Who gets the credit for Muslim anti-Semitism: Hitler or Muhammad? Answer to Israel Academia Monitor

By highlighting these cruelties, and in a tone of moral outrage, Dr Küntzel wishes to imply that this hadith is unfit to be Islamic, that by its cruelty and sadism it disqualifies itself. The implication, of course, is that anything in Islam that is cruel and sadistic could not possibly be Islamic.

Who gets the credit for Muslim anti-Semitism: Hitler or Muhammad? Answer to Israel Academia Monitor

Editor's note: To those who have read or downloaded this essay prior to 30 July 2023 at 09:00 UTC, please note that Dr Küntzel's name had been misspelt as "Künzel." I apologise for any inconvenience this might have caused, and apologise to Dr Küntzel for the error. This is now corrected.

On 13 July 2023,  Israel Academia Monitor (IAM) introduced its readers[1] to the work of German historian and political scientist, Dr Matthias Küntzel, centred on his book The 1948 War and the Iranian and Arab Nazi Propaganda. The editor of IAM deserves to be commended twice over: firstly, for recognising a serious gap in scholarship on “topics of Arab and Iranian antisemitism,” the cause of which he or she identifies as follows:

Western scholarship has, by and large, avoided topics that could upset Arabs and Iranians. A substantial academic industry decries Islamophobia, the purported Western fear and loathing of Islam and Muslims. …To avoid …inflaming Islamophobia, the famously self-censoring academic community has threaded (sic) very lightly on topics of Arab and Iranian antisemitism.

The editor further deserves commendation for doing something about closing that gap in scholarship. Hence IAM, “has taken the initiative to highlight scholars researching Middle East antisemitism,” the first of whom is Dr Matthias Küntzel.

Both the editor’s identification-explanation of the gap in scholarship, as well as his or her highlighting “scholars researching Middle East antisemitism” as “beginning to close the gap” are true, but they are also limiting, though this does not indicate any intention on the part of the editor. They are limiting because they confine the problem causing the gap to what is only a part of a symptom of the problem, and seek scholarly solutions, valuable in their own right as they may be, that address only the partial symptom, rather than the problem itself.

Expressed more fully, fear of charges of “Islamophobia” not only discourages “topics of Arab and Iranian antisemitism,” but all topics critical of Islam and Muslims, including Muslim anti-Semitism. The IAM, therefore, runs the risk of mischaracterising the problem for taking too narrow a view. Aversion to criticising Islam, manifesting as self-censorship in order to “avoid inflaming Islamophobia,” is itself a form of submission to Muslim intimidation. This problem is particularly acute in Israel, where additional factors are in play and the consequences are the most dire.

The “gap” that needs to be closed is far wider than the IAM editor seems to realise. Looking only at Middle Eastern anti-Semitism is not sufficient to discern whether Dr Matthias Küntzel has a wider aim than “closing the gap” on Middle Eastern antisemitism. Dr Küntzel sets out to make specific points about Islam as a precondition for deflecting attention away from Islamic doctrinal anti-Semitism, and onto Nazi anti-Semitism, thereby to posit the Nazis as the origin of Arab and Iranian anti-Semitism. This is neither an oversight, nor an error on Küntzel’s part, but a deliberate attempt to break the link between Islam and anti-Semitism in order to reduce Arab and Iranian culpability for their own anti-Semitism. This is, therefor, much more than simply “avoid[ing] topics that could upset Arabs and Iranians.” It is positively propagandising for Arabs and Iranians, or more to the point,  for Islam, and so for Muslims.

My aim with this essay is neither to polemicise against Dr Küntzel, nor to counter his argument in every detail. Rather, my aim is to identify the most consequential flaws in Küntzel's argument, and to show that these flaws are not errors, but necessary misconstructs in service of Küntzel's wider objective: to absolve Islam and Muslims of anti-Semitism. I also suggest that the IAM editor has reason to ignore Küntzel's flaws.

In a 4 July 2023 speech in Hamburg,[2] Dr Küntzel said that he wanted to research the “ideology of Islamism and its connection to antisemitism,” (my emphasis) and to this end he studied “Jew-hatred in Islamic societies” rather than in Islam itself, thereby effecting a double misdirection: one, away from Islam and onto Islamic societies; and two, away from Islam and onto “Islamism.” Before Küntzel got around to introducing Nazi anti-Semitism, he had already twice distanced Islam from its inherent Jew-hatred.

