Israel describes BBC report on Gaza hospital attack as ‘modern blood libel’

The Israeli government claimed that the reporting had contributed to regional instability and the cancellation of a summit involving US President Joe Biden and leaders from Egypt and Palestine. (AFP/File)
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Updated 19 October 2023

Israel describes BBC report on Gaza hospital attack as ‘modern blood libel’

  • The Israeli government drew parallels between the report and a historical, antisemitic conspiracy theory that falsely accused Jews of using Christian blood in religious rituals
  • A reporter had said there was lack of clarity about the attack but speculated Israel might be responsible; a BBC spokesperson said ‘both sides’ competing claims’ had been set out

LONDON: The Israeli government has criticized the BBC for its coverage of the explosion at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, describing it as a “modern blood libel.”

It came after a BBC reporter on Tuesday night suggested, shortly after the blast, that there was a lack of clarity but it might have been the result of an attack by Israeli forces, a claim the Israeli government vehemently denies.

In a message posted by its official account on social media platform X on Thursday, the Israeli government wrote: “Hey @BBCWorld, as of this morning your modern blood libel about the hospital attack is still up. We see you, and now everyone else does too.”

The reference to a “modern blood libel” was drawing a parallel between the reporting of the hospital explosion, which was led by correspondent Jon Donnison, and a historical, antisemitic conspiracy theory in which Jews were falsely accused of using Christian blood during religious rituals.


The attack on the hospital on Tuesday was the most deadly single incident since the conflict between Hamas and Israel began on Oct. 7. The exact death toll remains uncertain but hundreds of patients and civilians who had been advised to shelter in the hospital are believed to have been killed.

It is still unclear who was responsible for the attack, with each side in the conflict blaming the other, leading to speculation and heightened tensions among politicians and the public. Israeli officials said their investigations suggest a rocket fired from Gaza had fallen short of its intended target. Hamas said an Israeli missile caused the explosion.

In his report, Donnison said that “given the scale of the explosion” Israel might have been behind it, and “the Israeli military has been contacted for comment and they say they are investigating.” The Israeli government’s strong rhetoric in response to the reporting is not the only criticism the BBC has faced over it. Concerns were also raised by some in the UK.

During an appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Today program, British Security Minister Tom Tugendhat condemned the “irresponsible speculation” as “really serious,” and suggested it had not been “the BBC’s finest hour.”

In response, Nick Robinson, the presenter of Today and a former BBC political editor, said the BBC’s international editor, Jeremy Bowen, had publicly stated that “viewers of the 10 o'clock news and people across our footage were left in no doubt that there was no clarity about who’d carried it out.”

A BBC spokesperson similarly defended the broadcaster’s coverage, saying that “anyone watching, listening to or reading our coverage can see we have set out both sides’ competing claims about the explosion, clearly showing who is saying them and what we do or don’t know.”

The Israeli government claimed that the reporting had contributed to regional instability and the cancellation of a summit involving US President Joe Biden and leaders from Egypt and Palestine.

Authors withdraw from PEN America Literary Awards in protest against stance on Gaza

Updated 19 April 2024

Authors withdraw from PEN America Literary Awards in protest against stance on Gaza

  • 30 writers sign open letter criticizing organization for its ‘failure to confront the genocide of the Palestinian people and defend our fellow writers in Gaza’
  • They call on its CEO, Suzanne Nossel, its president, Jennifer Finney Boylan, and the entire executive committee to resign

DUBAI: Thirty authors and translators have signed an open letter to PEN America in which they declined, or withdrew their work from consideration for, the organization’s 2024 Literary Awards, in protest against its “failure to confront the genocide of the Palestinian people and defend our fellow writers in Gaza.”

In the letter, sent to the board of trustees this week, the writers said they “wholeheartedly reject PEN America and its failure to confront the genocide in Gaza” and demanded the resignations of the organization’s CEO, Suzanne Nossel, its president, Jennifer Finney Boylan, and its entire executive committee.

The signatories include the co-founder of the PEN World Voices Festival, Esther Allen, as well as Joseph Earl Thomas, Kelly X. Hui, Nick Mandernach, Alejandro Varela, Maya Binyam and Julia Sanches.

Allen this month said she had declined the PEN/Ralph Manheim Award for Translation. She posted a message on social media platform X on April 5 in which she said she had done so in solidarity with more than 1,300 writers who had criticized PEN America for its silence “on the genocidal murder of Palestinians,” and “in celebration and memory of, and in mourning for, all the Palestinians silenced forever by US-backed Israeli forces.”

Similarly, Binyam recently withdrew her debut novel “Hangman” from consideration for the PEN/Jean Stein and PEN/Hemingway awards.

