More than a month into Israel’s defensive war against Hamas, British comedian John Oliver recently dedicated a significant amount of...
More than a month into Israel’s defensive war against Hamas, British comedian John Oliver recently dedicated a significant amount of his weekly HBO show Last Week Tonight to discussing current events in both Israel and Gaza.
However, while Oliver’s analysis is presented as balanced and insightful, it falls short in several areas.
In particular, Oliver’s depiction of Hamas, his portrayal of Israeli actions in Gaza both before and during the war, and his characterization of the discourse surrounding a ceasefire are all lacking in both context and nuance.
John Oliver’s Misunderstanding of Hamas
From the depiction of Hamas throughout his monologue, it is clear that John Oliver and the writers at Last Week Tonight have a very shallow understanding of what the Palestinian terror group is and what it stands for.
Not once during the 32-minute-long segment does Oliver mention the contents of Hamas’ 1988 founding charter or the terror group’s explicitly stated raison d’etre: The ultimate destruction of the Jewish state.
The farthest that Oliver will go is to inform his audience that Hamas was opposed to the Oslo peace process and tried to derail it through bus bombings. However, he never identifies the genocidal ideology that underpinned Hamas’ “resistance” to Israel.
Instead, Oliver claims that historically and prior to the 2006 Palestinian election (where Hamas ultimately won a majority of seats), Hamas ran on an anti-corruption platform and that it had gone “out of its way to present itself as more moderate back then.”
A narrative is thus created of Hamas as something that started out as a moderate anti-corruption political party, as opposed to the internationally-recognized terror group that it truly is.
Oliver’s source for asserting Hamas moderation? None other than an old English-language interview with Hamas leader Ghazi Hamad, where he claims that Hamas is a moderate and open-minded organization that believes in democracy and “political pluralization.”
As any analyst will tell you, Hamas has a history of moderating its tone in English while simultaneously engaging in extremist rhetoric in Arabic. All a researcher at HBO had to do was search for a Hamas election rally in 2005/2006 (such as this one, where Ismail Haniyeh says no to recognizing Israel or negotiating with it) to know that, to Palestinian voters, Hamas did not moderate its tone in the lead up to the 2006 election.
By presenting Hamas through Western framing, Oliver makes such outrageous statements as implicitly comparing Hamas to the current Israeli government (and regardless of one’s political beliefs, there is no comparison between the Palestinian terror group and the current coalition under Benjamin Netanyahu), and by claiming that “as prospects for peace collapsed, Hamas seems to be vindicated in its messaging.”
John Oliver’s Lop-Sided Look at Israel’s Activities in Gaza
Another area where John Oliver’s analysis misses the mark is in his depiction of Israel’s activities in Gaza both before and during the war.
Throughout the piece, Oliver describes Israel’s defensive war against Hamas as “the relentless bombings of civilians,” “collective punishment” (which he deems to be a “war crime”), and “horrifying.”
He even goes so far as to describe Israel’s deliberate targeting of Hamas infrastructure as “a barrage of Israeli rockets,” implicitly comparing it to Hamas’ indiscriminate bombing of Israeli civilian areas.
While Oliver is openly critical of Israel’s conduct of the war in Gaza, he is conspicuously silent about Hamas’ embedding of its terror infrastructure within densely populated civilian areas, about Israel’s opening of a humanitarian corridor to the south for Palestinians fleeing the fighting, and about the foreign aid that Israel has allowed to enter the embattled strip as it continues to uproot Hamas.
John Oliver’s portrayal of Israel’s relationship with Gaza prior to the war also lacks proper context and nuance.
Oliver claims that “Israel’s approach to Gaza has been truly punishing. Fencing people in, limiting exits, and trapping them inside what has been called ‘an open-air prison’ by many human rights organizations. Life under a blockade there has been hard for a long time even when there aren’t bombs flying.”
He then goes on to show a clip of a 2019 PBS report that discusses water accessibility, public hygiene, electricity, and how many Gazans allegedly have “a sense of having little to lose.”
However, once again, this is not the full picture of Israel’s relationship to Gaza.
Oliver conveniently disregards the following salient facts:
John Oliver Calls for a Ceasefire
Near the end of this piece, John Oliver calls for a ceasefire, saying that it is the “first step” to a solution for “peace in the Middle East.”
Oliver concedes that there is the danger of Hamas using a ceasefire to regroup but he claims that danger will exist whenever the war ends and the continuation of the war will only create more extremists in Gaza.
However, Oliver’s analysis falls short in that it places the onus entirely on Israel for implementing a ceasefire, it calls for a ceasefire without preconditions (such as the release of the hostages); takes for granted that Hamas will continue to rule after the war (as opposed to Israel’s stated goal of uprooting Hamas); and doesn’t take into account that extremists do not always arise out of the dust of an intense bombardment (such as the destruction of the Nazi regime and the uprooting of Imperial Japan).
Further, in supporting his call for a ceasefire, Oliver references the numerous ceasefire rallies that have taken place around the world.
However, these rallies are hardly the moral and humanitarian voices that Oliver portrays them as. Many of these protests have made little to no mention of Hamas’ continual attacks against Israel, have placed the entire onus for the conflict on Israel’s shoulders, have been marred by antisemitism and violence, and have even been attended by those blatantly supporting Hamas.
As Within Our Lifetime, one of the groups organizing these rallies, expressed in a recent advertisement, it starts with a ceasefire and ends with “cease Zionism,” effectively calling for the dismantling of the Jewish state.