CST Blog

Recycling Old Libels

20 August 2009

This article (below), by Arieh Kovler, Director of the Fair Play Campaign Group is copied from the EISCA website. It discusses the reappearance of ancient antisemitic myths within contemporary anti-Israel charges: in this particular instance, the accusation that Jews murder non-Jews in order to use their blood and body parts.

The article is prompted by an article in Scandinavia's most popular newspaper that alleged  Israeli soldiers kill Palestinians to steal their organs. It is now the focus of a diplomatic row between Israel and Sweden.  


Recycling Old Libels

This is a guest post from Arieh Kovler, Director of the Fair Play Campaign Group


The Blood Libel is one of the oldest antisemitic charges against Jews: the accusation that Jewish people conspire to kill non-Jews for nefarious purposes. The most common formulation of this lie is that Jews kill a Christian boy in order to use their blood for a ritual of some kind. But many of the earliest recorded blood libels level a slightly different accusation.

In 1909, Prof Hermann Strack of Berlin University wrote The Jew and Human Sacrifice - the first serious scholarly work devoted to exposing the Blood Libel as a dangerous historical lie. It is, unfortunately, still relevant today. Talking about the earliest Blood Libels, he notes (p174):

“In several cases, always assuming the credibility of the tradition, it would be a matter of popular -medical belief … According to the Marbach annals, the Jews of Fulda (when tortured, of course), confess in December, 1235, that they had murdered the miller’s children,  ut ex eis sanguinem ad suum remedium elicerent - in order to obtain their blood for medical use“

Strack also highlights the account of Thomas Cantipratanus, a monk writing in about 1270. Thomas claims that all Jews were inflicted with some sort of hidden medical condition as a punishment for killing Jesus:

“A very learned Jew, who in our day has been converted to the [Christian] faith, informs us that one enjoying the reputation of a prophet among them … made the following prediction: ‘Be assured that relief from this secret ailment, to which you are exposed, can be obtained through Christian blood alone’.  This suggestion was followed by the ever-blind and impious Jews, who instituted the custom of annually shedding Christian blood in every province, in order that they might recover from their malady

In these early Blood Libels, the Jews were accused of killing non-Jewish children to use their bodies for medical reasons.

750 years later, this particular varient of the Blood Libel lives on. On the 17th of August, Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet published an article by Donald Boström under the title “Palestinians accuse the Israeli army of stealing body parts from its victims”. The article strongly suggested that Israel has been stealing organs from Palestinians and both using them to supply Israeli transplant patients and selling them internationally.

The piece presents lots of facts: Many sick people in Israel need organ transplants. In 1992, then-health Minister Ehud Olmert led a drive to encourage Israelis to become organ donors. Some New Jersey Jews are being investigated for their role in an organised crime syndicate, which allegedly includes the buying  of human organs from voluntary donors. Palestinians who are killed by the IDF are often autopsied.

From these facts, Boström suggests a massive and macabre international conspiracy in which Israelis and Jews harvest organs from Palestinian victims for gain and profit.

This is an incredibly serious and sickening charge to make. Not only does it recall the blood libels of the past, but it is also a form of the Nazi Card. The dehumanization of Jews by the Nazis was one of the worst features of the Holocaust; The Nazis treated Jews as raw materials rather than people, to be worked, killed or experimented on. The accusation that Israel would use the Palestinian as living organ banks is an inversion of this aspect of the Holocaust thrown back at Jews.

So it’s surprising that Donald Boström - like the accusers in the Blood Libels 0f old - doesn’t even pretend to offer any real evidence for his claim. Speaking to Israel Radio, he said:

“It concerns me to the extent that I want it to be investigated. But whether it’s true or not - I have no idea, I have no clue.”

Donald Boström is not the first to revive this contemporary twist on the old Blood Libel. He claims rumours of organ theft are common among Palestinians. Perhaps one reason for these rumours is the Iranian TV series Zahra’s Blue Eyes, broadcast in late 2004 and later dubbed for an Arabic audience. The plot involves the IDF conspiring to harvest Palestinians’ eyes for transplant into blind Israelis.

But Aftonbladet is a mainstream left-wing newspaper, not an Iranian propaganda outlet. It has the largest daily circulation of any paper in the Nordic Countries. Nearly one in six of the Swedish population reads it. It is majority-owned by the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, which has input into its editorial line. The paper’s editorial staff read this article, and felt that it was appropriate to run it anyway. Asa Linderborg, an editor on the relevant section of Aftonblade, told Ha’aretz that the newspaper “stands behind the demand for an international inquiry” of Boström’s claims. She also said:

“We had many discussions on whether to publish the article or not, and to the best of my knowledge, there are no facts there that are incorrect.”

And so a major European national newspaper ran a story that is extremely similar in both form and content to a medieval antisemitic slander.

Writing in rival newspaper Sydsvenskan, Mats Skogkär attacks Aftonbladet’s decision. In an Op-Ed piece called called “Antisemitbladet“, he gets to the heart of the issue:

“Whispers in the dark. Anonymous sources. Rumors. That is all it takes. After all we all know what they 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.”

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