That WikiLeaks impresario Julian Assange would feature as the latest contributor to the recent spate of anti-Semitic celebrity outbursts is hardly a bombshell. Last week, Ian Hislop, editor of London's satirical Private Eye, revealed details of an angry phone call he received from Assange after he published a story about WikiLeaks' collaboration with a notorious Holocaust denier (more on that in a moment ).
By daring to criticize WikiLeaks, Assange claimed, Private Eye was "part of a conspiracy led by the Guardian, which included journalist David Leigh, editor Alan Rusbridger and John Kampfner from Index on Censorship [an organization promoting press freedom] - all of whom 'are Jewish.'" (That Assange would accuse the Guardian of leading a Jewish conspiracy shows how little he knows about the British media.)
When Hislop pointed out that Rusbridger is not Jewish, Assange "insisted that he was 'sort of Jewish'" by virtue of his being married to a Jewish woman. After Hislop questioned whether Assange's intimations of a Jewish cabal out to destroy him would bear scrutiny, Assange declared, "Forget the Jewish thing."
Why quit while you're ahead?
To his legions of adoring followers, who see him as something of a saint, Assange's anti-Semitic tirade must have come as a shock. But to anyone following his career with a critical eye - never mind those possessing the most rudimentary understanding of the conspiratorial mind-set to which Assange adheres - this harangue was inevitable.
It certainly didn't surprise those of us who heard Assange opine last April at the Oslo Freedom Forum, an annual gathering of human rights activists in the Norwegian capital. There, he claimed that WikiLeaks had been "censored in all the rogues' gallery states, China, Iran and Israel," before making an explicit comparison between Guantanamo Bay and Auschwitz. Citing the moniker which hangs over the entrance of the American detention facility, "Honor Bound to Defend Freedom," Assange waxed incredulously, "The defense of freedom as a value is on the front of Guantanamo Bay! And I say that, as a perversion of the truth, that that slogan is worse than 'work brings freedom.'"
This sort of hyperbole is all too common on the anti-war left, but suffice it to say that a man who minimizes the Holocaust by likening a death camp where over a million people were gassed to a military prison which holds some 600 terrorist detainees is not the sort of person who should be offering lectures on the depredations of the American imperium.
Assange again revealed his true stripes when he made common cause with the Russian-born, Swedish-based Holocaust denier known by the alias "Israel Shamir." (Forgoing the mealy-mouthed equivocations of many deniers, who deny that they deny the Shoah, Shamir has forthrightly proclaimed that "it's every Muslim and Christian's duty to deny the Holocaust." )
Assange deputized Shamir to handle diplomatic cables concerning Russia and the post-Soviet states, and, according to the new book "WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange's Secret War on Secrecy," allowed him to satiate his appetite for documents concerning "the Jews." Last December, in the midst of a violent crackdown on pro-democracy activists in Belarus following a stolen presidential election (which I happened to witness ), Shamir met with regime officials. It was no coincidence when, two days later, dictator Alexander Lukashenko bragged to the international media that he was in possession of classified documents portraying his opposition as Western stooges.
Shamir has been nothing if not useful to Assange. When the latter was accused of sexually assaulting two Swedish women, Shamir wrote an article for an obscure, left-wing American website claiming that his associate had been the victim of "castrating feminists and secret services." Assange has attempted to downplay his association with Shamir, claiming that he only had a "brief interaction" with him. But former Assange second-in-command Daniel Domscheit-Berg recently told The Weekly Standard that the WikiLeaks head "sought out" Shamir, describing his work as "compelling."
Even if Assange had not compared Guantanamo to Auschwitz, or collaborated with a Holocaust denier, or alleged that a Jewish conspiracy was out to destroy him, chances are that his latent paranoia about Jewish power would have materialized in some other way. And that's because anti-Semitism is the by-product of a conspiratorial mind. It is the only type of bigotry that can be found around the world, even in places with few or no Jews. It has existed for millennia and will never go away because it serves a basic human need: to explain the world, albeit in a way that is both ignorant and often deadly in its consequences. Very rarely does one come across a person who believes the sorts of things that Assange does - that, for instance, a small, shadowy group of power brokers wage war on the third world for profit - who does not also subscribe to the conviction that a cabal of Jews manipulates the global media and financial markets for nefarious ends. Not all conspiracy theorists are anti-Semites. But all anti-Semites are conspiracy theorists.
Assange has denied Hislop's claims, so the least that can be said in his favor is that he feels sufficiently embarrassed by the imputation of anti-Semitism to deny the ugly words which have been attributed to him. It would indeed be easier to "forget the Jewish thing," however, if people like Julian Assange weren't so obsessed with continually stuffing it in our faces.
James Kirchick is writer at large with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty based in Prague and a contributing editor to The New Republic in Washington.