(RNS) Respected news outlets unwittingly sent a lie around the world on Sept.12: a Jew backed by 100 Jewish donors made a film insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammad.
Within a day, the lie unraveled. But the damage to the Jewish community had been done, and Jews will continue to suffer for it, say Jewish civil rights leaders.
“This is another blood libel that’s in place,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, referring to a history of conspiracy theories that has fueled anti-Semitism for centuries.
In much of the Muslim world, the myth persists that Jews made the film. The Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press initially reported that an Israeli-born California real estate agent named Sam Bacile and his Jewish backers made the crude video, which has sparked anti-American protests throughout the Middle East.
Signs and chants at these protests have also condemned Jews and Israel for the film, and Israeli flags have been burned. The Wiesenthal Center has collected editorials, sermons and cartoons from Lebanon to Saudi Arabia that decry Zionists with crude stereotypes of Jewish filmmakers.
A radical Islamic group that took responsibility for the Sept. 21 killing of an Israeli soldier later put out a statement that said it was motivated by the offensive film.
The Anti-Defamation League has also been tracking instances in which the video — reportedly the work of American Coptic Christian extremists — continues to be blamed on Jews.
ADL National Director Abraham Foxman noted that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday (Sept. 25), the night before he addressed the United Nations, blamed “Zionists” for the video.
For Foxman, it is the most recent lie that makes it easier for anti-Semites to justify the persecution of Jews. “Jews were blamed for the plagues, for communism, for fascism, when things go wrong, when things go well,” said Foxman. “Look how easily the lie that Israelis were responsible for 9/11 took hold.”
Polls taken years after 9/11 show that large minorities in several Muslim-majority countries believe Israel plotted the attacks.