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Conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theories
No discussion of contemporary antisemitism can be complete without examining its deeply conspiratorial character. The claims that “the Jews” or “Zionists” are in possession of considerable wealth, power and influence, and are using it to control democratic governments, financial institutions, media corporations, and cultural establishments, can be found among all spheres from which antisemitism emerges today. “Jews” and “Zionists” are also scapegoated for disasters and blamed for all that goes wrong in this conspiratorial worldview. This connection between conspiracy myths and antisemitism is longstanding, and we’ve already come across a major stage in its development when discussing the publication and spread of the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Throughout the course we’ve seen how myths involving Jewish control and power have come to surface again and again, leading, at times, to disastrous results. Let’s further examine the place these conspiracy theories hold in contemporary antisemitism. Conspiracy theories play a central role in extremist politics of all time and antisemitism has a very strong traditional role within conspiracy theories. And this is why, repeatedly, we see antisemitism cropping up in the language, in the discourse of extremist movements of all times. Whether they’re Far-right, Far-left, radical Islamist movements, and even New Age movements, we often find antisemitic conspiracy theories. There is a British think tank called Demos which has done a lot of research on conspiracy theories.
They looked at the literature and the arguments of a full range of extremist movements and they found antisemitic conspiracy theories cropping up in all their literature. The idea of “ZOC”, “the Zionist Occupation Government”, that there are Zionist or Jewish hidden powers behind our governments was the most common one they found in the literature of all different extremist movements. And there’s reasons for this. Antisemitism was the dominant type of conspiracy theory in that conspiracy world pretty much from the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. So any conspiracy theory that came out of that period or that harks back to that period from today will inevitably bring antisemitism into it.
And this has been facilitated to a large extent by the growth of social media on the internet. If you wanted to come across these antisemitic ideas twenty years ago, you would have to go and actually find an extremist movement, persuade them to let you into their meetings - and these are not trusting people - get to read their magazines, which would not really look like professional magazines or send off to their booklists. And then you start to see these ideas. Ten years ago you could find them on the internet on extremist message boards like Stormfront and other Far-right groups. But again it was people talking to like-minded people.
It was Far-right people gathering together, making networks and connections, but not really reaching out of those boundaries. Nowadays, with social media, these extremist ideas, these conspiracy theories, this antisemitism, is on all of our phones, in all of our pockets, in our children’s bedrooms. It looks as professional and as believable, as something from the BBC or from CNN. All you need is a Facebook page or a Twitter account or an Instagram account and there it is. So these ideas spread and what we’re hearing from teachers in schools is that increasingly their students are bringing in material that they found on the internet, that they do not have the critical powers to assess and to challenge and to debunk.
And increasingly teachers are having to argue against conspiracy theories in the classroom. So this is a new problem. We hear a lot about fake news nowadays. People talk about fake news and post truth politics all the time. Of course antisemitism is the original fake news. Antisemitism has always relied on lies and libels and myths about Jews that unscrupulous, political and religious leaders have used to mobilize their own supporters or to whip up a mob.
George Orwell, one of the great British political writers, wrote a famous essay on antisemitism in 1945 where he wrote words to the effect that one of the striking things about antisemitism is that you have to be able to believe things that could not possibly be true. So conspiracy theories, antisemitism, what is now being called ‘fake news’, they all live together in a world and it’s given a new lease of life to some quite nasty antisemitic ideas. Holocaust Denial, for example, has really failed as a political project. It’s something that Neo-Nazis tried 20, 25 years ago to use to revive National Socialism. No one bought it.
But in the conspiracy world where you’re not supposed to believe any official story about anything; you shouldn’t believe anything that any establishment authority tells you, Holocaust denial has a home and it has a home alongside conspiracy theories about 9/11, or about the July 7th tube bombings here in Britain, or about the moon landings, or about Princess Diana’s death. And all these things just fit into this mix together. And the old barriers between what is Far- left and what is Far-right, what is fascist and what is anti-fascist get completely blurred and broken down because you get the same conspiracy theories in all different parts of the political spectrum.
And as ever, as I said, when conspiracy theories are the main way of understanding politics and of viewing the world antisemitism will always have not just a place but a central place. The central place antisemitism holds in the conspiratorial worldview today is clearly exemplified in a wide range of outlandish claims and accusations, depicting global Jewish and Zionist power and influence, many taking their cue from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. “The Jews” and “Zionists” are accused of standing behind the 9/11 attacks, the July 7th 2005 London bombings, the November 2015 Paris attacks, the war in Syria, and various other wars and terror attacks.
It is even claimed that ISIS was created as part of an Israeli plot, and that it is still funded by an Israeli-American alliance. Other conspiracy theories have also blamed the Jews and Zionists for the 2008 Financial Crisis, for the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and for many more disasters affecting our world today.

Dr. Dave Rich

No discussion of contemporary antisemitism can be complete without examining its deeply conspiratorial character. Throughout the course we’ve seen how myths involving Jewish control and power have come to surface again and again, leading, at times, to disastrous results. Let us further examine the place these conspiracy theories hold in contemporary antisemitism.

What place do conspiracy theories hold in the way antisemitism is expressed today?


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  • Byford, Jovan, Conspiracy Theories: A Critical Introduction (New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

  • Kaplan, Jeffrey, “Real Paranoids Have Real Enemies: The Genesis of the Zog Discourse in the American National Socialist Subculture,” in Catherine Wessinger, ed., Millennialism, Persecution, and Violence: Historical Cases (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2000).

  • Laqueur, Walter, The Changing Face of Antisemitism: From Ancient Times to the Present Day (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).

  • Webman, Esther, ed., The Global Impact of ‘the Protocols of the Elders of Zion’: A Century-Old Myth (Oxon : Routledge, 2011).

  • Weitzman, Mark, “Globalization, Conspiracy Theory, and the Shoah,” in Robert Wistrich, ed., Holocaust Denial: The Politics of Perfidy (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012), pp. 195 – 211.

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Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present

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