Peel District School Board has promised a ‘full investigation,’ acknowledging the ‘hurt and harm’ the class project caused
As part of a recent week-long “social justice” program, pro-Palestinian students at Stephen Lewis Secondary School in the Toronto area’s Peel District mounted a banner in a school hallway, reading, “If animal testing is NOT OKAY … Then why is human testing OKAY?” The banner was also displayed on social media.
The cryptic message refers to two widely circulated anti-Semitic myths: that Israel subjects Palestinian prisoners to pharmaceutical experiments as part of their military agenda; and that Israel harvests organs from Palestinian prisoners.
These accusations are “blood libels,” which throughout history have led to extreme violence against Jews, and represent anti-Semitism in its most abhorrent verbal form. In medieval times, individual Jews were accused of draining the blood of Christian children to bake into their Passover matzo. The contemporary transfer of evil to a vampiric Jewish state reflects the evolution of anti-Semitism from its religious focus, no longer tolerated in polite society, to a political platform; Israel-bashing is often well tolerated as a conduit for Jew hatred.
Israel-bashing is often well tolerated as a conduit for Jew hatred
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) immediately contacted the Peel District School Board (PDSB), which said it would “look into it,” but the poster stayed up for the duration of the program. On Twitter, a kernel of truth. In the 1990s, under the direction of pathologist Dr. Yehuda Hiss of Israel’s Abu Kabir forensic unit, specialists harvested skin, corneas, heart valves and bones from the corpses of Israeli soldiers, as well as from deceased Jewish and Arab citizens, without relatives’ permission. In an investigation, Hiss admitted his culpability, and was removed from his post. This informal and unethical practice, never official policy, ended before 2000. No living person, let alone Palestinian prisoners, was ever at risk. All organ harvesting in Israel is done according to the same stringent standards Canada follows.
The prisoners-as-guinea-pigs motif is a favourite of militant Israel-haters. In July 1997, then-Israeli Speaker of the Knesset Dalia Itzik was falsely alleged to have stated that the Israeli Minister of Health had given pharmaceutical firms permits to test new drugs on prison inmates, and that 5,000 tests had already been carried out. Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) reported on this ongoing libel in 2008, with a quote from Itzik’s office: “Knesset Speaker Itzik never made the statements attributed to her. Knesset Speaker Itzik is certain that incidents of this kind do not occur in Israel; this is not how Israel conducts itself.”
It is thanks to PMW and its constant monitoring of Palestinian media that one can see how these blood libels endure and spread. They run rampant, for example, on Al-Hayat al-Jadida, the official daily newspaper of the Palestinian Authority, as one might expect in a region where the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an outlandish but persistent anti-Semitic conspiracy theory of a world controlled by Jews, is widely accepted as received truth. More disturbingly, the Swedish newspaper, Aftonbladet, perpetuated the falsehood that Palestinians had been killed for their organs. Israel demanded Sweden condemn the blood libel, but it refused on freedom of speech grounds, shamefully enabling further proliferation of the canard.
The pharmaceuticals red herring, as well as another libel — that Israel uses Palestinians as weapons-testing guinea pigs — can be traced back to one individual: Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian.
Shalhoub-Kevorkian is an Israeli, a Palestinian professor of law at Hebrew University, whose research “focuses on law, society and crimes of abuse of power.” In February, she gave a lecture at Columbia University, titled “Disturbing Spaces — Violent Technologies in Palestinian Jerusalem,” in which she charged Israel with carrying out weapons test on Palestinians. Her unfounded and uncorroborated assertions (“Palestinian spaces are laboratories”) were represented as research conducted under the auspices of Hebrew University, but the university categorically denied involvement, stating Shalhoub-Kevorkian’s remarks were strictly “personal opinions which express only herself.”
Institutions can at least fireproof the spaces they control
Of course, all refutations of these wretched tales of Mengele-level wickedness only fuel the rancid imaginations of anti-Semites, one and all of whom are conspiracy theorists that no lack of evidence — or even evidence of such atrocities committed by anyone other than Jews — can dissuade or deflect from their chosen hatred. The internet offers an unending supply of the ghoulish fantasies they seek, so it is futile to hope this conflagration can be tamed by the waters of reason.
Still, institutions can at least fireproof the spaces they control. This incident demonstrates that materials in social justice programming should be assessed for credibility before permission is granted for inclusion. Hopefully, PDSB’s promised investigation will yield valuable recommendations for informed triage in the future.