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  • Michael Dickson

Did Haaretz mislead its readers about Rihanna?

Originally published at The Times of Israel

I left Park Hayarkon having had a great time at Rihanna’s Tel Aviv concert, part of her global “Diamonds” tour which was attended by 55,000 people. As usual, the next day, the media poured over the amount of songs she sang, how late she was, what she wore… but a story I read in Haaretz seemed very strange to me.

The title of the Haaretz article was: “All Rihanna sees ‘is Palestine’, but Israelis didn’t seem to care”

The Haaretz coverage told its readers that:

“She apologized for keeping the audience waiting – but her fans didn’t seem to mind.”

It then continued:

“Nor did they care when in “Pour it Up” instead of “All I see is signs / All I see is dollar signs,” she subbed in “All I see is Palestine,” or the fact that she just kept inserting calls of “Tel Aviv!” in every song – never once saying the word Israel.”

I was perplexed because I was in the audience and never heard that lyric change. I asked friends who had also attended – no-one else heard it either. So I challenged it by tweeting Haaretz that it sounded like the anti-Israel BDS (Boycott / Divestment / Sanctions) groups had made it up:

No reply. Friends on Twitter added their thoughts. Like me, they wondered why the fact that she said “Tel Aviv” was an issue. Haaretz tried to make the point that she was avoiding saying “Israel”.

Don’t all artists shout-out to the city they are playing at rather than the country? Wouldn’t an artist say “Hello Los Angeles” or “Hello Paris”?

This non-issue of Rihanna supposedly not saying “Israel” looks even more ridiculous when you see the Instagram she posted on arrival (“Hello #ISRAEL !!!!).

Rihanna’s Instagram (h/t Kim Milrell)

Why would anyone want to make a big deal of this?

I asked journalist Lahav Harkov – who was also a StandWithUs Israeli Fellow – for her opinion and pretty soon she provided the answer, a video from the concert.

I’ve been contacting Haaretz on social media with a simple challenge: retract or back up the story – so far no response.

Haaretz made this a front page story

But here’s why this is an issue: Rihanna ignored massive pressure from the BDS bullies who tried to make her cancel her concert in Israel. They lost.

Rihanna played a concert to 55,000 people and tweeted photos about how much she was enjoying herself in Israel. In fact, it was her second visit to Israel in three years. The Haaretz story – if fictitious as it seems – is being claimed as a victory by those BDS groups, but it is most likely based on misrepresentation.

BDS strives to mix politics into music and resorts to pressuring, threatening tactics to try to ensure that artists do not play in Israel. Thankfully, most do not succumb to the pressure. In recent years, Elton John, Madonna, The Black Eyed Peas, Justin Bieber and countless other superstars have played successful concerts in Israel.

Falsehoods travel quickly. The Haaretz article has now been reproduced in this Huffington Post story: Rihanna Shows Palestine Some Love — In Tel Aviv, in the Palestine News Network: Rihanna Mentions ‘Palestine’ During Performance in Tel Aviv and many other media sources, all derived from the original misleading Haaretz story.

So the question is: will Haaretz back up the story or retract it? Will The Huffington Post and others do the same?

Fair reporting matters – if the allegation is untrue, it does damage. As Winston Churchill noted: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

The attempted cultural boycott of Israel is mostly a failure. We must continue to be vigilant against their distortions and call out their bullying tactics of threats and intimidation – and yes, their lies – as we see them.

UPDATE 1 – 10/24/13 AM:

Haaretz originally published the article in Wednesday’s edition (October, 23). On Thursday, October 24, they amended the article online and added a disclaimer at the end: - it removes the claim about singing “Palestine” but still maintains that she deliberately did not say the word “Israel”. I’ve reproduced the disclaimer here:

“The original headline for this article has been changed (from “All Rihanna sees ‘is Palestine,’ but Israelis didn’t seem to care”) and part of a sentence was removed from the story (“Nor did they care when in “Pour it Up” instead of “All I see is signs / All I see is dollar signs,” she subbed in “All I see is Palestine.”) Upon reviewing video footage of the show posted after publication, it is clear that the change in lyrics attributed to Rihanna was mistaken. The footage can be found here"

UPDATE 2 – 10/24/13 PM:

Haaretz have re-edited their already-re-edited piece, dropping the other claim that Rihanna deliberately omitted saying the word “Israel” in the byline.

But the insinuation is still in the text of the article, which as noted above, flies in the face of her social media activity, while she was in Israel. Here is the text, which I think should also have been deleted:

“Thank you Tel Aviv!” she said. “You know I love my friends all over the world, but it’s been too long since I’ve been back here in Tel Aviv.” She apologized for keeping the audience waiting – but her fans didn’t seem to mind.

Nor did they care when she just kept inserting calls of “Tel Aviv!” in every song – never once saying the word Israel.

Hours after Haaretz backtracked, The Huffington Post - the biggest blog site in the world, who published both claims that were originally featured in the Haaretz story – issued a retraction.

Here is the Huffington Post retraction:

UPDATE 3: 10/25/13

In the Friday edition, Haaretz has the retraction at the bottom of Page 2:

Thanks to all who Tweeted, shared this article and contacted them to get it rectified – and thanks to the Times of Israel for publishing this.

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