January 6, 2010 - "Israelis Admit They Murder Palestinian Children for Their Organs!" the headlines seemed to proclaim, at least in the minds of many.
Except that's not what actually happened.
During the 1990s pathologists at Israel's Abu Kabir forensic institute "harvested skin, corneas, heart valves and bones" from the bodies of people who had died from diseases, accidents, and violence (8). All of these people had already died, and no one group was targeted; the bodies belonged to Palestinians, foreign workers, and Israeli citizens. Guidelines for family notification were not as tight as they should have been. Israel stopped this practice ten years ago, and the head of Abu Kabir, Dr. Jehuda Hiss, was demoted. No attempt was made to hide any of these facts. In fact, they were broadcast on Israeli television.
So why is this story all of a sudden big news?
Nancy Scheper-Hughes, a professor of anthropology at the University of California-Berkeley, recently decided to publish an interview she conducted ten years ago with Hiss. In this interview Hiss admitted what his institute had done while he was director. The timing of its publication was not accidental. Scheper-Hughes said she released it because of an explosive article that appeared in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet. The Swedish article had become the subject of much controversy, and the Hiss interview superficially appeared to corroborate it.
Let's take a look at what the Swedish article actually said. Entitled "Our Sons Are Plundered of Their Organs," it begins by mentioning the arrest of Levy Rosenbaum in New York City on charges of organ trafficking. As luck would have it, Rosenbaum is not only Jewish, he's a rabbi.
Now shift the scene to the Palestinian territories. With no evidence whatsoever that the Rosenbaum operation was in any way involved, the article reports the following accusations:
Palestinians also harbor strong suspicions that young men have been siezed, and made to serve as organ reserve, just as in China and Pakistan, before being killed....
While the campaign [to encourage Israelis to sign up as organ donors] was running, young Palestinian men started to disappear from villages in the West Bank and Gaza. After five days Israeli soldiers would bring them back dead, with their bodies ripped open.
Talk of the bodies terrified the population of the occupied territories. There were rumors of a dramatic increase of young men disappearing, with ensuing nightly funerals of autopsied bodies....
We know that Israel has a great need for organs, that there is a vast and illegal trade of organs which has been running for many years now, that the authorities are aware of it and that doctors in managing positions at the big hospitals participate, as well as civil servants at various levels. We also know that young Palestinian men disappeared, that they were brought back after five days, at night, under tremendous secrecy, stitched back together after having been cut from abdomen to chin. (3)
The Swedish article's indictment of Israel is based on rumor, hearsay, and innuendo. A rabbi was arrested in New York. There are rumors of young Palestinian men disappearing. There are claims of having discovered their autopsied bodies five days later. Conclusion: Israel is killing Palestinian kids to get their organs.
Donald Boström, the article's author, subsequently backtracked from the implications of what he wrote. He admitted having no evidence beyond unsubstantiated claims. "I have a personal opinion, it concerns me that it's true," Boström told Israel Radio. "It concerns me to the extent that I want it to be investigated. But whether it's true or not - I have no idea, I have no clue." (7)
In a subsequent interview with an Israeli newspaper Boström admitted his allegations are based on hearsay: "What I experienced during this day is many people from Israel who called me haven't read the article. So they think I'm accusing the IDF of stealing organs. That's not what I'm doing. I just recorded the Palestinian families saying that." He also admitted: "I don't think there is a connection between the New York thing and what happened in the West Bank in the 90s" (12). Yet Boström's article displays a photo of Rabbi Rosenbaum, looking very Jewish, being led away by the police. Below the photo is this misleading caption: "Rosenbaum is alleged to have functioned as a middleman in the illegal organ trafficking scheme." "The" illegal organ trafficking scheme? Does the caption mean to imply that it's all one scheme? A reader might naturally associate "the" scheme with the one alleged in the article's title.
We are left with rumors and accusations of Jews kidnapping young people and slicing up their bodies to use the parts in a mysterious and shady ritual. One may shudder from a macabre sense of déjà vu. Where have we seen this before?
Little St. Hugh of Lincoln was an eight-year-old boy who lived in thirteenth-century England. One day he went missing, and people started saying that Jews kidnapped him, imprisoned him, and crucified him. Then they sliced his belly open and removed his organs, which they used for a nefarious purpose. A historical account of the time furnishes the details. (5)
Indeed, during those times it was common for Jews to be accused of kidnapping non-Jewish children to use their blood for religious purposes such as the baking of Passover matzot. It did not matter to the accusers that Judaism expressly forbids such treatment of both human and even animal blood (Leviticus 17:14). This accusation is called "blood libel" or "ritual murder." It fed the people's hatred of Jews and led directly to much anti-Jewish violence.
