OpinionOctober 7

‘The Intercept’ and Oct. 7 rape denialism

The web magazine wants to spin an anti-Israel conspiracy without appearing to do so.

Na'ama Levy, 19, an Israeli hostage being held captive by Hamas in Gaza. Credit: Courtesy.
Na'ama Levy, 19, an Israeli hostage being held captive by Hamas in Gaza. Credit: Courtesy.
Seth Shabo
Seth Shabo is a philosophy professor and a member of the Heterodox Academy.

According to its mission statement, the web magazine The Intercept is “here to change the world, not just describe it.” Since Oct. 7, however, its mission creep has been anything but subtle. It now seeks to change the world through fabrication and conspiracy theories.

In January, I began receiving fundraising emails from The Intercept’s Ryan Grim and Jeremy Scahill. “We’re investigating media bias toward Israel. Can you donate $15?” was the title of one. “As The Intercept’s D.C. bureau chief and a veteran of Capitol Hill reporting,” Grim wrote in another, “this is far from the first time I’ve seen AIPAC wield its financial might.” Another repeated the shameful canard that Israel was committing genocide in Gaza.

I wondered whether these journalists had any ethical qualms about failing to disclose in their Israel coverage that they were using that coverage to solicit donations. Those donations are processed through the PAC ActBlue, the financial might of which eclipses that of the pro-Israel AIPAC—a frequent target of cartoonish antisemitic conspiracy theories.

The Intercept hit a dismal new low in February with the publication of “Between the Hammer and the Anvil: The Story Behind the New York Times October 7 Exposé.” Along with Grim and Scahill, the byline features Prem Thakker. The ostensible focus is a set of shortcomings in the Times’s “‘Screams Without Words’: How Hamas Weaponized Sexual Violence on Oct. 7.” The real target, however, is the underlying allegation that Hamas committed systematic rape during its Oct. 7 rampage. Put simply, the piece all but outright denies that these mass rapes occurred, blaming the allegation on an Israeli government conspiracy. Because it’s part of a broader conspiracist effort to conceal the extent of Hamas’s sexual violence, it’s worth exposing how the article unravels.

Both the Times and The Intercept begin with the image of 34-year-old Gal Abdush, “the woman in the black dress,” a mother of two whose body was found near the remains of the Nova music festival. According to The Intercept, “video of her charred body appeared to show her bottomless.” The word “appeared” is telling.

Then there is a striking bit of legerdemain: “The woman who filmed Abdush on October 7 told the Israeli site Ynet that [Times reporters] Schwartz and Sella had pressured her into giving the paper access to her photos and videos for the purposes of serving Israeli propaganda.”

Yet the woman, Eden Vesli, did not say this and never used the word “propaganda.” The Intercept quotes Vesli as saying, “‘They called me again and again and explained how important it is to Israeli hasbara.” Vesli thus used the Hebrew word hasbara, not “propaganda.”

How, then, does the Intercept explain its replacement of this word with an inflammatory insinuation? The authors gloss hasbara as “the term for public diplomacy, which in practice refers to Israeli propaganda efforts directed at international audiences.”

This is a tendentious translation at best. The idea that hasbara is code for “propaganda” is a staple of anti-Israel conspiracy theories. In reality, it simply refers to the normal public diplomacy conducted by every nation in the world. This diplomacy is particularly important for Israel because it has been beset by orchestrated propaganda campaigns and scurrilous conspiracy theories for decades. The Intercept article is a fine case in point.

Things get worse from there. The Intercept misrepresents Vesli’s remarks to an extent that has to be seen to be believed.

In the linked interview, Vesli states in full: “They called me again and again and explained how important it is to Israeli hasbara. They were really invested in it, it was important for them to know every detail, and I understood from that that this was visual evidence relevant to the sex crimes committed on Oct. 7—that’s why they were clinging so much to my testimony. When I saw that, I said, ‘Well, I’ll help them, the whole world will know.’”

The Intercept’s strategic editing of this statement is so grossly disingenuous that it is impossible to believe that it is not a deliberate misrepresentation.

The purpose of the deception is obvious: Grim and crew believe that if they can cast doubt on the fact that Hamas terrorists raped Abdush, they can cast doubt on claims that Hamas raped anyone.

Grim and crew know that explicitly denying these claims would make them sound unhinged. So they hedge by saying, “The question has never been whether individual acts of sexual assault may have occurred on October 7. Rape is not uncommon in war.”

There is a tremendous amount to unpack in this statement.

First, what happened on Oct. 7 was not “war.” It was premeditated mass slaughter. Of course, mass rape isn’t uncommon in cases of mass slaughter, especially when the slaughter is committed by Islamic extremists hopped up on Captagon. The disingenuous term “war” thus better serves The Intercept’s attempt to whitewash Hamas’s program of sexual violence.

The statement is nonetheless remarkable because the Hamas terrorists filmed their atrocities as part of a plan to cause maximum psychological shock. Few atrocities have been more fully documented by the perpetrators themselves.

Moreover, Hamas terrorists have openly admitted that they used rape as a weapon. One captured terrorist spoke in a videotaped interrogation of raping children “to dirty them.” That mindset would explain—to the extent it can be explained—the documented incidents of necrophilia, which a U.N. report has corroborated. Grim and crew naturally shy away from the necrophilia allegations.

The Intercept’s claim that “the question has never been” about individual sexual assaults is also nonsense. Grim was a host on The Hill’s “Rising” talk show until September 2022. Briahna Joy Gray is still a “Rising” host. Before the Intercept article, Gray repeatedly and falsely insisted that all rape allegations against Hamas were a “lie” and merely “uncorroborated eyewitness accounts of men.” Her denialism began mere weeks after Hamas released its Oct. 7 videos.

By then, the world had seen the image of 19-year-old Naama Levy with a large blood stain on the seat of her pants. It had seen the video of 22-year-old Shani Louk, unconscious, face down and nearly naked in the bed of a pickup truck as Hamas gunmen sat on her battered body and chanted “Allahu Akbar!”

Had Grim and crew discussed these images, they would have been hard-pressed to deny what any normal person could see. And they could not have dodged what any thinking person could instantly understand: Hamas chose to release these images to show and celebrate the rapes it had committed.

If the Intercept team accepted that these women had been raped, the next question would be inevitable: How many more were raped? Large numbers of bodies of women and girls, from the elderly to the very young, were found missing their lower clothing, many with broken pelvises, some tied to their beds. This is compelling evidence that the sexual violence, like the slaughter, had been systematic.

Grim and crew, however, could not concede that any particular victim had been raped. Nor did they want to pin themselves to Gray’s crass denialism. The result is a bizarre formulation about what nobody has ever denied may have occurred.

Grim and crew understood that systematic rape is a bad look for their side. So they chose to ignore known facts and spin the allegation as an Israeli government conspiracy without disclosing that they were soliciting donations with their Israel coverage. They should think about how all of that makes The Intercept look.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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