Sunday, July 22, 2012

Blood Libel promoted by Counterpunch, Alison Weir

The death of Alexander Cockburn has predictably elicited some hagiographic eulogies in the Nation and elsewhere. In light of certain oversights in those obits, I am re-posting the following which was originally posted here on September 11, 2009, and subsequently cross-posted at Harry's Place. A second post on the subject is available here. Those who think the Counterpunch article discussed here was anomalous should take note that the pseudonymous author "Israel Shamir", whose role in promoting the blood libel is discussed below, has a column in the current edition of Counterpunch which argues that the infamous prosecution of Col. Alfred Dreyfus was just.


The blog Counterpunch, which is edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, has published an article which alleges that the blood libel is true and is related to purported Israeli thefts of human organs from Palestinians. The blood libel, the charge that Jews ritually murdered gentiles and used their blood to cast spells, was a mainstay of medieval European anti-Semitism. In Europe, the blood libel led to pogroms, mass slayings and expulsions. The Counterpunch article may be the first instance of an American leftist media outlet promoting the blood libel.

The Counterpunch article (read here) supports and elaborates on spurious allegations concerning Israeli theft of body parts from Palestinians -- charges originally appearing in an article by Donald Bostrom which was published in the Swedish tabloid newspaper Aftonbladet. The controversy concerning that article has received extensive coverage internationally (read here). Medical experts have unanimously stated that the theft of organs from the dead for use in transplants, as alleged in the story, is medically impossible (read here). Bostrom's article claims that Israeli soldiers hunted down a Palestinian youth, shooting him in the chest and abdomen at close range in order to steal his organs. The alleged witnesses to the events described in his article, including the families of the purported victims, have completely disavowed the story (read here). Counterpunch alleges not only that such murders and thefts of organs in fact truly occur, but that they are part of a campaign which is sanctioned by the Israeli government and other Israeli institutions and that it is connected to religious traditions allowing the ritual murder of gentiles.

The Counterpunch coverage of these allegations was written by Alison Weir, the head of an anti-Israel organization called If Americans Knew. Weir's Counterpunch article derives in large part from articles written about the controversy by a notorious anti-Semite who goes by the assumed name "Israel Shamir". Weir deceptively identifies Shamir in her footnotes as an "Israeli writer" in spite of widely reported revelations that Shamir is actually a Swede of Russian descent and that he is associated with Russian ultra-nationalists. Shamir has been disavowed by many on the left and in the pro-Palestinian movement as the result of his overtly anti-Semitic writings and his connections to the far-right. Research into his real background has revealed that he began his journalism career under his assumed name working for a prominent far-right, Russian nationalist anti-Semite, Aleksandr Prokhanov, chief editor of the newspaper Zavtra. Even as he presents himself to the west as a leftist, anti-Zionist, "Shamir" has continued to publish explicitly right-wing articles in Russia and Eastern Europe. Shamir's original article in support of the spurious organ theft allegations is posted here. His advocacy of the blood libel can be read here. Shamir writes in the latter article that "'Blood libel' is the Jewish battle cry", thus claiming not only that the libel is in fact true, but that to say otherwise is an act of aggression.

In her Counterpunch article, Weir parrots Shamir's arguments that the blood libel is no libel, and that the charge that it is libel is a ruse used by Jews to suppress the revelation of their crimes. She writes:

"In scanning through the reaction to Bostrom’s report, one is struck by the multitude of charges that his article is a new version of the old anti-Semitic “blood libel.” Given that fact, it is interesting to examine a 2007 book by Israel’s preeminent expert on medieval Jewish history, and what happened to him.

"The author is Bar-Ilan professor (and rabbi) Ariel Toaff, son of the
former chief rabbi of Rome, a religious leader so famous that an Israeli journalist writes that Toaff’s father “is to Italian Jewry as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris.” Ariel Toaff, himself, is considered “one of the greatest scholars in his field.”

"In February 2007 the Israeli and Italian media were abuzz (though most of the U.S. media somehow missed it) with news that Professor Toaff had written a book entitled "Pasque di Sangue" (“Blood Passovers”) containing evidence that there “was a factual basis for some of the medieval blood libels against the Jews.”

