Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History
by Andrew G. Bostom
The Darker Side
A review by Benny Morris
Scholars in the West have begun to devote time and space to anti-Western jihadism and Muslim anti-Semitism -- and a good thing, too, as these are very much on the contemporary international and Middle Eastern political and military agendas and, I fear, will grow in significance during the coming decades, as the Huntingtonian "clash of civilizations" widens. That such a "clash" is going on is all too apparent, from the riots in Nigerian streets, where hundreds died following the announcement of an impending beauty pageant on Nigerian soil, to the murder of an Italian priest in Turkey following the publication of the Muhammad cartoons in Denmark. Yet, Western liberals hesitate to tackle the subject of Muslim anti-Semitism, lest it seem anti-multicultural or provoke the hornet's nest of Allah's minions. Even the use of the word "jihad" has become taboo among appeasers of Islam -- and even among some non-appeasers, such as George W. Bush, who, like other Western leaders, refuses to call the phenomenon by its precise name (and the name that its own practitioners use). People speak of "international terrorism" when they should be speaking of "international Muslim (or Islamist) terrorism."
The compendium of anti-Semitic Muslim texts about Jews in Islamic Arab lands assembled by Andrew G. Bostom, a professor of medicine with a dark hobby, kicks off, unusually, with an explanation of the painting reproduced on the dust jacket. It is by Alfred Dehodencq, from 1860, and it portrays a group of Muslims, one of them brandishing a scimitar, handling roughly by her hair a kneeling dark-eyed damsel, her hands tied behind her back. The group, on a raised platform, is surrounded by an apparently enthusiastic mob. The scene is Fez, in Morocco, in 1834. The girl is named Sol Hachuel. She is seventeen years old, and she is about to be beheaded. She was accused of secretly adhering to her Jewish faith after converting to Islam -- a charge tantamount to apostasy (still punishable by death in most Arab lands). Hachuel denied that she had ever converted. The governor of Tangier, Arbi Esudio, had accused her of "having provoked the anger of the Prophet." The Sultan agreed and pronounced the death sentence. She went bravely, reiterating her Jewishness and refusing to recant, with "Shema Yisrael," the Judaic profession of faith, on her lips.
The case was certainly unusual -- but it typified, in Bostom's view, the sorry lot of the Jews in the Muslim Arab world since the rise of Islam and its expansion around the Mediterranean basin in the seventh and eighth centuries. At the start of his book, Bostom provides a monographlength background survey of the "theological-juridical origins" of Islamic anti-Semitism, illustrating his points with a brief review of its "historical manifestations." At the level of principle, Muslim attitudes toward the Jews (and, less so, toward Christians) were -- and are -- informed by a basic ambivalence. Jews and Christians deserved, and received, a formal measure of respect as "People of the Book" and as the first to adopt monotheism; Islam had followed in their footsteps. But at the same time Jews and Christians were the "enemy," the rival religion and, in certain times and places, the political and military foe.
It was this second attitude that dominated actual Arab practice during most of the fourteen centuries since the birth of Islam. In the lands stretching from Persia to Spain and Morocco, Jews (and Christians) were always second-class subjects, humiliated and discriminated against, often oppressed and persecuted, sometimes forcibly converted or slaughtered. There are almost no substantial Jewish or Christian minorities (the Copts of Egypt and the Christians/ animists of southern Sudan are exceptions) left in the Arab world today; and the few remaining Christians in Iraq and Palestine are rapidly fleeing westward. (Note the recent murder of the Arab owner of a Christian bookshop in Gaza.)
The story peddled by latter-day Arab propagandists (and reinforced by some Jewish scholars, who tended in decades past, sometimes for apologetic reasons of their own, to highlight the medieval "Golden Age" of Islamic Spanish Jewry) -- that the Jewish minorities in the Muslim Arab countries before the advent of Zionism enjoyed a pleasant fraternal existence among the majority populations -- has often been trotted out for the benefit of ignorant Westerners, to illustrate Muslim Arab tolerance of minorities and, politically, to promote plans for a multi-ethnic, one-state solution for Israel/ Palestine. It also has taken hold among Western intellectuals. Thus as prominent a journalist as Lawrence Wright, in The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, writes that "until the end of World War II, there was little precedent in Islam for the anti-Semitism that was now warping the politics and society of the region. Jews had lived safely -- although submissively -- under Muslim rule for 1,200 years, enjoying full religious freedom," until Christian missionaries, Nazi propaganda, and the rise of Israel twisted their minds and propelled them toward anti-Semitism. Or consider Esther Webman, of Tel Aviv University's Dayan Center, who has written that "antisemitism did not exist in the traditional Islamic world.... Antisemitism is, in fact, a relatively new phenomenon in the Arab world." She attributed its rise to three factors: the nineteenth- and twentieth-century penetration of Western thought into that world; "the collapse of traditional political systems and of the loyalties" associated with modern nationalism; and, "most crucial, the development of the conflict [with Zionism] over the domination of Palestine."
