Naftali Bennett – Interview on BBC’s HARDtalk

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1/   Whenever Israeli spokespersons appear on foreign TV channels there are usually key issues that interviewers wish to discuss.  With the current war in Gaza, it’s easy to predict that the matter of civilian deaths in Gaza, the-day-after-Hamas, and the two-state solution will be among them.

2/   Sure enough, these issues arose during the recent appearance of Naftali Bennett on the BBC show HARDtalk on 20 Dec 2023.  Hosted by Stephen Sackur, HARDtalk is the most popular news-interview program in the world with 70 million viewers.  This was an important half-hour opportunity for Naftali Bennett to make sure that by the end of the show the audience had a greater appreciation of the causes of the conflict and its solution than it had previously.

3/   To make this more difficult than it should have been, Stephen Sackur adopts a ‘splatter’ technique of questioning.  This switches abruptly from one issue to another and never seems to give space to deal with the previous question before jumping to the next.  This seems designed less to inform audiences but to accumulate inadequately answered questions to make the interviewee appear inept.

4/   Clearly, interviewees are guided by questions from hosts who have their own aims.  But from Israel’s point of view, the aim of the interview is not to be led-by-the-nose, but to use the questions as vehicles for Israel’s purpose.  This is to inform and educate the international public – especially about key issues that are normally obscured by the mainstream media.  This requires preparation and planning (see below paras 18-20).  Sadly, Naftali Bennett appeared to neglect both.

Civilian casualties in war

5/   For example, he gave a stout defense when under attack from accusations that the IDF violated the Rules of War.  He pointed out that hospitals lost their protected status if used by an enemy for military purposes.  It would probably have helped his credibility if the relevant part of the Fourth Geneva Convention (Article 19) had been directly quoted to this effect.

6/   Likewise, his familiarity and seriousness about the Rules of War would have been enhanced by providing another quotation from the Fourth Geneva Convention (Protocol 1 Article 48) that Hamas’ practice of embedding itself within the civilian population not only made IDF operations difficult but was illegal.  He might also have pointed out that such illegal action did not outlaw self-defense by those attacked in this way (see the 4Legal Muddles box).

7/   He made a strong point that the war could be over in two minutes if Hamas released the hostages and disarmed.  This would have been much more persuasive politically if he had pointed out that this was unlikely because Hamas was not just a mindless group of brutish terrorists but was a serious and dangerous threat with a well-developed philosophy and ruthless intentions.  Quoting from the Hamas Charter would have demonstrated that its chief aims were:

  1. to destroy Israel,
  2. to seize all its territory,
  3. to establish a shari’a-based Islamic state.

8/   As the mainstream media has done a thorough job of not revealing this to the public, it would probably have been the first time that many in the audience would have heard of the Hamas Charter or of its explicit intentions.  Therefore, this would have been valuable educational material to bring to the attention of millions of people.

9/   Regarding the future of Gaza, Bennett made the sound observation that a new ‘de-nazified’ regime was needed.  This is, of course, a major point.  It would have been politically stronger to have added that after a series of wars with Hamas, a peaceful relationship with Israel was ONLY possible when Gaza had a government that no longer wants to destroy Israel (see Israel’s Primary Message # 1).

10/   Unfortunately, this was left unsaid and the issue slipped-by in a wrangle about the feasibility of ‘de-nazifying’ Gaza.  As evidence of its feasibility, he gave the example of the de-Nazification of Germany and, less convincingly, Operation Defensive Shield on the West Bank in 2002.  In the current circumstances no conclusive evidence is possible.  But it was possible to have made the challenge that if Stephen Sackur, or the BBC, or the UN have a better solution to secure peace between Gaza and Israel without ending Hamas-rule, let’s hear it.  Alternatively, if they can’t, perhaps they could advise on a better method for eradicating Hamas?

11/   In the meantime, Israel should not be blamed for wars engineered by Hamas.  Yet blaming Israel is exactly what will happen.  This is why it was a mistake for Bennett not to have mentioned that the UN, the EU, and the mainstream media have made zero efforts to inform the public of Hamas’ intentions to destroy Israel.  Nor have they demanded that Hamas end the war, release the hostages, disarm, and cease its efforts to murder and kidnap Jews.  Again, these are major points for the public to know.

12/   Likewise, it was a serious omission not to remind the audience that during the 14 years of Hamas rule, neither the UN or the EU attempted to persuade or pressurize Hamas to abandon its aim of destroying a neighboring state, or even declare strong opposition to those aims.  In practice, they acquiesced to the rule of Hamas.  Along with financial support, this makes them complicit in the perpetuation of the conflict and successive outrages such as the 7th October mass murders.

