The legacy of Nazi Propaganda to the Middle East

Grand Mufti Muhammed Amin al-Husseini a charismatic and manipulative figure who remains a hero to many Arabs..and a forced of ubiquitous evil to most Westerners and all Jews. He was appointed as the Grand Mufti by Lord Samuels, first commissioner of Palestine and a Jewish zionist. Go figure!

Putting the bottom line up front. The collision of Zionist aims and Arab Nationalism was -to a large degree- a by product of the highly effective and continuous propaganda of the Nazi regime beginning in 1939 and right up till the last days of the Hitler regime.  The clash between Jewish immigrants  and Arab residents of Palestine began in the 1920’s. During this time right up till beginning of World War Two  the conflict was confined to Palestine. The ceaseless and omnipresent Nazi propaganda turned the issue from one of an Arab Palestinian issue to one of the entire Arab and Islamic world.  The legacy of this continues to this day.

The Mufti of Jerusalem , Emir Husseini was a key element in the widening of the Nazi racial warfare   horizons. His nefarious career, particularly became diabolical when he became involved with the Nazi war effort in the Middle East. In fact Barry Rubin, in his book, Nazis, Islamists, and The Making of the Modern Middle East, makes the assertion thaHitler’s turn to the “final solution”-the extermination of European Jewish population- was in part based on Husseini’s exhortations to Hitler during  his face to face meeting with him not to allow Jewish emigration to Palestine. Previously among other ideas floating around Berlin at that time  were proposals  to simply banish all the Jews from Germany and the subsequent areas to be conquered. This would entail a flood of refugees fleeing to Palestine from Germany. It was the Emir’s objective to stop this Jewish immigration- by whatever means.  Rubin notes that a couple of weeks after Hitler’s meeting with the Emir, the “final solution” at the Wannsee conference, became the official doctrine. The Emir, blue eyed, light skinned, with a magnetic and forceful personality, had a magnetic effect on many people, and apparently so with Hitler.  George Antonius, the Greek Orthodox literary father of Arab nationalism (The Arab Awakening) described him as a great Arab patriot, and  was positively entranced by the Emir. See To War With Whitaker by Hermione Ranfurly.  ( Madame Ranfurly, the young wife of of a British officer captured by the  Germans,  traveled all over the Middle East during WWII and apparently met almost anyone of note in the entire region,  quoting a long passage of Antonius’s hagiographic description of the Emir.) His popularity with the Germans was undoubtedly  enhanced by his teutonic appearance as it was with Arabs in general.


As Klaus Gensicke ( The Mufti of Jerusalem and the Nazis: The Berlin Years) wrote, “The eliminatory kind of power politics which Amin al Husseini pursued throughout the Arab region against both Jews and Arabs is the recurrent theme of Palestinian politics  and is still unambiguously reflected in the Hamas Covenant requiring the destruction of Israel, and in the infamous phraseology Protocols of the Elders of Zion, inveighing  against all Jews irrespective of their nationality.”

This hate doctrine was perpetuated by the very effective German propaganda machine which broadcast 24 hours a day, seven days a week, portraying Jews as the eternal enemies of Islam, and more graphic depictions as monkeys, emphasizing historical pictures of the Jews as genetically disposed to usury, cheating, immorality, and depravity. Jeffrey Herf, In his book Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World  throughly covers this subject, and the many ways in print, radio, and word of mouth, through the Mosques, the German Nazis cultivated this depiction of the Jews.

Not that this depiction was new. In fact European anti -semitism was always more virulent and that in the Arab world. Some has written that there was no real anti-semitism until the advent of Zionism but that is patently untrue. Reading  the preeminent Middle East historian Bernard Lewis, (Semites and anti-Semites) or Bat Ye’or (Islam and Dhimmitude) the Western style anti-semitism was different than the Middle Eastern/Islamic variety.   Lewis wrote , “For Christian anti- semites the Palestine problem is a pretext and  an outlet for their hatred. For Muslims it is the cause.”  However this is not the total picture. In the Islamic world the Jewish people were seen as mostly disreputable and powerless people, devoid of martial qualities, filling a required place in the Islamic economic scheme as financial lenders, and small shop keepers.  They were in powerless in a  world that venerates powerl.  They were a People to be mostly ignored or pitied rather than hated. One hates those above him, not below.The European hatred was one of jealousy, envy, and an engrained hatred blaming the Jews for the death of Christ. As Ibn Khaldun, the great Arab historian, wrote, the Jewish  “depravity” was an  acquired consequence of their subject status in life, as second class citizens in the Islamic world.   In fact, Arab/Islamic history  is replete with blood libel and genocidal episodes against Jews who were often blamed for  any event of domestic  unrest. They were convenient targets of the mobs.

It was the Nazi propaganda that turned the  Arab/Islamic intolerance for the Jews into a more European style hatred. One example being the Farhud in Baghdad against the Jews. In June 1941, as the British army closed in on the ragtag  revolting Iraqi army,  supported by the Nazi regime a mass  mob rampage broke out in the City.Hundreds of Jews were murdered and their properties destroyed. Baghdad had, at that time, the most populous Jewish population in the Middle East. They had survived centuries with only  minor anti-Jewish riots in the past, and generally  lived tolerably peaceful, fruitful lives.  Even today one can find many web sites of exiled Baghdadi Jews  reminiscing about their enjoyable live style in Baghdad. Of course the immediate answer of the neo-Arabists is to a say this was all the fault of Zionism. No doubt the Palestine problem was a factor but it was the Nazi and Italian propaganda that engrained and perpetuated the Palestinian issue in the minds of Arabs and Muslims all the way to India.

