CiF Watch reader fact-checks Telegraph claim; achieves positive result

A CiF Watch follower on Facebook named Rafi recently contacted us concerning an article in The Telegraph in late September which included the erroneous claim (in the strap line) that an El-Al flight was delayed “for hours” because of disruptions by Ultra-orthodox Jews”.

How did he determine the error? Well, he did some basic fact-checking by searching for the departure and arrival times on El-Al’s Live Flight Tracker. As it turns out, the flight departed 24 minutes late and arrived 14 minutes late compared to the previous 7 day average.

Here’s the graphic he created to illustrate the error.

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Times Mid-East correspondent Catherine Philp responds to our criticism

In late February we commented on an apt illustration of the increasingly prevalent dynamic within the UK media of the blurring of news and opinion, in a story at Times of London by their Middle East correspondent Catherine Philp

Catherine Philp

Catherine Philp

The story, about debates in the Knesset over legislation aimed at ending an exemption that allows thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews to skip military service, originally included the following headline:

zealots

As we noted at the time, given that roughly 8 percent of Israeli Jews are ultra-Orthodox (Haredi), Philps was in effect using the pejorative “zealot” – a term with very specific Jewish historical connotations – to describe roughly 480,000 Israelis.  Though some ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel can of course fairly be described as extreme or zealous, to paint the entire community in such negative terms represents the kind of crude stereotype that progressive journalists would typically abhor.

Following our complaint to Times editors, the headline was revised, and the loaded word “zealots” was replaced with the more accurate term “ultra-orthodox”.

new header

On March 18 (three weeks after the original post), we received the following Tweets from the Times journalist.

However, the word “zealot” was also used in the body of the story, here:

Ultra-Orthodox Jews who refuse to serve in the Israeli army could face time in jail under a new law agreed by a parliamentary committee in a move likely to trigger fresh protests from zealots.

We asked her about this on Twitter, and she responded with the following:

We appreciate Ms. Philps’ clarification and have updated the original post accordingly.

UPDATE: Some time after this post was published, it appears as if Ms. Philps deleted the the two last Tweets we highlighted.  (We embedded the code from the original Tweets, but now that they are deleted from Twitter the html doesn’t work, and, as you see, merely the text appears.) However, we found copies. Here they are:

cache tweet

 

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CiF Watch prompts revision to Times headline referring to Haredi Jews as ‘Zealots’ (Updated)

(See update to this post below)

Yesterday, we commented on an example of the increasingly prevalent dynamic within the mainstream media of the blurring of news and opinion, in the following story at Times of London by their (error-prone) Middle East correspondent Catherine Philp.

The story, about debates in the Israeli Knesset over legislation aimed at ending an exemption that allows thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews (Haredim) to skip military service, also included the word “zealots” in the opening passage.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews who refuse to serve in the Israeli army could face time in jail under a new law agreed by a parliamentary committee in a move likely to trigger fresh protests from zealots.

Today, following a complaint filed by CiF Watch, The Times changed their headline and deleted the word “Zealots”, replacing it with the more accurate term “ultra-Orthodox”.

new header

Thought they kept “zealots” in the opening passage, the differing language used in the headline and the subsequent text does make some sense.  

While the text was referring specifically to those ultra-Orthodox Jews engaging in sometimes violent protests (who could arguably be called “zealous”), the headline is referring to the entire population of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the country who are exempt from military service – an extremely large number of Israelis who can’t reasonably be stereotyped in that manner.

Though the word “zealots” still seems quite tendentious in any context in a straight news story – and it’s difficult to imagine such a pejorative being used by The Times to refer to Palestinians who riot at the Temple Mount – the decision by Times editors to at least revise the headline represents a clear improvement over the original.

UPDATE on March 19: Catherine Philp just responded to our criticism in these Tweets:

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Times reporter Catherine Philp refers to nearly half a million Jews as ‘Zealots’

Remember when reading the following headline and text at The Times of London (pay wall) that this is not an op-ed, but a straight news story by their (error-proneMiddle East correspondent Catherine Philp.

timesAnd, no, this wasn’t simply the work of a sub-editor, as you can see by the opening passage:

Ultra-Orthodox Jews who refuse to serve in the Israeli army could face time in jail under a new law agreed by a parliamentary committee in a move likely to trigger fresh protests from zealots.

Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, will vote next month on the law aimed at ending an exemption that allows thousands of young ultra-Orthodox men to skip military service in favour of state-sponsored study of scripture. The prospect of legislation prompted thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews to block roads across Israel earlier this month, leading to clashes with police.

Given that roughly 8 percent of Israeli Jews are ultra-Orthodox (Haredi), Philps is lazily using the pejorative “zealot” to describe roughly 480,000 Israelis.

