Q: In your encyclopedic work, A Lethal Obsession. Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad (Random House, 2010), you present Islamist antisemitism as an existential danger to modern civilization. Could you explain?
A: In my view, Islamic antisemitism is by far the most dynamic and threatening form of antisemitism existing at present in the contemporary world. It combines the scourge of Islamist terrorism, the spread of jihad, hatred of the West, Holocaust denial, and the genocidal “anti-Zionism” which is state-sanctioned in Iran. The dramatic triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the alarming growth of militant Salafist movements across the Arab Middle East have greatly increased the level of threat worldwide.
Q: Is there a historic connection between European fascism and Islamism?
A: The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, had a radical totalitarian vision of societal transformation, a leadership cult, and visceral hatred of Jews not so different from that of fascism and National Socialism. Moreover, the charismatic founder of the Palestinian Arab national movement, Haj Amin el-Husseini, was a fanatical genocidal anti-Semite who actively collaborated with Adolf Hitler during World War II. This “annihilationist” tradition of Jew-hatred has continued in the Palestinian Hamas movement (an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood) to this very day. Its Sacred Covenant is one of the most nakedly anti-Jewish texts of the entire post-Holocaust era.
Q: You have described the impact of the Nazi legacy on radical Islam, but what about classical right-wing antisemitism in present-day Europe?
A: Populist right-wing tendencies are especially strong in Hungary, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, parts of Scandinavia, and the Baltic States, in Eastern Europe, and even here in like Switzerland. Nor are France, Germany, or Italy immune. Against the background of an alarming world economic crisis, the possible collapse of the Euro-zone, the specter of globalization, and a massive migration from the poorer southern countries to Europe, these negative trends will probably grow. Antisemitism is part of this wider syndrome.
Q: In your newest book, From Ambivalence to Betrayal. The Left, the Jews, and Israel (University of Nebraska Press, 2012), you are often severely critical of Western leftist attitudes to Israel and the so-called “Jewish Question.” How do you explain left-wing hostility?
A: The Left is suffering from acute amnesia. It has forgotten, for example, that Egyptian president Nasser and his Arab allies openly threatened to throw the Jews into the sea in 1967. To this day, Hamas, the Hezbollah and their Iranian backers, not to mention other Arab states, constantly broadcast their intention to eradicate the Zionist “cancer” from the Middle East map. So I ask people on the Left — is that a “progressive” position? Hardly. The Left has also forgotten that there was an uninterrupted Jewish presence in the Holy Land long before the birth of Islam — and despite endless harassment, along with Roman, Byzantine, Crusader, and Muslim persecutions and massacres, this Jewish settlement continued until the emergence of the modern Zionist movement.
Q: Why do you think so many leftists are pro-Islamist today?
A: The Western Left and the Islamists both share the myth that Israel is a “white,” Western, and colonial intrusion in the Middle East. They both have embraced a radically distorted view of Palestinians as defenseless “Jews,” downtrodden, and ruthlessly abused by fascist Israelis. Behind this demonic imagery there is an antisemitic view of Israel and America as twin embodiments of capitalist-imperialist evil. Needless to say, this mythology is totally disconnected from empirical reality.
Q: In light of your current trends, do you see any future for European Jewry? If you were living here, would you stay or go?
A: I personally believe that the long-term future of European Jewry is bleak. I would not wish to decide for European Jews what future they should choose, but I am convinced that the land of Israel is the only possible spiritual and political homeland for the Jewish people. Let us also remember that it was in the city of Basel that Theodor Herzl first proclaimed to the wider Jewish and Gentile world in 1897 the birth of modern Zionism. In his diary he prophesied that within fifty years a Jewish State would inevitably arise. Many people at the time dismissed him as a charlatan or a dreamer. But his prophecy came true and for that we should be thankful.