By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Hamas, the Times and the T-word

Boston Globe alumnus Anne Barnard reports on Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam of the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero, in today’s New York Times. It’s an excellent piece of work, and provides further evidence that hatemongers like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich have it all wrong.

But an editor should have flagged one section near the end as needing a disclosure on the part of the Times. Barnard reports that Abdul Rauf has come under fire in some quarters for refusing to refer to Hamas as a “terrorist organization.”

Referring to a radio interview, Barnard writes that Adbul Rauf “clumsily tries to say that people around the globe define terrorism differently and labeling any group would sap his ability to build bridges. He also says: ‘Targeting civilians is wrong. It is a sin in our religion,’ and, ‘I am a supporter of the state of Israel.'”

It seems to me that someone should have inserted a parenthetical noting that the Times, too, declines to use the T-word when describing Hamas. Here’s what then-public editor Clark Hoyt wrote in 2008:

To the consternation of many, The Times does not call Hamas a terrorist organization, though it sponsors acts of terror against Israel. Hamas was elected to govern Gaza. It provides social services and operates charities, hospitals and clinics. Corbett said: “You get to the question: Somebody works in a Hamas clinic — is that person a terrorist? We don’t want to go there.” I think that is right.

Whether you think the Times’ policy is right or wrong, it would have been useful to point out that Abdul Rauf’s reluctance is shared by our leading newspaper.

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  1. Christian Avard

    After the Helen Thomas debacle, I hope this one goes a lot better. I’m here for a civil discussion, not a pissing match or an “I’m right, you’re wrong” scenario.

    I think Clark Hoyt and The New York Times did the right thing. What concerns me about today’s journalism is once a person or a group is labeled a “terrorist, ” “a terrorist organization,” or “a terrorist state,” many journalists no longer feel compelled to accurately portray their views. This happens a lot when covering the Mideast and the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

    Hamas is the democratically-elected leadership of the people in Gaza and they’re recognized in fair and free elections as having been elected by a majority of nations around the world. Hamas leadership has indicated they have been ready to make significant political changes, but the U.S. and Israel continues to attack and isolate this group (which is wrong IMO).

    According to journalist Reece Ehrlich, author of “Conversations With Terrorists: Midde East Leaders On Politics, Violence, and Empire,” what we don’t hear is that Hamas does not want to wipe Israel “off the map” but wants to engage in serious negotiations and to recognize Israel within the pre-1967 borders. Khaled Meshal, chair of the Hamas Political Bureau, is a realist and he knows Hamas cannot do that and they never will try to do such a thing. What we also don’t hear about is that Hamas does not want to seek an Islamic state, contrary to what we hear about in the American media. Hamas has evolved since 1987 and a sizable majority of Palestinians support a secular rather than Islamic state.

    Hamas has engaged in terrorism. We know that. But they also haven’t engaged in suicide bombings since 2005. Former CIA officer Robert Baer said “Israelis are relatively safer, not because of the [apartheid] wall they built … but because Hamas made a conscious decision to end suicide attacks.” Qassams do fire into Israel. But they are not necessarily from Hamas. They are from militant groups/organizations who disagree with Hamas, probably from the Army of Islam; the Warriors of God; Ansar al-Sunna, a small, al-Qaida-inspired Salafist militant group; or other fractional separatist groups. Those groups have claimed responsibility for recent Qassam attacks.

    According to my friend and former colleague Mohammed Omer, Hamas is serious about adhering to the cease fire and they are willing to commit violence against those who violate the cease fire (sad to say). Hamas is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination (internally and externally) and I’m not excusing them for their past deeds. But Hamas is slowly evolving, just like the IRA did. Look where the IRA is today. Hamas is trying to do the same, albeit it has a long, long way to go.

    Keep in mind Dan, Zionists committed acts has committed acts of terrorism against the British and the Arabs in the 1940s. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Stern Gang and Irgun and that two key people in those terrorist organizations were Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, two former PMs of Israel. We never saw that same kind of scrutiny as we do with groups or organizations that oppose or resist American foreign policy and that of its allies. Ehrlich wrote “the Jewish terrorists became a legitimate part of the Israeli political system. Will Hamas be any different?” I think that’s a valid point.

    America has committed acts of terrorism too but I won’t get into the details. I think American foreign policy makers and the CIA deserve the same amount of scrutiny, but they don’t.

    The point is the definition of a terrorist should not depend on “who’s throwing the bomb” or whether they disagree with the foreign policy of the U.S. and its allies. Journalists have a responsibility to accurately portray what is terrorism and who are terrorists. Ehrlich said “Hamas is a resistance group (just like the IRA was) with legitimate demands and a popular base support. They should be treated seriously, not vilified as terrorists.” Especially when the U.S. and Israel have committed the same kinds of ruthless acts against others it disagrees with. Journalists need to be consistent on describing who engages in terrorist acts. That includes our nation and our allies as well.

