Earlier this month, in an interview with the BBC, President Isaac Herzog produced an Arabic translation of Adolf Hitler’s antisemitic manifesto Mein Kampf. According to the president, the book was in the possession of a Hamas terrorist killed by Israeli security forces in Gaza.
This book adds a new dimension to a debate about whether the massacre of Israeli residents by Hamas terrorists on October 7 can be compared to the Holocaust, raising questions about the ideological motivations of the perpetrators.
“After the massacre and atrocities committed by Hamas terrorists on October 7 – the day on which the largest number of Jews were murdered since the Holocaust – this is another revelation that testifies to the sources of inspiration of the terrorist organization, Hamas, and proves once again that all its actions have the same goal as the Nazis – the destruction of Jews,” declared Herzog during the interview.In other words, the president suggests that the atrocities committed by Hamas in early October, at least in part, were motivated by the same anti-Jewish worldview that underpinned the genocide of six million Jews by the Nazis.
Influence of the Nazi worldview on the Middle East
A body of scholars has long established the influence of European Nazi ideology on hostility toward Jews in the Islamic world and the Palestinian movement. Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Founded in 1928 by schoolteacher and imam Hassan al-Banna, it is often considered the organization that pioneered Islamism.
“From 1935 onward, the Brotherhood sent delegations to the Nazis’ rallies in Nuremberg,” notes Prof. David Patterson, chair of Holocaust Studies at the University of Dallas, in a recent article published on the website of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy.
In his study “Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World,” historian Jeffery Herf reviews verbatim records of Arabic antisemitic radio programs produced by the German Nazi regime that were broadcast from Berlin to the Middle East between 1939 and 1945. The creation of these transmissions in Arabic represents an important part of the infamous collaboration between Hitler and Palestinian leader Haj Amin Al Husseini, known as the Mufti of Jerusalem.
Hitler’s people joined forces with the Mufti’s followers to create a form of propaganda intertwining Muslim and Western anti-Jewish ideas. German historian Matthias Küntzel adds that similar adaptations of Nazi propaganda in Persian were broadcast in Iran. According to him, while building on and catering to preexisting anti-Jewish currents in Muslim culture, this Arabic and Persian Nazi propaganda infected the Middle East with the radical and genocidal Jew-hatred of European providence that, until then, had been alien to the Muslim world.
The historian sees a direct connection between this export of Nazi ideology to the Middle East and the Black Shabbat of 2023: “Hamas’s antisemitism follows the tradition of the National Socialist genocidal ideology,” writes Küntzel in an editorial for the German weekly Jungle World a few days later.
Disputes about ideological motivations behind the massacres of October 7
In contrast to Küntzel, Uria Shavit, a professor of Islamic studies at Tel Aviv University, doubts that the Hamas assaults of October 7 were driven by antisemitism. “Those crimes were not committed out of antisemitic motives but territorial ones, and certainly cannot be compared to what happened in Auschwitz,” writes the researcher in a recent analysis published on Tel Aviv University’s website.
Shavit could, arguably, draw corroboration to support his viewpoint from the fact that the lines highlighted on one page of the Arabic copy of Mein Kampf, displayed by Herzog during the BBC interview, don’t say anything about the Jews. Instead, they pertain to the Nazi leaders’ plea for German national unity and territorial integrity, while discussing the conditions under which it would be permissible for Germany to engage in colonial conquests.
However, spokespersons for the president and the IDF were unable to provide further details about this copy of Hitler’s tome. Accordingly, we simply don’t know if other sections featuring the Führer’s anti-Jewish views were marked as well. Just the first page of the book was presented to the media; and according to an army spokesperson, to date, this copy of Mein Kampf is the only one found in Gaza.
Contrary to Shavit’s thesis that the Hamas assaults were driven by concerns about territory rather than antisemitism, Haaretz columnist Anshel Pfeffer observes that the “Hamas charter is a genocidal document aimed at eradicating Jews, not Israelis or Zionists.” Likewise, Yad Vashem’s historic adviser Dina Porat, also writing in Haaretz, notes that “much as Nazi ideology did… [the Hamas] charter blames the Jews for the ills of the entire world.”
Criticism of comparisons between Hamas assaults and the Holocaust
It should be noted that both Pfeffer and Porat cast a critical perspective on such comparisons. They do so largely on the grounds of the different historical circumstances under which the two events occurred. Like Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan in a Newsweek editorial earlier this month, Pfeffer and Porat contrast the helplessness of Jews as a stateless people in the time of the Shoah with the current existence of a Jewish state and its defense force.
Based on this view, Pfeffer criticized Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan for wearing a yellow Star of David while addressing the massacre during a session of the UN General Assembly late last month. In his article, Pfeffer quotes Dani Dayan’s rebuke of Erdan’s General Assembly appearance on X (formerly Twitter): “The yellow star symbolizes the Jewish people’s helplessness and the Jews being at the mercy of others. Today we have an independent state and a strong army. We are the masters of our fate. Today we shall wear a blue-white flag, not a yellow star.”
Without relating to the Erdan incident (her article was published before the occurrence), Porat opines that comparisons of the Hamas attacks and the Holocaust are “acceptable” but adds that “comparisons between Hamas and the Islamic State may soon replace references to the Holocaust, or at least be voiced at the same time. And that may well be a more apt comparison.”
Islamic State or Nazism: Which movement can Hamas be compared with?
