12/18/2014 10:18 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Hamas Off Terror List on Technicality; Hysteria Reigns

The right-wing Israeli internet erupted in a fit of collective histrionics yesterday, as it was revealed that an EU court removed Hamas from the European list of terrorist organizations.

The European president might as well have declared live on CNN that the Jews were poisoning the wells, such was the reaction.

Image by The Israel Project. Creative Commons license at - 2014-12-18-8367953410_2750c88502_b.jpg

"The decision by the European Court of Justice," seethed the irascible Naftali Bennett (it was the General Court, but what do details matter when you're on a rant?), "is like Sodom where good was evil and evil was good. The decision cheapens the blood of Jews and demonstrates a lack of moral clarity."

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein fumed that the "European Union must have lost its mind," while the Prime Minister fulminated: "we are not satisfied with the EU's explanations that the removal of Hamas from its list of terrorist organizations is a 'technicality.'"

But on even the most cursory examination of the 1-page press release, it is abundantly clear that this was, indeed, a technical matter. The General Court ruled that a terrorist organization can only be listed as such based on "acts examined and confirmed in decisions of competent authorities," not, as was the case with the Hamas listing, on "factual imputations derived from the press and the internet."

To grossly oversimplify: the court said that listing Hamas required direct evidence, and not evidence gleaned from newspaper articles.


A detail from the General Court's press release

Conservative US website TheBlaze emerged as an improbable voice of reason, quoting Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson calmly explaining what had really happened:

It's a technical thing... The implementation of the decision is suspended for three months in order to allow the EU to get its act together and make an appeal and correct the error.

The court didn't rule on the substance of the case. There was a procedural error in the recognition of Hamas, and there can't be procedural errors so they have to correct that.

Out of the mouths of bureaucrats oft times come gems.

It is obvious to everybody, including the widely respected Washington Institute, that Hamas will be placed back on the list. Not least because the EU's political echelon has emphasized that it will, and that there will be "no practical effect" as a result of the General Court's finding.

Moreover, the court took pains to clarify that the matter was merely procedural, and implied nothing about the status of Hamas.

The Court stresses that those annulments, on fundamental procedural grounds, do not imply any substantive assessment of the question of the classification of Hamas as a terrorist group. (emphasis by the Court.)

This is all too much nuance for the likes of Likud's Danny Danon, who claimed that the Europeans appeared to believe that "their blood is holier and that the blood of Israelis is worthless."

But the same court only two months ago annulled the listing of the Tamil Tigers using exactly the same language, on exactly the same procedural grounds. Sri Lanka expressed relatively muted concern.

What happened here? According to Israel's Channel 10, the EU had asked Israeli officials not to kick up a stink over the matter. The Times of Israel reported that Jerusalem had "kept quiet until Netanyahu's statement Wednesday."

So Netanyahu broke Israel's silence on the very same day that the European Parliament passed a motion supporting the in-principle recognition of Palestine. What a coincidence.

Now, I have been harshly critical of the Europeans and the UN in the past. The way much of Europe has handled the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has all too often been craven at best, and contemptible at its nadir.

But facts matter. And in this case, nothing of any substance happened. No political decision was taken on the EU side, and, as a matter of political reality, Hamas will certainly remain on that list.

Who is at fault? Perhaps Netanyahu broke Jerusalem's silence to protest the EU parliament's decision. And then the right-wing's tantrums over this were entirely, regrettably, predictable.

And let's not forget the media in general; even traditionally far-left, anti-Israel publications used the story as clickbait. "EU no longer considers Hamas terrorist group" will get more clicks than, "EU court of first instance annuls 2001 listing of Hamas as terror group over technicality; EU promises nothing has actually changed and that it will relist the group forthwith."

And this is how "narratives" get created. Plenty of Palestinians are convinced that the abduction and murder of the three Israeli teenagers over the summer was a Mossad job, based on no evidence at all, of course. And now untold numbers of Jews and Israelis are convinced that the EU has taken the decision to delist Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Neither is true. But Palestinians cherry-pick the facts to suit their story of victimization; and Israelis get to choose theirs, too.