[Article published in the journal Midstream (New York) February/March 2000]

 Syria's Blood Libel Revival at the UN:

 By David Littman

       The year 2001 has been officially designated by the UN General Assembly as "United Nations Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations." (1)  The World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance is also scheduled for 2001. On an initiative by Iran's Foreign Minister - and in preparation for the Year of Dialogue - the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) hosted a seminar in Geneva on 9-10 November 1998, entitled: "Enriching the Universality of Human Rights: Islamic Perspectives on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," which was financed entirely by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (2). For the World Conference against Racism, the OHCHR organized a seminar of experts on racism which took place at the Palais des Nation from 6 to 8 December 1999. (3) 

        The Israel-Syrian "land-for-peace" negotiations was inaugurated with much fanfare by President Bill Clinton on 3 January. Although the new century had been ushered in with fireworks worldwide, the celebrations in Iran - Syria's close ally and direct backer of the Hezbollah ("Party of Allah") in Lebanon - were a vivid illustration of what the Iranian leadership means by "dialogue of civilizations." Throughout the country, millions of Iranians held anti-Israel rallies on "al-Quds [Jerusalem] Day." Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader and successor to the Ayatollah Khomeini, told an enthusiastic Teheran crowd of hundreds of thousands that Arafat was stupid, but Khamanei's main message was clear: 

        The presence of Israel is a very big threat to regional nations and states. There is only one solution to the Middle East problem, namely the annihilation and destruction of the Zionist state.

        Not to be outdone on incitement to genocidal politicide, Iran's parliamentary speaker, Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, was equally adamant: "Jerusalem must be liberated and Israel wiped off the face of the world." (4)

        Such declarations, a commonplace in Iran, are condemned by article III (c) of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide which forbids "direct and public incitement to commit genocide". (5) (In 1999, Iran's Jewish community - about 20'000, compared to 120'000 in 1978 - was targeted.) 

        The recurrent racist judeophobia in Syria - with its remnant Jewish population of about 125, compared to 30'000 in 1943 - cannot be ignored. On 1 January 2000, the Syrian Arab Writers' Association weekly, Al-'Usbu' Al-Adabi, a state-controlled organ, published an article by Zbeir Sultan entitled: "The Peace of Zion". After having condemned "the  notorious Camp David Accords" and the normalization between Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and the Zionist enemy, the author lists some alleged diabolic Zionist crimes: 

       Surely, any reader remembers ... the spreading of AIDS in Egypt through pretty, HIV positive, Jewish girls who came from Israel in order to sell themselves to Egyptian youngsters seeking pleasure. ... Egyptian authorities also discovered Zionist gifts for children made of animal-shaped chewing-gum... An examination of this [gum] discovered that it causes sterility. For university students [the Zionists] dispensed chewing-gum that arouses sexual lust... Even the Egyptian soil is not safe from the Satanic war waged by Zionism [against the Arabs]. Tens of thousands of seeds were sent [to Egypt] through agricultural deals with the Zionist Entity. These seeds destroyed the Egyptian soil, rendering part of it sterile. Therefore, it is no wonder that all honorable Arabs and most of our own people in Egypt blame the Zionist enemy for the Egyptian airplane crash in the US sky, because the plane had 33 military officers of various ranks on board, most of whom were pilots. (6)

        Writing in the Washington Post a week later, columnist Charles Krauthammer cited this hatred in the Arab-Muslim world as a crucial aspect relating to any meaningful peace in the Middle East. (7) He then quoted from a previous article in the same Syrian literary magazine weekly:

       The Talmud's instructions, soaked in hatred and hostility toward humanity, are [stamped] in the Jewish soul. Throughout history, the world has known more than one Shylock...more than one Toma as a victim of these Talmudic instructions and this hatred.

        Another passage in this same article ("Shylock of New York and the Industry of Death") puts the blood libel in an historic perspective:

       Now Shylock of New York's time has arrived...The [Passover] Matzah of Israel is soaked with the blood of the Iraqis, descendants of the Babylonians, the Lebanese, descendants of the Sidonese, and the Palestinians, the descendants of the Kan'anites [sic]. This Matzah is kneaded by American weaponry and the weaponry and the missiles of hatred pointed at both Muslim and Christian Arabs. The Talmud incites the Jews on Earth to [allow] Shylock to plant states among the Gentiles, meaning Muslim and Christian lands...Israel's Matzah will continue to steep in blood, the spilling of which is permitted in the Talmud, in order to glorify the Jewish military. This happens because the Jews have more than one God, in contrast to their claims that they are monotheists. (8)

        Krauthammer points out that the name "Toma" was a reference to Father Thomas and the 1840 Damascus blood-libel, which was revived at the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1991 by a Syrian delegate who urged all members to discover the "historical reality of Zionist racism" by reading The Matzah of Zion, prefaced by Syrian defense minister Mustafa Tlass. (9) Declaring that those who continue to purvey this "most insane medieval fantasy about Jews" were "either lunatics or Syrians," he then raised a very acute question:

        What type of peace do such people - who call Jews a disease of the 20th century, who claim that Judaism commands the slaughter of Gentiles for the ritual purpose of eating of their blood - really have in mind? 

        A pertinent question which prompted this description of the historical background and the facts concerning what happened during the UN Commission on Human Rights in February-March 1991, and its aftermath. At that time, Syria was allied to America, Britain, France, Turkey and several other Arab countries during the Gulf War against Saddam Husayn's "Republic of Fear."

