Laurie Penny Describes Photo Intrusion Threat From Blogger

Laurie Penny‘s new book Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution (Bloomsbury) includes an account of an unpleasant encounter at a conference, where she says she was approached by “a bored-looking man in an overstuffed Marks and Spencer’s suit, one of the jaundiced breed of lifelong political wonks who begin to look middle-aged at around twenty-two”:

The wonk tells me that a gossip site has pictures of me, and unless I’m nice to him, unless I ‘handle the situation’, he’s going to use them. Pictures of me at college with my boobs out, kissing another girl… I’d better watch out, because there are a lot of people who think I ought to be taken down a peg.

…The man who sent this message is the sort of scum that rises to the surface of the cybersphere…. He is the blogger the government fears, the one with dirt on everyone…

Much has been written over the past couple of years – particularly in Britain – about how trolling has made social media an intimidatory and unpleasant environment for individuals – particularly women – who want to add their voice to matters of public interest. Often the “troll” is simply a bully acting out a fantasy of empowerment through abuse and hurtful comments, although “trolling” can also be deployed as a rational – albeit dishonourable – strategy to suppress particular perspectives and information.

The threat to engage in personal intrusion for no legitimate reason is a similar phenomenon where twisted and debased human instincts work in tandem with a corrupt ideological motivation: the person with the “dirt” feels empowered, in control, and superior; but he or she is also wants to discredit and silence certain voices. Social media trolling is something new, but the threat of intrusion to humiliate and discredit is an old malaise in British media that has carried over onto the internet.

In particular, I’m reminded of Peter Jukes’ experience, as described in his own new book Beyond Contempt: The Inside Story of the Phone Hacking Trial. Shortly before the book was published, Peter was approached by the Daily Mail and  by “Media Guido” of the Guido Fawkes blog with the suggestion he had lied about having a mortgage in order to get crowdfunding through “false pretenses”. The Mail journalist told him that “he’d been handed an anonymised email with personal financial details and a separate piece of paper with my email address and mobile phone number.”

Peter dealt with the non-story easily enough (“I explained to him calmly that there was no mortgage on my property because I had sold it two weeks previously. I could easily prove I had quite a sizeable mortgage until then”), and he observed (links added):

My minor brush with press “investigation” has made me more attuned to the acute and systematic intrusions into personal privacy by News of the World. The threat to me was minor and nothing was published. But thousands of people were targeted by [Glenn] Mulcaire’s hacking, and hundreds of relationships, friendships, marriages, badly damaged by the cruel publication of private secrets. As Nick Davies pointed out in Hack Attack, this has nothing to do with a free press or exposing public interest scandals. It’s a display of power and bullying designed to intimidate.

The threat of intrusion can certainly be found within the domain of the inadequate “basement troll”, in stalking mode; but it’s also the method and practice of, as Laurie Penny puts it, “the sort of scum that rises to the surface of the cybersphere”. Anyone who stands up to it – or t he politicians who collude with it – risks being foully smeared or “investigated”.

And to return to the subject of private photographs of Penny, someone who apparently has some is Harry Cole (whom I previously wrote about here), also of the Guido Fawkes blog. As he wrote on Twitter in 2012:

Rick Warren Announces “All Africa Purpose Driven Church Continental Congress” For Rwanda

At the Washington Post, Joann Weiner asks “Does Rwanda’s economic prosperity justify president Kagame’s political repression?“:

In June this year, the United States expressed its deep concern about the arrest and disappearance of dozens of Rwandan civilians in Rwanda over the past two months… A month earlier, Human Rights Watch had identified 14 people who have been “forcibly disappeared” or missing in Rubavu, with state agents involved in at least eight of the cases. The New York Times ran a profile of Kagame a year ago titled “The Conscience of a Strongman” that noted Rwandan dissidents who call him a tyrant and accuse him of using questionable means to silence his critics.

However, Weiner notes that a survey of Rwandans last month found “trade, agriculture, and jobs, were far bigger concerns than corruption”. Also:

The American government, also, doesn’t seem too concerned about these issues. At the conclusion of the U.S.-Africa summit, Obama included Rwanda as one of six African countries in a new peacekeeping partnership with the United States… U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power recently said that civilians in war-torn areas trust Rwandan peacekeepers to protect them…

Someone else who’s apparently not “too concerned” is Rick Warren; Larry Ross Communications reports:

Warren is currently in Rwanda with leaders from more than 35 nations, including 31 African countries, Russia, China, India and the U.S. training Rwandan pastors on the principles of being a Purpose Driven Church and The PEACE Plan.

The training is preparing for an All Africa Purpose Driven Church Continental Congress to be held August 6-10, 2015 in Rwanda, which will bring together pastors and church leaders from all 54 African nations in conjunction with Rwanda Shima Imana, a Day of Thanksgiving to celebrate reconciliation and gratitude on the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide…

Warren emphasized that both the leadership training this week and the Congress in 2015 will emphasize reconciliation, with Rwandan leaders sharing their stories of forgiveness and healing following the 1994 genocide, which took the lives of 1 million Rwandans and left 1 million children orphaned over the course of 100 days.

