In 1979, a symposium was organized in Jerusalem by the Jonathan Institute, headed by one Benjamin Netanyahu. Influential political leaders from across the world were invited to Jerusalem to discuss “terrorism” as the new global threat. Netanyahu had founded the Jonathan Institute, “a private foundation dedicated to the study of terrorism,” in 1977, and named after his late brother.
The 1979 conference was the Jonathan Institute’s first foray into trying to shape the definition of “terrorism” to serve Israeli interests, and among those who came to get their instructions were George H.W. Bush (Bush Sr.) and several high-level European officials. Richard Pipes, father of the notorious Islamophobe Daniel Pipes, was also in the crowd.
There was little effort at this first conference to start the mental gymnastics of stringing together Islam and terrorism. While many speakers denigrated Palestinians and Arabs, there was only one overt mention of “Islamic terrorism.” However, in 1984, a follow-up conference was organized, this time in Washington, DC. Many scholars have argued that this is where the Islamophobia project as we know it today was launched.
This time, the crafty Netanyahu said in his opening remarks that modern terrorism had its roots in “communist totalitarianism and Islamic (and Arab) radicalism.” The success in 1979 of the Islamic Revolution in Iran had certainly convinced this cult, in the five years since the previous conference, to speed up their process of conjuring up the Muslim boogeyman. To do this, they sought the help of the orientalist so-called scholars Bernard Lewis and Elie Kedourie. These two helpfully explained that to claim the existence of “Christian terrorism” and “Jewish terrorism” was inappropriate, but “Muslim terrorism” was certainly real because “Islam is a political religion” and “Muhammad founded a state and governed it.”
The 1984 conference made it clear that the US would lead in defining and dismantling “Islamic terrorism” around the world. But it is important to remember where this entire initiative began. As scholars such as Deepa Kumar have suggested, Israel had started to realize by the mid-1970s that the best way to sustain and justify its inhumane treatment of Palestinians was to use the smokescreen of a global Islamic threat. “By the late-1980s and the early-1990s it did, therefore, appear as if Israel was locked into an overarching battle with the Islamic world,” wrote Fred Halliday in his Islam and the Myth of Confrontation. Israel’s key weapon in this battle was misinformation about Islam and Muslims — the fuel for Islamophobia — and its key objective was (and is) to keep the winds of public opinion in the West blowing in Israel’s favour.
The results have been spectacular. According to Sarah Marusek of the University of Leeds, of the 60 known leading US charities or foundations that fund the Islamophobia industry, the data clearly indicates that 45 of these also finance organizations that directly support Israel’s colonization of Palestine (particularly by funding Zionist colonies), generously giving almost $169 million just between 2009 and 2013.
As discussed in the previous article in this Crescent series on Islamophobia, Zionists have thus been some of the leading funders of the Islamophobia industry. But before returning to our effort to familiarize ourselves with some of the sickening people involved in this game, let us turn to one very important component of it: the sayanim.
The Hebrew word sayanim (sing. sayan) refers to “helpers.” These are Zionists who do not necessarily have the means to fund Islamophobia on a large scale, but have achieved influential positions in US, Canadian, and European societies from which they can support the Islamophobia industry, especially when they cooperate among themselves. As the pro-Palestinian activist Paul Larudee has explained, “for example, friendly journalists can work with lobbyists and others to quickly and massively spread influence, information, analysis, and disinformation that are useful to Israel.”
And as Telegraph reporter Gordon Thomas has written about their role in Israel’s assassinations, “In practical terms, a sayan who runs a car rental agency will provide [the assassin] with a vehicle on a no-questions basis. An estate agent sayan will provide a building for surveillance. A bank manager sayan will provide funds at any time of day or night, and a sayan doctor provides medical assistance.”
Larudee notes that “that there are as many as 4,000 sayanim in each of the major centers of power and influence, such as London and New York. A concentration of sayanim in important sectors of society that inform the public, such as film, entertainment, journalism, education and social media permits them to help shape public opinion.” These “helpers” thus run the “Brand Israel” campaign, continuing to build a positive image of Israel through the media and, for good measure, demonizing and vilifying the Muslims.
A good example of the significant influence even non-donors can have on promoting Israeli interests is that of Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook. In 2016, Zuckerberg privately met with Netanyahu, and shortly afterward news broke that “the Israeli government and Zuckerberg have agreed to work together to determine how to tackle incitement on the social media network.” Zuckerberg even hired a long-time advisor of Netanyahu and former chief of staff at the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC to be in charge of censoring “fake news” on Facebook. The outrageous conflict of interest in this case was tossed out the window, and it was considered acceptable that the leading source of news for millions of people around the world should have a Zionist as a gatekeeper. Good luck to any positive stories about Palestinians, Arabs, or Muslims!
At the same time, the Israeli lobby tries to decriminalize Islamophobia anywhere it can. France is a good example. In France, you can be arrested for wearing a t-shirt that says “Free Palestine.” This is because “anti-Semitism,” as vaguely and manipulably defined there as it is anywhere else, is illegal, and can get you fined and jailed. However, Islamophobia is free speech, and therefore must be allowed.
The CRIF (the French equivalent of the Israeli lobby group AIPAC) maintains that “Islamophobia is not a form of racism” and that recognizing Islamophobia “would impede all criticism of Islam, such that the fundamental rights of [other] religions could not be respected.” Jacob Cohen, a French researcher, has written about the role of Israeli operatives and French Zionists in promoting Islamophobia in the country — but the only way he could get it published was presenting it as a work of fiction!
It should by now be clear that not only does the present-day Islamophobia industry have its origins in Zionist efforts to continue oppressing the Palestinian people, but that Zionists at all levels of society — not only those with enough money to fund the industry — are doing their part to keep the hate factory running. In the next article in this series, I will return my focus to the big funders of Islamophobia, but the “small fish” should never be ignored, especially because they are the ones against whose day-to-day efforts we are more likely to be effectively put down.