Global Youth Media Distortions, Vice News-Style

CAMERA’s Israel office has prompted correction of an article in Vice News which falsely reported that a new Israeli bill allows for the jailing of children as young as 12. Much, however, is still wrong with the piece, starting with the headline.

The Nov. 25 article, headlined “Israel May Soon Start Jailing Kids as Young As 12,” is by Avi Asher-Schapiro, a New York University masters student in journalism and a contributor to Vice News.

The budding journalist, a former researcher on the Middle East at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center, tripped up in the very first sentence. He wrote:

The Israeli Knesset has advanced a controversial bill that would allows children as young as 12 to be jailed for “nationalistic-motivated” offenses. The proposed law, which passed a preliminary vote in Israel’s parliament on Wednesday, is drawing criticism from children’s rights advocates, who say it violates those rights.

He was mistaken: The bill would not permit the jailing of 12 or 13-year-olds. Any jail sentence handed out to minors under the age of 14 would be deferred until the youth reaches the age of 14.

Asher-Schapiro’s research on the bill led him to the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, which not for the first time provided false information to a journalist. Thus, Asher-Schapiro quoted Sawsan Zaher, who falsely states that the bill would allow for the imprisonment of 12-year-olds:

“This proposed bill will make Israel one of the few countries in the world that basically enables sentencing and imprisonment of minors as young as 12,” said Sawsan Zaher, a lawyer with the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. “What’s more, it is clear that such a bill is racially motivated, and intended to target Palestinian minors.”

Zaher is especially concerned that imprisoning 12-year-olds would deny them the opportunity to rehabilitate, basically condemning preteens to a life behind bars.

Asher-Schapiro may also have been relying on misinformation, in a headline and then an editorial (later partially corrected) in Haaretz. While the news article itself was correct, the headline was not.

Haaretz’s Nir Hasson reported accurately Nov. 11 in his news article:

Israel’s Justice Ministry has almost finished drafting a bill that would allow children under 14 to be sentenced to jail.

Under the bill, which is the brainchild of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, jail sentences could be handed down to children as young as 12, though the offender would start serving the sentence only when he turned 14. Prison sentences could be imposed on children younger than 14 only if they are convicted of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter, the draft bill states.

The headline writer at Haaretz, however, apparently failed to read Hasson’s article, and slapped on a blatantly false headline (“Israel Seeks to Jail Offenders As Young as 12”), which editors have yet to correct despite CAMERA’s requests.

In an editorial later that week Haaretz repeated the false claim that the new bill would allow for jailing children as young as 12, and in that instance editors did commendably heed CAMERA’s request and correct. The correction appended to the bottom of the editorial reads:

A Correction, But False Headline and Quotes Endure

This CAMERA author tweeted the Haaretz correction to Asher-Shapiro, asking if he too will correct, and the journalist responded that indeed he would.

The improved opening sentence now states:

The Israeli Knesset has advanced a controversial bill that would allow children as young as 12 to be given prison sentences for “nationalistic-motivated” offenses.

Somewhat buried five paragraphs later, the amended article now adds: “For children aged 12 and 13, the sentences would be deferred until they [sic] child turns 14.”

Finally, editors commendably appended the following correction to the bottom of the article:

Despite the correction, however, the headline still falsely states: “Israel May Soon Start Jailing Kids As Young As 12.” In addition, false statements by Adalah’s Zaher about the imprisonment of 12-year-olds still remain unaltered.

Jail for ‘Nationalist’ Crimes of All Kind?

But that’s not all that’s wrong with the article. In the amended article, the first sentence alleges that the bill enables “children as young as 12 to be given prison sentences for ‘nationalist-motivated’ offenses,” as if defacing property with anti-Israel slogans could land a 12-year-old a jail sentence. The article does not make clear that the jail sentences (deferred until age 14) may only be applied to those convicted of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter, as Haaretz‘s Hasson reported.

The article then goes on quote Brad Parker said to be “with Defense for Children International,” who alleges that the “law [sic] contradicts international standards when it comes to juvenile justice.” Parker adds: “International law makes it clear that for children under 18 the emphasis should be on reintegration, not on criminalization.”