The Revival of the 1840 "Damascus Affair" Blood Libel at the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1991 

        It all began with a Syrian "reply" on 8 February 1991 to a statement delivered on behalf of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), in which, inter alia, I condemned racism and antisemitism, and provided an example from Tlass's The Matzah of Zion preface: 

        The Jew can...kill you and take your blood in order to make his Zionist bread... I hope that I have done my duty in presenting the practices of the enemy of our historic nation. Allah aid this project." (10)

         And there was much more of the same:

       Damascus was shaken by a heinous crime [in 1840]. Father Thomas al-Kabushi fell victim to the Jewish community, who wanted to extract his blood for the manufacture of festival unleavened bread for the Festival of Kippur (Day of Atonement) [sic - should be Festival of Passover]. Here opens before us a page even more ugly than the crime itself: the religious beliefs of the Jews and the destructive perversions they contain, which draw their orientation from a dark hate toward all humankind and all religions." 

        But my brief quote was enough to spark a "reply" from a Syrian delegate, Ms. Nabila Chaalan, who launched a diatribe against Zionism and "its barbaric Nazi practices." She then provided a garbled description of Abadri Tuma (Father Thomas), while clutching a copy of The Matzah of Zion. Its color illustration showed three grimacing cut-throat Jews, wearing skull caps, drawing blood from the neck of the horrified Thomas; in the background, two boys with skull-caps, their eyes bulging, watch by the dim candlelight of a typical menorah lamp. Through this warped 19th-century version of what was rapidly to become known in Europe and America as the "Damascus Affair," she expressed her firm conviction, in the name of Syria, that "those who read the book and learn about the reasons for Father Toma's murder would clearly understand the reality of Zionist racism." Then, referring to "the historical realities recorded in the legal investigation files of France and included in the factual historical book, The Matzah of Zion", she made an appeal on behalf of her government: 

        We should like to urge all members of the Commission to read this very important work that demonstrates unequivocally the historical reality of Zionist racism. 

        In conclusion, she wished "to draw the attention of the Commission to the role of certain NGOs at this Commission [which] seems to be to hamper the work  of this important Commission. It would be a good idea ... to reconsider the criteria of participation of such organizations." (11)

        As for Ms. Chaalan's "legal investigation files of France," and the "factual historical book, The Matzah of Zion," the literature on the subject is vast and there is a recent comprehensive study by Jonathan Frankel, The Damascus Affair. "Ritual Murder," Politics, and the Jews in 1840 (12) 

        In her forthcoming book, Bat Ye'or shows the conflict between the religious and strategic interests of France and the Vatican, opposed to those of Great Britain, which was then encouraging proto-Zionism in the Holy Land. The Father Thomas Affair initiated a French and Catholic policy of incriminating Jewry in order to check their emancipation throughout Europe and in the Ottoman Empire; to neutralize the interests of Protestant Britain in the Holy Land; and to crush proto-Zionism. It came after the opening of a British vice-consulate in Jerusalem in 1839 - the first in the Holy City, where returning Jews were fast becoming the majority - with instructions to "afford protection to the Jews generally."(13) Moreover, France supported the wars of Muhammad Ali - the Albanian ruler of Egypt, Syria and Palestine - against the Ottoman sultan, backed by Britain for its own imperial aims. 

       It was in this context - in which the political and religious interests of the Great Powers in the Levant, particularly in Palestine, intermingled - that the disappearance of Father Thomas, a Franciscan Capuchin monk from Sardinia under French protection, and his servant Ibrahim Amara occurred. In February 1840 Count de Ratti-Menton, the French Consul, and Sherif Pasha, the Egyptian governor of the town, accused the Damascus Jewish community of ritual murder without any proof. The French consul immediately had some Jewish notables arrested, and instituted a search of their houses and the whole quarter. In his presence, and for several weeks, the accused underwent torture - including genital torture - mutilation and burnings, accompanied by extortions, floggings, and the imprisonment of both men, women and sixty-three children torn away from their families. Two died under torture; one converted to Islam to save his life. Crowds of Christians and Muslims, stirred up by high-ranking ecclesiastics in the hierarchies of their communities, called for the massacre of all the Jews of Damascus and the plunder of their possessions. (14)
Sir Moses Montefiore, the Vatican's Position, and the French Connection 

        The February 1840 "Damascus Affair" blood libel was believed in many circles and strongly backed by most local Christians, the clerics, the new French government of Prime Minister Adolphe Thiers, and Muhammad Ali's Egyptian Governor of Damascus, Sherif Pasha - this, in spite of the fact that no remains of the two bodies were ever found. 

        In December 1840, Sir Moses Montefiore, the Anglo-Jewish philanthropist and champion of Jewish civil rights, learned from Lieutenant Charles F.A. Shadwell of H.M.S. "Castor" - after his visit to Damascus on 11 August 1840 - of the libellous inscription in Italian (and Arabic) on the memorial stone, erected in the Chapel of the Latin Convent of the Capuchins: "Here rest the bones of Father Thomas of Sardinia, a Capuchin missionary, murdered by the Hebrews (the Jews) on the 5th of February 1840." (15)

        Returning from his trip to the East, on 6 January 1841 Sir Moses Montefiore met with Cardinal Augustino Riverola, the head of the Capuchins in Rome, and was informed that the Cardinal could not order the removal of the stone, as "the Convent was under the protection of the French authority, who had caused it to be erected." (16) In 1866, the plaque was taken from the Capuchin Monastery to the Terra Sancta Church. A century later, after the Ecumenical Council-Vatican II (1962-1965), all blood libels were repudiated by the pope. (17) But the libellous plaque remained in the Terra Sancta Church, and all attempts to remove it since then have come up against a wall of bigotry or indifference. 

