Monthly Archives: June 2010

Will The NY Times Ever Retract Michael Oren’s Falsehoods?

Michael Oren makes stuff up. But the NY Times doesnt have to publish it.

Michael Oren makes stuff up. But the NY Times doesn't have to publish it.

Nearly a month after publishing Israeli Ambassador the US Michael Oren’s apologia for the flotilla massacre, the NY Times has yet to correct two of the most glaring lies Oren made. The first of Oren’s deceptions was his assertion that “religious extremists embedded among those on board were paid and equipped to attack Israelis.” The notion that al-Qaeda affiliated mercenaries were on board the Mavi Marmara was discredited as soon as the IDF Spokesman’s Office changed a headline on a press release about terrorist “mercenaries” to read, “Attackers of the IDF Found Without Identification Papers.” The headline was quietly altered on June 3, the same day the Times published Oren’s op-ed. Shouldn’t their fact checkers and editors been better informed?

The second of Oren’s lies was at least as ludicrous as his first. He wrote:

Also found on the boat were propaganda clips showing passengers “injured” by Israeli forces; these videos, however, were filmed during daylight, hours before the nighttime operation occurred.

If this was true, then where were the clips? Why hasn’t the IDF released any footage to support Oren’s claim? Probably because such clips do not exist anywhere. As far as I can tell, they were never on the website of the IDF Spokesman’s Office or the Israeli Foreign Ministry. The footage is not even available on YouTube. So where are they? Certainly the IDF would have wanted to publish anything that supported its version of events. But they could not conjure anything to bolster Oren’s bizarre claim (which seemed to suggest that the killing and maiming of flotilla passengers by Israeli commandos was simply “propaganda” and therefore never happened).

Unless Oren or the Israeli military can produce the “propaganda clips” Oren mentioned, the New York Times should be compelled to retract the falsehoods it published. The Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt can be reached at or (212) 556-7652

Where “A Day of Fun” Is A Crime

In a May 7 article, Haaretz reporter Ilana Hammerman described in dramatic detail a crime she had methodically planned and committed. In defiance of laws supposedly related to Israel’s security, Hammerman picked up three teenage Palestinian girls in their village in the West Bank, took them through the Betar checkpoint, and drove them into Tel Aviv. There they ate ice cream, visited the mall and museum, and played in the sea. Even though the girls lived just a few kilometers from the beach, Israel’s military occupation had prevented them from ever visiting it before their illegal “day of fun.”

Hammerman wrote in her account of the experience, “If There Is A Heaven:”

“The end was wonderful. The last photos show them about two hours after the trip to the flea market, running in the darkness on Tel Aviv’s Banana Beach. They didn’t want to stop for even a minute at the restaurant there to have a bite to eat or something to drink, or even to just relax a bit. Instead they immediately removed their sandals again, rolled up their pants and ran into the water. And ran and ran, back and forth, in zig-zags, along the huge beach, ponytails flying in the wind. From time to time, they knelt down in the sand or crowded together in the shallow water to have their picture taken. The final photo shows two of them standing in the water, arms around each others’ waists, their backs to the camera. Only the bright color of their shirts contrasting with the dark water and the sky reveals that the two are Yasmin and Aya, because Lin was wearing a black shirt.”

But the fun ended as soon as a group called The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel filed a request with Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein demanding that Hammerman be prosecuted for breaking the country’s “Law of Entry to Israel” forbidding Israelis from assisting Palestinians in entering Israel. If Weinstein agrees to the request, Hammerman could face as much as two years in prison.

