A Modern-Day Blood Libel, Dressed Up in Trendy Academic Language

Oct. 10 2018

In her 2017 book The Right to Maim, published by Duke University Press, Jasbir Puar—a professor at Rutgers University—advances entirely unsubstantiated and outlandish claims about Israel’s malevolent treatment of Palestinians. David Berger, a historian of medieval anti-Semitism, notes the similarities between Puar’s writings and the centuries-old accusations that Jews murdered Christian children and used their blood to make matzah, stole and “tortured” communion wafers, and poisoned wells:

Israel has been accused of poisoning Palestinians [and] harvesting their organs; thousands of Jews are said to have refrained from coming to work at the World Trade Center on that fateful September 11, with Jews responsible in whole or in part for the attacks. . . . The historian Gavin Langmuir proposed a term to characterize the [medieval] blood libel, the host-desecration charge, and the well-poisoning accusation: these figments of the anti-Jewish imagination should, he said, be termed “chimerical anti-Semitism.” [Now] we encounter chimerical anti-Israelism. . . .

[Thus] Puar asserts that Israel’s policy of shooting dangerous demonstrators or attackers in a manner that avoids killing them should be seen as a strategy of maiming the Palestinian population in order to create a debilitated people more easily subject to exploitation. Written in the highly sophisticated language of theoretical discourse current in certain historical and social-scientific circles, [the accusation] has led a significant number of academics to shower the author with extravagant praise. . . .

Building on a hyperbolic statement by a Gazan water-utilities official that it would be better [for Palestinians] if Israel were to drop a nuclear bomb on Gaza, she asserts with evident agreement that he is essentially saying that “it is as if withholding death—will not let or make die—becomes an act of dehumanization: the Palestinians are not even human enough for death.”

It is by no means improper to classify this book as the rough equivalent of the blood libel. Moreover, its publication and reception point to a development that is no less troubling, namely, the corruption of the academy. . . . The Right to Maim was not only published by a respected university press. It bears an effusive blurb from the prominent academic Judith Butler, and when a talk that Puar delivered at Vassar College on this theme was attacked in a Wall Street Journal article, nearly 1,000 academics ranging from distinguished professors like Rashid Khalidi of Columbia to graduate students—most of whom have no expertise in relevant fields—wrote a letter to the president of the university containing a similarly effusive declaration of the quality of her work and her standing as a scholar. Thus, my instinct that a book like this, for all its footnotes and hyper-sophisticated jargon, should be ignored because of its manifest absurdity is, I am afraid, misguided. Academics who care about Jews and Israel, and even those who care only about the academy itself, face a daunting challenge.

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More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Blood libel, History & Ideas, Israel & Zionism

Is the Attempt on Salman Rushdie’s Life Part of a Broader Iranian Strategy?

Aug. 18 2022

While there is not yet any definitive evidence that Hadi Matar, the man who repeatedly stabbed the novelist Salman Rushdie at a public talk last week, was acting on direct orders from Iranian authorities, he has made clear that he was inspired by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s call for Rushdie’s murder, and his social-media accounts express admiration for the Islamic Republic. The attack also follows on the heels of other Iranian attempts on the lives of Americans, including the dissident activist Masih Alinejad, the former national security advisor John Bolton, and the former secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who was held hostage by the mullahs for over two years, sees a deliberate effort at play:

It is no coincidence this flurry of Iranian activity comes at a crucial moment for the hitherto-moribund [nuclear] negotiations. Iranian hardliners have long opposed reviving the 2015 deal, and the Iranians have made a series of unrealistic and seemingly ever-shifting demands which has led many to conclude that they are not negotiating in good faith. Among these is requiring the U.S. to delist the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in its entirety from the State Department’s list of terror organizations.

The Biden administration and its European partners’ willingness to make concessions are viewed in Tehran as signals of weakness. The lack of a firm response in the shocking attack on Salman Rushdie will similarly indicate to Tehran that there is little to be lost and much to be gained in pursuing dissidents like Alinejad or so-called blasphemers like Sir Salman on U.S. soil.

If we don’t stand up for our values when under attack we can hardly blame our adversaries for assuming that we have none. Likewise, if we don’t erect and maintain firm red lines in negotiations our adversaries will perhaps also assume that we have none.

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More about: Iran, Terrorism, U.S. Foreign policy