One area of the tortuous Israel-Palestine conflict that has been under-researched has been the ties between Nazi propaganda and Islamism. The German academic, Mattihas Küntzel, has attempted to fill in the gaps in this short, but absorbing book.
Nazi propaganda regarded the spoken word as more effective than the written word and began to broadcast in Arabic to the Middle East as early as April 1939. The broadcasts stopped just a few days before Hitler shot himself.
The radio station operated from the village of Zeesen, south of Berlin and ensured that the teachings of the Quran were the centrepiece of the propaganda. Küntzel argues that this underpinned Islamist sentiments towards Jews per se — and not simply the Zionists of Mandatory Palestine.
Anti-colonial activists such as Subhas Chandra Bose in India and Anwar Sadat in Egypt worked with the Germans on the basis of the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, instead believed that once the Nazis had liberated Mandatory Palestine from the British they would probably exterminate its Jewish population. This was the implied assurance that Hitler gave to the Mufti during their infamous meeting in Berlin.
Küntzel also points out that the Nazis funded the Mufti and some 50,000 Reichmarks were provided by the German Foreign Office in the closing days of the war. This fuelled the Mufti’s campaigns between 1946 and 1948.
Nazi propaganda reinforced Islamist beliefs that the Jews of seventh century Arabia were no different from the Jews of 1945. The founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, happily listened to broadcasts from Berlin on his British-made Pye radio. Küntzel notes that Khomeini utilised antisemitism in his writings during the 1960s. He accused the Jews of being the first to initiate anti-Islamic propaganda and praised the Prophet for the mass beheadings of the men of the Jewish Qurayza tribe. The Muslim Brotherhood’s ideologist, Sayyd Qutb, maintained that Jewish incitement against Muslims had been going on for 14 centuries.
Many Islamists have mentioned the defeat of the Jewish tribes of Arabia by the Prophet at the battle of Khaybar in 629 — and it is not by chance that the Iranians have recently named one of their missiles which came into service last year, Kheibar Shekan. Hezbollah’s similarly- named Khaybar missiles have targeted Israel from Lebanon.
The revelations of the Shoah became a deterrent against overt antisemitism in most parts of the world. Yet within months of the end of the war, Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, led 100,000 followers in an attack on Cairo’s Jewish Quarter in which several synagogues were desecrated.
In addition, instances of hero-worship of Hitler in the Middle East have been explained away by some British academics as solely a means of venting frustration and anger at the Israel-Palestine imbroglio.
Significantly Arab nationalists — as opposed to Arab Islamists — understood that flirting with antisemitism was counter-productive in the struggle against Israel. Significantly the PLO’s Yasser Arafat deliberately distanced himself from the Mufti in the 1960s.
At a recent film festival in Ismailiya, a documentary about Nazi ties to the Muslim Brotherhood was shown and an article on this subject appeared in the Saudi periodical, Okaz.
Küntzel’s informative book cements the belief that the Islamist Hamas will probably never recognise Israel for theological reasons whereas the nationalist PLO negotiated in 1993 because it was not entrapped by interpretations of religion. This book emphasises the important difference between Palestinian nationalist and Palestinian Islamist.
Jewish Chronicle 6 October 2023