Esther Baker and the “Perversion of Justice” Claim

UPDATE: Via Twitter, Baker has informed me that this post contains “at least 8 factual errors”, and that I am ” talking bollocks again”. Unfortunately, however, no further details are provided.

From the Daily Mail, last week:

Four months after the Daily Mail raised questions about Esther Baker’s account of supposed VIP abuse, it has been announced that her allegations will not be investigated by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

Inquiry chairman Professor Alexis Jay described Miss Baker’s allegations as ‘highly contentious’ and added that she is the subject of a complaint to police that she had perverted the course of justice.

As per my previous post on this, Baker says that she was abused for an extended period as a child by VIPs in a woodland setting while police stood guard; she also claims to have been taken by night to a location in London that she says may have been Dolphin Square (1), and that the abuse had an international dimension, involving orphanages in a foreign country (unspecified, but from old Tweets likely to have been the Philippines). Three MPs – John Mann, Jess Phillips and Sarah Champion – have expressed confidence in her allegations, but the CPS decided in September 2017 that there was insufficient evidence to proceed.

Not much is known about which public figures Baker has accused, apart from the former MP John Hemming, who went public after the case against him was dropped in September. Baker says that she remembered Hemming as an abuser after seeing him at a meeting in parliament in late 2014 – this meeting apparently saw conflict between Hemming and Baker’s close associate Graham Wilmer over proposed arrangements for the IICSA.

It was reported that Hemming wanted Baker pursued for an alleged attempt to pervert of justice, but that Staffordshire Police had rejected the possibility, on the rationale that “It would not benefit her or the wider community”. Hemming has since taken his complaint directly to the CPS.

It seems that Alexis Jay was not fully appraised of these distinctions, and her statement about her initially included the detail that:

Ms Baker’s allegations… are the subject of both a police investigation (I understand that the police enquiries are now focused on whether Ms Baker should be charged with perverting the course of justice) and also contested civil proceedings.

This was then withdrawn and reissued in a softened form:

Ms Baker’s allegations are highly contentious. They are the subject of both contested civil proceedings and an ongoing police investigation. I am also aware that Mr Hemming is reported to have made a complaint to the CPS that the allegations that Ms Baker has made about him amount to perverting the course of justice.

Some background to the amendment has been provided by the journalist David Hencke, who continues to support Baker’s claims:

I am told [the first version] was withdrawn after Staffordshire Police contacted them to tell them it was untrue and defamatory and it is now deleted from the website. The inquiry confirmed they had deleted it. Instead there is a reference to a complaint by Mr Hemming to the CPS.

There is NO investigation into Esther Baker about her perverting the course of justice. It is itself a fantasy. Staffordshire Police in a carefully crafted statement said she was a ” victim of crime ” and they are still supporting her. When I asked the police force whether there were further investigations into Esther Baker – after Mr Hemming is said to have complained about the ” false accusations” against him – they made it clear there are none.

This is remarkable. Police forces are seldom so proactive when it comes to correcting claims made on their behalf, nor do they usually venture into providing advice about the civil matter of defamation.

Hencke’s account, though, fails to put Staffordshire Police’s stance in full context. We know that forces have been instructed to believe complainants as a matter of procedure (a directive criticised by the Henriques Review into Operation Midland), and that when a police force has set about building a case it is reluctant to later look for evidence that it may have been credulous or misled. We also know that Baker has made other allegations, such as having had underage sex with an employer – the reference to her as a “victim of crime” may thus be reasonable without amounting to a strong endorsement of sensational VIP claims.

Further, it seems unlikely that there is any forensic evidence or third-party testimony that could either prove or debunk Baker’s VIP claims, given the length of time that has passed and the extended period over which the woodland abuse supposedly occurred. The case against Hemming was apparently dropped due to the possibility of a mistaken identification; but this works both ways, and could also be used by Baker as a possible defence against having made a false claim. This is important, as Hencke’s article might give the impression that the police decision not to investigate Baker indicates the strength of her claims, despite the CPS decision.

Meanwhile, Baker has confirmed that an appeal lodged by her against the CPS decision under the Victims’ Right to Review scheme has been rejected. Apparently the result has come earlier than expected, from which she infers improper “pressure” by Hemming over the process.

Footnote

(1) Exaro reported in 2013 that Baker

has also told police that she was sexually abused at a flat in London, which she now believes was in Dolphin Square, the apartment complex where many MPs have homes, near Westminster.

She said that she recognised what one abuse survivor, known as “Darren”, described as the “medical room” at a large apartment in Dolphin Square.

However, she later clarified in December 2015 (here and here) that

Darren and I have described the same room. Independently of each other. He says that room is in DSQ – I was too young to know where it was. It may be DSQ it may not. That is for the police to determine.

