli civilians, including the cold-blooded murder of Israeli teenagers. Baker writes that her family, of Syrian and Turkish origin, came to Palestine in the early twentieth century. The extended family of Palestinian diplomat and professional liar Saeb Erekat, despite his insistence that they lived in Jericho for 5,500 years before Joshua ben Nun arrived, are one of seven clans of the Howeitat tribal confederation that migrated to Palestine around 1860 from the Howeitat district of northwestern Arabia. Likewise the four main clans of the village of Umm el-Fahm traced their origins to Ottoman-era migrants from Syria, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. Other clans, attracted by the economic opportunities created by Zionism, came to the village from Egypt and Transjordan during the British mandate. The Baker and Erekat families, like the clans of Umm el-Fahm, were following the same path as Sheikh ‘Izz al-Dīn al-Qassām, the charismatic Islamist preacher, fidai (guerrilla), and inspiration for Hamas, who died leading a jihad against the Jews and the British in 1935. Qassām was born in northern Syria and migrated to Palestine in 1920 at age thirty-eight. One of the great heroes and martyrs of the Palestinian resistance, the first Palestinian fidai” as Joseph Massad calls him, was not really a Palestinian at all.

Well, as no less a figure than Fathi Hammad, the Hamas minister of the interior and national security, explains:
Allah be praised, we all have Arab roots, and every Palestinian, in Gaza and throughout Palestine, can prove his Arab roots – whether from Saudi Arabia, from Yemen, or anywhere. We have blood ties. So where is your affection and mercy?


Personally, half my family is Egyptian. We are all like that. More than 30 families in the Gaza Strip are called Al-Masri [“Egyptian”]. Brothers, half of the Palestinians are Egyptians and the other half are Saudis.

Who are the Palestinians? We have many families called Al-Masri, whose roots are Egyptian. Egyptian! They may be from Alexandria, from Cairo, from Dumietta, from the North, from Aswan, from Upper Egypt. We are Egyptians. We are Arabs. We are Muslims. We are a part of you.
Hammad adds that Palestine is the spearhead for Islam and the tip of the Jihad. The idea, or the myth, of a Palestinian Arab nation as distinct from the larger Arab Muslim nation began to develop in the 1920s, but did not fully emerge until the 1960s. Historian and blogger Michael Lumish gets it just right: I do not see where the Jewish people are under any obligation (moral, legal, or otherwise) to recognize a people who only recently constituted themselves as a people for the sole purpose of opposing the creation and maintenance of our small home. Not every Arab tribe that calls itself a nation has the right to its own failed state. There are enough tribes with flags in the Middle East already.

The IDF entering the Old City of Jerusalem through Lions Gate, June 1967.

Nonetheless, for reasons of both realpolitik and the hope for reconciliation between two peoples dealt a hard hand by history, I was in favor of Israel trying to accommodate Palestinian aspirations in a two-state solution during the Oslo period of the 1990s. At that time I believed it was possible for the Palestinians to achieve self-determination while allowing the people of Israel to live in peace alongside their Palestinian neighbors.

A second intifada, three rejected offers of statehood, three wars with Hamas and Hezbollah later, and the sight of Palestinians dancing in celebration on 9/11, have changed my mind. Self-determination for Palestinians can only be conditional on their willingness to live in peace with the Jewish people and the Jewish state. So far the Palestinians have shown that they are not ready to do this. Indeed, by insisting on a “right of return,” by continuing to engage in and support terrorism, by saturating their society with an unending stream of anti-Semitic hatred through their media and education system, and demanding that any future state be Judenrein, the Palestinians have shown that they are still committed to Israel’s destruction. “Israel is prepared to give up land,” Charles Krauthammer writes, “but never again without peace. A final peace. Which is exactly what every Palestinian leader from Haj Amin al-Husseini to Yasser Arafat to Mahmoud Abbas has refused to accept.” Krauthammer adds that “territorial disputes are solvable; existential conflicts are not.” And Shlomo Avineri writes: “The truth is that in the Palestinian narrative, the Jews are neither a people nor a nation, but merely a religious community; therefore they aren’t entitled to a state.” Yossi Kuperwasser lists five fundamental principles on which the Palestinians reject a Jewish state, principles shared by much of the Israel Outrage Industry:

There is no Jewish people. Judaism is a religion, not a national group, and therefore the Jews have no right to self-determination.

The Jews never had sovereignty in the Land of Israel, and therefore there is no justification for their claim to a Jewish state here – as a result, the disappearance of the State of Israel is inevitable.

The Jews are faulty beings, which is why the Europeans sought to be rid of them – there is therefore no justification for the Palestinians, who have owned the land for ages and are the descendants of the Canaanites, having to actually suffer being in their vicinity.