In an email to PEN America, a copy of which she posted on X on April 11, she said she considered it “shameful that this recognition (of her work) should exist under the banner of PEN America, whose leadership has been steadfast in its dismissal of the ongoing genocide, and of the historic struggle for Palestinian liberation.”

In their open letter this week, the signatories said: “Writers have a responsibility to be good stewards of history in order to be good stewards of our communities.”

They added that they “stand in solidarity with a free Palestine,” and refuse “to be honored by an organization that acts as a cultural front for American imperialism” or “take part in celebrations that will serve to overshadow PEN’s complicity in normalizing genocide.”

In response, PEN America said: “Words matter and this letter deserves close scrutiny for its alarming language and characterizations.

“The current war in Gaza is horrific. But we cannot agree that the answer to its wrenching dilemmas and consequences lies in a shutting down of conversation and the closing down of viewpoints.

“We respect all writers for acting out of their consciences and will continue in our mission to defend their freedom to express themselves.”

The awards are due to be handed out during a ceremony on April 29 in Manhattan.

US congressional committee releases sealed Brazil court orders to Musk’s X, shedding light on account suspensions

Updated 19 April 2024

US congressional committee releases sealed Brazil court orders to Musk’s X, shedding light on account suspensions

RIO DE JANEIRO: A US congressional committee released confidential Brazilian court orders to suspend accounts on the social media platform X, offering a glimpse into decisions that have spurred complaints of alleged censorship from the company and its billionaire owner Elon Musk.
The Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee late Wednesday published a staff report disclosing dozens of decisions by Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes ordering X to suspend or remove around 150 user profiles from its platform in recent years.
The 541-page report is the product of committee subpoenas directed at X. In his orders, de Moraes had prohibited X from making them public.
“To comply with its obligations under US law, X Corp. has responded to the Committee,” the company said in a statement on X on April 15.
The disclosure comes amid a battle Musk has waged against de Moraes.
Musk, a self-proclaimed free-speech absolutist, had vowed to publish de Moraes’ orders, which he equated to censorship. His crusade has been cheered on by supporters of far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro, who allege they are being targeted by political persecution, and have found common cause with their ideological allies in the US
De Moraes has overseen a five-year probe of so-called “digital militias,” who allegedly spread defamatory fake news and threats to Supreme Court justices. The investigation expanded to include those inciting demonstrations across the country, seeking to overturn Bolsonaro’s 2022 election loss. Those protests culminated in the Jan. 8 uprising in Brazil’s capital, with Bolsonaro supporters storming government buildings, including the Supreme Court, in an attempt to oust President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from office.
De Moraes’ critics claim he has abused his powers and shouldn’t be allowed to unilaterally ban social media accounts, including those of democratically elected legislators. But most legal experts see his brash tactics as legally sound and furthermore justified by extraordinary circumstances of democracy imperiled. They note his decisions have been either upheld by his fellow justices or gone unchallenged.
The secret orders disclosed by the congressional committee had been issued both by Brazil’s Supreme Court and its top electoral court, over which de Moraes currently presides.
The press office of the Supreme Court declined to comment on the potential ramifications of their release when contacted by The Associated Press.
“Musk is indeed a very innovative businessman; he innovated with electric cars, he innovated with rockets and now he invented a new form of non-compliance of a court order, through an intermediary,” said Carlos Affonso, director of the nonprofit Institute of Technology and Society. “He said he would reveal the documents and he found someone to do this for him.”
Affonso, also a professor of civil rights at the State University of Rio de Janeiro, said that the orders are legal but do merit debate, given users were not informed why their accounts were suspended and whether the action was taken by the platform or at the behest of a court. The orders to X included in the report rarely provide justification, either.
The Supreme Court’s press office said in a statement Thursday afternoon that the orders do not contain justifications, but said the company and people with suspended accounts can gain access by requesting the decisions from the court.
While Musk has repeatedly decried de Moraes’ orders as suppressing “free speech” principles and amounting to “aggressive censorship,” the company under his ownership has bowed to government requests from around the world.
Last year, for instance, X blocked posts critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and, in February, it blocked accounts and posts in India at the behest of the country’s government.
“The Indian government has issued executive orders requiring X to act on specific accounts and posts, subject to potential penalties including significant fines and imprisonment,” X’s global affairs account posted on Feb. 21. “In compliance with the orders, we will withhold these accounts and posts in India alone; however, we disagree with these actions and maintain that freedom of expression should extend to these posts.”
Brazil is a key market for X and other social media platforms. About 40 million Brazilians, or about 18 percent of the population, access X at least once per month, according to market research group eMarketer.
X has followed suspension orders under threat of hefty fines. De Moraes typically required compliance within two hours, and established a daily fine of 100,000-reais ($20,000) for noncompliance.
It isn’t clear whether the 150 suspended accounts represent the entirety of those de Moraes ordered suspended. Until the committee report, it wasn’t known whether the total was a handful, a few dozen or more. Some of the suspended accounts in the report have since been reactivated.
On April 6, Musk took to X to challenge de Moraes, questioning why he was “demanding so much censorship in Brazil”. The following day, the tech mogul said he would cease to comply with court orders to block accounts — and that de Moraes should either resign or be impeached. Predicting that X could be shut down in Brazil, he instructed Brazilians to use a VPN to retain their access.
De Moraes swiftly included Musk in the ongoing investigation of digital militias, and launched a separate investigation into whether Musk engaged in obstruction, criminal organization and incitement. On April 13, X’s legal representative in Brazil wrote to de Moraes that it will comply with all court orders, according to the letter, seen by the AP.
Affonso said the committee’s release of de Moraes’ orders were aimed less at Brazil than at the administration of US President Joe Biden. The report cites Brazil “as a stark warning to Americans about the threats posed by government censorship here at home.”
Terms like “censorship” and “free speech” have turned into political rallying cries for US conservatives since at least the 2016 presidential election, frustrated at seeing right-leaning commentators and high-profile Republican officials booted off Facebook and Twitter in its pre-Musk version for violating rules.
“The reason why the far-right needs him (Musk) is because they need a platform, they need a place to promote themselves. And Elon Musk needs far-right politicians because they will keep his platform protected from regulations,” said David Nemer, a Brazil native and University of Virginia professor who studies social media.
In the US, free speech is a constitutional right that’s much more permissive than in other countries, including Brazil. Still, the report’s release seemed to invigorate Bolsonaro and his far-right supporters.
Late Wednesday, soon after the court orders were released, Bolsonaro capped off a speech at a public event by calling for a round of applause for Musk.
His audience eagerly complied.