But that was nearly seven centuries ago. Why bring it all up now? Isn't the connection to today's events rather far-fetched?
Last April Hamas TV ran a program with Palestinian actors portraying a typical Jewish family. The father carefully instructed his son:
"Shimon, look, my son, I want to teach you a few things. You have to hate the Muslims.... we want to kill the Muslims, we Jews want to drink the blood of Muslims.... We have to wash our hands with the blood of Muslims" (Al-Aksa TV, April 3).
Just a little later, in a Friday sermon broadcast on the same station, the preacher proclaimed:
"Hatred for Muhammad and Islam is in their [Jews'] souls, they are naturally disposed to it.... Israel is a cancer that wants to rule the world.... The time will come, by Allah's will, when their property will be destroyed and their children will be exterminated, and no Jew or Zionist will be left on the face of this earth." (9)
If we simply substitute "Christians" for "Muslims," "Christ" for "Muhammad," "Christianity" for "Islam," and "God" for "Allah" in the above quotations, then we are back in medieval England.
Fatah is no better than Hamas. On March 25 of that same year Fatah's PA TV broadcast a children's program claiming Israel was responsible for the Holocaust and accusing Israelis of burning Palestinians in ovens. The video features a Palestinian boy with a bloody face lying in a huge brick oven. "Their knife cuts to the length and width of our flesh," the narrator states. (10)
Is it any wonder, with this kind of hate propaganda disseminated regularly through Palestinian media, that Palestinians would now start accusing Israelis of cutting up their children to harvest their organs? Why not? They've seen it on TV! Such accusations against Israelis and Jews in general are practically routine. Yet somehow a Swedish newspaper considers this a big news break.
Unsubstantiated accusations of Israeli cannibalism are nothing new. The current rumors may well have their origin in a story the Palestinian Authority ran years ago in its official newspaper:
When the occupying authority holds the bodies of shahids [martyrs] ... it does so in order to hide the traces of its crimes. The witnesses and evidence prove that the occupation forces torture the bodies of the shahids on purpose and fire bullets into them at close range.... There are clear indicators that the occupying authorities steal body parts of the shahids during the holding process, in order to use them in Israeli hospitals, especially for Israeli patients in need of transplants. After they seize the body parts of the shahids, they bury the corpses ... under dubious circumstances, scorning humanitarian values and moral and religious regulations." (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, December 24, 2001) (11)
These allegations have as much truth as the blood libels in many Friday sermons. Yet they have become part of the culture, and it is no surprise that an outside observer like Boström would come across them (and possibly even report them as news).
Is any more evidence needed of the popularity of the blood libel in the Muslim world? Here is another example from another official newspaper, this one from Saudi Arabia:
During the Purim holiday, the Jew must prepare very special pastries, the filling of which is not only costly and rare - it cannot be found at all on the local and international markets. Unfortunately, this filling cannot be left out, or substituted with any alternative serving the same purpose. For this holiday, the Jewish people must obtain human blood so that their clerics can prepare the holiday pastries. In other words, the practice cannot be carried out as required if human blood is not spilled!...
The victim must be a mature adolescent who is, of course, a non-Jew - that is, a Christian or a Muslim. His blood is taken and dried into granules. The cleric blends these granules into the pastry dough; they can also be saved for the next holiday. In contrast, for the Passover slaughtering, about which I intend to write one of these days, the blood of Christian and Muslim children under the age of 10 must be used, and the cleric can mix the blood (into the dough) before or after dehydration. (Al-Riyadh, March 10, 2002) (1)
Official sources in the anti-Jewish Arab media have published wild accusations drawn directly from the history of the blood libel. The purpose of this incitement is to demonize Israel and the Jewish people, and so make Israel's destruction acceptable. As a result, an entire generation of Arab youth has been radicalized and corrupted, and it is hard to fathom how peace between Arab and Jew will ever be possible as long as this incitement is ignored.
The sad irony is that this anti-Israel demonization campaign has been widely successful, influencing many people beyond the Muslim world. One sure reason for this success is that the roots of this campaign lie in the very cultures that now resonate so strongly with it. The old blood libel was born in Europe, and organ harvesting has become the new blood libel.