"Based on 35 years of research, Toaff had concluded that there were at least a few, possibly many, real incidents.

"In an interview with an Italian newspaper (the book was published in Italy), Toaff says:
"“My research shows that in the Middle Ages, a group of fundamentalist Jews did not respect the biblical prohibition and used blood for healing. It is just one group of Jews, who belonged to the communities that suffered the severest persecution during the Crusades. From this trauma came a passion for revenge that in some cases led to responses, among them ritual murder of Christian children.”

"(Incidentally, an earlier book containing similar findings was published some years ago, also by an Israeli professor, Israel Shahak, of whom Noam Chomsky once wrote, “Shahak is an outstanding scholar, with remarkable insight and depth of knowledge. His work is informed and penetrating, a contribution of great value.” )

"Professor Toaff was immediately attacked from all sides, including pressure orchestrated by Anti-Defamation League chairman Abe Foxman, but Toaff stood by his 35 years of research, announcing:

"I will not give up my devotion to the truth and academic freedom even if the world crucifies me… One shouldn't be afraid to tell the truth."

"Before long, however, under relentless public and private pressure, Toaff had recanted, withdrawn his book, and promised to give all profits that had already accrued (the book had been flying off Italian bookshelves) to Foxman’s Anti-Defamation League. A year later he published a “revised version.”

"Donald Bostrom’s experience seems to be a repeat of what Professor Toaff endured: calumny, vituperation, and defamation. Bostrom has received death threats as well, perhaps an experience that Professor Toaff also shared.

"If Israel is innocent of organ plundering accusations, or if its culpability is considerably less than Bostrom and others suggest, it should welcome honest investigations that would clear it of wrongdoing. Instead, the government and its advocates are working to suppress all debate and crush those whose questions and conclusions they find threatening."

Many of the claims in that excerpt are falsehoods intended to support an unsupportable conclusion: that Jews ritually murdered gentiles. Let's debunk some of them in order:

1) Ariel Toaff is not "Israel’s preeminent expert on medieval Jewish history". Weir has no reason to believe that he is and provides no citation for this invented claim. Toaff is not a rabbi. Toaff did not conduct 35 years of research into the question of whether Jews conducted ritual murders of gentiles, or used blood to cast spells. All of these claims by Weir are untrue and were invented by Weir to burnish Toaff's reputation as an expert on the subject of ritual murder and bolster his opinions about it.

2) In the first edition of the book in question, Toaff relied on faulty logic to reach the conclusion that a small group of Jews may have conducted ritual murders and ritually used blood in contradiction of Jewish law as a form of revenge for the anti-Jewish atrocities of the Crusades. He based his conclusion on testimony extracted from Jewish victims under the extreme duress of medieval torture chambers, the sole documentary record of these events. One would expect that a historian researching this subject would bring an understanding of the tainted origin of these documents and counterbalance them with that understanding and a knowledge of the historical context. In the annals of lapses of judgment by historians, Toaff's initial credulous reliance on these documents must rank high. Neither Toaff nor Weir offer any reason for the reader to accept the veracity of statements extracted under extreme duress, and readers shouldn't do so.

3) Toaff, since the initial publication of his book, has retracted his earlier conclusions concerning ritual murder. (Read here.) He has issued a new version of his book which states unequivocally that "Jews were not involved in ritual murder, which was an entirely Christian stereotype". Weir neglects to mention this statement, continuing to maintain that Toaff found that "there was a factual basis for some of the medieval blood libels against the Jews. Based on 35 years of research, Toaff had concluded that there were at least a few, possibly many, real incidents." Toaff's retraction occured 18 months prior to Weir's article. While Weir does mention that Toaff has issued a new version of his book, she fails to detail his more recent findings, dismissing them as a capitulation to pressure by Abe Foxman and the ADL -- proof to her of a Jewish conspiracy of silence.

