The Big Lie Lives On


I shouldn’t have to write this column.

It is demeaning, 65 years after the fall of Nazi Germany, to acknowledge that Joseph Goebel’s Big Lie theory — that if you repeat a falsehood aggressively, and often enough, people will believe it — still holds true.

But when I look at the persistent, illogical and hateful charges against Israel in the Arab world and the international community, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

On “The Colbert Report” the other night, the “newsman” host reported on the increase of shark attacks in Egyptian waters lately and cited a quote from the regional governor of Sharm el Sheikh, who said reports of the Israeli Mossad being responsible for placing deadly sharks in the Red Sea to hurt Egyptian tourism “needs time to be confirmed.”

Observed Colbert in his most sinister voice: “The sharks may not be acting alone.”

Asserting that he tries not to spread international Zionist conspiracies, he added: “Israel working with sharks? It makes too much sense.”

The audience roared.

They “got” how ridiculous such charges are. And when Colbert cited “the old stereotype that Jews control the tides,” and showed a clip of a young Steven Spielberg directing a scene from “Jaws” to “prove” that “Jews and sharks have teamed up before,” the laughter grew louder.

Colbert’s closing kicker: “In Egypt, the movie was released as… ‘JEWS’!”

Good satire, but it works because the audience knows how ludicrous the accusations are.

But what about the majority of the world, when the United Nations portrays Israel as the worst human rights violator on earth, and spends more time issuing resolutions against the Jewish state than any other country?

The executive board of UNESCO recently claimed that Rachel’s Tomb is really a mosque, and always has been, consistent with the widespread belief in the Arab world that the Jews have no historical ties to the land we call Israel and they call Palestine.

Far more dangerous is the persistent demonization of Jews by powerful Muslim clerics as inhuman, pigs, the devil, etc. And then there are the textbooks still used in the Arab world that depict Jews in the same way, as deserving of death.

(It should be noted there are Jews who view all Muslims as bent on world domination and all Arabs as filled with irrational hatred of Jews. But the incitement on the Arab side is far more mainstream and acceptable.)

There is no “news hook” to this column. There is nothing new to report regarding these outrages. They have been consistent for a very long time, including, it should be noted, throughout the more hopeful “Oslo years” when there was a sense of progress being made toward resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

But too many of us ignored the persistent anti-Semitism, leading with our hearts rather than our heads in convincing ourselves negotiations would lead to acceptance on a human as well as national level.

Let me be clear: This is not an argument against seeking further negotiations with the Palestinian Authority because of the seemingly utter futility of such exercises. I believe we have no other choice than to tackle the issues face to face, and that a two-state solution is in Israel’s interest. The alternatives, as I see it, are a Jewish apartheid state, or a one-state solution that gives the Arabs a victory over Zionism through demography, without resorting to violence.

So Israel needs to pursue talks as if its very future as a Jewish democratic state rests on the outcome, because it does.

But the question remains: Does the media, including much of the Jewish media and this newspaper — under-report these examples of Arab intolerance, if not hatred? After all, we know that they are not only racist and immoral but completely without truth.

One argument is that the steady drumbeat of lies diminishes in news value the longer they go on. What’s new to report about Arabs blaming Jews for the 9/11 attacks or for having a hand in all wars (see the Hamas Charter)?

The inference is that it’s a given that Arabs are anti-Semitic. But then how to explain the increasing traction in sophisticated European countries like France and England of the delegitimization campaign against Israel’s right to exist, more than 60 years after statehood?

Should we be publishing front-page stories of fresh examples of anti-Semitism each week? To ignore these repugnant episodes may be hiding our head in the sand; to offer a steady diet of them seems to encourage a sense of anger and intransigence, if not hatred of Arabs, in our own community.

Is the proper question for a journalist to ask, “What’s new?” or “What’s true?”

I don’t have the answer, but as the anti-Israel campaigns spread from the Arab world to Europe and from imams to university classrooms, it’s time to revisit our response, or lack of it, with a renewed sense of urgency.


was editor and publisher of The Jewish Week from 1993 to 2019. Follow him at