Jews in the West and Jews in the Middle East

Has there ever been a Holocaust in the Middle East?

Pogroms were an annual affair in Russia, and we all know how much Christian Spain loved its Jews. The Holocaust was horrific.

I also realize that anti-Semitism is rampant in the Middle East. Some of this is because of Israel, and some may be because some imams interpret the Koran to be anti-Semitic, but there’s never been any kind of mass murder committed by Muslims against Jews in the Middle East on the scale that has occurred in the West.

Is this because the West was industrialized and therefore had better access to technology with which to kill large amounts of people? Is it because the structure of states in the West made it easier to run roughshod over the liberties of minorities? These are the only two explanations that I can think of that make any sense. The second of the two possibilities seems like an especially weak option, given the amount of carnage post-colonial states have managed to produce (though, in a paradox, it is often minorities that do the killing and oppressing in these post-colonial states, rather than majorities; maybe this helps to explain why there has never been a Holocaust in the Middle East…).

The first possibility is reasonable enough, but since most of the states in the Middle East that are rich enough to “test” this hypothesis have expelled the Jews from their territories, it’s virtually impossible to know.

I am simplifying things here, I realize. I want to give this much more thought (and I have been), but I think that, given the toxic climate in the public sphere concerning Islam, it’s important to point out the obvious.

9 thoughts on “Jews in the West and Jews in the Middle East

  1. I would argue that European mechanization enabled the mass extermination of Jews, but that it never would have happened without entrenched attitudes of anti-Semitism. The difference lies in how anti-Semitism is expressed in the West versus the East.

    Christianity has had a fraught relationship with Judaism from its foundation. It could never really get past its humble beginnings as a Jewish cult, and its theologians could not grasp why the Jews would not accept Jesus as the Messiah who was promised in apocalyptic literature. The dominant viewpoint among Christians became that Jews could be permitted to live and work in their lands, but only in a fallen and wretched state, a reminder to all who would not hear the Good News that this is what becomes of the heathen – you can find one of the earliest articulations of this in St. Augustine’s writing. Anti-Semitism became a virulent, and in some ways integral, strain of European culture. In every country, the Jew was forced into ghettoes, required to wear demeaning garments, robbed of the ability to work freely, forced to pay exorbitant donatives at the will of the ruler, and often murdered or driven out. The emancipation of the Jews in the late 17th and early 18th centuries eliminated many of the material conditions brought on by institutionalized anti-Semitism, but the attitudes themselves deepened and took on a twisted and contradictory nature: Jews were downtrodden, but their great wealth makes them a powerful menace! Jews have no culture, but these beasts have become our most prized artists, actors, and musicians! The ugly inner nature of the Jew marks him out as benighted among the nations, but lo! He can infiltrate anywhere, he is impossible to spot!

    It also led to the development of a newer narrative: the Jew is insidious whether he is oppressed or free – what is the final solution to the Jewish problem in Europe? Assimilation? Expulsion? Destruction? These questions were debated in the closing years of the 19th and into the 20th centuries, without a satisfactory answer. Part of the reason Nazi Germany became so murderous is because, unlike past states which oppressed Jews in addition to other duties, Nazism was a Manichaeism that saw Jews as the pole of evil, and their eradication as the panacea that would usher in an age of pan-Nordic domination. One of many policies became the central pillar of state propaganda. They provided a definitive answer to the new question of “whither the Jew?” That they were so destructive is due to mechanization, but it cannot explain the destruction itself, which was the culmination of 1500 years.

    So, why not the East? I am not as well versed in that subject, but I would venture a guess that it has to do with a couple factors:
    1. Anti-Semitism did not shape Islam in the way it shaped Christianity. Islam believed itself the successor to the other Peoples of the Book – that these peoples did not accept Islam did not seem to concern the Caliphs.
    2. Islamic states developed a relatively fair way to rule multiple peoples and creeds. The dhimmi system separated Jews, among other groups, as a separate legal category from Muslims. They paid a special tax and lived according to their own customs, with their own courts and districts. Perhaps this was a response to the challenge of peaceably ruling a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional empire? A challenge Christendom found impossible to meet?
    3. Virulent, Europeanized anti-Semitism in the East coincided with the expulsion of Jews and their emigration to Israel. The Middle East may be the inheritor of Europe’s legacy of anti-Semitism today. However, they lack the material means to kill the Jews, or the Jews to kill. I also don’t think that hatred of Israel always coincides with anti-Semitism; Hezbollah rebuilt a historic synagogue in Beirut that was destroyed during the Lebanese Civil War (From Ynet:,7340,L-3757917,00.html)

    • Thanks Matthew.

      I’m going to think for a while about what you have written here.

      In the mean time, I suggest making this a post of its own…

    • Cambodia (and China) is where my mind drifted as well when thinking this through.

    • My niece’s husband Vosgan Hartounian and his entire family.

    • Lots of people, though of course Armenians aren’t Jews (the subject of this post).

      And let’s not forget that Armenians used their religious connection to the Ottoman Empire’s hated enemy, the equally despotic Russian Empire, to stir up trouble (trouble that includes murdering lots of Muslims in territory Armenian nationalists considered their own)…

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