There was a time when those who wanted to demographically engineer an end to the Jewish state didn’t speak as smoothly as Noura Erakat does today.
Back then, when Arab leaders demanded a so-called “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, their words were jarring, but at least candid and compact. Egyptian president Gamal Nasser, for example, approvingly told a Swiss interviewer in 1961, “If the Arabs return to Israel, Israel will cease to exist.”
A decade earlier, the Egyptian foreign minister was equally succinct in explaining the point of Arab calls for an influx of Palestinian refugees to the Jewish state: “To put it quite clearly, the intention is the extermination of Israel.”
At a 1957 Conference of Refugees in Syria, the participants formally resolved that any talk of ending the conflict without “ensuring the refugees’ right to annihilate Israel” would be regarded as treason.
This view about the utility of Palestinian refugees was so unexceptional that a 1966 article in Commentary declared about the topic, “It is pointless to multiply quotations from Arab statesmen — Iraqi, Saudi Arabian, or Syrian — since none pretends to any other purpose.”
That was then. And while we can still occasionally find forthright quotes translated from Arabic — for example, the 2004 reminder by senior Palestinian official Sakher Habash that, “To us, the refugees issue is the winning card which means the end of the Israeli state” — today, and in English, such straight talk about the “right of return” has mostly been supplanted with more alluring language.
Which brings us back to Noura Erakat. Erakat, an assistant professor at George Mason University, dedicates much of her spare time to the public relations battle against Israel. And although she wants the same thing as her progenitors in the fight against Israel — the replacement of the world’s one small Jewish state with an Arab-majority, Palestinian-run country — her pitch sounds quite different.
Erakat’s May 14 appearance on CBS is an exemplar of the new, gentler approach to discussing what Habash termed “the winning card.” During the segment, she repeatedly promoted “return,” but instead of speaking in terms of extermination and annihilation, the young, photogenic activist lectured about freedom and equality.
It’s hard to argue with the tone of the rebranding. Here’s a taste, from the CBS interview:
CBS: And what would you recommend?
Erakat: I would recommend freedom. I would recommend the world that is the exact opposite of what Trump and Netanyahu are driving us into, which is a series of garrison states, of exclusive, explicit racial, religious supremacy. I would engage in a world where we actually believe that all humans are created equal, where we’re actually engaging in a universalist vision. All of us. It’s all of us or none of us. There is room for everybody. And that’s what Palestinians are demanding.
But that is not what Palestinians are demanding. At least, not Palestinian groups like Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and is designated internationally as a terror group for its suicide bombings and other attacks on Jewish civilians. Hamas doesn’t want liberal democracy, but instead seeks to replace Israel with a fundamentalist Islamic state. The Koran is our constitution, the group explains in its founding charter. (You can find that quote just after the section discussing the need for Muslims to fight and kill the Jews.)
The same goes for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which shares Hamas’s goals and violent tactics, as underscored by its logo depicting two rifles alongside text about God and Jihad. Nor does Fatah, the ruling nationalist party in the West Bank, embrace a “universalist vision.” Rather, it seeks a Palestinian state for the Palestinian people to exercise national self-determination, but obstinately rejects the same for the Jewish people.
On @NPR, @NPRinskeep just asked a Gazan with a kite w a swastika on it what it means to him. “The Jews go crazy when you mention Hitler.” Steve Inskeep asked if he knows the Israelis are using the swastikas to discredit Gazans. “It’s what we mean. We want them to burn,” he said.
— Batya Ungar-Sargon (@bungarsargon) May 15, 2018
Even Erakat herself doesn’t seem to really believe what she’s peddling. Despite her lofty talk on CBS about there being “room for everybody,” elsewhere she’s indicated that her version of inclusiveness excludes Jews. In an interview with the Alternet, for example, she took issue with another anti-Israeli academic who suggested that, if Israel were replaced with a greater Palestine, Jews living in the West Bank would remain in their homes and live alongside Palestinians.
Erakat pushed back: “Because we are not all in agreement of what this state will be. Who would be there? Saying that the settlers will never leave, that they will stay forever, no one will accept that because it is no more moral than accepting the two-state solution.”
