David Rose

The day LBC let Putin’s ambassador say Israel had gone beyond the right to defend itself

After a terrible week for Israel, Hamas is getting closer to achieving its last war aim – the isolation of the Jewish state


Russian ambassador Andrei Kelin tells Nick Ferrari's LBC audience that Israel has gone beyond the right to defend itself against Hamas - photo posted by LBC

April 05, 2024 16:22

I wrote in this space six weeks ago that notwithstanding the death and devastation being visited on the people of the Gaza Strip, Hamas was getting dangerously close to achieving its war aims, the objectives it had when it launched the October 7 attacks. Since then, the situation has become more perilous.

As I pointed out in February, Hamas may be a death cult, but its leaders are rational human beings. They must, therefore, have realised that when they decided to inflict atrocities of such grotesque barbarity, Israel could only respond in one way: with an effort to destroy them once and for all. They must also have known that inevitably, this would lead to the deaths of many thousands of their fighters and Palestinian civilians. In their eyes, however, achieving their goals would make this price worthwhile.

Three of Hamas’s war aims were fulfilled several months ago.

First, Israelis no longer feel their country is safe. This week has seen reports that many of them, still traumatised by the October attacks, are stocking up on bottled water and essential supplies, fearful of an escalation of the conflict in the north with Hezbollah or even an attack by its paymaster, Iran.

Second, there has been an ongoing upsurge in antisemitism throughout the diaspora, on a scale unprecedented since 1945.

Third, the trust between Israelis and Palestinians that is an essential precondition for a lasting peace deal – which, lest we forget, would be Hamas’s worst nightmare – has been blown to smithereens.

In February I wrote that Hamas’s fourth and final aim, the isolation of Israel from its allies, was still some way off and might be averted. In the wake of the Israeli airstrikes that killed seven World Central Kitchen aid workers earlier this week, it has come a lot closer.

The threats being made by US President Biden to withdraw support from Israel if it does not agree to an immediate ceasefire and “specific, concrete and measurable steps to address civilian harm” appear to herald a wholly unfamiliar era in relations between the two countries. Meanwhile in Britain, a growing body of opinion is demanding a ban on arms sales to Israel.

Accompanying – indeed, driving – this tectonic shift in international relations are media narratives and attitudes. It has got to the point where whatever Israel tries to say in its defence, it will automatically be disbelieved and, in some cases, literally silenced. The producers of major TV news programmes have adopted a new technique: cutting the audio feed from Israeli spokespersons when they start to answer questions in a way they dislike, so allowing the presenter to keep on talking over them without viewers being able to hear what they’re trying to say.

There have been numerous examples, but if you want to see an egregious one, check out this post by the UK-born Israeli government spokesman Avi Hyman on 26 February.

There you’ll find an interview with him by Krishnan Gurumurthy of Channel 4 News, whose first question was: “Do you accept now that there are children starving to death in Gaza?”

Hyman started to answer by referring to the events of October 7 that started the war, but he had barely started his first sentence when his mic went mute and his face vanished from the screen. Instead of Hyman, viewers saw and heard Gurumurthy, saying: “Could you just address my question? We are used to the talking points. I’m just asking you, do you accept that children are starving?”

The X post clip demonstrates that the same thing happened several times later in their conversation: it seems that for some, the historical fact that this unwanted and terrible war was triggered not by Israel but by Hamas has become unmentionable.

As hostility to Israel has grown, things are being said on “respectable” outlets that would once have been inconceivable. On Thursday, the former Tory MP Sir Alan Duncan went full ‘Jewish conspiracy’ Monty as a guest on Nick Ferrari’s LBC show, accusing Lord Polak and Lord Pickles of Conservative Friends of Israel of “doing the bidding of Netanyahu, bypassing all proper processes to exercise undue influence at the top of government” and demanding they be “flushed out” of the House of Lords for “exercising the interests of another country”.

It was a busy day for Ferrari, who also interviewed the Russian Ambassador, Andrei Kelin. With apparent respect, he asked him what was his “message to Israel” after the deaths of the aid workers. “Israel should stop doing these things,” replied Kelin, “everybody is calling for that. It is a Security Council resolution… Israel should immediately stop doing and continuing this war in Gaza.”

Given that he was interviewing a man whose government’s continuing war against Ukraine has already led to more than half a million casualties, Russian massacres of civilians, the well-documented torture of thousands of prisoners and threats to unleash nuclear weapons if the West should intervene, Ferrari’s next question – which can be watched on YouTube – beggared belief: “So they [Israel] have gone beyond the right to defend themselves?”

Supplied with this interrogatory underarm lob, Kelin replied: “They’ve gone far beyond the right to defend themselves. Everybody, including the UK and the others are calling them to immediate cessation of fire and also proceeding to the peace plan.”

Coincidentally, Avi Hyman also appeared on Ferrari’s show that morning. He tried to convey Israel’s deep regret at the aid worker airstrikes, the fact that a top general had publicly apologised, and Israel’s determination to conduct and publish an investigation. This time, his mic wasn’t cut off.

But Ferrari made his own view clear: that no investigation that had any Israeli component could have a shred of credibility, and neither would Israel’s claim that Hamas had again been using the Al-Shifa hospital as a military stronghold unless it could produce compelling video evidence. The subtext was plain: Israel might be an ally and a democratic state, but it could not be trusted or believed.

I don’t intend to suggest that presenters such as Ferrari and Gurumurthy are motivated by antisemitism. But every time spokespeople such as Hyman appear in clips, they are subjected to online antisemitic attacks by social media users. Posts on X likening them to the Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels have become especially popular.

Meanwhile, Guardian columnist Owen Jones said on Sky TV – also on Thursday – that Germany was supporting Israel because this enabled it to overcome its Holocaust guilt, and it had “decided to force the Palestinian people to pay for its own heinous crimes”. (Jones was strongly criticised for this, but insisted there “nothing offensive” about it.)

Before October 7, the kind of discourse outlined above wasn’t much in evidence, at least not on mainstream outlets, but was confined to the online chatrooms of the extreme right and left. It is now becoming normalised, and in so doing it  reflects and fosters the deepening chill towards Israel in the chancelleries of the democratic West.

The past week has arguably been Israel’s worst since this conflict started. My fear is that the outlook is still more bleak.

April 05, 2024 16:22

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