Following Sackur’s invocation of the campaigning political NGO ‘Breaking the Silence’ and his amplification and endorsement of that group’s claim that “the moral consequence of prolonged occupation of the Palestinian people” is “the corruption of young Israelis who serve that occupation”, Ya’alon replied:
“What is the choice? To allow the Palestinians to have Hamastan in the West Bank as well – like in the Gaza Strip? You know we are not deployed any more in Gaza.”
Sackur then indulged in some condescending finger wagging.
“You keep saying ‘what is the choice’. You have to believe in the values of your particular state.”
“We keep the values. I kept the values. I fought to [for] the values.”
Sackur then came up with the following accusation:
Sackur: “In 2002 you described the Palestinian people as a cancer.”
Ya’alon: “I didn’t do it.”
Sackur: “Well you did because the Israeli media reported it.”
Ya’alon:”So? It doesn’t mean that I said it. I didn’t say it. Nevertheless, you pick certain quotations…”
Sackur: “Did you sue them for claiming that you’d described the Palestinian people as – I’m quoting directly – like a cancer?”
Ya’alon: “I didn’t say that.”
Sackur: “You said ‘invisible but an existential threat’.”
Ya’alon: “No; it’s something very different but nevertheless, you know, I prefer…”
Sackur: “How would you have felt if a Palestinian leader had described the Israeli Jewish people as a cancer? How would you have felt then?”
Ya’alon: “I didn’t do it. Why don’t you…I deny it.”
Sackur: “So you’re accusing the Israeli media of peddling a lie.”
Ya’alon: “You know there are so many false allegations, misquotations or whatever.”
Despite Sackur’s disingenuous claim to be “quoting directly”, Moshe Ya’alon did not describe the Palestinian people “as a cancer”. What he did say – at a conference in August 2002 at the height of the second Intifada – according to a report by Maariv is that:
“The struggle against the Palestinians keeps me awake at nights. It is like a threat with cancerous dimensions and attributes. Namely, it is a threat that is not always visible, but it is devastating and very dangerous. Just like cancer, sometimes the patient is not clearly told he is sick. The current Palestinian leadership does not recognize Israel and does not want us to go on living in our country.”
In an interview with Ha’aretz the same week he clarified:
“When I look at the overall map, what disturbs me especially is the Palestinian threat and the possibility that a hostile state will acquire nuclear capability. Those are the most worrisome focal points, because both of them have the potential of being an existential threat to Israel. […]
There is something surprising in the fact that you see the Palestinian threat as an existential threat.
The characteristics of that threat are invisible, like cancer. When you are attacked externally, you see the attack, you are wounded. Cancer, on the other hand, is something internal. Therefore, I find it more disturbing, because here the diagnosis is critical. If the diagnosis is wrong and people say it’s not cancer but a headache, then the response is irrelevant. But I maintain that it is cancer. My professional diagnosis is that there is a phenomenon here that constitutes an existential threat.”
In a Knesset committee meeting the following month Ya’alon again clarified his statement:
“There is a difference between what was published and what I said, stressed Yaalon […] I did not say that the Arabs are cancer. I said that I identify the potential for an existential threat with cancerous attributes. […] I ask those attacking me to call me and confirm with me what I said.”
Stephen Sackur, however, has deliberately taken a misquotation that was clarified fifteen years ago and used it to advance a false smear, which he then ‘supports’ using the risible claim that everything reported by the Israeli media is true.
From there the interview continued with Sackur asking questions about the US president’s regional initiatives before embarking on supercilious preaching on the topic of the approach that he obviously thinks should be taken by an Israeli prime minister.
Sackur: “If I may say so you sound just like Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. You spent the first part of this interview saying that he was no longer qualified to be Israel’s prime minister. You clearly want his job but your positions on all of the key elements of this – the fact you won’t talk about a two-state solution, you won’t talk about land for peace – you seem to be just like Binyamin Netanyahu.”
“So your strategic vision is just the same as Netanyahu’s.”
“Well that’s hardly going to inspire the Israeli public to shift from him to you.”
Sackur then moved on to another topic, claiming that:
“There are pragmatic leaders in the Sunni Arab world, let’s say Saudi Arabia, let’s say Jordan, Egypt, who may well be interested in a long-term alliance of sorts with Israel against Iran if Israel were prepared to make concessions on the Palestinian issue which would let the Arabs in. But you’re not ready to do that, are you?”
He introduced another falsehood:
“But the Arabs are not going to buy that as long as you continue to refuse to contemplate the two-state solution and give Palestinians their dream of statehood.”
This interview presented an opportunity for BBC audiences to have their understanding of why years of negotiations have failed to produce results greatly enhanced.
However, rather than making the most of the opportunity to allow viewers to hear from an Israeli who has served in key positions – including a three-year post as head of military intelligence – and gain insight into why, like many other Israelis, someone who supported the Oslo process later arrived at the conclusion that it was a mistake, Stephen Sackur was obviously much more interested in aggressively promoting his own patronising opinions, his political agenda and his amateur psychological diagnoses of an entire nation.
Unfortunately for the BBC’s funding public, that has long been par for the course in Sackur’s interviews with Israelis.