CNN Report Claiming Sexual Violence on October 7 Relied on Non-Credible Witnesses, some with Undisclosed Ties to Israeli Government – Mondoweiss 12/1/23


CNN’s Jake Tapper failed to adhere to professional and ethical journalism standards in a story claiming to offer proof of sexual violence by Palestinian fighters on October 7.

Editor’s Note: The authors of this report are based in Palestine and have requested anonymity in the face of the persecution, violence, and threats from Israeli authorities, which would put them in severe danger.

On November 18, 2023, CNN aired a report by journalist Jake Tapper. The report claims to provide testimonies on “rape crimes” against Israeli women that allegedly took place on October 7, 2023. Within a few hours of the publication of the CNN report, an international media campaign by Israel and pro-Israeli groups was launched. Other media outlets, including The Washington Post, based their reporting on CNN’s report. Feminist activists and groups who have been calling for a ceasefire in Gaza were also targeted as part of this campaign. Samantha Pearson, the director of the Sexual Assault Centre at the University of Alberta in Canada, was fired from her job a few hours after the airing of the report. She had signed a letter on October 25 that stated that the accusation that Palestinians were guilty of sexual violence remains “unverified.” The letter did not say that sexual violence did not occur but that there was no sufficient evidence yet to support these accusations.

The CNN report represents a serious breach of professional conduct, which we detail in this piece. The most concerning aspect of the report is the fact that every single witness and “expert” in the CNN report proves to either be lacking in credibility or have ties to Israeli government officials and institutions. A deeper examination of the CNN report shows a series of manipulations and professional failures, including the fact that all witnesses that CNN claims to have “found” were featured in previous reports pitched and coordinated by the Israeli government, calling into question how much original reporting or fact-finding went into the CNN report. CNN’s failure to adhere to professional and ethical standards of responsible journalism also raises questions regarding CNN’s possible complicity with a political campaign orchestrated by the Israeli Prime Minister’s office to perpetuate unverified claims of mass rape, and a larger effort to dehumanize Palestinians in order to justify the ongoing genocidal campaign in Gaza.

Civil human rights expert or National Security Advisor?

The CNN report begins with an interview with Cochav Elkayam-Levy. She is identified as an “expert in human rights law who organized a civil committee to document evidence.” The speaker is indeed an expert, but not of human rights law. In her former positions, including a post for the Israeli government’s Attorney General’s Office in the International Law Department, she provided the legal justification for Israeli officials committing human rights violations against Palestinians. She had previously published a “guidance for policymaking, government officials and legal advisors in the management of hunger strikes.” There, she provided a detailed legal manual to “standardization through legislation and regulation” for forced feeding – a brutal act of torture used to break political prisoners. In the same year, Israel legalized and regulated the “forced feeding” law to oppress and torture Palestinian prisoners protesting their administrative detentions through hunger strikes.

Yet, CNN considered it appropriate to bring her as a human rights expert. In her interview, which opens the CNN report, Elkayam-Levy presents nothing but justifications for the absence of evidence and facts. While Elkayam-Levy claims to speak under the auspice of the “civil committee,” CNN hides the tight connections between her and the National Security Council for the Israeli Prime Minister. Elkayam-Levy is also the founder and director of the “Dvora Institute,” which works as a close advisory body to the Israeli prime minister’s “National Security Council.” The advisory committee for the Dvora Institute includes a former director of the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, and three former officials in the National Security Council….

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