Freshman congresswoman Ilhan Omar has been in the news lately for a series of anti-Israel tweets and statements. Omar is Somali by birth and a Muslima. Back in 2012, she tweeted this:
“Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel. #Gaza #Palestine #Israel”
Forced to defend that tweet last year as she was running for Congress, Omar responded, “Drawing attention to the apartheid Israeli regime is far from hating Jews.”
But to call Israel an apartheid regime is a slander. Israel’s Arab and other non-Jewish citizens enjoy the full range of civil and political rights, including the right to vote, to speak out and publish, and to organize politically. Israeli Arabs serve in the IDF, are elected to parliament, and appointed to the country’s highest courts. There is no apartheid in Israel.
Voters in Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, a Minneapolis district into which thousands of Somali immigrants have moved in recent decades, forgave Omar her attack on Israel—there is also evidence that she married her own brother for purposes of immigration fraud—and off to Washington she went.
She’s managed to stay in the headlines consistently; the volume of her publicity is second only to that of her fellow freshman congresswoman, Queens’ Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Unfortunately, Omar’s publicity has mostly concerned her anti-Israel statements.
In mid-February, she claimed that anyone who supports Israel has been bought off by a pro-Israel political action committee, AIPAC. “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” she tweeted.
Then, just a few days ago, she made a comment questioning the loyalty of a Jewish colleague, implying that American Jews have dual loyalty, and are loyal to Israel perhaps above the United States.
The congressional “leadership” doesn’t seem to know what to do with Omar. The latest outburst about dual loyalty was to have led to a resolution against anti-Jewish bigotry, but Omar’s support in congress was strong enough that not only was she not named, the resolution was watered down until it condemned all prejudice generally, including anti-Islam prejudice. Because whenever Muslims do something wrong, they’re the victims. (Greatest parody headline ever: “Muslims fear backlash from tomorrow’s terror attack.”)
I predict that Omar will continue to attack Israel and question the loyalty of any lawmaker who supports Israel, because anti-Jewish bigotry is baked into the Islamic cake. The Quran paints a clear picture of the Jews: they are scheming, treacherous liars, the most dangerous enemies of the Muslims.
Islamic Jew-hatred: Texts and Context
Most people are at least dimly aware that Judaism was one of the sources of Islam. It is no coincidence that both Jews and Muslims avoid pork; Muhammad learned much from Judaism. As he formed his new religion, Muhammad worked to convert the Jews, hoping they would accept him as a prophet in the line of the Hebrew prophets of the Old Testament. He even instructed his followers to face Jerusalem for prayers. (After the Jews rejected him, he changed the direction of prayer to Mecca.)
Islam asserts that Muhammad was the last and greatest in the line of Biblical prophets. The Quran contains many stories from the Hebrew Bible, but they are garbled. According to the Quranic worldview, however, it is the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures that are garbled, and the Quran that is accurate.
In the Quran, Abraham is not a Jew but a Muslim (3:67) with a message identical to Muhammad’s. The Islamic claim is that Allah gave the Torah to Moses (2:87) and hence the authentic Torah points Jews toward recognizing Muhammad as a prophet; those who refuse to accept Muhammad are also rejecting Moses and the true prophets of the Bible.
Yet the Jews did not accept Muhammad or Islam. Although Muhammad’s monotheism and condemnation of idols were new to the polytheistic, idolatrous Arabs, they were not new to the Jews. Islam represented no improvement on the Jews’ own religious patrimony, and most Jews had little interest in Muhammad’s new religion. One Jewish leader is quoted in the Quran as saying, “no covenant was ever made with us about Muhammad.”
Reversing an initial appeal to the Jews as authorities on Allah’s earliest revelation, Muhammad began to criticize them for concealing that revelation. In effect, the Quran blames the Jews for hiding the Islamic-ness of their own Scriptures: “Who revealed the Scripture that Moses brought as light and guidance to the people? You [Jews] make it into pages, disclosing some of it and concealing much” (6:91).
Since Islam believes the Hebrew Scriptures are Islamic, the Quran depicts the Jews’ rejection of Muhammad as a deliberate rejection of known truth. The Quran states, “And when there came to [the Jews] a messenger from Allah, confirming what was with them, a party of the people of the Book threw away the Book of Allah behind their backs, as if they did not know!” (2:101). The Quran several times criticizes Jews for refusing to follow Muhammad, asking, “Why don’t the Jews’ rabbis stop their evil behavior?” (5:63).
