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The start of Operation of Al-Aqsa Flood on Oct. 7 was accompanied by a deluge of Israeli propaganda. Claims of beheaded babies, infants found in ovens, mass rape, and other heinous atrocities allegedly committed by Hamas circulated far and wide, promoted by a range of interlocutors that included journalists, celebrities, legacy media, and even President Biden himself. Months later, the most outrageous of these claims of Hamas atrocities have been debunked, but the damage has already been done. Ali Abuminah joins The Chris Hedges Report to discuss the Israeli propaganda campaign providing cover for the genocide in Gaza, and the complicity of corporate media in these crimes.

Ali Abuminah is a Palestinian American journalist and the co-founder of The Electronic Intifada.

Studio Production: David Hebden
Post-Production: Cameron Granadino
Opening sequence by: Cameron Granadino


Chris Hedges:  Israel, like all settler-colonial projects, is built on lies. The lie that the land historically belongs to the colonizers. The lie that Palestinians have no national identity. The lie that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. The lie that a peaceful settlement is thwarted by the Palestinians rather than the apartheid Israeli state. This mendacity is especially prevalent when Israel carries out its murderous assaults against the Palestinians, including the current genocide in Gaza. The Hebrew word for this propaganda is hasbara or explanation. Hasbara is a combination of agitprop, propaganda, and censorship; It is designed to ensure unity among the Jews in Israel and abroad, sustain the support of allies, especially the US, discredit and delegitimize critics who are branded – Even if they are Jewish – As antisemites, and control the narrative within the media and academia.

Hasbara is designed to obscure and neutralize the gross violations of human rights and international law that define Israel’s occupation. The effort includes the maintenance of websites, social media accounts, and messages under false identities as well as the manipulation of browser functions, search engines, algorithms, and other automated mechanisms to control what information is presented and what is obscured to internet users. Satellite organizations – Including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee or AIPAC, the Canary Mission, and CAMERA or the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America – Along with Hillel houses, Jewish campus organizations carry out often vicious, coordinated campaigns of character assassination against those who champion Palestinian rights and denounce the apartheid state.

As much of the world recoils in revulsion over Israel’s slaughter in Gaza, which includes carpet bombing hundreds of dead and wounded – Mostly civilians – A day, the weaponization of starvation, and infectious diseases, hasbara has gone into overdrive; Beheaded babies, mass rapes, group executions in a nursery, children hung from clotheslines, infants incinerated in ovens, and pregnant women having their stomachs cut open and the fetus knifed in front of them and their other children. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA, is a hotbed of Hamas, and hospitals in Gaza that serve as Hamas command centers, all make them legitimate in the eyes of Israel’s targets.

Most of the media, including The New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, and The Intercept have swallowed this propaganda and spat it back to their readers or viewers as fact. Only a handful of publications – Electronic Intifada, The Grayzone, Mondoweiss, and Al Jazeera – Have doggedly exposed the lies spread by Israel’s vast disinformation campaign, often forcing mainstream publications including The New York Times to retract or backpedal on their reporting. Joining me to discuss Israel’s propaganda campaign is Ali Abunimah, one of the founders of the Electronic Intifada. Ali, you have fought this machine for a very long time and I would argue probably more successfully than perhaps anyone else. You have exposed the mendacity of most of these narratives and we will talk a little later on about this supposed sexual assault – Electronic Intifada is probably the first – But let’s talk about the machine, how it works, and we have to be clear, you have also been a target of that machine.

Ali Abunimah:  Hi, Chris. We have been successful to the extent that more people than ever are aware that they’re being lied to, and that’s such a major part of the battle. Sadly, I can’t say that we have stopped or deterred the so-called mainstream media or our corporate and governmental propaganda outlets from running this propaganda. I would say that their propensity to spew Israeli propaganda is greater than ever and it is now rare to see decent coverage, whether it’s in The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN, or the BBC.

I remember 25-30 years ago we used to point to the BBC as the counterpoint to the biased and propagandistic US media; I would say now the BBC is as bad as any and NPR is as bad as any. What has changed is the growth of independent media, its reach, and the fact that the internet – As increasingly censored and controlled as it is – Provides us with a means to reach people directly. That means that these propaganda narratives may be more pervasive than ever but they’re more mistrusted and disdained than ever as well.