“I believe the secret to Middle East peace is in Rwanda” Warren said during a press conference in Kigali on August 11. “World leaders should be studying Rwanda. This should be the model.”

The Christian Post has further details:

…The 12 pastors who serve on the Rwanda PEACE Plan Board of Directors joined Warren for today’s press conference along with eight of more than 25 leaders that serve as Master Trainers for PEACE.

“These men, whether you realize it or not, are world leaders,” Warren said. “What they are doing with churches in Rwanda is being watched by churches all around the world.”

The PEACE Plan works worldwide to Promote reconciliation, Equip servant leaders, Assist the poor, Care for the sick and Educate the next generation, through a massive effort to mobilize millions of Christians to combat the five global evil giants of spiritual emptiness, self-centered leadership, extreme poverty, pandemic disease and illiteracy/education, according to church officials. Since its founding, Saddleback has sent over 23,000 members to implement The PEACE Plan in all 197 nations of the world.

In the past, I’ve wondered if Warren might ever have to put a bit of critical distance between himself and President Paul Kagame, who first invited him into the country; it doesn’t look like it.

Four Ukrainian Pentecostals Killed By Pro-Russian Separatists

Story misreported by Voice of Russia to blame Ukraine

From the website of the evangelical Far East Broadcasting Company:

Many of you have prayed for the four young men who were recently captured by the pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine. We are deeply saddened to tell you that they were brutally beaten to death, simply for being Christians. These men volunteered for FEBC with zeal, passionately helping to spread the Gospel throughout Ukraine.

An accompanying video adds that “two were brothers”, and “one, a father of eight”; the video also says they had worked for FEBC “over the years”, suggesting that their association with FEBC may not have been current.

It appears that the story in fact refers to an incident that occurred in June, but which did not come to light until mid-July. A Ukrainian Christian media site called Baznica.com has some details (translated into English via Russia Religion News), under the headline “Ukrainian Pentecostal leaders martyred by Orthodox rebels”:

“It has been learned from our brothers from Donbass that two deacons of the Transfiguration of the Lord Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith (KhVE) of the city of Slaviansk died at the hand of separatists, as well as another two sons of the church’s pastor, Alexander Pavenko,” the senior bishops of the Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith of Ukraine, Mikhail Panochko, reported.

 On 8 June, after worship services, the so-called “militamen of the Donets People’s Republic” (DPR) broke into the premises of the Transfiguration of the Lord Church and declared that they were arresting deacons Vladimir Velichko and Viktor Bradarskii, as well as two adult sons of the senior pastor, Ruvim and Albert Pavenko. Obviously their goal was to seize Alexander Pavenko himself also, who fortunately at the moment was not in the premises. He managed to exit from the city along with young children.

The terrorists accused the Christians of crime against DPR, specifically, support of the Ukrainian army.

The bodies were found some time later; this site has a quote from Anton Geraschenko, an advisor to Ukraine’s Internal Affairs Minister:

“The Minister asked me to tell you about the burial we exhumed. There were bodies of two priests from Slavyansk and two sons of one of them. They were tortured and killed just for helping our soldiers and feeding them. So you, the whole country and the whole world will know about the terrorists’ monstrous savagery”.

These bodies belong to Ruvim and Albert –  two sons of the priest of Evangelic church “Metamorphosis” [sic - obviously "Transfiguration" is meant - RB] Alexander Pavlenko – and to two deacon of aforementioned church, Victor Brodarsky and Vladimir Velichko.

The site that provides this quote (including an embedded video of Geraschenko speaking) is called Stop Fake, and it complains that the Voice of Russia distorted Geraschenko’s words to make it falsely appear that the victims had been killed by “Ukrainian nationalists”; the site also thanks a blog run by a lawyer named Maxim Vasin for uncovering the Russian deception. Shamelessly, the Voice of Russia ran the story on 15 July as “Two Priests from Slavyansk Killed for Assisting Self-Defense Forces“.

A site called Religious Freedom Blog has some details of the funeral:

Yesterday, Pastor Peter Dudnyk wrote as follows on his page:

“Our brothers have been murdered… The funeral service is today. All the Evangelical churches of the city came together at the funeral service, canceling their regular worship services. They shot the brothers for believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Lord, teach us to forgive those who cause us harm and to pray for those who hate us!”

There is also a Ukrainian article from the country’s Institute for Religious Freedom; both sites include photos from the service.

