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Antisemitism, the Muslim World’s Sole Collective Contribution to Palestine

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Saudi Crown Prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Saudi Crown Prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan.Credit: Hassan Ammar, AP / Umit Bektas, Reuters / Wakil KOHSAR, AFP

Surrounding the meeting of the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan last weekend, there was a pungent stench of hypocrisy.

The joint statement published afterwards by Mohammed bin Salman and Imran Khan, intended to patch up the diplomatic hole Pakistan had dug for itself by snubbing Riyadh last year, reeks of Islamabad’s trademark subservience but also self-righteousness and deadly irony. 

In the wake of Israeli forces’ targeting of Palestinians in Al-Aqsa Mosque, which prompted outrage among Muslim statespeople, including Khan, the statement "reaffirmed support for Palestinian people" — while calling Houthi militias "terrorists" for launching "ballistic missiles on Saudi Arabia." 

If Houthis in Yemen, where since 2015 over 100,000 Muslims have been killed in the Saudi-led war, are ‘terrorists’ for launching projectiles, on what grounds can Islamabad or Riyadh condemn Israeli action? And what diplomatic leverage do they have to call for a "Palestinian state with pre-1967 borders" when neither has recognized an Israeli state within any borders?

More than an indictment of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, both of whom have been quietly cozying up to Israel in recent months, this is the ghastly reality of self-serving global Muslim leaders, who sell Islamist narratives to fabricate their own legitimacy, if not to propagate a global jihad. 

And for these leaders, Palestinian lives have been convenient props to sustain a comfortably inert and supremacist worldview in the Muslim world. This enforces an Islamic supremacist worldview on all conflicts, often downplaying sectarian violence within Islam, and portraying Muslims — and not separate marginalized peoples — as victims of a collective global plotting of the kuffaar (infidels).

As a result, prayers for Palestine that have unified Muslims, from Pakistani actors to French footballers, aren’t offered for the 85 Muslims — mostly schoolgirls — massacred in the Kabul school bombing on the same day. Whereas Palestinians killed by Israelis are declared "martyrs" by the state run Anadolu Agency of the officially ‘secular’ Turkey, no such honorifics are bestowed on the victims of the Kabul blast around the Muslim world.

From Uighur to KurdBaloch, to anti-Assad Syrians, questions over sidelining other besieged Muslim communities are shunned as ‘deflection’ by the liberal intelligentsia. 

But the motivation behind singling out Israeli brutalities is often explained more honestly by Islamists themselves, by reference to the Jewish identity of the oppressors. And this Judeophobia is the Muslim world’s only collective contribution to Palestine.

From Bangladeshi schoolbooks calling Jews the "mirror of Satan," to Indonesian synagogues, already hidden for safety, being increasingly vulnerable to Islamist mobs, many of even those Muslim states that have some semblance of secularity exhibit widespread antisemitism, in turn reducing ostensible support for Palestinians to the Islamist lens of eternal religious war. 

Even as Muslim statespersons occasionally manage to muster inklings of diplomatic parlance when talking about Israel on the global stage, back home mosques echo with unadulterated calls for "death to Jews." 

And so, when these Muslim leaders now call for a ‘two state solution’, there’s nary a voice at home asking them why they rejected this same solution, in the form of partition, in 1948.There’s no one questioning why, if Israeli settlements are the main stumbling block toward Palestinian statehood, all Muslim states barring one that now recognize Israel formed diplomatic ties after 1967. 

Protesters chant slogans and wave Palestinian flags during a protest against Israel in front of the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul this month.Credit: OZAN KOSE - AFP

Similarly, there’s no inkling of much needed collective Muslim self-reflection as to why a global movement to establish a Palestinian state wasn’t launched when the West Bank and Gaza were under Jordanian and Egyptian occupations between 1948 and 1967. 

The answer, again, is as straightforward as it is inconvenient for some: the Muslim world, led by the Arab states, has always been more invested in eliminating Israel than it has been in creating Palestine.

After failed bids to unmake the Jewish state in 1948 and 1967, the Arab Leagues’ ‘Three Nos’ for Israel became the forerunner for the newly oil-rich states to spearhead a global jihadist project to further their influence, and counter the Iran-led Shia crescent. This, in turn, radically Islamized nationalist movements in places like Kashmir and Palestine in the 1980s.

