Seven takeaways from 'round two' of Bassem Youssef's interview with Piers Morgan

The Egyptian comedian and English broadcaster delve into a deeper discussion about the Israel-Gaza war

Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef returns to Piers Morgan Uncensored. Photo: Talk TV
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Bassem Youssef’s return to Piers Morgan Uncensored was as riveting as promised.

The Egyptian comedian had teased “a deep calm conversation about a very complicated issue” when posting about the interview on his Instagram page.

The Israel-Gaza war was a prime topic of the conversation, which ran for nearly two hours. Though it was certainly heated at times, Youssef and Piers Morgan kept it civil. The interview has already had almost three million views on YouTube in less than a day since it was posted.

While perhaps “round two” was not as flagrantly satirical as the previous encounter, the interview delves deeper on several talking points and brings an Arab perspective that is often ignored in western media. Youssef also presented Morgan with a taste of Palestinian cuisine, treating the English broadcaster to some zaatar and olive oil from the West Bank.

Here are the main takeaways from the interview:

Piers Morgan was uncomfortable during first interview

During their previous conversation, where Youssef used dark comedy and satire to describe the conditions Palestinians in Gaza are facing, as well as the threat of more attacks from the Israeli military, Morgan admitted he felt uncomfortable and didn’t know how to respond. However, he said he was ready for the humour this time around.

“Last time, I was very taken aback,” he said. “I remember feeling unusually uncomfortable, thinking I didn’t know how to react to that. I didn't know whether I was supposed to laugh or be silent. I sort of ended up slightly grimacing, half [laughing] and listening.”

Then, he said he realised Youssef’s satirical approach was “very powerful”.

“It was savagely satirical and extremely effective,” he said. “And that's why I think the interview did so well.

“All I did was just take the talking points … take reality, flip it on its head, exaggerate it,” said Youssef, a former heart surgeon, referring to a joke he made in the previous interview about Palestinians being “very difficult to kill”.

They discuss anti-Semitism vs anti-Zionism

Before delving deeper into the topic of Israel and Palestine, Youssef sought to demarcate the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, pointing out that criticisms against Israel were not condemnations of Jewish people as a whole.

“I think there is a rise of anti-Semitism in the world,” Youssef said. “This is very dangerous. As a Muslim who has been through events where there were terrorist attacks somewhere and that [was] reflected back to us. I can completely feel that.” He added that since the war began on October 7, he had had several messages from Jewish friends asking whether his wife’s family, who are Palestinian, were safe.

“I think it is very important to agree on the language because the word anti-Semite has been used and abused, and most of the time not in the interest of the Jewish people,” Youssef said.

He referred to the protests carried out by Jewish Voice for Peace in the US, as activists protested the Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians. The activist organisation is known for its anti-Zionist, left-wing Jewish stance.

“I remember quite well many of the Republican representatives in congress came out and they were calling these [protests] the global intifada and the global jihad … And then I find Nikki Haley [the former governor of South Carolina] saying anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism.”

“The saddest thing I saw is that people who are in [strong] support of Israel are anti-Semites themselves,” Youssef said, referring to US far-right politician Marjorie Taylor Greene as an example.

“Taylor Greene is very known for a very famous post in 2018, where she blamed the California wildfires on a Jewish space laser gun,” Youssef said.

“These are the same people who are seen with people like [white nationalist] Nick Fuentes,” Youssef said. “Who are buddies with Benjamin Netanyahu. So how does this work? And you know the people who speak against this, like Jon Stewart, Bernie Sanders, like Naomi Klein. What do they call them? Self-hating Jews and Kapos,” Youssef said, referring to the term that was used to described Jewish prisoners in Nazi camps that were assigned as guards.

“You see how degrading this is?” Youssef said. “This is the way to shut down conversation. Anti-Semite, Islamophobe, you hate America, you hate the military, war on Christmas! An environment that does not allow disagreement is an environment for control.”

'Terrorism is a virus'

In perhaps one of the most memorable quotes in the interview, Youssef said that Palestinians must get what they deserve. He described Hamas as a terrorist group, but that the Israeli response to the attack was not the right way to deal with such a threat, implying that to solve a terrorist problem, governments should, much like a doctor, treat the disease.

“Terrorism is a virus,” Youssef said.

“If a patient with the flu came to you … you give them nutrition, fluids and rest so the immunity of the body gets rid of the virus on its own.”

He said that Israel had “weakened” the body of Palestinians, making them unable to get rid of “hate and radicalism”.

'This is not eye for an eye any more'

Several times during the interview, Youssef underscored how Israeli’s attack on Gaza was not a matter of debilitating Hamas, but rather the ethnic cleansing of the city.

Youssef highlights the rhetoric circulating in many Israeli circles, referring to comments by Israeli officials, including a post by a speech writer of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“[He] said, ‘What is so horrific about understanding that the whole Palestinian people are our enemies. All of them are enemy combatants. We should kill them, their mothers, destroy their homes, the homes they raise those snakes,'” Youssef quoted, adding that the post was shared by Ayelet Shaked, who served as the Minister of Justice between 2015 and 2019, before being appointed to Minister of Interior between 2020-2021.