Leaving aside the Jewish historical connotations of the term “Zealots”, though some ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel can reasonably be described as extreme or zealous, to paint the entire community in such negative terms represents a crude stereotype – a simple-minded prejudice that putatively progressive journalists would typically abhor.

As with the frequent pejorative descriptions of Israeli “settlers” in the Guardian and elsewhere in the UK media, Philps’ lazy characterization of the multi-faceted and complex Haredi population in Israel represents more evidence that, when it comes to Israel, liberal taboos against painting large religious or ethnic communities with a broad brush are breezily ignored.

Editor’s Note: Following communication with CiF Watch, Times editors revised the headline.

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A note to Harriet Sherwood on the difference between a rock and a spitball

A guest post by AKUS

Approximately two years ago an ugly incident in the Israeli town of Bet Shemesh drew wide – in fact, global – attention.  An ultra-Orthodox fanatic spat on a little (orthodox) girl on her way to school.  Hillary Clinton was even moved to condemn the incident.

Of course, Harriet Sherwood reported for the Guardian on the truly outrageous behavior of the ultra-Orthodox in Bet Shemesh. Her first article, ‘The battle of Bet Shemesh‘,  appeared on October 31st, 2011. On December 27th, 2011 she published an article about additional incidents in the town, titled ‘Shimon Peres condemns ultra-orthodox extremists as tensions escalate‘.  There was also a video report on December 28th, 2011 about a protest against ultra-Orthodox extremism in Bet Shemesh.  

(More recently, Giles Fraser wrote a column at the Guardian about attempts by some to force women to sit at the back of buses in Israel, titled ‘Ultra-orthodox attitudes towards gender segregation go to the core of what Israel is all about‘, outrageously drawing the inference that these minority attitudes are “at the core” of Israeli attitudes towards women.)

So, when I read that a two-year-old Jewish toddler had almost been killed by a rock thrown by Arab teens at the car her mother was driving, I naturally assumed this would receive considerable coverage in the Guardian. After all, a toddler being hit by a rock is surely more serious than an 8 year being spit upon, as horrible as that is.

car

Photo of the location where the rock struck the vehicle

However, Harriet Sherwood, now barely managing to turn in one story a week, evidently found the matter so mundane that it was not worth an article.  Giles Fraser has not drawn the conclusion that this kind of violence goes to ‘the core’ of what Arab society is “all about”.

In fact, the attack and its consequences were only mentioned in passing.  The reference is at the end of an AP article (‘Seven Israeli Arabs jailed for lynching IDF soldier who went on shooting spree‘, Nov. 28) about an entirely different incident:

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, a two-year-old girl was moderately wounded when she was struck in the head by a stone hurled at the car in which she was traveling. A police spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld, said the attack appeared to be nationalistic in nature as Jewish vehicles are often targeted in the area by youths in nearby Arab villages.

The baby girl was taken to hospital, where the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, called on authorities to crack down on a recent wave of stone-throwing attacks in the city. “It’s about time we start treating a stone as a weapon,” he told Israel’s Channel 10 TV.

The prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, wished the girl a speedy recovery. “We will find these criminals and bring them to justice,” he said.

But perhaps the “moderate” injuries the little two-year-old sustained were not worth noting. After all, her mother Shirin Ben-Zion told Channel 2

“Avigail will be fine. She has a fractured skull, and we wait. I never thought that something like this could happen. Initially, I thought it was an accident, but then I realized very quickly that what crashed into us wasn’t any vehicle.”

So a fractured skull, if it belongs to a two-year old Jewish toddler, merely represents a “moderate wound”. How, I wonder, would AP and the Guardian report a similar attack in which an Arab toddler was dangerously wounded in the same manner?

Experienced Guardian readers, I am sure, will have no difficulty in imagining the outpouring of articles and comments below the line in that event.

The Independent or Richard Silverstein? An internet rumor of rabbis, soy and sex

Yair Rosenberg writes the following in an Oct. 30 story for Tablet:

Visit the web site of the national British daily newspaper, the Independent, and you’ll find an article titled, “Rabbi bans students from eating soy in case it leads to gay sex.”

Actually you won’t find it anymore, because, after Rosenberg’s superb fisking of the story – which demonstrated that the Hebrew source for the claim said the exact opposite - the Independent completely removed the article from their website. 

However, here’s a cached page of the deleted article:

one

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Rosenberg ends his piece by admonishing the Indy for “apparently citing sources [they couldn’t] read or confirm, and embroidering them with utterly fictitious details” – ‘rumor mill’ style journalism we recently exposed in a post about an increasingly notorious anti-Zionist blogger. 

