BBC distances itself from 7 October “mass rape” claims

The BBC last week scrapped a plan to smear British Palestinians as rape apologists, after reporting by The Electronic Intifada earlier in February sounded the alarm.

An episode of the BBC’s high profile TV show Panorama broadcast last week mostly omitted the smears.

And the BBC seems to be distancing itself from the fallout of a growing scandal over fraudulent reporting at The New York Times about “mass rape” on 7 October.

The BBC climbdown followed our revelation that the episode was poised to attack several prominent British Palestinians and Muslims as “terror” supporters and deniers of “mass rape.”

But in the end presenter John Ware and his producers did not include the planned UK angle in the episode, “Hamas’ Secret Financial Empire,” which aired on 19 February.

We learned of at least six prominent British Palestinian and Muslim campaigners who were contacted for comment by Panorama, accusing them of “support” for Hamas and for “terror.”

They included the British Iraqi campaigner Anas Altikriti and the British Palestinian academic Azzam Tamimi.

We contacted Ware, Panorama and the BBC before broadcast for comment, pointing out that their claims of a campaign of sexual violence had been widely debunked.

Fraudulent rape claims

As I explained on The Electronic Intifada livestream last week, although Ware in the final broadcast did claim to have seen “graphic evidence of sexual violence and attempted beheadings” by Hamas, the discredited claims about a supposed campaign of rape by Palestinian fighters were mostly dropped.

Altikriti, Tamimi and the other four were also absent from the episode.

You can watch our full livestream segment about Ware and Panorama in the video above.

The claims put to the campaigners by the BBC seemed to closely mirror widely discredited claims first published in December by The New York Times, in a now-notorious article titled “Screams without words.”

The Electronic Intifada was the first of a handful of independent news sites to begin reporting consistently on how Israel’s “mass rape” narrative was a fabrication, endorsed by Western politicians and subservient corporate media like the Times.

My colleague Ali Abunimah has diligently followed the story on The Electronic Intifada’s weekly livestreams.

It’s highly significant that this BBC documentary in the end mostly dropped similar claims about alleged sexual violence before broadcast.

New York Times faces growing scandal

It’s likely that the BBC is aware of the growing scandal inside the Times newsroom, which is calling into question the paper’s own reporting.

The family of Gal Abudush – an Israeli woman at the center of the piece – disavowed the Times’ report, insisting that there is no evidence that Abudush was raped before her death, and saying that the Times had misled them as to the true nature of the planned article.

This week the Times narrative about “Hamas sexual violence” has disintegrated even further.

It was revealed by popular X (formerly Twitter) user @zei_squirrel that Anat Schwartz – one of two Israeli co-authors of the article – had “liked” a series of genocidal posts on the platform, including one demanding that Israel should “turn the [Gaza] Strip into a slaughterhouse.”

While “liking” a post does not necessarily constitute an endorsement, the nature and frequency of the likes were enough for the Times to issue a statement mildly chastising Schwartz and announcing that it had launched an investigation into her social media activity.

According to the Israeli woman who filmed Gal Abdush on 7 October, Schwartz had pressured the woman into handing over her photos and videos on the basis that it was important for Israeli propaganda efforts: “They called me again and again and explained how important it is to Israeli hasbara.”

On Wednesday a major new report by The Intercept shed new light on how Schwartz – an Israeli filmmaker with no reporting experience prior to November – came to be involved in the story.

Although the primary byline on the piece was Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Jeffrey Gettleman, The Intercept talked to multiple Times newsroom sources who disclosed that Schwartz and her nephew Adam Sella (an Israeli food blogger) “did the vast majority of the ground reporting, while Gettleman focused on the framing and writing.”

The Intercept report also reveals that Schwartz was unable to find even one single complaint of sexual assault by Palestinians, despite speaking to all 11 Israeli hospitals that have dedicated sexual assault clinics – as well as to a sexual assault hotline in the south.

“I had a lot of interviews which didn’t lead anywhere,” Schwartz told a Hebrew podcast translated by The Intercept. “No one had met a victim of sexual assault.”

Yet none of the the Gettleman/Schwartz reporting in the Times discloses this key fact.

Perhaps most damning of all, the same podcast interview contains an inadvertent admission by Schwartz that she came to the story with an agenda – part of a genocidal Israeli military propaganda campaign to demonize Palestinians.

“Did anyone call you? Did you hear anything?,” Schwartz asked the manager of the sexual assault hotline. “How could it be that you didn’t?”

“How could it be” that Palestinians didn’t rape Israeli women on 7 October, Schwartz was asking. This shows that her prior assumption – like that of many Israelis – seems to have been that Palestinians are all rapists.

This key quote undermines the Times’ claims of a “rigorous reporting process” and strongly suggests that the paper’s senior editors had imposed an Israeli agenda on the reporting team – and that Schwartz had been put on the story precisely because they knew she would push that very same agenda.

She didn’t even consider the most obvious explanation: that there had been no reports of sexual assault by Palestinians because there were no sexual assaults.

Although the Times does seem to be slightly distancing itself from Schwartz, speaking to The Intercept its representatives for the most part stood by their increasingly discredited reporting.

Nonetheless, the paper has now been forced to make an important climbdown: “In a response to The Intercept’s questions about Schwartz’s podcast interview, a spokesperson for The New York Times walked back the blockbuster article’s framing that evidence shows Hamas had weaponized sexual violence to a softer claim that ‘there may have been systematic use of sexual assault.’”

But Schwartz herself is intransigent. Posting to X on Thursday, she claimed that she had been the victim of “attacks,” while downplaying her genocidal “likes” and falsely stating that they had amounted to a single post.

Schwartz locked her account on X shortly after her apparent endorsements of genocidal posts were exposed over the weekend by @zei_squirrel.

She later deactivated her account altogether, before ultimately reactivating it.

But not before scrubbing her likes of the genocidal posts, @zei_squirrel revealed.




People that purport to be journalists and use lies for propagandist purposes should be de-activated from the journalistic field ,shunned and exposed for lack of integrity .The same old trick ,lies that make the media front headlines from many channels ,finally exposed but who will really read the small print after the harm that has been done.

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Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London. He is an associate editor of The Electronic Intifada and co-host of our podcast.

He is author of the bestselling book Weaponising Anti-Semitism: How the Israel Lobby Brought Down Jeremy Corbyn (OR Books, 2023).