Chris Hedges:  I want to talk about the tactic. For instance, the assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh can go back to almost any incident that gets wide play internationally. They lie brazenly about what happened. They blamed the killing of this Al Jazeera journalist – A Palestinian-American journalist – On the Palestinians. They released video footage of gunmen that they said were firing towards her, then Al-Haq or B’Tselem, one of these human rights organizations, exposed that the video was taken at a place where she was not even present, etc.

Finally, after a few months, the Israeli authorities conceded that she may have been shot by an Israeli soldier by accident, but by then we’ve moved on to another story. They shape the narrative and they have quite an effective ability to do it at the beginning. We see it now in Gaza repeatedly, including the killing of people who were going to get food from trucks in Northern Gaza; The Israelis say that it was a stampede. It comes out later but by then it doesn’t have the same effect.

Ali Abunimah:  The tactic is to play into the propensity of the US media, and this is what they teach in journalism schools. I’ve never been to a journalism school – Which I think is where you go to learn how not to do journalism – But they play into the propensity of US media to ‘both sides’ everything. US media takes the approach, particularly with the question of Palestine, that you never place your credibility or your authority as a journalist anywhere in terms of saying, the Israelis say this, the Palestinians say that, but the Palestinians are telling the truth because the evidence shows A, B, and C.

That to me is what a journalist does, is say, this is what two potential parties are saying, but this is where the facts lead us. That’s what journalism should be. US journalism, the furthest it will go is to say, the Israelis say this and the Palestinians say that. Well, who knows what the truth is? It’s a mystery. We as journalists are completely unable to discern anything so the Israelis play into that. So when Shireen Abu Akleh is killed live on television, and when there are Palestinian and other eyewitnesses who give their accounts in the immediate aftermath live on television and say, we saw the Israeli soldiers over there firing at us, and then Shireen fell and then we were injured and the Israelis kept firing, that is never credible to the US media.

What the Israelis do is they immediately put out a counter-narrative; Even if it’s false, even if the Israelis know it’s false, and even if they know it will be found to be false in a day, in a week, in a month, in three months, it serves the immediate purpose of muddying the waters so that all the headlines will immediately be Palestinian journalist dies in disputed circumstances. Job done, as far as the Israelis are concerned. They don’t need to go further than that. We saw that so clearly in the context of this genocide in Gaza. If you remember early on when the al-Ahli Hospital was bombed, dozens of people were killed there, and hundreds of people were injured, the Israelis put out this narrative which was let’s say, never proven, to be generous. That it was an Islamic Jihad missile that fell and killed them even though investigators looked at the footage later and said it couldn’t have been that missile.

But the job was done. The Israelis had achieved what they wanted which was that the State Department spokesperson, The New York Times, CNN, and The Washington Post could say it’s disputed. Who knows what happened? That hospital is disputed but what about the other two dozen hospitals that the Israelis didn’t even deny they attacked? So that’s the tactic again and again: To sow doubt where there is no doubt that journalists were doing their jobs. But again, it’s that they’re exploiting that propensity of the US media to refuse to investigate, to refuse to take a position on where the evidence leads, and that’s the greatest strength for the Israelis.

Chris Hedges:  We have two other tactics – One, they saturate the news organizations in terms of there’s a preponderance of Israeli spokespeople or people allied with Israel who are allowed to dominate the airwaves and the print, and the other thing they do, and you’ve been a victim of this, is they demonize Palestinians to essentially tarnish their credibility.

Ali Abunimah:  Palestinians are deemed not to have any credibility; If you are a Palestinian, you are deemed to be unable to speak about Palestine because it’s assumed that you’re inherently biased and inherently would not tell the truth. That’s not their tactic in other cases. We’re told, oh, we have to listen to Ukrainians. They know best what’s happening in Ukraine. They know what’s best for Ukraine. We have to listen to Syrians, as long as they’re allied with the US regime change efforts and so on. But you never listen to Palestinians. That’s the tactic.

In terms of the inclusion of Palestinian voices, I’ve never seen more exclusion, more of an iron wall against Palestinians being allowed to speak in so-called mainstream media. From my own experience, I can tell you that 20 years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for me – You can go back and look at the archives – I would be invited onto CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, BBC, NPR, and CBC or the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. That never happens now. I can’t tell you the last time any mainstream outlet reached out to me and it’s not that I’m uniquely qualified. There are lots of Palestinians qualified to speak but I am one fairly well-known Palestinian journalist and writer who can speak about these issues. But they will never have me on.

