The vicious anti-Israel hostility we witness today can be partially attributed to a cycle of misinformation along these lines: All Jews are white Europeans; therefore, Israel is a white, European, colonizing nation. As such, Israel is a racist, apartheid state, which makes Zionism racism. For this reason, anyone who is against racism must stand against Israel.
Given the destruction that countries such as France and England caused to native populations around the world, activists merely need to hear the phrase "white European" pitted against "indigenous people," and they are out rushing to the defense of the underdog, colonialist alarms ringing in their ears.
In one stunning example, students at San Francisco State University staged a large pro-Israel event in May 2002 which included speakers from JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa). The speakers addressed the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab countries–many of whom were absorbed by Israel. At the same time as the pro-Israel rally was underway, counter-demonstrators screamed from the sidelines, "go back to Europe," a knee-jerk reaction deeply embedded in the anti-Israel rhetoric and hopelessly removed from much of Israel’s reality.
Whereas campus human rights groups have offered detailed coverage of the struggles of Arab refugees from Palestine, they have made barely a peep about the plight of Jewish refugees from Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Libya, and other countries throughout the region. How many people are aware that the ancestors of these refugees lived on those lands since 586 BCE, when the Babylonian Empire destroyed ancient Israel and took the Israelites as captives to the land of present-day Iraq? Or that these Sephardic refugees and their children have comprised the majority of Israel’s Jewish population for decades? This information is pivotal to understanding the historical context of the current Arab-Israel conflict, and to having wisdom about how to solve it.
Palestinian Link to Jewish Refugees
In fact, Palestinian leaders had a significant hand in the terrorizing and expulsion of Jews throughout Arab lands, leading to the flight of at least 850,000 Jewish refugees.
In 1941, for example, numerous Palestinian leaders–most notably Hajj Amin al-Husayni, the mufti of Jerusalem–arrived in Berlin, as guests of the Nazi regime. Al-Husayni asked Hitler to apply the same methods against the Jews of the Middle East then being directed against Europe’s Jews. The mufti drafted a political declaration, which he presented to the Axis allies of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, in the hope they would adopt it. In paragraph seven, he would have Germany and Italy "recognize the rights of Palestine and other Arab countries [to] resolve the problem of the Jewish elements in Palestine and the other Arab countries in the same way as the problem was resolved in the Axis Countries." That is, through genocide.
Furthermore, in a meeting between Hitler and al-Husayni on Nov. 28, 1941, Hitler promised the Palestinian leader that the
Fuhrer would offer the Arab world his personal assurance that the hour of liberation had struck. Thereafter, Germany’s only remaining objective in the region would be limited to the annihilation of the Jews living under British protection in Arab lands.
With these assurances, al-Husayni voiced his hope for a "final solution" to the Jewish presence in the Middle East in a speech given at a rally in Berlin on Nov. 2, 1943. The speech was carried by Nazi Germany’s official radio network, Radio Berlin.
"National Socialist Germany knows the Jews well and has decided to find a final solution for the Jewish danger which will end the evil in the world," al Husayni said. "The Arabs especially, and Muslims in general, are obliged to make this their goal, from which they will not stray and which they must reach with all their powers: it is the expulsion of all Jews from Arab and Muslim lands."
Not long after, severe anti-Jewish riots erupted throughout the Arab world. Jewish citizens were assaulted, tortured and murdered. In a few Arab countries, Jews were expelled outright. Throughout the region, Jewish property was confiscated and nationalized. Jews were forced to flee from their homes of thousands of years. The majority of these refugees were absorbed by Israel.
Jewish Dhimmitude in Arab Lands
Further back in history, when Arab Muslims conquered the Middle East and North Africa, Jews were one of the few indigenous peoples that resisted conversion to Islam, the result being that the Jews were given the status of dhimmi. According to this status, Jews were a tolerated yet inferior people who should be forever punished for rejecting the vision of Mohammed. What this meant was that Jews suddenly lost the autonomy they had enjoyed from their non-Muslim neighbors.
Jews were commonly forced into ghettos, prohibited from owning land, prevented from entering numerous professions and forbidden from doing anything to physically or symbolically demonstrate equality with Arab Muslims. This basic attitude of contempt, oppression and humiliation permeated the daily life of Jews. In addition, massacres were not uncommon, at times wiping out entire Jewish communities.
When dhimmi laws were lax and Jews were allowed to participate to a greater degree in their society, the Jewish community would flourish–socially, artistically, and economically. In many cases, however, the response to that success would be a wave of harassment or massacres of Jews instigated by the government or the masses. Once disempowered and weak, the Jewish community would experience a period of relative quiet. This dynamic meant that the Jews lived in a basic state of subservience. They could participate in the society around them, they could enjoy a certain degree of wealth and status and they could befriend their Arab Muslim neighbors, but they always had to know their place.
The Arab-Israeli relationship and the current crisis occur in the larger context of a history in which Arab Muslims have oppressed Jews for 1,300 years. As a Jewish community, we can help bring this context into focus. When Israeli speakers at a panel represent the true ethnic mix which makes up Israeli society, those faces will bring a more accurate understanding of the conflict.
Consider what will happen when Israeli speakers at a panel are brown-skinned Jewish refugees from Tunisia, Yemen, and Morocco. Consider how the nightly news might portray a pro-Israel rally when its keynote address is made by an Ethiopian Jew. Consider the impact on campus discourse when Jewish students of color are invited to represent the Jewish community. If we are to successfully combat today’s violent rage against Israel, we must ensure that Jewish leadership reflects the international faces and voices of the Jewish people.