Did Jews’ Genes Protect Them from the Black Plague?

Feb. 11 2021

As the Black Death swept through Europe in the mid-14th century, many Christians, observing that their Jewish neighbors tended to die at less alarming rates, decided that the Jews were to blame. This conclusion resulted in some of the Middle Ages’ severest outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence. Over the last 200 years, historians have variously pinned the difference in mortality to better hygiene (perhaps related to handwashing and other halakhic observances), more fastidious care for the sick, kashrut, and Passover cleaning. Declaring these explanations scientifically untenable, Kathryn Glatter and Paul Finkelman suggest a different one:

We believe that the answer lies in a recessive genetic mutation—familial Mediterranean fever (FMF), which is found mostly in people of Middle Eastern ancestry. In 14th-century Europe, the most prominent and visible group of such people would have been Jews. FMF causes recurrent fevers and painful inflammation of the abdomen, lungs, and joints. However, as a 2020 study at the National Human Genome Research Institute showed, it also makes its carriers resistant to the bubonic plague.

A recent analysis of 400 blood samples in Tel Aviv found FMF in 39 percent of Jews of Iraqi origin, 22 percent of Jews from North Africa, and 21 percent of Ashkenazi Jews. In another Israeli study, 14 percent of Jews of Turkish origin and 20 percent of Jews from Bukhara, Georgia, and Bulgaria carried the mutation. Altogether, it seems that 20 to 40 percent of Israeli Jews might carry the FMF mutation.

Since FMF is a recessive gene, its carriage rate has likely declined since the 14th century, meaning that many more Jews would have carried the FMF mutation at the time of the plague. If so, this would explain the contemporary impression that Jews survived the plague in disproportionate numbers compared with their Christian neighbors. The fact that thousands of them were then murdered, in part because of their congenital immunity, is one of the tragic ironies of history.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Genetics, Jewish history, Plague, Science

Iran’s Four-Decade Strategy to Envelope Israel in Terror

Yesterday, the head of the Shin Bet—Israel’s internal security service—was in Washington meeting with officials from the State Department, CIA, and the White House itself. Among the topics no doubt discussed are rising tensions with Iran and the possibility that the latter, in order to defend its nuclear program, will instruct its network of proxies in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and even Iraq and Yemen to attack the Jewish state. Oved Lobel explores the history of this network, which, he argues, predates Iran’s Islamic Revolution—when Shiite radicals in Lebanon coordinated with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s movement in Iran:

An inextricably linked Iran-Syria-Palestinian axis has actually been in existence since the early 1970s, with Lebanon the geographical fulcrum of the relationship and Damascus serving as the primary operational headquarters. Lebanon, from the 1980s until 2005, was under the direct military control of Syria, which itself slowly transformed from an ally to a client of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The nexus among Damascus, Beirut, and the Palestinian territories should therefore always have been viewed as one front, both geographically and operationally. It’s clear that the multifront-war strategy was already in operation during the first intifada years, from 1987 to 1993.

[An] Iranian-organized conference in 1991, the first of many, . . . established the “Damascus 10”—an alliance of ten Palestinian factions that rejected any peace process with Israel. According to the former Hamas spokesperson and senior official Ibrahim Ghosheh, he spoke to then-Hizballah Secretary-General Abbas al-Musawi at the conference and coordinated Hizballah attacks from Lebanon in support of the intifada. Further important meetings between Hamas and the Iranian regime were held in 1999 and 2000, while the IRGC constantly met with its agents in Damascus to encourage coordinated attacks on Israel.

For some reason, Hizballah’s guerilla war against Israel in Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s was, and often still is, viewed as a separate phenomenon from the first intifada, when they were in fact two fronts in the same battle.

Israel opted for a perilous unconditional withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, which Hamas’s Ghosheh asserts was a “direct factor” in precipitating the start of the second intifada later that same year.

Read more at Australia/Israel Review

More about: First intifada, Hizballah, Iran, Palestinian terror, Second Intifada