Antisemitism in the Arab World


By Joshua A. Dalva


Jews and Muslims have lived amongst each other since the very beginning of Islam. Throughout history, Jews have lived in the Arab world under Muslim rule and their interaction has been defined as one of second-class subjects living in foreign lands. In today’s world, Jews and Muslims are seemingly convergent and engaged in constant conflict and struggle. The dominance of Antisemitism in the Arab World has shown historical trends of rampant Anti-Jewish violence, hate speech, conspiracy theories, and general disdain of one peoples towards another. One such conspiracy theory, the 1850 Damascus affair became a catalyst for propagating the Blood Libel throughout the Arab world and popular literature. While the events in the 19th century and turn to the 20th century reflect a more intensified Antisemitic brand in the Arab world, it is not entirely obvious if the Damascus Affair can be pinned as the sole or even most influential catalyst. Thus, the discussion of Antisemitism and its appearance as a dominant force in Islamic society has created conversation of where it came from and what it’s based on. Today, the question arrises if  Antisemitism in the Arab world is connected to the State of Israel or not and if any connection exists. As in any topic, in the discussion of Antisemitism in the Arab World, there are myths to be dispelled and truths to be exposed. Is Antisemitism the same as Anti-Zionism? How related are they and did one exist before the other? Are Arabs fundamentally Antisemitic? Is this a religious, political, or deeply engrained societal phenomenon? What does history tell us about this issue?

The purpose of this guide is to explore the issue of Antisemitism in the Arab World. Using religious, historical, narrative, and political sources, the topic can be explored and conclusions can be drawn. Central to the theme of Antisemitism in the Arab world is the discussion of Anti-Zionism and if it can be combined in the discussion of Antisemitism or if it is separate. Ultimately this guide and subsequent research will seek uncover the origins, reasons, and future of Antisemitism in the Arab world.


Curtis, Michael, Emmanuel Sivan, and Rivka Yadlin. Antisemitism in the Contemporary World. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1986. 61-103.

  • Sivan analyzes Yasser Arafat’s 1975 claim that Muslims are not ideologically opposed to Jews and thus cannot be anti-Semites. Sivan brings forth the prominence of the blood libel in popular Muslim society and uses quotes and historical context from the Quran to establish his claim. Surah 5:82 “Indeed, you will find that the most vehement of men in enmity to those who believe are the Jews and the polytheists.” Jews are generally depicted in Quran as untrustworthy, malevolent, and disobedient. Sivan argues that the Quran and early Muslim Hagiographies created a derogatory Jewish stereotype that continued throughout fourteen Islamic centuries as evident by folklore and literature. Accordingly, Jews were persecuted in Arab lands in the 19th century even before the creation of Israel as evident by the popularity of the blood libel in Cairo, Beirut, and other major cities. Yadlin explores Antisemtism through the timeframe of  of Egypt’s peace with Israel and argues that core of Antisemitism is rooted in the ultimate denial of the legitimate framework of Jewish existence. Using racial, theological, and historical reasoning, Yadlin proves a compelling argument.

Fu’ad al-Sayyid, “al-Malik Faysal Yatahaddath ‘an,” al-Musawwar, no. 24, 4 August 1972, p.13 in Curtis, Michael, Emmanuel Sivan, and Rivka Yadlin. Antisemitism in the Contemporary World. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. 72. 

  • This is a primary source from an Egyptian weekly publication called al-Musawwar, in which late King Faysal of Saudi Arabia interviewed with Fu-ad al-Sayyid. In the print interview, King Faysal made numerous claims about the Jewish people, highlighting several common conspiracy theories that exist in the modern Arab world. Faysal notes that “it is proven from history that they (Jews) are the ones who ignited the Crusades at the time of Saladin the Ayyubid, so that war would lead to the weakening of both Muslims and Christians.” Faysal continues, noting that “on the subject of vengeance- they have a certain day on which they mix the blood of non-Jews into their bread and it.” Faysal even goes on to tell the interviewer that he saw this himself during a visit to Paris in which he claims police discovered five children that had been murdered by the Jews.

MacShane, Denis. Globalising Hatred: The New Antisemitism. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2008. 109-122.

  • MacShane discusses the question of Antisemitism vs. Anti-zionism which is integral in understanding the extent and nature of Antisemitism in the Arab World. He provides detail discussion on specific anti-Jewish violence that has occurred since the creation of Israel in the Arab World. He goes in depth and explains the different Fatwas and government responses to this violence and the influence it’s had on mainstream society. This source provides examples of violence and a method of understanding the intentions and motivation behind it.

Israeli, Raphael. Muslim anti-Semitism in Christian Europe: Elemental and Residual anti-Semitism. New Brunswick, N.J: Transaction Publishers, 2009.

  • Israeli discusses contemporary Muslim Antisemitism in the West, mainly Europe. Israeli points to the dominance of radical Islam and the highly anti-Semitic doctrine that continues to come from it. Israeli dissects rulings and orders from dominant Islamic leaders and views them in the lens of anti-Semitism. Ultimately, Israeli concludes that Antisemitism is rampant due to the lack of strength of the moderate Islamic voice and the dominance of radicalism. This source contains excerpts and transcripts of speeches and sermons from Islamic leaders throughout history.

