Al Jazeera’s story on the death of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon leads with two quotes, one from sitting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and one from Fatah senior official Jibril Rajoub. Netanyahu’s quote is circumspect and expresses “deep sorrow.” The quote from Rajoub, less so:
But a senior Palestinian official from the Fatah party blamed Sharon for the death of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. “Sharon was a criminal, responsible for the assassination of Arafat, and we would have hoped to see him appear before the International Criminal Court as a war criminal,” Jibril Rajub said.
The gesture toward Arafat is to the conspiracy theory that the deceased Palestinian leader was poisoned with polonium by Israeli agents. A series of controversial forensic investigations were conducted on Arafat’s remains in 2012, though there were and are mathematically zero plausible scenarios under which those investigations could have discovered that the Palestinian terrorist was poisoned with polonium. The results inevitably converged on the conclusion that he had died of natural causes.
The canard – which has Israeli Jews poisoning a Muslim leader – is deeply embedded in anti-Semitic tropes stretching back centuries. Last year Mahmoud Habbash, the Palestinian Authority’s Minister for Religious Affairs, emphasized the libel in a sermon:
“Yasser Arafat died as a martyr,” Habbash said. “We never had the slightest doubt that they [Israel] killed him. They killed him in one way or another.” Habbash repeated the charge that Jews had poisoned Prophet Muhammad: “When the prophet was dying, he told Aisha [his wife]: ‘I feel the pain of the poison I ate in Khaibar [a Jewish town].’ The poison he ate in Khaibar. He continued to suffer from the pain until he died.” Habbash said that Arafat was killed “the same way Prophet Muhammad was killed…”
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are currently engaged in intense U.S.-mediated peace talks. Anti-Jewish incitement by Palestinian leaders has long been blamed for preventing the development of a robust peace agreement, a point that among other things U.S. journalists repeatedly pressed in State Department briefings last week. Rajoub’s comments, which read Sharon’s death against the backdrop of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, are likely to further deepen such concerns.
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