Johann Hari: Back With a Vengeance

The Independent’s Johann Hari will always be remembered as the columnist who compared Israel to excrement. Rather than answering the various libels and misinformation contained in his articles, Hari accused HonestReporting and others of attempting to curtail his freedom of speech when he was quite correctly and legitimately held to account.

So Hari shouldn’t be surprised if his latest offering in The Independent (and reproduced on The Huffington Post) is enough to trigger yet more outrage.

Historical Revisionism

Perhaps Hari should start by consulting a credible history book as demonstrated by his faulty description of events in the region:

Their [the Palestinians'] story is so rarely explained without disinformation that it still seems startling when it is stated plainly. Until 1948, the Palestinians were living in their own homes, on their own land until they were suddenly driven out in a war to make way for a new state for people fleeing a monstrous European genocide. They lived huddled and dazed in the 20 per cent of their land they were allowed to keep. They hardly fought back: they wept and dreamed of return. Then in the 1967 war, even these small strips were conquered with tanks and platoons.

In fact, the Palestinians were not living on their own land until 1948 – the land was part of the British Mandate and before that, the Ottoman Empire. There had never been a Palestinian state. The modern-day State of Israel was legitimately created by a vote in the United Nations and rejected by the Arab states who attacked it from all sides. The Palestinian refugees were created as a direct result of a war of aggression carried out by those Arab states and the Palestinian residents themselves. In addition, the 1967 war was also one of self-defense on the part of Israel, which indeed conquered more territories as a result of Arab aggression.

(See here for a detailed rebuttal of the charges against Israel’s legitimate historical roots.)

False Quotation

You would have thought that Hari would have learned a valuable lesson after we previously exposed his use of a falsified quotation and his reliance on fringe revisionist historians and anti-Israel web sites. But once again, he resorts to propagating urban myths. Any quote from an Israeli leader can be distorted if the relevant context is removed and there are many such recycled quotes on the Internet. For example, Hari says that “Menachem Begin called them [the Palestinians] “beasts walking on two legs”.

This quote was attributed to Begin by a June 1982 article in the New Statesman. An investigation by CAMERA reveals that the actual speech upon which the journalist based his quote, as well as news reports at the time demonstrate that the journalist distorted the quote, giving it a completely different tone and meaning. Begin was talking, not about “the Palestinians” but about terrorists who target children within Israel.

Downplaying Terror

According to Hari, the Palestinians “tried peacefully resisting, launching a programme of sit-downs and civil disobedience.” How can Hari erase the decades of Palestinian terrorism stretching back well before the Second Intifada, the 1967 war and even before the creation of the State of Israel in 1948? Were the 2500 terror victims during the years 1920-1999 the result of mere “civil disobedience”? Despite what Hari would have you believe, Palestinian violence is not a recent development.

Never Offered to the Palestinians?

Hari claims:

There is a solution. Everyone knows it: divide the land. There are two peoples the Palestinians and the Israelis. Let them live in two states, with 1967 borders, with full compensation for the victims of 1948. Although it is painful to accept swathes of your own dispossession, the Palestinian leadership has supported this programme since 1978, and even Hamas the ugly fundamentalist group tacitly accepts it. Yet it has not been offered to the Palestinians. Every time they have sat down to negotiate, even more has been stolen from them: settler numbers doubled during the Oslo “peace process”. It culminated in an offer of a series of broken Batustans controlled forever by Israel one no Palestinian leader could accept.

How does Hari justify this view? How can Hari claim that the Palestinian leadership accepted a two-state solution at the same time as failing to even recognize one of those states i.e. Israel? While it is arguable whether or not the Palestinian Authority has recognized the legitimacy of the Israeli state since the signing of the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian leadership certainly did not up until this point. And Hamas, whose stated aim in its Charter is to destroy Israel, has never recognized Israel, refuses to do so and rejects a two-state solution.

In addition, contrary to Hari’s assertion, the Palestinians have, on many occasions been offered a Palestinian state, from the 1947 UN Partition Plan all the way through to the Oslo process, Ehud Barak at Camp David in 2000 and, more recently, the negotiations with Ehud Olmert’s government. On each and every occasion, the Palestinians have rejected offers of peace, and in many cases, have responded with extreme violence and terror.

Making the Holocaust Analogy

It is a popular weapon for Israel’s detractors to invert and abuse Jewish suffering in the Holocaust to imply that the Palestinians are suffering a similar fate or that the Israelis are repeating on the Palestinians what the Nazis did to them. Hari does nothing to dispel this false analogy by drawing upon emotive language:

It may be that surviving the most horrific atroci
ties doesn’t make you compassionate, but more often makes you hard, and paranoid. It may make you see the ghost of your murderer even in your victims: Adolf Hitler in a Gazan child.

No Palestinian Responsibility

It is an inverse form of racism that portrays Palestinians as devoid of all responsibility for their situation or lacking any power to take responsibility. In this, it is far easier to simply blame Israel for all Palestinian travails. So according to Hari:

There is very little the Palestinians can do to change their situation alone. They are virtually disarmed, with a few rockets and some stone-throwing kids, against the fourth most powerful army on earth.

Perhaps Hari may have a point if Palestinian rockets, suicide bombs and other acts of violence were aimed solely at the Israeli military. But they are not – Palestinian violence and terror has targeted Israeli civilians and is certainly not something to be taken as lightly as Hari evidently does.

In addition, Palestinians are not entirely powerless. From the poisonous pens of columnists such as Hari to Iranian support for Hamas terrorism and the sympathies of bodies such as the UN, the Palestinians have amply demonstrated that they do not stand alone.

Israel: An “Abusive Foreign Power”

Hari states:

Netanyahu talks about the dangers of Israel being wiped from the map, yet Palestine is being wiped from the map every day by his tanks and his guns. Why should they have to “earn” their right to their own land by proving obedience to an abusive foreign power?

Does Hari betrays his true feelings? A small piece of land is claimed  by two peoples with vastly different and competing narratives. Yet, according to Hari, one is an “abusive foreign power” implying that this state has no legitimate rights.

While Hari may not believe so, Israel and her supporters do have legitimate rights. One of those rights is to hold Hari to account for his latest screed. Your e-mails are a very legitimate and correct form of protest. We do ask, however, that, despite the outrage this article may generate, please do not play into Hari’s hands by using immoderate or extreme language in your letters, which is simply self-defeating.

Hari may once again attack HonestReporting and our supporters but we believe that a rational debunking and rebuttal of his latest article stands on its own merits. Please send your letters to The Independent – letters@independent.co.uk.

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