The Exaro account, though, does not refer to two independent descriptions, just Baker agreeing with Darren.

Darren’s various allegations came under critical scrutiny in September 2015; some were found to be unsubstantiated, while others were impossible. He eventually withdrew an allegation against the late politician Leon Brittan, and was found to have a long history of dishonesty.

 

Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse Reveals New Esther Baker “Westminster” Allegation

Baker says document “misrepresents” her, and was published “against the requests of both myself & a police force”

The website of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has published a “Note of Determination” regarding the scope of its investigations into allegations relating to Westminster. The note confirms the approach announced at the preliminary hearing at the end of January, that it will be considering issues of public concern “relating to the way in which Westminster institutions have historically addressed or responded to issues of child sexual abuse.”

As such, the inquiry will not be investigating allegations of sex abuse made by Esther Baker, who has “core participant” status; this is because

…they are the subject of both contested civil proceedings and an ongoing police investigation… such an investigation would be extremely resource intensive… the Inquiry’s function, which, as Counsel to the Inquiry submitted, is to investigate institutional failings, and not to determine disputed facts on individual cases.

The Note summarises Baker’s allegations, and for the first time it is explicitly recognised that her allegation of abuse in woodland amounts to a “ritualistic” abuse claim. We are also now told that that Baker says that the abuse was filmed, which is (I think) a new element, and the Note further reveals a completely new claim:

In summary, Ms Baker says that as a child she visited a foreign country and stayed at the house of a relative of a person of public prominence associated with Westminster where she was shown a room full of young girls and was sexually assaulted by her host. She alleges that her parents worked with orphanages in the country concerned, in conjunction with her host, and she assumes that visits by politicians and others in a position of power both in the past and to the present day have involved the abuse of young children. On behalf of Ms Baker it is submitted that investigation of the links between Westminster and the foreign country can be conducted if her allegations are considered as part of the scope of the investigation.

Unsurprisingly, this is also rejected as being outside the scope of the IICSA’s inquiry, but the disclosure is a sensational expansion on her earlier claims, which have developed since January 2015. At that time, as “Becky”, she gave an interview to  Channel 4 News in which she said that she had been abused “in a church setting”, and that some of the abusers had been police officers who attended the church. These police officers were later described as guards at woodland orgies involving “VIPs”. At the end of the month she privately accused the then-MP John Hemming as having been an abuser (the date of her allegation apparently confirmed by a screenshot); this was three months after Hemming had criticised the decision to make Fiona Woolf the head of the IICSA, whereas Woolf was supported by an activist with close links to Baker.

Hemming’s name was bandied about by self-styled “anti-CSA activists” for several months until he went public himself – and he is now pursuing legal action. Baker also at one time claimed have been taken by night to be abused by VIPs at Dolphin Square in London, although this is not mentioned in the Note and it did not come up at the preliminary hearing.

In response to the new publication, Baker has posted a statement on Twitter:

I am aware that tonight the @InquiryCSA have published a decision (V2) on scope in the Westminster Strand against the requests of both myself & a police force. The document is both a misrepresentation of what I submitted to the inquiry & of current ongoing events [here]. This document releases details that were not in the public domain and that were not intended to become so, certainly not before the CPS decision. Yet it omits details that were crucial to give context – only those that were private to me, not others. There is much more to be said [here] But I will leave that for the appropriate time and arena. It is safe to say that interference by “persons of public prominence associated with Westminster” has played a part which shall be detailed soon. [here] It needs to be made VERY clear that I have NEVER asked the @InquiryCSA to investigate my allegations. That is outside of scope & they are certainly not qualified to do so. I will be publishing my actual scope submission as soon as circumstances allow. [here]

Baker has previously chided those who have expressed incredulity or doubt about her allegations with the explanation that there is confirmatory material that is outside of the public domain, but that will be revealed in due course. Baker has in the past been vocally supported by the MPs Jess Phillips (who defeated Hemming in the 2015 General Election), Sarah Champion and John Mann.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, “V2” in Baker’s response refers to a variation in the IICSA statement in relation to John Hemming’s complaint against her.

V1 had:

Ms Baker’s allegations are highly contentious and are the subject of both a police investigation (I understand that the police enquiries are now focused on whether Ms Baker should be charged with perverting the course of justice) and also contested civil proceedings.

This gives the impression that police primarily now regard Baker as a suspect rather than a complainant – a bold and apparently careless claim that is backed away from in V2:

Ms Baker’s allegations are highly contentious. They are the subject of both contested civil proceedings and an ongoing police investigation. I am also aware that Mr Hemming is reported to have made a complaint to the CPS that the allegations that Ms Baker has made about him amount to perverting the course of justice.

