Both Easter and Passover — two major spring holidays in America— use blood in their symbolism. For Christians, it’s blood of their messiah. For Jews, blood appears in countless elements of the Exodus story, from the sea turning red to the deaths of the firstborn during the plagues cast against the Pharaoh and his people.
Blood also carries a far darker history for Jews: the blood libels.
Blood libels are actual events which occurred repeatedly throughout the Middle Ages, and they didn’t end for hundreds of years. Christians would accuse Jews of kidnapping and slaughtering Christian children to use their blood to consume as part of Passover.
This was in spite of the fact that the consumption of blood is strictly forbidden within Judaism. For example, according to Jewish law, if there is even a speck of blood in an egg, you are not allowed to consume it. Furthermore, kidnapping is an offense punishable by death in the Torah.
As such, the idea of a Jewish religious ritual rooted in both kidnapping and the consumption of blood is, quite frankly, absurd. Despite this, these myths followed the Jewish people, and continued to threaten their lives.
It’s important to reflect upon events like blood libels. Sometimes even the most ludicrous lie can cost untold thousands of lives. Words carry weight that can’t be measured properly until after they have been spoken, and their effects are observed after the fact. In medieval Europe, the blood libels were terrifying examples of the destructive force of lies. However, even to this day, ridiculous claims still cause damage in society, and taint the political process.
Today, falsehoods and stereotypes are commonplace, and racial fears dominate political rhetoric. One prominent example in recent history is President Donald Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail. In the article “A Definitive Debunking of Donald Trump’s 9/11 Claims” in The New York Times, Jim Dwyer discusses Trump’s claim that “thousands of Muslims” celebrated when the twin towers went down. It was a baseless and preposterous claim, but still seemed to spark a massive rise in Islamophobia in America, as well as inspire anti-Muslim hate crimes. As lies are used as propaganda to promulgate fear of racial and ethnic communities, violence and bigotry both increase.
It isn’t the believability of claims that make them powerful. It is how seductive the rhetoric is that largely determines their impact. As Americans, it is imperative that we pay close attention to the rhetoric being used in this country’s politics, especially when it comes to matters of race, ethnicity or religion. Instead of ignoring it — hoping it will pass — we should be vigilant, and keep politicians accountable for their rhetoric.