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
"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
Matzos on Yom Kippur
Eight years ago, Mahmoud Al-Said Al-Kurdi wrote two articles in the Egyptian daily Al Akhbar repeating accusations from the
elaborating on the murder of the priest "in the presence of two Rabbis, who collected his blood."
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
The Morocco-born Yisraeli, who immigrated to
"Most Islamic stories were copies of the fabricated
• In the vicinity of
• In 1844, there were two incidents in
• In 1866, in
• There were further libels in
• In 1875 there was a blood libel in
• In 1876 there was another blood libel in
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
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
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
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
In the United Nations, the Security Council came out with a harsh statement against
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
While the affair had been covered with screaming frontpage headlines in the international
"The only newspaper to my knowledge that apologized was The New York Times, which buried a retraction of its accusations against
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?"
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
"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
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