‘What about Hamas?’: Israel & the West’s propaganda tools
Since the beginning of Israel’s war on Gaza following Hamas’ 7 October operation, ‘whataboutism’ in the West has witnessed the emergence of a new variant in the form of ‘whatabouthamasism’, asking those who rightfully condemn Israel for its revenge-killing-spree-quickly-turned-genocide if they also condemn Hamas. This is a tool devised to attack the person making a valid argument because of the attacker’s lack of competency in adequately responding, coupled with an adherence to a particular agenda. In this case, that agenda is defending Israeli settler colonialism’s right to inflict collective pain upon the native Palestinian people out of nothing else but a deep, racist loathing for them.
This conscious diversionary tactic, is a discursive stun grenade hurled at Palestinians and their allies in an attempt to disorient them, and at the general public in order to direct their attention away from the actual matter at hand: Israel’s decades-long occupation of Palestine.
''As Israel continues to pursue its scorched earth policy by carpet bombing Gaza, wilfully targeting hospitals and schools, refugee shelters and residential buildings, mosques and churches, bakeries and aid convoys, all under the flimsiest of pretexts, namely targeting Hamas, the question should not be 'what about Hamas?', but 'what about Israel?'''
We have witnessed the skulduggery of ‘whatabouthamasism’ aplenty since the beginning of the war during which Western spin doctors have let their virulent anti-Palestinian bias turn journalistic inquiries into thinly-veiled inquisitions. This phenomenon is best captured in a political cartoon that has gone viral on social media: a grief-stricken Gazan mother kneels on the ground holding a dead child in her lap while she is surrounded by hands pointing microphones at her, their foam covers depicting the logos of Western media corporations such as CNN and Sky News. The caption headlining the caricature reads: “But do you condemn Hamas?”
Such media practices have no other function than to provide moral cover for Israel’s total war on Gaza by casting aspersions on Palestinian liberation. And like so many other strains of colonial discourse, whatabouthamasism is utterly devoid of context, as if Hamas materialised out of thin air on 7 October, and was not a result of decades of Israeli violence against Palestinians.
Al-Shabaka’s Nour Joudah, broached the subject of what constitutes legitimate resistance in a social media post in which she directly addressed Western whatabouthamasists: “Stop asking Palestinians for alternatives to Hamas. You keep killing them.”
Ahmed Abu Artema, a founder of the nonviolent Great March of Return, has been targeted by an Israeli airstrike. He is seriously injured and his young son has been killed.— Nour Joudah (@nsdoud) October 26, 2023
Stop asking Palestinians for alternatives to Hamas. You keep killing them.
Yes, whatabouthamasism is the Israel apologists’ circuitous way of putting lipstick on a pig. It is a tool designed to re-traumatise and further dehumanise Palestinians as a people, adding insult to the injury of their unimaginable Israeli-inflicted suffering. It says more about those who engage in it than those it seeks to defame: about their lack of empathy, their colonial audacity of dictating the terms of discursive engagement, their absence of common human decency. It feeds into Western colonial discourse’s retelling of the asymmetrical Israel-Palestine “conflict” between a resplendent occupying military power and a grassroots armed resistance as an inverse morality play in which victims are recast as perpetrators and perpetrators recast as victims.
It is yet another narrative technique employed to bolster the fiction of Euro Western moral supremacy, of which Israel constitutes the last colonial frontier in the Middle East. Obfuscation has always been a low form of propaganda, but the focus on Hamas illustrates the full extent of liberal democratic hypocrisy in this regard: in light of the relentless succession of war crimes committed against the civilian populations of Gaza and the Occupied West Bank by a hubristic Israeli military.
Whatabouthamasists have nothing other to say than to invoke the nonsensical mantra of an occupier’s right to self-defence against those it occupies (a rhetorical fallacy that can only make sense in a coloniser’s twisted mind). This tactic is an artificial construct that cannot stand on its own, kept alive through a feeding tube of constant repetition. In doing so, it desperately seeks to consolidate a false reality in which after a month and a half of Israel’s megalomaniacal warfare on Gaza during which the self-acclaimed “most moral army in the world” has eviscerated the lives of more than 14,000 Palestinians and counting, Hamas is still upheld as the villain of choice.
This cognitive dissonance in the service of sanitising Israel’s racialised genocide is best described in the words of author Gabor Maté, a Holocaust survivor: “Take the worst thing you can say about Hamas, multiply it by a thousand times and it will still not meet the Israeli repression and killing and dispossession of Palestinians.”
As Israel continues to pursue its scorched earth policy by carpet bombing Gaza, wilfully targeting hospitals and schools, refugee shelters and residential buildings, mosques and churches, bakeries and aid convoys, all under the flimsiest of pretexts, namely targeting Hamas, the question should not be “what about Hamas?”, but “what about Israel?” Yes, it is high time to turn the tables on the West’s whatabouthamasism schtick with a much needed whataboutisraelism. In doing so, the latter would not even be stooping to the level of the Israel apologists who use their specialised whataboutism as a means to uphold ill-gotten hegemony.
On the contrary, it would constitute an act of reclaiming one’s narrative and pointing the needle of blame back to the actual problem: Israel’s inhuman settler colonialism. One that pursues two either-or objectives only, putting Palestinians in a perpetual state of subjugation in which they forfeit their basic human rights, or getting rid of them once and for all and thus realising the Zionist project's historical pipe dream of the complete Judaisation of Palestine.
Timo Al-Farooq is a freelance journalist based in Berlin, Germany.
Follow him on Twitter: @talrooq.
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.