I get called regularly by Al Jazeera, regularly although less frequently by TRT, the Turkish outlet, CGTN from China, and various independent outlets. That’s who will call me, but never a mainstream outlet, absolutely never. And that’s not just me, I’m using myself as an example but it’s very rare to find Palestinians now in the mainstream media. If you do, they are usually – With no disrespect to them, there are always exceptions to every rule, I’m not saying you won’t find great Palestinians speaking in the media. Of course, you will – What they would consider the safest Palestinians or representatives of the Palestinian Authority who we can safely say do not represent Palestinians; Even to the extent that we can rely on opinion polls, they’re rejected by the vast majority of Palestinians, but that’s who will be called by the mainstream media.

Chris Hedges:  Or figures like Sheikh Yassin’s son, who has become a Christian fundamentalist and will spew the racism towards Palestinians and Hamas, which of course his father was a co-founder of, that the mainstream media wants to buttress.

Ali Abunimah:  Very fringe figures who cannot tell you anything about the experience or the perspectives of the vast majority of Palestinians, and cannot give you a viewpoint that is in any way rooted in that experience in reality. But it tells you that if they’re searching for those people, they are not seeking to learn what Palestinians think and experience – They’re seeking to shape for their audience what they should think about Palestinians.

Chris Hedges:  Why do you think they shut you out? The time period that you mentioned is one where there’s, certainly within the public, a greater understanding and sympathy for what the Palestinians are undergoing. Yet, over that, let’s say two-decade period, you’ve seen your voice completely silenced by the mainstream media. Why?

Ali Abunimah:  That has to do with the very narrowband of ideas that we’re allowed to talk about in the mainstream media. I don’t think that has to do just with me. It has to do with anyone, particularly any Palestinian who goes beyond those boundaries. You’re not allowed to question or attack Zionism as a racist political ideology, which it is of course. You are not allowed to question the idea that the so-called ‘two-state solution’ is the only outcome that is permissible. You are, frankly, not allowed to speak the way the vast majority of Palestinians speak and think. You’re only allowed to speak within these very narrow confines. So that’s one element.

The other element has to do with the general shift in the role of the media where we’ve seen it; I’m talking about in the so-called West – The US and its satellites and vessels – The media has become a far more domesticated mouthpiece for the government and we see that across the board. I mentioned the BBC earlier, which to me is one of the starkest and most shocking examples of that. I grew up listening to the BBC. Among my earliest memories is coming into my parents’ bedroom and hearing the BBC on the radio, which my dad would listen to every morning, in English and Arabic because it was considered reliable, it was considered authoritative, and it was considered independent of the government.

I can remember examples when I was growing up of that independence. For example, in the late 1980s when the government of Margaret Thatcher in the UK banned the BBC from broadcasting the voices of senior members of Sinn Féin, the Irish political party that is associated with the IRA and the armed struggle against British rule. The BBC defied that publicly by getting voice actors to dub the words of Sinn Féin spokespersons like Gerry Adams in defiance of the government. There was a Panorama episode called “Death on the Rock” which exposed the shoot-to-kill orders of the Thatcher government to extrajudicially execute accused members of the IRA.

You would never see the BBC doing those things today. I’m not saying this to suggest that the BBC was a perfect media organization that did all the things that I would want. It wasn’t. But there was a level of independence that is completely gone now and you see that in its parroting of Russiagate propaganda, in its parroting of propaganda about Ukraine, and its extreme parroting of Israeli propaganda. It has lost any sense of a journalistic independent mission. But what I’m saying about the BBC is also true about the CBC in Canada, which I hear a lot on satellite radio when I’m in my car, or NPR, or any other of the supposedly public media. It’s a very similar pattern with The New York Times and The Washington Post, which are probably the most influential newspapers in the world and the agenda-setting newspapers of the world to a great extent. It’s also got to do with that general transformation of what’s left of the media into obedient government mouthpieces.

Chris Hedges:  I would have to say – Having worked at The New York Times for 15 years – Unlike the BBC, they were always bad.

Ali Abunimah:  Right, yeah.

Chris Hedges:  We have this genocide which is being livestreamed. It has a staggering death toll: Hundreds of people, almost all civilians, are being killed and wounded every day. I covered Sarajevo and that was four to five dead a day. It was no fun, it was awful. Juxtapose that with the scale of the slaughter and then the weaponization of starvation and everything else. The Israeli propaganda machine has gone into overdrive and you’ve done some of the leading work in exposing the lies. Let’s do two stories that I know the Electronic Intifada has exposed.

