Paul Gross

Hitler’s Islamist disciples

Yom Hashoah is traditionally for remembering and honoring the Jewish victims of the Nazis and their accomplices; and – as Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day (the international one is on 27 January) – it’s also for drawing the appropriate lesson: that the Jewish people must Never Again be defenseless against those who wish to destroy us. On this Yom Hashoah, the first since October 7 (when that lesson was so catastrophically forgotten by Israel’s political and military leadership) it’s worth looking at just what connects the murderers of the 1200 with the murderers of the six million – and drawing the appropriate conclusions.

Thanks to the scholarship of historians like Matthias Kuntzel and Jeffrey Herf, we know that drawing comparisons between Hamas and the Nazis is not mere hyperbole. Most of what follows below is drawn from their scholarship.

Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, the hugely influential Islamist movement which ultimately spawned explicitly violent breakaways Al-Qaeda and ISIS. It was founded by Hassan al-Banna in Egypt in 1928, committed to the idea that Islam is not just a religion but a complete way of life, and so can be applied to the modern state. It can be, effectively, a modern political ideology.

Although the Muslim Brotherhood was very much a Middle Eastern phenomenon, and certainly rooted in the Muslim religion, it was also influenced by ideologies coming out of Europe. And there was one ideology in particular that shared the Brotherhood’s opposition to democracy; modern liberal ideas like the equality of women; and also, an intense hatred of Jews; Nazism.

Al-Banna became a fervent admirer of Hitler and was responsible for publishing the first Arabic edition of Mein Kampf.

What Nazi ideas lent to the Muslim Brotherhood was a more modern, all-encompassing antisemitism, quite distinct from the anti-Jewish ideas in the Qu’ran. Jews living under Islamic rule over the centuries were often discriminated against, and sometimes persecuted, but there were also periods where Jews had it relatively good in Muslim countries and, for many centuries, Christian Europe was a far more reliably dangerous place for Jews to live than in the various Muslim empires. The Jews rejected Muhammad as a prophet just as they rejected Jesus as the Messiah; but unlike with Christians and Jesus, Muslims did not accuse Jews of the murder of Muhammad. In the Qu’ran, Mohammad fights and defeats the Jews of Medina who rejected Islam. According to traditional Islam, Jews are not necessarily to be trusted, but they didn’t have the satanic quality that pre-modern Christianity gave them.

What you see in Islamist writings on Jews from the 1930s onwards is something quite different from traditional Muslim teaching. Jews were blamed for the world’s ills, with the secret hand of Jewish puppet-masters pulling the strings of the Western imperial powers in the Middle East. The evidence for this of course, from an Arab perspective, was the success of the Zionists in persuading the British to support them –at least initially.

Many readers will have heard of Haj Amin al-Husseini, appointed by the British in the 1920s. He did not just oppose Zionism on nationalist grounds – in fact, it’s not at all clear he wanted an independent state for the Arabs of Palestine, rather than some larger pan-Arab entity. He was a virulent antisemite.

And this all makes a big impression on Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and a militant opponent of Zionism. He very quickly adopted this modern form of antisemitism. and skillfully weaved it into a Muslim religious narrative to appeal to the masses. For example, from a speech he gave during the Great Arab Revolt of 1936-1939 in Palestine, he cited this Muslim Hadith:

The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems… there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.

(If this Hadith is familiar to you it’s probably because you’ve seen it quoted from the Hamas Covenant, its founding manifesto from 1988.)

Haj Amin al-Husseini is notorious for absconding to Berlin during the Second World War, where he was made very welcome by the Nazis. He offered to assist the Nazi war effort with intelligence cooperation and sabotage operations in North Africa. Hitler’s response was to assure him that when the German armies reached North Africa and the Middle East, their objective would be the destruction of the Jews.

He was also the voice of Nazi propaganda in Arabic. In those days, with radio as the medium for propaganda, his broadcasts from Berlin to the Arab world during the War incited an exclusively anti-Jewish reading of the Qu-ran, popularizing European antisemitic conspiracy theories on the Arab street, and shaping what would become a genocidal position on Zionism.

Al-Husseini was actually arrested by the Allies after the defeat of Germany, but he was released in 1946 by the French who, like the British, had decided that it would be more advantageous to try to curry favor with the Arabs, than with Jews. Al-Husseini returned to the Middle East and was greeted by Hassan al-Banna as a returning hero. It’s worth contemplating the language used:

this hero who challenged an empire and fought Zionism, with the help of Hitler and Germany. Germany and Hitler are gone, but Amin Al-Husseini will continue the struggle.

There can no misunderstanding here. For the Islamists, the fight against Zionism was a continuation of the Nazi war against the Jews.

One of the most common and dangerous mistakes made by Western commentators is to see Hamas as simply a more religious Palestinian resistance movement. In fact the Hamas Covenant is the most antisemitic political manifesto since Mein Kampf.

Once you understand that October 7 was not about “resistance” or even terrorism per se, but part of the Islamist campaign of genocide against the Jews in their own state, a lot more becomes understandable. For example the connection between Sunni Arab Hamas, and Shi’ite Persian Iran, which funds and supports Hamas.

One of the ironies of Islamism is that it began as a Sunni Arab movement, but its greatest success was in a country that was neither Sunni nor Arab. Khomeini’s Islamic Republic adopted just the Islamist principle of a modern state run according to Islam, but also Islamism’s fanatical antisemitism.

One of the implications for understanding that Hamas is a contemporary iteration of Nazi ideology – at least in the context of antisemitism – is that no accommodation with it is possible. The Jews of war-torn Europe could not have ‘negotiated’ with Hitler for their survival. Likewise, the only response to October 7 by Israel that won’t invite another pogrom further down the line, is the decisive defeat of Hamas in Gaza.

Another implication concerns the campus protests that have so shaken the United States in recent weeks. These are led by organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine – who responded to the unimaginable scenes of murder, torture and rape with: “glory to our resistance, to our martyrs, and to our steadfast people!”. They are not merely “anti-occupation” or even “anti-Israel”, but explicitly “pro-Hamas”. SJP and their ilk are nothing like the anti-Vietnam War protestors of the 1960s; they’re ideologically far closer to the swastika-bearing hordes who gathered in Madison Square Garden in 1939, captured in the must-see short film “A Night at the Garden”.

In the words of Mark Twain, history may not repeat itself but it often rhymes. Yom Hashoah is as good a day as any to recall that the enemies we face today – in Israel and elsewhere – are profoundly influenced by our enemies from the darkest chapter in Jewish history.

About the Author
Before moving to Israel from the UK, Paul worked at the Embassy of Israel to the UK in the Public Affairs department, and as the Ambassador's speechwriter. He has a Masters degree in Middle East Politics from the University of London. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem - though he writes this blog in a personal capacity. He has lectured to a variety of groups on Israeli history and politics and his articles have been published in a variety of media outlets in Israel, the UK, the US and Canada.
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