Sunday, October 11, 2009

Alison Weir continues to promote blood libel

[Second in a series. First article here.]

In August, the blog Counterpunch published an article which literally claimed that Jews ritually murdered gentiles, apparently the first instance of a mainstream U.S. media outlet promoting this medieval charge as true. That article, written by Alison Weir of the anti-Israel organization "If Americans Knew", connected this blood libel to spurious allegations that Israel is conducting a campaign of theft of body parts from Palestinians killed for this purpose by Israeli troops. Weir claimed on Counterpunch that this purported organ theft campaign was not only sanctioned by Israeli authorities but that it derived from Jewish traditions allowing the murder of gentiles. (Weir's original article on this can be read here. My response to it can be read here.)

Weir has addressed the controversy resulting from her report in Counterpunch by repeating and defending her blood libel in several posts on her blog, even as she backtracks to contradict herself by stating that she has not reached a conclusion as to its truth. She also says that she has revised her article to remove her citation of Israel Shahak as a source for her claim that the blood libel is true. That citation was shown to be false in my earlier post on this subject. Weir has posted on her blog an explanation for this citation in the form of an email exchange concerning this subject between her and Christopher Hitchens. (Read here.) According to Weir's blog post, Hitchens (who was a friend of Shahak) emailed her to ask where Shahak had written in support of the blood libel. In response, Weir implausibly denied that she had intended to say that Shahak supported the ritual murder myth per se, merely that Shahak supported similar claims concerning Jewish anti-Christianity, "Talmudic texts emphasizing vengeance", and rabbis ordering "extreme religious violence (such as) cutting out tongues (and) chopping off noses". She went on to indicate that she hoped that Hitchens would publish something about her in Vanity Fair. The blog post also links to two columns by paleo-conservative blogger Justin Raimondo denouncing Hitchens in strong terms.

In a more detailed response to the controversy also posted on her blog (read here), Weir characterizes Jewish opposition to the blood libel as their claiming that they have "never done anything wrong". Weir sees this a typical Zionist tactic.

The continual portrayal of an entire population that has never done anything wrong ... and that is eternally the victim of allegedly bigoted, always baseless accusations is part of what buttresses the Israeli myth.

She goes on to characterize her views on ritual murder as "balanced", writing that Jews "run the gamut" of good and bad. (By a balanced view of the issue, she apparently means that some Jews sanction ritual murder, while others don't.) According to Weir, Israel's existence relies in part on a doctrine of Jewish infallibility, and her interest in the ritual murder myth is based on opposition to this belief. She goes on to write that she only wants to encourage investigation of ritual murder allegations, and that those who oppose her promoting these charges do so to prevent the truth from coming out. In that way, she argues that she is merely an advocate for free speech and free inquiry, rather than an advocate for a particular position concerning ritual murder.

Weak sources for extreme claims

Weir's confirmation of her belief in the truth of the blood libel is puzzling considering the weakness of her sources. She indicates that her reporting on the issue largely relies on a single book on the subject by Ariel Toaff, on the blog postings of "Israel Shamir" and on articles on a blog called "Zionists out of the Peace Movement" which were posted under a pseudonym. I addressed Weir's reliance on Toaff's book in my earlier article on this subject. 18 months prior to Counterpunch publishing Weir's blood libel article, Toaff rescinded the first edition of that book from publication and reissued it with a statement that ritual murder did not occur and that such charges result from medieval Christian myths. He also reiterated this revised finding in numerous interviews. Weir withheld from her report Toaff's revised findings, dismissing them as merely the result of a Jewish conspiracy of silence.

In response to Hitchens' questions concerning Weir's sources, she now qualifies her support for Toaff's findings, while impugning the motives of his critics.

"At this point, I don't know whether or not Professor Toaff's considerable and somewhat dense scholarly work supports his allegations; to determine this requires considerable study and access to both versions of his book. It would also benefit from open, thorough investigation unimpeded by the diverse and frightening threats received by Toaff and others. My very clear point regardiing Toaff was and is a very simple one: suppressing information is wrong."

