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Blood Libel

Why the Passover Massacre?

The Passover massacre, like Kristallnacht before it, followed long years of anti-Semitic incitement largely ignored by"reasonable" people as harmless venting motivated by domestic politics. For a few decades, the Holocaust made anti-Semitism taboo in the Western public square, and unseemly in the private one."It would be comforting to think the same hold true today," wrote the Guardian in a January 26, 2002 article entitled"A New anti-Semitism?" It adds that"the repulsive anti-Semitism which is routine in many Arab countries and among some Palestinians" are finding echoes in some British Muslim communities." The same is not true all over the Western world. And the blame lies in the Western media's tendency to routinely ignore, if not justify, Arab anti-Semitic diatribes as an understandable response to the Arab frustration with their failure to prevent Jews from building a flourishing democracy in the Middle East.

For as Norman Daniel explains in his book Islam and the West: The Making of an Image: "It was with very great reluctance that what Muslims said Muslims believed was accepted (by the west) as what they did believe. . . . There was a general . . . picture in which details (even under the pressure of facts) were abandoned as little as possible, and in which the general outline was never abandoned." That general outline includes the view of Islam as a tolerant religion. Thus, the day after the suicide bomber blew himself up in the middle of a Passover Seder, the New York Times published an op-ed waxing lyrical about"a Medieval caliphate's lessons for the Holy Week" entitled"A Golden Reign of Tolerance." Much more enlightening would have been an article along the following lines:

"Propaganda," writes Jacque Elllul in his 1990 study,"takes over the present, but also the past," adding, that literature and history are"rewritten to suit the needs of propaganda." In an article entitled,"The Arabs and Anti-Semitism," published on December 14, 2002 in the London Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat, columnist Hazem Saghiyah argues"that Arab anti-Semitism exists and that it is powerful, even dangerous -- and therefore must be fought." He significantly adds:"Anti-Semitism in Europe was a popular belief that started from the bottom up. In contrast, in Arab/Muslim [countries] it often descends from the top down." Ironically, argues Bernard Lewis in his 1998 Middle East Forum article,"Muslim Anti-Semitism," the peace process further intensified rather than lessened Muslim anti-Semitism." Especially relevant to the Passover massacre is the notorious"matzos of blood" libel.

Blood Libel:  A Short History

The weird charge that Jews (who may not even eat rare meat) murder non-Jewish children to obtain blood for the making of matzot for Passover was first recorded in 1144 AD in Norwich, England. It soon spread throughout Christendom and was repeatedly used to justify anti-Jewish pogroms. It reached the Islamic world in 1840. That year, the Capuchin order of monks charged that Jews had kidnaped and murdered two men to use their blood in Passover matzoh. Under torture, two"witnesses" named several prominent Damascus Jews as the killers. The accused were arrested, tortured and sentenced to death. Local officials then seized 63 Jewish children to compel others to reveal where the blood was hidden.

In Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide, Bat Ye'or, the leading scholar of Muslim relations with Dhimmis (Jews and Christians), quotes a letter sent by Secretary of State John Forsyth to U.S. Consul John Gliddon in Alexandria on August 14, 1840:

Sir: - In common with all civilized nations, the people of the United States have learned with horror, the atrocious crimes imputed to the Jews of Damascus, the cruelties of which they have been the victims. The President [Martin Van Buren] fully participates in the public feeling, and he cannot refrain from expressing equal surprise and pain, that in this advanced age, such unnatural practices should be ascribed to any portion of the religious world, and such barbarous measures be resorted to, in order to compel the confession of imputed guilt; the offenses of which these unfortunate people are charged, resembles too much those which, in less enlightened times, were made the pretexts of fanatical prosecution or mercenary extortion, to permit a doubt that they are equally unfounded.

The President has witnessed, with the most lively satisfaction, the effort of several of the Christian Governments of Europe, to suppress of mitigate these horrors, and he has learned with no common gratification, their partial success.

The Damascus affair, Bat Ye'or explains, exploded during negotiations conducted by the Quadruple Alliance (England, Prussia, Russia and Austria) to evict France's man, Muhammad Ali of Egypt, from Syria. By November, the Egyptian army had left Syria and the Sultan ordered the liberation of the Jewish prisoners. The Ottoman Sultan also issued a declaration that the blood libel had"not the least foundation in truth" and that hence Jews"shall possess the same advantages and enjoy the same privileges" as his other subjects, especially the free exercise of their religion. Blood libels were hurled in other places throughout the decade, including in Jerusalem in May 1850.

In 1983, in the wake of the Lebanon war, Syrian Defense Minister Field Marshal Mustafa Tlas revived this most vicious anti-Semitic canard in a book entitled The Matza of Zion. Tlas told Der Spiegel, that the accusation was valid and that his book is"an historical study ... based on documents from France, Vienna and the American University in Beirut." The American ambassador in Damascus tried to meet with Tlas to protest the publication of the book, but was rebuffed. During a three day congress to combat"religious intolerance," held in Geneva in 1984, the Saudi Arabian delegate regaled the audience with a diatribe filled with references to the 1840 Damascus blood libel.