All means that will expedite the disappearance of Israel are legitimate, including armed struggle, popular uprising and diplomatic activities. Methods that promise the greatest achievements at the least possible cost are always to be preferred. Currently, the focus must be on the diplomatic and legal campaign and on a popular uprising (including the use of force without live weaponry).

The Palestinians are victims of Israel and the West, and therefore those parties have no right to demand that the Palestinians accept responsibility for their deeds or criticism over their course of action.

David P. Goldman (a.k.a. Spengler) observes that “the Palestinians are not an oppressed people, but rather the irreconcilable remnants of a once-victorious but now defeated empire, living in an irredentist dream world in which a new Salahuddin will drive the new Crusaders into the sea.” In hindsight it is clear that the Oslo Accords were a disastrous strategic blunder from which Israel is struggling to recover. To quote the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens: “I’m not against a two-state solution, if the other state is Canada. Do we think Israel should be party to the birth of the 23rd Arab state, another Iran hard on its borders?” A Palestinian state in Judah, Samaria, and Gaza with no limits on its sovereignty is geopolitically infeasible if not impossible. So conclude the strategic analysts at Stratfor. Martin Sherman argues that a fully sovereign Palestinian state, a state that would not be demilitarized, would violate Israel’s minimum security requirements. “Why,” Sherman asks, “would the world accept another state that is misogynist and homophobic? Jews must realize that between the River and the Sea there will be either Jewish or Muslim sovereignty.” There is simply no room for two sovereign states west of the Jordan River. This hard reality is not often discussed or acknowledged.

The bottom line is that the two-state solution is dead because a majority of Palestinians don’t want and never did want any of the realistic versions of statehood with restricted sovereignty that have been or can be offered. The two-state solution envisioned by the Palestinians would be, to quote Mark Levin, the final solution for Israel. Anne-Marie Slaughter, former State Department deputy to Hillary Clinton and now president of the New America Foundation, insists that Israel’s leadersby ignoring Palestinian dreams, are courting a nightmare.” Ms. Slaughter, trapped in the dead-end logic and false religion of the Middle East peace process, has it all wrong. It is the fulfillment of the Palestinian dream  the destruction of the Jewish state and the genocide of the Jewish people  that would be the true nightmare.

“I’m not going to change my narrative,” Saeb Erekat declares. “When you say accept Israel as a Jewish state it means you’re asking me to change my narrative. Yes Saeb, if you are serious about peace you will have to change your narrative, which is less than truthful about Jewish and Arab history. The Palestinians need a serious attitude adjustment on the reality of Jewish nationhood. Strategic analyst and historian Michael Mandelbaum agrees. “Peace,” writes Mandelbaum“requires a fundamental change of attitude on the part of the Palestinians, nothing less.

Trafalgar Square, London, August 21, 2011.

Jacksonians are now the strongest supporters of Israel in the United States. And since the concept of honor is as central to the Jacksonian mindset as it is to Arabs and Muslims, they understand something that eludes liberal progressives: that the Palestinians and their supporters in the Islamic world and the West don’t want peace with Israel; they want peace with no Israel. In the West anti-Semitism has made a comeback in its old European haunts, while trendy left-wing “postcolonialist” academic theorists like Rashid KhalidiJoseph Massad, and Steven Salaita, disciples of the late Edward Said, aim to delegitimize Israel among bien-pensant progressive opinion makers by declaring it the unredeemable spawn of Western colonialism.

Western and Islamic anti-Zionists are aided and abetted by members of Israel’s “post-Zionist” adversary culture: journalists like Amira Hass, Gideon Levy, David Landau, Mairav Zonszein, and other writers at the newspaper Haaretz and the online journal +972; academics such as the historian Ilan Pappé (Israel’s Howard Zinn), philosopher Anat Biletzky, sociologist Eva Illouz, and political scientist Oren Yiftachel; NGOs, especially the pro-Palestinian advocacy group B’Tselemand an assortment of other individuals and groups. These left-wing elites, like their American counterparts, despise their own people whom they deride as racists, colonialists, and Islamophobes, have contempt for the democratic process, and condemn their nation as the embodiment of evil, while using every trick of intellectual casuistry to justify and exonerate Palestinian terrorism. The late Helen Thomas, one-time dean of White House correspondents, revealed the true agenda of Western anti-Zionists (and ended her own career) when she called on the Jews “to get the hell out of Palestine” (a sentiment recently seconded by Max Blumenthal). The slogan chanted at pro-Palestinian rallies in Europe and the United States, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free,” is nothing less than a call for the genocide of the Jews.