Since October 7, Hamas has been compared with the Islamic State terror group at least as frequently as with the Nazis. Some political leaders are not shy to use both comparisons at the same time, arguably to simply highlight the gruesome nature of the Hamas atrocities. Yet ISIS didn’t single out Jews as the exclusive victims of its attacks. Hence, comparing Hamas with ISIS, strictly speaking, implies a different assessment of the Palestinian terror group’s ideological background than when comparing it with the Nazis.
Be that as it may, both Pfeffer and Porat recognize connections between the Hamas and the Nazi ideologies, and they appear to agree that the struggle of Hamas is not simply about Palestinian national liberation but rather about a view of Jews as an incarnation of cosmic evil that must be challenged.
This point is also emphasized by David Patterson, who suggests that “for both Hitler and [Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan] al-Banna, the first principle is not that all Jews are evil but that all evil is Jewish. Therefore, the Jews must be hated and ultimately exterminated. For the jihadists of the Brotherhood, it is, indeed, a holy act pleasing to God and therefore a religious duty.”
This genocidal variety of Jew-hatred, predicated on the assumption that Jews represent an omnipotent incarnation of cosmic evil, according to Küntzel, was brought to the Middle East by the Nazis.
Differences between European and Middle Eastern traditions of Jew-hatred
This viewpoint is not blind to the fact that the anti-Jewish elements in Muslim culture predate the Nazis’ Middle Eastern propaganda campaign. As historian Jeffery Herf states: “Radical antisemitism did not enter Arab and Islamic politics because of the cleverness of Nazi propagandists; on the contrary, their cleverness lay partly in understanding that some currents in Arab politics and the religion of Islam offered points of entry for a positive reception of Nazism’s message.”
However, drawing on the findings of Bernard Lewis, Küntzel suggests that traditionally, Muslim denigration of Jews has been predicated on the idea of Jews as being inferior and ridiculous beings rather than being all-powerful. In contrast, the idea of Jews as a powerful satanic force, expressed in notions of world Jewish conspiracy, is based on the Christian idea that the Jews committed deicide, killing their god.
Paraphrasing Lewis once more, Küntzel suggests that, whereas in Muslim tradition it was the prophet who defeated the Jews, Christians believed the Jews murdered the prophet. This difference led to two different forms of anti-Jewish worldview. It was the Christian notion that inspired the genocidal worldview of the Nazis. And it was the Nazis who brought this idea to the Middle East, where it merged into the worldview of the Muslim Brotherhood and, in turn, into the ideology of Hamas.
The myth of Jewish conspiracy in Hamas worldview
According to Herf, “The Nazis taught the Arab exiles the finer points of 20th-century antisemitic conspiracy thinking and how to apply it to ongoing events in the Middle East.”
This is evident in the appropriation of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as it can be found in Article 22 of the charter of Hamas: “Thus [the Jews], by means of their money, have taken over the international… media… they used their money to incite revolutions… all over the world for their own interests… They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist Revolution, and most of the revolutions we have heard about. They used their money to found secret organizations and scattered them all over the globe to destroy other societies and realize the interests of Zionism… In fact, they were behind the First World War, through which they achieved the abolishment of the Islamic caliphate.”
Clearly, the quote echoes The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the myth of a Jewish conspiracy responsible for all the evils in the world. Fabricated by pro-Zarist Christian reactionaries in early 20th-century Russia, the authors blamed the progressive movements of Communism and the French Revolution – which they opposed – on the Jews. The Hamas charter draws on this to blame the Jews for the loss of the Islamic caliphate and other Muslim and Palestinian concerns.
Hamas’s hate crimes and world antisemitism
A shocking testimony of the vicious hate that underpinned the Black Shabbat, circulated in the international media, features an audio recording of a telephone conversation between a Hamas terrorist in the southern Kibbutz Mefalsim and his parents in Gaza on the day of the massacre.
“Look how many I have killed… Open your WhatsApp and now you’ll see all those killed! Look how many. I killed them with my own hands! Dad, I am talking from a Jewish woman’s phone. I killed her and I killed her husband. I killed them with my own hands! Dad, 10 with my own hands!”
While we cannot say with certainty which combination of beliefs, drugs, and other factors were at work to ignite the frenzy of the terrorists, it is not hard to see how the Nazi-style antisemitic worldview, blaming Jews for all the world’s evils, can stir such hatred. It certainly did so in 20th-century Germany, promoting the murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust. Given the strong inroads Nazi antisemitism made into Hamas ideology, it is not unlikely that it also played a role in motivating the October 7 attacks.
At the same time, we need to be concerned about the use of classic antisemitic tropes in reaction to the massacre and the war that it triggered, both in the West and in the Middle East. Invoking the antisemitic blood libel, an image of a vampire-toothed Benjamin Netanyahu consuming a Palestinian girl was displayed during a pro-Palestinian rally in Berlin a few weeks ago.
During an anti-Israel rally in London, a participant held up a sign echoing The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’s myth of Jewish conspiracy. The sign read: “Wake up: Our Media TV and Government are controlled by Zionists. Zionists are Ruthless, Brutal Heartless.” These are just some examples that show how antisemitism continues to shape the view and distortion of current affairs.An antisemitism researcher, the writer holds a PhD in sociology from the Hebrew University. In addition to working as a freelance journalist, he is a lecturer and Holocaust educator at Yad Vashem.