Excursus

The IICSA’s statement that does not intend “to determine disputed facts on individual cases” is a retreat from its position in 2015, when it announced that it would undertake an “objective fact-finding inquiry into allegations of abuse by people of public prominence associated w. Westminster”.

There has previously been some public confusion on this point arising from Wiltshire Police’s  farcical £2 million investigation into the former Prime Minister Edward Heath, more than a decade after his death. The force attempted to save face by announcing that it would be passing its “findings” to the IICSA, which generated a compliant Mail on Sunday headline that the inquiry intended to “probe” Heath. However, the new Note confirms that Wiltshire Police accepts that the IICSA will not be making findings of fact, in that the force “do[es] not wish to make submissions on the scope of the investigation”.

It is difficult to imagine how the distinction between “institutional responses to allegations” and the veracity of the allegations themselves will be applied in relation to the IICSA strand devoted to Greville Janner (previously discussed here – scroll down).

A Note on the 1986 “Tory Student Leader in ‘Racist’ Party Link” Guardian Article

Last month saw a moment of renewed interest in a 1986 Guardian news report headlined “Tory Student Leader in ‘Racist’ Party Link”, and a new implicit libel action threat by the article’s subject, the supposed libertarian Paul Staines, better known these days as “Guido Fawkes”.

Staines “gave notice” on Twitter after the article was referenced by the Labour MP Laura Pidcock:

This is Paul – I am in Hong Kong on holiday. Have been alerted to this tweet. The author of this article retracted the allegations in writing decades ago. Am assuming you [Pidcock] and @owenjones84, @paulmasonnews et al are unaware. You are now on notice.

Those with long memories of online disputes will recall that this matter previously came up in 2007, at which time it was initially suggested that the newspaper had itself issued a retraction. It transpired that this was not the case, but that in 1990 the article’s author, David Rose, had written a letter to Staines on Observer letterhead in a private capacity, in which he had conceded that the article “plagues my conscience”. He explained:

I wrote the article after speaking to you but did not did not then accept your explanation of what you had done: to wit, a letter to the local BNP proposing ‘possible joint future activities’ on the the basis of your sharing the BNP’s objectives. You told me then that you wrote this letter as an attempt to trick the BNP, in the hope perhaps of gaining intelligence of its activities and that your motive was only to damage this extreme right-wing organisation.

At the time I regarded this as absurd, but as our acquaintanceship has developed I believe you were telling the truth… [W]ith hindsight, I think I should have accepted your explanation.

The difficulty here is that this does not explain why Rose did not include Staines’s explanation in his article. When someone is approached by a newspaper to provide a comment for a story about themselves, what they have to say in reply is usually included as a matter of course. The journalist’s personal incredulity is irrelevant – indeed, when an article purports to “expose” something, an “absurd” explanation is grist for the mill.

Further, the 1986 article contains a quote that is completely at odds with the above:

Mr Delaire-Staines told the Guardian that… he had tried to forge links with thr BNP because “we share their anti-Communist view”. He added: “They’re not far-right. They’re just racists, they believe in one colour.”

There is no suggestion that Rose concocted this quote, and Staines has not claimed that it is inaccurate. On what basis, then, could Staines threaten legal action? If Staines was willing to present himself in such a light (even though it apparently did not reflect his true views), then he has no basis for complaint if others later take him at what was his public word. It is also difficult to see why this would have “plagued” Rose’s conscience.

The fact that Rose later became friendly with Staines after writing about him in 1986 suggests that Staines had mutually beneficial relationships with certain journalists long before the appearance of the modern internet and social media.

A Note on Some Religious Activists and the Alfie Evans Case

From the Guardian:

The Christian campaign group that acted for the family of Alfie Evans could face an investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the Guardian has learned.

Three court of appeal judges criticised the role of supporters who may have “infiltrated or compromised” the legal representation of Alfie’s parents, Tom Evans and Kate James.

…The high court judge Mr Justice Hayden was particularly critical of the role of Pavel Stroilov, a Russian-born law student who appeared to have taken the lead in representing Alfie’s parents for the Christian Legal Centre (CLC).

BBC Panorama Reveals Police Complacency on Non-Disclosure of Digital Evidence

From BBC News, January:

A man who had a rape conviction overturned after spending two years in prison has said he feels “devastated” and “let down” by the justice system.

Deleted Facebook messages were found by Danny Kay’s sister-in-law leading to the Court of Appeal quashing the conviction.

He said he fears people will always have “doubts” about his innocence.

Derbyshire Police said its investigation will be independently reviewed so “lessons are learned”.

The case has now featured in a BBC Panorama documentary about the late disclosure and non-disclosure of defence evidence in criminal trials – and Derbyshire Police are no longer talking about the need to learn lessons. As summarised in the Sun:

Derbyshire Police told the programme that using only the complainant’s Facebook messages was a proportionate response and that its investigation into Danny wasn’t criticised by the Court of Appeal.