Bosnian SS troops

All this was a consequence of the Nazi propaganda linking the Jews to the Jewish immigration to Palestine-despite the British infamous “White Paper’” effectively ending Jewish immigration to Palestine.  The ambivalent and often anti-Jewish of attitude of the British general officers was the example of the Commander of the British forces pursuing  the retreating Iraqis, General Archibald  Wavell, kept his troops waiting outside Baghdad, while the anti-Jewish rampage continued– supposedly he was fearful a British army entering famed Baghdad would set off a general Islamic insurrection.

Emir Hussein having fled Palestine during the Arab revolt in Palestine in 1936-1938 – which he helped incite- he fled to Iraq. During his stay there  he assisted in fomenting the Iraqi rebellion.  Chased out of Iraq he eventually wound up in Berlin where he managed to ingratiate himself with the Nazis. He received a substantial amount of money from the German as well as the Italians, with whom he adroitly played against one another. Awe promised to raise an army of  100,000 Arab volunteers to fight with the Axis, but other than a few hundred, he failed to do so. However he had much  better luck with the Islamic population of the Balkans were he raised a considerable amount of troops, mostly Bosnian Muslims, to fight against the Yugoslavian  Partisan leader Tito’s  Christian Slavs.  An excellent book on this phase of the Mufti’s career is George  Lepre’s, Himmlers Bosnian Division:  The Waffen SS Handschar Division, 1943-1945.  The Bosnian Muslims  were pretty much useless in conventional warfare, even mutinying against its German officers in France, murdering some of them,  but had some effectiveness in anti -insurgent warfare, notorious for atrocities against the Slavic people. Even their German officers were turned off.

reading propaganda on Judaism


The British propaganda to counter  the Nazis  in the Middle East was generally inept.  Although Charles Cruickshank, ( The Fourth Arm)  A British official in the Ministry of Supply, who read the daily reports, wrote that “The most important of PWE’s overseas mission was in the Middle East,” their efforts to counter the Germans was totally( arguably perhaps) ineffective. Freya Stark, the intrepid lady adventurer, and Arabist, a latter day Gertrude Bell, blamed the ineffectiveness-indirectly- on the Palestine problem, In her books, East is West, and The Arab Island, she constantly laments the problem of Palestine.  She wrote,“ Here too, was confirmed the immense emotional influence  of Palestine, spread out so far beyond its geographic boundaries. Practically every expression of antagonism would centre on that small country, whose power for trouble, like that of  Cleopatra, age cannot whither or stale.” She mentioned that even in the wilderness of Yemen the isolated villagers had Palestine on their minds. Having spent some time in Yemen about 30 years later I found that hard to believe.

Freya Stark. great writer on the Middle east. Courageous adventurer. Very unhappy with Zionism but unlike Gertrude Bell she was not anti-semitic .


Being an Anglophile, especially WWII  era, I have read quite a bit about British ( and some American) propaganda efforts in the Arab/Islamic world, including  Ranfurly’s, Crucikshank’s books but also Gershom Gorenburg, War in The Shadows, Youssef Aboul -Enein and Basil Aboul-Enein, The Secret War for the Middle East, Duff Cooper, Old Men Forget, and the best one, Comes the Reckoning by R.H. Bruce Lockhart. My opinion is that the British screwed up their propaganda produce with petty squabbles, infighting, lack of leadership, and fragmented psychological branches, most fighting one another. ( Blaming the Zionists were lame excuses.

Harold MacMillan, the future British PM wrote ( The Blast of War), “The Germans are conducting a very active propaganda among the Arabs. They have seized a large quantity of goods of all kinds for distribution to the natives ( Tunisians).  And by every possible possible means, with the active cooperation of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem influencing  them against us. I have already done my best to expedite the formation of a proper Arab section 0f the psychological Warfare Department. ”

He went on to express his frustration with Allied psychological warfare  in another book, War Diaries: The War in the Mediterranean, writing “ All the people concerned with propaganda and publicity and political warfare are a neurotic, feminine type, and quarrel with each other a great deal. They are much more difficult to handle than anyone else in A.F.H.Q, ( Allied Force HQ)or indeed in the theatre generally.”

Be as it may , the malevolence of The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was happily in accord with the Nazi plans to continue its “final solution” to the Middle East. As the German army pincer operations continued in North Africa  and the Caucasus, seemingly on an axes  to meet in Palestine, the German  had Walter Rauff, an expert on the use of mobile gas vans to use on the Arab world Jews.  He did manage to kill about 2000 Tunisian Jews before   the Germans were evicted from North Africa. Rauff managed to escape after the war and went to world  for Syrian intelligence. In fact many of the more notorious German Nazi propagandists found work and hospitality, especially in Egypt and  Syria continuing their vitriol after the war ended for a new employer.

The Grand Mufti a happy guest of Abdul Nasser, appointed Nasir Arafat as the leader of the PLO.



About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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1 Response to The legacy of Nazi Propaganda to the Middle East

  1. Chris Rollins says:

    Interesting, Tex. Thank you.

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