During the months of July, August and September, author James Carroll authored a six-part series for The Boston Globe about the Arab-Israeli conflict as a precursor to soon-to-be published book Jerusalem, Jerusalem: The Ancient City that Ignited the Modern World.
The series titled, “Turning History into Hope,” was not a “sensation” by any stretch of the word, but it was an “event” worthy of note, largely because of Carroll’s status as the author of Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews (Houghton Mifflin, 2001), an authoritative text on how Christian scripture, liturgical practices and theology contributed to the demonization of Jews in Europe and laid the groundwork for the Holocaust.
In his book, Carroll states that “the time has come for the convention of Vatican Council III” with the first agenda item being the “anti-Jewish consequences of the New Testament.” The Catholic Church, he writes, must address other problems as well, such as its use of power, its response to dissent, its understanding of Christ, its attitude toward democracy, and its need for repentance. Carroll warns the Church’s teachings about Jews will play a central topic of discussion at this council, because its “attitude toward Jews is at the dead center” of the problems it faces. (Page 560)
Carroll’s concern for Christianity’s attitude toward the Jewish people was a centerpiece of the six-part series, as was his sympathy for the Palestinian people. To his credit, Carroll repeatedly affirmed the legitimacy of the Jewish State and the Jewish connection to the land of Israel. He acknowledged that Christian teachings about the Jewish people made the establishment of a Jewish state necessary and laudably, he acknowledged that in some quarters of Christianity, there is still ambivalence over Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land.
On this score, Carroll is quite clear. In the third article of the series (“Enter Christianity,” published on Aug. 9, 2010), he reports that as the “Israeli-Palestinian dispute has continued, international sympathy for the besieged Palestinian population has intensified, but something else than genuine feeling for the downtrodden is at work.” He continues:
An ongoing and unconscious Western unease about Jews in Palestine, especially Jerusalem, is part of this concern. The legitimacy of the state of Israel is still at issue.
As valuable as this insight is, the issue of Israel’s legitimacy in the Western mind is not the only issue that needs to be addressed. Carroll, who earned his reputation by documenting the “anti-Jewish consequences” of the New Testament, fails to address the anti-Jewish invective in the Koran and the Hadiths and as a result, is unable to grapple with the cosmological component of Islamic hostility toward Jews that has been an important driver of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He also failed to address the manner in which anti-Semites from both Europe and the Middle East used Muslim writings to focus hostility onto Jews and Israel in the region during and after World War II.
Carroll, like other Christians struggling to address the issue of Christian anti-Semitism, may be reluctant to document Muslim hostility toward Jews and its consequences. Given that the Holocaust took place in Christian Europe – not the Middle East, Christians have good reason to tread lightly when raising the issue of the anti-Jewish consequences of the Koran and Islamic supersessionism. But as someone who purports to plumb the underlying roots of the Arab-Israeli conflict, as he did in six successive articles in the Boston Globe, Carroll has an obligation to address these issues.
Instead, he punted.
In the first article, “In this corner” (July 12, 2010), Carroll states that in order for peace talks between Israelis to succeed, there must be a “direct reckoning with the theological and political strata” that underlies the abyss between the two sides. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians are trapped in a corner of two walls – colonialism and anti-Semitism. These walls, Carroll writes, are constructed by “an unacknowledged third party” which, depending on the context, is Great Britain, Europe and its legacy culture, America or simply the West. Israelis and Palestinians, Carroll asserts, can leave this Western-created corner (or trap as he calls it) “to find the way forward.”
The wall of colonialism, Carroll states, was constructed by Great Britain after its arrival in Palestine in 1917. He reports that “when Palestinian Arabs, claiming a national identity distinct from Pan-Arabism, finally mounted resistance in 1936, the British response was brutal, involving more royal troops in Palestine than there were in the entire subcontinent of India.” He then quotes Rashid Khalidi who asserts that the Arab defeat in 1948 was “no more than a postlude, a tragic epilogue to the shattering defeat of 1936-1939.”
Here, Carroll seeks to portray Israel’s creation as delivering a knock out blow to Palestinian nationalistic aspirations that had been stymied by the British. Against the backdrop of British colonialism, Carroll concludes, there was no other way for native Palestinians to respond to the arrival of Zionist Jews in the Middle East. Palestinians were motivated by nationalism and hostility toward colonialism, not anti-Semitism.
In order for this narrative to work, some evidence has to be ignored or distorted. Carroll does both. In addition to omitting any reference to the anti-Jewish massacres of 1921 and 1929 – both instigated by Haj Amin Al Husseini – he portrays the Arab uprising that began in 1936 merely as resistance to British colonialism, a point contradicted by the numbers of British and Jewish dead during the first six months of the uprising. During this period eighty Jews were killed as compared to 21 dead in the British Defense Forces.
This indicates that the uprising was not motivated merely by anti-colonialism, but racial hatred toward Jews. Haj Amin Husseini made that perfectly clear in 1936 when he stated “There is no place in Palestine for two races. The Jews left Palestine 2,000 years ago, let them go to other parts of the world, where there are wide vacant places.” British historian Martin Gilbert describes the Arab campaign this way:
On 15 April 1936 the Arab [sic] began a General Strike followed by systematic attacks on Jewish lives, property and fields. On 7 May the Arab leaders met in Jerusalem, and demanded an end to all Jewish immigration, a halt to all Jewish land purchase, and an Arab majority Government… On 13 May the Mufti of Jerusalem declared at Haifa: ‘The Jews are trying to expel us from the country. They are murdering our sons and burning our houses.’ Within a month of the first Jewish death, 21 Jews had been killed, and many farms and orchards burned by Arab action. 6 Arabs had been killed by the police, none by Jews.From mid-July, Arab attacks on Jews increased. Many Jews were ambushed and killed while driving, unarmed, on the roads. Between 20 July and 22 September, 33 Jews were killed, and several hundred injured… In all 80 Jews had been killed. (Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, pp. 18, 21)
(For more information about Arab attacks on Jews prior to Israel’s establishment in 1948, go here.)