If the Palestinians’ opponents were anyone other than the Jews, the international community (and the radical Left) would show them the same contempt it shows the Kurds, Tibetans, North Koreans, Assyrian and Coptic Christians, and so many other ethnic and religious groups in distress across the globe. Hatred of the Jews, not compassion for suffering Palestinians, motivates left-wing anti-Zionist activist groups in the Israel Outrage Industry.

Progressive anti-Zionists refuse to acknowledge that there are no secular democratic states in the Arab world where the rights of ethnic and religious minorities receive any protection, let alone treat them as equal citizens. This includes the Palestinians who have been indoctrinated by both Hamas and Fatah into an Islamo-Nazi culture of hate, where militants call the killing of Jews and harvesting their skulls “an act of worship,” and young girls recite poems declaring Jews to be monkeys and pigs “condemned to humiliation and hardship.” Journalist David Shipler and researcher Daniel Polisar both found that Palestinian attitudes have become more implacably antisemitic in the twenty years since the Oslo Accords; that “there is less – if any – daylight between individual Palestinians’ expressed opinions and the official line of the Palestinian leadership.

Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders are now trapped in this culture of hate they helped create. Indeed, Abbas continues to foment hatred of Jews by spreading the blood libel that Jews seek to defile the Al Aqsa Mosque “with their filthy feet.” Speaking before the European Parliament just two days ago, Abbas revived another ancient blood libel, accusing the Jews of poisoning Palestinian wells. More disturbing was the standing ovation Abbas received from the assembled European representatives. Former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky told The Times of Israel’s David Horovitz that “if Abbas were to say, ‘We can accept the fact that Jews will live here,’ he would be killed.” Edward Said at least was more honest than his postcolonialist disciples in acknowledging the uncertain future of a Jewish minority in an Arab Muslim majority state. “I worry about that,” Said told Haaretz’s Ari Shavit in 2000. “It worries me a great deal. The question of what is going be the fate of the Jews is very difficult for me. I really don’t know.”

Joseph Spoerl points out that anti-Zionist advocates of a binational “secular democratic” Palestine, “systematically whitewash Palestinian political culture by denying, ignoring, or obscuring its Islamic, Islamist, and antisemitic aspects. Their goal is to distract their readers from the illiberal, undemocratic aspects of Palestinian society so as to keep the focus relentlessly on the real or imagined sins of Israel.” They also promote what Martin Kramer calls “the myth of Palestinian exceptionalism.” Palestinian political culture, the Israel Outrage Industry insists, is unique in the Arab world in its commitment to democracy, equality, tolerance, non-violence, and respect for diverse points of view. This certainly would make the Palestinians the exception to the Arab Muslim norm. But as Kramer says it is a myth, a “triumph of image over substance.” Palestinian historian Ahmad Samih Khalidi admitted as much in 1996:

No matter what image the Palestinians have of themselves—in particular the carefully cultivated self- image of the large and vociferous Palestinian intelligentsia—the truth is that Palestinian society in its basic structure and orientation is fundamentally no different from the Arab societies that surround it. Even a fervent belief in the justice and morality of the Palestinian cause should not blind us to the realities of Palestinian social and political conditions and to the fact that the kind of regime that will initially emerge from these conditions will in many ways replicate other regimes that have sprung from similar conditions.

Palestinian society, Khalidi added, was “still dominated by traditional rural modes of action and behavior, still motivated by local differences and tribal rivalries, and still marked by conflicts of class and clan.” Neither Palestinian Arab nor any other Arab Muslim society had any experience with or commitment to secular democratic norms. So it was no surprise that the Palestinian Authority of Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas would become a typically corrupt Middle Eastern autocracy. To have expected otherwise, Khalidi concluded, was “either naïve or ill informed.”

Benny Morris, the preeminent historian of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence and the Palestinian nakbalays out the true meaning of a “secular democratic Palestine”:

The Palestinian vision was never — as described by various Palestinian spokesmen in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s to Western journalists — of a “secular, democratic Palestine” (though it certainly sounded more palatable than, say, the “destruction of Israel,” which was the goal it was meant to paper over or camouflage). Indeed, “a secular democratic Palestine” had never been the goal of Fatah or the so-called moderate groups that dominated the PLO between the 1960s and the 2006 elections that brought Hamas to power. . . .

And today, again, and for the same reasons – the phrase retains its good, multicultural, liberal ring – “a secular, democratic Palestine” is bandied about by Palestinian one-state supporters. And a few one-statists, indeed, may sincerely believe in and desire such a denouement. But given the realities of Palestinian politics and behaviour, the phrase objectively serves merely as camouflage for the goal of a Muslim Arab-dominated polity to replace Israel. And, as in the past, the goal of “a secular democratic Palestine” is not the platform or policy of any major Palestinian political institution or party.

