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.
Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society, a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and on the advisory board of the National Christian Leadership Conference of Israel (NCLCI). He has an MA and PhD in contemporary Jewish history from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.