Joe Hyams

Blood Libel 2.0

The UN may have distanced itself from the defamatory tweet of its employee, but bureaucratic niceties can't change the fact that the damage has already been done

Jews kill babies for Passover matzah. It’s one of the most heinous hallmarks of incitement known better to our grandparents as a blood Libel.

Surely, the advent of mass media sunshine would see its demise?

Unfortunately not. In fact, technology has delivered into the hands of Jew-haters the world over the most powerful of social media tools, equal in reach and influence to broadcast and print news of earlier years.

The paradox of this Wild West of digital communication platforms is that everyone has the power to speak loud and clear, but few, if any, have a responsibility to answer for their messaging.

So what happens when an individual uses the soapbox of social media to level Blood Libel 2.0 at Israel?

One heart-rending image of a little Palestinian girl, bleeding in her father’s arms, killed by the Jews, spread like wildfire through online news and social environs. It was no less sinister and doubly devastating as village whispers of old. The image spread so far and wide it trended on Twitter.

But this child actually died in a tragic car accident – years ago. That’s right. No Jews. The photo wasn’t even recent.

Last week my organization broke the news that Khulood Badawi, the individual responsible for this blood libel, works for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Imagine that: A UN employee engaged in a blood libel.

In a formal complaint demanding Badawi’s dismissal, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor wrote:

We have before us an OCHA information officer who was directly engaged in spreading misinformation, [which violated UN conduct in that Badawi] actively engaged in the demonization of Israel, a member state of the United Nations. Such actions contribute to incitement, conflict and, ultimately, violence.


When the conduct of an OCHA employee so grossly deviates from the organization’s responsibility to remain impartial, the integrity of the entire organization is eroded.

UN Under-Secretary General Valerie Amos responded with clear acknowledgement of the outrage, and distanced the world body from the substance of the libel. An internal enquiry has been set in motion.

But I’m less concerned about the bureaucratic niceties.

The damage, as with all slander, is done at the moment of intimation, accusation, and defamation. And could it be that online incitement might have a hand in motivating offline terror such as Monday’s tragic mass murder at a school in Toulouse? The facts of that story are still being investigated. But the road from libel to acts of violence is a short one. Too much Jewish blood has indeed been spilled in the shadow of anti-Semitic vitriol disseminated through media, in every age.

But despite the damage already done in the case of Badawi, deterrence is the sword we wield best in a rough neighborhood. And the Jewish people have only recently had the capacity to defend and deter.

For every Badawi, there are thousands of militant anti-Semites, armed with keyboards (and little else above the waist). A fair few of them serve institutions and NGOs; others work in public positions and welfare offices.

All will closely watch how Badawi’s case plays out.

After spending an uncomfortable week in silence despite the media and UN scrutiny, Badawi tweeted a correction – and nothing more. No apology, no expression of regret, no acceptance of responsibility. She even had the audacity to insist her comments were from her personal Twitter account. As if that negated the consequence of defaming Israel.

You can be sure that the fuzzy line between private life and a person’s employment will come into question. That is a very real achievement for those of us campaigning at this time, on this issue. Let those who want to defame and spread venom think at least about losing their jobs, if not their moral worth by their actions.

Certainly if their Blood Libel 2.0 reflects on their Work 1.0.

About the Author
Joe Hyams is a Start-Up and Non Profit Strategist with a focus on behavioral analytics, FinTech, RegTech and AI applications in the age of Big Data. He is formerly the CEO of HonestReporting, in addition to holding senior roles at global marketing firms including Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising. A renowned public speaker, Joe has lectured the world over on topics related to Israel's communication challenges, the role of social media in shaping public opinion, and behavioral insights that signal threats as well as opportunities for the Start Up Nation. Joe holds an MA and an MBA from the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program & The Heller School of Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.
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