It’s time for the British media to stop normalising Abdel Bari Atwan

(All translations by CAMERA Arabic unless otherwise noted)

Abdel Bari Atwan is the London-based editor in chief of “Rai al-Youm” online newspaper, and a figure whose frequent appearances in British media outlets have been criticised repeatedly by CAMERA UK.  Even by his own standards, Atwan’s response to the Kabul airport events reached a new low (translation by MEMRI, from Hezbollah-affiliated television station al-Mayadeen; CAMERA UK already addressed the part of the video concerning the Oslo Accords in a separate post):

Atwan’s same day “Rai al-Youm” editorial stuck to the same talking points about Israelis unable to flee their country once it finally perishes:

[…] WHY MIGHT THE AFGHAN CLIENTS WHO CLANG ONTO AMERICAN AIRPLANES’ WHEELS IN THE KABUL AIRPORT BE LUCKIER THAN THEIR PARALLELS, THE SETTLERS IN OCCUPIED PALESTINE?

[…]

Certainly, the Israelis were the most worried and horrified after having followed the tragic views of America’s clients in the Kabul airport, and began feeling up their own heads because they might face the very same circumstances one day in the upcoming future, with one major difference which is the lack of an airport for them – the Israelis – to flee out of, to safe havens in Europe and America. We shall clarify this point by mentioning that the Gaza war which lasted eleven days, accomplished a grave precedent in the form of the resistance’s rockets shutting down all of Israel’s airports, which brought complete paralysis and blockade upon the occupation state by preventing exits and entrances from it and to it.

[…]

Its [Israel’s] settlers shall not find airports or airplanes to cling onto their wheels once the moment of the great escape arrives […]

And a day after, he repeated this “hopeful” message in his weekly vlog post:

(9:32) This victory of Taliban created a state of horror, among the Americans and the Western world, and even in the circles of the occupying entity, in Israel. The Israelis are horrified now, if the Taliban were able to liberate their land, and defeat America. […] (10:28) Israel is afraid, the Israelis are afraid, that the view which occurred in the Kabul airport would repeat itself in occupied Palestine. No, it won’t repeat itself. Why it won’t repeat itself? Because of a simple reason. By Allah, the Israelis will not find an airport to flee from. By Allah, they won’t find airplanes to cling onto their wheels, because of a simple reason. You saw in Gaza, Gaza in eleven days closed both airports in so-called “Israel”, the Lod airport, and the Ramon airport in the desert. Rockets reached to both and closed them. They will not have anything in front of them but the sea. Truly, the escape is only by sea. This will be the only option. And this is the reason of confusion, horror and fear in the Israeli state of occupation.

In the same video he also justified the Taliban’s mistreatment of women Afghanistan, saying “this is their culture” (6:55), and – seeming to justify the group’s extremism – maintained that a “moderate” Taliban would not have “liberated” the country (7:40), wondering: “the Viet Cong, when they liberated Vietnam, were they moderates?”

Atwan’s words are particularly disturbing given the fact that he’s often invited to speak his mind on respectable British media platforms, like publicly funded BBC Arabic, Ofcom regulated Sky News, IMPACT-regulated 5Pillars and IPSO-regulated Daily Mail to name a few. In Europe he also frequently appeared on public television stations, namely French France24 and German Deutsche Welle.

Will his latest rant influence editors and producers to finally make the decision that Atwan’s views should not be given a platform? Perhaps.  But, we’re here to note that such a measure should been taken long ago.

Atwan’s antisemitism and support for violence against Israeli civilians were well known to his Arabic-speaking audience for decades, and his hate speech was flagged not only by CAMERA UK but also by the Jewish Chronicle.

This is how “Rai al-Youm” responded to JC and CAMERA UK criticism in February 2021:

IN AN ISRAELI ATTEMPT TO SILENCE THE VOICE OF ARAB MEDIA, A JEWISH NEWSPAPER CARRIES OUT A SHARP ATTACK AGAINST BBC ARABIC, BLAMING IT FOR LACK OF IMPARTIALITY AND CRITICIZING ATWAN’S APPEARANCE ON ITS SCREENS.

[…]

In an attempt to conduct a ferocious incitement campaign against political analyst and head of ‘Rai al-Youm’’s editorial board Abdel Bari Atwan, the newspaper [i.e. Jewish Chronicle] partially quoted words from Atwan’s interview 14 years ago, where he says ‘I will dance in London’s Trafalgar square if Iran attacks Israel with missiles’ […]

The Jewish newspaper has thus exposed its claws in front of BBC Arabic, accusing it of being a platform for Palestinian analyst Atwan who infuriated the Israelis. It said that analysts from CAMERA, an NGO monitoring media reports about the Middle East, said that Atwan’s controversial points of view were presented in BBC without accounting for their consequences and impacts.

