Examining the origins of the Six-Day War, Matthias Küntzel points to the anti-Semitic—and pro-Nazi—influences in Gamal Abdel Nasser’s formative years and the Egyptian president’s deeply held beliefs about the Jews. He also points to the role that contacts with Islamists played in shaping this secular leader’s politics:
Nasser was born in 1918. In 1935 or 1936 he became a member of the Young Egypt Society led by Ahmad Hussein—a radical nationalist movement that was pro-Nazi in several respects. . . . In 1937, Nasser entered the [Egyptian] Military Academy. In 1938, the core of the Free Officers movement that would take power in 1952 [under Nasser’s leadership] was formed. When, in 1942, “the Germans were close to Egypt,” recalled [one member of the group], we “thought it our duty to do something against the British. We formed a secret organization in the air force to disrupt and impede the British withdrawal from the Western Desert by sabotaging their lines of communication and supply.”
In 1943, Nasser and some of his military colleagues began holding weekly meetings with Mahmud Labib, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, [which], in the 1930s, . . . had received financial aid from Nazi Germany because of its anti-Semitic orientation. . . . In 1948, the Brotherhood was by far the largest political organization in Egypt, with at least one-million members. . . .
It was not by chance that Egypt [after 1952] became the El Dorado of former Nazi war criminals and [current] anti-Semites. One example is . . . [the] neo-Nazi publisher Helmuth Kramer, [who] received political asylum in Egypt in 1965 after a German court had found him guilty of “spreading Nazi ideas.” According to Kramer, Nasser personally dealt with his asylum request and gave permission for him to continue publishing his books.
Though Nasser denied being . . . “anti-Semitic on a personal level,” he emphasized the great relevance of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion for an understanding of world affairs and claimed publicly that “300 Zionists . . . govern the fate of the European continent.” . . . Nasser also denied [the Holocaust] both directly (“No one . . . takes seriously the lie about six-million Jews who were murdered”) and indirectly, by claiming that “Ben-Gurion . . . has killed as many Arabs as Hitler killed Jews.” . . . Nasser’s obsession with the Jewish state was a constant theme of his time in power.