A major Israeli newspaper has conceded that it has no credible evidence for accusing students at Canada’s York University of shocking anti-Jewish bigotry.
The Jerusalem Post initially claimed that hundreds of students protesting the presence of Israeli soldiers on their Toronto campus on 20 November, chanted “Intifada, Intifada, go back to the ovens” at Jewish participants.
They were protesting an event hosted by Reservists on Duty, a group that brings Israeli soldiers to speak on campuses.
The newspaper has now admitted that the evidence-free accusation was made by a former member of an Israeli army death squad who is now part of an elite propaganda outfit.
It offered no substantiation for the inflammatory accusation, and despite there being numerous videos from the event, none provides any evidence to support the assertion.
Moreover, the group Christian Peacemaker Teams, whose members witnessed the event, says the chant never happened.
Yet the initial accusation was accepted on its face by Canadian leaders. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined in the attack on the York students, accusing them of directing “violence and racist chants” against Jews.
But it was not Jewish students or supporters of Israel who were attacked and subjected to abuse.
It was the students rallying for Palestinian rights who were attacked by members of the Jewish Defense League, a violent anti-Palestinian group.
After JDL members assaulted protesters outside the event, Reservists on Duty – backed by Israeli media and Canadian politicians – smeared the protesters as anti-Semites.
Still, no shred of evidence has emerged a full week later.
On Wednesday, Vancouver-based activist Marion Kawas posted her exchange with The Jerusalem Post reporter who filed the original story.
Kawas emailed the reporter Ilanit Chernik for verification of the serious charge.
“One of the speakers who was there – Shar Leyb – told me that this was chanted by the group while they were setting up for their event. I have a recording of him telling me this from when we spoke on Thursday afternoon,” Chernik replied to Kawas.
The correspondence has been seen by The Electronic Intifada.
Member of elite death squad
Leyb, a member of Reservists on Duty, is a Canadian who settled in Israel and joined the army.
Leyb stated during the 20 November event that he was a member of Duvdevan, an elite Israeli military unit whose members often disguise themselves as Palestinians in order to carry out extrajudicial executions.
Leyb even described taking part in a raid on a Palestinian home where young children were sleeping and where the combat soldiers confronted a woman holding a toddler.
But whether in combat gear or not, Leyb still considers himself on a mission for the Israeli military.
During the 20 November event, Leyb said he was part of the Gideon group, a “Reservists on Duty flagship project” whose members undergo “intensive training” in Israeli propaganda.
The unit aims to smear Palestine solidarity activism as “anti-Semitism.”
According to the group’s Facebook page, Leyb joined a 2017 tour as part of Reservists on Duty “to give their testimony and to battle the outrageous lies that delegitimize the IDF [Israeli army] and the State of Israel.”
As Kawas points out, Leyb clearly had an agenda to smear the Palestine rights supporters – and The Jerusalem Post helped him.
Still no evidence
Hours after the initial email exchange, Kawas says that the Post issued an update to its article, which slightly amended the lead sentence to attribute the chant to “several protesters.”
The Post also added an editor’s note claiming “a mistake in editing accidentally attributed the chant … to all of the protesters at the event. This was not the case. The comment was made by a handful of protesters to some of the organizers.”
Yet this effort at spin is no more honest than the original article: There is still no published evidence to support the claim that anyone at all chanted “go back to the ovens.”
Lawyer and human rights campaigner Dimitri Lascaris says he has examined “over 50 separate video clips taken at the York University protest, but found no evidence of violent or anti-Semitic conduct on the part of Palestinian solidarity activists.”
“In particular, in none of those videos could pro-Palestinian protesters be heard to chant the words ‘go back to the ovens,’” Lascaris adds.
Lascaris also notes that Shar Leyb speaks in six of the dozens of video clips but “At no time in any of those clips did Leyb claim to have heard pro-Palestinian protesters chant ‘go back to the ovens.’”
“The damage has been done, the smear was repeated and repeated, and a half-hearted revision five days after the first story will not [undo] the harm that has been caused,” Kawas writes.
Kawas urges The Jerusalem Post to release the audio recording of Leyb “because we need to clarify how this dangerous fabrication came about. Was it from the speaker, Shar Leyb, or was it from the newspaper staff itself?”
Meanwhile, support for the York students – and outrage at Trudeau and other Canadian politicians who smeared them – continues to grow.
On Wednesday, York’s chapter of Amnesty International condemned the presence of Israel military personnel on campus and the attacks on the student protesters.
Christian Peacemaker Teams, whose members witnessed assaults by JDL Canada members, listed on Tuesday multiple specific instances of attacks on protesters.
Such attacks, CPT states, included threats of raping and stabbing demonstrators.
The group also said that no one chanted what Leyb claimed to The Jerusalem Post.
Jewish activist group If Not Now slammed university administrators and top politicians for failing to condemn the JDL.
Earlier this week, Independent Jewish Voices Canada admonished Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
The group said that the politicians’ smears of the protesters were “a thinly veiled attempt to continue to silence Palestine solidarity movements and individuals who stand up for human rights.”
Ali Abunimah contributed reporting.