Passover, Easter, Ramadan, Riots. . .
. . . and a flock of Liberals who sound exactly like a bunch of Khomeinists.
Millions of people around the world were sitting at their tables this weekend for the first Seder of Passover, or they were hiding Easter eggs around the house for the kids to find after coming home from Mass, or they were fasting through the day, awaiting the milk and the dates and an Iftar prayer, like this one: O my Allah, forgive me for the sake of your mercy, which encompasses the whole universe, and forgive me my sins.
And holy smokes, we could all use some forgiveness, after all. Having lost the gift of faith a long time ago I tend to avoid speaking like this, but I confess I do retain a tendency to the “phantom limb” of religious tradition.
A case in point: My son Conall and I ended our Lenten abstinence Thursday with a glass of Jura. It’s a Hebridean whisky, not a whiskey, but it’s really good all the same. And I cheated a bit this year. I’d had a drink or two before last Thursday on the slim justification that I’d declined to avail myself when the opportunity presented itself on Saint Patrick’s Day last month (yes, there’s a dispensation allowing the suspension of Lenten abstinences on the Feast of Saint Patrick). Conall went right through the 46 days from Ash Wednesday without any recourse to the uisce beatha, which means “water of life,” by the way, in case you think this is a trivial matter.
It’s all a bit of a cheat with me anyway because giving up the drink isn’t much of a sacrifice to begin with, so I will join with my Muslim comrades and beseech Allah, forgive me for the sake of your mercy.
Anyway, the year 2022 is one of those peculiar years when Passover and Easter and Ramadan coincide more closely than usual, which brings us to recent events in Jerusalem at the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, specifically at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam. It’s the same place. Things appear to have quieted down, but on Friday morning it was pretty scary. “Clashes” at Al-Aqsa last year were a key trigger to the 11-day war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.
Because the point of this newsletter is to draw attention to what goes on behind the headlines (and for goodness sake subscribe if you don’t already - just click this - and take out a paying subscription while you’re at it for $50/year) you’ll want to notice what immediately preceded the rioting and rock-throwing Friday, and the arrest of more than 450 Palestinians, most of whom were released after an overnight stay behind bars. About 150 people were injured in the melee.
It has all the hallmarks of a classic, well-played and meticulously-manufactured antisemitic panic: The Jews were about to “storm” Al-Aqsa; the Israeli authorities had approved a Zionist goat-slaughtering desecration of the Haram esh-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary.
Last Wednesday, in just one iteration of these grisly alarums, Husam Badran of the Hamas political bureau in Gaza warned that “the Israeli occupation permission to the Zionist extremist groups' scheme of ‘slaughtering animals’ at Al-Aqsa Mosque will have grave and unexpected repercussions.” And on Thursday, Hamas called on Palestinians to “mobilize on the yards of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday, April 15, to protect it from the colonial settler extremist groups' storming of Al-Aqsa and to thwart their plans to desecrate Al-Aqsa Mosque in the so-called ‘slaughtering sacrifices.’”
No such permission was given, it should go without saying, and the Israeli authorities had made it plain from the start that the tiny group of weirdo extremists who were apparently planning some stunt involving a goat would not be permitted to do any such thing. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel reiterated its position from previous years’ goat-stunt threats that any such sacrifices at or near Al-Aqsa are forbidden. Orthodox rabbis inveigh against Jews so much as setting foot on the Temple Mount, even.
Still, reports of Jews “storming” Al-Aqsa are commonplace in the Islamist and Arab press, and conspiracy theories about a Jewish determination to destroy or commandeer Al-Aqsa are commonplace in the West Bank and Gaza. As recently as 2015, most Palestinians still believed that Israel intends to destroy the Islamic sites on the Temple Mount and replace them with a Jewish temple. According to a public opinion poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research in Ramallah, 77 percent of Palestinians say they believe that Israel intends to destroy both the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
It’s a conspiracy theory that goes back a long way, well before the State of Israel was established in 1948.
Back in the 1920s Haj Amin al Husseini, who would go on to become the Third Reich’s principal Arab ally, went out of his way to incite hysteria with the concoction of a Jewish plot to take over the Al-Aqsa mosque. The story was already circulating in the British Palestinian mandate by the time Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, started making his mischief. But when Husseini got his hands on it, he used it to set off pogroms and massacres from Hebron in the south to Sefat in the north.
Highly recommended: Yisrael Medad’s The Roots of the ‘Al-Aqsa is in Danger’ Myth. Also recommended, slightly lighter reading: Shany Mor’s The Al-Aqsa Conspiracy Theory Redux.
