‘The Forward’ fails to find source of anti-semitism hoax that its reporter concocted (Updated)

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In case you needed proof of the low journalistic standards of the Jewish Daily Forward—and how it is failing its target audience by frightening them into submission with fabricated stories—check out this recent piece of “Breaking News”:

"Pro-Palestinian Student Group Accused of Compiling List of Jewish Student Dorm Addresses"

“Pro-Palestinian Student Group Accused of Compiling List of Jewish Student Dorm Addresses”

The story, written by Forward Contributing Network Editor Laura E. Adkins, cites Israeli Knesset Member Anat Berko as saying that Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is “collecting information on where Jews live at New York University among others.”

What Adkins fails to mention is that Berko’s claim likely originated from a hoax conceived by Adkins herself when she was a student at NYU.

Thus this is the story of a fake anti-Semitism claim that has been recycled and repurposed several times over, with its originator now relying on the authority of a third-party source to repeat a claim that she initially made.

From Laura Adkins to Internet Urban Legend

I reported on this incident of false anti-Semitism in 2014, soon after Adkins first made her claims. Here’s a recap:

On April 24, 2014, SJP members at NYU distributed mock eviction notices throughout two dorm buildings in order to highlight the Israeli practice of house demolitions.

At the time, 19-year-old Laura Adkins was the vice president of the NYU pro-Israel student group TorchPAC. Although she did not receive a mock eviction notice herself, she reported on the incident for The Times of Israel, falsely claiming that SJP was targeting Jewish residents with the notices.

Her only proof was that Palladium Hall, one of the two dorm buildings where the notices were distributed, was “known across campus as one with a high concentration of Jewish residents” and had a Shabbat elevator.

Adkins, Times of Israel blog post

Adkins, Times of Israel blog post

After posting her claims on The Times of Israel website, Adkins attempted to interest mainstream news sources in the story, reaching out to the New York Times and Megyn Kelley of Fox News. Although neither the Times nor Kelley picked up the story, several other outlets did, amplifying the false claims of anti-Semitism.

By the time I had contacted Adkins to investigate her claims about Jewish dorm rooms being targeted, she had already changed her story. The alleged anti-Semitism was no longer about who was being targeted but was instead about the wording of the fliers:

What troubles me most is not where the flyers were distributed, it is that the language contained in the flyers is flagrantly anti-Semitic.

I noted that Adkins had employed a bait-and-switch tactic to draw reporters to the story—baiting them with the claim that Jews had been targeted, and then switching the focus of the story for the few reporters who were principled enough to express skepticism.

And yet most outlets that ran the story—including the New York Post, CBS New York, the Daily News, the National Review, the Times of Israel, Gothamist, and Jewcy—repeated Adkins’s claim that Jews had been targeted, without making attempts to substantiate it. Some later revised the claims; most didn’t.

Meanwhile, at NYU, students were appalled that a fake story about their campus was garnering unwarranted national and international coverage. The editorial board of the Washington Square News, an NYU student newspaper, wrote that

Adkins’ failure to check the facts of her article reflected poorly on the NYU community … Not only did she wrongly damage the reputation of our university, but her lack of journalistic ethics made Jewish students feel needlessly unsafe.

Another NYU student media outlet, NYU Local, also accused Adkins of lazy reporting and stated that

According to multiple people we’ve interviewed, along with our own experience, and NYU’s official research, Palladium is not known as being more Jewish-dominant than any other dorm, and there is no mention of this on Palladium’s website or blog.

In fact, no one else associated with NYU—student, staff or faculty—was willing to back up Adkins’s claim that Palladium Hall was “known across campus as one with a high concentration of Jewish residents.”

That was in 2014. In May 2016, Adkins graduated from NYU and secured a job as Contributing Network Editor for the Forward. When I first noticed Adkins’s name appearing on the bylines of Forward articles, I found it indicative of the low standards of the publication that they would hire and empower a known media exploiter with low journalist ethics.

However, I did not expect that Adkins would be brazen enough to revisit the shame of her 2014 hoax—this time posing as a disinterested reporter, failing to disclose her role in instigating the hoax that she was now reporting on, and granting the story legitimacy once again.

This leads us to MK Anat Berko’s current claim that SJP is “collecting information on where Jews live at New York University among others.” Where did this idea come from?

From Israel Hayom to Anat Berko

On June 17 of this year, Israel Hayom, the most widely circulated Israeli newspaper owned by Sheldon Adelson, published an article entitled “BDS Activists ‘Evict’ Jews from US Campuses.” Instead of referring to a specific incident at a specific time, the article merely asserted that this practice of evicting Jews was happening on US campuses in general.

The source for this story was the Israeli organization Reservists on Duty, which was recently formed as a pro-Israel Defense Forces group to counter Breaking the Silence. Members of Reservists on Duty had been on a speaking tour of US campuses, and that was where they had heard stories of Jews being targeted by eviction notices.

The only Jewish student quoted in the Israel Hayom article was Nadav Alkoby, who had attended Florida Atlantic University at the time of a 2012 mock eviction action that was also misreported as targeting Jewish students. I traced the evolution of that hoax at the time as well.

