In 2006, Johann Hari, an up-and-coming writer known for his praise of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, became a regular contributor to the leftist British newspaper, the Independent. Burnishing his radical bona fides, Hari has taken up the cudgel against Israel, proffering spurious accounts of events and consistently misrepresenting the terms and intent of key resolutions and agreements central to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
His contempt for factual accuracy positions Hari as a potential successor to Robert Fisk, the Independent‘s veteran anti-Israel correspondent.
Hari’s writing also typifies a growing trend that merges anti-Zionist rhetoric with traditional anti-Jewish themes. Like many Europeans on the far left, Hari speaks out of both sides of his mouth on the subject of the Jews. He condemns traditional anti-Semitism, but employs crude anti-Jewish themes to bolster his anti-Israel agenda.
For example, a pre-Christmas 2006 column, dressed up as an appeal for a Palestinian charity, would make an early nineteenth century Eastern European pogromist proud. He writes:
In two days, a third of humanity will gather to celebrate the birth pains of a Palestinian refugee in Bethlehem – but two millennia later, another mother in another glorified stable in this rubble-strewn, locked-down town is trying not to howl. (“‘What would happen if the Virgin Mary came to Bethlehem today?” Dec. 23, 2006)
Here Hari taps into the campaign led by the Palestinian Sabeel Institute that seeks to replace the Jewish roots of Christianity with Palestinian victimhood while casting Israel in the image of the Roman persecutors. In this revision, Mary is transformed from a Jewish woman into a Palestinian refugee.
The alleged circumstances that Hari recounts paint the Israelis as brute oppressors. He claims it is a “nightmare to be pregnant in the West Bank today,” adding: “They have been giving birth in startlingly similar conditions to those suffered by Mary 2,000 years ago.”
The facts underscore the absurdity of such statements.
A United Nations report by Palestinian researchers cited a UNICEF study that identified an infant mortality rate of more than 100 per 1000 live births when Israel first began to administer the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in 1967 (Hassan Abu-Libdeh and others, 1992). Under Israeli rule, the Palestinian infant mortality rate fell to 22.3 per 1000 by 2000 (CIA Factbook, 2000) and dropped again to 19.2 per 1000 by 2006 (CIA Factbook, 2006).
But facts do not get in the way of Hari’s need to tell a good story about alleged Jewish callousness. (The only father identified in Hari’s Dec. 23 piece is conveniently named Joseph.)
Misrepresenting Past Agreements, Resolutions
In “If Israel and its Western Allies Break Hamas, They Will Face an Even Deadlier Foe” (Dec. 18), Hari offers the familiar claim that Palestinian fanaticism is a natural response to harsh Israeli policies. Ironically, he interviews an Islamic Jihad terrorist whose home is adorned with pictures of Osama bin Laden, Chechen fighters, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and a London tube bomber – none of whose terrorist activity was related to the Palestinians. Nevertheless, he cites Israel’s alleged failure to close a deal with generations of Palestinian leadership as the root of terror.
To support his contention, Hari misrepresents the positions of the Palestinian leadership, past and present, and Israeli peace offers. He writes that,
Yasser Arafat endorsed a two-state solution, but couldn’t accept a forever-and-always string of Bantustans bisected by Israeli settler-only roads as his half of the deal – so they rocketed and shelled the old man’s compound until he died.
Hari ignores Israel’s July 2000 proposal at Camp David to give up 95 percent of the West Bank to form a fully contiguous Palestinian state and he omits the detail that Arafat sealed his rejection of the offer by initiating a new round of violence. His image of Israel rocketing and shelling Arafat’s compound until he died is fanciful hyperbole. Arafat occupied the compound for five years during the second round of violence between Israel and the Palestinians, encircled – but rarely threatened – by the outside Israeli presence. He eventually died of natural causes after a lengthy illness that was unrelated to any bombardment.
