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Conspiracy and Columbia

In the aftermath of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster on February 1, 2003, conspiracy theories - many suggesting Jewish or Israeli involvement in the shuttle's demise, or invoking other forms of bigotry - surfaced on the Internet in chat rooms, bulletin boards and Web sites, some of which are frequented by anti-Semites, Israel bashers and Holocaust deniers.

Some of the theories focused on Israeli crew member Col. Ilan Ramon, implying that his ethnicity and the fact that he participated, as an Israeli Air Force pilot, in the 1981 bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor, were evidence of Jewish or Israeli complicity in the disaster.

One theory put forth the idea that wreckage from the Columbia fell on Palestine, Texas, as "Divine intervention; leaders of Palestinian terror groups called the shuttle accident "punishment from Allah." Those who minimize or deny the Holocaust noted that Ramon was the son of Holocaust survivors and argued that his role in the mission was to "spy" for Israel. Other theories focused on the role Col. Ramon had performed while on the mission.

Coming at a time of great tragedy for both the American and Israeli people, the conspiracy theories about the space shuttle show how the Internet continues to be used to spread misinformation and bigotry, and how some are quick to use a national tragedy for their own purposes.

The Anti-Defamation League has compiled numerous examples of the conspiracy theories about the demise of Columbia. The theories demonstrate that, even in times of tragedy and sadness, those who weave conspiracies involving Jews and Israel are hard at work.

The Conspiracies Begin to Coalesce

  • Less than an hour after the shuttle accident, on a far-right conspiracy site, a poster asked: it even remotely possible that either the US or the Israeli government is responsible for blowing up the shuttle this morning? No matter what happened, it's a tragedy, but it's interesting to note that it was the one time we happened to have an Israeli astronaut aboard.
      - from a right-wing conspiracy email list, (2/1) 9:58 AM EST

  • A report circulated by conspiracist Alex Jones claimed the shuttle disaster was a "textbook psychological warfare operation," a "mass distraction/mass unifier" that was part of a plan the US government had laid out in the 1960s known as the "Northwoods" plan. This document included the assertion that the Joint Chiefs had proposed blaming Cuba if any problems arose with the 1962 launch of John Glenn.

    Jones noted that he had proclaimed three weeks prior, "that there was a very good chance that the globalists would do something horrible concerning the latest Colombia mission." He went on to say,

      "Understand, the psychological warfare technicians do not even need to publicly blame Iraq for the Columbia disaster. It will serve as a distraction in the global press during the final weeks of war preparation in the gulf. It will serve the dual purpose of unifying the country behind President Bush as he grandstands."

    The other reasons why the disaster had to have been planned, according to Jones, was that,

      "This is the first Israeli in space -- the fact that he died on board is given twice as much attention than the other six are getting combined. This is being used as a type of tribal bonding mechanism for the coming war for empire in the Middle East. "Our champion warriors died with your champion warriors..." - Jones's Web site, (2/1) 11 AM EST

  • One online posting in a conspiracy-oriented site noted,

      "There is some chortling occuring [sic] in the anti-semitic [sic] community. I have seen the following comment: "As 'satan [sic] was cast down to the earth', so shall his kids be here & NEVER allowed to return to the Heavens!" We-ell, I don't know. I suppose that in the spirit of objective scientific experimentation, we ought to launch another Jew into space as soon as possible to, hopefully, dispell [sic] such a notion. Whether we should limit the proposed shuttle crew exclusively to Jews, (to limit possible collateral damage) is subject to one's biases/apprehensions." - from a right-wing conspiracy email list, (2/1) 7:30 PM EST

Holocaust Deniers Hold Out On the Disaster

The fact that Ilan Ramon's parents had survived the Holocaust, and that he took items related to the Holocaust drew the attention of Holocaust deniers.

