By Gabriel Webber, a youth worker for LJY-Netzer, the youth movement of Liberal Judaism, which he represents as an elected member of the Board of Deputies. He writes in a personal capacity.
Hamas is a terrorist organisation. Specifically, it makes a habit of committing criminal acts, including against civilians, with the intent to cause death, with the purpose of provoking a state of terror in the general public and compelling a government to do or to abstain from doing certain acts, which is how the UN defines terrorism.
So, how come the Court of Justice of the European Union was able to order such an organisation to be removed from the EU list of terrorist groups?
If you look at Twitter and Facebook you could be forgiven for getting the impression that the EU has just found Hamas to be an honourable organisation, and that its judges hates Jews.
These are ill-informed slurs.
British people seem to have a real problem with reporting legal rulings correctly.
It is all too common to vilify the decision-taker without having a clue about the evidence or the legal issues.
The European Court of Human Rights is the most obvious example, but it also happened prominently with the Mark Duggan inquest last year: the press went to town arguing that the ‘lawful killing’ verdict was “wrong”, but how many commentators heard the several weeks’ worth of evidence that the jury did?
The Hamas judgment is admittedly not a joy to read. It’s full of dense legal prose and it doesn’t help that it refers to European laws by number rather than by name. But I managed to wade through it, and the upshot is: the court has not ruled that Hamas aren’t terrorists.
What they said was that the decision to classify them as terrorists did not follow the proper procedure.
Specifically, decisions to classify groups as terrorist organisations must state their reasoning. This is only fair in a democratic system where political groups are being banned, and chimes with halacha – which requires batei din to provide written reasons for their decisions when there are likely to be doubts about the integrity of the process.
Sadly, when the European Commission proscribed Hamas, their reasoning was not precise enough.
It was, the court says, “a general and stereotypical formulation” based on the plain definition of terrorism – along the lines of the first paragraph of this article – and did not contain specific factual evidence to show that Hamas engages in terrorism.
When the Commission can put this evidence together, which seems unlikely to take too much effort, Hamas can go back on the banned list.
I think there are three messages to take from this.
The first point is that, fortunately for us, the Court of Justice of the European Union did not make its ruling this week because it hates Jews.
The second is that everyone benefits from a fair and impartial legal system. The Maharal of Prague wrote, “That we sometimes free guilty people is not significant. What is critical is preserving justice.” The European Commission was lazy with its reasoning so its decision was overturned, and just as well because what if their lack of evidence had actually perpetrated an injustice against an innocent organisation? It could have done unless the courts had the power to reverse it.
The third is about informed decision-taking. The banning of Hamas was a sensible decision – because they are plainly terrorists – but not an informed one, because it did not demonstrate sufficient evidence.
The vilification, by some parts of the Jewish community, of the EU Court for ruling that Hamas isn’t a terrorist group, was not properly informed either. It was a slur thrown about by people who hadn’t read the judgment and who didn’t understand the issues.
Acting before one has the facts is never a good plan, as hopefully this saga has reinforced for everybody.