The animalization of the Jews by their enemies

"Animalization’ - or ‘zoomorphism’ - is a widespread and ancient antisemitic motif applied both verbally and visually.  

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld , | updated: 13:15

Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld

On April 25th, The New York Times International Edition published a cartoon depicting US president Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. A number of its antisemitic characteristics were then criticized in the paper itself by columnist Brett Stephens.

However, one aspect of the cartoon which merits much wider discussion is the dehumanization of Netanyahu by presenting him as a dog. This ‘animalization’ - or ‘zoomorphism’ - is a widespread and ancient antisemitic motif applied both verbally and visually.  


In its most extreme form, Jews are depicted as even lower than animals. Nazis called them ‘microbes’ and ‘vermin’, or just parasites.
In its most extreme form, Jews are depicted as even lower than animals. Nazis called them ‘microbes’ and ‘vermin’, or just parasites. Dehumanization served as a marketing tool for the Germans’ future genocidal extermination campaign. The most extreme Nazi paper, Der Stürmer, published a cartoon depicting a Nazi spraying a tree covered in vermin. The caption read: “When the vermin, are dead, the German oak will once again flourish.”

This motif of Jews as a pest has been adopted by America’s leading antisemite, Louis Farrakhan. He has referred to Jews as “termites.”

The world's leading expert on antisemitic cartoons is Belgian scholar Joël Kotek. He says that in zoomorphic antisemitism Jews have traditionally been drawn as animals or insects: “In Nazi, Soviet and Romanian caricatures, the Jew is often depicted as a spider, perceived as an evil insect. [The cartoonist] Stavro in the [Lebanese] Daily Star portrays Ehud Barak with a Star of David on his breast as a spider interrupting the peace process.”

Kotek adds: “The two other predominant antisemitic zoomorphic motifs are the blood-thirsty vampire and the octopus. The vampire image is a classic theme used by antisemites. I have not found any other people besides the Jews represented in such a way. This genocide-preparing design originates in Christian imagination.”

By far the main contemporary abuse of portraying Jews as animals occurs in parts of the Muslim world. Calling Jews apes and pigs is a recurring motif. It is even used by prominent religious preachers. In a weekly sermon in April 2002, Al-Azhar Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the highest-ranking cleric in the Sunni Muslim world, called the Jews "the enemies of Allah, descendants of apes and pigs."

 

In one of his sermons, Saudi sheikh Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sudayyis, imam and preacher at the Al-Haraam mosque – the most important mosque in Mecca – beseeched Allah to annihilate the Jews. He also urged the Arabs to give up peace initiatives with them because they are "the scum of the human race, the rats of the world, the violators of pacts and agreements, the murderers of the prophets, and the offspring of apes and pigs."

 

In another sermon Al-Sudayyis called contemporary Jews “evil offspring, infidels, distorters of [others'] words, calf-worshippers, prophet-murderers, prophecy-deniers... the scum of the human race 'whom Allah cursed and turned into apes and pigs…'”

In an August 2001 sermon, Sheikh Ibrahim Madhi, a Palestinian Authority official and imam of the Sheikh Ijlin mosque, Gaza City's main mosque, said:  "Lances must be directed at the Jews, the enemies of Allah, the nation accursed in Allah's book. Allah described [them] as apes and pigs, calf-worshipers, idol-worshippers..."

In the framework of the Gaza March of 'Return' in 2018 a preacher delivered a sermon in which he said that the "blessed land" was being "trampled by the accursed descendants of apes and pigs, the remnants of the brutal, savage, and barbaric colonialism." The sermon was broadcast by Hamas' Al-Aqsa TV.

Arab political leaders also use the apes and pigs dehumanization to attack the Jews. Former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi said: "Either [you accept] the Zionists and everything they want, or else it is war." He added: "This is what these occupiers of the land of Palestine know - these blood-suckers, who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs."

Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah, said in one of his speeches "…We reaffirm the slogan of the struggle against the Great Satan and call, like last year: 'Death to America.' 'To the murderers of the prophets, the grandsons of apes and pigs,' we say: ... 'Death to Israel…'".  

The dehumanization of the Jews has permeated Arab societies. Ordinary citizens, having followed opinion leaders, also consider Jews to be apes and pigs. A well-known example concerns a 3½ year old Muslim girl who was interviewed in 2002 by the Saudi-Egyptian satellite television station Iqraa. After she answered an earlier question saying that she did not like Jews, the interviewer asked her why that was so. She replied that Jews were apes and pigs. When questioned further about who had said so, she answered that God said so in the Koran.

One also finds many indications that these demonizing ideas are brought into the Western world by some Muslims living there. I once interviewed a young academic from the Netherlands who used the pseudonym Samar. Unbeknownst to her Muslim colleagues she had secretly given up her religion. Samar said that she had met approximately 150 Muslim students during her university days. She remarked:  “These students also believe that Muslims are superior to other people. In particular, they look down on Jews in contempt. They believe Jews descend from apes and pigs. This is stressed in particular by those who know where this is written in the Koran. It’s not that they think Jews change into monkeys during a full moon. Rather, they believe that Jews are not fully human. This message is also broadcast on Arab TV stations.”

Mohammed al-Khaled Samha is an imam at a mosque run by the Islamic Society in Denmark (Islamisk Trossamfund) in the Odense suburb of Vollsmose. He was among a group of imams who travelled to the Middle East to stir up anti-Danish sentiment in the aftermath of the Jyllands-Posten newspaper printing of the series of Mohammed cartoons.

 

In a sermon, he said:  “How can we – or any free Muslim with faith in his heart – accept the division of Palestine between [the Palestinians] and a gang of Jews, the offspring of apes and pigs?”

Various Canadian imams have also called Jews "apes and pigs." In 2014, Mostafa Saad Hannout, an imam at Masjid Toronto mosque, posted on his Facebook page: "O Allah, [show] your kindness to our brothers in Gaza O Allah, give them victory [help] over your enemy and their enemy O Allah, destroy [take revenge against] the grandchildren [descendants] of the apes and pigs."

In its recently published cartoon, The New York Times dehumanized Netanyahu.  Yet however severe, it was hopefully a one-time occurrence. The "animalization" of Jews in a variety of Muslim circles, including in the Western world, is a recurrent event. It is yet further proof of the fact that Muslim antisemitism is more extreme and more widespread than homegrown antisemitism in the West. 

 


 




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