Debunking Israeli claims: What led to NYT’s false Hamas rape story

This report by The Intercept details all the factors that affect the New York Times’ coverage, including internal debates regarding the false narrative it ran about Hamas sexually exploiting Israeli captives.

  • A sign for The New York Times hangs above the entrance to its building, Thursday, May 6, 2021 in New York. (AP)

The New York Times pulled its notorious podcast episode on Hamas sexually assaulting Israeli settlers and captives after an internal conflict arose on the accuracy of the report they had brought forth, The Intercept reported. 

The episode, based on an article written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Jeffrey Gettleman, was due January 9. It detailed claims of how the Palestinian Resistance weaponized sexual assault and harassment against female captives since October 7. 

Internal debates divide the NYT

The Times staff received two emails roughly at the same time: One from Executive Editor Joe Kahn hailing coverage of the narrative and another prompting staff members against engaging in internal debates that essentially harm the enterprise and highlight its negligence. 

It was then that staff members theorized that the problem was triggered by false reporting on narratives and exclusive stories that very possibly did not happen, but specifically, the false narrative of the sexual exploitation of Israeli women by Hamas. Others opted to explain the email, defending the piece by extension, by saying it was a corporate directive for the new year. 

However, the piece had been getting severely disparaged both internally and externally, which compelled producers at The Daily podcast to suspend the original episode. A different script was written and authorized, and it was layered with a different tone that allowed ambiguity and obscurity in how things were phrased. The new script would allow an ambiance of uncertainty and pose questions that enabled open-ended discussions. So, nothing would be definite regarding the story, and it was not fabricated as a reported fact anymore. 

The new episode has not been allocated to a definite release date yet, as producers find themselves in a conflicting predicament of whether they should bring back the original script that focuses more on presenting the sexual abuse article as a fact, or if they should go with the toned-down version that could raise questions about the Times‘ wavering reportage. Meanwhile, the author of the original article revealed that follow-up research would be conducted to give the piece “credibility”. 

The debate also encouraged staff members to give their two cents on the story: one editor expressed frustration with the executive editorial board that does not claim accountability for misdoings when publishing. He affirmed “The story deserved more fact-checking and much more reporting. All basic standards applied to countless other stories.”8

Previous refutations

Moreover, multiple accounts ascertained that the running story carried several gaps. The Israeli family involved in a key case mentioned in the October 7 New York Times report on alleged sexual violence by Hamas fighters has disavowed the published story, asserting that reporters manipulated their statements, Press TV reported, citing Israeli media.

A significant portion of the report, approximately one-third, was dedicated to the Abdush family. The daughter of the family, Gal, was often referred to as “the woman in the black dress,” during Operation Al-Aqsa Flood. The report specifically highlighted how she was allegedly subjected to sexual assault. It centered on footage captured on October 8 by Eden Wessely, who subsequently shared it on her social media accounts.
One day following the publication of the report, the Israeli news site Ynet interviewed Gal’s parents. They emphasized the absence of evidence supporting the claim that she was raped, asserting that the newspaper’s reporters had interviewed them under false pretenses. The parents stated that they were unaware of the sexual assault issue until the article in the American Daily was published. Additionally, Gal’s sisters vehemently refuted the allegations of rape.

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, one of the main propagators of the claim that the Palestinian Resistance fighters sexually assaulted Israeli women on October 7, the police cannot find any victims or any witnesses of any form of sexual assault.

Even though the Israelis themselves are practically admitting that their claims are unsubstantiated, in defense, Times spokesperson Charlie Stadtlander said the paper has not responded to all the backlash and refutations because the episode was not officially published, as per newspaper policy. 

But the spotlight has been shining on the New York Times for its biased and misleading reporting, thereby questioning its intents from fabricating narratives, publishing, and responding to feedback and claims. 

This is especially evident in its coverage of the genocide in Gaza. The news outlet opted to consistently downplay the magnitude of Palestinian losses in passive remarks, but have emphasized the incomparable losses among Israeli ranks.

A previous report by The Intercept highlighted the bias present in the media outlet’s reporting. Just last week, the New York Times published an article wickedly titled “Decline of Deaths in Gaza”, even when “Israel” kills hundreds of Palestinians and commits dozens of massacres overnight. The newspaper has not shied away from its bias toward “Israel”. 

Read more: How language used in American media facilitates genocide

CAMERA’s role in promoting false narratives 

In 1982, pro-Israeli lobbyists founded the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis, or CAMERA, following the Washington Post’s coverage of the Israeli invasion and occupation of Lebanon, which was considered anti-“Israel” at the time. 

Since then, CAMERA has solicited and manipulated the media into boasting more Israeli-friendly sentiments and attacked the legitimacy, credibility, and constitution of authors or newspeople who did not comply with, or criticized the Israeli occupation and its policies. 

In the months since the Israeli genocide overtook Gaza, CAMERA imposed at least two changes in the language used by the New York Times in certain articles: First, the word “occupation” to describe “Israel” was removed after lobbying, and second, an author describing civilian casualties in Gaza as “very high” was forced to change the description because CAMERA claimed it referred to casualties in general, not civilian casualties. 

These are not the only indicators of CAMERA’s influence on the Times. The newspaper’s executive editor, Joe Kahn, is actually the son of a CAMERA member, Leo Kahn. Kahn joined CAMERA after it had gained its notorious reputation of being a pro-Israeli watchdog.

After his son Joe significantly gained status at the Times, he and his dad would reportedly often edit news and cover it together. This incites the possibility of CAMERA principles holding some control over what gets published and how in the newspaper. 

It also goes beyond just influence. Joe and Leo Kahn, who are both affiliated with CAMERA, hold significant fortunes. Leo Kahn generated large sums from being a business owner and a stakeholder of multiple business chains in New England. Joe is a Pulitzer Prize winner who had risen to fame through his role as a China correspondent in the Wall Street Journal

Moreover, it just so happened that the year Leo joined CAMERA’s board of directors, Joe was also promoted to editor. 

How Israeli lobbyists create war targets

The Times has always had close connections to “Israel”, encapsulated in family members of significant staffers working for Israeli security forces or occupation forces, who served as their biased sources in the occupation. 

CAMERA claims its imposed edits do not alter the narrative itself but solely the language used, but these alterations not only changed the ambiance of the whole piece but also misled the audience and painted certain individuals in a very negative light, individuals who would later be targeted by “Israel” itself during the genocide. 

This was the case of the late Refaat Alareer, a Palestinian author and poet who was scrutinized by Israeli media and affiliated, biased media. 

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