A new anti-Semitic conspiracy theory has been spreading online over the last few days, claiming that on the eve of Lehman Brothers' collapse last month, the firm transferred $400 billion to Israel.

The theory, which comes in the form of a news report, has already been distributed on dozens of anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli sites. It alleges that senior Jewish officials at the Lehman Brothers investment bank passed their clients' money on to three Israeli banks, with the intention of then escaping to Israel to enjoy the take without fear of extradition.

Since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which was founded in the United States by Jewish immigrants from Germany in 1850, Web forums and comment pages have been flooded with anti-Semitic comments accusing Jews of causing the global economic crisis and branding them the greatest beneficiaries of the disaster. Such statements are especially common on clearly racist sites, but can also be found on more popular mainstream sites.

The Anti-Defamation League in the U.S. and other international bodies monitoring anti-Semitism have documented hundreds of such cases in the past two weeks.

A number of Islamic organizations, including Hamas in Gaza - which called the economic crisis America's punishment for its bad deeds - have joined the chorus and accused the Jewish lobby of causing the crisis.

But the allegation of the transfer of $400 billion of Lehman Brothers' cash to Israel is much more focused. The story making the rounds was written as if it were a news report from Washington, and has a byline of the "Voice of the White House." The story names three Israeli banks that allegedly received the money, explains in detail Israel's extradition laws and bank-secrecy act, and charges American law-enforcement authorities of having knowledge of the transfer. It also cites excerpts from a real story that appeared on the Bloomberg economic news service wire about estimated losses of $400 billion in the brokerage division of the investment bank.

The "story" first appeared a week ago on the Web site of Jeff Rense, a former journalist who has published numerous conspiracy theories involving Jews, Israel and the American administration.

Since then, it has been picked up and posted on dozens of sites and anti-Semitic blogs. Surfers who read it tried to copy it to more respectable forums and comment pages such as The Huffington Post in the U.S. and The Independent in Britain.

The conspiracy theory is reminiscent of past allegations about Jews, ranging from the czarist-era "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" to the widely circulated libel that the Israeli Mossad knew in advance about the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and warned all of the complex's Jewish employees not to come to work that morning.