Clearly, there was some political context to the murders, and the four men were not killed for simply “being Christians.” However, the Russian Orthodox Church is the “official” religion of the self-styled “Donetsk People’s Republic”, and there are religious persecutions. In June, Human Rights Without Frontiers published an account of “Protestant and Greek Catholics persecuted by separatists in East Ukraine“, and there was an article on the subject by David Blair in the Daily TelegraphBlair noted a number of cases, such as that of Father Tikhon Kulbaka, a Greek-Catholic:

…Since the “People’s Republic” took over Donetsk, he has received a stream of threats.

His phone number and the address of his chapel have appeared on pro-Russian websites. He duly received two text messages reading: “Shut up you fat bitch. If you bark any more you will be found with a slit belly.”

Fr Kulbaka, 43, also favours a united Ukraine, but he believes “beyond any doubt” that his faith explains the threats…

Peter Jukes Describes His Experiences with TabloidTroll

Jukes Beyond Contempt

“So I’m now going to blog about @peterjukes & his family,” wrote Dennis Rice. TabloidTroll wrote: “If @PeterJukes writes any shit on me in his book the gloves will really come off. Newsnight ex wife, business failures.”

***

Introduction: why this matters to me

This evening has just seen the publication of Peter Jukes’ book Beyond Contempt: The Inside Story of the Phone Hacking TrialIt’s a volume of some special interest to me, due to several passages dealing with a minor side issue: Peter’s experiences with Dennis Rice, aka TabloidTroll, who attempted to intimidate him from writing freely by threatening to intrude on his personal family and financial circumstances.

I wrote about my own experiences with Rice three weeks ago; it’s perhaps a strange subject to find on a blog about religion, but I came under Rice’s scrutiny after I wrote a corrective to distorted Tweets he had posted about the “Terror Target Sugar” media fiasco (my post was kindly mirrored at Sunny Hundal’s Liberal Conspiracy website). I also agreed with evidence uncovered and assembled by Tim Ireland that Rice was sockpuppeting as TabloidTroll (it wasn’t just a pseudonym – TabloidTroll would commend Rice in third person, and such).

Rice took revenge as TabloidTroll by making nasty and creepy references to my mother and partner, making it very clear that he knows where my mother lives, and he eventually expanded on his theme in a grotesquely intrusive, nasty, and inaccurate blog post. Tim received similar treatment However, as Rice came to realise that I had not been intimidated, he then started phoning up my mother and threatening to come to her address. That is what finally persuaded me to return to the subject on this blog last month.

Dennis Rice as hacking victim

Rice is in an unusual position: he was formerly investigations editor of the Mail on Sunday, but he was also himself a victim of phone-hacking by rivals at the News of the World who were looking to steal a scoop about the then-Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott. The phone-hacking extended to two of his relatives, and to his work computer.

It’s not clear when Rice was made aware of what had happened: he recently told Roy Greenslade that it was in 2006, although a Storify post here suggests 2012 (there may be more clarity on this issue in two other new books – Nick Davies’ Hack Attack and Glenn Mulcaire’s co-authored confessional The News Machine - which I have not yet been able to peruse).

But either way, he retained the services of the lawyer Mark Lewis, and he and his family members received confidential civil settlements. Lewis is well-known as the lawyer for the Dowler family, and he has achieved a high profile as a campaigning activist on the subject of phone-hacking by journalists. He has advised Hacked Off, which presses for press regulation in the wake of the scandal, and he was himself the target of an attempted smear by the News of the World. Lewis has described Rice as “a really great bloke. Old fashioned journalist. I know him well”, and, frustratingly, he appears to have accepted uncritically Rice’s counter-narrative that Tim was harassing him, rather than the other way around.

However, Rice is bitterly opposed to Hacked Off, and he has referred to his own status as a hacking victim to argue that not all hacking victims want to see regulation, as much as they are opposed to the practice.

Dennis Rice turns on Peter Jukes

Rice, it should be remembered, maintains that he is not TabloidTroll – he has even written to Google, declaring “under penalty of perjury” that ” I am not responsible for this anonymous account (tabloidtroll)”. Peter’s book does not make any statement that contradicts this, although his narrative leaves us to draw our own conclusions:

“So I’m now going to blog about @peterjukes & his family,” wrote Dennis Rice. TabloidTroll wrote: “If @PeterJukes writes any shit on me in his book the gloves will really come off. Newsnight ex wife, business failures.” The fact the mother of my two children had been made a target was pretty disturbing.

For a long time, Rice as TabloidTroll enjoyed bantering with Peter, but things turned nasty after Peter drew a distinction between being hacked and finding your private life in a newspaper, and being hacked for purposes of industrial espionage. Of course it’s a horrible violation to be phone-hacked, even if private messages do not find their way into the public domain, but Rice’s reaction verged on hysteria. Peter writes:

Both Rice and TabloidTroll harried me for weeks over this, the former following me all the way to a piece on the Independent Australia website where he accused me of making journalists second class citizens, and implying I was disrespecting his family.