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The Israeli Media’s Flotilla Fail

My summary of the Israeli media’s shambolic performance following the flotilla massacre was originally published here in Hebrew at Dvorit Shargal’s excellent Israeli media blog, Velvet Underground. The English version follows:

If the raid of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla was a disaster for the Israel Defense Forces, its aftermath demonstrated an equally bewildering performance by the Israeli media. The IDF Spokesman’s Office churned out one misleading claim after another, each one more implausible than the next, seeking to implant in the public’s mind a version of events that bore little relation to reality. To a degree, this was to be expected; but it was startling to see how some of Israel’s most respected reporters lined up to serve as military stenographers, barely challenging the IDF’s rapidly changing versions of events. IDF claims about the flotilla passengers’ links to Al Qaida, anti-Semitic statements shouted at the Israeli Navy, and their terrorist intentions were eagerly broadcast by the Israeli media without a second thought. When independent reporters forced the IDF to retract or “clarify” all of these claims, Israeli news outlets refused to correct their errors, or covered them up without acknowledgment.

It so happened that I arrived in Israel for a research trip the day after the flotilla raid. As a result, I was able to do something which I always thought to be a very basic journalistic practice, so basic it’s supposed to be applied routinely: Asking an implicated party in a story to produce evidence for its claims. What I found bewildering is that at least judging from Israeli media reports, few, if any, mainstream reporters applied this practice, and when a visiting colleague did their job for them – nobody bothered to correct or withdraw their original report.

On June 2, the IDF disseminated a press release entitled, “Attackers of the IDF soldiers found to be Al Qaeda mercenaries.” The accusation was not accompanied by any conclusive evidence — the IDF reported that Mavi Marmara passengers were equipped with night-vision goggles (gasp!). This did not stop Yedioth’s Ron Ben-Yishai, who was embedded with the Navy commandos, from amplifying the baseless charge. Citing an “interrogation” of Marmara passengers — “lynchers,” he called them — Ben-Yishai wrote the same day, “Some among the [flotilla passengers] are believed to have ties with World Jihad groups, mainly Al Qaeda.” The article made no reference to any efforts on part of Ben Yishai to investigate this claim, nor did he seem to think to ask why the IDF was about to release dangerous operatives of Osama Bin Laden — presumably they would attack again, wouldn’t they?

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Israeli Gov. Promotes Glenn Beck’s Gaza Flotilla Screed

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs — the diplomatic disaster area of Avigdor Lieberman — is promoting Glenn Beck’s infamous episode on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla on its “selected articles” page. Apparently Israel’s department of hasbara does not realize that Beck is looked at by everyone but the most ardent members of the Tea Party movement as a conspiratorial, racist demagogue with no credibility. Nor does it seem to care that Beck has an extensive record of endorsing the work of virulent anti-Semites like the Nazi apologist Elizabeth Dilling.

Didi Remez has an excellent analysis at Coteret on what he calls “the Tea Partying of the US-Israel relationship.” Remez reports that numerous mainstream Israeli opinion leaders have posted the Beck clip on the Facebook pages along with Caroline Glick’s notoriously racist, “We Con The World” video. Now the Israeli government has gotten in on the act. It’s no wonder being “pro-Israel” in the US is becoming increasingly synonymous with being a Tea Party-style Republican.

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(Updated) Nailed Again: IDF Description of Suspicious Photo It Distributed Is Retracted

Update: The subject of the photo has been identified. Reader el_sirio writes: “The guy in the picture is Yemeni lawmaker Mohammad al-Hazmi, showing his ceremonial dagger (known in Yemen as Jambiya), which is carried by every single man in Yemen and is an essential part of the traditional Yemeni dress. Al-Hazmi was detained by the Israelis along with 2 other Yemeni MPs who were on the flotilla. One of them told Yemeni newspapers that the picture was taken long before the Mavi Marmara was attacked by the Israelis. Al-Hazmi was showing off his ceremonial dagger to curious journalists and foreigners on the ship. In this link [Arabic] MP Hazza al-Maswari says that at the time of the Israeli attack, al-Hazmi did not have his Jambiya on him.”

On May 31, the IDF Spokesman’s Office distributed a photo of a bearded Muslim man with a knife surrounded by reporters. Daylight was pouring in from a window or door behind the reporters. Offered without context or explanation, the photo played up a classic Orientalist stereotype of violent, fanatical, and even suicidal Muslims determined to kill Jews. It was included in an article based on testimony from anonymous commandos with the following title: “Israeli Navy Commandos: Gaza flotilla activists tried to lynch us.”

