Ancient and Modern Variations of Blood Libel Persist in Anti-Israel Incitement
In a few days the world’s Christians and Jews will celebrate Easter and Passover. It’ll be a weekend of good food (and at my seder, plenty of good Israeli wine)—but most of all it’ll be an affirmation of freedom and faith, an expression of joy, hope and renewal.
But for many people across the planet it’ll be an opportunity to indulge in a bit of Jew-bashing.
Brace yourself as the planet’s anti-Semites engage in their annual rite-of-hate, when the internet will soon become awash in the crazy notion of the blood libel.
It’s a centuries-old mad idea that Jews kill gentile children for making matzo, the unleavened bread that’s eaten during the Passover holiday.
As Lord Jonathan Sacks, emeritus Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, and one of the leading intellectuals of our time, recently wrote in an important article on the resurgence of global anti-Semitism (it’s behind the Wall Street Journal paywall, but his remarks are also captured in this CNN interview):
The idea [of the blood libel] is absurd, not least because even the tiniest speck of blood in food renders it inedible in Jewish law.”
As explained by Sacks, the libel was an English invention, originating in Norwich around 1144. It was introduced into the Middle East in the 19th century, where it helped instigate the targeting of innocent Jews in Lebanon and Egypt (and, most famously, in Syria with the Damascus trials of 1840).
This violence and hatred against Jews happened decades before the first wave of persecuted European Jewish refugees arrived in pre-state Israel seeking refuge in their ancient homeland.
Zionism didn’t provoke it.
This summer, a Hamas spokesperson made headlines by invoking the libel
But as Sacks, and other scholars demonstrate, these aren’t the delusional outbursts of a single racist.
Today the blood libel circulates widely and is endorsed throughout the Middle East.
Along with the libel, an Arabic translation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a forgery of a global Jewish conspiracy, was also introduced into the Muslim world in the 1930s. There it was disseminated by powerful political and religious figures, and today remains widely read and reprinted across the region.
Long before Israel’s independence, one of the most influential Arab Palestinian notables of the time—Hajj Amin al-Husayni, the grand mufti of Jerusalem—disseminated this Jewish conspiracy tract, instigated pogroms against innocent Jews in Hebron and Jerusalem and (eventually deported by the British) sat out the war years in Berlin, where he produced Arabic radio broadcasts for the Nazis.
Today, the Protocols’ central message reappears regularly in a diverse array of Middle Eastern art and cultural forms that portray it as historical fact. The Protocols also feature explicitly in Hamas’s 1988 charter—a document that reads like a Nazi screed. To this day Hamas refuses to repudiate this founding document.
In his path-breaking 2013 book, historian Daniel Jonah Goldhagen argues that anti-Semitism also has a basis in Islamic text. He shows that Jew-hatred didn’t only enter the Middle East from the outside, in the form of imported European myths, but is “practically an article of faith”. Here anti-Semitism “has at its core the notion that Jews are the prophet Muhammad’s enemies and impediments to Islam’s triumph”.
In the midst of today’s global explosion of anti-Semitism, it’s become fashionable to highlight historical periods of Muslim-Jewish coexistence while playing down these theological justifications for anti-Jewish hatred.
To be sure, anti-Jewish attitudes in the Arab world has sometimes been muted, subdued and softened. Sephardic Jews did at times thrive and flourish under Muslim rule, even as they were treated with contempt and as second-class.
But Jewish life in the Middle East was always precarious. How else can we explain the cruel mass deportations of nearly 800,000 Jews from their historic communities in North Africa in the years following the establishment of the state of Israel—a Jewish ‘nakba’ that today many Palestinians and their supporters prefer to trivialize or ignore?
According to the ADL, anti-Jewish prejudice is today “persistent and pervasive” in the Middle East and North Africa, where 74% of those surveyed view Jews as power-grabbing and money-grubbing, disloyal citizens in the countries in which they live, and deserving of the terrible things that are done to them.
In the West Bank and Gaza, 93% of adults answered “probably true” to a majority of the anti-Semitic stereotypes tested in the ADL survey.
Most intelligent people recognize that Hamas is a Jew-hating terrorist organization. It’s a view that greatly frustrates BDS leaders who are desperate for Americans and Europeans to buy into their obnoxious notion that this despotic organization, which routinely brutalizes its own people, and celebrates the death of Jewish innocents, is a progressive movement of the left.
But the Palestinian Authority (PA) is a different story. Pronouncing a desire for peace, the PA is seen by many as a “moderate” element.
The PA has done a good job at fooling a lot of people.
Last week, Saeb Erekat, the PA’s chief negotiator, spoke at the annual J Street conference in Washington, where he was long on platitudes and short on substance—and still managed to garner enthusiastic applause.
But like the late Yasser Arafat, PA leaders often say the right things to the international community, only to say the opposite to their own people. In fact, there’s not much daylight between Hamas and the PA when it comes to Jew-hating rhetoric.
Anti-Semitism is also a major component of PA identity.
Not a month goes by without Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) reporting some incident where the Palestinian people are incited by the Palestinian Authority to murder Jews.
This fall, the “hothouse rumor mill” about Israel’s alleged designs on Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque, wild claims of Jewish Israeli men violating Muslim women on the sacred site, and calls by PA President Mahmoud Abbas to stop the Jewish “contamination” of Muslim sacred space, inspired Palestinians to brutally attack Jews in defense of Islam’s honor.
In January, a cleric on official PA TV called Jews “apes and pigs” whose “hearts are sealed by Allah”.
Last month, the PA aired a TV documentary where viewers were told that Europeans supported Israel’s creation because they wanted to “get rid of the Jews”.
And on February 27, the host of a weekly PA TV program on Islam (a professor of Quranic Studies at the University of Palestine in Gaza) called on Muslims to fight Jews who are “causing devastating corruption throughout the land”.
Fatah members trampling an Israeli flag during a ceremony—a pic uploaded to the party’s Facebook homepage last Thursday along with an accompanying poem extolling the “paradise of martyrdom” for those who would kill the Jews.
Hate fueled by modern variations on ancient blood libels are alive and well in the Middle East, and a major reason there is no peace.
Miriam F. Elman is a political scientist at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University.DONATE
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