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Fake News and Israel

Fake News and Israel

No headline seems too far-fetched when it comes to spreading false news stories about Israel.

by

Fake news about Israel went mainstream recently when a member of Britain’s House of Lords re-posted a “news” item on her Facebook page that came from an extremist, conspiracy website.

Baroness Jenny Tonge has a long history of hostility to the Jewish state. On January 21, 2017, she posted an article with the shocking “revelation”: the President of Israel called his own country “sick” said that Israel was waging a “Holocaust” against Palestinians, and termed Israelis “worse” than Nazis. Above a picture of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, the Baroness wrote “this article shows that there are people, very important people, in Israel who are appalled by the Zionist policies and actions. All power to them” and linked to the article.

Her link was shared by scores of people, spreading its poison even more widely. One commentator wrote that she’d heard this post was fake and Baroness Tonge dismissed that concern, insisting “Well that comment s (sic) just too silly. Perhaps someone can find the actua (sic) article the piece was based on.”

The Baroness is wrong. This damaging article is entirely false, churned out by a bizarre Dubai-based site called AWD News (the initials stand for “Another Western Dawn”). The internet fact-checking website Snopes describes AWD News as a site that “doesn’t have more than a nodding acquaintance with facts, instead playing on nationalistic fantasy and conspiracy theory to create alarming (and thus clickable and shareable) stories”. Recent AWD News articles have claimed “Israelis orchestrated Ukraine’s unrest” (June 6, 2016), “Israeli intelligence is (aiding) ISIS to capture...Baghdad” (August 30, 2016) and “Mossad has close ties with ISIS” (August 31, 2016).

On December 20, 2016, AWD posted a completely fabricated story, “reporting” that Israel’s Defense Minister (they even got his name wrong, citing the previous Defense Minister instead) supposedly threatened to bomb Pakistan with nuclear missiles if Pakistan joined the fight against ISIS in Syria. The fabricated report soon had real-world consequences.

Instead of checking out the false report (or even noticing the name of his Israeli equivalent was incorrect) Pakistan’s Defense Minister Khawaja Asif tweeted a combative message about the fake story: “Israeli (defense minister) threatens nuclear retaliation presuming (Pakistan) role in Syria against Daesh (ISIS). Israel forgets Pakistan is a Nuclear State too.” It was only after Israel’s Government pointed out the story was “totally fictitious” that Minister Asif backed down, acknowledging the story was false, and issuing a more peaceable tweet instead, assuring Israelis “We desire to coexist in peace, both in our region and beyond.”

Fake news about the Jewish state has a long history. One of the most pernicious lies is that Israel, not Arab terrorists, was behind the terror attacks on September 11, 2001. In 2011, the ADL wrote “In the ten years since the...attacks...conspiracy theories surrounding the attacks have become an entrenched propaganda industry.”

Also in 2011 a Pew Poll noted that the vast majority to respondents in majority-Muslim nations they surveyed believed in the conspiracy theories blaming Israel for the attack. Fewer than a third believed that Arab terrorists conducted the assault, and the number of people inclined to believe conspiracy theories, often blaming Jews and Israel, had grown in the previous five years.

Other bizarre fake stories about Israel have flourished online in Muslim countries. In 2011, when a series of deadly shark attacks off Egypt’s coast left one woman dead and several injured, South Sinai Governor Mohamed Abdel Fadil Shousha suggested Israel might be behind the attacks, in order to harm Egyptian tourism. A few months later, Saudi officials caught a vulture that was tagged with a leg bracelet identifying it as part of a Tel Aviv University study of bird migration patterns. Saudi officials refused to release the vulture; local media speculated the tracking bracelet might be part of a “Zionist plot”.

In Arab and other Middle Eastern media, Israel in recent years has been accused of orchestrating the 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, of poisoning wells, of plotting to divide up Egypt, of helping to found ISIS. In 2013 The Economist magazine noted “conspiracy theorists have grown ever more strident since the coup” in Egypt in July of that year.