Although Weir claimed in her Counterpunch article to have based her ritual murder material on Toaff's book, and devoted a significant portion of that article to establishing his expertise, it appears likely that she has not thoroughly read his book. Weir's blood libel claims rely more on the writings of the far-right anti-Semite who publishes under the assumed name "Israel Shamir". (You can read my original post on this subject for a thumbnail sketch of Shamir's background. Searchlight magazine wrote about him here. This post raises some questions about his true identity.) Although mentioned only in passing by Weir (she falsely calls him an "Israeli writer"), Weir relies on his writings both for her "facts" and analysis on the subject of the blood libel to the extent that she merely restates what Shamir wrote in her own words.

The Israel Shamir article upon which Weir relied for her ritual murder claims has the odd title "Bloodcurdling Libel (a summer story)". (Read here.) Shamir wrote it in response to a 2003 David Aaronovitch column published in the Obsever. (Read here.) Aaronvitch's column concerned contemporary anti-Zionists resuscitating traditional anti-Semitic material such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and ritual murder myths. Aaronowitch mentions the infamous Damascus blood libel of 1840. In that case, Syrian authorities "solved" the mysterious disappearance of a Catholic priest by blaming it on a Jewish ritual murder. They rounded up and tortured several Jews, and extracted several confessions under duress. Aaronovitch wrote that he had recently found this blood libel recounted as a true instance of ritual murder in a variety of Arab media, such as

"in a column in the respected Egyptian mass daily paper Al-Ahram, in a book by the Syrian defence minister and in broadcast sermons from various Palestinian mosques".

Aaronovitch goes on to tell of an Egyptian filmmaker who planned to make a movie on the subject which would assert that the Jews of Damascus kidnapped and killed the Catholic priest not to use his blood in a religious ritual, but to prevent his revealing a Zionist plot to transport Syrian Jews to Palestine. That absurd, doubly anachronistic motive -- the cover-up by pre-Zionist Zionists of a plot to cross a then non-existent border -- makes for a very byzantine blood libel indeed.
In response to Aaronovitch, Shamir's "Bloodcurdling Libel" column claims without basis that the Damascus blood libel was true (although he doesn't indicate which version he believes, the classic or the new, "anti-Zionist" one). Shamir goes on to argue at length that the medieval blood libels were true as well, however, as with the Damascus blood libel, his basis for this outrageous claim is unclear. He then goes on to highlight two infamous modern anti-Jewish libels for special attention. He writes of the Mendel Baylis case, a 1911 Kiev blood libel in which an innocent man was tried and, after a lengthy trial, exonerated for the ritual murder of a 12 year old boy. He also writes of the Dreyfus affair. Shamir writes that

philosemites of Aaronovitch ilk brought incredible calamities to mankind and to Jews. They excluded a priori the possible guilt of Captain Dreyfus or Beyliss. Instead of standing aside and allowing the justice to take its due course, they created mass hysteria in France and Russia, thus obtaining acquittals but also undermining popular belief in the judicial system. After Dreyfus and Beyliss trials, Jews rose above the law. This caused the backlash of the 1930s, and the back-backlash of our days, and will probably cause a back-back-backlash of tomorrow. In a better world, Dreyfusards and Beylissists would be sentenced for contempt of court; for their unspoken axiom was ‘a Gentile may not judge a Jew’.

One should not believe or disbelieve ritual murders. The ability of men to commit crimes is well known, and there can be monsters like Dr Hannibal Lector of The Silence of the Lambs.

Both Dreyfus and Beyliss were innocent Jews prosecuted because of their religion. Both suffered indignities at the hand of reactionary bigots in positions of power. Both fought to be exonerated within the legal systems of their countries. Both were impeded in doing this by official interference in the legal process. Both, at long last, received just verdicts. Yet Shamir outrageously inverts the facts of these cases to cite them as not only as examples of extralegal preferential treatment given to Jews, he actually goes so far as to blame the rise of Nazism on reaction to this preferential treatment, and to predict that it will cause a similar future reaction to boot.

