Earlier in the week, I tried checking out the TV for news about Haiti, but each time was confronted with pieces that disproportionately focused on white people, Wyclef Jean, and Israel. With regard to Israel in particular, the media seems to be focused on Israel’s highly effective field hospital in Port-au-Prince, which even Jewish papers are calling a “great public relations moment” for Israel. Don’t get me wrong – no matter what Israel’s reasons for setting up a hospital in Haiti, no one can deny the good work they’re doing there. But the US media’s lack of ability to focus on anyone other than white people is maddening.
That said, I was taken aback today when I snuck a peek at Twitter and noticed what was being said about Israel. Maybe you recall the great “blood libel” debacle of 2009? When a Swedish newspaper accused Israel of harvesting organs, and Israel responded by calling the paper–and by extension, Sweden–anti-semitic, accusing them of blood libel…and then the story turned out to be partially true? Today, Twitter users are turning that same story on Haiti.
The story today, however, is baseless. It appears to have originated on YouTube, where an activist who identifies himself as T. West, has posted a video in which he claims that the people in the IDF who are serving in Haiti are without consciences. Israeli paper YNet picked up on the video, covering it in an article titled “Israelis stealing organs in Haiti” (they’ve since changed the headline; I’ve added a screenshot of Google’s cached version) Now, it’s worth noting that in his video, T. West never suggested that the IDF was stealing Haitian organs. What he said was:
“We always have some [unscrupulous] in the crowd, and that includes the Israeli Defense Force…people have to be aware of personalities who are out for money…the IDF has participated in the past in stealing organ transplants of Palestinians and others. So, there is little monitoring in such a tragedy as this, so the Haitian people must watch out for their citizens as these international groups come in to assist medically and in other ways in Haiti.”
West then goes on to criticize the American media for accusing Haitians of looting, and warns Haitians about groups who are earning money off the Haitian tragedy.
In other words, YNet completely twisted West’s words to make it seem as though he was accusing Israelis of stealing Haitian organs. But it gets worse…
About eight hours later, Iranian-backed Press TV made the same statement, framing it as a question, in a piece entitled, “Israel harvesting organs in Haiti?” The article contained similar facts about T. West’s video as the YNet one had, but with an entirely different tone. However, in the lead paragraph, Press TV stated that:
While media reports from Haiti express amazement at Israel’s well-equipped medical delegation to the quake-stricken nation, some critics have warned against organ theft.
So now Press TV is blowing even further out of proportion a small YouTube video that YNet first blew out of proportion, while claiming that “critics” (read: one critic) has warned against organ theft (which he did not). And now, of course, some Twitter users are ranting about how Israel is stealing organs in Haiti (they’re not), while other Twitter users are claiming blood libel and begging Jewish advocacy organizations to act (on what?).
Yet another instance of Twitter spreading misinformation very very quickly (for an even better example, check out Ethan Zuckerman’s recent post about a Ghanaian earthquake that never was) and people believing anything they read in a 140 character sound byte.