This is a cross post by Adam Holland.
[Second in a series. First article here.]
In August, the blog Counterpunch published an article which literally claimed that Jews ritually murdered gentiles, apparently the first instance of a mainstream U.S. media outlet promoting this medieval charge as true. That article, written by Alison Weir of the anti-Israel organization “If Americans Knew”, connected this blood libel to spurious allegations that Israel is conducting a campaign of theft of body parts from Palestinians killed for this purpose by Israeli troops. Weir claimed on Counterpunch that this purported organ theft campaign was not only sanctioned by Israeli authorities but that it derived from Jewish traditions allowing the murder of gentiles. (Weir’s original article on this can be read here. My response to it can be read here.)
Weir has addressed the controversy resulting from her report in Counterpunch by repeating and defending her blood libel in several posts on her blog, even as she backtracks to contradict herself by stating that she has not reached a conclusion as to its truth. She also says that she has revised her article to remove her citation of Israel Shahak as a source for her claim that the blood libel is true. That citation was shown to be false in my earlier post on this subject. Weir has posted on her blog an explanation for this citation in the form of an email exchange concerning this subject between her and Christopher Hitchens. (Read here.) According to Weir’s blog post, Hitchens (who was a friend of Shahak) emailed her to ask where Shahak had written in support of the blood libel. In response, Weir implausibly denied that she had intended to say that Shahak supported the ritual murder myth per se, merely that Shahak supported similar claims concerning Jewish anti-Christianity, “Talmudic texts emphasizing vengeance”, and rabbis ordering “extreme religious violence (such as) cutting out tongues (and) chopping off noses”. She went on to indicate that she hoped that Hitchens would publish something about her in Vanity Fair. The blog post also links to two columns by paleo-conservative blogger Justin Raimondo denouncing Hitchens in strong terms.
In a more detailed response to the controversy also posted on her blog (read here), Weir characterizes Jewish opposition to the blood libel as their claiming that they have “never done anything wrong”. Weir sees this a typical Zionist tactic.
The continual portrayal of an entire population that has never done anything wrong … and that is eternally the victim of allegedly bigoted, always baseless accusations is part of what buttresses the Israeli myth.
She goes on to characterize her views on ritual murder as “balanced”, writing that Jews “run the gamut” of good and bad. (By a balanced view of the issue, she apparently means that some Jews sanction ritual murder, while others don’t.) According to Weir, Israel’s existence relies in part on a doctrine of Jewish infallibility, and her interest in the ritual murder myth is based on opposition to this belief. She goes on to write that she only wants to encourage investigation of ritual murder allegations, and that those who oppose her promoting these charges do so to prevent the truth from coming out. In that way, she argues that she is merely an advocate for free speech and free inquiry, rather than an advocate for a particular position concerning ritual murder.
Weak sources for extreme claims
Weir’s confirmation of her belief in the truth of the blood libel is puzzling considering the weakness of her sources. She indicates that her reporting on the issue largely relies on a single book on the subject by Ariel Toaff, on the blog postings of “Israel Shamir” and on articles on a blog called “Zionists out of the Peace Movement” which were posted under a pseudonym. I addressed Weir’s reliance on Toaff’s book in my earlier article on this subject. 18 months prior to Counterpunch publishing Weir’s blood libel article, Toaff rescinded the first edition of that book from publication and reissued it with a statement that ritual murder did not occur and that such charges result from medieval Christian myths. He also reiterated this revised finding in numerous interviews. Weir withheld from her report Toaff’s revised findings, dismissing them as merely the result of a Jewish conspiracy of silence.
In response to Hitchens’ questions concerning Weir’s sources, she now qualifies her support for Toaff’s findings, while imputing the motives of his critics.
“At this point, I don’t know whether or not Professor Toaff’s considerable and somewhat dense scholarly work supports his allegations; to determine this requires considerable study and access to both versions of his book. It would also benefit from open, thorough investigation unimpeded by the diverse and frightening threats received by Toaff and others. My very clear point regardiing Toaff was and is a very simple one: suppressing information is wrong.”
Although Weir claimed in her Counterpunch article to have based her ritual murder material on Toaff’s book, and devoted a significant portion of that article to establishing his expertise, it appears likely that she has not thoroughly read his book. Weir’s blood libel claims rely more on the writings of the far-right anti-Semite who publishes under the assumed name “Israel Shamir”. (You can read my original post on this subject for a thumbnail sketch of Shamir’s background. Searchlight magazine wrote about him here. This post raises some questions about his true identity.) Although mentioned only in passing by Weir (she falsely calls him an “Israeli writer”), Weir relies on his writings both for her “facts” and analysis on the subject of the blood libel to the extent that she merely restates what Shamir wrote in her own words.