To read Rosenberg’s superb Tablet expose, click here.

To read more about another British daily “newspaper” which obsessively trades in fictitious, reckless, sensational, and ideologically driven allegations against a particular state in the Middle East, you can simply continue following this blog. 

Updates to post on ‘Women of the Wall’ & alleged gender segregation in Petah Tikva

This story has been updated below

On Feb. 19, we posted about Harriet Sherwood’s Feb. 17 Guardian report, ‘Sarah Silverman tweet puts women’s Western Wall protest in global spotlight, which focused on a protest by an Israeli group (‘Women of the Wall’) against restrictions imposed on women who pray at the Kotel in Jerusalem.

Kotel2big

Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem

We noted that such protests resonate with a lot of Israelis who object to Haredi hegemony over religious practices in the state, but examined the following quote in the Guardian story for accuracy.

Despite some notable legal victories, “this is still a huge issue”, said [Anat] Hoffman, who is also director of [IRAC] the Israel Religious Action Centre [and chairperson of ‘Women of the Wall’], which campaigns against segregation and the exclusion of women. “Every day we get calls reporting things to us. Just yesterday, we heard that the water-drinking fountains at Petah Tikva cemetery have been segregated.”

IRAC is the legal and advocacy arm of the Reform Judaism movement in Israel.

Due to the fact that Hoffman evidently didn’t provide the source of her claim to Sherwood, we did our own investigation, and contacted an Israeli blogger named Anne, a resident of Petah Tikva [a city in central Israel, 10.6 km east of Tel Aviv], who investigated the matter personally.

Anne wrote the following:

I got [to the cemetery in Petah Tikvah] during a funeral (so I visited my grandmother’s grave while I was there) and then wandered around and took photos of the taps. First of all, there are no “drinking fountains” at the cemetery. I don’t think any cemetery has these.  What they do have are taps to ritually wash your hands when leaving the cemetery (Netilat Yadayim). As you can see (in the photos), there were men and women washing hands together. The second set of taps are located outside the men’s toilets but are certainly used by both men and women. As you can see, there is no sign at all about separation, and I have washed my hands there many times. The “wall” dividing the two sides is simply to allow more taps in one small area.

So, contrary to the claim made by Hoffman there are no gender segregated “drinking fountains” in the Petah Tikva cemetery, and likely no “drinking fountains” at all.  Further, the ritual hand washing taps, as Anne noted, are not segregated by gender.

However, this morning, we were contacted by a CiF Watch reader who supports the mission of the Israeli Religious Action Centre, and had emailed the group to seek comment on the claim made by their director.  Here’s their reply:

 It seemed Anat did confuse the cities when she said it was Petah Tikva. The city where we found the gender segregated washing station was in Kiryat Gat [a city in southern Israel, 56 km south of Tel Aviv]. I have attached a picture below. This will be corrected and in past and for all future statements on the issue.

Here’s the photo they sent.

Seperate washing stations

So, there appears to indeed be separate men’s and women’s ritual hand washing stations at the cemetery in Kiryat Gat. 

Though the connection between this particular gender separation practice at one Israeli cemetery and the restrictions imposed on women who pray at the Kotel is debatable, there’s a larger point to be made about Hoffman’s gaffe.

Though she was born in Jerusalem, Anat Hoffman spent time in the US (she earned her undergraduate degree from UCLA) and speaks flawless English.

Whilst conflating Petah Tikva with Kiryat Gat does not represent a major substantive error, Hoffman would likely be familiar with the ritual washing practice at Jewish cemeteries (symbolizing the dissociation from the impurity of death), and it therefore seems reasonable to ask why – unless Sherwood quoted her incorrectly – she would mistake a drinking fountain with a ritual hand-washing station.

The idea of separate drinking fountains (broadly speaking) evokes, for many, a very particular historical association  – particularly to Americans.

If the Reform Movement wishes to effectively advocate for an end to Orthodox control of religious life in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the state, and also be taken seriously as a proudly Zionist movement, it seems fair to expect their spokespeople to exercise care in avoiding imprecise, inflammatory language which could aggravate the already volatile secular-religious divide in the Jewish state.

women of the wall

Homepage of ‘Women of the Wall’

UPDATE: A reader in the comment section of our original post on this issue found a recent Ynet article from Feb. 11 (in Hebrew) reporting that, following complaints by some of the clientele at the cemetery about the segregated washing stations, the sign was removed (by orders of the Ministry of Religious Affairs) and the policy ended.  

UPDATE 2:  Thanks to a reader for pointing out that I incorrectly wrote that Anat Hoffman was a rabbi. She is not. The post has been corrected.