How Can Israel Change Muslim Extremists' Attitude Toward Israel?

An Israeli scholar says most elites in the Arab and Muslim world have historically adopted pragmatic positions on Israel and the Jews.

Two weeks ago, after the link Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made between the murder in Itamar and Palestinian incitement publications, I reported about a study analyzing the weekly Torah-portion pamphlets distributed in their thousands in Israeli synagogues. The researchers found that the brochures, many of which receive funding from the Education Ministry, use scripture to incite against the Palestinians. The Jews are depicted as the sons of light, while the Muslims are the sons of darkness, murderers, evildoers and bloodthirsty.

Pinchas Leiser, a veteran activist for the Oz Veshalom movement for Zionism, Judaism and peace, has asked that I inform readers that enlightened Sabbath brochures exist alongside the hate pamphlets. Leiser drew my attention to the commentary in the Sabbath leaflet he has been editing for the past 13 years, Shabbat Shalom, on the Vayikra Torah portion (Leviticus 1:1-5:26 ). It was read in synagogues earlier this month.

Amos Biderman
Amos Biderman

Leiser cites Rabbi Chaim Hirschensohn (1857-1935 ), who wrote that the Temple belongs to all nations because no statues or symbols there are particular to just one nation. Hirschensohn also sees the Temple as the seat of international law and the center of justice among nations.

Shabbat Shalom notes that God's Temple in Jerusalem is not in any way a national temple and its entire essence is to represent all mankind and man's humanity. Leiser emphasizes that his leaflet is funded with the help of private donations and foundations, not the government.

There is also an enlightened side in Islam's attitude toward Judaism. This is presented in a new book edited by Prof. Moshe Ma'oz, "Muslim Attitudes to Jews and Israel: Ambivalences of Rejection, Antagonism, Tolerance and Cooperation."

The book, which brings together studies by Muslim and Jewish researchers and clerics, calls into question the common perception that Islam is anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli. Ma'oz says most scholars of Islam point out that alongside periods of humiliations, persecutions and political discrimination, Jewish communities in Muslim countries enjoyed long periods of coexistence and tolerance.

The attitude of Muslims toward Jews was to a large extent better than their attitude toward Christians and immeasurably better than Christianity's attitude toward Judaism. Christian missionaries and seminarians fed the Muslims blood libels against Jews and are the ones who disseminated "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

As is the case among us, Muslim and extreme nationalist circles make selective use of the sources - the Koran and the Hadith - and add anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli/Zionist interpretations. As is the case among us, this trend has strengthened since the occupation of Arab territories, and especially places sacred to Islam, in the Six-Day War.

The researchers stress that Shi'te Iran and Hezbollah, Al-Qaida and parts of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, which in recent decades have been leading the anti-Semitic incitement, do not represent Islam's main trends. Ma'oz says that most regimes in the Arab and Muslim world, the political, military and economic elites and even religious leaders, have adopted pragmatic positions on Israel and the Jews.

Thus, for example, Abdurrahman Wahid, a former president of Indonesia - the world's largest Muslim country - visited Israel several times and conducted interfaith dialogue with Jews. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has initiated meetings with Jews in Europe and the United States. Iran, Turkey and Muslim countries in Africa recognized Israel after it was established and Jordan has cooperated with Israel for decades.

In Ma'oz's assessment, if Israel shows a willingness to resolve the Palestinian issue, and especially the controversy regarding the places scared to Islam in Jerusalem, this will have a conclusive effect on the attitude toward Israel in the Arab and Muslim world. It will block extremists' anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli tendencies.

Conversely, he warns that if Israel continues to tighten its grip on the territories, these tendencies will reach the point of cutting off relations with Israel and terror attacks on Jewish communities in the Diaspora.

Oops, we made a mistake

The refusal of requests by inhabitants of the territories to leave a certain area "for security reasons" is pretty much a matter of routine. Rejection of their appeals "on the basis of classified materials" is also common procedure. The case of Hazem Qatash of Ramallah is an example of the exception that proves the rule.

Qatash, who has never been convicted of a security offense or even arrested, refused to concede. About six months ago he asked HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual to officially object on his behalf to the decision preventing his departure abroad. The deliberations were scheduled for February 14.

On February 10, the state attorney's office contacted HaMoked. She told attorney Elad Cahana that the security people had said Qatash was not allowed to leave because "the individual is a Hamas activist who is in an organizational and security relationship with Revolutionary Guard elements in Iran."

No less. The message also arrived at HaMoked in writing. The state attorney's office added that contrary to his claim that he had never been convicted, Qatash spent five years in prison. A letter from the Prison Service, which confirmed that Qatash does not appear on its lists, made no impression on the state prosecutors.

Only after repeated pleas did the authorities agree to examine the possibility that the person in question was someone else. Less then a day before the deliberations, in the afternoon, the prosecutor's office acknowledged that there had been a "snag" in the petition stage (not the original-decision stage ) due to an error when typing the petitioner's ID-card number.

How would this story have ended had it not been for the persistence of the people at HaMoked? How many honest Palestinian civilians don't even know they have fallen victim to a typing error?