In the case of any other alleged perpetrator, the kind of claim being made against Israel in this case would have been ridiculed. Yet part of the world seems to believe that the Jews are capable of anything. There is even a special name for such tales, blood libel, and its echoes can be found in the fabricated or exaggerated tales about Israel deliberately murdering children, most recently just now in the war with Hamas. Stories of Jews murdering people out of religious hatred—often to use their blood allegedly to make Passover matzos—go way back. One example is in Thomas Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, published first in the late fourteenth century. About 130 years ago, one of my ancestors living in Czarist Russia was accused on the basis of no evidence of the ritual murder of a teen-aged Christian. The local peasants rioted, wrecked the Jewish workshops and stores, and beat up several Jews. Fortunately no one was killed. According to then-prevalent tales in the region, the Jews had a barrel whose inside was studded with nails so as to extract the blood efficiently.
The perennial Syrian defense minister, Mustafa Tlas, wrote a book entitled Matzoh of Zion in 1983 in which he drew on a ritual murder story from an incident in 1840s’ Damascus, promoted by local Christian clerics, to claim that this was a generalized Jewish practice. This kind of thing has also been the subject of recent Egyptian, Iranian, and Turkish films. It is also a staple story in the Saudi media.
Of course, Arafat is in the category of political assassination not culinary religious practice. And Israel certainly did assassinate such senior PLO leaders as Abu Jihad who had blood on their hands from organizing terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. But, you might say, aren’t these things completely different because we are now in the realm of politics and Israel does, however unintentionally, kill children. And there was the case of an attempted poisoning of a Hamas leader in Jordan.
True, but where does this special edge come from, this quickness to passionate hatred and credulity that one doesn’t see when other countries are involved, this abandonment of simple logic and evidence, this willingness to believe proven liars who will seize on any instrument in their desire to commit genocide? It has been shown that there is a virtual industry in anti-Israel fabrications. Yet the exposure of a faked photo or the claim that a baby was killed by Israel when he died of a Hamas rocket intended to kill Israelis seems to have no permanent effect, no reexamination of the assumptions being made and the relative credibility accorded various parties. And one cannot help but see the savage, energetic joy displayed in the bashing of Israel that simply does not exist on any other issue.
On one hand, the media and intelligentsia is most forgiving to, say, the United States when its air attacks accidentally kill civilians. No details and exaggerations of the results of its bombing strikes in Yemen or Pakistan and full explanation of the context. On the other hand, the continuous understating of the violence on the other side, say, in Syria’s civil war or Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians which invoke no teach-ins or demonstrations in the West or calls that such and such a country has no right to exist because it does nasty things to others.
A fair-minded observer might start thinking: something different is going on here, some hidden agenda or psychological factor that impels Israel and the Jews being put into a special category with negative implications in today’s world. As it once was for so many centuries.
As for the geopolitical aspect, there was a clear Israeli decision not to kill Arafat taken in the 1970s. A much-seen photo of Arafat taken through the scope of an Israeli sniper rifle in southern Lebanon was circulated following Arafat’s 1982 evacuation from Beirut. If Israel had wanted to kill Arafat it had numerous opportunities to do so when it mattered, not at the end of his career when he was largely discredited.
Incidentally, the Israels-poisoned-him theme has been used repeatedly in the case of others whose death obviously had other causes. The Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini and the publishing mogul Robert Maxwell immediately come to mind. This kind of thing is merely a modern-day version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.