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On February 5, 1840, a Capuchin monk in Damascus vanished without a trace. The missing friar's fellow monks spread a rumor that, with the approach of the Passover holiday, Jews ritually murdered the Christian and siphoned off the man's blood to bake matzah. Under pressure from the French Consul in the city, the Muslim rulers of Damascus arrested several Jews for the brutal crime. Under torture, one of the Jews confessed to the ritual murder of the monk. Alarmed by the Muslim adoption of the medieval Christian charge of ritual murder against the Jews, world Jewish notables united to protest the death of one of the Jews in Damascus under torture. Even US President Martin Van Buren protested the injustice of this "blood libel."
In the end, the Muslim authorities released the surviving Jews and dropped the heinous charges. Thus, what became known as "The Damascus Affair," passed into history as just one of many libels against the Jews that repeat themselves-in a somewhat different guise-in today's world.
In the 21st century, the charge of the "blood libel" against the Jews is no longer solely a European phenomenon. In a disturbing transformation, Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East are breathing new life into this charge of ritual murder against the Jews. The popular media in Arab and Islamic lands often accuse Jews of using the blood of slain non-Jewish children for filling hamentashen on Purim and for baking matzah on Passover. But there is also another version of the blood libel in the Middle East that is far more complex and more insidious than the medieval Christian accusation of ritual murder against Jews.
That is the "New Blood Libel' - the charge that the modern Jewish State murders Palestinian civilians, especially children, in the name of Zionism. At rallies around the world organized by Muslims protesting Israel's recent invasion of Gaza, the chants of "baby killers" and "Israelis are Nazis!" were repeated again and again by the protestors. These sickening accusations have been picked up by Western media outlets and flashed on television and computer screens all over the world. The time has come for Jews and non-Jews-defenders of democracy and Israel's right to exist as a sovereign Jewish State-to respond to the haters of Israel and expose their new charge of blood libel to be as destructive and utterly untruthful as the medieval accusation.
Is a Gaza City in partial ruins due to Israel's response to repeated Hamas rocket attacks on Israel, indeed, a "concentration camp," as was the description recently put forth by a Vatican representative? Any of us not trapped in an Orwellian world of "Newspeak" know that Gaza City is not a post-modern version of the Warsaw Ghetto. The equation of the Israeli army with the Nazi SS is absurd. German mobile killing units murdered more than a million Jews in Russia, shooting men, women, and children into mass graves. Nazi Germany transported European Jewry to death camps in Poland where the victims were gassed and cremated. The Nazi Final Solution was a systematic program to destroy the Jews of Europe and, eventually, Jews throughout the world. There are no Israeli mobile killing units today in Gaza. There are no gas chambers or crematoria in Nablus. There has never been a systematic program by the Jews of Israel to destroy Palestinians. Blockades and checkpoints are not mass murder. They are safeguards to protect Tel Aviv and Jerusalem from suicide bombers. They are repressive - but they would not exist if the Palestinians truly wanted to live in peace with Israel.
The death of civilians in war is always a tragedy. The Israeli army in Gaza attempted to root out Hamas terrorists. They did not target civilians for mass execution. During World War II, German civilians were killed in Allied bombing raids on the cities of the Reich. Does that mean that the Americans and the British were war criminals? The Germans started the war and the Allies wanted to end the conflict as soon as possible through the bombing of German cities. The Palestinian civilians killed in Gaza died because the leaders they chose provoked Israel into invading territory that Israel abandoned years ago. That these facts need to be pointed out to those who accuse Jews of being Nazis is quite sad. The rhetoric of those who make these accusations does not spring from intelligent thought. They propagate this modern blood libel because they hate Jews.
The enemies of Israel libel the Jews of Israel as heirs of the Nazis for one reason: they want to rob Israel of its legitimacy and ensure that, one day in the near future, the Jewish State will be wiped off the map. They equate the threat Israel poses today with the threat Nazi Germany posed to the world more than sixty years ago. If the Nazis posed a peril to the world and, therefore needed to be defeated and destroyed, the same goes for Israel. In a tragic distortion of history and the truth, these haters of Israel create the rationale for the destruction of the State of Israel. If Jews in Israel are racists and imperialists, the modern blood libel posits that Israel has no legitimate reason to exist. If the Independence War of 1948 is an example of Jewish ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians - although we all know that it was a war in which the Jews had to fight off Arab armies in battles of self-defense - then the basis of Israel's existence is in doubt. If Gaza City is the Warsaw Ghetto, as the libelers claim, then Hamas is a group of freedom fighters, heroes of the free world. How absurd are these claims! If only the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto would have had sophisticated weaponry and rockets rather than just the pistols and homemade bombs with which they fought the Germans. If only the world would have protested the slaughter of Jews with the same vigor in which they have accused Israel of war crimes in Gaza.
How pathetic it is that the Damascus Blood Libel is still alive. The new libel is as disgusting and untrue as its medieval predecessor. To combat the new accusations we must arm ourselves with the facts and counter the lies with truth. Perhaps, one day, the world will move beyond outright lies and come to know the truth.
The writer is on the faculty of Nova Southeastern University's LifelongLearning Institute in Davie, Florida.