When a Human Rights Watch (HRW) activist was given two chances on MSNBC to talk about the situation in Israel, she used the word “terrorism” only once. No, not in reference to the mass murder, rape, mutilation, torture, and burning alive of 1,400 Israeli men, women, and children at the hands of Palestinian terrorists. Rather, she used it to describe the Israeli Defense Force’s urging of Gazans to evacuate northern Gaza where the IDF intends to strike hard against those Palestinian terrorists.
HRW’s Sari Bashi was given a chance to speak on Ali Velshi’s show, followed by the chance to publish an article on MSNBC.com. In both cases, Bashi displayed not just a shocking moral perversion, but an aversion to factual accuracy typical of her organization. In both cases, Bashi’s lies and deceptions were left entirely unchallenged by MSNBC.
Let’s begin with the moral perversion. Bashi didn’t use the word “terror” to describe the actions of Palestinian terrorist organizations, notwithstanding the overwhelming evidence of their atrocities and their intention to specifically target civilians and even children. Grotesquely, she instead used it to describe the IDF’s efforts to get Gazan civilians out of harm’s way:
[T]he laws of war prohibit ‘threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population.’ Calls to evacuate that are not genuine warnings but rather primarily intended to cause panic among residents, or compel them to leave their homes for reasons other than their safety, are prohibited. The sweeping nature of the Israeli government’s order and the impossibility of safe compliance raise concerns that the purpose is not to protect civilians, but rather to terrify them into leaving their homes. An Israel Defense Forces spokesman’s statement that those who evacuated northern Gaza were ‘doing the clever thing’ heightens concerns about how Israeli forces will treat the civilians who stay put.
Bashi’s conspiracy theory is seemingly based on nothing but a hunch, and it turns reality on its head. In doing so, she provides rhetorical support for a terrorist organization’s efforts to put civilians in harm’s way.
Put aside her conspiratorial inversion of an IDF spokesperson’s statement, as if he was a cartoon supervillain steepling his fingers as he said it. Bashi is sending the precise message being given out by Hamas, which is actively trying to prevent civilians from evacuating (as did ISIS in Mosul). Echoing the same conspiratorial claim, Hamas called the IDF’s urging of evacuation “disgusting psychological war waged by the occupation.”
By fueling Hamas’s conspiracy theory, Bashi – a supposed “human rights” activist – is only encouraging Gazans to remain in harm’s way, something that benefits only Palestinian terrorist organizations. As explained in this analysis by the distinguished expert on the law of armed conflict, Michael N. Schmitt:
Reduced to basics, an assessment of Israel’s warnings to evacuate requires a comparison of two alternatives: an urban assault into an area full of civilians; and evacuation into a place that is not fully prepared to accommodate them… Given this reality, it is bewildering that humanitarian organizations are not encouraging the civilian population to move away from what will be a destructive and deadly urban battle, in which telling the difference between fighters and civilians is particularly difficult, especially considering Hamas’s past tactics of operating near civilians, engaging in perfidy, and failing to distinguish themselves from civilians. Along the same lines, it is mystifying that humanitarian organizations are not condemning Hamas’s efforts to keep the civilians in place.
But Bashi’s moral perversion doesn’t end there. Distorting the facts, she used her platform to place the blame for the October 7 massacre on Israel, saying: “I think it’s really important for people to understand that the horrific attacks of last Saturday, October 7th, they didn’t take place in a vacuum.” Bashi then immediately began to tie Hamas’s brutal slaughter of men, women, and children to “unprecedented” settler violence against Palestinians.
Of course, what Bashi failed to mention is that while there has been a growth in “settler violence,” that growth was largely preceded by and has been dramatically outpaced by Palestinian attacks on Israelis in the West Bank. Bashi’s attempt to turn the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust into a story about Jewish violence thus falls flat, factually speaking.
But, as CAMERA has repeatedly documented, HRW activists are never satisfied with just one or two lies. Bashi’s dishonesty pervaded throughout.
After making violence against Jews about Jewish violence, Bashi also attempted to make genocidal hatred of Jews about Jewish racism. Goaded by Velshi, Bashi began claiming that she, an Israeli Jew, is treated differently than her Palestinian husband because Israel is an “apartheid” state. Bashi claimed, “So I have an Israeli ID card and I’m an Israeli Jew, so that means that I can move and travel pretty freely.” Israel, she told the audience, has “a stated policy to take over large chunks of land for Israeli Jews only…” She even threw in her nine-year old daughter, claiming that she understands that “Jews can and Palestinians can’t” go through checkpoints.
These boring old deceptions have been repeatedly exposed. Israeli law does not discriminate between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. Israeli law prohibits designating land for Jews only (though it allows designating land for the benefit of Bedouin Arabs). Bashi’s husband is treated differently because he is not an Israeli citizen. If her husband were a Muslim Israeli Arab, he would be permitted to do everything that Bashi is allowed to do in the State of Israel. Policies that distinguish on the basis of citizenship are not only entirely legitimate, they exist everywhere and are the very essence of sovereignty.
Bashi also attempted to depict Israel’s siege of Gaza as “collective punishment.” In doing so, she relied on her audience being ignorant of the law. Siege law can be complicated, but Bashi didn’t bother engaging with it. Instead, she threw around baseless claims to slander the State of Israel, relying on the fact that MSNBC didn’t bring anyone on to challenge her misrepresentations. Such is the modus operandi of HRW.
It is thus worth hearing what actual experts have to say on the subject. “Siege,” explains legal expert and U.S. Military Academy Professor Sean Watts, “is an essential aspect of modern military operations.” As Thomas Wheatley, another expert from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, recently wrote, “Israel’s siege of Gaza does not violate the law of armed conflict or international law… Sieges are not prohibited under either the law of armed conflict or public international law…” Legal experts Avi Bell and Erielle Davidson, who agree Israel’s siege does not violate the law of armed conflict, similarly explain: “Both the Geneva and Hague conventions include instructions on conducting sieges under international law, recognizing they may be effective tools for bringing a conflict to a rapid and successful end.”
Bashi’s distortion of the laws of armed conflict are not harmless. As Geoffrey S. Corn and Rachel E. VanLandingham, two experts on the law, wrote in 2021:
Hamas’ exploitation of the widespread misunderstanding of international law undermines the legitimacy of the law for all nations, not just Israel. When the law-abider faces strategic condemnation for following the law while the lawbreaker reaps rewards, the law’s efficacy is eroded. And the irony is palpable: one party to the conflict—the IDF—seeks to mitigate the risk to Gaza civilians and their property as best as it can under the circumstances; the other party to the conflict, Hamas, not only deliberately attacks Israeli civilians, but intentionally exposes its own civilians to the deadly consequences of the hostilities it provokes itself. In truth, it is Hamas—and only Hamas—that is illegally attacking civilians. But it is always Israel that is condemned. So Hamas should be careful what it asks for. At some point, Israel may decide to endure the international criticism based on false factual and legal narratives and defend itself as most law-abiding nations would: by destroying Hamas’ ability to threaten Israel in the future. If that happens, it will be Hamas that bears responsibility for any tragic suffering that results. (Emphasis added)
The extreme anti-Israel bias of both MSNBC and HRW, and their long-distance relationship with factual reality, has long been known. But what is clear from this episode is that this isn’t about some overzealous focus on the plight of Palestinians. Bashi’s attacks on Israel for attempting to get as many civilians out of harm’s way as possible suggests she cares little for their lives.
Rather, this seems to be more about hatred of the State of Israel.