We recently celebrated the anniversary of the liberation day for the Jews who were arrested during the Damascus Blood Libel affair 173 years ago, on February 15, 1840. Anti-semitic blood libel accusations, which falsely assert that Jews sacrifice non-Jewish people in order to utilize the blood for Jewish ritualistic purposes, have plagued Jewish communities throughout history, especially in Europe. However, what is less known is that blood libels also existed in the Muslim world; in Hebron in 1775, in Ottoman-controlled Rhodes in 1840, in Shiraz, Iran in 1910, and most famously, in Damascus in 1840.

On February 5, 1840, an Italian monk living in Syria named Father Padre Tomaso de Camangiano disappeared without a trace along with his Muslim servant, Ibrahim Amara. Rumors asserted that that prior to his disappearance, he had a conflict with a Turkish mule driver, who accused Father Tomaso of blasphemizing the Muslim Prophet Mohammed. The Turkish mule driver reportedly had uttered, “That dog of a Christian shall die by no other hand but mine.” However, Father Tomaso’s fellow monks preferred to ignore this rumor, choosing instead to blame his disappearance on the Jews.

The Catholic Church in Syria was under the protection of the French Consul, which backed Muhammed Ali, the ruler of Syria at that time. Given this, the French Consul was given the task of investigating Father Tomaso’s disappearance. Unfortunately, the French Consul in Damascus was run by Ratti Menton, an anti-Semite who accepted and promoted the Blood Libel accusation promoted by the Catholic Church in Syria against the Damascus Jewish community.Under the instructions of Ratti Menton, a random Jew was arrested. This Jew was named Solomon Negrin and he was tortured until he confessed to Father Tomaso being killed by seven Jews in the house of a Jew named David Harari.

This led to the arrest of David Harari, Moshe Abulafia, Moshe Salonika, Meir Farhi and Joseph Lafiado, who were all tortured in the most inhumane fashion imaginable; they were burned, beaten, had their teeth pulled out, and some even had their eyes gouged out. Joseph Lafiado died from the torture. Moses Abulafia converted to Islam under duress. The rest were tortured till they confessed to the ritual murder. Then, a Muslim servant of David Harari was made to confess that Ibrahim Amara was killed in the house of Meir Farhi in the presence of Jewish notables. More Jews were arrested and tortured. However, one of the Jews arrested this time, Isaac Levy Piccatto, held Austrian citizenship and he managed to escape from prison and to reach the Austrian Consul. This led to foreign intervention in this affair.

Austria and the United Kingdom were staunchly opposed to French influence in Syria. Additionally, they were backing the Ottoman Turks instead of Muhammed Ali. Thus, when an Austrian citizen was attacked, the Austrians started to petition Muhammed Ali to stop the torture and they also tried to influence the French Consul to restrain Ratti Menton. When this wasn’t successful, the Austrians contacted the Rothchilds’, who in turn published the story in the European press. Muhammed Ali from then on came under intense international pressure and in the end, on this day 173 years ago, Muhammed Ali released the Jews that were still in custody. In sum total, seven Jews had been severely mutilated, four had died, and only two had escaped unscathed.

Following the Damascus Blood Libel, Sir Moses Montefiore persuaded Sultan Abdelmecid to issue an edict to forbid blood libels within the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Abdelmecid asserted, “For the love we bear to our subjects, we cannot permit the Jewish nation, whose innocence for the crime alleged against them is evident, to be worried and tormented as a consequence of accusations which have not the least foundation in truth.” Unfortunately, the media in many of the lands that used to be part of the Ottoman Empire continue to engage in blood libel accusations to date against the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

By Rachel Avraham