It is perfectly legitimate to be especially interested in the influence Nazi Germany might have had in strengthening Jew-hatred in Iran. But when Küntzel's special interest is in “the influence that Nazi Germany had taken to create and strengthen this hatred,” then the exercise is no longer legitimate, for Küntzel has prejudiced his findings in favour of his a priori choice to search for anti-Semitism in “Islamism,” rather than in Islam. This the Muslim “scholars” protocol: you can discover anything about Islam, provided you never discover anything bad about it. There is no danger of Küntzel breaking that protocol. Since there is no such thing as “Islamism,” Küntzel should have no difficulty in establishing that there is no anti-Semitism in it, leaving the way clear for Nazi anti-Semitism to be the origin of Arab and Iranian (and Muslim) anti-Semitism, and the “roots of the Iranian regime’s hatred of Israel.”

Unsurprisingly, therefor, Küntzel tells us nothing about the “ideology of Islamism and its connection to antisemitism,” but tells us instead about how egregious Nazi propaganda and Nazi anti-Semitism were, the very safest of safe scholarly endeavours. No one in their right mind is going to challenge that. Even Hitler's popularity amongst Arabs, and the numerous formal Arab Nazi groups, are no longer obscure knowledge. Küntzel tries to build a case that Arab anti-semitism arises only after the publication of Amin Al-Husseini's pamphlet, Islam and Judaism, in 1937, and Iranian anti-Semitism twenty years after Ruhollah Khomeini had immersed himself in Nazi radio broadcasts. The latter case is even more spurious than the former.

The IAM editor, unfortunately, approaches Matthias Küntzel completely uncritically, taking his word for everything he says, including his claim that he is researching “Islamism”. The end result is that the IAM’s laudable initiative ends up misleading its readers by deflecting their attention first away from Islam onto “Islamism,” and then away from “Islamism” onto Nazism, where Dr Matthias Küntzel attempts to hold them fast. Contrary to the IAM’s expectations, Küntzel does nothing to fill any gap left by Western scholarship avoided topics that could upset Arabs and Iranians. Far from upsetting Arabs and Iranians, Küntzel whitewashes them by scapegoating Nazism as the origin of their anti-Semitism, thereby shielding their religion, Islam, from its inherent iniquity.

The editor is correct in pointing out that “Islamophobia” is about “avoid[ing] topics that could upset Arabs and Iranians,” or Muslims in general, for that matter. This is as far as the editor goes. Yet the “Islamophobia” device is much more serious than this. It intimidates by imposing arbitrary control over private citizens, the media, civil society, the government and the state. Those who fail to understand totalitarianism complain that “Islamophobia” is legally indefinable. But its very indefinability is its point. It has no defined limits so that its imposition can be arbitrary, and cause everyone to restrain themselves on the side of caution.

The final section of Dr Matthias Küntzel February 2023 Fathom article, “The 1948 Arab war against Israel: An aftershock of World War II?” is titled, “Why the Ignorance?” So many instances of ignorance will have been encountered by this point that the reader will need to be reminded of which ignorance Küntzel has in mind. He immediately clarifies, “So why then is the role of Nazi propaganda and Nazi policies largely ignored in debates on the roots of antisemitism in the Middle East?” But, to borrow the words of Sportin’ Life, it ain’t necessarily so. Just because “the role of Nazi propaganda and Nazi policies [are] largely ignored in debates on the roots of antisemitism in the Middle East,” does not mean that scholars are ignorant of such a role. It could mean that no such role exists. It could also mean that, even though such a role does exist, that the role is not significant. It could even mean that the role is significant, but not in the way that Küntzel suggests it to be. There are further possibilities, but I have made my point. Küntzel privileges his preferred interpretation without justification and without mentioning alternatives.

Küntzel is also going to have to do better than setting up the incredibly weak “Islamic antisemitism developed as a response to alleged Israeli misdeeds,” argument of others as a surrogate straw man (or, “The spread of antisemitism in the Arab-Islamic world is the consequence of the Palestine conflict”). These arguments are too non-sensical and self-defeating to warrant long hours of painstaking archival work to boast about. A simple observation that anti-Semitism exists all over not just the Arab, but the entire Muslim world, not just post-1948, but for more than a thousand years prior to 1948, would have sufficed. But Küntzel foregoes this step, while his best trick still awaits.