Indeed, the idea of a “secular democratic Palestine” is as much a nonstarter today as it was three decades ago. It is a nonstarter primarily because the Palestinian Arabs, like the world’s other Muslim Arab communities, are deeply religious and have no respect for democratic values and no tradition of democratic governance.

A reader commenting on an article about the Electronic Initifada’s Ali Abunimah on the Jewish Daily Forward website suggests that his vision for the Jews is the same as that of the Tsarist minister Konstantin Pobedonostsev: “One-third will die out, one-third will leave the country, and one-third will be completely dissolved in the surrounding population.” Perhaps this is what anti-Zionist activists Omar Barghouti and Max Blumenthal mean when they say that Jewish colonialists must be “indigenized.” So behind their talk of human rights and fancy academic jargon, what Barghouti, Blumenthal, and Abunimah (and the Ayatollah Khamenei) are saying is that those Jews allowed to remain in the new Palestine, those whose skulls have not been harvested by Hamas, will be granted the traditional status of dhimmis, second-class subjects or worse in an Arab Muslim state.

“Palestine is our land and the Jews are our dogs!” the rallying cry of the Nebi Musa rioters in 1920 is still the defining sentiment of Palestinian nationalism, the Arab street, and radical Islam. Anti-Zionist protesters from Jerusalem to San Francisco have shouted it out as recently as 2009. Likewise demonstrators throughout the Arab world chant Khaybar, Khaybar, O Jews, the army of Muhammad will return.” Indeed Muhammad’s defeat and extermination of the Jews at the Battle of Khaybar is frequently celebrated and reenacted in Arab popular culture. Postcolonial theory, the dominant ideology of the academic Left, has nothing relevant to say about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was not Jewish immigration and settlement per se that provoked Arab Muslim anger, writes historian Yaacov Lozowick, “but the Jewish attempt to change the rules by ceasing to be subordinate dhimmis and to strive for a national home. The Palestinians rejected Jewish aspirations not because they were European colonialists and foreign invaders, but because they were familiar, second-class locals who had suddenly dared to overturn the natural order.” This natural order was vividly described by H. E. Wilkie Young, British vice consul in Mosul in 1909, who witnessed firsthand just how the subordination of Jewish and Christian dhimmis was enforced in a traditional Arab Muslim-majority society:
The attitude of the Moslems towards the Christians and Jews, to whom as stated above, they are in a majority of ten to one, is that of a master towards slaves whom he treats with a certain lordly tolerance so long as they keep their place. Any sign of pretension to equality is promptly repressed. It is often noticed in the street that almost any Christian submissively makes way even for a Moslem child. Only a few days ago the writer saw two respectable-looking, middle-aged Jews walking in a garden. A small Moslem boy, who could not have been more than eight years old, passed by and, as he did so, picked up a large stone and threw it at them—and then another—with the utmost nonchalance, just as a small boy elsewhere might aim at a dog or bird. The Jews stooped and avoided the aim, which was a good one, but made no further protest.
Please note how the Muslim child in Young’s report treated the adult Jews as his dogs by throwing stones at them. 

Jews as dhimmis in a traditional Muslim society. Two Jews of Mosul, c. 1910. Keystone-Mast Collection, Univ. of California, Riverside.

Young’s story illustrates how the history of the Mizrahi Jews, the Arabic- and Persian-speaking Jews of the dar al-Islam, turns the postcolonialist paradigm on its head. In the words of Lyn Julius, it places “the colonial boot on the Arab foot.” Indeed, the Arabs were among the most successful colonizers and imperialists in world history. Arab conquerors, filled with zeal for their new religion of Islam, swept out of Arabia in the seventh century, imposing their language and their faith on the largely Aramaic-speaking Christian and Jewish communities of the Middle East. The achievement of postcolonialist godfather and con-man Edward Said was to convince liberal progressive opinion makers that Arab Muslim conquerors and imperialists were the downtrodden victims of European and Jewish! imperialism.

For most of the Middle Ages some 75 percent of the world’s Jews lived in Iraq, Iran and other Islamic lands. There were two sides to the Jewish experience in the Muslim world. On the one hand Mizrahi Jews flourished for long periods under the various caliphates, creating an economically and culturally dynamic urban civilization. The key to Mizrahi Jewish prosperity under Islam was tolerance. Amy Chua (yes, before she became the notorious Tiger Mom, she was a serious scholar of empires in history) writes that tolerance relative tolerance was the defining characteristic of all of historys great civilizational empires. Tolerance, as Chua defines it, means letting very different kinds of people live, work, and prosper in your society – even if only for instrumental and strategic reasons.” Chua adds that tolerance refers to the degree of freedom with which individuals or groups of different ethnic, religious, racial, linguistic, or other backgrounds are permitted to coexist, participate, and rise in society. Tolerance, Chua notes, does not necessarily mean respect for subject peoples by an empires dominant group. An empires rulers can make use of its subject peoples talents while still holding them in contempt. This was the other side of the Jewish experience as dhimmis, the legal term for subject peoples under Islam.

