In the summer of 2009, Ken Livingstone was pitching to be selected as Labour's candidate for London's 2012 Mayoral election. It was very helpful to reinvigorating his then has-been public profile that he was invited to guest-edit the September 21st issue of the New Statesman, the UK's leading left-wing weekly. No such opportunity was given to his main opponent for the candidacy, Oona King, a Blairite former MP who was defeated in Bethnal Greeen, a constituency with a high Muslim electorate by George Galloway of Respect in the 2005 General Election. Respect and Galloway targeted her support for the invasion of Iraq, in a campaign which repeatedly harped on her Jewish ancestry and sloganized Islamist themes of support for "resistance" against British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So haw did Livingstone choose to make use of the opportunity the New Statesman gave him?
He made it quite clear, as the clip above shows, that his aspiration is to make London an independent city-state, with himself as its direct ruler.
But surprisingly, he chose to make the centrepiece of the issue his staging of a trip to Bashar Assad's Damascus in which he interviewed Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist group by the United Nations, the European Union and the UK. From the discussion in the clip above, it's clear that Livingstone wanted to make his interview part of his portfolio of reasons why he should be selected as London's Mayoral candidate.
As the analysis below shows, Livingstone's interview was little more than a prompt role, feeding questions for Meshaal to promote Hamas' efforts to sanitize itself and sell itself to the West as just an honest plain old liberation movement, the victim of unfair smears and distortions of its record and intentions.
It was a completely uncritical interview. Livingstone did not mount any serious challenge to any of Meshaal's obviously propagandist assertions, particularly those in which Meshaal presented Hamas as taking action purely in response to unprovoked Israeli aggression.
By way of introduction to the interview, Livingstone justified it as being intended to clarify that Hamas is quite different from Al Qaeda, and that his aim was to open up the route to dialogue with Hamas by the West. He described the situation as analogous to the UK's former refusal to negotiate with Gerry Adams and Martin O'Guinness of Sinn Fein, but he did not mention that such negotiations only took place after Sinn Fein renounced armed struggle and gave up on their core political aim of using terrorism to achieve a united Ireland. In passing, he equated the leaders of Sinn Fein at the height of their terrorist campaign with Benjamin Netanyahu, the elected Prime Minster of Israel. Here's what he wrote:
In the Middle East, peace can only be achieved through discussion between the elected representatives of both the Israelis and the Palestinians - and that means Hamas, which won a big majority in the last Palestinian parliamentary election, as well as Fatah. This does not mean that I agree with the views of Hamas, Fatah or the government of Israel. Far from it: I do not. For example, I think a number of passages in the original Hamas charter are unacceptable and should be repudiated. Many observers believe that this is also the view of some in Hamas.
Yet, for too many people, Hamas as an organisation remains opaque. What they know about it is derived from a hostile media; it has no face. Most would probably think its leader is some disturbed Osama Bin Laden figure. In fact, al-Qaeda's supporters in Gaza are so hostile to Hamas that they have declared war on it.
For these reasons, I thought it important to interview the de facto leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshal, who lives in exile in Syria. Not every issue is clear. But at the beginning of any peace process, what matters most is engagement. Dialogue is necessary to get to clarity and mutual understanding. Sinn Fein did not answer every question at the beginning and neither does Binyamin Netanyahu today. The answers from Meshal come at a time of heightened tensions and renewed death threats against him, adding to the permanent danger of assassination bids not only by the Israelis, but also al-Qaeda supporters in the region.
I hope this interview will help to make the case for the dialogue that is needed, which I believe is inevitable. It is simply a question of how much suffering there will be, on both sides, before we get there.
The UK Foreign Office, not noted for partisan support of Israel, saw it differently. Ivan Lewis, then a junior Foreign Office Minister in Gordon Brown's Labour government, made the following condemnatory statement immediately after the interview:
Foreign Office Minister, Ivan Lewis, has responded to Ken Livingstone's interview with Khaled Meshaal (Head of Hamas) in the New Statesman.
Ivan Lewis said:
"Ken Livingstone rightly earned praise for his strong and responsible leadership in the aftermath of the 7/7 attacks on London.
It is therefore particularly regrettable that he learned the wrong lessons from history by handing a propaganda coup to the leader of a terrorist organisation.
Hamas has not only breached international law by firing rockets at civilian populations in Israel but continues to violate the human rights of Palestinians in Gaza".
Livingstone used to be a strong supporter of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and regularly parroted its claim to be "the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people".
Livingstone today is a consistent supporter of the terrorist proxy groups which are the clients of the Iranian regime, whilst being ready to condemn Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups which are the declared enemies of Iran in the struggle to lead Islamist terrorism. Hardly surprising for someone who fronted a programme series for Press TV. But it's not so often that we see him actively using an opportunity presented to him by the UK's respectable left, not to promote ideas for improving the lives of Londoners, but to soft-sell Hamas as not an Islamist terror organization dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel and to the pursuit of anti-semitic aims, but as just another nationalist liberation movement on the way to acceptance by the family of nations.
