Does anyone watch HARDtalk? It’s usually on TV at unsocial hours. I watched Stephen Sackur's disappointingly lacklustre interrogation of the co-founder of Hamas, Mahmoud Zahar, even if you didn’t.
I sense that many of the BBC’s regular viewers are uncertain about whether Hamas is a designated terrorist organisation, and if so, by whom. Sometimes the BBC mentions that Israel deems Hamas a terrorist organisation, and they would, wouldn’t they, but it’s unclear whether the BBC knows which other countries agree, if any.
One minute the EU thinks it isn’t …. the next the ECJ decides it is. There’s profile of Hamas on the BBC website that I don’t think even includes the word 'terrorist'. Of course this could be because the BBC is loath to make controversial value judgments. It’s understood that the BBC’s policy is to avoid using the term at all, except within reported speech, or in connection with specific cases of deadly terrorism here or in continental Europe. The BBC won’t use the term when terrorism occurs in Israel (as to do so would imply ‘taking sides’.)
One might put this apparently selective ruling down to the fanciful, idealised picture of the Palestinians that quietly seeps into the BBC’s language. Yolande Knell, for example, will pay lip service to impartiality by giving us an empathetic version of, say, Bassem Tamimi, and an impersonal, ‘othered’ picture of the Israeli voice she is obliged to include. I believe the general public is not at all sure what to think. Quite a few people seem to be thoroughly bored with the lot of it. They end up wishing a plague on both (Israeli and Palestinian) houses.
Pro-Palestinian activists undoubtedly do see Hamas as freedom fighters, and the numbers who agree are bound to increase as Jeremy Corbyn’s influence widens. Many western politicians regard the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as a credible partner for peace, perhaps because they are unaware of his true intentions, though he makes little secret of them. Make no mistake, Mahmoud Abbas says it loud and clear, he wants Israel eliminated and vows he will settle for nothing less. No matter how loudly or how often he says this, the media ignores it or makes sure the true meaning of his words is lost in translation, perhaps assuming everyone would prefer not to know. Like, too much information.
We didn’t see much of Stephen Sackur's HARD talking that the programme promises. It’s all very well claiming that the entire premise of Hamas’s existence is founded on so many falsifications of the actualité that it’s not worth picking up on every single one of them otherwise we’d be here all day. (not that anyone has claimed such a thing) I’m merely preempting possible excuses for a half-hearted performance.
Distilling BBC Watch’s detailed analysis, I offer this:
The introduction includes a list of cruelties inflicted upon Zahar’s family by the Zionists, seemingly for no reason:
“My guest today[…]was imprisoned, deported, his home was targeted, family members – including his son killed.”
“But he and his Hamas colleagues remained committed to an armed struggle whose ultimate objective they characterise as the liberation of all the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. “
The word “But” obfuscates here. It should be “and”.
“To Israel, Hamas is a terrorist organisation and Mr Zahar is a terrorist with blood on his hands.”
To Israel? As Hadar says, Sackur is simply reminding us that 'one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.'
Not everyone knows that Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 so Sackur shouldn’t have let Zahar imply otherwise. Conflicting and confusing BBC reports in the past about the on / off relationship between Hamas and Fatah haven’t been helpful, but at least we now know that there is no reconciliation between the two Palestinian factions. The one thing they do agree on is that they are both committed to a Jew-free ‘Palestine’. I wish a wart on both their noses.
As for Hamas’s new, improved Charter. It isn’t. As far as I know it’s a softened, image-burnishing policy document, not a revised charter.
Zahar attributes the poor quality of life in Gaza to Israel and Trump, and says it has nothing to do with Hamas “management”. This is untrue. He complains that Israel is somehow interfering with “Our human rights in the most important third shrine in Islam, al Aqsa Mosque.” The opposite is the case. Bizarrely it’s actually Jews who aren’t allowed to pray there, and this lie should have been challenged.
More, still. Zahar gets away with accusing Israel of “destroying our medical, our social, our economic life” and says that “nobody is interested about human rights where 2 million Palestinian people are living in this area.”
The BBC has never attempted to rectify this widely believed falsehood. Zahar freely admits that Hamas considers the whole of Israel to be an occupation of Palestinian lands.
“Listen, listen: this [Israel] is Palestine. This is Palestine occupied ’48. Occupied by ’48 by the support and by a built by the British occupation.”
“The people in the West Bank have their right to defend themselves by all means. […]
"We have to defend ourselves by all means in the West Bank in order to avoid the expansion of the settlement not only on Jerusalem but also on the rest of the West Bank.”
Surely the BBC is obliged to challenge the justification of terrorism? Zahar sees Israel’s evacuation (in 2005) of Gaza as a triumph for terrorism. Does that not merit a robust challenge from the BBC? Zahar declares that Israeli Jews are “foreigners”:
“These people left their homeland from America, from Russia and come. For this reason we are against foreign people took our land, violated our rights.”
Even if historically illiterate BBC journalists doubt the Jews’ connection to the land, isn’t this precisely the kind of racism the BBC despises. So why let it go?
As BBC Watch rightly says,
“the fact that Zahar’s lies, omissions, distortions of history and blatantly bigoted messaging falls on ears which for the most part have a poor understanding of the history of the region and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict should have been reason enough for Stephen Sackur to challenge his remarks and at least set the historical record straight for viewers and listeners.”
I’ve already touched on the way the BBC ignored the content of Abbas’s speech.
The media doesn’t want to know.
“For years some of us have argued that Abbas should be considered instead a political and diplomatic pariah. We have said he is a deep-dyed antisemite, having written his “doctoral” thesis on denying the Holocaust. We have drawn attention to his regime teaching its children about seizing the whole of Israel, and that their greatest goal should be to murder Jews.
We have circulated the hideous antisemitic caricatures published in his regime’s media outlets. We have pointed out that he and his henchmen have repeatedly said not one Jew would remain in such a state of Palestine. We have referred to his repeated attempts to write the Jews out of their own history by denying their historic connection to the land of Israel, a central feature of the Jewish religion.
“Now Abbas has come out in his true colours in an utterly vile and deranged speech yesterday to the PLO central council.
“Abbas’s speech should be sent to every member of the British parliament, and the Prime Minister, Theresa May, should be asked how Britain can continue to give any money at all to such open antisemites and Holocaust deniers. She should be asked how the British government can continue to support giving such people a state of their own. She should be asked why the British government has ignored this horrifying reality, and the constant mortal danger it poses for the Israelis, for so long.
But then, many British people will be unaware of the appalling nature of Abbas’s speech since the BBC chose to bowdlerise it…”
A person called Christine Shawcroft has been elected on to the Labour Party committee responsible for dealing with antisemitism, deposing the person who was committed to ferreting it out. It remains to be seen what line the BBC will take over this.