Parker is an employee of Defense for Children International Palestine, and not Defense for Children International (DCI), an independent non-governmental organization based in Geneva Switzerland. DCI Palestine is an independent Palestinian NGO affiliated with the similarly named international organization. The DCI Palestine Section, based in Ramallah, sets its own agenda, including support for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Age of Criminal Responsibility: A Comparative Look

Beyond the narrower misrepresentation of the bill as allowing for 12-year-old Palestinians to be jailed,  there is the deceptive suggestion by Parker and others that holding 12-year-olds criminally responsible for extreme crimes is a violation of international norms.

Earlier, Haaretz‘s Nov. 12 editorial (“Eroding our democracy“) had misleadingly compared Israel’s reducing the age of criminal accountability to the situation in Eritrea and Morocco. And Haaretz‘s Gideon Levy similarly wrote of the “day Israel became more like Eritrea and Uganda by legislating a monstrous law [sic] allowing incarceration or children as young as 12.”  But is it really only in places with dismal human rights records, like Eritrea, Uganda and Morocco that minors under the age of 12 are held criminally accountable?

In fact, the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10, in Holland it is 12 and in France it is 13. The 1993 murder of 2-year-old Britain James Bulger, in which two 10-year-olds were found guilty, stands out as the most memorable case.

According to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the minimum age of criminal responsibility should be 12, though it “urges States parties not to lower their MACR [minimum age of criminal responsibility] to the age of 12.”

On the question of the bill allegedly violating international law, Asher-Schapiro quotes:

Parker, with Defense for Children International, countered that the appearance of an uptick in crimes committed by youth doesn’t absolve Israel of its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty Israeli signed in 1991. He accused Israel of using the current tensions to push through a series of laws that don’t pass muster under international human rights norms. “As violence has escalated in the past few months, we see policies and practices that contravene international law being codified by the Israeli government,” he said.

The Israeli bill is hardly a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as Parker suggests. The Convention does not bar imprisonment of children. In fact, it clearly allows it. Article 37 of the Convention states:

States Parties shall ensure that:

(a) No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age;

(b) No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time;

(c) Every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age. In particular, every child deprived of liberty shall be separated from adults unless it is considered in the child’s best interest not to do so and shall have the right to maintain contact with his or her family through correspondence and visits, save in exceptional circumstances;

(d) Every child deprived of his or her liberty shall have the right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance, as well as the right to challenge the legality of the deprivation of his or her liberty before a court or other competent, independent and impartial authority, and to a prompt decision on any such action.

Palestinian Teenagers’ Violence Downplayed

Asher-Schapiro repeatedly downplays Palestinian teens’ attacks on Israelis by referring to them as mere allegations or accusations. He writes:

Over the past few months, several Palestinian children have been accused of stabbing Israelis, in a wave of violence that’s included the torching of Palestinian homes in the West Bank, and an uptick in attacks within Israel itself.

Notice Asher-Schapiro’s double standard: he qualifies the Palestinian stabbings, but  does not qualify the torching of Palestinian homes. (The fatal torching of the Dawabsheh home, in which a Palestinian child and his two parents were killed, believed to have been carried out by Jewish extremists, took place in July, weeks before the current wave of violence began in September. Meanwhile, during the current wave of violence, Palestinians torched a Jewish holy shrine in October and tossed countless firebombs leading numerous injuries, including an attack in which two parents and their three children were wounded.)

Likewise, he states: “Israel arrested 177 children as part of a crackdown on demonstrations and alleged terror attacks in October.”

He also incorrectly refers to the attack in which Ahmed Manasrah, 13, stabbed two Israelis, including a 13-year-old boy (identified only as Naor, who
was severely injured) as an attempted stabbing: “In October, Israeli police apprehended Ahmed Manasrah, a 13-year-old Palestinian who tried to stab an Israeli boy.” (Emphasis added.) Manasrah not only tried, but also succeeded, in stabbing his 13-year-old Israeli victim multiple times, rendering him clinically dead upon his arrival at the hospital.

Vice News boasts that it has “expanded into a leading global youth media company.” If that is true, it does not bode well for global youth media. 

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