Blood Libel

News Abroad

Ms. Klinghoffer is co-author of International Citizens' Tribunals: Mobilizing Public Opinion to Advance Human Rights (Palgrave: 2002).

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.

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schmuel peter pleuel - 6/26/2005

Marr may have coined the German word "Antisemitismus" in 1879, but it was first published in print in 1880 or 1881: "Der Weg zum Sieg des Germanenthums ueber das Judenthum". Otto Henkes Verlag. Berlin. It is interesting to note that the term "semitism" was not coined until abt. 1885.
Curiously, however, the term "Antisemite" must have spread like "wildfire," for in an 01 NOV 1888 general membership meeting of the ADSV, the term was used to lure new members (of "[every stripe and colour]")to the club.
In fact, in 1860 the more--or--less famous Austrian Jewish scholar and biographer, Moritz Steinschneider (1816---1907), evidently coined its adjective form ("antisemtic"), when he used it in the phrase "antisemitischen Vorurtheile" ("antisemitic prejudices") to characterize Ernest Renan's ideas about Semitic racial traits. Moritz was the son of Jacob Steinschneider (1782---1856), an expert Talmudist. From 1836 to 1842, he was an "avid member" of a Zionist movement founded by a fellow student.

KEITH SHIVELEY - 11/13/2002

Where can I find statistics about the mass murders of history, namely Ghensis Khan

Joshua Sander - 10/23/2002

Is the total 20 mil. or 45 mil. and if it is 45 mil. do you know what edition of the Washington post said it or what their source was for the information. I would like this for a public speaking speech i have to give because i want the info. to be correct and i read 20 mil. please reply by 12:00pm (CST) Thursday october 24. thanks

Mark Safranski - 4/15/2002

No, unfortunately such distortion is practiced on both ends of the spectrum. " The slovenliness of our language makes foolish thoughts possible " - Orwell


Mark safranski

George Wolf - 4/13/2002

What I say in this letter is inspired by what a Nazi concentration camp survivor -- a Protestant minister -- told a GI in 1945. As closely as I recall it goes, "First they took away the crippled, but that didn't bother me because I wasn't crippled. Then they took away the Communists but that didn't bother me because I wasn't a Communist. Then they took away the Gypsies but that didn't bother me because I wasn't a Gypsy. They took away the Jews but that didn't bother me because I wasn't Jewish. Then they came for me and who was going to save me?" I am horrified that any one group should talk about any one mass murder as though it was the most heinous or the only one ever to occur. There have been many throughout history. There is talk of idiots stupid enough to believe that they can make it look like the Holocaust never happened. They've got nothing on the Turks, who committed the Armenian massacre in 1915. There is good evidence that Turkish Intelligence routinely threatens anybody who brings to light new facts about this genocide. No, I didn't learn this on some Internet rumour site. It was the basis of a Washington Post article a few years back And as you may have noticed, we don't hear too much about the Armenian massacre. I repeatedly hear the phrase, "Never again!" but what mass murder have those who shout this taken the time to help stop? While the Holocaust scholars were still looking for Nazis to arrest, what did they do about the Khmer Rouge killing fields, the Rwandan Tutsi slaughter, the Bosnian Muslim and Christian killings of each other (yes both sides fought under the same "rules"; avoid combat but plunder, rape and kill at will), the Kosovar killings, the East Timor horrors, the Chechen "security operation," or the Shaltila Refugee Camp "cleaning?" I have only just begun. It is well-documented that the Holocaust killed about 6 million Jews. The scary thing is that this was not even the second worst mass murder of all time, and that the biggest one happened after World War II. The second worst mass murderer was Josef Stalin, who is thought to have killed at least ten million. We will never know for sure because he and his successors had time to destroy a lot of the evidence. The worst mass-murderer of all time was Mao Tse-Tung, who (again according to articles in the Washington Post and the Guiness book of World Records) killed about 45 million Chinese. Mao had already killed about 20 million when I first came across a Guiness citation in 1967 (which means 25 million of his victims were still alive back then). I don't believe that nobody knew about the Holocaust during World War II, just as I don't believe that the United States and other countries including Israel didn't know what was going on in Russia and China. Because NONE of us stopped these things, we are ALL guilty of making the 20th Century the bloodiest hundred years of all time. Where is the museum on the Mall in Washington that is a true memorial to the full dimensions of this repulsive bloodbath? What are any of us going to do to make sure that the 21st century isn't a repeat of the 20th? Sincerely, George Wolf

drm - 4/11/2002

Alikum is-Shalom, Jeff
I never said that anti-semitism should be applied to Arabs. My main point is and was that Arabs and Jews decended from a common ancestry, thus the term semite properly applies to both. Whether the relationship is racial, cultural, linguistic, or political is a topic for scholarly discussion.

I will accept anti-semitism as meaning anti-Jewish to raise the discussion to a higher ground. The "Blood Libel" piece is both wrong and mean-spirited. But no way do I want to put myself in the position of defending a terrorist attack. I'm a pacifist! Thinking Arabs do not believe these things, and there are many of them, any more than they believe in the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." They do believe, and with justification, that Israel wants more land, and more water.

Allah ybarrik fiik.

Jeff Weintraub - 4/11/2002

Dear Mark Safranski,

Sorry, I see that you've already (and correctly) informed drm about the history and significance of the term "anti-semite." I was too impatient.

On the other hand, I hope you don't mean to suggest that the kinds of linguistic, conceptual, and historical distortions you refer to are exclusively practiced by "the Left." To quote your own (very cogent) comment to drm: "No student of history, professional historian, journalist or scholar could take such an argument seriously." So I assume (or hope) that you didn't really mean to suggest this.

