'Gay' Damascus blogger used site to attack Israel

Community leaders have condemned the "devious and Machiavellian" 40-year-old married man from Edinburgh who used a blog, with the fake identity of a young Syrian lesbian, to attack Israel.

Tom MacMaster, a master's student at Edinburgh University and member of Students for Justice in Palestine, admitted this week he was the man behind the Gay Girl in Damascus blog, which followed the alleged life of Amina Arraf, a 35-year-old lesbian living in Syria.

The blog, which had a large following of activists and journalists who all believed it to be authentic, accused Israel of ethnic cleansing and war crimes.

One post said Amina had previously written: "If I were in the US, I'd load up my gun and go out to shoot any Christian or Jew I saw."

‘Rumours can be used to inflame views of Israel’

Last week, a post from Amina's supposed cousin claimed that the activist had been arrested, leading to international internet campaigns to release her. After Mr MacMaster, who claimed he had "never expected this level of attention", owned up, Syria's genuine gay community responded with outrage, claiming he had put their lives at risk and given collateral to the Syrian government to claim that all opposition was fake.

Mr MacMaster said he set up the blog so he could comment on Middle East issues without being criticised. He said: "I noticed that when I, a person with a distinctly Anglo name, made comments on the Middle East, the facts I might present were ignored and I found myself accused of hating America, Jews, etc.

"I wondered whether the same ideas presented by someone with a distinctly Arab and female identity would have the same reaction. So I invented her."

Edinburgh University this week suspended Mr MacMaster's computer privileges while it investigated whether he had breached university regulations.

Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, said: "This appears to be yet another example of Israel's detractors having to resort to outright falsehoods and misinformation to advance their cause."

Myer Green, of Scottish Friends of Israel, said: "Blogs and websites do not as yet have a hechsher guaranteeing their authenticity, and they are unfortunately open to exploitation by devious individuals whose Machiavellian scruples serve their political ideology.

"Israel is particularly vulnerable; rumours and fabrication can be persuasively employed to implant misconceptions and inflame people's negative perception of Israel."

Last updated: 1:16pm, June 16 2011