The Stench Spreads: Johann Hari’s Stinking Op-Ed

The following communique was released by HonestReporting UK earlier this week in response to an appalling op-ed by Johann Hari published in The Independent. Since then, Hari’s piece has spread through the media, including The Canberra Times and Irish Independent as well as numerous anti-Israel blog sites. We believe the seriousness of the issues raised merit the attention of our wider international list of subscribers. Please use the information below to respond to this and other similar canards in the media during Israel’s 60th anniversary commemorations.

Israel’s 60th anniversary will undoubtedly produce many negative opinion pieces in the UK press. In the latest assault, Johann Hari sums up his feelings towards Israel in The Independent: “Whenever I try to mouth these words [of reassurance for Israel], a remembered smell fills my nostrils. It is the smell of shit.”

In his opinion piece, Hari’s use of an invented quotation is enough to bring the rest of the content and his own judgment into disrepute:

  • Hari relies upon the notorious anti-Zionist historian Ilan Pappe, who openly acknowledges that he is not objective and cares little about factual accuracy, readily admitting that ideology drives his historical writings and statements.

Using Pappe’s accusations of a systematic plan of “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians to create the Israeli state, Hari quotes Israeli PM David Ben-Gurion: “The Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as a war.”

Having previously employed this particular quote in a November 2006 op-ed, it is surprising that Hari has repeated it as “revisionist” historian and critic of Israel, Benny Morris, wrote in a letter at the time to The Independent, addressing the charge of “ethnic cleansing” and referring to the above quote as:

an invention, pure and simple, either by Hari or by whomever he is quoting (Ilan Pappe?)….

Neither Ben-Gurion nor the Zionist movement ‘planned’ the displacement of the 700,000-odd Arabs who moved or were removed from their homes in 1948. There was no such plan or blanket policy. Transfer was never adopted by the Zionist movement as part of its platform; on the contrary, the movement always accepted that the Jewish state that arose would contain a sizeable Arab minority.

  • Hari questions Israel’s very legitimacy through the lens of historical revisionism. Ignoring 3000 years of Jewish history and legitimate rights to the land, Hari claims that “It [Palestine] was already inhabited by people who loved the land, and saw it as theirs.” In fact, it was the Arabs who attempted to expel the Jews during Israel’s 1947-48 War of Independence as Palestinian Arabs mounted attacks on Jewish communities followed by the invasion of five Arab armies from surrounding states.
  • To reinforce his belief that Jews have no connection to the land, Hari employs a ridiculous analogy: “How would we react if the 30m stateless, persecuted Kurds in the world sent armies and settlers into this country to seize everything in England below Leeds, and swiftly established a free Kurdistan from which we were expelled?” Thus Hari compares non-existent Kurdish historical links to Britain with proven and legitimate Jewish links to the land of Israel.

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

  • In a modern day “poisoning the wells” libel, Hari accuses Israel of sole responsibility for polluting West Bank groundwater supplies. It is no secret that Israel has a chronic water problem and lags behind many other developed nations in environmental protection. However, the Palestinians are equally to blame for polluting the environment in the West Bank, which has, in turn, also caused damage to Israel’s own water supplies. The West Bank mountain aquifer is one of the largest freshwater sources supplying both Israelis and Palestinians. Indeed, Israelis and Palestinians have jointly tackled such pollution and Israel has used its own expertise to provide Palestinian population centers with sewage treatment facilities. Why would Israel purposely destroy its own limited water supply?
  • Continuing his sewage analogy, Hari simplisticly accuses Israel of punishing Gaza’s population for voting “the wrong way”. Has Hari forgotten the continuing terrorism and missile attacks on Israeli population centers such as Sderot? Or the refusal of Hamas to conform to the international community’s demands to renounce terror, recognize Israel and adhere to previously signed agreements?
  • Hari claims that “the Israeli army are not allowing past the checkpoints any replacements for the pipes and cement needed to keep the sewage system working.” In fact, the IDF is restricting the entry of materials such as pipes into Gaza as Hamas has preferred to use these for the manufacture of Qassam rockets rather than dealing with the repair of the sewage system.

Hari’s opinion piece concludes: “Israel, as she gazes at her grey hairs and discreetly ignores the smell of her own stale shit pumped across Palestine, needs to ask what kind of country she wants to be in the next 60 years.”

Perhaps Hari needs to ask what kind of columnist writes such one-sided, biased and inflammatory material with enough holes to drive a horse and cart through, including the use of a doctored quote.

Hari has a track record of misguided and anti-Israel opinion pieces, once tastelessly describing the Virgin Mary as a “Palestinian refugee in Bethlehem”, and present-day pregnant Palestinian women as “21st century Marys” who “have been giving birth in
startlingly similar conditions to those suffered by Mary 2,000 years ago.”

Hari has also previously attacked HonestReporting, preferring to abuse us rather than addressing the issues raised. Then, as now, we stand by the materials we have provided our readers to respond to Hari’s latest screed.

There are almost too many areas that a letter to the editor could focus on. Please pick one or two and send your considered comments to The Independent – letters@independent.co.uk, The Canberra Times – letters.editor@canberratimes.com.au and The Irish Independent -  independent.letters@independent.ie

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