The conflict in Gaza; some thoughts about tropes

August 6, 2014 at 12:38 pm (anti-semitism, israel, Uncategorized, zionism)

Guest post from Pink Prosecco

A few days ago a participant in one of the countless online debates about Gaza made a reference to the phenomenon of “trope inflation”.  His particular point was that the term “blood libel” is used too vaguely and too freely.  The blood libel is a motif, or trope, within antsemitic discourse, and refers to the belief that the blood of gentile children is used in Jewish rituals. 

It seems reasonable to use the term “blood libel” of any image or text which directly references eating children – this cartoon for example, where the visual echo of the blood in the wine adds to the effect of bloodthirstiness.

The many rumours about Israel’s use of body parts may also, I think, be seen as a kind of modern version of the blood libel. And I can understand why the repeated references to “child murderers” in Mark Steel’s recent rant made many invoke the blood libel trope in their angry responses.

But criticisms of Israel’s actions in Gaza, even ones which seem unfair, shouldn’t be characterized as “blood libel” without good reason, or the usefulness of the trope is devalued.  Here’s a clear example of an unearned usage – the author never demonstrates why the phrase “blood libel” should appear in the title.

I’d like to emphasise that there seems nothing dishonest or manipulative in the author’s odd choice of title, a charge often leveled by zealous anti-zionists against supporters of Israel. In fact the article documents a very serious instance of antisemitism, drawing on more than one other significant trope but blood libel isn’t one of them.

Water is a cause of conflict in the Middle East, and it is often asserted that Israel deprives Palestinians of their fair share.  Within such discussions the waters are sometimes muddied, as it were, by another antisemitic trope, the old belief that Jews poison wells.   The Wikipedia entry on well-poisoning includes a sustained account of this Medieval trope and concludes references to alleged contemporary incidents of Israeli settlers contaminating the water supply.  It’s hard to know quite how to respond to this convergence, as of course just because something is a trope doesn’t mean it is necessarily always false.  I’ve seen examples of such stories being souped up in a lurid way, but also times where “trope inflation” has led to a reasonably dispassionate commenter being accused of antisemitism.

Another antisemitic trope is the conflation of Zionism with Nazism.  The possibilities are endless – and almost always best avoided. But some Zionists do stress-test this rule of thumb.  Moshe Feiglin’s plan for Gaza made the Mail declare that “Israeli official calls for concentration camps in Gaza”.  Technically, this may be accurate. But because the phrase “concentration camp” is now so associated with Nazism and seen pretty much as a synonym for “death camp”, I wouldn’t have used that expression myself.  But his proposals are certainly outrageous. 

To sum up – whether you are attacking antisemitism or Israel’s policies (or both) it’s best to use precise and proportionate terms.  If you feel strongly about the topic then you should be all the more confident about relying on facts and analysis Ð and seek to avoid giving your opponents a means of deflection.


  1. The conflict in Gaza; some thoughts about tropes | OzHouse said,

    […] Aug 06 2014 by admin […]

  2. Kolya said,

    RW Johnson’s use of the phrase “blood libel” in his title is indeed perplexing. I conjecture that it relates to his point that in the speech that he is criticising Jews are being singled out qua Jews as objects of hatred in an entirely mechanistic way, regardless of their degree of faith or their political beliefs – or, as he puts it, “simply for being ethnically Jewish (whatever that might be). It is very crude, almost medieval.”

    In other words, while himself repudiating the idea of Jewishness being meaningfully construable as a racial category, Johnson is emphasising the essentially racial conception of Jewishness being conjured up by the antisemitic speaker. So the “blood” in question is a proxy for “race”.

    But while referring to “blood” in this sense is hardly unusual in itself, conflating that usage with the “blood libel” trope is both confusing to the reader and definitely a case of “trope inflation”.

  3. Ben said,

    Palestinian access to water has increased dramatically since 1967. Their water consumption is today more than 100 gallons a day per person, commensurate with European levels. The new desalination plants (the first was recently inaugurated in Ashdod) will solve the water shortage problem in all of the Land of Israel, for the benefit of all its residents.

    Moshe Feiglin’s plan may be impractical but it is not outrageous. He proposes the relocation of civilians from the Gaza strip so that they would not become casualties in the war between the IDF and Hamas and its allies. He is a proponent of defeating Hamas once and for all and removing it from the equation, something that every opponent of anti-Jewish violence and hatred should support. And he wishes to achieve this without the civilian suffering in the Gaza strip that we have just witnessed this past month.

    • Ben said,

      Correction: Should be 100 litres per day, not gallons.

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