Shamir's lengthy column, which claims without evidence that Dreyfus and Beylis were guilty, and which cites the brutality of a fictional character as evidence that Jews murder gentiles, is difficult to take seriously. It argues not only that medieval and modern ritual murder charges against Jews are true, it blames Jewish opposition to those charges on a Jewish supremacist conspiracy which culminated in the creation of the state of Israel. Alison Weir cites this column by Shamir as one of her two sources establishing the truth of the blood libel. She also parrots Shamir's absurd linking of opposition to the blood libel with a Zionist conspiracy. It is from this column by Israel Shamir more than from Ariel Toaff where Weir's blood libel derives.

Blessed are the peacemongers?

Weir's blog post also links to an article on the website "Zionists out of the Peace Movement" authored by a blogger called "PeaceMonger". (Read here.) That website has a history of promoting "anti-Zionist" demonstrations outside an Ann Arbor, Michigan synagogue during worship services (read here and here), bringing together anti-Israel activists from the far-left and the far-right. The "Zionists Out" website features a sidebar motto explaining its reason for being:
"The main purpose of this blog is to expose Zionists subverting the peace movement, especially in Michigan. 'Progressive Zionism' is to Zionism what 'progressive Nazism' is to Nazism."

The post to which Weir links continues a previous post entitled Judaism's Culture of Death. (Read here.) In case the title doesn't get the point across, that post is illustrated with an image of death personified: a black-robed skeleton pointing at the reader.

In the blog post, "PeaceMonger" repeatedly quotes that old chestnut description of Jewish holidays, "they tried to kill us, we won, let's eat", absurdly stating that it reflects something sinister about the Jews:

the "culture of death" and "victimization" that permeates Judaism and much of modern Jewish life.

"PeaceMonger" goes on to quote some violent excerpts from the Torah, for some reason neglecting to mention the fact that Christian and Muslim scripture contains similar passages. Then he or she goes on to blame the following on the intrinsically violent nature of Judaism: the unfounded idea that Jews have been victims of oppression, the many wars between Israel and the Arab states, and the assassination of Yitchak Rabin.

The second part of this essay (the one which to which Weir links) is called "Bloody Passovers: The Jews of Europe and Ritual Murders". That post features features the following image, a medieval German woodcut depicting Jews extracting blood from a Christian child for ritual use. ( I believe this particular image depicts Simon of Trent.)


In addition to supporting the truth of the blood libel, the "Zionists Out" blog post makes the case that between 30,000 and 90,000 Christians were massacred by Jews during the Persian conquest of Jerusalem in the year 610 C.E.

Gilad Atzmon on organ theft

In support of her medically impossible charge that Israel is conducting a campaign of assassinating Palestinians and stealing their organs for transplantation, Weir's blog post links to a number of sources, some of which she cited in her Counterpunch article, some of them new. Among her new sources is a column by Gilad Atzmon with the academic sounding title "Organ donation and theft in contemporary Jewish folklore". That Atzmon column (read here), which was written specifically in support of Weir's article, oddly focuses on fictional television depictions of Jews dealing badly with issues relating to organ transplantation. (Much of it concerns Larry David's behavior on an episode of the program "Curb Your Enthusiasm".) Atzmon makes the case that the selfish motives of these Jewish characters reflect the truth of Jewish parsimoniousness with respect to organ donation, and Jewish greed with respect to organ trafficking. When it comes to the article which elicited this odd excursion into television criticism, Atzmon praises it and and repeats some of Weir's falsehoods, stating that

"Alison Weir published a shocking yet comprehensive and detailed review of Israeli human organ trafficking and theft. Weir brings to light some staggering cases of organ theft. She starts with an alleged case of a heart being pulled out of a living person without the consent of the family. She also brings to light continuous reports of organs being robbed from Palestinian's bodies."