Anyone who has made a complaint about how a police force has handled a matter will instantly recognise this stonewalling attitude. There is no attempt to engage with the substance of a complaint – instead, members of the public are fobbed off with a complacent and dismissive statement that everything has been done correctly, in the face of overwhelming evidence of serious failings.

The Panorama programme also highlighted the case of Clive Steer, a Surrey businessman who recently went on trial accused of bribery; as was reported by Get Surrey in February:

By the time the case was dropped, it had become clear the police officers had failed to examine Mr Steer’s laptop, despite him telling them 18 months previously it contained key evidence.

…Eventually, Mr Steer’s barrister, Julia Smart, obtained a court order requiring the CPS to release his laptop so the defence could examine it themselves.

…Mr Steer said: “I had to do the police’s work for them. We found 246 examples proving my innocence and sent them to the CPS.”

…A CPS spokesmann said: “Following a review, the CPS decided the evidential test in this case was no longer met and offered no evidence against the defendant in January 2018.

“The CPS complied with its disclosure obligations in this case. There were more than 110,000 emails retrieved from the defendant’s hard drive.

“The defendant did not submit a defence case statement but in November 2017 highlighted a small number of emails as being potentially undermining of the prosecution case…”

Note there the gratuitous reference to “more than 110,000 emails”, implying a huge cache that it would be unreasonable for officers to have to wade through – and the police response in Panorama was to emphasise the general problem of dealing with huge amounts of digital data.

This supposed obstacle, though, disappears when the context is taken into account. In the Kay case, the prosecution relied on a doctored Facebook message thread provided by the complainant: the police needed only to check the same thread in Kay’s Facebook archive, not trawl through all his messages. And in the case of Steer, he could have “highlighted” the “small number of emails” months previously had he not been deprived of his laptop. Presumably it was impounded to prevent the potential deletion of prosecution evidence, but this does not explain why the laptop could not have been brought to an interview room and Steer allowed to guide an officer to the crucial 246 messages.

I would advise anyone who has come to police attention as a suspect to be on their guard. Do not assume that an obviously vexatious or trivial allegation will be recognised as such, or that a misunderstanding will be ironed out with an informal chat. Instead, take it that the police are interested only in building a prosecution case, however flimsy or constructed in bad faith.

Excursus

Although not discussed in Panorama, Steer’s case also brought to light evidence of police misconduct in a different context, after unrelated material was mistakenly sent to his defence. The story is covered here.

Franklin Graham Endorses Bible Book by Birther Joseph Farah

From WND:

Can the gospel literally be found in every book of the Hebrew Scriptures?

Joseph Farah says it can and systemically, book by book, reveals the clear redemptive passages found in all 39 books of the Old Testament.

…Farah, a lifelong journalist, applied the skills he developed as an investigative reporter to do what Bible scholars had not previously done—systematically explore all 39 books of the Old Testament for the good news fully revealed in the Greek Scriptures. The book [The Gospel in Every Book of the Old Testament] is not releasing until September, but you can help spread the Good News.

… it demonstrates the miraculous nature of the Bible. It reveals the singular, cohesive message through all 66 books of Scripture, including all 39 of the Old Testament.

Such a claim, of course, is grandiose to the point of absurdity. Farah – whose “skills as an investigative journalist” mostly consist of promoting alarmist conspiracy theories about Muslims and Barack Obama’s birth certificate (a subject he advised Donald Trump about) – is just the latest crank to approach the Bible with a pet theory that of course he is then gratified to find confirmed in what he reads. The blunder is called eisegesis.

Certainly, a proper understanding of the New Testament requires knowledge of the Hebrew Bible. It is also the case that Christians have historically understood the New Testament as providing a fuller understanding of the “Old Testament”, although this is contested – obviously, followers of Judaism reject the idea that their holy text prefigures the New Testament, and the “Old Testament” is perfectly comprehensible without reference to a collection of Greek texts written centuries later.

Farah’s supposed discovery of “the singular, cohesive message” – here framed as a supernatural phenomenon – relates to what he refers to as “the Gospel of the Kingdom”:

When most of us think about the Gospel, we think about the message of personal salvation. When we witness to people, when we evangelize, we share that precious message of repentance, Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection and the gift of eternal life. But what we don’t typically share is the message of what Peter called in Acts 3 “the restoration or restitution of all things,” the redemption of the whole world – the new world Jesus will restore when He returns, a world, the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel and Joel all say, will be like “the Garden of Eden.”

