The Olympic Games that are still going on in Rio have been notable (or maybe pretty normal for all we know) for the several instances of overt antisemitism displayed towards the Israeli athletes by Arab or Muslim participants.
It started (as I wrote last week) with the Lebanese team refusing entry to the Israeli team onto the bus to the opening ceremony. It continued with a female Saudi judoka forfeited her match against a Mauritian judoka in order to avoid facing an Israeli athlete in the following round; and it culminated in the refusal by Islam El Shehaby, an Egyptian judoka to bow or shake hands with his Israeli opponent Or Sasson, who had just beaten him (and then went on to win the bronze medal).
It is gratifying to note that the El Shehaby was both booed by the crowd and then condemned and sent home by the Egyptian National Olympic Committee for violating the rules of the Olympic charter. This in itself is a refreshing and very encouraging change on the part of the Egyptians:
The International Judo Federation called it a sign a progress that the fight even took place between the two athletes.
“This is already a big improvement that Arabic countries accept to (fight) Israel,” spokesman Nicolas Messner said in an email. The competitors were under no obligation to shake hands, but a bow is mandatory, he added.
It is notable that this Arab antisemitism (and make no mistake, this is no mere “anti-Zionism” which is also illegitimate, but simple Jew hatred) is starting be resisted and even condemned by Arab leaders themselves as they come to the very belated realization that this irrational hatred is holding them back from progress and development.
MEMRI reports on a series of articles in the Saudi press that have called for ending antisemitic discourse and instead learning from the Jews’ success:
Saudi columnist Siham Al-Qahtani rejected antisemitic generalizations regarding the nature of the Jews. She argued that Koranic descriptions of Jews – as killers of prophets, infidels, warmongers, and usurers – apply to a particular group that lived during a specific time period, and that the traditional view that blames disasters throughout history on Jewish plots stems from the helplessness of Arabs, who searched for scapegoats on whom to blame their own failures.
Columnist Yasser Hijazi penned two articles calling to abandon hatred of and hostility towards Jews in Arab cultural and institutional discourse, which paints the Jew as a satanic figure. He even called on Arabs to take an active role in the fight against “Judophobia”
On July 21, 2016, in his column in the Al-Riyadh daily, Dr. Ibrahim Al-Matroudi called for overcoming the hostility towards the Jews and for benefiting from their experience and successes, even though they are enemies. He argued that, although it has been “isolated and distanced from life,” the Jewish nation has “remained alive and alert, and has continued to build its future, and its sons have reached the top of the pyramid in science, philosophy, and economics.”
It’s not all rosy of course, and if you read the rest of the article you will see that the Saudi journalists’ suggestions to abandon antisemitism stem not from any great love of Israel or the Jewish people, but merely from their own self-interest. But that’s as good a starting point as any in order to begin the very long road to normalization and acceptance.
Similarly an article in a Palestinian online daily condemns as foolish the assertion that Jews are descended from apes and pigs:
In his column in the Palestinian online daily Dunya Al-Watan (Alwatanvoice.com), Anwar Al-Waridi, a Palestinian poet and author living in Jordan, mocked Muslim clerics who scream about Jews being the descendants of apes and pigs, while Jews control Arab land and have been defeating the Arabs for the past century. According to him, this claim about the Jews is ridiculous, and is indicative of a backwards collective Arab mentality that underestimates the enemy.
The problem is the Arab collective mentality. The Jews are not the descendants of apes or pigs, but human beings, sons of Adam and Eve. The cry made repeatedly by some of the crazed and primitive Muslim clerics, ‘Jews, the descendants of apes and pigs,” is shameful. To those who rely on the esteemed verse: ‘We said to them, Be apes, despised’ [Koran 2:65] or the verse: ‘and made of them apes and pigs and slaves of Taghout’ [Koran 5:60], [I say as follows]: though there is disagreement among commentators about the meaning of these verses, the favored opinion is that [the Jews] became apes in character, not in form – meaning that they did not physically transform into actual apes, but rather that their attributes became apelike.
