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Manfred Gerstenfeld on Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theories after September 11

Filed under: Anti-Semitism
Publication: Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review 18:3-4 (Fall 2006)


Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theories in Contemporary Germany

Antisemitische Verschwörungstheorien nach dem 11. September (Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theories after September 11) by Tobias Jaecker, LIT, 2005, 208 pp. [in German]

Reviewed by Manfred Gerstenfeld

Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have been around for close to twenty centuries. They blame Jews for many problems for which they bear no responsibility. A well-known example with ancient roots is the Christian claim that Jews in all generations bear the guilt for the death of Jesus. Another is the libel, originating in the Middle Ages, that Jews use the blood of Christian children for ritual purposes. Yet other theories blame Jews for transmitting various plagues, such as the Black Death in the fourteenth century.

In more modern times, the putative conspiracy has been revived in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Czarist forgery maliciously attributed to the Jews. This hate manifesto remains a bestseller, widely disseminated in the Arab and Muslim world and elsewhere. Another example is the German “dagger-stab” (Dolchstoss) legend, which held the Jews responsible for Germany’s defeat in World War I and was subsequently used by the National Socialists in their murderous anti-Semitic campaigns. Contemporary anti-Semitic phenomena are mainly mutations of core motifs that have been extant for many centuries.


Conspiracy Ideology and Myth

Thomas Jaecker, a German journalist who works for a Berlin radio station, analyzes in his book some examples of current anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in German left-wing, right-wing, and mainstream media. He focuses on three topics: September 11, the battle in the Palestinian town of Jenin in April 2002, and the ongoing war in Iraq.

Jaecker points out that scientifically speaking the term theory is misplaced, and “conspiracy ideology” or “conspiracy myth” is much more accurate. The basic approach, he explains, is to ascribe complex processes to simple origins. These “theories” display common patterns in that a supposedly powerful group of conspirators is unmasked by a small number of people who resist them. The invented story is then believed by many who do not check the alleged facts.

In Germany since the Holocaust, structural anti-Semitism has centered partly on the claim that the Jews have managed to extort large sums from the Germans in the form of reparation payments. This is portrayed as an instance of the lust for revenge, attributed to the Old Testament. The next step is to claim that Jews are an international group of conspirators, and that they seek to cast a dark influence over Germany by keeping the Auschwitz theme alive in the media. This, in turn, prevents Germany from becoming a normal state. Some of these motifs have been used by prominent Germans such as Rudolf Augstein, the late publisher of the weekly Der Spiegel (54), and the novelist Martin Walser (55).

One bestselling German author who promoted anti-Semitic conspiracy theories was Jan van Helsing, whose books sold hundreds of thousands of copies in the mid-1990s before they were banned. He claimed, for example, that certain German politicians were Jews, without this being known. One he fabricated was Helmut Kohl, whose true name was supposedly Henoch Kohn (57).

Jaecker concludes that the myth of Jewish conspiracies is more prevalent today than at any time since World War II.


September 11, Jenin, the Iraq War

Regarding September 11, Jaecker mentions mendacious publications claiming that American intelligence services arrested two hundred Israelis in the weeks before the attack. This was accompanied by allegations that Israel had access to almost all American telephone conversations (71). Recurring themes are that Jews stick together and are powerful and destructive. In diverse ways, these themes surfaced in the highly exaggerated reports on the number of Palestinian civilian dead in Jenin.

The supposedly pivotal role of American neoconservatives-a codeword for Jews-in launching the Iraq war is another recurrent theme. One of the more astute responses this author heard was that of Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. He told how once, on an African American radio station to reply to listeners’ questions, he was asked about the Jews being behind the Iraq war. He answered in detail, but others kept repeating the question. “I see that the secretary of state is Colin Powell and the national security adviser is Condoleezza Rice,” he remarked. “It seems to me that it is more of a black conspiracy.” Thereafter the questions stopped.


The Accusations Continue

Since Jaecker’s book was published there have been many new cases of conspiracy theorizing. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of the world’s leading genocidal anti-Semites, said the Jews were behind the Danish cartoons satirizing Mohammed, and declared: “They [who insult the founder of Islam] are hostages of the Zionists. And the people of the U.S. and Europe should pay a heavy price for becoming hostages of Zionism.”[1]

In February 2006, the Syrian state-controlled paper al-Tawhra asserted that Israel was responsible for the expanding bird flu phenomenon. It said Israel had spread the virus in the Far East to mislead the world while aiming to attack the Arabs.[2]

Later that month, Iran’s religious leader Ayatollah Khameini claimed that Zionists and foreign forces were behind the bombing of the gold-domed Shiite mosque in Samarra, Iraq, on 22 February. His words were echoed by Ahmadinejad, who said that “these heinous acts are committed by a group of Zionists and occupiers that have failed. They have failed in the face of Islam’s logic and justice.”[3]

Jaecker’s book is a perceptive discussion sometimes aided by detailed textual analysis. Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are evergreens, and this book will keep yielding insights as new accusations arise.


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[1] AP, “Iran Blames U.S., Europe in Cartoon Crisis,” New York Times, 12 February 2006.

[2] Roee Nahmias, “Syrian Paper Accuses Israel of Having Spread Bird Flu to Kill Arabs,” Ynet News, 9 February 2006.

[3] “Ahmadinejad Warns West over Shrine Blast,” Reuters, 23 February 2006.