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Ignoring reality in the Gaza Strip is the problem, not the “mainstream media”

No doubt Ethan Bronner will be attacked by both the Israel-can-do-no-right crowd and their ideological adversaries for his wonderful piece in today’s NY Times, which conveys the impossibility of covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without offending someone. No doubt the attacks on him will prove his point:

Trying to tell the story so that both sides can hear it in the same way feels more and more to me like a Greek tragedy in which I play the despised chorus. It feels like I am only fanning the flames, adding to the misunderstandings and mutual antagonism with every word I write because the fervent inner voice of each side is so loud that it drowns everything else out.

In their incessant complaints about the mainstream media’s distortions of the Gaza conflict, Israel’s critics miss a vitally important point about public opinion, at least within the American Jewish community. While the war was going on, of course one could find plenty of examples of stories that were weighted in Israel’s favor. One could also find examples where Israel’s POV was barely mentioned, especially in the dumbed-down 24-hour electronic media, like CNN International. But the main problem has not been “media bias.’ That is just an easy target that gives the likes of Philip Weiss fodder for their posts. In fact, the sufferings of the Palestinians in Gaza have NOT been hidden by the MSM and other readily available media. Neither have Israel’s military tactics. Quite the contrary, it’s all been there, plain as day, for anyone who has turned on a television or read a paper or surfed the Web, which is how most people get their information these days.

The problem is not that reality has been distorted. The problem is that it has been ignored or rationalized. I believe that many liberal supporters of Israel were appalled by the streams of white phosphorus in the alleyways of Gaza, by the bombings of what were clearly civilian outposts, by a military assault on densely packed neighborhoods whose ends, they concluded, did not come close to justifying the means. After after weighing the evidence that was readily available to them, they were deeply disturbed by Israel’s by-any-means-necessary philosophy of war. Yet they said nothing and did nothing.

A few pro-Israel American Jewish groups criticized the Israeli response to Hamas rocket fire and called for an early ceasefire, including Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v’ Shalom, and J Street. They clearly supported Israel’s right to defend itself, just objected to its disproportionate response. They tried to rally American Jews to press Congress not to tow the mainstream lobby’s line when it voted on the conflict. They got some response from the community but, truth be told, a tiny fraction of Jews who agreed with them weighed in and tried to help. Groups further to the left, like Jewish Voices for Peace and the Shalom Center, offered other ways for opponents of the war to make their voices heard. But, for the most part, the dissenting voices were drowned out by the American Jewish groups that stuck to the party line supplied by Israel.

Now, there are people I respect who believe that, despite the terrible price paid by Palestinians in Gaza, Israel was doing what it had to do. There are others who are simply too uncertain to form an opinion, who didn’t and still don’t know what to think. But I know for a fact that within the mainstream American Jewish community, within Reform synagogues, Jewish charitable federations and other groups, there are people who did not support Israel’s military tactics and its approach to the complex challenge of Hamas. And these people chose to stay behind the circle of communal wagons rather than venturing forward.

Sure, the MSM is important. What is more important is that too many American Jews allowed supporters of the war in our community to speak for them, even though they were horrified by what the MSM told them about the attack on Gaza, even though they didn’t accept the version of reality that was filtered and then conveyed by Israel’s spin machine.

29 thoughts on “Ignoring reality in the Gaza Strip is the problem, not the “mainstream media”

  1. There is a tragedy in politics. And that is that is conspicuously negative in approach.

    Its all stated as “what we oppose, what we condemn, what we will fight against”.

    Those voices are necessary when the reality gets beyond any acceptable norm. Its obviously confusing when the norm itself is beyond an acceptable norm.

    My sense is that peace-making is different. Peace-MAKING occurs by the building of relationships, relationships that are social (meaning not of states or militias, not of forcing).

    For example, those Zionists and Palestinians that claim to love the land, fail to. Israel, as a developed nation, or Palestine as a prospectively developing nation, have the same environmental problems as any. And those are not solved without collaboration. Toxins that move in a water table, are not limited to a boundary. Scarcities of water, arable land, etc. are common problems. The solutions to them require collaboration.

    Loving the land.

    Public health is similar. Disease does not know boundaries. And, the solutions cannot happen in single jurisdictions.

    Culture. Music is cross-cultural. Food. Dress. Language.

    Religion. There are enormous commonalities between Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Worship of the ONE, however referred to.

    Education. Elementary, young adult, higher, adult.


    Industry and trade.

    Whether an advocate for single-state or two-state, human concerns are the majority. Mutually dependant.

    I’ve seen a thousand times through my activist life, where political agitants achieve their political ends, and then tragically neglect the communities that are newly liberated.

    Consider South Africa, which when it went outside of the news cycle after apartheid ended, was forgotten. VERY few activists went to South Africa to help them revive over an extended period. Central America was similar.

    Our political solidarity was important but also a self-talk, a vanity, talk INSTEAD of service.

  2. Dan, “the complex challenge of Hamas”? Israel hasn’t dealt with the complex challenge of PALESTINE.

    I think you’re wrong to lay in to Phil Weiss for pointing out the ideological curtain currently draped over New York mainstream journalism. New York media (the range of it) largely drives American public opinion. The Times’ coverage has been embarrassing.

