Dan Perry
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Dan Perry

The News Media Has Helped Normalize Hamas

As a former foreign correspondent in the Middle East, I’ve frequently found myself defending the industry with Israelis who charge media bias. But as I observe the cluelessness of Hamas apologists worldwide, I realize a mea culpa may be due. We have failed to tell the story of a jihadi outfit considered a terrorist group by the United States with excellent reason.

I refer not to the usual media watchdog quibbles about headlines or the finer points of journalistic ethics but rather to a basic failure to communicate. And it is a failure mostly by omission, the most vulgar of journalistic derelictions; one can plausibly deny an intention to mislead.

Dan Perry

To be clear, I would not sugar-coat the execrable Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor ignore Israel’s fundamental misdeeds: for 57 years it has ruled and misruled millions of West Bank Palestinians to whom it has not extended the right to vote. It should have disengaged. None of the excuses—security needs, refusals of peace offers—make it right. Israel must own that.

But support for Hamas in this war is not support for the Palestinian cause of an independent state on a share of the Holy Land.

That is not only not the cause of Hamas—it is precisely what Hamas has for decades been laboring to prevent. Much of the world seems not to know this central fact. Social media spreads disinformation, yes, but surely the captains of much-maligned mainstream media would not claim total impotence or wash their hands of the result. They must own that.


Serious media must do more than quote all sides and hide behind some lazy and craven definition of “the reporting”; it must dig deep, think hard, grown a spine and distil the essence.

And what, on Hamas, is the essence? Well, Hamas is not in power in Gaza due to elections (as is often erroneously suggested) but because of a coup (the 2006 vote in which Hamas won a plurality—not a majority—was for the overall Palestinian Authority legislature); it runs a quasi-theocratic mafia state where opposition will get you killed and a bottle of wine will get you arrested; and it seeks eternal war till total victory. Since the 1990s, whenever there were peace talks, Hamas tried to scuttle them with terrorism meant to bring out the worst in Israelis—and the Israelis took the bait.

Since seizing Gaza violently in 2007, for years Hamas provoked Israel with rocket fire. This has been widely treated—including, somehow, by Israel—as an annoyance, like mosquitos or musicals or paywalls. Hamas also stole hundreds of millions of dollars to build hundreds of miles of fortified tunnels where its operatives hide and from which the population is barred.

On Oct. 7, the group invaded Israel and carried out a barbaric massacre of 1,200 people. There is some debate about the purpose. The Haaretz newspaper reported last weekend that Hamas actually harbored—no-joke—illusions of occupying the whole country—a nuclear power with five times the population of Gaza, a first-world GDP, a top-10 military and world-beating tech. But more likely, they knew their attack would spark massive retribution, and welcomed it.


The war, in which Hamas uses civilians as the ultimate collective human shield, is proceeding in accordance with the Hamas design. It could probably end in a second if Hamas wished it so; Israel would hand Gaza to other forces and allow Hamas’ leaders exile in exchange for the remaining hostages. But war is Hamas’ preferred mode, since it knows that Israel’s global standing, economy and social cohesion will be harmed. In its twisted universe, “martyrdom” for Palestinians is an inexpensive price to pay. Israel’s cretinous government has done the rest—for example, by playing games with humanitarian aid until President Joe Biden lowered the boom on Netanyahu last week.

These are simple truths that anyone familiar with the facts knows well, including and especially the poor Palestinians who have borne the brunt of the cruelty of Hamas.

All one needs to do is talk to educated Gazans who have managed to escape the iron grip of Hamas. But to present them without equivocation would clash with the media’s preference of appearing neutral. It sounds like you’re taking a side, and life is too short for journalists to deal with that toxic accusation.

The serious international media is most comfortable when it can maintain a comfortable distance from any particular protagonist. Generally, this is wise. It’s also good business, because the media is struggling to stay afloat financially and doesn’t need the headache of political controversy—as Michael Jordan famously said, Republicans buy sneakers, too. And so, it generally gravitates toward a type of bothsidesism that suggests to readers and viewers that there are no good guys on any given field. Usually, that is sufficiently accurate that it works quite well.

It breaks down when the market of news consumers—or other powerful players—has chosen sides. The media has largely presented Russia’s President Vladimir Putin as satanic, and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky as impishly heroic. So, coverage of the Ukraine war has been a tad simplistic and has hardly reflected the Russian case. But this is not, on balance, the worst thing in the world: Putin is odious and Russia’s attack on Ukraine was, in the final analysis, a mistake and a crime.

No such luck in the case of the Gaza war. The media has largely stuck to its instincts for impartiality: “Both sides” have their narratives, and both have good and bad. One may be a terrorist group and the other a Western-leaning democracy—but in this era of progressive decolonization narratives, an association with the West will not get you very far with much of the Western media. Ironic.

The Israelis indeed have good and bad. But Israel is a democracy that can dump its useless government and probably will.

Israel’s mainstream wants to be rid of the conflict with the Palestinians and views the issue largely through the prism of security. Israel has ultranationalists, violent settlers, and religious fanatics, but the bulk of the population inhabit the same Euclidean universe, share the same values, and believe in the same primacy of reason as most news consumers abroad.


None of that can be said of Hamas, and since Hamas is omnipotent in Gaza it should be the center of media scrutiny. It is a violent fundamentalist movement that seeks not just the demise of Israel but also, with its jihadi fellow travelers, of the West. Hamas and its accomplices share none of the values that drive the modern world, from respect for human rights to freedom of speech to the rule of law.

Are so many Westerners, especially Gen Zers, too feeble-minded to get this? Perhaps to a degree. But I say that a major factor is that they are not being informed.

Is it antisemitism on the part of the foreign press corps, as some Israeli partisans will rush to charge? Not much, in my experience.

It mostly stems from intellectual laziness typical of our era, a surfeit of cynicism typical of journalists, and a dollop of woke-ish fuzziness.

Some argue that no one appointed journalists to connect the dots for people, and that the wisest approach would be to just “report the facts.” The self-righteous just-the-facts school misses something basic. Every nanosecond in the universe throws up an infinity of facts. The choices of which tiny minority among them to pursue and how to present them are already judgement calls.

When the result is the normalization of a monstrosity like Hamas, that is malpractice. Have I been guilty of it myself? All I can say is, like Oscar Schindler in the film, I feel I did not do enough.

Dan Perry

Dan Perry is the former chief editor of The Associated Press in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, the former chairman of the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem – special for Newsweek

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