How is anti-semitic sentiment connected to 9/11? Preliminary to this question, note that in every area of American culture, anti-semitism is submerged. Seventy-five to a hundred years ago, if you were white, male, heterosexual, and Protestant, you were set: a made man. If you were Jewish, or black, or Catholic, or Irish, or Italian, or gay, or female, you developed – consciously or otherwise – a means of interacting with the dominant, in group. When we come to a political crime like 9/11, a crime that occurs long after these socially calcified structures and prejudices have begun to break down, we see how the scum of anti-semitism floats to the surface in little colonies. Social trauma and fear seem to grant people leeway to voice animosities they would otherwise keep closeted. After the 9/11 attacks, we saw a rise in anti-Arab sentiment, loose fear easily converted to hate, and hate easily converted to fear.

When you look further into who committed these crimes, you needn’t look far before you encounter the word Zionist. That is the preferred term, substituted for Jew, Israeli, or any other label one might want to apply to suspected villains. One could be mistaken about this use of the word, but why would you choose that word when you make accusations about who was responsible for 9/11? If you want to identify a group in the twenty-first century, why choose a label that refers to a nineteenth-century movement to establish a Jewish homeland in the Middle East? You may as well call a Catholic a papist, when the subject of discussion has nothing to do with Rome, the Vatican, or the pope.

Without exception, people who raise the Zionist spectre when they write about 9/11 do so with one thing in mind: to place blame. They believe the crime grows out of a Jewish conspiracy. In that way, the parallel with the Reichstag fire of 1933, in Berlin, is telling. Germans wanted to blame the fire on the Jews and the Communists, their favorite bogeymen and international conspirators, even though they had no evidence for the charge. Similarly, some people here in the United States seem ready to blame a Zionist conspiracy for the events of 9/11, even though you can look carefully and find no solid evidence to support the accusation.

Let’s take one piece of evidence these generally nameless accusers bring forward to validate their idea that an international Zionist conspiracy lay behind the 9/11 attacks. The evidence cited is that Jewish office workers at the World Trade Center received messages – warnings – early on September 11 or the day before not to go to work. No one has produced a sample of one of these messages. No one has named one sender or recipient of such a message. Yet the rumor about the warning messages is out there. It doesn’t go away. When you run across it, you see that it tends to accompany other ugly innuendo.

Innuendo and rumors do not constitute satisfactory evidence. They are not evidence at all. Yet one wants to ask, what is the origin of a rumor like that? Who put it out there, and why? What purpose does it serve?

As a test of the anti-Zionist argument, let’s grant for the moment that the rumor is true. Jewish workers at the World Trade Center did receive messages early on September 11, warning them not to go to work that day. What would that signify? Would it signify that an international Jewish conspiracy planned to blow up the World Trade Center that day, in order to advance some unknown purpose? Under the principle of “anything’s possible,” I suppose you can’t rule that one out, though one could also say that given the provenance of this theory, we should not waste time with it.

The rumor about the warning messages, if true, has a more likely interpretation. Let’s say that World Trade Center workers actually did receive these messages, and that these warnings indicate insiders knew about 9/11 in advance. Who are insiders in this case? Intelligence agencies have access to inside information. That’s their business. What intelligence agencies have a close working relationship? The CIA and Israel’s Mossad share information all the time. If the CIA knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance, chances are good that people in Israel’s intelligence establishment knew about them as well. Intelligence agencies manage secret information, but they employ human beings, so they often leak. If the Mossad knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance, wouldn’t you expect that a single leak of that information would blossom into a series of warning messages to office workers?

Does that digital phone tree of messages give evidence of an international Zionist conspiracy behind the 9/11 attacks? Of course not. It means that inside information from the United States government made its way to some people’s cell phone shortly before the attacks. Normally that kind of leak is unremarkable, as they happen so frequently. In this case the leak, if it happened, indicates advance knowledge of a world-historic attack. That is significant. The lead does not, however, indicate that the attack resulted from a Zionist conspiracy. When you add that kind of trash to the mix, you’re likely to dismiss the rumor without even checking it out.

