Forgotten terrorist attack spurs Judeophobic hoax

El Al pilot recalls 1976 Istanbul airport attack raised from obscurity by white supremacist conspiracy theory.

El Al pilot recalls 1976 Istanbul airport attack raised from obscurity by white supremacist conspiracy theory (photo credit: GPO ARCHIVES)
El Al pilot recalls 1976 Istanbul airport attack raised from obscurity by white supremacist conspiracy theory
(photo credit: GPO ARCHIVES)
A white supremacist conspiracy hoax has sparked memories of a forgotten terrorist attack in Turkey and the loss of a promising Jewish American.
Capt. Yaacov Roman didn’t know what was taking place inside the terminal at Istanbul’s Yesilkoy Airport that fateful day on August 11, 1976. But he, and those on board the El Al flight headed for Tel Aviv, heard explosions and gunfire – which killed four people.
Some 42 years later, that terrorist attack is still generating controversy – but not for the reasons one might expect. Roman flew his jet to Israel, evacuating the non-critically injured passengers. But it was too late for Harold Wallace Rosenthal, a promising 29-year-old American-Jewish aide to a New York senator.
Two years later, the “Rosenthal interview” was printed in an obscure white supremacist newsletter. Subsequently turned into a pamphlet called The Hidden Tyranny and posted online, the interview has since has become infamous in neo-Nazi and conspiracy theory circles. It claims Rosenthal was not murdered by Jihadi terrorists, but rather executed by his fellow Jews after he supposedly gave an interview in which he revealed plans for Jewish world domination. However, neither Roman nor any other eyewitnesses seem to have heard of the revenge theory.
Heroic, humble airline pilot describes attack
Now 81 and a great-grandfather happily retired with his wife of 42 years, Roman spoke to the Magazine about the incident that cost Rosenthal his life.
“We knew something serious was going on, but we were not directly involved in the attack,” the El Al captain recalled. “The security guards rushed inside, and we were left waiting [on the tarmac].”
It took a long time before the plane was finally cleared for takeoff, he remembers. He was in constant contact with El Al headquarters and the decision was made not to leave without the rest of the passengers.
“They released those passengers who were not seriously injured and who could board the plane,” he explained.
El Al officials in Israel “could listen to the radio and watch television, so they knew better than us what was going in inside the terminal. It was a blind decision, a gut reaction,” Roman recalled.
Mohamed Mehdi and Hussein Muhammed al-Rashid of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine were arrested by Turkish officials after they threw grenades and opened fire at passengers about to board the flight.
Captain Yaacov Roman spent 35 years with El Al and survived several terrorist attacks.Captain Yaacov Roman spent 35 years with El Al and survived several terrorist attacks.
Rosenthal and Japanese tour guide Yakao Hiramo were both killed in the explosions. Ernest Eliash of Petah Tikva and Shlomo Weisbach of Haifa died by gunfire. More than 20 other passengers were injured. The New York Times reported, “Margaret Shearer, 40 years old, was hospitalized with a bullet wound in the ankle… Lucille Washburn was injured slightly.”
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency quoted passenger Paul Barker of England as stating, “We heard a lot of automatic fire. But the El Al security agents and the Turkish police seemed to have gained quick control of things.”
Roman spent 35 years with El Al and four decades in the IAF reserves. In addition to the 1976 incident, he also had a near-miss in Madrid.
“They tried to blow up my plane, but fortunately the suitcase blew up [prematurely] in the terminal,” he said referring to a 1986 attack on the El Al counter at Barajas Airport. Thirteen people were injured in the bombing perpetrated by a member the PLO’s Fatah faction. Nasser Hassan el-Ali was arrested at the airport, tried, convicted and sentenced to 47 years in prison by a Spanish court.
Roman also flew the plane that transported emergency medical personnel from Israel to Buenos Aires following the 1994 terrorist attack on the AMIA Jewish community center that killed 85 people. A Hezbollah front group claimed responsibility for the bombing.
“We had to bring the bodies home. It was terrible – and a very long flight to Argentina,” he recalled.
The veteran pilot was profiled in the IDF’s air force magazine Heil HaAvir in a 1997 feature on pilots who served the longest in the reserves. Apart from that, Roman never received a medal or commendation. Nor has he sought one. He was simply doing his duty. He never met any of the survivors of any of the terrorist incidents he was a part of. Asked about the Rosenthal conspiracy hoax, he says he had never heard of the matter.
If not for Rosenthal and The Hidden Tyranny pamphlet, Roman and the history he was a part of might have been long forgotten in the ether of online newspaper archives.