    Now let’s have a respectful and engaging dialogue. Please.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Christian: I’m going to ask you a yes or no question. Please answer it yes or no. Do you recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state within defensible borders — roughly speaking, the pre-1967 borders? Your answer will determine (at least in my mind) whether a respectful and engaging dialogue is possible.

  2. Christian Avard

    I prefer a one-state solution but I’m willing to support a two-state solution pre-’67 borders and a right of return for all refugees. So the answer to your question is “yes.”

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Christian: I would suggest that the right of return is incompatible with Israel’s remaining a Jewish state. But now I know what your baseline is.

  3. Christian Avard

    OK, so what then for the refugees? Shall they remain homeless? I’m only asking. Look, I’m really not trying to act like a smart-*** but dismissing their human rights is not and should not be an excuse for the existence of a Jewish state. I say that because it’s a violation of Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Fourth Geneva Conventions. No one’s human rights should be violated at the expense of others. Period.

    I accept a Jewish state but a Jewish state cannot deny Palestinians their right of return, nor should the existence of a Jewish state be an excuse to violate international law and implement apartheid conditions and policies. That to me is reality and the crux of the situation.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Christian: After World War II, eastern Germany was given to Poland, and Germans who had lived in one spot for many generations were kicked out. Should they have the right to return? How about the mass migrations that took place after India was partitioned around the same time? We could go on and on and on with similar situations around the world. I am not asking you to dismiss anyone’s human rights. I am suggesting that you are far more interested in the human rights of those who posit themselves as victims of Israel than of anyone else.

      I’m going to take a chance and link to this article in Wikipedia in the hopes that it is as reliable as it appears to be, based on the footnotes and references. It begins:

      The Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim lands refers to the 20th century mass departure of Jews, primarily of Sephardi and Mizrahi background, from Arab and Islamic countries. The migration started in the late 19th century and peaked following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Between 800,000-1,000,000 Jews were expelled or left their homes in Arab countries due to persecution and anti-Semitism.

  4. Christian Avard

    Oops. I meant Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his country.”

    As far as Hamas goes, I’d recommend Helena Cobban’s great pieces at her blog Just World News for more perspective.

  5. Mike Stucka

    Can I throw in a plug for two very different books that both try to give a fair shake on this subject?
    “The Lemon Tree” by Sandy Tolan
    “Palestine” by Joe Sacco

    Though those two books helped me understand a good bit more about the Israel/Palestine situation, they also helped me understand just how much more I’ll never be able to understand. =)

    (And if you like “The Lemon Tree,” “Articles of Faith” by Cynthia Gorney is an equally insightful book about a difficult subject.)

  6. BP Myers

    Don’t disagree necesssarily with anything that’s been said in this thread.

    Guess I’d just add my opinion that the whole “recognizing the right of Israel to exist” argument is a canard. Israel is not so uncertain of itself that it needs others to recognize their right to exist.

    Israel exists, and is not going anywhere. The argument that others (e.g. Hamas or Iran) need to “recognize their right” to exist as a precondition before moving forward is simply an excuse not to engage.

  7. Neil Sagan

    Dan believes right of return is an existential issue for Israel and decides to make it the litmus test of a reasonable discussion. Christian deftly sidesteps that construct and shows Dan that reasonable people can discuss that question too.

    Right of return is often thought of as a zero sum game. That’s a fallacy, it does not have to be but it is antithetical to Israel’s Palestinian policy – drive the Palestinians out of Israel.

    I have relatives by marriage who are Palestinian (a sister in law’s brother in law), who used to live in Israel and still own land there, land that stretches from Jerusalem to the ocean. Now they live in Amman, Jordan and cannot return.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Neil: I most definitely have not made the right of return a black-and-white issue, but I have challenged @Christian to explain why Israel is uniquely responsible to grant such a right. @Christian has also told us, quite clearly, that his preference is a one-state solution — i.e., the elimination of Israel, as the late Tony Judt honestly admitted.

  8. Christian Avard

    *** I am suggesting that you are far more interested in the human rights of those who posit themselves as victims of Israel than of anyone else. ***

    Well, I’ll disagree. I care just as much about human rights abuses carried out by Arab governments in Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and Hamas. The Goldstone Report made that clear that Hamas committed human rights abuses during Operation Cast Lead and that’s not acceptable. The perpetrators should be held accountable as well as Israeli soliders who also committed likewise crimes. No side gets a break from what they did. But I digress…

    *** After World War II, eastern Germany was given to Poland, and Germans who had lived in one spot for many generations were kicked out. Should they have the right to return? How about the mass migrations that took place after India was partitioned around the same time? We could go on and on and on with similar situations around the world. ***

    You’re right. We could go round and round and you make a good observation. I just think comparing one situation to another wouldn’t necessarily be the right or the appropriate way to go about discussing this. Each situation is different and comparing this to that IMO would compromise the accuracy of each situaiton. I can only speak for Israel-Palestine because that is the one I identify with most. Bringing other scenarios into the picture, in my mind, detracts from the defining qualities of this particular case.