Peaceful two-state solution to end the conflict

13/   Underpinning concerns of the international public is the belief that Israel occupies Palestinian territory.  As a result, this is a major issue with Israel widely seen as the cause of the conflict.  This belief undermines international support for Israel.  It also produces a disabling unease among many Jews and Israel’s friends and potential friends, who look to Israel for guidance and leadership.  It also provides fertile soil for BDS, antisemitism, and accusations of apartheid and genocide.

14/   This means that Israel’s response must be very good.  Unfortunately, Naftali Bennett’s response wasn’t.  By failing to say whether he would ever be able to accept such a solution or not he sounded as if he was indecisive or hiding something.  Instead, a better answer could easily have made really BIG political points.  For example, he could have reminded his audience, with evidence to-hand, that:

  1. the Palestinians have already been offered a state many times and have rejected it every time (does HARDtalk recognize this?).
  2. all Palestinian factions claim all the territory of Israel – from the river to the sea – the ’48 territories, etc (does HARDtalk recognize this?).
  3. the Palestinian National Charter of the PA/PLO and the Hamas Charter both aim for the violent elimination of Israel (does HARDtalk recognize this?) and refuse to accept any Jewish state. Given the lack of information from the BBC and other mainstream media outlets, it is fortunate that both documents are available online for viewers to check.
  4. The Palestinians have never offered their own proposals for a peaceful solution. Nor have they shown the slightest interest or ever agreed to 2-states as an end to the conflict.

15/   Having established these points, he could then have followed with a discussion of why this was the case.  The brief answer is that the Palestinians do not accept a Jewish state but intend to conquer it (see 2-State Solutions Box).  This leads naturally to a BIG political issue that Israel needs the international public to know, that any realistic effort to create a peaceful Palestinian state alongside Israel requires that the Palestinians jettison the Palestinian National Charter and the Hamas Charter and abandon their aim of destroying Israel. 

16/   Without this, Israel has no interest in having on its border an eliminationist Palestinian state that would inevitably use its territory to prepare and launch attacks and escalate the war to destroy Israel.  The experience with Hamas in Gaza illustrates this perfectly.  Until this is corrected, the subjugation (Sackur’s term) of the West Bank and Gaza will continue, and the position of the Palestinians will remain bleak (also Sackur’s term) – although he somehow missed out that this is entirely caused by the perpetual Palestinian refusal to accept the right of a Jewish state to exist.

17/   These are the crucial political points needed to demonstrate that the Palestinians are to blame for the conflict (see Primary Message #1).  The next series of crucial political points was to remind the audience that international efforts to coax or coerce the Palestinians to drop their intentions to destroy Israel are entirely absent (see Primary Message #2).  By failing to stress either point or make any real attempt to focus on these issues, he again demonstrated a lack of preparation and planning.

Planning and Preparation

18/   Admittedly, the ‘splatter’ questioning technique of the host was awkward.  This highlights an important point about such interviews:  they are frequently conducted for the purpose of condemning Israel and its spokespersons, and not to provide a fair opportunity for Israeli response.  This is why preparation and planning are required.

19/   Preparation means having available supporting materials such as the previously mentioned Fourth Geneva Convention, quotations from President Abbas, the Hamas Charter, and the Palestinian National Charter, and so on.  That is, assertions are insufficient and supporting evidence is needed to demonstrate a case.  Yet despite being filmed in front of masses of books, Naftali Bennett neither used nor mentioned any of these documents.  Unbelievable.

20/   Planning means having a clear idea beforehand of the chief messages to be made in the interview.  The reality is that Israel needs certain key, core, primary messages to become international knowledge so that its interests are not ignored in international diplomacy (see the 4Primary Messages box).  Unfortunately, Naftali Bennett showed no awareness of the necessity for this.  This is amazing for a senior politician and former PM.  It seems as if it was forgotten that the main audience for Israel was the 70 million viewers, not Stephen Sackur.

Next time

21/   Finally, I’m unaware of how much time Naftali Bennett had to prepare for this interview.  Nor do I know if he has a team to help him prepare.  But if he does, my first instinct would be to get a new team immediately – that is, before his next excursion with the international public.  Then, when he has decided on his primary messages, he will be better able to deal with awkward questioning techniques and supply international audiences with badly-needed information and ideas.

22/   Opportunities like an appearance on HARDtalk do not occur every day.  So, when they do, it’s as well to give them all the attention they deserve.  The test of success or failure is whether the audience is better informed and clearer on the real causes of the conflict and the obstacles to its solution at the end of the interview than they were at the start.  Sadly, with so many major points missed, it’s hard to see that this is the case.


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