On Monday, Feb. 1, the paper [full disclosure – I wrote an op-ed for Ha’aretz last year] ran a piece claiming that a synagogue in the Turkish city of Bursa had been set ablaze by vandals. The piece attributed the information to “sources within the Turkish Jewish community.” It was disturbing news, especially in light of the growing sense of threat the Turkish Jewish community has been feeling because of the extremely angry public response in Turkey to Israel’s Gaza attack.
There was only one problem with the story – it wasn’t true. The Jewish community’s official body quickly denied the report. I also spoke with a member of Bursa’s 55-member Jewish community, who said no such thing happened, although it was possible that some stones had been thrown at one of the city’s synagogues a few days before. It appears the article’s author, Yoav Stern, ran with the story after being contacted by some mysterious Jewish community “source” and failed to check with anyone else to see if something had really happened.
After being notified that the story was flat out wrong, Ha’aretz didn’t yank the story off its website or issue a correction. Instead it put the Jewish community’s denial at the top of the story, so what the reader was left with was an extremely bizarre article that starts with a factual refutation of everything that follows it.
With tensions between Israel and Turkey at perhaps an all-time high, an irresponsible piece of journalism like Stern’s is very dangerous. The day after the Ha’aretz article appeared, the liberal Islamic and pro-government English-language Today’s Zaman (which also has not distinguished itself in recent weeks, but that’s a different story), ran a piece headlined: “Israeli media launches all-out war on Turkey in wake of Davos showdown.” The Ha’aretz synagogue story was exhibit A.
From Today’s Zaman:
Increasingly negative reporting about Turkey by the Israeli media is adding fuel to the fire and exacerbating already tense relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv in what appears to be an open season declared by Israeli commentators and media pundits against Turkey and Turkish interests….The Turkish press has been far from saintly in this fight, to be sure, some of them -- like Today's Zaman -- doing their bit to “extend” the tension. But is it too much to expect the New York Times of Israel to take the most basic steps before publishing something this potentially inflammatory?
....Stressing that the Israeli media has always adopted a state ideology in foreign relations, [Seyfettin Erol, a professor of international relations at Gazi University in Ankara] said media organizations are being used as a proxy by the government of Israel in extending tension.