Thanks to Jerry Haber for bringing this article to my attention. Whenever I read such a story it brings to mind Robert Duvall’s gung ho U.S. cavalry officer in Apocalypse Now: “Oh how I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” Except in this case, the “napalm” is the smell of Walid Shoebat’s lies going up in smoke.
Shoebat is the darling of the neo-con, Israel First, Christian Zionist set who has claimed for years that he was a “PLO terrorist,” who converted from Islam to evangelical Christianity, and travels the world singing the praise of Israel’s maximalist claims to Judea and Samaria. He also denounces the Palestinians as terror-mad and Islam as a religion of violence and vengeance. He speaks to campus Hillels and any Jewish audience that will have him.
Now, the Jerusalem Post (yes, really the Jpost!) has blown the lid off Walid Shoebat or whoever he is:
Shoebat’s Web site says his is an assumed name, used to protect him from reprisal attacks by his former terror chiefs, whom he says have put a $10 million price on his head.
Shoebat is sometimes paid for his appearances, and he also solicits donations to a Walid Shoebat Foundation to help fund this work and to “fight for the Jewish people.”
The BBC, Fox News and CNN have all presented Shoebat as a terrorist turned peacemaker, interviewing him as someone uniquely capable of providing insight into the terrorist mindset.
Now he and two other former extremists are set to appear along with US Senator Joe Lieberman, Ambassador to the US Sallai Meridor and other notables at an annual “Christians United For Israel” conference in Washington in July.
The three “ex-terrorists” have appeared…most recently, at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado, in February, at a conference whose findings, the organizers said, would be circulated at the Pentagon and among members of Congress and other influential figures.
Last year, Shoebat spoke to the BattleCry Christian gathering in San Francisco, which drew a reported 22,000 evangelical teenagers to what the San Francisco Chronicle described as “a mix of pep rally, rock concert and church service.”
The paper described Shoebat as a self-proclaimed “former Islamic terrorist” who said that Islam was a “satanic cult” and who told the crowd how he eventually accepted Jesus into his heart.
However, Shoebat’s claim to have bombed Bank Leumi in Bethlehem is rejected by members of his family who still live in the area, and Bank Leumi says it has no record of such an attack ever taking place.
His relatives, members of the Shoebat family, are mystified by the notion of “Walid Shoebat” being an assumed name. And the Walid Shoebat Foundation’s working process is less than transparent, with Shoebat’s claim that it is registered as a charity in the state of Pennsylvania being denied by the Pennsylvania State Attorney’s Office.
Shoebat’s claim to have been a terrorist rests on his account of the purported bombing of Bank Leumi. But after checking its files, the bank said it had no record of an attack on its Bethlehem branch anywhere in the relevant 1977-79 period.
Shoebat told The Jerusalem Post that this could be because the bank building was robustly protected with steel and that the attack may have caused little damage.
Asked whether word of the bombing made the news at the time, he said, “I don’t know. I didn’t read the papers because I was in hiding for the next three days.” (In 2004, he had told Britain’s Sunday Telegraph: “I was terribly relieved when I heard on the news later that evening that no one had been hurt or killed by my bomb.”)
Shoebat could not immediately recall the year, or even the time of year, of the purported bombing when talking to the Post by phone from the US. After wavering, he finally settled for the summer of 1977.
The Sunday Telegraph described Shoebat as a man who “for much of his life… was eager to commit acts of terrorism for the sake of his soul and the Palestinian cause.”
In that interview he described how he and his peers were indoctrinated as children “to believe that the fires of hell were an ever-present reality. We were all terrified of burning in hell when we died… The teachers told us that the only way we could certainly avoid that fate was to die in a martyrdom operation – to die for Islam.”
But an uncle and a cousin of Shoebat, who still live in Beit Sahur in the Bethlehem area, where Shoebat grew up, said that Shoebat’s education was rather mild ideologically, and that religion did not play a dominant role.
The uncle, interviewed at his home, said he remembered little about his nephew, because Walid left for America at the age of 16, and because his American mother always kept a distance from the rest of the family. The uncle and his wife both said firmly that there was no attack on Bank Leumi.
When questioned on this discrepancy, Shoebat was adamant that he did carry out such a bombing, and that his relatives deny it to cover up for another cousin who was with him during the attack and still lives in Bethlehem.
Shoebat evinced no particular surprise that his family could be tracked down simply by asking Beit Sahur locals where they lived, even though his Internet site claims that his is an assumed name.
What’s especially ironic about this is that most con men conceal their identity and change their name to hide their tracks. In this case, Shoebat claimed his name was fake when it was genuine, a total reversal of the pattern. But almost everything else about him appears to be made up.
Yet another right-wing pro-Israel fantasist seeking grandeur on behalf of his cause. What is sad about this is that pro-Israel nationalists are so eager to find friends wherever they can that they don’t bother to test the credibility or moral code of those with whom they jump into bed. John Hagee is but another example of this problem though one can’t accuse him of fictionalizing his background.
I should add to the passage about their appearance at the Air Force Academy. Their talk was billed as being about Islamic terror when in reality they were there to advance their mission of evangelizing to the unconverted. The Academy has been in tremendous hot water over the past year or so for having chaplains who nakedly promoting conversion of non-evangelical cadets against the institution’s regulations. Several Congressional members have been livid about this. So it seems that in this appearance both Shoebat AND his Air Force hosts were concealing their ulterior motives in bringing them there.
This begs another question: can Joe Lieberman continue with plans to appear with these three fraudsters? If he does, will anyone call him and them on the charade they’ll be perpetrating on the Jewish community?
Here’s more on their ongoing fraud:
A New York Times report last month on the Air Force Academy event, headlined “Speakers at Academy Said to Make False Claims,” noted that “Academic professors and others who have heard the three men speak in the United States and Canada said some of their stories border on the fantastic, like Mr. Saleem’s account of how, as a child, he infiltrated Israel to plant bombs via a network of tunnels underneath the Golan Heights. No such incidents have been reported, the academic experts said. They also question how three middle-aged men who claim they were recruited as teenagers or younger could have been steeped in the violent religious ideology that only became prevalent in the late 1980s.”
The Times quoted Prof. Douglas Howard, who teaches the history of the modern Middle East at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as saying after he heard Saleem speak last November at the college that he thought the three were connected to several major Christian evangelical organizations.
“It was just an old time gospel hour: ‘Jesus can change your life, he changed mine,'” Howard said.
The professor told the Times that his doubts about the authenticity of the three grew after he heard stories like that of the Golan Heights tunnels, “as well as something on Mr. Saleem’s Web site along the lines that he was descended from the grand wazir of Islam. The grand wazir of Islam is a nonsensical term.”
The newspaper said Arab-American civil rights organizations have questioned “why, at a time when the United States government has vigorously moved to jail or at least deport anyone with a known terrorist connection, the three men, if they are telling the truth, are allowed to circulate freely.”
And there’s more about Shoebat’s financial fraud:
Visitors to Shoebat’s Internet site are encouraged to make a donation to his foundation to enable him to disseminate his message. However, a notice on the page states that for “security reasons,” the money will not be debited to his foundation, but rather to a company called Top Executive Media. The name Top Executive Media is used by a greetings card firm from Pennsylvania called Top Executive Greetings, a company with an annual turnover of $500,000. When one makes a donation through the Shoebat Internet site, the Web address changes to topexecutivegreetings.com/shoebat.
This seems to be the only active page for the company; its homepage is blank.
Asked by the Post whether the Walid Shoebat Foundation is a registered charity, Shoebat replied that it is registered in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania State Attorney’s office said it had no record of a charity registered under this name.
Questioned further, Shoebat said it was registered under a different name, but that he was not aware of the details, which are handled by his manager.
“I remain separate to the running of the charity so that I am not constrained by church rules,” he explained, adding that the organization’s connection to certain churches meant it would be difficult for him to speak to secular audiences if he became too involved in running it.
Dr. Joel Fishman, of the Allegheny County Law Library in Pennsylvania, expressed doubts about this donation process. If the money were being given to a registered charity, the charity would have to make annual reports to the state and federal government on how it was being spent, he noted.
Shoebat insisted donations were not being misused, however. “I survive by being an author,” he said. “I only get paid for being an author. All the money that is donated gets put back into events.”
If the Bank Leumi bombing claim is unfounded, it is unclear why Shoebat would have wanted to manufacture a terrorist past. True or not, however, it has plainly brought him some prominence and provided him with a means to speak in favor of Israel and be paid for doing so.
In that final paragraph, the reporter makes clear why the reluctant Muslim would have wanted to manufacture a terrorist past: it has brought him a following and financial rewards. And all built on a pro-Israel house of cards.
Shoebat’s manager mentioned above is Keith Davies, who has commented angrily here about my previous “outing” of Shoebat. The question yet to be answered is who is behind Top Executive Media. It seems clear that it is either Christian evangelicals like Hagee or possibly pro-Israel extremists like an Irving Moskowitz. I am sure they’re tried to cover their tracks pretty well. But I hope a good investigative journalist can follow up on this and uncover more.
I have written regularly about Shoebat and other so-called “Good Arab” friends of Israel like Tawfiq Hamid and Amir Taheri and accused them of being at the least intellectual frauds if not real, genuine frauds. But I never had specific evidence until now of the genuine nature of Shoebat’s fraud. The ardent pro-Israel set should’ve realized that if these guys seem too good to be true, it’s because they are. If I smelled a rat why didn’t they?
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.