Peter’s comment was also the bizarre excuse Rice used for his “now going to blog about @peterjukes & his family” threat. However, as the publication of Beyond Contempt approached, and it dawned on Rice that his threat might appear in the book, TabloidTroll added his “ex wife, business failures” promise.

Peter Jukes “investigated”

Peter explains what happened next:

No blogs have yet emerged from Dennis Rice or Tabloid Troll. However a week or so later I received some anonymous texts mentioning vague legal threats and hoping I would “enjoy the weekend.” Some other Twitter accounts (which I didn’t see at the time) also wished me well for the weekend, and suggested some kind of “Daily Mail Tuesday.”

Peter was then approached by a journalist with the Daily Mail, who told him “that he’d been handed an anonymised email with personal financial details”, along with a separate piece of paper with his email address and mobile phone number. The allegation was that Peter had lied about needing funding for a mortgage repayment, when in fact he supposedly had no mortgage; however:

I explained to him calmly that there was no mortgage on my property because I had sold it two weeks previously. I could easily prove I had quite a sizeable mortgage until then… It was an embarrassing mistake for them: it was a false, non-story. Soon afterwards Tabloid Troll closed down and deleted his account.

Peter doesn’t claim that the attempted “exposure” was down to Rice; again, readers must draw their own conclusion. Rice also had other possible motives for closing the account: a number of TabloidTroll Tweets easily showed that Rice was the account holder, and I was starting to involve the authorities over his threats to visit my mother. TabloidTroll’s own story was that he was going offline to write a book, although of course that would not necessitate deleting the account.

The anonymous texts

Anonymous Texts

But where had the anonymous texts come from? On Twitter, Peter wondered how the sender had acquired his mobile number, and suggested that a breach of the Data Protection Act may have occurred. This prompted an interjection from a man named Andrew Roberjot (@frankiescar), who said: “I just asked a friend of mine who knows you for your mobile number, they gave it to me, How is that illegal?”

Peter then noted that his mobile number was known to Neil Wallis, the former deputy editor of the News of the World; and Wallis had just recently before described Roberjot as his “drinking buddy”. Roberjot then explained he had received the number from someone else, that he had just made the comment “to prove a point”, and that he hadn’t passed the number on to anyone else.

Roberjot also claims to have met TabloidTroll, and to be able to confirm that he’s not Dennis Rice. He’s also just yesterday said that a photo of Rice posted by Press Gazette to Flickr some time ago (and recently removed after it came to attention) is actually a photo of someone else. But I know for a fact that the photo indeed is of the correct person; and in this instance I’ll follow Peter’s example and allow readers to come to their own conclusions.

UPDATE (23 August)

Press Gazette has published an article by Peter Jukes, headlined “How Peter Jukes invented a new way of funding court reporting and found himself investigated by the press”. It includes the threat emanating from the TabloidTroll account to write about “Newsnight ex wife, business failures”, and the subsequent anonymous texts and botched mortgage smear.

The original version also referenced the threat which Dennis Rice made under his own name to write about Peter’s family, but this section of the article has now been removed. From the above, you can see that I made it clear that Rice’s comment under his own named followed a discussion about his hacking settlement, while the comment from TabloidTroll was made as publication of Peter’s book approached. However, Peter’s text gave the impression that both Tweets appeared around the same time. Press Gazette has now issued a correction, which includes the following:

…It quoted a Tweet from Rice to Jukes which read:  “So I am now going to write a blog about @peterjukes and his family – so he can enjoy a taste of his own medicine.” The extract mistakenly gave the impression that this message was sent in June 2014, around the time of a dispute over the reporting of the cost of the hacking trial.

In fact Rice posted the Tweet in January. He said it was in response to a tweet from the author which read: “You were hacked over a story about someone else’s private life Dennis. Yours was never outed.”

Rice has pointed out that (as the Guardian revealed last year) his wife and sister were also hacked. He said he pointed this out to Jukes, who then wrote about this exchange on his blog (published on 11 January):

The Jukes blog post stated: “Twitter is not the ideal place to have a nuanced argument, and Rice has since revealed his family was targeted. This is a privacy violation of the first order.”

Jukes has told Press Gazette that it was his impression that the Rice tweet about his family was sent in June because it was retweeted from another user’s account (via an MT) around that time.

Press Gazette has removed the reference to Dennis Rice from the article and would like to apologise to him for the mistake, and for not offering him right of reply in advance of publishing the extract.

I expect Rice will see that as some kind of vindication – and I’m sure he’s very relieved that his name has been taken out the main story.

But it’s actually a very minor point: it remains the case that Rice, under his own name, threatened to go after Peter’s family, not for any legitimate public interest reason, but to pursue private revenge. And revenge for what, exactly? Rice clearly disliked the “industrial espionage” distinction that Peter made as regards hacking; but this didn’t amount to writing about Rice’s family, let alone in any kind of way that would reasonably provoke “a taste of his own medicine” threat. Rice’s outrage was either hysterical or affected.