In fact, the Trafalgar 2007 quotation was brought in the Jewish Chronicle accurately, and is easily viewable elsewhere as well (translation by MEMRI). But in order to demonstrate that Atwan’s history is stained by a lot more than a 14-year-old single quote, our research has uncovered numerous examples where he expresses support for terrorism and Jew-hatred. The list goes from the latest to the earliest, with the exception of cases already mentioned above:

July 2021 – Atwan mourned the death of Ahmed Jibril (chairman of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command between 1968 and his death), using the following words:

The Palestinian cause lost a great leader […] he released hundreds of detained combatants […] may paradise become his last refuge.

As the head of terrorist organization PFLP-GC, Jibril was personally responsible for the deaths of dozens of civilians, among them nine children in a single attack, throughout the 1970s. Referring to the 1985 prisoner exchange which bore Jibril’s name, the group of “detained combatants” whose release Atwan recalled approvingly also included numerous terrorists who murdered civilians.

June 2020 – Atwan mourned the death of Ramadan Shalah (chairman of Palestinian Islamic Jihad between 1995-2018), calling him “a model for patriotism, modesty and high morals” and “a dear friend”.

April 2020 – Atwan warned that favorable depictions of Gulf Jews in a historic television series about the 1940s is a step toward the Jews’ reintroduction into places whence Prophet Muhammad expelled them in the 7th century, and that is because “history” says so:

The ‘Um Haroun’ series is one of the most dangerous episodes in the [sequence] of normalizing and legitimizing the return of Jews to the Arabian peninsula, and Khaybar in particular, and whoever says otherwise does not know history

Astoundingly, this quote also appears to this day – unchallenged and uncontextualized – in a BBC Arabic item (more about BBC Arabic’s habit of embedding hateful comments in their output without proper framing here, here and here.)

November 2019 – Atwan said it would be “a miracle” if Yemen’s Houthi antisemites bomb the city of Eilat and attack Israeli civilian shipping traffic in the Red Sea:

These people [the Houthis], if they open a front with Israel, especially in the Red Sea against Israeli ships and Israeli shipping, and if they bomb Eilat and bomb what is the Dimona laboratory [gets enthusiastic] by Allah, Israel, they will see stars in broad daylight […] this is a miracle, brother. They don’t know the Yemenite people

October 2019 – Atwan warned that Arabs greeting Jews for Rosh ha-Shana is inadvisable because it might escalate into greeting them on Israel’s Independence Day as well:

[Introducing his editorial on Twitter:] Why do we wish that normalizing [the habit of] greeting the Jews for their Rosh ha-Shana should stop, lest it would develop into the ‘holiday’ [marking] the establishment of their state?

[Inside the editorial:] We wish that the Saudi-Emirati alliance would stop greeting the Jews for the Jewish Rosh ha-Shana holiday, lest it would extend into greeting Israel for the ‘holiday’ commemorating its establishment […] any advancement down this path would be catastrophic

April 2019 – Atwan maintained that Netanyahu and the Israeli right are plotting to establish “Tanakhic” Israel on what is today Jordan and Lebanon, and also parts of Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt:

Have they [Arab leaders] had a look at the plan of the Israeli political right, spearheaded by their friend Netanyahu, which demands to establish Israel within [its] Tanakhic borders – i.e. Lebanon and Jordan in their entirety, and also half of Syria, a third of Saudi Arabia, two thirds of Iraq and half of Sinai?

March 2019 – Atwan glorified Omar Abu-Leila, who, in 2019, opened fire at civilians on a road junction near Ariel and later from an abducted car (an incident which claimed two victims, a soldier and a civilian who attempted to shoot back at the assailant):

[Editorial:] The reason he [Abu Leila] entered history [was] carrying out a guerilla attack which reflected an unprecedented level of bravery and courage and terrorized the Israelis […]. This mission sums down to him going to the Ari’el settlement junction which swarms of armed settlers and soldiers; proceeding without hesitation to stab an Israeli soldier with a kitchen knife and grab the soldier’s automatic rifle; seizing a car abandoned by its horrified settler owner who escaped running away, as did dozens of his kind; and shooting from the car’s window […] injuring many settlers, two of them are in intensive care unit due to the severity of their wounds.
[Twitter:] A martyr of Palestine, the Arab nation and the Islamic nation, who exemplified heroism, courage and martyrdom […] and shall become a model and an icon for the current and future generations.
[YouTube:] This wonderful youth, Omar Abu Leila […] how am I supposed to call them [Abu Leila and those killed along with him as Israeli troops closed on them]? Terrorists!? […] By Allah almighty, to the last day of my life they will remain martyrs to me!

17 March 2017 – Atwan rejoiced at the sound of alarm sirens going off in the Jordan valley, urging civilian population to seek shelter, as Syrian anti-aircraft missiles were fired at the residents’ direction after an Israeli raid. He also compared Israeli residents to mice:

The settlers in the Jordan valley did not sleep, at the break of dawn they woke up to the alarm sirens and hurried to the shelters, like mice they hurried to the shelters! This is a historic moment […] This [launching of missiles, in response to Israeli violations and arrogance] is what we want from the entire Arab nation, not only from Syria […]! We must be happy, we must be joyous

12 March 2017 – Atwan rejoiced at the release from prison of Ahmad Deqamseh, the Jordanian soldier who slaughtered seven Israeli schoolgirls aged 13-14 in Naharayim in 1997, and called him a “dutiful son of the nation [Arabic: Ummah, i.e. the entire community of Arabs/Muslims]”. He also congratulated the Jordanians for the release, stating that to them, and to “millions of Arabs” along with them, Deqamseh is “a hero who was able to defend the borders of his country and its honor.” Favorably depicting the festive reception in Deqamseh’s hometown, Atwan also expressed his disappointment that the murderer’s lawyer Hussein Majali, who represented him in his trial out of admiration for his act and later became Jordan’s Minister of Justice, did not live to see the release of “his hero”.

In uncharacteristic generosity, Atwan also conceded that “many of us condemn the killing of the innocent Israeli girls”; he even called this response “understandable”. However, he then diverted:

But do they [the Israelis] treat us the same? How many Palestinian girls were executed in cold blood?

[…]

Unlike the Palestinian Authority and its bunch in Ramallah, not all Jordanians, Palestinians and Arabs are invested in the protection of the Israeli settlers, and consider them partners for a deluded and tainted peace. There are hundreds of millions of Arabs who still consider the Israelis as usurping enemies, and believe in the armed struggle as a sole path towards [retrieving] all Palestinian land from the river to the sea. We hold that young Deqamseh occupies a place on the top of their list.

[…]

When Arab dignity is humiliated, and the Arab citizen is subject to provocation and mockery towards his religion, beliefs and Arabness [Atwan is referring to Deqamseh’s claim in his trial that he was offended by the schoolgirls who mocked his prayer], it is natural that there would be men like Deqamseh to reject these humiliations and provocations […].

There shall be no security for the Israelis, unless by the peace we believe in, and there shall be no stability for them unless by applying all the resolutions of the international legitimacy

On the presence of so-called “international legitimacy” in Arab nationalist discourse as a codename for “peacefully” denying Israel’s Jews the right of self-determination in their homeland, see here and (briefly) here.

Notably, in July 2017 a “Rai al-Youm” headline referred to Deqamseh’s victims as “female conscripts”, regardless of the fact they were all in eighth grade.

June 2016 – Atwan described the Sarona Market attack as a well-“deserved” response to Liberman’s appointment as Israel’ Defense Minister; to him, it indicates Palestinian “honor, pride and resistance”, and the perpetrators’ “elegance”, “calmness and confidence” (especially the fact they killed civilians in suits and ties and not while disguised as rabbis). From now on, he assures, Israeli civilians shall not live in safety wherever in Israel they are; nor should they, because they are responsible for denying that safety from others by sowing strife and internal wars across the Arab world:

Israel’s new Minister of Defense Avigdor Liberman directed at the Palestinians a message full of arrogance, provocations and ‘fake’ self-confidence, warning them […] ‘not to test Israel’s power’. The striking and defiant answer [i.e. the attack] came after less than two days. Liberman, it seems, did not know who the Palestinians are, so somebody was found to let him know, celebrating him being assigned the Ministry of Defense like he deserves.
The two who carried out the Tel Aviv attack did not disguise themselves as Rabbis as was rumored in the beginning; rather, they were in their utmost elegance, wearing suits and ties of international brands, and demonstrated every bit of calmness and confidence as their rifles opened fire at the Israelis
[…]
When the Israelis behave in such bloodthirsty, barbaric manner […] what do they expect? […] This people [i.e. the Palestinians] was brought up on honor, pride, resistance and sacrifice […]”
The [same] sectarian wars which the Israelis and their American allies sew their seeds […] in order to tear the region apart, exhaust its armies and destroy its countries, shall eventually reach Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jaffa, Be’er Sheva and Jerusalem. The Israeli settler shall not be immune from their flames, why would he be, as he enjoys safety, security and stability all while denying them from others?