But this construct, in Bostom's view (and in my own), is wholly false. It flies in the face of the evidence, much of it presented in Bostom's tome. Certainly modern Christian influences, nationalist enthrallment, and Jewish nationalism (and its success) have added layers to traditional Islamic anti-Semitism. But they were building on firm foundations. From its inception, Islam and its adherents, beginning with Muhammad himself, saw Judaism (and Christianity) as rival parent religions that had to be fought and overcome for Islam to succeed. The initial struggles, in the early seventh century, were existential, a matter of survival, for the Muslims bent on dominating Hijaz and then breaking out of the dismal, arid, thinly populated confines of Arabia. The first Muslims shared a deep sense of vulnerability and threat.
And so the Jews (and Christians) in the realms of expanding Islam were subjected to a regime based on an understanding or agreement -- the dhimma -- of subordination, marginalization, and discrimination. By the twelfth century, the great philosopher Maimonides, a successful Jew in the Islamic world, the doctor to sultans, was to lament: "God has cast us into the midst of this people, the nation of Ishmael, who persecute us severely, and who devise ways to harm us and to debase us.... None has matched [them] in debasing, humiliating, and hating us." And the situation was to remain more or less constant in most of the Islamic lands down to the twentieth century.
Consider Bostom's excerpt from Leon Godard's travelogue Description et histoire du Maroc, published in 1860:
In the cities, the Jews live in separate quarters ... called the Mellah, or the salted earth, dry and cursed. They are locked in from sundown to sunrise and on holidays, all day. They pay the Moorish guards who protect them.... They [pay] the capitulation tax ... that the government sets for each Mellah.... They have eight days to pay the tax; after that, and without warning the Mellah can be pillaged.... According to the laws, the Jews cannot cultivate earth, own land or houses outside the Mellah, ride a horse in front of a town other than on a saddle for a mule ... hit a Moslem, even to defend themselves except in their own house if it has been violated, be a witness in front of a court.... They cannot bid for food in Moslem market, or walk in some streets, in front of Mosques or Koubas, without holding their slippers in their hands, or get married without the permission of the Sultan.... They have to dress only in black or dark colors, wear a black hat different from the turban and not to tie with more than one knot the black scarf holding their headgear.
How and why this condition of degradation came about, and why anti-Semitism persists and, indeed, is on the upsurge in the Islamic Arab world is what Bostom's anthology sets out to explain.
It all begins with the Qur'an -- or, rather, with the encounter, as described in the Qur'an, between Muhammad, the prophet of the new religion, and the Jewish tribes in Hijaz, the area of western Arabia that includes the towns of Mecca and Medina, where Islam arose around 620 C.E. The Jews, not surprisingly, rejected the new faith and its prophet; and if the Qur'an is to be believed, they were contemptuous and sarcastic. (Religions notoriously do not take well to humor at their expense.) Indeed, the Qur'an asserts that the Hijazi Jewish tribes were downright hostile, even at one point trying to poison the Prophet. Muhammad, for his part, had earlier ordered the assassination of prominent Jewish opponents, and forcibly converted tribesmen and expelled many others, and slaughtered hundreds and consigned many of their women and children to slavery. (He took one of the daughters, Safiya, as his wife, after first dispatching her father and husband, according to the Prophet's first major biographer, Ibn Ishaq.)
Partly in consequence, the Qur'an designates the Jews a "base" people and "killers of prophets" (harking back to the Christian charge of Christ-killing). The full verse (2:61) reads: "Humiliation and wretchedness were stamped upon them, and they were visited with wrath from Allah. That was because they disbelieved in Allah's revelations and slew the prophets wrongfully." They are also said to be usurious. The full verse (4:160-161) reads: "And for the evildoing of the Jews ... and for their taking usury ... and for their consuming people's wealth under false pretenses we have prepared for the unbelievers among them [i.e., those not converted to Islam] a painful punishment." Elsewhere (5:63-64) the Qur'an states, "They hasten to spread corruption throughout the earth, but Allah does not love corrupters!" and instructs (5:51): "Take not the Jews and the Christians for friends." And it refers (5:60) to Allah's punitive transformation of the Jews into "apes and pigs" (the distant theological basis for Hamas's current designation of the Jews as "sons of apes and pigs").
Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the current grand imam of Al Azhar University of Cairo, a supreme authority in Sunni Islam, published a book in the late 1960s called The Jews in the Qur'an and the Traditions; it was re-issued in 1986. It summarized the Qur'an's (and Tantawi's own) attitude to the Jews in this way: "The Qur'an describes the Jews with their own particular degenerate characteristics, i.e., killing the prophets of Allah, corrupting His words by putting them in the wrong places, consuming the people's wealth frivolously, refusal to distance themselves from the evil they do, and other ugly characteristics caused by their deep-rooted lasciviousness ... only a minority of Jews keep their word.... [But] not all Jews are the same. The good ones become Muslims." Tantawi was later to describe contemporary Jews as "the descendants of apes and pigs." I add in fairness that he was later to condemn the September 11 attacks, and suicide bombings in general, as contrary to Islam, though he defended "jihad" against those violating Islamic soil.
The hadiths, or sayings of the Prophet, the subsequent exegeses of the Qur'an, and the early biographers of Muhammad built on and built up this anti-Semitic tradition. Ibn Ishaq (died 761), Muhammad's first and major biographer, as transmitted by Ibn Hisham, wrote: "The Apostle of Allah -- may Allah bless him and grant him peace -- declared, 'Kill any Jew who falls into your power.' So Muhayyisa Ibn Mas'ud fell upon Ibn Sunayna, one of the Jewish merchants with whom his family had social and commercial relations, and killed him." One of the more famous hadiths, quoted in Bostom, from Sahih Muslim, Book 41, no. 6985, reads: "Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me: come and kill him: but the tree Gharqad would not say [this], for it is the tree of the Jews." This hadith appears in variants in different collections.
Major Muslim scholars followed this anti-Semitic tradition. Al Baydawi (1286-1316?), a Shafi'ite intellectual who was chief kadi of Shiraz, wrote of the Jews' "intense obstinacy, multi-faceted disbelief, and their addiction to following their whims, their adherence to the blind following of their tradition, their distancing themselves from the truth, and their unrelenting denial of, and hostility toward, the prophets." Ibn Kathir (1300-1373), a Basra-born historian, wrote of the Jews' "rebellion, defiance, opposing the truth, belittling other people, and degrading the scholars. This is why the Jews -- may Allah's continued curses descend on them until the Day of Resurrection -- killed many of their Prophets." And in our own time -- he is a full-fledged member of this odious tradition -- Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), the "spiritual mentor" of modern Islamist extremism, wrote: "No other nation has shown more intransigence and obstinacy than the Jews. They viciously and mercilessly killed and mutilated a number of prophets and messengers. They have over the centuries displayed the most extreme attitudes towards God.... They have always boasted of their virtue and made the implausible claims of being ... the chosen people of God.... Such claims are totally refuted by the Qur'an.... Theirs is a wicked nature, which is full of hatred for Islam."
It is little wonder, then, that such anti-Semitic motifs creep into the speeches of contemporary Muslim leaders. Bashar Al Assad, the president of Syria, welcomed Pope John Paul II to Damascus on May 5, 2001 by declaring that "we notice them [the Jews] aggressing against Muslim and Christian holy sites in Palestine.... They try to kill all the the principles of divine faiths with the same mentality of betraying Jesus Christ and torturing him, and in the same way that they tried to commit treachery against Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him)." Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, described the survivors of the Holocaust as "a bunch of hooligans who emigrated to Palestine," while his protege Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies that the Holocaust took place at all. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon, has written: "If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice, I do not say the Israeli.... If they [the Jews] all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide."
But contemporary Muslim anti-Semitism, as typified by such statements, is not all of Qur'anic derivation. It also owes a great deal to modern European hate-merchants. Without doubt, Christian missionaries, traders, and officials in the nineteenth and early twentieth century flooded the region with their religious-ideological wares. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, for example, was first translated into Arabic and published in Cairo in 1920. And more modern European anti-Semitic tenets penetrated the area during the following decades. They were perfectly embodied in the person and beliefs of Haj Muhammad Amin Al Husseini.
