Pakistan’s Casual Antisemitism Problem and Israel

Source: Middle East Eye

Pakistan is a country that conveniently got rid of its Jews, among the most of its “non-Muslim” minority groups when it was created by the British to divide India on communal lines in 1947. The rationale behind the creation of the kind of conditions that made this exodus possible provides a hint to understand the passionate refusal to accept the idea of a country for the Jewish people.

While the socialist camp in the country, now greatly marginalized and suppressed, has been solidly fixed with the Palestinian cause, not even abandoning it when they resorted to the most brutal terrorist measures, it would be incorrect to attribute the more sinister causes underlying the opposition to Israel. That problem can only be understood if the casual Muslim antisemitism is understood, which shapes the imagination of common Pakistani citizens, as well as its nationalist conservatives, even among its elite. It is perhaps not an anomalous observation to find these tendencies in many of the supposed Muslim liberals and progressives.

Islamic eschatology heavily focuses on the negative role of the Jewish people, with an understanding that the Jewish Meshiach might be the character of Dajjal, or the Muslim antichrist. The Muslims and Christians are supposed to fight together under the returned Jesus Christ against this evil, eventually slaughtering all Jewish people. While Prophet Muhammad had concluded treaties with the Jews of Medina, he also ordered violent battles against them, such as the Battle of Khyber. Other than the Quranic decree in the verse 5:51 that warned against befriending Jews and Christians, there are countless traditions that reinforce the hate against Jews. According to one tradition, near the Day of Judgment, all Jews will be killed and if one tries to hide behind a tree, the tree will reveal, that one is hiding behind it. Apart from these classical traditions that have built the bigotry over centuries, the political occupation of the Jewish people of the Dome of Rock in Jerusalem solidified this bigotry on a religious level in modern times. Of course, occurrences such as Saladin engaging Maimonides to become a member of his courts did little to undo it. Now, killing the Zionist Jew is a common aspiration of righteously Muslim zealots from Palestine to Bangladesh. Except that a majority, fortunately making up not-so-righteous Muslims, would not bother themselves about killing or dying for Israel.

After all, it is no coincidence that denial of the Holocaust and admiration of Nazis and Adolf Hitler are rampant among most Pakistani Muslim fundamentalists. Casual antisemitism is a part of everyday conversation, jokes, and political discourse, in which every other evil and conspiracy in the world are attributed to the Jewish people. “Jew” and “Jewish agent” are popular slurs. Even Prime Minister Imran Khan, whose first wife is Jewish, has been frequently referred to as a “Jewish Agent” by the opposition, especially Islamist Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman.

This might not necessarily be the case with all of Pakistan’s progressive left and liberals. However, their support of Pakistan’s foreign policy stance toward Israel certainly suggests such tendencies. Considering the socialist leaning of the Arab Republics at odds with Israel, other than the Kingdoms tied with the bonds of Islamic Brotherhood, Pakistani Muslim socialists never felt the need to move over to Israel. But while there has been contemplation in recent years, the chances of that happening have been very slim. But to be fair, they have never been instrumental in forming Pakistan’s foreign policy, except under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s probably. But about Israel, there is an almost unanimous agreement among progressive liberals, conservative nationalists, and Islamists.

Antisemitism lies at the very heart of the foreign policy of Pakistan, as it has been the main driver of those of most of the Arab nations over the last seven decades. This also made Pakistan’s foreign policy slightly paradoxical, as the Islamic Republic enrolled itself solidly into the American camp, like Israel, during the Cold War Years. With the rumors of President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto sending pilots to fly Syrian jets against Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, it culminated to a new scale. However, after Bhutto’s assassination by the Pakistani state, General Zia-ul-Haq, the new dictator had to find himself with the awkwardness of using Israeli manufactured weapons during the Afghan-Soviet War in the 1980s. His policy of greater Islamization and Jihadi narrative would also be in direct contradiction of an endorsement of Israel as a possible ally. Even though he should not have found the contradiction particularly troubling as he was the general the Kingdom of Jordan had imported to massacre Palestinian refugees in the middle of the Black September terrorism controversy. Interestingly, Pakistan has arguably the blood of more Palestinians on its hands than Israelis for all its moralistic somersaults.

Pakistan maintains that it will not recognize the existence of the State of Israel until the two-state solution is reached. While Pakistan recognizes Palestine as a member of the United Nations, it does not recognize Israel as a sovereign nation, contradicting its commitment to accept a “two-state solution.” There is no two-state solution with the acceptance of Israel. It also includes the unrealistic demand of Israel moving back to the pre-1967 borders, especially when the talks at hand are about discontinuing the annexation of the West Bank. Pakistan hypocritically continues to insist that its refusal to recognize Israel is a “moral stance,” while it has established deep diplomatic relations with countries with arguably far worse offenses against humanity such as China as far as their treatment of the Uighur Muslims and the Tibet issue is concerned. Pakistan’s own treatment of the tribal Pashtun and Baloch people in their native territory is also not very different from the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.

