A prominent rabbi says media organizations engaged in a “blood libel” by spreading false reports that said a Jew made the Internet film that allegedly outraged Islamic radicals to storm the U.S. Embassy in Egypt and the U.S. consulate in Libya, killing the U.S. Ambassador to Libya.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said Wednesday this was a classic case of “anti-Semitic blood libel,” referring to false claims from the past that Jews used the blood of Christian children they had murdered to make matzos.
The Associated Press initially reported that a man named Sam Bacile, described as an Israeli living in California, had produced the film that mocked Muhammed with the financial backing of 100 Jewish donors.
However, Steve Klein, a Christian activist involved in the film’s production, said on Wednesday that Bacile was a pseudonym, he was not Jewish or Israeli and a group of Americans of Mideast origin collaborated on the film. Officials in Israel also said there was no record of Bacile as an Israeli citizen.”
But as the identity of the filmmaker remains a mystery amidst numerous inconclusive reports, the initial Associated Press story was the basis for many stories, giving people a false first impression that a Jewish person was responsible for the film.
“Jewish people have been murdered over this, have been put on trial, have had pogroms against their community — even though it is based on a complete falsehood and fantasy,” Cooper said. “With what is going on in the world — all the violence, emotion and hatred you see toward Americans and Israelis at these demonstrations — to then catapult what might be a nonexistent Jewish element could lead to violence against Jews.”
There is evidence al-Qaeda orchestrated the attacks on U.S. interests in Libya and Egypt and the film was just used as an excuse. But just like Islamic radicals cited the film as motivation, false reports about a Jew having produced the film could also similarly be used by Islamic radicals as an excuse to kill or hurt Jews. And in the Internet age, false information can proliferate and be mistaken for fact more rapidly than in the past.
“I would hope the wire services that were involved in spreading this allegation will belatedly do their due diligence and get to the bottom of who said this and why they said it and then hold them accountable,” Cooper said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “That needs to be done and done quickly … because it makes the world a more dangerous place for Jews — because of a lie.”
Cooper said that if it turns out a Jew really did not make the film, organizations like the Associated Press spread headlines that would “constitute blood libel against Jews.” He also said media outlets need to learn from this case and see “what steps can be taken in the future to make sure they are not manipulated by individuals who are looking to smear all Jews.”