In her book The One-State Solution: A Breakthrough for Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock, the American scholar Virginia Tilley recently wrote that "the racist ... incompetent and reactionary Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini" was "unrepresentative" of the Palestinian Arabs. Tilley would have her readers believe that Husseini "was never a leader of more than a few reactionary Palestinian factions." This is nonsense. In this respect, at least, David G. Dalin and John F. Rothmann put matters aright. From his appointment in 1921 by the British as the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Husseini was a major figure, and during the 1930s and 1940s he was the recognized leader -- recognized, that is, by the British Mandate authorities and the Zionist leadership and, not least, by the leaders of the surrounding Arab societies and states -- of the Palestinian Arab national movement, much as Yasser Arafat was the leader of the movement from the late 1960s until his death in 2004. And like Arafat, Husseini basked in the support of the Palestinian multitudes, led them into a series of historical disasters, and -- when all is said and done -- rejected a succession of compromises that would have resulted in the establishment many years ago of an Arab state, alongside Israel, in part of Palestine.
Husseini, who died in 1974, had an eventful life in interesting times. His father, Taher Al Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem from 1869 until 1908, led the Palestinian notables' unsuccessful struggle against Jewish immigration and land purchases (while his cousin, Rabah Al Husseini, sold land, including his own house, to the Jews). Haj Amin seems to have been born in 1895 (he sometimes spoke of 1894 or 1896) and grew up in Jerusalem. When he was seventeen, he was sent to study in Cairo, where he caught the eye of Rashid Rida, the theologian who became the spiritual father figure of the Muslim Brotherhood, established in the late 1920s. According to the anti-Zionist historian Ilan Pappe, Rida, who treated the young Amin as a disciple, believed "in the need for Muslim society ... to regard the encounter with Western culture ... as an existential threat. [His] second principle related to the way [the Islamic Arab world] needed to deal with this encounter -- a return to [implementing] a pure version of the Islamic commandments, all the while strenuously filtering out western influences.... A third principle touched on the need to link religious activity to political and nationalist actions. The struggle against the British occupation of Egypt, for example, was nothing but the struggle of Islam against the West. Rida spoke explicitly also about Zionism and the need to fight it within the framework of the overall struggle against the West's takeover of the Arab, Islamic Middle East."
All these principles were shared by Husseini. He joined the Ottoman Army, apparently even before Istanbul declared war, "as he was bored at school" (in Pappe's phrase), and served as an officer until the end of 1916. He fell ill and returned to Jerusalem, and there, after deserting, he began surreptitiously to raise volunteers to aid the anti-Ottoman Sharifian "revolt in the desert," organized by the British in 1915-1916. Later he assisted the short-lived government of Faisal ibn Hussein in Damascus during 1918-1920, and then he returned to Palestine and dabbled in embryonic Palestinian nationalist politics.
Husseini apparently played an incendiary role in the Nabi Musa riots against the Jews in 1920, after which he fled the country. But he was pardoned, and he returned, and in a supreme gesture of appeasement, Herbert Samuel, the first British high commissioner, appointed him the "grand mufti" of Jerusalem. The following year Samuel appointed him the head of the Supreme Muslim Council, which supervised the country's Muslim sites and institutions, thereby furnishing Hajj Amin with a powerful political base for his eventual accession to the leadership of the Palestinian Arab national movement.
He detested the British and all their works -- he was especially angered, of course, by their support of Zionism -- but he was an accomplished dissembler, and he played his double game to the hilt. When not out rabble-rousing -- he was a charismatic public speaker -- Husseini was "always mild-mannered and soft-spoken. " He was "short and stocky" and "dressed simply but elegantly," write Dalin and Rothmann. "He always wore the same black patent-leather shoes and the traditional ... mufti's headdress -- a large white cloth wrapped, in a turban, around a red tarboosh.... People who met him for the first time were surprised by his gentle, even meek, manner." With his fair skin, pale blue eyes, and reddish brown beard, he had a "non-Muslim, truly Western appearance." (Hitler was also to remark upon this, hinting at the mufti's "Aryan origins" when they met in Berlin in November 1941.)
