[A petition is here - useful synopsis of issues involved]
[Relevant videos are at the end of the entry]
With all the heat engendered by the recent Swedish article, “Our sons plundered for their organs,” I feel that there is a need for some clarification and logical discussion.
First, I’d like to alert people to additional information that we've just discovered:
In June 2001 Dr. Nancy Scheper-Hughes of the University of California-Berkeley and Organs Watch testified before the House Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights. Scheper-Hughes testified that she had discovered a "multi-million dollar business" that the Israeli Ministry of Health refused "to intervene and crack down on." She stated:
... hundreds of kidney patients from Israel ... travel in privately brokered 'transplant tourist' junkets to Turkey, Moldova, Romania … to Russia … and to South Africa ...
While in Israel for Organs Watch in the summer of  and, again in March 2001, ... I interviewed more than 50 transplants professionals, transplant patients, and organs buyers and sellers involved in commercialized transplants … none were willing to condemn a practice which they saw as 'saving lives'…
Meanwhile, human rights groups in the West Bank complained to me of tissue and organs stealing of slain Palestinains [sic] by Israeli pathologists at the national Israeli legal medical institute in Tel Aviv. ...
A more troubling phenomenon is the support and direct involvement of the Israeli Ministry of Defense in the illicit national 'program' of transplant tourism. Some patients who traveled with the outlaw Israeli transplant surgeon to other countries noted that in each of the organized transplant groups were members of the Ministry of Defense or those closely related to them.
Second, I'd like to make two points about the Swedish article itself:
1. Everyone should read Bostrom’s article for him or herself – carefully -- to see what it contains and what it does not. It is often being misrepresented and/or misunderstood. I worry that people are reading what people say it says instead of simply finding out for themselves.
2. When people read the article, they will see that it does not claim to prove anything. It provides facts, describes incidents, includes photos, and repeats questions that the reporter feels are significant enough to merit a thorough investigation.
Do I agree with the need for an investigation?
Absolutely. Below are some reasons:
When a multitude of people describe similar incidents, all pointing to the same serious human rights abuse, it is important to listen to them and investigate their concerns – particularly when there are additional, outside clues that seem to support their statements.
The world has a history of ignoring Palestinian (and others') charges – only to find later that they were true.
• After Israel’s founding war Palestinian refugees said that they had not left voluntarily but had been violently expelled from their land. This was viewed as extremism and anti-Semitism. Again, it was true.
• Palestinians described horrific massacres during this war, relating grisly tales of brutality; again they were largely dismissed. Later, former Israeli soldiers corroborated their claims.
• For decades Palestinians have described grotesque abuses against them while in prison. Again, these were portrayed as lies and exaggerations, until finally they were documented by outsiders.
• For many years American veterans of the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty claimed that this had been an intentional attack. They were called anti-Semitic and disdained. Thirty years later, the senior prosecuting attorney of the one official investigation into the attack stated in a legal document that he and others had been ordered by the White House to cover up the fact that all of the evidence indicated that it had been a deliberate attack.
It is time to listen – and investigate.
As we all know, accusations do not prove guilt, and not all Palestinians are making these particular ones. However, when there are a great many such charges, and when they are accompanied by circumstantial evidence, they should be explored.
The innocent can then be absolved; the guilty discovered. An investigation leads to both.
On a side note, there is no doubt that journalist Bostrom and his editors were aware that they would be viciously attacked and threatened if they published his information and gave voice to the questions it contains. I feel that they should be supported for fulfilling their journalistic responsibility to print the news. When numerous people are making serious charges, these are normally reported. It was appropriate to bring them to the public’s attention.
Incidentally, it appears that the Palestinian Association in Sweden, which represents more than 30,000 Swedish Palestinians, agrees. Reportedly the group has sent a letter to the Aftonbladet newspaper, expressing their appreciation.
People who agee with the need for an investigation may wish to sign this petition.
How likely is it that such an investigation will find wrongdoing?
Below are some thoughts….
1. Internal organs are extremely valuable commodities – a kidney goes for at least $160,000. I can only imagine what a heart gets.
