Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 14.11.06Veteran BBC reporter Jeremy Bowen has been criticised for letting a Hamas leader compare himself to some of the world’s great liberators in an interview this week.

Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ political leader, was responding to a challenge from Bowen when he made the claims, comparing his “resistance” to people like Nelson Mandela.

Hamas was “an active resistance with a just cause, battling the occupier,” he said, adding: “We’re not looking for any escalation, but we will defend ourselves.” 

During the interview, the chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau condemned jihadist groups like Islamic State (ISIS), denied links or comparisons between these groups and claimed Hamas had a “moderate ideology and an open mind”.

Bowen said “many would laugh” at his claim that Hamas was “moderate,” but Meshaal responded by comparing his resistance to Nelson Mandela, George Washington and Charles de Gaulle fighting Nazi occupation in World War Two.

The interview caused a wave of anger from pro-Israel groups. HonestReporting, a press monitor, led the criticism, saying Hamas’ political leader had been treated “with kid gloves” by the national broadcaster. 

“Is this the BBC’s idea of an April Fool’s Day joke? Jeremy Bowen gave Meshaal a free platform to make some laughable statements that went virtually unchallenged,” a spokesman said.

“Bowen and the BBC have allowed themselves to become nothing more than a mouthpiece for Hamas propaganda.”

This is not the first time Bowen has interviewed Meshaal, but it was the first since former sponsor Bashar al-Assad expelled Hamas from the Syrian capital Damascus in 2012, shortly after the start of the Arab Spring. 

Meshaal is not believed to have ever been involved in terrorist activity, but in 1997 Benjamin Netanyahu nevertheless ordered his assassination. Two Mossad agents poisoned him in the Jordanian capital Amman, and Meshaal fell into a coma, but was saved by the administration of an antidote only after Jordan’s King Hussein threatened to tear up the Israel-Jordan peace treaty if he died.