4) In order to shore up Ariel Toaff's credentials, Weir quotes a Haaretz article with respect to the high regard for Toaff's father, Rabbi Elio Toaff. Elio Toaff served with great distinction as chief rabbi of Rome in the 1950s and 1960s. He also demonstrated extraordinary bravery as an anti-fascist partisan during World War II. Weir quotes the Haaretz article to the effect that Elio Toaff “is to Italian Jewry as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris”. She fails to cite that article in a footnote, however, because to do so would have forced her to give its headline: "The wayward son". A footnote or link also would have allowed Weir's readers to see the following quote from Rabbi Elio Toaff in the lede paragraph:
"(T)he criticism that everyone has expressed about his book was justified. His arguments in the book were an insult to the intelligence, to the tradition, to history in general and to the meaning of the Jewish religion. It saddens me that such nonsense was put forward by my son of all people."
The Haaretz article Weir quoted but failed to cite goes on to describe the reaction to the publication of the first version of Ariel Toaff's book as "the shock currently being felt by the Italian Jewish community over this human tragedy". Weir either completely misunderstood the point of the article or she deliberately withheld it. She either inadvertently failed to cite the quote's source, or she deliberately suppressed it. You be the judge.

5) Weir cites Israel Shahak as a purported expert on Judaism who supported the truth of the blood libel, stating point blank that Shahak reached similar conclusions to those reached by Toaff. The footnote Weir provides for this claim, a biographical sketch of Shahak by Norton Mezvinisky on the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs website, does not in any way support this assertion. (In fact, the only aspect of what Weir wrote about Shahak which is supported in the article she cited is that Noam Chomsky provided Shahak with an extremely generous blurb for a book cover.) Shahak, who was a chemistry professor at Hebrew University and not an authority on history or religion, was infamously the author of a polemical pamphlet concerning Judaism entitled Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years. This book, which largely consists of very obvious falsehoods, is a favorite among those who want ammunition against Jews but are not particularly concerned about accuracy. It is notable not for scholarship but for its palpable disdain for its subject. To give a sense of the tone of Shahak's book, it literally argues that the Chmielniki massacres, in which hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed, were justified. (Read here and here.) The book also absurdly claims that religious Jews worship Satan. It even falsely contends (at length) that Judaism permits the murder of gentiles and forbids violating the Sabbath to save a gentile's life. (As the grandson of an Orthodox Jewish physician who routinely broke the Sabbath to care for Jews and gentiles alike, this argument is especially galling to me.) In spite of all that, I know of no instance where even Shahak alleged that the blood libel was literally true. In fact, he said the contrary. On page 21 of the 1994 Pluto Press edition of Jewish History, Jewish Religion (available here), he makes a point to distinguish such claims from medieval arguments against the Jewish religion with which he agrees.
"We are not referring here to ignorant calumnies, such as the blood libel, propagated by benighted monks in small provincial cities."
It is precisely such an ignorant calumny which Alison Weir and Counterpunch have published.

Anecdotal Evidence

Weir's article makes the case that Israel plays a disproportionate role in the illegal trade in human organs, that the government and military is involved, and (as indicated above) that this trade has its roots in Jewish religious traditions involving ritual murder of gentiles. The obvious spuriousness of her evidence for this is helpful because it puts the bad faith behind the inaccuracies of the rest of her arguments into clear focus. But the rest of her arguments hardly stand up to close scrutiny even without taking her support of the blood libel into consideration.

To make her argument, Weir provides a deceptive history of the issue, citing no statistical studies of the issue, but relying exclusively on anecdotes from media coverage of a number of Israeli cases concerning illegal or unethical medical use of organs. Her version of events cites a few reports concerning claims made by anonymous sources to bloggers and activists. She cites an editorial from the Forward which details some Israeli cases involving parts taken from corpses and used for medical instruction, not transplant. The Forward editorial decries the inappropriate use of human organs for research or study as an international problem concerning treatment of the dead, and specifically reaches the conclusion that the charge that Israel is harvesting Palestinian organs for transplants is baseless. (Read here.) Weir, as usual, selects from this piece the facts which tend to support her case and completely withholds its main point. She also repeatedly cites "Israel Shamir". Based on unreliable or cherry-picked anecdotal evidence and completely lacking supporting statistics, Weir reaches the conclusion that Israeli involvement in the illegal organ trade is uniquely widespread, and is state and institutionally sanctioned.

