Shin Bet Arrests Man for Allegedly Spying for Iran — But What's the Real Story?

Let’s leave Washington, D.C. behind for a few hundred words and go to Tel Aviv, where Ali Mansouri, a Belgian-Iranian national, has been charged with carrying out a spying mission for the Iranian government. On Monday, during a hearing to extend Mansouri’s custody, the Israeli media cycle gave us a great reminder that the 24-hour news cycle, in all of its absurdity, is not exclusively an American phenomenon.

Some media outlets, including Haaretz, the most left-wing of Israel’s major papers, began suggesting that one of the pictures submitted as evidence for Mansouri’s spying was photoshopped. Apparently, the fact that the shadow from a streetlight in the photo goes in a different direction from the shadow coming from Mansouri’s legs means that it was a hack editing job done to prop up an otherwise shaky case by the Shin Bet, Israel’s equivalent of the FBI.

The Blaze article explains why the theory that it’s photoshopped doesn’t hold much water so I won’t explain that here. What I will explain, though, is how this media speculation illustrates a larger trend of creeping confirmation bias in our news- and commentary-soaked age. It’s been written about ad nauseam, but the basic idea is that we’re conditioned to accept facts and assertions that further corroborate what we already believe. In this case, if you believe the Shin Bet and/or the Israeli government as a whole is composed of manipulative liars, the idea that they would doctor a photo to make their case stronger about an alleged spy will be easy for you to support. For people more trusting of the Israeli government and less trusting of more liberal news outlets like Haaretz, the suggestion seems bizarre and unfounded. 

It’s not as if aspects of the Mansouri trial shouldn’t be scrutinized for possible political motives. After all, it is very auspicious timing to lift a gag order on the arrest of an Iranian spy right around the same time Benjamin Netanyahu is heading to Washington to try and persuade President Obama that Iran is still a threat.

Nevertheless, stories like this are frightening because they show the globalization of the disappearance of objective facts. To readers of Fox News, the current government shutdown in the U.S. is a “slimdown.” I’ve spoken with people who believe that Obamacare is unconstitutional and therefore, they interpret the Supreme Court’s ruling on it to mean that, yes, it is constitutional, but is still law due to some crafty maneuvering by the Obama administration. As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

I don’t know how the Israeli media works as well as I do the American media, so I don’t know if the story has already played out its course, or if there are going to be believers that the photo was a fabrication and therefore the entire trial is a sham. Even if it isn’t, though, there will still be people inside and outside Israel looking to spin anything they can into “Shin Bet is evil.”

If they bring up actual facts, we all need to listen. If it’s just some columnists essentially saying, “Eh, looks shopped,” they’re not helping their case.

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Adam Asher

Adam is a rising junior at Brown University where he is majoring in Classics and serves as a columnist for the Brown Daily Herald and an editor of Post- magazine. Interests include Israel-Palestine, health policy, science policy, urban politics, the lyrics and music of John Darnielle, and the New York Yankees. Adam will be spending the Fall 2013 semester at the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome.

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