In addition to downplaying Arab attacks on Jews during the 1920s and 30s, Carroll downplays another important part of history: The Arab refusal of the UN partition plan which called for the creation of two states – one Jewish and one Arab – in the former British mandate. Arab rhetoric during 1947 and 1948 was not merely nationalist or anti-imperialist, but annihilationist and anti-Semitic as well. It is these persistent strains of anti-Semitism and annihilationism that have made the Arab-Israeli conflict so difficult to resolve. Hostility toward Jews motivated Arab violence in the 1920s and 30s, prompted Arab rejection of the partition plan in 1947 and were a major factor contributing to the war in 1948 and in the violence since then. Nationalism and anti-colonialism only goes so far in explaining Arab violence over the past several decades.
The distortions continue into current events when Carroll describes the Obama Administration as pressing “Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbass and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to shift from ‘proximity’ talks’ […] to direct negotiations.”
Obama needed to do no such thing with Netanyahu, who himself called for direct negotiations during the summer of 2009 and again in 2010. In June 2009 he said, “I turn to you, our Palestinian neighbors, led by the Palestinian Authority, and I say: Let’s begin negotiations immediately without preconditions.” And in July 2010 he stated “I want to enter direct talks with the Palestinian leadership now. I call on President Mahmoud Abbas to meet me in the coming days to begin peace talks so that we can have and fashion a final peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors.”
The upshot of Carroll’s first piece is that he promises to map out the “political and theological strata” that contributes to the continued existence of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but instead offers a very selective map that provides no reference to the theologically rooted hostility toward Jews in the Middle East. By failing to address anti-Semitism and its historical roots in the Middle East – not just Europe – Carroll ignores how what appears at first glance to be merely a conflict over territory and geography is rooted to a significant degree in Muslim theology. (This issue will be addressed in detail below.)
Delicate Treatment for Islam
Carroll’s distorted map of history is also evident in the second article of the series, “Pursuit of the Holy Land” (July 26, 2010). In this installment, Carroll reports that Muslim love for Jerusalem was initially motivated by “respect for Jewish devotion” and states that “In that foundation lies a permanent principle of mutual reconciliation.” Carroll also describes Muslim devotion for Jerusalem as manifesting itself soon after Islam dominated the Arabian Peninsula. He writes:
No sooner had Arab tribalism yielded to the cohesive new movement based on the “oneness” of Allah than its gaze was drawn to Jerusalem. The Byzantine-controlled city was seen as sacred because it had been sacred to Jews. Within five years of the Prophet’s death in 632, Umar’s army took Jerusalem without any loss of life – a Muslim control that would last, except for an interlude during the Crusades, until the 20th century. From the effective beginning of Islam, Jerusalem was a pillar of its identity. Of tremendous relevance to today’s dispute is the fact that Umar’s first act was to formally welcome exiled Jews back to Jerusalem. Umar ordered the repair of the still-ruined Jewish Temple Mount as the Jewish Temple Mount.
Here, Carroll is long on hope, short on historical analysis. By emphasizing one brief interlude where Muslim-Jewish relations were relatively good and leaving it at that, Carroll fails to provide badly needed context. Indeed, there are periods of Muslim history that could serve as a model for reconciliation and tolerance. But like Christianity, Islam’s founding was marked by conflict with Jews who denied the truth of its message. Consequently, anti-Jewish polemic is present in the Koran and other authoritative Muslim writings.
Islam, like Christianity, has at the very least a double view of Jews (and Christians). On one hand, they are “people of the book” whose faith is to be respected. On the other hand, Christians and Jews – Jews especially – are enemies of God who will, on the last day, be destroyed for their unbelief and refusal to accept the truth of Islam as propounded by Mohammed.
This supersessionist impulse is evident in many passages throughout the Koran. For example, Sura 5 verse 155 accuses Jews of having broken their covenant with God and incurring divine displeasure as a result. The same verse also accuses the Jews of ignoring the signs of Allah, blasphemy and murdering his prophets. Verse 156 accuses Jews of rejecting the faith, uttering against Jesus’ mother, Mary a grave false charge [of being unchaste]. There are other passages that depict Jews in a negative light.
These passages have been used to buttress anti-Jewish polemics in the Middle East. For example, writing in 1970, Syrian scholar Abdul Sattar El Sayed stated “The Qur’an has drawn a gloomy picture of the Children of Israel, showing them only as a dispersed horde possessed with an evil soul that shuns all that is good and brings disaster to any straight way.”
As a result of their evil nature, Sayed writes, Jews are Islam’s enemy “and the disease that has plagued our lands. According to the descriptions provided of the Jews in the Qur’an, they stand as an enemy which is devoid of any human feelings. They are rather a pest or a plague that is cursed like Satan who was expelled by God from the realm of his mercy. The enemy is also sent out to launch war on people exactly like Satan.” (Sayed’s piece is republished in The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History (Prometheus 2008) by Andrew G. Bostom on pages 365-369. This quote can be found on page 367.)
Similar depictions of Jews are present in the hadiths or accounts of the words and deeds of Mohammed. In these texts, Jews are portrayed as a violent apostate people envious of Mohammed for his revelations, which they understood to be true, but refused to follow out of pride and stubbornn ess. Not every hadith condemns Jews; in some instances they are commended for adhering to strict practices regarding ritual purity.
Despite this double-image, the overall tone is one of disdain, despite (or maybe because of) the influence Jewish religious practices and beliefs had on Islam’s formation. Writing in 1937, Georges Vajda reported:
In the hadiths, Jews are represented in the darkest colors. Convinced by the clear testimony of their books that Muhammed was the true prophet, they refused to convert out of envy, jealousy, and national particularism, even out of private interest. They have falsified their sacred books and do not apply the laws of God; nevertheless, they pursued Muhammed with their raillery and their oaths, and harassed him with questions, an enterprise that turned to their own confusion and merely corroborated the authenticity of the supernatural science of the Prophet. From words they moved to action: sorcery, poisoning, assassination held no scruples for them. They should be granted life, the enjoyment of their goods and the practice of their religion, but treat them with contempt and especially beware of asking them for information of a religious kind. (The Legacy of Antisemitism, page 249.)