The first anecdote Weir cites is a case in point. It concerns the sad case of the donor for Israel's first heart transplant, a stroke victim who had not consented to be an organ donor. His family protested this surgery and was allegedly forced by the hospital to sign a release from liability before the body was released to them. This troubling case was widely reported at the time, and rightfully led Israel to enact greater protections from such practices, which Israel, like other nations, did not properly regulate in the early transplant era. Not only does Weir not provide this historical context, she goes so far as to imply without basis that the donor was deliberately allowed to die (or worse) in order to transplant his heart, that this practice is allowed under Israeli law and that it is commonplace there.

Where is Counterpunch headed?

It is bad enough that Counterpunch, in the name of defending human rights, would publish such patently false charges as true. It is outrageous that they would present the anti-Semitism of the middle ages as a progressive response to the Jewish people, whom they portray as intrinsically reactionary and criminal. In doing this, Counterpunch has turned the definitions of "progressive" and "reactionary" on their heads. In fact, they have completely turned logic on its head. What will they support next? The Spanish Inquisition?

NOTE: Counterpunch is publishing other articles supporting the spurious charges from Aftonbladet. One, entitled "Israeli Bodysnatchers", was authored by Bouthaina Shaaban, chief spokesperson for President Assad of Syria and a former Syrian "Minister of Expatriates". Shaaban describes herself as "a Nobel Peace Prize nominee". (I love when people claim that as a credential. Literally anyone can be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, so those who cite it as an honor always do so fraudulently.) In addition to repeating the absurd organ trafficking charges, her article also baselessly blames Israel for the assassination of Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Did balanced reporting of the Munich Olympics memorial service require making a case for the terrorists?

Calls for an observation of a moment of silence at this year's Olympic games in London to commemorate Israeli athletes slain 40 years ago in Munich brought to mind the following coverage broadcast at the time by ABC News. Start the video at 3:06 to listen to Peter Jennings report on the memorial service held the day after the massacre.

[Viewable at YouTube here.]

Jennings starts his report by stating that the Israeli athletes had been "slain yesterday during an abortive attempt by Palestinian guerrillas to gain the release of Arabs held prisoner in Israel", a phrase which perfectly embodies how, in the name of balanced reporting, a journalist can (either intentionally or not) rationalize acts of evil. Undoubtedly, the terrorists responsible for the atrocities in Munich issued demands, but did one of those demands merit repeating in the lede of a brief report on a memorial service for the victims?

Jennings goes on to state that representatives from virtually all countries participating in the Olympics attended the service, then says that "Arab athletes did not attend, though, in many cases, because they were bound by political constraints over which they had no control". Jennings fails to state how he knows that some Arab athletes wanted to attend the service. He also fails to state what constraints were placed upon them or who imposed them. If he knew of Arab governments forbidding their Olympic teams from attending the service, he should have reported that information explicitly, rather than merely implying that was the case. By reporting in these vague terms, Jennings left the impression that some unspecified Arab athletes wanted to attend the service, without examining why not a single one of them did.

While Jennings' report was otherwise professionally handled, those two instances of what feel like special pleading feel very forced, as if Jennings intended to make the criminals who were responsible for the massacre and those who refused to commemorate the victims seem a bit more sympathetic. That made the saddest moment in the history of the Olympics a sad moment in the history of broadcast news.

Viktor Orban moves Hungary away from democracy and Europe toward a dilemma

Foreign Affairs has a must-read article by James Kirchick on how Hungary's right wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban has worked to undo his country's hard-won democratic institutions, and on the difficulty this presents for Europe's future.

Read here:  Wrong Way Down the Danube

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"9/11 Truth" Leader: Arab Spring is a Zionist psy-op

From the founder of Muslim, Christian and Jewish Alliance for 9/11 Truth, Kevin Barrett, comes the informative podcast he describes as follows:

Guest: Islamic scholar Imran Hosein, a leading Islamic eschatologist and one of the first and most important Muslim supporters of 9/11 truth. 
Is the Zionist global banking elite intentionally destroying the USA in order to replace it with a new world hegemon: a Zionist empire based in Occupied Palestine? Is the Arab Spring a Zionist psy-op designed to pave the way for a big Mideast war, or even a nuclear World War III? ,Do the Zionists actually WANT an “islamist” takeover in Syria? Is Russia returning to its Byzantine Christian roots, and will it (in alliance with resurgent Islam) lead the opposition to the satanic Zionist New World Order? Should all Muslims, and all people of good will, be supporting the Russia-Iran-China alliance as it opposes the satanic Zionist plot to enslave the world? And has the real Muslim conquest of Constantinople – the one foreseen by the Prophet Muhammad, peace upon him – not yet occurred? 
Imran Hosein combines extensive theological knowledge with unusual expertise in world affairs, and expresses his views clearly and forcefully.