Let’s begin with the attack of October 7. There are two narratives: The first one we’ll talk about is the response of Israel. It’s very clear from the work that you’ve done and some Israeli newspapers have done, that there was a gap of six to eight hours where Israeli tanks and helicopters were shooting anything that moved, blowing up houses on kibbutzes where they thought Hamas gunmen had hostages. They were all being killed. Then we can deal with the infamous rape story that The New York Times is working very hard to try and salvage some credibility from. But let’s begin with that first narrative that you did a lot of work on.

Ali Abunimah:  We did. The Electronic Intifada and a couple of other independent publications that you mentioned earlier, The Grayzone and Mondoweiss, to us it was immediately clear that the Israeli narrative made no sense. How could lightly-armed gunmen, coming across the border on motorbikes, on foot, and some were on paragliders, which was very dramatic, but they were carrying AK-47s. And maybe they’re carrying a few grenades and possibly even a few rocket-propelled grenades. But when you looked at the pictures that were widely published of the devastation in some of these Israeli military bases and kibbutzes around Gaza, it didn’t make sense. The whole streets of houses leveled. Smoldering rubble. You can’t do that with an AK-47. So what happened? Then you look also at the pictures that were widely published of hundreds of vehicles incinerated. Doesn’t make sense. What happened?

Very quickly, stories started to come out in the Israeli media within a few days, and the first big story we broke at the Electronic Intifada was the account of Yasmin Porat. She was a survivor of the violence that happened at Kibbutz Be’eri, which is one of the kibbutzes near the Gaza boundary fence. The account she gave was broadcast in an interview on Israeli state radio in their morning show, roughly the equivalent of NPR’s Morning Edition. This is a big national platform in Israel. She told the story that what happened was the Palestinians came in and they took people captive but she said, they treated us humanely. That was the word she used. They weren’t violent towards people, they looked after them.

I’m not saying it’s a nice experience but what she said is, they looked after us, they reassured us, they told us we’re going to take you to Gaza and then you’ll be released. She said very clearly that there was no violence and there was no shooting until the Israeli forces showed up and started shooting. And in the house where she was being held with 13 other people, 12 Israeli civilians and one Palestinian from East Jerusalem – Who had been a driver at that Supernova raid – Who was also brought there by the Palestinian fighters, everyone was killed except for her and one Israeli woman. Both of them, Yasmin Porat and the other Israeli woman, when they gave their accounts said it was an Israeli tank that opened fire and killed Israeli civilians. And there are other incidents like that.

Then there was the revelation from the senior Israeli spokesperson that, oh, the death toll was not 1,400 as initially claimed, it was 1,200. Why the change? There were 200 bodies that were burned beyond recognition that we thought were Israelis, but turned out to be members of Hamas. How does that happen? Are you saying that if there are 200 burned bodies you can’t tell if they’re Israeli or Palestinian, what does that mean? It means that you are firing at people indiscriminately or intentionally but without regard as to whether they are Israeli or Palestinian.

Then there was the Israeli police source who revealed to Haaretz that at the Supernova raid where we’re told that Hamas gunmen mercilessly murdered more than 300 people, that IDF helicopters opened fire and hit people, they didn’t give a number as to how many were hit by the gunfire, and revelation after revelation in the Israeli press. Most of what we were doing – I’m not saying it’s not hard work because it is, we put in long hours – Is translating accounts from the Israeli press, writing them up, providing the context, and providing the evidence. Often these are interviews that are given in Israeli media, so we translate them, subtitle them, and put them out.

So, Chris, virtually all of the information we’re providing is coming from Israeli sources. It’s not the Electronic Intifada saying it, it’s an interview from a survivor on Israeli state radio, or it’s an account given by an Israeli military officer to the military correspondent of Yedioth Ahronoth, one of Israel’s largest circulation newspapers. But these accounts are completely excluded from The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post, the BBC, et cetera. FAIR, the media watchdog, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, put out a good report at the end of February looking at how many times major US media had mentioned these so-called friendly fire incidents and reported on them, and it was almost nil. They found two passing references, one in The New York Times, and one very dismissive one in The Washington Post.

That doesn’t happen by accident. I’m followed by a lot of journalists, including journalists from mainstream media. They see all these stories, they know this is happening, and all of these major newspapers and news bureaus monitor the Israeli press, so they see these stories as well. They’re not missing them. Somebody is making a decision not to report on them. I can’t fully explain that process but that is clearly what’s happening. It’s not like the Electronic Intifada has magic powers. We read the Israeli press like everyone else, and when we see these stories, we run them.

