Tag: Interfaith

Regev: Muslim antisemitism is not an aberration

Recent terror attacks in Israel and violence on the Temple Mount have their roots in longstanding anti-Jewish prejudice.   Muslim-Jewish relations have never been idyllic and the destruction of indigenous Jewish communities was never simply a reaction to the failure to destroy Israel, argues Mark Regev, former Israel ambassador to the UK, in the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Sandra):

Mark Regev: Islam has never had a tolerance for the Jewish state

It has been suggested that this Muslim antisemitism is an aberration, the exception to centuries of peaceful Jewish-Muslim coexistence, and that this contemporary animosity stems from the modern clash between Arab nationalism and Zionism.

In this view, it was the birth and growth of the Jewish national movement that energized Islamic enmity, fueling events like the Farhud pogrom in Bagdad in 1941 where some 180 Jews were killed, and the violence across Libya in 1945, where a further 140 Jews were murdered.

Moreover, the post-World War II near-total exodus of the Islamic world’s one million Jewish inhabitants, involving the destruction of indigenous Jewish communities whose presence in the Middle East predated Islam, is explained not by the antisemitism disseminated by Husseini and his ilk, but by the Arab world’s failed attempt to destroy the Jewish state at birth in 1948-49.

Those who celebrate pre-Zionist Jewish-Muslim harmony point to Spain in the Middle Ages, where Muslim control facilitated a Jewish “golden age” of intellectual, cultural and economic vitality. This is contrasted with the parallel reality in Christian Europe, where the omnipresent charge of deicide demanded constant retribution – manifesting itself ferociously during the Crusades with the mass slaughter of European Jewish communities, and the massacre, expulsion and Inquisition that followed the Reconquista, the reestablishment of Christian rule in Spain.

But just as it is important not to understate Christian antisemitism, it is crucial not to overplay Muslim tolerance. Middle East historian Bernard Lewis suggested distinguishing between two concepts: persecution and discrimination.

In reference to the former, Lewis wrote that “classic Islamic society was indeed tolerant of both its Jewish and Christian subjects – more tolerant perhaps in Spain than in the East, and in either incomparably more tolerant than was medieval Christendom.”

Yet when it came to discrimination, “Islam never was or claimed to be tolerant, but on the contrary, insisted on the privileged superiority of the true believer.”

While acknowledging that antisemitic violence in the Islamic world was less pronounced than in Christian Europe, it is incorrect to portray an idyllic picture of Jewish-Muslim relations. Jews under Islam were classified as dhimmis, and although their lives and property were ostensibly safeguarded, that protection necessitated a subordinate status – an inbuilt social, political and legal inferiority.

Many of today’s anti-Zionists will be surprised to learn that discrimination of Jews under Islamic rule was recorded by none other than Karl Marx. Writing in 1854, some half-century prior to the rise of political Zionism, Marx described the situation of Jerusalem’s Jews under Ottoman rule: “Nothing equals the misery and the suffering of the Jews of Jerusalem, inhabiting the most filthy quarter of the town… [They are] the constant objects of oppression and intolerance…”

In the decades following Marx’s article, the situation of Jews in the Middle East improved with the lessening of historic dhimmi discrimination. But as this process was inspired by liberal European ideas, it brought with it an anti-Jewish backlash, heightening the association of the indigenous Jew with the hated foreigner.

Paradoxically, many Muslims who rejected western influence still eagerly embraced European antisemitic tropes, including the blood libel, most famously in Damascus in 1840, and the global Jewish conspiracy, evident in numerous Arabic editions of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. 

Undoubtedly the birth and development of Zionism contributed to Islamic hostility, building upon long-standing prejudicial attitudes. For while traditional Islam was willing to tolerate Jews whose status was safely inferior, Jewish aspirations for national self-determination and equality among the nations ran counter to centuries of established Islamic teaching.

While serving as Israel’s ambassador in London I experienced my first Ramadan breaking-the-fast iftar meal. Jewish-Muslim coexistence groups promote joint iftar events, but generally the subject of Israel is politely left at the doorstep, it being understood that a discussion of the Jewish state could negatively impact the desired ambiance. Yet, the Israeli embassy also hosted an annual iftar meal, attended by a small group of remarkable Muslims willing to engage.

Recent developments provide some optimism as to the trajectory of Jewish-Muslim relations. The Abraham Accords’ breakthroughs are significant and include a state-to-state interfaith and intercultural dialogue designed to enhance understanding. And in Israel, MK Mansour Abbas is breaking stereotypes, demonstrating that political Islam doesn’t have to be the Muslim Brotherhood’s unbridled hostility.

