Abraham H. Foxman
National Director of the Anti-Defamation League
This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post on December 20, 2012
You can almost see it coming: With every breaking news story of catastrophes man-made and natural, some racist or bigot will come up with new conspiracy theory that somehow, in some way, Jews or Israel played a behind-the-scenes role in instigating it.
This seems particularly true with large-scale disasters, massacres and terrorist attacks. Invariably someone, somewhere will start a rumor on the Internet that all is not as it seems -- that the news media is hiding something, and that Jews and/or Israel have played a diabolical, underhanded, hidden role in stoking things for their own benefit.
But never in a million years did I think that the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, an event that has so traumatized Americans and shocked people the world over, would become the latest fodder for cynical anti-Semites and anti-Israel conspiracy theorists.
How could anyone suggest that Jews played a behind-the-scenes role in orchestrating this massacre of innocent children, when there was not one scintilla of evidence that Jews had any role whatsoever?
It's the stuff of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the notorious anti-Semitic forgery that claimed that Jews were conspiring together to control world events for their own benefit - retooled, of course, for a modern-day audience.
In recent years, Jews have been fingered as the "real perpetrators" of terrorist attacks and financial crises in countries around the world and closer to home.
It has been said that Jews and Israelis harvested organs from hurricane victims in Haiti to make millions on the black market, and that Jews created the Wikileaks phenomenon in an effort to expose and hurt governments that were hostile to Israel.
Perhaps the most notorious conspiracy theory of modern times suggested that "4,000 Jews" were pre-emptively warned to stay away from the World Trade Center the day of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a myth that quickly morphed into the Big Lie that Israel and Jews were responsible for 9/11. That conspiracy theory made its way around the world nearly overnight and is still believed and accepted by many in Muslim and third-world countries as the truth.
Newtown should have been the exception. It is not a one-off news event, but a global news story, with the facts and details pored over by journalists and confirmed in all of their horrific details by police officials, eyewitnesses, surviving families and community members.
We know the killer was not Jewish. And we have learned since the massacre unfolded that the 20 students and six teachers killed had their lives taken by a lone gunman, a man who lived in the community his entire life, and that the gunman, Adam Lanza, had used weapons apparently taken from his mother's home and likely suffered from a debilitating mental illness.
But facts never get in the way of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists. They are constantly searching for any convenient excuse to blame the Jews, and most unpredictable events through history have provided them with that excuse, from the Black Plague to the Red Menace.
Here's a look at what the conspiracy theorists are saying now, mostly on various online message boards and conspiracy-theory oriented web sites. There are basically two kinds of conspiracy theories surrounding the Newtown tragedy, each one an inaccurate distortion:
One theory suggests the violence was in fact a "false flag" terrorist attack on American soil perpetrated by the state of Israel as alleged punishment for American foreign policy on Israel and the Palestinians.
Another theory promotes the notion that a supposedly "Jewish-controlled" Hollywood is responsible for subliminal messages in films that glorify and promote gun violence. Those subliminal messages, they suggest, motivated the killer to take action.
Who is spreading these ideas this time? Not surprisingly, it is the same old cast of characters. David Duke, the virulently anti-Semitic and racist former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, charged on his web site that what happened in Newtown, Connecticut was a result of "Jewish control" over several American institutions and foreign policy.
Duke predictably blamed "Zionist control" over the media for the shootings.
Similar conspiratorial views and "what-really-happened" scenarios were given a platform by the Iranian government-run Press TV, which gave an extended interview to Michael Harris, an Arizona-based contributor to the anti-Semitic web site, Veterans Today. Harris used the opportunity to hold "Zionists" accountable not only for the mass shooting in Newtown, but for a number of mass shootings in America, and charging that "Israel has been operating death squads in the United States."
Harris's views on the Newtown massacre are rooted in classical anti-Semitism -- repeating the tropes about Jewish control of government, the media and the film industry:
“We have had a Zionist-controlled Hollywood, a Zionist controlled news media that is the conduit to all of these violence, these imagery, into every home in America and so you wonder why there is a culture of violence? It is because it comes from the Jews in Hollywood. That is where the conduit of violence comes from.”
The first conspiracy theory about Israeli government involvement is so outlandish that it will likely be dismissed by most Americans (although some people in other parts of the world will surely believe it). But the second allegation of Jewish influence in Hollywood is much more sinister because there are many more people in America who persistently buy in to this belief. In 2008, an ADL survey found that while 63 percent of Americans disagreed with the notion that "the movie and television industries are run by Jews," another 22 percent agreed with that statement.
Once upon a time, anti-Semites like Harris and Duke had little opportunity to spread such messages beyond their own small cadre of followers. But today with the Internet and the global reach of news media, their interviews and writings are shared instantaneously around the world and promoted through social media platforms. Likewise with Iranian television: once available only to viewers in Iran, it now has a global platform where videos and broadcasts in English can be viewed and shared to audiences around the world.
It is incumbent upon all good people who reject hateful conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism to stand up and speak out, so that these unacceptable views remain marginalized and relegated to the far fringes of society and the darkest corners of cyberspace.