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An Ancient Antisemitic Charge Revived

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One of the most venerable of antisemitic charges made in medieval Europe was that Jews were poisoning wells to kill Christians. A variant of this tale had Jews spreading the Black Plague by means of poisoned food and clothing.

In the middle of the 14th century, many towns in German-speaking territories, and beyond, massacred their Jewish communities. Tens of thousands of Jews were burned alive, with many of the victims having been accused of well-poisoning. Medical and socio-historical literature usually attributes these massacres to the anxiety created by the Black Plague, which was sweeping over Europe during this period. Far from being acts of plague-terrified, frenzied mobs, the anti-Jewish massacres were the carefully planned and executed work of the Christian local governments. In addition, the slaughtering of Jews began long before the Black Plague broke out in Europe. No relation can be found between the intensity of the disease and the violence of the murderers, even though there were wide regional differences. Causes of the persecution of Jews, other than the hysteria surrounding the Black Plague, were mainly religious fears fueled by the Church. Murdering Jews was also a convenient way for Christian debtors to get out of paying their Jewish creditors. And the property of Jews who were execute reverted to the monarch — a convenient way to swell then there was always the possibility, once Jews had been killed, of seizing the property that had belonged to them.

There were other diabolical deeds ascribed to inoffensive Jews that led to their murders. The best known was the charge of ritual murder by Jews of Christian children, whose blood was then used to make Passover matzoh. And then there were stories made up about Jews who were accused of having murdered Christian children merely out of blood lust and hatred of Christians. Here Is the story of the most famous one of these supposed victims, Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln. A nine-year-old boy, Hugh disappeared on July 31, 1255. Nearly a month later, on August 29, 1255, his body was found at the bottom of a well. Rumors began circulating that Jews had abducted and held little Hugh, torturing and crucifying him, and then throwing his body into the well where it was found; they had tried to bury it, but the earth, it was said, would not accept it. The chronicler Matthew Paris blamed all the Jews of England for the alleged murder:

This year [1255] about the feast of the apostles Peter and Paul [27 July], the Jews of Lincoln stole a boy called Hugh, who was about eight years old. After shutting him up in a secret chamber, where they fed him on milk and other childish food, they sent to almost all the cities of England in which there were Jews, and summoned some of their sect from each city to be present at a sacrifice to take place at Lincoln, in contumely and insult of Jesus Christ. For, as they said, they had a boy concealed for the purpose of being crucified; so a great number of them assembled at Lincoln, and then they appointed a Jew of Lincoln judge, to take the place of Pilate, by whose sentence, and with the concurrence of all, the boy was subjected to various tortures. They scourged him till the blood flowed, they crowned him with thorns, mocked him, and spat upon him; each of them also pierced him with a knife, and they made him drink gall, and scoffed at him with blasphemous insults, and kept gnashing their teeth and calling him Jesus, the false prophet. And after tormenting him in diverse ways they crucified him, and pierced him to the heart with a spear. When the boy was dead, they took the body down from the cross, and for some reason disembowelled it; it is said for the purpose of their magic arts.

A crime more hideous can scarcely be imagined. Imagine how the credulous lapped it up, and shivered at the imagined scene. There was, of course, absolutely no proof for any of it. However, the subsequent mass execution of Jews for a crime they did not commit was pleasing to King Henry III, for the property of the executed Jews reverted to the Crown. And any Christian who had owed any of those murdered Jews money was happy to have his creditor dead and his debt cancelled.

Now, giving the old story of Jews spreading the Black Plague a 21st century update, the official Palestinian newspaper, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, has published an article claiming that the Israelis have deliberately infected the Palestinians with COVID-19. A report by Elder of Ziyon on the accusation can be found here: “Official Palestinian Newspaper: Israel Infected Palestinians with COVID-19,” Elder of Ziyon, Algemeiner, December 23, 2021:

Palestinian Media Watch recently translated a column in the official Palestinian Authority (PA) newspaper Al Hayat al-Jadida, by Muwaffaq Matar.