In the tumultuous years between 1936 and 1939, Husseini led the Palestine Arabs during the anti-British "Great Revolt." Publicly, on the political level, he oversaw the general strike of May-October 1936, while clandestinely he orchestrated, or tried to orchestrate, its military -- guerrilla and terroristic -- aspect, with armed bands roaming the countryside and the casbahs, killing British soldiers, Jewish settlers, and dissident Arabs. In October 1937, with a warrant out for his arrest, Husseini hid in Al Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount and then, dressed as a woman, he fled by boat to Lebanon. From then on, he lived out his life in exile, "returning" to Palestine only for one week in September 1948 before the Egyptian secret police shepherded him back to his villa in Heliopolis. Before that time he had rejected the U.N. General Assembly partition resolution of November 29, 1947 and launched the Palestinian Arab assault on the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine, which was the first stage of the 1948 war.
When the Haganah, the Yishuv's main militia, crushed the Palestinian irregulars in the spring of 1948, Husseini successfully prodded the neighboring Arab states to invade, and to attempt to destroy, the new Jewish state and to "save" the Palestinians. The Arab armies failed, but the Jordanians duly acquired the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as the Egyptians did the Gaza Strip -- and pointedly avoided establishing a Palestine Arab state. So Husseini lived out the rest of his life in Lebanon and Egypt, an embittered and discarded figurehead, in exile among his Arab brothers, like the other 700,000 Palestinians displaced in the war that he had immorally and illogically launched, and for which his people, and the Arab peoples in general, had failed to prepare.
Strangely enough, Dalin and Rothmann devote little space to the chronicle of Husseini's life. They prefer to dwell on Husseini's anti-Semitism and his ideological and political links with the Nazis and the Third Reich. The problem is that, while putting their finger on important affinities, they decidedly over-reach, and, given the poverty of their scholarship, they often fail to persuade, leaving the reader with the bad taste of propaganda. They certainly add little to the story published in Joseph Schechtman's The Mufti and the Fuhrer (1965), Zvi Elpeleg's The Grand Mufti (1993), or Jennie Lebel's Haj Amin and Berlin (1996).
To be sure, Haj Amin was an anti-Semite. He certainly imbibed the Judeophobia of the Qur'an. And this, as Dalin and Rothmann assert, may have been bolstered by a further dose of Jewhatred that he acquired at the feet of Rashid Rida (though they offer no proof of this). His anti-Semitism was certainly reinforced by what he picked up during his years in Germany, between 1941 and 1945, when he was employed by the Third Reich to broadcast jihadist antiAllied propaganda to the Arab world and to recruit Muslims for the Wehrmacht in Bosnia, while the Nazis, as they described it, were battling "international Jewry" and its agents in London, Washington, and Moscow. Husseini seems to have accepted the Nazi view of the Jews' world-embracing powers -- something that is entirely lacking in Qur'anic and early Islamic anti-Semitism, which, if anything, belittled the Jew.
Husseini's anti-Semitism was not simply utilitarian and political, a means of raising the alarm about the Jews' alleged aim of taking over the Temple Mount or Palestine. It was sincere and heartfelt. In 1954, he wrote in the Egyptian newspaper Al Masri that "the Jews filled a central role in acts of sabotage and destructive propaganda inside Germany, toward the end of the [first] world war. They acted in every way to bring about its destruction." The Jews aimed to take over Palestine, "Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq (apart from its northern parts), Sinai, the [Nile] Delta of Egypt, the city of Medina and the areas of the Banu Kurtina and Banu al-Nasir around it, and other parts of northern Hijaz [today western Saudi Arabia]." He further declared that
we have a negative ally of great importance, and that is the Jewish nature, which characterizes them since their beginnings. This nature was among the important reasons for their failure in all stages of their history, and caused people to hate and persecute them. One of the most salient features of the Jewish nature is their conceit and exaggerated selfishness, which stems from [their belief that] they are the chosen people of God. There is no limit to their covetousness and to their keeping others away from the Good.... They have no pity in their hearts and they are known for their hostility, rivalry and great hardness, as Allah described them in the Qur'an.... This caused them ... not to recognize others' rights. As a result, other peoples have despaired of living with them throughout history.
So Husseini's support of the pro-Axis rebellion of Rashid Ali Al Kilani in Baghdad in April 1941 was unsurprising -- as unsurprising, in fact, as his subsequent extended sojourn in Berlin. He became a friend of Himmler's, and appears to have known the full extent of the Holocaust. Indeed, in various indirect ways he abetted the murder of European Jewry. In the summer of 1943, for example, Husseini wrote a series of letters to von Ribbentrop, Himmler, and various leaders in Nazi "puppet states" requesting that Jewish orphans be sent to Poland, where they would not be "a source of danger," rather than to Palestine. On May 6, 1943, he wrote to the foreign minister of Bulgaria of "the Jewish danger to the whole world, especially to countries in which there were Jews." On May 13, he wrote to von Ribbentrop complaining that 4,000 Balkan Jewish children had been saved.
