RubinReports | By Barry Rubin
Suddenly, I received all of these phone calls from journalists asking me to talk about who murdered the late Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. The news peg is that he’s being dug up to see if someone poisoned him. Guess who?
I tell them that in a sense Arafat was murdered. Excited, they ask who did it. And I respond: Fatah, the PLO, and the Palestinian Authority, all organizations that Arafat headed. I don’t mean literally that they set out to kill Arafat but they were the ones really responsible for his death. Let me elucidate.
For many months before he was rushed to Paris for medical attention, everyone who followed him closely knew Arafat was sick. It was the subject of extensive discussion among Israelis and Palestinians. Anyone who saw him give a speech, whether live or on television, could see he was in bad shape. My mother-in-law, a doctor, saw him in one broadcast and easily rattled off a list of symptoms.
I was told the following story — in far more detail — not long after by a very reliable person who witnessed the conversation. One of Arafat’s Palestinian doctors and a leading Israeli physician were chatting at a conference. An Israeli reporter noted for his left-wing ideology and remarkably inaccurate story came up to the Palestinian and asked if Arafat was ill. “Definitely not,” he told the reporter who, well-pleased, rushed off to write up his scoop. The Israeli turned to the Palestinian and said, “But ____, you know he’s very ill.” The Palestinian medico responded, “Of course!”
Yet despite this fact, Arafat did not receive serious or competent treatment. It was no secret that the individuals who served as his medical staff were not very good doctors but chosen for political reasons. The biggest problem, however, was that the Palestinian leadership could not face the crisis honestly.
Remember, Arafat was their leader for as long as they could remember. He was well-known for making every decision, even the most minor, for the movement and for the institutions then governing the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinians in the know frequently pointed out that when Arafat was traveling literally nothing could get done.
So how could they face or admit the potential demise of the man on whom their fortunes and indeed the entire movement seemed to rest? Dictatorial movements or countries are like that. The courtiers all live in fear that the fearless leader will be no more. What will become of them?
And so if they had taken better care of Arafat he would have lasted longer. Of course, Arafat was never known for being solicitous of his own help. He was overweight, ate unhealthy food (honey was his cure-all), and didn’t exercise. The mere thought of Arafat trying to jog makes the last point effectively. He had been severely injured in a plane crash several years earlier.
Arafat himself refused to rest or to leave his headquarters despite its being under siege by Israel after all the terrorism he had ordered during his post-Camp David summit war against the peace process. It was not hard to see that this 75-year-old man was a mortality waiting to happen.
Just as Arafat’s cronies and lieutenants could not face his sickness, a good portion of the Western leftist, media, and intelligentsia refuses to face their own sickness. Only against the Jews would the modern-day version of ritual murder become credible, especially when it is based on a ridiculously obvious fabrication.
The current Arafat-was-murdered meme began when very large amounts of radioactive material were “discovered” on his clothing. This substance is scientifically known to break down on a very regular schedule. For such a quantity to be found there would have meant there would have been a gigantic amount — was he hosed down with radioactive poison? — when he died eight years ago. In other words, the stuff had been planted only hours at most before it was found, no doubt by the same people who put it there. In short, the accusation makes no sense but it is being treated seriously. Such is the way Israel is dealt with on many things by respectable people in the West. The accusation is made by anti-Israel propagandists who spew out the most vicious antisemitic hatred and lies yet are given a large measure of credibility. Such is the way Israel is dealt with on many things by otherwise respectable people in the West nowadays.
In the case of any other alleged perpetrator, the kind of claim being made against Israel in this case would have been ridiculed. Yet part of the world seems to believe that the Jews are capable of anything.
