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by Daniel S. Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International

New “questions” about the cause of death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died in 2004 at the age of 75, and his recent exhumation, are nothing more than a contemporary take on the classic blood libel. 

Though updated with modern-day lab testing and poisons, the comparison and the vilification are the same. From the Middle Ages on, Jews were charged with using the blood of non-Jews, especially children, for ritual ceremonies. A common theme was the poisoning of wells or causing the outbreak of infectious diseases. These odious charges have been used for centuries to persecute Jews. In these outlandish accusations, blood libels have led to forced conversions, violence and even to the murder of Jews.

In what may well be this century’s first blood libel, Israel is accused of killing Arafat, possibly with the chemical polonium-210.

Once this idea was advanced, today’s Palestinian leaders, along with Arafat’s widow, quickly approved the exhumation of his body for testing.

It takes no leap of imagination to see where this is heading. The test results will surely match the preordained outcome. Palestinians have long-accused Israel of killing Arafat. Now, with the name of a toxin in hand, they will link his death to an Israeli plot. The Palestinian street will be stirred up. And Palestinian leaders will now surely use their newly gained U.N. status as a non-member observer “state” to bring this blood libel to the International Criminal Court—looking for international approbation of their blood libel charge.  

This process, eight years after Arafat’s death, has already taken on an international dimension. France (where Arafat died), Switzerland and Russia are all studying samples taken from Arafat’s body.

The Palestinians are well-versed in blaming Israel for their woes. Just look at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ U.N. General Assembly speech on Nov. 29.  Instead of expressing regret that the Palestinians rejected the 1947 partition plan, he blamed Israel’s assent to the plan, the original “two state solution,” for the “catastrophe” of the Palestinian people. 

While Israel built a thriving, high-tech democracy in the desert, the Palestinians chose to build bombs. It has long-been easier for the Palestinians to blame Israel for everything than to sit down to do the tough work making peace and building a nation.

Of course today’s Palestinian leaders stand to gain popularity if they wrongly connect the death of their most iconic leader to Israel. This is yet another weapon in the Palestinian demonization arsenal.

Medieval blame-gaming is certainly not a path to 21st century coexistence. The Palestinians have gone before the United Nations and they are looking for international recognition and legitimacy. Yet, they are focused not on bridge-building but on finger-pointing. One could understand when there is great skepticism in Israel and elsewhere about being able to resolve such thorny issues as borders and security when one is painting Israel with a totally discredited accusation.

Those engaged in this exercise are clearly more consumed by pursuing hatred than in reaching a real and lasting agreement for peace.