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Damage Done: How Al Jazeera’s Fake News Harmed Israel’s Reputation In Less Than 24 Hours


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Reprinted from Honest Reporting.


A popular adage has it that “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”

In this day and age of social media and up-to-the-minute news, it has never been faster for a lie to travel around the world and even harder for the truth to try to catch up.

That was the case this past week, when Al Jazeera spread a malicious libel about Israeli soldiers raping Palestinian women in Al-Shifa Hospital during the IDF’s ongoing campaign against entrenched Hamas forces, before quietly removing the story and trying to silently bury it.

On the morning of March 24, Al Jazeera Arabic’s principal news presenter, Elsy Abi Assi (who is no stranger to antisemitism and denial of Hamas atrocities), interviewed on live TV a Gazan woman by the name of Jamila Al-Hessi, who claimed that Israeli soldiers operating in Al-Shifa Hospital were raping Palestinian women and brutally murdering other Palestinians sheltering in the medical complex.

These allegations soon spread like wildfire on social media, with popular anti-Israel accounts picking up the story and disseminating it to their large English-speaking audiences.

Then, that night, Yasser Abuhilalah, an Al Jazeera columnist and former director, tweeted that a Hamas investigation into these allegations had concluded that they were not true and that Jamila Al-Hessi had justified her on-air deception by claiming that she had exaggerated her claims in order to “arouse the nation’s fervor and brotherhood.”

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According to some analysts, Hamas had decided to issue a rare public denial of these claims since its dissemination among Palestinians in northern Gaza was having the opposite effect than was intended: Instead of producing enmity against Israel, these allegations had caused Palestinians to flee the area in fear for their safety.

By the next day, Al Jazeera had removed references to Al-Hessi’s claims from its online platforms but never formally retracted these libels, even though it had uncritically aired them in the first place.

However, by this point, it was too late. The damage to Israel’s reputation had already been done.

In less than 24 hours, millions of people had already viewed Jamila Al-Hessi’s lies on social media and, despite the denial by Hamas itself, continue to do so through a variety of anti-Israel accounts.

As of this writing (March 26, 2024), the story had been viewed 2.3 million times on the X (formerly Twitter) account of Middle East Eye, 918,000 times on the X account of “investigative journalist” Sulaiman Ahmed, 405,000 times on the X account of “human rights activist”/Hamas supporter Ramy Abdu, and over 305,000 times on the X account of alternative media outlet The Cradle.

Some (including Sana Saeed, a journalist affiliated with Al Jazeera) have even gone so far as to voice skepticism of Hamas’ discrediting of Al-Hessi’s story.

The allegation of rape by IDF soldiers in Al-Shifa Hospital is not the first lie about Israel and the IDF to be spread since Hamas’ October 7 terror attack and the subsequent Israeli invasion of Gaza.

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However, in this case, it was not spread by a lone social media activist or a fringe news source but by a news organization that enjoys a veneer of respectability among both news consumers and media outlets around the world.

Despite it serving as an official mouthpiece of the authoritarian Qatari regime and accused of echoing Hamas talking points, Al Jazeera is viewed as a trusted source of information about Israel and the Palestinians during the current conflict as well as over the past several years.

In 2022, HonestReporting uncovered that Al Jazeera had been cited by 16 “top-tier news outlets” 116 times in Israel-related news stories, with most never mentioning the Qatari media organization’s inherent bias.

Also, if not for Hamas deciding that the libel about rapes in Al-Shifa Hospital was not in its best interest and issuing a denial of the allegations, it is highly likely that Al Jazeera would have continued to run with this fabrication as a trusted news story.

In this age of the 24-hour news cycle and instant access to news from around the world, Al Jazeera is serving as a valuable tool in Hamas’ propaganda war, spreading misinformation and sullying Israel’s image around the world at record speeds.

Al Jazeera’s malign influence on the views of social media users is concerning. For mainstream media outlets to rely on it as a source for Israel-related stories is downright journalistic malpractice.

Liked this article? Follow HonestReporting on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok to see even more posts and videos debunking news bias and smears, as well as other content explaining what’s really going on in Israel and the region.

Honest Reporting is a website that seeks to bring balance to the left slant in the major news media.

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