Foreign Office holds seminar for staff teaching that Hamas are not terrorists

It was also suggested that Israel was a ‘white, settler colonialist nation’


Foreign Office and Robert Clive Memorial seen from King Charles street in London

The Foreign Office held a seminar at which officials were told that calling Hamas terrorists was an “obstacle to peace” and it was suggested that Israel was a “white, settler colonialist nation”, the JC can reveal.

Four academics, led by Professor Jeroen Gunning from King’s College London, delivered the session to civil servants, including those specialising in the Middle East, at the British diplomatic service’s London headquarters last Wednesday.

Many of the claims made during the 75-minute meeting directly contradicted Britain’s foreign policy, with Professor Gunning claiming that there could be “no future without Hamas”.

A Foreign Office spokesman vowed to “review guidance on internal seminars to ensure speakers invited are appropriate.”

The lecturers had previously co-authored a paper arguing that Britain’s tough line on Hamas had contributed towards provoking the October 7 pogroms.

The seminar was attended by about a hundred government officials, most of them online via a Microsoft Teams network which is only accessible to security vetted Foreign Office staff, the JC understands.

The seminar, billed as a background briefing under the title “Israel/Gaza: What next for Hamas”, was organised by the Foreign Office’s top Middle East research analyst, Martin Hetherington.

Several of the speakers said that to apply the “terrorist label” to Hamas was “unhelpful” and an obstacle to peace. In their view, Hamas’s “political wing” was “moderate”, and there was therefore a need to “engage with them”.

One of the lecturers, Dr Tristan Dunning, from the University of Queensland, said that as an Australian, “I know all about white, settler colonialism and stealing land from the native population”.

When asked whether the massacre should be described as terrorism, the academics did not reply. But Professor Dunning said it should be seen as “resistance” to Israel’s “occupation”, and that Israel was to blame for its treatment of Palestinians.

Although Hamas had failed to build civilian bomb shelters and barred ordinary people from its tunnels, the lecturers said, protecting civilians was the responsibility of the “occupying power” and the high civilian casualty rate was Israel’s fault.

Asked about the Israeli hostages, one of speakers claimed that Palestinian convicts in Israel were “hostages too”, adding that there were thousands of prisoners but only about 100 Israelis held in Gaza.

Professor Gunning and Dr Dunning were joined by Dr Anas Iqtait of Australian National University in Canberra and the University of Sydney’s Dr Martin Kear.

They had co-authored a paper submitted to the House of Commons on Foreign Affairs Select Committee on 7 November that claimed Britain was partly to blame for the October 7 massacre and could now be held accountable for “genocide”.

Britain’s decision to proscribe Hamas as a terrorist organisation in its entirety and its “lack of commitment to ending Gaza’s siege” had “helped to create the conditions for the horrific attacks of 7 October” and had fostered “a permissive environment for Israel to target any building or person in Gaza”, the paper said.

It added: “Coupled with the UK’s continued support for the Israeli government, including the licensing of arms components used in the current bombardment, [this] could make the UK complicit in war crimes committed during Israel’s punitive war on Gaza, including potentially the charge of genocide.”

Israel, the paper claimed, had “apparent genocidal intent”. It also suggested that the high Israeli death toll on October 7 may have been the result of the so-called “Hannibal Directive”, which “instructed [IDF] soldiers to prevent Israeli soldiers from being kidnapped by killing them; in this case, the accusation is that Israeli forces killed Israeli civilians.”

Foreign Office staff had been told discussions would focus on “the future of Hamas in Gaza and its implications for security and reconstruction” and “the future of Hamas within the wider Palestinian movement and what it means for reform of the PLO and any future Middle East Peace Process”.

Lord Polak, the honorary president of Conservative Friends of Israel, told the JC he was astonished to hear of last week’s seminar and was demanding an immediate investigation into how it had taken place.
He recalled that Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron had said that if Hamas were to left in charge of even a part of Gaza, “there will never be a two-state solution because you can’t expect Israel to live next to a group of people that want to do October 7 all over again”.

Polak commented: “I will therefore be asking the Foreign Secretary to investigate the internal Foreign Office meeting held on 28 February and to explain how and why such a meeting with the reported speakers and findings was able to take place there.”

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “The UK Government’s position is unequivocal that Hamas is a terrorist organisation. Many of the views expressed by the academics in the seminar were wrong and contrary to the government’s position.

“We have a zero-tolerance approach to any form of discrimination, including antisemitism. We are reviewing guidance on internal seminars to ensure speakers invited are appropriate.”

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive