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Media Analyses





Chicago Public Media Bombards Listeners with Max Blumenthal Falsehoods


Q: What would happen if someone with an ugly history of spreading falsehoods and fabricated quotes is invited onto an NPR-affiliated, Chicago-based public radio program?

A: A whole lot of Chicagoans would be lied to — what else?

It should have been clear to Jerome McDonnell, host of WBEZ's Worldview, that by inviting the notoriously inaccurate anti-Israel activist Max Blumenthal, he was inviting a barrage of falsehoods.

The history of deceit is all on the record: Blumenthal lied, for example, when misquoting Zionist founding father Chaim Weizmann. He lied when claiming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the September 11 attacks. He lied when falsely attributing a statement to Ariel Sharon. He lied when misquoting CAMERA. He lied about supposed Zionist collaboration with Nazi Germany. He lied about Israel opening dams to flood the Gaza Strip. He lied about Israeli Bedouin; about a Netanyahu-backed "Jewish state" law; about Israeli funding for a radical NGO; about Israeli support for a Palestinian state; and about the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians.

So why wouldn't he lie, on Chicago public radio, about the 2014 war between Hamas and Israel? Below, in chronological order, are some of Blumenthal's falsehoods on the Sept. 21 edition of Wordview.

• At the start of the segment, which is more monologue than interview, Blumenthal described Beit Hanoun as a "large northern city in the Gaza Strip that was comprehensively destroyed by the Israeli army," and repeats that "almost every building … has been destroyed."

Beit Hanoun was a hub of Palestinian rocket fire against Israeli towns before and during the 2014 war, and was certainly subject of severe Israeli counterfire meant to stop the Palestinian attacks.

CAMERA's BBC Watch has noted, and Blumenthal of course ignored, that "of the 3,356 missiles fired at civilian targets in Israel by terrorists in the Gaza Strip between July 8 and Aug. 5, 2014, 69.4 percent were fired from the northern part of the territory with the towns of Beit Lahia and Beit Hanoun being major centers of missile fire, cross border tunnels and other terrorist activity." Israel made clear that it targeted many of the sources of that violence.

But Blumenthal did more than just ignore context. He falsified the numbers. According to one United Nations analysis of satellite images, the fighting in Beit Hanoun led to "301 destroyed, 302 severely damaged and 350 moderately damaged buildings." Although the authors of the report used hyperbolic language that echoed the language used by Blumenthal, the report's data make clear that "almost every building" was not destroyed. In fact, less than a third of the estimated 1000 buildings damaged during the war were destroyed. And that figure does not take into account an additional number of unaffected buildings. A separate UN study reached similar conclusions, stating that 41 percent of the damaged structures in Beit Hanoun were "fully" damaged while another 31 percent of those affected buildings saw "minor" damage.

• Blumenthal claimed that "over 2200 residents of the Gaza Strip were killed," and that a "vast majority were civilians, according to every count, including that of the Israeli military."

The Israeli military, though, estimated in April 2015 that 36 percent of Gaza fatalities were civilians and 44 percent were militants (and according to Israel's assessment "this figure may ultimately prove to be even higher"), with the remaining 20 percent made up of fighting age males the military has been unable to classify. Similar findings have been released by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. (Even the United Nations figures arguably fall short of suggesting a "vast majority" of those killed were civilians. A Human Rights Council commission of inquiry concluded that 65 percent of those killed in Gaza were civilians — a figure not inconsistent, it should be noted, with other wars waged by Western armies.)

• Next, Blumenthal claimed that "close to 900 people who were killed in the Gaza Strip were killed at home at night, according to the Associated Press and the Israeli human rights group B'tselem — 90 percent of them were civilians."

The key Associated Press and B'tselem reports about civilians killed specifically in bombing raids on homes say nothing about the bombings occurring "at night," and in fact nearly half of the incidents detailed examples that appear in B'tselem's report occurred during the day. It is hard to explain why Blumenthal would invent this detail other than by noting that this is exactly what he does, though perhaps he took liberties to evoke a terrible image of people dying in their sleep.

More importantly, B'tselem's report estimated that over 70 percent of those killed in bombings of homes were civilians. It says nothing about 90 percent. And while AP said 11 percent of its subgroup were "confirmed or suspected militants," it also made clear that "the actual number could be higher since armed groups have not released detailed casualty lists." In short, neither B'tselem nor AP claim 90 percent of those killed in strikes on homes were civilians.

B'tselem, which is considered by many to be hostile to Israel, also admits in its report that Palestinians could very well have been firing rockets from the bombed homes, and that "there is no question that Hamas and other Palestinian organizations … fired at Israeli civilians from within civilian populated areas, concealed weapons and munitions inside homes and, as a rule, did not keep themselves distinct from the civilian population." It's a fact that any serious commentator would have to concede. But those who, like Blumenthal, don't care about accuracy unsurprisingly care even less about context.

• About the rockets fired by Palestinian terrorist groups, Blumenthal said: "These are homemade rockets, they carry very little explosive capacity. The further they fly the less explosive capacity they carry."