The IDF apparently told Haaretz that the photo was taken immediately after its Naval commandos raided the Mavi Marmara and other flotilla ships — at least, that’s how Haaretz described the photo based on an IDF source. Yet the raid was conducted under the cover of darkness. How could a photo obviously taken during daytime have portrayed an event that took place during the late evening? Do Muslims have magical powers that allow them to turn night into day? And why were reporters standing around, casually taking photos when commandos were supposedly getting “lynched?” Once again, the IDF’s story was highly suspect.

The original IDF-sourced caption — “holding a knife after” commandos boarded — is below:

The original Haaretz caption claims the photo was taken after the Navy commandos raided the Marmara

The original Haaretz caption claims the photo was taken after the Navy commandos raided the Marmara

I called the IDF Spokesman’s Office to inquire about the photo. Why did the IDF claim the photo depicted an event that took place after the commandos raided the flotilla when it was clearly taken during the daytime? I asked.


After I questioned the IDF's claim of the photo's timing, Haaretz quietly changed the caption, removing language about the photo being taken after the raid

Spokesman Sgt. Chen Arad told me he did not know whether the photo was taken before or after the commandos landed on the Mavi Marmara. “It could be that the claim was made by commandos in the interview,” he maintained. I reminded him that Haaretz’s source for the photo was not the commandos, but the IDF Spokesman’s Office. After confirming that his office released the photo, Arad said, “It is reasonable that it was before the actual takeover but I’m not sure what was claimed with Haaretz.”

Soon after I spoke with Arad on June 8, Haaretz scrubbed its caption of the suspicious photo, removing the phrase, “holding a knife after Israeli commandos boarded their ship.” However, Haaretz did not mention the retraction, probably assuming no one would notice. The retraction raises disturbing questions about the level of coordination between the IDF and the Israeli media. Did the IDF Spokesman’s Office tip Haaretz off after I called them? And why does Haaretz accept the IDF’s version of events on the Marmara at face value? Besides casting a shadow over Haaretz’s coverage of the flotilla raid, this episode once again proves that nothing the IDF says can be trusted.

Another IDF Claim Unravels: IDF Unable To Support Claim Of Terrorists Aboard Flotilla Ship

The IDF has distributed a press release claiming that it has evidence that five passengers on the Mavi Marmara were “active terror operatives.” The army’s claims appeared thin at best, and patently false at worst. When I called the IDF Spokesman’s Office to ask for evidence, I was told there was none; all of the IDF’s claims were attributed to “intelligence” it could not share with reporters.

“The information in the statement comes based on intelligence,” Army spokesman Sgt. Chen Arad told me. “I don’t have any further information I can give.”

I pressed Arad to at least describe the intelligence he had seen. “There is very limited intelligence information we can give in this specific case,” he said. “Obviously I’m unable to give you more information.” He referred me to a colleague at the IDF’s North American desk. She did not answer after numerous tries. I’m going to call again tomorrow; journalist Lia Tarachansky has also placed a call to a spokesman and yielded similar responses which I’ll transcribe here soon.

One of the most bizarre accusations the IDF made was that former American citizen and ex-Marine Ken O’Keefe was planning to “train a commando unit” in the Gaza Strip. That’s the same Ken O’Keefe who organized an aid boat to Gaza, Aloha Palestine, with the sister-in-law of Tony Blair, Lauren Booth. In recent days, O’Keefe has been a major presence in the international media, giving his account of the melee on the deck of Mavi Marmara. Why would Hamas want some middle aged American guy with no experience in guerilla warfare to train its elite forces? The answer is the IDF is probably trying to smear O’Keefe to discredit his withering assessment of their conduct during the flotilla raid. “All I saw in Israel was cowards with guns,” O’Keefe has declared.

Hussein Arosh was implicated by the IDF for allegedly planning to “assist in smuggling Al-Qaeda operatives via Turkey into the Strip.” This claim is highly implausible. Why would Hamas allow Al Qaida operatives into the Gaza Strip when it is actively engaged in crushing any Al Qaida sympathizers who crop up within the territory it controls. Last year, Hamas forces killed 21 members of an Al Qaida inspired group in a battle in the Gaza Strip.