Rosenthal Fellowship carries on memory
Born in Philadelphia, Harold W. Rosenthal attended Temple University and Cambridge before embarking on a career as a legislative assistant to Democratic Senator Walter Mondale and Congressman Hugh Carey. His last job was as an aide to New York Republican Sen. Jacob Javits.
Caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, Rosenthal was transiting through Istanbul en route to Jerusalem to attend a seminar at the Van Leer Institute when the airport attack ended his life. He was mourned by Sen. Javits, friends and family. The Rosenthal Fellowship, established a year later, funds students from across the United States who go to government departments, congressional offices and embassies to learn the ins and outs of diplomacy.
The fellowship’s website states, “As a tribute to his memory, service and commitment to the profession of international affairs, each year a number of outstanding scholars are chosen from the leading international affairs educational institutions to become Rosenthal Fellows. Fellows are selected based on their commitment to public service, their education and interest in international relations as well as their experience and dedication to those values and professional standards set by Mr. Rosenthal and the outstanding legacy of Rosenthal Fellowship alumni.”
Dr. Alon Liel, former head of Israel’s mission in Turkey and chairman of the Israel-Turkey Business Council, remembers the fatal 1976 incident. His book Turkish-Israeli Relations 1949-2010 includes a photo of the passengers being evacuated. The retired ambassador told the Post that the attack may have been forgotten due to the numerous airplane hijackings and terrorist incidents in Turkey that occurred at the time. He mentioned the murder of Abraham Elazar, El Al’s manager in Istanbul, less than five months later at the same airport. He also noted the assassination of Israel’s consul general Ephraim Elrom in Istanbul in 1971.
These terrorist attacks pale in comparison to Operation Entebbe of July 1976, a month before the attack that killed Rosenthal. Yonatan Netanyahu, brother of Israel’s current prime minister, became a hero when he was shot rescuing kidnapped passengers in the Ugandan airport in an attack also perpetrated by the PFLP.
Liel was curious why of all the terrorist attacks at this time, the death of Rosenthal warrants an article. When told of the subsequent antisemitic hoax, he replied that he never heard of it and pointed out that there are many Harold Rosenthals in the world.
NEAR MISS: Madrid’s Barajas Airport, 2010. Thirteen people were injured at the El Al counter there in 1986, in a bombing perpetrated by a Fatah terrorist.. (Wikimedia Commons)NEAR MISS: Madrid’s Barajas Airport, 2010. Thirteen people were injured at the El Al counter there in 1986, in a bombing perpetrated by a Fatah terrorist.. (Wikimedia Commons)
Origins of the debunked “Rosenthal interview”
This brings us to 1978, two years after the Istanbul airport attack and the date when the supposed “Rosenthal Interview” first appeared. Today, that interview can be found all over the Internet, in audio form on YouTube and as memes on Neo-Nazi social media. In 1976, a month before his murder, Rosenthal supposedly sat down for a recorded interview with Walter White Jr. in which he spilled the beans regarding the Jewish conspiracy to take over the world.
“Most Jews do not like to admit it, but our god is Lucifer – so I wasn’t lying – and we are his chosen people. Lucifer is very much alive,” Rosenthal is quoted as having ostensibly told White. Another choice quote: “I was taught that we Jews must become lawyers so we could control and strangle the courts, and even the judges, unless they were Jews. We should become doctors and teachers and leaders in all the churches – and this goal has almost been fully accomplished.”
“It would appear that Mr. Rosenthal might have ‘talked too freely,’” White wrote in the introduction. “Meanwhile, I, Walter White, who conducted this confidential interview, can now state after much investigation, expense and travel, that Harold Rosenthal was undoubtedly murdered at the Istanbul Airport, in what was to appear as a hijacking, probably by his own people.”
Into the antisemitic multiverse
Dr. Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, spoke to the Post in a phone interview from the United States about The Hidden Tyranny.
“It’s simply one of an endless number of antisemitic propaganda items out there,” he said. “Once someone creates something like this, it tends to never entirely go away. Someone resurrects it. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is the ultimate example of a fabrication that has endlessly recirculated for over a century.”
Texas-born Pitcavage, who has been studying the phenomenon of extremist groups since the mid-1990s, noted that even self-described white supremacists have debunked the interview. Tom Metzger, founder of White Aryan Resistance and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, stated on the Resist website in 2010, “That interview never took place. Walter White operated free and loose on some subjects, like this one. He disappeared once for a while. I personally sent men searching for him. He showed up claiming the JDL [Jewish Defense League] kidnapped him and dumped him at the Mexican border... That [Rosenthal] interview is bogus. There is plenty of valid material to use against the Jews.”
