NEW YORK (Jul. 15)
The Syrian Defense Minister, Mustafa Tlas, is being accused of authoring an anti-Semitic book said to be widely distributed in Syria which revives and gives credence to the ancient blood libel accusations of the Middle Ages.
Secretary of State George Shultz, alerted to the book’s circulation in Syria, has instructed the United States Embassy in Damascus to investigate the charges raised against Tlas by the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Shultz, in a letter dated July 3 to the Center, said: “I can assure you I share your deep sense of out rage that individuals continue to write such works, which clearly serve only to further hatred and anti-Semitism against the Jewish people ….
“I have asked that a copy of the book, your translated excerpts and letter, be provided to the U.S. Embassy in Damascus with instructions that this matter be raised with the Syrian government. I strongly agree with you that we must make our views known when confronted with efforts of this kind anywhere in the world,” Shultz said.
A spokesperson for the Syrian Embassy in Washington told The New York Times Monday that the Embassy had no knowledge of the book. “Syria is against Zionism, not Judaism,” the spokesperson said.
According to the Wiesenthal Center, Tlas’ book, “The Matzah of Zion,” constitutes “a dangerous campaign” against the Jewish people. The book is said to be widely distributed in Syria, although it is not available in the libraries or research centers of Western countries, the Center reported.
STATEMENTS IN THE BOOK
The book calls the true religious beliefs of the Jews “black hatred to all humanity and all religions,” and contains such statements as “from that moment on, every mother was warning her child, do not stray away from home. The Jew may come by and put you in his sack to kill you.”
The reference to “every mother was warning her child” revives the infamous 1840 blood libel which claimed that Christians were killed by Jews in the Syrian capital and their blood was used in preparing the unleavened bread.
At that time, the Syrian Jewish community totalled some 10,000 persons, including many refined and wealthy Jewish families. An investigation into the disappearance of a Capuchin friar, Father Thomas, led to an investigation by the authorities and accusations of Jewish responsibility for the crime.
The Jewish community was subjected to brutal harassment and, in one instance, 60 children of the ages three to ten were locked in cells without food in order to move their parents to make a confession. Several Jews died in prison, one under torture. An international effort brought an end to the campaign against the Jews.
According to the Center’s translation of the book, Tlas writes that the West and East alike preceded the Islamic world to recognize the “destructive badness” of Jewish beliefs and this is why Jews were forced into closed ghettos.
FORMAL PROTEST URGED
After reviewing the book, officials of the Center contacted government leaders in Washington, Canada, France, West Germany, Great Britain, Italy, at the Vatican and the UN Human Rights Commission requesting that they “formally protest this revival of anti-Semitism at the highest levels of the Syrian regime.” Shultz is the only government official to reply to the Center’s request.
Tlas is the author of numerous books and poems which are widely distributed throughout the Arab world, the Center reported. The former President of the Damascus Military Tribunal and Chief of Staff and Deputy of Syrian President Hafez Assad, Tlas has won a reputation as a tough and ruthless leader of the Syrian elite.
Tlas wrote in the “Matzah of Zion,” that “I intend through publication of this book, to throw light on some of the secrets of the Jewish religion based on the conduct of the Jews — their blind fanaticism …”
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center, said: “The fact that such a high ranking cabinet officer of the government of Syria could direct such a campaign of hatred and anti-Semitism against the Jewish people is an indication that the Golan Heights dispute is only a smoke screen for the real intentions of the current Syrian regime who would obviously like to rid themselves of any Jewish presence in the Middle East.”
PRESENT PLIGHT OF SYRIAN JEWS
But while the blood libel charge is being raised again in Damascus, the Jewish community there is now fewer than 5,000. Jews are required to carry identity cards with the word “Jew” stamped on them, whereas other Syrian citizens do not have their religion written on their papers. Jews have no right to travel abroad, or even outside their own city.
Syrian Jews have their activities monitored, and are subjected to other restrictions, according to sources reporting on Syrian Jewry. “At least in the Soviet Union if a Jew does not want to identify with Israel he is left alone. This is not the case in Syria. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Syrian Jewry live in more distressing circumstances than any other diaspora community,” David Avayou, head of the World Zionist Organization’s Sephardi communities department, was quoted as saying recently.