On the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, the American ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens was murdered by Islamists.
Coincidentally, protests flared throughout many Muslim-majority states in protest at the film trailer The Innocence of Muslims, which insulted Mohammed and the Muslim faith.
The murder of Mr Stevens has since been shown to have been pre-planned, and therefore separate from the protests surrounding the 14-minute YouTube video.
Yet this past week, many in the mainstream and social media blamed the murder of Mr Stevens on The Innocence of Muslims.
Attention turned from the motives, background and identity of the murderers, to the motives, background and identity of the film-maker. The YouTube user had uploaded his video using the name “sambacile”.
Hours after the murder in Libya, “Sam Bacile” identified himself to reporters as an Israeli Jew, claiming that his film project had been funded by 100 Jewish donors, who had contributed $5 million to the film. The Wall Street Journal — a usually balanced and trustworthy news source on the Middle East — initially presented Bacile as an Israeli Jew.
The assertion that the director and his benefactors were rich Jews rapidly spread across the internet. There were many obvious problems with this theory. The trailer began depicting a slaughter of Christians. Crosses featured prominently throughout the film. A huge wooden cross was used as a backdrop to a key scene involving an actor portraying Mohammed. Meanwhile, it was not possible that the film had cost f$5 million to make, given the use of cheap backdrops, the poor acting, and farcical dubbing.
All this prompted a Channel 4 reporter to say that the film was so poor, that if they existed, the Jewish donors might want their money back.
Whilst these mysterious donors — always alleged and never confirmed — continued to be mentioned in reports showing images of burning effigies, angry rioters and clips of Mr Stevens, it became ever-more unsettling to see how readily Bacile’s lie was being believed.
Why would news outlets such as the BBC repeat Bacile’s unsubstantiated claims?
There is an unsettling assumption lurking in some parts of Western society which casts Jews as rich, politically powerful and highly motivated to push their own agendas, to the detriment of others.
Jewish avarice and an obsession with money: the old lies returned, but this time with apparent video evidence.
The Guardian ran a headline labelling Bacile an “Israeli director”, again mentioning the omnipresent “Jewish donors” in the article. When Bacile was shown to be Copt rather than a Jew, the paper did not alter its headline.
Days earlier, the Guardian had run news piece about the Democratic convention re-affirming its support for Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Published on September 6, it said: “Jewish donors, particularly in New York, and pro-Israeli lobby groups, are generous supporters not only of Obama but of individual senators and members of the House, who are also facing election in November.” The implication was clear: Jews act as a hidden hand dictating American policy on the Middle East.
For a public that swallows such canards, the idea of Jewish donors funding an anti-Muslim film to provoke unrest in the Middle East may not seem so far-fetched.
The malicious myths about Jewish money and political control are alive and well in the UK.
Earlier this year, when Jewish leaders expressed their concerns over a decision by the Anglican Church to support the anti-Israel Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), they were met with accusations from vicars of “powerful lobbies” seeking to influence the Synod.
Significantly, the proposer of the pro-EAPPI motion, John Dinnen, claimed that an unremarkable A4 protest leaflet “must have cost £1,000”. The unspoken assumption was clear. The leaflet bore the fingerprints of Jewish financing. Clearly the leaflet did not cost £1,000, just as the Innocence of Muslims did not cost $5 million.
In May, when Ken Livingstone was campaigning to become London mayor, he expressed his belief that Jews would not vote for him because they are rich, and the rich vote for the Tories.
In the wrong hands, the lie can prove fatal. Twenty-four-year-old Ilan Halimi was kidnapped in 2006 in France. Halimi’s kidnappers tried to extort money from his family. They thought that the young Jew was rich, as he was from a Moroccan Jewish family. However, Halimi’s family was no weathier than the families of kidnappers. When no ransom money could be provided, he was tortured to death and murdered.
Hamas’s charter asserts that the Jews, “with their money, they took control of the world media, news agencies, the press … they stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein … they formed secret societies… for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests.”
When we see Westerners march in solidarity with Hamas, we should not assume that they do so ignoring these unsavoury parts of the Hamas charter. It is far more likely that such poisonous lies chime with what many educated people already believe about Jews.
The respectable version of the theory that Jews are rich and that they have wide-ranging control over politics, is that there is an “Israel lobby”, which seeks to sway leaders in the USA into taking pro-Israel positions.
This was the theory of American academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, which quickly became popular amongst many left-wing British academics. When Mearsheimer expressed support for musician and author Gilad Atzmon — an out-and-out antisemite — by endorsing his book, and then defending his decision on Walt’s blog, all of a sudden, the gap between intellectual Leftist anti-Zionism, and crude antisemitism seemed infinitesimally small.
We will have to come to terms with the uncomfortable and distressing fact that in the 21st century, ludicrous claims about Jewish money and influence are a fact of life. The conspiracy theory about a 100 Jewish donors backing an anti-Muslim film is the latest variation on this theme.