Chris Hedges:  We saw the leak of a CNN memo, Thompson, who used to be at The New York Times, they’ve laid down very strict guidelines as to what will be reported and what will not. They’re filtering everything through the Jerusalem Bureau or they call it second eyes. You’ve reported on this. We know that the gatekeepers are there and that they’re at the top. They’re at the top of MSNBC, they’re at the top of CNN, and they’re at the top of The New York Times. The lie of omission is still a lie, but that is probably the biggest lie, the lie of omission that is used by these institutions.

Ali Abunimah:  That’s right. It’s what you don’t tell and what you don’t say. We talk about context often. You have to provide context for reporting; When you leave out context, that’s omission. You cannot expect your readers to fully understand a story without providing the appropriate context, background, and history, which is what they all don’t want to do. For them, history starts on October 7. The other element… We’re focusing on the media but we can extend this to important organizations like the United Nations, which is supposedly neutral, supposedly international, and supposedly meant to serve international law.

We saw this pattern right from the moment the events of October 7 started, where anything Israel said Palestinians did was immediately accepted by top UN officials. They condemned it as if there was no dispute as to what happened. Whereas anything Palestinians say Israel did, or anything that Israel is caught on video doing, we’re told, oh, this is very concerning. We’ll call for an investigation. Why did nobody call for an investigation into Israel’s claims on October 7? Israel claimed that there were dozens of beheaded babies, but nobody saw any evidence. Why wasn’t there a call for an investigation?

We know that Israel absolutely refuses to cooperate with any UN investigation or any commission of inquiry. Chris, you know very well what happened to Iraq when they were accused falsely of failing to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors in the 1990s and early 2000s – Iraq was invaded, destroyed, and a million people killed, displaced, and their lives ruined. Israel hasn’t allowed an independent UN investigator or human rights researcher into the country in years. I don’t remember the last time. Each time Israel conducts one of its massacres in Gaza – Going back to 2008 and there’s an independent commission of inquiry appointed by the UN Human Rights Council – Israel refuses to cooperate with them or allow them in.

But this isn’t part of the discourse here, in terms of the perception that Israel is an open society, a democracy and that it investigates itself. Israel neither investigates itself nor allows anyone else to investigate it and lies all the time; Lies that are repeatedly exposed and yet it’s still given the benefit of the doubt by major organizations and media every single time.

Chris Hedges:  There’s no cost for that. I worked at The New York Times, it’s careerism. You know what’s going to get you but most reporters at The New York Times are good careerists. There aren’t any rules written on the wall. You know what’s going to advance your career and what’s going to hurt it, and most reporters don’t want to go there.

Ali Abunimah:  Chris, I never wanted to be a journalist. I never set out to say I’m going to be a journalist. I still don’t think of myself even as a journalist. I’m just someone who wants the truth out. If I had a leak under my sink and I had no one who could come and fix it, I’d have to learn to be a plumber on the spot. That’s how I think of journalism. It’s that the truth needs to come out. And I don’t think I’m a particularly special person, but honestly, if I went out to a restaurant and for whatever reason I felt that I hadn’t given the staff a big enough tip, I’d lose sleep over it. I’d lose sleep over it. But imagine that what I’m doing is costing people’s lives, fueling a genocide, or that my complicity with a false story fuels a genocide. I don’t understand how people live with themselves. What career is worth that kind of complicity? I don’t know.

Chris Hedges:  It’s Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” and women.

Ali Abunimah:  How are there so many of them though?

Chris Hedges:  The dominant institutions, that’s who they want. That’s who gets promoted. That’s why you have mediocrities running these institutions.

I want to ask about the “sexual assault” story. The New York Times ran this massive piece that you and The Grayzone and Mondoweiss eviscerated. On the one hand, we have the lie of omission about Israel’s complicity in killing many of their own along with the Hamas fighters. Then we have the overt lie or fabrication of an atrocity story that didn’t take place. So for people that haven’t read it, explain what happened. You couldn’t make this stuff up. They hired an Israeli woman who’d worked in Air Force Intelligence, who was a filmmaker, who’d never done journalism, and her partner’s nephew. It’s Keystone Cop journalism if it wasn’t so pernicious in its effect.

Let’s go through that story because you’ve done fantastic work and really forced The New York Times to step back. They were going to put that story on their podcast and now they’re not doing it. There was an internal revolt among reporters in The New York Times who were just of the incompetence. So go through it.