Those who read my earlier piece on this subject will remember that Weir's Counterpunch article falsely implied that, in the case of the first Israeli heart transplant, the donor was literally killed so that doctors could remove his his heart. Weir's words had their desired effect on Atzmon; in his mind, Weir's implication became an allegation.

Weir's article falsely reported that there was smoke, now her readers argue that where there's smoke there's fire.

Journalistic error or deliberate hate speech?

Alison Weir has had ample opportunity to reconsider her promotion of medieval anti-Semitic myths -- myths which have been used to justify massacre and oppression -- yet she has chosen to reiterate them and to cite new sources in support of them. Rather than thanking her critics for pointing out her initial error in judgment, she has attacked them as motivated by a desire to suppress the facts. Not correcting an error of the magnitude of promoting the blood libel compounds the original error and calls Weir's good faith as a reporter into question. Her impugning the motives of those who point out her error calls into question whether she's interested in the truth concerning this matter at all.

Weir is continuing both to elaborate on her belief in the blood libel and to further disseminate it, even as she claims otherwise. Her Counterpunch article (including the false citation of Israel Shahak which she now disavows) has already been translated into several foreign languages. Weir currently promotes these translations by linking to them on her blog. Although she claims to be devoted to the pursuit of peace in the Middle East, Alison Weir seems intent on poisoning as many minds as possible with medieval bigotry against Jews. This form of activism helps no one.


Rebecca said...

Actually, the Persian conquest of Jerusalem was in 614, not 610.

Sigh - good job taking apart Weir's "arguments," too bad that you have to do so.

Adam Holland said...

Thanks for the complement and the correction Rebecca. I'll reset the wayback machine.

Ron said...

The blood libel seems such an egregious case of anti-antisemitism that one would think that anyone would think twice before going down that road!

Thank you for your reasoned and detailed analysis and critique. I would be interested to see Weir's reply. Is there any chance you would/could submit your posts to Counterpunch? I would think that their readers could profit from your work

schalomlibertad said...

Great and insightful follow-up post! Much needed analysis. Keep up the great work!

TNC said...

Nice job. But I'm not sure why you even bother with these people. Reason is not one of their strong suits.

Ron writes:

"Is there any chance you would/could submit your posts to Counterpunch? I would think that their readers could profit from your work."

Like most--if not all--media, the readers of Counterpunch are a self-selected group. They read the material posted there because they agree with the publication's anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic worldview. If they happened to come upon this post, they would simply denounce Adam's critique as that of an "imperialist Zionist" and move on to the next screed.

schalomlibertad said...

i think it would be worth a try to get it posted on counterpunch. the people who read that site are of a really wide variety, and they would not all simply reject it. believe it or not, the left is not only made up of antisemites, but also of antisemitism's most serious opponents. and alison weir is not a leftist, by the way, not only because she is an antisemite but because her position is generally nationalist, or neo-realist of the mearscheimer and walt variety, or of the non-interventionist american conservative/right-wing tradition, such as that of

TNC said...

"believe it or not, the left is not only made up of antisemites, but also of antisemitism's most serious opponents."

I know. I used to be a radical leftist myself. Most of my friends are self-described leftists, including my wife.

But I also know the vast majority of Counterpunch readers (including the Jewish ones) are rabid Israel haters. There is no use debating with these people. Life is too short. The leftists who can be reached are liberals, democratic socialists and a few (very few) anarchists. The communists, Maoists, Leninists and Counterpunchers are a lost cause.

If you happen to follow Counterpunch, they have never, to the best of my knowledge, posted anything sympathetic to Israel, let alone pro-Israel. They dismiss Labor Zionism and leftist groups like Meretz as imperialist. They are a really wide variety of people, but the one thing they share in common is knee-jerk anti-Zionism.

schalomlibertad said...

