Whoever thinks the French are all hostile towards Israel, can find a certain comfort in the following: a court in Paris is currently carrying out an investigation against the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, on suspicion of an anti-Semitic publication. The chief editor of the newspaper, Ibrahim Nafe, has been summoned for questioning before the judge next Friday. The French intervened when the law enforcement authorities were presented with an article published in the newspaper, which also appears in France, with the claim that IDF soldiers kill Palestinians following a ritual injunction, just as their forefathers killed Gentile children to prepare Passover matzas out of their blood. The story, which has caused a furor in Egypt, re-invokes the myth of the Damascus blood libel.

The affair begins with an article published on October 28, 2000 in the Egyptian daily, under the heading “Jewish Matza from the Blood of Arabs.” The article was written by the writer and publicist Adel Hamuda, one of the senior writers in the newspaper and editor of the weekly Sawt al-Umma. These were the days of the Intifada, and about 100 Palestinians had already been killed, including many children.

Hamuda began with a long and compelling description of the Damascus blood libel. One Friday, in February 1840, a Greek cleric by the name of Father Tomas disappeared. The priest, who posted notices throughout the city offering a house for sale, entered the Jewish neighborhood of Damascus and was never seen again. His servant, who went in to search for him, disappeared as well. Tomas was a well known doctor in the city, with ties to the Ottoman Pasha and foreign diplomats. A complaint was filed with the police, and an investigation was launched. Finally, a Jewish barber by the name of Suleiman (Solomon) was arrested. Father Tomas had posted a notice on his shop. After being whipped, Suleiman told the police that the priest had been stabbed to death by Jewish rabbis, whose names he knew.

According to Suleiman’s testimony, the rabbis took Father Tomas to the house of Rabbi Mussa Harari. They lay his neck on a large tub, and spilled his blood into it, while taking care “not to spill a single drop,” in Hamuda’s words. “They then took him from the room where he had been slaughtered to another room, removed his clothes and burnt them. They cut him into pieces, placed the pieces in a sack and brought them to a ditch near the Jewish neighborhood.”

The long article also brings conversations between the investigator and one of the Jews being questioned. “What did you do with his innards?” asked the investigator. “We cut them up, placed them in a sack and threw them in a ditch,” replied the Jew being interrogated. “Did blood drip from the sack?” “No, because we were careful to save every drop of blood. This comes from our customs and the Talmud.” “Why?” asked the investigator. “It is used for matzas.”

The story of the Damascus blood libel was documented by a 19th century French researcher, Charles Lauren. The book was translated into Arabic and published in Cairo in 1898. In his article, the Egyptian journalist refers to the blood libel as a true story. This is not the reason that the investigation was initiated in France, but rather the contemporary conclusions drawn from it.

“What is most interesting,” wrote Hamuda, “is that the rabbis who committed this crime did not feel remorse. The meaning of this appears in the Talmud… According to the Talmud, the Jewish souls are differentiated from all others, being part of God as a son is part of his father. This explains the murder of Father Tomas and his servant, and explains the sights we see on our television screens. Scenes of Israeli occupation soldiers mercilessly killing children, while chewing gum as if they were on an outing, a trip or a journey. Deep inside they are not murdering human beings, but stray animals, and this follows their ritual law dictated by the Talmud.”

In other words, Hamuda is saying: The Jews are commanded by their religion to kill Gentiles, even if they are innocent people. What the Jews of Damascus did in 1840 is similar to what the IDF soldiers are doing today. In both cases, it is murder in heaven’s name. […]

The daily Al-Ahram (“the pyramids”) reaches nearly every corner of Europe and the United States where Arabs live. It is distributed on a daily basis in France. The article on the matza baked with Gentile blood was brought to the attention of the heads of the Jewish community in France, and they reported it to the judicial authorities in Paris. A year and nine months after the publication, an investigation was launched in Paris against the daily newspaper, on suspicion of breaking the law that forbids incitement to hatred and anti-Semitic violence. Last week, the investigative justice Benot Tobino issued a summons for questioning for Ibrahim Nafe, the chief editor of Al-Ahram.

Nafe, one of the senior journalists in Egypt and an associate of President Hosni Mubarak, published a report on the investigation in his newspaper. In a giant article, spread over a full page, Nafe defends Adel Hamuda. In fact, Nafe’s article is a document summarizing the Egyptian position on defamatory publications towards Israel and the Jews. The position stated by the senior editor combines political, social and cultural arguments. Nafe says that the publications in Egypt are no different in essence from the series of statements made by leaders of the Israeli right.

“Everything happening with regard to this affair,” writes Nafe, “is nothing but an action intended to pressure Egypt to change its policy and restrict the freedom of the Egyptian press. We can find on the other side dozens of articles where political and religious leaders in Israel make racist statements about the Arabs.”

Ibrahim Nafe is not alone. The affair is perceived in Egypt as an attack by Israel on Egypt. In a series of official leaflets, parties, journalists and labor unions have expressed support for the newspaper and its editor. Even al-Wafd, the opposition party, came to the defense of the newspaper, a symbol of the Egyptian establishment. “The legal authorities in France,” responded Nuaman Guama, party chairman, “are not authorized to carry out an investigation about what happens in Egypt.” Nafe himself, it can be safely assumed, will not report for questioning in France.

This article ran in Maariv on August 2, 2002

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