Other anti-Jewish websites also question the authenticity of the Rosenthal interview because of its lack of verification and outlandish content.
White claims to have paid Rosenthal for the interview and recorded the conversation. However, no cassette tape exists. The many YouTube versions of “The Rosenthal Interview” feature a computer-generated voice reading the putative transcript of the interview.
“There have been many other documents of fabrications and hoaxes by purported Jews or ex-Jews talking about alleged Jewish plots,” continued Pitcavage, who has been with the ADL since 2000.
White published his Western Front newsletter from Los Angeles, California in the 1960s. He and his wife, Opal Tanner White, were vocal supporters of Gerald L. K. Smith, a presidential candidate with the America First Party in the 1944 election. Together they fabricated the fictional Rosenthal interview, Pitcavage said.
Daniel Levitas, in his book The Terrorist Next Door, stated, “Since Rosenthal was dead, White was free to attribute anything he wished – however scurrilous or hateful – to the onetime Javits aide.”
Among Pitcavage’s numerous files is an original copy of the 1992 printing of The Hidden Tyranny: The Issue That Dwarfs All Other Issues (or The Rosenthal Document), which is the version of the interview circulated online. It was published by Charles A. Weisman, who calls White a “concerned patriot” in the introduction. Weisman is also the author of a score of booklets that attack Jews, decry the Catholic Church and claim that “cognitive tests have proven the Negro to be intellectually inferior to the European.”
Weisman, who died in 2016, was based in Minnesota and began publishing his writings in the late 1980s.
The Hidden Tyranny, along with full-color glossy posters, were mailed to thousands of homes in Idaho in 1998 as part of a campaign by California millionaires Carl Story and Vincent Bertollini. Calling themselves the 11th Hour Remnant Messenger, the two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs spent millions supporting such causes as the Aryan Nations organization.
Story and another business partner were convicted in 1977 for conspiracy to violate federal export laws in the sale of semiconductor manufacturing equipment to the Soviet Union. Pitcavage said Story has since dropped the white pride cause, and no longer associates with his former colleagues.
Ironically, while White, Weisman and the other purveyors of the Rosenthal interview lambasted the Catholic Church, another anti-Jewish pamphlet that can readily be found on the Internet, also entitled The Hidden Tyranny, was written by a Jewish convert to Roman Catholicism named Benjamin H. Freedman.
Not to be confused with The Hidden Tyranny pamphlet that contains the bogus Rosenthal interview, Freedman’s screed blasts Jews for secret plots that allegedly took place during World War I and World War II. According to a New York Times article from 1948, Freedman converted to the Catholic faith before becoming involved with anti-Israel causes and publishing a series of Judeophobic pamphlets. He made his fortune selling soap and dermatological products. In 1946, he sued the American Jewish Committee for libel, but the case was dismissed in less than a month.
This brings us to today, where a quick Google search for “Harold W. Rosenthal” yields some confusing results. For example, several graphic images that incorporate quotes from White’s fake interview mistakenly display a photo of Javits. The senator looks nothing like the 29-year-old who was murdered supposedly by “them” only “30 days after his confessions.” Likewise, many of the YouTube videos featuring the computer-generated audio transcript depict a different person.
Pitcavage called it all “part of the antisemitic multiverse.”
“For the past several years, there has been a resurgence in white supremacy that has resulted in propaganda, new groups and violent incidents like the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh this past fall,” Pitcavage said. But he adds, “I don’t think The Hidden Tyranny specifically has played a significant role.”
Why then are there almost 30,000 views on just one of the numerous YouTube videos of “The Rosenthal Interview?” Are the viewers people looking for a cause to believe in?
“Whiteness in the US is not the same as national or ethnic identity. Pitcavage explained. “You can be proud to be an American, or proud of your heritage. But whiteness as a thing to be proud of has never existed outside of the realm of white supremacy.”
Changing the narrative
All of this is irrelevant to the Rosenthal Fellows, who for the past 40-plus years have led productive careers in academia and the civil service. It is also meaningless to the survivors of that terrible summer day back in 1976. While they may not be reading “white pride” online forums, the scars of their injuries remain.
Perhaps this bizarre addendum to Rosenthal’s death will be a springboard for further respect for his life. If not for the outlandish claims of obscure hate groups, then the story of Yaacov Roman and the many surrounding incidents would remain forgotten as well.