Such beliefs contributed to the oppression of Jews under Muslim rule in Middle East in the centuries after Islam’s founding. In some instances, Jews were treated relatively well, as Carroll emphasizes in his description of Umar’s bloodless conquest of Jerusalem, but by the 1700s, things had gone down hill. Jews in Jerusalem were forced to pay exorbitant sums for the privilege of building a synagogue, Jewish men were forced to pay a poll tax; non-payment resulted in imprisonment. Jews were not allowed to ride horses, and were denied access to the Temple Mount. Gedalieh of Siemiatyce, a Jew from Poland wrote after visiting Jerusalem “If a Jew offends a Muslim, the latter strikes him a brutal blow with his shoe in order to demean him, without anyone’s being able to prevent him from doing it.” (Legacy, 85-86.)
To be fair, Carroll does acknowledge the refusal of “irredentist Palestinians” to accept as a historical fact Jewish presence in Jerusalem and that such denials are included in the PLO charter of 1968. He does not, however, explore the ultimate grounding of these denials.
They are not merely a consequence of nationalism, but are rooted in a supersessionist impulse evident in Islam. This impulse undermines Carroll’s thesis (introduced in the first article) that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is caused by the Western anti-Semitism and colonialism. There are, in fact, aspects of life in the Middle East that contribute to the continuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and not all of them can be blamed on outsiders.
Intense Scrutiny for Christianity
What makes Carroll’s unwillingness, or inability, to plumb the history of Muslim hostility toward Jews in the Middle East so ironic is the detailed, unflinching manner in which he addresses Christian anti-Semitism.
Christian anti-Semitism – and hostility toward Islam – feature prominently in the third article in the series, “Enter Christianity” (Aug. 9, 2010). In this article, Carroll details two competing impulses within the Christian faith in the centuries after its founding. One strain of thought put forth by St. Ambrose of Milan called for Jews to be murdered. Another strain put forth by St. Augustine of Hippo declared that Jews should be allowed to survive within Christendom as Jews to serve as a “‘witness people’ whose homeless misery would demonstrate the truth of the very Christian claims they rejected.” This teaching, Carroll writes, contributes to Western unease about Jews in Palestine even today. It also motivated bad behavior toward Jews in Jerusalem during the Crusades. As Carroll explains, “When Christians were in control of Jerusalem, they almost never allowed Jews to reside there—not merely out of bigotry, but because, after Augustine, Jewish exile was a matter of theological proof.”
In his second article Carroll praised Umar, the 7th century Muslim leader who allowed Jews to rebuild the Temple Mount. In his third article, he condemns Crusade-era Christians who did not even allow Jews to live in Jerusalem. The oblique comparison leaves the reader the notion that it is Christianity – not Islam – that has a problem with Jews. Both religions have had a difficult time affording the Jewish people a place in their respective theological and physical geographies.
Carroll also subjects Christianity’s attitude toward Islam to intense and harsh scrutiny. In Carroll’s depiction, the balance of sin invariably tilts toward Christians. Carroll reports that Islam’s success in the Middle East was not due to violence but because of “its human and spiritually resonant message, a proclamation of the radical inviolability of each person’s interior life, which the believer could experience five times daily in prayer. These intense encounters with Allah generated a new kind of personal dignity and people responded by the millions.”
Carroll reports that instead of acknowledging Islam’s appeal, Christians instead denounced the Koran “as a hand book of bloody conquest” and embraced a view of the religion as “irrational and violent.” To buttress his point, Carroll invokes a commentary from a Byzantine emperor who in 1391 stated that Mohammed “brought ‘only things evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.’”
Writing in the Middle East Quarterly, David Bukay reports that “no verse is more frequently cited by contemporary Muslims preachers and analysts to depict Islam as peaceful and compassionate as 2:256, ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion.’ For Sheikh Abdur Rahman, the chief justice of Pakistan, this verse is one of the most important, containing a charter of freedom of conscience unparalleled in the religious annals of mankind.”
Unfortunately, this sura is not the Koran’s last word on the issue. Other passages enjoin Muslims to fight against non-Muslims and to subjugate Jews and Christians. Sura 9:29 of the Koran calls upon believers to
Fight those who believe notIn Allah nor the Last Day,Nor hold that forbiddenWhich hath been forbiddenBy Allah and His Messenger,Nor acknowledging the ReligionOf Truth, from amongThe People of the Book,Until they pay the Jizyah [poll tax]With willing submission,And feel themselves subdued.
Another passage in the same sura (9:5) calls upon believers to “slay the pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in way for them in every stratagem (of war); But if they repent and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them: For Allah is Oft-Forgiving.”
Clearly, passages such as this contradict the one Carroll quoted which indicates there is no compulsion in religion. Such contradictions can be discovered in every sacred text, but the Koran itself provides a method of resolving these contradictions by stating that passages revealed to Mohammed early in his career as a prophet are superseded or replaced passages he received later. This is stated, for example, in sura 2:106 which states that “Any message We annul or consign to oblivion/We replace with a better or similar one.”
This doctrine, which has been characterized as “abrogation,” (or in Arabic, naskh), is the subject of debate among Muslim scholars, but has a significant following in some quarters of Islam, particularly those who engage in acts of violence and who use the Koran to justify these acts of violence. In any event, it is not an obscure teaching adhered to by only a few. Bukay provides some badly needed context:
During the lifetime of Muhammad, the Islamic community passed through three stages. In the beginning from 610 until 622, God commanded restraint. As the Muslims relocated to Medina (623-26), God permitted Muslims only to fight in a defensive war. However, in the last six years of Muhammad’s life (626-32), God permitted Muslims to fight an aggressive war first against polytheists, and later against monotheists like the Jews of Khaybar. Once Muhammad was given permission to kill in the name of God, he instigated battle.Chapter 9 of the Qur’an, in English called “Ultimatum,” is the most important concerning the issues of abrogation and jihad against unbelievers. It is the only chapter that does not begin “in the name of God, most benevolent, ever-merciful.” Commentators agree that Muhammad received this revelation in 631, the year before his death, when he had returned to Mecca and was at his strongest. Muhammad bin Ismail al-Bukhari (810-70), compiler of one of the most authoritative collections of the hadith, said that “Ultimatum” was the last chapter revealed to Muhammad although others suggest it might have been penultimate. Regardless, coming at or near the very end of Muhammad’s life, “Ultimatum” trumps earlier revelations.Because this chapter contains violent passages, it abrogates previous peaceful content. Muhsin Khan, the translator of Sahih al-Bukhari, says God revealed “Ultimatum” in order to discard restraint and to command Muslims to fight against all the pagans as well as against the People of the Book if they do not embrace Islam or until they pay religious taxes. So, at first aggressive fighting was forbidden; it later became permissible (2:190) and subsequently obligatory (9:5). This “verse of the sword” abrogated, canceled, and replaced 124 verses that called for tolerance, compassion, and peace.