Max Blumenthal lies about Hamas rocketsIn fact, the opposite is true. Along with the deadly but locally manufactured Qassam rockets, Palestinians in Gaza before and during the war fired hundreds of long-range and professionally manufactured Grad, M-75, and M-302 rockets. These, especially, cannot be called "homemade." The latter carries a warhead weighing over 300 pounds. And the further they fly, the more explosive capacity they carry.

• On that same topic, Blumenthal said: "I don't think any Israeli citizens were killed by rockets, a few were killed by mortars…."

Ouda Lafi al-Waj, a Bedouin living near the town of Dimona, was killed by a rocket. Blumenthal neglects to mention that countless other Israelis would have been killed, too, if Israel's sophisticated Iron Dome anti-rocket system had not intercepted hundreds of Palestinian rockets heading toward Israeli population centers.

• In one of his several attempts to absolve Hamas for its attacks on civilians, Blumenthal claimed Hamas terror leader Mohammed Deif "openly declared his intention to exclusively attack military targets."

We could find no evidence of such a statement by Deif. News reports about a video released by Hamas that purportedly included a voice-over by the terror leader mentioned no statement to this effect. In light of Blumenthal's estranged relationship with the truth, and especially considering the fact that Deif allowed or ordered the firing of thousands of rockets at Israeli civilian centers, we can say with high confidence that this statement, too, is false. (We will of course update this space if any such statement by Deif emerges. If there is no update, count this another lie by Blumenthal.)
 
Deif aside, a Hamas spokesperson made clear that the organization was attempted to hit the "homes" of "Israelis," "Hebrews," and "Zionists." Another spokesman was even more direct, describing "all Israelis" as legitimate targets.

• Blumenthal stated that terror groups in Gaza, which he calls "resistance factions," no longer engage in terrorism: "Now in the past, these groups had engaged in what you could describe as terrorism, attacking soft targets attacking civilians, suicide bombing. That's off the table right now, and they are no longer interested — at least those operating within Gaza who have the means to challenge the Israeli military directly — are no longer interested in attacking soft targets."

It is an almost comical claim. "Those operating within Gaza" cannot send suicide bombers to attack Israelis because that territory is sealed off from Israel. But they certainly attack civilians with the tools available to them: Rockets and mortars that are fired into Israeli villages. And members of Gaza-based terror groups living in the West Bank continue to attack the softest of targets, including 3-month-old Chaya Zissel Braun, who was run down in Jerusalem by a Hamas terrorist.

• Blumenthal appeared to get excited when talking about Hamas attacks on Israel, claiming that when the Israeli military invaded the fortress town of Shejaiya, "they were ambushed relentlessly, were losing dozens and dozens of soldiers in close-quarters engagements."

In fact, seven Israeli soldiers — not "dozens and dozens" — were killed in that battle. (Other reports reference 13 deaths.)

• Blumenthal stated that Israel's attack on the home of Gaza police chief Tayseer al Batsh is the same as if "a foreign army had decided to kill the chief of the Chicago police department because they considered him to be a military target."

Even if one accepts the questionable premise that a Hamas-appointed police chief was uninvolved in the warfare, there were, in fact, several terrorists in the home, including Nahed Na'im (41), Bahaa Majed (28), Ahmad Nu'man (27), Jalal Majed (26), and Zakariya Alaa Subhi. Civilians unfortunately lost their lives in that bombing, and Israel may yet investigate whether it should have known about the presence of those civilians, and whether it should have aborted the attack. But the home of the Chicago police chief this was certainly not. (A better analogy: the home of a Taliban police chief that was sheltering al-Qaida operatives shortly after the 2001 attack on New York City.)

• Blumenthal claimed that, of homes "that were completely or partially destroyed, none have been rebuilt. None have been rebuilt. Nothing has been rebuilt in the Gaza Strip!"

In fact, according to the United Nations and Palestinian sources, over 70,000 damaged homes have been rebuilt.

• Blumenthal asserted that "none of the reconstruction money has made its way to the Gaza Strip that's been pledged by international donors."

Nearly a billion dollars, or a quarter of the amount pledged to Gaza by donors, has in fact been disbursed.

WBEZ and its parent Chicago Public Media take listener donations and taxpayer funding while promising a commitment to "accuracy and integrity in the pursuit of facts about events, issues, and important matters that affect communities and people's lives," in the words of the Public Media Code of Integrity that CPM has adopted. The invitation of Max Blumenthal, with his history of outrageous falsehoods and distortions, raises the question of whether these are just empty words. Will Worldview broadcast corrections to the error-filled segment? Or will it leave listeners misinformed?
 
Questions have also been raised about WBEZ's commitment to balance in programs, as required by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and this segment, in which an anti-Israel extremist and propagandist was treated with deference and given the opportunity to lecture almost without interruption, will surely add to concerns that the program gives disproportionate time to fringe critics of Israel and their falsehoods.

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