Conspiracy Theories and Palestinian Terror: Jonathan S. Tobin 11.21.2014

Israel is not only still reeling from the horror of a Palestinian terror attack on a Jerusalem synagogue earlier this week. Almost as shocking is the spectacle of hatred in Arab neighborhoods and cities in Jerusalem, the West Bank Gaza in which the two terrorists that hacked and shot four Jews praying and a Druze policeman are being treated as heroes. Yet the crime as well as the sometimes-violent demonstrations of glee and laudatory statements from Palestinian leaders about the murder of civilians has been largely treated in the Western media as just another unfortunate tit-for-tat between two warring peoples. Even worse, the motivation for terror attacks as well as the applause they generate is being represented as a function of Palestinian complaints about settlements, alleged discrimination or funding issues. But, as this report from the Times of Israel tracing the events of the last week shows, the explanations offered by the New York Times, to choose just the most egregious example of distorted coverage, are completely missing the madness that is driving the conflict.

As the Times of Israel reports, the genesis of the synagogue attack and its violent aftermath may have been fueled in no small part by false reports about the murder of a Palestinian bus driver. The man was found hanged in his bus and both Israeli and Palestinian coroners ruled that the death was obviously a suicide. But in the hothouse Palestinian rumor mill in which conspiracy theories about alleged Jewish atrocities are the coin of the realm, this, along with wild claims about Israeli “violation of women at al-Aksa” was enough to send two men into a synagogue to murder and untold thousands of their compatriots into the streets to support their crime.

This is a significant fact because Western journalists, such as the New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren, have been seeking to explain the atrocity and the support for it by linking it to critiques of Israeli policies about allowing Jews to move to parts of Jerusalem or municipal funding policies that may short change Arabs. I have already critiqued Rudoren’s reporting in terms of its misperceptions about what is negotiable in the conflict as well as her false claims of moral equivalence about attacks on houses of worship. Our Seth Mandel also touched on these issues as well as Rudoren’s claims that her critics are biased.

But the big picture here is not so much the poor performance of the Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief as it is the failure by her paper and most other mainstream publishing outlets to delve deeper into the real roots of Palestinian anger. By choosing to obsess over policy questions that dovetail with Obama administration complaints about Israel’s government, Rudoren ignored the mania of hate that seems to bubble up from the Palestinian street. That not only fails to explain what sends Palestinians out to slaughter Jews or to cheer such actions, it also demonstrates a lack of understanding as to why the conflict as a whole is so impervious to solutions.

If Palestinian leaders have consistently and repeatedly rejected Israeli peace offers throughout the last 15 years and, indeed, all chances at territorial compromise dating back to the 1930s, it is because their political culture is still driven by the same factors that led to the Har Nof massacre this week as well as the pogroms of 1929 and 1936 that were similarly motivated by false rumors about Jewish activity on the Temple Mount. It’s not just that Palestinians have had hatred for Jews driven into them by their leaders and media for a century, it’s that their view of the conflict is one that is rooted in belief that Jews are an enemy that must be driven from the land.

Israelis and their government are not perfect but the willingness of Palestinians to believe any tall tale about Jewish crimes has little to do with the Netanyahu government’s policies and everything to do with a variant of Jew hatred that has found a home in the Middle East in the last 100 years. While it is possible to talk about what Israel might do to appease their antagonists’ ambitions in order to promote peace, it is this virus of anti-Semitism that must be addressed if any Palestinian leader will ever have the courage to sign a peace deal with the Israelis that will recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn.

The lunacy that leads to blood-soaked bodies lying on a synagogue floor begins with this hate and paranoia that has driven itself deep into the psyche of the Palestinian imagination. It is the same psychosis that allows Palestinian Authority media and officials to promote conspiracy theories and praise terrorists. So long as even a supposed moderate such as PA leader Mahmoud Abbas can call a terrorist murderer a “martyr” who went straight to heaven, why should we be surprised that Jerusalem and West Bank Arabs think the Jews are raping Muslims on the Temple Mount or murdering bus drivers, even though these are imaginary crimes?

So long as mainstream media outlets ignore the truth about Palestinian politics and terror, it is also no surprise that their coverage of the conflict tells us more about their biases than anything happening on the ground.

Jonathan S. Tobin is senior online editor of COMMENTARY magazine and chief political blogger at He can be reached via e-mail at: Follow him on Twitter at TobinCommentary.