Several Google employees fired, arrested after ‘Googlers Against Genocide’ sit-in protests

Updated 18 April 2024

Several Google employees fired, arrested after ‘Googlers Against Genocide’ sit-in protests

  • Outrage over tech giant’s $1.2bn Project Nimbus contract with the Israeli military
  • Affiliated group No Tech for Apartheid condemns decision as a flagrant act of retaliation

LONDON: A number of Google employees have lost their jobs and nine have been arrested following protests against the tech giant’s $1.2bn Project Nimbus contract with the Israeli military.

The demonstrations, organized by Googlers Against Genocide and associated with the group No Tech for Apartheid, involved a 10-hour sit-in at Google’s sites in New York City and Sunnyvale, California.

The protesters occupied the office of Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian in California, prompting police intervention. 

“Physically impeding other employees’ work and preventing them from accessing our facilities is a clear violation of our policies and completely unacceptable behavior,” the company said in a statement.

It added the decision to terminate the employees’ contracts was taken following individual case investigations and that the company would continue to take action as necessary.

In a statement on Medium, Google workers affiliated with the No Tech for Apartheid campaign called the decision to terminate the 28 employees a “flagrant act of retaliation” and said staff members who did not directly participate in Tuesday’s protests were among those who lost their jobs.

“Despite Google’s attempts to silence us and disregard our concerns, we will persist,” said Jane Chung, spokesperson for the protesters.

Announced by Google and Amazon in 2021, Project Nimbus has faced criticism for providing advanced AI and machine-learning capabilities to Israel’s government.

Amid the ongoing conflict, No Tech for Apartheid launched a petition urging both companies to cancel the project, alleging complicity in Gaza’s ethnic cleansing.

Google’s statement said the Nimbus contract was “not directed at highly sensitive, classified or military workloads relevant to weapons or intelligence services.” 

Sources have also indicated that both Google and Amazon are bound by stringent contractual obligations that prevent them yielding to boycott pressure, effectively trapping them in the current situation.

The protests come in the wake of allegations that Google is silencing pro-Palestinian voices.

One of the fired workers protested during a presentation by Google’s Israel managing director in New York City.

Employees have demanded that the company stop “the harassment, intimidation, bullying, silencing, and censorship of Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim Googlers.”

They have also demanded that Google address “health and safety issues” in the workplace, which arose from the “mental health consequences of working at a company that is using their labor to enable a genocide.”

Palestinian photojournalist Motaz Azaiza joins Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential people

Updated 18 April 2024

Palestinian photojournalist Motaz Azaiza joins Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential people

  • Azaiza honored in “Icons” category for his work documenting the conflict in Gaza

LONDON: Palestinian photojournalist Motaz Azaiza has been named one of the “100 Most Influential People of 2024” by Time Magazine.

Azaiza was recognized in the “Icons” category for his work documenting the conflict in Gaza, with his photographs offering a rare insight into the realities faced by those living in the enclave.