2. Israel has been riddled with organ-trafficking scandals – some involving extremely high Israeli officials and israeli funding.
A. Israel’s very first heart transplant was taken without permission from a victim who had survived a stroke and whose family was told for days that he was ‘doing well.’ (See the Israeli report.) Only after the family brought media attention and sufficient pressure did the hospital finally admit that it had stolen the heart.
If the man had been Palestinian, it is quite likely that the hospital admission would never have been forthcoming. In such a case those decrying the Swedish article would, in all probability, be suggesting that this man’s family members were simply overwrought, that their accusations were another unacceptable ‘blood libel.’ and that individuals listening to them and also calling for an investigation were gullible, irresponsible, and/or anti-Semitic.
B. Israel’s chief pathologist was finally removed from his post – not fired – years after evidence had long been accruing that he was stealing ‘legs, ovaries, and testicles’ – and probably the heart of a Scottish man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
He took body parts from Israelis. Do we find it likely that he took no organs from the many Palestinian bodies to which he had extremely easy access?
C. Israelis have for many years been heavily involved in international organ trafficking.
An official investigation in Brazil found that Israel was providing most of the funding for an organ trafficking ring that targeted Brazil’s most impoverished citizens. The same type of trafficking was going on in numerous other places – Turkey, Romania, Moldova.
D. According to the above testimony by an organ trafficking expert before a Congressional subcommittee, the Israeli military was directly involved.
3. Palestinians are a largely captive population.
Numerous human rights groups have documented their situation in detail. There are a multitude of official studies that indicate Israel can kidnap, torture, and kill Palestinians with impunity. They can detain them without charge, hold them as long as they wish, abuse them while in custody, and turn over dead bodies that have been ripped open and ‘autopsied’ without explanation to or permission from the helpless, grieving family.
Given the above points, it begins to appear that the suggestion that no Israelis or Israeli governmental officials have ever stolen Palestinian body parts is the the more far-fetched hypothesis.
Finally, there is one additional aspect to include when pondering this topic. A very small but significant minority of Israelis hold disturbing religious views that are essential to understand in considering the situation for Palestinians under Israeli occupation, and that are directly related to the question of involuntary organ extraction.
This tiny but sometimes lethal group (a Jewish religious extremist assassinated an Israeli prime minister, another gunned down 29 people while they were praying, still another threw a grenade into the middle of an Israeli peace march) have a disproportionate effect on Israeli policies – much to the outrage of many Israelis. They also have considerable power over Palestinians.
Yesterday, I received an email from a person who said that he was from Sweden, had read my article, and had seen the footnote in which I cite a piece by Israeli author Israel Shamir about a rabbi who had given his permission for “a Jew to take a liver from a non-Jew even without his consent.”
This email correspondent sent the full transcript of a news article on this subject that he said he had originally received from Israeli author Israel Shahak.
I’ll post it below for anyone who’s interested in looking into this facet and so that it will be available on the public record.
Below that I will post a small discussion of my own article, and below that will be some relevant videos and links to other stories of interest.
The Jewish Week, April 26, 1996, pp. 12, 31
Hero Or Racist?
Are Jewish lives really more valuable than non-Jewish ones?
Radical rabbi just freed from an Israeli prison thinks so.
Lawrence Cohler, Staff Writer
The triumphal cheers of some 500 Lubavitch chasidim shook the hall on Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights Sunday night as a tall, white-haired rabbi basked in their toasts to his recent victory over the government of Israel’s effort to silence him.
A sea of men in black hats and women in long dresses hailed Rabbi Yitzhak Ginsburgh from separate sides of the ballroom of the Oholei Menachem Yeshiva. And amid round wood tables stacked high with challah, herring and rounds of vodka, Rabbi Ginsburgh joined them heartily as glasses rose to his long life.
But ask Lubavitch leader Rabbi Shmuel Butman about Rabbi Ginsburgh’s view that the Torah would “probably permit” seizing an innocent non-Jew for a liver transplant to save the life of a Jew, and Rabbi Butman, who helped organize the welcome, politely demurs.
