Jeremy Corbyn Was Right to Refuse to Describe Hamas as a “Terrorist” Organisation

Peter Bolton
7 min readNov 17, 2023
Image: Alisdare Hickson/Flickr (CC)

Former UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is now embroiled in a fresh controversy for his views about the conflict in Palestine. The episode represents just the latest chapter in the long-standing smear campaign against him. Orchestrated by UK political elites and allies in the Israel lobby, the campaign continues even after they successfully derailed his chances of becoming prime minister. Again, it falls to independent media to counter this latest attempt to discredit him, and indeed the Palestinian solidarity movement more broadly, at this crucial time.

Aggressive Hectoring Followed by Vicious Social Media Attacks

The controversy stems from Corbyn’s appearance as a guest on Piers Morgan’s TalkTV show on Monday October 13. Corbyn refused to answer when asked by Morgan whether he considers Hamas to be a “terrorist” organisation. After politely declining to respond to the question, Morgan began to aggressively hector the Islington North MP, who currently sits as an independent following his expulsion from the Labour Party by current leader Kier Starmer. Morgan ultimately put the question to Corbyn almost 40 times according to some press reports. Corbyn attempted to move the conversation on to discussing the importance of a ceasefire, but Morgan cut him off with the same question before he could get through a single sentence.

The usual suspects in apologetics for Israel’s crimes naturally had a field day on social media. The notorious Bella Wallersteiner, for instance, stated: “Can’t believe how close this man was to running the country.” Never to shy away from the personalized insults, some in the Israel apologetics brigade resorted to outright verbal abuse. One X/Twitter user calling himself “leekern” called Corbyn “a disgusting pig of a man.” Inevitably, the hackneyed and totally discredited antisemitism card got pulled as well, with “leekern” describing Corbyn as “a Jew hating scum bag.”

But for all the faux outrage and facile gotcha postings on social media, the reality is that Corbyn is quite right to refuse to go along with the West’s self-serving narrative about Hamas’ supposed status as a “terrorist” organisation. And if other conflicts in other parts of the world are anything to go by, history will show his judgment to have been correct.

Hamas Is More Than Just a Paramilitary Group

The first thing worth considering is that Hamas is not a monolithic entity but rather has several aspects to it. It has a political wing that contests elections, a social wing that provides public services to the people of Gaza, and a paramilitary wing that engages in armed actions against Israel. And each of these wings play separate but complementary roles in Hamas’ goal of liberating Palestine.

Its political wing participates in elections not just of its own volition but also because of the active encouragement of the United States. In the 2006 elections in which Hamas won power in Gaza, it participated at the insistence of the then-George W. Bush administration in Washington. Its rival Fatah, on the other hand, was opposed to the elections and tried to lobby the US to get Israel to block them.

Hamas’ social services wing, meanwhile, operates “hundreds of medical centers, food banks, summer camps and schools across the West Bank and Gaza,” according to a 2006 article in The Los Angeles Times (a mainstream US newspaper). The article added: “The work Hamas does at home is an often-overlooked key to the domestic popularity of an organization most known elsewhere for killing.”

A Right Enshrined in International Law

As for Hamas’ paramilitary wing, it does engage in armed actions against the Israeli state security forces. But since Israel is occupying the Palestinian territories (that is, the 22% of historic Palestine that was left to them after the 1948 ethnic cleansing known as “al-Nakba”), the Palestinian people and organisations representing them have every right to engage in resistance against that occupation. And that right to resist includes all forms of resistance up to and including the use of armed force. This is something that is enshrined in international law since the Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Convention affirms wars of national liberation as essential protected rights for people living under occupation.

Though the extent of such incidents is overstated by Israel and the US and their minions in the corporate media, Hamas on occasion has accidentally and, regrettably, at times even deliberately killed civilians. But that fact does not negate the core right to engage in armed resistance against occupation that is codified in the Geneva Convention.

Corbyn is to the Right of International Law!

