After the murders in Paris this month, it did not take long for the forces of conspiracy to switch into high gear.
Among those in the anti-Israel movement were people who suggested that the murders had been perpetrated by Israeli agents and that it was a frame up to besmirch Muslims. Greta Berlin, a leader in the Free Gaza movement and one of the most prominent anti-Israel campaigners, posted a statement on her Facebook page shortly after the murders at the French satirical magazine: “Mossad just hit the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo in a clumsy false flag designed to damage the accord between Palestine and France…. Here’s hoping the French police will be able to tell a well-executed hit by a well-trained Israeli intelligence service and not assume the Muslims would be likely to attack France when France is their friend. Israel did tell France there would be grave consequences if they voted with Palestine. A four-year-old could see who is responsible for this terrible attack.”
Such comments should exclude people like this from legitimate dialogue on the issues, yet the world continues to grant them impunity to spread their theories. And, as perverse and disturbing as the conspiracies from such anti-Israel activists are, there are more absurd and apparently common views expressed on the street in the Paris suburbs where large populations of immigrants from Muslim countries live in economic stagnation. It took an American reporter no time at all to find more fantastical theories; for example, that the attacks were carried out by magical, shape-shifting Jews who morphed themselves into figures resembling Arab terrorists and perpetrated the evil acts.
As extraordinarily outlandish as the latter allegation is, it is no more removed from reality than the former. And both represent a somewhat alarming reality in contemporary discourse. There are conspiracy theories with some traction that say “the Jews” invented ISIS, perpetrated the 9/11 attacks and are in cahoots with the Freemasons to control the media and levers of power. Moowahahaha.
We should be cognizant that these ideas exist and pay attention to the impact they may play in the global dialogue about Israel (and anything else involving Jews). And, we should be vigilant and thankful for the organizations that monitor and condemn these notions. At the same time, we need to maintain perspective. While these ideas may seem widespread, they are generally (though not always) held by the ignorant, the ill-informed and the undereducated. Notably, these ideas seem most prominent in places where democracy has not been permitted to flourish, and autocrats will – and do – exploit these sorts of things for their purposes. Most of the people who carry these poisonous thoughts, however, cannot even exert their influence at the ballot box.
We return to comments by Jonathan Kay when he visited here more than a year ago now. Kay, then the editorial page editor of the National Post and now editor of The Walrus magazine, insisted that these voices have been marginalized. In the halls of power – or even of country clubs and polite society – where antisemitism once held sway – these ideas are dismissed along with the people who espouse them. To subscribe to them is to relegate oneself to the D-list of civil dialogue.
It is important to acknowledge, on the one hand, guttersnipe who purvey ludicrous, hateful ideas and, on the other, the progress that has been made against bigotry among the people who determine policy in our country and among our democratic allies. Outside these circles are all sorts of ideas that are beyond the realm, but in the places where bizarre anti-Jewish conspiracies still hold sway, antisemitism is merely one among a disturbing host of societal ailments.
There is a quote that seems appropriate here, and it is doubly attributed – to the American presidential confidant Bernard Baruch and children’s writer Dr. Seuss. Whichever man originated it, the sentiment applies: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”