Though the Israel Hayom article was vague on details, it was accompanied by an image of the mock eviction notice from the 2014 NYU action, with the caption making it clear that this was a representative incident of Jews being targeted:

Israel Hayom

Israel Hayom

The article concluded with the false claim that “at NYU, some students involved in posting the ‘eviction notices’ were expelled.”

Two months later, on August 16,  Israel Hayom reported that a special Knesset committee meeting, initiated in part by Anat Berko, was set to address the concerns that were expressed in the June Israel Hayom article:

The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is set to discuss Tuesday a response to a BDS initiative that sought to single out Jewish students on American college campuses, following a report on the issue published by Israel Hayom.

Again, Israel Hayom was vague on details about the targeting of Jews—and again, the image of the 2014 NYU mock eviction notice accompanied the article, establishing that as the representative incident.

Israel Hayom

Israel Hayom

That same day, August 16, the special Knesset committee meeting was convened. According to the Jerusalem Post, Reservists on Duty started off the meeting with a representative from the group

presenting a report about intimidation [of] Jewish college students in the US faced from activists calling for boycotts of Israel. One example [given] was eviction notices posted on the doors of Jewish students on college campuses. The eviction notices were reported at Connecticut College earlier this year. In 2014, the same tactic was used at NYU by Students for Justice in Palestine.

Note that two examples were provided.

The first, the Connecticut College incident, involved mock eviction notices that were posted in “hallways and not on any particular doors.” No media sources reporting on the incident at the time—not even the pro-Israel press—claimed that the notices were posted on the doors of Jewish students.

The second incident described was the 2014 NYU incident, whose details were fabricated by Laura Adkins.

From Anat Berko back to Laura Adkins

Anat Berko then appeared on Israel Radio to report on what had been discussed earlier that day at the committee meeting. It was there that, according to The Times of Israel,  Berko “specif[ied] that SJP has been collecting information on where Jews live at New York University among others.”

From The Times of Israel article, the story was then picked up by the Forward the same day and reported by none other than . . . Laura Adkins.

The Laura Adkins Forward article contained three glaring problems:

1. Adkins incorrectly claimed that Anat Berko made her bombshell revelation about SJP while “addressing the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.” In fact, Berko was addressing Israel Radio and was merely reporting on what she had heard from the Reservists for Duty representative in the committee meeting. In other words, Berko was not the originating source of the story.

By altering Berko’s role in the affair, Adkins insinuated that Berko may have been privy to exclusive information which she disclosed to the meeting—rather than the more plausible truth, which is that Berko had heard it from someone at the meeting, who had heard it from someone, who had heard it from someone else.

2. Two years after her original story was debunked, Adkins repeated the claim that in 2014, SJP had targeted Jews. In the Forward article, Adkins wrote:

It is unclear whether Berko’s comments were related to the 2014 incident in which NYU SJP members distributed thousands of mock eviction notices protesting Israeli home demolitions to Jewish students’ dorm rooms. [my emphasis]

Adkins knows this to be untrue. And yet she stated it. Again. After being shamed for doing so the first time.

Google cache

Original passage in the Forward article referred to “Jewish students’ dorm rooms” being targeted. (from Google cache)

Some time later, but still on August 16, Adkins’s article was revised, with the reference to Jewish students removed:

It is unclear whether Berko’s comments were related to the 2014 incident in which NYU SJP members distributed thousands of mock eviction notices protesting Israeli home demolitions to student’s dorm rooms. [my emphasis]

Yet the passage still contained a link to Adkins’s original Times of Israel article where she made the claim that Jews had been targeted.

Moreover, a note at the bottom of the revised article alerts the reader that changes were made to the article:

This piece has been updated with a statement from the ADL and further information from NSJP.

However, it fails to note that the passage to “Jewish student’s dorm rooms” had been corrected.

3. Adkins failed to disclose that she was the originator of the hoax. Although she stated that it was “unclear whether Berko’s comments were related to the 2014 incident” at NYU—and it most certainly was related—she hid the fact that the 2014 incident was mostly an incident about her.

Instead of disclosing this vital information, the article takes us for a ride, soliciting comments from the Anti-Defamation League, StandWithUs, and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA)—and asking if any them had further information on the SJP list of Jews.

None of them had any clue, of course. But it gave the ADL a chance to nevertheless accuse SJP of “fostering a hostile atmosphere,” and the ZOA a chance to call SJP a “hate group.”

The anti-Semitism of those with higher standards

What makes the story even more ridiculous is how the Forward attempted to capitalize on it and sensationalize it. The Forward’s social media referred to the story as “BREAKING.” After soliciting comments from the ADL, the story was then billed as “Evolving.”

It’s unclear how citing the ADL as not knowing what Berko was talking about constitutes breaking news or an evolving story.

