“On the night Lord Voldemort went to Godric’s Hollow to kill Harry, and Lily Potter cast herself between them, the curse rebounded. When that happened, a part of Voldemort’s soul latched itself onto the only living thing it could find. Harry himself. There’s a reason Harry can speak with snakes. There’s a reason he can look into Lord Voldemort’s mind. A part of Voldemort lives inside him.”Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 2
Well before the October 7th massacres (now rightfully referred to in Israel as “Shabbat Shachor” or “The Black Sabbath”), well before Hamas, and even well before the modern state of Israel, the prevailing anti-Israel rhetoric and tactics from Arab dictators and terrorist groups had a familiar ring to it. At least it was familiar to those of us who remember or have studied World War II and the Holocaust.
That’s right, the greatest and most deadly enemies of the Jewish people and Israel in the Middle East still sound and act an awful lot like Nazis. Even when they’re not focusing on Israel and the Jews, groups like Al Qaeda or ISIS spew genocidal philosophies and inhumane tactics that would have made Hitler, Goebbels, and Eichman proud.
It turns out none of this is remotely a coincidence. In fact, while anti-Semites and ignoramuses delight in making ridiculous comparisons between the state of Israel and Nazi Germany, there is a very clear and traceable link between Jihadism and the Third Reich.
The origins of modern Jihadism began in the late 19th century in Egypt. The group that would eventually become known as the Muslim Brotherhood was formed at that time as a radical response to growing Western cultural influences in the country. That same Muslim Brotherhood is the universally accepted predecessor and direct inspiration for today’s Islamist terror groups including Hamas, al Qaeda, and even ISIS.
By contrast, the period of 1880-1920 or so was also the most fruitful time in Egypt for that nation’s Jewish population. Jews in Cairo achieved an essential role in the city’s retail economy, and some were even advisers and official members of the Egyptian royal courts.
But as the Nazi Party began to take root, the fledging Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt caught the eyes of those Nazi leaders all the way in Germany. A partnership began between them in the 1920s that included the translation of the centuries-old anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion into Arabic, the exchange of strategies on how to rile up Arab rejection of the Jewish settlers in then Ottoman-controlled Palestine, and direct funding of the Brotherhood from Berlin.
By the time the Nazis gained control of the German Reichstag in 1933 and Hitler was named Chancellor, the Muslim Brotherhood was operating widely and growing its membership in Egypt and neighboring areas. When Egypt’s King Farouk was still showing favor to the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine and dealing in a friendly way with the Jewish agency, Hitler threatened to end all German purchases of Egyptian cotton. It was a threat the Brotherhood was able to make even more serious with its inherent physical threat against the King if he did not comply. Farouk quickly gave in and Egyptian relations with the Jewish state ceased for another 44 years.
When World War II finally broke out, an acolyte of the Brotherhood, Amin al-Hussein, was operating as the voice of Arab Muslims in the Holy Land under the title of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. By 1941, the Mufti’s steady genocidal messages against the Jews so impressed Hitler that he invited al-Hussein to stay in Berlin, something that he did for the duration of the war. While there, the Nazis arranged for him to have a daily Arabic language radio broadcast that was heard all over the Middle East. In his memoirs, even the future Ayatollah of Iran, Ruhollah Khomeini, noted how much he was influenced by and enjoyed the program regularly. That’s how popular the Mufti’s radio show was.
After the war, the direct Nazi influences did not end. In fact, it was former Wehrmacht officers on the run from war crimes charges and hiding out in Egypt who trained a young Yasser Arafat in military tactics.
Much of the above connections between the Nazis and Muslim Brotherhood have long been known and well-documented. But in the years directly after the 9/11 attacks, German scholar Matthias Kuntzel presented evidence that showed an even more extensive sharing of ideas and resources between the Nazis and the early Islamists. That included the sharing of Hitler’s brief fantasy of flying bomb-loaded airplanes into the Empire State Building in New York, a tactic Kuntzel asserts remained in the Islamist playbook until the similar attack on the World Trade Center occurred in 2001. Kuntzel documents all of this, and some of the more promising aspects in Muslim-Jewish relations before the Nazis in his brief but brilliant book, Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11.
The passing down of Nazi ideology from the Muslim Brotherhood to the more modern-day Islamist organizations truly casts the entire region heavily, and depressingly, under Hitler’s shadow. But it also presents a ray of hope.
Remember that before the Nazi-influenced Jihadism took root, the Arab Muslim world was sometimes not very hospitable to Jews, but never truly genocidal. It was often better to live as a Jew in the Arab world than in the Christian world of Europe. It’s important to recognize that Ashkenazic Jewish life in Europe generally did not become demonstrably better than Sephardic Jewish life in the Arab countries until the 18th or 19th century. Once the industrial advances, coupled with the spread of Jewish citizenship rights brought on by the Napoleonic era, made Europe a safer region for Jews to flourish economically and civically, that began to change.
But for centuries before that, Jews and Arab Muslims often had long periods of peaceful coexistence and economically beneficial partnerships. Jews still had to endure a status akin to second-class citizenship, but they were much more rarely physically threatened than their fellow Jews in Medieval Europe or even places like Russia well into the 20th century. If all it takes is a few powerful Arab national leaders to push back on the past 100 years worth of Nazi influences, perhaps a reset is possible to a time when genocide was not even a remote consideration.
Many of us would argue that is precisely what has happened in countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and a few other Arab nations since the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020. Even though many of the Abraham Accords signatories have not responded with the most supportive statements in response to the Hamas massacres and Israel’s subsequent responsibility to wipe out Hamas, they also have stepped well back from the kind of unabashed and unbalanced bashing of Israel that we’ve typically seen in the past when Israel has been involved in wars with its terrorist neighbors. These are baby steps, but it’s amazing what’s possible when you don’t have Nazi voices whispering in your ear.
Hitler is thankfully long dead, but one of his most enduring horcruxes lives on inside Hamas, Hezbollah, the mullahs of Iran, and every jihadi. The long-term Nazi investment of money and rhetorical content to what was once a tiny Islamist minority has paid off in ways not even the most sadistic anti-Semite could have dreamed. But perhaps we are coming closer to a day when that investment finally runs its course.