What Carroll has done is use an optimistic and convenient interpretation of the Koran to condemn Christians for embracing negative views of Islam and its adherents. When Carroll condemns Christians for viewing the Koran “as a hand book of bloody conquest” he ignores an obvious point: The near-disappearance of Christianity from the Middle East was not the result of peaceful propagation, but of violent conquest – which extended well into Europe. By the eighth century Arab Muslim rulers used indigenous Christian communities as both a source of income and forced labor (slavery) in the Middle East, a policy that contributed to the decline of Christianity in the region. (For a detailed description of this process, consult Bat Ye’or’s The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude, pages 100-140.) Given this reality, perhaps Christians can be forgiven for regarding the Koran with suspicion, for in fact, the text is not as peaceful as the one sura invoked by Carroll suggests.
Carroll glosses over another important issue when he states “Islamofascism is theological slander” without addressing what factors may have contributed to the use of this phrase by those who are disturbed by the impact Muslim extremism has had on international relations since Sept. 11, 2001. It is not as if there are no fascist elements to the ideology that contributed to the attacks in 2001 and to the ongoing hostility and violence against Israel, Jews and Muslims in the Middle East. And it is not as if these fascist movements do not rely on Muslim scripture and theology to gain adherents and justify their violent acts. They do.
Instead of addressing this issue, Carroll continues to focus his attention solely on Christian attitudes toward Muslims while ignoring the behavior of the Muslims themselves. Carroll laments that Christians dismiss Palestinian impulses as “irrational and violent.” He does not reveal, however, exactly how Christians should view the suicide bombings that marked the Second Intifada.
Carroll also asserts that the “age-old irrationality charge can be detected … in the cliché that Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity as if what regularly appear to Palestinian negotiators as insurmountable obstacles have no substance. It is not irrational to insist, for example, that ‘facts on the ground’ not be allowed to predetermine a final agreement.’”
Here Carroll begs yet another question: Can Christians be forgiven for thinking that the Palestinians missed an opportunity for peace at Camp David when Yassir Arafat said no to a peace offer from Ehud Barak, failed to make a counter-offer and then turned down the Clinton Parameters despite a warning from Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia that to do so would “be a crime”?
In his fourth piece, “Onward Christian Zionists” (August 23, 2010), Carroll addresses Christian Zionism and reports that it is motivated by a belief that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land is a pre-requisite for the return of Jesus Christ. Carroll complains that under this n arrative “restored Jews were only to be instruments of the final triumph of Christianity” and that “Jews again in Israel would be faced with the choice of conversion or damnation.”
Christian Zionists do typically regard the modern state of Israel as a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and in some instances view the Jewish people through a supersessionist lens. These beliefs are not monolithic, however. There are also competing views within Christian Zionism about the role Jews are to play at the End Times. Some Christian Zionists affirm – to the dismay of their fellow Christians – the enduring legitimacy of God’s promises to the Jewish people.
Christian Zionists, such as John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel, are accused by their critics of embracing a heretical “dual covenant” theology and of denying that Jesus Christ is the sole path to salvation. Sadly, the polemics leveled in response to Christian affirmations of God’s continued regard for the Jewish people sometimes veer into ugly anti-Judaism, which is then used to assail Israel’s legitimacy as the modern Jewish state.
In such instances, Christian supersessionism in the West merges with Islamic supersessionism in the Middle East to form a united front of contempt toward Jewish sovereignty. The writings of Naim Ateek, founder of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, are emblematic of this problem.
Carroll does not address any of this in this series, but instead laments the manner in which Israeli officials “happily collaborate with a reactionary religious movement which, while having learned to downplay its Jew-denigrating End Time theology, nevertheless aims in its very essence at the elimination of Jewish faith.” He continues:
Israeli leaders, in their dependence on such Christians, exchange short-term benefit for long-term jeopardy. American Christian Zionism is a particularly lethal form of contemporary fundamentalism. Theologically uncritical and dangerously triumphalist, it is bad for Israel, Palestine, America and peace.”
Carroll’s overheated description of Christian Zionism as a “particularly lethal form of contemporary fundamentalism” is insupportable based on the evidence. Exactly who has died as a result of Christian Zionist beliefs? Timothy Weber, author of On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel’s Best Friend (Baker Academic, 2005), and one of the harshest critics of the Christian Zionist movement, conceded this point at a conference on Christian Zionism held at North Park University in Chicago in 2005. At a closing panel of the conference, Weber stated:
I just need to point out that dispensationalists [Christian Zionists] are not throwing bombs. They are not attacking people in the streets. You may argue that they are promoting things that may lead to that by other people. That’s arguable. I think that that is certainly a possibility. But in our own context, in our own world and our own culture they play by the rules of American democracy. They attack verbally. They promote their own ideas. They denigrate others. But that’s the American way.
The notion that Christian Zionists have controlled American foreign policy in the Middle East is simply laughable given their opposition to the policies of the Obama Administration. Moreover, the Israelis themselves have negotiated with Palestinian leaders and withdrew from the Gaza Strip – over the objections of Christian Zionists in the United States. As a theologian, Carroll has every right to assail Christian Zionism as a theology, but as a journalist, he is not entitled to exaggerate the movement’s influence or exaggerate the threat it poses.
Living in the safety of the United States, Carroll may lament the manner in which Israeli officials have allied themselves with Christian Zionists and the broader movement of evangelicals in the U.S., but the reality is this: The Jewish state, and by extension the Jewish people, now face a historical bottleneck.
