Would Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul be any less horrific if it were more widely acknowledged that he was indeed an Islamist? It seems that’s how a lot of people feel – and if you disagree, you risk being denounced as a fanatic right-wing supporter of Trump and a cynical apologist for the cruel and oppressive Saudis regime.
I’m not a Trump supporter, and I would find it very hard to think of anything good to say about the Saudi royals. But I also can’t quite see the political wisdom of reducing Khashoggi to the last year of his life and pretending that he was just some sort of liberal Saudi dissident who was writing op-eds for the Washington Post. What I do see instead is that these efforts to whitewash Khashoggi’s political views inevitably benefit the Islamists with whom he spent the last days of his life.
It’s true that – as a CNN article put it – “Jamal Khashoggi was a journalist, not a jihadist,” but it’s also true that Khashoggi collaborated to his last day with people who advocate jihad and that he was quite open about his support for the Hamas jihad against Israel.
When the news about Khashoggi’s disappearance at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul first broke, I noticed that many of the reports featured a photo showing Khashoggi in front of a banner advertising the Middle East Monitor (MEMO). From my work on anti-Israel activism and anti-Semitism, I knew what MEMO is, and I started to wonder why a Washington Post columnist would associate himself with a disreputable Islamist organization like MEMO.
As it turned out, Khashoggi spent his last weekend in London, visiting his old Islamist comrade Azzam Tamimi and attending a conference organized by MEMO. While this fact has been noted in some media reports, there has been a marked reluctance to acknowledge the fact that MEMO is a British news site notorious for its “pro-Hamas and pro-Muslim Brotherhood stance.” As British antisemitism researchers have pointed out, MEMO frequently promotes “conspiracy theories” about Jewish or Zionist machinations as well as “other classical antisemitic canards and tropes.”
So the main benefit of getting your news from MEMO is that you quickly realize that whenever something bad happens in the Middle East, it’s the fault of the evil and illegitimate Jewish state – indeed, at MEMO, even Khashoggi’s disappearance can somehow be connected to Israel.
As Khashoggi certainly knew, MEMO is part of an extensive network of groups and organizations that was patiently built up based on an initiative first conceived in 2003 by two former al-Qaeda members in Saudi Arabia. In 2009, one of the groups affiliated with the network attracted critical attention with its so-called “Istanbul Declaration” which reflects an event with the Orwellian title “Global Anti-Aggression Campaign” where reportedly “speaker after speaker called for jihad against Israel in support of Hamas.”
MEMO director Daud Abdullah was one of the signatories of the “Istanbul Declaration.”
Abdullah is reportedly also “a leader of the Brotherhood-linked British Muslim Initiative.” A decade ago, he faced sharp criticism for insisting that the Muslim Council of Britain should boycott Holocaust Memorial Day.
It would be hard to overstate how much MEMO has benefitted from the free advertisement provided by prestigious media outlets that cited its association with Khashoggi without divulging its political agenda.
MEMO cleverly seized the opportunity to further enhance its completely undeserved legitimation by organizing a memorial event for Khashoggi at the end of October. MEMO director Daud Abdullah opened the event which was live-streamed by the Washington Post. Senior Human Rights Watch official Sarah Leah Whitson also saw fit to legitimize MEMO by attending this event and promoting it energetically to her almost 50,000 followers on Twitter.
Those who are now so eager to legitimize MEMO in the wake of Khashoggi’s assassination are particularly disingenuous when they deny that he was a lifelong Islamist who cheered Hamas and whitewashed the record of the extremist Muslim Brotherhood clearic Yussuf Qaradawi.
It is after all thanks to MEMO’s reporting about Khashoggi and the translation of some of his columns to English that it is now so easy to document some of Khashoggi’s rather unsavory views.
One of the noteworthy examples is a MEMO report from last February – i.e. when Khashoggi was already writing for the Washington Post. According to the report, Khashoggi told his audience during a speech in Istanbul that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s “talk about moderate Islam” should be dismissed as worthless as long as the Saudi royals remained hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood. Khashoggi asserted that it was Muslim Brotherhood clerics like Yusuf Qaradawi who “introduced the term moderate Islam” and he insisted that “Bin Salman is confused about the proper choice for moderation […] The Muslim Brotherhood are moderates, but he does not want to admit that.”
Let’s contrast Khashoggi’s praise of the notorious Qaradawi as a paragon of “moderate Islam” with what the Washington Post reported on Qaradawi just a few months before the paper hired Khashoggi.
Citing a US counterterrorism expert, the paper described Qaradawi as “one of the most public figureheads of the radical wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.” Other US officials characterized the Muslim cleric as “a man whose beatific smile and folksy speaking style belie a history of defending suicide bombings in Israel and condoning violence against U.S. troops in Iraq.” The report also highlights the fact that Qaradawi sometimes used his popular sermons and his TV show to express support for Hamas and that he “has suggested that the murder of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany was ‘divine punishment’ for historical transgressions. He has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel, including the killing of civilians.”
