By: Steven Plaut Wednesday, February 28, 2007
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
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
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
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
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
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
* * *
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.