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The Muslim Brotherhood

The Muslim Brotherhood
We can see then, that antisemitic attitudes became widespread after World War One, particularly following the Balfour Declaration and the establishment of the Palestinian mandate under Great Britain. The decades following the war created a fertile ground for the strengthening of imported antisemitic perceptions and for the reappearance of anti-Jewish Islamic traditions. The spread of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as well as antisemitic Nazi propaganda served to further this. During the immediate post-World War Two era, antisemitic and vehement anti-Zionist rhetoric and actions were worsened by the Jewish-Arab struggle over the future of Palestine, as well as by the pressing problem of Jewish Holocaust survivors, who sought refuge in Palestine.
Things reached a boiling point with the UN Partition Plan of 1947, the subsequent war, the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and the ensuing Arab-Israeli conflict. Though antisemitism was not the root cause of the conflict, it has been exacerbated by it, aggravating its representations and serving as an additional tool for the delegitimization and dehumanization of the “other” - Zionism and Israel. The founding of the State of Israel, created a confluence of political and religious interests. The negative perceptions of the Jews found in the Quran were joined with European antisemitic ideas, creating a new form of antisemitism that flourished openly. This stood in contrast to the general turning away from antisemitism in the West after the Holocaust.
The quantity and fury of antisemitic literature published in the Middle East increased, and during certain periods was printed partially under governmental auspices. The Six-Day War of 1967 and the swift Israeli victory over Arab armies furthered this process. The war dealt a shocking blow to the Arab world and it generated unrest that continued to be channeled against Israel, Zionism, and the Jews. An important force in the formulation of antisemitism in the Arab and Islamic world was the transnational organization called the Muslim Brotherhood. As Professor Litvak mentioned in his previous lecture, it was members of this organization that initiated the pogrom against the Jews of Cairo in 1948.
In order to better understand the importance of this organization, let’s now go back to the late 1920s to learn about its foundations and about the crucial influence it had on the development of antisemitism in the Islamic and Arab world. The Muslim Brotherhood has been one of the most popular social movements in the modern Middle East. The Muslim Brotherhood was established in Egypt in 1928 by a teacher, Hassan al-Banna, who tried to address the crisis of modern Islam.
He regarded the crisis of modern Islam as twofold: one is that Islam has stagnated, Islam is unable to provide answers to the questions that modernity provides, this is one thing. Secondly, is that Muslims have abandoned Islam, they have adopted Western culture and there was a need to bring people back to Islam. Hassan al-Banna’s innovation was to combine, you can say, preaching with social activity. The Muslim Brotherhood called for a return to the Quran and the Hadith as guidelines for a healthy modern Islamic society. Its goal was to rid Islam of Western influence, calling for a return to what it saw as the authentic religion. Initially the leaders of the Brotherhood did not put much focus on the Jews.
However, early on a collaboration between them and the members of the Arab Palestinian national movement brought about a fierce anti-Zionist and antisemitic agenda. Zionists and Jews were quickly merged together and the longing of Jews for a homeland in Palestine was perceived as a rebellion against the true historical hierarchy and the inferior place allotted to Jews under Islam. Let’s further examine the place of antisemitism in the Muslim Brotherhood’s philosophy and worldview. As part of their ideology, the Muslim Brothers regarded Zionism as a manifestation of Western imperialist - cultural and political imperialist attack on the Muslim world. The Muslim Brothers, like many other Muslims, did not make a distinction between Zionism and Judaism.
For them Zionism was simply the practical manifestation of Judaism, and therefore as an outcome of their vehement anti-Zionist ideology, they of course developed an elaborated, very strong anti-Jewish ideology, adopting the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as an important text in explaining the designs and evil intentions of the Jews, adopting various, again European antisemitic themes in order to explain the danger and threat of Zionism towards Muslims.
And eventually the Muslim Brothers preached the elimination of Zionism and the State of Israel, and with that, since the Jews, in a way, rebelled against the Muslim world, Islam, since the Jews do not, by the very claim that they want a state, by the very claim that they are a people, is, say, a challenge to Islamic superiority, the Jews forfeited their right to live as a protected minority under Muslim rule. And therefore you can find in some Muslim Brotherhood texts the idea that eventually, at the end of time, the Jews will have to be exterminated, because they rebelled against God and against Islam.

Prof. Meir Litvak

An important force in the formulation of antisemitism in the Arab and Islamic world was the transnational organization called the Muslim Brotherhood. Let us go back to the late 1920s to learn about the foundation of this organization and about the crucial influence it had on the development of antisemitism in this sphere.

How did the thinkers of the Muslim Brotherhood view the Jews and Zionism?

For additional visual materials please see “downloads” below.


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  • El-Awaisi, Abd al-Fattah, “The Conceptual Approach of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers Towards the Palestine Question, 1928-1949,” Journal of Islamic Studies, vol. 2, np.2 (1991), pp. 225 – 244.

  • Frampton, Martyn, The Muslim Brotherhood and the West: A History of Enmity and Engagement (Cambridge, M.A.: Harvard University Press, 2018).

  • Gorny, Yosef, Zionism and the Arabs, 1882-1948: a study of Ideology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).

  • Herf, Jeffrey, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).

  • Laqueur, Walter and Barry Rubin, eds., The Israel-Arab Reader (New York: Penguin Books, 2008).

  • Mitchell, Richard P., The Society of The Muslim Brothers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).

  • Rubin, Barry and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz, Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014).

  • Shapira, Anita, Land and Power: The Zionist Resort to Force, 1881-1948 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).

  • Sivan, Emmanuel, Radical Islam: Medieval Theology and Modern Politics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990).

  • Tibi, Bassam, Islamism and Islam (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).

  • Zollne, Barbara H. E., The Muslim Brotherhood: Hasan al-Hudaybi and Ideology (New York: Routledge, 2009).

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Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present

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