  • Michael A. Hoffman II, a Holocaust denier, wrote on February 1 asking if the shuttle disaster was "The Hand of God?", - The Hoffman Wire, (2/1) 4 PM EST

    The next day Hoffman wrote:

      And thus a legend is born, Ilan Ramon, patron saint of astronauts and that lofty class of congenital sufferers, the Children of Holocaust Survivors. To this pious category must be added another in the taxonomy of victimhood, the Survivors of Dead Zionist Astronauts. Prior to Ramon there was Resnick, one of seven astronauts killed in the January 28, 1986 Challenger shuttle explosion.
      […]Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord. Symbolism and happenstance are His as well, and of a far higher and more sublime type than anything the Cryptocracy can ape. A few people will glimpse the awful truth at the core of the explosion, while the majority will sink deeper into the inhibiting awe and petrifying idolatry that characterizes American subservience toward all things Israeli, Zionist and Judaic. But God is not mocked. Dare we say it? In this case, He would appear to be the mocker. - The Hoffman Wire, 2/2

  • Ingrid Rimland, wife of Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel and owner/operator of Zundel's Holocaust denial site, wrote in her frequent email newsletter the day of the disaster, "Meanwhile, the 'synchronicity' is interesting:

      The debris of the space shuttle Columbia, with Israeli astronaut Col. Ramon on board, has rained down in the vicinity of Palestine, Texas. Ramon was a hero in Israel, and reported to have carried with him Holocaust literature into outer space (as the 'son and grandson of Holocaust survivors'). But a few weeks ago, a German citizen buzzed downtown Frankfurt, Germany, with a small plane, to draw attention to Jewish-American astronaut Judith Resnick, who had died in the January 1986 Challenger disaster. As I write, the CNN reports are tending to focus on the person of Israeli astronaut, Col. Ramon, when it comes to the matter of profiling members of the crew. Indeed, the female reporter reporting from Israel apologized at one point for having said the word 'spy' when she intended to say 'space'." - Z-Gram, a Holocaust denial email list, (2/1) 7:15 PM EST

World Reactions

    Although the majority of countries and religious leaders worldwide expressed their shock and horror at the disaster, anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli sermons about the shuttle disaster were preached in Iraq and by radical Islamist leaders across the world. The anti-American and anti-Israeli diatribes were also printed in newspaper columns in the Middle East.

    • Dr. Abd Al-'Aziz Al-Rantisi, a Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, posted to the Hamas Web site: "... The explosion of the shuttle Columbia is, it is reasonable to assume, part of the divine punishment of America and, together with it, Zionism - because of their massacres of Muslims, the destruction of their lives, the humiliation of their honor, and their desire to globalize corruption..." - Hamas Web site, 2/2 (translation by MEMRI)

    • In an article titled "Ramon Can Go to Hell," Hamed Salamin, a columnist for the UAE daily Al-Bayan, wrote:

      An atmosphere of sadness and shock overcame the Israelis two days ago when NASA announced [Ramon's] death… This is enough to arouse joy in every heart that beats Arabism and Islam. […] Perhaps the sight of the Columbia shuttle's crashing in the town of Palestine, Texas reminds the Israeli people of the daily tragedy of the Palestinians - of the sorrow, the blood, and the massacres that the army of the [Zionist] entity carries out on the occupied lands. But it would not appear that the vast majority of Israelis have feelings for others… The Columbia disaster is a loss to all, even though emotions are conflicting. Sincerest condolences to the American people and to the families of the six American astronauts, and Ramon should go to hell. There is no sorrow for him whatsoever. - Al-Bayan (UAE), 2/3

    • Abu Hamza Al-Masri, an Islamic fundamentalist leader living in London, told the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat:

      It is a punishment from Allah - this is how Muslims see the incident. The target of this event was the trinity of evil, as the shuttle carried Americans, an Israeli, and a Hindu, the trinity of evil against Islam. This is a message to the American people that Bush's term is nothing but a string of curses cast upon them, and that it will lead to the exhaustion of their resources and the elimination of the false American dream... This is a divine message to the Israelis, saying that they are not welcome in space. - Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), 2/4 (translation by MEMRI)

Other Reactions on the Disaster

  • Anti-homosexual activist Fred Phelps produced a flier that claimed, "The 7 Are In Hell," where he stated, "God's Arm hurled Columbia in fragments to the ground, and hurled the 7 fools into the everlasting fires of Hell - in wrath and vengeance, laughing, mocking and deriding this nation of fags." - Phelp's Web site, 2/2

  • Richard Barrett, of the Nationalist movement, blamed diversity as the cause of the crash. He stated,

      Diversity = Death. Once again, the same fate has befallen the latest "diverse" mission into space as befell the Challenger in 1986. Columbia, whose seven-member crew contained only three American men, blew up upon re-entry from a sixteen-day mission. All on-board, dubbed "Diversonauts" by columnist Mark Siporen, were killed. The seven-member crew of Challenger had included only three American men, as well, together with one Negro, one Jewish woman, one American woman and a Chinaman. Aboard Columbia were a Jewish man, an Indian woman, an American woman and a Negro. "What an insult to Christopher Columbus, who established civilization in the New World," said Wendell Gardner," to have named such a motley crew, including even an Indian, after him."