The latest alleged victims are Ukrainian children, an accusation reported by Iranian Press TV. At an aptly named "pseudo-academic conference" in December held in Kiev, a Ukrainian philosophy professor warned that Israel is planning genocide against Ukrainian children, having already kidnapped 25,000 of them in order to harvest their organs. At that same conference two other professors featured their book blaming the 1930s famine and their country's current poor economic condition on "the Zionists." Such is the credibility of all these allegations. (13)
The same report carries a story about a "Jewish gang" abducting Muslim children in Algeria and selling their organs. The story alleges that bands of Moroccans and Algerians have been cruising Algerian streets looking for young children, whom they force across the border into Morocco where they are sold for their organs to Israeli and American Jews. This story has gone viral in the Muslim world and was picked up by Al-Jazeera Magazine and many other outlets. It originated in statements supposedly made by Mustafa Khayatti, head of the Algerian National Committee for the Development of Health Research. Khayatti linked the Algerian kidnappings to the Rosenbaum organ trafficking story in the U.S. (13)
Can one begin to discern a pattern here? The fact that, out of 44 people arrested in the United States on organ trafficking charges five of them were Jewish, has led once again to rumors of Jewish thugs killing Arab children to get their organs. This is actually not a huge leap if one recognizes the extent to which the old blood libel charge against the Jews has been revived in Muslim culture. The old satanic image of the Jew was already fixed in people's minds, waiting to be activated by whatever hint might appear in the headlines. But most people are not aware of the pervasiveness of these anti-Jewish images in Palestinian newspapers, TV programs, and mosques. So Donald Boström hears the rumors and assumes them to be fact - until he is confronted and then must admit he has no evidence of any connection to the New York story, even though his article implied one. What is most worrisome is the readiness of many people not just in the Muslim world but in Europe as well to believe these rumors. Old libels die hard.
The path this story has taken is truly bizarre. There was the Swedish story "Our Sons Are Plundered of Their Organs," with the clear implication that Israel murders Palestinian children to steal from their bodies. This was followed by an AP headline story "Israel Harvested Organs in '90s Without Permission." Many took this as corroboration of the Swedish article, even though the AP account dealt with activities at the Abu Kabir institute that were terminated a decade ago, did not single out Palestinians, and had nothing to do with the accusations in the Swedish publication. Then somebody remembered that five Jews were arrested in New York, and that was perceived in many places as clinching proof of Israel's murderous and racist program. This readiness, even eagerness to hate deserves attention.
Here are just a few comments appearing after the Iranian Press TV story on the web page cited (I reproduce them unedited):
These people are without any moral fiber or has any human quality. Sooner these subhuman’s are made to stop completely; nobody will have any peace security. There is an interesting documentary entitled “Jewish Ritual Murder Revisited” you will find that these people have been involved in killing children for ritual satanic rites; in this modern age they can profiteer from it as well.
Israel the illegal entity growing like a cancer in the heart of Palestine, the world in fact. Israel is the most degenerate and godless place on Earth. Those poor children we have been informed of were murdered like dogs much in the same way Palestinian children and their families have been butchered.Israel is a crime against all of Humanity as are its Zionist criminal leaders.
These Zionists are all Talmud practioners and they have a hatred for all other humanity. These poor children are only cattle to them. I hope they pay dearly,
Sentiments like these are not confined to comments on web pages. Turn on Palestinian TV or listen to a Friday sermon and you'll hear much the same thing. The dissemination of this kind of hatred has led many times to widespread ethnic violence. People influenced by it are quick to condemn not only Israel but Jews in general for crimes that, on close examination, lack any evidence.
Incitement against Jews, repesenting them as nonhuman and monstrous, has been a staple of Palestinain culture for decades, yet is largely ignored by the world. But it is well documented and its existence cannot be denied. It was supposed to have stopped after the Oslo accord, but that requirement was never taken seriously. Anyone with the stomach to wade through the numerous recorded examples of this institutionalized hatred will be hard put to imagine how there can possibly be peace.
The Palestinian campaign to demonize Jews has been so successful that now we see stories in European media effectively resurrecting the blood libel from medieval times. This is no exaggeration. We have seen how the old Christian anti-Jewish charge, abandoned long ago by Christians, has been revived in Palestinian culture. Now it has been recycled and reappears in a Swedish newspaper, with baseless allegations reported as if they were fact. And many people are willing to believe these allegations.
Let me dare to say it: it is undeniable that old-fashioned anti-Semitism has much to do with current accusations of Israeli organ harvesting. Israel does not kill Palestinians to get their organs. There is not one shred of proof that it ever has. Yet the charge has gained currency and is widely accepted. The similarity to the ritual murder canard is not a coincidence: contemporary Arab anti-Semitism has picked up much of the old Christian imagery and still propagates it. And one thing is certain: this new organ plundering charge is no isolated phenomenon.