However, I can understand why Rice doesn’t want to see Tweets made in his own name placed next to those published under the TabloidTroll account: a forensic study of the two accounts published in 2012 indicated common authorship. Rice and TabloidTroll made exactly the same threat to Peter; most people should be able to work out what that means.

Another “Miracle” Claim In Gaza Conflict

A dramatic front-page teaser headline from WND:

Army: ‘Hand of God sent missile into sea’

Imagine that, the Israeli army has officially confirmed a miracle! Quick, let’s click through:

‘HAND OF GOD SENT MISSILE INTO SEA’
Iron Dome operator: ‘I witnessed this miracle with my own eyes’

So, not the “Army” as such, but a single Iron Dome operator. And who is he? Joe Kovacs tells the story (square brackets in original):

Israel Today translated a report from a Hebrew-language news site, which noted the Iron Dome battery failed three times to intercept an incoming rocket headed toward Tel Aviv last week.

The commander recalled: “A missile was fired from Gaza. Iron Dome precisely calculated [its trajectory]. We know where these missiles are going to land down to a radius of 200 meters. This particular missile was going to hit either the Azrieli Towers, the Kirya (Israel’s equivalent of the Pentagon) or [a central Tel Aviv railway station]. Hundreds could have died.

“We fired the first [interceptor]. It missed. Second [interceptor]. It missed… Suddenly, Iron Dome (which calculates wind speeds, among other things) shows a major wind coming from the east, a strong wind that … sends the missile into the sea. We were all stunned. I stood up and shouted, ‘There is a God!’

“I witnessed this miracle with my own eyes. It was not told or reported to me. I saw the hand of God send that missile into the sea.”

Had the rocket stayed on course, it would have been the most successful Hamas operation ever by far: hundreds massacred, and either a major landmark destroyed or Israel’s intelligence centre taken out. That’s beyond Hamas’ wildest expectations, and not really plausible.

Israel Today is a Christian Zionist publication, and its account of the story can be seen here. However, the Hebrew-language news site it relied on – Kooker - is itself derivative, dating from 29 July; there’s also an alternative English version, entitled “The Azrieli Towers Miracle” that appeared on My Western Wall two days earlier. It has a bit more about the unnamed “commander”:

A true and amazing story told by Ohad Shaked:

I received a phone call on Sunday from “A,” one of the Iron Dome commanders who was a student of mine about 6 years ago.

… “What happened?” I asked him. “A Missile was fired from Gaza. The Iron Dome can detect where the missile is going to fall within a 200 meter radius. This particular Missile was heading to the Azrieli Towers, or to the railroad tracks. Either way, hundreds could have paid with their lives!”

…We sent the first “dome” and it missed. Then the second as well as the third dome missed, this is a very rare occurrence. To date, only two other such cases occurred. I was in shock!

…There is a G-d’!!! I saw this miracle with my own eyes. No one told me about it, it was not reported to me.

Of course this was not reported for security reasons, but it’s enough to witness the miracles with our own eyes to know there is Hashem (G-d). I ran to one of the religious soldiers and asked him to put on tefillin. I took it upon myself to keep Shabbat, and that was the very best Shabbat I have ever had.” This is what he told me. I was so excited that it even brought a tear to my eye.

For some reason, the the threat to the Kirya is not included in this version. The “commander” remains anonymous, but we at least have a lead this time, in the name of Ohad Shaked. Shaked has previously written for YNet: he is a Haredi, and is billed as “a history and civics teacher at a Tel Aviv high school”.

Shaked also runs a Hebrew newsletter, called Shabbat Table, and a Hebrew report on this site, dated 29 July, cites this newsletter as the source of the story. It adds (via Google translate, slightly amended):

Responses on social networks raged over the veracity of the story, they flooded Shaked’s Facebook page with questions, he answered as best he could, without being able to provide personal information beyond what is written in the story, because the sensitivity of the matter.

However, the Facebook page for the newsletter hasn’t been updated since the start of July, and there’s nothing on Shaked’s website either. Much of the Hebrew text in this article, although not this sentence or any reference to Shaked, appeared on a blog on 27 July.

So, we’ve gone from an “Army” announcement, to the story that someone who may or may not be a Tel Aviv high school teacher named Ohad Shaked claims to have spoken to an anonymous Iron Dome commander. Thus are urban legends created.

And to illustrate the point further, another version of the story was posted as a comment to this blog just a few days ago:

I live outside the US, but I just received today an email from my daughter who lives in the US. She is friends with a member of a Hebrew congregation where she lives (my daughter is not Jewish) who received an email from her friend in Israel who helps man an Iron Dome site. The Iron Dome tech emailed her with an exciting email about how they had missed an incoming Hamas missle (more than once), it was minutes away from striking a tower near their site, when a large wind appeared from nowhere and blew the missle out to sea.

