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Mention of Blood Libel Against Jews at U.N. Session Draws Sharp Protest

February 13, 1991
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Israel and the United States are trying to generate the strongest possible condemnation of the ritual blood libel leveled against Jews by Syria at a session of the U.N. Human Rights Commission here last Friday.

The polemic, by the second-ranking member of the Syrian delegation, Nabila Shaalan, so far has elicited neither dissent nor comment from the commission’s top officials.

The daily La Tribune de Geneve reported it under the headline “Scandal at the Human Rights Commission: A Tough And Purely Anti-Semitic Declaration.”

Yitzhak Lior, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, called on the commission’s chairman, Enrique Bernales Ballesteros of Peru, to “denounce this statement publicly and unequivocally in order to preserve the credibility and honor of the commission.”

The U.S. ambassador, Morris Abram, was reported to have requested instructions from Washington as he, too, sought a strong reaction to the centuries-old calumny against Jews.

It was revived by Shaalan during the Feb. 8 debate over the agenda item on racism and racial discrimination.

She recommended that commission members read “a valuable book which confirms the racist character of Zionism.”

It is called “The Matzah of Zion” and was published in 1985 by the Syrian defense minister, Maj. Gen. Mustafa Tlas. He justified the ritual murder charges brought against Jews in Damascus in 1840 for the death of a Catholic missionary.


The blood libel in various forms dates back to medieval Europe and has been one of the most potent incitements to physical violence against Jews. It accuses Jews of using the blood of Christians, usually young children, to make their Passover matzot.

In Damascus 151 years ago, leaders of the Jewish community were arrested and tortured until they would say they killed a Catholic friar, Father Tomaso, and used his blood for ritual purposes.

One of the accused died in prison; eight were condemned to death. They were saved only by the intervention of Adolphe Cremieux of France and Sir Moses Montefiore of Britain with the Egyptian ruler of Syria, Mehmet Ali.

The Syrian delegate claimed the book proved Jews engaged in ritual murder. “Whoever reads this book will be informed of the reason behind Father Tomaso’s murder and will clearly discover the racist reality of Zionism,” she said.

As La Tribune de Geneve pointed out, Shaalan made her provocative response in the presence of Bernales, Jan Martenson, director of the Human Rights Center, and John Pace, the commission’s secretary-general, none of whom reacted.

Ambassador Lior’s letter to Bernales said: “It would be astonishing if such a deliberate incitement to racial and religious hatred were to be uttered with impunity in any United Nations forum.

“It surpasses belief, however, that it should be made in the Commission on Human Rights, the very organ entrusted with the task of combatting all manifestations of discrimination and bigotry.”

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