Some Things Never Go Away

Monday, January 4, 2010

Nine years ago, according to recent reports in the Israeli media, the head of the country's leading forensic institute admitted to having transplanted tissues and organs—corneas, skin, heart valves, and bones—from deceased Jews, Palestinians, and foreign workers. It seems that the families of the decedents, while consenting to autopsies, had not consented to transplants. The practice was halted and the physician dismissed from his post.

Old news, then. But the exact nature of the doctor's past actions, limited if clearly unethical, was lost in the furor aroused by the surfacing of this old news in late December. In Britain, the Guardian was almost exultant, reminding readers that only a few scant months earlier, Israel had denounced as an anti-Semitic "blood libel" the charge in a Swedish newspaper that its defense forces were deliberately murdering Palestinians for their body parts.

What is it about Jews and blood that elicits such overblown and ghoulish fascination? As Hillel Kieval explains, the blood libel is no mere throwback to the Middle Ages but remains as modern as modern science. To Jonathan Spyer, the blood libel is only one of the gross anti-Semitic canards revived in our time by Islamists and eagerly taken up by anti-Israel activists and intellectuals in the West. Some of the latter are Jews: witness a 2007 volume by an Israeli historian giving credence to the long-discredited blood libel itself.

Whatever this heinous slander may have represented in medieval Christendom, its resuscitation today attests to the lengths some are willing to go in order to anathematize the Jewish people.

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