This was placed under my blog post about an earlier story from a couple of weeks ago, in which it was claimed that Hamas has admitted that “the God of the Jews” is diverting its missiles. That one was also picked up by WND – again, there’s a strange symbiosis between a Haredi account coming out of Israel and American evangelicalism.

WND: The Bible Predicts the Destruction of Gaza

Scary stuff, from “Glenn Beck’s End-Times Prophet” Joel Richardson, at WND:

What Does the Bible Say about the Future of Gaza?

…Now, for those who are seeking to take a middle-of-the-road stance, it may be a hard pill to swallow that much of Gaza will become devastated and deserted, being left for the righteous remnant of Judah. This, however, is exactly what the prophecy declared. This is not a historical prophecy. The prophecy is ultimately pertaining to the Day of the Lord and the Return of Jesus.

Of course, Richardson is not quite saying that this must be the immediate outcome of the current conflict, but he drops some heavy hints:

As the prophecy [of the Book of Joel] continues, it goes on to speak of the Lord specifically executing vengeance against those from the regions of Lebanon and Gaza who have engaged in violence against the people of Israel:

What are you to Me, O Tyre, Sidon (Lebanon) and all the regions of Philistia (Gaza)? Are you rendering Me a recompense? But if you do recompense Me, swiftly and speedily I will return your recompense on your head. (Joel 3:4)

Where it says “Tyre, Sidon,” and “the regions of Philistia” one could nearly insert Hezbollah and Hamas. It is nearly pulled from today’s headlines.

Erm, not quite. Here’s the proper context, from the verses following:

Since you have taken My silver and My gold, brought My precious treasures to your temples, and sold the sons of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks in order to remove them far from their territory, behold, I am going to arouse them from the place where you have sold them, and return your recompense on your head. Also I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the sons of Judah, and they will sell them to the Sabeans, to a distant nation, for the LORD has spoken. Proclaim this among the nations: Prepare a war; rouse the mighty men! Let all the soldiers draw near, let them come up!

This makes absolutely no sense in terms of the modern world and the modern conflict in Gaza; the text clearly pertains to events in the ancient world, when it was written. The Philistines (themselves actually of Greek extraction) appear to have indulged in plunder and slave-trafficking at the time when the Southern Kingdom of Judah was up against the Babylonians, and the the author, writing a few years later, is rather sore about it. That’s it. Nothing to do with “Hezbollah and Hamas”, or “today’s headlines” in any meaningful sense: there are no pagan temples in Gaza with gold and silver expropriated from Judah; modern Israelis have not been sold by Gazan Palestinians into slavery in Greece; and modern Israel is not planning to sell Palestinians to a mercantile tribe in the south of Arabia.

Of course, its always possible to extrapolate from the text’s obvious meaning in an arbitrary way and impose some sort of “symbolic” meaning relating to current affairs (the “temples” as mosques, etc.), but there’s no sensible reason for doing so, and such a method is subjective and useless.

For the specific destruction of Gaza, Richardson turns to Zephaniah:

For Gaza will be abandoned. … Woe to the inhabitants of the seacoast, the nation of the Cherethites! The word of the LORD is against you, O Canaan, land of the Philistines; and I will destroy you so that there will be no inhabitant. So the seacoast will be pastures, with caves for shepherds and folds for flocks. And the coast will be for the remnant of the house of Judah, they will pasture on it. In the houses of Ashkelon they will lie down at evening; For the LORD their God will care for them and restore their fortune.

This is indeed a vision about the future. But again, looking at the text in proper context show that the author’s concerns belong very much in the ancient world. At home, he fulminates against worshippers of Milcom and royal courtiers in “outlandish clothes” at the Jerusalem Temple; abroad, Gaza is just at the head of a shit-list that includes Moab and Ammon, Ethiopia (which will “be run through by my sword”), and the Assyrians. It has nothing to do with twenty-first century politics.

Richardson is not a man without compassion – indeed, he’s quick to add that prophecy of Joel does not refer to “every single inhabitant of Lebanon and Gaza” – but “Gaza will become devastated and deserted, being left for the righteous remnant of Judah” is unambiguously eliminationist.

The Bible can help believers think seriously about where they should stand morally in relation to current events. But the ramblings of self-styled “prophecy experts” such as Richardson are a way to avoid thinking seriously about what’s actually going on in the real world.

World Public Forum Promotes Statements Defending Russia On MH17

A number of times now, I’ve written about a Russian “soft power” initiative called the World Public Forum: Dialogue of Civilizations. The WPF was co-founded by Vladmir Yakunin, a devoutly Orthodox member of Putin’s inner circle and the head of Russia’s railways, and it has made links with an extraordinary array of top-tier academics, religious leaders, and emeritus politicians (along with some rather more eccentric figures). These links have been showcased at international conferences in Rhodes and Vienna, and in publications. The WPF is strongly critical of American hegemony, but its pious talk of “dialogue” and a “multi-polar world” happily coincide with Russia’s interests.