After the Forward article came out, activists took to Twitter to criticize Adkins for her journalistic deficiencies. Adkins defended herself by asserting her commitment to the truth and (because it worked in 2014?) labeling her detractors anti-Semites:

“Ignoring [Berko’s] original claim wld be a disservice to truth”: Yet Adkins obscured the fact that she herself was the original claimant.

“I source claims & you don’t”: In fact Adkins incorrectly sourced Berko’s claim and failed to source her own original claims.

“I present facts”: Yet she still insists two years after being discredited that Jews were targeted at NYU.

False anti-Semitism claims never die—they just get “updated”

As this article was going to press, the story got even stranger.

Laura Adkins and the Forward have revised the initial story, which now confirms practically everything I have written here. The article carries a new headline, in brazen arrogance without any hint of introspection, “An Israeli Politician Smeared Students for Justice in Palestine—and the Media Fell for It.”

Forward update

Forward update

In this case, Adkins does not include herself in the media that “fell for it,” instead placing the blame on the Times of Israel. No one reading this new version would be aware that the Forward was party to the ruse (compare the current URL-redirected version to the earlier cached version).

This new article itself repeats many of the allegations made in the earlier version, but with some qualifications.

Adkins still makes the false claim that Berko had spoken about “Jew lists” at the Knesset committee meeting, when in reality Adkins has confused what the Times of Israel actually reported, which is that Berko only made the claim on Israel radio after the committee meeting.

In the new Forward article, Adkins finally takes credit for the initial “targeting Jews” claim that inspired Berko. Yet she continues to obfuscate the fact that her original 2014 article was based on false claims And despite exonerating SJP of baseless claims that never should have been taken seriously in the first place, and which she was responsible for promoting, she again gives the ZOA final say that SJP is a “hate group”—even though the ZOA would not otherwise factor into the story.

However, the most important aspect about Adkins’s update story is this: There shouldn’t have been an “update” because the facts should have been known to Adkins from the start. As I have demonstrated in this article, the facts were already clear, both that Berko’s claims were baseless and that they were inspired by Adkins’s 2014 hoax. Adkins did not need to ask The Times of Israel, the ADL, or the ZOA for confirmation. The story began with her.

When I first reported on these “targeting Jews” hoaxes in 2012, I compared it to a game of “telephone,” in which a story gets distorted as it is transmitted from person to person. And like any good game of telephone, the story returns to its originator in a much different form, sometimes not recognizable from the original.

In this case, the story, which started with NYU student Laura Adkins, made its way back two years later to Forward reporter Laura Adkins. Adkins should have recognized it as the same story with some modifications, but she chose not to admit it.

As for Anat Berko, the last time she made international news was when she attempted to delegitimize Palestinian nationhood based on the absence of the letter P in Arabic.

Finally, in a story laden with ironies and circular citations, it is fitting to note that Times of Israel article, upon which the initial Forward article was based, has now been revised to cite the Forward article itself.

Update:

Following the publication of this piece The Daily Jewish Forward removed the article in question from its website. The last cached version of the Forward article is from 3:22 pm, which is one hour after this article was originally published on Mondoweiss. It’s unclear how soon thereafter the Forward article was taken down.

Story removed from the Forward website

Story removed from the Forward website

About Phan Nguyen

Phan Nguyen lives in New York and has a Twitter account: @Phan_N

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11 Responses

  1. Annie Robbins
    August 17, 2016, 4:10 pm

    killer report again Phan! radical update.

    yesterday after a few tweets back and forth w/adkins (where she called mondoweiss a hate site and other diversions) 8 minutes after a sent her a link and screenshot from phan’s 2014 article busting her she blocked me.

    by “evolving” story maybe she meant the more she got outed the more she’d reveal

    • CigarGod
      August 20, 2016, 9:10 am

      Yes, brilliant work.
      The work of some folks is so distinctive you don’t even need to see their byline to know who wrote it.

  2. Ismail
    August 17, 2016, 5:18 pm

    Phan, you are invaluable. What a terrific piece.

  3. inbound39
    August 17, 2016, 8:57 pm

    How on earth does Laura Adkins keep her job? No self respecting News outlet of any worth would continue to employ her…..what a piece of work!

  4. amigo
    August 18, 2016, 6:23 pm

    I envy miss Adkins, she has much to learn but first she needs to lay off the ziocaine.

  5. talknic
    August 19, 2016, 12:31 am

    Supporters of Israel’s crimes simply don’t know when to stop blaming everyone else, twisting adding or omitting, fabricating justifications or when to stop outright lying! It’s an illness brought about by over a hundred years of Zionist brain washing

    • CigarGod
      August 20, 2016, 9:06 am

      I think this is true, but it seems to be a condition found in other human groups/societies. Not sure who infected who.

  6. elephantine
    August 20, 2016, 10:42 am

    Good work! Wow. Just wow.

  7. Mooser
    August 20, 2016, 5:59 pm

    “and how it is failing its target audience by frightening them into submission with fabricated stories”

    Gee, sounds like a win-win to me.

  8. marc b.
    August 21, 2016, 10:10 am

    Flawless dissection, especially when read in conjunction with yakov’s piece.

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