Barrett promotes the idea that the "truth" of 9/11 was that Jews did it. That explains why the only Jewish board member listed for his organization is Israel Shamir. (Read here.)

BBC report on Sarsak fails to report that Islamic Jihad has confirmed that he is a member

The BBC has reported on Israel's release of Mahmoud al-Sarsak and his return to Gaza, portraying him as a hunger-striking soccer player who was never formally charged with a crime. (Read here.) All that is true, of course, but only a partial recounting of the facts. The AP reports (read here):

Israel accused Sarsak of being active in the violent Islamic Jihad group, a charge he denied while in custody. 
However, senior Islamic Jihad officials were present during a welcoming ceremony for him in Gaza City on Tuesday, and one of the group's leaders, Nafez Azzam, praised the soccer player as "one of our noble members." 
Later Tuesday, as Sarsak approached his family home in the Rafah refugee camp, dozens of Islamic Jihad gunmen fired in the air from SUVs and motorcycles. Women waved black Islamic Jihad banners from nearby homes and streets were decorated with huge photos of the player.
It seems that BBC had a predetermined idea of the story they wanted to report and didn't let the facts interfere with it.

Something the boycott Israel movement is proud of...

"Setting a worldwide precedent for the academic boycott of Israel, the University of Johannesburg severed ties with Israel’s Ben-Gurion University in 2011.. "

from BDS at 7! – Celebrating, reflecting and further mainstreaming |

Shimon Peres Slams Idea of Legalizing Occupation

from the Forward:

Israeli President Shimon Peres called West Bank settlements a threat to Israel. 
The remarks, made Tuesday at the annual ceremony in memory of Zionism founder Theodor Herzl, appeared to address a report released Sunday that said “Israel does not meet the criteria of ‘military occupation’ as defined under international law” in the West Bank, and that therefore settlements and West Bank outposts are legal. 
“It is doubtful that a Jewish state without a Jewish majority can remain Jewish,” Peres said, inferring that settlements would lead to the inextricable inclusion of the Palestinians living on the West Bank. 
The Obama administration criticized an Israeli panel finding that West Bank settlements are legal under international law. 
“We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity and we oppose any effort to legalize settlement outposts,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters Monday evening in answer to a question about the Levy Committee report. Ventrell added that the State Department is “concerned about it, obviously.” 
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns could bring up the report during meetings this week in Israel. Burns will be there with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit to the region.

MJ Rosenberg: J Street and Peace Now opposed BDS measure after threats

Former Media Matters Fellow MJ Rosenberg has written on his blog that J Street and  Peace Now, liberal organizations which opposed a recent anti-Israel divestment measure considered by the Presbyterian Church (USA), did so only after being threatened by what Rosenberg refers to as "the lobby". (Read here: The Divestment Vote: J Street and Peace Now’s Shame)

"It certainly wasn’t the substance of the resolution that disturbed these groups. I mean, really, are we supposed to believe that APN and J Street honestly believe that the Presbyterians have no right to invest or dis-invest from whatever company they choose to?  Are they not permitted to use whatever means at their disposal to oppose the abomination that is the occupation? On top of that, the motion was in no way directed at Israel itself but at the occupation these organizations exist to oppose. 
"J Street and APN opposed the resolution because they themselves were threatened by the lobby establishment, the kind of threat APN in turn then directed at the Presbyterians.  (If you support this you will be fueling hatred of Israel, anti-Semitism, the whole  kit and kaboodle). 
"The bad news here is that both J Street and APN shamed themselves and demonstrated that when threatened, they fold (not for the first time)." 

Considering the shocking nature of his charge -- that two prominent Jewish peace advocacy organizations were forced to advocate positions which they do not hold as the result of threats -- Rosenberg is surprisingly quiet about the nature and source of those threats. He also fails to indicate how he learned of these threats and why he believes that they occurred.