Another unusual IDF accusation was that the US resident Fatimah Mahmadi is a terrorist because she is “an active member of the organization ‘Viva Palestine’” who “attempted to smuggle forbidden electronic components into the Gaza Strip.” (I think the IDF means Viva Palestina, not Viva Palestine). Viva Palestina is not registered as a terrorist group by any country in the world; it is the British parliamentarian George Galloway’s pro-Palestine outfit, which is planning to organize more aid convoys.

The IDF’s press release did not appear credible in any way. If any reporters from the Israeli press had bothered to call the IDF to demand evidence, they would have learned that there was none. At least in Israel, the media is serving as a useful tool for the army. Just look at this piece by Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer.

NY Times Lede Blog Surveys IDF’s Sea of Lies

NY Times Lede blogger Robert Mackey has cataloged some of the IDF’s most egregious fabrications and distortions and provided a gallery of new photos smuggled off the Mavi Marmara that blow the IDF’s version of events out of the water. Among the distortions Mackey mentioned was the doctoring of the now-notorious “Auschwitz” clip:

The second video is  a short clip of what the I.D.F. said were audio transmissions Israel’s navy received from the Mavi Marmara before the raid. The clip suggested that a polite request from the navy to the ship was met with responses from three people who said: “Shut up — go back to Auschwitz,” “We have permission from the Gaza Port Authority to enter,” and “We’re helping Arabs going against the U.S., don’t forget 9/11, guys.”

This clip, posted on the I.D.F.’s official YouTube channel on Friday, was met with immediate skepticism by some bloggers and journalists in Israel. Max Blumenthal pointed out in a post on his blog that the I.D.F. had already released  video of what seemed like the same exchange four days earlier in which the only reply from the ship was “Negative, negative. Our destination is Gaza. Our destination is Gaza.”

Mr. Blumenthal suggested that at least one of the voices making the inflammatory remarks in the clip “sounded like an impersonation of an Arab.” He also noted that Huwaida Arraf, one of the organizers of the flotilla, said that it was her voice saying “We have permission from the Gaza Port Authority to enter.” But Ms. Arraf was not on the Mavi Marmara, which suggested that the I.D.F. tape was not an unedited snippet of the exchange between the naval ship and the Mavi Marmara.

On Saturday, the I.D.F. published what it called a “Clarification/Correction” regarding the clip which said that the audio had been edited. The military’s statement insisted that the audio of the exchange was genuine, but had been condensed for clarity:

There have been questions regarding the authenticity of the recording as well as its attribution to a communication with the Mavi Marmara.

So to clarify: the audio was edited down to cut out periods of silence over the radio as well as incomprehensible comments so as to make it easier for people to listen to the exchange. We have now uploaded the entire segment of 5 minutes and 58 seconds in which the exchange took place and the comments were made.

This transmission had originally cited the Mavi Marmara ship as being the source of these remarks, however, due to an open channel, the specific ship or ships in the “Freedom Flotilla” responding to the Israeli Navy could not be identified….

The  longer clip, which the I.D.F. calls the “Unedited Radio Transmission Between Gaza Flotilla and Israeli Navy,” also includes the audio of the inflammatory statements, but since they are snippets of audio over a black screen, it is impossible to verify their authenticity.

Pro-IDF, Anti-Turkish Rally in Tel Aviv (or a Glimpse Into Collective Israeli Derangement)

On June 1, 2010, thousands of Israelis gathered spontaneously in front of the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv to demonstrate in support of the Israeli Naval commando unit that killed nine passengers on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish-backed boat from the Gaza Freedom Flotilla. Egged on by the Israeli government and media, the demonstrators lashed out at Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his support of the Marmara, accusing him and passengers on the ship of terrorist ties. Besides with the massacre of Turkish aid workers, the spectacle of massive Israeli protests against Turkey threatens to permanently rupture Israel’s ties to its closest Muslim ally and further isolate the country on the world stage.

