10 years on, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about 9/11 still remain
By Dan Klein
NEW YORK (JTA) — Osama bin Laden is dead. A new skyscraper is rising at the site of the old World Trade Center. U.S. troops are withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ten years later, the physical legacies of 9/11 attacks are fading into history. Yet the conspiracy theories about who “really” was behind the attacks seem to be growing.
Like a drug-resistant virus, these fantasies have persisted despite efforts to combat them by mutating over time, taking new forms and finding new modes of transmission. Jews and Israel often are their targets, and they evoke centuries-old myths about Jewish power, allegiances and manipulation of social institutions.
The conspiracy theories began almost as soon as the towers fell. Four days after the attack, the Syrian newspaper Al-Thawra reported that 4,000 Jews failed to show up for work at the World Trade Center on 9/11 after being warned by Israeli intelligence, according to a 2007 U.S. State Department document debunking the myth. Another held that five Israeli students were secret Mossad agents who knew about the attacks and allowed them to happen. That myth eventually morphed into the conspiracy theory that the Israelis remotely directed the attacks.
Other myths have followed, spreading around the world and taking root even in the United States. Of 36,000 conspiracy videos recently found on the Internet, 16,000 implicated Jews or Israelis, according to a new report by the Anti-Defamation League titled “Decade of Deceit: Anti-Semitic 9/11 Conspiracy Theories 10 Years Later.”
“What we’ve seen in the last 10 years is the proliferation of a real propaganda industry surrounding Sept. 11th,” said the director of the ADL’s civil rights division, Deborah Lauter. “Prominent among those theories are those making anti-Semitism front and center.”
The theories have amounted to more than just pernicious talk.
On June 10, 2009, one alleged 9/11 conspiracy theorist opened fire at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, killing a security guard. The perpetrator, James von Brunn, then 88, died before the case could come to trial.
Experts say 9/11 myths that blame the Jews are spreading freely from neo-Nazis and other white supremacists into new areas whose acolytes are not necessarily anti-Semitic but are unknowingly adopting the tropes of classical anti-Semitic conspiracy theories: anti-government radicals, young anti-war activists, New Age ideologues, and propagandists and journalists in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
“What’s changed is the proliferation of coded rhetoric to refer to Jews internationally and in the United States,” said Chip Berlet, a senior analyst at Political Research Associates, a liberal think tank based in Somerville, Mass. “They’re unprepared to recognize it even when they see it.”
Michael Barkun, a professor of political science at Syracuse University who has studied extremists and their ideologies, said, “They aren’t people who are terribly different from the population at large,” except that “they are more likely to be attracted to conspiracy theories.”
Alan Sabrosky, a columnist for Veterans Today, an anti-Semitic website, is one of most widely cited sources for anti-Semitic 9/11 myths, according to the ADL. Sabrosky has declared his mission to “contain” Israel’s ambition by exposing Israel’s alleged role in 9/11 and maintains that Washington and New York are the centers of “Zionist power.”
Citations of Sabrosky’s work pop up not just on extreme-right websites but on pro-Palestinian websites such as Mondoweiss, Arab media sites and the Internet newsletter Dissent Voice, which describes itself as “a radical newsletter in the search for peace and social justice.”
“This is a strange world where the right and the left mix, with anti-Semitism shot through,” said Scott Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report. “On the left it is shot through with anti-Zionism, on the right the fear of the international Jew.”
A 2008 poll of 17 representative nations by the Center for International Security Studies at the University of Maryland found that only nine of the countries surveyed had majorities who believed al-Qaeda orchestrated the attacks. Most of those who believed otherwise did not implicate Israel, however. Instead, they said they did not know who was behind the attacks or blamed the United States. In Russia, Israel-related conspiracy theories were at 2 percent of those polled. In Kenya, 3 percent believed in Israel-related myths. In Indonesia, the number was 5 percent.
In the Middle East, however, the numbers were much different. In Egypt, 43 percent of respondents blamed Israel for 9/11. In Jordan, 31 percent blamed Israel. In the West Bank and Gaza, the numbers were slightly lower. In Turkey, however, only 3 percent believed Israel was behind the attacks.
Conservative columnist Daniel Pipes, who has written two books on conspiracy theories, says such theories about Jews are a fringe element in the West but are par for the course in the Middle East, where he said “they are spread by the mainstream media, leading intellectuals and politicians.” Pipes considers 9/11 conspiracy theories a relatively benign false belief akin to theories about the Kennedy assasination — widespread, but not leading to damaging consequences.
The impact of the many 9/11 conspiracy theories is still not entirely clear.
“We’re in a period where the boundaries between the mainstream and the fringe have become quite blurred,” Barkun said. “Once they were more distinct. Once most people were not exposed to them, or if they were, it was to have them debunked. Now they move quite readily into the mainstream.”
Barkun added, “This shift in which these ideas have entered the mainstream is so recent that I don’t think we are in a position to know what the social effects are.”
Berlet said he worries that 9/11 conspiracy theories are fueling the rise of anti-Semitic rhetoric in major public forums.
