Incitement Watch: Blood Libel and the "True Nature" of the Israeli - Arab Conflict / OR Avi - Guy

Apr 4 2012
Welcome to Incitement Watch, a new feature on "FreshAIR" which collects and highlights the worst examples of antisemitism and incitement to violence from the Middle Eastern media.

To begin with, an Egyptian newspaper celebrated the Jewish holiday of Purim with an interpretation of the Book of Esther you have probably never came across before (Al-Wafd, March 14, 2012, Fikriya Ahmad):

"In ancient times, [around] 400 BCE or earlier, groups of Jews lived in Persia under the patronage of Ahasuerus, king of Persia and India. [These Jews] spread evil and destruction, as well as their dishonest and treacherous ways. Thus, they deservedly [incurred] the hatred of the state minister Haman, who incited the king of Persia against them and killed them... The Jews, as is their wont, resorted to the cheapest trick [possible] and took revenge on him by ways of spying and seduction. Knowing that Ahasuerus couldn't resist beautiful women, they sent him one of their daughters, Esther, in order to trap and seduce him... [Esther, now] controlling the king, caused him to quarrel with Haman, and persecuted Haman until he was [eventually] hanged and his 10 children were killed... Esther even persuaded the king to arm the Jews, so they could take revenge on their Babylonian enemies. The king did so, and [the Jews] exterminated the Babylonians, to the last one..."

The sudden interest of the Egyptian columnist in Jewish scripture serves a wider purpose than merely saying that Jews throughout history, or at least since the pre-Islamic days of Ahasuerus, were "dishonest and treacherous". She uses this defamatory version of the story of Purim to demonise Jews today, using the not-so-original tool of blood libel. She claims that Purim celebrations are violent festivals of revenge against non-Jews, and that the victims' blood is being used to make hamantaschens, traditional traingular pastries eaten at Purim:

"[Later, the Jews] turned the anniversary of the lottery day, on which they escaped massacre, into a major religious festival... They dedicate this [festival] to murderous [acts of] vengeance against anyone who isn't Jewish. On this day, the Jews read one of their scrolls, the Scroll of Esther, and the flame of their hatred towards all non-Jews grows even hotter. Their children put on scary costumes, to fan their hostility and hate. The sweets they eat on this day are made from the body parts of Haman. There are sweets [shaped like] Haman's ear, hand or head, in order to take revenge upon him, [and celebrate] his execution and the delivery of their people... Jewish history documents murderous actions [perpetrated as part] of Purim celebrations. On this festival, the extremists among them used to hunt down or abduct a non-Jew, slaughter him, and then hang him up like a sacrifice to drain his blood. Alternatively, they would subject him to barbaric torture by stabbing him deeply and letting him bleed into a container, while they took pleasure in his screams and his pain. The blood would be dried into a powder, which they would mix with flour to make into pastries..."

Ahmed's alleged knowledge of the secrets of Jewish cuisine is shared with her readers for political reasons as well, as she claims that the Palestinians are the most recent victims of the Purim "murder sprees"- now the "extremists" who "abduct" and "slaughter" non-Jews are none other than IDF soldiers and Jewish settlers:

"Now that their deeds on this festival have been exposed, the Jews seem to have replaced them with other actions, far more sweeping, [namely] the killing of Palestinians in unjustified military attacks during this holiday." She claims that "Anyone who follows the murderous actions of the Israeli army, its intensive assassination [policy], and its physical extermination of the Palestinian owners of the land, as well as the cruel attacks by the Jewish settlers, will find that most [of the attacks take place] on the Jewish festival of Purim... A historical review of Purim celebrations reveals that, [on this day, the Jews] routinely kill some Palestinians without any clear reason, as though offering the blood of the Palestinians, who own the land, on the altar of this holiday."

She is not the only one spreading the story of blood libel, which sadly remains a perennial theme in much of the Arab world. A new book "Jewish Hostility Towards Christ and Christians," by Assad Azzouni has been published in Jordan and is reportedly gaining considerable positive comment in the media there. Its theme is that the Jews are trying to destroy Christianity and kill or convert Christians, and start wars etc, in order to do so.

And here is Azzouni in Al Watan Voice spruiking his new book:

"Do not forget the need to kill Christian children and use to knead their blood in a dough on their festival... According to Rabbi Moses Abu Alhafiyah, the Talmud analyzes two types of blood for the pure blood of the Passover. If Christian blood is not available, Muslim blood is acceptable, because they believe that many Christians converted to Islam."

Ahmed and Azzouni are basically using the ugliest of antisemitic beliefs to promote the idea that the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (and more broadly, all conflicts between Jews and non-Jews) are due to "Jewish nature", and/or culture. Such assumptions about the roots of the problem are overwhelmingly common in regional comment.

A particularly clear exposition of this assumption was put forward by Egyptian cleric Muhammad Hassan on Egyptian television (al-Rahma TV, February 14). He said that there is an existential and ideological-religious conflict between Jews and the Arab/Muslim world, which goes beyond the political conflict between Israel and the Palestinians: "The conflict between us and the Jews is not about land or borders, rather it is a conflict pertaining to creed and existence". He also blamed Jews collectively for "globalising false claims" - supposedly mobilising the media to repeat them until they become "global axiomatic truths" which no one dares confront or rebut lest they will be considered antisemitic.

Post- Revolution Tunisia has also produced its fair share of anti-Jewish rhetoric, as Salafis become more and more dominant in public places, despite being one of the few places in the Arab world which still has a Jewish population, albeit a small one. During a Salafist demonstration in Tunis in support of the Koran and Sharia law and against secular sectors of Tunisian society, one of the Salafist preachers shouted "young people rise up, let's wage a war against Jews," to which the crowed reportedly responded by cheering and chanting "God is great." Roger Bismuth, President of the tiny Tunisian Jewish community, declared that he plans to take legal action against the inciting preacher stating that "We can't have this violent speech in our country... it is not the first time this has happened... it is totally unacceptable." He also expects the government to act against those who spread incitement and hatred, as the Jewish community's (which includes less than 2,000 members in total) security concerns increase.

More locally, the Australian National Committee to the Global March to Jerusalem featured a cartoon in which Gaza (represented as a Palestinian woman) is crucified on an electricity pole marked with a Star of David with cut power lines, while a missile is piercing her chest. The cartoon was drawn by a Palestinian-Jordanian cartoonist Emad Hajjaj, who is known for his antisemitic cartoons. Apparently the Australian supporters and local organisers of the Global March to Jerusalem events share and identify with such use of antisemitic themes in promoting the Paletinian cause.

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