Islam’s golden age. Abd-ar-Rahman III, Caliph of Cordoba, and his court in Medina Azahara, by Dionisio Baixeras Verdaguer.

Under the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates, Islam was a vibrant, relatively tolerant, intellectually dynamic civilization, whose great capitals of Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo, and Córdoba were multiethnic, multi-religious metropolises, centers of creative cultural discourse between Muslims, Jews, and Christians. In Muslim Spain, called al-Andalus (Andalusia) by Muslims and ha-Sefarad by Jews, the period from the eighth to the eleventh centuries witnessed a renaissance of Jewish life and culture and its synthesis with Islamo-Arab culture. Indeed the great Umayyad Caliph of Córdoba, Abd ar-Rahman III (r. 912-961), chose Hasdai ibn Shaprut, the leader of Andalusia’s Jewish community, to be his vizier. Dhimmi status and payment of the jizya (poll tax) provided certain legal protections and a degree of self-government for Jews in the dar al-Islam that they lacked in medieval Christendom.

But this protection came at the price of social subordination and political impotence. Muslim tolerance toward religious minorities has been greatly exaggerated. For all of their economic and cultural achievements, Mizrahi Jews (along with Christians) were still dhimmis, the colonized subjects of an Arab Muslim imperium, subjected to a regime of degradation and humiliation, forbidden to look their masters in the eye as equals. As Michael Lumish writes“For thirteen centuries Jews lived under the jack-boot of Arab-Muslim supremacy. . . . In some places we were not even allowed to go out in the rain lest Jewish filth wash onto, and thereby contaminate, the clean Muslim streets. And now the West is telling us that Jews are being mean to Arabs. The Quran (Surah 9:29) calls upon all Muslims to “fight against those who believe not in Allah... and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) until they pay the jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves brought low. The very visible economic and social success of the Mizrahi Jews provoked anti-Semitic backlashes. Periods of peaceful coexistence and prosperity were frequently punctured by pogroms and persecution to make sure that Jews were brought low. This would be increasingly the case after the Mongol conquests of the thirteenth century destroyed the urban civilization of the Middle East, and the Islamic world began its long decline to its current state of civilizational failure.

Jews at the Western Wall in Jerusalem by Felix Bonfils, 1870s. Wikipedia.