It is disingenuous to camouflage the dream of eliminating the Jewish majority — for that’s the well-understood consequence of bringing the 30,000 remaining refugees from 1948, and millions of their descendants, into Israel — with grandiose talk about freedom and equality. But Erakat’s interview with CBS was full of arguably wilder distortions, which severely undermine the professor’s credibility and point to the conclusion that she cares more about diminishing Israel than speaking the truth.
Erakat wasted little time in the interview, responding to the first question by insisting “there were no clashes between Palestinians and Israelis” along the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel that day. She continued:
… Palestinians who are gathering in order to protest their dispossession and removal and demanding their right to return as refugees are basically not confronted by any Israeli civilians, not posing harm to any Israeli civilians, to any military installations, or to any Israeli soldiers, so there are no clashes. This was the lethal use of force against non-violent protesters who did not pose a threat to Israel.
Although Erakat’s claims went unchallenged, the interviewer should have known better. Her own network reported that evening that, as part of the demonstrations dubbed the Great March of Return, Palestinians were “setting fires and throwing firebombs and stones across the border into Israel.”
And that’s not all. Some of the “non-violent protesters” sent flaming kites across the border to set fire to Israeli agricultural fields. Some attempted to damage and breach the fence separating the Hamas-ruled Strip from Israel. Others planted explosives along the border fence. And yet others were gunmen who opened fire on Israeli soldiers. It is not for lack of trying, and certainly not for lack of “clashes,” that only one Israeli soldier was wounded that day.
The next question produced an even more incredible response:
CBS: You do not believe then that Hamas is inciting these protesters?
Erakat: It has been made very clear that this is a gathering of Palestinian civil society who have organized themselves without any direction from Hamas and in fact in contravention to them.
Hamas is not just Israel’s nightmare, Palestinians don’t want them either.
Hamas has nothing to do with the protests, riots, and violence, we’re told. So why has the New York Times repeatedly asserted that the group “organized the protests”? And why have the Associated Press and Reuters likewise reported that the border demonstrations and riots are “organized by Hamas”?
It is because, notwithstanding Erakat’s false claim, the demonstrations are indeed led by Hamas, and involve Hamas marketing, Hamas buses, Hamas speeches, Hamas gunmen, Hamas casualties, and Hamas compensation to the wounded.
Fares Akram, a Palestinian journalist working for AP, noted that
The idea was initially floated by social media activists, but has since been coopted by Hamas, with the backing of smaller militant factions.
Employing its organizational prowess, Hamas set up five tent camps near border points as a magnet for protesters, offering bus shuttles and monitoring developments from an operations room.
Palestinians have stated the same. A Gazan stopped while trying to cross the border explained that Hamas uses social media, text messages, mosques, and television to recruit Palestinians, and buses them to the border. The owner of a Gazan bus company likewise detailed the group’s involvement in organizing the transportation and punishing any drivers who resist.
Meanwhile, a Hamas official boasted that 50 of the 60 Palestinians who were killed on the day of Erakat’s interview were from Hamas, and not “regular people.” A detailed investigation of the affiliation of casualties suggests his number is roughly on target.
So much for the protests being “in contravention to” Hamas.
And what of Erakat’s claim that Palestinians don’t want Hamas? According to a Palestinian poll conducted immediately prior to the demonstrations, a Hamas candidate would easily win the presidency if running against the current Palestinian president, thanks in part to the fact that Hamas is the most popular party in the Gaza Strip (though not in the West Bank, where the group lands below its rival Fatah, which itself was outpolled by “None of the above”).
The biggest whopper of them all, though, was Erakat’s claim, in response to the interviewer’s assertion that Hamas “has declared its intention to destroy Israel,” that the group actually supports a two-state solution.
“The only entity that does not want Israel’s state within the 1967 borders is Israel itself, because it wants the entirety of the land between the River Jordan in the Mediterranean Sea,” Erakat insisted, because — she actually said this — Hamas “endorses a two-state solution.”
She punctuated the point with a parade of syllables, hoping to impress her audience, or maybe just to put as much space between her and the lie that just escaped her mouth. “So unless we want to blatantly disregard the empirical evidence on file, we cannot pursue this line of reasoning.”
Actually, let’s pursue this line of reasoning. Hamas begins its founding covenant by quoting Hasan al Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. The quote: “Israel will exist, and will continue to exist, until Islam abolishes it, as it abolished that which was before it.”