The term “Gospel of the Kingdom” is familiar enough, although it’s not very clear from the above what exactly Farah is bringing to it. Nevertheless, endorsements have poured in from Christian Right figures – most notably, Franklin Graham, whose blurb appears on the cover:

Don’t miss the true adventure of seeing God’s perfect plan of redemption from beginning to end.

There is also praise from the likes of Mike Hukabee, Greg Laurie, Ray Comfort and Dinesh D’Souza, as well as that well-known Biblical scholar Mr Chuck Norris. Also on board is General Patrick Brady, “Medal of Honor recipient, most decorated living soldier” (“I hope this book will help bring it back by uniting both books into one gospel and one message for salvation for all”).

We’re also told that

…ministries around the country are eagerly awaiting the release of the book, which has already been approved for sale by Franklin Graham for the Billy Graham Library and being considered now for sale in the Museum of the Bible…

Farah is an important link between the Christian Right and right-wing conspiricism, equally at home appearing with Jim Bakker and chatting with Alex Jones. His name on display at the Billy Graham Library and the Museum of the Bible would be triumph of self-promotion, but also a sign of malaise within US evangelicalism.

However, we’re not quite there yet – although the cover has been designed, funds are required:

WND and WND Books does not have the financial resources to print the first 100,000 books, which will cost over $200,000.

…Can you help WND raise at least $200,000 right now with your tax-deductible contributions or your free-will non-deductible gifts directly to WND so we can help spread this vital Gospel message?

Would you like to help bring this message to the whole world? Isn’t that just what Jesus asked us to do, saying that accomplishment would precipitate His return?

(H/T ConWebWatch)

A Media Note on the Toronto Suspect’s Facebook Page

BBC News reports:

A van driver accused of killing 10 people in Toronto posted to Facebook minutes before the attack to praise killer Elliot Rodger and refer to the misogynistic “incel” Reddit group.

Alek Minassian, 25, was charged on Tuesday with 10 counts of murder and 13 counts of attempted murder.

…Mr Minassian’s Facebook post, which the social network has confirmed as real, praised Elliott Rodger, a 22 year old from California who killed six people in a shooting rampage through Isla Vista, California in 2014 before turning the gun on himself.

Tom Winter of NBC News announced on Monday evening that “Multiple law enforcement officials in Canada and the U.S. say the preliminary theory is that Minassian may have had mental health issues and had an online discussion about Eliot Rodger”; the Facebook page was posted to Twitter just over an hour later by Catherine McDonald, a crime reporter with Global News Toronto. McDonald said “We’ve just obtained this Facebook post from the accused Alek Minassian”, and an accompanying photo (taken in daylight) showed the post as displayed on a mobile device. However, it was not clear whether reporters had accessed the Facebook page for themselves, and it appears that the photo was cropped from a larger version that had already appeared on social media.

McDonald received a number of replies cautioning that the Facebook profile may be fake: this was reasonable, given that fake profiles do sometimes appear in these situations (I discussed a previous example here). One potential flag was that the Facebook page was somewhat sparse – an archived copy of his page shows that he had no banner image, and his photo and educational details were already publicly available on LinkedIn. The profile photo had apparently been uploaded on 10 March, but the date could have been manipulated.  No friends were visible in this saved version either, although a screenshot published by ABC News shows that he had 11 Facebook friends.

It seems that McDonald did not initially consider the possibility of a fake profile – thus, several hours after her first Tweet on the subject, she gave “thanks for the feedback”, and belatedly announced that “We are working on verifying this facebook post to confirm if it was written by the Alek Minassian or by someone else trying to mislead the public.” Some hours after that she was able to announce that “Facebook has confirmed to @globalnewsto that the post I tweeted last night allegedly written by Alek Minassian was authentic.”

So – no harm done, but the initial information ought to have been flagged as provisional, and the confirmation ought to have been sought from the beginning. It would also be useful to know the basis on which Facebook has formed its assessment of authenticity. In this instance, it may be obvious and clear-cut, but the methodology ought to be transparent.

The Facebook post is discussed further by another Global News reporter, Patrick Cain, who explains its military references and “incel” jargon. He also notes:

The archived copy includes a non-operative “see more recent stories” fold at the foot of the page.

Inevitably, however, some of the responses to McDonald’s initial Tweet were scathing rather than just doubtful, especially from those invested in the idea that the attack must have been an instance of Jihadist terror. The mainstream media usually waits until some facts have been established before attributing motive; this leaves open a space for anti-Islam activists to pronounce that the media is engaged in a “cover up” (some prominent social media figures who pronounced prematurely in this instance are discussed here on Zelo Street). If in due course a Jihadist motive is confirmed, such activists then crow that the media has been forced to concede the truth; but if it turns out that their guess was incorrect, they simply move on without consequences.

