Who were the 'dancing Israelis' of 9/11?

In the wake of the biggest terror attack in US history, five young Israeli men were arrested and sparked conspiracy theories for decades


Since September 11, 2001, a tidal wave of conspiracy theories has surrounded the events of the day that changed the course of American history. The attacks, which saw 3,000 New Yorkers lose their lives and countless more injured years later have been the subject of fierce speculation from conspiracy-minded people all over the world.

While not all conspiracy theories about what happened on 9/11 are antisemitic, there’s a pervasive strain of antisemitic thought through some of the most popular.

Even this week, as the 22nd anniversary of the attacks approaches, some social media users are still spreading falsehoods about the attacks, and linking Jews to the violent acts. One of the most common refrains among 9/11 conspiracy theorists is the story of the ‘dancing Israelis.’

According to those who reject the official version of events, five Israeli men were seen dancing in the streets of New York in the wake of the attacks, were arrested and later released without charge. When police arrested them, they were found with cash, multiple passports and box cutters.

According to some sources, including a bizarre 2003 Scottish Herald article, the implication is that these five young men, from Israel, knew about the attacks beforehand, and were shadowing the Al-Qaeda terrorists, supporting the attack from afar in an attempt to draw America closer to Israel politically.

While there is no evidence for any of these claims, the root of this story has some truth. Five Israelis were indeed arrested in the wake of the attacks, they did have box cutters on them. But they were in the US working for a fellow Israeli’s delivery company Urban Moving Systems, in a job where box cutters are frequently used… to cut open boxes.

The Israeli men were first reported by a New Jersey housewife, who saw the group of five standing on a van near the Doric Towers apartment buildings in Union City, New Jersey on a cliffside overlooking the Manhattan skyline and the Twin Towers. When she called to report the men, she said: “All of the males appeared to be jovial in that they smiled, hugged one another, and gave ‘high fives.’”

A year after the attacks, she told ABC News: “They seemed to be taking a movie. They were like happy, you know ... they didn't look shocked to me. I thought it was strange." None however was dancing.

The ‘Dancing Israeli’ moniker came from an altogether different source, the father of 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta. In a USA Today article from a few weeks after the attacks, quoting Muslim officials from around the world who were alleging that Israel was behind the plot, Atta’s grieving father said that there was insufficient attention being paid to the fact that “The FBI seized a number of Jews while they were dancing in celebration over the incidents.”

The men were arrested later that day when the van was spotted driving near the NY Giants NFL stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. FBI agents stopped the men’s van and pulled them out. Sivan Kurzberg, the driver, reportedly said at the time: "We are Israeli. We are not your problem. Your problems are our problems. The Palestinians are the problem."

So what were the men doing that day? News website The Gray Zone spoke to one of the Israeli men involved, who recounted that fateful day. The man, who the publication did not name, said that they were at work when news of the attacks first broke, and when they realised that work was cancelled, drove to Union City to get a better view of what was happening. Then, when attempting to return to their shared apartment in Brooklyn, ended up caught in a police blockade where they were arrested.

The Israeli men were eventually processed in a federal detention centre in Manhattan. While arrested, US immigration officials discovered they were overstaying their visas and after weeks of interrogation, Sivan Kurzberg, Paul Kurzberg, Omer Gavriel Marmari, Yaron Shmuel and Oded Ellner all signed documents admitting violations of US immigration law and returned to Israel.

One of the men, Yaron Shmuel, vented his frustration at the incident to Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv, saying:“They pulled guns on us, threw us to the ground like terrorists, and citizens that were in the area yelled ‘shoot them in the head.’”

As the New York Times reported at the time, the five men were caught in the wide net thrown by American law enforcement officials, eager to be seen to be taking action after the actions of 9/11.

A report by the FBI cleared their names later that month. A field report published a few weeks later stated: “Both the Newark and the New York Divisions conducted a thorough investigation which determined that none of the Israelis had any information on prior knowledge regarding the bombing of the World Trade Center. Furthermore, Newark and New York determined that none of the Israelis were actively engaged in clandestine intelligence activities in the United States.”

A lawyer who represented two Turkish men arrested when their car broke down near a US military base told the NY Times: “The F.B.I. is vacuuming up everything, good, bad and indifferent,''

He added that in his view authorities would ''rather lock everybody up as a means to convince the public they're doing everything appropriate.''

So while the ‘dancing Israelis’ of 9/11 were ultimately found to have nothing to do with the attacks, this has not stopped them from being referenced as a key part of conspiracy theories suggesting Jews either perpetrated or had advance knowledge of the terrorist attacks. The ADL has been documenting antisemitic conspiracy theories about 9/11 since 2003 and has published numerous reports on the phenomenon

References to the theory continue to surface to this day. Antisemitic groups have been found to be behind graffiti across the US reading "Google: Dancing Israelis" often accompanied with the phrase "The Jews did 9/11"

As they wrote in 2021, on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, “ Antisemitic 9/11 conspiracy theories continue to thrive. Although many of the original conspiracy theorists from 20 years ago remain active, a new generation of antisemites has joined them.”

Some of the most prominent spreaders of the ‘Dancing Israelis’ conspiracy as well as other theories about the ‘truth behind 9/11’ include KKK leader David Duke, British conspiracy theorist David Icke as well and Jon Minadeo III, of the Goyim Defence League.

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