“That is a purely halachic question,” he says, using the Hebrew adjective for matters pertaining to traditional Jewish law. We don’t get into that.”
“In general, he’s a very pious individual,” said Rabbi Butman, director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization. “And we’re sure he carries responsibility for what he says.”
Not everyone is so sanguine.
Rabbi Walter Wurzburger, a professor of philosophy at Yeshiva University and former president of the Rabbinical Council of America, the Orthodox Zionist rabbinic body, noted, “Even the devil can quote Scripture.”
The government of Israel’s attempt to stifle Rabbi Ginsburgh’s teaching and lecturing to his followers – including some in the West Bank, where he is dean of a yeshiva in the Palestinian town of Nablus – crashed in failure late last month. After he was jailed for three weeks without charge or trial, a member of Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the government had insufficient evidence to justify holding Rabbi Ginsburgh under Israel’s administrative detention laws.
It marked the first time that administrative detention, which until recently has been applied overwhelmingly to Arabs, had ever been successfully challenged. And among many Lubavitchers, the government’s precedent-setting defeat was greeted as a miraculous, classically Judaic victory of the weak over the strong. It was this feeling, which makes daily news headlines a source of faith for so many of them, that permeated the hall Sunday night.
But Rabbi Ginsburgh, an intense but soft-spoken 52-year-old with a long white beard, looks far from the image of tousle-haired David facing the behemoth Goliath. At the same time, his quiet demeanor clashes sharply with the image of a dangerous, demagogic extremist of the sort that Israeli officials have invoked.
Still, no one doubts that his pronouncements and teachings have been controversial.
Regarded as one of the Lubavitch sect’s leading authorities on Jewish mysticism, the St. Louis-born rabbi, who also has a graduate degree in mathematics, speaks freely of Jews’ genetic-based spiritual superiority over non-Jews. It is a superiority that he asserts invests Jewish life with greater value in the eyes of Torah.
“If you have two people drowning, a Jew and a non-Jew, the Torah says you save the Jewish life first,” Rabbi Ginsburgh told The Jewish Week. ”If every single cell in a Jewish body entails divinity, is a part of God, then every strand of DNA is a part of God. Therefore, something is special about Jewish DNA.”
Later, Rabbi Ginsburgh asked rhetorically, “If a Jew needs a liver, can you take the liver of an innocent non-Jew passing by to save him? The Torah would probably permit that.
“Jewish life has infinite value,” explained. “There is something infinitely more holy and unique about Jewish life than non-Jewish life.”
Notwithstanding this, Rabbi Ginsburgh hastened to add that nothing in this view undermines the holiness of non-Jewish lives.
“Just the opposite,” he insisted. ”…Ultimately the light they recognize from Jews will make their lives more valuable. Jews are essentially a giver nation. And non-Jews are receivers.”
Rabbi Ginsburgh is also an ardent sympathizer of Baruch Goldstein, the Brooklyn-born physician who massacred 29 Palestinians at prayer in a Hebron mosque in February 1994. While stopping short of endorsing Goldstein’s act outright, Rabbi Ginsburgh described him unambivalently as “a Jew who gave up his life for his people.” In a recent book devoted to Goldstein he called the massacre “an act of bravery whose source was divine grace.”
Citing explicit instructions he says he received from the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Ginsburgh has also strongly defended Jewish revenge attacks on Arabs, at least after-the-fact. Whether he would tell a Jew to engage in such a random attack beforehand “is a different story,” Rabbi Ginsburgh said. But after such an attack took place in response to an Arab provocation, “You can’t even hint it was a bad thing.”
Among other things, he explained, the jurisdiction of an Israeli court in such a case is illegitimate because “Legally, if a Jew does kill a non-Jew, he’s not called a murderer. He didn’t transgress the Sixth Commandment: Thou shalt not murder. This applies only to Jews killing Jews. Therefore [in a Jewish state], his punishment is given over to heaven” rather than to a secular court.