The most egregious allegation was probably made by Rebel Media’s Ezra Levant, who in a now-deleted Tweet suggested that McDonald may have deliberately cropped out the mobile device’s clock in the photo in order to hide evidence showing that the profile had been concocted after the suspect had been apprehended. Levant wrote:

Here’s the full version of your photo, from @4chan: http://i.4cdn.org/pol/1524522652750.png … The time on the phone is 3:15 p.m. The attack was at ~1:30 p.m. So this would have been posted after he was arrested. Is that why you cropped the picture? #FakeNews

It appears that Levant had failed to understand the latitude involved when Facebook marks a post as having been made “1 hr” ago. But the allegation was obviously wild: a mainstream journalist resorting to such a trick in these circumstances would very quickly have come unstuck. However, his contemptuous suggestion is worth noting for what it tells us about his own mindset.

UPDATE: The National Post notes some “jihad” conspiracy theorising on the subject. Alex Jones has insisted that “Minassian” is a Turkish/Iranian name (true insofar as those countries have historic communities of ethnic Armenians, but that’s also the case for a number of other nations), while Robert Spencer has seized on the vagaries of court sketches to suggest that the van driver may have been someone other than the person who was charged in court (“we have to wonder what the Canadian authorities are trying to hide”).

New Bible Edition Aims to Encourage Christians to Support Israel

From the Religion News Service:

 A new Hebrew-English Bible with a distinctly Israeli flavor will be published in honor of Israel’s 70th anniversary.

…The Israel Bible “is the world’s first Bible centered around the Land of Israel, the People of Israel and the unique relationship between them,” according to Israel365, the organization that produced it in conjunction with Menorah Books, a division of Koren Publishers Jerusalem.

…Maayan Hoffman, vice president of marketing and brand strategy at Israel365, wrote in The Jerusalem Post that the aim of the new Bible is “to convince a divided Jewish people, Christian Zionists and what sometimes seems like an anti-Israel world that Israel belongs to the Jewish people.”

The director of Israel365 is Rabbi Tuly Weisz, who founded the Breaking Israel News website (previously blogged here). The site acts as a conduit by which news stories that supposedly relate to the End Times from a Jewish perspective find their way onto Christian Right and conservative US websites (1): the site is frequently quoted on Charisma News and WND, and WND‘s CEO Joseph Farah – infamous for his promotion of anti-Obama birther conspiracy theories, among much else – appears on the Israel Bible‘s website endorsing the product.

Charisma News has also reported on the new Bible:

For nearly 2000 years, an undeniable tension between Christians and Jews has pierced the religious landscape. While some factions have followed paths that resulted in in the expansion of the gap—replacement theology—others have spent efforts to bridge the gap between the two groups.

…Rabbi Tuly Weisz, founder and director of Israel365 and publisher of Breaking News Israel, says that with the publishing of The Israel Bible, the Bible is “no longer source of disunity but unity between Jews and Christians.”

“We’re certainly living in critical times where support for Israel is more divisive than ever, and solidifying biblical support for Israel among the Christian Zionist community is more important than ever,” Weisz said. “The writers of the New Testament left us with a text that is not anti-Semitic. It does not put forth a replacement position. It’s amazing how that text became more misrepresented by some once the church became more Gentile.”

The Israel Bible, of course, does not contain the New Testament, and Weisz is not a believer in Jesus.

Anyone with a serious interest in the text traditionally known to Christians as the Old Testament ought to have a Jewish edition of the Bible, such as the Jewish Study Bible published by Oxford University Press. It’s also important that Christians should have a proper appreciation of Judaism, both as it existed during the Biblical period and afterwards. However, an edition of the Bible specifically pitched to Christians by a non-Christian with a view to influencing Christian theology seems to be a rather curious endeavour.

Christianity is not distinct from Judaism just because of “replacement theology” – the idea that Christianity has superseded Judaism – but because Judaism (with the exception of Messianic Judaism) does not accept that Jesus was the Messiah, and regards the idea of the Incarnation as incompatible with Judaism’s concept of God. US Evangelicalism, however, seems to have developed a compromise in which Judaism and Christianity are somehow essentially different perspectives on the same religion. In practical terms, this means there is no urgent need to evangelise Jews about Jesus – indeed, it seems to be more important for Jews to evangelise Christians about why they should identify with the modern State of Israel.

The Israel Bible comes with a slip-cover that shows David Ben-Gurion announcing the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Israeli soldiers at the Western Wall in 1967, and an image of the Jerusalem Temple. It contains “commentaries that highlight verses that relate to Israel, including relevant quotes and perspectives from prime ministers”, as well as “contemporary commentary highlight[ing] the role of the modern State of Israel in the fulfillment of biblical prophecy”.

