Yvonne Ridley, peanut allergies and the truth

Cross-posted from the Fair Play Campaign Group.

I’ve been having a Twitter argument with Yvonne Ridley. I know I shouldn’t.

This is the second argument I’ve had with Yvonne. The last one was in 2003 or 4, when I was at university. She came to speak at Bristol University as part of an official ‘response’ to a pro-Israel article in the student newspaper (another part of the same ‘response’ was a seven-page screed by Tim Llewellyn attacking the student journalist who wrote the article). I was a student in the mood for a good argument, so I challenged her from the audience with some of the more outrageous comments, like saying suicide bombers were martyrs. At the time I felt like I got the better of her, but perhaps that was just my student bravado.

Afterwards, one of her minders followed me out of the room. He addressed me by name, even though I hadn’t given it and he wasn’t a student. He made a couple of comments, smiling and friendly, but the thrust of them was that he knew exactly who I was. He never introduced himself.

Anyway, back to the present. Yesterday Yvonne suggested on Twitter that Israel was opening the Erez Crossing to plan a ““self-defense” pogrom, with as few outside witnesses as poss“. She also tweetedmore Israelis die from peanut allergies than are killed or injured by rockets from Gaza“. She’s been arguing with Jeremy Newmark, Joe Millis, CIF Watch and me about it.

The pogrom comment is clearly nonsense, and the peanut remark is disgusting and distasteful. It’s like responding to to domestic violence against women in by saying “more women die from breast cancer every year than are killed by their husbands“. It may be true, but it’s not to the point at all. Murder is different from accidental death.

It may be true. But is it true? Where has this claim come from in the first place?

When I challenged Yvonne on Twitter for her source, she responded that  “the answer lies within Lowkey’s lyrics“.

Lowkey is a rapper and a fan of 9/11 troofer conspiracy theories. He’s popular among Stop-the-War and anti-Israel groups and is often performs at their rallies. The lyrics which Ridley directed to me are in Lowkey’s “Terrorist“. As well including references to popular troofer tropes (“Building 7” and “nanothermite“) it has the following lyrics:

I know you were terrified when you saw the towers fall
It’s all terror but some forms are more powerful
It seems nuts, how could there be such agony
When more Israelis die from peanut allergies

Well, that doesn’t mean anything at all. More Israelis die than what? The song doesn’t say. Anyway, it’s just a song, not evidence or a statistic. I challenged Yvonne on this and she responded that she was quoting the “official stats” and had only mentioned the song in passing.

Where did these ‘statistics’ come from? My preliminary research didn’t turn up any official statistics on the number of peanut-allergy deaths in Israel, but it should be possible to make an educated guess based on other statistics.
Food allergies have become much more common in the last 30 years. Nobody knows why, though there are all sorts of theories. People with serious food allergies can go into anaphylaxis, which untreated can be fatal. Because of this, many allergic people carry epi-pens to inject chemicals that can stop the anaphylaxis.
According to a 2006 Department of Health study (pdf), anaphylaxis from allergens kills approximately 10-20 people a year in the UK, though it is not always recorded on the death certificate. Of these 10-20, not all will be the victims of food allergies; some might be allergic to chemicals, dust or other exotic allergens. Some certainly will be food allergy victims.

People can be allergic to all sorts of foods. In young children, milk and eggs are the most common allergies, though most children grow out of them. Other common trigger foods are celery, soya, shellfish, fish and citrus fruit, but one of the best-known allergies is the nut allergy (and the peanut allergy).

Peanuts aren’t nuts. They’re peas.

Peanuts are a legume, a bean that grows under the ground. True nuts grow on trees. Some people with nut allergies can eat peanuts, and vice versa, though many people who have one allergy have both.

Peanut allergies are common in much of the world, but in Israel they’re rarer. A 2008 study compared the incidence of peanut allergy between Jewish children in the UK and Jewish children in Israel. It found:

Jewish children in the UK have a prevalence of P[eanut] A[llergy] that is 10-fold higher than that of Jewish children in Israel.

