The USS Liberty: Friendly Fire or Conspiracy?

In this video, we unpack the events surrounding one of the tragedies of the Six Day War, when Israel mistakenly fired at the American spy ship, USS Liberty. Over 50 years after this incident took place, there are still those who believe there has been a decades-long government-level cover up hiding what happened on that fateful day. The accident has been co-opted by conspiracy theorists who believe there is something more sinister than a terrible case of mistaken identity. After watching the video, use the prompts below to learn more and get your students thinking.

  1. Which of the following facts are true about the USS Liberty?
    • The ship was marked with “CTR 5”
    • The ship was unmarked
    • The ship had no American flags
    • The ship was marked with “GTR 5”
  2. Why is it reasonable to think that Israel may have not seen the American markings on the USS Liberty?
    • Because there were no American markings on the ship
    • Because the Israeli planes were flying at 3000 feet in the air and as fast as 800 mph
    • Because the American flag was especially small and hard to see
    • Because the script on the side of the ship was in Arabic
  3. How many American casualties were there from the USS Liberty?
    • No casualties
    • 170 dead, 50 wounded
    • 100 wounded
    • 34 dead, 171 wounded
  4. What did the Israeli government do after realizing its grave mistake?
    • Never admitted the mistake and didn’t take responsibility
    • Apologized to the American government
    • Paid the families of the victims and the US government nearly $68 million in today’s value
    • Paid the US government reparation payments of $5 million in today’s value
  5. True or false? Now that both the Israeli and American governments have acknowledged the grave error, the incident is accepted as a mistake by everyone.
  1. Why do you think this incident turned into an antisemitic conspiracy theory for many around the world?
  2. In the video, our host says “questioning our past is critical to avoid repeating the mistakes of history. At the same time, legitimate questions are always in danger of being co-opted by bigots who answer those questions with a mixture of circumstantial evidence and false information.” How can we think critically about our past while preventing bigots and conspiracy theorists from taking control of the narrative?
  3. All of military history has been riddled with unfortunate incidents of friendly fire. In fact, in battle, anywhere from 2-20% of all victims are from friendly fire. Why then, do you think the legacy and facts of this incident in particular are so hotly debated and questioned?
  4. Read the following article which lays out five theories about conspiracy theories and why people are so interested in them. After reading the article, answer the following question: what do you think is the biggest reason people are so fascinated in conspiracy theories?
  1. Watch our film The Six Day War Project and utilize the attached educational resources for a complete understanding of the war surrounding the USS Liberty incident.
  2. Watch our video The Conspiracy of the Origin of Ashkenazi Jews, another debunked conspiracy theory, and utilize the attached educational resources. What are the similarities and differences between these two conspiracy theories?
  3. Ask your students to share the conspiracy theories that they have heard of. (You can prompt them with the Tupac murder or the assassination of JFK.) Then, share some major conspiracies from throughout Jewish history with them such as the Blood Libel, The conspiracy that the Jews and Israel were responsible for 9/11, and that Jews were behind the Black Death. Ask your students if they notice any similarities between these various theories.
  4. Give your students our Kahoot on the USS Liberty: Friendly Fire or Conspiracy!

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