With respect to the current Palestinian leadership, Hari urges Israel to accept Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s offer of a temporary cease-fire, even though Haniyeh has repeatedly promised that he will never recognize Israel’s right to exist. In his Dec. 14 piece (“Will Gaza, like Iraq, descend into civil war?”), Hari warns Israel not to refuse Haniyeh’s “hudna” offer, stating, “if [the Palestinians’] democratic will is treated with contempt by humiliating Hamas, this historical window will close.” (Interestingly, though Hari expresses concern about “humiliating Hamas,” he has no reaction to the statement by Hamas’s political chief Khaled Meshaal that “before Israel dies it must be humiliated” (Aljazeerah, Feb. 3, 2006)).
Arguing that Hamas is supposedly reconciliatory, Hari falsely claims that Hamas honored the cease-fire announced in January 2006 and that Haniyeh has offered to “build two peacefully co-existing states, with no mutual violence.” Similarly, two weeks after the cross border Hamas attack in which two Israeli soldiers were killed and one was kidnapped, Hari writes on July 10 that Hamas has “made clear signals that they would accept peace with Israel after all.” Again, he ignored the numerous public statements by Hamas leaders categorically rejecting any possibility of recognizing the Jewish state.
The facts are of little interest to Hari also when it comes to key UN resolutions, wrongly asserting that Israel is required to “withdraw to the internationally recognised 1967 borders,” as stipulated “under international law.” In a May 8, 2006 piece, Hari errs,
The Palestinians can legally demand a return of all refugees and their descendants ethnically cleansed in 1948, an immediate and unconditional withdrawal to the 1967 borders, and full compensation for their years of horror. (“Israel’s ‘peace plan’ is a road to nowhere”)
Either Hari is ignorant of the relevant UN resolutions or he is engaging in revisionist history.
As one of the framers of UN Resolution 242, former British UN ambassador Lord Caradon, stated when asked whether Israel was required to withdraw to the pre- June 4, 1967 lines, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.”
UN Resolution 194, which deals with refugees (both Arab and Jewish) displaced as a result of the Arabs’ 1948 attempt to eliminate the nascent Jewish state does not, as he claims, require an immediate return of all refugees and their descendants. Nor does Hari mention that the Arab states rejected the resolution, precisely because it did not establish a “right of return” and because acceptance would have required implicit recognition of Israel’s right to exist.
For Hari, a gripping story trumps a truthful representation of the situation. He relates how the Islamic Jihad terrorist he interviews “described how he slashed the throats of four female Israeli soldiers in an illegal settlement in 2002, and he chuckled as he described how they cried for their mothers.”
However, the terrorist’s gruesome deed appears to be an idle boast; no such incident occurred.
Hari’s tells another falsehood about Palestinian violence when he claims that Palestinians resort to violence only when peaceful protest fails. On Dec. 14, 2006, Hari writes, “Every time the Palestinians have peacefully protested or negotiated, they have been choked further.” Of his interview subjects, he avers: “They saw their parents peacefully protest, and the Israeli troops be ordered to ‘break their bones as punishment.’”
Hari does not specify which alleged peaceful protests he has in mind. However, the protests that today’s terrorists would have observed as children are those associated with the first “intifada” during the years 1987-1993. The first “intifada” was hardly peaceful, costing the lives of over 160 Israelis and 2000 Palestinians, nearly half of whom were killed by fellow Palestinians on charges of collaborating with Israel (Palestine Human Rights Monitoring Group Report, 2002).
Ignoring Palestinian Incitement
Avoiding any discussion of the lifelong indoctrination to which Palestinians are exposed, Hari falls back on the politically correct explanation that sees Palestinian hatred as a reflexive response to Israeli wrongs committed against them. That Hari should hold this point of view is not surprising since this is the gospel he has learned from two Israelis he admires – the “heroic” Gideon Levy, a columnist at Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper, and the “brave” Ilan Pappe, a Haifa University history professor – who have for years defamed Israel and provided cover for non-Jewish enemies of Israel. While Pappe’s writings have been discredited by scholars and Levy is reviled by many of his countrymen as an apologist for Palestinian terrorism, to Hari, these two fringe extremists are icons and mentors.
