What is it that compels mainstream media outlets to buy into conspiracy theories surrounding the all-powerful hidden hand of the Mossad? Despite the fact that the latest piece of conspiracy journalism from New Zealand has already been investigated and found to be bogus, many media outlets just couldn’t help themselves but to report on a piece of non-news.
Even when Israel is squeaky clean of any accusations hurled at it, the media is still intent on reporting those allegations and the investigations into them rather than the less newsworthy end result. Despite the fact that Israel has been cleared of any wrongdoing, the media has placed the attention on the investigation after the verdict has been delivered.
According to The Guardian:
New Zealand intelligence services launched an investigation into a possible Israeli spy operation in Christchurch after suspicious activity was observed in the immediate aftermath of the February earthquake, the New Zealand prime minister, John Key, has confirmed.
But Key insisted the investigation had been completed with no evidence found of wrongdoing.
So what’s the story here? It says much about the obsessive and demonizing behavior towards Israel that so many media outlets decided to publish outlandish claims concerning the Mossad, focused upon an investigation rather than the disproved results.
As for the story itself, it follows a long line of conspiracy theories ranging from the hateful accusations of Mossad involvement in the 9/11 atrocities to the downright absurd Mossad sharks, vultures and any number of highly trained animals serving Israel’s nefarious aims.
According to New Zealand’s Southland Times, the response of the Israeli government was suspicious following the Christchurch earthquake and the deaths and evacuations of Israeli citizens. Despite the paper making the original allegations, at least the Southland Times updated the story under the headline: “Investigation cleared Israelis of spy claims: PM”. Contrast this with some of the other sensationalist headlines which deliberately leave the story open to interpretation:
- Israeli spy claims over Christchurch earthquake – The Guardian
- Mossad spy ring ‘unearthed because of Christchurch earthquake’ – Daily Telegraph
- Report: NZ quake exposes possible Israeli spy ring – MSNBC
- NZ quake may have revealed Israeli spy ring – CBS News
- Israeli spy killed in Christchurch quake: reports – ABC News
- Report: Israeli killed in NZ quake was suspected spy – USA Today
Contrast these with the more accurate and updated headlines from other media:
- Israeli victim of NZ earthquake not a spy, says PM – Associated Press
- Israelis cleared of spying claims – Canberra Times
Former JPost Executive Editor Amir Mizroch takes apart the Southland Times’s ridiculous allegations:
“The response of the Israeli government to the three deaths appears extraordinary. In the hours after the 6.3 quake struck:
“Prime Minister John Key fielded the first of four calls that day from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.” [Maybe Netanyahu wanted to help New Zealand and needed a back-and-forth to figure out exactly what the country needed from Israel; and maybe he was trying to convince Key to let the Israeli search and rescue teams at the site to work to get the Israeli's body after local police at the scene kicked them out; and maybe Netanyahu was worried about the three Israelis who were known to be missing.]
“Israel’s Ambassador in the South Pacific, Shemi Tzur, who is based in Australia, booked flights to Christchurch, where he visited the morgue.” [How terrible of him; how suspicious of him, to want to fly out as soon as is humanly possible to take care of logistics for flying the men home, of being in touch with the families, of being a good Ambassador; oh, and it is considered a duty in Jewish law to sit with the bodies of Jews until they are brought for final burial.]
“Israel’s civil defence chief left Israel for Christchurch.” [Yes, to help the New Zealanders. Israel has the most advanced, skilled and respected civil defense outfit in the world. Way to look a gift horse in the mouth.]
“A complete Israeli urban search and rescue squad was assembled and flown to Christchurch, arriving about the same time as …” [This is what Israeli insurance companies do when Israelis are trapped, missing, or need urgent assistance abroad: they fly in and try help. They don't always wait for the government to approve a mission.]
“Three people who had smashed their way out of a van crushed by a concrete pillar in the central city, leaving a fourth person dead in the vehicle, arrived back in Israel.” [Yes because what they should have done is picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, put it all down to a bit of bad luck, and continued travelling and exploring the beautiful countryside.]
Yes, the response of the Israeli government was ‘extraordinary’ – extraordinary in its compassion for the dead and for the bereaved families, for the religious needs of the victims [it is considered a duty in Jewish law to sit with the bodies of Jews until they are brought for final burial]. Hey Southland Times, Israelis care for their own. We care about foreigners too, which is why our government offered to help, and why we sent our Civil Defense Chief to your earthquake zone – to help.
The Southland Times also alleged that the Israeli earthquake victim was found with as many as five passports on his person. Yet The Guardian reports:
Key said he had been advised that reports of Israeli citizens carrying multiple passports were ill-founded and he was satisfied with police assurances that there had been no unauthorised access to the police computer system.
“The investigations that have been undertaken have been thorough and have found no evidence of a link between the group and Israeli intelligence.” …
Key said the man was found with a European passport. His companions handed over a second passport, his Israeli one, when they left the country.
Even if the Israeli had five passports on him, this is easily explainable. As a nation of many immigrants, large numbers of Israelis have dual nationality and therefore at least two passports. And perhaps the victim may have been keeping the group’s passports together in one place during their travels.
It may very well be that some of the media outlets that have published the story using ambiguous headlines will update them as the hours pass and fresh wire service feeds are checked. Nonetheless what we have seen is a classic example of how a story concerning Israel, later proven to be untrue, spreads throughout the global media in a ‘feeding frenzy’ causing yet more damage to Israel’s image.
As the Scientific American reports:
After people realize the facts have been fudged, they do their best to set the record straight: judges tell juries to forget misleading testimony; newspapers publish errata. But even explicit warnings to ignore misinformation cannot erase the damage done, according to a new study from the University of Western Australia. …
This result shows that “even if you understand, remember and believe the retractions, this misinformation will still affect your inferences,” says Western Australia psychologist Ullrich Ecker, an author of the study.
No doubt this conspiracy will stick around on the Internet no thanks in small part to the many journalists who cannot resist a good conspiracy story involving Israel.
Send your considered comments to your local media if this story is not immediately and definitively clarified.