Palestinians from Gaza pray in front of the Dome of the Rock during their visit at the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City October 5, 2014
Palestinians pray in from of the Dome the Rock, known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount.REUTERS/Ammar Awad

'Islamophobia is everywhere brother, and you know who's behind it? The Jews.' This sounds like a (very dark) joke I might tell on stage if I was that kind of comedian, but it is actually what a taxi driver in Naz Shah's Bradford West constituency once told me.

He assumed that I would agree with him because my name is Omar. Naz Shah assumed that she would get votes for the same reason. Shah suggested Israel should be relocated to the US, along with the comment "problem solved", and also reportedly posted the hashtag #IsraelApartheid above a quote saying "Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal".

One of the things that makes the Israeli-Arab conflict - and the anti-Semitism that often goes with it - so scary is how tribal people can get about it: a second-generation British-Pakistani in Bradford can be just as extreme as a Hamas member in Gaza.

The key, according to Corey Gil-Shuster, a Tel Aviv University lecturer who runs The Ask Project YouTube channel, is for 'Jews and Muslims to treat it as just another country. That's not realistic - but really it is just a country'. Some of our politicians have made this impossible.

The tragic thing is that my taxi driver's anti-Semitism isn't 'Islamic' - it's political. And it's been fed and watered by politicians like Shah, who know how to cynically rally the troops.

Not only is this blind anti-Israel bias not Islamic - it is unIslamic

Not only is this blind anti-Israeli bias not Islamic - it is unIslamic. When Khaleel Mohammad, Professor of Religion at San Diego State University, encourages Muslims to be more aware of the 'Abrahamic' context of their religion, he complains to me that 'Muslims are not prepared for this because they created this myth of supremacy from the ninth century. Muhammad's claim is that he came to continue, not supersede (Judaism and Christianity). The Quran never makes a claim of scriptural corruption (of the Bible and Torah)'.

When Mohammad says that Muslims need to understand Israel by studying Jewish history, he's really just asking them to read the Quran, without skipping over the following verses (that wouldn't look out of place in the Torah):

'And We said thereafter to the Children of Israel, 'Dwell securely in the Promised Land'

'O my people (the Jews)! Enter the Holy Land, which God hath assigned unto you'

'And we said to the Children of Israel afterwards, 'scatter and live all over the world... and when the end of the world is near we will gather you again into the Promised Land'

What I heard in that Bradford taxi, and what I believe Naz Shah was using to get some easy votes, was a cocktail of the Islamic supremacism Professor Mohammad mentioned, with a dash of European anti-Semitism, which was enthusiastically imported by Arabs to justify their irrational opposition to Israel.

What I believe Naz Shah was using to get some easy votes, was a cocktail of the Islamic supremacism and a dash of European anti-Semitism, which was enthusiastically imported by Arabs to justify their irrational opposition to Israel.

John Mann confronts Ken Livingstone over Labour anti-semitism rowIBTimes UK

So why did my taxi driver care so much? What did Palestine mean to him? Professor Mohammad has a view of how opposition to Israel grew from being a somewhat rational, territorial position to a pan-Islamic, ideological commitment: 'After the Arabs lost the Six-Day War, Islamic scholars convened in Cairo and tried to make Palestine into a Muslim cause, realising that Arab nationalism was not enough to forge a strong alliance. Among the resolutions of the conference was to basically create a state of jihad.'

Medieval Muslims - based on the Quran - were happy to look forward to the resettlement of Israel by Jews, Khaleel Mohammad

'When I tell people that the medieval Muslims - based on the Quran - were happy to look forward to the resettlement of Israel by Jews, and that the Caliph Omar called the land a waqf (trust) because he knew it was not territory to be conquered, but saw it as a land to be held in trust for its rightful owners, they look at me as if I am from outer space.'

I suspect that if Naz Shah, or Ken Livingstone, met Professor Mohammad, their reaction would have been more negative than just looking at him like he was from outer space.

I also suspect that my Bradford taxi driver had no Jewish friends. I would bet that he'd never met an Israeli citizen. The same could well be true of the Imam of his mosque. That's why programmes like the Muslim Leadership Initiative, where Muslim activists are flown to Israel (with no strings attached) to actually develop their own opinions, instead of inheriting prejudices, are so important.

Imam Abdullah Antepli, the architect of the programme, told me that 'Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe and North America are the closest natural allies to each other. They have so many common challenges and so many common opportunities to thrive together. So far, both communities seem to ignore each other or fight - figuratively speaking - the proxy war of the Israel-Palestine conflict.'

And that won't change until the political leadership does. Yes, Islamophobia is everywhere, brother. So is anti-Semitism. And you know who's behind it? The politicians.


Omar Hamdi is a Welsh-Egyptian Comedian, Broadcaster and Writer. Follow him on Twitter @Omar_Hamdi_Com