Times shames itself in report questioning if Hamas weaponised rape (Updated)

See important update at the end of the post.

Before we detail the fatal flaws of a Times article (“Israel says Hamas weaponised rape. Does the evidence add up?”, June 7) by Catherine Philp and Gabriella Weiniger, let’s clarify that despite the clickbait headline, the article does NOT explicitly deny that Hamas terrorists engaged in rape.

Of course, that’s an extremely low bar considering the extraordinary volume of evidence testifying to the indescribably cruel and sadistic rape, sexual torture and mutilation of Israeli women and girls – on Oct. 7th, and in Gaza during the hostages’ captivity.  Not even the Guardian has attempted to cast doubt on the sexual crimes committed by the terror group.

However, as we’ll demonstrate, there are sections where the co-authors appear to impute at least some doubt about the evidence of Hamas’s sexual crimes.

The long ‘investigation’ is shameful in its own right by 1) Falsely claiming that there’s insufficient evidence that Hamas intentionally and systematically used rape as a weapon of war. 2) Imputing the worst motives to Israelis’ efforts to publicise Hamas’s rape. 3) Obsessing over the initial confusion over what happened and some early misreporting. 

Doubts about Hamas’s intentional use of rape as weapon of war:

The article contends that “the [Israeli] political establishment has opened a fresh battle with the UN over what the [Pramilla] Patten report didn’t say: that sexual violence was beyond reasonable doubt, systematic, widespread and ordered and perpetrated by Hamas”.

First, the “beyond a reasonable doubt” question is not relevant in this situation, as the term represents a legal standard of proof required to validate a criminal conviction in adversarial legal systems. It has no bearing in the context of war, particularly when almost all of the rape victims were murdered and so can’t testify, and where many of the perpetrators have been killed.  Further, most of the relevant forensic evidence of rape was either destroyed in fires, during the mutilation of the victims’ bodies by the perpetrators or during the necessity to identify and bury the victims.

Second, the Times’ claim that there’s “insufficient evidence that Hamas intentionally and systematically used rape as a weapon of war” is, at best extraordinarily misleading.  Indeed, while the article frequently cites the testimony and evidence of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel (ARCCI), readers aren’t told that a 40 page report by the same group on the sexual violence by Hamas concluded that the many incidents of rape were not malfunctions or isolated incidents, “but a clear operational strategy involving systematic, targeted sexual abuse“.  Read the section of the report beginning on page 20 to understand why ARCCI came to this conclusion. (WARNING: Extremely graphic and disturbing descriptions of sexual violence.)

Further, the documentary “Screams Before Silence,”, by former Meta chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg on the sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas against Israelis on October 7, which was based largely on testimony of victims and witnesses, similarly concluded that the rape was clearly pre-meditated and systematic.

Imputing the worst motives to Israel’s effort to publicise Hamas’s rape.

Mid-way through the article, Philp and Weiniger assert the following completely unsubstantiated accusation:

The idea of the Arab male as an explicit sexual threat to Jewish women developed in tandem with the movement of Israeli politics to the right.

In July 2023, the Knesset passed legislation proposed by lawmakers on the right and far right, quickly dubbed the “sexual terrorism law”, which doubled the penalty for sexual assault or harassment committed with a “nationalistic motive”.

We can only understand this as an attempt to undermine Israel’s motives for accusing the terror group of engaging in rape and other sexual crimes by imputing anti-Arab racism to Jews in the state – and, thus, to partly undermine the argument that these crimes indeed occurred on and after Oct. 7.

This represents an egregious examples of projecting Palestinian racism onto their Jewish victims, completely ignoring the annihilationist antisemitism that motivated the Oct. 7th massacre, rape, torture and mutilation of Israeli civilians, while hurling unevidenced accusations of racism onto Israelis themselves, due to the putative crime of not having pure motives for wishing to bear witness to the barbarous crimes.

Catherine Philp, in particular, in this astonishing moral inversion, is again revealing her hostility to Israel – which has resulted in a pattern of bias we’ve revealed on these pages repeatedly.