Qaradawi’s precise comment on the Holocaust during an Al Jazeera program in January 2009 is worth quoting:
“Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them – even though they exaggerated this issue – he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers.”
It is hardly less alarming that Qaradawi also believes in a divinely ordained end-of-times battle between “all Muslims and all Jews.”
The fact that Qaradawi’s well-documented fanaticism didn’t bother Khashoggi is most likely due to his own intense hostility to Israel, which is clearly reflected in some of his Al Hayat columns published by MEMO in English translation.
In an article from July 2014 entitled “Palestine, the occupation and the resistance for beginners”, Khashoggi asserted that Israel’s “existence is outside the context of history and logic […] it came into being by force, it will live by force and it will die by force.”
While Khashoggi is now widely portrayed as a sophisticated Middle East analyst who shared important liberal values, he meant it quite literally when he claimed that Israel exists “outside the context of history and logic.”
Khashoggi’s shocking denial of Jewish history is evident from a Twitter exchange [archived] that took place in October 2015 [emphasis added; the tweets were first highlighted by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre].
Khashoggi first posted a tweet asserting that the “Grave of Al-Nabi Yusuf [Joseph’s Tomb] which was attacked by demonstrators yesterday is a Jewish fabrication. It is a grave built in the Turkish period, and the Jews turned it into a school of extremism and claimed that it is [the grave] of Joseph.”
He then followed up explaining:
“The Jews have no history in Palestine. Because of this, they invented the Wailing Wall, which is a Mameluke structure. After 67 they noticed Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus and they decided that it is [the grave] of Joseph, and they took it over.”
Another Twitter user (@JawadAlhashimy) objected: “The Jews without history in Palestine!!! It seems professor that your honor’s knowledge of history is like my knowledge of the Korean language!! Greetings.”
Khashoggi responded: “Go and dig with them Jawad Al-Hashimi, maybe you will find a grave or remains that they can ask blessings from. [The Jews] dug all over [Palestine] and they didn’t find anything, maybe you have [more] experience.”
Jawad Alhashimy replied: “For your knowledge professor, we Muslims took from the Jews even the name ‘Al-Quds’. [The Jews] called Jerusalem ‘Beit Hamikdash’ and we stole it and called it Bayt Al-Maqdis.”
In response, Khashoggi wrote: “@JawadAlhashimy shame [on you]… The Muslims didn’t steal anything from the Jews. I consider you to be a Muslim who is proud of your identity, do not provoke me anymore.”
Jawad Alhashimy insisted again: “Yes, they [the Muslims] did. They stole its Hebrew name ‘Beit Hamiqdash’ which means ‘Holy House’ and they gave this name to Iliya [Arabic version of the Roman Aelia Capitolina] in the days of the conflict between the Omayyads and Ibn Al-Zubayr.”
Khashoggi’s denial of Jewish history clearly reflects his commitment to rather extremist Islamist ideology, which he also betrayed with his evident hope that Israel “will die by force.”
It is thus hardly surprising that Khashoggi was also an ardent admirer of the terror group Hamas. In an article written in July 2014, Khashoggi begins with what reads like a bitter lament that the Arabs have never waged “a jihad” against Israel. Implicitly rejecting negotiations with Israel, Khashoggi asserts that the divinely ordained “price” for freedom was “blood and death.” He then heaps praise on Hamas for accomplishing the “miracle” of procuring rockets and explosives; he expresses great admiration for the “distinguished combat performance” shown by Hamas and the building of “the huge network of tunnels that extends for miles under Gaza and the borders with Israel and Egypt” which – as Khashoggi notes with undisguised delight – “were used brilliantly to inflict unprecedented losses on the enemy.”
But the perhaps most chilling sentence comes when Khashoggi concludes: “All of this proves that the movement [i.e. Hamas] wasted no time while ruling in Gaza.”
All too obviously, Khashoggi felt that Hamas should be applauded for turning Gaza into a heavily armed terrorist enclave instead of taking advantage of Israel’s withdrawal in 2005 to develop the territory into a model for a Palestinian state. But praising this as a miraculous accomplishment of Hamas makes sense only for someone who fervently hopes that one day, Israel “will die by force.”
As vile as some of Khashoggi’s views may have been, they obviously don’t justify his assassination. Yet, his undisguised hatred for Israel should not be whitewashed by portraying him as a quasi-liberal writer who just wanted a few freedoms for the Middle East. Khashoggi also wanted a Middle East where Islamist forces like the terror group Hamas would vanquish the hated Jewish state. Precisely because Khashoggi’s many Islamist friends are fully aware of this fact that is so inconvenient for his western friends, the efforts to downplay what Khashoggi’s Islamism entailed could all too easily be construed as tacit approval.
Translation from Arabic courtesy of Ibn Boutros.
A slightly different version of this post was first published at my Times of Israel blog.