The rally provided a clear window into the mentality of many Israelis after the raid. International condemnation has deepened the public’s siege mentality, leading many demonstrators to claim that anti-Semitism best explained the world’s motives. The belief that the Mavi Marmara was a terrorist ship with support from an assortment of Islamic evildoers including Al Qaida was nearly unanimous, and was offered by rally participants as an excuse for their killing. Many viewed the incident in the shadow of the Holocaust, convinced that Marmara passengers had shouted at the commandos, “Go back to Auschwitz!”

Such convictions were understandable in light of the aggressive propaganda campaign the Israeli Defense Forces and Israeli Foreign Ministry have waged in the wake of the flotilla raid. The IDF has claimed that it discovered 40 “Al Qaeda mercenaries” on the Mavi Marmara and blasted out an audio clip purporting to show flotilla passengers proclaiming to the IDF, “Go back to Auschwitz!” Even though the IDF retracted its claim about Al Qaida operatives and was forced to concede that its “Auschwitz” audio clip was doctored, Israeli and American media outlets that reported the army’s claims have not corrected their stories. Consequently, many Israelis are accepting their government’s view without a second thought. As one demonstrator said, “I believe every word our soldiers. Every word!”

The rally was organized through Israeli Facebook groups and by the notoriously anti-Arab football club Betar Jerusalem. It was only one of many spontaneous outbursts of extreme nationalism that have erupted across Israel since the flotilla raid. Many participants in the rally remarked that they had not seen the public so thoroughly united behind the government in all their lives. As one demonstrator put it, “I’m very happy [about] what happened because it united the country, and not all the Israelis, all the Jewish [sic]; all united for a cause, and it’s against the civil war that we always had.”

Right-Wing Soccer Thugs Take Tel Aviv

Yesterday the Israeli communist party Hadash held a fairly large rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on the 43rd anniversary of the Occupation. They were joined by some liberal Zionist factions including the left of center Meretz party and the National Left movement, which is basically an astroturfed Peace Now initiative designed to project a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” veneer, a la J Street. The demonstration is an annual ritual for the beleaguered Israeli left, and though some participants waved Turkish flags in solidarity with the murdered passengers of the Mavi Marmara and many people had signs and shirts protesting the massacre, it was not a protest of the flotilla raid per se. You can see my video of last year’s Hadash protest here; it was characterized by pathetic pleas for Obama to save Israel from itself. No mention of the Messiah this year.

What made this year’s rally most distinct was the fact that it was virtually encircled by bands of right-wing fanatics, including many soccer thugs from the Israeli football club Betar Jerusalem. First, the thugs set off a smoke grenade in the middle of the rally (some participants wondered if the grenade would be real next year), then they assembled just outside Rabin Square to provoke demonstrators. Eventually, they spotted veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery and attacked him. I shot a few short videos that captured the atmosphere. And Noam Sheizaf has a good write-up at Promised Land. Here are my videos:

Later, the right-wingers poured out into the streets of Tel Aviv, antagonizing bystanders but also eliciting many favorable reactions. I am working on a video about the hyper-nationalist mood that has consumed Israel since the flotilla massacre; my footage provides a slight glimpse into the collective hysteria. More from Yedioth:

Following the leftist rally, dozens of rightists marched along Ibn Gvirol Street, one of Tel Aviv’s major thoroughfares, shouting at coffee shop goers: “Stinking Tel Avivians, get out of your bubble…While IDF soldiers are subjected to a lynching you remain indifferent – you’re traitors.”

Several physical clashes were reported between protestors and residents. Some coffee shop goers responded to the rightist activists, telling them to “go to hell” and referring to them as far-rightists who should “go back to the hole they crawled out of.’

Earlier, rightists spotted left-wing activist Uri Avnery going into a taxicab on Ibn Gvirol Street and charged at him, attempting to wrest away the signs he was holding. Police officers at the scene intervened and rushed Avnery away from the scene.