In Human Rights, Middle East

An investigation has revealed that the only source for a Jerusalem Post story which falsely accused Palestinian solidarity activists of chanting “back to the ovens” at York University is a Canadian-Israeli member of a secretive Israeli military unit which specializes in targeted killings and kidnappings of Palestinians.

The soldier’s name is Shar Leyb. He was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta.

Leyb was quoted in a Jerusalem Post story about a protest at York University in Toronto, Canada on November 20, 2019. As I reported on November 23, the protest was organized by Palestinian solidarity activists who objected to an on-campus event featuring Reservists on Duty, an organization founded by veterans of the Israeli military whose stated mission is to “expose and counter the BDS movement and new forms of anti-Semitism erupting on US college campuses.”

The event was organized by Herut Canada. Herut is the Canadian affiliate of the far-right and racist Israeli political party, Herut.

Although their protest was non-violent and anti-racist, and although all evidence points to their having been attacked by pro-Israel fanatics from the Jewish Defence League and other far-right organizations, the Palestinian solidarity activists were accused by numerous politicians – including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – of having engaged in violent and anti-Semitic conduct.

The impetus for the Prime Minister’s accusation appears to have been, at least in part, the Jerusalem Post story. That story was first published on November 21, 2019 and was authored by Ilanit Chernick. Chernick quoted Leyb as having alleged that:

There were hundreds of protests on campus that read ‘stop the IDF killers on campus,’ and ‘we do not let Zionists on York University campus.’ As we were setting up, we heard some chanting outside and sure enough there were hundreds of Palestinians and their supporters, including Antifa and BDS, chanting ‘Intifada Intifada, go back to the ovens, you belong in Europe.’

Chernick’s story in the Jerusalem Post provided no video or audio evidence to support Leyb’s accusation, nor did it quote anyone other than Leyb as support for the allegation that pro-Palestinian activists had chanted “go back to the ovens.”

In an email sent to Jerusalem Post editors on November 26, Canadian author and activist Marion Kawas asked the paper to verify who was the source of the accusation and what evidence existed to support it. In response to that inquiry, Marion received this email from Chernick:

Screen Shot 2019-11-27 at 8.27.31 PM

As I explained in my report of November 23, I have examined over 50 separate video clips taken at the York University protest, but found no evidence of violent or anti-Semitic conduct on the part of Palestinian solidarity activists. In particular, in none of those videos could pro-Palestinian protesters be heard to chant the words “go back to the ovens.”

Leyb speaks in six of the 50+ video clips that I have reviewed. At no time in any of those clips did Leyb claim to have heard pro-Palestinian protesters chant “go back to the ovens.”

Is it remotely plausible that, if Leyb had actually heard those vile words from the mouths of pro-Palestinian protesters, he would have said nothing to his audience about them?

Moreover, if in fact Leyb or others had heard such chants, why has no one produced video or audio evidence to substantiate Leyb’s accusation?

Quite apart from the complete absence of objective evidence to support Leyb’s claim, the videos of his presentation provide ample reason to doubt Leyb’s veracity.

In this video (starting at 00:46), Leyb reveals that he served in a unit of the IDF known as the “Duvdedan.” The highly secretive unit is notorious for engaging in targeted killings and kidnappings of Palestinians, especially in urban areas. The unit’s members often accomplish their missions by wearing Arab civilian clothes as a disguise:

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According to the Middle East Monitor:

The unit, and others similar, are known collectively as ‘Mista’arvim’ in Hebrew or “Musta’rabeen” in Arabic, which literally means “Arab pretenders”. These elite “counter-terrorism” units impersonate Palestinians and infiltrate Palestinian communities. Members undergo rigorous training on things such cultural habits and local dialect in-order to make them indistinguishable when inside a Palestinian community. Disguises donned by agents in the past have included things as ludicrous as dressing as elderly men or Palestinian women cradling pretend babies.

Although little is known about the Mista’arvim, over the years it has been thought to consist of four selective units, two of which belong to the Israeli army; the Duvdevan (Hebrew for cherry) which work in the West Bank, and the second Shamshon (Samson) in the Gaza Strip. The third unit reportedly belongs to the border police and the fourth operates strictly in the Jerusalem area belonging to the Israeli police.

Undercover units had been used to gather information for the Israeli government since its establishment, however during the First Intifada, their role moved away from intelligence gathering. In 1986, shortly before the outbreak of the First Intifada, Duvdevan was established with a main objective to identify, locate, capture, or kill terrorists in the West Bank. Its operational scope grew following the Oslo Accords and the IDF’s withdrawal from territories that were placed under Palestinian Authority control. After the outbreak of the Second Intifada, Duvdevan continued to operate in the West Bank and at the peak of its activity, according to a report by The Israeli Democracy Institute, was conducting operations on a daily basis.

