Opinion |

Jamal Khashoggi Was a Victim of Saudi Terror. He Was Also a Keen Supporter of Palestinian Terrorism

There's no justification for his murder. But don't whitewash what he believed - his commitment to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, his hope that Israel would 'die by force', and the anti-Semitic Islamists with whom he spent his final days

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Then-general manager of Alarab TV, Jamal Khashoggi, at a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama. December 15, 2014
Then-general manager of Alarab TV, Jamal Khashoggi, at a press conference in the Bahraini capital Manama. December 15, 2014Credit: AFP

The entirely legitimate shock and outrage over the disappearance and likely murder of the prominent Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi have so far largely prevented an examination of his views.

Perhaps inevitably, this has led to right-wing conspiracy theories – retweeted by Donald Trump Jr - about a nefarious media plot covering up that Khashoggi was really a veteran Al-Qaeda sympathizer who just pretended to be a "democrat reformer journalist."

So it may be necessary to point out the obvious: when a journalist is assassinated by the government he criticized, it doesn’t really matter what views he held. Opinions quite simply never justify murder.

But at a time when the U.S. president himself regularly maligns the media, it seems particularly important that the media make an effort to demonstrate that even when one of their own is assassinated for the views he held, his views won’t be whitewashed.

The New York Times has made such an effort by publishing an article that announces already in the title that Khashoggi’s views were formed by a "Tangled Mix of Royal Service and Islamist Sympathies."

The article provides a welcome corrective to the widespread misperception that Khashoggi was some kind of liberal, or even progressive, dissident.

But to put it bluntly, unless you are rooting for an Islamist Middle East, it seems doubtful that Khashoggi’s vision for the region was a big improvement over the agenda of the autocratic Saudis. And while the Times doesn’t cover this aspect, if you are an Israeli, you can only wonder if Khashoggi’s hopes for the Middle East would not have turned you into a refugee – or worse.

The Times notes that Khashoggi joined the Muslim Brotherhood as a young man, and that he "remained conversant in its conservative, Islamist and often anti-Western rhetoric, which he could deploy or hide depending on whom he was seeking to befriend."

Turkish police forensic experts arrive at the Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, where Jamal Khashoggi disappeared. October 17, 2018Credit: AFP

Reportedly, in the past decade, Khashoggi’s relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood was "ambiguous"; yet, the paper points out that several Muslim Brotherhood members "said this week that they always felt he was with them. Many of his secular friends would not have believed it."

But there is plenty of evidence indicating that Khashoggi’s Muslim Brothers were right.

A recent Washington Post report on how Khashoggi spent the days before his disappearance provides a noteworthy clue by repeatedly citing Khashoggi’s "friend" Azzam Tamimi, who is also cited in the NYT article.

While the Post describes Tamimi simply as "a British Palestinian lecturer and presenter on the satellite TV station al-Hiwar," the NYT explains that the relationship between Khashoggi and his "Islamist friend in London" goes back to the early 1990s, when the two teamed up for a campaign denouncing the military coup in Algeria that deprived an Islamist political party of the chance to win control of parliament.

But it is important to know that Khashoggi’s longtime friend is a tireless promoter of the Palestinian terror group Hamas; he even wrote a book about it, entitled "Hamas: A History From Within."

Tamimi has praised the terror group as "defenders of the truth" who "made sacrifices for the good of all Muslims." He’s stated that he considers it "a great honor to be close to Hamas," and that "all the leaders of Hamas are my friends." Indeed, he and Hamas leader Khaled Meshal are former schoolmates, growing up together in Kuwait. According to Tamimi, Hamas "is the true representative of the Palestinian people."

Tamimi has repeatedly praised suicide bombings, and he once delivered a hate-convulsed rant at a London rally for the annual Iranian-sponsored Quds Day, where he called for the eradication of the "cancer" that is Israel. In a 2003 interview on the BBC, and again at a 2012 talk, he even expressed his willingness to die as a "martyr" in a suicide bombing against Israelis.

Azzam Tamimi, close friend of Jamal Khashoggi, sits next to an empty chair with his picture placed on it, on an al-Hewar TV program in which Khashoggi was due to appear. Istabul, Oct. 11, 2018Credit: Mucahid Yapici,AP

According to the Washington Post, in the hours before his flight from London to Istanbul, Khashoggi went out for lunch with Tamimi; he was due to appear on Tamimi’s talk show - broadcast on a TV channel that is considered explicitly pro-Hamas - a few days later.

In London, Khashoggi had just made a presentation at a conference organized by Middle East Monitor - a news site sympathetic to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, which has also shown a tendency towards anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Jews and/or Zionists making Western politicians their tools.

Monitor editor Daud Abdullah - known for his extremist views - noted that Khashoggi "was keen to emphasize the unwavering support of the Saudi people [for the Palestinians] as distinct from that of its current political leadership," and that Khashoggi was nostalgic about the early 1970s, "when Saudi Arabia under King Faisal was in the vanguard of Arab and Islamic support for the Palestinian cause and defense of the holy sites threatened by Israel’s military occupation."

That sounds very similar to what Khashoggi told Al Jazeera Arabic a year ago, when he had just started writing for the Washington Post. Then he also "expressed hope that Saudi Arabia would go back to assume its leadership of the Arab world and shift its focus to the causes that are very important to the Arabs, mainly to support the Palestinians in their struggle against Israel."

Khashoggi also "deplored the authorities’ decision to allow some in the Saudi news media to express support for Israel against the Palestinians."