In a Dec. 14, 2006, column, Hari quotes Levy:
Without anyone paying attention, the Gaza Strip has become the most closed-off strip of land in the world – after North Korea.” The Israeli army has been ordered to seal the borders of Gaza since June, making it almost impossible to get anyone — or anything – in or out.
Hari’s reliance on Levy likely results in his failure to notice that Egypt and the Palestinians control one of Gaza’s borders. Nor, obviously, does he acknowledge the reason for Israel’s closure of its border with Gaza – the on-going threat of terrorism.
As for the claim no one is “paying attention,” Israel’s detractors frequently bemoan the alleged lack of attention paid to the Palestinians despite the extensive space dedicated to the issue in major publications like the Independent. Indeed, the attention lavished on the Palestinian issues surpasses any other trouble spot in the world, including places like Darfur and the Congo, where the desperation vastly exceeds that of the Palestinians.
Hari’s understanding of the conflict is also hampered by his ignorance of the history which predates his own life experiences. “It took a very long time to rouse the Palestinians to violence and produce these pathologies,” he writes, oblivious to the long history of Arab violence against Jews and among themselves. Were Hari interested in a fair or objective understanding of the conflict he might familiarize himself with the eyewitness accounts of journalist Pierre Van Paassen, who described the Hebron pogrom of 1929 in which 67 Jews perished and the murderous campaign in the 1930s by Islamic extremists against moderate Arabs (That Day Alone, 1939, and Forgotten Ally, 1943).
When Hari does touch on pre-1948 history, he mangles it. In a Nov. 13, 2006 piece entitled “Ethnic cleansing returns to Israel’s agenda,” Hari provides an incomplete and partially invented quotation by Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to claim that Israel has long had a policy of ethnic cleansing:
I support compulsory transfer. I do not see in it anything immoral … The Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as a war.
The first part of the alleged quote is taken out of context. Efraim Karsh, in his critique of a book by Israeli historian Benny Morris, quoted from the record of the Jewish Agency Executive meeting on June 12, 1937 (“Falsifying the Record: Benny Morris, David Ben-Gurion and the ‘Transfer’ Idea,” Israel Affairs, V4, No. 2, Winter 1997, p52-53). It reads as follows:
I saw in the Peel Plan [proposed by England] two positive things: the ideas of state and compulsory transfer. I support compulsory transfer. I don’t see in it anything immoral, but compulsory transfer can only be effected by England and not by the Jews… Not only is it inconceivable for us to carry it out, but it is also inconceivable for us to propose it. (Emphasis added.)
Morris, who is mentioned in Hari’s column, denounces Hari’s writing as a misrepresentation of what he wrote. In a letter published in the Independent on Nov. 21, 2006, Morris writes that Hari “misrepresents my views, while peddling numerous historical errors.” Morris then points out that the second half of the alleged quote — that “The Arabs will have to go … such as a war” — “is an invention, pure and simple, either by Hari or by whomever he is quoting (Ilan Pappe?)”
Hari’s disdain for Israel is again apparent when lectures in a May 8, 2006 column:
So Israel is about to need all the friends it can get in an indefinite nuclear stand-off with a man who calls for the country’s “annihilation.” That is when hard pressure and bribery from the US and EU will be essential. But how forthcoming will this support be if Israel continues with a policy of unilateral theft of Palestinian land and water resources, leaving the Palestinians with a glorified Native American reservation in the centre of the West Bank? If Israel does not act now to make itself morally defensible, it may find itself no longer practically defensible — and soon.
Either Israel accepts Hari’s dictates about what is “morally defensible,” or it may face annihilation, the journalist’s arguement goes. No doubt, Johann Hari regards himself as so enlightened and progressive as to be an authority on what is morally defensible. But behind his warning one detects a strong whiff of traditional hostility to Jewish assertiveness. He may be a new face at the Independent, but Hari’s views are age-old.