Genuine Muslim-Jewish coexistence is neither simple nor impossible, requiring the expansion of Islam’s commitment to tolerance to include an appreciation of the Jews’ desire not to revert to their former subservient status.

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US interfaith initiative will include Mizrahi Jews

Jews and Muslims in the US have launched an interfaith  project which for the first time includes Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews in order to highlight positive aspects of a shared history. It is called the Mukhayriq project, named after a rabbi who laid down his life on behalf of the Prophet Muhammad. See my comment below. Report in JNS News:

Participants at an interfaith Iftar event co-hosted by the American Muslim and Multifaith Women's Empowerment Council, the Mukhayriq Initiative and the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM). Credit: Anila Ali/Twitter.
Participants at an interfaith Iftar event co-hosted by the American Muslim and Multifaith Women’s Empowerment Council, the Mukhayriq Initiative and the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM). Photo: Anila Ali/Twitter.

Cohanim said previous efforts to bring Muslims and Jews together have had only tepid success and in some cases failed altogether as the people behind them were found to have connections to radical organizations. What sets this initiative apart is that it brings Jews from the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) into the project. “Surprisingly enough, Mizrachi and Sephardi Jews have been excluded from a lot of these efforts in the Jewish community in the past,” she said.

The timing of the initiative couldn’t be better, said Cohanim, noting that there is a new openness among Muslims in the MENA region to rediscover the “indigenous Jewish communities that existed in the region for thousands of years.” She said Muslims want to learn more about that history and even “to reach out to those former neighbors.” She noted that among Jews, there is also a “real excitement” to learn more about Islam and Muslim communities, not just in the MENA region but around the world.

The initiative’s first major project is an accelerator program, in which applicants submit project ideas that would bring Muslims and Jews together. Those selected will receive part of a $50,000 funding pool and work with board members to see their idea brought to fruition. A maximum of 20 applicants will be accepted.

My comment: While any initiative to increase understanding between Jews and Muslims is welcome, and the inclusion of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews long overdue,  the implication of Mukhayriq is that it is Jews who must sacrifice themselves to advance understanding. Just two years  after Mukhayrik’s sacrifice, Muhammad fought the Banu Qurayza Jewish tribe and had 600 of their men beheaded. Jews were ultimately defeated and banished from Arabia. From then on, they were subject to institutionalised antisemitism in the form of the dhimmi status.  It might have been more effective to name this project after a Muslim who saved Jews.

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Jew and Muslim arrange for sick Iraqi girl to travel to Israel

Two Iraqis, one Jewish and the other Muslim, have helped save an Iraqi girl with a heart condition by arranging for her to have life-saving medical care in Israel.  Niran Timan-Bassoon, a Jewish refugee from Iraq, and Imad Al-Rawi, an Iraqi based in London, set up Bridge2Iraq to work together with the charity Save a Child’s Heart.

May be an image of 2 people and people standing

A London-based initiative named Bridge2Iraq working together with Save a child Heart was able to help a 14-year-old Iraqi girl to undergo a life-saving heart operation at the Wolfson Medical Center in Israel.

Bridge2Iraq was established in 2017 by two Iraqis (Niran Bassoon & Imad Al-Rawi) to help Iraqi children suffering from heart problems and defects to travel and get state-of-art medical care at the above named medical centre in Holon, Israel .The idea of establishing this non-profit initiative, so-called Bridge2Iraq, came after Bassoon & AlRawi read an article about Save a Child’s Heart on Facebook.

At a very young age the young girl began having fainting spells and turning blue around her lips. At the hospital, her family was told that she had a heart condition, but the doctors did not know exactly what the condition was.

The mother had no relative to raise and support her children. However, this did not stop the mother to pursue any way to help her daughter. They spent years traveling around Iraq and other countries in the Middle East searching for somebody who could help the girl.

About a year ago, Niran Bassoon was made aware of the case and decided to help the girl and her family and then the girl and her mother arrived in Israel in preparation for her life-saving cardiac surgery.

The surgery was successful and after recovering at the Save a Child’s heart children’s home, alongside children from around the world who were all brought to Israel by Save a Child’s Heart for similar life-saving treatments, the girl and her mother headed home to their family in Iraq.


Jewish-Muslim dialogue must not whitewash the dark side of life under Islam

In this perceptive post on pitfalls of Jewish-Muslim dialogue, Rafael Castle observes that hierarchical Arab/Muslim antisemitism is not the same as ontological Christian antisemitism.  It is necessary to mention the dark side of Jewish life under Islam in order to vindicate Zionism. (With thanks to Rafael for letting us re-post.)