One section of Küntzel's Fathom article in headed, "1947/1948: Arab hesitation, Islamist mobilization." Yet the word "Islamism" does not appear anywhere in this section. He describes various inter- and intra-Arab manoeuvring without any understanding of the conflicting pressures (state-formation, nationalism, pan-Arabism, Muslim greed for the wealth the Jews had created in Palestine, tribalism, Islamic revivalism, class formation, potentate vanity, and so forth), that bore down on the Arabs at the time. Even the claim that Amin Al-Husseini and the Muslim Brotherhood called for jihad from the start, according to Küntzel, definitely a hangover from Nazi propaganda, is not explicitly presented as "Islamist." I think Küntzel avoids identifying the "Islamists" because he is relying on the reader taking it as too self-evident for Küntzel to have to spell out. And while the reader is thus distracted, Küntzel slips in that the Arabs launched their 1948 war against Israel, "because the Nazis’ antisemitic Arabic-language propaganda had shaped the postwar political climate." From here, it becomes easy for Küntzel to shape his narrative of the present as that of an intrepid scholar.

Numerous Middle East experts derive mitigating circumstances for Arab antisemitism. “Is the fantasy-based hatred of the Jews that was and still is typical of European racists … the equivalent of the hatred felt by Arabs enraged by the occupation and/or destruction of Arab lands?”, is the rhetorical question of the British-Lebanese anti-Zionist Gilbert Achcar. “Arab antisemitism, in contrast to European anti-Semitism, is at least based on a real problem, namely the marginalization of the Palestinians,” insists German Islam researcher Jochen Müller.

This paradigm, which distinguishes between a Nazi-like European antisemitism and an “at least” understandable hatred of Jews in the Middle East, hides the Nazi influence on the image of Jews held by many Muslims in the Middle East. (My emphasis).

Indeed, it might well hide the Nazi influence on Muslim anti-Semitism, but it also hides the Qur’anic origin of Muslim anti-Semitism. But Küntzel has already made his choice: he will direct his reader’s attention firmly towards the Nazi role in Muslim anti-Semitism and deny the Islamic role, and where he has no choice but to acknowledge Islam’s role, he will mitigate it.

I have no reason to doubt Küntzel's archival discoveries concerning Nazi propaganda radio broadcasts to the Middle East; all credit to him. If he has thrown light on a difficult chapter in history, then the world owes him a debt of gratitude for having done so. My contention here is with Küntzel's intellectual dishonesty. Firstly, he does not tell us what has already been discovered and how his discoveries add to the existing body of knowledge. We are, therefore, left unable to judge whether his discoveries are as ground-breaking as he makes them out to be, or indeed, whether they are discoveries at all.

Secondly, Küntzel makes a number of eyebrow-raising claims for his book that are difficult to reconcile with what he does not mention in the Fathom article, which is about his book. He says, for example, “My book shows that in retrospect, those six years of daily radio propaganda marked a turning point dividing Middle Eastern history into a before and an after.” (My emphasis) That is an incredibly bold claim. If Küntzel discussed the “before” in his book, then he clearly does not think it important enough to mention in his article. Yet, how is the “after” to be evaluated and appreciated without any discussion of the “before”? If anything, Küntzel goes out of his way to obscure the “before,” and ends up simply asserting the “after” without comparing it to anything. He says, for example, “These years worsened the image of the Jews in the Arab world.” Undoubtedly it did, but there will have had to be an image to be worsened in the first place. Without knowing how bad that image was to begin with, there is no way of knowing whether the “worsening” was cataclysmic or a mere blip.

Küntzel asserts that, the Nazi broadcasts to the Middle East, “fostered an exclusively anti-Jewish reading of the Qur’an.” This is Küntzel's most absurd claim. The Qur’an verses in question mention Jews both explicitly and implicitly. It is true that some of these verses are simultaneously both anti-Jewish and anti-Christian, but no less anti-Jewish for that.