It’s unclear if Americans and Europeans are better equipped than consumers of news in the Muslim world to tell real news from fake stories when it comes to Israel. One 2016 study by Stanford University found that three quarters of American high schoolers were unable to distinguish between real and fake news posts on Facebook. Over 30% of students argued that high-quality graphics meant an article was likely to be true. In 2015, the European Union felt the need to establish a “disinformation task force” which scours the internet for fake news and distributes regular newsletters debunking fake stories. In early January 2017, the European Parliament voted to increase its funding.

With the proliferation of fake news, it’s up to all of us to be extra vigilant in insisting on responsible reporting, especially when it comes to Israel, the object of so many false stories. Insist on fact checking. Don’t assume that unfamiliar websites are reliable. Keep in mind that professional-looking graphics don’t mean a story is reliable. Double-check news items and encourage others to do the same.

With countless media sources dedicated to denigrating the Jewish state, we’re all on the front line in the battle to ensure reliable coverage.

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 6

(6) Dvora, January 28, 2017 1:52 AM

Fake News

In America, MOST reporting is fake. The more "sensational" the more likely it's fake covering up a REAL STORY elsewhere in America or in the World. Israel is no exception. You didn't find the shark attack in Egypt blamed on Israel hilarious? Or the Saudi confiscation of that poor bird, hilarious? Stephen Colbert did a hilarious Comedy skit on one of his shows. You miss the entire point of such reports. Delusion. Born of the socio/psycho mind. This is the true source of such accusatorial reporting to a non thinking/reactionary Public. A thinking mind is NOT common, and I would point out, extremely RARE!!

(5) erin, January 27, 2017 9:20 PM

peaceful truth

My concern is that knowing that Israel and all those of Jewish descent are assaulted with harsh words and fight topics all day every day, isn't it possible that telling a Jew they are being slandered again in a emotion filled production of the truth has or could have the same impact as the peopl, examples listed above, do who are slandering us , defaming us, and/or threatening us in public? Could we tell the truth nicer so that Jews can get the truthful information about how we are being treated and hear it and do right by ourselves to preserve our safety?

(4) Anonymous, January 27, 2017 1:55 AM

Lies or alternate facts?

Coal mining, like politics, has always had a dirty side. Some of the dirtiest work was once done by canaries. Before air quality was monitored by instruments, caged birds did the trick. As soon as a bird keeled over, everyone knew there was an incipient buildup of poisonous gas and the miners were out of there pronto. No one argued that the canaries were lying and that the air was safe. Now, from the highest levels of the U.S. government, we are told that outright lies are just "alternate facts." Should these lies concern us as Jews? Well, pretend you're a canary. Sniff the air. What's under attack are any and all news organizations that reveal and criticize falsehoods in government accounts. Who do you think owns, controls or runs these media groups? Who do you think that "alternative facts" proponents believe are behind the media?

Fortunately, we are not in coal mines. We don't have to turn tail and run. We must confront the poison, proclaim it for what it is and put it to flight -- whether it is directed against us as Jews, against members of other religious groups, against innocent refugees from war and extremist regimes or any other target group du jour.

The canary of the past was but a forerunner of the alarm bell today. The warning is clear as John Donne wrote: "... never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

(3) L. Virginia McCorkle, January 26, 2017 11:04 PM

we need a firm, public response--

Is there not some way to respond that reveals publicly, to the same degree/level of reportage, not only that it's fake but that its publication constitutes malice, is hate speech? This would allow legal responses that could possibly result in closure of at least a few of these businesses.

I recall a painting that showed a person's mouth w/feathers flying from it . . . it spoke volumes, for there is no way to re-capture words that are false once uttered. By making those perpetrating these acts to pay, financially or otherwise, would it not happen less frequently? If there is no repercussion, it will continue. I'm happy to offer legal assistance [retired lawyer]--& would be grateful for opportunity to offer services to such a good purpose.

Shalom,
Virginia McCorkle

(2) Deborah, January 26, 2017 4:45 PM

Ludicrous Stories

Such rapacious lies about the Jewish State would be funny if they didn't have real life consequences for the safety of Israeli's and the future of Israel's relations with the rest of the world. That's why I rely on resources like HonestReporting, Aish, Jewish Virtual Library and so on to get the facts.

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