Friday, November 19, 2004

The Washington Post reports that "Conspiracy Theories Persist on Arafat's Death." While this conspiracy talk is, of course, nonsense, John Ward Anderson seems to be lending it some credence.
The suspicion that Arafat was murdered is not being peddled just by a few conspiracy theorists, but by many, including some of Arafat's top aides. His Jordanian doctor has called for an autopsy, citing possible poisoning. Tayeb Abdul Rahim, the secretary general of Palestinian Authority's Office of the President, also raised the possibility of poisoning, saying that Palestinians deserved to know what caused Arafat's death.

"In the Western media, you think this is paranoid conspiracy theories, but here in the Arab world, that is not the case at all," said Hishad Ahmed, a political scientist at Bir Zeit University, on the outskirts of Ramallah. "If people found that Yasser Arafat was poisoned, it would be a volcano here -- a big earthquake."

"I strongly believe" Arafat was poisoned, he said, adding "most likely it was done by Israel, but it would have to have been executed by those around Arafat." As evidence, he cited previous assassination attempts by Israel against Palestinian leaders, Israel's threats against Arafat, the demand by Arafat's doctor for an autopsy, his treatment at a military hospital that was not likely to divulge secrets and the "campaign of disruption Palestinian officials engaged in for two weeks" during Arafat's hospitalization.
So he quotes a political scientist who adds to the speculation. What he never does is cite any sort of objective evidence that said poisoning took place. Did Arafat's decline follow any known course of poisoning? Were there any physical signs that suggest poisoning?
Now Anderson does not at any point suggest that Arafat died of AIDS. As long as he's giving credence to outright fantasies - you know, like Israel spikes gum given to Palestinian boys to corrupt their morals - why doesn't he cite speculation that Arafat died of AIDS? If he was a homosexual that would make such a diagnosis more likely. The fact that some of his alleged symptoms fit AIDS is also relevant. (Those symptoms, though, are apparently not unique to AIDS.) It would also explain why Arafat's handlers had him flown to Paris where the secrecy laws are tighter. Had Arafat died of AIDS, it would have caused him - and perhaps his cause - great shame in the Arab world.
Incidentally, remember the chewing gum I mention before? The Washington Post actually tested some of it. It wasn't spiked.
But what was interesting about that article from July 1997, "POP! WENT THE TALE OF THE BUBBLE GUM SPIKED WITH SEX HORMONES" by Barton Gellman was how it compared the ludicrous Palestinian to Israeli claims of Palestinian malfeasance.
The Israeli plot, as Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority exposed it recently, was triply diabolical.

To begin with, it aroused irresistible sexual appetites in women, undermining Islamic morals and self-restraint. Then it sterilized them to suppress Arab population growth. Worst of all, according to Palestinian Supply Minister Abdel Aziz Shaheen, it was capable of "completely destroying the genetic system of young boys."

All that with packets of bubble gum. Palestinian officials maintain, having subjected the gum to laboratory tests, that it is spiked with sex hormones and sold at suspiciously low prices near schoolhouses in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Variations of the story, blending pseudo-science with inventive tales of conspiracy by Israel's secret services, have been making the rounds of the official Palestinian media for weeks.

Promoted at the highest levels of the Palestinian Authority, the story recalls a propaganda style that Palestinians largely abandoned after their first accord with Israel in 1993. It is one among many recent signs that after months of stagnation in peace talks, the process of accommodation is falling into decay.

Israel, too, devotes substantial efforts these days to discrediting its ostensible negotiating partner. David Bar-Illan, director of communications for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, has described the government as engaged in a full-scale propaganda war, and he does his part with periodic faxes to foreign reporters about unattractive or allegedly unlawful Palestinian behavior.

Except the Israeli charges were largely true. If Gellman were interested in checking it out. Which he wasn't. Maybe because it was too much fun, he, at least, deserves credit for debunking the spiked bubble gum charge.
The Washington Post commissioned a test of allegedly contaminated chewing gum provided by Palestinian health officials.

Dan Gibson, professor of pharmaceutical chemistry at Hebrew University and a member of the left-wing lobby group Peace Now, said that, using a mass spectrometer capable of detecting as little as a microgram of progesterone, he found none in the gum. When used as a contraceptive pill, according to a standard physician's reference, the effective dose is about 300 times larger than a microgram.

In practice, the body rapidly inactivates progesterone taken by mouth. Birth control pills normally rely on synthetic compounds known as progestins or progestogens that are similar but not identical. These oral contraceptives, according to Stanley G. Korenman, the head of endocrinology at the Center for the Health Sciences of the University of California at Los Angeles, generally diminish female libido rather than increase it, although the effects in either direction are not dramatic.

In men, progestins are powerful inhibitors of sperm production. They also impair libido and the ability to maintain an erection.

But whatever the science, the politics are clear. Most Palestinians interviewed had heard of the gum, and even the most worldly tended to say they believed accounts of its evil powers.
The fact that he doesn't devote any energy to debunking Israeli claims suggests that they were (generally, at least) true.
There's no excuse for Anderson simply reporting the charges without making an attempt to debunk them.

Crossposted on Israpundit and Soccer Dad.

No comments: