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July 15, 2009

AFP Swallows Stale "Sex Gum" Allegation


They say sex sells. But should journalists be buying it so readily?

AFP seems to be taking a bit too seriously the latest Hamas allegation — that Israeli intelligence is trying to "corrupt the young" of Gaza by distributing aphrodisiac chewing gum and drops. AFP treated this accusation as 'news' that should be reported in a straightforward manner. Here's their sober report:

GAZA CITY (AFP) - Hamas suspects that Israeli intelligence services are supplying its Gaza Strip stronghold with chewing gum that boosts the sex drive in order to "corrupt the young," an official said on Tuesday.

"We have discovered two types of stimulants that were introduced into the Gaza Strip from Israeli border crossings," Hamas police spokesman Islam Shahwan told AFP.

"The first type is presented in the form of chewing gum and the second in the form of drops," he said.

The Islamist movement that has run the densely populated and impoverished Palestinian territory for the past two years said it has detained members of a gang that helped to bring in the products.

"They admitted during the investigation they were linked to the Zionist intelligence services," he said.

One suspect said he had received the products from an Israeli intelligence officer at a cut-rate price "with the officer saying they did not want money, but to distribute the products among the young people of Gaza," Shahwan said.

"The intelligence services are aiming to corrupt the young generation by distributing these products among students."

The story came to light after a Palestinian man filed a complaint that his daughter had experienced "dubious side effects" after chewing the offending gum, Israeli media reported.

The Israeli military declined to comment officially on the allegations, which one military source termed "absurd."

Hamas says such-and-such, a couple of quotes from a Hamas offical, a quick Israeli denial, and ship it out.

But it would seem that if this accusation is newsworthy, it's either a) because it's an example of the government-driven incitement the demonizes "the Zionists" as degenerate, immoral, and a threat to the purity of Gaza's daughters; or b) because it's just funny.

AFP, though, doesn't bother soliciting quotes form MEMRI, Palestinian Media Watch or other organizations that have documented or expressed concern with anti-Israel incitement; and they don't bother quoting anyone laughing their heads off.

Nor does the French wire service point out that this is just the latest appearance by a threadbare and disproved charge.

Back in July 1996, for example, it was Egypt that was excited after a parliamentarian referred to "15 cases in which women and girls had sexually assaulted men after chewing" suspicious gum.

The Washington Post reported on this with an appropriate degree of skepticism. Their story began:

This is a story about chewing gum, sex and the Middle East peace process.

No, really.

The story begins in mid-April, when police in this bustling city in the Nile delta 70 miles north of Cairo launched an investigation into the sale of chewing gum allegedly laced with a powerful aphrodisiac. A local member of parliament then weighed in, claiming that he knew of 15 cases in which women and girls had sexually assaulted men after chewing the stuff.

The tale proved irresistible for several of Egypt's feisty, and often wildly inaccurate, opposition newspapers, which wasted no time in identifying the distributor of the gum as -- you guessed it -- Israel. One went so far as to name the Russian emigre chemist who allegedly concocted the evil substance on behalf of Israel's intelligence service, the Mossad.

Never mind that the gum package is stamped "Made in Germany" and that police have substantiated neither an Israel connection nor the rape claims. When it comes to Israel, it seems, many Egyptians are willing to believe almost anything, so long as it is bad.

"Any corruption that comes to us comes from Israel," said Goma Ahmed Mohammed from behind the counter of his small fabric shop here. "They would do anything to bring down Islam."

Such paranoia might seem strange ...

Strange indeed. And strikingly similar to Hamas's story: "Another variety," the Post quoted the parliamentarian as saying, "comes in the form of medicine drops..." (Washington Post, 7/10/96, John Lancaster).

And just one year later (again in the steamy month of July) another Post correspondent noted with skepticism that the charge had spread to the West Bank and Gaza Strip:

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.

And just to be sure,

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. (Washington Post, 7/28/97, Barton Gellman)

The Israeli gum made it all the way to Saudi Arabia, or at least the story did: "Saudi Arabia has seized banned chewing gum and drops that claimed to improve male sexual performance, a Saudi newspaper reported. The stimulants ... were apparently smuggled from Israel, the daily al-Eqtisadiah said."

The Syrians, at least, don't seem to mind some good gum:

Sex sells in the souk, where Syrians flock to buy the latest lingerie, some of it edible, some sporting flashing lights and all of it kitsch personified. ...

His shop may be tiny, but he is not just selling "smalls". Piled on a table is aphrodisiac chewing gum called "Jaguar Power", sexy massage oils and even delay sprays imported from China and Thailand.

Apparently Jaguar brand isn't made in Israel.

Posted by GI at July 15, 2009 11:08 AM


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