By now just about everyone in the Jewish world has heard about the blood libel affair that has emerged from Bar Ilan University in Israel. It involves a professor of history there, Ariel Toaff, who claims that Jews used gentile blood for ritual purposes in Italy in the Middle Ages.
Last week, The Jewish Press ran a letter by Prof. Toaff in which he wrote inter alia: “In light of the false and distorted interpretation given to my recently published book, I have requested the Italian publishing house El Molino to immediately stop further distribution of the book in order that I may re-edit those passages which comprised the basis of the distortions and falsehoods that have been published in the media. I was astounded by the sheer force of these misrepresentations, which turned what is a research book into a vehicle used to harm Judaism and the Jewish people and, God forbid, as a justification for blood libel.”
He added that he apologizes to those who have been offended by his “research” and offered to donate royalties from this book to the Anti-Defamation League.
All very nice, except that Toaff has not really repudiated any of his false claims. The real scandal in all of this has to do with academic fraud, pseudo-scholarship and lies. Toaff’s posturing notwithstanding, the problem is not that the media have “distorted” Toaff’s claims, but rather that Toaff made fraudulent claims in the first place, based largely on “confessions” made by Jews being tortured in Inquisition courts.
It was Toaff who assigned the decidedly undistorted title to the book that states everything needed to know about it: Pasque di Sangue, or Passover of Blood. His promise to send any royalties to the ADL that he may or may not receive is a worthless gesture.
To put this matter into perspective, let me emphasize that Toaff would not be the first academic in Israel to produces anti-Jewish materials that are picked up and utilized by anti-Semites. Israel has scores, if not hundreds, of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel radical faculty members. Many of these are documented at www.israel-academia-monitor.com. What is unusual in the Toaff affair is that it comes out of Bar Ilan University, a school established mainly to serve Orthodox Jewish student and that is now refusing to take disciplinary action against a professor publishing fraudulent material about Jews.
There are numerous precedents from all over the democratic world of universities firing tenured professors for fraud and for open promotion of lunatic, obviously false “theories.” Several Holocaust deniers have been fired from tenured jobs, with France’s Robert Faurrison perhaps the most notorious. (Of course, there are open Holocaust deniers who have been allowed to retain academic jobs.)
Professors promoting offensive ideas or exhibiting behavior offensive to their employers have been fired in the U.S. Professors have been stripped of tenure for the mere expression of crackpot ideas in American universities. The University of Colorado’s Ward Churchill, who justified the 9/11 attacks and called the victims inside the WTC towers “Little Eichmanns” was removed from a number of campus positions and may well be fired altogether.
Similarly, academics caught committing explicit fraud have been fired and dismissed from academic positions. Luk van Parijs was fired from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for fraud, as were a professor in the UK and an economics professor in Northern Kentucky. Even people willing to defend the most offensive campus opinions in the name of “academic freedom” generally agree that a professor should be fired if he commits fraud. Professors in Western countries who have endorsed or collaborated with terrorism have also been fired.
Within Israel, there have been some well-known cases of blatant fraud in research by Israeli academics. The most famous is the notorious Tantura story pushed by Dr. Ilan Pappe and his MA student Teddy Katz. Katz fabricated a massacre of Arabs in the town of Tantura south of Haifa, supposedly perpetrated by the Palmach Jewish militia in 1948.
Not a scrap of evidence of any such massacre exists. Katz was sued for libel by the veterans association of the Palmach unit in question. In court and under counsel from his attorney, Katz confessed that he had fabricated the massacre, but later renounced his own confession.
Pappe, for his part, continues to tout the non-existent massacre in anti-Israel propaganda outlets all over the world.
There is some precedent for firing tenured faculty in Israel when fraud has been committed. An associate professor of anthropology was fired by the Hebrew University when it was discovered that she’d published fraudulent research. A half-hearted but unsuccessful attempt was even made within the University of Haifa, where Ilan Pappe is employed, to get Pappe stripped of his tenure and fired.
All of which brings us back to the case of Toaff. Had these merely been the charlatan claims of an Islamist extremist or some other garden variety anti-Semite, no one would have paid them any attention. But as every neo-Nazi website on the planet has already publicized with jubilation, here we have an Italian-Israeli “scholar” who has published a book that claims Jews in the Middle Ages engaged in ritual murder and used Christian blood for religious rites.
True, Toaff says the Jews in question were heterodox sectarians from outside the established Jewish community, but that is not exactly a serious reason for treating Toaff with any leniency.
Toaff’s book is a complete fraud, at least the sections in it about blood rituals (and they raise serious doubts about all the rest of Toaff’s “research”). Of course, no Jew has ever used blood, human or animal, for ritual purposes, other than animal sacrifices in the Temple of Solomon. Nevertheless Toaff writes: “Over many dozens of pages I proved the centrality of blood on Passover. Based on many sermons, I concluded that blood was used, especially by Ashkenazi Jews, and that there was a belief in the special curative powers of children’s blood. It turns out that among the remedies of Ashkenazi Jews were powders made of blood.”
Toaff claims that “a black market flourished on both sides of the Alps, with Jewish merchants selling human blood, complete with rabbinic certification of the product – kosher blood.” Here is the son of a rabbi who apparently does not know that blood of any sort can never be kosher.
Toaff’s fraud has been universally denounced by Jews and Christians. Even Israeli secularists were outraged. Writing in Yediot Aharonot, Sever Plocker (a leftist) wrote: “Professor Toaff’s book has nothing whatsoever to do with academic freedom. The man raised an unfounded argument, which was rejected outright by the world’s finest historians and experts on the period the book refers to. The blood libel against the Jews has remained an evil plot.”
Meanwhile, Bar Ilan University officials, facing a worldwide explosion of rage, have politely distanced themselves from Toaff. But they have not taken any serious action against him, have not stripped him of his tenure for fraud nor fired him, and in fact have been going out of their way to circle the wagons and defend Toaff’s “academic freedom.” Suddenly lies and fraud are protected academic scholarship at Bar Ilan.
As noted, Toaff has offered to pull the book off the shelves for a little while in order to insert some “clarifications.” The problem is not deficient clarity but rather all-too-clear anti-Semitic lies. His duplicitous “apology” aside, Toaff is sticking to his guns about his main claims, and told the Jerusalem Post he would not repudiate them even if it means “he gets crucified” (his words). Accusing Jews of being behind crucifixion is of course entirely consistent with his brand of scholarship.
Toaff’s shenanigans illustrate perfectly why Israeli universities are sinking into a quagmire of mediocrity and how the unwillingness to act against charlatans and fraud is destroying Israeli academia.
Steven Plaut, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor at Haifa University. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at email@example.com.