Maurice Blackburn employment lawyer and high-profile progressive Jew Josh Bornstein got a rude awakening this morning, when his Twitter feed lit up with people from all around the world decrying him as a racist.

An opinion piece was published in the Times of Israel last night bearing Bornstein’s byline, image and description. Much of the piece, since deleted, is too objectionable to be quoted. It called on Israeli Jews to massacre Palestinians, as they were “subhuman beasts and vermin” who were put on earth only to serve the people of Israel. It argued these views were sanctioned by Jewish scripture.

Unbeknownst to Bornstein, articles have been appearing under his byline in the publication for several weeks. Copies of articles on Australian employment law and politics Bornstein had written for places like The Guardian and Crikey were uploaded to The Times of Israel, in what appears to have been an elaborate attempt to fool the website into thinking Bornstein was a genuine blogger. The Times of Isreal was founded in 2012, and in addition to journalism has an extensive blogging platform, where bloggers who fill out an extensive accreditation form are allowed to post copy directly onto the website. It does not appear these posts are checked before publication.

In the early hours of this morning, the shocking nature of the article led the Times of Israel to remove the post. It posted a statement on its Facebook page telling readers the post had been removed, saying it “should not have been published to begin with”. “We are still looking into why it was published, but needless to say it was removed as soon as we got wind of it — and in no way do we endorse its content, whether it was meant as satire or not.”

Early this morning, the publication got in touch with Bornstein, who told the site that all of his other articles on the site had in fact written for other publications.

“I suspect some nutjob right-wing hacker. That’s what they suspect,” he told Crikey.

The Times of Israel say they have an elaborate system. To post a blog, you fill in an application. Someone went to extraordinary lengths to suck them in … They’re pretty upset. As am I.”

“I deplore racism,” Bornstein said. “I’ve fought racism since I was four years old.”

An apology posted on the Times of Israel this morning said its blogs platform “was breached in an elaborate manner by a malicious hoaxer who on Thursday posted a hateful and racist post”:

“Times of Israel staff had no reason to suspect this was a hoax, also given that half a dozen posts were published on this blog in subsequent days, all on topic and perfectly reasonable. As we found out Thursday, these posts were taken from Bornstein’s articles elsewhere on the internet.

“After establishing his credibility on The Blogs platform, the imposter Thursday published a blog post that was vile and disturbing in the extreme … The post had also been copied to an online archive with the obvious intent of causing maximum harm.

“We are dismayed that The Times of Israel fell victim to such a malicious and hateful hoax …We sincerely apologize to everyone who was affected, directly or indirectly. Most especially, we apologize to Josh Bornstein.”

It’s at least the second time the Times of Israel’s blog system has led to controversy. In August last year, one of its bloggers, Yochanan Gordon, wrote a piece questioning whether genocide against Palestinians was permissible given Israel’s right to defend itself and its citizens against rocket attacks. The article was quickly removed from the Times of Israel and the publication discontinued Gordan’s blog, saying it “will not countenance blog posts that incite to violence or criminal acts”. Gordan apologised, saying he “never intended to call to harm any people although [his] words may have conveyed that message”.

Peter Fray

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