Demise of a Hoax Quote: CAMERA Prompts Article in Toronto Star, Corrections on Ya’alon Statement

Aug. 14 Update: In an article today, the Columbia Journalism Review covers the Ya’alon bogus quote, the corrections, and CAMERA’s involvement. See details below.
Aug. 26 Update: After CAMERA notified the Los Angeles Times that it had published a Rashid Khalidi Op-Ed that propagated the hoax quote, that newspaper also published a correction. The correction now appears in the table below. 
Aug. 12, 2009 – A purported statement by Israel’s former chief of staff (and current cabinet member) Moshe Ya’alon has been cited as evidence that Israel seeks to “crush” the Palestinians as a signal to other Arab countries; that it wants to “destroy them as a people”; that the Gaza war really had nothing to do with Hamas’s relentless rocket fire; and that Israel is marked by “a collective psychology of conquest.” Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi alone used the statement at least seven times — in his book Resurrecting Empire, in opinion pieces in four major newspapers, in an essay in  The Nation, and during a prime time debate on MSNBC.

But as Toronto Star reporter Oakland Ross noted in an Aug. 8 story about the statement, there is one significant problem. “Ya’alon did not say what he is supposed to have said,” Ross explained.

What Ya’alon was supposed to have said, according to the writings of various anti-Israel polemicists, is that “the Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.” What he was supposed to have meant, the writers insisted, is that Israel was not so much concerned with trying to protect its citizens from the Palestinian suicide bombings, rocket attacks, and sniper fire that was brutalizing the country at the time the quote emerged.  It simply wanted to to subjugate a population.

CAMERA first brought attention to this misquote during an October 2007 conference in New York City, during which Associate Director Alex Safian pointed out that Henry Siegman used the quote two months earlier in the London Review of Books, and even before that Professor Rashid Khalidi had used an almost identical quote in his book Resurrecting Empire. Safian explained to the crowd that the misquote actually reverses the truth of what the Ya’alon really said, namely, that the Palestinians must learn terrorism won’t defeat the Israelis. (See details here.)

