• Mon. Feb 6th, 2023

What most Muslims have misunderstood about the Jews


In 2018, Yossi Klein Halevi published the book «Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor». In the book, he explains the history of Judaism and Zionism, why Jews from all over the world have moved to Israel and what “ordinary Israelis” think about what happened in the country in 1948 (Independence), 1967 (Six Day War) and 2000 (Second Intifada). The book has also been translated into Arabic and will be available for free download on the Times of Israel’s Arabic-language website. Halevi’s goal is for the book to form the basis of dialogue with Israel’s Palestinian neighbors.

In recent years, Halevi has taught Muslim leaders in the United States about Judaism and Jewish identity.

– It has taught me that the Muslim world in general does not understand the relationship in Judaism between religion, people, country and national sovereignty. The elements we take for granted in our identity are almost completely misunderstood in the Muslim world, where Jews are seen as a religious minority, rather than a people with a religious identity – as Jews have traditionally seen themselves, says the author in an interview with the Times of Israel.

– The understanding that Judaism is more than a religion is a revelation to Muslims. That a Jew can be an atheist seems to be incomprehensible to Muslims. If you are a Muslim, or for that matter a Christian, you cannot be an atheist. So Judaism works differently from the other monotheistic religions, because of its basic identity as a people, he adds.

Zionism saved the Jews of the Arab world
Halevi believes Israel has made a mistake by telling the story of Zionism solely from a European perspective. As early as the 1950s, the majority of Jews in Israel were from Muslim countries.

– If we continue to use the Holocaust to justify Israel’s existence, we ourselves will open up accusations that the Palestinians and the Arab world paid the price for what Europeans did to the Jews. (…) Political Zionism emerged in Eastern Europe in an attempt to prevent the catastrophe we now call the Holocaust. Zionism largely fails to save the Jews in Europe, but it succeeds in saving the Jews in the Middle East, says Halevi.

What would have happened to the Jews if they had continued to live in Iraq until our century? What would have happened if they had become the first and most vulnerable victims of the Syrian civil war?

– It is only in recent years that we have been able to fully understand how Zionism became a rescue operation for the Jews in the Arab world, Halevi points out.

He is skeptical about the future of the Jews in Europe.

– I doubt that Jewish life in Europe is sustainable. We are being attacked from so many fronts there – the Islamists, the far left, the far right – that we may be seeing the last generation of European Jews. The attempt to re-establish Jewish life in post-Holocaust Europe was a courageous attempt, an act of trust in the new Europe. I’m afraid the attempt is unsuccessful, says Halevi.

Do not believe in peace in the short term
And he is critical of the leaders on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides.

– There is no national movement anywhere that I know of that has rejected more proposals for the establishment of a state than the Palestinian leadership, says Halevi.

– I criticize the Israeli leadership for not continuing the line of previous governments, which bluntly say to the Palestinians: ‘We are seriously interested in an agreement, if you will. A Palestinian state is a standing, valid offer, and we will not undermine it by expanding settlements into areas that we say, in principle, will become part of that state when conditions allow, ‘Halevi said.

The author does not believe a Palestinian state can be established in the short term. The result would probably be that Hamas would take power in the West Bank.

– What do we really want to achieve? That is my question to both the Israelis and the Palestinians. We both have maximalist demands for the whole country. But, if the maximalist demands are a starting point and not an end goal, we can talk together, says Halevi.

– Sharing has been on the table since the conflict began. That is not a good solution. Creating two states in this small country is a nightmare for both peoples. But the alternative – a one-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians consume each other – seems to me to be even worse, says Halevi.

– There is no Palestinian leader I can see who will give us the minimum we need to be able to reach an agreement. No one agrees to restrict the Palestinian “right to return” to a Palestinian state. When there is no will to compromise, there can be no agreement. So I write for the long term, says Halevi.

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