Even worse is this sentence, which amounts to the accusation of ‘rape washing’ (a term derived from ‘Pink-Washing’, the accusation against Israelis and pro-Israelis that they promote the country’s progressive record on LGBT rights to ‘whitewash’ the occupation).

Aharoni expresses her concerns about how both political leaders and others linked to the prime minister’s Likud party “have used the feminist agenda in a very opportunistic way for a very specific political narrative associated with the Netanyahu government”, with little concern for the actual victims.

This is a classic ad hominem attack: at attempt to undermine the motives of Israelis who charge Hamas with rape, despite the fact that the inner-thoughts of political leaders are, by definition, unknown, and, regardless, has no correlation to the veracity of such claims.  Also, the false implicit (false) suggestion is that only right-wing Israelis have been promoting evidence that the proscribed terror group engaged in monstrous crimes against Jewish women and girls.

The Times also asserts that unnamed “critics” have charged Israel with “regularly wielding the rape claim as a cudgel to silence critics of their assault on Gaza”.  No evidence is included to back up this outrageous allegation, save one tweet by former Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy attacking those participating in an anti-Israel demo in London.

Obsessing over the initial confusion and a few false reports

The article also goes after the Zaka volunteers, first responders who had the horrifying and traumatising job of collecting the remains of the (Trigger Warning) beheaded, burnt and mutilated Israeli corpses.  The co-authors accuse them of having promoted ‘inaccurate and unreliable forensic interpretations’ of what they found, “creating an instant but flawed narrative about what had taken place”.

Zaka members are not trained in forensics, nor were they directed to do any more than retrieve remains from what was still an active battle zone.

They are all religious guys; most of them are ultra-religious. They never saw a woman except their wife,” [Orit] Sulitzeanu says. “So to see all these bodies, how did they deal with that?”

While it’s true that Zaka members aren’t trained in forensics or in retrieving post-mortem sexual assault evidence, it’s hard to fathom how fidelity to their wives, and related lack of familiarity with other women’s’ bodies, has anything to do with what turned out to be some initial misreporting on the deadly sexual assaults committed against the women they retrieved.

Then, readers are treated to this armchair psychoanalysis of the Jewish Zaza volunteers:

[Dr Sarai Aharoni, an academic at Ben-Gurion University] and others are struck by how closely the Zaka accounts cleaved to stories handed down about the horrors of the pogroms. “The first framing of rape and sexual violence was automatically linked with European histories,” she says, particularly by those with a religious education. “So there is a Zaka volunteer whose main education is religious. He’s read a lot of Jewish texts that depict the raping of women. These texts kind of reappear again and again in Jewish stories and they reappear every time there is a major event against Jewish communities.”

To observe that this is pure speculation and nothing more is a profound understatement.

Plus, it’s far less than clear if Aharoni’s premise, that those schooled largely in religious texts would be more familiar with the use of rape during pogroms over the centuries. Those who devote their lives to the secular academic study of Jewish history and antisemitism would – it seems – likely possess a far more in-depth understanding about the horrific details of historical antisemitic violence.

The Times’ effort to undermine these Zaka volunteers is consistent with the considerable amount of space devoted to detailing the few discredited initial reports from Oct. 7.

For instance, the journalists go after Israeli legal expert Dr. Cochav Elkayam-Levy, who heads The Civil Commission on Oct. 7th Crimes by Hamas against Women and Children, for having once “circulated photographs of murdered female soldiers that turned out to be images of Kurdish fighters in Syria”.  This one error, during a November presentation she gave for Harvard detailing the evidence of rape they collected at that point, which was dunked on by Max Blumenthal, the pro-Hamas site MEMO, and other Oct. 7th deniers, is cynically used in the article to undermine the rest of her research.

Finally

The journalists weave their fanciful narrative into the final paragraph, when they write that “Patten has seen her findings instrumentalised by both sides: the denialists who focus on the evidentiary failings in Israel’s version of events, and those who have used the claims in support of the brutal campaign being visited on Gaza and its civilian population“.

The desired take-away by The Times journos is as clear as it is cruel, immoral and counter-factual.