Lewis, Bernard. The Jews of Islam. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1984.

  • Lewis provides a detailed account of the long history of Jews living under Islamic rule starting in the Middle Ages. Lewis details the legal status of the Jews as ‘dhimmi’ or protected outsiders and their subsidiary role within Muslim Society. Lewis addresses Antisemitism in the Arab world and mainly attributes it to the spread of Antisemitism from Europe into the Arab world through print and other influences. Lewis cites that translation of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as literature that galvanized the Arab world against Jews and set the precedent for further Antisemitism. Lewis’ book will be helpful in this research as it gives detailed historical timelines for the relationship between Jews and their Arab counterparts. However, Lewis does not spend too much time expanding on the idea of Antisemitism.

Sultan Mahmud, “Tasamahna ma’a Unas la Ya’rifun al-Tasamuh” [We Have Been Tolerant with People Who Do Not Know Tolerance], Akhir Sa’a, 14 November 1973, p. 6 in Curtis, Michael, Emmanuel Sivan, and Rivka Yadlin. Antisemitism in the Contemporary World. Boulder, CO: Westview Press

  • This is an Egyptian paper that where Akhir Sa’a, an Egyptian historian and specialist on Judaism,  is interviewed about Jewish history. The author of this book, Sultan Mahmud, ultimately concludes that the Damascus Affair proves the Jewish blood libel and that it, in fact, marks the beginning of Zionism. This further proves the dominance of the Blood libel in prominent intellectual circles. The idea of the blood libel is validated and legitimized by political and academic leaders alike, which effortlessly trickles down to the lower echelons of society.

Fatah, Tarek. The Jew is Not My Enemy: Unveiling the Myths that Fuel Muslim anti-Semitism. Toronto, Ontario: McClelland & Stewart, 2010.

  • Fatah, a Pakistani-Canadian writer and liberal activist, begins his book in the setting of the 2008 Pakistani Islamist group massacre of the Jewish Chabad House in Mumbai, India. Fatah provides a detailed account of this event and includes transcripts and eyewitness accounts from the events which he classify as aimed to kill Jews and only Jews. Fatah launches his book from this event and discusses Antisemitism in relation to Hitler, Allah, Muhammad, and the emergence of Israel. Ultimately, Fatah argues that Islam is not a fundamentally Antisemitic religion and that the emergence and growth of Islamic as a religion and society should seperate itself from Antisemitism. Tarek Fatah is seen as a highly controversial figure within Islamic society, mainly due to his progressive and liberal views a number of topics ranging from Israel to homosexuality, and this book provides a great nuanced point of view in the discussion of Islamic Antisemitism.

Gilbert, Martin. In Ishmael’s House: a History of Jews in Muslim Lands. New Haven, Conn. Yale University Press, 2010.

  • Gilbert’s book provides a detailed chronological history of Jews living in the Muslim world. It provides account and perspective throughout different time periods starting from pre-Islam up until the topic of Jews who still live in Islamic lands today. The book contains several photographs and maps which aid the visualization of the discussion of what it was like to be Jewish in the Muslim world.

Qutb, Sayyid. Our Struggle With the Jews, 1950 in Nettler, Ronald L., Past Trials and Present Tribulations: a Muslim Fundamentalist’s View of the Jews. Oxford, Oxfordshire: Published for the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem by Pergamon Press, 1987. 72-87.

  • This book is a commentary and translation of the essay “Our Struggle With The Jews,” by Sayid Qutb, a prominent Egyptian Islamic Fundamentalist writer and activist. The original work served as highly influential piece in shaping the view of contemporary Islamic thinkers towards Jews. Qutb wrote his essay from the lens of ancient Islamic doctrine and connects that with current sentiment and problems he encounters with the Jews. This translation is a great primary source in understanding Islamic Antisemitism and tracing its roots and foundations. The original piece itself is an example of Antisemitic writing, which allows a very firsthand introduction into the topic through primary source analysis.

Frankel, Jonathan. The Damascus Affair: “Ritual Murder,” Politics, and the Jews in 1840. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

  • In 1840, eight notable Jews from the Damascus community were brought up on charges of ritual murder of a Christian monk. In the aftermath, anti-Jewish violence became widespread particularly among the Muslim community. Jews were arrested and tortured and a synagogue was burned down by a Muslim mob. Frankel’s work is the first book since the event in 1840 and notes the influence that this event had on shaping Jewish politics.

Original Author Unknown, Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Russia. 1903. in Bronner, Stephen Eric. A Rumor About the Jews: Reflections on Antisemitism and the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000.

  • This book contains the primary source of the Protocols of the Elders of the Learned Elders of Zion, which is a book that is largely responsible for the spread of Antisemtism from Europe into the Arab world. The book itself contains excerpts from the protocols, with discussion immediately following each number of protocols. While this book does not discuss the Protocols in relation to the Arab world, it is essential to understand the piece in itself due the nature of its prominence in Arab society and Antisemitic thought.