In his June 2023 Fathom article, Küntzel addresses the significance of Amin Al-Husseini’s pamphlet, Islam and Judaism. The pamphlet discusses eight of the Qur'an's anti-Semitic verses. Robert Spencer, in his book, The Palestinian Delusion, identifies and dissects no fewer than sixty-nine of these anti-Jewish verses in the Qur’an.[3] If Küntzel objects to the “exclusively anti-Jewish reading” of these verses, then at the very least, he owes it to his readers to show how these verses may be read in a non-anti-Jewish manner, but on this he is silent. If he does deal with this central issue in his book, then it is a curious omission from his article.

Küntzel claims to have discovered that, “They [the Nazis] shaped a genocidal rhetoric towards Zionism.” (My emphasis) Yet, Küntzel has to manipulate Al-Husseini’s Islam and Judaism in order to constructs this claim. We read:

Islam and Judaism concludes with the following words:

“[T]he verses from the Qur’an and hadith prove to you that the Jews have been the bitterest enemies of Islam and continue to try to destroy it. Do not believe them, they only know hypocrisy and cunning. Hold together, fight for the Islamic thought, fight for your religion and your existence! Do not rest until your land is free of the Jews.”

Because Küntzel provides no reference for the above quotation, it is difficult to verify. My copy of Islam and Judaism[4] does not end with the words Küntzel quotes above. Instead, it ends with the notorious genocide hadith, which reads:

Said the Prophet, on whom be peace: the hour of the Resurrection will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and the Muslims kill them, until the Jews hide behind the stones and trees, and then the trees and stones will say: Oh Muslim! Oh Abdallah! Here is a Jew behind me, come and kill him! Apart from the gharqad, for it is one of the Jews’ trees.

There was no "genocidal rhetoric towards Zionism" for the Nazis to shape. Muslims had it shaped that way long before they encountered the Nazis. This leaves one wondering about the convenience of the expression, “free of the Jews” at the end of Küntzel's quotation, to which he pointedly draws attention:

“Free of the Jews” – “Judenfrei” – is a typical Nazi expression which we do not find in early Islamic writing. (My emphasis)

This is a curious claim, and if also false, then a particularly egregious one. The precise expression “Judenfrei” (or even “Judenrein”) might not occur in early Islamic writing—why should it?—but the concept is certainly there, as in the genocide hadith at the end of the Havel translation of Islam and Judaism, and even more directly, in the hadith Sahih Muslim 1767a, in which Muhammad is reported to have said:

I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslim. (My emphasis)

In my experience, only a Muslim would argue that, "not leave any but Muslim," in the above hadith does not encompass "Judenfrei," because we do not find the word "Judenfrei" in the hadith. But things are about to get curiouser and curiouser. While the genocide hadith goes unmentioned in Küntzel's Fathom article discussion of Islam and Judaism, he is well familiar with it. My quotation of the hadith, above, is from Küntzel's website [5]

Discussing Yehoshafat Harkabi’s treatment of the genocide hadith, Küntzel starts with this line: “He [Harkabi] quoted the following hadith from the 1937 pamphlet Islam and Jewry:” Note that Küntzel does not deny that the hadith appears in Islam and Jewry (Islam and Judaism). The mystery of why he remains silent about it in his Fathom article soon becomes clear: it is a dripping knife (the 'smoking gun' metaphor doesn't quite work here). On his website, far from ignoring the genocide hadith, Küntzel quotes it, but only to immediately deny that it is what it is. He says of the hadith:

This is a particularly cruel hadith. It not only makes the killing of the Jews essential to the Muslims’ final salvation but also makes even the tree – symbol of living nature – and the stone – symbol of dead nature – demand that the Jews be killed, as if the whole universe were condemning them to death. It is a sadistic hadith because it shows the Jew not as a dangerous, but as a frightened and trembling figure who tries to hide but is nevertheless dragged out of his concealment and relentlessly killed.

Here Küntzel is exactly right. But the unbearable truth is that the hadith tells him about the original cruelty and sadism essential to the Muslims’ attitude to Jews. He tries to escape this snag by seeking refuge in the authority of Harkabi's dismissal of the hadith:

Such expressions, continues Harkabi, "cannot be said to be an essential part of Islam; they are dormant, even unknown to its adherents … so long as they are not repeated with some frequency."