In 1989, Rabbi Ginsburgh was personally involved in the events that led to such a killing when he led a large group of his yeshiva students on an armed West Bank “walking tour” that slipped around Israeli Army restrictions and assertively through a Palestinian village. The tour ended in a melee that saw the rabbi stoned by angry villagers, the yeshiva boys rampaging through the village setting fires and vandalizing, and a 13-year-old Palestinian girl who was sitting in her house shot by one of the yeshiva tourists.
At the trial of the yeshiva boy charged with the killing, Rabbi Ginsburgh said bluntly, “The people of Israel must rise and declare in public that a Jew and goy are not, God forbid, the same. Any trial that assumes that Jews and goyim are equal is a travesty of justice.”
In an interview at The Jewish Week, Rabbi Ginsburgh delivered his comments in a soft, unassuming voice with no sign of bitterness or hate.
In fact, he said, one reason the court ultimately felt compelled to free him was because his most controversial statements came not as personal opinions but always as citations from scripture, Kabbalah or recognized rabbinic authority.
Rabbi Ginsburgh also defended many of his statements as more musings and reflections in a struggle towards conclusions, rather than conclusions themselves.
“Torah is a complex matter,” he said he told the judge, “especially Kabbalah. You must consider many factors.” But in the course of working through this, he said, there is “a thinking-aloud process.”
“Even when you understand there is a justification for doing certain things,” said Rabbi Ginsburgh, ”studying Kabbalah sweetens the mentality.” The process usually calms, rather than inflames, his students, Rabbi Ginsburgh said.
“In class I’m teaching them not to act on these things, not because they are wrong, but because our way to influence the situation is completely different. If they think the thing to do is to get up and act violently, I teach them that that’s wrong.”
But to Israeli authorities, Rabbi Ginsburgh’s citations and outloud thinking were the stuff of incitement. They viewed many of his talks as incendiary and tried – unsuccessfully – to stifle his lectures to his students in the Nablus yeshiva in particular.
Finally, just hours after the devastating suicide bombing in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Circle last March, amid a wrathful national mood, Rabbi Ginsburgh gave a Purim lecture on a long letter by the Lubavitcher Rebbe about “the mitzvahs of war for the sake of revenge and war for the sake of conquering the Land of Israel,” said Rabbi Ginsburgh.
“The rebbe explained that war for the sake of revenge was a much higher mitzvah,” said Rabbi Ginsburgh, recalling his talk to the crowd.
It was soon after this that Prime Minister Shimon Peres signed a 60-day administrative detention order against him “to prevent Rabbi Ginsburgh from continuing his incendiary preaching of revenge.”
The public outcry that followed came mostly from the right. But some civil libertarians also protested his jailings as beyond the pale, even for Israel’s administrative detention law. That law empowers the authorities to jail without charge individuals who threaten public security. But unlike most other detainees, they noted, Rabbi Ginsburgh was jailed explicitly for his speech rather than his acts.
Still, when the court finally ordered him released, citing insufficient evidence that his statements had incited or would incite anyone, many Lubavitchers had no doubt it was their effort that turned the tide.
Rabbi Ginsburgh himself told the Crown Heights audience Sunday night, “The most important thing I want to convey is that the claim against me is a claim against the Torah, a claim against chassidus, a claim against the Lubavitcher rebbe.”
But not everyone agrees with how Rabbi Ginsburgh uses these sources, of course.
“It’s the greatest tragedy to take isolated texts and use them without tradition,” Rabbi Wurzburger said. ”[Rabbi Meir] Kahane did this, too. You can always take statements out of context.”
Even within Lubavitch, there are critics: Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, the former administrator of the rebbe’s secretariat and current head of the sect’s international operations, termed Rabbi Ginsburgh’s views, as related to him in a phone interview, ”totally outrageous.”
But Rabbi Moshe Greenberg, a professor of Bible at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, called for radically revising Jewish thinking about some Jewish texts on the grounds that scholars such as Rabbi Ginsburgh are far from aberrant in their use of them.
Rabbi Greenberg, who has written extensively about Jewish scriptural views on racism and ethnic chauvinism, said, “The sad thing is, these statements are in our books.”