Cartoonist Eli Valley noticed this apparent oversight by MJ and asked him (and Mondoweiss, who promoted the blog post via Twitter) for his evidence. Here's what Eli wrote:

In response, Rosenberg strongly implies that "Rabbi Saperstein (and) other enforcers" strong-armed J Street and Peace Now. No source, no specifics, not even a clear statement of what threat "Rabbi Saperstein" and the unnamed "enforcers" purportedly made or to whom they made it. All Rosenberg can say is that he knows about all this via what he calls "oral testimony". Rosenberg doesn't indicate what he knows or how he knows it. He just asks his readers to trust that he knows something and that it's bad.

Does anyone find this kind of innuendo masquerading as journalism remotely reliable?

(Note: For the record, contrary to Rosenberg's assertion, J Street and Peace Now have never argued that the Presbyterians have no right to divest, merely that divestment was ill-advised.)

"Nuclear weapons are weapons of peace."

Mearsheimer on possibility of Iranian nukes: "Nuclear weapons are weapons of peace". (Read here.)

Missouri Sec. of State candidate is a truther who claims no Jews were killed on 9/11

Read Adam Kredo's report here: Secretary of Truth | Washington Free Beacon

The politics of letting people get tuberculosis

Read the shocking article here: Worst TB outbreak in 20 years kept secret |

Who broke the blacklist?

Whether you're interested in the history of the Hollywood blacklist, or just a movie fan, the Atlantic has an article worth reading concerning the question of whether Kirk Douglas overstated his role in breaking the blacklist. (Read here.)

Although I disagree with some of the authors' implications  (that the blacklist was in any way justified by the fact that Stalinists did wield considerable influence within some movie industry unions in the late '30s and '40s; that opposition to the blacklist was knee-jerk liberalism as opposed to a legitimate response to abusive intrusions into individuals' political histories), as well as their clearly false statement that taboo organizations were actually "communist fronts", the conclusion they reach seems incontrovertible: Kirk Douglas, contrary to the myth that he has promoted in his memoirs and in interviews, was not responsible for breaking the blacklist by championing Dalton Trumbo's right to be given credit for his screenwriting.

According to the documentary record and sources such as Trumbo's daughter, the children of Howard Fast (who wrote the novel upon which Spartacus was based) and Edward Lewis (the producer of Spartacus and a Trumbo friend), Otto Preminger deserves primary credit (so to speak) for breaking the blacklist. Preminger, in announcing his intention to produce and direct Exodus, named Trumbo as the film's screenwriter and stated his intention to give Trumbo credit under his real name. That put the ball in Lewis' court. He immediately saw that the time was right and started to push for Trumbo to get credit on Spartacus, which was then in post-production.  According to Lewis, he had to fight Kirk Douglas objections to do this. This version seems plausible in light of the fact that Douglas subsequently hired Trumbo to write Town Without Pity, but objected to letting Trumbo have credit for the film. "I have yielded to Kirk's wishes in this matter," Trumbo wrote to Lewis in a letter in the possession of Trumbo's biographer, Larry Ceplair.

As political tides turned, Douglas set about portraying himself as the hero of the story, undoubtedly a role he felt comfortable playing more in fiction than in fact. He literally cajoled and even threatened Lewis and instructed him and Trumbo's heirs not to contradict Douglas' fictional version of how he broke the blacklist.

None of the individuals interviewed wanted to diminish the fact that Douglas made a bold move when he embraced a communist writer who was persona non grata in studio circles. And Douglas does acknowledge the roles that other people played in getting Trumbo hired on Spartacus. He writes in the new book, "Others, particularly Eddie Lewis and Otto Preminger, deserve great credit, too—they fought for what they knew was right, even when it wasn't popular."
But Lewis, the Trumbos, and the Fasts rejected Douglas's ongoing claim that Douglas was the prime mover who rescued Trumbo and vanquished the blacklist scourge. "That's nonsense," said Rachel Ben-Avi, Howard Fast's daughter. "He didn't break the blacklist."
When we asked Douglas to respond to the objections raised by the other people involved in Spartacus, he replied through a publicist, "What I have to say about this I write in my book."


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