There is even a special name for such tales, blood libel, and its echoes can be found in the fabricated or exaggerated tales about Israel deliberately murdering children, most recently just now in the war with Hamas. Stories of Jews murdering people out of religious hatred — often to use their blood allegedly to make Passover matzos — go way back. One example is in Thomas Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, published first in the late fourteenth century. About 130 years ago, one of my ancestors living in Czarist Russia was accused on the basis of no evidence of the ritual murder of a teen-aged Christian. The local peasants rioted, wrecked the Jewish workshops and stores, and beat up several Jews. Fortunately no one was killed. According to then-prevalent tales in the region, the Jews had a barrel whose inside was studded with nails so as to extract the blood efficiently.
The perennial Syrian defense minister, Mustafa Tlas, wrote a book entitled Matzoh of Zion in 1983 in which he drew on a ritual murder story from an incident in 1840s’ Damascus, promoted by local Christian clerics, to claim that this was a generalized Jewish practice. This kind of thing has also been the subject of recent Egyptian, Iranian, and Turkish films. It is also a staple story in the Saudi media.
Of course, Arafat is in the category of political assassination, not culinary religious practice. And Israel certainly did assassinate such senior PLO leaders as Abu Jihad who had blood on their hands from organizing terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. But, you might say, aren’t these things completely different because we are now in the realm of politics and Israel does, however unintentionally, kill children. And there was the case of an attempted poisoning of a Hamas leader in Jordan.
True, but where does this special edge come from, this quickness to passionate hatred and credulity that one doesn’t see when other countries are involved, this abandonment of simple logic and evidence, this willingness to believe proven liars who will seize on any instrument in their desire to commit genocide? It has been shown that there is a virtual industry in anti-Israel fabrications. Yet the exposure of a faked photo or the claim that a baby was killed by Israel when he died of a Hamas rocket intended to kill Israelis seems to have no permanent effect, no reexamination of the assumptions being made and the relative credibility accorded various parties. And one cannot help but see the savage, energetic joy displayed in the bashing of Israel that simply does not exist on any other issue.
On one hand, the media and intelligentsia is most forgiving to, say, the United States when its air attacks accidentally kill civilians. No details and exaggerations of the results of its bombing strikes in Yemen or Pakistan and full explanation of the context. On the other hand, the continuous understating of the violence on the other side, say, in Syria’s civil war or Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians which invoke no teach-ins or demonstrations in the West or calls that such and such a country has no right to exist because it does nasty things to others.
A fair-minded observer might start thinking: something different is going on here, some hidden agenda or psychological factor that impels Israel and the Jews being put into a special category with negative implications in today’s world. As it once was for so many centuries.
As for the geopolitical aspect, there was a clear Israeli decision not to kill Arafat taken in the 1970s. A much-seen photo of Arafat taken through the scope of an Israeli sniper rifle in southern Lebanon was circulated following Arafat’s 1982 evacuation from Beirut. If Israel had wanted to kill Arafat it had numerous opportunities to do so when it mattered, not at the end of his career when he was largely discredited.
Incidentally, the Israelis-poisoned-him theme has been used repeatedly in the case of others whose death obviously had other causes. The Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini and the publishing mogul Robert Maxwell immediately come to mind. This kind of thing is merely a modern-day version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
What about the, one might call it, opposite conspiracy theory, that Arafat died of AIDs? I’ve looked into the Arafat as active homosexual and AIDS stories for many years as well as interviewed key intelligence people in several countries. I have never heard any evidence — or even spoken to those working professionally on Arafat who believed it — that these rumors were true.
Again, for a 75-year-old man who took no care of himself, had lousy doctors, overworked himself, was somewhat obese, had severe internal injuries from a plane crash, ate a terrible diet, and lived under poor conditions to die is not exactly a surprising thing that requires a bizarre explanation with the only “proof” being clumsily forged.
The Middle East is, of course, the place where conspiracy theories abound. Yet what can one say of those in the West who swallow every slander on Israel they are fed by Fatah, Hamas, and the new-age ideologues and bloggers whether or not any evidence is provided or even logical sense is made? Would that all of this kind of behavior be buried and never dug up again.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book, “Israel: An Introduction“, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include “The Israel-Arab Reader” (seventh edition), “The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East” (Wiley), and “The Truth About Syria” (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.