Matar is a member of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, and a regular columnist for the official newspaper.

On November 21, he wrote:

It would not be an exaggeration if we say that the racist occupation government has worked to export the ‘COVID-19’ (Coronavirus) epidemic to us, after our institutions succeeded in limiting and reducing the scope of its spread, as [Israel] used the virus as a new weapon to weaken the scope of economic life to the lowest point, and to leave it in an almost fateful dependency on its economy!

Now why would the Israelis, who live in such close proximity to the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, want to infect them with COVID-19, when that would only increase their own risk of catching the disease? Why would Israel want to infect the Palestinians with COVID-19 when more than 100,000 Palestinians living in the West Bank go to work in Israel and in the West Bank settlements, and thus would spread the disease to Israelis for whom they worked, including in Judea and Samaria? The same is true in Gaza, where close to 20,000 Palestinians travel to Israel every day to work. The charge is absurd, but the Palestinians are past masters of the absurd.

The Israelis would have to be suicidal to spread the COVID-19 virus to the Palestinians in Gaza, Judea, and Samaria, the very people with whom they unavoidably come into contact. The latest estimates provided by Israel is that 87,000 legal, and 48,.000 illegal, Palestinian workers go to Israel and the settlements every weekday. Nathalie Thurtle of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) in the region claims that 140,000 Palestinians work inIsrael and the settlements. Given such numbers, and such intermingling of the populations, it would have been madness for Israel to spread the Covid-19 virus in Gaza and the P.A. territories.

The Palestinian journalist Muwaffaq Matar insists, in the leading Palestinian newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, that it was through the Palestinians’ own heroic efforts that they managed to halt the spread of the coronavirus, despite Israel’s efforts to spread the disease and to trick the Palestinians into accepting ineffective, because supposedly expired,” doses of the vaccine.

Now let’s see. Far from trying to spread the disease in Gaza and in the Palestinian Authority territory, Israel provided the Palestinians with hundreds of thousands of masks, as well as ventilators to be used by the sickest patients. And it made sure to vaccinate all of the Palestinian workers who entered Israel or the settlements. But Israel’s most important offer was to provide the P.A. with 1.4 million doses of the vaccine in June. The deal was signed, but just a few days later the P.A. pulled out of the deal, claiming that the vaccines Israel would be sending were about to expire.

The Israelis pointed out that the first shipment of 90,000 doses in the second week of June consisted of vaccines that would expire at the very end of June or of July, and there was plenty of time—several weeks — for the Palestinians to jab them into 90,000 arms. Furthermore, these were the very same expiry dates on the vaccines that Israel was, in mid-June, injecting into the arms of its own citizens. Finally, Israel pointed out that after this initial shipment of 90,000, the rest of the 1.4 million doses would not expire until many months into the future. But proving yet again that no good Israeli deed goes unpunished, the Palestinians made it appear that the Israelis were trying to palm off on them some expired and therefore worthless doses of vaccine. Ever since the Palestinians cancelled those 1.4 million doses, Israel has remained ready to supply them with doses of the vaccine; it is the Palestinians who continue to refuse that offer. Yet Muwaffaq Matar wants the world to blame Israel, first for spreading the virus to the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, and then for not providing the Palestinians with vaccines. Israel did what it could to minimize the spread of Covid-19; it insisted on vaccinating all of the Palestinian workers who entered Israel and the settlements. But what further could it do? Israel has no power to go into Gaza and Palestinian-ruled areas of the West Bank to forcibly vaccinate their inhabitants. The Palestinians refused to take delivery of 1.4 million perfectly good doses of vaccine, falsely accusing Jerusalem of sending only vaccines that were just about to expire.

Much of the world, which wants to believe the worst of Israel, will no doubt accept Muwaffaq Matar’s preposterous claims. Israel will just have to soldier on, ignoring the slings and arrows, and remaining ready to offer vaccines to the Palestinians, in the forlorn hope that their leaders, both in Gaza and in the West Bank, will come to their senses and take what Israel is still prepared, despite everything, to offer.

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