And, thus, it just so happens that the two items the WPF has chosen to publicise on its website as responses to the the shooting down of Flight MH17 are articles that warn against blaming Russia. The pieces are not official statements of the WPF itself; rather, they are  ruminations by intellectuals who have a connections with the WPF. However, we can have no doubt that they reflect views that the WPF find congenial.

First up is an item by Hans Köchler (var. Hans Koechler), billed as “President, International Progress Organization, Austria”. Köchler’s piece – written in third person, as a press release – is entitled “Urgent Call for Independent International Investigation“.  Köchler warns against the investigation into the disaster becoming “politicized”, and he makes the extraordinary claim that the BBC has removed information from its Russian website. Köchler also cites the murkiness around Pan Am Flight 103 – he was an ” international observer” of the criminal trial in Scotland that followed the bombing, and he’s become something of an expert:  RIA Novosti interviewed him on the subject just yesterday. Köchler is also reportedly a 9/11 Truther.

The second piece is a rather less subtle affair, by Chandra Muzaffar, “President, International Movement for a Just World (JUST)“. Entitled “Who Stands to Gain?” Spectacularly missing the point that the rebels mistakenly thought that they would “gain” by shooting down a military plane, Mazaffar opines:

It is obvious that those who seek to punish Russia and the pro-Russian rebels, namely, the elite in Washington and Kiev, are poised to gain the most from the MH 17 episode. Does it imply that they would have had a role in the episode itself? Only a truly independent and impartial international inquiry would be able to provide the answer.

Although he also has some preliminary conclusions of his own already, such as that

a You Tube video showing a Russian General and Ukrainian rebels discussing their role in mistakenly downing a civilian aircraft was, from various tell-tale signs, produced before the event.

Jim Bakker Off to the Holy Land with Joseph Farah and Jonathan Cahn

WND “reports“:

Surprise Guest Joins Cahn-Farah Israel Tour

Jim and Lori Bakker are not coming as celebrities or guest speakers, but as spiritual pilgrims. Jim Bakker hasn’t been to Israel in decades, and Lori Bakker has never been there.

They got the idea to come when Cahn, author of “The Harbinger” and the inspiration behind “The Isaiah 9:10 Judgment,” made a guest appearance on the Bakkers’ daily TV show.

“Jim Bakker is one of the giants and pioneers of Christian television,” said Cahn. “He helped found TBN and PTL and worked with Pat Robertson in the early years of ‘The 700 Club.’ He sat with world leaders and presidents in the White House. And yet the most powerful part of his story is what happened after being humbled under God’s hand, a humbling from which he emerged a changed man, a man of profound humility, compassion and grace – and with even more zeal for the Lord.”

[Joseph] Farah said the Bakkers recognize something he has seen himself as someone who has traveled to Israel frequently over the last 35 years – “there’s no better way to see Israel than with Jonathan Cahn.”

The “report”, of course, is really just an advert – the url shows that the article has been adapted from an earlier version, originally entitled – in bad taste – “Hamas Rockets Boon to Israel Tour”.

Joseph Farah is the editor of WND, which serves up a daily mix of anti-Obama conspiracy theories and fringe religious speculations; Cahn, meanwhile, is the author of a best-selling book – as modelled here by John Boehner – which links the events of 9/11 to God’s judgement and the last days. Cahn’s book is published by Stephen Strang’s Charisma empire, although WND has charge of a tie-in DVD.

Cahn’s rise from obscurity to evangelical super-stardom has been rapid, helped in large part by the Bakkers. Jim Bakker, in turn, owes his own revival to some extent to Rick Joyner, who now controls the remnants of Bakker’s PTL empire. Given that Bakker regularly claims to receive special messages from God about future events, “profound humility” is not the most obvious attribute.

As with the previous Cahn-Farah tour, the event, organised by Coral Tours, appears to be devotional: the emphasis is on the Biblical past rather than Farah and Cahn’s apocalyptic obsessions. The itinerary includes:

a special service at Calvary/Golgotha and the Empty Garden Tomb.

This does not mean the Holy Sepulchre, but rather the alternative site supposedly “discovered” by General Gordon in the nineteenth century. The Garden Tomb is today very popular with many evangelicals: unlike the Holy Sepulchre, the site is not overlaid with religious iconography, structures, and hubbub; and although it can’t be taken seriously as Jesus’ tomb, for believers it nevertheless has some force as historical evidence for the Resurrection.

There is, though, a distant buzz from a nearby bus station, which will prove poignant for Bakker. As the Jerusalem Post reminded us in 2008:

 In 1987 US TV evangelist Jim Bakker’s affair with a 19-year-old church secretary led to the unraveling of his ambitious Court of the Guard project, a serene meditation and prayer garden outside Damascus Gate. Plans – for which Bakker bilked millions from his naive followers – called for the construction of an east Jerusalem Central Bus Station on Rehov Hanevi’im. The dilapidated, and still in use, Jordanian-era depot is situated next to the Garden Tomb. 