Note

1. Prophecy articles on Breaking Israel News include “End of Days Yellowstone Volcano Prophesied in Zechariah“; “Disaster Comet Nibiru Coming to Cleanse the World, Says Jewish Academic“; “Global Warming Prophesied as Punishment for Not Building Temple“; “The World is Facing the Final War of Gog and Magog Says Rabbinic Scholar“; and “Bible Codes Reflect What Brexit Wrought for Europe“. Its most recent contribution – inevitably – is “An End-Of-Days Guide to the Current Conflict in Syria“.

The Times Highlights “SyriaHoax” Academics

Satuday’s front-page splash at The Times:

Apologists for Assad working in British universities

Top academics claim chemical attacks were fake

Senior British academics are spreading pro-Assad disinformation and conspiracy theories promoted by Russia, The Times can reveal.

They are founders of a self-styled Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (SPM) and hold posts at universities including Edinburgh, Sheffield and Leicester.

Members of the group, which includes four professors, have been spreading the slur, repeated by the Russian ambassador to Britain yesterday, that the White Helmets civilian volunteer force has fabricated video evidence of attacks by President Assad, who is backed by the Kremlin…

The Times has here “revealed” the the existence of a group that publicises itself via its own website, and which was subjected to effective critical scrutiny by Brian Whitaker on Medium in February. The group is certainly of journalistic interest, but the decision to make it the lead item seems to me to be to be overkill, and to describe the “four professors” as “top academics” is sensationalising.

Given that the article was published on Friday night, just as western airstrikes on Syria were about to get underway, one has to suspect that the intention was not so much to “reveal” the group as to set up a contrast between support for the strikes and dubious and invalid reasons for opposing (or being wary of) them. Thus a follow-up item was headlined “Academics accused of speaking for Assad condemn Syria raids”, and consisted mainly of Tweets and blog posts by members of the group.

The academics highlighted by the Times coverage are Dr Tara McCormack, a lecturer in international relations at Leicester University; Piers Robinson, professor of politics, society and political journalism at Sheffield University; Paul McKeigue, a professor of genetic epidemiology and statistical genetics at Edinburgh University; and Tim Hayward, professor of environmental political theory and also at Edinburgh University. The quotes provided in both Times articles (and a third) are not to their authors’ credit: Hayward has promoted a claim by Vanessa Beeley that the White Helmets had kidnapped and drugged children in order to fabricate the earlier gas attack on eastern Ghouta, while McCormack described the White Helmets as “basically Al [Qaeda]”. However, the print edition of the newspaper apparently contained one quote from another member, Louis Allday, that Allday has credibly shown to have been a misattribution.

Overall, the group comes across as dismissive and smug rather than critical and enquiring, and it is unlikely that any evidence of Assad’s culpability for gas attacks would be sufficient.This impression is strengthened in particular by Hayward’s uncritical use of the “SyriaHoax” hashtag (1), and by the group’s enthusiasm for Vanessa Beeley; as The Times notes:

Professor Hayward has written for the alternative news website 21st Century Wire, whose associate editor is Vanessa Beeley, daughter of the late British diplomat Sir Harold Beeley. She claims that the White Helmets are al-Qaeda-affiliated and, as “terrorists”, are a “legit target” for Assad’s forces.

Beeley, as I’ve noted previously, has attacked the White Helmets in the US on Infowars and in the UK on Brian Gerrish’s UK Column and the David Icke-affiliated Richie Allen Show.

The SPM’s advisory board includes “Mark Crispin Miller, who was said to have called the US government’s account of the 9/11 attacks a ‘conspiracy theory'”, and “David Blackall, an Australian academic who tweeted ‘CIA stages gas attack pretext for Syria escalation’ with a link to a blog article”.

The group’s activities appear to be extra-curricular, although participants use their academic credentials to promote their credibility. However, as Whitaker notes:

Last November the group set up a non-profit company called Organisation for Propaganda Studies (OPS)… The group also operates a website – propagandastudies.ac.uk – which is registered in the name of Sheffield University and is hosted on the university’s servers.

Note

1. According to The Times, the hashtag “went viral after being used by alt-right figures in the US, including Mike Cernovich, a main proponent of the ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy theory… [and] was said to have been promoted by a Russian cyberoperation”. This seems to me to be stretching a point – most people use hashtags without delving into their origins. More on Cernovich and Pizzagate here.

A Note on US Evangelical Support for Efraín Ríos Montt

From the New York Times obituary of Efraín Ríos Montt:

In the panoply of commanders who turned much of Central America into a killing field in the 1980s, General Ríos Montt was one of the most murderous. He was convicted in 2013 of trying to exterminate the Ixil ethnic group, a Mayan Indian community whose villages were wiped out by his forces.

