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Reviews of Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism

“In his contribution to Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism, Farid Abdel-Nour, a political scientist at San Diego State University, tells a story about a trip to his childhood home in Palestine. Out of curiosity, he visited two sites in the Old City of Jerusalem: the Jewish quarter and the Haram al-Sharif. He was surprised by his experiences. In the Jewish quarter, he “blended in very well,” a fact that “deeply troubled” him. While wary of “the anti-Jewish feeling” with which he had grown up, and “looking forward to normal neighbourly relations with Jews and Israelis,” he felt the need to draw “a clear line between self and Jew” (pp. 114-15). In the Haram, by contrast, he stood out “like a sore thumb” among his “fellow Palestinians.” After Friday prayers, he was questioned by the shaykh and a guard. “Are you a Muslim?” they asked. He replied that he was “born into a Muslim family.” At once, even though he explained that he was secular and not practicing, he was accepted as “a brother” with “friendly slaps” on the back and smiles all round (pp. 115, 118). Abdel-Nour’s narrative speaks to the complexities of identity in Palestine and Israel, where the categories of “Muslim” and “Jew” are, or can be, more than merely religious, and where their connotations are conditioned by a century of territorial conflict and decades of military occupation. Correspondingly, “Islamophobia” and “anti-Semitism” are terms that cover a multitude of sins, as many of the entries in this collection testify. The book is divided into five parts. Parts I (“Islamophobia”) and II (“Anti-Semitism”), with three contributions apiece, contain a general discussion of each phenomenon. Following an “excursus” by Sander Oilman, parts III (“Images of the Other”) and IV (“Education and Textbooks”), each with five articles, focus on the Middle East. The collection concludes with two pieces in part V (“Approaches to a Better World”). The contributors include academics such as Sami Adwan and Daniel Bar-Tal (on textbooks in Palestinian and Israeli school systems respectively), journalists (Akiva Eldar on the same subject), peace activists (Yehuda Stolov on “intensive interfaith encounter”), religious thinkers (Imam Abduljalil Sajid of the Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony, U.K.), and others. Most are Israeli or Palestinian, although several (especially in parts I and II) are from outside the region. In a brief introduction, the editors, Hillel Schenker and Ziad Abu-Zayyad, place the book in the context of the Palestine-Israel Journal, of which they are also the co-editors and which has previously published all but three of the contributions in the book (eleven were included in a 2005 special issue). As the editors explain, the aim of the journal is to “promote rapprochement and better understanding between peoples” (p. viii). This helps explain the diversity of voices and styles in the book. For this very reason, however, the introduction is too brief to knit this eclectic set of articles into a coherent whole. So, for example, in Hanna Biran’s “Fear of the Other,” which focuses on attitudes in Israel toward Oriental Jews, the reader is thrown by the opening words: “As the peace process gets under way . . .” (p. 93). Only from the small print in the book’s front matter do we learn that this article dates back to 1994, the year the Palestine-Israel Journal was founded. It would have been useful if the editors had explained its relevance to the current situation and its place in the book…” –Journal of Palestine Studies