But wait, Erakat might insist. Hamas replaced its charter with a new policy document last year. She would be wrong. As Hamas co-founder Mahmoud Zahar explained after the publication of the 2017 policy document, the older charter remains “the core of [Hamas’s] position,” and “there is no contradiction between what we said in the document and the pledge we have made to God in our [original] charter.”
It wouldn’t matter anyway. The new document repeatedly emphasizes Hamas’s opposition to a two-state solution. While it notes that Hamas is willing to temporarily accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it leaves no ambiguity over the group’s continued devotion to the elimination of Israel.
Item one of the document reiterates that Hamas’s goal is “to liberate Palestine and confront the Zionist project.” Item two clarifies that the contours of this “Palestine” Hamas intends to liberate includes all of Israel: “Palestine, which extends from the River Jordan in the east to the Mediterranean in the west and from Ras Al-Naqurah in the north to Umm Al-Rashrash in the south, is an integral territorial unit.”
In case that language isn’t clear enough, the document goes on to declare, “The establishment of ‘Israel’ is entirely illegal and contravenes the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.”
And again: “Hamas believes that no part of the land of Palestine shall be compromised or conceded, irrespective of the causes, the circumstances and the pressures and no matter how long the occupation lasts.”
Still not enough? “Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.”
Finally, an encore: “There is no alternative to a fully sovereign Palestinian State on the entire national Palestinian soil, with Jerusalem as its capital.”
It’s no wonder Zahar, the senior Hamas official, said shortly after the release of the policy document that “when people say that Hamas has accepted the 1967 borders … it is an offense to us.” When you repeat something again and again, and your message is mischaracterized nonetheless, it is indeed offensive.
Zahar could have been speaking directly to Noura Erakat when he expressed offense last year. But Erakat, who CBS introduced as “specialist in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” didn’t have to look that far back. Just three days before she told viewers Hamas accepts a two-state solution, the head of the organization, Ismail Haniyeh, told a crowd of Gazans, “Palestine is from the sea to the river! And we will never, never, never recognize Israel!”
Six more times, in fact, Haniyeh and the crowd shouted, “We will never recognize Israel!” And later, as the crowd excitedly chanted “Death to Israel,” Haniyeh pointed across Gaza’s border and exclaimed, “That is our land!”
There is plenty more to fault in Erakat’s performance. Speaking about the Palestinian demonstrations along the border, she feigned exasperation at the idea that anyone would fault Palestinian tactics. “How much more do they need to do to protest peacefully, to have barbecues at the border, to fly kites,” she asked, not letting on that many kites flown at the demonstrations were decorated with swastikas and were hitched to fires that destroyed acres of Israeli nature reserves and farms.
She repeatedly insisted Hamas is a “scarecrow,” a term defined as “something frightening but harmless.” It is an absurd and callous way to describe a group whose suicide bombings killed hundreds of Israeli civilians, including teenagers at a discotheque, Holocaust survivors at a Passover meal, and scores more on buses, at pizzerias, and in cafes.
She enlisted the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr, drawing an analogy between the celebrated civil rights icon and Palestinians taking part in Hamas-led protests and riots, which are dedicated to wiping out the Jewish state. But King, like so many others in the civil rights movement, was a Zionist. “Israel must exist, and has a right to exist, and is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world,” he once proclaimed.
She incoherently charged Israel with providing “racial benefits based on religion,” clearly misunderstanding either the former word or the latter.
And she said that, since 1988, the Palestinian position is that “We just want a state alongside Israel.” This, she added, “wasn’t in contest.” Even if we disregard Hamas and other Palestinian groups that don’t recognize Israel, though, Erakat herself underscored elsewhere in the interview that Palestinian leaders want more than just a state alongside Israel. Like Erakat, they demand a “right of return.” And like her, the Palestinian people understand what this “magic card” means. A 2016 poll of Palestinians found that a substantial majority don’t believe the Palestinian Authority government really supports Israel’s right to exist.
That Erakat managed to squeeze so much misinformation into a segment that lasted nine minutes is a testament to the ideologue’s commitment. It is also a reason to disqualify her from being regarded, whether by CBS or her students at George Mason, as a “specialist” in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Caveat emptor.