If you think that these conspiracy theories are confined to Hamas press releases or the excesses of demagogues in the Islamist Press, well, what a nice and pleasant life you must have. Unfortunately, these toxins run straight up to the executive board of the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. In Shany’s account of all that in Tablet magazine (Debunking UNESCO’s Dangerous Anti-Semitic Myth That Israel Is Trying to Destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque), what Husseini accomplished back in the 1920s has become a permanent feature of what we journalists tend too simply to call the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“This method served as a model for each of the future eruptions of violence following false claims of Jewish threats to Al-Aqsa, which occurred roughly once a decade, particularly after Israel conquered the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967,” Shany writes. “Even during the peak years of the Oslo process, the opening in 1996 of a second exit to a tourist tunnel that (despite lies to the contrary) ran under no mosque was used as a false pretext for three days of violent rioting that included two deadly attacks on Jewish holy sites in the West Bank. Global opinion universally blamed Israel for the riots.”
It wasn’t until the Six Day War in 1967, when Israel successfully defended itself from conquest by Syria, Egypt Jordan and Iraq, that Israel asserted sovereignty over the Old City of Jerusalem. Ever since, Jews haven’t been allowed to visit the Temple Mount except by special permission, and they’re not even permitted to pray there. Al-Aqsa remains under the authority of the Jordanian government, through the management of the Jordanian Waqf. At an Iftar dinner for Arab officials, religious and community leaders in Jerusalem Friday night, President Isaac Herzog said the “status quo” at Al-Aqsa will be maintained.
“In recent days, mendacious reports have been circulating on social media about the Temple Mount and the holy sites,” Herzog said. “I want to take this opportunity to say: These are lies. Israel maintains the status quo on the Temple Mount.”
Of course there are occasional provocations. The rightist crank Itamar Ben-Gvir, an Israeli MP, insists that police escort him on a monthly stroll around the Al-Aqsa compound. That sort of thing. And after Friday’s excitements, several weirdos showed up in Jerusalem with a goat. The Israeli police rescued the animal and arrested a half dozen weirdos, and that was it.
But the damage had already been done. On Friday, hundreds of mostly young men (including dozens of minors) showed up at the Al-Aqsa Mosque before dawn. They broke paving stones for rocks to throw at police (three Israeli police were injured) and launched fireworks towards the Western Wall, that remnant of the Jews’ Second Temple that was destroyed by the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago, and the holiest place of Jewish prayer.
The rioters had barricaded themselves inside Al-Aqsa, causing severe damage to the place. Somebody had to get them out of there and bring the violence - and as secular as I prefer my diction to be, desecration is not too harsh a word - to an end. The job fell to Israeli police. The mosque was cleared in time for 50,000 worshippers to go about their peaceful devotions at noon prayers. End of story.
But of course that’s not the end of the story.
Condemnations of Israel have been pouring out of Iran, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt, and Kuwait. Even the Taliban complained that its delicate sensibilities had been disturbed: the Islamic Emirate’s Abdul Qahar Balkhi announced that the Talib regime “condemns in strongest terms violence directed at Palestinian civilians by invaders in Al-Aqsa Mosque” and calls on the international community, “specifically Muslim states, to take practical steps to protect human rights of Palestinians & stop Israeli brutality.”
Typical of the hyper-censored press in most of the world’s Muslim-majority states, here’s how the Khomeinist English-language propaganda platform Tehran Times reported the events: “On Friday, while hundreds of Palestinian Muslims were peacefully practicing their faith at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Al Quds (Jerusalem) Israeli security forces stormed the holy site, violating its sanctity, and injuring more than 150 worshippers.”
And that’s how quite a few Liberals come into it, on Twitter of course, hectoring and lecturing the Israelis along nearly identical lines. Thanks to my pal Zev Ben Meir for bringing all this to my attention.
It starts Friday with a milquetoast bothsidesism from Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly that also contains an instruction to the Israelis to maintain the Al-Aqsa status quo, which, despite Hamas propaganda, the Israelis have been upholding since 1967: “Violence in & around al-Aqsa is unacceptable. The sanctity and status quo of holy sites must be respected. We call for de-escalation of tensions. Canada stands with the Israeli and Palestinian peoples in their right to peace & security.” Then Tranport Minister Omar Alghabra chimes in, retweeting Joly, and adding this: “Violence inside the Al-Aqsa mosque especially during a holy period is extremely upsetting and is unacceptable.”
Pickering-Uxbridge Liberal Jennifer O’Connell begins the shark-jumping: “I’m gravely concerned with violence occurring in, and around Masjid al-Aqsa. Excessive force used by the Israeli police is unacceptable and takes us further away from peace. I condemn this violence. Everyone, no matter their religion, should feel safe to pray - free from fear.”
Next up is Jenna Sudds (Kanata—Carleton) Parliamentary Secretary for Women, Gender Equality, and Youth, who goes straight off the deep end:
“Palestinians have a right to worship in peace and safety, a human right which was provocatively violated by Israeli forces during today's raid on #AlAqsa Mosque. These dangerous actions are an affront to the sanctity of holy places. They take advantage of this spiritual month to promote violence and torment worshippers. I condemn this recurring aggression by Israeli forces—as well as the far-right extremist views which fuel these hateful actions. This holy month is a time of peaceful prayer for Christians, Jews, and Muslims—a time we must celebrate in unity. To the Muslim community: I stand with the you and I share in your pain.”