From that point on, the Quran grows increasingly condemnatory toward the Jews. A believing Muslim will read in his Quran that the Jews are hiding the truth and misleading people (3:78). They are unbelievers who deny or even kill the messengers sent to them (2:87). The Jews try to get Muslims to apostatize because they are jealous of the Muslims and are secretly convicted of the truth of Islam (2:109), and even feel pain when others are happy or fortunate (3:120).
The Jews charge usury and consume other’s wealth (4:161). They distort language in order to slander Islam, and it is due to Allah’s curse that so few of them adopt Islam (4:46). They are as hardhearted as stones, or even harder (2:74), they habitually transgress and are unrestrained in wrongdoing (5:78-9), cowardly (59:13-14), and miserly (4:53). They are under Allah’s curse (4:46) and “may Allah destroy them” (9:30).
Some Jews are “avid listeners to falsehood” who “distort words beyond their usages.” (4:46) These are “the ones for whom Allah does not intend to purify their hearts,” and they will be punished not just in the afterlife, but in this life as well: “For them in this world is disgrace, and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment” (5:41).
Muslims are forbidden to make friends among the Jews: “O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as friends. They are friends of one another. And whoever is a friend to them among you, indeed, he is of them. Indeed, Allah does not guide the wrongdoing people” (5:51). Muslims are the “best nation” but people of the Scriptures [Jews and Christians] are “defiantly disobedient” (3:110). “Indeed, the worst of living creatures in the sight of Allah are those who have disbelieved, and they will not believe” (8:55).
The Jews “strive to do mischief on earth,” and this mischief (fasaad) has a punishment spelled out in Quran 5:33: “they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land.” Their rebellion against Allah has resulted in the Jews’ degradation – the “terrible agony” that those who have rejected Islam are to feel “in this world” as well as in the next (3:56) – is a frequent preoccupation of the Quran.
Someone who believes in the Quran as the perfect and eternal word of Allah, and the authentic Hadith as the records of the statements and actions of the man whom the Quran designates as the “excellent example” (33:21) will accordingly form a negative view of Jews.
Muslims will tend to see in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict an eschatological struggle against the spiritual enemies of the Muslims. The Quran tells Muslims to expect a struggle with the Jews: “You will surely find the most intense of the people in animosity toward the believers to be the Jews…” (5:82)
The non-Quranic, traditional sayings of Muhammad are no kinder to the Jews. The Hadith (oral traditions about what Muhammad said and did), if deemed authentic by Islamic scholars, are sources of Islamic law and doctrine. Unfortunately, these contain much anti-Jewish material. In one hadith, Muhammad says that a group of Jews “assumed the shape of rats.” In another, he exclaims: “May Allah’s curse be on the Jews for they built the places of worship at the graves of their Prophets.”
Islam’s most frequently repeated prayer is a passage from the Quran in which the believers ask Allah: “Guide us to the straight path, the path of those upon whom you have bestowed favor, not of those who have evoked anger or of those who are astray.” (1:6-7) In a hadith, Muhammad explains: “The Jews are those who Allah is angry with, and the Christians have strayed.”
The most notorious anti-Semitic passage in the Hadith is that Muslims will bring about the End Times by killing Jews wholesale:
“The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: ‘Muslim, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him’.” (Sahih Bukhari 4:52:177; Sahih Muslim 7:41:6983)
This passage lends an edge of menace to Islamic anti-Semitism. Muslims are taught that they are doing a good deed if they kill Jews, a deed that will bring about the consummation of all things and the dawning of eternal justice for mankind.
Muslim Jew-hatred manifests itself in opposition to Israel, a Jewish state that many Muslim nations will not recognize as legitimate—or even as existing: some Muslim maps of the Middle East do not even show the state of Israel. The more Islamic a state is, the more it will be opposed to Israel. Since its Islamist revolution in 1979, Iran has been the state most opposed to Israel. Kemalist (secularist) Turkey was a strong ally of Israel, but the rapidly Islamizing Turkey of Erdogan has become hostile to Israel. Saudi Arabia under its new prince, Muhammad bin Salman, seems to be moving in the other direction, clamping down on those associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, and related Islamist groups, and warming to Israel (although it is still a long way from establishing diplomatic relations with Israel).
Christian Antisemitism: Not Rooted in the Texts
What about Christian Antisemitism? There’s been a great deal of “Christian” antisemitism over the centuries, including during the Middle Ages. Most of the crusades involved the mass murder of Jews. The First Crusade, in 1096, involved a series of massacres of Jews living along the Rhine and the Danube. The Second Crusade, in 1147, led to a series of massacres of Jews living in France.