The new attention to the Holocaust and Jewish suffering generated by"Schindler's List" upset many Arabs. The Arab states promptly banned the movie. It should be rememberd that in 1941 Arafat's uncle, Jerusalem Mufti Haj Amin el-Husseini, received from the Nazis the title the"Fuhrer of the Arabic World" in return for broadcasting Nazi propaganda. Hitler, in turn, promised Arafat's uncle that after winning the war Germany would liquidate the entire Jewish population in Palestine. A founder of the ruling Syrian Ba'ath Party, Sami al-Jundi, remembered:"We were racists. We admired the Nazis." Today Hitler's Mein Kampf ranks sixth amongst the best-sellers of Palestinian Arabs. If the translator of the Arabic version is to be believed, Hitler's"Theories of nationalism, dictatorship and race . . . are advancing especially within our Arabic States."

Some Arabs engage in Holocaust denial. Indeed, French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy became a darling of the Arab media. A convention of Holocaust deniers was planned to take place in Beirut in 2001. Other Arabs assert that the Jews got what they deserved. An April 18, 2001 editorial in the Egyptian daily Al-Akhbar declared:"Thanks to Hitler, of blessed memory, who, on behalf of the Palestinians revenged in advance the most vile criminals on the face of the Earth. Although we do have a complaint against him for his revenge on them was not enough."

In 1991 Tlas's book was translated into English. Egyptian producer Munir Radhi decided it was the ideal Arab answer to"Schindler's List." He announced plans to produce a film adaptation of The Matzah of Zion. In the meantime the book served as a"scientific" basis for a renewal of the blood libel in international forums. Morris Abrams, the longtime American representative to the Commission on Human rights, tells the following story:"During the 1991 session, the Syrian Ambassador repeated the Damascus Blood Libel that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood to make Matzoth. The Western democracies could not be stirred to challenge this age-old anti-Semitic libel (which the Ottoman Sultan as the ruler of Syria, denounced when it surfaced in the 1840s). It took intense US pressure to procure a challenge to this libel in the record, and then only months after the Syrian representative emphasized to the Commission,"it's true, it's true, it's true." In 1992 the PLO observer included in a UN document circulated within the Commission a statement declaring that Israelis" celebrating ... Yom Kippur, are never fully happy even on religious occasions unless their celebrations, as usual, are marked by Palestinian blood." He was not rebuked.

On March 11, 1997, according to Abrams, the Palestinian representative" charged, in a chamber packed with 500 people including the representatives of 53 states and hundreds of non-governmental organizations, that the Israeli Government had injected 300 Palestinian children with the HIV virus. Despite the repeated interventions of the Governments of Israel and the US, and UN Watch, this modern Blood Libel stands unchallenged and unrefuted on the UN record. No appropriate action by any UN body or official has been taken to date." It is a small wonder that when Suha Arafat repeated the charge in the presence of Hillary Clinton, the first lady assumed it would be detrimental to the peace process to protest.

On Oct. 28, 2001 the largest circulation Egyptian newspaper, Al-Ahram, published an article titled"A Jewish Matzah Made from Arab Blood." It summarized The Matzah of Zion, concluding thus:"The bestial drive to knead Passover matzahs with the blood of non-Jews is [confirmed] in the records of the Palestinian police where there are many recorded cases of the bodies of Arab children who had disappeared being found, torn to pieces without a single drop of blood. The most reasonable explanation is that the blood was taken to be kneaded into the dough of extremist Jews to be used in matzahs to be devoured during Passover."

It created very few Western ripples. For the most part, the mainstream media had not yet digested the lesson of 9/11. Only when one of their own, Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl had his throat cut after having to recite:"I am a Jew; My mother is a Jew" did some opinion makers get the message: Anti-Semitism led some Muslims to believe that the shedding Jewish blood was permissible. They began breaking their silence. Thus, on March 10, 2002 the leading Saudi government daily published a two-part column by Dr. Umayma Ahmad Al-Jalahma of King Faysal University in Al-Dammam entitled,"Special Ingredient For Jewish Holidays is Human Blood From Non-Jewish Youth.""Before I go into the details," he writes,"I would like to clarify that the Jews' spilling human blood to prepare pastry for their holidays is a well-established fact, historically and legally, all throughout history. This was one of the main reasons for the persecution and exile that were their lot in Europe and Asia at various times." This time the negative publicity garnered by this particular article forced the editor to publish a retraction of sorts:"I checked the article and found it not fit for publication because it was not based on scientific or historical facts, and it even contradicted the rituals of all the known religions in the world, including Hinduism and Buddhism."

When I recently asked former national security advisor Anthony Lake whether he had ever discussed with his Arab counterparts the virulent anti-Western and anti-Semitic propaganda which filled their press, he answered candidly:"With the Egyptians, once or twice. You know, their governments appoint the editors. But it was not a priority. Now, of course, the free lunch is over." Dennis Ross also went on the record with the belief that ignoring the hate spewed in the Palestinian media, textbooks and mosques was the biggest mistake the American negotiators made. They, along with a growing number of others, have relearned the price of the crime of silence. If only the mainstream media would follow suit we may yet save some lives.