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Is Anything Sacred?

Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv was lambasted for printing the note that Obama placed in the Western Wall, allegedly stolen by a Yeshiva student. "Notes which are placed in the Western Wall are between the person and his Maker; Heaven forbid that one should read them or use them in any way," said the Chief Rabbi of the Western Wall. "This sacrilegious action deserves sharp condemnation and represents a desecration of the holy site."

But according to a statement from Ma'ariv yesterday, the paper alleges that the Obama campaign actually leaked the note to reporters before Obama even placed it in the wall.* Yediot Aharonot, Israel's most popular daily, claims to have also received a copy of the note but decided not to print it.* As a Ma'ariv spokesman told the Jerusalem Post

Barack Obama's note was approved for publication in the international media even before he put in the Kotel [Western Wall], a short time after he wrote it at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

The Obama campaign is denying the note was "approved for publication." At this point, it's their word against that of Ma'ariv, but I'm still waiting for some concrete proof from Ma'ariv to back up their accusation. It's a pretty bold claim to make without providing a smoking gun and via an anonymous spokesman to the Jerusalem Post.*

*Post updated to reflect the Obama campaign's denial and additional reporting.

UPDATE 2 (6:10 a.m.): Since posting this item, I’ve gotten a lot of comments from people questioning the veracity of Ma’ariv’s accusation. I definitely should have called the Obama campaign before rushing to post this item—and though I updated it soon after hearing of the campaign’s denial, I apologize for my initial haste. Though Ma’ariv is one of Israel’s most prominent newspapers, there is certainly reason to question its motives regarding this story, considering it is trying to justify its own much-derided decision to print Obama’s letter. There is also talk of a lawsuit against Ma’ariv for violating Israel’s Basic Law guaranteeing privacy. I’ve been on the phone with various sources in Israel for the past few hours trying to get concrete information about the accusation. I spoke to Ma’ariv’s spokesman on the phone a few hours ago and sent him a list of questions; I will update here as soon as I hear back from him.

In the meantime, I’ve found additional quotes from Ma’ariv spokesmen to three other Israeli publications reaffirming their narrative—and going even further than their quotes to the Jerusalem Post by explicitly saying that the Obama campaign approved the printing of the letter, and even gave copies of the note to members of the international media before he went to the Western Wall. But Ma’ariv has yet to produce tangible evidence for either of these accusations, and I’m withholding any endorsement of their claims until they do so.

UPDATE 3 (4:25 p.m.): I finally heard back from the Ma'ariv spokesman, who denied that the Obama campaign leaked the memo to them or gave them approval to print it, and who disavowed the alleged spokesman who gave quotes to at least four Israeli publications. At the risk of beating a dead horse, I'll be following up with those publications to find out where they got those quotes from. I just spoke with an editor at one of those publications who broached the possibility that Ma'ariv was trying to deflect criticims of it by releasing these spurious rumors about the Obama campaign, but upon realizing that they'll have to back up those accusations, is now disavowing them. I'll update here if I get anything interesting from those publications. 

--Zvika Krieger