Here comes Arielle Kayabaga, London West, who is pleased with Joly: “As we celebrate #passover and #GoodFriday, I’m disturbed that 152 Palestinians have been harmed through this attack in Al-Aqsa during a holy month / day and that is unacceptable! #Palestinians deserve better! Thank you @melaniejoly for speaking up.”
You know what you Middle-Easterners need? A Canadian peace broker, that’s what. Says Mississauga - Erin Mills MP Iqra Khalid: “I condemn the violence at Al-Aqsa Mosque, and at any sacred place of worship. I have said it before, and I will say it again: peace in the region is not a zero-sum game. Canada and the world must do our part to broker peace for all peoples in Jerusalem.”
Adam van Koeverden, MP for Milton, takes exception to innocently devout Muslims being once again attacked. Once again, if you don’t mind: “It is unacceptable that Muslim Palestinian worshipers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem are once again being attacked during the holy month of Ramadan. In a year where Passover, Easter & Ramadan all coincide, it is an opportunity to recognize how much we share, not what divides us.”
Sameer Zuberi, MP for Pierrefonds-Dollard: “I’m deeply concerned about violence occurring in Jerusalem’s Aqsa mosque. Use of excessive force by Israeli police is not in the interests of peace for both Israelis & Palestinians. Muslim, Jewish & Christian communities must be free to worship without intimidation or violence.”
Salma Zahid, Scarborough Centre: “Once again, during the Holy Month of Ramadan, violence has been brought to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem as innocent Muslim worshipers were trying to pray and practise their faith in peace. These incursions by the Israeli police, which have become a regular annual occurrence during this month, are provocative and not proportional and must cease. I condemn these incursions into the Al-Aqsa,spurred on by the heatedly rhetoric and threats of right wing Israeli groups. This violent status quo cannot be allowed to continue through another Ramadan. In the interests of peace and peaceful cooperation, I urge that a new solution to ensure the security of all worshipers of all faiths in this area of Jerusalem that is sacred to many peoples be found.
“I call on the Government of Canada to speak out against the violence in Al-Asqa spurred by this police action and condemn these incursions into the Al-Aqsa compound. If Canada is to consider itself a champion of global Human Rights, it cannot ignore the repeated human rights violations suffered by the people of Palestine.”
So, there you have it. If you are a Liberal in Canada you have been sternly admonished to understand that what happened at Al-Aqsa on Friday wasn’t about a bunch of stone-throwing yobs incited by an antisemitic conspiracy theory that was already hoary and thoroughly discredited in the time of their grandpappies. It wasn’t about a bunch of vandals setting off fireworks in one of Islam’s holiest precincts preventing Muslims from worshipping in their accustomed ways on one of the holiest days of the year. It ws about those mean Israelis, doing what Israelis do, again and again, which is trample on the dignity of innocent Muslims during the Holy Month of Ramadan.
All this rather neatly illustrates the case I was making this week in my National Post column, which is that the thing about antisemitism that distinguishes the pathology from other forms of racism is that it is itself a conspiracy theory, from top to bottom, from beginning to end. It rests entirely on conspiracy theories, from Jews poisoning the wells of the Gentiles in the Middle Ages to Jews in the 21st century still plotting to commandeer or destroy the Haram esh-Sharif, that place on the hilltop in Jerusalem where the horselike being Buraq brought Mohammed, peace be upon him, from Mecca, and then took him to the heavens, where he met Moses and Abraham and Jesus and the other prophets, back in the 7th century.
“What starts with the Jews never ends with Jews,” the saying goes, the point being that sooner or later, the lash that flays the Jews will sooner or later be put to our own backs. It’s a true thing, but a point I prefer to avoid making. Antisemitism would be a desecration, a sacrilege, even if it began and ended with the Jews. A point I’d rather make is that at whatever committee decision assigned the work of confronting the sociopathology that nurtures fascism to the Jews, I must have missed the meeting. It’s a burden all civilized people must carry.
But what starts in Israel, similarly, doesn’t end in Israel. Last May, convulsions of violence erupted after Hamas told Israel to vacate its security forces from the Temple Mount Complex. The Israelis refused, Hamas began a barrage of rocket attacks from Gaza, Israel responded with airstrikes, and hundreds of people, mostly in Gaza, ended up dead.
In Canada, the Jewish advocacy organization B’nai Brith recorded 267 antisemitic incidents across the country including 61 violent acts - the worst violence ever reported for a single month since B’nai Brith first started tracking antisemitic incidents in 1982.
“One alarming finding that has not been sufficiently publicized is the degree of antisemitism present at anti-Israel rallies,” B’nai Brith reported. “In almost every city where such rallies took place, Jews were singled out and targeted for abuse by angry mobs of demonstrators.”
That’s something all those Liberals might want to keep in mind the next time some bloodcurdling antisemitic hoax threatens to set the Holy Land on fire again.