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Saudi Editor Retracts Article That Defamed Jews

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A prominent Saudi Arabian editor Tuesday criticized and disavowed an article that appeared recently in his own newspaper, Al Riyadh, that repeated the century-old fiction that Jews use the blood of Christians and Muslims to make holiday foods.

The article proved a possible embarrassment to the ruling establishment, which is just beginning to shake loose from the barrage of criticism it received after the Sept. 11 attacks, when it became clear that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals. Saudi Arabia also had begun to emerge as a peacemaker with its sketchy plan for ending the Israeli-Palestinian violence.

The editor, Turki al Sudairy, said he was upset to discover that while he was in Lebanon, his paper ran a two-part series by a professor that vilified Jews and the holiday of Purim--and embellished a tale dismissed long ago as the product of deeply anti-Semitic thinking.

“I went back to the article and found it unfit for publishing because it is not based on any historical or scientific fact but in fact is against every religious ritual in the world, including Buddhism and Hinduism,” Sudairy wrote in a column that appeared Tuesday, adding that the article’s “credibility is nil.”

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Although Sudairy said the article had slipped through the cracks and never should have been published, the fact that it appeared over a two-day period reflects the willingness of governments in this region to use the media as a safety valve for the deep animosity their people feel toward Israel and Jews.

Al Riyadh is a privately owned paper, but there is censorship in Saudi Arabia, and there was no effort to block publication of the article.

An article that appeared recently in Al Akhbar, the government-owned Egyptian daily, suggested that President Nixon was run out of office by a Jewish conspiracy because he criticized “Jewish domination in American society.”

The article, under the headline “Jewish Influence Dominates U.S. Society,” said: “Nixon resigned in September 1974 following a campaign launched by the Washington Post (known for its support of Israel) after the release of tapes implicating him in a political cover-up.”

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Adel Hammouda, editor in chief of one of Egypt’s most sensational newspapers, Sawt al Umma, said that given the intensity of the Israeli military campaign against the Palestinians, it was only natural that anti-Semitic feelings would spread through the region. And he said that governments, even those that call for peace and harmony with Israel, can do nothing to stop the expression of those feelings.

Shortly after the Palestinian intifada against Israeli rule began in late September 2000, Hammouda wrote an article that appeared in Egypt’s main daily newspaper, Al Ahram, that also repeated the “blood libel” against Jews. Although the article flatly stated that the practice was continuing, with Israeli Jews taking the blood of Palestinian children to bake Passover matzo, Hammouda now says he doesn’t believe that the practice is contemporary--but that it did occur in Damascus, Syria, in the 1800s.

“The idea was to show how cheap non-Jewish blood is to Jews,” he said Monday of his Oct. 28, 2000, column.

The blood-fiction was embellished in a March 10 article in Al Riyadh in which Umayma Ahmad Jalahma of King Faisal University in Dammam wrote about Purim: “This holiday has some dangerous customs that will, no doubt, horrify you, and I apologize if any reader is harmed because of this.

“During this holiday, the Jew must prepare very special pastries, the filling of which is not only costly and rare--it cannot be found at all on the local and international markets.”

Sudairy said he learned of the article when his Washington bureau chief, Ahmad Yami, phoned him in Lebanon. Sudairy said the newspaper then severed relations with the author--who couldn’t be reached for comment.

He said the article was inaccurate and that it attacked all Jews. His column tried to steer his readers back to the distinction between all Jews and what he calls “Zionists.”

“Mrs. Jalahma failed to realize this serious mistake in misinformation, and she failed to realize that Jews anywhere in the world are one thing, while those belonging to the Zionism movement who are eradicating Palestinians is a completely different thing,” he wrote. “In Israel itself, there are moderate Jews--and it is unacceptable that our differences with specimens like that of [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon should be the incentive to generalize our hatred toward all Jews.”

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Finally, he concluded: “It is unacceptable to circulate a silly and untrue piece of information about using human blood in the food of other humans whoever they are, because this does not exist in the world at all.”


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