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January 6: The Damascus Affair

January 6, 2015

1879-ottoman_court-from-nylThe Damascus Affair, in which thirteen Jews were arrested on blood-libel charges, imprisoned and severely tortured, resulting in the death of four and the forced conversion of another before the survivors were released, reached its final end on this date in 1841 when Sultan Abdul Mejid issued a firman (edict) against blood libels. The arrests had led to the pillaging of a synagogue in Damascus, and had drawn international condemnation and a delegation to Alexandria of Western influentials led by Sir Moses Montefiore. It marked the first time that the U.S. Jewish community, numbering about 15,000, united in protest of treatment of fellow Jews elsewhere in the world (and persuaded President Martin Van Buren to lodge a protest). Hasia Diner writes that the Damascus Affair “launched modern Jewish politics on an international scale, and for American Jews it represented their first effort at creating a distinctive political agenda. Just as the United States had used this affair to proclaim its presence on the global scale, so too did American Jews, in their newspapers and at mass meetings, announce to their coreligionists in France and England that they too ought to be thought of as players in global Jewish diplomacy.” it also resulted in the growth of Jewish newspapers in capitals of Western Europe.

“[W]e 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...” —Sultan Abdul Mejid