        The "legal investigation files" - cited by Ms. Chaalan - in the French foreign ministry archives had already been tampered with in the 19th-century, and a secret file was created ("Le Dossier du Père Thomas"). Writing in 1985, British historian Tudor Parfitt, who gained access to an important report from 1840, commented on this: 

       The only reason for classifying this material for so long is the poor light shed on the French government and particularly on its consular staff in the area. ... It is also worth recording that certain dispatches written between March 1840 and April 1840 have been removed from the classified files and are not to be found elsewhere. (18)
Appeals for the Mendacious Blood Libel to be Condemned at the Commission on Human Rights

        On Sunday, 10 February 1991, I transmitted a translation of the Arabic "reply" to a journalist at the Tribune de Genève. On the Monday, Bernard Lavrie's article appeared on its main news page, describing in detail the brewing scandal at the UN Commission on Human Rights. (19) That morning, Chairman Enrique Bernales Ballesteros of Peru, the Under-Secretary-General for Human Rights Jan Martenson, and several heads of delegations were sent his article, my 8 February statement, and the translated Syrian reply. It was accompanied by a message requesting that a declaration be made by the Chairman in which he strongly condemned this incitement to racial and religious hatred, which - it was stated - is in "total contradiction with all the international instruments."

        In a statement to the Commission the next day, I read out article 20 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: "Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law;" I also quoted from article 4 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in which State Parties condemn: "all propaganda and all organizations ... which attempt to justify or promote racial hatred and discrimination in any form, and undertake to adopt immediate and positive measures designed to eradicate all incitements to, or acts of, such discrimination ..."; and article 4 (c): "State Parties shall not permit public authorities or public institutions, national or local, to promote or incite racial discrimination." Article 11 provides a way for one State Party to act against another State Party, which it considers "is not giving effect to the provisions of this Convention." 

        Turning to Syria's crude revival of the blood libel, I gave a historical summary of this phenomenon in history, from Hellenistic times in Alexandria - when Greeks would accuse the Jews of kidnapping a Greek child for ritualistic purposes - to medieval Christian Europe, over hundreds of years, in scores of places, into the 19th-century - and also in the Middle East through clerical channels. The Nazi, Julius Streicher, revived it in Der Stürmer, printing lurid engravings on 1 May 1934. 

        As for the 1840 "Damascus Affair" - and Tlass's The Matzah of Zion - the Syrian government had serialized the gruesome blood-libel on the radio in 1990. This melodrama was heard in the Middle East, even in Kuwait before Saddam's invasion. I informed Muslim delegates that the Caliph and Ottoman Sultan Abdul Mejid, had - by his firman of 6 November 1840 - condemned this "calumny invented against the Jews, as well as the renewed violence to which they have been subjected," (20) and concluded: "How would the Commission react if a delegate started waiving Mein Kampf on high," claiming that it was 'an important work that demonstrates unequivocally the historical reality of Zionism racism.'" The Commission "should condemn this infamous blood libel. If silence is mandatory ... I would say, with Shakespeare: Something is rotten in the State of this ... Commission!" (21) 

        In a second "right of reply," another Syrian representative (Clovis Khoury, a Christian), claimed that the speaker had "tried to confuse Judaism with Zionism, whereas these are, in fact, totally different things." He refused to respond to the speaker as the statement was of no interest, stating that "the  Syrian Arab Republic respects all revealed religions..." He again asked the "august assembly... to review its attitude with regard to certain organizations..." (22)

        Most of the world's media at the United Nations covered the event, some more than once, with articles in Le Monde (12 February), International Herald Tribune (14 February, from AP/Reuters), Tribune de Genève (15 February), and elsewhere in Europe and the world, and in over 50 newspapers of the North American Jewish press.

        However, no delegates from the 117 member or observer states condemned Syria's blood libel. The debate on racism had closed on the Friday evening, and this technical point became an excuse. A more likely reason was the Gulf War, as Syria was allied to those Western and Arab states which were supporting Kuwait against the Iraqi invaders. On the other hand, it was not conceivable for the United States - and any Western democracy - to avoid expressing some condemnation against a blood libel accusation, thus showing solidarity with Israel, which had been an indirect party in the war, receiving several Scud missiles from Iraq without reacting militarily. (23)

        Within a week, the ambassadors of 28 Western and like-minded states (only 14 out of 43 member states of the Commission; and 13 out of the 73 observer states, and Switzerland) sent letters of protest to the Chairman and the Under-Secretary-General. Only eight of them asked that their letter - indicated with an asterisk - be circulated as an official UN document. The list of states is in the chronological order of their dated letters, some with strong language, others more formalistic: 

Israel*; United States of America*; Australia*; Canada; The Twelve Members of the European Community; Switzerland; The Five Members of the Nordic Countries*; Austria; New Zealand; Japan; and, in a joint letter, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland. The ambassador of Yugoslavia promised that a letter was on its way and informed me later that it had been sent to Mr. Jan Martenson, but it never arrived. (At that time Yugoslavia held the Presidency of the Group of 101 Non-Aligned Countries, none of which agreed to react in any way against Syria.) 