This bottleneck manifests itself as a collection of authoritarian mass movements located in Iran, Lebanon, the Gaza Strip (and to a lesser extent, the West Bank) whose leaders have declared their intent to destroy the Jewish state. They are not motivated by limited nationalist goals, but are motivated in part by Jew-denigrating End Time theologies of their own. Evangelicals and Christian Zionists have, for reasons of their own, been willing to support Israel as it faces this threat.
By way of comparison, some self-declared progressives have been unwilling to acknowledge the threats Israel faces and to make matters worse, some progressive Christians have cooperated with the effort to marginalize the Jewish state and portray it as a singular obstacle to peace in the region.
Given these circumstances, exactly what would Carroll have Israeli leaders do? Refuse help from potential political allies because these allies believe at some point in the distant future the Jewish people will disappear? Under this logic, Jews should not have fled to the Muslim-dominated Middle East to avoid oppression in Christian Europe during the Middle Ages because of the supersessionist beliefs in Islam, which dominated the region.
As a Catholic writer living in a Christian-majority country, Carroll is free to worry about whatever historical bottlenecks he chooses, but Israeli officials – who are responsible for their country’s safety and survival – must take them in the order that they present themselves. Under any honest assessment of the facts, militant Islam presents an incomparably greater near-term threat to Israel and its citizens than Christian Zionism does.
Husseini Merely a Stooge
The distortions continue in the fifth article of the series, “New talks haunted by old wounds,” (Sept. 6, 2010). In the first paragraph of this piece, Carroll states that one obstacle to peace is “Israeli suspicions tied especially to Hamas rejectionism.” Israelis are suspicious of more than Hamas’s rejectionism. They are suspicious of so-called “moderate” Palestinian leaders such as PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad – with good reason. Both have rejected Israel’s call to be recognized as a Jewish state and Fatah, a major component of the PLO that is often referred to as “moderate” includes a rejection of Israel’s legitimacy in its constitution.
To his credit, Carroll states in this article that there is no equivalence, “moral or physical,” to the suffering endured by the Jews during the Holocaust and the Palestinians during the 1948 War. Carroll offers a false equivalence of his own, however, when he asserts that
Palestinian refusal to acknowledge the Jewish state’s legitimacy matches Israel’s refusal to reckon with its role a primal source of Palestinian suffering, whether through pre-meditated ethnic cleansing or wa r-caused ad hoc expulsions never undone.
Carroll’s notion that Israel is a “primal source” of Palestinian suffering ignores a number of realities, most notably, the decision of Arab leaders in the Middle East to continue to wage war on Israel multiple times over the past several decades.
Israel accepted the UN partition plan of 1947, Arab leaders did not, but instead attacked Jews and then declared war on Israel when it declared independence in 1948. Arab leaders promised to drive Jews into the sea, failed, and then drove most of the Jews living in Middle East out of the countries of their birth in the years after Israel’s creation.
Two decades later Arab leaders promised to destroy Israel. Egyptian President Nasser shut down the Straits of Tiran and evicted UN troops from the Sinai. In response, Israeli leaders, who had witnessed an increase terror attacks in the 1965 and 1966, launched a pre-emptive strike, destroyed its enemies’ capacity and will to fight and then sued for peace, offering to give back the territory after a negotiated settlement.
The Arab League refused to negotiate. In the years since, Egypt and Jordan have signed treaties with Israel, but the cycle of threat, attack, loss, recrimination and renewed threat continues now with non-state actors such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
Given these circumstances, Arab leaders – political, religious and intellectual – share a great measure of responsibility for the suffering of the Palestinians over the past several decades. Arab leaders in the Middle East have squandered the lives and well-being of their citizens and followers in repeated and fruitless attacks on Israel and then blamed Israel for the resulting suffering. Such behavior cannot be described as the pursuit of nationalist aspirations or as motivated by anti-Colonialism. Clearly, Jewish sovereignty and freedom in the Middle East represents a cosmological affront to its adversaries in the Middle East.
Moreover, Carroll’s assertion that Israel has not “reckoned” with its role in Palestinian suffering does not square with reality. Israeli historians have in fact scrutinized the behavior of Jewish and Israeli leaders before during and after the 1948 War. The writings of Tom Segev and Benny Morris are just a few examples of Israeli efforts to come to terms with its own history. Self-criticism and scrutiny of Israeli policies is the hallmark of Israeli discourse. Israel’s adversaries subsequently invoke many of these acts of self-criticism as proof of Israel’s illegitimacy.
These writers have introduced errors and distortions of their own into the discourse, but the fact remains, Israeli writers and historians have held Israel and its leaders to much greater account than Arab intellectuals have addressed the misdeeds of their own leaders. Carroll relies on Israeli self-criticism when he invokes Avraham Burg’s book, The Holocaust is Over; We must Rise from its Ashes (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) to make the point that “Ashes remain the ground of Israel.” The underlying tragedy is that the vast majority of Palestinian or Arab intellectuals and journalists, with notable exceptions such as Khaled Abu Tomeh, have failed to offer a similar message in regards to their own history: “The Nakba is Over, If You Want It.”
On two other key points, Carroll downplays the role Arab leaders in Palestine played in the suffering endured by the Jews during the Holocaust. In the first instance, Carroll describes the Shoah as “a successive set of desperate arrivals – driven by Hitler.” He then reports the number of Jews who made it into to Palestine during the years of 1931, 1934 and 1935 and reports that according to Tom Segev there were about 500,000 Jews living in Palestine in 1939.
Carroll fails to address the impact the White Paper issued by the British Government in May 1939 had on Jewish immigration into Palestine. In addition to restating Great Britain’s opposition to a partition of Palestine enunciated in 1938, the White Paper restricted Jewish immigration into Palestine to an average of 15,000 a year for the next five years, effectively denying thousands of Jews the ability to flee the Holocaust by returning to the Jewish homeland.
This White Paper was issued in response to the Arab revolt that took place from 1936 to 1939 and to British fears that Arabs would side with Germany during the impending war. The White Paper, which was rejected by both Jews and Arabs, but was nevertheless enforced by Great Britain, had a significant impact on the ability of Jews to flee Europe.