      […] The demise of Challenger, however, prompted NASA to retrench to banning all but Neil-Armstrong types from space-flight. The plan held and success returned to space-exploration, until "affirmative-action" began to creep back in, culminating in the latest explosion. "Diversity," actually, had returned not only to the cockpit, but to the ground crew, as more and more Negroes and aliens, some even from foreign countries, were forced back into the space program. - Barrett's Web site, 2/2

Speculation about Ramon's Activities

Only a few days after the disaster, the experiments Ramon had conducted while in orbit were focused upon by conspiracists.

  • The belief that this mission was part of a plan to develop technologies that could spy on Iraq's secret programs to develop weapons of mass destruction was put forth by Yoichi Clark Shimatsu, who is noted as a Hong Kong-based journalist and former general editor of The Japan Times Weekly in Tokyo. He wrote an article that was reposted in numerous online forums detailing his suspicions that Ramon's camera was designed to give information on Iraqi weapons programs and was powered by nuclear material. He wrote,

    The computer-controlled cameras were pointed earthward to detect desert dust and "pollution aerosols . . . to provide scientific information about atmospheric aerosols and the influence of global changes on the climate." The data was directly transmitted to Tel Aviv University and, according to investigative journalist Gordon Thomas, on to the Israeli Biological Institute, the hub of Israel's nerve-gas and bioweapons programs. […]

    To eliminate the risk of a power shutdown to the other experiments and the spaceship itself, a multi-spectral telescope requires an independent source of power, and the obvious solution is nuclear power. […]

    How then can the Bush and Sharon administrations win public support for space-based weapons? A cynical solution is to make martyrs of an Israeli-American space shuttle crew. Show them to be victims of outmoded technology and, more important, obsolete thinking in NASA and in Congress about keeping space free of nuclear power and potential war-making technologies. Is it conceivable that an American president would deliberately sabotage the Columbia? If his agenda is to affect a shift of NASA from a hybrid civilian-military space agency to an arm of the Pentagon's ballistic missile defense program, then no sacrifice could be too great - especially if Ilan Ramon's telescope had failed to detect any smoking guns over Iraq. As for the Israeli leader, it must be recalled that the Likud movement is built on the cult of martyrdom - from ancient Masada and the Warsaw ghetto to the Irgun fighters killed in fratricidal violence by Haganah militiamen at the birth of Israel, from Yonathan Netanyahu's demise in Entebbe to - now - the death of Colonel Ilan Ramon, nonchalant bomber of Iraq's nuclear plant repackaged as a hero of science.
    The Laissez Faire Electronic Times, Vol 2, No 7, February 17

  • Conspiracy theorist and sensationalizing author Gordon Thomas, noted in Shimatsu's article as a source, published a piece with the headline, "Israel's Shuttle Astronaut Was On a Secret Mission on Columbia." He wrote,

      Astronaut Ilon Ramon was conducting secret experiments on the Columbia to discover new ways to beat Saddam's threat to use biological and chemical weapons against Israel. For most of his 16 days on board the Columbia, he had been using cameras linked directly to the Israeli Space Agency to study desert dust and wind-drifts emanating from the deserts of Iraq. The information was fed to the Institute for Biological Research - the ultra-secret establishment that is at the cutting edge of Israel's multi-layered defence system. The Institute's scientists constantly study how contaminants can drift into Israel from Iraq.

    Thomas alleges that the Institute creates "lethal toxic weapons" for the Mossad "to kill without trial the enemies of Israel." He stated:

      […] "For Ramon the flight was a chance to honour in the heavens all the victims of the Holocaust", Ilon's father, Eliezer, said yesterday.
      For the scientists at the Biological Research Institute, to the very end his work proved invaluable."


    The tragedy of the Space Shuttle Columbia was felt not only in the United States, but also in the heart of Israel. The theories the Anti-Defamation League has found on the Internet demonstrate that, even in times of tragedy and sadness, those who weave conspiracies involving Jews and Israel are hard at work.

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