A group that compiled a report on the Mista’arvim, first recorded the use of undercover units to kill targeted Palestinians in 1987. Palestine Human Rights Information Centre believe this method was then secretly adopted as policy in the first months of the first Intifada, under the authority of the then Minister of Defence Yitzhak Rabin.

During the first four years of the First Intifada 75 Palestinians were killed by Israeli undercover agents or civilian disguised soldiers. PHRIC documented 29 cases in 1991, the fourth year of the intifada, and found that none of the victims had been engaged in combat when they were killed, eleven were taking part in non-violent demonstrations, whilst 14 were carrying out normal daily activities. In all cases no warning was given nor was any effort to apprehend the victim before shooting, according to PHRIC.

Their role as “hit-men” is not confined to the Intifadas. In 2008, soldiers disguised as Palestinians executed four Palestinians in Bethlehem, West Bank.

“These men were fighters, but they were not in a combat situation at the time. They were sitting in a car, waiting for their dinner. The Israeli special forces drove up, disguised as Palestinian civilians, and opened fire without warning,” said Jared Malsin, a journalist from Ma’an news agency who had met with the men hours before their killing. “It was the moral equivalent of a team of Palestinians, disguised as Israelis, driving an Israeli car into Tel Aviv and gunning down four off-duty Israeli soldiers.”

The activities of Israel’s undercover units have always been shrouded in secrecy. In 1988 three journalists from Reuters and the Financial Times had their press cards removed after writing pieces on the existence of undercover squads operating in the West Bank. It wasn’t until 1991 that they were officially recognised by the army when Israel TV broadcast a censored 15 minute segment produced in cooperation with the IDF. The broadcast combined tape taken by the units who were disguised as Palestinian men and women in search and arrest operations in unnamed West Bank villages.

Their existence appears to violate both international law and Israel’s own military rules. As the human rights group al-Haq emphasized in a report, disguising military agents in civilian clothes amounts to perfidy, one of the most serious crimes of international law. Extrajudicial assassination, such as the 2008 incident, is also illegal under International Law. Israel’s own Manual on the Rules of Warfare (2006) states that it is forbidden to “adopt the disguise of a non-combatant civilian.”

In the video below (starting at 1:18), Leyb discloses that he is now “part of the Gideon group which is the Reservists on Duty flagship project” and that “all of us went through an intensive training program.”

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The website of Reservists on Duty states that the “Gideon group” is:

a comprehensive training program for college students and IDF reservists which provides in depth knowledge of the reality in Israel as well as the tools for combatting BDS on US campuses.

At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise and hate organizations are defaming Israel on every possible stage, there is a huge need for strong and knowledgeable activists to challenge and refute the lies.

These students comprise the core of our activists who go onto challenge BDS directly on US campuses.

In that same video, Leyb makes the patently false claims that the BDS Movement is “antisemitic,” “calls for the destruction of Israel” and “denies all Jewish rights to their indigenous homeland.”

In the video below (starting at 0:10), Leyb discusses an incident several years ago in which he and other members of his unit entered a Palestinian home in combat gear for the supposed purpose of hunting a “convicted terrorist.” Leyb describes how he and his fellow soldiers entered and searched a room where three children were sleeping and that they then confronted a woman in the home who has holding a toddler. Leyb admits that, when he entered the home, he was “angry,” but claims that a smile from the toddler reminded him that Palestinians are human.

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On November 26, following its receipt of the inquiry from Marion Kawas, the Jerusalem Post added this correction to its article:

A mistake in editing accidentally attributed the chant “Intifada, Intifada, go back to the ovens” to all of the protestors at the event. This was not the case. The comment was made by a handful of protestors to some of the organizers.

Of course, few of the persons who read the original article will ever learn of that correction.

Moreover, the Post‘s correction blatantly contradicts the accusation which it continues to attribute to Leyb. According to both the original and the current version of the Post article, Leyb claimed that “hundreds” of pro-Palestinian protesters chanted “go back to the ovens.” Although the Post article claims that there were 600 pro-Palestinian protesters, organizers of that protest estimate that there were less than 200 pro-Palestinian protesters. Thus, Leyb effectively claimed that all or virtually all of the pro-Palestinian protesters in attendance chanted “go back to the ovens.” But the Post‘s correction says the number of protesters who chanted those words was in fact only a “handful.”

On what basis has the Post revised its estimate downward? Did Leyb retract his claim that “hundreds” of protesters made this chant? Did the Post mis-quote Leyb? If the Post misquoted Leyb, why does the current version of the article continue to attribute to Leyb the claim that “hundreds” of protesters chanted “back to the ovens?”

Even worse, the Post has never expressed an iota of scepticism about Leyb’s wholly unsubstantiated claim that some of the Palestinian solidarity activists chanted “go back to the ovens.”

Leyb served in a unit specializing in targeted killings of Palestinians. He received extensive training in disseminating the propaganda of the Israeli military. He shamelessly lies about the BDS movement, which is fundamentally anti-racist.

If all of that doesn’t constitute strong grounds for scepticism, what does?

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