After the war, evading prosecution as a war criminal, Husseini settled in Cairo. From there, as the dominant figure behind the resurrected Arab Higher Committee, he pulled, or tried to pull, the strings in Palestine and around it, in the hope of frustrating the implementation of the U.N. partition resolution and the establishment of the Jewish state. He failed, and led his people into the Nakba; and then blamed everyone else -- the Jews, the Americans, the British, the Soviets -- for what had happened. Decades later, Arafat performed similarly -- though to be sure, unlike Husseini, he managed through the Oslo peace process to eke out some areas of limited sovereignty for his people. (What they have managed to do with these areas is another matter.)
Husseini, of course, was not alone in the Arab world in his support of the Germans. Such support was quite widespread. The question always arises whether it was motivated merely by anti-imperialism and the hope that a German defeat of the Western democracies would free the Arabs from the imperial grip of the French and the British, or whether it went beyond interests to beliefs, to an identification with parts of the fascist and Nazi message, which was anti-democratic, anti-Semitic, and anti-liberal. In Husseini's case, there seem to have been both ideological affinities and a large dose of political pragmatism (a German victory might ensure Palestinian Arab independence from Britain, the elimination of the Yishuv, and perhaps his own sway over Palestine).
Dalin and Rothmann are correct to note that already in March 1933 Husseini had congratulated the Nazis on their accession to power, and told Heinrich Wolff, the German consul-general in Jerusalem, that he hoped that the fascist governmental system would spread to other countries. Early on, he had called on Germany to impose an economic boycott against the Jews and said that the Islamic world would join it. At his famous meeting with Hitler on November 28, 1941, Husseini -- according to his own memoirs -- asserted their ideological affinity, when it came to anti-Semitism, in the following manner: "Our fundamental condition for cooperating with Germany was a free hand to eradicate every last Jew from Palestine and the Arab world. I asked Hitler for an explicit undertaking to allow us to solve the Jewish problem in a manner befitting our national and racial aspirations and according to the scientific methods innovated by Germany in the handling of its Jews. The answer I got was: 'The Jews are yours.'"
Bostom's book is important and deeply discouraging, but it suffers from flaws of organization and analysis. It is eclectic and chaotic; much is missing, even as there is too much repetition. In some ways the historical picture is even worse than he portrays it as being. He includes documents referring to the Farhud -- the Iraqi pogrom against Baghdad's Jews in 1941 -- and the massacre of the Jews in Tripolitania in 1945; but there is no mention of the massacres of Jews in Aden in 1947 and Morocco in 1948, and there is almost no material (since he purports to cover the medieval centuries as well) on the vast pogroms that took place in Spain and North Africa during the Middle Ages. The volume is clearly not a product of systematic research or compilation. The mixing of excerpts from medieval Islamic texts with articles by modern Western scholars of Islam is somewhat confusing (especially when these scholars abundantly quote from the earlier material); it is not always clear where the one begins and the other ends.
Dalin and Rothmann suffer not from pedantry but from overtly propagandistic aims. They are constantly beating an ideological drum. Their adjectives are a giveaway. Every anti-Semite or anti-Semitic text is "virulent" or "notorious." Icon of Evil even offers a what-if chapter, an obscene counterfactual fantasy called "The Mufti's Reflection: What If Germany Had Conquered Palestine and Britain?," in which the Yishuv is exterminated, Husseini serves as Hitler's local satrap, and so on. Sure. What does this add to the reader's knowledge? And the book abounds with errors of fact. The Paris peace conference after World War I did not "ratify" the Sykes-Picot Agreement, "stipulating that Palestine would be ruled by the British," and T.E. Lawrence was not "the ... British representative in the region"; no one "estimated the Egyptian army [in 1948] at two hundred thousand men"; Lebanese Prime Minister Riad Al Solh was not assassinated on July 15, 1951; and so on. But if Dalin and Rothmann's book is a bad book, much of what it says is soberingly truthful and to the point. We are no longer living in a world, if ever we did, in which these ugly realities can be explained away or ignored.
Benny Morris is the author of 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War.
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