Ali Abunimah:  Yeah. We have to start before The New York Times story because The New York Times story alleging a broad pattern of deliberate sexual violence on October 7 wasn’t published until December 28; That’s quite late. We have to go back to October 7, because immediately after October 7, there were these claims of rampant rape, sexual assault, and violence, and there was so much going on that I was aware of these reports, but I didn’t necessarily focus on them because there was so much else. Credit where it’s due, there was one Twitter account – I went back and looked at this the other day – We don’t know who they are. They’re called zei_squirrel – Z-E-I_squirrel – Has done important reporting on this on their Twitter account. They have broken stories and they’ve done great analysis. That account was questioning the mass rape narrative as early as October 9, if not earlier, and saying, this doesn’t make sense. This doesn’t add up. This doesn’t pass the sniff test.

But really from October 7 onwards, this story started to develop of mass rape, of brutal rape. And remember, this was in the context of other atrocity propaganda – The beheaded babies that never happened. The baby who was put in an oven that never happened. The pregnant woman whose belly was cut open and then the fetus was stabbed, that never happened. The stories of children tied together and burned, that never happened. And so on and so on. All of these stories were systematically debunked, sometimes by witnesses who were there, sometimes by the Israeli media, and sometimes even by the Israeli army in some of these cases, they said, no, that didn’t happen. Lies that were too big even for the Israeli army. And it was in that context that the rape stories were going.

Once Israel began its genocide in Gaza in earnest, and the wave of sympathy in the official West and the official Western media started to wane, the Israelis realized, we needed to revive the sympathy that we had right at the beginning in the shock of October 7. And this rape story was perfect for that in their mind because if you are appealing to a Western progressive audience, it’s ideal. It’s the ideal narrative for let’s say the Hillary Clinton voter because the polls were showing that in the West, in the aggressive West or the liberal West, the base of the Democratic Party, and across Europe, there was utter revulsion about what Israel was doing.

So you need a narrative that justifies or distracts from the propaganda and paints Palestinians as utter beasts, worse than ISIS. That’s what Israel said, Hamas equals ISIS. So you need a narrative that fills that role and the rape story was perfect for that because also it meshes in with a couple of ideas. One is the latent racism that has been drummed into people that Arab men, Brown men, Black men, and Muslim men are violent, sexual, uncontrollable racists, which is a very old trope that goes back to Jim Crow days in the US. It was the idea that the justification or the pretext for many lynchings, for example, the idea that a Black man is a danger to a white woman or a settler woman and that women need to be protected from these brutes, is a very old idea in the history of American settler-colonialism and racism.

And then you tie into that, this progressive sensibility about believe women and #MeToo. So anyone who questions this narrative can automatically be painted as a rape apologist and someone who doesn’t believe women. The only problem is there were no women. To believe to this day as we’re speaking, not a single person has come forward and said, I was a victim of this, and not a single piece of solid evidence has been produced. The Israelis say that they have 100,000 – Or something in that order – Video clips from October 7, and yet not one of them shows what you claim. It was a pervasive and systematic campaign of mass rape.

So the propaganda narrative about the mass rape was already falling apart in mid-November. We did our first long debunking video at the Electronic Intifada right at the beginning of December. I think Mondoweiss had already run a story as well. So by that point, it was well and truly debunked, and we thought, all right, that’s it, it’s done, and they went silent for a while. We didn’t see it being pushed as much because they had previously rolled out Hillary Clinton to push the story. She lied in this little video that was put on Twitter where she said that Israeli women and girls have come forward to talk about what they witnessed and experienced in terms of sexual violence, which was never true. No Israeli woman or girl has come forward to say that they experienced this violence.

So The New York Times story that came out at the end of December was an effort to revive an already discredited narrative. That’s important for people to understand. Jeffrey Gettleman, who is their Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, teamed up with Anat Schwartz, who as you mentioned, advertised herself as a filmmaker and never had any experience doing this kind of reporting. And her partner’s nephew, a recent comp lit grad called Adam Sella, who also had no history of this kind of reporting; He had, to the extent that he’d done any journalism at all, was as a food blogger. They put them on this massive consequential story, these inexperienced people, and it later emerged that the Twitter user, zei_squirrel, found Anat Schwartz’s social media history that showed her extreme far-right and even genocidal views.

But you worked at The New York Times. You know how hard it is, Chris, for people to get jobs at The New York Times. It’s considered the pinnacle of American journalism. People may work at 3, 4, or 5 other outlets before they make it to The New York Times and before they make it to any senior or consequential position. Yet, these two people with zero journalistic background are put on this story. And the story fell apart immediately. It was published on December 28, and immediately, independent outlets, including EI, tore it apart. We found so many holes in the story, so many discrepancies. Again, they didn’t produce a single victim living or dead that was positively identified. Not a single person came forward.