While it is not anti-Semitic to criticize Israel - Israelis themselves do it every day, and with much vigor - anti-Semitism today takes refuge as hatred of Israel. After the Holocaust, overt expressions of anti-Semitism became unfashionable. Today anti-Zionism has become the new, socially acceptable anti-Semitism. There is no other explanation for the double standard by which Israel is consistently judged, for the United Nations ignoring major atrocities all over the world and focusing the brunt of its attention on Israel, and now for these classic anti-Jewish stereotypes making a comeback in the guise of legitimate news. To fail to come to grips with this is dishonest. Yet one ironic aspect of this new anti-Semitism is the prohibition against even mentioning it. The anti-Semitism that lies behind the hatred of Israel today is the truth that cannot be spoken.
In making Israel's case, talking about anti-Semitism has become taboo. One can hardly dare to bring it up without eliciting strident protests: "You can't criticize Israel today without being accused of anti-Semitism!" Not true. Criticizing Israel today has never been easier; indeed, in many communities it is the path to social acceptability. Yet this protest against the A-word has become something of a reflex. It frequently comes up even when the pro-Israeli side has made no mention of it at all. "I am no anti-Semite" a critic of Israel said to me, even though I never even hinted that he might be. Why are so many people anxious to proclaim they're not anti-Semites, when nobody suggested that they were?
No one is silencing anyone with gratuitous charges of anti-Semitism. I know of no critic of Israel who was stopped by the suggestion. What has happened, however, is that it's now next to impossible to bring up anti-Semitism even when it's really there. "You Jews are always accusing people of anti-Semitism" is the knee-jerk response. The discussion then turns away from the real issue towards the supposed Jewish obsession with anti-Semitism.
The taboo on mentioning anti-Semitism is not proof that anti-Semitism doesn't exist. It's proof that it does. It is a part of that very syndrome. “Thou shalt not mention anti-Semitism” is in fact an anti-Semitic dictate. It's about time we did mention it and did discuss it rationally. We must do so, because the peace of the world is at stake. To appease the critics let's not even mention Hitler. This same kind of demonization preceded the genocide in Rwanda and the slaughter of Muslims in the former Yugoslavia. It is arising again in many parts of the Muslim world. We must look at it critically and with a sense of history. Do not deny Israel's mistakes - no country is perfect. Let's speak of Israel's faults to the same degree we speak of the faults of other nations. But the headline in Aftonbladet goes beyond any of Israel's actual sins. It is the echo of a dark shadow in our past, an old Christian calumny that Islam has now picked up, and it poses a challenge: Will we finally renounce it, or will we allow it new life and reap the consequences?
(1) Al-Jalahma, Umayma Ahmad. "Saudi Government Daily: Jews Use Teenagers' Blood for 'Purim' Pastries." Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), March 10, 2002. In Middle East Media Research Institute, Special Dispatch Series No. 354, March 13, 2002.
(2) Black, Ian. "Doctor Admits Israeli Pathologists Harvested Organs Without Consent." Guardian, December 21, 2009.
(3) Boström, Donald. "'Our Sons Are Plundered of Their Organs'." Aftonbladet, August 26, 2009.
(4) Gur, Haviv Rettig. "'Jews harvesting Algerian kids' organs'." Jerusalem Post, September 14, 2009.
(5) Jacobs, Joseph. "Little St. Hugh of Lincoln." Jewish Ideals and Other Essays (London: David Nutt, and New York: MacMillan, 1896), pp. 192-224.
(6) Kates, Brian and William Sherman. "Rogue Kidney Brokers Resell Organs from Poorest Nations on Black Market." New York Daily News, July 25, 2009.
(7) Keinon, Herb and Jerusalem Post Staff. "Swedish Writer 'Not Sure' Story's True." Jerusalem Post, August 19, 2009.
(8) Lavie, Mark. "Israel Harvested Organs in '90s Without Permission." Associated Press, December 20, 2009.
(9) Marcus, Itamar. "The Genodice Mechanism." Jerusalem Post, April 25, 2009.
(10) Marcus, Itamar and Barbara Crook. "When Hatemongering is Common Currency." Ottawa Citizen, April 24, 2009.
(11) Marcus, Itamar and Barbara Crook. "PA Libels and Lies Part 2: 2000 -2006." Palestinian Media Watch, October 16, 2008.
(12) Newman, Jonah. "Swedish Journalist Denies Wrongdoing." Jerusalem Post, August 20, 2009.
(13) " Ukrainian Kids, New Victims of Israeli 'Organ Theft'." Press TV, December 3, 2009.
Peace with Realism