Why Muslim countries need to talk about antisemitism

By Allia Bukhari

The recent escalation in the perennial Israeli-Palestinian conflict drew attention from around the world. The conflict saw a polarised international response with some Western countries and the United States expressing support for Israel and its right to self defence while others condemning the Jewish state for the killing of civilian Palestinians. In Pakistan, as always and as expected, a pro-Palestine sentiment was widespread and social media feeds were flooded with posts in favour of the Palestinians, criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government. Hundreds of people took to the streets in major cities to express solidarity with Palestine while also bashing Israel for its alleged war crimes.

An unfortunate and particularly worrisome outcome of this outrage, however, was the antisemitic response through various tweets and posts flooding the internet and anti-Jewish sentiments expressed by a decent amount of Pakistanis. Hitler was glorified by quite a few social media users, including Pakistani actress Veena Malik, and political leaders jumped on the hate bandwagon to term Israel a terrorist and a Nazi state. This fascination of my countrymen with the Nazis is appalling and sickening. It only goes on to show that most Pakistanis are largely oblivious to the insurmountable suffering inflcited upon the Jewish people in history and continue to have a racist, bigoted attitude towards them. Some tried to make a distinction between Israel and the Jews, but most of the people’s criticism for the former, stemmed from a certain antisemitic believe or a mindset. And this becomes evident when many of these same people stay silent on atrocities perpetrated within their own country or when rights abuses are committed by their ally states.

The anti-Jewish discourse in Pakistan has always been rife and it’s one of the major reasons why massive opposition against Israel exists. This even prevents people from rationally considering Israel’s stance in the long-drawn conflict with Palestine.

Moreover, the influence of religious fundamentalist leaders and parties that have long projected Jews and Israel as enemy is to blame for this discrimination and hate in the Pakistani society that has spread like poison. Meanwhile, terror threats and extremism from Hamas against Israeli civilians are never condemned.

Pakistani foreign minister’s statements in a recent CNN interview too were seen to be provoking antisemitic slurs where he accused the Israelis of controlling the media. According to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), “the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions” fall under the definition of antisemitism. Criticizing Israel can be anti-Semitic given its reputation of being the only Jewish state. Essentially, the place where the criticism for Israel comes from, is quite often grounded in preconceived notions and already acquired judgements about the Jews.

Majority of Pakistanis, who often complain of growing Islamophobia in the West, however, defended these remarks and didn’t consider them to antisemitic while still directly and indirectly endorsing the controversial, racist point of view that “influential Jews” control the Western media. The outrage for Israel is much more severe and significant, something not witnessed against any other country, be it China or Saudi Arabia over their rights violations against Uyghurs or Yemenis respectively. This happens all the while when minorities in Pakistan remain vulnerable and most Pakistani journalists and pretty much all celebrities and people — who have been seen protesting and tweeting for Palestine — turn a blind eye.

Deplorable antisemitic remarks echoed in other parts of the Muslim world too. In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slammed Israel and accused the country of “terrorism” against the Palestinians, adding that it was “in their nature.” “They are murderers, to the point that they kill children who are five or six years old. They only are satisfied by sucking their blood,” he said, drawing strong condemnation from the US. Iranian Foriegn Minister Javad Zarif took up a very critical stance on Israel, even calling it a “criminal and genocidal regime” while offering no condemnation for Hamas — much like other leaders in most Muslim countries —that has repeatedly threatened Jews and has called for destruction of the State of Israel.

Muslim states when even rightly pointing out violations elsewhere in the world, from Palestine to Kashmir, lose moral ground because of their own poor human rights records and galling double standards and discriminatory attitude towards Jews and other minorities (blasphemy laws  are used to stifle dissent and subjugate minorities). This antisemitism debate in these countries is intertwined with a number of issues and these include, “the status of Jews in Islam with regard to both theory and practice; the impact of the Arab-Israeli conflict over Palestine; the adoption and adaptation of anti-Semitic motifs and stereotypes of European origin in nationalist and Islamist discourses; and the politics of memory and commemoration.”

A substantial amount of hate for Israel in these countries stems from antisemitism while nothing is being done to combat it. Many Muslim leaders on the international forums too have failed to even explicitly condemn this discrmination against Jewish people to not irk the religious status quo back home.

Speaking up against the forceful displacement of settlers and rights of Palestinians is imperative and the right thing to do but so is calling out antisemitism and this blind hatred based on religious extremism for Israel in Muslim states, that opposes the former’s right to exist and obstructs peace efforts further.

Allia Bukhari is a journalist from Pakistan and an Erasmus Mundus scholar currently pursuing Masters in Journalism, Media and Globalization at Aarhus University, Denmark. 

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Foreign Policy News is a self-financed initiative providing a venue and forum for political analysts and experts to disseminate analysis of major political and business-related events in the world, shed light on particulars of U.S. foreign policy from the perspective of foreign media and present alternative overview on current events affecting the international relations.

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