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July 29, 2019 5:20 am

An Iranian Lie Unfolds in the Spanish Media

avatar by Ben Cohen / JNS.org

Opinion

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech at the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, June 15, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Mukhtar Kholdorbekov / File.

JNS.orgAmid the profusion of commentary about the hostile attitudes towards the Jewish community found on certain parts of the American political left along with the British Labour Party, there was a useful piece of research on the same topic from a pro-Israel advocacy group in Spain that is worth taking note of.

In a report issued last week, ACOM, a pro-Israel advocacy group based in Madrid, laid bare the anatomy of a very ugly conspiracy theory that has been spreading in the media and in online exchanges — one that contains all the usual tropes about sinister, unaccountable Jewish power, and yet one that has become a rallying cry for a significant element of the Spanish left.

Just as the Al-Qaeda atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001 gave rise to the “truther” movement with its various “Mossad false flag” allegations, so has the attack in Barcelona of Aug. 17, 2017, in which 13 people were killed and more than 100 wounded when a truck driven by an Islamist terrorist rammed into pedestrians congregating along the city’s much-loved La Rambla boulevard. A few hours after that massacre, one woman was stabbed to death and six other people were wounded in knife attacks carried out by a group of Islamists in the nearby town of Cambrils. Both these attacks took place in the midst of the campaign to secure the independence of Catalonia, the region of Spain where Barcelona is located, in a referendum that took place on Oct. 1 the same year.

According to the ACOM report, the left-wing Catalan newspaper Público is now pushing a distinctly revisionist account of these events through a series of four reports it published earlier this month. As ACOM pointed out — and as is so often the case with conspiracy theories — despite being billed as an “exclusive,” most of the claims the series contained had already been passed around the Internet two years ago and largely faded.

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In essence, the conspiracy theory holds that the Spanish security services, eager to overrule their Catalan subordinates, colluded with the Islamist terrorist cell that planned the attacks, and that the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, executed the attack on the Rambla by remotely controlling the truck from an operational base thousands of miles away in Richmond, Virginia. The Mossad, of course, has been accused by conspiracy-mongers of doing much the same in Islamist terror attacks in Paris, Cairo, Mumbai, Damascus, and all points in between; the destinations may change, but the template is basically the same.

Again, as with most conspiracy theories, the Catalonia one is camouflaged by plausible questions, in this case concerning the exact relationship between the CNI, Spain’s national intelligence service, and Abdelbaki Es Satty, a Moroccan imam who led the cell behind the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils. The night before those attacks, Es Satty, an individual whose Islamist connections stretched back more than a decade, was accidentally killed in the coastal town of Alcanar by explosives that he evidently mishandled.

While these threads and more would present a genuine investigative journalist with an enormous range of questions to probe, for conspiracy theorists any ambiguities are a propaganda gift, enabling the spread of the most outlandish conclusions irrespective of actual evidence.

In the example studied by ACOM — the four-part series in Público — the writer in question, Carlos Enrique Bayo, is already a known purveyor of baseless conspiracy theories. One week after the Catalonia attacks, Bayo published a breathless “exclusive” claiming that a private intelligence company fronting for the CIA had been in contact with the Islamist cell in Catalonia in the days leading up to the terrorist attacks. The “note” he based his report on was later exposed as a fabrication, replete with the basic spelling mistakes that gave it away.

As the old English proverb has it that there are none so blind as those who will not see, the reason Bayo fell for such a poorly executed hoax is that he had already arrived at his conclusions. Bayo, you see, believes that the true engineers of global suffering — “Goldman Sachs and the Wall Street banks” — are in “the hands of the Jews.” And he said exactly that in a panel discussion broadcast on HispanTV, an Iranian regime broadcaster that does for Spanish-speaking audiences what the Tehran-funded Holocaust deniers of PressTV do for English-speaking ones.

In the Público series, Bayo introduced a related theme, alleging that the Mossad was the ultimate author of the Catalonia attacks. The ACOM report highlights that this conclusion conveniently (rather too conveniently for any objective observer) dovetails with the pro-Iranian, pro-Catalan separatist political positions that Bayo pushes in the Catalan media.

Nowhere was that more evident than in the social-media posts that trumpeted Bayo’s series. “The Mossad exploded the chalet in Alcanar, and not to do us a favor, but because it is not good for their interests that the pseudo-Islamic terrorism appears more powerful than it is thanks to the Francoist regime” (i.e. the democratically elected government in Madrid), barked one typical commentary alongside the appropriate links.

 The most interesting part of the ACOM report focuses on the dissemination of Bayo’s conspiracy theory, particularly by the leadership of Podemos — a far-left political party that has enjoyed some success in elections and is presently dueling with Spain’s acting prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, as the possibility of a new election looms.

Among those presenting Bayo’s conclusions as the revelations of truth before the stony face of power was Pablo Iglesias, one of the founders of Podemos and the party’s secretary-general. Just as PressTV has used British left-wingers like George Galloway and Jeremy Corbyn as presenters, HispanTV does the same with Iglesias, who hosts two political talk shows on the channel, including the one in which Bayo, unchallenged, made his comments about Jewish bankers controlling the reins of global finance.

Though the ACOM report doesn’t note the irony, the core elements of this story can be traced back not to some windowless operations room in Tel Aviv (or Virginia), but to Tehran. For nearly a decade, Iran has pushed the falsehood that ISIS and other Sunni Islamist death squads are a “Zionist” creation intended to deliberately create havoc in the Muslim world. Thanks to ACOM, we now have a much clearer sense of how this lie has been adapted to fit the Spanish context.

Ben Cohen is a New York City-based journalist and author who writes a weekly column on Jewish and international affairs for JNS.

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