Since then, CAMERA’s documentation and correspondence prompted corrections in the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Charleston Gazette, Time Magazine and Toronto Star. It was the latter correspondence that led to Oakland Ross’s informative article, which not only describes some of the history of the stubborn misquote, but also acts as a highly visible reminder to editors that they should not propagate this particular misquote, and should generally fact check information — especially information about a contentious dispute like the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Comparative Corrections
New York Times
International Herald Tribune
Editors’ Note: An Op-Ed article on Jan. 8, on misperceptions of Gaza, included an unverified quotation. A former Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, Moshe Yaalon, was quoted as saying in 2002 that ”the Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.” This quotation, while cited widely, does not appear in the Israeli newspaper interview to which it is usually attributed. Its original source has not been found, and thus it should not have appeared in the article.
Chicago Tribune In a Perspective piece by Gary Fields, professor of communications at the University of California, San Diego, that ran in Feb. 22, 2004, editions of the Chicago Tribune, an unverified quote was used and attributed to the Israeli army’s chief of staff, Moshe Yaalon. The op-ed quoted Yaalon as saying that “the Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.” While cited frequently over the years, this quote does not appear in the Israeli newspaper article to which it has been attributed, and the writer of that article said Yaalon did not say this. Fields could not confirm the origin of the quote. A spokesman for Yaalon said Thursday that Yaalon was misquoted and did not say the sentence attributed to him. Since the exact origin of the quotation has not been found and verified, it should not have been used in the Tribune.
Boston Globe
(Online only)
Unpublished editor’s note: An H.D.S. Greenway column on March 7, 2006, misquoted an Israeli chief of staff as saying that that the Palestinians are “a defeated people.” A spokesman for Moshe Ya’alon said that the former general never said this.
Charleston Gazette An April 12 commentary “America must stop blessing killings of Palestinians” by Eva Knapp contained an unverified quotation. Moshe Yaalon, a former Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, was quoted as saying that “the Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.” Although cited often, the quote does not appear in the Israeli newspaper interview where it is usually attributed and should not have appeared in the Sunday Gazette-Mail.
Time In “Lonesome Doves,” about Israeli West Bank settlers, we quoted a former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, Moshe Ya’alon, as saying, “It will be seared deep into the consciousness of Palestinians that they are a defeated people” [Feb. 2]. Though this quotation has been used widely over the years, the original source cannot be found, so TIME should not have used it.
Toronto Star
A Nov. 14, 2004, column about the death of Yasser Arafat included an unverified quotation attributed to former Israel Defence Forces chief of staff Moshe Yaalon.
Yaalon, now Israel’s strategic affairs minister, was quoted in that 2004 column as saying in 2002 that “the Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.”
That quotation, while widely cited over the years, did not appear in the 2002 interview published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, to which it has been attributed. Alon Ofek-Arnon, a spokesman for Yaalon, told the Star in an email that Yaalon never said this. As well, in a correction about this same quote published March 6, 2009, by the Chicago Tribune, Ari Shavit, the writer of the 2002 Haaretz article, said Yaalon did not say that. The Star has been unable to reach Shavit.
Los Angeles Times An Op-Ed article titled “Can Hamas Cut a Deal for Peace?,” which was published on June 17, 2003, paraphrased and partially quoted former Israeli army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon as having “talked of rubbing in the fact that the Palestinians are ‘a defeated people.’ ” The Times was recently made aware of questions regarding the source and accuracy of this material. The Times has been unable to verify that Yaalon expressed the thought or used the quoted words. The quote and the paraphrase should not have been used.
Another key point revealed by the affair is that not all corrections are created equal. Certainly, any correction of inaccurate material should be taken as a positive sign indicating that the publication is concerned, at least somewhat, with the key journalistic standard requiring accuracy. But the differences between the corrections are striking.
The most unambiguous and helpful corrections were published by the Chicago Tribune and Toronto Star. Editors at those newspapers took it upon themselves to search for substantiation, check with Ya’alon’s office, and contact (or try to contact) the journalist whose article is often cited as the source of the statement. The resulting corrections, then, explained that the statement does not appear in the publication to which it is generally attributed and, importantly, that Ya’alon denied ever saying such a thing.
The New York Times and its sister publication, the International Herald Tribune, were also clear in stating that the quote does not appear in its purported source. But although they gave Rashid Khalidi, whose Op-Ed in the newspapers cited the quote, days to try to dig up a source, editors apparently did not bother checking with Ya’alon — the correction does not point out that he disavows the statement. The Charlestown Gazette correction used essentially the same language as the Times.
Less helpful was the correction that appeared in Time Magazine. The magazine vaguely noted only that the statement’s “original source cannot be found,” wording which leaves the misleading impression that this was not a misquote, but merely a misplaced source. The editors did not bother to check with Ya’alon or share with readers his disavowal.
Perhaps least helpful was the Boston Globe‘s correction. While the newspaper did note Ya’alon’s denial, it did so in an “unpublished editor’s note” that appeared only online, and not in print. A second online copy of the column on the Globe‘s Web site, moreover, continues to relay the misinformation without correction. And because the typical correction process was not followed, the original article, and its error, remain unchanged in news databases like Nexis.
Comparing the various corrections, one can conclude that it is important not only to publish a correction, but to do so in a way that presents the accurate information thoroughly and clearly, and that will reach as many readers as possible.
The Columbia Journalism Review today has a thorough article by Craig Silverman (of about the corrections discussed above.

Silverman writes:

The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, or CAMERA, a media watchdog founded to combat what was perceived as anti-Israeli press coverage, managed to get each of the aforementioned publications to print corrections. The hope now is that anyone tempted to use the quote will encounter the corrections and be forewarned.

What’s interesting is that each paper had a different process for issuing a correction, and the resulting corrections also varied in their content—reinforcing the reality that we have yet to establish an industry standard. This is a source of frustration to readers, viewers, and listeners demanding satisfaction for a factual error. . . .

Of note is the fact that two of the papers that seemed to do the best job handling the issue employ an ombudsman or a standards editor. This is important to keep in mind, given the ongoing disappearance of the newspaper ombudsman.

“To us, it seemed that the [Chicago] Tribune and Toronto Star corrections were the most thorough, and they also seemed to pursue it the most extensively and really tried to dig for the truth,” Ini said. “I wondered if one of reasons was that both have an editor whose role is to do this kind of thing.”

The Star even assigned a reporter to write a feature about the quote for this past Saturday’s paper. Among other details, the story explained why the quote appeared in the paper back in 2004. (The Star investigated the issue after CAMERA recently got in touch.) This, coupled with its clear and informative correction, should leave no doubt in the minds of readers about the nature of the mistake and the correct information.

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