I can´t make a judgment about the *vast majority*, but I know a handful of friends and acquaintances (anarchists and radical marxists) who are Counterpunch readers who have little to no interest in Middle East politics, are opponents of antisemitism, yet do not focus on the topic.
They strongly oppose any Israeli incursions into Gaza more than they oppose Hamas and Hezbollah attacks on Israel, but I would not characterize them as "Israel haters" nor as antisemites. Such individuals would appreciate a critique of antisemitism, especially the very well argued kind that Adam has written. In fact, some have encouraged me to write more on the topic. I suggest someone get in touch with Counterpunch to see if they will run Adam's response.

TNC said...

Hi SL,

The only time antisemitism is discussed in Counterpunch is when they make the commonplace claim (on the rad left) that charges of antisemitism are used to silence critics of Israel. It doesn't matter how many times you say criticism is fine and should be expected, what matters is the content of the criticism. They simply refuse to hear it. Take a look at the Counterpunch archives (if you have the stomach) and you'll see what I mean.

If you want to spend your time debating with those people, go for it. As I stated above, I think life is too short for this sort of thing.

Take it easy,


schalom libertad said...

Hey TNC,
Agreed about the writers and editors of Counterpunch, but the readership?

TNC said...

At one time I thought there was a disconnect between the editors and the readers i.e. that the two did not share the same ideology/worldview. Today I am not so convinced.

That doesn't mean there are a few-- very few--readers who don't. One example, some people like to read what their opponents are reading. But the vast majority of those reading Counterpunch, just like the vast majority reading Adam Holland's blog, your blog, or my blog, or watching Fox News, agree with the ideological line being promoted.

As I stated above, media consumers are largely self-selected. We tend to read/watch/listen to those we agree with and avoid those we do not. Again, this is not true in absolutely every case. But it is true in most cases.

schalomlibertad said...

BTW, I emailed Counterpunch and asked them to consider posting your reply Adam. That was last week. Still no word from them.

Tracey Alan Sheneman said...

Good post and nice job debunking this "blood libel" rubbish. Adam,I think you meant "impugning" rather than "imputing" in your post: "Her imputing the motives of those who piont out her errors...", right?

Adam Holland said...


Absolutely. Good catch.


rubyinthedust said...

Zionism if the last gasp of colonialism. If you cannot see how unfair the Israeli apartheid system is maybe you should be reading more Alison Weir & Counterpunch.
Israel could have peace if they wanted, but they don't want it.

Israel wants LAND and wants it to be Arab sounds so 3rd Reichian.

Hasbara rather than the truth, people who support zionism, at the expense of the of Palestinians will reap what is sown.

Your most egregious crime was deciding and planning to take over Palestine, not to live in peace as neighbors, but to rule, as master & slave.
The chosen people and the "others". The "others" good for a heart, cornea or liver, good for doing manual labor,but not good enough to live next door to or to socialize with.

TNC said...

Kate writes:

"Israel could have peace if they wanted, but they don't want it."

Israel has made so many peace offerings to the Palestinians and the entire Arab world that people have lost count.

rubyinthedust said...

@Adam Holland said "Israel has made so many peace offerings to the Palestinians and the entire Arab world that people have lost count"

Please share with me a few of these valid offers.

Would Israel consent to letting another nation control their air space, coast line, & borders?
(If Israel had borders).

If that isn't good enough for zionists it isn't good enough for Palestinians either.

Israel has made no good faith offers that the Palestinians can accept.
Israelis insist on preconditions the most notorious of which is to "recognize Israel as a 'Jewish' state".
Why are zionists so desperate for validation from their defeated, occupied victims? Explain that, will ya?

Adam Holland said...


The quote you attributed me was in fact written by a reader calling him/herself "TNC".

The rest of your comment makes the false charge that Israel never made good faith peace offers -- a charge which I believe applies better to the Palestinian negotiators from Camp David onward.

