Professor Alan Johnson, Editor of Fathom
Many journalists would like you to believe that the news is created by a kind of algorithm – that it’s a mechanical, even scientific process in which events are inserted, processed, and presented. But of course the news is an imperfect and entirely human affair, the result of interactions between sources, reporters, and editors, all of whom bear the baggage of their background and who reflect, as we all do to some extent, the prejudices of their peers. (…) The international press in Israel had become less an observer of the conflict than a player in it. It had moved away from careful explanation and toward a kind of political character assassination on behalf of the side it identified as being right. It valued a kind of ideological uniformity from which you were not allowed to stray. (…) The voice of the enablers is less honest than that of the perpetrators, and more dangerous for being disguised in respectable English. This voice is confident and growing in volume. This is why the year 2015 finds many Jews in Western Europe eyeing their suitcases again.’ – Matti Friedman, The ideological roots of media bias against Israel, Fathom, Winter 2015.
On 1 April the world woke up to a Hamas propaganda video. It took the form of a BBC ‘interview’ with Khaled Mashaal, the leader of Hamas, and an accompanying ‘analysis’ by the BBC’s Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen. It was so Andrex-puppy-soft, so simperingly unchallenging, so knowingly complicit in helping Hamas to spin to a western audience, that I thought it was an April Fools joke. (It wasn’t.)
When Bowen met Mashaal it was more Susanna Reid than Jeremy Paxman.
Just like the besotted Reid, Jeremy Bowen began with a bit of flirting. “Khaled Mashaal looked to be in good health. ‘Keep fit to keep on resisting,’ Mashaal joked before the interview” Bowen tells us.
(I bet Mashaal was looking chipper. A private gym in Qatar, private jets, luxury hotels and a personal fortune estimated at $2.6 billion will do that for you. And if the Jerusalem Post is correct, Mashaal also owns a 2.5 acre commercial centre in Qatar, which can put a smile on your face.)
Bowen then allowed Mashaal, an anti-Semitic terrorist who has exulted in the killing of Jews as Jews, to preen and pose, without challenge, before a global audience, with the full imprimatur of a respectful BBC, as a heroic Palestinian democrat, a moderate man, a peacemaker, and a reluctant Liberator in the glorious tradition of Nelson Mandela and George Washington.
Bowen even allowed an incitement to go unchallenged. “Netanyahu likes to shed blood” spat Mashaal – an old image about Jews-with-power that has a certain, ahem, history. Bowen didn’t blink. Well, he also spat at Netanyahu recently. ‘Once again Netanyahu plays the Holocaust Card,’ Bowen tweeted, when the Prime Minister pointed out during his speech to the US Congress that the regime-ideology-weapon coming together in Tehran would constitute an existential threat to Israel.)
Preposterous PR poured forth. Bowen allowed Mashaal to claim that Hamas was not Islamist. “Others practice violence under the name of jihad, which we [Hamas] condemn.” A good journalist would have probed: ‘So, why does your Charter begin with this statement: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it”?’ He might have asked Mr. Mashaal to account for this (entirely routine) sermon by a Hamas cleric:
Our belief about fighting you [Jews] is that we will exterminate you, until the last one, and we will not leave of you even one. For you are the usurpers of the land, foreigners, mercenaries of the present and of all times. Look at history, brothers: Wherever there were Jews, they spread corruption… (Quran): “They spread corruption in the land, and Allah does not like corrupters.” Their belief is destructive. Their belief fulfills the prophecy. Our belief is in obtaining our rights on our land, implementing Shari’ah (Islamic law) under Allah’s sky.” Al-Aqsa TV (controlled by Hamas), July 25, 2014.
Bowen didn’t just leave Hamas spin unchallenged. He actually spun for Hamas himself. “Mr Mashaal said he and the group had agreed to accept the boundaries which existed before the 1967 Middle East war as the basis for those of a future Palestinian state” wrote Bowen. But that is just not true. It is, to be frank, Hamas propaganda from the keyboard of the BBC’s Middle East Editor.
Mashaal has publicly and repeatedly vowed not to give up “one inch” of Palestine, and he means all of British mandate Palestine, not just the territories. Bowen knows better. He presented Mashaal as a decent two-stater, frustrated by Israel, but in synch with America. Read Bowen’s crude spin: ‘Mr Mashaal called for a sovereign independent Palestinian state and an end to the occupation of land captured in the 1967 Middle East war. So did the White House chief of staff earlier this week.’
Nonsense. Mashaal is on record as opposing any two state solution: ‘Palestine is ours, from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land. We will never recognise the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take.’
The Hamas Charter rejects all possible compromise with Israel, and all possibility of a negotiated peace in the following terms: ‘There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavours.’
As BBC Watch has pointed out, Mashaal made his true position clear in a BBC interview in February 2013:
Stephen Sackur (BBC): “But I just want to nail down what your current position is on the question of a two state solution to provide a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The Saudi newspaper Al Sharq reported just the other day that you are now prepared to accept a two state solution. You have told this, according to the newspaper, to King Abdullah and you’ve asked King Abdullah to…of Jordan…to relay this message to President Obama. Is that true?”
Masha’al: “This is not true.”
Further, in January 2014, the Jerusalem Post reported an entirely routine rejection of the two state solution by Hamas:
Hamas said it never gave Abbas or anyone else a mandate to agree to the two-state solution. The Islamist group said that in 2006, all Palestinian factions agreed to the establishment of Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines and the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes inside Israel “without recognizing the Zionist entity or its legitimacy on the land of Palestine.” It added that “resistance in all shapes, first and foremost armed struggle, will remain the only effective way to achieve the goals of the Palestinian people and liberate their land.”
Bowen reframed all this for Hamas, doing Hamas’ PR for it. He wrote: ‘Hamas, Mashaal added, was “an active resistance with a just cause, battling the occupier.”’ A proper journalist might have asked what Mashaal meant by ‘the occupation’. He or she might have probed: ‘Isn’t it true that you consider ALL of historic Palestine to be “occupied” land? Doesn’t the Hamas Charter proclaim ALL of Palestine to be “an Islamic Waqf (Endowment) consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgment Day”?
After the recent antisemitic killings in Tolouse, Brussels, Paris, Copenhagen, the BBC interviewed the leader of a viciously antisemitic Middle Eastern organization and failed to raise the issue of antisemitism.
Bowen might have asked Mashaal ‘If your goals are so benign, and so moderate, as you claim, why not revoke those parts of the Hamas Charter which say “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdullah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”? Mr. Mashaal, why do you not revoke those parts of the Charter that accuse Jews ‘with their money’ of being behind “the French Revolution, the Communist revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about, here and there.”’?
Instead, Bowen opted for a ‘Mr. Mashaal, do you have a message for the nation?’ style of ‘interviewing’. Matti Friedman calls this the ‘ideological onslaught successfully disguised as journalism.’ Yesterday, knowingly or not, the BBC was used as a vehicle for Hamas Propaganda. Yesterday, to its shame, the BBC became an enabler.