The sirens go off. There are 15 seconds to crawl into a bomb shelter. The streets are eerily empty, a ghost town at any hour. The kids can’t play outside, and you can’t take a long shower.
You see the reminders in bullet-spackled walls and burning buses. You shudder and wait for the next time. You know it’s coming. You just don’t know when.
It’s southern Israel, but it could be anywhere, from Scandinavia to Seattle. It’s downright scary.
And yes, it can happen here.
Fusing religious fervor with secular law, a high birth rate and a heightened sense of power, a virulent strain of anti-Semitism is taking root all over the world. The rise of radical Islam is as mystifying as it is terrifying. Pundits wonder why no one saw it coming as Jewish leaders try to remain vigilant in the face of an enemy bent on the destruction of the Jewish state and other Jewish institutions in its path.
While some people argue that the wave of extremist Islam that has plagued the world in the latter days of the 20th century and into the opening days of the 21st has little to do with ancient history or the Islamic religion, radical Islam – adherence to the letter and spirit of the teachings of Mohammed, a merchant in Mecca 1300 years ago, as interpreted by religious leaders with an agenda – calls for extreme measures of “justice.” Its supporters, fueled by hatred of the colonial powers that dominated Arabic lands for hundreds of years and especially by hatred of nations that ally themselves with Israel, are bent on the kind of world domination that Hitler sought.
American Jews may relegate radical Islamic anti-Semitism to the bombing of a pizza parlor in Jerusalem, a hotel in Netanya or a barber shop in Sderot. Considering that the most common baby name in Belgium is “Mohammed,” Muslims outnumber Jews 10 to 1 in France and that there was a recent explosion at a Jewish community center in Sweden and a fatal attack at a Jewish community center preschool in Seattle in 2006, this potentially lethal form of hatred could be coming to a neighborhood near you.
We all need to be aware of it, be vigilant, keep our leaders from condoning it and work at stopping it. Be alert. Get informed. Keep it from happening and keep it from spreading. Just say “no.”
Rise, Fall and Resurgence of Islam
Islam began in the 7th century, bringing Arabian tribes together under a single religion, and quickly spread through the Arabian peninsula and beyond. Jews and other people were the subjects of Muslim rulers. The quality of the rule varied considerably in different periods, as did the attitudes of the rulers, government officials, clergy and general population, which was reflected in their treatment of these subjects.
Islam developed sharia law for its own subjects, addressing civil law, as well as sex, hygiene, diet, prayer and fasting. Islamic rulers conquered Jerusalem, built an empire that covered more of the earth’s surface than the Roman Empire and developed laws for their subjects as well. Jews and Christians were given a special status and had to pay the dhimmi, or protective religious tax, for being non-Muslims.
The Industrial Revolution gave Europeans the power to conquer lands that had been Islamist, and the Islamic empires ended. Western and secular cultures took over the lands and resources. Poverty and resentment of all things that smacked of colonialism gave rise to bitterness among the Islamic population. Zionism and the eventual creation of the state of Israel exacerbated the problem.
In 1920 Haj Amin Muhammad Al Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, who had aspirations to rule a pan-Arabic empire in the Middle East and who had ties to the Nazis, began to actively eliminate Jews and Arabs he considered a threat to his control of Jerusalem’s Arab population while heavily using anti-Jewish propaganda to polarize the two communities. Well before the creation of Israel, Al Husseini incited jihad (holy war) against both the British and the Jews. Al Husseini’s central role in the creation of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964 was his most lasting legacy. His nephew was longtime PLO leader Yasser Arafat.
The Muslim Brotherhood was formed in Egypt in 1928 with the goal of re-establishing an Islamic empire. Its initial goal was to revive Islamic culture, and it took many years before it became politicized, spawning such organizations as Al Qaeda and Hamas. In the opinion of Brigitte Gabriel, Lebanese-American author and founder of Act! for America, there were several reasons why the power of the Muslim Brotherhood grew. The nationalization of oil gave some countries the money to “export oil and terrorism,” Gabriel said.
Secondly, the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini to power in Iran in 1979 reawakened the religious fervor in the region, “breathing spiritual power into the movement.” Symbolizing hardline Islamic doctrine, convincing people that western ways were undesirable and funding terrorism, Khomeini mobilized the seeds of discontent that were growing in the Islamic world. Kissing the hand of Khomeini as he took power in 2005, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has taken anti-Semitism many steps further, denying the Holocaust, funding Hezbollah throughout the Middle East and developing nuclear power that he intends to use to wipe Israel off the map.
