Henry Kopel

How the Keffiyeh Became the 21st Century’s Swastika

Protest in Ontario, Canada, May 2024 (Image with permission of Shutterstock)
Protest in Ontario, Canada, May 2024 (Image by permission of Shutterstock)

Why is the Palestinian movement so incorrigible? Namely, what explains the savagery of Hamas’s October 7 rapes and murders? Why has the Palestinian Authority rejected every offer of a sovereign state alongside Israel? And here in America, why do Palestine activists demand not just statehood, but the extermination of Israel?

The answer to these questions lies in the origins and history of the Palestinian national movement. Though rarely reported today, that movement was largely shaped by three of the twentieth century’s most lethal extremist ideologies: Islamism, Naziism, and Communism.

The Palestinian movement was born after the First World War amid the dismantling of the Turkish-Ottoman empire. In 1920, the postwar San Remo peace conference assigned Britain to govern the Ottomans’ former holdings across Palestine, which Britain then divided into two national homelands. In 1921 the British assigned 75 percent of Palestine, east of the Jordan River, to the Palestinian Arabs. This became “Jordan.” The remaining 25 percent lay between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, including Jerusalem. This was reserved for a future Jewish state. That land division 103 years ago was the original two-state solution.

In the 1920s, a great many Jews and Palestinian Arabs maintained amicable relations, often cooperating in civic affairs and infrastructure projects. But this interfaith amity was undone after the British appointed Haj Amin Al-Husseini to fill the vacant post of Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The Mufti served as the Palestinian Muslims’ spiritual leader.

Regarded today as “the founding father of the Arab national movement in Palestine,” Haj Amin Al-Husseini was a militant antisemite. A former student of hardline Islamist Rashid Rida, Al-Husseini wanted it all: One state, No Jews. Even before becoming Mufti, Al-Husseini had incited a Muslim riot against Jerusalem’s Jews in 1920, killing five and injuring 211. In 1928, Al-Husseini launched a year-long Islamist propaganda campaign across Palestine, falsely accusing the Jews of plotting to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque atop Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. This culminated in pogroms across Palestine, killing 133 Jews, injuring over 300, and exterminating the ancient Jewish community of Hebron.

Al-Husseini continued his Islamist incitement through the 1930s, then fused it together with a second virulent ideology, German Naziism. When Hitler became German chancellor in 1933, Al-Husseini “visited the German consulate in Jerusalem to offer cooperation.” In 1937, while leading a brutal but ultimately unsuccessful terror war against both the Jews and the British, Al-Husseini offered Hitler an Arab-Nazi alliance. In exchange, the Mufti sought a German promise to “destroy the Jewish home in Palestine.”

In November 1941, Al-Husseini flew to Berlin to meet with Hitler, where he sealed an Arab-Nazi alliance on precisely those terms. At that time, the Nazis’ North African army was driving eastward toward Palestine. Hitler and Al-Husseini agreed that after conquering Palestine, Hitler would appoint Al-Husseini to lead the Nazi Empire’s Arab division, then build death camps to kill all the region’s Jews.

The allies’ 1943 defeat of Hitler’s North African army prevented that Middle East Holocaust, but by then Al-Husseini had found another impactful outlet for his Jew-hatred. From 1941-45, Al-Husseini helped lead a massive Nazi propaganda campaign across the Middle East, broadcasting in Arabic 15 hours per day from studios just outside Berlin. Constantly urging Arabs to “kill the Jews,” the broadcasts denounced “world Jewry” as the bloodthirsty enemy of humanity, the assailants of Muslims’ wives and daughters, and the secret cabal controlling America and Britain.

Al-Husseini’s efforts were effective: An American intelligence dispatch from August 1942 reported that “three-fourths of the Muslim world are in favor of the Axis,” crediting “radio talks from the Grand Mufti” directing Arabs to “murder the Jews and seize their property.”

After the Nazis’ 1945 defeat, the victorious allies occupied Germany and successfully de-Nazified the country. But no such effort happened in Palestine. On the contrary, when Al-Husseini returned to the Middle East, the former Nazi propagandist received a hero’s welcome.

In 1948 Al-Husseini led the “Arab Higher Committee” in its war against the UN’s plan for a yet another two-state solution, which sought to divide the small remainder of Palestine west of the Jordan River into a Jewish state and a second Palestinian state. As historian Benny Morris has documented, the Arab rhetoric of the 1948 war was fiercely Islamist and genocidal, mirroring Al-Husseini’s fusion of Islamist and Nazi ideology.

