MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan Fails to Challenge Rep. Ro Khanna’s Libel on Burning of Palestinian Villages

April 27, 2021 UPDATE:

Back on MSNBC, A Gracious Khanna States: 'I Vehemently Correct'

Two and a half months after MSNBC declined to immediately set the record straight making clear that Israel does not burn Palestinian villages, Rep. Ro Khanna appeared last night on MSNBC's "Mehdi Hasan Show." While the congressmen, with appropriate humility, a quality which he spoke movingly about, made clear that Israel does not burn Palestinian villages, the incorrigible Mehdi Hasan took the opportunity to further smear Israel. See below for a detailed update.

February 7, 2021

In the Feb. 5 "All in With Chris Hayes" broadcast, MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan completely failed to challenge Congressman Ro Khanna's outrageous libel that Israel is "burning down Palestinian villages."

Cong. Khanna fabricated:

And with Israel, [President Biden is] going to make it clear that Israel is an ally and always has been an ally of the United States. But they have to recognize Palestinian statehood. They can`t be having new settlement. They can't be burning down Palestinian villages. Human rights are going to matter. We`re going to have a human rights focused foreign policy.

Israel is not burning any Palestinian villages. And yet, instead of setting the record straight, Mehdi Hasan concurred:

I hope so, Congressman. I really do hope so. But we`re out of time now. We`ll have to leave it there. Thank you so much, Congressman Ro Khanna for your time tonight.

United Nations officials alleged in November that Israel demolished dozens of structures in a single Palestinian encampment in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli control. COGAT, the Israeli authority which carried out the demolition, disputed the U.N. assertion, maintaining that the demolitions in Khirbet Humsa involved 15 structures — seven tents and eight pens — illegally built in on land that had served as a military firing zone since the 1970s. Israel's High Court has ruled repeatedly the squatters had no ownership rights to the land, a fact which the Bedouin did not dispute in court.  CBS, another major American network, was compelled to issue multiple corrections to its story claiming Israel "destroyed" the entire "village" of Khirbet Humsa, in actuality no more than an encampment of a few European-funded shepherding pens. 

But the baseless assertion that Israel is "burning" Palestinian villages takes the falsehood about the destruction of a village to new heights. 

In a second blatant falsehood that Hasan failed to challenge, Rep. Khanna's reference to Israel building new settlements is also not true. As MSNBC itself acknowledged in a correction this past October, Israel all but ceased settlement construction two decades, with the lone exception of Amichai, founded in 2018 to house residents displaced after Israel demolished Amona. Ironically, though he espoused falsehoods about Israel completely detached from reality, the Congressman opined about his view in favor of President Biden returning to the Iran nuclear deal: "And at some point, data has to matter. This is not just a matter of opinion." 

Furthermore, Hasan wrongly referred to Tel Aviv as Israel's capital, using the city as shorthand for the country. He erred: "What do you say to hawks in D.C., in Tel Aviv, in Riyadh who say this is Biden being soft on Iran because Iran backs the Houthis?"

Jerusalem is Israel's capital, not Tel Aviv. Dozens of media outlets have corrected erroneous references to Tel Aviv as shorthand for Israel, including CNN (also in ArabicThe Los Angeles TimesWashington PostAssociated Press, and Reuters. Last month, BBC Arabic corrected eight such references.  (The U.S. Senate has just overwhelmingly voted 97-3 to leave the US embassy to Israel in the country's capital: Jerusalem.)

Given that, as Rep. Khanna asserted, "at some point, data has to matter," CAMERA has contacted MSNBC urging forthright on air corrections making clear that, in fact, Israel is not burning and has not burned Palestinian villages, it is not building new settlements and its capital is located in Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv. Notably, in 2017, when Ben Rhodes, then President Obama's National Deputy Security Advisor, falsely alleged that Israel was building "thousands" of new settlements in the West Bank, and PBS host Judy Woodruff failed to correct the record straight, PBS's then ombudsman Michael Getler called for an on air correction.

In reports in Haaretz and Times of Israel, Rep. Khanna later backtracked on the burning villages charge, alleging that he was "referring to Israeli settlers who have burned Palestinian orchards and the military which has demolished or bulldozed villages."

Hasan's partisanship through the broadcast is blatant. He states: "Kudos to the President" on the appointment of controversial envoy to Iran Robert Malley; "Well, that's good to hear," on President Biden's decision to revoke the terror designation of Yemen's Houthis and to halt support for Saudi Arabia's strikes in Yemen; "Yes, Trump's strategic blunders fill up a lot of pages," and "a lot of the problems in the Middle East, Congressman, revolve around three countries, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel." Apparently, he hasn't heard of the conflict in Syria, in which close to some 400,000 have reportedly killed, and more than 6 million displaced, or of the dire political, health and economic situation in Lebanon, a country further devastated by the horrific explosion of a stash of ammonium nitrate last August in Beirut.

This post was updated at 6:55 am EDT to reflect the fact that Rep. Khanna walked back the burning villages charge in comments to Times of Israel and Haaretz.

Update 12:45 pm EDT: This article was amended to reference Amichai, the one settlement built in the last two decades.

On Twitter, Rep. Khanna praised CAMERA's work, writing, "I actually genuinely respect the work you do. It’s public discourse like this that makes our democracy stronger. I didn’t speak precisely enough and it’s obviously a very complicated situation. So your initial criticism was fair and I always appreciate the engagement."


April 27 Update: Back on MSBNC, Khanna Says: 'I Vehemently Correct'

In February, MSNBC inexcusably declined to broadcast an immediate correction making clear that Israel does not burn Palestinian villages, and the network promised CAMERA that the next time that Rep. Khanna appears on the show, he would correct. Thus, MSNBC left the libelous falsehood on the record for nearly three months. Last night, finally, Congressman Khanna appeared as a guest on the Mehdi Hasan show, discussing the dire coronavirus situation in India. The Congressmen's retraction, expressed with heartfelt humility and regret, appears 19:50 minutes into the YouTube clip.

Hasan: Just to clarify Congressman, the last time you and I discussed Israel and Netanyahu, I want to clarify you were criticized for suggesting Israel is burning villages or homes in the occupied West Bank. That was a slip, wasn't it. You weren't referring to the government.

Khanna: I misspoke and I acknowledge that. Israel has engaged in demolitions, which I criticized in a letter with Anna Eshoo. But I was wrong to suggest that Israel had in any way burned villages and it has not. So I vehemently correct that.

Hasan: Even though Israeli settlers have unfortunately burned down orchards.

In the minutes (starting at 17:15) prior to the clarification, Khanna spoke movingly about the quality of humility. "One thing the virus has taught us is humility," he said, addressing India's order that Twitter remove content critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's handling of coronavirus crisis. Saying that the call for censorship of criticism is anathema to him, he referred to all of the critical tweets he receives and reflected: "I think that's what makes our democracy so rich. A lot of times it makes me rethink how I rephrase something. . . "

Unmoved by Khanna's call for humility, Hasan does not rethink his habit of demonizing Israel, but persisted: "The problem is most nationalist right-wing governments aren't known for their humility. There are a lot of authoritarian governments, allies that the U.S. just gives a pass to, whether it's Israel, where mobs have been chanting 'death to Arabs' in recent days…" Again, Hasan's segue to a selective account of recent violence in Jerusalem comes in the context — if it can be called that of a discussion of the dire coronavirus situation in India. Pulling Hasan back from his digression, Khanna reminds him: "I think right now the immediate need is how do we help India make sure they can deal with Covid."


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