Whenever there is a terror attack, there is a small group of conspiracy theorists who inhabit dark regions of the internet that seek to blame Israel, just as Jews were blamed in the past for all manner of evils.
The Christchurch terror attack is no different, except that there have also been more mainstream voices spreading the pernicious lie at a time of heightened emotion.
The first mainstream New Zealand news agency to suggest that Israel was connected to the Christchurch massacre was Stuff irresponsibly sharing an Associated Press article with a provocative headline “Christchurch mosque attacks: Alleged gunman Brenton Tarrant visited Israel in 2016“.
It is in paragraph six that we learn “Also in late 2016, Tarrant visited Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia, where he stopped by historic battle sites, before travelling in Western Europe in 2017”. Yet the headline would suggest Israel is somehow special and there is comment from unnamed “Israeli officials” but no other nation’s officials are sought for comment.
While the AP article doesn’t explicitly suggest Israel had anything to do with the attack, the headline certainly implies so.
Another, more concerning and explicit connection was expressed by Ahmed Bhamji, Chair of Masjid e Umar in Mt Roskill, a mosque affiliated with FIANZ. At a rally in Auckland in front of around one thousand people and in a video that was seen more than 2,500 times, he said
“… I will not mince words. I stand here and I say I have a very, very strong suspicion that there is some group behind him and I am not afraid to say I feel Mossad is behind…”Ahmed Bhamji
To which a member of the crowd loudly replied “That’s true. Israel is behind this. That’s true.” There was no attempt by MC Joe Carolan to challenge these false and dangerous accusations and no audible challenge from the crowd.
Unbelievable that a community leader unashamedly blamed Israel for the Christchurch terror attack in front of 1k people, a crowd member loudly agreed, and there was no challenge to the conspiracy theory.
— David Cumin (@KiwiDaveC) March 25, 2019
In another act of irresponsible reporting, Stuff published the accusation made by Mr Bhamji in their report of the event as shown in the screenshot, before changing the text when challenged and admitting “…we agree that it was an unfounded allegation and problematic to report on.”
Bhamji was Chair of the FIANZ business committee in 2006 and he is an officer of the Muslim Council of Auckland Burial Society Incorporated. FIANZ have not responded to an IINZ request for comment and the Human Rights Commission is yet to respond also. Bhamji was also a Fijian parliamentarian and the youngest mayor in Fiji some years back.
Outside of New Zealand, The Other Women’s march co-founder, Jesse Rabinowitz, retweeted a message that linked the “American Jewish Establishment” to the Christchurch terror attack and a Brooklyn College rally in support of the Christchurch victims turned into a public call to kill Jews. And an Iranian state newspaper apparently interviewed a former CIA operative who claimed the Christchurch terror attack was a “false flag” and blamed “Zionists” for not only staging it but also for assassinating John F. Kennedy Junior.
Especially at times when emotions are high and various extremist groups are calling for violence, the spreading of unfounded allegations is dangerous and inflammatory. All of this at a time when the levels of antisemitism have been rising sharply across Europe, the USA, and Australia.
What makes the lies even more grotesque is the fact that the Israeli government sent messages of condolence to the victims and clearly condemned the terror. Furthermore, the New Zealand Jewish community sent representatives to Christchurch and are fundraising; the Pittsburgh synagogue, where another white supremacist murdered 11 congregants raised more than $50,000 to Christchurch victims; and there were many other acts of Jewish and Israeli solidarity with New Zealand, and the Muslim community in particular.
The comments made and the Stuff headline also breach the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism as they allege Israel committed a modern-day blood-libel and single out the Jewish state. It is sadly ironic that the hatred has been expressed at a time when so many are calling out exactly that. Is there a double standard when it comes to Jews?
UPDATE (26 March 21:00)
Newshub has investigated and report that the protest organisers and Mr Bhamji are unrepentant. In fact, Mr Bhamji doubled-down on his conspiracy theory and, remarkably, asked “why should the Jews be upset about it?”:
Newshub spoke to Love Aotearoa Hate Racism co-founder Joe Carolan, who said Bhamji was one speaker out of 30 and there were many different points of view at the event.
Newshub contacted Bhamji, who accused Newshub of singling him out.
“I made a statement, a lot of other people made statements,” he said.
He continued to defend his speech, saying we need an inquiry into where the gunman got his money from. He didn’t offer any proof to his speculation Mossad had given him it.
“Mossad is up to all these things,” he said. “When I talk about Mossad, why should the Jews be upset about it? Give me an answer?”