The Israel Shamir article upon which Weir relied for her ritual murder claims has the odd title “Bloodcurdling Libel (a summer story)”. (Read here.) Shamir wrote it in response to a 2003 David Aaronovitch column published in the Obsever. (Read here.) Aaronvitch’s column concerned contemporary anti-Zionists resuscitating traditional anti-Semitic material such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and ritual murder myths. Aaronowitch mentions the infamous Damascus blood libel of 1840. In that case, Syrian authorities “solved” the mysterious disappearance of a Catholic priest by blaming it on a Jewish ritual murder. They rounded up and tortured several Jews, and extracted several confessions under duress. Aaronovitch wrote that he had recently found this blood libel recounted as a true instance of ritual murder in a variety of Arab media, such as
“in a column in the respected Egyptian mass daily paper Al-Ahram, in a book by the Syrian defence minister and in broadcast sermons from various Palestinian mosques”.
Aaronovitch goes on to tell of an Egyptian filmmaker who planned to make a movie on the subject which would assert that the Jews of Damascus kidnapped and killed the Catholic priest not to use his blood in a religious ritual, but to prevent his revealing a Zionist plot to transport Syrian Jews to Palestine. That absurd, doubly anachronistic motive — the cover-up by pre-Zionist Zionists of a plot to cross a then non-existent border — makes for a very byzantine blood libel indeed.
In response to Aaronovitch, Shamir’s “Bloodcurdling Libel” column claims without basis that the Damascus blood libel was true (although he doesn’t indicate which version he believes, the classic or the new, “anti-Zionist” one). Shamir goes on to argue at length that the medieval blood libels were true as well, however, as with the Damascus blood libel, his basis for this outrageous claim is unclear. He then goes on to highlight two infamous modern anti-Jewish libels for special attention. He writes of the Mendel Baylis case, a 1911 Kiev blood libel in which an innocent man was tried and, after a lengthy trial, exonerated for the ritual murder of a 12 year old boy. He also writes of the Dreyfus affair. Shamir writes that
philosemites of Aaronovitch ilk brought incredible calamities to mankind and to Jews. They excluded a priori the possible guilt of Captain Dreyfus or Beyliss. Instead of standing aside and allowing the justice to take its due course, they created mass hysteria in France and Russia, thus obtaining acquittals but also undermining popular belief in the judicial system. After Dreyfus and Beyliss trials, Jews rose above the law. This caused the backlash of the 1930s, and the back-backlash of our days, and will probably cause a back-back-backlash of tomorrow. In a better world, Dreyfusards and Beylissists would be sentenced for contempt of court; for their unspoken axiom was ‘a Gentile may not judge a Jew’.
One should not believe or disbelieve ritual murders. The ability of men to commit crimes is well known, and there can be monsters like Dr Hannibal Lector of The Silence of the Lambs.
Both Dreyfus and Beyliss were innocent Jews prosecuted because of their religion. Both suffered indignities at the hand of reactionary bigots in positions of power. Both fought to be exonerated within the legal systems of their countries. Both were impeded in doing this by official interference in the legal process. Both, at long last, received just verdicts. Yet Shamir outrageously inverts the facts of these cases to cite them as not only as examples of extralegal preferential treatment given to Jews, he actually goes so far as to blame the rise of Nazism on reaction to this preferential treatment, and to predict that it will cause a similar future reaction to boot.
Shamir’s lengthy column, which claims without evidence that Dreyfus and Beylis were guilty, and which cites the brutality of a fictional character as evidence that Jews murder gentiles, is difficult to take seriously. It argues not only that medieval and modern ritual murder charges against Jews are true, it blames Jewish opposition to those charges on a Jewish supremacist conspiracy which culminated in the creation of the state of Israel. Alison Weir cites this column by Shamir as one of her two sources establishing the truth of the blood libel. She also parrots Shamir’s absurd linking of opposition to the blood libel with a Zionist conspiracy. It is from this column by Israel Shamir more than from Ariel Toaff where Weir’s blood libel derives.
Blessed are the peacemongers?
