David Patterson

David Patterson

David Patterson holds the Hillel A. Feinberg Distinguished Chair in Holocaust Studies at the Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies, University of Texas at Dallas. He is a commissioner on the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission, a Senior Research Fellow and member of the Executive Board of Academic Advisors for the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitsm and Policy (ISGAP).

Very often, when the leaders of our various institutions address the problem of antisemitism, they are quick to invoke the dangers of Islamophobia, as if it were on a par with centuries-old antisemitism. In an audit of antisemitic incidents in 2019, the Anti-Defamation League makes little mention of Students for Justice in Palestine, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, or political Islam within the United States. Rather than examine political Islam as a potential source of antisemitism, the ADL report puts “Islamophobia” in the same category as antisemitism. Similarly, the U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, published in May 2023, declares that federal agencies will “counter antisemitic, Islamophobic, and related forms of discrimination.”

The pairing of antisemitism with Islamophobia, as if the two were even comparable, is calculated to deflect attention from Jihadist Jew-hatred, especially in the wake of the 10/7 Massacre. There is nothing in the history of the Islamic peoples to compare to the Jew-hatred that humanity has seen from Pharoah to Haman, from John Chrysostom to Martin Luther, from Richard Wagner to Stokely Carmichael, from Sayyid Qutb to Louis Farrakhan. Indeed, what begins as a comparison of the two terms often ends with an inversion of them. In 2021, for example, Melina Abdullah, a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement and a professor at Cal State–Los Angeles, asserted in a tweet: “More & more Jews invading campuses, causing Islamophobia, racism, & intolerance!” The implication seems to be that, if we eliminate the Jews, we will eliminate the worst evils of the day: Islamophobia, racism, and intolerance. For Professor Abdullah, in fact, there is no evil called “antisemitism”: invoking the term, she seems to think, is a Zionist ploy to suppress the justified, righteous contempt for the genocidal, colonialist, racist Jewish state. Muslims do not foment hatred of the Jews, but rather Jews incite hatred of Muslims.

Here we must pause and ask: what is the antisemite anti- and what is the Islamophobe afraid of?

There is a scene in the 2013 film The Book Thief, in which Liesel, a little girl in Nazi Germany whose family is hiding a Jew, asks Max, the Jew, why “they” hate the Jews. His answer: “Because we remind them of their humanity.” But what are we reminded of when we are reminded of our humanity? And why would we hate someone for reminding us?

To be reminded of our humanity, according to Jewish teaching, is to be reminded of our responsibility to and for other human beings. Our humanity is made of this responsibility. Because other human beings are infinitely precious, our responsibility runs infinitely deep. Reminding us of our humanity, the Jew allows us no sleep. Jew-hatred is a hatred of the question put to Adam: Where are you? It is a hatred of the questions put to Cain: Where is your brother? And what have you done? It is, above all, a hatred of the One who asks these questions: Jew-hatred is God-hatred.

The commandment repeated most frequently in the Torah—thirty-six times in total—is the commandment to care for and to love the stranger k’mokha, “as yourself,” where k’mokha means “that is who you are”: you are the loving in the loving kindness with which you treat the stranger. We don’t need to be reminded so much that we should love our neighbor, the one who looks like us and thinks like us. But the stranger? The one who looks different, the nonbeliever, the one who is so alien to everything we know, the one so unlike us? In that case, we need to be reminded over and over. And the Jew reminds us over and over.

By their very presence in the world, the Jews attest to this teaching and testimony declared at Mount Sinai and, through the Jews, delivered to all humanity. It is the light that the Jews are summoned to shine unto the nations. How? By bearing witness to the truth that every human being is chosen for a task that no other can perform, and that there is an infinite stake in the performance of that task. This is the light that the antisemite would darken, the teaching that the antisemite would silence. It is what the antisemite is anti-.

With regard to Islamophobia, what, exactly does the Islamophobe fear? A phobia, by definition, is an extreme, irrational fear; Islamophobia, then, is an extreme, irrational fear of the followers of Islam—irrational because it is baseless. But is it? I my book A Genealogy of Evil: Antisemitism from Nazism to Islamic Jihad, I list more than two dozen Jihadist organizations operating throughout the world, most of which are traceable to the Muslim Brotherhood. Among the most prominent ones are Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Fatah, the Sudanese National Islamic Front, Boko Haram, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose stated aim in their nuclear weapons program is the annihilation of the Jewish state. Indeed, exterminationist antisemitism is as fundamental to the Jihadist worldview as it was to the National Socialist worldview.

According to a UN report published in 2016, ISIS murdered 18,800 people in Iraq in a two-year period. Going beyond Iraq, the International Business Times puts that number at more than 33,000. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reports that, as of the end of 2020, Islamist insurgents in Nigeria had killed over 350,000 people. According to statistics collected by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies and reported in 2023, the death toll of 19,109 Africans at the hands of Islamic Jihadists in 2022 passed the previous peak of 18,850 fatalities linked to “militant Islamists” set in 2015. In 2023, Reuters ran a story on the rise of Islamic terrorism in Europe. FBI Director Christopher Wray has repeatedly warned Americans of the potential danger posed by Hamas in the United States, especially with the open southern border, and in an item dated January 2023 Politico issued a warning about the increasing presence of Hezbollah in the United States. That is what the Islamophobe is afraid of.

Is there something irrational about the fear of Islamic Jihadists in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and now the United States? Is it irrational for Israelis to fear Hezbollah and Hamas, whose leader Yahya Sinwar has vowed to repeat October 7 over and over? Are Jewish students, such as the ones on my own campus, who have been assaulted and spat upon, subjected to cries of “Death to the Zionists” and “Allah-hu Akbar,” Islamophobes? And yet activists such as Melina Abdullah blame the Jews for Islamophobia. Kamala Harris, President Biden, and the ADL have compared Islamophobia to antisemitism, when there are no worldwide networks of Jewish terrorists, no cries of death to anyone from Jewish students who are under assault by the pro-Hamas demonstrators across the world.

The utterance of “Islamophobia” in the same breath as “antisemitism” is a subterfuge used not only to divert our attention from the evil of antisemitism but, as in the case of Professor Abdullah, to blame the Jews as the source of yet another evil that plagues the world. Such a move is itself antisemitic. The implication is not that all Jews are evil but that all evil is Jewish, beginning with the genocidal, colonialist, racist, apartheid Jewish state, which is consistently deemed guilty of crimes against humanity. Once again, we see here the inversion that characterizes antisemitism: the Jews’ “crime against humanity” is that they remind us of our humanity.