“A relative [once] said to me that [he] attended a Friday prayer in the Cave of the Patriarchs in occupied Hebron, which, for those who don’t know, is divided into two parts, and has strict arrangements for prayers by both sides [Muslims and Jews]. [This has been the case] since 1994, when the criminal [Baruch] Goldstein massacred 29 peaceful Muslim worshippers. The occupiers, who are not the descendants of apes and pigs, divided [the cave] between Muslims and Jews, and soldiers of the Zionist army are stationed there to prevent clashes between the sides. My relative continued: At the end of the prayer, the preacher began cursing the corrupting Jews and asked Allah to destroy the descendants of apes and pigs and strike blows against them. The [Israeli] officer standing next to me tapped his colleague on the shoulder and signaled him to listen, and both of them smiled ironically.
“Gentlemen, this backwards mentality is one of the reasons for our ongoing defeats…”
On a tangential issue, Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, another Saudi journalist admitted that incitement is at the root of terrorism, and stated that terror is the result of extremism being preached from mosques, in the media and schools:
“The problem is with extremists, or rather with those preaching extremism. They do not necessarily live in Ar-Raqqah or Mosul. They may live in Paris or Kuala Lumpur. They permit rape, murder and aggression against anyone who they think is not like them. They are the source of the disease
“We are [experiencing] exceptional circumstances, and terrorism will not stop unless extremist preachers and scholars are warned that they will be punished for their extremist calls. Terrorists who murder and rape people are present worldwide, and are the product of people like that man [Ghoneim] who accuses others of apostasy and curses them.”
This dawning realization of one of the main causes of Muslim society’s backwardness reflects the words of Brett Stephens who, in his WSJ column, talks about the meaning of an Olympic snub and expands upon its wider implications:
Yet the fact remains that over the past 70 years the Arab world got rid of its Jews, some 900,000 people, while holding on to its hatred of them. Over time the result proved fatal: a combination of lost human capital, ruinously expensive wars, misdirected ideological obsessions, and an intellectual life perverted by conspiracy theory and the perpetual search for scapegoats. The Arab world’s problems are a problem of the Arab mind, and the name for that problem is anti-Semitism.
As a historical phenomenon, this is not unique. In a 2005 essay in Commentary, historian Paul Johnson noted that wherever anti-Semitism took hold, social and political decline almost inevitably followed.
Spain expelled its Jews with the Alhambra Decree of 1492. The effect, Mr. Johnson noted, “was to deprive Spain (and its colonies) of a class already notable for the astute handling of finance.” In czarist Russia, anti-Semitic laws led to mass Jewish emigration as well as an “immense increase in administrative corruption produced by the system of restrictions.” Germany might well have won the race for an atomic bomb if Hitler hadn’t sent Albert Einstein, Leo Szilard, Enrico Fermi and Edward Teller into exile in the U.S.
These patterns were replicated in the Arab world. Contrary to myth, the cause was not the creation of the state of Israel. There were bloody anti-Jewish pogroms in Palestine in 1929, Iraq in 1941, and Lebanon in 1945. Nor is it accurate to blame Jerusalem for fueling anti-Semitism by refusing to trade land for peace. Among Egyptians, hatred of Israel barely abated after Menachem Begin relinquished the Sinai to Anwar Sadat. Among Palestinians, anti-Semitism became markedly worse during the years of the Oslo peace process.
Anti-Semitism makes the world seem easy. In doing so, it condemns the anti-Semite to a permanent darkness.
Today there is no great university in the Arab world, no serious indigenous scientific base, a stunted literary culture.
Hatred of Israel and Jews has also deprived the Arab world of both the resources and the example of its neighbor. Israel quietly supplies water to Jordan, helping to ease the burden of Syrian refugees, and quietly provides surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to Egypt to fight ISIS in the Sinai. But this is largely unknown among Arabs, for whom the only permissible image of Israel is an Israeli soldier in riot gear, abusing a Palestinian.
This may be starting to change. In the past five years the Arab world has been forced to face up to its own failings in ways it cannot easily blame on Israel. The change can be seen in the budding rapprochement between Jerusalem and Cairo, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, which might yet yield tactical and strategic advantages on both sides, particularly against common enemies such as ISIS and Iran.
