Anti-Semitism: A Pillar of Islamic Extremist Ideology

September 08, 2015

Read the full comprehensive report, Anti-Semitism: A Pillar of Islamic Extremist Ideology (PDF).

In a video message in August 2015, Osama bin Laden’s son, Hamza bin Laden, utilized a range of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel narratives in his effort to rally Al Qaeda supporters and incite violence against Americans and Jews.

Bin Laden described Jews and Israel as having a disproportionate role in world events and the oppression of Muslims. He compared the “Zio-Crusader alliance led by America” to a bird: “Its head is America, one wing is NATO and the other is the State of the Jews in occupied Palestine, and the legs are the tyrant rulers that sit on the chests of the peoples of the Muslim Ummah [global community].”

Bin Laden then called for attacks worldwide and demanded that Muslims “support their brothers in Palestine by fighting the Jews and the Americans... not in America and occupied Palestine and Afghanistan alone, but all over the world…. take it to all the American, Jewish, and Western interests in the world.”

Such violent expressions of anti-Semitism have been at the core of Al Qaeda’s ideology for decades. Even the 9/11 terrorist attacks were motivated, in part, by anti-Semitism. Mohamed Atta, a key member of the Al Qaeda Hamburg cell responsible for the attacks, reportedly considered New York City to be the center of a global Jewish conspiracy, and Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who masterminded the attack, had allegedly previously developed several plans to attack Israeli and Jewish targets. In their view, New York, as a center of world finance, was the quintessential Jewish target.

Fourteen years after 9/11, terrorist groups motivated by Islamic extremist ideology, from Al Qaeda to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), continue to rely on depictions of a Jewish enemy – often combined with violent opposition to the State of Israel – to recruit followers, motivate adherents and draw attention to their cause. Anti-Israel sentiment is not the same as anti-Semitism. However, terrorist groups often link the two, exploiting hatred of Israel to further encourage attacks against Jews worldwide and as an additional means of diverting attention to their cause.

And they have more tools at their disposal than ever before.

As new technology and social media continue to alter the nature of global communications, terrorist groups have quickly adapted to these tools in their efforts to reach an ever-widening pool of potential adherents. As a result, anti-Semitism in its most dangerous form is easily accessible by a worldwide audience.

Recent terrorist attacks against Jewish institutions in Europe, and the spike in terror-related arrests in the U.S., not only speak to the global reach provided by these new technologies, but also to the pervasive nature of anti-Semitism in terrorist propaganda that encourages violence directed at Jews.

This report examines the nature and function of anti-Semitism in terrorist propaganda today. It focuses on ISIS, Al Qaeda Central, and two of Al Qaeda’s largest  affiliates, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen and Al Shabaab in Somalia, as well as the prevalence of anti-Semitism among supporters of Palestinian terrorist organizations. It also provides examples of individuals linked to terrorist plots and other activity in the U.S. that were influenced, at least to some degree, by anti-Semitic and anti-Israel messages.