The Great Divide
Is it envy that makes Muslims hate Jews so much?
IT IS ONE OF HISTORY’S enduring mysteries that so many people have over so many centuries hated the Jewish people. As far back as 250BCE an Egyptian scribe – Manetho – alleged that Moses was not a Jew but an Egyptian renegade priest, while portraying the Exodus as the expulsion of a leper colony. Between 175BCE and 165BCE Antiochus Epiphanes sacked Jerusalem, describing Judaism as “inimical to humanity”.
I’d guess he’d think that after being thrashed in battle by the Maccabees and expelled from the Holy City. Perhaps at the root of it all is a simple human emotion: envy. Then, of course, there’s deicide, allegedly committed by the Jews in the killing of Jesus.
It’s understandable that 1,2bn Muslims (not all of whom, by any means, hate Jews but certainly a majority do) might be envious that on a tiny split of the earth with scant natural resources, little water and no oil – and occupying less than 1% of the land mass of Saudi Arabia – just over 6m Jewish people and more than 1m Arab fellow citizens have built one of modern history’s most dynamic economies.
Perhaps jealousy is a natural reaction to the fact, for example, that there have been 129 Jewish winners of Nobel Prizes while less than 10 Muslims have been so honoured. But Christians, such as those in Nazi Germany, in Vichy France and many other countries, also hated Jews. Some scholars trace that antipathy to the role of Jews as tax collectors for the nobility plus what appears to be an innate characteristic of the Jewish intellect to be able to accumulate wealth – often, in ancient times, enhancing it through money lending.
On a regional basis it can’t but be galling for Israel’s neighbours, who vastly outnumber her, to be repeatedly thwarted in their attempts to destroy her and even more galling to witness, from the economic backwaters that they occupy, a flourishing economy just across the border.
What came to mind on a recent trip to Israel (after an absence of 35 years), visiting the borders at Gaza, the West Bank and, in the far north that, with Lebanon, was the phenomenon of how neighbouring societies can be at such different levels of development.
As a teenager at university in Dallas, your ageing correspondent visited the south Texas town of Brownsville on the Rio Grande River, the natural border between Mexico and the United States. On the American side, even then, there were vast highway networks, neat suburbs, shopping malls, tall, gleaming office buildings, schools and all the other accoutrements of modern living. But as I gazed across at Mexico I was greeted with the sad spectacle of open sewers, donkeys pulling carts, beggars on corners, street urchins playing on muddy roads, sagging rooftops and the odd, shabby little shop.
Again, in West Berlin, a thriving, cosmopolitan system, I looked across the Wall to the bleak Communist east to witness again the sad and unnecessary contrast between the results of different systems. Similarly, in the old Hong Kong you could go to its border with Communist China and not fail to be struck by the stark contrast between backward, rural collectivism and the bustling prosperity of the free market hub of Hong Kong.
There’s also the example of South Korea, a thriving free market democracy, and North Korea, a Communist pit devoid of freedom. Of course, in our own region we have similar examples.
A question I was often asked in Israel was: “Why don’t they (the Arabs) want to live like we do? Why do they choose squalor and poverty over progress and prosperity?”
Yair Lapid, an Israeli journalist, wrote this: “Why do children in Iran, who cannot even locate Israel on the map (especially because it’s so small), burn its flag in the city centre and offer to commit suicide for its elimination? Why do Egyptian and Jordanian intel- lectuals agitate the innocent and helpless against the peace agreements, even though they know that their failure will push their countries 20 years back?
“Why are the Syrians willing to stay in a pathetic and depressed Third World country for the dubious right to finance terror organisations that will eventually threaten their own country’s existence? Why do they hate us so much in Saudi Arabia? In Iraq? In Sudan? What have we done to them? How are we even relevant to their lives? What do they know about us? Why do they hate us so much in Afghanistan? They don’t have anything to eat there; where do they get the energy to hate?”
That sort of frustration, combined with a certain sadness, is common among Israelis. But they get on with their lives.
After the US and Canada, and well ahead of Britain, Germany and China, Israel has the third largest number of companies – 75 – whose shares are traded on the Nasdaq. More Israeli patents are registered in the US than from Russia, India and China combined.
Regardless of what the enemies of Israel do – short of a nuclear attack, in which case all bets are off for all of us – this nation is here to stay and there can be no doubt whatsoever that partnership with it would be a historic and mighty boost for its neighbours.