Middle East Monitor (MEMO) published a story (update: it appears to have been taken down) based on an earlier report from the Anadalou News Agency claiming a settler rabbi endorsed poisoning the wells of West Bank Palestinians. If true, this would be yet another outrageous, racist, even genocidal statement in a long line from such settler rabbis. But it isn’t true. For the following reasons:
- The article says the PLO denounced the statement by the rabbi. The PA would be the proper authority to make such a statement if one was made. The PLO does not make such statements.
- The article claims the Jewish figure who endorsed the poisoning of wells was one, “Rabbi Shlomo Mlma” of the “Council of Rabbis of West Bank settlements.” The only problem: there is no such rabbi. The name “Mlma” is not Hebrew and likely fabricated. Though there is a rabbinic council on the West Bank, there is no group with this name. The two rabbis of the settlement of Beit El are Shlomo Aviner and Zalman Melamed. The fake name could be a deliberate conflation of these two real ones. There is a Rabbi Zalman Melamed in Beit El as well, and Shlomo is the Hebrew version of the Yiddish name, Zalman. But only someone versed in the settler community would know this information. No Palestinian reporter would.
- The article says that Breaking the Silence made a statement denouncing the rabbi and suggesting the motivation for his call. But it neither quotes the statement nor names the representative who made it. WAFA, the official PLO news agency, in its story names the representative as Yehuda Shaul, who was once BtS’ spokesperson, but who has not been for some time.
- The story quotes a statement by a “Wasil Abu Youssef, a member of the PLO executive committee.” But no other news sites confirm he made such a statement.
The author of what purports to be the original Anadolu story is Aness Suheil Bargoti. There is an Anees Suheil Barghouti whose stories appear in Google searches. I have written the editors at the Agency to try to determine what the author’s sources were and where this story originated. I also tweeted to Barghouti himself. He has not yet responded. It should be noted that Anadolu is the state-run Turkish news agency. Given the current hostilities between Israel and Turkey, it’s entirely possible the agency would be eager to run such a story ostensibly embarrassing Israel.
The story was also picked up by WAFA, the PLO’s press agency. WAFA knows the PLO well enough not to quote it as the source of the story, as Anadolu did. It even convinced the Palestinian foreign ministry to respond to it unfortunately. This surely made those who created the hoax quite happy.
While there is ample past evidence of settlers poisoning Palestinian wells by throwing dead animals and soiled diapers into them, as noted in reader comments below, this particular version is a hoax.
While it is clear that this story is fake, it’s only slightly less clear who created it. My strong feeling is that it comes from official or unofficial Israeli hasbara sources. The timing couldn’t be more convenient given the recent news cycle which offered a damaging story about Israel cutting off water to West Bank villages as they faced a massive heat wave. What better way to counter the bad press than to put out a hoax, which the pro-Israel press will jump on to ridicule the pro-Palestine media who swallowed the story hook, line and sinker.
UPDATE: An Israeli just informed me that Maariv published a story last week in which the pro-settler group Ad Kan revealed that former Breaking the Silence spokesperson, Yehuda Shaul was filmed two years ago claiming that settlers poisoned a Palestinian well. This claim is being used by Palestinians who are suing American Jewish settler supporters in U.S. courts. Settlers and the Israeli far-right are especially exercised when the testimony of Israeli human rights NGOs are used to “defame” Israel in the international community. All this appears to be the “inspiration” for the poison well hoax, and its connection by those who perpetrated it to Yehuda Shaul and BtS.
Another dubious aspect of the story, which was first noted by Jett Goldsmith, is that the poisoning of wells is an ancient element of Christian blood libels against Jews going back to the Middle Ages. Besides poisoning Christian water supply, Jews were also accused of kidnapping and killing Christian babies and using their blood to make matza for Passover. It would seem the perfect dark, but juvenile joke for a Jew to create a fake blood libel in order to embarrass the progressive media who might run this story.
It may be no accident that the first pro-Israel blog to find and denounce this story as a fraud is David Lange’s Israellycool. He posted his story one day after the Anadolu post was published. He was careful not to link to the Anadolu story itself, but to another site which republished it.
Lange himself has engaged in serial frauds and hoaxes on Facebook and other social media in which he posted anti-Semitic material, then featured it in his blog in order to gin up hatred of Palestinians. Most recently, he attacked 15-year-old, Leanne Mohamad, a UK schoolgirl who won a speaking competition with a speech on her love for Palestine. Lange and blog co-author, Brian Thomas. A hitherto unknown figured named Edgar Davidson also joined in the attack. Several activists told me that Davidson is none other than Thomas (in Davidson’s blog he mentions himself and Thomas in the same sentence and in this Israellycool post Thomas even concedes someone outed Davidson as him).
They all smeared Moahmad by calling her a ISIS recruiter and terrorist. As a result, the competition pulled her from the competition. This bullying was noted by the UK press, who caught on to Lange and Thomas’ MO and denounced his tactics.
Lange and Thomas have been photographed together with IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, and they jointly form a clubby mutual admiration society. Thomas has also posted a tweet saying it was a shame halacha didn’t permit him to shoot me.
In his post attacking the alleged water poisoning story, Lange even connects the Israeli water shut-off to the so-called blood libel (his words) story about the settler rabbi. I strongly doubt this is a coincidence:
A few days ago, I was one of the first to report on and debunk a blood libel perpetrated by The Independent (and others) regarding Israel restricting the access of palestinians [sic] to water.
Now we see a new water blood libel doing the rounds in the Arab media: A report concerning a prominent Rabbi who has issued a religious decree “allowing Israeli settlers in the West Bank to poison Palestinian water sources in Palestinian towns.”
What’s ironic is that the notion that settlers poisoned wells is no blood libel, but fact. It’s just that they didn’t in this particular situation because it was invented by pals of the settlers. If this isn’t dark irony I don’t know what is.
If there’s smoke wafting from this gun, it appears to lead back to the shooter, David Lange (or his pal, Brian Thomas). Of course, it’s always possible that someone associated with them pulled the hoax and told them about it so they could be first to publish a story debunking it. Time will tell…
UPDATE: Now Lahav Harkov one of Jerusalem Post’s top hack journalists has swallowed this hoax hook line and sinker. She has published a splashy story about how the PA news agency, WAFA, is publishing blood libels against the Jews, amplifying the garbage Lange already published. In truth, she and the Post are themselves willing dupes of this meretricious nonsense. The Post is a veteran hoax victim, having published fake stories about anti-Semitism in Norway and Ireland. It never published any retraction or correction to those stories, nor will it now.
The editor of MEMO thanked me for bringing the story to his attention. It appears to no longer be on the site. The public affairs department at Anadolu thanked me as well and said they would examine the matter, but the post is still accessible on the site. I will update as I learn more.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.