Blood libel surfaces at Hanan Ashrawi’s MIFTAH organisation

Blood libel surfaces at Hanan Ashrawi's MIFTAH organisation

The Jewish people recently celebrated the festival of Passover, which recounts the Jewish exodus from Egypt. In the Middle East, this festival often leads to new outbreaks of the ugly antisemitic lie of blood libel – the claim that Jews use the blood of non-Jews to make Passover Matzah. Here’s a typical ugly example from Lebanon this year. 

However, a particularly concerning case of blood libel promotion occurred in an article by Jordanian writer Nawaf al-Zaru published on the Arabic website of MIFTAH, an NGO founded in 1998 by Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, who still plays a senior role there as Chairperson of the Board of Directors.

MIFTAH largely receives its funding from Western governments including Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy, Austria, Germany, Ireland, and Norway, and from US government funded NGOs.

Both MIFTAH and Ashrawi are frequently cited by Western journalists as sources for stories about the human rights of Palestinians, and are generally treated as independent and credible – despite the fact that both essentially take traditional Palestinian demands against Israel and reformulate them in “human rights” terms. Just last week, Ashrawi was quoted by Fairfax Middle East correspondent Ruth Pollard complaining that it was “unacceptable” that “Palestinian Christian communities are denied their simple human right to worship freely in their own capital city” because not all entry permits requested to Jerusalem for Easter were granted by Israel.

Al-Zaru’s article was a response to US President Barack Obama’s recent comments noting that he hosts a Passover seder in the White House. Al-Zaru’s article stated:

“Does Obama in fact know the relationship, for example, between ‘Passover’ and ‘Christian blood’ ..?! Or ‘Passover’ and ‘Jewish blood rituals..?! Much of the chatter and gossip about historical Jewish blood rituals in Europe are real and not fake as they claim; the Jews used the blood of Christians in the Jewish Passover…”

Algemeiner notes that al-Zaru then quotes “a 2007 Haaretz article on a book by a Bar-Ilan University professor that bizarrely claimed that a few blood libels could have had a basis in fact, without noting that the same professor recanted those claims a year later.”

Al-Zaru’s article was first spotted by the pro-Israel blogger Elder of Ziyon. MIFTAH at first refused to apologise for al-Zaru’s article and condemned Elder of Ziyon for promoting a ‘smear campaign’ against it. Instead of an apology it reportedly published an offensive justification on March 30:

“The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, MIFTAH strongly denounces the smear campaign being carried out against it and, by association, its founder Dr. Hanan Ashrawi. The obscure pro-Israeli website “The Elder of Ziyon” has wrongly accused MIFTAH and Dr. Ashrawi of promoting Jewish blood libel during Passover through its publication of an Arabic-language article that briefly addressed the subject.

The disclaimer at the opening of the “News and Analysis” section clearly states that, “The views represented in [News and Analysis] are solely those of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of MIFTAH, but rather fulfill its mandate for open dialogue.” For the record, to avoid further misunderstanding, Al Zaru’s article has been taken down from MIFTAH’s website.

MIFTAH has and always will promote the principles of democracy and a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Articles published in its name on both its Arabic and English websites are proof of this philosophy. Neither MIFTAH nor Dr. Ashrawi has ever been associated with anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic campaigns due to their philosophy of promoting accurate and credible information. MIFTAH has always been focused on the promotion of the Palestinian narrative in the service of achieving a free, democratic Palestine, part of which is honoring freedom of speech.

It is in this spirit that MIFTAH is deeply disturbed by this recent slander campaign against it. Not only is the premise of their argument erroneous in characterizing MIFTAH and Dr. Ashrawi, but the underlying purpose of sabotaging MIFTAH’s reputation with its international partners is nothing short of abhorrent. MIFTAH has been in existence for well over decade and has published countless articles on Palestine, which show its true colors. It is fair to say that its work speaks for itself.”

In response, Elder of Ziyon tore MIFTAH’s justification apart:

“This is truly amazing. The reason they took the article down wasn’t because of its pure hate, its slander against an entire people, its invocation of the worst of all historic anti-semitic canards. The reason is ‘to avoid further misunderstanding.’

Let’s be clear: An editor at Miftah, an NGO dedicated supposedly to principles of democracy and peace, saw this article and decided – according to Miftah’s own words here – that the classic blood libel against Jews is a legitimate part of ‘its mandate for open dialogue.’

Fully half of the article talks about the blood libel… And yet, even after publishing this, Miftah claims that ‘Neither MIFTAH nor Dr. Ashrawi has ever been associated with anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic campaigns due to their philosophy of promoting accurate and credible information.’

In other words – Miftah does not denounce the article, and does not even say that it is inaccurate today! Miftah refuses to condemn it, it will not call it anti-semitic, it indignantly will not apologize for publishing it, it will not denounce the prominent Jordanian author of the piece, it will not say that it will change its policies on accepting articles – but instead it accuses me of ‘slander’!

A supposedly liberal Palestinian Arab NGO refuses to condemn the ugliest Jew-hatred published in its name by its own editors, and instead claims that it is part of ‘open dialogue’ and implies that it is ‘accurate and credible information.’ But keeping it up on their site might promote ‘misunderstanding.” Please. They took it down because it embarrassed them, not because they found it offensive.

As far as their claim that they only published it because of their commitment to ‘open dialogue’ – how many pro-Israel articles can one find in their website? Yup, that’s right.

As I wrote on Friday Miftah also published an article romanticizing female suicide bombers who targeted innocent civilians. That article was written by a Miftah employee, their main editorial writer named Joharah Baker. Indeed, Miftah’s work does speak for itself…”

Following international condemnation by Jewish leaders including the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, on April 1 MIFTAH changed its mind and issued a proper apology, which stated:

“The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, MIFTAH would like to apologize for the recent and brief publication on our website of an article penned by Nawaf Al Zaru that discusses Jewish blood libel during Passover.

It has become clear to us after investigating this incident that the article was accidentally and incorrectly published by a junior staff member. The said staffer has been reprimanded and all our staff has been informed as to the disgusting and repulsive phenomena of blood libel or accusation, including its use against Jews. Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, as founder, has nothing to do with the day to day management at MIFTAH and was no way involved in this incident.

We express our sincerest regret for offense caused by the oversight that resulted in said publication. We are whole-heartedly committed to fighting racism, hatemongering, discrimination and persecution of any kind wherever it should exist, and especially in our own society.”

It would be more than fair to question the sincerity of this apology following MIFTAH’s appalling initial response to the blatant promotion of unequivocal antisemitism on its website. Both the donors to MIFTAH and the journalists who treat MIFTAH and Ashrawi as simply professional and non-partisan “human rights advocates” would do well to ask some similar questions about the organisation as a whole.

Sharyn Mittelman