Peace with Realism

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The Advent of Zionism and Arab Nationalism

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I led to an almost complete European colonization of the Arab countries. Treatment of Jews varied over this time, but as Arab states became independent, Arab nationalism and identification with the cause of Arabs in Palestine grew, and hostility toward Jews increased.

Commitment to Zionism varied greatly across the different Jewish communities of the Middle East. Many Eastern Jewish communities contributed to the support of Jewish institutions in Palestine, which was now also part of the Ottoman Empire. Many Moroccan, Tunisian, Libyan and Yemenite Jews immigrated to Palestine in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, seeing Zionism as the fulfillment of religious prophecy. In contrast, Algerian Jews and the Alliance movement throughout the Middle East preferred to identify with Europe in general and France in particular. Lebanese and Syrian Jews had a close connection to the Jewish community in Palestine due to their geographic proximity. Iraqi Jews' interest in Zionism was mixed, and Zionists there tried to keep a low profile due to discouragement from both British and Arab authorities.

From 1929, growing conflicts between Jews and Arabs in Palestine drew the sympathies of Arabs throughout the Middle East. At the same time, the rise of Nazism and Fascism appealed to Arabs as a way to overthrow their British and French colonizers. The Arab press and the Mufti of Jerusalem circulated exaggerated stories of Jewish violence against Arabs in Palestine, including accusations that Jews were trying to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque so they could replace it with a rebuilt Jewish Temple. The increasing Pan-Arabism, anti-Zionism, and physical threats to Jews put a damper on Zionist activity. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was by now widely circulated and quoted in the Arab world. (Mein Kampf was also widely available, with the anti-Arab passages deleted.) By the time the Peel Commission issued its recommendation for partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states in 1937, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism had become almost indistinguishable. However, anti-Semitism was not solely a consequence of anti-Zionism; as early as the 1930's, when the Arab states began to develop autonomy from their colonizers, they progressively isolated any non-Arab and non-Islamic minorities from public life (Stillman, 1991).

Anti-Semitism reached a peak in Iraq in 1941 after the pro-Nazi Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, in association with the Mufti of Jerusalem, staged a military coup against the pro-British government. The new government remained in power for two months, during which time they accused the Jews of being a fifth column for the British and subjected them to harassment and intimidation. When British troops entered Baghdad to oppose the new regime, the leaders fled to Nazi Germany. Before their own arrest, remaining transitional ministers managed to instigate an uprising to purge the country of Jews. Anti-Jewish rioting spread throughout Baghdad on the holiday of Shavuot, with British forces refusing to intervene. Many Muslims participated; however, there were also many Muslims who, like the "Righteous Gentiles" of the Holocaust, hid Jews from the rioters. Altogether 179 Jews were killed and many more injured, and looting of Jewish homes and businesses cost an estimated 680,000 pounds. The Farhud (pogrom) prompted a large increase in Jewish applications for visas to India to do business (most of which were denied) and a rise in illegal immigration to Palestine (Bekhor, 1990; Bard, 2003; Midrash Ben Ish Hai; Stillman, 1991).

Jews in North Africa also suffered greatly during the war. Libya, at that time an Italian colony, imposed Fascist repression on Jews and sent many to labor camps. The Vichy government imposed severe restrictions on Jews in the French colonies of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, stripping many of their French citizenship. The defeat of Rashid Ali in Iraq touched off anti-Jewish attacks in Tunisia. Usually Jews were blamed as supposed allies of the British; however, a few Muslim intellectuals sympathized with Jews as fellow victims of colonialism, seeing that persecution of Jews would not help their own situation (Stillman, 1991). (go back)(continue)

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict:
Peace with Realism