“After a quick prayer, Avi Shapiro and 12 other Jewish settlers put on their religious skullcaps, grabbed their semi-automatic rifles and headed toward Highway 60…. As they crouched in a ditch beside the road, Shapiro, the leader of the group, gave the settlers orders: Surround any taxi, “open fire,” and kill as many of the “blood-sucking Arab” passengers as possible. “We are doing what [Israeli Prime Minister] Sharon promised but has failed to do: drive these sons of Arab whores from the land of Israel,” said Shapiro, 42, who moved here with his wife and four children three years ago from Brooklyn. “If he won’t get rid of the Muslim filth, we will.””
So began a story in USA Today in early September 2001. The article, datelined “Hebron, West Bank” and headlined “Israeli extremists take revenge on Palestinians,” was written by Jack Kelley, then the paper’s star reporter. That’s the same Jack Kelley who two weeks ago was forced to resign when, according to the paper, it was discovered he’d “repeatedly misled editors during an internal investigation into stories he wrote.”
That investigation covered just a sampling of articles over a recent six-year period and failed to uncover any specific inaccuracies. But USA Today, reportedly at the prodding of staffers who had long raised questions about Kelley’s work, announced last week that an independent panel would now look into every story written by Kelley during his 21-year tenure at the newspaper.
When Kelley’s article on Jewish settlers first appeared, it drew an outraged response from Hebron community spokesman David Wilder, who issued a point-by-point rebuttal, but otherwise there was scant negative reaction from pro-Israel media critics, who tended to view Kelley in a favorable light. Just a month before, he’d filed an extraordinarily emotional report on the Jerusalem Sbarro pizza bombing, claiming to have been an eyewitness to the atrocity and, in fact, a near-victim himself.
“Kelley was considered fair in his reporting from Jerusalem,” says attorney Joseph Schick, who revisited the issue on his blog, The Zionist Conspiracy. “When the Hebron community charged that his piece about Hebron residents attacking Arabs was totally false, many doubted that he had made it all up. A few days later 9/11 occurred, ending discussion of the topic until Kelley’s recent resignation.”
Schick, an op-ed contributor to The Jewish Press, says it’s clear the story is fake. “Kelley wrote that 13 ‘extremists’ attacked Arabs, while their wives actively aided and abetted the crimes, and their children stood by. The ringleader of the settlers is identified as Avi Shapiro, originally from Brooklyn. The attacks were reported to have occurred on Highway 60 – the main road in Judea and Samaria, going from the Ramallah area in the north to the Hebron area in the south. Many Palestinians drive through, and there are a number of IDF checkpoints on the highway. Yet USA Today’s investigation could not come up with a single witness to any aspect of the alleged incident. Nor could it confirm that Avi Shapiro exists.”
Schick says he also has doubts about Kelley’s Sbarro story. “Kelley’s claim in that article to have practically bumped into the bomber just prior to entering Sbarro seems unlikely. He also claimed to be with ‘an Israeli official’ whom he was interviewing at lunch. When USA Today asked him for verification, he told them it was an “Israeli undercover agent,” and the paper was satisfied when he provided an Israeli phone number at which someone picked up and confirmed Kelley’s account. They also said that since he called his superior shortly after the bombing, he was probably telling the truth. Come on. How long does it take to find out about an attack and get over to King George and Jaffa?”
To Kelley’s credit, he was the first journalist to report on Palestinians using ambulances as a cover for terrorist activities – something heatedly denied by Palestinian officials. Though he says he’s “skeptical about all of Kelley’s work,” Schick notes that Haaretz reporter Amira Hass “later confirmed that ambulances were being uses in terror activities, and, in contrast to the fake Avi Shapiro in the settlers piece, the Israeli quoted in the ambulance article, Erez Winner, an IDF commander, was quoted elsewhere, including by the BBC.”