Meanwhile, in addition to Zionism and Islamism, another dogma exacerbating the Palestinian plight has been upheld by the global left, which has refused religiously to look beyond Western imperialism as a root for global ills. This has included the Muslim left, otherwise the only alternative to Islamist ideologues in the Muslim world, which despite being cognizant of the Islamist realities at home, has rigidly rejected Islamic dogma as a factor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

A protester torches flags of Israel, U.S., India and France during a demonstration in Karachi this month, to protest against Israel's air strikes on Gaza.Credit: RIZWAN TABASSUM - AFP

As a result, Islamic scriptures forbidding Muslims from "befriending Jews" to ordering them to fight until they "kill the last Jew" are taught as the divine word across the Muslim world. This continues unabated without anyone to challenge that murderous Judeophobia, or the other violent edicts in scriptures treated as infallible by Islamists and liberal Muslims alike. 

Unlike the scores of Jewish intellectuals castigating the use of religion to justify Israeli policy, including its very creation, it’s hard to find Muslim scholars denouncing the canonical obsession with reconquering Islam’s first qibla.

And unlike dissenting Jews ringing global alarms over a potential ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, even dissident Muslims rarely allude to the systematic elimination of Jewish populations from their now almost exclusively Muslim homelands, and in fact often tout the presence of Jews in a future Palestine state as a deal-breaker

Supporters of Islamic political party Jamaat-e-Islami march during a demonstration in Karachi this month to protest against Israeli air strikes on Gaza.Credit: RIZWAN TABASSUM - AFP

It is, therefore, no surprise when Palestinian leaders — who like other Arab and Muslim leaders long abandoned the Palestinians — exhibit similar Judeophobia. Others like "proud antisemite" Mahathir Mohamed, or Imran Khan — himself a target of antisemitic tropes —further anti-Jewish conspiracy theories or belittle the Holocaust by comparing it to Western satire on Islam.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is using the Palestinian struggle to further his personal ambitions of becoming the next leader of the ummah, is theoretically ideally placed to lead an resurgence of the Muslim world based on a frank reconsideration of its past, starting by owning up to the regression under the Ottoman Empire, including its Jewish persecution and pogroms

But instead of helping address antisemitism that predates the creation of the Jewish state by centuries, Erdogan’s plan to attain Muslim leadership is based on blackmailing those forming ties with Israel, inciting others but without risking anything himself. According to Erdogan, the Jewish state should be attacked by "an army of Islam," even as Turkey enhances its own trade and military relations with Israel.

Similarly MBS, whose own family’s legitimacy over the holiest Islamic sites rests on triumphs in tribal warfare, asked Palestinians to "shut up and accept" the deal offered by Donald Trump. He knows radical Salafi Islam’s geopolitical usage has passed its sell-by date.

A masked Palestinian boy holds a knife during a Hamas protest over Sheikh Jarrah evictions in the northern Gaza Strip earlier this month.Credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS

Of course, MBS wouldn’t let any deeper contemplation in, such as acknowledging how Saudi Arabia persistently pushed its allies and subordinates to reject erstwhile peace offers over the decades, a failure that the crown prince now pins entirely on the Palestinian leadership.

Indeed, the Israeli right’s use of religious dogma and growing rejection of the two state solution was long preceded by the Arab and Muslim leaders’ gorier renditions of the same.

Those Muslim leaders continue to embed the conflict in religious terms, parading a mirage of Islam’s third holiest site being "liberated" and thus cleansed of Jews. And violent Islamist movements, such as Hamas, ride the wave of implicit and explicit support from "respectable" Muslim world leaders and their hashtag warriors.

Clearly, if and when an autonomous Palestine is created, it will be despite the role played by Muslim leaders, and not because of them.

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a Pakistan-based journalist and a correspondent at The Diplomat. His work has been published in The GuardianThe IndependentForeign PolicyCourrier InternationalNew StatesmanThe Telegraph MIT Review, and Arab News among other publications. Twitter: @khuldune

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