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Blood Libel, Part 1

April 10, 2012

Blood Libel, Sandomierz Cathedral, Poland (PD-ArtlPD-old-100)

“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

– Pastor Martin Neimoller

Antisemitism is on the rise in America and overseas.  Some 35 million Americans – 15% of us – hold  antisemitic views.  In France 24% of the population acknowledge bias against Jews.  From Spain to Hungary, antisemitism is pervasive.  In the Netherlands, “Jews to the gas” is a familiar cheer at soccer games.

Financial instability and changing demographics may be factors in this growing trend.  Either way, the stereotypes about Jews linger.  Worse yet, blood libels are resurfacing in a new guise.


In an age of litigation, libel may seem an anemic term, derogatory but hardly dangerous.

Blood libels – patently false accusations that Jews murder children (especially Christian children) to use their blood in religious rituals – are in a tragic class by themselves.  Blood libels (along with claims of host desecration and well poisoning by Jews) fueled mob violence against Jews throughout Europe for generations.  Countless instances of torture, trial, and groundless execution took place.

Lest anyone have doubts on this subject, the Sixth Commandment forbids murder.  Though the Israelites did practice animal sacrifice, the prohibition against human sacrifice was consistently used to distinguish them from pagans.  The use of blood in cooking is still banned by kosher dietary laws.

Volumes could be written on the papal response to blood libels over the centuries.  Suffice it to say that  blood libels did not end with the Dark Ages.

The Modern Era

Jews were regularly accused of the ritual murder of Christians for their blood by Der Sturmer, an antisemitic newspaper published in Nazi Germany.  One issue of the paper went so far as to compare (fictional) Jewish ritual murder to Christian communion.

Between 1944 – 1946, antisemitic violence in Poland involving blood libels resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1000 – 2000 Jews.  Some 60 years later, a Polish team of anthropologists and sociologists determined that the belief in blood libels persists among Catholic and Orthodox Christians in the cathedral town of Sandomierz, where a painting depicting ritual murder is still proudly displayed to tourists.

In 2007, Raed Salah, leader of the Israeli Islamic Movement, accused Jews of using children’s blood to bake bread. In 2010, Salad Eldeen Sultan, a noted Muslim scholar and founder of the Islamic American University in Michigan, made a similar assertion that Jews kidnap and slaughter Christians to use their blood in making matzos.

In 2008, the Pew Foundation estimated antisemitism in Egypt and Jordan at about 95%.  Since the Arab Spring, there has been even more ferocious antisemitism in the Middle East.  Egypt, since the overthrow of the authoritarian government of Hosni Mubarak, has taken steps to repudiate the  30 year old Camp David Accords with Israel.  Muslim children learn from Saudi Arabian textbooks that Jews supposedly look like monkeys and pigs, and desire “world domination.”

It is not difficult to add blood libel to such charges.

The Link with Terrorism

If we think we can turn a blind eye to all this, if we assume these allegations are exaggerations, mere rhetoric, we are badly mistaken.  The shootings in France in which a rabbi and three young Jewish children were brutally murdered [1] should serve as a wake-up call.

The shooter, Mohammad Merah, a self-described jihadist, evidently phoned a television station to say that he wanted to “take revenge on the law against the full Islamic veil (in France) and, also, on France’s participation in the war in Afghanistan, and to protest against the situation in Palestine.”  The rabbi’s widow, by contrast, urged Jewish parents to love their fellow man.

This is the new face of blood libel:

  • Existence by Israel as justifiable provocation for those inclined toward violence;
  • Self-defense by Israel as the equivalent of terrorism; and
  • Terrorism against Israel as nationalism.

The Hamas charter takes a more direct approach toward genocide:  “Israel…will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it…The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews)…”

It bears noting that not all Palestinians are Hamas supporters, just as not all Muslims are terrorists.  Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, a widely recognized Sufi scholar, was one of the first Muslim leaders to condemn the 9/11 attackes.  In 2010, he courageously issued a fatwa against terrorism and suicide bombings.

Even during the Holocaust there were Muslim Arabs who attempted to protect their Jewish neighbors.  Moncef Bey of Tunisia and members of his court assisted Jews in avoiding arrest and deportation to forced labor camps. Khaleb Abdulwahab of Tunisia sheltered thirty members of an extended Jewish family; Si Ali Sakkat, a former mayor, sheltered sixty Jewish workers.  Si Kaddour Benghabrit of the Great Mosque of Paris provided counterfeit identity papers to a hundred Jews.  Sultan Muhammad V of Morocco declared – in the presence of Vichy government officials that Jewish subjects would remain under his protection.

These names are rarely mentioned in context of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Instead, much of the violence and propaganda directed against Israel has gelled around the Palestinian cause.  Whatever its actual legitimacy, that cause has become a banner and rallying cry for antisemitism and the demagogues cynical enough to make use of it. This ignores and/or whitewashes much of the political history of the Middle East.

[1]  Around the time of the French shootings, Khulood Badawi, an official with the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, posted a photo to Twitter of an injured Palestinian girl.  The caption read:  “Palestine is bleeding.  Another child killed by Israel… ” The photo was actually of a child injured in an auto accident or fall in 2006.  While Badawi was acting in a personal capacity when she posted the photo, questions arose as to whether she could be objective in her official capacity and why the UN would elect to continue her employment.


  1. enjoyed your post.

    Felt it really reflected the issues we are facing today. The issue of
    educating our youth with text books that reflect hatred to others.
    Islam it has not always been like this and I do and always have felt that Sufi philosophy is a example of the balance that needs restoring in Islam.
    Thank you giving good examples that Islam has not always shown views that reflect anti-semitism.
    I always have been strongly against any fascist views, and felt we should unit against fascism. The real fight today that we face is not fascism but hatred between religious groups.

    • Anna Waldherr permalink

      I very much appreciate your thoughtful comment. With helpful input from my co-contributors, I tried hard to paint an accurate picture of a complicated situation. Because my own parents and grandparents were refugees, I feel I have some insight. But all of us, I believe, have a stake. This world is what we make it.

      I found the article at your own website re: your mixed heritage articulate and moving. If we look back far enough, we are all of mixed heritage — brothers and sisters, under the skin. That should be a mark of pride, not a target for discrimination and violence. It means we can point to great men and women of all nationalities, races, and creeds throughout history as members of our family.

      I cannot quote the Quran with any authority. But this is what the Bible has to say: “He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness…[For] God is love…” (1 John 2:9; 4:16).

  2. Thanks for your comments on my article.
    I am neither a scholar or well studied with religion, but wanted to share this quote with you by a person whom is. I feel it reflects the positive aspects we should look towards.

    In God’s kingdom there is no fighting. He rules over both kingdom of hell and the kingdom of heaven, giving each of His creations what is due to them, but taking no share for Himself. God is One. He proclaims, My religion is to recognize all lives as one’s own life, all religions as one’s own religion, all languages as one’s own language, all vision as one’s own vision. It is in this state that God conducts His kingdom. He has no partialities, no religious differences, and prejudices based on skin color, whether it be black, red, white, or yellow. In His kingdom, there is no fighting.”

    M. R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen.

  3. Thank you for making the time to read these 2 articles. Sadly, anti-Semitism continues on the rise.

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