From ‘Sam Bacil’ to Dan Senor, the conspiracy lives

On the morning of September 12, Sam Bacile – an Israeli-American filmmaker and real-estate developer based in California – had gone into hiding. His movie, “The Innocence of Muslims,” had sparked assaults on United States embassies and consulates in Cairo and Benghazi. The two-hour film was reported to have cost $5 million to produce, and was funded by donations from more than 100 Jewish donors. A gentleman called Steve Klein had come forward as one of the movie’s producers.

By the time the Sunday papers went to print, this Judeo-façade had crumbled. Sam Bacile was in fact a 55-year-old Egyptian immigrant by the name of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a Coptic Christian with a sizable criminal record. “The Innocence for Muslims,” in the absence of a cabal of Jewish financiers, was produced by Media for Christ, run by another Egyptian Copt named Joseph Nassralla Abdelmasih. The $5 million the 100 donors were purported to have given over evidently never existed, given that the film was produced largely in front of a green screen using non-union actors.

Sam Bacile, better known as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (Screenshot: AP/CBS2-KCAL9)
Sam Bacile, better known as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (Screenshot: AP/CBS2-KCAL9)

Steve Klein was, as it turned out, a real existing person, a script consultant on the movie. However, he transpired to be a Christian fundamentalist, founder of both Courageous Christians United – which, the Associated Press reports, pickets abortion clinics, Mormon temples and mosques – and Concerned Citizens for the First Amendment, which preaches and publishes against Islam. The Sunday Times noted that he had hoped “Muslims would be drawn into cinemas, then tricked into watching an anti-Islamic diatribe that might lead then to question their faith”.

Thus, in time, the notion of a sinister plot was exposed as false, but the “Innocence of Muslims” saga demonstrated in an all too visceral and sanguinary manner that the idea of Jewish conspiracy is still very powerful. The myth was fashioned and propagated not by the Christian fundamentalists willing to create the phantom and cower behind it, but by the Islamist protesters prepared to believe it without evidence. The only thing appearing to unite these two groups battling over which revelation is the final and unalterable one is Jew-hatred.

Equally as concerning is that august news organizations including The Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal were willing to report the conspiracy as fact without doing a great deal to critique it. Zachary Novetsky wisely raised the point in Tablet that both “$5 million” and “100 Jewish donors” are suspiciously rounded figures. “For the journalists who spoke to ‘Sam Bacile,’” Novetsky queries, “did they bother asking… ‘Why did you stop at the 100th Jewish donor? Couldn’t find one more?’” Why indeed.

And these two journalistic institutions were not the only ones engaging in the perpetuation of old tropes, either. The New York Times lent its imprimatur to a column by Maureen Dowd, entitled “Neocons Slither Back,” in which she asserted the following concerning Rep. Paul Ryan’s speech to the Values Voter Summit last Friday:

Ryan was moving his mouth, but the voice was the neocon puppet master Dan Senor. The hawkish Romney adviser has been secunded to manage the running mate and graft a Manichaean worldview onto the foreign affairs neophyte.

Quite clearly, Dowd’s offense is not as serious as those who conceived the Jewish donor myth, but her insinuation is no less insidious. Once more, mysterious, secretive, and extremely influential Jews are pulling the strings of America’s unthinking WASPish leadership, manipulating United States foreign policy in favor of Israel in the process. Whether she is aware of it or not, Dowd’s tone is not all too dissimilar to those who suggested that Paul Wolfowitz was conducting a kind of shadow presidency during the Bush administration, dictating government policy and orchestrating the liberation of Iraq.

Mysterious, secretive, and extremely influential? Dan Senor (photo credit: courtesy)
Mysterious, secretive, and extremely influential? Dan Senor (photo credit: courtesy)

As with the tale of Sam Bacile, Dowd’s assertions are also profoundly false. During his time in Congress, Ryan displayed a wont for a “muscular foreign policy” and “a disdain for weakness and diplomacy” – to use Dowd’s terminology – when he voted in favor of the use of force against Saddam Hussein in 2002, and the troop surge into the Iraq theater in 2007.

Senor, meanwhile, as Ira Stoll has noted, while being hawkish is not viewed by neoconservatives as one of them but more of a “Kissingerian realist.” Senor was spokesman for Paul Bremer during his shambolic and destructive reign as imperator of post-liberation Iraq. Neoconservatives believed then that Bremer “was trying to run Iraq as proconsul when he should have more quickly turned things over to Iraqis like Ahmed Chalabi,” Stoll recounts — a view Senor rebuffed in The Washington Post.

Then again, such falsehoods and suppositions are exactly the point, for when has the dissemination of Jewish conspiracy ever been a fact-based enterprise? Dowd’s use of language represents a minor slip, it must be hoped; yet it is representative of a wider problem emblematic in the fabrication of Sam Bacile. The image of sinister and surreptitious Jewish activity has not gone and will not go away, for it is still in some quarters alarmingly believable and, as the immolated Israeli flags in cities from London to Tehran show, remains a very effective means of whipping up resentment, mobilizing mobs, and instigating violence.

About the Author
Liam Hoare, a freelance writer on politics and literature, has written for The Atlantic, The Forward, and The Daily Beast