A story in The Jerusalem Post stirred online outrage on Tuesday.
The headline read: “US Department of Defense give[s] 1 million masks to IDF for coronavirus use.”
“A plane carrying over a million surgical masks for the IDF landed in Ben Gurion airport Tuesday night, in an operation run by the US Department of Defense’s Delegation of Procurement,” the opening sentence explained.
I was one of many people who highlighted the story on Twitter:
It was also reported separately by Tsahi Dabush, a journalist for Israeli army radio, that a million masks were flown from the United States to Israel for use by soldiers.
But is it a misunderstanding?
A few hours later, The Jerusalem Post made significant changes to the story.
The headline now reads, “Israel brings 1 million masks from China for IDF soldiers.”
There is no longer any mention in the story of the US Department of Defense, except for in a photo caption that still states, “The US Department of Defense delivers one million surgical masks to be used by the IDF.”
The story is vague about where exactly the masks were flown in from, but it claims they were “procured” in China.
There is no explanation for why the story was changed, but it could have been done to draw attention away from any US role in shipping supplies overseas amid outrage at the US government’s failure to secure adequate medical supplies at home. Or the story could simply have been wrong.
When US healthcare workers are risking their lives without proper protective gear to try to save patients with COVID-19, and Americans are being asked to fashion masks out of scarves, coffee filters and old t-shirts, why would the US send precious supplies to the Israeli military?
Any US role in supplying the masks to Israel would be all the more notable given that the US has blocked the export of protective equipment to other countries, including Canada.
One thing to point out is that masks seen in the photo published by The Jerusalem Post appear to be surgical masks, rather than the N95 respirators that are said to be most effective at filtering out the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
However, the US Centers for Disease Control specifies that both surgical masks and N95 respirators are “critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders.”
In fact, and in the face of shortages, the CDC is telling frontline health workers to wear surgical masks, preserving the N95 respirators for the riskiest situations.
Both the original and cleaned-up versions of The Jerusalem Post story mention the role of “the New York Purchasing and Logistics Division” in obtaining the masks.
This appears to be a reference to the Israeli defense ministry’s office in New York City.
Israeli army radio’s Dabush also tweeted that “credit goes to the defense ministry’s procurement office in the United States.”
The original story’s reference to “the US Department of Defense’s Delegation of Procurement” looks like an erroneous translation by The Jerusalem Post of the name of this Israeli office.
However, the mission of this office is specifically to purchase supplies for the Israeli military from US vendors, using US military aid.
It may be the case that The Jerusalem Post mistranslated an official press release saying that the Israeli procurement office in New York obtained the masks from China and flew them to Israel.
But if that’s the case they should issue a clear correction, rather than changing a story without explanation.