According to previous CAMERA research, 167,000 Jews immigrated from 1934 to 1938 while less than half that number arrived in Palestine between 1940 and 1945. To be sure, many Western democracies denied Jews refuge from the Holocaust, but the fact remains, Arab violence and subsequent efforts by the British to appease Arabs with the White Paper, contributed in the deaths of thousands of Jews who could otherwise have escaped Europe.
Carroll’s treatment of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem is even more egregious. Here is what he writes about the Mufti:
In those crucial years of early Jewish flight from Hitler, the leader of Palestine was a British-appointed “mufti,” or expounder of Islamic law. His name was Muhammad Amin al-Husayni, a member of a notable Jerusalem family. Caught between British colonial pressures and the surge in European Jewish arrival, and needing to forge an expressly Palestinian (as opposed to Pan-Arabic) consciousness, Husayni took a page from the old book of Christian anti-Judaism. He promoted positive Palestinian identity by casting Judaism as a negative foil. That bipolar structure of mind holds. The savage British repression of Palestinian resistance in the late 1930s (noted in an earlier column) turned Husayni into England’s mortal enemy. He rejected the compromise offered in a British White Paper of 1939, an act the Palestinian scholar Rashid Khalidi calls the “last important decision the Palestinians took by themselves for several decades.” Husayni fled from Palestine. Winston Churchill ordered him assassinated, but he made it to Berlin. On the principle of the enemy of my enemy is my friend, he threw in with Hitler, and played Nazi stooge throughout the war — perhaps the single largest factor in the delegitimization of Palestinian claims ever since. Especially once Hitler’s crimes became known, Israeli suspicions of Palestinian attitudes, including calls for Jewish annihilation, were solidified.
By stating that Husseini’s actions were motivated by the “savage British repression of Palestinian resistance in the late 1930s” Carroll begins his narrative about Husseini after his campaigns to foment violence against Jews during the previous decade. For example, Husseini incited the riots of 1929 by accusing Jews in Jerusalem of having designs on the Al Aksa Mosque. Moreover, Husseini made his first contact with the Nazis in 1933, years before the British put down the Arab revolt of 1936-39. Husseini’s anti-Jewish animus pre-dated the revolt.
And with his description of Haj-Amin Al Husseini as casting Judaism as a “negative foil,” rejecting the White Paper, and of playing the role of “Nazi stooge” throughout the war, Carroll seriously downplays the Mufti’s role in the Holocaust and his role in sowing the seeds of Jew-hatred that currently exists in the Middle East.
As documented in numerous websites and books, including Jennie Lebel’s The Mufti of Jerusalem: Haj-Amin el-Husseini and National Socialism, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, did, as Carroll reports, court the Nazi regime in his effort to keep Jews from Palestine.
But he was no mere stooge, but instead pursued the death of Jews with great energy, recruiting, for example, Bosnian Muslims to serve in Waffen SS units in 1943. These units played a role in the murder of Jews in Croatia and Hungary and atrocities against Serbs, and as a result, Yugoslavia called for the Grand Mufti to be charged with war crimes for his recruiting efforts, but he escaped prosecution by fleeing to Egypt in 1946.
During the Holocaust, Husseini sent letters of complaint to officials in Germany, Bulgaria and other countries of Europe that prevented the escape of thousands of Jewish children from the clutches of the Nazis. For example, in 1942 he lobbied against a proposal to exchange 10,000 children for German prisoners of war held in Allied camps. When Husseini got wind of negotiations between Adolph Eichmann and delegates from Jewish organizations in Bratislava, he raised objections with Heinrich Himmler who nixed the exchanged and ordered that in the future “no plans were ever to be made for the transfer of Jewish children from enslaved Europe to Palestine.” (Lebel, 248)
And in 1943 Husseini put a stop to a deal that would have freed Jewish children from Bulgaria, Rumania and Hungary. Later that year, he torpedoed an effort to have Jewish children in Bulgaria sent to orphanages in Italy, and instead had them shipped to Poland, where they were murdered. Husseini’s letters of complaint to European leaders amounted to death warrants for thousands of Jewish children.
These were not the actions of a Palestinian nationalist and anti-colonialist, but an inveterate Jew-hater. As a German official testified before the judges at Nuremberg, “The Mufti was an accomplished foe of the Jews and did not conceal that he would love to see all of them liquidated…” (Lebel 255).
Husseini the Theorist
There is another enduring aspect about Husseini’s alliance with the Nazis, that Carroll missed: His role in broadcasting anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda into the Middle East. While in Germany during World War II, Husseini broadcast numerous speeches over the short-wave into the Middle East as part of Voice of Free Arabism (VFA) in which he portrayed Jews as the eternal enemy of Arabs and Muslims, called on Arabs to kill Jews and made use of passages of the Koran to buttress his point.
This part of Husseini’s biography is part of a much larger story – the role the Nazi regime in Europe played in promoting Jew-hatred in the Middle East. In his book, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World (Yale University Press, 2009), Jeffrey Herf offers extensive detail about short-wave radio broadcasts into the Middle East in which Nazi propagandists called on Arabs to murder Jews, relying extensively on passages in the Koran to make their plea. For example, in July 1942, a VFA broadcast titled “Kill the Jews before They Kill You” made the following exhortation:
You must kill the Jews, before they open fire on you. Kill the Jews, who have appropriated your wealth and who are plotting against your security. Arabs of Syria, Iraq and Palestine, what are you waiting for? The Jews are planning to violate your women, to kill your children and to destroy you. According to the Moslem religion, the defense of your life is a duty which can only be fulfilled by annihilating the Jews. This is your best opportunity to get rid of this dirty race, which has usurped your rights and brought misfortune and destruction your countries. Kill the Jews, burn their property, destroy their stores, annihilate these base supporters of British imperialism. Your sold hope of salvation lies in annihilating the Jews before they annihilate you. (Herf, page 126)
Later in December 1942, Germany broadcast the text of a Husseini speech that Herf reports became a “canonical statement of the connection between National Socialism and Islam during the war. In a paragraph quoted by Herf, alleged Jewish hostility toward Islam “dates back to the dawn of Islam.”
