Jewish ban that made Bernard Lewis change course

 Amid the uproar over President Trump’s ‘Muslim’ ban, many people have pointed out the double standard whereby Israelis are banned from Arab and Muslim countries but the world does not utter a peep. (Is it because of the racism of low expectations, or because Israelis,pace one London radio talk show host this week, have brought it on themselves?) Here Martin Kramer reminds us that an early victim of an Arab boycott, targeting Jews of all nationalities, was his mentor, the eminent historian Bernard Lewis.   

As I followed the fierce debate over President Trump’s executive
order, denounced by its opponents as a “Muslim ban,” my thoughts turned
the Jewish ban that changed the career of my mentor, Bernard Lewis.

Lewis, the great historian of the Middle East who last May turned
100, travelled extensively in Arab countries in the late 1930s and
1940s. Born in Britain to British-born parents, he traversed
French-ruled Syria for his doctoral work, and then served in the British
army in Arab lands during the Second World War. In 1949, at the age of
33, he was already a highly-regarded academic authority on medieval
Islam and a full professor at the University of London. The university
gave him a year of study leave to travel in the Middle East. But the
Arab reaction to the creation of Israel derailed his research plans.
Lewis explained what happened in an article published in 2006:

 Bernard Lewis: became a Turkish specialist because Arab countries would not let him in

Virtually all the Arab governments announced that they
would not give visas to Jews of any nationality. This was not furtive—it
was public, proclaimed on the visa forms and in the tourist literature.
They made it quite clear that people of the Jewish religion, no matter
what their citizenship, would not be given visas or be permitted to
enter any independent Arab country. Again, not a word of protest from
anywhere. One can imagine the outrage if Israel had announced that it
would not give visas to Muslims, still more if the United States were to
do so. As directed against Jews, this ban was seen as perfectly natural
and normal. In some countries it continues to this day, although in
practice most Arab countries have given it up.

Neither the United Nations nor the public protested any
of this in any way, so it is hardly surprising that Arab governments
concluded that they had license for this sort of action and worse.

According to Lewis (in his memoirs),
some Jews fudged their religious identification on visa applications.
(“One ingenious lady from New York City even described herself as a
‘Seventh Avenue Adventist.’”) Others simply lied.

But most of us, even the nonreligious, found it morally
impossible to make such compromises for no better reason than the
pursuit of an academic career. This considerably reduced the number of
places to which one could go and in which one could work…. At that time,
for Jewish scholars interested in the Middle East, only three countries
were open—Turkey, Iran and Israel…. It was in these three countries
therefore that I arranged to spend the academic year 1949-50.

In retrospect, it is fortunate that Lewis had to make the adjustment:
he became the first Western historian admitted to the Ottoman archives
in Istanbul, and his pioneering work in this area opened up a vast field
of study. Yet his exclusion as a Jew clearly rankled. It was something
he hadn’t experienced in Britain, yet Western governments now failed to
stand up for their Jewish citizens by insisting that they be accorded
equal treatment. And in the 1950s, it got worse: not only did Arab
states not admit Jews, they drove their own Jews into exile. This may
have been the animating force behind Lewis’s 1986 book Semites and Anti-Semites, one of the first to analyze the continuing mutations of antisemitism in the Arab world.

Today, Arab states don’t ban Jews as such. They do ban Israelis.

Read article in full 

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