The reason Corbyn refused to describe Hamas as a “terrorist” organization is not, as the likes of Piers Morgan will no doubt try to imply, because he agrees with everything it does. It is not even necessarily because he agrees with its right to engage in armed struggle. In fact, his public pronouncements imply that he doesn’t support this right. After the October 7 surprise Hamas attack, he condemned all attacks committed by both sides, which would mean he is politically to the right even of what international law allows!

Rather, the reason he refuses to do so is because it plays into the Israeli narrative that there is one side in the conflict that should be allowed to use armed force (namely, itself) and another side that should not be allowed to (namely, Hamas or any other Palestinian armed group). Corbyn’s position is that both sides should refrain from violence and instead enter into a peace agreement.

Proven Right by History

Of course, he receives plentiful criticism for suggesting that Hamas should be part of a peace process as well. But in order to resolve an armed conflict, all of the major parties to the conflict must be included. To be clear, Israel is waging war against the very existence of the Palestinian people rather than against any specific actor in the conflict. But since Hamas is one of the largest groups on the Palestinian side, it would certainly meet that criteria.

Indeed, during the 1980s Corbyn met with leaders of the Irish republican movement and called for them to be included in peace talks. He faced harsh rebuke and public derision in the mainstream press for doing so. But his position ultimately became exactly that which the British government itself adopted. Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), was admitted to the peace talks that resulted in the Good Friday Agreement and became one of the signatories of that document. The idea that Hamas should be included in peace talks is even gaining traction within Israel itself, with a former head of Mossad saying so himself in 2015.

Countering the Facile Black-and-White Narrative

But there is an even bigger reason why Corbyn should be commended for refusing to label Hamas as a “terrorist” organization. And that is because doing so would play into the facile black-and-white narrative that Israel is always in the right and the Palestinian resistance is always in the wrong. The reality is, if anything, the other way round. Indeed, Israel is a far more prolific killer of civilians than Hamas (or any other Palestinian resistance group, for that matter). So, to whatever extent the term “terrorist” applies to Hamas, it applies to the Israeli state and security forces many, many, many times over. And this leads to perhaps the biggest reason why dismissing Hamas as simply a “terrorist” organization misses the central dynamic of the conflict. And that is an examination of the causes of the conflict.

The reason Hamas exists in the first place is because of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and because of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine undertaken by the Zionist leadership and the State of Israel after its formation in 1948. If it weren’t for that, Hamas would never have had a reason to exist in the first place. Israel’s existence, on the other hand, owes nothing whatsoever to Hamas. Indeed, Hamas is actually a relative newcomer to the conflict in Palestine. It was formed in the late 1980s during the First Intifada — roughly twenty years after its main rival, the secular Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

In a stunning irony, Israel actually played a role in the rise of Hamas in order to weaken the PLO. The Washington Post (one of the US’s mainstream newspapers) reported in 2014 that Hamas “has the Jewish state to thank for its existence.” It added: “Hamas launched in 1988 in Gaza at the time of the first intifada… But for more than a decade prior, Israeli authorities actively enabled its rise.” As Palestinian-American activist Mohammad Hammad explains, Israel did this in order to “break the unity of Palestinian society, and turn the overwhelmingly secular Palestinian resistance movement against Israel into a fractured movement comprised of religious fundamentalists/extremists and secular orgs who Israel hoped would spend more time fighting each other than resisting Israel.”

Corbyn’s Conviction a Sharp Contrast to Morgan’s Ignorance

Clearly, Corbyn’s refusal to be browbeaten into towing the Western/Israeli narrative demonstrates both his courageous commitment to conviction and his nuanced understanding of the conflict, its causes, and potential means of resolving it. Piers Morgan and those attacking Corbyn on social media, on the other hand, think they are showcasing their moral fiber and resolve, yet are in reality only revealing their ignorance and obsequiousness to Israel and the West’s self-serving propaganda.

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Peter Bolton

Journalist covering global affairs from a decidedly left perspective.