Though nobody knows for sure, scientists note that in Israel, babies eat peanuts from a very young age in the form of Bamba, and that this might be one reason for the lower allergy rates. It’a not all good news though; Israel’s ‘version’ of the peanut allergy is sesame allergy, which is much more common than it is in Europe or America.

Reviewing what we know:

  • In the UK, 10-20 people die a year of all allergies
  • Some of these 10-20 are food allergies, and some of these are peanut allergies.
  • Israel has abut 10% of the population of the UK
  • Israel has 10% of the incidence of peanut allergy compared to the UK

Based on these statistics – even allowing for possible better acute care in the UK – you’d expect about one or two allergy deaths a year in Israel, of which only a few, say one every few years, was a peanut allergy death. A recent case in Israel involving a hazelnut allergy fatality (not peanuts) was a major national story. 

Where does this wrong statistic come from? I can’t be sure, but the best candidate is the earliest reference I can find: in late 2008, on a Youtube video made by Steve Johnson for the US-focused website stopfundingIsrael.com. This website calls YouTube “Jew-tube”,  and warns of the:

“zionist infiltraitors (sic) in Australia, Canada, UK and USA. They have infiltrated the Govt. They have infiltrated the media even popular culture…”

Steve Johnson co-wrote a ‘book’ called The Truth: Mossad did September 11th 2001. His speciality piece seems to be calling up those who he considers supporters of Israel, hassling them, and making them into
YouTube videos for the Stop Funding Israel youtube channel.

This channel is fascinating. Most of the videos are by Steve Johnson. The first one claims that the Norway massacres were a false flag operation done by Israel. The next is an interview with a climate-change-sceptic scientist who also seems to deny plate tectonics: earthquakes are caused because the Earth is getting bigger. Really. There’s also a video saying the Bali bombings were really the work of the Australians.

It is Steve Johnson who called up the International Fellowship of Christians & Jews to complain about their advertising campaign, which highlighted the threat of rockets from Gaza. He said:

“From 2000 to 2008, 458 have died from peanut allergies. That’s 24 times the amount that have died from Hamas rockets”

Note that unlike Yvonne Ridley, Steve Johnson doesn’t say more Israelis die from peanut allergies than are killed or injured by rockets from Gaza; only more than are killed. But even Steve Johnson can’t even back up this weaker claim. After being challenged on his peanut statistics, he added the following in the comments to that YouTube video:

Researching the Peanut Allergy I found surprisingly that because Israel feeds their young peanuts and peanut allergies have in fact the worlds LOWEST casulty rate.

The research statistics I was quoting were actually from SESAME ALLERGY REACTIONS within Israel..Which runs from 150-200 per year.

So, he wasn’t talking about peanut allergies, and he wasn’t talking about deaths. He was comparing Israelis killed by Hamas rockets with Israelis who had allergic reactions to sesame. If the original comparison was disgusting, this one is obscene.

Still, lies are persistent and lies about Israel – even accidental lies – find themselves being repeated year after year.

Rocket fire on civillian populations is a weapon of terror. The rockets don’t have to kill very often for people to be frightened of them crashing into their homes, their schools and their places of work and worship. Since this Thursday, an Israeli has been killed by a rocket and tens have been injured. The Israeli who died was in a synagogue which was hit. A school has been hit too, injuring children.

All this means that Yvonne Ridley is not only being offensive and insensitive when she says “more Israelis die from peanut allergies than are killed or injured by rockets from Gaza“.

She’s also wrong.

3 thoughts on “Yvonne Ridley, peanut allergies and the truth

  1. Please e-mail me as we would like to interview you for a forthcoming radio broadcast.

  2. Within the UK, more non-Muslims have died at the hands of Muslims than Muslims at the hands of non-Muslims.

    For example the 7/7/05 London bus and underground bombings.

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