Arab anti-Zionism, Shmuel Trigano argues, has little to do with land, the fate of the Palestinians, or Palestinian self-determination—and everything to do with religion. Citing the historical status of non-Muslims in the Islamic Middle East, he points in particular to two concepts: that of the ummah, a nation of all Muslim believers that transcends ethnic and political boundaries, and that of the dhimmi, protected religious minorities who are allowed to live in Muslim society with legal disabilities:
The concept of the ummah inspired the Arabs to rebel against the [European] colonial powers: not so much for their colonial nature (the colonial yoke of the Ottomans was by and large tolerated), but for their Christianity. A decisive turning point was the rise of nationalism: while the ummah dissolved into nation-states, the pan-Arabism that emerged in its wake provided indirect continuity.
To this situation, . . . an additional factor came to the fore: the creation of a Jewish national home in Palestine, under the British Mandate, as provided by the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The problem derived not from the emergence of a new political force in the midst of the Arab countries, but from its Jewish character: as sacrilegious to the Islamic conscience as the Christian colonial powers had been. . . . In these terms, Jewish sovereignty is understood as nothing short of a rebellion against Islam.
Thus, Trigano argues, the conflict between Israel and its neighbors can be understood in relation to the gradual and long-ongoing destruction of the Jewish communities of the Middle East and, more broadly, to the destruction of Christian and other non-Muslim communities. The latter began not recently, with the rise of Islamic State, but with the bloody anti-Armenian pogroms of the 1890s:
The Armenians . . . committed an act of rebellion against [their status as] dhimmi by fighting for national autonomy. . . . A violent response ensued: several massacres were carried out by the Ottomans in 1894-5. . . . Often overlooked is the jihadist nature of these massacres: not only in their motivation and their legitimation, but also in the nature of the acts themselves and the fact that the surviving women and children (some 150,000) were forcibly converted to Islam. The same pattern was to reappear in the second wave of massacres, this time instigated by the Young Turks [in 1915].
Labeling Zionism as colonialism, and placing the blame for the deterioration of Jewish life in the Middle East on the emergence of Zionism, are two central elements of a reincarnation of an old Islamic tenet: the treatment of the Jews as a “non-people” (from the point of view of sovereignty), as a subjugated people belonging unsparingly to Islamic society. In this vein, the denial of the singularity of Jewish peoplehood is intended to . . . absolve the Arab-Muslim world of responsibility for centuries of segregation of and hostility toward the Jews. From there derives the perception of Israel as a foreign entity to the region, established by European Jews as a compensation for the Holocaust.
The reaction of the incipient Arab states to the creation of Israel is hugely significant in this regard: pogroms and exclusionary laws were carried out against Jews in almost every Arab state, holding them accountable for the “rebellion of Israel the dhimmi.” . . . If the Jews of these countries were not fundamentally already considered foreigners and pariahs, they would not have been held responsible for the creation of Israel.