In other words, if we don't talk about it, then it isn't there. Distancing Muslims from their own hadith is a higher priority for Küntzel than faithfulness towards his own insight. Yehoshafat Harkabi’s book, Arab Attitudes to Israel, was published in 1972, and this gives Küntzel the opening he needs to appear to be opposing Harkabi, while, in fact, relying on him. Küntzel continues:

But that is exactly what has happened. In 1937 began the popularization of this cruel hadith, which today is certainly, at least in the Arab world, one of the best known and most quoted hadiths.

Küntzel does not care to refute Harkabi’s assertion that “such expressions … are dormant, even unknown to its adherents …cannot be said to be an essential part of Islam.” This sweeping claim suits Küntzel just fine as it allows him to “oppose” Harkabi and say, yes, they were dormant and unknown to Muslims, but that all changed in 1937, as I discovered.

Just to recapitulate: Firstly, Küntzel provides no evidence that the genocide hadith was “dormant, even unknown to its adherents,” prior to 1937, relying solely on the fact that someone else had said so. Secondly, just because a hadith (or verse) is not popularly known, does not mean it is not an essential part of Islam. That something is essential to a religion does not depend on the devoutness of its adherents. Thirdly, even if it were “unknown to its adherents,” it is the job of the religion’s clergy to bring their charges closer to the essence of their religion (even Christian clergy do that). It is absurd to suggest, as Harkabi and Küntzel do, that the Muslim clergy had neglected this essential part of their role for 1300 years until some Teutonic Bad Boys turned up to show them how it's done. Fourthly, and most importantly, Küntzel's description of the genocide hadith as “particularly cruel” and “sadistic” are accurate, but as with so many of his statements, there is a wider significance here. Küntzel complains that this hadith, “makes the killing of the Jews essential to the Muslims’ final salvation …as if the whole universe were condemning them to death” and “shows the Jew not as a dangerous, but as a frightened and trembling figure who tries to hide.” By highlighting these cruelties, and in a tone of moral outrage, Dr Küntzel wishes to imply that this hadith is unfit to be Islamic, that by its cruelty and sadism it disqualifies itself. The implication, of course, is that anything in Islam that is cruel and sadistic could not possibly be Islamic.

The problem Küntzel faces here is that the remainder of hadiths inculcating hatred of Jews, all the sixty-nine plus Jew-denouncing verses of the Qur’an and the many excellent examples from Muhammad’s life on exactly how to handle Jews, all culminate in the genocide hadith, the ethical culmination of all that has gone before, the final righteous slaughter of all the sons of apes and pigs, the final reckoning for all the evil and injustice that the Jews have perpetrated on the Muslims.

Of course, it is not at all surprising that Küntzel does not care to mention that Islam is thoroughly steeped in Jew-hatred. If he did, he would be forced to draw the line between the genocide hadith and the rest of Islam. He would have to come down on: the Muslim Final Solution – no, very bad, very bad – but everything up to that point – just fine. He has to go along with Harkabi that the genocide hadith is not essential to Islam, not only because no one knew about it (Harkabi), but also because it is too cruel and sadistic (Küntzel).

Muslims are compelled by their religion to obey “Allah and his Messenger,” i.e., both the Qur’an and the hadith. Not only does Islam command Muslims to “fight the Jews and kill them,” the Ahira, the Afterlife that Muslims yearn for, with its jannah and associated delights, “will not come,” threatens the messenger of Allah, until every single Jew is killed—"There is a Jew behind me, kill him!” In other words, the Day of Judgement will not come until the world is free of Jews, moreover, rendered so by the hands of Muslims. Obscenely barbaric as the Nazis were, they did not get there first.

What Küntzel has produced is a massive piece of propaganda deflecting responsibility for Muslim hatred of Jews and antipathy towards Israel away from Islam. It is just unfortunate that Küntzel, like the editor whose note introduces his writing, prefer to remain in the warm and comfortable Islam-is-innocent space. The editor, to his or her credit, at least hints at not being intimidated by “Islamophobia.” Dr Küntzel is a wholesale merchant of it.