Every Moslem knows how they opposed and hurt the Prophet as well as creating endless difficulties for him….So that the Koran says: “You shall find that the most hostile people are the Jews.” The Jews are the same whether during the era of the prophets or in succeeding eras. They never waver from their policy of intrigue and evil doing. (Herf, page 153)
In another paragraph quoted by Herf on the same page of his book, Husseini reports that “The Koran says that they [the Jews] heat the cauldron of war and bring corruption on the earth and God does not like those who are corrupt. Such are their ways.” On the following page Herf reports that this speech is “a key document in the history of modern anti-Semitism and its diffusion to the Arab and Islamic exiles in Berlin and to the listening audience in the Middle East and North Africa. [Husseini] left no doubt that his hatred of Jews was ineradicably bound to his Muslim faith and to his reading of the Koran.” Herf continues:
With public statements such as this, the Mufti played a central role in the cultural fusion of European with Islamic traditions of Jew-hatred. He was one of the few who had mastered the ideological themes and nuances of fascism and Nazism, as well as the anti-Jewish elements within the Koran and its subsequent commentaries. In this sense, his ideological accomplishment bears some comparison to Hitler’s. Neither were original thinkers, but both were able to synthesize and radicalize already existing currents within their respective traditions. The attitude toward Jews in Islam was different than it had been in Christianity, but the Mufti had no difficulty finding textual support in the Koran for his hatred of the Jews. (Herf, page 154)
Herf warns however, that focusing too much on Husseini can distract observers from the “antagonism to the Jews in some traditions of Islam that made his emergence possible. Without this context and background, his message it would not have resonated. Indeed, he would not have had a message to convey.” (Page 223-224)
Husseini’s involvement with the Nazis did more than “discredit” or cause suspicion about the Palestinian cause in the minds of the Israelis. It helped pave the way for a fusion of Nazi anti-Semitism with Muslim supersessi onism, both of which provide the foundation for modern-day Jew hatred in the Middle East.
Al Banna and Qutb
The process started by Husseini continued in the years after World War II, with the help of two other important Arab intellectuals – Hassan Al Banna and Sayd Qutb who both embraced the anti-Semitic message that Husseini had formulated during his tenure with the Nazis.
Hassan al Banna lauded Husseini upon his escape from French custody, asserting that “the Lord Almighty did not preserve Amin for nothing. There must be a divine purpose behind the defeat of this man, namely the defeat of Zionism.” (Herf, page 244). The words of Al Banna, a founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, serve as part of the preface to the Hamas’s founding charter: “Israel will exist, and will continue to exist, until Islam abolishes it, as it abolished that which was before it.”
Sayd Qutb demonstrated a similar hostility toward Jews in his essay “Our Trouble With the Jews,” first published sometime in the 1950s and then republished by the Saudi Arabian government in the 1970s. This text is an extended anti-Semitic screed that relies on the Koran and the fraudulent Protocols of the Elders of Zion to depict the Jews as an enemy of the Muslim faith and community. Ronald L. Nettler’s translation of this text published in Past Trials and Present Tribulations: A Muslim Fundamentalist’s View of the Jews (Pergamon Press, 1987) includes the following passage:
The Qur’an spoke much about its Jews and elucidated their evil psychology. It is not mere chance that the Qur’an elaborates on this. For there is no other group whose history reveals the sort of mercilessness, (moral) shirking and ungratefulness for Divine Guidance as does this one. Thus they had killed, butchered, and expelled many of their prophets. This is the most disgusting act that has come out of any community which had sincere Preachers of the Truth. The Jews perpetrated the worst sort of disobedience (against Allah), behaving in the most disgustingly aggressive manner and sinning in the ugliest way. Everywhere the Jews have been, they have committed unprecedented abominations.From such creatures who kill, massacre and defame prophets one can only expect the spilling of human blood and any dirty means which would further their machinations and evilness. (Nettler, page 78).
In the remainder of this text, Qutb relies on traditional Muslim sources to depict the Jews as the modern-day enemies of the Muslim faith whose inevitable defeat will presage the restoration of the cosmological order. In his analysis of Qutb’s essay, Herf writes
Our Struggle with the Jewswas not a case of Holocaust denial. On the contrary, like the incitement that came over shortwave radio during the war, it constituted a justification of an allegedly well-deserved punishment. Just as the Nazis had threatened the Jews with “punishment” for alleged past misdeeds, so Qutb offered a religious justification for yet another attempt to “mete out the worst kind of punishment” to the Jews then in Israel. In terms that his audience understood, Our Struggle with the Jews was a call to massacre the Jews living in Israel. It is evidence of ideological continuity with the radical Islamist propaganda coming from wartime Berlin. Qutb fused the radical anti-Semitism of modern European history with a radical anti-Semitism in a detailed reading of the Koran. Qutb continued and expanded on the project of cultural fusion and selective appropriation of the traditions of Islam that Husseini and his associates in wartime Berlin had performed. In so doing, he breathed new life into the anti-Semitic hatred that had only recently been defeated and morally discredited in Europe.
This is a crucial issue, because it helps explain why the Arab-Israeli conflict has been so difficult to resolve. It is not merely a fight over territory, but a test of whether or not Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East can do for Jews what Christians in Europe did not – accord the Jewish people some mercy and afford them a place in their intellectual and physical geography. While Egypt and Jordan have signed treaties with Israel, significant numbers of Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East have not made peace with the notion of a Jewish state in the region. This refusal is rooted in large part in the writings of Husseini, al Banna and Qutb – writings which Carroll ignores completely in his series.
Light Treatment for Muslim Millennialism
Sadly, Carroll’s tendency to evade the tough issues related to Muslim beliefs regarding the Jewish people manifests itself in the last article of the series, “Teetering on the apocalypse” (Sept. 20, 2010). In this article, the author introduces two final themes into the mix – nuclear weapons and “self-hypnotizing” End Time theologies.