“For 108 days, Motaz Azaiza acted as the world’s eyes and ears in his native Gaza. Armed with a camera and a flak jacket marked ‘Press,’ the 25-year-old Palestinian photographer spent nearly four months documenting life under Israeli bombardment,” the magazine’s entry description said.

Azaiza’s images offer a perspective rarely seen in international media, given Israel’s ban on foreign journalists entering Gaza.

The photographer took to social media after the announcement, saying the honor symbolizes more than just his individual achievements.

“I am really blessed to share my country name with me wherever I go or whatever I achieve,” he wrote on X.

During his time in Gaza, Azaiza captured images showing the destruction wrought by the conflict, and the resilience of its people.

His photographs, shared with over 18 million followers on Instagram, served as a crucial source of information, despite the risks involved.

Since leaving Gaza in January and relocating to Doha, Azaiza has continued to call for greater awareness of the crisis, and international intervention to halt the conflict.

“What is happening in Gaza is not content for you,” he was quoted as saying by the magazine. “We are not telling you what is happening … for your likes or views or shares. No, we are waiting for you to act. We need to stop this war.”

Since 1999, Time Magazine has published its annual Time 100 list, recognizing influential individuals in various fields.

Others who made this year’s list include singer Dua Lipa, Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, American footballer Patrick Mahomes, Formula One driver Max Verstappen and Qatar’s Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.

In November 2023, GQ Middle East named Azaiza as its Man of the Year, underscoring his role in inspiring positive change.

Azaiza’s nomination for the Time 100 list was submitted by Yasmeen Serhan, a staff writer at Time Magazine.

Gaza’s Mohammed Salem wins World Press Photo of the Year award with haunting image of woman cradling dead niece

Updated 18 April 2024

Gaza’s Mohammed Salem wins World Press Photo of the Year award with haunting image of woman cradling dead niece

  • Picture was taken on Oct. 17, at Nasser hospital in southern Gaza, where families searched for relatives killed during Isralei bombing
  • ‘I hope photo makes world more conscious of the human impact of war, especially on children,’ Salem said

AMSTERDAM: Reuters photographer Mohammed Salem won the prestigious 2024 World Press Photo of the Year award on Thursday for his image of a Palestinian woman cradling the body of her five-year-old niece in the Gaza Strip.
The picture was taken on Oct. 17, 2023, at Nasser hospital in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, where families were searching for relatives killed during Israeli bombing of the Palestinian enclave.
Salem’s winning image portrays Inas Abu Maamar, 36, sobbing while holding Saly’s sheet-clad body in the hospital morgue.
“Mohammed received the news of his WPP award with humility, saying that this is not a photo to celebrate but that he appreciates its recognition and the opportunity to publish it to a wider audience,” Reuters’ Global Editor for Pictures and Video, Rickey Rogers, said at a ceremony in Amsterdam.
“He hopes with this award that the world will become even more conscious of the human impact of war, especially on children,” Rogers said, standing in front of the photo at the Nieuwe Kerk in the Dutch capital.
Announcing its annual awards, the Amsterdam-based World Press Photo Foundation said it was important to recognize the dangers facing journalists covering conflicts.
It said 99 journalists and media employees had been killed covering the war between Israel and Hamas since the Palestinian militant group attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel responded by launching a military offensive in Gaza.
“The work of press and documentary photographers around the world is often done at high risk,” said Joumana El Zein Khoury, the organization’s executive director.
“This past year, the death toll in Gaza pushed the number of journalists killed to a near-record high. It is important to recognize the trauma they have experienced to show the world the humanitarian impact of the war.”
Salem, a Palestinian aged 39, has worked for Reuters since 2003. He also won an award in the 2010 World Press Photo competition.
The jury said Salem’s 2024 winning image was “composed with care and respect, offering at once a metaphorical and literal glimpse into unimaginable loss.”
“I felt the picture sums up the broader sense of what was happening in the Gaza Strip,” Salem said when the image was first published in November.
“People were confused, running from one place to another, anxious to know the fate of their loved ones, and this woman caught my eye as she was holding the body of the little girl and refused to let go.”

Salem’s wife had given birth to their child days before he took the shot.
The photograph is “profoundly affecting,” said jury member Fiona Shields, head of photography at Guardian News & Media.
The jury selected the winning photos from 61,062 entries by 3,851 photographers from 130 countries.
GEO photographer Lee-Ann Olwage of South Africa won the story of the year category with images documenting dementia in Madagascar.
The long-term projects category was won by Alejandro Cegarra of Venezuela for the series “The Two Walls” for The New York Times/Bloomberg.
Ukrainian photographer Julia Kochetova won the open format award with “War is Personal,” which documented the war in her country by weaving together pictures, poetry, audio and music in documentary style.