Israel’s military campaign, of course, targets Hamas, not the civilian population.  Hamas’s use of rape is not merely a “claim”, but a fact.  The savagery of the terror group’s pogrom justifies, by any standard, the Jewish state’s military campaign against the perpetrators. Finally, there is no moral equivalence between rape denialists or apologists and those who support Israel’s war, one which is not only justified on its own merits, but also because it represents the drawing of a line in the sand against barbarism, and an act of resistance to those at war with the West.

The Times has reached a new low in this pseudo-investigation cum anti-Israel hit piece, sullying their brand by allowing the personal political agendas of their journalist to get in the way of professional, fact-driven and morally clear reporting on the worst antisemitic massacre since the Holocaust.

UPDATE, June 10:

A statement about the dishonesty of the Times article was released on LinkedIn yesterday by the three Israeli rape specialists interviewed in the article: Professor Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, an international women’s rights lawyer who heads Dinah Project 7/10, Orit Sulitzeanu CEO, The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, Dr. Sarai Aharoni, Head of the Gender Studies Program, Ben Gurion University:

Statement Regarding Misrepresentation in The Times Article Published on June 7th 2024

We generally do not respond to press articles. However, due to the cynical exploitation of our interviews in the article published online by The Times Magazine on June 7, 2024, we feel compelled to depart from our policy.

Since October 7th we have been working actively to amplify the voices of sexual assault victims, especially in forums where such voices are often ignored. In this context, we agreed to be interviewed about the sexual violence that occurred on October 7.

Regrettably, the published article misrepresented our words, twisting them to convey the impression that we support the prejudiced argument that claims of sexual violence are being manipulated by Israel. The article aims to discredit and gaslight the victims of heinous acts of sexual violence. Hence, much of what we said was omitted, and only selective excerpts were used, taken out of context to serve the article’s agenda.

We are shocked and disappointed by the exploitation of our willingness to be interviewed and the attempt to use our expertise to give credence to the reporters’ views. The article joins those who are guilty of the unacceptable politicization of sexual violence. In this instance, the reporters’ agenda replaced the professional and ethical commitment to presenting evidence accurately.

As specialists, we are acutely aware of the attempts to manipulate public opinion at the victims’ expense, and we are walking cautiously in this minefield. understand the profound mental struggles victims endure and the delicate balance required in addressing these issues. It is our duty to ensure that the full extent of what happened is acknowledged. The use of sexual violence as a weapon of war was a significant part of the October 7 attack. Denying the evidence of such violence has become a disturbing aspect of the global pro-Palestinian discourse, adversely affecting the well-being of sexual violence survivors of the massacre, as well as survivors everywhere.

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6 Comments

    1. says: Sid

      Without backing from the Jewish Establishment nothing will happen – has OCR Mirvis issued a statement deploring this?

  1. It was infuriating that comments had been turned off. Why?
    The damage is serious,the antisemites will gleefully quote this artivle ad nauseum.
    Is there a legal route to punnish the authors and The Times?

  2. says: Johnny Cohen

    Obviously far less significant, but this copy of my message to The Times yesterday is self explanatory

    Johnny Cohen
    Thu, 13 Jun, 13:12 (1 day ago)
    to letters

    Dear Sir

    On June 12 Matthew Paris remarkably chose to illustrate difficulty in distinguishing the sarcastic from the serious, by referring to your online report on 7 June about “the latest slaughter in Gaza.”

    The “slaughter” in question had in fact correctly been described in the opening six words of the print edition as: “An Israeli airstrike targeting Hamas fighters.”

    Whether that, or earlier, Israeli strikes was in fact “slaughter” is questionable, given its dictionary definition as “the killing of many people cruelly and unfairly.” The report itself added that the strike “prompted conflicting narratives as to whether the dead were militants or displaced people sheltering there.” In any case, polls have revealed consistent Palestinian support for Hamas, despite the mounting Gaza death toll, and it defies belief to suggest that Gazans were unaware that Hamas had been using the school as a base.

    Perhaps Parris would have done better to question the lazy and irresponsible headline writer. Despite the report clearly identifying Hamas fighters as the target, your professional proof-readers still passed “Israeli precision strike on UN school.”

    The enormous death toll over eight months is without doubt tragic, but so too is the media’s adverse impact on public opinion about Israel.

    Yours faithfully

    Johnny Cohen

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