…In the late 1970s, after returning to Guatemala, General Ríos Montt reinvented himself. He took a Dale Carnegie course in human relations, abandoned Roman Catholicism, became a preacher in the California-based Church of the Word, and struck up friendships with American evangelists, including Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

Ríos Montt’s links to Christian Right figures has long been notorious; here’s a discussion by Virginia Garrard-Burnett, as published in her 2010 book Terror in the Land of the Holy Spirit: Guatemala Under General Efrain Ríos Montt (p. 161-162):

…Mere days after the March 23 [1982] coup, Pat Robertson lauded Ríos Montt on The 700 Club as an anointed man of God for whom Americans should pray “day and night without ceasing.” Robertson also pledged that American evangelicals would donate $1 billion to his fledgling government, a contribution which, had it materialized (it did not) would have directly helped to circumvent the federal ban on U.S. military aid to Guatemala.

North American evangelicals who were outside the inner circle of the Moral Majority, in the thrall of new emerging evangelical news media, regarded Ríos Montt from afar with wide-eyed and naive optimism. (“Terrorists fear ‘New Source of Intelligence'” boasted one evangelical tabloid, “Holy Spirit Reveals Whereabouts of Guerilla [sic] Forces.”) This sector of true believers refused to be dissuaded by news of human rights violations, which many evangelical U.S. Christians dismissed, as one evangelical magazine put it, as “either totally wrong or totally perverted.” This media-victim perspective runs like a rich vein throughout Joseph Anfuso and David Sczepanski’s fawning 1983 biography of Ríos Montt, a work in English published by an evangelical press before it was translated into Spanish.

Meanwhile, one Church of the Word (“Verbo”) pastor allegedly told some visiting Pentecostals from California:

“The Army doesn’t massacre Indians. It massacres demons, and Indians are demons possessed; they are communists. We hold Brother Efrain Ríos Montt like King David of the Old Testament. He is the king of the New Testament”

The “evangelical tabloid” referenced above was The Forerunner, which was produced by the controversial Maranatha Campus Ministries; and after Ríos Montt was ousted in 1983, he was a keynote speaker at a conference sponsored by Maranatha’s Dennis Peacocke. Ríos Montt also held a speaking tour in the USA, organised by Ben Armstrong of the National Religious Broadcasters, which included appearances on Robertson’s 700 Club and on Jimmy Swaggart’s TV programme (1).

A little more can be said about the “fawning 1983 biography”, titled Efrain Rios Montt: Servant or Dictator?, for which Robertson provided the foreword. It was published by Vision House, of Ventura in California. The imprint was “a division of GL Publications” – “GL” here stood for “Gospel Light”, a company that was started by Henrietta Mears in 1933 specialising in Sunday School curricula. Mears also created GLINT (Gospel Literature International), which translates GL books and other evangelical works into other languages.

The book’s authors were members of Gospel Outreach in Eureka, California, which was the Church of the Word’s umbrella body. The two men featured in a 1983 New York Times profile of Gospel Outreach, which explained that the group had emerged out of the Jesus Movement; apparently “hundreds of ex-hippies” formed an initial commune in the town under the direction of one James Durkin, “now 58 years old, a real estate agent who had had an off-and-on career as a part- time minister for the Assembly of God Pentecostal church”.

Anfuso was the son of  Victor L. Anfuso, who was Democratic Congressman from Brooklyn in the 1950s, and he told the New York Times reporter that “he found a meaning to his life after climbing the Himalayas and discussing Eastern religion with Indian gurus.” In 2010, he published a memoir, Message in a Body, which came with a cover blurb by William Paul Young, author of the The Shack, and endorsements from the likes of James Goll and the president of World Vision US. A foreword was provided by Kevin Palau, son of the Argentinian-born evangelist Luis Palau.

Sczepanski, meanwhile, is the pastor of Durkin’s old church, now called the Gospel Outreach Reformational Church.

Note

1. Some details here are from Sara Diamond’s 1990 book Spiritual Warfare. This book is also cited by Garrard-Burnett as the source for the “Army doesn’t massacre Indians” quote, referring in turn to Sectas y religiosidad en America Latina, October 1984, produced by the Instituto Latinamericano de Estudios Transnationales. Diamond and Garrard-Burnett also both refer to support for Ríos Montt in Christianity Today.

Diamond further mentions the work of “Gospel Outreach, the Wycliffe Bible Translators/Summer Institute of Linguistics… and the Berhorst Foundation” among the Ixil; a PBS documentary called “The Gospel in Guatemala”, produced by Steve Talbot and Elizabeth Farmsworth; and, a few years later, Ríos Montt’s “Operation Whole Armor”, in which he and a Verbo missionary named Ronny Gilmore partnered with Bible Literature International of Ohio to distribute copies of the New Testament in Guatemala (pp. 167-168).