    It says a lot that the below was published in the London Review of Books, and not in New York:

    Eliot Weinberger:

    1. Who remembers the original dream of Israel? A place where the observant could practice their religion in peace and the secular would be invisible as Jews – where being Jewish only mattered if you wanted it to matter. That dream was realised, not in Israel, but in New York City.

    2. The second dream of Israel was of a place where socialist collectives could flourish in a secular nation with democratic freedoms. Who remembers that now?

    3. ‘Never again’ should international Jews invoke the Holocaust as justification for Israeli acts of barbarism.

    4. As in India-Pakistan, blaming the Brits is true enough, but useless.

    5. A few days ago, to illustrate the Gaza invasion, the front page of the New York Times had a large pastoral photograph of handsome Israeli soldiers lounging on a hill above verdant fields. Unquestioning faith in the ‘milk and honey’ Utopia of Israel is the bedrock of American Judaism, and reality does not intrude on faith.

    6. Any hope for some sort of peace will not come from the US, even without Bush. It must come from within an Israel where the same petrified leaders are elected time and again, where masses of the rational have emigrated to saner shores and have been replaced by Russians and the American cultists who become settlers. It is hard to believe that this will be anytime soon.

    7. It is hard to believe that two states will ever be possible. So why not a new dream of Israel? A single nation, a single citizenry with equal rights, three languages– English as a neutral third– and three religions, separate from the state. Give it a new name– say, Semitia, land of the Semites.

  3. “””‘Never again’ should international Jews invoke”””

    First of all, what is an “international Jew”? Henry Ford published an anti-Semitic book called “The International Jew.”

    Why is someone posting complaints here about “international Jews”?

    Hitler complained about “international Jewry”:

    “””Centuries will go by, but from the ruins of our towns and monuments the hatred of those ultimately responsible will always grow anew against the people whom we have to thank for all this: international Jewry and its henchmen.”””–Adolf Hitler, My Political Testament, 1945

  4. Oh come on, BuberZio,

    Just because someone uses the term “international Jewry” does not mean they are equivalent to Henry Ford or need to go out their way to disassociate himself/herself with Ford and Hitler. As usual, your curious obsession with language, rather than what the language is expressing, bogs down the conversation here.

  5. MM: “Never again’ should international Jews invoke the Holocaust”

    So, Mr. Words-Don’t-Matter, answer me this:

    What are the “international Jews”? If the object of criticism is the Zionists, or the supporters of Israel, or whatever, why is the accusation directed at “International Jews.”?

  6. BuberZio,

    I refuse to get snared into one of the endless arguments about language that you seem to love, but there is an organization called the World Jewish Congress. It supports Israel. A large part of the organized Jewish community around the world supports Israel. I see no problem with calling that “international Jewry” unless you can prove to me that the person who uses the term is deliberately invoking Henry Ford. It he isn’t, it was perhaps an unfortunate word choice but hardly worth obseesing over.

  7. Hopefully Dan can exercise some editorial input on this matter.

    The question is whether CRITICISMS of anonymous persons who are identified SOLELY as “international Jews” are anti-Semitic.

    In EVERY instance that I have found, criticisms such as MMs which are directed at anonymous persons identified merely as “international Jews” are clearly anti-Semitic.

    To find out whether cricitisms of anonymous persons who are identified solely as being “international Jews” is anti-Semitic, I googled “International Jews” and then picked out ALL of the results on the first three pages which contain criticisms of “international Jews.” I leave it to the reader to decide whether these critical references–and I have included ALL of them–are anti-Semitic:


    #4: The International Jew The World’s Foremost Problem

    #13: He then criticized “the schemes of the International Jews,” a “sinister … He claimed that international Jews influenced the French Revolution, …

    #14: The Economic Plans of International Jews. The International Jew, by Henry Ford. James Russell Lowell always declared “that he was of Jewish extraction and …

    #19: The International Jews And The Protocols Of Zion : Part Two
    An exposŽ on the Protocols of Zion and the agenda of the International Jewish bankers.

    #24: beyond its borders, Churchill told his readers: ‘In violent opposition to all this sphere of Jewish effort rise the schemes of the International Jews. …

    #25: Although this image had been gradually emerging since the end of World War I, the idea of international Jews fomenting insurrection, upheaval, …

    #28: Christian Identity perceives the threat to the status quo as being racial in nature and orchestrated by a conspiracy of international Jews. …

    #29: In violent opposition to all this sphere of Jewish effort rise the schemes of the International Jews. The adherents of this sinister confederacy are mostly …

    #30: #
    Adolf Hitler was a Deist II – Rise of the International Jews …
    Just what the title says. If you feel Hitler was blasphemous toward Christianity , then you haven’t read much from the founding fathers of the United States …

  8. Buber,

    I agree with Teddy. Please stop this! It has no bearing on my post or even what MM wrote. As Teddy noted, at most it was an unfortunate choice of words but nothing more. At least that is what it will appear to be to me, unless additionl knowledge of what the writer intended convinces me otherwise. You would have had a case if he had invoked something about “international Jewish control” over the world’s finances and governments. but I just don’t see that you have a case in the excerpt that you insist is a problem.