Anat Schwartz revealed in a podcast in Hebrew that the first step she did, which is good journalism if you think about it, is she called every single hospital, every single rape crisis center, every single institution in Israel that is charged with caring for victims of sexual assault. And they all said, no, not a single person has come forward. Not one report of that. That should have alerted The New York Times and Pulitzer Prize-winner Jeffrey Gettleman to say, wait, what’s going on here? It should have alerted them that the only story here was of a hoax, of propaganda, of atrocity propaganda designed to justify and fuel genocide.

Yet, when they found no evidence, instead of saying that, instead of saying, stop, let’s reevaluate. Let’s look at what is really going on here, they decided, that if there’s no evidence, we’ll have to come up with some. If there are no victims, we’ll have to come up with some. And what did they do? The central character in this story by Gettleman and company was a woman called Gal Abdush, who they never said outright but they claimed she must have been raped. She was killed on October 7. They say she must have been raped because there was this video that showed her body in a position that was suggestive that she could have been raped. No evidence, no forensic evidence, no other evidence.

After they published this on December 28, her family and her sister came out and said, this is outrageous. The New York Times never told us that they were going to suggest that Gal Abdush was raped, that we’ve never been shown any evidence she was raped, and they manipulated and deceived us. That was the one person in the story who they positively identified as a possible victim of rape. And then they had two other alleged incidents of gang rapes on October 7 in which no victims have been identified, no perpetrators have been identified, but they have four eyewitnesses, two for each.

The first eyewitness was presented by Israeli police at the press conference in October or early November. She didn’t even appear herself, it was a video presented by Israeli Police where she told this outlandish story where she said she had been hiding in a bush and she’d been shot. She’d been at that rave in the desert and she saw a group of men get out of the van and gang rape a woman and then murder her. Then they gang raped and murdered five other women and they cut off their heads and they were prancing around with the heads of these women up above their heads as trophies. It was such an outlandish story.

The obvious question is, this is a horrific story, but if it were true, there would be tons of physical evidence; Where are the headless bodies? Where are the severed heads? Where’s all the blood? Where’s all the DNA? How could all of this happen without leaving a trace? At no point in the Gettleman story or any of the other media stories that repeated this atrocity tale, did anyone address the total absence of physical evidence. Then The New York Times, when they retold this already debunked story in the Gettleman piece, said, oh, there was another eyewitness who said he was hiding in the ditch and he raised his head and he saw a gang rape. He raised his head once and yet he saw all this going on. The problem is the same eyewitness had previously told the Israeli media weeks before The New York Times story that he didn’t see anything. That he’d been told by the other woman who claimed to see what she saw, but that he didn’t see it himself. And yet in The New York Times a few weeks later, he is presented as having seen it himself. So that’s an example of the scale of the fabrication and the fraud.

The other element, which is so important to mention here, is that virtually all these stories came from what have been generously identified in the press as first responders. And that plays into a cultural idea we have in the US that perhaps was reinforced with all the firefighters who were killed at 9/11, that first responders are selfless, self-sacrificing people who are inherently credible. So if a first responder comes and tells you I saw this, you’re likely to believe them. Who are these people described as first responders in The New York Times and other media who reported these atrocity tales? Many of them were Israeli Army personnel, members of the regime perpetrating genocide. That’s who their first responders were.

Or they were members of this Jewish extremist organization called ZAKA. What they do is they go to crime scenes or scenes of violence and they pick up bodies and body parts to give them a Jewish burial. But this is an organization that, for one thing, was founded by a man accused of serial sexual assault. And when this came out, he died by suicide in 2021. This organization, ZAKA, and its senior representatives have told so many lies since October 7. For example, one person, Yossi Landau, who is interviewed in all kinds of media, told the atrocity story – Since thoroughly debunked and denied even by Israeli authorities – Of the pregnant woman who had her belly sliced open and the fetus taken out.

He is on television saying, I saw this with my own eyes; Something that everyone agrees now, including Israeli authorities, never happened. One of the Israeli army medics who was cited in The New York Times said that he entered a bedroom in Kibbutz Be’eri and saw two teenage girls who – This is graphic for any viewers out there – Who were murdered, raped, stripped of their clothes, and had semen on their backs. This never happened. The authorities in Kibbutz Be’eri have said categorically, that this didn’t happen. There were no sexual assaults in Kibbutz Be’eri. There were no teenagers found in Kibbutz Be’eri who fit this description or in that location. The Intercept did a story a few days ago that further conclusively showed that this never happened. But this story is a central feature of The New York Times’ Gettleman piece, which The New York Times is still insisting is good journalism.