        The then European Community (EC), apparently not wanting to get involved, did not ask for its letter to be circulated. Signed by Ambassador Julien Alex of Luxembourg on behalf of the EC, it considered the Syrian reply "inappropriate." It cited the Declaration by the Twelve - and by its individual members on 25 and 26 June 1990, via the European Council - in regard to the "rise of antisemitism, racism, and xenophobia ... which is all the more pertinent in view of actual events," and "expressed full confidence in your determination to make sure that such excessive language was avoided at the Commission." In contrast, the letters of both Israel and the United States - condemning the medieval blood libel's revival at the Commission - used very strong language. Australia's letter also rejected "a book which promotes outrageous and mendacious allegations against [the] Jewish people and their religion". Canada, too, "wishes to place on record its view that any attempt to justify this type of totally unfounded racist slur has no place in this forum." However, on 19 February Syria submitted a long "note," which it asked should be circulated as an official document the next day. It contained more attacks on both Israel and Zionism, citing again resolution 3379 as UN confirmation on Zionist racism, and provided a translation of Syria's reply, claiming that it "did not in the least refer to Jews or Judaism and did not mention anything related to Judaic rituals. All remarks attributed to this reply are unfounded accusations and the campaign on which they are based is baseless and unjustified." (24) 

        A 14 February letter was delivered personally by me to the Chairman and the Under-Secretary-General on behalf of its NGO signatories. It deplored any statement that contains racist calumnies against any religion and is an incitement to religious or ethnic hatred, which are condemned under all the relevant international instruments. The revival of the millenial blood libel accusation against Jews and the Jewish religion by the Syrian delegate was denounced strongly: "If the Commission does not condemn publicly this vicious libel, which is a clear incitement to hatred, this omission will be seen as a stigma and the Commission will have accepted a dangerous precedent that would be followed by similar libels at a future date against any religion or ethnic group." 

        The NGO signatories to the letter were: World Union for Progressive Judaism; International Fellowship of Reconciliation; World Conference on Religion and Peace; International Association for the Defense of Religious Liberty; World Federation of Methodist Women; World Federation of Trade Unions; International Committee for Peace and Human Rights; Zonta International. 

        The letter was signed by 8 of nearly 120 NGOs accredited to the Commission; 5 others sent letters then; another in June. This brought the total to 14 NGOs - a surprisingly low number for such an infamous calumny.

        The separate letters sent during the Commission were from: The International Commission of Jurists; the International League for Human Rights; the World Jewish Congress, jointly with the Coordinating Board of Jewish Organizations; and the International Council of Jewish Women.

        All efforts over the next weeks to convince the delegation of the World Council of Churches to react failed. This was also the case with the Holy See's delegation, in spite of excellent personal relations with the Papal Nuncio and his colleagues. When making a final reference in a 5 March statement, I used a Christian "argument" on the blood libel accusation, which had been provided me by Father Marcel Dubois, who had spoken earlier at the Commission under the WUPJ's auspices. (25) 

        This calumny - I explained - is not only against the Jewish religion, but, particularly, against all Christians. For Jesus, himself - with his disciples around him, all Jews - partook of the Passover meal at the Last Supper, saying: "Do this - the eating of the unleavened bread - in memory of me!" Therefore, any attack on the Jewish religion, alleging that the Jews use the blood of humans for the Passover meal, would mean that Jesus, his disciples, and Christians today who use the same unleavened bread for Mass on Sunday, are ipso facto accused of doing the same thing, because it was affirmed in The Matzah of Zion that this is the ancient ritual of the Jewish people. 

        Less than 30 states had sent letters of protest, and it was significant that the various "blocs" had been unmovable, even on such an issue. Informing the Commission that "the verdict of historians cannot be gainsaid," I concluded by warning that if not even 30 states (25 perecnt) - representing mainly Western democracies - wrote letters of protest, and no representatives of states from the Third World or the Latin American countries, this would be a glaring stain. 

        On 8 March - in his concluding remarks to the delegates, in relation to human rights violations in the world - the Chairman included a well-prepared sentence: "Any ambiguity regarding religious intolerance is unacceptable." Only a handful of representatives could have related this sentence to Syria's mendacious blood libel accusation. The Chairman, however, was of the opinion that he had made "the point," but this was shared by few - and certainly not by the ambassadors of Israel, the US, and other delegates. 

        Three months later, after a 6 June meeting of the Special Committee of International NGOs on Human Rights (Geneva), its president, Michel Blum, sent a letter of complaint to Jan Martenson. Another letter was sent by the president of the Paris International Federation for Human Rights, Daniel Jacobi, requesting that "the United Nations send a solemn protest to the Syrian government demanding that UN accreditation be withdrawn from the diplomat responsible. It seems to us incomprehensible that a person who made such a statement can continue to hold a post in Geneva." 

        In mid-June, WUPJ's Human Rights and Human Wrongs No. 10 appeared (with all of the WUPJ statements delivered to the Commission, and replies), including a full documentation on the "event": 1991 REVIVAL AT UNITED NATIONS: 1840 "DAMASCUS AFFAIR" BLOOD-LIBEL ACCUSATION. It was widely distributed to delegations at the UN, NGOs, the press, university professors, and others. 

