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Press ReleaseIsrael/Middle East
Conspiracy Theories and Criticism of Israel in Aftermath of Sept. 11 Attacks

New York, NY, November 1, 2001 Conspiracy theories and rumors abound in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Israel is at the center of those theories, which primarily emanate from the Arab and Islamic world. Many of these theories are finding wide distribution on the Internet and in some American Arab newspapers, even though they have no basis in reality.

In an effort debunk the major charges against Israel with factual information, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has prepared the following backgrounder on conspiracy theories. Below are the major charges against Israel.

Israel committed the terrorism on September 11:

This is the most outrageous and absurd of the conspiracy theories. This rumor ricocheted through the Arab world soon after the events of Sept. 11, buttressed by two unfounded charges: that 4,000 Israelis worked in the World Trade Center but mysteriously did not show up for work that tragic day, therefore the Mossad (the Israeli intelligence agency) must be behind it; and that Israel had a lot to gain by having the attacks blamed on the Arabs. The facts and logic of those arguments are completely false, and even most of the Islamic world has rejected this conspiracy theory as implausible.

Osama bin Laden triggered the attacks because the U.S. favors Israel in the Mideast conflict

This charge falls on its face for three reasons:

    1. It is clear that even if there was no State of Israel, the attacks would have happened. Bin Laden despises everything America stands for: Democracy, modernism, freedom, globalism. It is as much what America is, as what it does, that infuriates him.

    2. Bin Laden, according to all experts, was planning this act for one to two years, and possibly longer, which means that the plan was underway even as Israel was offering the Palestinians a state, part of Jerusalem, and dismantling of 80 percent of the settlements. The issue therefore is not Israel's alleged "hard-line," supposedly supported by the U.S., but rather that bin Laden wants only one thing for Israel: its destruction. Indeed if the U.S. were to pressure Israel for greater concessions and an agreement were reached, the terrorists would be even angrier.

    3. In his statements, bin Laden minimizes the Israel factors. His stated objective is to get the U.S. out of the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, so that he could proceed to oust Arab regimes and transform the region into a haven for Islamic extremism.

Perhaps Israel is not to blame for the attacks, but Israel's behavior threatens the American-led coalition against terror

This claim, which has some resonance in mainstream circles, fails to understand the thinking of the Arab and Islamic partners against the coalition:

    Egypt and Saudi Arabia - Regardless of Israel's policy decisions, there are internal pressures in Egypt and Saudi Arabia that dictate how much those nations can show support for any U.S.-led coalition against terrorism. Because of internal threats, these nations will not provide too much assistance - for example, using their countries as takeoff points for military actions - lest they give an opening to their own fundamentalists. On the other hand, they need the U.S. to win this struggle or else their governments will be in jeopardy, therefore they will not abandon the effort. Consequently, as former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross has observed, there is no need to reward these nations for their participation at Israel's expense.

    Iran and Syria - Strange allies in a war against terrorism, since both support terrorist groups. If they abandon whatever minimal role they are playing in the coalition, it is because their regimes live off their extreme reputations, including toward Israel. Working with the U.S. for too long would undermine their control over their populations. So even if the U.S. distanced itself from Israel, it would not determine their decision to participate in a coalition against terrorism.

    The U.S. cannot appear to reward Osama's terrorism. If the U.S. were suddenly to change its attitude toward Israel to keep the coalition in line, bin Laden will be able to say that his way, and his way alone, had an impact that would only strengthen him in the Arab world.

    As to where the American public stands on these matters, there are several relevant findings from two polls. First, a Newsweek poll found that 58 percent of Americans believe that U.S. support for Israel was a factor in bin Laden's decision to attack the U.S. However, the same poll found that 60 percent of Americans did not believe the U.S. should change its Middle East policy.

    A Chicago Sun-Times survey found that 62 percent of Americans believe that forcing Israel to give up territory would encourage terrorism, while 9.7 percent thought that pressuring Israel would end terrorism. And in a Gallup poll, a baseline question - Whom do you support more, Israel or the Palestinians? - found the widest margin yet in Israel's favor - 55 percent to 7 percent.

    Still, there is no reason to be complacent. Much will depend on how the Bush Administration reacts in the future when Israel decides to take strong military action against Palestinian violence and terrorism.

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.

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