Jeff Weintraub

Jeff Weintraub - 4/11/2002

Nonsense. Call it waht it is: Anti-Jewish or (most aptly) Anti-Zionist. Jews have appropriated the term holocaust, why should they be able to change the accepted meaning of a term to suit their propaganda putposes?

Dear drm,

Someone who knows a little about the subject may already have pointed this out to you, but "anti-semitism" is a term with a history. It was coined in the 19th century, NOT by the Jews, but by the anti-semites themselves. The intention was to find a more "modern" and "scientific" characterization of Jew-hatred (i.e, not religious or theological, which seemed old-fashioned, but racial or national, which seemed more progressive and up-to-date). All through the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were explicitly "Anti-Semitic" parties, movements, organizations, publications, etc. It was clear to everyone that the "Semites" who were the objects of these attacks were Jews, not Arabs.

For over a century, this has been the "accepted meaning of the term"--accepted not just by dictionaries, but by real social and political actors, intellectuals, ideologists, mass murderers, and the like. OK, sure, the term is imprecise, and so is the whole idea behind it. Jews were not and are not a race, and "Semitic" refers properly to a language family, not an ethnic or racial category. But you should take that up with the anti-semites, not with their victims. To come along now and claim that "anti-semitism" isn't really aimed at Jews, but at Arabs, is just playing games with history.

Likewise, most scientists would probably tell you that it's not really correct to describe all sub-Saharan dark-skinned Africans and their descendents as a "race." So do you want to say that, therefore, it would be unacceptable to describe the Ku Klux Klan and other white-supremacist movements as "racist"? (How can anti-black movements be "racist," if black people aren't really a race?) If so, this would be about as logical as suddenly re-defining the historic "accepted meaning" of the term "anti-semitic."

Jeff Weintraub

Paul Siff - 4/10/2002

Nonsense. If this is a mere political disagreement, why do Arabs recycle this blood libel garbage, admire Hitler, and deny the reality of the Holocaust?

Paul Siff

Andrew Heinze - 4/10/2002

First, why doesn't "drm" identify him/herself and engage in open debate? Second, the point of Klinghoffer's editorial is that anti-Jewish propaganda of the ugliest type has become routine in the Arabic press and mass media. She does NOT make any sort of definitional statement such as "Arabs are anti-Semites," so what exactly is "drm" arguing about?

Andy Heinze
Dept. of History
University of San Francisco

drm - 4/10/2002

1. Even if one ignores the current definitions of the term and agrees that anti-semitism is anti-jewish, this in itself does not make the Arabic speaking peoples anti-semites. Most were anti-Zionist; meaning that they opposed the creation of Israel. This is no longer so. Most of the Arabic speaking peoples would accept the Jewish state, but with the addition of a free Palestinian state. Also, to ignore the obvious use of the holocaust as Israeli propaganda is as disingenuous as to ignore the horrors committed by the Nazis.

Mark Safranski - 4/10/2002

" Antisemitism " as a term was coined by Wilhelm Marr in 1879 a radical leftist, associate of Karl Marx and founder of the Antisemitic League. Leading European antisemites in the late 19th and early 20th centuries used the term exclusively in reference to Jews. Where are Hitler's speeches condemning the Arabs ?

As Orwell noted, it is a standard tactic of the Left ( and totalitarians generally) to corrupt the common understanding of words by smuggling into usage meanings contrary to the original definitions in order to create conceptual confusion or debate where there should be none. This allows the furtherance of agendas that on their own merits, discussed openly, cannot abide the light of day. This is what the previous, anonymous poster is doing either out of ignorance or intent when he prattles on about " the Jews " appropriating terms like " Holocaust " for purposes of " propaganda ". No student of history, professional historian, journalist or scholar could take such an argument seriously.

Mark Safranski

drm - 4/10/2002

Nonsense. Call it waht it is: Anti-Jewish or (most aptly) Anti-Zionist. Jews have appropriated the term holocaust, why should they be able to change the accepted meaning of a term to suit their propaganda putposes?

Mark Safranski - 4/10/2002

This argument is disingenuous. While it is true that Arabs are a semitic people " Antisemitism " as a political term, commonly understood by almost everyone means " hatred or prejudice against Jews " - not " Jews, Arabs and Samaritans ". Dr. Klinghoffer is quite correct to note that the mostly state controlled Arab press recycles almost verbatim old Nazi propaganda about Jews. Julius Streicher would have made a prized editor in chief in either Egypt or Saudi Arabia. So yes, Arabs can in fact be antisemitic and a good game of semantics does little to alter the current reality of this ugly situation.

Mark Safranski

drm - 4/10/2002

Arabs are not anti-semites, they are semites themselves! Along with many other calumnies about Arabic speaking peoples is this dissociation from their historical background. Arabs and Jews are cousins. Check any dictionary. Some current Jewish scholarship suggests, moreover, that the Jews were originally an offshoot of the Caananites; a subculture within the larger culture of the sea peoples. There is enough hostility to go around; in this forum shouldn't a tiny bit of scholarship maintain?

Pierre Troublion - 4/9/2002

Myths propounded by bigots flourish in a climate of ignorance, fear, and group-think. Enlightened Israelis such as the late Prime Minister Rabin realize this, and he worked to foster a more peaceful, stable, open-minded and democratic Palestinian neighbor for his country. Americans of all religious affiliations would do well to remember him, and resist joining what seems to be an endless spiral of finger-pointing. Anti-Arabism is not a helpful response to anti-semitism.