        On 2 July Ambassador Kenneth Blackwell, the chief US delegate on human rights, then back in Geneva, reacted personally to this documentation, stating, inter alia, that he believed the latest developments "vindicate our quick and decisive action on the Syrian accusation." (26)

        A few days later a letter was received from Chairman Bernales Ballesteros by the US ambassador in Geneva, Morris B. Abram. It provided a summary of the events surrounding the incident and reconfirmed the Commission's 

       convictions against any expression of racism - condemning it with the utmost firmness and clarity as being contrary to the principles of the United Nations. The least concession to ambiguous positions tending to any form of racism, racial discrimination or religious intolerance affects the human person in his dignity and his liberty.

        The Chairman then referred to the statement by the Syrian representative, which contained a recommendation to read a calumnious book [The Matzah of Zion]:

        It concerned, what in my opinion, is a defamatory book which contains false information, such as the ritual murder of Christians [by Jews] to use their blood in preparing the unleavened bread for the feast of Passover. Such a recommendation would be interpreted, as indeed it has been, as an incitement to prejudice, intolerance, and violence. Neither myself nor anyone in the Commission could share such extreme views, which deserve unequivocal condemnation and rejection. What is more, I presume that the recommendation does not express the position of the Syrian government, in view of its character and content. [At no time did the delegation of Syria dissociate itself from the book. -D.L.] That is why I am at pains to reiterate my conviction that any declaration which could provoke racist or discriminatory sentiments must not be tolerated in the Commission on Human Rights. Such propositions are both contrary to the basic principles which inspired the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and threaten to neutralize the considerable work that the international system has carried out since its adoption. 

        In a statement on 12 August to the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, I summarized what had happened at the Commission on the subject, quoting from the Chairman's letter, and requested that a consensus of the 26 independent members be found "to adopt a resolution condemning this particular incitement, as well as any such future incitements to hatred and religious intolerance at UN bodies - otherwise similar libels against any religion or ethnic group might follow." There was no reaction from the Sub-Commission as a body, then or later, nor from any of its members. (27) 

The Ongoing Blood Libel and General Mustafa Tlass's Campaign to Obtain a University Doctorate in Paris

        Eight years later, in early August 1999, it become known in Paris that General Tlass was trying again to obtain a Paris doctorate, this time with a study on Geohistory and Geopolitics of Natural Syria, considered by Professor Yves Lacoste, his thesis supervisor, as a serious study on the theory of a "Greater Syria", which "has been talked about for decades in regard to the Middle East." (28) 

        As a result of media attention and a public appeal by the Secretary-General of the International League Against Racism and Antisemitism (LICRA), and other human rights bodies, Professor Lacoste decided to explain his position. (29) In a letter dated 24 September, published by the LICRA with his agreement, he referred to a former student of his before 1968 - with whom he had maintained a regular and close relationship, currently the Syrian Ambassador in Paris [Elias Negmah] - who had explained General Tlass's project to him back in 1989. The professor had accepted the proposal and, after ten years, the general had completed "more than 500 pages of a very documented work." Professor Lacoste felt it was "an important work by its proportions, and interesting - especially being very moderate concerning Israel." A jury was constituted under the presidency of former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali (1992-96) that included Professor André Bourget, the president of the Institut National des Langues et Civilizations Orientales (lNALCO). The usual viva voce examination was scheduled for 11 September 1999, when General Tlass would be questioned at the University of Paris VIII (Saint-Denis) on his doctoral thesis.

        Unexpectedly, a serious problem arose. General Tlass was reliably quoted as having called Yasser Arafat "the son of 60,000 whores," comparing him to a stripteaser (30). Syria's defense minister since 1972 had never been an admirer of the former PLO leader, often belittling him (31), but this time Egypt's Boutros Boutros Ghali was embarrased and promptly resigned from the jury. What had been intended as a discreet university reunion suddenly become another "affaire." When it was learned that Tlass was back in Paris seeking a university doctorate, the Association France-Israel and the LICRA issued press releases on 19 and 24 August. These reminders convinced the presidents of both the scientific and administrative committees of the University of Paris VIII to cancel the ceremony. 

        In his letter, Professor Lacoste explained how he obtained Tlass's The Matzah of Zion from France-Arab Countries (France-Pays arabes), "an association in close contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs." He was greatly surprised on discovering its "violent antisemitism"; and an even greater surprise was the discovery that in the 6th edition (1991) all the 1986 press articles had been reprinted by General Tlass "to prove the violence of the American Jewish organizations and the LICRA in attacking him." In fact, on hearing of these protests at the time, Tlass declared: "It's a false trial... But this campaign has been useful, and since publicity has been made for this book, I will have it translated into all the spoken languages." (32) 

        Professor Lacoste's final surprise came when he was told that the 1986 affaire had ended the general's first attempt to earn a prestigious French doctorate for a thesis, under the supervision of Professor Charles Zorgbibe - an idea, he was told, that had originated in the presidential ("elyséennes") entourage (of François Mitterand). It was then considered the most appropriate manner of thanking General Tlass for his help in the freeing of the French hostages in Beirut. (33) Professor Lacoste concludes his explanation by stating that he would never have agreed to supervise the thesis had he been informed about the 1986 affaire by the services of the French foreign ministry in Damascus, which, till the very end, desired that the university mechanism for the doctoral thesis should follow its course. Over the last ten years they had told him nothing - not until the action by the LICRA brought it abruptly to his attention. (34)

Appeal For the Removal of the 160-year-old Blood Libel Plaque from the Damascus Terra Sancta Church

