In 1840, U.S. President Martin Van Buren protested the Damascus blood libel, in which Syrian Jews were charged with killing two men and using their blood to make Passover matzah. Father Thomas of Damascus (and his Muslim assistant) had disappeared, prompting a blood libel that led to the arrest and torture of 13 Jews. More arrests and atrocities followed, culminating in the kidnapping of 63 Jewish children (compelling them to "reveal" where the blood was hidden), and mob attacks on Jewish communities throughout the Middle East. In England, Jewish leaders Montefiore and Rothschild sought government intervention. In the U.S., Van Buren ordered American diplomats in Turkey and Egypt to lodge an official protest, while thousands of Jews protested in six American cities -- historically the first collective action by American Jews on behalf of their overseas brethren. Bowing to pressure, Syrian officials agreed to release those Jews who had survived the numerous rounds of torture. The story never completely disappeared, and in 1986 Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass published a book, The Matzah of Zion, reviving this libel against the Jews.
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