Nuclear weapons, Carroll states, “entered the river of history at just the worst time for Jerusalem, since they are ready made for a mystical belief in the redemptive power of destruction.” Such beliefs are present, the author reminds us in Christianity, Judaism, and yes, Islam.
“When its time came,” Carroll reports, “Islam leapt into this stream [of apocalyptic millennialism] with a vengeance – literally.” Carroll then devotes two subsequent paragraphs to describing the historical roots of suicide bombing and the threat posed by the belief that “Destruction is the mode of redemption.”
Tellingly, Carroll who railed against the “Jew-denigrating” End Time theology of Christian Zionists in the U.S., does not mention – even in passing – the anti-Semitic aspects of Islamic eschatology.
This omission is glaring and significant, because deprives the reader of the context necessary to understand the threat Israel faces. Carroll, who lamented the fact that Israeli officials have forged an alliance with Christian Zionists despite their desire to achieve “the elimination of Jewish faith” does not tell his readers that Muslim End Timers seek not just the elimination of the Jewish faith, but the destruction of the Jewish state, and its Jewish inhabitants.
The very destruction of the Jewish people is a central tenet of this eschatology and it is this eschatology that has contributed to great suffering on both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict. While even Christian Zionism’s harshest critics cannot point to anyone murdered by the movement they condemn, the victims of Islamic terrorism are legion.
And these terrorists are clearly and undeniably motivated by a special hatred for the Jew, who is depicted as a cosmological enemy of God, Islam, and of humanity itself in the sacred texts and commentaries of Islam. And this enemy will be defeated on Judgment Day with the help of t he earth itself. Here is a passage from an essay titled “Our War with the Jews Is in the Name of Islam,” Muslim scholar Yusuf Al-Qaradawi broadcast on Qatar Television in 2006: “Everything will be on our side and against Jews on [Judgement Day], at that time, even the stones and the trees will speak, with or without words, and say: ‘Oh servant of Allah, oh Muslim, there’s a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’” (Legacy, 455)
James Carroll, who established his reputation as an international scholar and commentator by documenting the impact of anti-Jewish polemic within Christianity does not speak one word about this problem as it exists within Islam.
In sum, the problem is this: In the Christian mythos, the word “Jew’ has been used as a sign or marker for all that is wrong with humanity. The people who are marked by this sign in the New Testament and other Christian writings are understood to be murderous enemies of God, humanity, the church, and of life itself. Under this rubric, the church was viewed to have replaced, or superseded, the Jewish people.
Because Christianity is a historical religion, real people live under the shadow of this marker and must live with the consequences. References to “Jews” in Christian scripture, theology and liturgy have cosmological meanings for Christians, but they do not refer to a mythical group of people such as the Elves in Tolkein’s Middle Earth.
The marker “Jew” also refers to living, breathing, people who are entitled to the same rights as any other people most notably self-identification and self-determination. The efforts of Jews to exercise these rights, however, are oftentimes interpreted in ways that affirm the supersessionist signifier under which they live, which denotes them as enemies of God and humanity.
The Holocaust in Europe revealed the depths of the problem and as a result, numerous commentators have spent the past several decades documenting how Christian depictions of Jews contributed to their demonization and murder under the Nazi regime in Europe. To his everlasting credit, James Carroll was at the forefront of this effort.
The task is not yet complete, however, for there is yet another historical religion – Islam – that also invokes the “Jew” as part of its mythological nomos to signify people who are enemies of God, faith and humanity itself. This supersessionist impulse, which has been present since soon after Islam’s founding, became more virulent when it came into contact with Nazi anti-Semitism in the 1930s and 40s.
To make the issue even more complicated, Islam is the dominant religion of the Middle East, where approximately one half of the world’s Jews live. Just as Christianity’s depictions of Jews contributed to the murder of Jews in Europe, Islam’s depictions of Jews have contributed to relentless assaults on the Jewish state. These assaults have caused substantial loss of life to both Jews and Arabs over the past several decades.
In a putative effort to defuse the Arab-Israeli conflict, Christians in the West, including Europe, have presumed to speak a word of peace to the inhabitants of the Middle East.
Given the inability of Christian Europe to afford the Jewish people a space in its theological, intellectual, sociological and physical landscape, the prophetic voice of Christianity is badly handicapped, and handicapped in a crucial manner.
Simply put: Who are Christians from the West to demand that Muslims in the Middle East do today what Christians in Europe were unable to do in the last century – treat Jews as their fellow human beings with rights of their own?
Who are Christians to insist that Muslims transcend their supersessionist attitudes toward the Jewish people and let them live in peace?
And by what right to Christians from the West condemn Muslim anti-Semitism in the Middle East when it was Westerners who helped make it worse during the Second World War?
As a result of this handicap, Christian peacemakers have good reasons to remain silent about the theological roots of hostility toward Jews and Israel in the Middle East.
And they do. Instead, of addressing anti-Semitism in the Middle East, Christians in the West speak about hostility toward Jews and Israel in the Middle East as if it is motivated solely by Arab nationalism – not Muslim anti-Semitism. They also focus on the territorial aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict while ignoring its cosmological aspects.
As the handicap of Christianity’s prophetic voice plays itself out, Christian peacemakers embrace a narrative in which Israeli concessions and withdrawals will lead to peace. This brings the focus back onto the Jews.
To make matters worse, some Christian commentators worked to place the modern state of Israel back under the shadow of Christian anti-Jewish polemic. In other words, they worked to apply the marker of “the Jew” – with all its lethal baggage – onto the modern state of Israel and depict the Jewish state as a singular obstacle to peace in the Middle East. And to Christianity’s enduring shame, they did this during the Second Intifada, when hostility toward Jews in the Middle East – itself rooted in Muslim supersessionism – was manifesting itself in particularly horrifying manner.
One important question facing Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East is if they can do what Christians in Europe did not: Afford the Jewish people some mercy – a place to live free from hostility and enmity. This is not a challenge that Christians can credibly pose to religious, political and intellectual leaders in the Middle East, but Christians who would be peacemakers in the region must pose it.
Instead of posing this challenge, many Christian peacemakers have instead told a story that either ignores, or worse, affirms Muslim hostility toward Israel in the Middle East.
This is the story Carroll missed.