“There’ll be a statement in Talmud… made in circumstances where it’s purely theoretical, because Jews then never had the power to do it,” he explained. And now, he said, “It’s carried over into circumstances where Jews have a state and are empowered. [These statements] are brought forward by people who themselves have no social responsibility and have not been elected to represent the Jewish people. But they’re called Torah scholars. And not having responsibility, they can say such things. Their self-confidence and self-righteousness is part of their total divorcement from consequences.”
But Rabbi Ginsburgh’s own thoughts were far from that this week. Preparing to go on to Los Angeles as part of the fund-raising tour his supporters had planned, he exulted that his bout with repression had gained him “thousands” of more listeners.
“Even my prosecutors got a lesson in chasidic thinking,” he said, smiling, ”because they had to study my thinking for their prosecution.”
Contributing editor Jon Kalish contributed to this article.
Some comments on my own article…
My short section near the end of my article on Ariel Toaff’s suppressed book on blood libel was a very small part of the fairly long article, but, as expected, it has drawn considerable wrath from some quarters. Others have raised the question of whether it was relevant to include in the article, a reasonable question and one I pondered ahead of time, knowing the anger it would engender among those who wish such things to remain hidden. (Much more information on Toaff is here. A video of Toaff is below.)
Obviously, I decided in the affirmative. Given that virtually all Bostrom’s critics were using the epithet ‘blood libel’ in their attempts to block any real consideration of the article’s content, I felt that the successful silencing of an Israeli scholar who had raised significant questions about this very subject was quite relevant and useful for people to know about — especially since the Toaff controversy had been covered so extensively in the Israeli press at the time. I don’t like the idea that some people are permitted to know something, but that others are not supposed to learn about it.
If people read Toaff’s book for themselves, and I provided the link so that they could, they can see the content for themselves and determine whether they feel that his evidence supports the conclusions he had drawn or not. If they do feel that some small groups did do what he believes they did, this conclusion in many ways simply indicates that the Jewish population is basically similar to anyone else, since history shows that there have been sects in numerous religious groups, that have committed "religious" violence.
The problem is that some people believe that the Jewish population is better than all the rest of humanity; others allege it's worse. My view is that individuals within this population run the whole gamut, just as in other populations.
The continual portrayal of an entire population that has never done anything wrong (as Alfred Lilienthal once discussed), and that is eternally the victim of allegedly bigoted, always baseless accusations is part of what buttresses the Israeli myth, replete with its astonishing claim of ‘purity of arms.’ (The fact that so many people can believe that the soldiers of one army -- unlike all others -- have never committed a single abuse is an example of the pervasiveness of this myth of extreme exceptionalism.)
I feel that the continual attempt to censor all negative facts and allegations – to suppress books and block investigations -- is a dangerous, two-edged sword. Many people believe the myth, at least for awhile, which enables continued and expanded misconduct. Others, however, do not, and they, recognizing the suppression, sometimes then imagine a reality that is considerably worse than the actual facts -- and such suspicions smolder and grow.
I believe it’s always better for the truth to come out.
Clarification on Israel Shahak
Finally, the original version of my article contained a sentence in a parentheses near the end of the piece that may have seemed to say that Israeli professor and author Israel Shahak also believed there was a basis to the blood libel accusations. In reality, the findings that were similar to Toaff’s were Shahak’s information on Talmudic texts emphasizing vengeance, the profound anti-Christian statements to be found in numerous religious texts, and the extreme religious violence within some medieval Jewish communities, sometimes ordered by Rabbis, eg cutting out tongues, chopping off noses, etc – and not that there had been ritual killings of Christians.
It is a shame that Professor Shahak is no longer alive. It would have been valuable to learn his views on Toaff’s original book, and on Bostrom's article.
Additional articles and postings
Price tags on bones
Aftonbladet follow up
Blog postings by kawther Salam
Ynet article with kusam Aslam allegations
Gaudy Taubber portrait
Discussion of ethics, etc.
comment by Aftonbladet editor, etc
satires and discussion of the issue
more blog postings on Toaff controversy
Video of Ariel Toaff discussing "Pasque di Sangue" (Part 1 of 6)