>> Khalaf al-Habtoor: The Arab World Needs to Move on From the Liberation of Palestine

But a Middle East analyst who believes that supporting the Palestinian "struggle against Israel" should be considered as one of the most important Arab causes at a time when much of the region is in turmoil betrays an unhealthy obsession with the world’s only Jewish state. By prioritizing the Palestinian "struggle against Israel" above all else, Khashoggi clearly demoted other Arab conflicts – not least, Syria.

But for Khashoggi, the "struggle against Israel" was a critical part of the Islamist agenda he embraced. Middle East Monitor reported last February that Khashoggi called on Muslims "to visit Jerusalem" because "we need to remind the Israelis that Jerusalem is ours," and again signaled his unequivocal support for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (C) holds hands with Hamas' Khaled Meshaal (R) and Islamic Jihad's Ramadan Shallah during a conference in support of Palestinians. Tehran, February 28, 2010Credit: AFP

Speaking in Istanbul, Khashoggi dismissed Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s "talk about moderate Islam," asserting that MBS "does not have the answer to what moderate Islam means."

Khashoggi insisted that "It was the Muslim Brotherhood’s contemporary scholars like Sheikh Ali Tantawi and Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi that introduced the term moderate Islam. Bin Salman is confused about the proper choice for moderation […] The Muslim Brotherhood are moderates, but he does not want to admit that."

>>Saudi Arabia Purges Muslim Brotherhood Influence From Schools

It is rather shocking to see Khashoggi promoting the notorious Yusuf Qaradawi as an example of a scholar who should be credited for "moderate Islam."

Western security experts are more likely to regard Qaradawi as "one of the most public figureheads of the radical wing of the Muslim Brotherhood," and the cleric who infamously gave religious legitimation to suicide bombings. Qaradawi has been banned from entering numerous countries, including Arab states as well as the U.S., the UK and France.

While Qaradawi eventually withdrew his support for suicide bombings two years ago, Khashoggi himself was reportedly among several Arab commentators who were dismayed that Qaradawi’s blessing of suicide bombings against Israelis was "used by extension to justify suicide bombing against fellow Muslims."

Qaradawi once suggested on TV that Hitler was enacting divine punishment in killing Jews: "The last punishment was carried out by Hitler…he managed to put them in their place...Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers."

Sheik Youssef al-Qaradawi during a speech rejecting Israel's disengagement from Gaza at the opening of the Al-Quds Institution conference in Beirut, Lebanon. May 5, 2004Credit: AP

Apocalyptically, Qaradawi promulgates belief in a divinely ordained battle between "all Muslims and all Jews." His "Fatawa on Palestine" references the notorious hadith that features in the Hamas Charter: "The last day will not come unless you fight Jews. A Jew will hide himself behind stones and trees and stones and trees will say, ‘O servant of Allah – or O Muslim – there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’"

Qaradawi considers this hadith as "one of the miracles of our Prophet" and has expressed the conviction that this prophesized "battle” between Jews and Muslims "is not driven by nationalistic causes or patriotic belonging; it is rather driven by religious incentives. This battle is not going to happen between Arabs and Zionists, or between Jews and Palestinians […]

"It is between Muslims and Jews as is clearly stated in the hadith. This battle will occur between the collective body of Muslims and the collective body of Jews i.e. all Muslims and all Jews."

Plenty of his teachings justify the conclusion that he "personifies the combination of theological anti-Judaism, modern European anti-Semitism and conflict-driven Judeophobia that make up contemporary Islamist attitudes to Jews."

Given that Khashoggi saw the "struggle against Israel" as central, his promotion of Qaradawi as a paragon of "moderate Islam" seems all the more alarming.

Khashoggi’s own intense hatred for Israel is clearly reflected in some of his Al Hayat columns published by the Monitor in English translation.

In "Palestine, the occupation and the resistance for beginners," Khashoggi made the chilling claim 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."

Palestinian members of the al-Qassam brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, wait for the arrival of Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. December 7, 2012Credit: REUTERS

A week later, Khashoggi penned a passionate ode to Hamas. After implicitly rejecting negotiations with Israel by asserting that it was divinely ordained that the "price" for freedom was "blood and death," Khashoggi praised the Islamist terror organization for accomplishing the "miracle" of procuring rockets and explosives.

He was awed by the "distinguished combat performance of its men" and full of admiration that "the huge network of tunnels that extends for miles under Gaza and the borders with Israel and Egypt were used brilliantly to inflict unprecedented losses on the enemy." His conclusion? "All of this proves that the movement [i.e. Hamas] has wasted no time while ruling in Gaza."

When Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, many - including many Israelis - hoped that the Palestinians would develop the territory into a model for a Palestinian state; optimists were even hoping that the Gaza Strip could become a Singapore on the Mediterranean. The resolve of Hamas to instead turn Gaza into a heavily armed terror enclave dashed all these hopes.

It makes sense to cheer this as a miraculous accomplishment by Hamas only if you hope that one day, Israel "will die by force."

Those who applaud Khashoggi’s criticism of the Saudi regime fail to understand that it was to a considerable degree rooted in the Islamist belief that any accommodation with Israel could only be sustained by oppressive regimes that disregard the will of the Muslim Arab people.

As Khashoggi’s old friend Azzam Tamimi once put it: "The majority of Arabs and Muslims do not recognize the legitimacy of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Israel’s very existence on a land that was usurped by force [always] continued to be regarded as an aggression against the entire Ummah. Generation after generation, Arabs […] aspired to see Palestine liberated and the Zionist project aborted."

Petra Marquardt-Bigman is a German-Israeli researcher and writer with a Ph.D. in contemporary history. Twitter: @WarpedMirrorPMB

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