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Palestinians in Yad Vashem Photo: AP
Palestinians in Yad Vashem Photo: AP
 
 

Shoah in the Arab world

Op-ed: How prevalent are Holocaust denial, anti-Jewish propaganda in Arab and Muslim world?

Yaron Friedman
Published: 04.20.12, 12:59 / Israel Opinion

A Google search of the term "al-holocaust al-falastini" (The Palestinian holocaust) elicits 446,000 results, while a search of "al-holocaust al-yahudi" (the Jewish holocaust) elicits 496,000 results. The term "al-holocaust al-yahudi al-mazoum" (the bogus Jewish holocaust) elicits 202,000 results. So do the Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular recognize the Shoah? The answer is not unequivocal at all.

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Palestinian Authority newspaper al-Hayat al-Jadida saw fit to publish Thursday a front page story about an elderly Jewish woman from the town of Umm al-Fahm who converted to Islam. Years after her marriage to a Muslim man, she decided to tell her children and grandchildren that she is a Holocaust survivor from Auschwitz.

 

In June 2010, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with Jewish leaders in the US and claimed that he did not deny the Holocaust in his doctoral dissertation and that he works to impart knowledge of the Shoah among Palestinians.

 

The Arab world has been addressing the Holocaust issue with reservations. The Arabs who recognize the Shoah as well as those who deny it argue that Israel utilizes the Holocaust in order to promote its policies and deny what they refer to as the "Palestinian holocaust." For example, Sheikh Ra'ad Salah claimed many times that he recognizes the Shoah of European Jews, but also what he referred to as the "holocaust of the six million Palestinian refugees."

 

Hamas against the Holocaust

Morocco's Ifrane University recently hosted a first-of-its-kind discussion on the Holocaust with Arab intellectuals in attendance. The academic symposium prompted widespread condemnation from pro-Palestinian elements in Morocco who claimed that it serves Israel's goals. Elsewhere, the Qatar-based al-Jazeera network recently addressed the issue of Holocaust survivors living in abject poverty in Israel without denying the Shoah. The story was apparently used to cast Israeli society in a negative light.

 

In 2005, a debate emerged within Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood movement, following an interview granted by then-group leader Mahadi Akef, who characterized the Shoah as a "fairytale serving Zionist propaganda." Group spokesman Essam al-Arian quickly expressed his reservations with the statement, arguing that "one cannot deny the holocaust of the Jews or of other peoples" (hinting to the Palestinians.)

 

Hamas faces no such dispute. The Hamas charter, drafted in 1987, presents the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a legitimate historical document in every way. In 2009, Hamas demanded that UNRWA stop its teachings of the Shoah as part of the refugee camp curriculum. Hamas spokesmen demanded an end to the teachings of the "Zionist legend" and asked that the Palestinian Nakba of 1948 be taught instead. Jordan's teacher association joined Hamas' demand and asked that UNRWA stop Shoah education in Jordan's refugee camps as well.

 

No Shoah in textbooks

As a rule, the Shoah does not appear in Arabic language textbooks in general or in Palestinian textbooks in particular, as this is considered part of "Zionist propaganda." On the other hand, the Arab world sells the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Hitler's Mein Kampf, and other anti-Semitic works translated into Arabic without any censorship.

 

There is no clear answer to the question of whether the Arabs would have cooperated with Nazi Germany had Hitler won his war in the Middle East. Among the Arabs there were people who protected the Jews, such as Morocco's king and Righteous Gentiles in the lands of the Maghreb and in Albania; however, there were also collaborators, such as Palestinian leader Haj al-Amin Husseini and Nazi movements in Iraq.

 

One can argue that the Holocaust took place in Europe and not in the Arab world. Moreover, most persecution of Jews, from the Middle Ages to the modern age, took place in Europe and not in the Arab world. Despite the inferior status of the Jew in the Koran, Islam showed tolerance towards the Jews through most historical periods.

 

The Khalif Omar, founder of the Muslim empire, allowed the Jews to revive the Jewish community in Jerusalem in the 7th Century after it was conquered from Byzantium. Salah al-Din too, after his victory over the Crusaders in the 12th Century, allowed Jews to return to the city. Indeed, most Jews expelled from Spain at the end of the 15th Century fled the Church to the Ottoman Muslim Empire.

 

In recent years, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum started to invest in teaching the Shoah in Arabic. This is a highly important initiative that constitutes part of the PR struggle against the Iranian regime, which denies the Holocaust and openly threatens Israel's existence. However, this initiative does not have the power to curb anti-Jewish propaganda and Shoah denial in the Arab world. These phenomena may prepare the ground for an all-out hatred for the Jews that is similar in scope to anti-Semitism in Europe.

 

Dr. Yaron Friedman is a graduate of the Sorbonne. He teaches Arabic and lectures about Islam at the Technion, at Beit Hagefen and at the Galilee Academic College. His book, the Nusayri Alawis: An Introduction to the Religion, History and Identity of the Leading Minority in Syria, was published in 2010 by Brill-Leiden

 

 

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