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Murders, Martyrs, First Ladies and a Mob Boss: Famous Blood Libels in History

1144: 12-year-old William of Norwich, England, found dead. A priest accuses local Jews, but king’s sheriff dismisses charges, leading to uprising, canonization of William by local bishop. At coronation of King Richard II, 1189, mob turns on Jews; massacres follow in London, York.

1255: 8-year-old Hugh of Lincoln, England, found mutilated. 19 Jews executed.

1475: 2-year-old Simon of Trent, Italy, found dead. 15 local Jews burned at stake. Simon canonized 1588 by Pope Sixtus V; rescinded by Paul VI, 1965.

1491: 4-year-old Christopher of Toledo, Spain, “the Holy Child of La Guardia,” found dead; eight local Jews and Conversos executed by Inquisition. Christopher is canonized 1805 by Pope Pius VII.

1690: 6-year-old Gavriil Belostoksky of Zverki, Poland, found dead. Shutko, a local Jewish rent-collector, accused of draining blood for matzo. Gavriil canonized 1820 by Russian Orthodox Church, reaffirmed by Belarus state TV, 1997.

1840 February: Catholic priest found murdered in Damascus, Syria; 13 Jewish community leaders arrested, tortured on ritual murder charges. Worldwide protest campaign organized by Sir Moses Montefiore, Rothschild son-in-law and president of Board of Deputies of British Jews, ends in their release in September. (Incident includes first-ever mass action by American Jews for overseas aid, as N.Y. rally is held at B’nai Jeshurun synagogue Aug. 17. Rally follows months of debate over propriety of collective Jewish action. Protesters demand State Department issue a statement, unaware it had done so Aug. 14 at request of British ambassador.)

1903: 14-year-old Mikhail Rybachenko found murdered near Kishinev, Bessarabia (now Moldova). Newspaper accusation of ritual murder sparks 3-day pogrom, 49 Jews killed by mobs.

1910: Jews of Shiraz, Iran, accused of ritually killing Muslim girl. Mobs pillage Jewish quarter, 12 Jews killed.

1911: 11-year-old Andrei Yushchinsky found murdered in Kiev, Ukraine. Jewish nightwatchman Mendel Beilis arrested; chief police investigator who questions indictment is fired, arrested for dereliction of duty. Beilis trial ends in acquittal 1913.

1928: 4-year-old Barbara Griffiths disappears in Massena, N.Y. State police interrogate Rabbi Berel Brenglass on suspicion of ritual murder. Barbara is found wandering in woods the next day.

1980 November: Iraq accuses Israel of complicity in bungled Iranian air raid on Osirak nuclear reactor. Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Zippori calls accusation “blood libel.”

1982 Sept. 19: Israeli Cabinet issues a statement on Sabra-Shatila massacres, terms accusations of Israeli responsibililty “blood libel.” A year later, Israeli state judicial commission finds then-defense minister Ariel Sharon bears “indirect responsibility.”

1987: Simon & Schuster publishes “Blood libel: The Inside Story of General Ariel Sharon’s History-Making Suit Against Time Magazine,” by journalist/Sharon sidekick Uri Dan.

1990 Sept. 14: N.Y. Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal accuses CNN pundit Pat Buchanan of “blood libel” for claiming that the “only two groups that are beating the drums for war” in Iraq are “the Israeli Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the United States.” Oct. 22, Jacob Weisberg counters in The New Republic that Buchanan’s “implied” charge of dual loyalty is “far from the fanatical hatred of Jews connoted by the term blood libel.”

1999 Nov. 11: Visiting Ramallah, First Lady Hillary Clinton fails to react as Palestinian first lady Suha Arafat accuses Israel of using poison gas against Palestinian children. The New York Post touts the story with a front-page headline “Blood Libel” and a photo of Clinton and Arafat embracing. As Clinton enters N.Y. Senate race, conservatives use incident repeatedly to put “Hillary” and “blood libel” in the same sentence. In Oct. 28 2000 TV debate, GOP candidate Rick Lazio charges: “You stand on the sidelines while Suha Arafat issues a blood libel.”

Palestinian-American journalist Ray Hanania writing Nov. 13 1999 in the Arab Media Syndicate bemoans Mrs. Arafat’s extremist language and compares it to Rudy Giuliani’s “anti-Palestinian rhetoric and his ‘blood libel’.”

2000 Sep. 30: French TV crew in Gaza films 12-year-old Mohammed al-Dura shot in Israeli-Palestinian firefight Image becomes anti-Israel icon, leading to years-long series of Israeli accusations of “blood libel,” among others by journalist Amnon Lord, writing in 2002 for conservative think-tank Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs; Israeli Government Press Office director Danny Seaman in a 2007 statement (immediately repudiated by Prime Minister’s Office); Boston University medievalist Richard Landes writing in 2008, also at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

2000 post-election: GOP heavyweight Jack Kemp, on MSNBC “Hardball,” calls a racism charge against George W. Bush “blood libel.”

2004 Nov. 10: Israeli mob kingpin Ze’ev Rosenstein attacks U.S. drug-trafficking charges and extradition request as “a blood libel.” Miami court sentences him to 12 years.

2006 Oct. 31: Journalist Mike Barnicle, on MSNBC “Scarborough Country,” calls Swift Boat attacks against John Kerry “blood libel.”

2009 Mar. 9: Lior Katsav, brother of former Israeli president Moshe Katsav, calls Katsav rape indictment a “blood libel.”

2011 Jan. 12: Sarah Palin, accused of helping fan a combustible public mood that set the stage for the Tucson shootings, releases a video accusing her accusers of “blood libel.” Her use of the term brings widespread protest from the Jewish community. The Anti-Defamation League, in a statement, says: “we wish that Palin had used another phrase, instead of one so fraught with pain in Jewish history.” (The ADL is promptly attacked by Mort Klein of the Zionist Organization of America for maligning Palin, and by blogger Richard Silverstein on his Tikun Olam blog for letting her off too easy.)

Palin is defended in her use of the term by, among others, Alan Dershowitz, who writes on tea partier Andrew Breitbart’s blog that the “term ‘blood libel’ has taken on a broad metaphorical meaning in public discourse.” Also defending is Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who writes in the Wall Street Journal: “Judaism rejects the idea of collective responsibility for murder.”

Shmuley writes:

Despite the strong association of the term with collective Jewish guilt and concomitant slaughter, Sarah Palin has every right to use it. The expression may be used whenever an amorphous mass is collectively accused of being murderers or accessories to murder.

I guess that means we can now dismiss those complaints that Palestinian sermons and textbooks contribute to terrorism against Israelis. If I’m reading Shmuley right, that’s another case of blood libel.


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