Update on fake news about Israeli health minister’s coronavirus comments

On April 7, the UK-based Pink News published a story claiming that Israel’s health minister Yaakov Litzman, who tested positive for COVID-19, previously said coronavirus was divine punishment for homosexuality.

However, though Litzman had indeed made homophobic remarks in the past, he never made such comments about coronavirus. In early March, another Israeli, Rabbi Meir Mazuz, did utter these remarks.

So, Pink News may have conflated comments by the two rabbis, or, more likely, based their report on a piece (“Israel Health Minister Gets Coronavirus After Rabbi Terms Virus ‘Divine Punishment’”) published earlier at a Pakistani site which is the first outlet to circulate this fake news.

The Pakistani outlet, called Naya Daur, describes itself as “a bi-lingual progressive digital media platform aiming to inform and educate Pakistanis at home and abroad”.

We were among the first few on Twitter who contacted the editor of Pink News to alert him of the error.  To his credit, Pink News editor Ryan John Butcher – following communication from another pro-Israel site – said the piece would be corrected, which it was, with the following addendum added.

An earlier version of this article referenced two inaccurate reports regarding Yaakov Litzman blaming the coronavirus pandemic on homosexuality. This has since been corrected.

The US left-wing activist site Daily Kos, which had posted the original Pink News story, followed suit and corrected their piece.

However, as our CAMERA colleague Tamar Sternthal noted in a subsequent tweet to Pink News, the article still had two additional errors.

Regarding the second point, Sternthal provided a source showing that Litzman had of course referred to Passover (not Easter!) as “the time of our redemption”.  The Pink News editor thanked her and corrected these two items.

We then observed that the story had been picked up by a site called Progressive Secular Humanist.  After tweeting the editor, they also corrected their piece.

The added this addendum to their article:

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article referenced reports regarding Yaakov Litzman blaming the coronavirus pandemic on homosexuality. The validity of this attribution is in dispute, and out of an abundance of caution that element of the story has been removed.

Today, we tweeted the editor of the Pakistani site (where the story likely originated), an Australian-based LGBT site, an Indian news site and European news site which all still have articles online with the false Litzman claim.

As of this writing, the LGBT site’s editor was the only one to respond, and he informed us that he took down the article while they investigated the claim.

The article has since been corrected, and the following editor’s note added:

An earlier version of this article referenced two inaccurate reports regarding Yaakov Litzman blaming the coronavirus pandemic on homosexuality. This has since been corrected.

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