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Every evening, Gili Shechter, who runs a conspiracy forum at the Internet portal NRG tinyurl.com/23ymce, presents, with admirable consistency, a list of earthquakes that have taken place around the world during the previous 24 hours. What is the connection between seismic waves in the depths of the Pacific Ocean and the other issues discussed on the forum? "Since 2002 there has been a rise of hundreds of percentage points in the number of earthquakes," Shechter responds easily, "but no one in Israel has studied this." She claims that earthquakes are connected to a large-scale magnetic change that will take place in 2012, or are triggered by atomic explosions.

The American Geological Institute says that the number of more powerful earthquakes has remained stable in recent years, but from Shechter's point of view, this is exactly where the conspiracy lies: "Academia is trying to claim that there is no increase, because the scientists are always trying to preserve their authority, and not reveal that they are not as smart as they seem," she says. "The goal of the daily posting is to prove that the trend exists."

A webmaster by profession, Shechter has been working for years to expose what she views as conspiracies, and also publishes a column on the subject on the Israeli web portal NRG. Her use and definition of the term "conspiracy" is quite broad - relating to affairs ranging from secret CIA operations to aliens hiding in dust motes, to the Moshe Katsav saga.

"I have the moral role of bringing information to the public," she explains. "Conspiracy is a secret act carried out illegally and immorally to promote the hidden agenda of an individual or an organization. It is part of reality, and it has existed everywhere since the dawn of history, but from the moment the Internet arrived on the scene, more people can get to the information. There has been a significant increase in awareness that things are not as they seem - that what is written in the newspaper is not necessarily true. People are beginning to open their eyes and say 'what's going on around here?'"

In the past, Israelis mainly identified the conspiratorial mindset with paranoid groups, some of them anti-Semitic, in the United States. Today, in no small measure thanks to the Web, you can find a group of determined people in Israel who believe that their government's institutions are headed by evil, secret, cosmopolitan networks. They don't see worldwide conspiracies as science fiction, but rather as reality.

A few weeks ago, the Israeli Web site Debkafile made headlines. It was not the first time, but in this case, the site published information from an apparently unsubstantiated source about a plan to carry out a radioactive attack in the heart of Manhattan, which led the New York City police to jack up its terror-alert status. Debkafile, which deals with subjects it defines as "security-related," is apparently the most popular of the "alternative" Web sites in Israel. These sites present a full spectrum of hair-raising plots, involving secrecy and frightening strategic developments, which almost never appear in the mainstream media.

While the theories appearing on Debkafile are usually extreme, they are much less so than those that can be found on other sites and forums of conspiracists that have been established in recent years, most of them with a right-wing orientation.

In the United States, conspiracists deal obsessively with the CIA and the FBI, which are presented as omnipotent, dark forces that pull the strings behind every affair. Some Israeli forums present the Shin Bet security service and the Mossad in this light. Thus, for example, in the Huyova conspiracy blog (tinyurl.com/2wmqv5), "inexact information" was publicized about an "order of knights" consisting of former intelligence operatives, which holds lavish meals where they "discuss matters of the highest spheres." One of the postings even "leaked" information about senior media and entertainment figures, who were ostensibly planted by spy organizations to follow singers who were influencing young people negatively vis-a-vis the establishment.

Role change

According to figures provided by the people running Huyova's blog, traffic on it has reached over 100,000 hits so far. One of the ugliest postings, warning of the clandestine and insidious transfer of Jewish blood donated by Israelis to the Palestinian Authority, had a link on the home page of the Tapuz communal blog/forum/chat and video site (www.tapuz.co.il). However, some postings from recent months hint that the site managers had to take down the blog for long periods of time because of harassment by the authorities. "Bloggers and surfers will not be silenced by threats of lawsuits and police files, confiscation of computers and raids," the last posting stated. In response to an e-mail, those running the blog claim they have suffered in the past from "unpleasant experiences" following their postings, and therefore, they wrote, "we prefer to remain anonymous, and we rather blur our identity."

In most cases, in fact, Israeli conspiracy theorists tend to be sympathetic to the security services. Shahaf Pilovich, who heads the forum Hasifat Mismakhim (literally "document exposure") on Rotter.net, and who is considered to be one of the country's senior conspiracy-theory researchers, went even further and recently invited Major General (res.) Amos Gilad, a senior Defense Ministry official, and the heads0 of the Shin Bet and Mossad to take over the government in a "velvet revolution." He claims that to save Israel from the traitors in its leadership, there must be a "tightening of the democratic belt," and "a process of temporary and essential rehabilitation of two to four years," during which the military would take responsibility for running of the state "without the High Court and with no preconditions." Pilovich refused a request to be interviewed for this article.

For a number of Israeli conspiracy theorists, one person who is seen to be working in devious ways, with a finger in every pie, is Shimon Peres - who is actually called "the prince of darkness" in some forums. People who are not familiar with the local scene may be surprised by the hair- raising crimes with which conspiracists have infused the president's biography. Some involve events that took place before he was born; others occurred in outer space. This collection of postings, on local blogs and in various forums, brings together an amazingly complex theory recalling a cross between the plot of a Dan Brown novel and the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

The most common version, to be found on Pilovich's Hasifat Mismakhim, is that Israel's disasters began with a meeting held at the end of the 18th century, when the secret order of Bavarian Illuminati decided to forge an alliance with the Baron de Rothschild to take control of the earth. The secret council they established has been behind every significant human development since that time, including the establishment of Israel.

Paradoxically, such theories, usually embraced by extreme right-wingers, are amazingly similar to anti-Semitic theories about "Jewish conspiracies" to take over the world. In the Israeli theories, the roles simply change: The Jewish state, according to this line of thinking, is actually working against the Jews, in the service of the "Council on Foreign Relations" - an evil group, headed by America's Rockefeller family, of which all U.S. presidents have been members.

In other theories, the secret council is controlled by the Jesuits or the Freemasons, who hold sway over the Knesset, the Supreme Court and Israel's Co-op supermarket chain (what is the "blue square" - part of the Co-op name and its logo - if not the symbol of a secret society, these conspiracists ask).

In a forum on Rotter.net (tinyurl.com/yogp9b), a regular poster writes that "the identity of the Freemasons in the leadership of the state is the key to understanding the goal for which the State of Israel was founded."

Whenever the issue comes up of the democratization of information that has been made possible by the Internet, these communities - with their conspiracy theories and dissemination of strange, sometimes terrifying rumors - should also be taken into consideration. The plans for a revolution that appear on the Hasifat Mismakhim forum show the dangerous political conclusions that can arise in such an atmosphere.

Nevertheless, as is the case with other bizarre phenomena on the Web, there is probably no efficient way to fight those who spread conspiracy theories, if only because every step taken against the individuals who spread them will be claimed as yet further proof of the claim that people with power are working to silence those who "reveal the truth."

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