Deep-rooted and persistent antisemitism is one of the central reasons for the Arab world’s lack of innovation and development relative to Israel and the Western world. The problem of antisemitism in the Arab world needs to be addressed before attempts are made to solve the Israeli-Palestinian problem, not postponed until after a solution is found. By: Dr. Frank Musmar and Dr. Najat Al-Saied
The Abraham Accords marked a historic turning point after decades of Arab and Muslim antisemitism. This year, for the first time, International Holocaust Memorial Day was observed by Arabs from the Accords states as well as other Arab activists who work to combat antisemitism.
In the 1,300 years since the rise of Islam, when Jews were broadly accepted as part of the Islamic-dominated Middle East, if in the socially and legally-institutionalized inferior status of “a protected religious minority” (or Dhimmis), the region flourished. Conversely, there is an observable correlation between the rise of more widespread and virulent Islamic and Arab antisemitism and a pattern of instability, terrorism, and lack of development.
Pan-Arabism and Islamism created an enemy to explain away their failures. The Jews became the scapegoat for the inability of Arab states to keep pace with Western scientific and creative development. Pan-Arabists and Islamists spent decades feeding Arabs a steady diet of conspiracy theories to convince them that the Jews were to blame for all that ailed their societies.
Despite the campaign of hatred directed at it by the Arab world from its earliest days, Israel developed rapidly and has won 12 Nobel Prizes—more per capita than the US, France, and Germany—to the Arab world’s six since 1966. Israel is a high-tech superpower and one of the world’s largest arms exporters, with annual arms sales of approximately $6.5 billion. Despite Israel’s small size, about 4.5% of its GDP is spent on research and development, double the OECD average. Of this amount, about 30% goes to military R&D. By contrast, only 2% of German R&D and 17% of US R&D are devoted to the military.
Israel is the first country in the world to use robots instead of soldiers on border patrol missions. It is also the first country to possess an operational anti-missile system that can shoot down incoming enemy missiles. Israel is the largest exporter of drones in the world, responsible for about 60% of the global market. Israel ranked fifth overall in this year’s Bloomberg Innovation Index, an annual ranking of countries that measures performance in R&D, technology education, patents, and other signs of technological prowess.
Instead of striving to close the gap between Israel’s high-tech economy and the far less developed economies of the Arab world, including in the West Bank and Gaza, Arabs have thrown their energies into the antisemitic BDS movement and the delegitimization of Israel. The Arab states’ campaign of antisemitism in the service of creating an imaginary enemy does not appear to have worked to their benefit in any way. On the contrary: it has inhibited their development and ability to innovate.
In the wake of the Abraham Accords, citizens of the Arab world should be able to discern at last that rejecting antisemitism can contribute to their development and modernization.
The problem of antisemitism in the Arab and Islamic world can be tackled through two tools: the education system and free media.
The education system
Identifying antisemitism as a problem in the Arab world is an immediate security imperative. To achieve this, Arab states must invest in efforts to incorporate discussion of antisemitism, conspiracy theories, and other forms of hate speech into their educational systems. The following actions can be taken:
Ensure that schools support human rights, cultivate respect and inclusion, and provide safe and supportive learning environments.
Include antisemitism as a human rights topic in discussions of such issues as democracy, peace, gender equality, and a sense of common humanity.
Build students’ ability to identify and reject prejudice and stereotypes by developing their critical and reflective thinking skills.
Incorporate lessons on both the Holocaust and the dangerous implications of Holocaust denial and distortion.
Encourage institutions of higher learning to develop academic programs and research centers that address antisemitism.
Review curricula to ensure that they are free of stereotypes, and that Jewish and Israeli life is presented in a fair and balanced way.
Develop legislation and accessible antisemitism incident-reporting mechanisms that ensure respect for human rights in educational institutions.
Develop training programs about antisemitism for professionals working in such fields as law enforcement, judiciary, the clergy, social work, and healthcare.
Strengthen national human rights institutions’ capacity to ensure a safe environment for all staff and students, including Jewish students and teachers, and to address complaints of human rights violations.
Policymakers need to establish media outlets that stand up to divisive extremist ideologies and create opportunities for Arabs to get to know Israelis and Jews directly, without interference. Media and information literacy should be developed to foster resilience to manipulation, prejudice, stereotypes, conspiracy theories, and other harmful misinformation, both online and in the conventional media. Policymakers should also promote communication channels and partnerships between representatives of Jewish and other communities and NGOs, museums, memorials, libraries, and other institutions.
In short, normalization of relations is a prerequisite for combating antisemitism and extremism. It needs to precede attempts to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, not follow them.
Dr. Frank Musmar is a financial and performance management specialist and a non-resident research associate at the BESA Center.
Dr. Najat Al-Saied is an assistant professor at Zayed University, Dubai in the College of Communication and Media Sciences.