The Palestinian Arabs lost that war. But then they gained another ideological ally: the Soviet Union. Especially after 1967, the Soviets invested massively in the Palestinians’ ongoing terror war against Israel. They installed Yassir Arafat to lead the PLO, abundantly supplied Arafat with munitions, and assigned KGB agents to train his terror cadres in mass murder. The Soviets also flooded the world with anti-Israel propaganda, including the KGB-invented lies of “Israeli apartheid” and “Israel as the new Nazis.”

After the Soviets’ 1989 fall, just as after the Nazis’ 1945 defeat, the vanquished patron’s radical ideology lived on among the Palestinian leadership, further supplementing the original Islamist influence. This toxic mix of Islamist, Nazi, and Soviet ideological hatred against Israel, Jews, and the democracies has remained a core feature of Palestinian identity. It drives a well-documented tsunami of genocidal hate propaganda throughout Palestinian society – flowing through its schools, media, mosques, and civic ceremonies. Palestinian children are indoctrinated en masse to hate Jews, celebrate the murders of Israelis, and worship and emulate suicide bombers, the so-called “martyrs.”

This immersion of Palestinian society in genocidal propaganda guarantees that a large portion of young Palestinian men aspire and strive to mass-murder Jews. It similarly has rendered the Palestinian leadership utterly incapable of making peace with Israel, inasmuch as any leader who sincerely pursues such a peace is painting a “shoot me” target on his back.

This core ideological reality – of a profoundly Nazified Palestinian society – is the decisive influence that Western peace negotiators have never sufficiently understood. It is the omnipresent context that has doomed every peace initiative to failure.

That reality also explains the decades of Palestinian lynchings, suicide bombings, and vehicular massacres of Israelis; the macabre street celebrations that follow every Jew-killing in Israel; the street parties that erupted among Palestinians after the 9/11 attacks on America; and most recently, the horrors visited by Hamas upon the Israeli communities bordering Gaza.

And this same genocidal ideology has been enthusiastically embraced and recycled by the Palestinians’ keffiyeh-clad protesters across the Western democracies. This is why none of the mobs occupying and vandalizing America’s campuses have called for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. On the contrary, their chants and demands mirror the worst of the Palestinians’ Nazified agenda, urging the annihilation of Israel, uttering cheers to “burn Tel Aviv to the ground,” celebrating Hamas’s savage orgy of rape and murder, and proactively blocking Jews’ access to campus properties.

However, the important parallel here is not just between the genocidal cheers of pro-Hamas rallies on American campuses and the actual carnage inflicted by both Hamas and PLO terrorists upon Israelis. Equally significant is the parallel between pro-Hamas agitation on American campuses in our time, and pro-Nazi sentiment across German campuses under Hitler. As pointed out recently by historian Niall Ferguson, across 1930s Germany, “[l]awyers and doctors, all credentialed with university degrees, were substantially overrepresented within the [Nazi party], as were university students.”

The echoes of this reprehensible history compel a sobering conclusion. Namely, the genocidal brutality of both the Palestinian terror armies across the Middle East and their cheerleaders across Western campuses have rendered the keffiyeh – the definitive signifier of the Palestinian movement – a modern incarnation of the Nazi swastika. Thanks to the Palestinians’ century-long terror and propaganda war for the annihilation of Israel, the keffiyeh now joins the swastika as a visual representation of the age-old genocidal curse, “Death to the Jews.”

Yet despite this unmistakable reality, much of the West’s foreign policy establishment still views the Israel-Palestinian conflict as just a boundary dispute, or worse, the product of Israeli recalcitrance against peaceful Palestinian intentions. Both views reflect a severe, one might even say pathological, affliction of reality-blindness.

Over two thousand years ago, the great Chinese philosopher Confucius sagely observed that “if language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.” By that standard, Western policymakers would do well to finally recognize both the Palestinian leaders and their Western campus cheerleaders for who they genuinely are: the true heirs of Adolph Hitler.

Absent this necessary recognition, the Israeli death toll will continue its heartbreaking rise, and the Palestinian people will remain trapped and terrorized under their brutal dictatorships. For the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians, it is long past time to acknowledge this impactful reality, and to bring our diplomacy in line with its inescapable consequences.

About the Author
Henry Kopel is a former U.S. federal prosecutor and the author of the book “War on Hate: How to Stop Genocide, Fight Terrorism, and Defend Freedom.” Kopel is a graduate of Brandeis University, Oxford University, and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and is an annual guest lecturer on prosecuting hate crimes at the University of Connecticut Law School. He serves on the global advisory board for the Abraham Global Peace Initiative.
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