Pragmatic: relating to matters of fact or practical affairs often to the exclusion of intellectual or artistic matters : practical as opposed to idealistic.
To be a pragmatist is to be a realist, someone who understands that there are times that one’s idealism or ideology has to give way to different means, even if contrary to that ideology, if one is going to achieve a successful end.
And that is what the new philosophy of Hamas is all about – at least that is what The New York Times believes.
This week, David Halbfinger – who took over last year as the new Jerusalem Bureau Chief for The New York Times – reported that Hamas Sees Gaza Protests as Peaceful — and as a ‘Deadly Weapon’. Halbfinger went on to write approvingly of the Gazan riots controlled by the Hamas terrorists:
Its experiment with popular resistance may or may not be wholehearted, but it is indisputably pragmatic. [emphasis added]
Now keep in mind that when Halbfinger started his new position, Times International Editor Michael Slackman and Deputy International Editor Greg Winter wrote of him in their announcement of Halbfinger’s appointment that
He has written hard-hitting investigations of corrupt public officials and businessmen, murderous prison guards, law-breaking Hollywood moguls…
No one would claim Halbfinger’s writing of Hamas to be hard-hitting or as particularly ‘investigative’ for that matter.
In his article about the riots last week, Halbfinger described the “protest” as “generally nonviolent.” He also summed up that a riot replete with throwing stones and Molotov cocktails, tire burning, explosives and attempts to infiltrate the fence separating the rioters from nearby Israeli communities was “for Gazans, even a tentative experiment with nonviolent protest is a significant step” — even while granting that Hamas “seeks Israel’s destruction, has always advocated armed struggle.”
Getting back to Halbfinger’s description of Hamas as “pragmatic,” a search of the New York Times website for articles containing both the words “Hamas” and “pragmatic” turned up 247 hits – not exactly scientific, but here are some of the articles that came up:
For 2017 three articles come up on the first page or two of results:
New Hamas Charter Would Name ‘Occupiers,’ Not ‘Jews,’ as the Enemy
Ian Fisher and Majd Al Waheidi, March 9, 2017
Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that has governed the Gaza Strip for a decade, is drafting a new platform to present a more pragmatic and cooperative face to the world, Hamas officials confirmed on Thursday. [emphasis added]
Actually, the Hamas charter did not change, Hamas still vows to destroy Israel and continues to encourage terrorist attacks against civilians. Yet the word “pragmatic” is not used sarcastically.
In Palestinian Power Struggle, Hamas Moderates Talk on Israel
Ian Fisher, May 1, 2017
Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said the group had to move beyond its original charter to achieve its goals. “The document gives us a chance to connect with the outside world,” he said. “To the world, our message is: Hamas is not radical. We are a pragmatic and civilized movement. We do not hate the Jews. We only fight who occupies our lands and kills our people.” [emphasis added]
Again, the article does present both sides on the Hamas claim of pragmatism, but the idea is not directly challenged.
Hamas Offer Reflects Pressure From Egypt and Fatah
David M. Halbfinger, September 19, 2017
Mr. Abbas’s quick and positive reply on Monday — he spoke by telephone with Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas political director, and promised to follow up after returning from the United Nations gathering in New York — prompted some to ask whether renewed Egyptian diplomatic assertiveness and pragmatic new Hamas leadership had managed to turn a page on the long-running rivalry.
Here, Halbfinger goes so far as to present Hamas pragmatism as fact, for which there is precedent 11 years earlier:
Pragmatic Hamas Figure Is Likely to Be Next Premier
Greg Myre, February 17, 2006
Hamas plans to nominate Ismail Haniya, viewed as one of its less radical leaders, for prime minister, The Associated Press reported, citing a Hamas official in Damascus.
Does anyone today consider Haniya “pragmatic” or a “moderate”?
|Ismail Haniya. Source: Haniya|
Maybe claims of Hamas pragmatism are the stubborn insistence that the predicted moderation of Hamas upon assuming power is finally beginning to materialize. But if so, it will take more than praising Hamas terrorists as pragmatists.
Mark Twain once described pragmatism like this:
The man who sets out to grab a cat by its tail learns something that will always be useful.
|Mark Twain. Photographer: A.F. Bradley. Public domain|
Hamas has had several useful lessons after having been repulsed by Israel on multiple occasions and to a degree neutralized, being pressured by Egypt and after having failed to get the international support and recognition that its fellow terrorist group, Hezbollah, has achieved.
No doubt Hamas has learned a lesson, but what The New York Times and Mr. Halbfinger have failed to do when referring to Hamas as pragmatic is to make clear whether Hamas is in fact being pragmatic in its ends – moderating its declared goal of the destruction of Israel – or whether it is merely being pragmatic in the means to achieve that goal.
