When blood libel becomes part of 'Kultur'

When accusation of organ theft appear in the culture section, it's time to notice some European trends.

blood libel 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
blood libel 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Few readers of the Israeli or Jewish media will have missed the reports about a recent article in a Swedish tabloid that accused Israel of abducting and killing Palestinian civilians to harvest their organs. Since the story broke last week, a number of interesting commentaries have been written; among the most worthwhile to check out is JPost Columnist Barry Rubin's article "Stop the pressses: Blood libel goes mainstream" on his blog The Rubin Report, which includes several updates on additional developments and information. I must confess that I was struck by a perhaps rather marginal aspect of the story: the fact that the article was published in the "Kultur" section of the paper. There may be some entirely mundane reasons for this arguably odd placement, but I felt that by publishing the article in the "Kultur" section, the paper's editors had - probably unwittingly - made a very fitting choice. AS ARIEH Kovler notes in a superb article "Recycling Old Libels" on the website of the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism, the author of the Swedish tabloid article claims that rumors of organ theft by Israelis are common among Palestinians. Kovler suggests that one reason for the popularity of such rumors could be the Middle East's popular culture, specifically "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." According to a Memri report on the series, one episode also included a story that claimed that "the Israeli president is being kept alive by organs stolen from Palestinian children." Barry Rubin mentions a similarly-themed Turkish film. Another very important point highlighted by Kovler is that the accusations in the Swedish paper not only echo the blood libels of the past, but also suggest that Israelis resemble the Nazis: "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." As chance would have it, just a day after the Swedish paper published this article, the British Guardian carried a piece by the much celebrated philosopher Slavoj Zizek. Commenting on Israel's policies toward the Palestinians, Zizek did his best to make the Israel-Nazi comparison respectable: he not only accused Israel of "ethnic cleansing", but also argued that "Palestinians often use the problematic cliche of the Gaza strip as 'the greatest concentration camp in the world.' However, in the past year, this designation has come dangerously close to truth. This is the fundamental reality that makes all abstract 'prayers for peace' obscene and hypocritical. The state of Israel is clearly engaged in a slow, invisible process, ignored by the media; one day, the world will awake and discover that there is no more Palestinian West Bank, that the land is Palestinian-free, and that we must accept the fact." It is worth noting that the online version of the article, unlike the print version, originally included the term "Palestinian-frei", obviously intended to invoke the Nazis' "Judenfrei". Moreover, Zizek not only suggested that it is becoming ever more legitimate to compare Gaza to a concentration camp; by asserting that "Israel is clearly engaged in a slow, invisible process", he also invoked the familiar theme that after 1945, all too many people claimed that they had not "known" what was happening to the Jews. Needless to say, Zizek's claim that anything Israel does is "ignored by the media" is utterly ridiculous. It was doubtless a coincidence that on two consecutive days, two major publications in two European countries gave out the message that Israel deserves to be compared to the Nazis - but it was arguably a revealing coincidence. It's even more revealing when you check out Memri's "Anti-Semitism Documentation Project". Here are just a few recent titles: August 12, 2009: Article in Syrian Government Daily: The Holocaust - Part of a Reciprocal Conflict between Hitler and the Jewish Capitalists; Its Real Victims Are the Germans and the Palestinians June 11, 2009: Saudi Columnist: The Real Holocaust - Israel's Slaughter of the Palestinians May 11, 2009: Articles in Syrian Government Dailies on 'Bloodsucking,' 'Blood-Letting' Jews April 7, 2009: Jews Portrayed as Blood-Drinkers in Anti-Semitic Drama Aired on Hamas TV March 4, 2009: Omani Columnist: What the Jews Did in Germany 'Impelled Hitler to Punish [Them] For Their Bad Deeds'; 'The US Today Finds Itself in the Same Predicament as Germany Back Then.' SO MAYBE it's time for a variation on the last item: what the Jews do today in Israel - or what they are suspected and accused of doing - impels some people to compare Israel to Hitler's Germany. Naturally, suspecting anti-Semitism as the root cause of such comparisons would cause lots of righteous indignation among all those oh-so-well-meaning folks who feel "impelled" to draw this comparison in order to express their "entirely legitimate" criticism of Israel's policies - or of what they think Israel's policies are. As Zizek demonstrated so well, it doesn't matter if it's about an "invisible process" - if you are a clear-sighted philosopher, you can see that it doesn't really matter that today, there are more Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza than ever before in history, and you can clearly foresee the day when "the world will awake and discover that... the land is Palestinian-frei" - ehm, make that "free", that's just so much more subtle, isn't it? This article first appeared in the blog The Warped Mirror on JPost's BlogCentral.