Volume 3, Number 173
'There's a Jewish story everywhere'

Thursday-Saturday, August 20-22, 2009


New version of the 'blood libel' surfaces

By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM—The disease of blood libel has struck again. Not in Alexandria, where it appeared in the first century, Britain, where it appeared in the 12th century, Damascus in 1840, or Poland in 1946, but Stockholm.

The latest invention is that the IDF killed prisoners and harvested their organs. It comes from reports offered by Palestinians, and published without benefit of investigation by Aftonbladet, the Swedish newspaper with the largest circulation. That the paper once supported the Nazis and recently has pursued a strident policy against Israel adds to the story.

According to one of the journalist's critics, writing for another Stockholm paper,

"Whispers in the dark. Anonymous sources. Rumors . . . That is all it takes. After all, we all know what they [the Jews] are like, don't we: inhuman, hardened. Capable of anything. Now all that remains is the defense, equally predictable: 'Anti-Semitism? No, no, just criticism of Israel. "

Classic blood libels have Jews killing Gentile children and using their blood in the preparation of Passover matzoh or the hamantaschen cakes of Purim. The matzoh story is more prominent among Christians. Passover coincides with Easter, has an association with Jews as killers of Christ, and provides yet another excuse for a pogrom.

Organ harvesting is a high tech version of the classic tale, and may borrow something from Jews charged with the illegal commerce of organs in New Jersey.

The Stockholm story is not the first case of ugly and unverified reports by Palestinians. The BBC broadcast a claim that Israeli soldiers routinely rape Palestinian women in military prisons. The civil rights organization B'Tselem investigated a number of stories and found them all baseless. There are tales of soldiers raping Palestinian women in order to render them victims of their own families' honor killings.

Given the culture of Palestine one should not be surprised at the stories. They are a piece with the claim that will not go away about the IDF killing 3,000 civilians in "the Jenin massacre" of 2002. Human Rights Watch, usually unfriendly to Israel, put the death toll of Palestinians at 31 fighters and 22 civilians. Twenty-three Israeli soldiers died in the same operation, that came in response to a bombing at a Passover Seder in a Netanya hotel that killed 30 celebrants and injured 140.

What is disturbing is the uncritical publication of the most recent stories in Sweden. Even discounting the history of the paper, it is disappointing to find it in a place usually counted among the civilized.

One inured by Jewish history need not ask why. The disease of hatred has resisted denials and authoritative statements about Jews' doctrines by the Roman Catholic Church and European monarchs as early as the 13th century.

More recently the phenomenon of Jew hatred has appeared in the claim that Israelis use the charge of anti-Semitism against any criticism of Israel.

Just as blood libels overlook Judaic proscriptions about blood, the claim that Israelis are quick with the charge of anti-Semitism overlooks their familiarity with criticism. They do it themselves, usually with greater skill and no less cynicism than employed by non-Israelis.

Anti-Semitism changes with time. Just as organ stealing is the most up to date version of blood libel, so the judgment of Israel by standards far more onerous than used against other countries--usually without reference to attacks against Israel--is a pseudo sophisticated version of the older disease. It appears among international organizations, governments, courts, and individual commentators who condemn Israel without considering more horrendous cases found among Muslims, in numerous African countries, and the collateral damage attributed to American troops.

It is yet another variant of anti-Semitism to accuse Israelis of being so sensitive that they are quick to use the label of anti-Semite against those who criticize them.

Undoubtedly there are Israelis who are oversensitive. It is especially awkward to accuse Jews who participate in grossly unbalanced accusations of Israel as anti-Semites. At the least, however, it is appropriate to say that they are unbalanced, keeping bad company, and that their judgments should be assessed accordingly.

Stockholm is only the latest assault on Israeli sensitivity. It reminds us who we are, and our vulnerability to barbarians, intellectual and otherwise.

It is not a good day for the American president to ask Israelis for concessions.

That is another story, but only in part. Israelis are tired of demands that they make concessions, once again, to begin a process of accommodation with people who have resisted making concessions for more than 60 years.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University. Email: msira@mscc.huji.ac.il

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