Antisemitism in the Arab world

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Antisemitism in the Arab world refers to discrimination against Jews in Arab countries. While Arabs are also a Semitic people, the modern meaning of the English term "antisemitism" refers primarily to discrimination against Jews (see Antisemitism: Etymology and usage).

Arab antisemitism is believed to have expanded since the 19th century. Jews, like other minority groups within the Muslim world, were subject to various restrictions long before that (see Dhimmi). However, despite its restrictive nature, dhimmi status also afforded the "People of the Book" relative security against persecution and welfare most of the time — a protection that was missing for non-Christians in most of Europe until the institutionalization of equality under a secular idea of citizenship after the French Revolution - and allowed them to enjoy their respective religious laws and ways of life.

Antisemitism in the Arab world has increased greatly in modern times, for many reasons: the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire and traditional Islamic society; European influence, brought about by Western imperialism and Christian Arabs;[1] Nazi propaganda;[2] and the rise of Arab nationalism. In addition, there was resentment of disproportionate influence Jews had gained under colonialism, and of the Zionist movement. The rise of political Islam during the 1980s and afterwards provided a new mutation of Islamic anti-Semitism, which gave the hatred of Jews a religious component.[2]

For most of the past fourteen hundred years, according to Bernard Lewis, Arabs have not been antisemitic as the word is used in the West. In his view this is because, for the most part, Arabs are not Christians brought up on stories of Jewish deicide. In Islam, such stories are rejected by the Qur'an as a blasphemous absurdity. Since Muslims do not consider themselves as the "true Israel", they do not feel threatened by the survival of Jews. Because Islam did not retain the Old Testament, no clash of interpretations between the two faiths can therefore arise. There is, says Lewis, no Muslim theological dispute between their religious institutions and the Jews.[3]

While there were antisemitic incidents in the early twentieth century, antisemitism has certainly been heightened by the Arab-Israeli conflict. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Palestinian exodus, the creation of the state of Israel, Israeli victories during the wars of 1956 and 1967 served a severe shock to the Arabs.[4] The situation of the Middle Eastern Jews worsened and almost all fled or were expelled from their native countries. By the 1980s, according to Bernard Lewis, the volume of antisemitic literature published in the Arab world, and the authority of its sponsors, seemed to suggest that classical antisemitism had become an essential part of Arab intellectual life, considerably more than in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century France, and to a degree that has been compared to Nazi Germany.[5]

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