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Antisemitism’s New Converts

The rhetoric of the past month has primed countless Americans to accept bin Laden’s worldview, which is that “the creation of Israel is a crime which must be erased.”
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November 21, 2023
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A year after the attacks on September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden, the late leader of Al-Qaida, sent a message to his victims purporting to explain his motives. Two decades later, his message is going viral on TikTok as stunned young people gawp at the camera and recommend the letter to their thousands of followers.

“Everyone should read it,” reports one user.

“I will never look at life the same,” says another.

“He was right,” says a third. 

There are a few lessons we should draw from this trend.

Number One: it is increasingly impossible to state that the internet has done anything good for us as a society — at least not anything good enough to offset the tremendous harm it has wrought on our culture, our mental health, our politics, and our families. Osama bin Laden becoming a folk hero on a Chinese spy app that is systematically melting American brains should be all the confirmation we need of this fact. 

Number Two: Anti-Zionism and Anti-Americanism are intimately connected, both in the minds of American progressives and within terrorist organizations themselves. That said, anti-Zionism will always be more dangerous to Jews than anti-Americanism is to Americans, because no one in the West is seriously calling for the dismantling of America the way people call for the dismantling and the destruction of Israel.

Moreover, while America is obviously the mightier and the more influential country, Israel draws disproportionate ire. Bin Laden’s letter, despite being addressed “to America” displays an obsession with Israel and the Jews, which is no doubt the reason why American progressives, who are equally obsessed with hating Israel, have embraced it. 

“Why are we fighting and opposing you?” bin Laden asks. “Because you attacked us and continue to attack us. You attacked us in Palestine … It brings us both laughter and tears to see that you have not yet tired of repeating your fabricated lies that the Jews have a historical right to Palestine, as it was promised to them in the Torah. Anyone who disputes with them on this alleged fact is accused of anti-semitism. This is one of the most fallacious, widely-circulated fabrications in history.”

The letter goes on: “the Jews have taken control of your economy, through which they have then taken control of your media, and now control all aspects of your life making you their servants and achieving their aims at your expense; precisely what Benjamin Franklin warned you against.”

Take a minute to let this sink in. This antisemitic screed is the very thing “opening the eyes” of seemingly normal young people on TikTok. They report crying and a sense of disorientation. They have woken up into a new world defined by a new truth. It is almost like a conversion narrative—but what exactly are they converting to? 

In the past month, an entire generation of Americans has been exposed to a wave of slander against Israel in particular and Jews in general. Israel has been accused of genocide for the crime of trying to defend itself against a jihadist terror organization. Israel has been accused of settler colonialism in the very land where Jewish history began. Israel has been demonized as a terror state in the wake of being hit by the third deadliest terror attack worldwide in the past 50 years. 

The rhetoric of the past month has primed countless Americans to accept bin Laden’s worldview, which is that “the creation of Israel is a crime which must be erased” and that “each and every person whose hands have become polluted in the contribution towards this crime must pay its price, and pay for it heavily.”

Antisemitism is both a hatred and a conspiracy theory. Because of this, the conversion moment takes the form of a sudden stroke of insight. 

Antisemitism is both a hatred and a conspiracy theory. Because of this, the conversion moment takes the form of a sudden stroke of insight. The new acolyte is convinced that they have peered behind the curtain. Now, all the pieces fall together, and all the various strands of world history converge on a single culprit: The Jew. 

We see this conspiratorial trope in Alice Walker’s infamous poem: “It Is Our (Frightful) Duty To Study The Talmud.” In the poem, Walker plays the role of a detective. She is confused by the cruelty of the Jews towards the Palestinians and so, eager for answers, she peers into the Talmud.

There she finds a vile manual for oppressing goyim and she realizes, with horror, that this story is much bigger than the Palestinians, who are only one “cruel example of what may be done with impunity, and without conscience, by a Chosen people.” Rather, there is “an ancient history of oppression.”

The people on TikTok are in the throes of a similar revelation. They are realizing that the problem with the Jews is bigger and more all-encompassing than they ever imagined.

Once seen, they believe, it cannot be unseen.

It is the same ancient hate that has chased us around the globe for millenia. 

Look into their faces. There is an exhilaration — the kind that comes from making a new and fascinating discovery. Of course, we Jews know that there is nothing new about it. It is the same ancient hate that has chased us around the globe for millenia. 

We also know where such thinking inevitably leads.


Matthew Schultz is a Jewish Journal columnist and rabbinical student at Hebrew College. He is the author of the essay collection “What Came Before” (Tupelo, 2020) and lives in Boston and Jerusalem.  

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