        In 1991, Syria revived the Damascus blood libel at the UN Commission on Human Rights  as "proof" that Zionism equals racism - 10 months before the infamous resolution 3379 was rescinded by the UN General Assembly. Almost nine years later, "Father Toma" was still being cited in Syria - and elsewhere in the Middle East - as having been a victim of "Talmudic instructions and this hatred," alongside that warrant for genocide, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, and much other hate literature. (35)

        The wheel has finally come full circle. Historians should finally be given full access to any remaining "classified" documents in the French foreign ministry archives related to the 1840 Father Thomas file, and explanations given for any missing papers. It is time to make amends 160 years  after the Damascus Affair. This could easily be done by the removal of the libelous stone plaque from the Terra Sancta Church of Damascus and a total repudiation of the criminal accusation, in line with the historic papal repudiation of all the blood libels. It could be undertaken through the good offices of the French government and the responsible Vatican and Capuchin authorities, and with the approval of the Syrian government. This would be a significant gesture toward a mutual reconciliation. 

        As progress in the Middle East Peace Process develops, including the negotiations between Syria and Israel, it is time - as Lieutenant Shadwell expressed it so well in 1840 - to "sweep away the last remains of ignorance and fanaticism, and the vindictive spirit of persecution," as symbolized in the Damascus Affair blood-libel. Then one could say - as he wrote in 1840 - Magna est veritas et praevalebit (Truth is powerful and will ultimately prevail). (36) 

* * * * *


1) A/RES/53/22, 16 Nov. 1998; see also the "Islamic Symposium on Dialogue Among Civilizations" (Teheran 3-5 May 1999), Islamic Republic of Iran Press Section (New York) ISDC/1-99/DEC.1/ Rev.1 (point E. 6, on how Al-Quds Al-Sharif [Jerusalem] "should once again become the cradle of dialogue and the epitome of tolerance, inclusion, and understanding.") On taking office in 1997, President Mohammed Reya Khatami had called for a global "dialogue of civilizations." 

2) Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi, 17 March 1998 (E/CN./1998/SR.2, para. 9). For the UN seminar: HR/IP/SEM/1999/1 (PART I), (PART II Sect.1), (PART II Sect.2), issued 15 March 1999 (GE. 99-40940; 40942; 40944). For the UN background, David Littman, "Universal Human Rights and 'Human Rights in Islam'", Midstream, February/March 1999, p. 2, and note 1; David Littman, "Islamism Grows Stronger at the United Nations," Middle East Quarterly, September 1999, pp. 60-61. 

3) A recommendation by the Association for World Education was integrated into the seminar's draft document, concerning prompt action "whenever 'direct or public incitement to commit genocide' (art. III c) is manifested by whomsoever" For fuller documentation, see AWE's written statement (E/CN.4/1999/NGO/4: The 1948 Genocide Convention and the struggle against racism)

4) Kianouche Dorranie, "Iran condemns Syria, Arafat and calls to erase Israel from 'map of world'", Agence France Press (Teheran), 31 Dec. 1999; Alan Philps, "Iran calls for Israel to be 'destroyed,'" The Daily Telegraph (London), 1 Jan. 2000;

5) A previous Iranian example concerns its judiciary head, Ayatollah Muhammad Yazdi. On 4 July 1997, in a Friday sermon at the University of Teheran mosque, he explained why, theologically-speaking, "Israel must be eliminated because it has acted against Islam and against the Prophet of Islam." Broadcast on Teheran's 'Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran,' Broadcast on Teheran's 'Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran.' BBC: ME/2964 MED/12-13 (39). Summary of World Broadcasts, 7 July 1997. For this and other details, seen AWE's written statement, Incitement to Genocide as an International Crime: a Recent Iranian Case (E/CN.4/Sub.2/1997/NGO/15). 

6) English translation in MEMRI (Middle East Media & Research Institute). Special Dispatch N?67- Syria, 6 Jan. 2000. On the blaming of "the Zionist enemy" for the crash of EgyptAir Flight 990 (31 Oct. 1999), see Daniel Pipes, "EgyptAir Probe Uncovers Anti-Americanism", The Wall Street Journal, 24 Nov. 1999.

7) "Peace of the Antisemites", The Washington Post, 7 Jan. 2000.

8) By Jbara Al-Barghuthi, in  Al-Usbu' Al-Adabi [The Literary Magazine], 2 Nov. 1999. English tr. in MEMRI Special Dispatch N? 66-Syria, 22 Dec. 1999. Such "literary" descriptions are not exceptional. An article published in Egypt a year earlier, "The Dossier of the Jews in Modern Egypt" - reviewing a new book on the Jewish community in Egypt - quotes its author 'Arfa 'Abduh, as saying that he wanted to alert Egyptians that they were facing "bloodthirsty killers," and that human sacrifice constituted a Jewish ceremony and was not "a figment of imagination." (Quotation from al-Sha'b, 1 Dec. 1998, in Dina Porat and Roni Stauber, eds., Anti-Semitism Worldwide 1998/9. "Arab Countries," Tel Aviv University, 2000.) 

9) Arabic ed. Damascus, 1985, pp. 199. Tlass's preface is dated April 1983: It was brought to the attention of the US State Department (and foreign ministries of major Western countries) in June 1986 by the Simon Wiesenthal Center: "US Probing Book on Jews Laid to Syria," (Int. Herald Tribune, NY Times Service, 17 July 1986: "The Syrian Embassy in Washington has denied knowledge of the book. 'Syria is against Zionism, not Judaism,' an embassy spokesman said.") For all oral (verbatim) and written texts on this "event," see Human Rights and Human Wrongs, no. 10 (Supplementary Document Section. 1991 REVIVAL AT UNITED NATIONS: 1840 "Damascus Affair" Blood Libel Accusation), World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), Geneva, 10 June 1991. Copies: Library of Congress, New York City Library, and on demand gratis via Midstream (with HRHW; no.11 of 20 Jan. 1992).

