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Israel & Judaism through a Fresh Lens
Israel & Judaism through a Fresh Lens
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On Kurds as Dhimmi

There’s a well known historical observation that antisemitism transformed in modernity. Crusaders and Nazis attacked Jews for different reasons. In the middle ages, Christians saw Jews as “other” and persecuted them for rejecting Jesus. As Europe secularized, antipathy towards the Jews became based on ethnicity and race rather than theology. With this shift, Jews themselves lost the escape route of conversion. Racial antisemitism in the Reich leads to a “final solution” in a way that never occurred to Popes or Feudal lords.

Another well worn Jewish History insight is that Jews fared better when living under Muslim rule than Christian. This one has been repeated so often, that I’ve begun hearing push back. “Well, bad things happened to Jews in Muslim lands also! Really bad things!” Very true. But if I was being shoved against my will into a time machine, and asked, “Medieval Christendom, or realm of the Mohammedans?!”, I would first wonder about what kind of weird mad scientist scheme I had fallen into. Then I’d pick Islam.

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As opposed to “Christ Killers”, the Muslims defined Jews (and Christians) as Dhimmi. The Pact of Umar created a modus vivendi for monotheists living under Islamic rule. Dhimmi had to pay special taxes, and observe many submissive customs to indulge Muslim superiority. In return, Jews in those lands observed basic second class citizen rights and protections. As non-pagans, Jews and Christians were seen as being religiously inferior, but theologically acceptable.

It seems that in the modern Middle East, the Dhimmi concept may have transformed just like European antisemitism. It may now be an ethnic rather than a religious concept. I’ll explain.

The Palestinian demand for self-rule has been pretty well accepted as fair by most of the Western world. And by many (most?) Jews as well. The claim that ethno-national groups deserve self-rule is an accepted general principle in the 20th century, not to mention a basis for Zionism. Jews and Arabs between the Jordan river and the mediterranean have been locked in a violent pas de deux over who gets self rule here for around a century.

How about those self determination seeking Kurds? Their drive for independence threatens to shake up much of the Middle East status quo. Israeli support for their struggle may serve Israeli interests, but that support is certainly also consistent with Wilsonian Western values. Yet the Palestinians, ostensibly fighting for those same rights, condemn the attempt to create a free Kurdistan.  

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"Kurdish independence would be a poisoned sword against the Arabs," Saeb Erekat, a long-time peace negotiator and an adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas, told Al Arabiya. But the Palestinian leadership could not have approached this any differently, says Khalil Shikaki, a renowned political analyst and the leading pollster in Palestine. "It is unthinkable that the Palestinians would go against a decision of the Arab League and support the break-up of an Arab state," Shikaki told The New Arab.

It seems that every ethno-national group in the Middle East deserves self rule, as long as they are Arabs. Jews, Kurds, and let’s say, Yazidis, although indigenous to the region don’t qualify. If that seems hypocritical, that’s because it is!

Unless non-Arabs simply don’t have the same rights as Arabs in the middle east. Jews and Kurds have been demoted to the status of ethnic dhimmi. We can still feel free to live here under the benign rule of non-democratic Arab nation states. But Israel and Kurdistan remain unacceptable “poison swords” to pan-Arab hegemony.

So the mild anti-semitism of the Muslim world has been replaced by dismissive dhimmism of Arab modernity. This is parallel to Christian religious antisemitism morphing into modern racial antisemitism.

Hurray for us Jews.

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