The casual antisemitism of Pakistanis manifests into apologies of its supposed intellectuals. Each time the deep state or other more conservative liberals bring up the thought of evaluating relationships with Israel, the abomination of recognizing Israel irritates and offends them greatly. The impunity with which hate is spewed against Israel makes the antisemitism very hard to hide. While it is a disgrace that such opinions have been normalized to this degree, seeing anti-Israel protests chanting “Death to Israel” by Jamaat-e-Islami affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and other religious parties make those comments come across as an enlightened narrative. In a country sandwiched between Hezbollah-like Islamist parties and BDS warriors, Pakistani liberals who support Zionism indeed have an uphill task at hand.

The reason I am writing about this is that these days the talks of Pakistan reconsidering its diplomatic stance have been revived in Pakistani media by pro-military journalists following recognition of Israel by UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan. Normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia is also expected. These pro-military journalists usually condemn the civilian opposition and dissidents by using tropes such as “agents of RAW and MOSSAD” and assign labels such as patriots and traitors on air. Certainly, the military establishment is behind them speaking so openly about possible relations with Israel as an anti-establishment civilian would immediately be condemned as a traitor for doing so. The military probably tests the waters of public sentiment every now and then about the issue to see how far they can go after the Israeli media recently reported a Pakistani army plane landing in Jordan where the military officials were rumored to have met Israeli officials. But what the Pakistani military does not realize that for such a reversal, it would have to undo its own mess of hypocrisy.

This has been the greatest problem with the Pakistani military in the first place, and one that caused a headache for even Republican administrations that did not mind a military dictatorship in Pakistan as long as it served their strategic goals. The Pakistani military has not favored Pakistan to be a secular nation and has instead been using both religious fundamentalists’ and terrorists for manipulating both domestic and foreign politics on both the eastern and western border. The launching of Tehreek Labaik Pakistan to influence the 2018 election being their latest dangerous masterstroke. They have remained central in building and propagating the Jihadi narrative that flourished the anti-Zionist and antisemitic sentiment over the years. They simply cannot turn the tide in a day, even if their propaganda mouthpieces such as Kamran Khan, Moeed Pirzada, Mubasher Lucman, and Ahmed Qureshi may try their best to convince the military-obsessed conservative nationalists.

Naturally, there was a massive backlash to the conservative nationalist efforts of reconsidering relations with Israel, both from Islamists and progressive liberals, who are passionately pro-Palestinian. Many of these Pakistani commentators downplay and almost make fun of the potential benefits of engaging with Israel with the exception of Mosharraf Zaidi. However, the Pakistani military might not wait for such irrational criticism to get into the way of the potential defense benefit for long. Israel currently has no reason to care for the balance of power in South Asia. Following the revival of diplomatic relations with Israel under Prime Minister Modi, The bonds between Israel and India against terrorism supported by Pakistan also became stronger following the Mumbai Attacks in 2008 in which 9 Jews, mostly Israelis, were killed. Since then, Pakistan has not made any effort to reach out either to the aggrieved parties or to mend its fences with Israel. Nevertheless, Pakistan reaching out to Israel can deescalate the current security situation with respect to the links between India and Israel.

All arguments aside, the most important reason to recognize Israel is simply to accept the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland. Unfortunately, many in Pakistan who support denying it would rather have Israel annihilated as a state the very next moment because they are against the very foundation of the State of Israel. If this isn’t antisemitism, then I don’t know what is. And in the modern context, indeed antizionism amounts to antisemitism. And no, this does not mean that criticizing Israel is being presented as antisemitism. Far from it. I am a critic of Israel myself, am against the Netanyahu regime and the Likud party, as well as against the brutal policies of Israel against the Palestinian people, especially the inhuman policy of dismantling the homes of suspected Palestinian militants and criminals. Israel is a democracy, albeit flawed, and without freedom of criticism, it will cease to be one. Although its current trajectory with the right wing’s continued influence is certainly not healthy.

Though, after recognizing Israel, all kinds of criticism, which includes closure of embassies, recalling of ambassadors and diplomatic staff, and a hundred other ways of protests could be employed to make Pakistan’s protest heard. With established bilateral relations, there will be greater gravity to Pakistan’s voice and more substantial diplomatic leverage that can be used to influence the Middle East crisis for the better rights of the Palestinian people. But is Pakistan sane and rational enough to understand that with a strong chokehold of Islamists in its society?

What is amusing is hearing Pakistani commentators calling Israel an “apartheid project” and throwing around terms such as “apartheid state.” It is certainly rich coming from people who have no problems with Pakistan’s status as a constitutional theocracy and pledging allegiance to a discriminatory constitution that has excommunicated an entire community and essentially offers state support of their killing. If there is a competition for being an apartheid state, surely Pakistan will score far greater than Israel ever could.

While antisemitism remains a major factor in determining Pakistan’s foreign policy toward Israel, it is surely the least of its moral problems.