No doubt it was no coincidence that the Muslim Brotherhood mouthpiece, Anas al-Takriti, promptly ran a linked propaganda piece in the Guardian on 21st September 2009, celebrating the interview and underlining the message that Hamas is no Islamist movement, but just the Palestinian national struggle against Israeli occupation, and that any impression to the contrary was just Israeli propaganda
The Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre published a detailed fisking of the interview on 23rd September 2009.
I'm reproducing their analysis below. Readers can form their own view of whether this is just more lying Israeli propaganda, or whether it shows why the UK Foreign Office chose to issue a statement condemning Livingstone's action as handing a propaganda coup to a terrorist leader.
There are plenty of people who consider Livingstone's position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict irrelevant to the role he would have as Mayor. While it's true that he has no specific powers on UK foreign policy, he is able to make appointments and stage events and even open overseas offices which propagandize and materially assist overseas regimes and political movements. This is effectively what he did in relation to the Hugo Chavez regime in Venezuela.
Livingstone in any case makes no bones of his desire to run London as an independent city state. In this New Statesman interview, he gives one example of how he is likely to go about doing that.
Hamas’ smile attack for the West: Ken Livingstone interviews Khaled Mashaal, a case study Overview
1. Khaled Mashaal, head of the Hamas political bureau in Damascus, was recently (September 17, 2009) interviewed by Ken Livingstone for the New Statesman. The interview, laced with vicious anti-Israel propaganda, represented the Palestinians as the victims of Israeli oppression, and aimed at Western readers, it evaded clarification of Hamas’ extremist ideology. Khaled Mashaal called on the international community and the Arab world to exert pressure on Israel, expressed Hamas’ willingness to open up to the rest of the world and sought “to establish good relations and conduct constructive dialogue with all those concerned with Palestine.”
2. Ken Livingstone, who conducted the interview, is extremely left-wing and overwhelmingly biased against Israel. He was Mayor of London until 2008 and a Labor MP until he was expelled from the party in 2000. He prefaced the interview by saying that peace could only be achieved in the Middle East through Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, which he said meant dialogue with Hamas, claiming it represented the majority of Palestinians. His questions and the way he conducted the interview were clearly biased in favor of Hamas and made it easy for Khaled Mashaal to market his ideology and policies to British readers.
3. Throughout the interview Khaled Mashaal used the soft rhetoric familiar from his and other Hamas spokesmen’s interviews with the Western media. Hamas spokesmen express their willingness for a sovereign Palestinian state to be established within the 1967 borders and to cooperate with the international community, obscuring or concealing the movement’s ideology, which seek the destruction of the State of Israel and openly adopt the option of terrorism. When speaking to Palestinian audiences, Hamas spokesmen make their true positions clear, as was made evident three days after the interview.
4. The interview was criticized by the British Foreign Office. Ivan Lewis, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, expressed regret at the line taken by Livingstone, saying that “[i]t is...particularly regrettable that he learned the wrong lessons from history by handing a propaganda coup to the leader of a terrorist organization” (British Foreign Office website, September 20, 2009).
The main points of the interview
5. The most telling questions were the following:
i) Why do you think Israel is still imposing the blockade on Gaza?
Livingstone blatantly exaggerated “the difficult humanitarian situation” in the Gaza Strip, claiming that it was being “blockaded” by Israel, and that the Gazans were trapped in the largest jail in history. He asked Khaled Mashaal what part the United States, the European Union, Britain, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority played in the “blockade,” and Mashaal answered that it never would have succeeded without the “collusion of regional and international powers.” For the blockade to be lifted, he said, international law and the basic rights of the Palestinians had to be respected, including the right to live with dignity and free from persecution. [Note: Khaled Mashaal asks for international law to be respected while heading a murderous terrorist organization which systematically violates international law by deliberately killing Israeli civilians and which does not hesitate to brutally attack the Gazan civilians who oppose its rule.]
Photos and reports from the Gaza Strip do not support Khaled Mashaal’s bleak descriptions.
ii) What are the ideology and goals of Hamas?
Khaled Mashaal represented the Palestinian people as victims of the “colonial project called Israel.” After a long description of Palestinian suffering, he said that Hamas was struggling to end of the “occupation” and restore “Palestinian rights,” including the “right” to return to their homes.
[Note: When speaking to their Palestinian target audiences, Hamas spokesmen make it clear that by “rights” they mean the establishment of a Palestinian state in all of Eretz Israel, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.]
Livingstone asked if Khaled Mashaal was “committed to the destruction of Israel.” Instead of answering a direct question, he said that “What is really happening is the destruction of the Palestinian people by Israel; it is the one that occupies our land and exiles us, kills us,... We are the victims, Israel is the oppressor, and not vice versa.”
