Pseudo-Scholarship and the Resurrection of the Blood Libel Against Israel and Jews
Jews have been accused of harming and murdering non-Jews for hundreds of years. In 12th-century England, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, Theobald of Cambridge, mendaciously announced that European Jews ritually slaughtered Christian children each year and drank their blood during Passover season.
That medieval blood libel, largely abandoned in the contemporary West, does, however, still appear as part of the Arab world’s vilification of Jews — now transmogrified into a slander against Israel, the Jew of the nations.
The latest example of this pseudo-scholarship has embroiled Boston University in a debate about the academic qualifications of a prospective faculty hire, Sarah Ihmoud. Ihmoud, in her writing about feminism and sexuality, focuses obsessively on the predations of Israel in a torrent of so-called research.
Not surprisingly, since many on the left are in the thralls of intersectionality and the commonality of oppression, Ihmoud’s views are so biased against Israel, so focused on the barbarity and aggression of Zionism, and so dedicated to exposing the moral depravity of Israel’s Jews, that she is not content to merely deal in history and fact.
Instead, Ihmoud tries to weave a tale of moral depravity, in which Israel and its Jews are reduced to misanthropic thugs who use rape, sexual aggression, and the physical intimidation and harassment of Arab women as a means of ethnic cleansing and domination. In fact, according to her, Israel’s very creation was predicated on the sexual debasement of Arab women. “Rape and killing of Palestinian women was a central aspect of Israeli troops’ systematic massacres and evictions during the destruction of Palestinian villages in 1948,” Ihmoud wrote in a co-authored article.
After describing some anecdotal stories about Arab women being harassed by Israeli soldiers, Ihmoud contends that the machinery of the Jewish state is in fact maintained through this type of violence and sexual aggression. As she puts it: “The legalization of such forms of violence marks the Israeli legal system itself as deeply embedded in the settler colonial project’s machinery of elimination.”
She claims, specifically, that “Militarized sexual abuse has been rampant under Israeli occupation. The Israeli state and military forces have exploited the threat of sexual violence against Palestinian women, and patriarchal perceptions of sexuality [to] deter attempts at organized resistance.”
But the accusation that the IDF regularly and wantonly rapes and otherwise abuses Arab women as a method of patriarchal control and as a function of sadism was specifically contradicted by an award-winning masters thesis by a Hebrew University graduate student, Tal Nitzan, who found that, of the many armies of the world, the IDF was noteworthy for having almost no incidences of rape of Arab women by Israeli soldiers.
The same contortion of scholarship to libel Israel and defame Jews animates the work of another academic charlatan, Jasbir Puar, an associate professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University. In 2016, she delivered a lecture at Vassar College, “Inhumanist Biopolitics: How Palestine Matters,” the theme of which she subsequently developed into an odious book, The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability.
The lecture and book examined “the use of technologies of measure to manufacture a ‘remote control’ occupation, one that produces a different version of Israeli ‘home invasions’ through the maiming and stunting of population. If Gaza, for example, is indeed the world’s largest ‘open air prison’ and an experimental lab for Israeli military apparatuses…, what kinds of fantasies (about power, about bodies, about resistance, about politics) are driving this project?”
In other words, Professor Puar’s central thesis is that Israeli military tactics involve the deliberate “stunting, “maiming,” physical disabling, and scientific experimenting with Palestinian lives, an outrageous resurrection of the classic antisemitic trope that Jews purposely, and sadistically, harm and kill non-Jews.
Professor Puar also leveled a grotesque, never-proven charge against Israel — that its soldiers harvest organs from Palestinians it has killed. These are charges that have been made by others, without any substantiation, including after the deadly 2010 earthquake in Haiti, where Israeli experts assisted with search and rescue operations, and were later accused of harvesting organs from Haitian victims of the natural disaster.
“Protests, stabbings, flagrant refusals of IDF control, clashes and revived commitment to a peoples’ rumble,” Puar says, “have resulted in more than 120 deaths by field assassinations of young Palestinian men, largely between the ages of 12 to 16, by IDF soldiers.”
Puar continues with spurious charges against the Israeli military, leaving out entirely any context in which Palestinian terrorism plays any role in the conflict.
Even Israel’s attempt to not kill Palestinians, but to maim them in order to prevent violence, is given a perverse character by Puar, who contends that, “Maiming masquerades as let live when in fact it acts as will not let die,” and that this technique, as part of a sadistic, imperialistic militancy on the part of Israel, “is used to achieve … tactical aims of settler colonialism.”
By dressing up old hatreds against Jews, combined with a purported goal of seeking social justice for the oppressed, and repackaging ugly biases as seemingly valuable scholarship, Israel’s ideological foes have found an effective, but odious, way to ensure that the Jew of nations, Israel, is still accused of oppressing innocent victims and bringing harm to non-Jews — with the Palestinian Arabs as the current victims.