For 9/11, evidence of advance knowledge appears everywhere you look:

  • George W. Bush sits in the Florida classroom for so long after the first attack, when the Secret Service is supposed to protect the president when a threat like that occurs.
  • Air defense training exercise planned the morning of the attacks.
  • Suspension of all air defense standard procedures after the attacks were underway.
  • Numerous warnings ahead of time that higher-ups chose to ignore.
  • Higher-ups who failed to prevent the attacks rewarded and promoted rather than fired.
  • Osama bin Laden fingered immediately after the attacks, with no investigation to determine what actually happened.
  • Knowledge of the destruction of World Trade Center 7 is all over the place on the afternoon of September 11, well before it falls at 5:20 pm.
  • Advocacy for a new Pearl Harbor by key higher-ups in the Project for the New American Century.
  • Government carefully controls all information related to the crime, after it happens.

The warning messages to World Trade Center workers fit this larger pattern. Yet because the messages became grist for anti-Zionist conspiracy theories, independent researchers do not care to check them out. You would have to find only one message to substantiate the rumor. The message would show the sender, the recipient, and the date. If the NSA doesn’t have that metadata, then who does? Submit a Freedom of Information Act request to the NSA for those messages, and see how they respond.

This kidding reference to the NSA does highlight a difficulty with finding even one warning message. No sender or recipient wants to stand up and give names at this point: why take a chance like that? The feds have charged people under the Espionage Act for less. So if those warning messages do exist, they’ll likely remain hidden, the subject of rumor. Most of all, we should not think of them as evidence of a conspiracy. If they exist, they are evidence of advance knowledge of the attacks. That is valuable evidence to have.

To conclude, then, we have in the anti-Zionist charges a category error. Suppose you suspect the Mossad, Israel’s secret intelligence service, of being involved in 9/11. Suppose you have hints that the Mossad, along with parts of the United States government, collaborated in the crime. I would say, so what? We know Mossad agents commit crimes. They assassinate people, and engage in other secret activities. We have quite a bit of evidence that members of the Mossad undertake dirty work for the Israeli state. The problem is, they undertake these activities because they are members of a secret intelligence service, not because they are Jews. They serve the Israeli state, and in that role they act like other secret agents who serve their states. They do not commit crimes to serve an international Jewish conspiracy.

The anti-Zionists can readily say, “Yes, but the Israeli state is by definition Zionist, so it’s okay to use that label as we make our accusations.” Not so: if you have a problem with the Mossad, make your charges against that organization, and show the evidence. If you have a problem with the Israeli state, make your charges against Israel and its leaders. Show the evidence. When you make your charges against Zionists, you might as well accuse all Jews, given the label you have selected. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the infamously anti-semitic, fraudulent tract, serves as the source of the label in modern political discourse. When you use the word Zionist, you borrow from a long tradition of anti-Jewish propaganda, hatred, and agitation.

I hardly have to add that the scummy growth of anti-Zionist accusations on the surface of political discussions concerning 9/11 does no favor for people skeptical of the government’s account. Defenders of the official account look for any means to cast doubt on skeptics’ reasonableness. Defenders of the official account simply group skeptics with anti-Zionists, to discredit the whole lot. Moreover, anyone who wants to find the truth about 9/11 quickly runs into the anti-Zionist conspiracy theories. The individual asks, “What am I getting into here?” In that environment, the value of good evidence and sound reasoning increases.

We have to decide what to ignore, and where to concentrate effort. Close analysis of the 9/11 Commission’s report does not seem a good use of time. For surprisingly similar reasons, anti-Zionist conspiracy theories also waste our time. Both accounts ignore evidence, practice poor logic, and play to deep loyalties. These loyalties respond well to propaganda. As we evaluate various accounts and arguments, we ought to use our appreciation, even instinct for rationality to identify narratives that point toward the truth, and applaud analysts who care about the truth.

Anti-Zionist theories fall into the opposite category. They build on long established histories of suspicion and prejudice to make their case. They have no evidence of substance to underpin their accusations. Moreover, they cannot tell a story that makes any sense, or that is persuasive to anyone who looks for dispassionate reasoning in a complicated case like this one.