UK Pharmacy Publication Runs Gaza Article Based on Propaganda From an Anti-Semitic Site

The London-based Pharmafile.com describes itself as “a leading portal for the pharmaceutical industry, providing industry professionals with pharma news, pharma events, and pharma service company listings”. But it also occasionally veers into politics – particularly of late regarding the COVID-19 pandemic in articles by Conor Kavanaugh, a relatively new recruit.

For instance, a recently published article by Kavanaugh condemned President Trump for allegedly continuing “to push the drug hydroxychloroquine as a potential coronavirus treatment despite a lack of evidence for its effectiveness.”

A more recent piece by Kavanaugh, entitled “Israeli blockade has made COVID-19 a ‘death sentence’ in Gaza,” seemed more like a hit job from an anti-Israel propaganda site than an article that might be expected from a pharmaceutical industry publication. The article sacrificed facts, history and empirical evidence to advance a propagandistic, anti-Israel narrative.

Following CAMERA UK Media Watch’s public critique of the piece and after UK Media Watch Editor Adam Levick tweeted the author directly about it, the article appeared to have been retracted without comment or explanation. But, in fact, editors simply republished it with a different URL, a somewhat different headline, and a few textual alternations: The headline was changed from “Israeli blockade has made COVID-19 a ‘death sentence’ in Gaza” to “Palestinians fear Israeli-Egyptian blockade may be a ‘death sentence’ for COVID-19 patients in Gaza,” some new sources were added, and a few paragraphs were re-arranged. But despite the revisions, the edited piece did not substantively depart from the original.

What’s more is that the article seems to have been based on — or cribbed from — a mudslinging piece found on an anti-Israel propaganda site. Both the original and the slightly edited version of the Pharmafile article share a curious degree of overlap with a piece published at the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (WRMEA), a virulently anti-Israel publication that often peddles antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories. With the sort of language favored by rabidly anti-Zionist activists,the publication has in the past branded Israel’s defenders as “fifth columnists,” “Israel-firsters,” “viruses,” “bacteria,” “cancer,” and an “alien intrusion” operating “against the interests of the United States.” It has labelled the White House, State Department, Congress, and media “Israeli occupied territory.” And the publication’s founders, the late Richard Curtiss and the late Andrew Killgore, met for an interview with editors of the now-defunct Liberty Lobby, which the Anti-Defamation League described as “the most influential and active anti-Semitic propaganda organization in the United States.”

The author of the specific WRMEA article which the Pharmafile article is based on is Mohammed Omer, a Gaza-based journalist who regularly contributes to Electronic Intifada, WRMEA and other radical anti-Zionist publications and radio stations, and whose veracity CAMERA has previously questioned.

The article, entitled “Gaza on the Ground,” was published in WRMEA’s May print edition, but was online by April 5th at the latest, a day before the Pharmafile piece was posted.

The original Pharmafile headline was astonishing, echoing a radical, anti-Israel narrative that suggested any fatalities that would occur in Gaza as a result of the virus would lie “squarely with the Israeli government.” The newer headline attributed the “death sentence” to Palestinian fears and allowed that the blockade on Gaza is shared by Egypt.

The WRMEA article included quotes from Palestinian student Nida’a Abu Saleem that were featured in the opening paragraph of the original Pharmafile article and were turned into its underlying theme. In the edited version, the first paragraph was moved down to become paragraph 5, and the quote was attributed to the WRMEA.

According to the Pharmafile article:

Nida’a Abu Saleem, a 21-year old student, has described [the edited version uses the formulation “has told the Washington Report that”] contracting the virus as a “death sentence” adding that: “Being locked in a cage, we thought we were protected, but in fact, one patient is all it takes to put 2 million at risk. We never made a choice to live in a cage, and we should not die in that cage either.”

The quote is disingenuous. Prior to the current pandemic, which prompted countries throughout the world to restrict entry or even close their borders outright, hundreds of Gazans entered Israel daily – far from the “prison” narrative Saleem describes. In 2019, according to the UN, a daily average of 526 Palestinians exited Gaza via the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing. This number includes Palestinian patients referred for medical treatment, laborers employed in Israel and others who came for commercial reasons. By contrast, a daily average of only 213 Palestinians exited the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing in 2019. Even with Israel’s tightened border restrictions imposed in March, Palestinians in Gaza in need of urgent medical care were still granted entry into Israel.

Another claim that seems to have come from the WRMEA article, which appeared in both the original and edited versions of the Pharmafile article [the second paragraph in the original and the fourth paragraph in the edited version], repeats a lie that has been previously exposed by CAMERA:

In the WRMEA version:

Even before the outbreak of the coronavirus, Gaza was suffering from the lack of medical supplies and medicines, due to the harsh Israeli blockade.