In fact, over the entire history of Israeli/Palestinian peace negotiations, there have been positive steps taken by both sides, but no comprehensive peace proposal from the Palestinian leadership. Sadly, at Camp David, Arafat did not make a counter-proposal of any kind, choosing instead to return home, start the intifada, and contribute to the downfall of the Labor government, his best potential partner for peace. Nice move, Yassir.

You deduce that Israel seeks land instead of peace based on the falsehood that they haven't made good faith peace offers seeking a comprehensive settlement. Their peace offers are on the record.

You ask (rhetorically?) why Israel is interested in being recognized as existing by other parties it negotiates with, inferring some odd motive for this. Why?

You make several blanket statements about Israel as if it were a political monolith, something which is demonstrably false, and which you probably don't really believe if you took the time to think about it. I recognize a diversity of opinion on both sides. You should look into that too.

You seem only to be interested in demonizing Israel with falsehoods, which might explain your interest in reading this article about writers who demonize Israel with falsehoods. I do find it interesting that your comment has no clear connection to the story. If you have anything substantive to say about it, feel free. But I have to admit that I get the feeling you're more interested in making gross generalizations and flinging mud.

And Kate, your earlier comment about Zionists wanting to live as slave masters was deeply offensive. Jews just want equal rights and equal treatment. One state for Jews out of all the other states for other nationalities is not too much to ask.

By the way, Kate, do you have any connection to Alison Weir or are you just an interested reader? Do you have any comment about the article?

Anonymous said...

The normal and appropriate respond and reprisal to "If Americans Knew" should be creating a site named "Yes, Americans know" which will bring the Historical and actual facts regarding the history of Israel and the Palestinian conflict and direct respond to the lies spread by Alison Weir and her gang in their site. Publication against publication, Data against data with appropriate links. Added to that, one might link the actual relations and connecters of Alison Weir with Islamist and Gulf oil sources to show the material interests of their deed.

Kate Bates said...

Hello Abe Bird:
I have heard of reciprocity, in the USA version it goes like this, I have something you want & you have something I want, lets see if we can barter.

It is not I'll kill over over a thousand men, women, children, elderly, infirm, carrying white flags & the other side can kill less than a dozen ~ zionist-style reciprocity.

Now have you ever heard of tyranny?

Everyone who tells the truth from zionist Richard Goldstone to "Silent No More" & other military refuseniks, are denigrated, intimidated, assassinated, threatened like journalist Blau of Ha'Aretz, with Mossad - either prison or death.

You also for some reason "assume" I am an average Arab Palestinian, I'm flattered that you would lump me in with the most courageous, steadfast, people under seige & occupation, life and death at the whim of a teenager with an uzi, what was that percent again of Israelis who wouldn't live next to Arabs?

I am a 3rd generation USA citizen.
3 of 4 of my grandparents were raised Roman Catholic and my paternal grandfather converted to Catholicism on his death bed from ordinary Christianity.

I used to believe that Jews stood for human rights, but the zionists have proved that false.
I don't have to list crimes, you know them well.

The zionist plan to take over Palestine is specific & calls for all the land from the Litani River to the Nile. Wasn't it a week or two ago Netanyahu (the immigrant from Moldova?) said Jerusalem is not disputed, is not occupied territory but the capital of israel?

So the entire world is wrong when it comments on your on the apartheid wall (fence, security gatehahahahahahha, bend that language, till even the Queen of Hearts in Wonderland becomes confused.)

I posed the question about the desperation of Jews to have the Palestinians validate them so that maybe you diehard colonist, racists might consider the question.

Suppose it's difficult if you're not used to thinking for yourself.
(My USA gov. has all the answers too, and the truth usually oozes out, slowly but surely.

The Palestinians have had 78% of historical Palestine ripped from their people, how should they reciprocate? By peaceful protest?

Didn't work to well for Tom Hurndale, Rachel Corrie, as well as the hundreds of nameless Palestinians buried alive & refused ambulances & medical care.


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