Hamas’s massacre of Israeli civilians, known as ‘Black Sabbath,’ caught virtually everyone by surprise, even though the group had a long history of violence. One reason for this situation is the lack of information on several aspects of Hamas’s modus operandi. The resulting lacuna has biased the algorithms underpinning search engines that drive artificial intelligence (AI) on the subject.
The AI Challenge
The prominence of AI has profoundly and irrevocably changed the human discourse. From its inception on Google and other search engines to the most recent iteration of chatbots such as ChatGPT or Bard, complex algorithms have increasingly driven this process.
A large literature, mostly highly specialized, has analyzed numerous possible biases of the AI discursive products. Bias is created when one idea/topic/concept is disproportionally weighted against another. Faulty algorithms can introduce bias and need to be adjusted. But other issues are also at play.
- Choosing representative data to correct for bias is also recommended, but in cases where voluminous data is generated on a daily basis over extended periods of time, such remedies are not practical. Experts point out biases which occur when there is imbalance in available data, in the sense that certain topics are overrepresented, whereas information on others hardly exists.
- Quality of data in the discourse varies from rigorous research appearing in respectable academic publications to conspiracy theories found in niche outlets and social media. The sheer magnitude of ideas/topics/concepts in the discursive universe makes it hard to evaluate their quality. As a rule, discerning players in the discourse shy away from outlandish conspiracy theories, but evaluation of the in-between narratives is exceedingly hard.
- Relations and causations between variables, two distinctive concepts, are regularly confused in discursive practices, creating a host of fallacies and biases in the narrative. When correlation is mistaken for or misrepresented as causation, it generates a “reality” that does not exist.
These three sources of bias helped to mask Hamas’s true character as a savage terror group, with many adopting the narrative of a national resistance group fighting to liberate Palestinians from “Israel’s oppression.”
Hamas’s ‘Black Sabbath’ Attack: The Current Problem
Israel’s standing in the discursive universe has deteriorated dramatically in the past three decades. As a result of delegitimization and vilification, the view of Israel as a colonial -apartheid state which suppresses and physically eliminates Palestinians is quite common. Much of this view is a byproduct of the neo-Marxist, critical theory paradigm which has dominated social science. The paucity of contradictory ideas has aggravated the bias. Past remedies to correct the imbalance such as creating Israel studies programs have fail to address the problem.
Constructing Israel as an illegitimate colonial-apartheid enterprise had legitimized terrorist violence under the category of “national resistance.” Although Hamas and its junior partner Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) have been considered terror groups in many Western jurisdictions, their true goal of eliminating Israel was hidden because of the AI-driven distortions of the narratives.
Correcting the Imbalance
Four issues need to be addressed to correct the imbalance.
Hamas as ISIS: Comparisons between the two groups surfaced soon after the attack but were of rhetorical-declarative nature. Only a handful of reports provided some background facts, often confusing or incorrect. In reality, the military wings of Hamas and the PIJ followed the modus operandi of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Palestinian terrorist who split from al Qaeda and was sheltered by Iran before moving to Iraq. IRGC-QF helped al Zarqawi to found the Islamic State (later ISIS) where he implemented the techniques of two books known as the “the jihadist bibles:” Jurisprudence of Blood (Masail fi Figh al-Dima) and Management of Savagery. The writings provided an Islamic justification for inflicting extreme violence on enemies such as beheadings and burning alive. These savage spectacles were said to attract maximum international attention.
Hamas’s strategy of embedding: the turning of civilians into human shields. Although several commentators have pointed out that the population of Gaza is used to defend the military wing of Hamas and PIJ, the discourse is not systematic and confined mostly to the description of the suffering of the civilians. The IRGC-QF doctrine of using human shields was based on Brigadier General S. K. Malik’s The Koranic Principle of War. Adopted to asymmetrical conflicts, it stipulated that embedding among non-combatants could level the playing field when engaging Western armies obligated to follow the humanitarian laws of war. The doctrine was successfully tested during the 2006 Lebanon War where Hezbollah used public and private spaces to house military assets and launch attacks. Critically, medical authorities, on order of Hezbollah and Hamas, refused to provide separate numbers of civilian and terrorist deaths.
Because of International Humanitarian Law that strives to protect non-combatants, embedding caused Israel reputational damage, made worse by Hezbollah’s and Hamas’s staging of alleged catastrophes.
Hamas as a parasitic organization feeding on the civilian population. It has been widely known that Hamas has diverted billions of dollars of international support to build a one-of-a-kind military complex in the Gaza Strip. In addition, equipment like water pipes were repurposed to make rockets. However, the true scope of the parasitic enterprise and the depth of its corruption has not been systematically studied. In a telling example, a journalist commenting on Israeli bombing of the Rimal neighborhood in Gaza City, lamented the destruction of the “beating heart” of Gaza. In actuality, Rimal, known as the Beverly Hills of Gaza, houses the Hamas and PIJ elite and their families in extreme luxury.
The study of the highly corrupt governance and financial system presided over by Hamas is urgently needed. Judging by the case of Hezbollah, Iran- created prototype of a parasitic organization, finding information would be challenging but absolutely essential.
Performative and Elimination Antisemitism: Iran is the largest producers of antisemitic content in the world. The material, translated into thirty-six languages, ranges from classic antisemitic treatises popular in Nazi Germany, the writings of Muslim Brothers Hassan al Bana and Sayyed Qutb, to assorted modern conspiracy theories. Despite considerable variety, the messaging is the same: Jews and their collective embodiment, Israel, are dangerous to the human race and must be exterminated. Calls to destroy Israel, also known as the Little Satan, occur daily; the prophetically minded Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei used verses from the Koran to calculate the exact day of Israel’s demise. A digital clock was erected in Tehran counting down the time. Iran’s proxies have propagated the same themes.
Although scholars and lay observers have debated the meaning of this extreme manifestation of antisemitism and anti-Zionism, most argue that the phenomenon is performative, in essence, a rhetorical strategy to increase domestic legitimacy or compete with the Sunnis in the Middle East. Only a small minority holds that the Islamist theocracy (and its proxies) is eliminationist, that is, given the opportunity would annihilate the Jews and Israel. Hamas atrocities on the Gaza border communities should be reexamined within the context of eliminationist antisemitic ideology produced and disseminated by Iran.
Historically, the discourse on Hamas and Israel has been replete with bias. Prominent ideas, topics, and concepts have been promoted to vilify Israel, Jews, and the Zionist cause while glorifying the “legitimate” struggle and acts of savagery committed by Hamas. This discourse is reinforced by AI algorithms which, as noted, deepen the bias. What has been ignored in the past should be crucial in the construction of the current narrative, specifically, the origins of Hamas’ savage tactics, its use of human shields, its parasitic relationship to the inhabitants of Gaza, and the antisemitic attacks launched by Iran. In each instance, corrective measures are suggested to redress the imbalances to better inform the participants in the discursive community.
Ofira Seliktar is Professor Emerita of Political Science at Gratz College, Melrose Park, PA. Previously, she was Scholar in Residence at the Middle East Research Institute, University of Pennsylvania.
This essay is based on the author’s work: “Slaying the Little Satan: Iran’s War against Israel,” in progress: “Iran, Revolution and Proxy Wars,” Palgrave Macmillan, 2019, co-authored with Farhad Rezaei; and “Is Iran’s Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism Eliminationist or Performative: A Question for the Nuclear Age,” Israel Affairs, 2022.