It would be quite natural for the Jewish and Israeli ear to be particularly attuned to expositions on Nazism, especially where this is linked to the Arabs and Iranians, and it would not be unfair to counsel caution in assessing Jewish and Israeli receptiveness to such studies. A case in point is the IAM’s uncritical acceptance of Dr Matthias Küntzel's assertions linking Arab and Iranian anti-Semitism to Nazi propaganda to the a priori exclusion of their anti-Semitism stemming from Islam.

This has not been a review of Dr Matthias Küntzel's book, Nazis, Islamic Antisemitism and the Middle East: The 1948 Arab War against Israel and the Aftershocks of World War II, but of Dr Küntzel's talking about his book – in a speech and in an article. It is possible that Dr Küntzel's book does not bear out the charges I bring against him, but what he thought important enough to say about his book, does bear me out. Dr Küntzel might have done excellent work in linking Arab and Iranian anti-Semitism to Nazi propaganda. It is just a shame that he felt the need to positively assert no Islamic input to Arab and Iranian anti-Semitism, when he could so easily have hedged his claims with a note that he did not examine the Islamic origins of such attitudes and beliefs, or something a bit more credible. There is no denying that Nazi propaganda had strengthened Arab and Iranian anti-Semitism, but it did not create it. That task was performed, and continues to be performed, by Islam, the very force that Dr Küntzel a priori dismissed in favour of the propaganda pretender, “Islamism,” taking IAM along for the ride.

Not that the IAM did not willingly go along for the ride. Consider the first line of the Editor's Note: "IAM notes that Western scholarship has, by and large, avoided topics that could upset Arabs and Iranians." (My emphasis) It is not "Arabs and Iranians" that Western scholarship are worried about upsetting. Arabs and Iranians in general do not cause problems when they get upset. Christian, secular or Druze Arabs, as well as Christian, Jewish, secular or Zoroastrian Iranians are unlikely to be the people the editor had in mind when writing about "Arabs and Iranians" that scholars try to avoid upsetting.

Furthermore, the Nazis broadcast also to India, which at that point included Pakistan and Bangladesh. They were not after impressing Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs or Jains. The IAM editor is aware that the Nazis were not interested in reaching such people. Nazi propaganda to the east, referencing as it did, the Qur'an and Muhammad, was aimed specifically at Muslims. The propaganda exploited popular Muslim conceptions of Hitler as secretly a Muslim, the new caliph, the twelfth Imam, the Mahdi, leading a jihad against the British, and so on. The editor is well aware that his or her wording could be more accurate: Western scholarship has, by and large, avoided topics that could upset Muslims. For reasons given above, the editor of Israel Academia Monitor is unlikely to scrutinise Dr Küntzel arguments against Nazis too closely.

By contrast, only Muslims are crystal clear about whom they want to kill. That the hatred and killing of Jews is taught every day in Palestinian schools, and practical training for it provided in Gaza children’s summer camps each year, bears no echo of the Nazi propaganda that Küntzel wishes to attribute them to, but is unquestionably Islamic through and through, whether Islam pre-1937 or post-1937. The IAM is alert to scholars bowing to “Islamophobia” intimidation, while Islamophilia slips right through its net.

Finally, it is perhaps prudent to explicitly state that the Nazis were unquestionably one of the most evil regimes of modern times, but one does not improve one's moral capital by attributing to them that which they were not responsible for. Truth does not require such cheapening.


  1. "The 1948 War and the Iranian and Arab Nazi Propaganda," Israel Academia Monitor, 16 July 2023. https://israel-academia-monitor.com/2023/07/16/the-1948-war-and-the-iranian-and-arab-nazi-propaganda/
  2. http://www.matthiaskuentzel.de/contents/broadcasting-as-a-weapon-the-persian-language-nazi-propaganda-and-its-consequences
  3. Robert Spencer, The Palestinian Delusion: The Catastrophic History of the Middle East Peace Process, 2019, Bombardier Books, New York. Chapter Two: ‘The Roots of the Hatred of Israel,’ includes the subheading, ‘Qur’anic Anti-semitism.’
  4. Amin Al-Husseini, "Islam and Judaism", Boris Havel’s English translation from the Croatian 1943 edition, available at https://myislam.dk/articles/en/al-husseini%20islam-and-judaism.php
  5. http://www.matthiaskuentzel.de/contents/islamic-antisemitism-how-it-originated-and-spread The original hadith reference is Sahih Muslim 6985.

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