Weir’s blog post also links to an article on the website “Zionists out of the Peace Movement” authored by a blogger called “PeaceMonger”. (Read here.) That website has a history of promoting “anti-Zionist” demonstrations outside an Ann Arbor, Michigan synagogue during worship services (read here and here), bringing together anti-Israel activists from the far-left and the far-right. The “Zionists Out” website features a sidebar motto explaining its reason for being:
“The main purpose of this blog is to expose Zionists subverting the peace movement, especially in Michigan. ‘Progressive Zionism’ is to Zionism what ‘progressive Nazism’ is to Nazism.”
The post to which Weir links continues a previous post entitled Judaism’s Culture of Death. (Read here.) In case the title doesn’t get the point across, that post is illustrated with an image of death personified: a black-robed skeleton pointing at the reader.
In the blog post, “PeaceMonger” repeatedly quotes that old chestnut description of Jewish holidays, “they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat”, absurdly stating that it reflects something sinister about the Jews:
the “culture of death” and “victimization” that permeates Judaism and much of modern Jewish life.
“PeaceMonger” goes on to quote some violent excerpts from the Torah, for some reason neglecting to mention the fact that Christian and Muslim scripture contains similar passages. Then he or she goes on to blame the following on the intrinsically violent nature of Judaism: the unfounded idea that Jews have been victims of oppression, the many wars between Israel and the Arab states, and the assassination of Yitchak Rabin.
The second part of this essay (the one which to which Weir links) is called “Bloody Passovers: The Jews of Europe and Ritual Murders”. That post features features the following image, a medieval German woodcut depicting Jews extracting blood from a Christian child for ritual use. ( I believe this particular image depicts Simon of Trent.)
In addition to supporting the truth of the blood libel, the “Zionists Out” blog post makes the case that between 30,000 and 90,000 Christians were massacred by Jews during the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in the year 610 C.E.
Gilad Atzmon on organ theft
In support of her medically impossible charge that Israel is conducting a campaign of assassinating Palestinians and stealing their organs for transplantation, Weir’s blog post links to a number of sources, some of which she cited in her Counterpunch article, some of them new. Among her new sources is a column by Gilad Atzmon with the academic sounding title “Organ donation and theft in contemporary Jewish folklore”. That Atzmon column (read here), which was written specifically in support of Weir’s article, oddly focuses on fictional television depictions of Jews dealing badly with issues relating to organ transplantation. (Much of it concerns Larry David’s behavior on an episode of the program “Curb Your Enthusiasm”.) Atzmon makes the case that the selfish motives of these Jewish characters reflect the truth of Jewish parsimoniousness with respect to organ donation, and Jewish greed with respect to organ trafficking. When it comes to the article which elicited this odd excursion into television criticism, Atzmon praises it and and repeats some of Weir’s falsehoods, stating that
“Alison Weir published a shocking yet comprehensive and detailed review of Israeli human organ trafficking and theft. Weir brings to light some staggering cases of organ theft. She starts with an alleged case of a heart being pulled out of a living person without the consent of the family. She also brings to light continuous reports of organs being robbed from Palestinian’s bodies.”
Those who read my earlier piece on this subject will remember that Weir’s Counterpunch article falsely implied that, in the case of the first Israeli heart transplant, the donor was literally killed so that doctors could remove his his heart. Weir’s words had their desired effect on Atzmon; in his mind, Weir’s implication became an allegation.
Weir’s article falsely reported that there was smoke, now her readers argue that where there’s smoke there’s fire.
Journalistic error or deliberate hate speech?
Alison Weir has had ample opportunity to reconsider her promotion of medieval anti-Semitic myths — myths which have been used to justify massacre and oppression — yet she has chosen to reiterate them and to cite new sources in support of them. Rather than thanking her critics for pointing out her initial error in judgment, she has attacked them as motivated by a desire to suppress the facts. Not correcting an error of the magnitude of promoting the blood libel compounds the original error and calls Weir’s good faith as a reporter into question. Her imputing the motives of those who point out her error calls into question whether she’s interested in the truth concerning this matter at all.
Weir is continuing both to elaborate on her belief in the blood libel and to further disseminate it, even as she claims otherwise. Her Counterpunch article (including the false citation of Israel Shahak which she now disavows) has already been translated into several foreign languages. Weir currently promotes these translations by linking to them on her blog. Although she claims to be devoted to the pursuit of peace in the Middle East, Alison Weir seems intent on poisoning as many minds as possible with medieval bigotry against Jews.
This form of activism helps no one.