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Conspiracy Theorists Blame Paris Attack on Israel

Online, many were quick to pin Charlie Hebdo massacre on the Jews

Yair Rosenberg
January 12, 2015
People hold a vigil at the Place de la Republique (Republic Square) for victims of yesterday's terrorist attack, on January 8, 2015 in Paris, France. (Getty Images)
People hold a vigil at the Place de la Republique (Republic Square) for victims of yesterday's terrorist attack, on January 8, 2015 in Paris, France. (Getty Images)

Just a few hours after the massacre at the offices of satirical French paper Charlie Hebdo, members of the far-right and far-left in Europe and America quickly decided who was responsible: the Mossad. Writing on her Facebook page, Greta Berlin, organizer of the 2010 Gaza flotilla and co-founder of the Free Gaza movement, argued that the attack was Israeli retribution for France’s recognition of a Palestinian state:

Berlin has a long record of promoting Holocaust denial and other anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about the Jews, to the extent that she has been ostracized even by some in the Palestinian solidarity movement that she once captained. But she wasn’t the only flotilla leader and Free Gaza founder to attempt to pin the Paris murders on the Jews. Mary Hughes-Thompson, an activist who remains in good standing, used her Twitter feed to cast suspicion on the Jewish state, using the hashtag #JSIL, an epithet coined to liken Israel to the Islamic State:

#Hebdo killings indefensible. Can’t help thinking #JSIL Mossad false flag though. Killers spoke with perfect French accents. Time will tell.

— Mary Hughes-Thompson (@Mariapalestina) January 7, 2015

“Bibi is furious over French vote for Palestinian state. What better way to get even?” a later Hughes-Thompson tweet read.

The Free Gaza movement of Berlin and Hughes-Thompson boasts endorsements from Archbishop Desmond Tutu and MIT professor Noam Chomsky, even as prominent commentators have called for Tutu in particular to disassociate himself from the movement since Berlin’s anti-Semitism came to light.

Meanwhile, the same conspiracy theories about the Charlie Hebdo killings began circulating in other popular radical forums. Anonymous Kollektiv, a German spin-off of the online hacking group, told its more than 660,000 Facebook followers that “The precision with which the perpetrators acted brings to mind Mossad hit squads from the recent past,” and offered evidence of a joint CIA-Mossad “false flag” operation. In case this wasn’t clear enough, Anonymous then posted a picture of a smiling Benjamin Netanyahu, alongside a quotation of him criticizing France’s recognition of Palestine.

The idea that Israel carried out the massacre became so widespread that it was picked up by a more reputable publication, the International Business Times, which gave a respectful airing to the possibility in a piece titled “Charlie Hebdo Attack and Mossad Link: Is Israel Venting Its Fury For France’s Recognition of Palestine State?” After public outcry from readers and journalists, the article was taken down and replaced with a forthright apology deeming the piece “beneath our standards” and a “basic lapse in judgement.”

But although serious publications are unlikely to promulgate the story in the future, such anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are unlikely to die down anytime soon. Indeed, even after the deadly Friday attack on the kosher supermarket in Paris, none of the sources mentioned above retracted their accusations against the Jewish state. In the end, for the bigot, the point is not to plausibly explain events, but to impugn the object of one’s hateful obsession.

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.