Arabs and Muslims standing against anti-Semitism
December 13, 2019
With anti-Semitism skyrocketing, many Jews are finding themselves under attack. At times it can feel that few non-Jews want to stand up in defense of Jewish communities in their midst. Yet three recent events in Europe have given Jews some hope, as unexpected heroes stepped up to say enough is enough.
Standing up against hatred on British train
Asma Shuweikh, a 36-year-old Muslim mother from the British city of Birmingham, was travelling on the underground tube in London on Nov. 22, 2019, when she witnessed a Jewish family with young children being harassed and threatened by an aggressive, seemingly unhinged man spewing hate and threatening violence.
The Jewish couple was taking their young sons into town when an angry man began quoting Christian Bible passages disparaging Jews and yelling at them. He accused Jews of funding the slave trade and other vile falsehoods, and threatened them. The father repeatedly told the man to step back and stop threatening his children, but was ignored. A passenger filmed a brief clip of the abuse, but the father later told journalists that represented only a brief portion of his family’s ordeal, which lasted over 15 minutes and terrified his children.
As the man continued to spew vile abuse at the Jewish family, at least one passenger tried to step in and intervene, only to be threatened with physical violence and back off. Finally, in a portion of the video clip that went viral, Mrs. Shuweikh starts to argue with the man, telling him not to direct such hatred to the family. Though the yelling man was extremely aggressive and physically imposing, towering over Mrs. Shuweikh, she stood firm and argued with him in a calm voice. The man turned his full attention to Mrs. Shuweikh, seemingly forgetting the Jewish family entirely. Though he can be heard on film saying disparaging things about Muslims, Mrs. Shuweikh continued to engage him in conversation, calming him down.
Without her brave intervention, the Jewish father, who wishes to remain anonymous, feels certain the abuse would have gone on and “could have escalated to physical violence.” He has publicly thanked Mrs. Shuweikh for saving his family from further fear and abuse. Mrs. Shuweikh has explained that she saw that the Jewish father “was trying to keep calm for his children” and wanted to help. She “tried to bring (the abuser) down to a level where you can have a conversation so he doesn’t go back to the Jewish family that were on the train.”
“I’m a mother,” she explained, “and I thought if I were with my children, I would want someone to intervene” to help as well. With no one on the train seemingly willing to step in and help, she stepped up to do what was right.
Arab man spending a fortune to keep Nazi memorabilia out of the wrong hands
When Hermann Historica, an auction house in Munich, announced that it would be auctioning off an extensive collection of Nazi memorabilia on Nov. 20 and 21, 2019, many Jews in Germany were outraged. Among the items being sold were clothes and books that once belonged to Adolph Hitler. Rabbi Menachem Margolin, president of the European Jewish Association, noted that Germany is currently “in the forefront in Europe with regard to the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents.” Many feared that selling Nazi items would only fan the flames of anti-Jewish hatred, allowing neo-Nazis to acquire these vile items.
Despite calls to cancel the sale, the auction went on and was a huge success for the auction house, bringing in tens of thousands of Euros. But unbeknownst to many at the sale, many of these items were bought by Abdallah Chatila, a Lebanese businessman, who purchased them in order to keep them out of neo-Nazi hands.
Chatila was born into a Christian Arab family in Lebanon, a country in which Jews and Israelis are routinely demonized. Lebanon refuses to have diplomatic relations with the Jewish state and is officially at war with Israel, and Lebanese public news and television provide a steady diet of negative views toward Israel and Israelis. Despite this, Chatila seems to have very different views. He moved to Geneva and made a fortune in jewelry and real estate, and is concerned by the rise of anti-Jewish hatred.
When he heard about the Nazi artifacts going on sale, he decided to do something about it, spending over half a million Euros – over $600,000 – on 10 lots of goods “I wanted to buy these objects so that they would not be used for neo-Nazi propaganda purposes,” he later explained. “Far-right populism and anti-Semitism are spreading all over Europe and the world, (and) I did not want these objects to fall into the wrong hands and to be used by people with dishonest intentions.”
Among the items he bought include a hat, cigar box and typewriter that once belonged to Hitler, as well as Hermann Goering’s copy of “Mein Kampf.”
Chatila said he believes these disgusting objects should be burned, but since historians have told him they should be preserved, he’s turning them over to the Jerusalem-based organization Keren Hayesod, an umbrella group that funds myriad pro-Israel programs for Jews across the world. Chatila said he believes in the goals of Keren Hayesod, which include working “for the building and development of the State of Israel.”
Arabs rejecting boycotts against Israel
On Nov. 19 and 20, 2019, 32 Arabs gathered together in London to publicly state something extraordinary: despite pressure in their home countries and around the world to repudiate Israel and demonize the Jewish state, these brave individuals stated publicly that they opposed boycotts against Israel. In clear, ringing language, they rejected much of the anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist slander that fills the airwaves and press in their home countries, and declared Israel is a country that is worth recognizing and embracing.
Participants hailed from 15 countries, including some with no formal diplomatic relations with Israel. Some risked their lives or freedom to attend. (Just months ago, Tunisia’s new president, Kais Saied, condemned calls like this to improve relations with Israel as “high treason.”) Despite the dangers, the participants explained they are “determined to push for cooperation between the Arab world and Israel.”
Participants included Egyptian MP Mohammed Anwar Sadat (nephew of former President Anwar Sadat), Kuwait’s former Minister of Information Sami Abdul-Latif Al-Nisf, who declared, “It is a mistake to insist on Israel’s being a racist apartheid state when it clearly is not,” and Mohammed Dajani, a Palestinian professor who shocked Arabs in 2014 when he led a group of Arab students on an educational trip to Auschwitz and insisting on teaching about the Holocaust and standing up to the Holocaust denial that’s rampant in much of Arab society.
Participants decried anti-Semitism in Arab school curricula, condemned preaching hatred of Jews in mosques, and asserted their opposition to the BDS movement, which calls for boycotting, divesting and sanctioning the Jewish state.
Following two days of intense debate, the group adopted the name Arab Council for Regional Integration and called on further meetings and debates to help spread their calls for repudiating hatred and boycotts against Jews and Israel. Some face danger at home for their embrace of Israel, but the conference participants are standing firm and planning to meet again early in 2020 in Washington, D.C., to continue their work.
Yvette Alt Miller earned her B.A. at Harvard University. She completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Jewish Studies at Oxford University, and has a Ph.D. In International Relations from the London School of Economics.