Spreading the “T” Word and More
Terrorist attacks on Jews outside of Israel have been going on for many years. Eleven Israeli athletes were killed at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. In 1976 pro-Palestinian terrorists hijacked an Air France flight to Uganda and released all but the Jewish and Israeli passengers, 102 of whom were rescued by Israeli commandos. There have been terrorist attacks against Jews in Argentina, India, Bulgaria and France. The list goes on and on.
Suicide terrorism in the name of radical Islam can be traced back to 1989 when a Palestinian terrorist named Abd al-Hadi Ghneim drove a bus on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway off the road and into a steep ravine. It caught fire and exploded, killing sixteen passengers. Many such attacks were to follow. Sending children to school in gas masks became de rigeur in Israel.
New communications technology makes it even easier to spread hatred. “With the Internet, we don’t have the luxury of saying ‘it’s not happening here,’” said Melissa Carr, director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in Orange County. “There are even apps for the iPhone and Droid to broadcast anti-Semitic programming from Hezbollah’s TV network, Almanar, anywhere in the world.”
Evidence of such hatred is prevalent on college campuses. It continues until community leaders work with university officials to stop it.
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is a campaign started in 2005 by 171 Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in support of the Palestinian cause for boycott, divestment and international sanctions against Israel. It attempts to delegitimize Israel by demanding that Israel should end its “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands” and dismantle the security wall designed to protect against intifada violence, recognize the “fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality” and allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. BDS has spread to many organizations outside of the Islamic world.
The Arab Spring movement, now about two years old, is a prime example of using social media to organize, communicate and raise awareness in the face of repression and censorship. In some cases governments have been replaced, violently or otherwise. The big question is how the new leadership in the affected countries, especially those in which there are ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, will affect anti-Semitism.
Coping with Radical Islamic Anti-Semitism
Gabriel believes that the U.S. and Israel have to negotiate with terrorists from a position of strength, rather than withdrawing from territory. “Islamic people only come to the table to negotiate surrender,” she said. “We can agree to disagree in the Western world but not in Islam. We need respect more than tolerance, because respect is the foundation of power.”
The ADL, which “has been monitoring the Internet since it started,” in Carr’s words, is attempting to expose the issues, speak out, share concerns with government agencies and the media, show that anti-Semitism exists, write reports and empower individuals to speak out. “There’s pollination of rhetoric all over the Internet. Between the speed and the volume, it’s almost impossible to keep up with it.”
In addition, the ADL follows the Arabic press, seeking anti-Semitic comments and speaking out about them. “Whenever there’s a natural catastrophe, Jews get blamed,” Carr said. “When there was a tsunami in Indonesia, it was because the Israelis were testing nuclear weapons. We field these stories and expose them for what they are.”
Carr concluded, “We’re fighting a terror campaign. We need to heighten people’s awareness and let them know they have a right and the means to do something about it. If we’re staying vigilant, we’re on the right path to fighting radical Islamic anti-Semitism and not accepting it.”
Another local effort at combatting radical Islamic anti-Semitism is what Shalom Elcott, CEO of Jewish Federation & Family Services, described as “proactive engagement.” Speaking at “From Bluetooth to BrainWaves: The Extraordinary Ways We’ll Communicate in 2025 – A Celebration of the Israel-UCI Partnership,” a communications conference, Elcott talked about the challenges of anti-Israel sentiment at UCI not being met with the right answers in the past. The Rose Project, he explained, was created to provide “proactive engagement” to “delegitimize the delegitimizers.” The communications conference is the result of relationships created between UCI and Israeli universities to share technology. Elcott summarized, “This is a way to “celebrate a new chapter in the story.”
Israeli Consul General David Siegel added that he is “amazed at the extent of the relationship between Jews and Arabs on the ground in Israel every day.” UCI and the Israeli universities have developed the “model for a good relationship,” he said. “Talking about what we can do together in the medical, biotechnology, food, water and energy arenas has lasting value beyond political arguments.”
Still, many government officials and ordinary citizens outside of Israel refuse to acknowledge that emotionally-charged, ideologically-driven anti-Semitism can culminate in blood-soaked terrorism anywhere in the world. Jews everywhere have to make their governments understand the harsh realities and bring criminals to justice. We are a peaceful people, but, until the purveyors of radical Islamic anti-Semitism are willing to beat their swords into plowshares, we are vulnerable to the ravages of hate.
Taking a proactive stand to work together with people who harbor resentment is a good first step. It must be accompanied by a knowledge of history, a sense of reality and a willingness to assure that everyone acknowledges that anti-Semitism in any form is unacceptable and indefensible.