10) E/CN.4/1991/SR.17, paras. 15-20, reference then was to Le Matin (Paris), 19 Aug. 1986. (WUPJ, No. 10, p. 16) An earlier UN example of a "blood libel" accusation occurred in Geneva during a three- day seminar to combat religious intolerance. On 5 Dec. 1984, Ma'aruf al-Dawilibi (then president of the World Muslim Congress and former private secretary to the Mufti of Jerusalem, World War II war criminal Hajj Amin al-Husayni) spoke on behalf of Saudi Arabia. Ending a long statement in which he quoted extensively from the "Damascus Affair," he declared: "If a Jew does not drink every year the blood of a non-Jewish man, then he will be damned for eternity." Details in Harris O. Schoenberg, A Mandate for Terror. The United Nations and the PLO, New York, 1989, pp. 325-26 (referred to in WUPJ, no. 10, p. 56). Aside from Israel and the US, only 3 other representatives of states spoke out against this calumny, a total of 5 out of 25 participating states. 

11) E/CN.4/1991/SR.18, paras. 64-67 for a summary; complete in the UN recording, and in WUPJ, no. 10, pp. 19 and 55. 

12) Cambridge University Press, 1997. 

13) Albert M. Hyamson (ed.), The British Consulate in Jerusalem, in relation to the Jews of Palestine. 1838-1914 (London, 1939), Part I, p. 2, no. 2, John Bidwell (for Viscount Palmerston) to W.T. Young, F.O. 78/368 (no. 2), 31 Jan. 1839.

14) My thanks to Bat Ye'or for this passage from the English edition of her forthcoming book, to be published by Associated University Presses (New Jersey) in 2001. General Tlass's words in his preface ("I hope that I have done my duty in presenting the practices of the enemy of our nation" - quoted by me on 8 Feb., see p. 3 and note 10) are very similar to words used in 1840 by the French Consul, boasting that he would unmask Judaism's practices for Christians and Muslims alike (from an 1840 publication). 

15) Louis Loewe (ed.), Diaries of Sir Moses and Lady Montefiore. A facsimile of the 1890 edition. (London, 1983), vol. 1, pp. 233-239.

 16) Idem, pp. 290-292. Mr. Aubin, the agent for the British government in Rome, had informed Sir Moses Montefiore on 30 December 1840 that "all the people about the Pope were persuaded that the Jews had murdered Father Tommaso, and even if all the witnesses in the world were brought before the Pope to prove the contrary, neither he nor his people would be convinced, and he could do no more." Idem, p. 287 (italics in the text). My thanks to Bat Ye'or for indicating this point.

17) Frankel, The Damascus Affair, pp. 269-270 (for an explanation of earlier papal decisions on the blood libel). 

18) Tudor Parfitt, "'The Year of the Pride of Israel'. Montefiore and the Damascus Blood Libel of 1840",in Sonia and V.D. Lipman (eds.), The Century of Moses Montefiore (London, 1985), pp. 136-137. After research in the French foreign ministry 30 years ago, I wrote to the director (24 Oct. 1970), listing many anomalies regarding missing and re-numbered documents, and referred to a note from Adolph Thiers of 10 April 1840 (new number: 037/038) to Count de Ratti-Menton. In it, the prime minister refused an additional pension for Father Thomas, requested by Ratti-Menton in his letter of 21 December 1839 (received in Paris on 28 January 1840 only a week before the Father Thomas affair began on 5 February 1840). Thiers's note is dated eight weeks after the "disappearance". To refuse an "increased pension" in January 1840 would make sense, but is somewhat strange on 10 April 1840 when the "Damascus Affair" had already become a major European preoccupation.

19) "Un Scandal à la Commission des Droits de l'Homme: Declaration antisémite pure et dure."

20) Parfitt, ibid, pp. 132-133; the 1840 firman was also reproduced in WUPJ's written statement: E/CN.4/1991/NGO/49; and in WUPJ's, no. 10, p. 35.

21) E/CN.4/1991/SR. 21, paras. 75-77; WUPJ, no. 10, p. 23; this appeal was quoted in the conclusion of an article in the Int. Herald Tribune, "US Calls Syrian's Remarks 'Crude and Hateful'" (14 Feb. 1991), from AP and Reuters dispatches).

22) E/CN.4/1991/SR. 22, paras. 104-107; WUPJ, no. 10, p. 33. See similar 1986 reply by a Syrian embassy spokesman, note 9 supra. 

23) E/CN.4/1991/75 (USA); 1991/78 (Australia); 1991/79 (Nordic Countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden); 1991/90 (Israel); and 1991/80 (Syria). All these official UN texts are reproduced in WUPJ, no. 10, pp. 51-55.

24) This denial is contradicted by the contents of The Matzah of Zion. (See our note 9 and note 30 for similar flagrant denials). In a religious program on 19 June 1998, Radio Damascus referred to the roots of the negative Muslim attitude toward Jews, inferring that all Muslims should stand united before "the enemies of humanity and history" in order to prevent a catastrophe to the human race and culture. See in Dina Porat and Roni Stauber, op. cit. ibid.