“It is horrifying. It creates a hunt for an enemy and undermines the very concept of democratic society,” he said. “You would think that decent people would stand up and say enough. It’s spreading and our leaders lack the backbone to confront it.”
For Daniel Agami, 9/11 attack was a call to service — and to tragic destiny
By Danielle Fleischman
NEW YORK (JTA) — Daniel Agami was working as a disc jockey in South Florida when the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 changed the trajectory of his life.
Suddenly he didn’t feel like performing at events and parties for well-known entertainers was all Agami, then 22, could be doing with his talents. For nearly a year, Agami wrestled with his emotions over the attacks, often talking to his parents and siblings about his anger.
After about a year, he enlisted in the United States Army, knowing full well he’d be sent to Iraq. It would not be Agami’s first time in the Middle East: As the son of an Israeli army veteran and part of a strongly identified Jewish family, Agami grew up going to Israel every year. But this would be his first time putting on a uniform.
The fateful decision to enlist eventually would earn Agami a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and an Army commendation medal. It also would also exact the ultimate price: On June 21, 2007, an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle in Baghdad, killing Agami and four other soldiers.
Service ran in Agami’s blood. His grandfather, Leonard Becker, had served in the Korean War. His father, Itzhak, had fought in the Israeli Army. So when he told his family that he had signed up to serve, they weren’t surprised.
“I believe had a calling,” said his mother, Beth Agami.
Even as a teenager, Agami’s brother said, Daniel would sport dog tags and wear military-style gear.
“He chose to join the Army to become more accomplished,” Ilan Agami told JTA. “He wanted to prove himself.”
Agami wasn’t known for taking things lightly. Growing up in Broward County, Fla., Judaism played “an extreme role in Daniel’s life,” his mother said. Agami attended a Jewish day school, kept kosher and as an adult regularly went to Shabbat services with his family at the local Chabad.
After 9/11, Agami said the Army would give him a chance to do something good for his country, and he was excited about the challenges ahead, his family members said. It was all he would talk about in the months leading up to his deployment.
Agami’s first stop was Fort Benning, Ga., for basic training. Maintaining his religious identity in the Army wasn’t easy, particularly in boot camp. The meals were not kosher, and Agami was confronted once by his sergeant for not eating. When he explained his dietary restrictions, the commander went to prepare a plate of fruit and vegetables for him to eat, his mother recalled.
Agami encountered his first derogatory remark about Judaism in Schweinfurt, Germany, where he stopped en route to Iraq. Agami didn’t take it sitting down, in the process earning the respect of fellow soldiers, his mother said. They often came to him with questions about his kosher diet; for many, Agami was the only Jew they knew.
“Daniel stood up to people for our religion,” his brother told JTA.
In Iraq, Agami’s infantry unit saw frequent combat.
“I go on daily or nightly missions raiding Iraqi homes to find weapons and bombs,” Agami told a Newsweek interviewer in 2007. “I lost six of my closest friends.”
When an insurgent threatened to blow up his tank, Agami jumped off the turret, cornered the insurgent and, armed with just a pistol and wearing night vision goggles, killed him. The action would earn Agami a Bronze Star, the Army’s fourth-highest combat award, given for bravery, acts of merit or meritorious service.
Some time after Agami was killed, his mother received a phone call from a non-Jewish chaplain who said that her son had expressed an interest in becoming a religious leader in the military. He had wanted to dedicate himself to America by combining his patriotism and faith, she said.
“This was something he would be amazing at had he had the opportunity,” Beth Agami said. “He re-enlisted for four more years and planned on making the military his career.”
Thanks-Giving Square program offers healing, music, prayers on 9/11 anniversary
At the 10th year anniversary of the events on 9/11 approaches, many Americans want to understand where we are and where we are headed as a nation. To address these and other issues pertaining to Sept. 11, 2001, Thanks-Giving Square will host an event on Sept. 11, 2011, which will include tolling bells, songs, well-known speakers and clergy from all faiths offering prayers of peace.
The public is invited to join this free event, which will take place from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Thanks-Giving Square, 1627 Pacific Avenue, between Akard and Ervay, in downtown Dallas. The Chapel of Thanks-Giving Square will be open that day for prayer and contemplation from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m.
Speakers will include the honorable Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings who will give a welcome from the city; a representative of the local media on the media’s role and the vision for the future of America; a well- known jurist will be speaking on the role of justice; a religious leader speaking on the role of religion in society; and a government official will give a presentation on why it is important for religion and government to work together harmoniously. Also on hand will be state and federal representatives from Dallas, Irving, Desoto, Rowlett, Rockwall, Duncanville, and other surrounding communities in the Dallas area.
Participating clergy of all faiths will be on hand, including Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Baha’is, Buddhists and numerous Christian denominations including Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, Mormon,\ and others.
The program will introduce the Interfaith Singers made up of Americans from India, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas, who will sing “God Bless America” and “Let There be Peace on Earth.” In addition, the Hindu S.H.R.E.E. singers will perform. At the program’s end, the Thanks-Giving Square bells will ring 10 times — once for each year since September 11, 2001.