“They can tell you it’s about Hamas, but they have said it many times, Piers,” Youssef said. “This is a way to push them into Sinai. This is not about eradicating Hamas. This ship has sailed. I am sorry, but anybody who believes this is still about Hamas is stupid.”

Morgan didn’t seem to agree, suggesting any “country [that] suffered the kind of terror attack that Israel suffered [with] the death toll that occurred that day” would’ve reacted similarly.

Youssef repeatedly pointed out the disproportionate reaction by Israel.

“This is not eye for an eye any more,” Youssef said. “This is an eye, a limb, a life, a house, a neighbourhood, a whole population – for an eye … it's not about Hamas any more.”

'Put yourself on the Arab side'

One of the most effective aspects of Youssef’s appearance on Morgan’s show is that the comedian underscores the Arab perspective that is often minimised in western discussions of the conflict.

“They're not being heard by the media. The plight and the suffering of the brothers in Palestine and in the Arab world are not being heard.”

Youssef referred to the displacement and forced expulsion of Palestinians over the past 75 years. The Nakba of 1948, he underscored, was one of the darkest moments in Palestinian and Arab history.

“If you meet Palestinians, you’ll see [some of] them wearing a necklace with a key,” Youssef said. “That key is their house they were kicked out from. Those people have absolutely no right to go back. Even if you are a Palestinian with an American passport, they give you hell in order to go in.”

“Put yourself on the Arab side,” Youssef said. “In 1948, you constituted 70 per cent of the population. Suddenly the UN is giving you 48 per cent of the land.”

Morgan describes Netanyahu as 'a big problem'

Morgan said he had interviewed Netanyahu earlier this year, in the midst of the protests against him in Israel.

“I couldn't understand what he thought he was doing, except that it seemed to me political expediency that he had to get power,” Morgan said. “He had put a bunch of right-wing headbangers into his cabinet, who have incredibly bad records, speak in an incredibly incendiary way about Palestinians, for example. Then he launched a ridiculous assault on the integrity of the Supreme Court. And many Israelis rose up.”

“Netanyahu has become, to me, a big problem,” he added. “And the polling shows that. The Israeli people are very unhappy with Netanyahu. I don’t think he’s ever going to actually want to forge peace. I think he was instrumental with Hamas in wanting to keep them in power, because he felt that that would create the split with the Palestinians. And that would be good for Israel.”

Youssef agreed, commenting: “It was leaked [from] a Likud conference in 2019 that he was bragging about giving Hamas money because this is a way to keep Palestinians divided.”

The danger of misinformation

Youssef and Morgan also discussed the issue of finding credibility within comments from the Israeli government.

“I'm not a journalist,” Youssef said. “But as a journalist, wouldn't you take anything that an authority would say with a grain of salt? Especially if this authority has a long history of lying.”

“In 1996, they bombed Qana, it’s a refugee camp. They killed 106 people,” Youssef said, referring to the bombing of a UN compound in Southern Lebanon, where 800 Lebanese civilians had taken refuge. Israel released a statement saying they had no intention of attacking the compound and “categorically” rejected the findings by the UN that the bombing was deliberate.

“In 2006, they bombed Qana again,” Youssef said. “In 2014, they killed two teenagers at a checkpoint. They denied as usual, but CNN was there, so [they had to admit]. In 2018, they killed a Palestinian medic and they doctored, they fabricated a video showing it was someone else and he was a human shield. In 2021, they bombed the media office in [Gaza]. Then, on May 11, 2022, Shireen Abu Akleh. She’s a Palestinian-American citizen. She was shot in the head, and they provided forensic evidence and a doctored video saying it was not them but Islamic jihad.”

“How can I expect to believe this regime?”

Morgan agreed that the Israeli government was known for fabricating evidence, but also accused Hamas of doing the same.

“I do think [the Israeli government] has lied. I'm not going to dispute that. I do think they'd been caught lying. I do think they said things that turned out not to be true,” he said.

“I also think that two weeks ago, a hospital was bombed. Hamas immediately tell the world it was an Israeli air strike, and that 500 people were killed. The next couple of days go by, the hospital is relatively undamaged. The car park was obliterated. Many fewer people than 500 were killed. Most independent studies of what happened, have concluded that it was almost certainly a militant strike terror group inside Gaza. And they fired a rocket which landed in the hospital car park. In other words, it wasn't an Israeli air strike.”

“I have an issue with that,” Youssef argued. “Three days before the attack, the priests and the patriarch of the hospital – because it is called the Baptist Hospital – said that they have received warning multiple from Israel that they're going to hit the hospital. And then at the time of the hit of the hospital, one of the top aides of Netanyahu tweeted, ‘We hit the hospital’ then deleted it. Basically, Israel gaslighted the world.

“[Over] 10 years, Hamas launched 35,000 rockets into Israel,” Youssef continued. “They killed 69 people. But in one strike, you want to tell me that these glorified firecrackers cause that kind of damage?”

Updated: November 02, 2023, 12:11 PM