Frankel, professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has rescued a small but key event of modern history from ill-deserved obscurity. In a very impressive and well-written account, he tells what happened in Damascus after an Italian monk and his servant disappeared in February 1840. The newly-arrived but powerful French consul, Ratti-Menton, developed an "entirely manufactured" thesis of Jewish ritual murder that the local government in large part accepted, leading to the imprisonment, torture, and death of many Damascene Jews, followed by similar tribulations throughout the eastern Mediterranean.
But the real impact of the Damascus affair, Frankel shows, lay in Europe, where it led to a formidable backlash against Jews, the greatest in years. Jews found themselves completely unprepared for the tribulations they suffered but learned from this tragedy to organize and lobby, and from that came the first stirrings of modern Jewish solidarity, the basis of the formidable institutions that followed. Frankel provides a particularly impressive review of the reactions to the far-away and long-ago events of his study, showing just how the to-and-froing between the Middle East and Europe on the matter of Jews became a major issue for all concerned. In many ways, he establishes that the grounds for the West's involvement today in the Middle East were set by the terrible events of 1840.