Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blood Libels in the Arab Media Are Nothing New.


Hamodia speaks with Professor Emeritus Raphael Yisraeli, of the Islamic History Department in the Hebrew University, about the history of blood libels in the Arab world


By Yehuda Marks


Blood libels are nothing new in the Arab world, according to Professor Emeritus Raphael Yisraeli, of the Islamic history Department in the Hebrew University.


"What's happening now is no new trend. The first Arab blood libel was 160 years ago — the Damascus blood libel in 1840, although the European blood libels started much earlier, in the 12th century," says Yisraeli, who has written 25 books and some 100 scholarly articles in the fields of Islamic radicalism, Islamic terrorism and the Modern Middle East.


"The traditional European blood libel was brought over to the Muslim countries by

Christian Arabs who originated in Europe," the professor explains in fluent English, a language he picked up while studying for his Ph.D. in Islamic History and Chinese from the University of California, Berkeley. He is fluent in Hebrew, Arabic, French and Chinese.



Matzos on Yom Kippur


The Damascus blood libel, in which the Jews were accused of killing a Christian and using his blood for matzos, was finally refuted and proven to be a farce, concluding with the acquittal of all the Jews who had been arrested. However, the Arab world still believes the allegation, Yisraeli says.


Eight years ago, Mahmoud Al-Said Al-Kurdi wrote two articles in the Egyptian daily Al Akhbar repeating accusations from the Damascus affair, while only two years ago, a famous Lebanese poet, Marwan Chamoun, repeated the allegation in a media interview,

elaborating on the murder of the priest "in the presence of two Rabbis, who collected his blood."


In 1983, Syria's Minister of Defense, Mustafa Tlass, wrote a book entitled The Matzah of Zion, supporting the Damascus accusations.


The book is published by the Syrian government's printing house, and it has been in continuous print for over 20 years.


During a session in the U.N. Security Council Arab representatives distributed the book to "prove" what the Israelis are capable of doing, while a Syrian delegate cited the book at a United Nations conference in 1991, Yisraeli notes.


The Matzah of Zion has become a best-seller in the Arab world and has been translated into many languages. Despite the fact that the Damascus allegations have long been refuted and the book is full of lies, according to its cover blurb, "This study describes in fine detail and with scientific precision the blood rites of the Jews, who slaughter Christians and Muslims so they can mix their blood into the matzos they use on Yom Kippur (!)."



Blood Libels Following the Damascus Case


The Morocco-born Yisraeli, who immigrated to Israel at the age of 14, says that although the Damascus blood libel was the most well-known in Arab countries, there were many others.


"Most Islamic stories were copies of the fabricated Damascus libel or imitated the fables that were widespread in Europe," Yisraeli says.


  • In the vicinity of Damascus alone, there were nine incidents of blood libel between the

  Damascus affair in 1840 and 1900, with four such incidents in Palestine during the same period.


  • In 1844, there were two incidents in Egypt, one in Cairo, instigated by Muslims, and one in Alexandria, instigated by the Greek Orthodox.


  • In Turkey, there was hardly a year without a blood libel, and although the Turkish  government rejected them, foreign monks got the locals stirred up by distributing blood libel material in Arabic translation.


  • In 1866, in Hamadan in western Iran, 18 Jews were massacred following a ritual murder accusation.


  • There were further libels in Alexandria in 1870, in Smyrna in 1871, in Damanhur (Egypt) in 1871 and 1873, initiated by Muslims, and again in Smyrna in 1873.


  • In 1875 there was a blood libel in Aleppo, as a result of which the Pasha of Aleppo  had to send troops to guard the Jewish quarter.


  • In 1876 there was another blood libel in Smyrna and one in Constantinople, while 1877 saw libels in Damanhur and Mansura, where the local Muslims accused the Jews of kidnapping a Muslim child and killing him in order to use his blood for matzos.



The 'Poisoned' Fainting Girls


Professor Yisraeli elaborates on an incident that took place some 25 years ago in Jenin,

which shows how the whole world believed the anti-Semitic libel without going to the trouble of verifying the facts.


It was 1983, shortly after the first Lebanon War and just a week before Pesach. Palestinian girls in their high school classrooms in Arrabeh, Jenin, suddenly began to faint, one after the other.


They were taken to hospital and examined, but no medical reason was found for their fainting. Shortly afterward, other girls of the same age began fainting in Beit Lechem, and afterward in Hebron, Kalkoul, Tulkarem and Shechem.


Over a period of a few days approximately 1,000 girls ended up in the hospital at the same time, seemingly victims of an epidemic.


Since all this occurred just before Pesach, the Arabs raised the motif of blood libel, charging that the Israelis had poisoned the Palestinian girls.


Despite the fact that doctors who checked the girls found no evidence of poisoning, the Arab media accepted the claims of the girls that they had been poisoned, enlisting statements from Arab doctors.