Pratt, Douglas. “Muslim-Jewish Relations: Some Islamic Paradigms.” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 21, no. 1 (2010): 11-21.

  • Douglas Pratt, a professor at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, seeks to understand contemporary Islamic views and ideological stances with respect to Judaism in general with or without regard to the State of Israel. The question prevailing throughout Pratt’s article is whether or not or what the extent is of the connection between Antisemitism and Israel. Pratt provides a concise summary of Jews living in the Arab world in the last several centuries setting the foundation for his conclusion that Antisemitism in the Arab world is both politically motivated against Israel but also ideologically rooted in the disapproval and hatred of Judaism. Pratt concedes that his article only offers a glimpse and opens the conversation towards Antisemitism in the Arab world.

Webman, Esther. “The Challenge Of Assessing Arab/Islamic Antisemitism.” Middle Eastern Studies 46, no. 5 (2010): 677-697.

  • Webman outlines the history of Antisemitism in and out of the context of the Arab world. Webman discusses many of the notions about Antisemitism in the Arab World and provides historical context and analytical reasoning as to whether or not said claims are legitimate. Webman discusses different conspiracy theories and their origins which will be a great tool in providing ample sustenance to my discussion on examples of Antisemitism in the Arab World. Ultimately Webman concludes that “Blaming antisemitism in Muslim communities and the Arab world on Israel’s deeds is over-simplistic.”

Stillman, Norman A. “New Attitudes Towards Jews in the Arab World. Jewish Social Studies Vol. 37, No. 3/4 (1975): 197-204.

  • Published in the Indiana Unviersity Press, Stillman explores the issue of Antisemitism in the Arab world through the analysis of Islamic literature starting in the 19th century. Stillman makes the distinction between Antisemitism and Antizionism and makes his argument that the Arab world is Antisemitic separately from being Anti-Israel.

Lassner, Jacob . “The Origins of Muslim Attitudes Towards Jews and Judaism.”American Jewish Congress Vol. 39, no. 4 (1990). 

  • In this article Lassner begins his discussion with the Prophet Muhammad’s first interaction with Jews at Khaybar, a now Saudi Arabian village. Lassner contains his argument in the early religious interaction between Jews and Muslims. Lassner analyzes how Jews are portrayed in view in the Quran and anectodal Muslim folklore and story-telling. He discusses this relationship mainly through the lens of Muslims and their scriptures. Lassner provides a necessary resource in providing literature that bridges the discussion on how Jews were portrayed in Islamic tradition versus how they were actually treated and viewed.

“The Mufti’s Conversation with Hitler.” Jewish Virtual Library.

  • This is a primary source document, specifically a transcript of the correspondence between the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Adolf Hitler in November 1941. In this correspondence, the Mufti requests of Hitler that the Jewish question be extended to the Arab world, to which Hitler replies he is committed to the “uncompromising war against the Jews.” Hitler assures the Mufti that after Germany’s main objective of the destruction of the European Jewish problem, Germany’s objective “would then be solely the destruction of the Jewish element residing in the Arab sphere.” In return for propagating Nazi propaganda in the region and for rebelling against the British, the Mufti would be promised supreme ruler of the Arab world. This conversation shows the agreement between Hitler and one of the most powerful Arab leaders in the 20th century. The Mufti proves his desire for the complete removal of Jews from Arab lands, hinting at a foundation of antisemitism as opposed to simple counter-Zionism.

Primary Sources- Political Cartoons

  • This cartoon depicts an Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with the Arabic word for “Gaza” written in the foreground. This political cartoon perpetuates a popular racial charge in the Islamic world that Jews are bloodthirsty ‘baby killers.’ This picture does not distinguish between the character being Israeli or just simply Jewish. Although this cartoon is politically charged against Israel’s actions in Gaza, the portrayal of the man along with the Star of David on his chest requires further exploration and analysis beyond the Anti-Israel argument.

  • Translation: “The only democracy in the Middle East.” This cartoon portrays Jews in with an incredibly racist and negative image, connecting the main character with Nazi symbology. The appearance of the rat-like figure with blood in his mouth and a pitchfork in his hand, shows what this author truly thinks about Jews. In the picture, U.S. President George W. Bush is exclaiming that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, a common sentiment amongst pro-Israel, pro-Democratic Westerners. Although related to Israel, this picture is clearly Antisemitic as evident by the grossly negative portrayal of the Jew, his features, and his actions. This cartoon also shows the prevalence of the Blood Libel in popular Arab society and it’s centrality to contemporray Arab Antisemitism

  • This cartoon depicts a Jewish Israeli eating a small Palestinian boy. While obviously politically charged, this picture again depicts the Jew as an evil, monster-like character. This type of portrayal is congruent with the way in which Nazi propaganda pictured Jews in Nazi Germany. Specifically, the themes of having a large nose, hunched back, and vampire-esque features was very common in racist Nazi propaganda. Pictures like this highlight the discussion of Antisemitism vs. Anti-Zionism and their relation and connection.