The blood libel-a false accusation that Jews murder non-Jewish children to use their blood for religious purposes—was a prominent theme in European persecution of Jews during the Middle Ages. But to this day, blood libels persist in the Arab media: headlining articles, inspiring political cartoons, and forming the storyline for comedy sketches and dramatic programming.
Today, Arab and Muslim leaders and media, along with many in the west, have expanded the blood libel to include the false charge that Israel murders Palestinian children. While in the past the blood libels have led to pogroms, the modern-day blood libel led directly to the recent tragedy in Toulouse, France.
When asked about what motivated Mohammed Merah to gun down Rabbi Yonatan Sandler, his 6-year-old son Aryeh, his 3-year-old son Gabriel, and 7-year-old Myriam Monsonego, Interior Minister Claude Guéant explained, “As regards the killing of the children at the Jewish school in Toulouse, he was very explicit. He said he wanted to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children.”
In the days leading up to the Toulouse massacre, a controversy was unfolding regarding a picture tweeted by Khulood Badawi, the information and media coordinator for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Jerusalem, on her Twitter feed “Long Live Palestine.” As rockets rained down on civilians in southern Israel, and the Jewish state sought to root out the terrorists launching them with surgical air strikes, on March 10 Badawi tweeted a photograph of a bloody girl with the comment, “Palestine is bleeding. Another child killed by #Israel. Another father carrying his child to a grave in #Gaza.” This became one of the top tweets for the search term #Gaza.
Not only was this child not killed by Israel in the recent fighting, as implied, she was not killed by Israel at all. The picture was from 2006 and the girl died in an accident. Badawi was previously disciplined by the UN in 2008 for leading a demonstration against Israel, calling Israeli politicians “war criminals” and accusing them of murdering children.
More recently, EU Foreign Minister, Baroness Catherine Ashton, spoke at a Palestinian youth conference. In her statement, Ashton lamented at length the suffering of children in Gaza but only made a glancing mention of Sderot, whose children live under the constant threat and frequent reality of rocket and missile attacks.
There can be no moral equivalence between innocent children deliberately murdered, as in Toulouse, and the unfortunate death of children who are accidentally killed by an army trying to protect its state’s civilians from terrorist attacks. No Palestinian children are ever intentionally killed by the Israel Defense Forces. In fact, Israel makes unmatched efforts to minimize civilian casualties in all its military operations, most of which must be undertaken to protect its own civilians from terrorist attacks.
Ashton makes no reference whatever to Daniel Viflic, a boy who died after his clearly marked, yellow school bus was hit by a laser-guided anti-tank missile fired from Gaza. She also does not mention that Hamas, which has full control of Gaza and is therefore responsible for the suffering of its inhabitants, brags about its killings, openly preaches genocide of Jews, and admits to using children and other civilians as human shields, which not only increases the likelihood of Palestinian civilian deaths, but is a war crime.
The “Jews murder children” theme recurs frequently in media coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict. On August 20, 2011, Reuters ran a story quoting a tweet from Amr Moussa, former Egyptian foreign minister and ex-Arab League chief, “Israel must be aware that the days when it kills our children without getting a strong, appropriate response are gone for ever.” Nowhere in the story did the reporter give an Israeli source the opportunity to refute the charge that Israel kills children.
In the last month, the media reported that Palestinian schoolboy Baraka al-Mughrabi died “of injuries from Israeli attacks.” In fact, the 7-year-old died as a result of guns fired into the air at a funeral. His own parents admitted this to Agence France-Presse (AFP).
False charges that Israel murders children are central to the pervasive demonization of Israel in the public sphere. When EU officials like Ashton participate, when UN officials like Badawi engage in it, when the UN Human Rights Commission invites a Hamas official to speak during its conference, defamation of the Jewish state achieves global status.
Unfortunately, instead of condemning the falsehoods, many influential public officials justify Islamic terrorism and violence as arising from legitimate grievances. In December, U.S. Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman attributed the beating of a Jewish girl in a Belgian school by Muslim schoolmates to “a tension and perhaps hatred largely born of and reflecting the tension between Israel, the Palestinian Territories and neighboring Arab states in the Middle East over the continuing Israeli-Palestinian problem.”
Innocent Jewish citizens and especially children continue to be endangered all around the world. Just a week after the Toulouse massacre, two teenagers shouting anti-Semitic slurs attacked a 12-year-old Jewish boy on his way home from a Paris school. In addition, five bullet holes were found in a window of the Yitzhak Rabin music school in Paris.
Throughout history, demonization of ethnic and religious groups has preceded genocides and mass killings. And yet, the media completely ignore this modern blood libel as they ignore the incitement to hatred by Arab leaders and officials. Instead, many news outlets actually abet the slander: printing false, misleading and unbalanced articles, headlines and photographs, and waging on their editorial pages what could easily be described as a hate campaign against Israel.
Sari Katz is the International Letter-Writing Director of CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.