Describing the Jews of Morocco in the 1780s, the Italian Jewish traveler Samuel Romanelli exclaimed: 
Lord God! Oppressed, miserable creatures that they are! They have neither the mouth to answer an Arab, nor the cheek to raise their head. When an Arab tells one of them to bend down so that he might strike him, the fellow bends and lets himself be hit, not even daring to look them in the face lest they should say that he cursed them in his heart.
Twenty years later the Catalan explorer Domènech Badia i Leblich, who wrote under the pseudonym “Ali Bey al-Abbasi,noted that The Jews in Morocco are in the most abject state of slavery.” In the 1830s the pioneer British Orientalist Edward Lane wrote that the Jews of Cairo were held in the utmost contempt and abhorrence by Muslims in general.” Western travelers in nineteenth-century Palestine, decades before the first Zionist settlements, described the state of degradation and humiliation endured by Jews in their ancient homeland. Here is the French author François-René de Chateaubriand’s account of the oppression of the Jews of Jerusalem in 1806:
The particular objects of every species of degradation, these people bow their heads without murmuring; they endure every kind of insult without demanding justice; they sink beneath repeated blows without sighing; if their head be required, they present it to the scymetar. . . . Enter the abodes of these people, you will find them, amidst the most abject wretchedness. . .
The American explorer John Lloyd Stephens, who visited the Holy Land while Andrew Jackson was in the White House, gave this chilling account of a massacre of the Jews of Hebron by the invading Egyptian army of Ibrahim Pasha in 1834:
I cannot leave this place, however, without a word or two more. I had spent a long evening with my Jewish friends. The old rabbi talked to me of their prospects and condition, and told me how he had left his country in Europe many years before, and come with his wife and children to lay their bones in the Holy Land. He was now eighty years old; and for thirty years, he said, he had lived with the sword suspended over his head; had been reviled, buffeted, and spit upon; and, though sometimes enjoying a respite from persecution, he never knew at what moment the bloodhounds might not be let loose upon him; that, since the country had been wrested from the sultan by the Pacha of Egypt, they had been comparatively safe and tranquil; though some idea may be formed of this comparative security from the fact that, during the revolution two years before, when Ibrahim Pacha, after having been pent up several months in Jerusalem, burst out like a roaring lion, the first place upon which his wrath descended was the unhappy Hebron; and while their guilty brethren were sometimes spared, the unhappy Jews, never offending but always suffering, received the full weight of Arab vengeance. Their houses were ransacked and plundered; their gold and silver, and all things valuable, carried away; and their wives and daughters violated before their eyes by a brutal soldiery.
As Stephens’s account makes clear, the Jews of Hebron, even before the massacre by the Egyptians, were despised by their Arab neighbors who treated them as social pariahs whom they could abuse with impunity. In 1852 the Anglican clergyman Arthur George Harpur Hollingsworth found the situation of the Jews in Palestine unchanged: “This Jewish population is poor beyond any adequate word; it is degraded in its social and political condition, to a state of misery, so great, that it possesses no rights.” Even if Jews had any wealth, which they didn’t, they would have to hide it, “because to display riches would secure robbery from the Mahometan population, the Turkish officials, or the Bedouin Arab.” Despised by Arabs and Turks “as an execrated race,” hated by them “as the literal descendants of the original possessors of the country,” it was only “by the assistance of a great power like England, that a Jew, desiring to obtain security, liberty, and justice in Palestine, can secure his rights.” Finally, the founding father of the Left himself, Karl Marx, drawing on the reports of the French diplomat César Famin, wrote about Muslim oppression of the Jews of Jerusalem in the April 15, 1854 issue of the New York Tribune:
[T]he sedentary population of Jerusalem numbers about 15,500 souls, of whom 4,000 are Mussulmans and 8,000 Jews. The Mussulmans, forming about a fourth part of the whole, and consisting of Turks, Arabs, and Moors, are, of course, the masters in every respect, as they are in no way affected by the weakness of their Government at Constantinople. Nothing equals the misery and the sufferings of the Jews at Jerusalem, inhabiting the most filthy quarter of the town, called hareth-el-yahoud, in the quarter of dirt between the Zion and the Moriah, where their synagogues are situated—the constant objects of Mussulman oppression and intolerance, insulted by the Greeks, persecuted by the Latins, and living only upon the scanty alms transmitted by their European brethren.
For the Left’s supreme icon to expose the myth of Muslim tolerance and report that Jews were a majority in Jerusalem decades before the first Zionist settlements is a major embarrassment for left-wing anti-Zionists.

An elderly rabbi, a dhimmi in pre-Zionist Arab Muslim Palestine.
 Jew of Jerusalem c. 1900-1910. Library of Congress.

This was what it meant to be a dhimmi in pre-Zionist Arab Muslim Palestine. This is what would mean to be indigenized” in a post-Zionist Arab Muslim Palestine. This was the condition that the State of Israel was created to redress. This is the condition to which Jews would return in a “secular democratic” (i.e. Arab-Islamic) Palestinian state.

The Israel Outrage Industry repeats ad nauseam that before the rise of Zionism, Muslims and Jews lived together in peace, harmony, and mutual respect. These examples all show that the alleged Muslim tolerance of Jews was greatly exaggerated. Naïve liberal Jews, like J-Street’s Marcia Freedman, should keep this in mind when calling for Jews to give up political sovereignty and live once again as a protected minority– as dhimmis – in an Arab Muslim Palestine.

Historian Georges Bensoussan finds that by the nineteenth century most Mizrahi Jews lived in a state of misery and fear, which was alleviated only by the presence of the European colonial powers, culminating in the mass expulsion – the ethnic cleansing – of Jews from the Arab lands after 1948 and their flight to Israel. And Israel, unlike the Arab world, welcomed and assimilated the flood of refugees that came to its shores. Zionism, which began as a nationalist movement by European Jews, liberated and empowered the Mizrahi Jews, enabling them to be masters of their destiny and actors on the political stage. Albert Memmi, the Tunisian-born Mizrahi author of The Colonizer and the Colonized, rendered this verdict on how the traditional Arab contempt for Jewish dhimmis, what historian Richard Landes calls the honor-shame dynamic in Arab political culture, shapes the conflict with Israel:
The attitude of the Arabs towards us seems to me to be hardly different from what it has always been. The Arabs in the past merely tolerated the existence of Jewish minorities, no more. They have not yet recovered from the shock of seeing their former underlings raise up their heads, attempting even to gain their national independence! They know of only one rejoinder: off with their heads!
This, Middle East analyst Raymond Ibrahim agrees, is the true cause of Arab Muslim hatred of Israel. Far from being brought low, “Israel—the dhimmi that got away—actually has authority and power over Muslims. Now, if dhimmis are supposed to be kept in total submission to Muslims, how then when one of them actually lords over Muslims? Hence Islam’s immense and existential rage against the Jewish state.” A rage made more intense by the collapse of Arab Islamic civilization and the refusal of the Arab peoples to take any responsibility for their civilization’s failure.