Over and over, what self-confident journalists call pragmatism in Hamas is what with hindsight is just deception.
But what about The New York Times description of Israel?
When referring to Israel as pragmatic, The New York Times has – on occasion – used the term sarcastically, critical of whether there is a sincere change of heart.
That is especially true when describing Netanyahu:
What Does Netanyahu Really Want?
Gal Beckerman, December 8, 2016 – Review of “The Resistible Rise of Benjamin Netanyahu” by Neill Lochery
Pragmatism doesn’t tell us much. Every successful politician is pragmatic, if this simply means reading and responding to your public. What Lochery fails to explore are the consequences of Bibi’s “pragmatism” in a place like Israel. Because, in practice, pragmatism for Netanyahu means twisting every which way to avoid confronting the problems of the occupation. [emphasis added]
|Benjamin Netanyahu. Credit: State Department photo/ Public Domain|
Netanyahu Names Avigdor Lieberman Israeli Defense Minister as Party Joins Coalition
Isabel Kershner, May 25, 2016
For all of Mr. Lieberman’s bluster, many Israeli analysts predict that he will become more pragmatic once he takes office. [emphasis added]
Hamas disproved those who predicted political responsibility would soften their ideology and rhetoric, but that did not stop the pundits who predicted that Lieberman would soften his views.
When Netanyahu won in 2009, there were those who insisted that if pragmatism was not inherent in the newly elected leadership, perhaps it could be chemically induced, especially if Western values could somehow rub off on the Palestinian Arabs:
Netanyahu to Form New Israel Government
Isabel Kershner, February 20, 2009
A broad government joined by the center and left would likely promote a more pragmatic agenda and avoid friction with Israel’s most important ally, the United States…
Ms. Livni has staked her political career on promoting negotiations with the more pragmatic, Western-backed Palestinian leadership for a two-state solution.
|Tzipi Livni. Public domain|
But on the same day:
Netanyahu, Once Hawkish, Now Touts Pragmatism
Ethan Bronner, February 20, 2009
To many here, it is increasingly likely that Mr. Netanyahu’s government will consist exclusively of parties from the right, which oppose a Palestinian state and favor expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank, making it much harder for him to exercise his pragmatic penchant.
Whatever Bronner’s feelings about Netanyahu’s “pragmatism,” the editor who wrote the headline would have nothing of it.
But 11 years earlier, during Netanyahu’s first term in office, there was no sarcasm:
Without Joy, Netanyahu Wins Vote to Adopt Peace Agreement
Deborah Sontag, November 18, 1998
The Israeli Parliament approved the American-brokered peace plan today by a significant majority, reflecting the widespread, pragmatic acceptance here of partitioning the Land of Israel. [emphasis added]
and a few weeks earlier:
Returning Home, Netanyahu Faces The Real Battle
Deborah Sontag, October 26, 1998
At the airport in Tel Aviv, despite the chilly reception from the settlers, Mr. Netanyahu received not only a formal brass-band welcome but also a genuinely enthusiastic one from Cabinet ministers and from the rank and file of his Likud Party. This suggested that he has successfully moved his political camp onto new ideological terrain where territorial compromise with the Palestinians, long anathema, has been accepted as a pragmatic reality. [emphasis added]
Yet there may have always been a wariness of Netanyahu’s polemical prowess:
Israel’s Likud Passes Torch, Naming Netanyahu Leader
Clyde Haberman, March 26, 1993
No modern politician here has logged more time on American television than Mr. Netanyahu, explaining in idiomatic English Israel’s positions on international terrorism and the Persian Gulf war. And no Israeli politician has adopted a more American campaign style, from his crafted sound bites to his cross-country barnstorming by bus.
So successful is he at reducing his pragmatically hawkish opinions to manageable television proportions that some in Likud — allies as well as foes — worry that he is prey to accusations that he is not a deep thinker. One task before him now, these Israelis say, is to prove that he is more than glib.
Similarly, Rabin’s electoral victory, ending 15 years of Likud governing was a victory for…pragmatism:
Israel’s Likud Passes Torch, Naming Netanyahu Leader
Clyde Haberman, June 28, 1992
Forget for a moment about which parties landed on top and which on the bottom in Israel’s national election last week. The real winner was pragmatism and the big loser uncompromising ideology. [emphasis added]
Haberman went so far as to see
…the complex combination of events behind the upheaval that ended 15 years of Likud governance, threatening that party’s stability and dashing the conventional wisdom that Israel’s political drift is inexorably rightward.
|Yitzhak Rabin, Source: Israel Defense Forces. Public domain|
So much for that idea.
One can appreciate the frustration of The New York Times.
(Maybe they are the ones who need to be more…pragmatic.)
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