The prevalence of deep anti-Semitism in many parts of the Muslim world is one of today's scarier phenomena. To some, it can also seem mysterious. To be sure, Jews regularly suffered persecution under the Crescent as they did under the Cross, but not with the same sustained ferocity. Nor did Islam ever bring forth a racially-infused hatred of Jews like that of the Spanish Church—or, in our own times, the Nazis.
Until, that is, the Nazis themselves got into the act. Since then, and to an extent previously unparalleled in Muslim history, Jews and Judaism have been demonized beyond all proportion by Islamic officialdom and Islamic masses, by religious clerics and Westernized intellectuals alike.
In a new book, The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World, the historian Jeffrey Herf has unearthed a hitherto unknown side of the Holocaust: the massive broadcasting in Arabic of Nazi propaganda that mixed cynical anti-imperialism with sincere and impassioned hatred of Jews. We don't know how the broadcasts were received at the time, but they likely played a role in fostering a new Arabic rhetoric that hung in the air and came fully to life in the coming decades. By the 1950s, discussion of the Holocaust became entirely a function of the battle against Israel and Zionism; the events themselves were either altogether denied, or dismissed as providing any sort of basis for Jewish claims, or twisted into the argument that the Holocaust's true victims were the Palestinians.
Today, although Holocaust denial does not figure much in the writings of al-Qaeda and other radical groups, it has been embraced by establishments from Tehran to Riyadh and beyond, and by groups like Hamas that are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. In the view of Emmanuel Sivan, one of the world's leading historians of Islam, the migration of Holocaust-related themes into Islamist literature is a main factor behind the powerful toxicity of today's Muslim anti-Semitism and the transformation of the Arab-Israeli conflict from a political contest into a holy war. Unless the resultant demonization is undone, it will continue to pose a grave danger to Jews, to Muslims themselves, and to the civilized world.