Pharmafile article:

Gaza had already been suffering from a lack of medicinal supplies before the spread of COVID-19. The 13-year Israeli blockade [the edited version attributes the blockade to Egypt, as well, referring to the “Israeli-Egyptian” blockade] and attacks on Hamas, which often result in civilian casualties, [the edited version also adds the words “as well as internal conflict”] has put the region’s healthcare system on the brink of collapse.

In fact, there are no Israeli restrictions on the import of medicine, and almost no restrictions on medical supplies to Gaza – with the narrow exception of radio isotopes used in bone scans or for guided biopsy of axillary lymph nodes, presumably because they’re considered dual-use.

Even the anti-Israel NGO Gisha has acknowledged that, since the pandemic, “Israel has met all of the Palestinian requests for medical assistance,” transferring equipment from the international community, including “testing kits and protective gear, as well as disinfecting materials, lab equipment, repair parts for medical equipment and alcohol jell”. In the last week of March alone, 145 tons of medical supplies reached Gaza through Israeli crossings.

The role of the ongoing rivalry between Hamas and the PA in their deteriorating healthcare system is only obliquely alluded to with the addition of “internal conflict” in the edited version, pinning the lion’s share of the blame on Israel. That the problems plaguing the Gazan healthcare system are also the result of bad decisions by Hamas in prioritizing terror tunnels and rockets over their territory’s social and health needs is not mentioned at all. As CAMERA’s UK Media Watch noted in a recent tweet, for each terror tunnel built by the Hamas regime (they’ve built dozens), it could have bought roughly 100 ventilators.

The issue of COVID-19 testing kits was also raised in the WRMEA article,and echoed in both the original and edited Pharmafile article.

The WRMEA article:

As of this writing, Gaza has 12 confirmed cases. The enclave also lacks sufficient testing kits, with Israel providing just 200 kits in March. At the same time, Israel boasted that its Mossad intelligence service was able to procure 500,000 test kits from undisclosed nation(s).

Original Pharmafile article:

The region currently has 12 confirmed cases, but this is expected to be much higher and the number is low due to a lack of testing. Israel has provided Gaza just 200 testing kits while being able to procure 500,000 for themselves from undisclosed nations.

Edited Pharmafile article:

The region currently has 12 confirmed cases, but this is expected to be much higher and the number is low due to a lack of testing. According to the Jerusalem Post, Israel has provided Gaza with just 200 testing kits. The Post also reported that Mossad, part of the Israeli intelligence service, had obtained 100,000 testing kits from overseas on 21 March, and was able to acquire another 400,000 by 26 March according to the Times of Israel.

The writer failed to reveal that he was using a deceptively outdated statistic. The Jerusalem Post article to which that statistic is attributed was already over a month old at the writing of the article. In addition to the 200 testing kits that were originally provided, an additional 1,000 kits, donated from the World Health Organization (WHO), reached Gaza via Israel on March 26, and an additional 1,500 kits were transferred to the strip on April 2, long before Kavanaugh’s article (both the original and certainly the edited version) was posted.

Moreover, the suggestion that Israel has a moral or legal responsibility to pay for Gaza healthcare is untenable. Even the most hardcore pro-Palestinian activists who argue for an easing of, or end of, Israel’s blockade don’t argue that Israel should actually use its own funds to purchase items needed by the territory, only that there should be an interrupted flow of people and goods. And, as we stated, there are no restrictions on COVID-19 related or any other medical items entering Gaza.

The article (both the original and edited) continues:

The Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip was imposed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas took control of the region during the 2006 elections and the subsequent conflict with Fatah. This devastated the region’s economy leading to a shortage of basic necessities like food, water and electricity and also put a huge strain on the region’s hospitals.

In addition to the fact that there are absolutely no Israeli restrictions on food, basic necessities and medicine entering Gaza, the paragraph erases the more than 12,000 rockets fired at Israel by terrorists in the strip – including around 1,000 from 2005, the year of Israel’s withdrawal, to 2007, the year the blockade began. It’s of course the terror directed towards Israeli civilians – in violation of international law – by fanatical groups committed to the state’s annihilation which prompted the blockade.

Just as bad science and faulty data lead to bad outcomes for infectious disease patients, bad political decisions by Hamas inevitably lead to bad outcomes for Palestinian civilians.

UK Media Watch has also documented additional passages that appear to have been cribbed from the WRMEA article, and concludes that the total word count of the overlapping sentences was more than 50% of the original article. Thus it appears that the Pharmafile article was not only based on errors and falsehoods, but is likelier than not based on a piece of anti-Israel propaganda taken from an antisemitic site. 

(See original UK Media Watch articles by Adam Levick: “British pharmaceutical site smears Israel over Gaza COVID-19 infections”  and “Did UK pharmacy publication’s Gaza story copy & paste from antisemitic site?“)