October 2015 – Atwan mourned child murderer Samir Kuntar, calling him “a great man” and a “martyr”, who exemplified “humility” as he was preparing to “return to Palestine” and also planning to “turn the Golan Heights into a graveyard of invaders and occupiers”.

November 2014 – Atwan said that “A majority amongst honorable Arabs and Muslims” had met the Har Nof synagogue massacre with “relief”; The shooting sent a message to Israeli civilians that they “shall not enjoy safety and stability as long as they continue their occupation, settlement, provocations, massacres and blockades”; Netanyahu’s “whining” over the attack is not going to change the fact “that the Palestinian people is the victim and has the legal right to the land, and [the legal right] to resist by all means to retrieve it.”

June 2013 (translation by MEMRI) – Atwan called Osama Bin Laden only “half a terrorist […] whoever fights America, and its enterprise in the region, and fights Israel, and fights the American occupation, is not considered a terrorist by me.”

January 2013 – Atwan maintained that during the twentieth century, “the Jews were not expelled from Egypt […] they were forced to flee under Israeli pressures”, and that it was Israel and the Mossad who bombed synagogues in Egypt to scare the Jews into fleeing the country.

September 2012 – Atwan labeled the Sabra and Shatila massacre “a Palestinian holocaust”, part of a long series of “holocausts [sic]” inflicted upon Palestinians and Arabs until today, “not by gas ovens but by Israeli F-16 missiles, which are manufactured in the US.”

Apparently it still bears mentioning that no “F-16 missiles” were involved in the Sabra and Shatila massacre, which was carried out by a Christian Lebanese militia contrary to prior and real-time understandings with top IDF commanders. The questions of Israel’s indirect responsibility for not anticipating the massacre, as well its leadership’s ability to realize what was happening on the ground and intervene on time, both remain disputed. As for the way the civil war in Lebanon influenced the construction of the Sabra and Shatila narrative among Palestinians and Lebanese alike, see for example here.

August 2011 – Atwan called Egyptian soldier Soleiman Khater, who in 1985 shot at a group of Israeli tourists in swimsuits and killed seven of them, with all but one women and children, a “martyr who fired at “Israelis who violated the sanctity of his land”.

December 2010 – Atwan collectively accused British Jews of bombing Gaza.

February 2010 (translation by MEMRI) – On BBC Arabic, Atwan called “Sheikh” Osama Bin Laden “a great man.”

March 2008 – Atwan indirectly justified the Merkaz HaRav attack in Jerusalem, which killed eight civilians aged 15-26, by: wholeheartedly rejecting Mahmoud Abbas’s condemnation of the attack; dismissing American and European critiques towards the people of Gaza who celebrated it as “racist”; and arguing that nonviolent or peaceful measures of resistance, which might have been useful against European countries like Sweden or the UK, have proven themselves futile against Israeli lust for murder. He also mentioned Merkaz Harav’s alleged role as “the major hatching laboratory for extremism and Jewish extremists.”

Additionally, since 1989 Atwan served as the editor in chief of two Arabic newspapers, where he regularly published hateful content. In his former capacity as the editor in chief of al-Quds al-Arabi until July 2013, Atwan was giving platform for antisemitic cartoons as well.  Here’s an example:

A Jewish snake swallows Jerusalem – Al-Quds Al-Arabi, September 19th, 2011

Once more we emphasize – Atwan appeared as a legitimate commentator and panelist in mainstream British and European media outlets as late as August 2021 in the case of France24 Arabic; July 2021 in the case of BBC Arabic; May 2021 in the case of 5Pillars; June 2020 in the case of Deutsche Welle; March 2020 in the case of the Daily Mail (which even defended his views as merely “strong”); and July 2016 in the case of the Guardian (where, three years prior, he claimed he had been offered a permanent position).

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One reply on “It’s time for the British media to stop normalising Abdel Bari Atwan”
  1. says: Sid Levine

    Given that most if not all comments were on UK originating media why has the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council, the Office of the Chief Rabbi, the Zionist Federation of the UK remained so silent on this issue?
    Where are the so called “friends” of Israel such as the Conservative Friends of Israel, the Liberal Democratic Friends of Israel, the “friends” in the House of Commons and House of Lords and above all the so called “pro Israel” MP’s and peers including those who are Jewish – have they not the guts to raise this issue?
    Perhaps they operate with secret codes that there is no Enigma machine to interpret.

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