How Israel dog-stoning story went astray

It was the ultimate shaggy dog story - but one with a nasty bite.

According to the BBC and other websites over the weekend, a Jerusalem Beth Din condemned a stray dog to be stoned after it was suspected of being the reincarnation of a secular lawyer cursed by the court 20 years ago.

Yahoo's news report, headlined "Jewish court sentences dog to death by stoning", drew more than 1,900 comments, many containing abuse such as "Dirty Jews should be stoned instead" or "Should have let Hitler gas all of them".

But the tale of the four-legged dybbuk was pure fantasy. Rabbi David Koenig, a member of the Beth Din involved, said it had "absolutely zero" truth. "We deal with torts and liabilities - not reincarnation."

What had happened, he explained, was that a dog wandered off the street into the Beth Din's waiting room. After the animal had resisted attempts to persuade it to leave the building, the court eventually called the city authorities, who took it away.

Reports of a rabbinic death sentence and a supernatural dog first surfaced on a Charedi website three weeks ago. They were then picked up by mainstream Israeli media before going
global.

Yahoo removed the story and comments from its site this week after being contacted by the JC, while the BBC amended its original to reflect the Beth Din's rebuttals.

Leslie Kosmin, QC, from Wembley, who read the Yahoo report when it featured as its top story, said the comments posted were "the most abusive, appalling and antisemitic I have ever read in my life."

He said it was "grossly irresponsible of Yahoo to publish this".

Dave Rich, from the Community Security Trust, said; "Sadly, we are used to seeing this kind of vile and offensive language on internet comment threads about Israel or Jews."

A Yahoo spokesman said: "As soon as the concerns with this story were brought to our attention, we contacted the third-party supplier, discussed with them and removed it."

The BBC later apologised with a web post explaining that the story had been removed. It added: "We failed to make the right checks."

    Last updated: 2:20pm, June 23 2011