That’s not enough. So long as an Arab athlete can’t pay his Israeli opposite the courtesy of a handshake, the disease of the Arab mind and the misfortunes of its world will continue. For Israel, this is a pity. For the Arabs, it’s a calamity. The hater always suffers more than the object of his hatred.
Within Israel the story is much more encouraging. Besides the phenomenon of Muslims & Arabs against Antisemitism facebook page and other similar groups, and the pages of many brave individual Zionist Arabs like Mohammed Zoabi, Ahmed Meligy, Mahdi Satre, Fred Maroun, Mudar Zahran and many others, more Arabs and Muslims are joining the IDF both for the economic benefits they receive after service, and because of simple patriotism.
Six years ago, only 600 non-Jews served in Israel’s national service program, in which participants volunteer for one to two years in public institutions like schools, hospitals, courts or health clinics.
Presently, 4,500 non-Jews are doing national service, of whom 100 are from East Jerusalem. That total is three times more than those coming from the ultra-Orthodox community (1,500), most of whom are men obtained a religious exemption from the army but still wanted to serve their country. There are also 8,500 religious Zionists doing national service, mostly women.
Those doing national service receive exactly the same benefits as soldiers, which include: around NIS 800 ($209) monthly, free healthcare, free use of public transportation, and a NIS 11,000 ($2,880) grant at the end of their service for every year served, which can go toward education or buying a home. If they serve two years, one full year of university is also paid for.
In addition there is a special program available only to native Arabic speakers: a fully funded year-long university preparation program. During this program, participants receive NIS 1,500 to NIS 3,700 ($393-$969) a month depending on their family situation.
Abed, who is not an Israeli citizen and only has permanent residency status — like most of the half million East Jerusalem Arabs — said her symbiotic ties with the state have fostered patriotic sentiments.
“I feel loyal to this state. I see what it provides to people in the community despite all the harsh words they say about the state,” she said.
Once Abed started working at the Interior Ministry, where she helps Arabic speakers navigate processes such as renewing IDs and getting travel documents, she said, “I finally reached the stability that I was looking for.”
Sadly Palestinian society is lagging behind these Muslim trend-setters. Some of these Muslim volunteers suffer threats and discouragement from their own circles:
“I feel like I am working with my bigger family,” said A., recalling with a smile celebrating Jewish holidays for the first time with his workmates.
When asked if he feels loyal to the state, he smiled again: “Certainly.”
But for the Shuafat resident — just like with Abed — his service is a secret known only by his close family and best friends. Were word to get out, his life could be in danger. In April, Baha Nabata, 31, a well-regarded civil rights and youth group leader, was murdered in the camp, reportedly for “collaboration” with Israeli authorities during his quest to improve municipal services there.
Sar Shalom Gerbi, general director of Israel’s national service, said Arab volunteers outside of Jerusalem can also find themselves in “tough situations.”
Speaking at his office in Jerusalem on Monday, he listed a litany of incidents of abuse against Arab volunteers, including being called “lepers” by an Arab MK, an instance in which four students were expelled from their school by the town council leader, and one coordinator who had the windshield of her car shattered by a brick.
But despite the threats and negativity, the numbers are rising:
Gerbi said he has “no doubt” the numbers of non-Jewish volunteers in national service will continue to rise.
The success of the program, he argued, is due to the trust gained from the Arab community by not trying to force them into a melting pot, as well as to the positive results for participants. He said 85% of Arab volunteers find good jobs afterwards.
“They want to help their communities and they understand this can also be an entry card into Israeli society. It’s okay if they feel both,” he said.
From the total 4,500 non-Jewish volunteers, 70% are Muslim, while the rest are Christian, Druze and Circassians. Ninety percent are women.
The best comment came from Zienab Abu Swaid, another Arab volunteer:
According to Abu Swaid, many Arabs do not volunteer just to receive the government freebies.
“For many people it’s not about the benefits,” she said, “but about becoming more a part of Israeli society.”
This is what normalization is all about, and this is the way to a peaceful future. If only the rest of Arab society would quickly follow these shining examples, their societies could be as advanced, as democratic and as peaceful as ours.
Maybe we’re seeing the very first signs of a thaw.