    As for the claim of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews and why Israel is uniquely responsible, Palestinian researcher Dr. Salman Abu Sitta argues that Israel’s claims of compensation “are calculated to dwarf any possible Palestinian claims” and “the two issues are totally unrelated.” Sitta said the following:

    First, the Right of Return is an inalienable right recognized and confirmed repeatedly by the international community, through innumerable resolutions. There is no such recognition for the other case. Second, the claims of Sephardic Jews should be addressed to the countries of their former residence, Arab and non-Arab. The Palestinians have nothing to do with it. Third, the Right of Return and compensation is demanded from Israel, not from any Arab country. Therefore, offsetting claims does not arise. Fourth, the Israelis arranged the transfer of the Sephardic Jews, after the Israeli invasion was completed, in order to populate the very towns and villages from which Palestinians were expelled, as Ben Gurion admits (see Tom Segev). As such, these new immigrants are beneficiaries of the Palestinian dispossession. Hence they should pay compensation, not receive it. Frequently, Israeli agents bombed Jewish homes to scare them off. Those Jews abandoned their Arab citizenship voluntarily. Others had foreign passports. Those who wish to return are free to apply to the countries of their former residence.

    So I think the verdict is still out on that claim.

    I think this discussion may be going off topic. I originally posted about a weakspot in journalism when journalists no longer feel compelled to accurately portray an individual, group, or state when the get the “terrorist,” “terrorist organization,” or “terrorist state” label thrown at them.

    As I’ve said, Hamas is not perfect. Far from it. Also, if Jewish and Irish terrorists (or other groups) became a legitimate part of their respective political systems, why can’t Hamas? They have shown to move away from their armed resistance and rhetoric and move toward a more conciliatory fashion. Mind you while I just described a pattern here, I am still viewing this as a case by case basis. Just to be clear and consistent with what I’m trying to argue.

  9. Bob Gardner

    I think the right to return is a universal right. I haven’t been able to come up with a current situation where it shouldn’t apply. Can anyone come up with an example?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Bob: Rather than trying to think of a situation in which the right of return shouldn’t apply, it might be more useful to think of one in which it has actually been implemented. Hmmm … thinking … thinking … thinking. Just another case in which Israel is uniquely held out for criticism. Now, if you’ll excuse me, we’re going to pack and go back to Europe so that a Native American family can have our house.

  10. Christian Avard

    *** Just another case in which Israel is uniquely held out for criticism. ***

    I’ll respectfully disagree. I think that defense has been used many times by many people to shield Israel from accountability. Are there other situations where the right of return is a major dilemma? Of course. But so much focus is on Israel because Israel has been excused or exempted from breaking international legal norms many times and it receives preferential treatment from two of the most powerful political players in the international arena, the U.S. and the E.U.

    From the Palestinian perspective, Zionism and the founding of a Jewish state has meant exile and subjugation. So of course they will single out Israel – as will those who support a Jewish state. Ben White, author of “Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide” writes “You wouldn’t hear a Tibetan activist being accused of ‘singling out China’ – so why should Palestinians or their supporters be treated any differently, just because it’s Israel?”

    I think White brings up a valid point.

    • Dan Kennedy

      “Are there other situations where the right of return is a major dilemma? Of course.”

      Can you name one?

  11. Christian Avard

    Bosnia Herzogovina, Kosovo, Tadjikistan, East Timor and others. I’d also add in there South Africa during apartheid. The Right of Return was a primary issue as well.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Christian: Thank you for making my point. None of those situations is in the news. No one is calling for boycotts – least of all you. The one country that is singled out for torment, over and over, is Israel. It’s indisputable.

  12. Christian Avard

    OK. But but no one is calling for boycotts because Serbian leaders Radovan Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic faced war crimes. Justice was pursued and they were held accountable. No one was calling for boycotts against Indonesia, England, South Africa, and other areas cited in the study because peace agreements (and voting rights in South Africa) were established. There are no boycotts because they have been resolved (for the most part).

    So the big question is why is Israel stonewalling from accountability? The focus is on Israel because Israeli government and military leaders choose to evade international law and their allies enable them. That’s the point. Now you see why there’s a growing boycott movement. Israel, especially the Zionists, put themselves in the position they’re in today.

    As I’ve said before, I care about human rights situations abroad, especially anyone or any institution that does not uphold and stand by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including Hamas and other Arab Nations. But I have to agree with Ben White on this one. “To complain that Israel is being ‘singled out’ is at best illogical, and at worst, a deliberate attempt to shield Israel from criticism (itself a form of ‘singling out’).”

    We’ll have to agree to disagree.

  13. Christian Avard

    Just to clarify and conclude: I’m not demonizing Israel. I’m criticizing it. There’s a big difference there. The way I see it, for Israel to be a Jewish state, the Palestinians must accept continued dispossession and second-class status in their own country. That’s not a recipe for a lasting peace for the Palestinians or Jewish Israelis and I think that’s the major crux of the two-state solution.

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