25) Member of the Dominican Order of Preachers, Superior of St. Isaiah House, Director of the Ratisbonne Catholic Institute for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. Consultant of the Ponitifical Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism and Head of the Department of Philosophy at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Father Marcel Dubois is an Israeli citizen. For his verbatim 19 Feb. statement in French, see WUPJ no. 10, pp. 24-28. And E/CN.4/1991/SR.32, paras. 29-33 for a summary in French or English.

26) WUPJ, Human Rights and Human Wrongs, no. 11 (Geneva, 20 Jan. 1992), pp. 1-3 for the full text of this letter, and that of the Chairman to US Ambassador Morris Abram, dated 3 July. Also Bernard Lavrie's article in the Tribune de Genève (13-14 July), as well as other related material. 

27) E/CN.4/Sub.2/1999/SR.9, paras. 10-12;  WUPJ, no. 11, pp. 5-7. The lack of any reaction was not unexpected, in view of the poor response at the Commission six months earlier. See also note 10. 

28) "Géo-histoire et géopolitique de la Syrie naturelle". Professeur Yves Lacoste is, inter alia, the director of Hérodote, the Revue de Géographie et de Géopolitique, published under the auspices of the Centre national des lettres, Paris.

29) Le Droit de Vivre (LICRA), Paris, December, 1999, pp. 6-7. In an interview published that summer (France-Pays Arabes, Paris, July-August 1999), Tlass reaffirmed his conviction about the truth of the Damascus Affair: "The assassination of Father Thomas by the members of the Damascus Jewish community in 1840 is a known fact, which was the object of numerous foreign affairs correspondence from the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, etc. This event is authentic, for there have always been in the history of the world sects and fanatical individuals who have committed inhuman acts." He added that to call him an antisemite was absurd "because the Arabs are also Semites. How could I thereby deny my original identity? I am also a Semite." He then described how he had founded in 1982 the publishing house, Dar Tlass, which had published 800 books, 95 of them translated into French. Recently, they  had signed an agreement with Larousse to translate some books into Arabic, notably an encyclopedia, to appear next year. (He stressed that any profits from Dar Tlass are given to the organization of schools for the martyred sons of Syria.) 

30) Mouna Naïm, "Invectives syriennes contre M. Arafat," Le Monde, 5 Aug. 1999. From his speech (in Baalbek, Lebanon) on 2 August, for the festival of the Lebanese and Syrian armies. The next day Tlass denied it all, but immediately "El Jezira" (Qatar's TV) reproduced the scene with sound; including Tlass's comparison of Arafat to a "stripteaser, with this difference: that whereas she becomes more beautiful each time she strips off something, Arafat becomes even more ugly." (ibid.)

31) " 'War of Liberation'. A Talk with the Syrian Defense Minister," The New York Review, 22 November 1986 (Interview in Damascus with two editors of Der Spiegel, trans. from German by Edna McCown). Referring to Arafat as "this idiot", Tlass added: "The Western press against its better judgment blew Arafat up as a hero, when he's nothing more than a puppet [of the Americans]." In the same interview, he refers to a small book of poetry that he will publish "when I leave the army...  dedicated to the 19 most beautiful women in the world." (Princess Diana, Caroline of Monaco, Gina Lollabrigida). 

32) Le Monde (Paris), 14 and 16 August 1986.

33) Thesis on Soviet Marshal Georgi Zukhov; Tlass completed his general staff training at the Voroshilov Academy in Moscow. 

34) It can only be assumed that Professor Lacoste was not in France in August 1986 when two articles appeared in Le Monde (14 and 16 Aug.), Le Matin (19 Aug.), and elsewhere; and again in 1991 for the UN scandal (Le Monde, 12 Feb.). 

35) Pierre-André Taguieff, Les Protocoles des Sages de Sion (Paris: Berg International, 1992), pp. 261ff; see also Daniel Pipes, The Hidden Hand. Middle East Fears of Conspiracy, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996, p. 105 and note 8 (p. 117). Taguieff indicates (p. 326) that PLO diplomat Fayez Sayegh initiatied the text for the General Assembly Resolution 3379 equating Zionism with racism. Fayez Sayegh is the son of a presbyterian pastor originating from Syria who settled in Tiberias. 

 36) Lieutenant Shadwell's conviction that "Truth is powerful and will ultimately prevail" is apposite in regard to the ongoing Syrian revival of the blood libel and the latest "government sanctioned Holocaust denial." An editorial by Mohammed Kheir Wadi, in the leading Syrian state newspaper Tishrin, described the Holocaust as a myth, soon after the close of a major conference on the Holocaust in Stockholm. ("Syrian Newspaper Says Holocaust a Myth," Reuters, 31 January 2000; "Syrian Newspaper Denies Holocaust," Int. Herald Tribune, 1 Feb. 2000). See also Charles Krauthammer's recent apt comparison: "Yet in the Middle East, the government-controlled press routinely publishes Holocaust denial and antisemitic vitriol. Indeed, the very week that Heider came to power [in Austria], the official Syrian daily Tishrin denounced and ridiculed as a 'myth' the Nazi murder of millions of Jews during World War II." (Charles Krauthammer, "Europe's Austria Hypocrisy," The Washington Post, 18 Feb. 2000). For a project on future Middle East Regional Cooperation, see the written statement submitted to the 56th session (20 Mar.-28 April 2000) of the Commission on Human Rights by AWE: E/CN.4/2000/NGO/4: "A United States of Abraham": after one decade (1990-2000).