The Crusades were followed by expulsions of Jews from several European countries, including from England in 1290, France in 1396, and Austria in 1421. The Jews were driven out of Spain or forced to convert to Catholicism as part of the Reconquista of the late 15th Century. Many of these Jews settled in tolerant Poland. Then, seventy-five years ago, the Germans under Nazi rule tried to kill all the Jews of Europe, succeeding in an estimated six million cases, including 90% of Polish Jews.
Anti-Jewish bigotry, massacres, expulsions, and pogroms are littered throughout European history. Sadly, Christendom has been no kinder to the Jews than has the Muslim world. It might even have been worse.
The difference, however, is that there is no basis for anti-Jewish bigotry in the Christian Scriptures. Christian persecution of Jews has been done despite the Christian Scriptures, not because of them.
First, Christians accept the Jewish Scriptures as canonical. We do not have our own versions of the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses, and David, as the Muslims do. We accept as inspired what was written by the Jewish Prophets, exactly as they wrote it, long centuries before the Christian era. When the Apostle Paul wrote, “All Scripture is God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work,” (1 Tim. 3:16-17) he was writing primarily of the Hebrew Scriptures; parts of the Greek Scriptures had not even been written yet, much less formed into the accepted canon we today call the New Testament.
Second, the Christians Scriptures leave no ambiguity about the fact that Christianity is a continuation of Judaism. In the Gospel of John, Christ says to the Samaritan woman, “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.” (John 4:22). Paul says that there is still much advantage to being a Jew, because “unto the Jews were entrusted the oracles of God,” the very words of God. (Rom. 3:2). Jesus, Peter, the other eleven Disciples, and the Apostle Paul—they were all Jews. Christianity comes directly out of Judaism.
Paul faced much persecution at the hands of the Jews as they rejected the Christian faith—just as they would later reject Muhammad’s. But in contrast to Muhammad, Paul bore the Jews no ill will. To the contrary, Paul was in anguish over the fact that so many of his fellow Jews would miss out on salvation; if he could, he would personally redeem them at the cost of his own salvation:
“I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.” (Rom. 9:1-5).
“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” (Rom. 10:1-4).
Far from resenting the Jews, we gentiles should be grateful for the priceless opportunity, through faith in Christ Jesus, to be grafted into the tree of salvation, and pray for the ultimate conversion of the Jews:
“Did [Israel] stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!” (Rom. 11:11-12).
We must not feel superior to the Jews. Rather, the fact that so many of the Jews have been “broken off” from the tree of salvation should be a warning to us against backsliding, because if God will not spare “the natural branches”—His own chosen people—He will cut us gentiles off that much quicker:
“If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.’ Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!” (Rom. 11:17-24)
The Apocalypse uses the tribes of Israel to symbolize the sealed servants of God near the end of time. (Rev. 7:1-8). In addition, John also tells us that the New Jerusalem will have twelve gates named after the twelve Jewish tribes:
“And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west.” (Rev. 12:10-13)
Revelation is believed to have been written around 90 A.D., when John was a very old man; it was the last book of the Bible to be written. Even by this time, no anti-Judaism had crept into the Christian canon.
The United States, a Protestant nation that embraces the biblical principle of freedom of religion, has been most friendly to the Jews. Although fringe hate groups exist, American antisemitism has historically been confined to restrictive deed covenants, and excluding Jews from private associations such as business partnerships and private clubs. Honest Jews must admit that Jews have been treated better in America than almost anywhere else in the world, except Israel.
Summary and Conclusion
The pattern history reveals is that “Christian” antisemitism emerges when Christians have little or no access to their own sacred writings—the crusades, pogroms and banishments of the middle ages—or when a culturally Christian nation is in the grip of an anti-Christian ideology like Nazism. By contrast, Muslim antisemitism emerges wherever Muslims do have ready access to their own sacred writings, and their Imams are in the mood to call attention to the many anti-Jewish passages.
A Christian who tries to live by the Bible becomes less of a threat to Jews (and others), whereas a Muslim who tries to live by the Islamic sacred writings becomes more of a threat to Jews (and others). This is why blanket condemnation of “fundamentalism” or “extremism”—often heard from the media and politicians--is so misguided. Everything hinges on what the sacred writings contain; it is the writings that determine whether it is good or bad for believers to adhere closely to them. Muslim fundamentalism is a problem because of what the Islamic sacred writings teach; Christian fundamentalism is not a problem because the Christian Scriptures do not promote hate.
Which holy book paints a better picture of God? Which would you rather worship, the God of the Bible, who even now longs for His chosen people to follow His Son, Jesus Christ, or the Allah of the Quran, who has written them off as hopelessly evil?