Relic of a lost golden age. The Great Mosque of Cordoba, Andalusia, Spain. Wikimedia.

And the hard truth is that Islam, as currently configured in its Arab heartland, is a failed civilization: angry, intolerant, intellectually and economically stagnant, smothered by the iron hand of autocracy, torn apart by tribal and sectarian violence, sexually repressed, consumed by fear and hatred of women; the dar al-Islam in the 21st century is a social, political, and cultural wasteland where liberty dare not show her face. Ashamed of their pitiful condition, Islamic jihadists and terrorists lash out in fury at the successful, prosperous, free societies of the infidels, while they rape, enslave, genitally mutilate, and burn women alive. The Arab Spring’s dream of liberation has descended into a nightmare. The millions of refugees fleeing the Arab world are, in Sohrab Ahmari’s words, “rendering their own judgment about the state of Arab civilization”; or, as Ari Shavit put it, “Millions are voting with their feet against the colossal failure of the national Arab project that failed to produce a single state combining prosperity and freedom. Muslims are fascinated with jidhadist violence, writes Arif Jamal, because of “their victimhood syndrome. Jihadism teaches them that the failures of Muslims as individuals and as an ummah (community) are caused by the infidels, who must be fought against, as Islamic scriptures order them.

Looking out upon the ruins of the Arab world, mourning its tragic decline from the glory days of the Umayyads and the Abbasids, the distinguished Lebanese journalist Hisham Melhem admits with clear-eyed and brutal honesty that “Arab civilization, such as we knew it, is all but gone. . . . Every hope of modern Arab history has been betrayed.” The jihadists, the bloodthirsty psychopaths of ISIS, “did not emerge from nowhere. They climbed out of a rotting, empty hulk — what was left of a broken-down civilization.” Melhem then comes to a grim realization: There is no evidence whatever that Islam in its various political forms is compatible with modern democracy.

Walter Russell Mead writes:
At bottom, we are witnessing the consequences of a civilization’s failure either to overcome or to accommodate the forces of modernity. One hundred years after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and 50 years after the French left Algeria, the Middle East has failed to build economies that allow ordinary people to live with dignity, has failed to build modern political institutions and has failed to carve out the place of honor and respect in world affairs that its peoples seek.
Israeli journalist Ari Shavit adds to this the role played by Edward Said and his postcolonialist disciples in stifling any honest discussion of the crisis of Arab civilization:
The third reason for the Arab humanitarian disaster is political correctness. Professor Edward Said and his students caused indescribable damage to the ability to think or speak the truth when it comes to the Arab world. Their wacky intellectual legacy did not permit talking about the region’s residents as anything but victims. The grand Arab nation – with its rich history, profound culture and considerable economic power – was treated like a juvenile who isn’t responsible for his actions. So all the ills of Arab politics were attributed to others – imperialists, colonialists, Zionists. So no real criticism of the Arab world was permitted and no one demanded it mend itself.
Strategic analyst Lt. Col. Ralph Peters (retd) concludes that in the Arab world:
A culture of blame prevents moral, social and political progress. This is a self-help universe. The nonsensical Arab insistence that all Arab problems are the fault of America and Israel (or the Crusades) ignores the fact that Arab civilization has been in decline for 700 years – and has been in utter disarray for the last 200.
This is a homemade failure. Through their own choices, cherished beliefs, values and norms, Arabs have condemned themselves to strategic incompetence. No society that oppresses women, denies advancement on merit even to men, indulges in fantastic hypocrisy, wallows in corruption, undervalues secular learning, reduces its god to a nasty disciplinarian and comforts itself with conspiracy theories will ever compete with us. . . .
Arab terrorism isn’t about redressing wrongs. It’s about revenge on a successful civilization that left the dungeon-cultures of the Middle East in the dust.
The bottom line is that until the Arab Muslim world undergoes a political, cultural, and moral transformation – an Islamic Enlightenment, a transformation of hearts and minds in President Obamas words, a Second Arab Awakening as former Jordanian foreign minister Marwan Muasher calls it, which may just be in its embryonic stages with the Arab Spring (despite all evidence to the contrary) – that produces tolerant, liberal and pluralistic societies that respect human rights and minority rights, including the right of the Jewish people to self determination, all talk of peace between Israel and a “secular democratic Palestine” as well as a resolution to the larger conflict between the West and radical Islam, is a delusion.

Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and dissident writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali have each called for a reformation in Islam. Such a reformation must, at the very least, purge the concept of jihad from the Islamic faith, or redefine it as an internal spiritual struggle instead of a holy war against the infidels. But Shadi Hamid makes a compelling argument that the Islamic world is unlikely to follow the Western path to secular liberal democracy. “Islam is distinctive in how it relates to politics – and this distinctiveness can be traced back to the religion’s founding moment in the seventh century. Islam is different.” Religion, law, and governance in Islam are woven together into a single fabric. Sharia law, which for fourteen centuries was the only law in Islamic polities, pervades all aspects of life. In Christianity there was no equivalent of Islamic law – an accumulated corpus of law concerned with governance and the regulation of social and political affairs.” Islamism and radical Islam are the products of the collision of Islamic exceptionalism with modernity. Large majorities of Muslims in the Middle East want Sharia to be the law of the land. This includes 89% of Palestinians. Political analyst Ying Ma notes that the lines between radical Islam and mainstream Islam are not all that clear. What this means for the future of non-Muslim minorities in the dar al-Islam Hamid doesn’t say. It certainly supports Benny Morris’s dim view of the prospects for a secular democratic Palestine.

Michael Mandelbaum concludes: “If the Bush democracy initiative had demonstrated that the United States could not implant democratic government in the Arab Middle East, the Arab Spring showed that the Arabs themselves could not do so, either. The local political culture proved resistant to liberty and popular sovereignty. And while Fareed Zakaria writes that Tunisia’s recent history suggests “that there is nothing in Islam or Arab society that makes it impossible for democracy to take root, with the rise of the genocidal ISIS caliphate in the ruins of Syria and Iraq that day looks distant indeed.

The revenge of a failed civilization. ISIS jihadist Mohammed EmwaziJihadi John, prepares to behead American journalist James Foley.

It would be a wonderful thing if, as the prophet Isaiah envisioned, the wolf could live with the lamb, and Israelis and Palestinians could sing Kumbaya together in a binational state. I would love nothing more than for Jews and Arabs to make love and not war. But that is not the world we are living in. In the real world any national community that wants to survive and be the master of its destiny needs the political and military might provided by its own sovereign state.

Walter Russell Mead concludes that the failure of the traditional dhimmi survival strategies of accommodation and submission leaves the Middle East’s beleaguered minorities with only three choices in the face of the Islamist onslaught: they can flee for their lives, wait to be massacred, or they can “fort up” and create their own enclaves with military forces capable of defeating their enemies. Israeli Jews have proven to be the most successful of the Middle East’s minorities at “forting up.” And history has shown that only those ethnic and religious groups able to “fort up” will survive. Prime Minister Netanyahu acknowledged this grim reality when he told the Knesset that Israel “will forever live by the sword.” “Without the protection of the Israel Defense Forces,” Jonathan Tobin points out,
Jews in Arab territory haven’t a chance. That’s a basic fact of life in the country that predates Israel’s birth. Without self-defense forces, Jewish settlers in those lands inside the pre-June 1967 borders were exposed to relentless harassment, terrorism, and even pogroms. And there is no reason to believe the situation would be any different in a future West Bank state where the Palestinian population has been educated for decades to believe Jews have no right to live in any part of the country.
And as Israeli journalist and centrist politician Yair Lapid writes:
One of the most difficult moments in the Jewish collective memory is the knowledge that when they came to murder us all, no one came to the rescue. That’s the reason Israel was founded, and the reason we’ll never leave our fate in the hands of others.
History has shown that the people of Israel must hold on to the tools of statehood and the instruments of war in a world still governed by the aggressive use of force. The tragic fate of the Yazidis and Assyrian Christians at the hands of ISIS is a dire warning of the price of powerlessness in the Muslim Middle East. Indeed the IDF’s strength and proven ability to fight an effective guerrilla war is such, that the only nation in the world that ISIS truly fears is Israel.

(Update: See this new National Interest article by strategic analyst Graham Allison: Why ISIS Fears Israel.)

A deep knowledge and appreciation of the complex histories of the Jewish, Arab, and other Middle Eastern peoples, aided by well-developed theories of nationalism and ethno-religious conflict, rather than the banalities of postcolonialism, are what is needed if one wants to understand the cultures and the blood-and-faith conflicts of the Middle East.

(Update: See these two recent pieces on the breakdown of Arab Muslim civilization: Ofir Haivry et al., The Great Arab Implosion and Its Consequences. Mosaic, July 7, 2016; Scott Anderson, Fractured Lands: How the Arab World Came Apart. New York Times Magazine, August 11, 2016. See also the Arab Human Development Reports.)

© 2016 Michael Kaplan