Sadly, some of the Israeli newspapers believed the Arab claim and called for an investigation. When the Arabs saw the Israelis themselves accusing their own government, they raised the tone of their accusations even higher.


Baruch Modan, the director general of the Health Ministry and one of the leading epidemiologists in Israel, headed an investigation team and found nothing.


At a press conference he announced that there was no evidence of poisoning. So why had

so many girls fainted? Mass hysteria, Modan explained.


The foreign journalists mocked this reason, even though it was the professional opinion of a respected epidemiologist.


Encouraged by the support of the international media, the Palestinians became bolder and

offered still more "proof" of poisoning — yellow powder was found on the windowsills.


Dr. Modan and his team immediately checked the powder and found it to have originated

from nearby pine trees, but the foreign journalists remained unconvinced and continued to blame Israel.


The Palestinians' next step was to stage faintings. They prepared trucks in advance, and when the girls got to school they would pretend to faint and be put on the trucks, with the journalists and photographers following them to the hospital.


As soon as the foreign journalists left, according to Israeli journalists who were following

the story, the girls would get out of bed and return to school.


International newspapers ran headlines saying there was evidence that Israel had poisoned the children, with the French newspapers Liberation and Le Monde reporting that the presentation of Dr. Modan was "a weak attempt by the Israelis to hide their crime."


In the United Nations, the Security Council came out with a harsh statement against Israel.


Finally, Israel formally asked the International Red Cross and the World Health Organization to come and investigate.


The International Red Cross found nothing, and its representative issued a weak statement that he had not found any evidence. When he was asked why he did not make a stronger statement and simply refute the hoax, he replied: "This is not the job of the International Red Cross. ..."


The whole scandal was only silenced when the worldrenowned Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta reported on the results of its investigation, with the U.S. experts concluding that it was indeed a case of mass hysteria, a phenomenon similar to teenage girls fainting at concerts.


While the affair had been covered with screaming frontpage headlines in the international

media, and Israel had been demonized for poisoning its Arab citizens, no apologies were sent by any organization or newspaper, Professor Yisraeli says.


"The only newspaper to my knowledge that apologized was The New York Times, which buried a retraction of its accusations against Israel in the back pages," Yisraeli adds.  "And no other newspaper bothered to do even that."


Israeli ambassadors in a number  of countries asked local newspapers to print a retraction, but they were ignored.


"The West couldn't care less. It was Jews who were criticized, so what does it matter?"

Yisraeli explains.



Modern Blood Libels


Just two years ago, Roland Jabbour, the chairman of the Australian Arabic council, went on record stating that Jews are "descended from pigs and apes" and that it is perfectly acceptable to tell people that Rabbis kill Christian children for the blood.


This is the accepted view in Arab circles.


The electronic media also runs series that evoke the blood libel, like The Exile series, which was broadcast in 2003 on al- Jazeera and other Arab stations.


The image of the Zionist in these programs, which are watched by millions, is that of the Der Sturmer Jew, bloodthirsty and frighteningly ferocious.


But why are these so heavily refuted lies so easily believed?


"Because you can't tell a lie about Jews that is too big for the Arab governments, Arab schools and Arab press," says Joseph Farah, the Arab editor and chief executive officer of



"As an Arab-American, I wish that were not true. But it is," Farah says. "As one of the very few commentators of Arabic heritage who dares to point out the obvious incredibility in such horror stories, I will be called names. I will be vilified. I will be

threatened, intimidated and harassed."


But by far, the dominant elements in the dissemination of the blood libel are newspaper

and magazine cartoons.


These lies are especially dangerous because cartoons are the hard to contest; it is difficult to argue with them, because they themselves are not discursive. They comprise not so much an allegation as a representation of reality. They also cross linguistic and national borders, meaning that the anti-Israeli cartoons include all Jews around the world.


Joel Kotek, a compiler of anti-Semitic and blood libel cartoons circulating in the Muslim world, prefaces his collection thus: "There are so many of these cartoons that I could select only a few."


Among them is one of Ariel Sharon standing on a pile of infants' corpses, hands dripping

with their blood, holding another infant aloft, and with a Magen David hanging from his neck; in another cartoon, a religious Jew is putting a baking tray in an open oven, and on the tray is a Palestinian child.


There is a strong vampire theme in the Arab media, with one cartoon of an Israeli soldier

giving his mother a present, a bottle filled with the blood of a Palestinian child; Jews drinking the blood of the American people through a straw; Shimon Peres and Yitzchak Shamir toasting each other with Arab blood; Ariel Sharon celebrating the New Year by drinking from a bottle labeled "Martyrs' blood." According to Yisraeli, the only

answer to these blood libels is for Israel to stop being so apologetic.


"We have to run our own independent publicity campaign, and we must stop being squeamish. The Arabs are winning their publicity campaigns by being horrific and spreading abominable lies about us, but we don't show the world the terrible pictures of

what they do to us," Yisraeli argues


Yehuda Marks

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


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