Highlighting the positive may not lead to reconciliation
The French film director Claude Lanzmann, celebrated for his documentary “Shoah”, once remarked that in order to encourage Arab schoolchildren to sympathize with Jews, he would highlight how during the Holocaust the Imam of the Grand Mosque of Paris helped save Jews from Nazi deportations. This modus operandi is quite ubiquitous and is also reflected in Jewish efforts to showcase Muslim righteousness during the Holocaust in predominantly Islamic Albania, Bosnia and Tunisia. Analogous efforts have also sought to highlight how Jewish life in Muslim lands was historically better than Jewish life in Christian lands.
In my opinion, these efforts are necessary in order to dispel the prejudice popular among quite a few Jews that Arabs and Muslims are irremediably vicious anti-Semites. Such efforts, directed toward Muslims do not serve the cause of Jewish-Muslim reconciliation, but actually add to the amount of resentment and hostility in the Muslim camp.
These efforts are often orchestrated by Ashkenazi Jews who conflate Christian antisemitism with Islamic antisemitism. Christian European antisemitism is nevertheless fundamentally different from Arab Islamic antisemitism. Christian antisemitism is ontological: The Jew by virtue of rejecting Christ as his savior is implicitly complicit in the death of God’s son. Islamic antisemitism is hierarchical: As long as the Jew is subordinate and docile toward Islam, the Jew is actually an asset to the prestige and truth of the Prophet’s message.
That is the reason antisemitism in Islamic lands reached historically Christian proportions only once Zionism proved to the world that Jews were better than Muslims at fighting and ruling. Since Islamic pride hinges on Muslim political and military power, defeat at the hands of Jews, the model dhimmis during over one thousand years, provoked an existential crisis in the Ummah: The Jew, in order to defeat Muslims on the battlefield, must have conjured diabolical forces. Hence, the contemporary myth popular in the Islamic world, that Jews are an all-powerful cabal bent on destroying Islam.
For this reason, when Muslims are reminded about the Golden Age of Judeo-Islamic harmony in Andalusia, the hospitality extended by Ottoman rulers to Jews fleeing from the Spanish Inquisition and more recently, Muslim rescue efforts during the Holocaust, they easily read history as follows: “Look at the Jews, after all the kindness we extended to them throughout the centuries, they repaid us Muslims with the Nakba and the occupation of Jerusalem. What a thankless lot!”
To avert this reaction, any Jewish-Muslim attitude must mention the dark sides of Jewish life under Islam: Starting with the massacre of Khaybar and culminating in the Farhud of 1941 which heralded the end of thousands of years of peaceful Jewish life in Iraq. It is only once these tragic chapters are read that Muslims can understand that Zionism was not just legitimized by European Christian antisemitism, but also by the injustices and abuses that the Ummah heaped on its Jewish subjects, including the complicity of Palestine’s supreme leader, Haj Amin al-Husseini, with Hitler’s plans to destroy the Jewish people.

Jewess voted one of top 100 influencers in Iraq

This Rosh Hashana, Niran Bassoon-Timan received an unexpected message. She had been voted one of the 100 top influencers in Iraq.

The message came from Merry G Stevan, an Armenian-Iraqi who publishes the fashion magazine Baghdad Style Street.

“This is impressive, and if it indicates anything” Stevan wrote, ” it is the extent of the impact of this wonderful human being and her great message in the service of her countrymen, which stripped her of official papers, but the homeland remained clinging to her heart and conscience, and re-planted this love in the hearts of many, and love still exists and hope exists. Congratulations, my lady, for this wonderful achievement, from the bottom of my heart.”

Baghdad Style Street, which describes itself as a global fashion photography magazine based in Amman and Baghdad, was launched in 2019 and has over 90,000  readers.

Niran’s accolade is all the more remarkable because she is Jewish. She has not lived in Iraq since the 1970s. What’s more, she has close links with Israel.

Niran has a reputation for building bridges (see her Youtube channel which has over 11,500 subscribers and over 1.25 million viewings). She  runs the Awlad al Taraf group based in London which brings together Iraqi Jews and Muslims.

In 2013, she went back to Iraq for a five-day conference. Although the meeting was held in Kurdistan, in the north of Iraq, Niran reported:’ being with so many interesting people, the way we were treated and how everyone felt so comfortable in our presence, was fantastic.”




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