A group of Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) reservists and officers have asked Israel’s attorney general, Meni Mazuz, to file a lawsuit against the daily newspaper Ha’aretz on the grounds a story it broke alleging Israeli soldiers committed war crimes in Gaza last January constituted libel.
The Ha’aretz piece ran almost verbatim in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post. According to Google, 2,245 news outlets around the world picked up on the Ha’aretz piece, assuming it was a credible Israeli source.
The newspaper published testimonies from two soldiers at the Yitzhak Rabin Pre-military Academy who claimed that certain actions had taken place in Gaza that violated IDF rules and the Geneva Convention.
The publication of the alleged events triggered an Israel Military Police investigation that determined the allegations were unfounded and that the soldiers’ testimonies were based on hearsay rather than on concrete facts.
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Nonetheless, the Ha’aretz article gained prominence in the international media and was presented as proof Israel had committed war crimes during the Gaza operation.
The soldiers told Mr. Mazuz in a letter Ha’aretz had failed to “carry out minimal checks before publishing false information,” and the information it published had been proven to be “hearsay” and an “exaggeration” by Israel’s Judge Advocate General’s Office.
“Ha’aretz did not settle for informing the public about things that were said by individual combatants. It chose to portray the entire activity of the IDF soldiers as the lowest of acts, cold-blooded murder,” the soldiers wrote. “With one stroke of the pen, we turned from messengers of the state, risking their lives in its defense, to emissaries of the Devil, firing indiscriminately and mercilessly at women, children and elderly people.”
Consequently, the soldiers contend the false report painted the entire IDF in a poor light and fell outside the pale of “legitimate news reporting” and “proper public discourse.”
“They were also not presented as the position of one person or another, but rather as an accomplished fact,” they wrote.
These facts, in their opinion, make the story subject to Israel’s libel laws.
David Bedein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.