Associated Press and others: guilty of a blood libel?

Here’s a first — citing The Hollywood Reporter: If initial reports that the anti-Muslim film that triggered riots in Libya and Egypt is the work of an Israeli filmmaker supported by Jewish donors are incorrect, then the media is guilty of a “blood libel,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said Wednesday.

He said that the media will have to answer for its role in spreading controversial and possibly false information about the makers of the purported film Innocence of Muslims, which ridicules the prophet Muhammad, without thorough fact-checking.

Cooper specifically cited the Associated Press, which reported on a phone interview with a man who identified himself as Sam Bacile and claimed to be an Israeli-born Jewish writer-director who made the film with the backing of 100 Jewish donors. Subsequent reports have cast doubt on the filmmaker’s identity, claiming that the man might not be either Jewish or Israeli and is using a false name.

The AP has continued to report on the film, most recently tying a California Coptic Christian named Najoula Basseley Nakoula to the film. According to that report, Nakoula denied he directed the film and said he knew the self-described filmmaker, Sam Bacile. But the cellphone number that AP used to contacted Bacile traced to the same address near Los Angeles where AP found Nakoula. The report also cites court papers that show Nakoula’s aliases included Nicola Bacily, Erwin Salameh and others.

In the midst of the riots in Libya, an attack on the U.S. consultant [sic] resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other staffers. Cooper blamed the diplomat’s death and the incidents in Egypt on terrorists who were looking to send a message on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. “If it wasn’t a Jew who made [Innocence of Muslims], then we have blood libel on the part of the media for failing to do its due diligence,” he said. “The fact someone out there ascribed this to Jews is classic anti-Semitic blood libel.”

Thanks to Rabbi Cooper for stating the “facts”!

It’s funny how when people make unsubstantiated assertions they so frequently claim they are facts.

Two days after the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, facts are still in short supply, but still, I think it’s possible to engage in some fruitful analysis while scrutinizing the claim that a classic anti-Semitic blood libel has been committed.

Based on AP’s current reporting it seems probable that the film was made by an Egyptian Coptic Christian. The trailer includes several clues that point in that direction — the depiction of Christians being persecuted by Muslims and a reference to the “Islamic Egyptian police” — and now Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, reported to be a California Coptic Christian, appears as though he may have previously dubbed himself as “Sam Bacile” and claimed he was an Israeli.

As an Islamophobic Coptic Christian, did Nakoula assume an Israeli identity so that he could accomplish a two-for-the-price-of-one attack on Muslims and Jews?

I doubt it. It’s seems much more likely that he imagined his cause would be better served here if it was aligned with Israel than with Egypt’s Coptics, the latter being a much more obscure cause in the eyes of most Americans.

As for Associated Press propagating the “blood libel” — all it was doing was reporting what it was told by a heavily accented man who called himself Bacile and said he was an Israeli. (I’ll admit being mildly frustrated that the AP reporter referred to his “thickly accented” voice without venturing an interpretation of the origin of this accent. Of course it was safer not to hazard a guess.)

But then there’s a broader question: for those of us who did focus on those details of the report — the “Israeli” producer and the “Jewish” donors — is that attention an indication of an anti-Semitic/anti-Israeli bias? (As far as I’m aware the only news report that actually highlighted the Jewish donors angle of the story was one appearing in the Times of Israel, not an outlet one would expect to have an interest in propagating blood libels. Note: ToI later changed the headline but the original headline is retained in the URL.)

It might be if there was no reason to make a Jewish/Israeli connection with Islamophobia — but that connection is well documented. To be clear, I’m not suggesting that Jews in general are Islamophobic, but simply that the anti-Islam movement in America has a disproportionate number of Jews among its leaders — Pamela Geller, David Yerushalmi, Daniel Pipes, and David Horowitz, to name just a few.

I would also note that the Jewish community is well aware of the dangers that are posed by such hatemongers. The Anti-Defamation League has identified Geller’s “Stop Islamization of America” as an extremist organization. Geller’s partner in this operation, Robert Spencer, is a Melkite Greek Catholic.

Cooper says: “If it turns out the filmmaker Sam Bacile is not a Jew, then this is a very successful ploy for which the price tag has already been paid by American diplomats and the Jewish community.”

To call it a ploy is paranoiac and also misleading. The protests in Libya and Egypt were in response to an “American” film disparaging Islam. The details of an “Israeli producer” and “Jewish donors” were only introduced after the attacks on the two U.S. missions had already occurred, and each detail came into question within hours of its appearance.

Maybe if he was less obsessed with threats to Jews and more concerned about victimization in general, instead of leaping up to accuse others of blood libels, the rabbi could acknowledge that the targets of victimization these days are much more often Muslims than Jews and the dominant prejudice of this era is not anti-Semitism, it is Islamophobia.

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  1. Abe Cooper can posture and act as self-righteous as it suits him, but even without Bacile’s film, Israelis and Israel Firsters have created a splendid library of outrageous anti-Muslim, racist “documentaries” — I use the term loosely.

  2. after wasting almost 14 minutes
    of my precious time on earth

    watching this incoherent mess
    i have come to two conclusions :

    this film could not possibly produce
    the effect [s] attributed to it – and

    that mohammed [as filmed]
    was actually a jew [who knew ?]

  3. Leslie Garrett says

    It is easy enough to make light of the silly film at the heart of this, but how much is American academia doing to teach Americans real history and the truth in world affairs? This is an extremely barren period for everyone who has been trying to educate the West about the world of Islam. For obvious reason, the press and all other media simply do not allow anything positive about Islam to be published. It is illegal to teach students anything whatever about religion in the public schools in that under-educated country.

    The most prominent American university person by far in the history and culture of Afghanistan was a CIA plant so obvious that Westerners used to joke about it in the 70s. When Louis Dupree died someone in Congress read a speech lauding his long years of CIA service into the Congressional Record. Even forty years ago nobody in an American university faculty position would say anything whatever even vaguely favouring the Palestinian position in the Middle East. I can remember one such professor after a class on the Modern Middle East in 1968 talking with me on the way to the parking lot; he kept literally looking over his shoulder as he edged vaguely near an admission that American politics favours the Israelis unfairly.

    The complicity of the Church and the University in America during this witch hunt against the Muslims — this is a major moral lapse that will haunt both institutions for a hundred years, if there still are such institutions to haunt.