No, Hamas Has Not Admitted that the God of the Jews is Diverting their Rockets

Story from jumps from Israeli Haredi columnist to UK Jewish newspaper to US evangelical websites

Jewish Telegraph Hamas Rockets

From the UK Jewish Telegraph:

IN October, 1956, David Ben Gurion was interviewed by CBS. He stated: “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.”

But the Talmud Yerushalmi tells us that in no way are we to depend on miracles.

It argues that we must not desist from our obligations and must not wait for miraculous intervention from the Supernatural.

How perfectly relevant are both of these views today. We witness hourly miracles.

As one of the terrorists from Gaza was reported to say when asked why they couldn’t aim their rockets more effectively: “We do aim them, but their God changes their path in mid-air.”

Amen! And when our God is not busy doing that, He is ensuring that the high-tech brain power of our “start-up nation” is working overtime to produce yet another Iron Dome battery to help protect our cities and us.

The rest of the article is a vignette about life in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim in the context of air-raid warnings, but it’s the supposed quote from “one of the terrorists from Gaza” that has caught the imagination. The on-line version of the article is headed thus:

‘God Changes the Path of our Rockets’

However, as shown above, a photograph of the print version that is doing the rounds shows a slightly different headline, which dispenses with the quote-marks:

Their God changes the path of our rockets in mid-air, said a terrorist

A banner above this adds:

Expat tells of hourly miracles that are keeping Israel safe

The author is a certain Barbara Ordman, originally from Manchester. She does not appear to be a journalist, and the source for her supposed – and inherently unlikely – quote from Gaza is not given.

It seems that the actual source (H/T Failed Messiah) is an opinion piece by a certain Chaim Cohen, writing last week on a Haredi news-site called Kikar HaShabbat. His column is in Hebrew, but Google Translate shows that the headline was something like “It’s not the Iron Dome, it’s God”. According to the author (via Google Translate, tidied up):

In a surprising interview with a Hamas representative on the global network CNN, the obvious question was asked: “After all, you claim that you have the best and most accurate missiles, so how can you then can not hurt almost anywhere in Israel?” The Hamas representative quickly replied: “Our missiles are accurate and good, but the Name [i.e. God] of the Jews diverts eighty percent of the rockets we launch into uninhabited areas, and the remaining twenty percent are intercepted by the Iron Dome”.

Alas, comments by readers after the piece point out that no such CNN interview exists.

It seems that Cohen in turn is relying on a rumour that appeared during the conflict in late 2012; several comments appeared on YNet on 19 November of that year saying the same thing (see here, here, and here; and H/T to a reader), and claiming that the interview had taken place the day before. From there it made its way onto a Facebook page relating to southern Israel. The claim was also cited on TV by Rabbi Zamir Cohen although I’m not sure when.

Ordman’s version of the same story, stripped of the bogus reference to CNN, is now going viral through conservative and Evangelical websites in the USA. Inevitably, WND is on the bandwagon (“Terrorist said to marvel at Israel’s supernatural protection”), and refers in turn to Sid Roth’s It’s Supernatural. Roth writes:

According to an article in the Jewish Telegraph, a terrorist in Gaza was asked why they couldn’t aim their rockets more effectively. In response he said, “We do aim them, but their God changes their path in mid-air.”

I believe thousands of Muslims will turn to Jesus in the Middle East soon when they see their god does not answer prayer!

Probably not quite what Chaim Cohen had in mind.

(Expanded)

Melbourne More Welcoming than Salt Lake City to World Congress of Families

Following an op-ed by Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign, in which he explained why his organization regards the World Congress of Families is “hateful”, the Daily Beast’s Jay Michaelson reports on fallout in Utah:

The World Congress of Families, an umbrella group of forty-odd ‘traditional values’ organizations, announced earlier this month that their 2015 conference will be held in Salt Lake City, thanks to the financial patronage of the Sutherland Institute, a far-right think tank based there.

…Yet there are early signs that not everyone’s rolling out the welcome mat.  The conference was quietly taken off the Salt Lake City department of tourism website after HRC Director Griffin’s op-ed was published.

However, a somewhat different official attitude prevails in the State of Victoria in Australia, as the WCF prepares to descend on Melbourne. From The Age:

[Victoria Attorney-General] Robert Clark’s welcome to Melbourne address to a conference organised by a hard-right, anti-gay, anti-abortion group is consistent with the state government’s tourism agenda to attract people to Melbourne, [State] Premier Denis Napthine says.

…Dr Napthine on Wednesday downplayed Mr Clark’s decision to address the event, saying it was “quite common” for the government to have a representative at a variety of events in Melbourne and was partly about promoting the city as a destination for international conferences.