14 Dicembre 2023

Nuova teoria cospirativa anti-Israele: “Il Canale Ben Gurion”

The ‘Ben Gurion Canal’ : A new crazy anti-Israeli conspiracy theory

Jonas Hessenauer is a social scientist and researcher on antisemitism. He is currently working at the Tikvah Institute in Berlin on a study of German press coverage of Israel.

On 16 November 2023, it was reported that Osama Bin Laden’s ‘Letter to America’ had gone viral on TikTok. In reaction to these reports, TikTok intervened and deleted the clips concerning Bin Laden. However, this did not apply to thousands of other videos and postings that also spread antisemitism, disinformation and conspiracy myths about 7 October and its consequences. In fact, new antisemitic conspiracy myths are currently emerging online. Their establishment can be observed in real time. Yet, the social media platforms do not appear to be able or willing to stop or curb this development.

The unimaginable horror committed by Hamas on 7 October is no longer ‘just’ relativised or celebrated online. The same people, who initially cheered the slaughter of hundreds of innocent Israelis and glorified Islamist terror as a fight for freedom, now believe they can recognise a supposedly long-existing plan behind Israel’s military response to Hamas’ terror. You only have to ‘follow the money’ to discover the truth behind the events, claims an article on the website of the British organisation Middle East Monitor, which has links to Islamists, according to researcher Ehud Rosen. The actions of the Israeli Defence Forces in Gaza would by no means be about fighting Hamas because of 7 October, the article implies. Instead, this explanation would allegedly only serve to conceal the actual goals of Israel’s government.

The real objectives of Israel and the USA would be economic in nature: ‘Israel and the United States want the giant amounts of gas in Gaza, and to create a rival to China’s New Silk Road’, said the British-Syrian ‘journalist’ Richard Medhurst in a video that he published on X (formerly known as Twitter) on 27 October, and which has since been viewed over 1.6 million times. In the same clip, he relativises the Holocaust and demonises Israel, when he calls the Gaza Strip a ‘concentration camp run by the Israelis’. Medhurst also claims that the UK, the US, and Israel were responsible for the explosion in the port of Beirut (2020) as well as for blowing up the Nord-Stream-pipelines (2022). He expresses himself openly antisemitic, anti-American, and conspiracist in other videos too. His crude statements would not be so worrying if Medhurst did not reach a certain audience with his video clips. Over 300,000 people follow his account on X alone. On 1 November, he published another video on the alleged economic and geostrategic background of the current conflict. This video has almost reached one million views until now. He claims that Israel and the USA have been planning to build a canal – the ‘Ben Gurion Canal’ – for decades. The Gaza Strip is allegedly to be bombed and the Palestinians expelled in order to build this canal. This ‘is the last piece of the puzzle’, he says. ‘It will cement the American’s and Israel’s control of the world’s most important shipping lane, giving them total control of the maritime trade’.

References to the so called ‘Ben Gurion Canals’ can be found in many social media posts and on numerous websites. Egyptian MP Mostafa Bakry spread the conspiracy myth, as did influencer Celine Lilas Safadi, who currently lives in Dubai, in a video that she posted on 31 October. In it, she claims: ‘Israel wants to seize Gaza, annex the land, and take it over, so they can build their canal through it. And the US, the UK and France are all for that because it’s gonna make them a lot of money at the cost of millions of lives destroyed.’ Safadi’s video went viral. It has been viewed almost ten million times on Instagram and TikTok combined and has received over 500,000 likes in total. In the comments, her conspiracist explanations are almost universally described as eye-opening, instructive, and informative. Unlike Medhurst, who has long attracted attention for his anti-Israeli and terror-relativising statements, Safadi has so far primarily appeared as a model, fashion, and make-up influencer. Since 7 October, her social media posts have been dominated by anti-Israeli conspiracy myths.

The myth of the ‘Ben Gurion Canal’ goes back to an idea that was actually discussed in the United States in the 1960s but then very quickly rejected: The construction of a canal that would have connected the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea at Eilat, thus providing an alternative route to the Suez Canal. The concept paper from 1963 was classified for 30 years until it was released to the public in the 1990s. In 2021, it was mentioned again by a few Indian websites and YouTube channels. According to them, the canal is now at an advanced stage of planning or even under construction already. However, the ‘Ben Gurion Canal’-myth has only become more widespread since end of October 2023. It is unclear who started the current trend. In contrast to the original concept, it is now claimed that the canal will run right through the Gaza Strip. This is ‘a ‘good’ reason for Israel and the USA to remove Gaza from the world map’ [‘für Israel und die USA ein ‘guter’ Grund, Gaza von der Weltkarte verschwinden zu lassen’], according to the Swiss website Globalbridge.

That the construction of such a waterway would be a highly unrealistic and uneconomical project anyway, becomes clear as soon as you read the 1963 document. It would probably be the largest construction project of the present day. The canal was to measure over 250 km in length, and in some places, it would have to be dug up to 450 metres deep into the desert floor. As this would be too costly using conventional building methods, the author of the concept paper, Howard David MacCabee, suggested excavating the canal through the Negev desert using 520 nuclear detonations.

Unfortunately, it will hardly be possible to counter the allegations of people like Medhurst and Safadi with arguments and facts. After all, as Theodor Adorno wrote, ‘antisemitism is the rumour about the Jews’ [‘Antisemitismus ist das Gerücht über die Juden’]. Its irrationality makes it attractive for people to believe in. This shows the long history of antisemitism, its various manifestations, stereotypes, and myths that persist to this day. In fact, the conspiracy myth presented here – as is mostly the case with antisemitism targeted against Israel – is an actualisation of classic antisemitic motifs: The stereotype of ‘Jewish greed’ and the belief in an international Jewish conspiracy are projected onto Israel and paired with anti-Western resentments. Furthermore, the belief that Israel was behind the massacre of 7 October is an antisemitic form of victim blaming.

For many of the young people who currently believe in and spread the myth of the ‘Ben Gurion Canal’, the urge to stand on the supposedly right side of history against the ‘oppressor’ Israel is likely to play an important role. There is a real danger that they will be further radicalised by similar postings on social media if the platforms do not take stronger action against disinformation and antisemitism. Others already seem to have an entrenched antisemitic world view. Richard Medhurst, for example, makes no secret of his beliefs. He explicitly calls for the ‘axis of resistance’, by which he means the Arab states and terrorist organisations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, ‘to expel the American and Israeli colonisers from the Middle East’ – a call for the destruction of the Jewish state. The accompanying video has received over 18,000 likes so far.