He claimed that the issue of recognition of Israel was an excuse, because Israel refused to recognize the “rights of the Palestinians,” who were the victims of Israeli “oppression.” iii) Why does Hamas support military force in this conflict? Khaled Mashaal referred to military force as the “option” used by the Palestinian people because “nothing else works.”
[Note: At no point in the interview did either Livingstone or Mashaal make it clear that by “military force” they meant lethal, indiscriminate terrorist attacks including rocket fire and suicide bombing attacks targeting Israeli civilians. However, the word “terrorism” was never mentioned by either Livingstone or Mashaal.]
He claimed that the Palestinians preferred to resolve the conflict with Israel through peaceful means. He claimed that if the “occupation” were to end and the Palestinians were able to “exercise self-determination” in their “homeland,” there would be no further need for the use of force.
[Note: That is, if Israel were to evaporate of its own free will, as Mashaal demands, there would be no need to employ “military force,” i.e., terrorist attacks, against it...]
Mashaal added that the nearly 20 years of peaceful negotiations had not restored “Palestinian rights.”
[Note: He was careful not to mention that the “peaceful negotiations” were accompanied by mass-casualty suicide bombing attacks in the major cities of Israel. The objective of the attacks, led by Hamas, was to sabotage any possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement by killing as many Israeli civilians as possible.]
iv) Do you wish to establish an Islamic state in Palestine in which all other religions are subordinate?
Mashaal said that Hamas was a “national liberation movement” which saw no conflict between Islamic identity and its political mission. He claimed that Hamas’ first priority was to end the “Israeli occupation” of the Palestinian homeland [i.e., to destroy Israel] and only then would the Palestinian people define what type of government the future Palestinian state would have.
In a statement clearly intended to please Western audiences, he said that Hamas did not believe Islam could be imposed on people, but that Hamas would campaign, in “a fully democratic process,” for “an Islamic agenda.”
[Note: Representing Hamas, which has enforced a totalitarian regime on the Gazans, as planning to employ the democratic process, is an absurd fabrication meant to mislead the Western target audience. The nature of the Hamas-style “democratic process” is all too evident to the residents of the Gaza Strip, who are personally experiencing Hamas’ imposition of Islamization on all facets of their lives.]
v) Was Operation Cast Lead (“the bombing and invasion of Gaza,” according to Livingstone) the [Israeli] response to repeated breaking of the ceasefire by Hamas and the firing of rockets into southern Israel?
Khaled Mashaal claimed that Hamas “fully abided by the ceasefire” between June and December 2008, while Israel only partially observed it by not fully opening the crossings. He also claimed that toward the end of the ceasefire Israel “resumed hostilities.”
[Note: A deliberately incorrect representation of the facts. During the six months of the Hamas so-called “lull in the fighting” the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip fired 223 rockets and 139 mortar shells into Israeli territory, most of them during the last six weeks. The lull arrangement, which was systematically violated by the Palestinian terrorist organizations, expired with the announcement made by Hamas and the other terrorist organizations that it would formally expire on December 19, 2008. Once the announcement had been made, Hamas and the other organizations began a series of rocket attacks against Israel which peaked on December 24, when 60 rockets and mortar shells were fired, most of them by Hamas, at the Israeli cities of Sderot, Ashqelon and Netivot, and other towns and villages in Israel’s western Negev. On December 24 the Palestinians opened fire, and not for the first time, at the Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings, through which supplies flowed from Israel into the Gaza Strip.
[Note: Those important crossings between Israel and Gaza Strip have always been a preferred target for Hamas and the other toes.] In addition, Khaled Mashaal made no mention – and Ken Livingstone was careful not to pressure him– about the ongoing rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip which disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians in the south between 2000 and 2009, the basic cause underlying Operation Cast Lead.]
vi) Does Hamas have a “road map” for a peaceful settlement?
Khaled Mashaal answered that a peaceful settlement would have to begin in a ceasefire agreement between the two sides based on a full Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967. Only when the Palestinians were free, he said, and back on their land, would they be able to determine the future of the conflict.
[Note: He made no mention of where his “road map” led and what would happen after Israel withdrew to the 1967 lines. Livingstone was careful not to pressure him regarding this inconvenient point.]
Playing to the Western audience, Khaled Mashaal claimed that Hamas had no problem with Jews and Christians and that “for many centuries Christians, Jews and Muslims coexisted peacefully in this part of the world.”
[Note: Hamas’ rhetoric includes anti-Semitic motifs, as evidenced by its charter. The issue of what will happen after the Israeli withdrawal, which Khaled Mashaal deliberately did not relate to, was made clear by Ayman Taha, who said that once the “1967 occupation” had ended, it would be necessary to bring to an end the “1948 occupation.”