John Oliver on danger that Hamas will repeat 10/7 Attack: Oh well!

On November 13, John Oliver demonstrated why the comedy-as-news business has jumped the shark. On his HBO program, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” Oliver ranted for about half an hour about the current war in Israel and Gaza. But his understanding of events, as well as his analysis of the war itself, is as tenuous as that of a grade schooler. 

Oliver did not even mention the many times that the Palestinians have been offered independence and rejected it, instead trying to blame now-Prime Minister Netanyahu for the failure of the Oslo peace process. Nor did he mention the 2005 disengagement from Gaza. Not only Israeli troops but Israeli civilians who were living in Gaza were removed, in some cases forcibly, by their own government, and the Palestinians of Gaza were left with a greenhouse agricultural business, a beautiful coastline for tourism, and the opportunity to chart their own course for the future. In the context of this segment, this is an omission that is either shockingly dishonest or shows a shocking ignorance.  

The culmination of Oliver’s diatribe, towards the end at about 28 minutes into the segment, was a call for a ceasefire, including the following:

There are those like Mideast peace expert Harvey Levin who will say, and not wrongly, that there are real dangers to a ceasefire, that Hamas might regroup once the bombing stops. Although that’s arguably gonna be a danger whenever it stops. So why not stop right now?

Oliver, of course, was mocking Harvey Levin, the founder and executive producer of celebrity-gossip site TMZ. But perhaps Oliver should do some introspection. Levin is certainly no less qualified on this topic than Oliver himself, as his many inaccurate remarks detailed below attest.

More to the point, these superficially peace-loving words hide a deep, deep callousness toward Jewish life. Because both in this passage and earlier, when mentioning Ghazi Hamad, Oliver acknowledges that, if given the chance, Hamas will attack again, and then basically says, “oh well!” Israelis, we are meant to understand, must simply live with the danger of adults and children being killed, raped, tortured, dismembered, or taken hostage en masse. Too bad for the Jews, he implies, but there’s simply nothing to be done!

Notwithstanding a few individuals with fringe views that Oliver elevates, Israeli officials from across the political spectrum have made clear that the goal of the war is to destroy Hamas so that a repeat of the October 7 massacre will not, in fact, be a danger in the future. But Oliver prefers that Israel stop now and leave Hamas – who, as even Oliver admits, represses the people of Gaza as well – in place.

Oliver’s correct assertion that there is a distinction between Hamas and the people of Gaza, as well as his long but facile explanation of the lack of control Gaza civilians have over their government, both miss the point, which is simply this: In the wake of the October 7 massacre, Israelis can no longer be expected to live with Hamas on their border. Unless the people of Gaza turn over Hamas members to the IDF and stop allowing themselves to be used as human shields, Israel has a right to remove Hamas by any means necessary.

That this is an unspeakable tragedy for the people of Gaza is undoubtedly true. Those who are truly concerned should be calling on Hamas to end the bloodshed by immediately surrendering. Instead, Oliver effectively is calling on Israel – the party that was attacked – to do so.

Oliver’s many other inaccuracies, distortions and material omissions about the conflict include:

  • Using Hamas casualty figures without caveat.
  • Asserting that settlements “are widely understood to be against international law,” when in fact there is no consensus on the matter, and in any event, law is not decided by what is “widely understood.”
  • He claimed that, “in response [to the October 7 attack], Israel has launched what’s now become a month-long siege of Gaza, cutting off nearly all water, food, electricity, and fuel to the territory.” But just two weeks before his segment, the New York Times admitted that Hamas had food, water and fuel stockpiled.
  • He said, “I’m not going to get into the thousands of years of generational trauma informing the response to this, including the Holocaust, and the Nakba, or mass violent displacement of Palestinians, during and after Israel’s founding.” Of course there was no mass violent displacement of Palestinians at Israel’s founding. While some Palestinians may have been expelled, most fled from a war that Arab nations started along with their Palestinian Arab allies. This also puts the Holocaust on equal footing with an event of the Palestinian Arabs’ own making. 
  • While Oliver mentioned some of Hamas leader Ghazi Hamad’s comments, he omitted the worst part. He said, “This senior Hamas official, Ghazi Hamad, recently doubled down on the massacre of October 7 by saying, ‘We must teach Israel a lesson, and we will do it twice, and three times.’” But Hamad was even more specific, also saying, “the Al-Aqsa Flood [i.e., the October 7 attack] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth, because we have the determination, the resolve, and the capabilities to fight. Will we have to pay a price? Yes, and we are ready to pay it. We are called a nation of martyrs, and we are proud to sacrifice martyrs.”
  • Oliver further claimed that, “even if all Palestinians in Gaza did support Hamas, which they do not, the relentless bombings of civilians there would still be abhorrent. Collective punishment is a war crime.” But collective punishment is not what is happening. The term “collective punishment” is specifically defined. A bombing campaign targeted towards fighters that, however tragically, civilians are caught up in, does not constitute “collective punishment.” If it did, all war would be a “war crime” and the term would become meaningless.
  • Oliver says that “this country has emphatically picked a side. In recent years, we’ve given Israel $3.8 billion a year in military aid.” But the US has also given hundreds of millions of dollars to the Palestinians, some of it allegedly in violation of the Taylor Force Act.
  • Oliver repeated the canard that Gaza is an “open-air prison.” This claim totally ignores the fact that, as mentioned above, Israel completely evacuated Gaza in 2005, and there was no blockade at that time. Moreover, social media posts since the start of the Israeli military campaign decrying the destruction of previously-beautiful Gaza have inadvertently given the lie to this claim.
  • Oliver has much to say about the conditions of extreme poverty in which many of the people of Gaza live, but nothing to say about the billionaires who manage Hamas from luxury hotels while living in Qatar. He also has ample time to show his audience the tragic suffering of the Gazan children who have been displaced by the war, but not one minute for Israeli children whose parents or other relatives have been killed or taken hostage, or who have themselves been displaced from the kibbutzim in the south.
  • Oliver doesn’t seem to understand cause and effect, saying, “Hamas branded itself as the party of resistance to Israel and undermined the peace process with a long series of attacks and suicide bombings, and as prospects for peace collapsed, Hamas seems to be vindicated in its messaging and you can see the philosophy continuing through to today.” But it is the long series of attacks and suicide bombings that have caused the prospects for peace to collapse. Calling this self-fulfilling prophecy a “vindication” of Hamas borders on the absurd.

Oliver has demonstrated the perils of his former boss’s slogan: “where more people get their news than probably should.” Watching his ignorant rant leaves viewers less informed about the conflict than they were before.

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