Pakistan’s Iran Opportunity

Source: Al-Arabiya

Pakistan can be very creative in its foreign policy when it comes to Afghanistan. Pakistan has been so nervous about its Western border since the days of the Cold War, that it is running proxies in the shape of Afghan Taliban to this day, manipulating who holds control in Kabul. With such a history, drastic foreign policy moves are not beyond Pakistan.

Pakistan has had a troubled history with terrorism. And now even the United States has lost Pakistan over its support for the Afghan Taliban. This means all the hard work done by the Pakistan ISI and the military to undo the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has gone down the drain. This means that all the Pakistan efforts for the War Against Terror during Bush and Obama administrations amounted to nothing. This means that Pakistan is not the hero of the Cold War anymore. That’s a huge problem for a nation that heavily depends on lending its military service to political conflicts.

Pakistan is between a rock and a hard place as far as its financial survival is concerned. It can thank Allah for making Saudi Arabia so rich and powerful in the region so that it can bail it out every time, along with the United Arab Emirates. But with its flirtation with China’s Belt and Road, . Then again, is Pakistan the only country to have entered into China’s debt trap? I think the West can live with it. But can it live with Pakistan’s ongoing support for terrorism?

A week ago in Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir, an alleged Jaish-e-Muhammad suicide bomber, a local Kashmiri youth named Adil Ahmed Dar killed 44 CRPF troopers in a bus. Jaish-e-Muhammad reportedly accepted the responsibility of the attack. India immediately blamed Pakistan for the attack, as well as vowed to retaliate and to diplomatically isolate Pakistan. A day earlier, a bus of Iranian revolutionary guards was attacked killing 27 guards in Zahedan near the Baluchistan border. Iran blamed an alleged Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-ul-Adl for the attack and asked Pakistan to either take action or allow Iran to enter Pakistan to retaliate. Pakistan has dismissed both the complaints while assuring its action on terrorism.

In the wake of these events on the occasion of the state visit of the Saudi Crown Prince to Islamabad, a press conference was held by the Saudi and Pakistani foreign ministers was held. The Pakistani foreign minister was embarrassed by Adel Bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, the Saudi Foreign Minister for openly addressing Iran’s double standards on terrorism and commented that “it is very strange coming from the foreign minister of the chief sponsor of terrorism was calling out other nations for accusing others to be engaging in terrorism activities in Iran.” And then he went on to list Iran’s alleged contribution to global instability and terrorism.

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This perfectly elaborates how Saudi Arabia views Iran as far as terrorism is concerned. The United States, Israel, and most of the other Sunni countries are pretty much aligned with that viewpoint as well but should these states decide to surround and attack Iran, will Pakistan continue its stance of neutrality?

While nobody in Pakistan is excited at the thought of Iran being attacked, especially due to the way the Shias see Iran, it could still possibly be Pakistan’s “get-out-of-jail-free” card if it becomes a major player to take it down. Even though India has so far been unable to obtain a global consensus on Pakistan being recognized as the state sponsor of terrorism, such a development could further corner its progress. Ideally, Pakistan must do that while cracking down on the terrorists it is alleged to be supporting, but all things equal, this could be Pakistan’s redemption and the West may tolerate its irresponsible policies for one more good reason. This sounds far fetched but will probably not be too improbable especially if Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu are reelected in their respective elections. Trump scrapping the Iran Nuclear Deal negotiated by the Obama administration and calling for the isolation of Iran are steps in that direction. And Iranian generals vowing the annihilation of Israel certainly doesn’t help either.

However, this strategy is not possible without bringing Israel into the equation with Pakistan. As a matter of fact, such a campaign will be the perfect time for Pakistan to establish its diplomatic relations with Israel openly and officially, even if it has to bypass Saudi Arabia’s approval. Though you could argue that if we reach a stage where Iran will undergo such a military siege, Saudi Arabia would arguably have become an open ally to Israel already, paving the path for the rest of the Sunni nations resisting this idea. Currently, Israel is offering unconditional support to India in its fight against terrorism, because frankly they have no motivation to take care of the interest of Pakistan since it has never reached out to them.

Pakistan can not only proactively offer its air bases to Israel and the United States for campaigns against Iran, it can even step up its role in the coalition against Yemen. Many like Kunwar Khuldune Shahid are arguing that Pakistan has already conceded that it is going to be a full Saudi Arabia client state by taking the expected deals worth $20 billion, which implies that it is going to fully become a part of the anti-Iran Sunni coalition despite its earlier reservations.

If that is indeed true then Pakistan is certainly not going to make Iran any happier and cannot change India’s arrangement with Iran. However, right now there is an illusion that Pakistan enjoys good relations with Iran. Such a naked policy will do away with even the comfort of that notion, while also putting to rest the delusion that Pakistan can play the role of a bridge between Saudi Arabia and Iran. So Pakistan can be lazy and wait for Saudi Arabia and China to keep on bailing it out on international forums for the foreseeable future or take a proactive step and reach out to the West again.

But there could even be another factor in Pakistan’s reluctance to call our Iran. Perhaps Pakistan does not want all the attention in the region focused on itself by the Western world for its irresponsibility and support of terrorism.