Why Did the "Jewish Daily Forward" Interview a Hamas Spokesman?
Daniel Mandel is a Fellow in History at Melbourne University and author of H. V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel: The Undercover Zionist (Routledge, London, 2004).
The recent interview accorded to Hamas’s Mousa Abu Marzook by the Jewish Daily Forward underscores an all-too-frequent and serious failure of perception when dealing with totalitarian movements and those who speak for them.
The problem is not the totalitarian addiction to falsehood. One need not be a totalitarian thug in order to lie. Rather, the problem is the cluelessness as to the purpose of their utterances, not all of which may even be lies.
Totalitarians do not speak simply to mislead the credulous or to defame their enemies. That is a subsidiary goal -- and benefit -- of their words. Their words, which form part of their overall offensive, are designed to bewilder and paralyze their enemies.
Obviously, speaking via some channel to one’s enemy can have it uses, yet much was made of the fact that Hamas consented to speak to a Jewish publication at all. Israeli concession-advocate Gershon Baskin was elated at this “historic landmark ... The amount of time he gave you is amazing.”
To a point, this makes sense. Hamas calls in its Charter (Article 7) for the global destruction of Jews. But totalitarians are often tactically flexible. Nazism and Bolshevism were enemies unto death. That did not prevent Hitler and Stalin concluding a non-aggression pact for immediate mutual advantage in 1939. Nor did that pact mean that each ceased to plot the elimination of the other at some unspecified future date.
Saudi Arabia, to take another example, prohibits Jews even setting foot in the country, let alone building synagogues. (Nor may Christians build churches or even hold services in private.) But that did not prevent the Saudis (non-alcoholically) wining and dining New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, who subsequently trumpeted the sincerity and soundness of the spurious Saudi-sponsored 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.
What gain, then, stood to accrue to Hamas for speaking to a bedazzled Jewish publication?
The purpose was not to better inform the American Jewish public of Hamas’s outlook and position. In fact, we learnt nothing new at all: Abu Marzook confirmed that Hamas won’t consider a peace treaty concluded by a Palestinian regime with Israel as anything more than a ceasefire; it won’t negotiate with Israel and reserves its “right” to murder Jewish Israelis.
Granting the Forward an interview, however, enabled Hamas to reproduce some of its lies, such as Abu Marzook’s claim that it opposes targeting civilians (it has murdered hundreds in scores of suicide bombings) and that it doesn’t intend to murder Jews world-wide (the hadith cited in its Charter calls explicitly for an end of days marked by the slaughter of Jews everywhere). But more importantly, by this interview, Hamas managed to invest itself with a precondition of legitimacy: the appearance of being a valid interlocutor.
The harmfulness of this type of transaction was well understood by the Irish government in 1975, when it banned IRA broadcasts. As the then-Irish Minister for Posts & Telegraphs Conor Cruise O’Brien explained, such broadcasts, if permitted, would “accredit the idea that the IRA is a quasi-legitimate institution ... [intensifying] the false air of legitimacy with which the IRA has managed to surround itself, and would thereby ... further [its] criminal purposes.”
The Forward did no less by interviewing Abu Marzook.
It makes no difference that Abu Marzook occasionally told his interviewer something other than outright lies: Hamas stood to gain legitimacy whether Abu Marzook spoke unmitigated nonsense or undiluted truth. Even reporting the ugly truths he chose to utter (Hamas seeking to murder Israelis as of right, for example) does not detract from Hamas’s gains. Ugly truths can shock or they can be ignored: for example, the Iranian regime’s open declaration of intent to erase Israel “from the pages of history” has been the best form of camouflage.
The listener abroad finds it inconceivable that anyone really entertaining such plans could have the innocence to avow them. The less rational an aim sounds, the more it tends to be dismissed as rhetoric, a form of pandering to the masses. (Few bother to ask why masses are expected to be receptive to ambitious plans for murdering Jews. If only unintentionally, this is an implicitly anti-Semitic assumption).
Those dubbed ‘realists’ in the foreign policy world are the most prone to this sort of fatal skepticism. They have the reflexive disbelief of the man in the street, minus the corrective common sense that enables the public to eventually wake up. Here, Hamas retailed truths and lies as it pleased, well aware that the mere act of doing so in an interview with a Jewish newspaper was the chief advantage to be obtained.
Hamas has already penetrated the opinion pages of other newspapers, but an interview in a Jewish newspaper affords new benefits. Let us hope other Jewish newspapers are alive to this fact and do not follow the Forward’s example of serving as Hamas’s willing channel of communication, designed to sow confusion and paralysis in its target audience whilst enhancing its aura of legitimacy.
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