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Wild Rumors As News in the Arab World

During the horrible fighting in Bosnia in 1995,the Onion proposed that the US should send vowels to that country. “For six years, we have stood by while names like Ygrjvslhv and Tzlynhr and Glrm have been horribly butchered by millions around the world,” said the satiric paper, channeling President Clinton. “It is time the people of Bosnia finally had some vowels in their incomprehensible words.”

In a like spirit of laughing through our tears I propose to send something to the Arab world: epistemology. In Arab news media—print, broadcast, and cybernetic—you can say almost anything you want, and people will believe it, so long as it pertains to Jews. 

The Hudson Institute’s brilliant Egyptian scholar, Samuel Tadros, compiled some current Jew-fantasies from the mainstream press of his country. It turns out that general-turned-president Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi is a Jew, meaning that “Egypt is now under Zionist occupation,” according to a Muslim Brotherhood-linked newspaper. Sisi’s predecessor, the interim president Adly Mansour, was also a Jew—according to the Brotherhood’s website.

In Egypt’s political brawls such allegations fly in all directions. As military spokesmen would have it, it is not their camp but that of the Brotherhood that is filled with covert Jews. Indeed, the Brotherhood’s founder, Hassan al-Banna, it is said, was himself a secret Jew. A retired general confirmed this to the leading government daily, Al Ahram, explaining, as paraphrased by Tadros, “that establishing the Brotherhood was part of a Jewish conspiracy to create disorder among Muslims and divide Egypt so that Jews can occupy it.”

Now, however, the Egyptians have been outdone in the contest for zaniest Jew-theory. According to an angry and anguished essay on the website of Al-Arabiya by its outstanding Washington bureau chief, Hisham Melham, a new conspiracy theory has been published by the Lebanese daily An Nahar purporting that no less a figure than Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-declared “caliph” of “Muslims everywhere,” i.e., the head of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS), is in truth an Israeli Mossad agent named Shimon Eilot. Is there such an individual? Google the name and all you get are countless repetitions of the Eilot/Baghdadi, Mossad/IS story. It’s already viral. But there it was in print in An Nahar, the respected paper sometimes called the New York Times of Lebanon, the Arab world’s most Westernized, sophisticated country.

We had heard ad nauseam that 9/11 was actually perpetrated by the Mossad and that 4,000 Jews were warned not to show up for work at the World Trade Towers that day, but only at the very fringes of that belief-world was it suggested that al-Qaeda was a Jewish organization. Today’s theory goes further: IS itself is a Jewish conspiracy, and its caliphate aims to occupy the world on behalf of Zionism.

Laugh or cry, the question this presents is this: How big an impediment to policy and diplomacy is the Arab world’s grievous lack of reality-testing? And, especially, how big an obstacle to peace between Israel and the Arabs is created by the fact that Jews play such an outsized and malign role in the imaginary universe that occupies the thoughts of so many Arabs?

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