Chris Hedges:  They may insist it’s good journalism but there’s clearly restiveness among the staff that realizes that it’s not good journalism. It was supposed to go out on their podcast but they’ve not put it out. It reminds me very much of the podcast, Caliphate, which was a hoax based on an imposter who said he was a member of ISIS and crucified people on crosses; Audio snuff porn or something. It speaks, one, to the decline of journalistic integrity. I don’t know that when I was at The Times they would’ve hired people with no journalism experience or people who were so partisan. Not that they did a particularly good job of covering the Palestinians. Each media entity is now catering to a particular demographic; They’re feeding their demographic what they already believe. They are contributing to the stereotypes that exist. I don’t know that The Times has paid much of a price for Russiagate, for the Caliphate, or even that it will pay much of a price for this. That gets into the –

Ali Abunimah:  Or for the Iraq war.

Chris Hedges:  – Or for the Iraq war, yeah.

Ali Abunimah:  In February – Time is difficult now – A few weeks ago they had this event at Columbia University to focus on these claims of sexual violence. It was headlined by Hillary Clinton, Jeffrey Gettleman was there, and Sheryl Sandberg of Lean In fame, the former Facebook/Meta executive, and they had a panel of what I would call minor academics. My sources at Columbia University told me that several academics who understood the propaganda purposes of this gathering refused to take part. Nonetheless, they had Hillary Clinton, and they had Jeffrey Gettleman. And of course, it was a complete regurgitation of the atrocity propaganda. And Gettleman was brought on.

It was interesting because he was clearly aware of all the criticism and that his story had been debunked. But of course, he wasn’t challenged on any of this by Sheryl Sandberg who interviewed him. He was praised. He was told, you’re the best of the best and you did solid reporting. But he was very aware that he was being observed closely by all the people who knew that this was a hoax or a fraud. And he said, my job is not to gather evidence. I won’t say that what I did is evidence. It’s more information and sharing stories. So he backed off it that way, but as if to say, hey, don’t blame me if what I publish is wrong. I’m just sharing stories. I don’t have any responsibility to stand by what I publish. It was a microcosm, that event because it showed how all… You have Hillary Clinton, the warmongering war criminal. You have Sheryl Sandberg, the representative of Silicon Valley, and you have Jeffrey Gettleman, the representative of, can I call it, ‘The Failing New York Times” or “The Lying New York Times?” Also, you had the dean of the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia, who is a former Israeli intelligence officer. They were all there to boost each other, scratch each other’s back, and protect each other’s lies. That was a perfect microcosm of the world we live in.

Then you had the students in the audience who protested and disrupted and did so very courageously and admirably, but they had no other avenue to participate. They were completely shut out. There was no Q&A with the public. There was no opportunity for them to participate in a meaningful way to challenge these lies or to confront Hillary Clinton or Jeffrey Gettleman, except through protest, shouting from the margins, shouting from the sidelines. And Columbia University, which hosted this event, represents to me all of the elite institutions. Especially our elite universities which proclaim that, oh, we are here to provide a venue for academic freedom and inquiry and free speech. These are our sacred values. But are venues for reproducing and reinforcing the values and interests of the ruling class. So to me, that event really captured it perfectly – It was a metaphor for the world we live in right now.

Chris Hedges:  Columbia University, which has banned Jewish Voices for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine.

Ali Abunimah:  And is engaged in intense repression of students and professors who speak out on this issue, and like other campuses is engaging in a witch hunt under the banner of fighting alleged antisemitism. But it’s a witch hunt against supporters of Palestinian rights. That’s the pattern in the media as well: If you question these stories, if you do independent journalism, at best you’re a conspiracy theorist and a kook at worst. You may even be an antisemite or a Holocaust denier – Which is what The Washington Post called us, and The Grayzone, and other independent outlets who did this, up until now, unchallenged and uncontroverted reporting both on October 7 and some of the other lies we’ve talked about.

Chris Hedges:  Great. That was Ali Abunimah, who with the Electronic Intifada keeps journalism alive. I want to thank The Real News Network and its production team; Cameron Granadino, Adam Coley, David Hebden, and Kayla Rivara. You can find me at

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Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for 15 years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East bureau chief and Balkan bureau chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of show The Chris Hedges Report.