    You might be better offer going to this web site and complaining: It’s Jewish International Connection, and they say “Our mission is to provide international Jews in their 20’s and 30’s living in New York, a home away from home by bringing them together..” Please go after them, not this blog. Thanks

  9. Thank you for responding. I hope that you are not being intentionally obtuse. No one is claiming that all references to “international Jews” are anti-Semitic.

    If I said that–which I did not–then my statement was simply what you call “an unfortunate choice of words but nothing more.”

    Presumably you have heard of the semanticist S.I. Hayakawa. He wrote of a man who was complaining that a certain storeowner was “a cheap Jew.” The man’s companion stated that actually, the storeowner was an Italian. The man then complained “he’s a Jew to me.”

    Hayakawa’s point was NOT that it is anti-Semitic to say that someone is cheap. Nor is it anti-Semitic to say that someone is a Jew. Nor is it anti-Semitic to say that someone who is Jewish is cheap. Nor is it anti-Semitic to mistake an Italian for a Jew.

    No. Hayakawa’s point was that it is, however, anti-Semitic to call someone a “cheap Jew,” even if that person is in fact cheap and in fact a Jew.

    Why? Because the speaker of the phrase “cheap Jew” is associating or explaining something negative, being cheap, with being Jewish.

    Now let us reexamine MMs complaint about barbarity-justifying “international Jews,” to see whether MMs statement is logically and structurally similar to “cheap Jew.”

    MM wrote: “””‘Never again’ should international Jews invoke the Holocaust as justification for Israeli acts of barbarism.”””

    In Hayakawa’s example the person identified as a “Jew” is “cheap,” and we all agree that in Hayakawa’s example the speaker is anti-Semitic.

    In MMs case the persons identified as “international Jews” also engage in bad acts, namely they “invoke the Holocaust as justification for Israeli acts of barbarism.”

    But those who would defend MMs statement while objecting to the statement described by Hayakawa are making a distinction without a difference.

    Hayakawa’s anti-Semite uses the word “Jew” while MM uses “Jews.” Hayakawa’s anti-Semite says “storeowner” while MM says “international.”

    Hayakawa’s anti-Semite complains of cheapness, while MM complains of justifying barbarity.

    These are not substantive differences.

  10. Jonathon,
    You are intentionally distracting from conversation here.

    Can you please respect the rest of us and lie low for a bit?

  11. The following statement by MM is offensive to me, for the reasons stated above:

    “””‘Never again’ should international Jews invoke the Holocaust as justification for Israeli acts of barbarism.”””

    MM could have written “international people,” “international supporters of Israel,” “international Zionists,” whatever. Instead he chose to say “international Jews.”

    I take the use of the word ‘Jew’ in negative ways personally. If other Jews don’t then their open-mindedness doesn’t compel me to accept it.

  12. Not being Jewish, I can’t answer my own question: How to change the dynamics stated in the last paragraph of your post? Without hearing the viewpoints of all, the viewpoints one hears is all that the rest of us hear and that allows our members of Congress to also pretend that nothing more is of importance.

  13. There is altogether too much focus on whether people making statements about the Mideast are Jews or not.

    We see this in Amaliada’s well-meaning letter.

    “””Not being Jewish, I can’t answer my own”””

    Why can’t people, including Amaliada, just say whatever they think about the Gaza War regardless of whether they are Jewish or not?

    And the converse of that is that no one would accuse “the international Jews” of saying the wrong things, as MM did, because no one would care whether those speaking were Jews or not.

    It would only matter what people said, not whether they were Jews or not. In such an atmosphere MM and his shameful “Congratulations to the Jewish People on another well-cooked infant” would not be tolerated, as appallingly he seems to be, even by Dan.

    This whole focus on whether the speaker is a Jew produces oddities such as Tom Mitchell, who is not Jewish, signing documents in which he claims to be a Jewish critic of Israel. Go figure.

    He knows he’s lying, but he does it anyway because in this atmosphere he somehow feels he must be Jewish to be heard. This whole situation is very unhealthy. No one should be producing documents which say We are Jews and we support/oppose the Gaza War.

    Just say you support or oppose the Gaza War. Then Tom Mitchell doesn’t have to lie, and Amaliada can say whatever it is she wants to say.

    Thinking themselves tolerant, a lot of people have in fact become quite intolerant.

  14. Jonathan,

    The reason that some organizations feel it is necessary to restrict their membership to Jews is that they feel that otherwise they won’t be taken seriously in Israel. This is a problem of nationalism, that no one’s opinion outside of the nation counts or that everyone outside of the nation is automatically to be considered an enemy.
    I switched to responding to petitions from APN rather than Brit Tzedek because they usually didn’t make this claim. And having been an activist in Peace Now some 30 years ago, I felt more in tune with it.

    As far as what MM writes, it can be judged as a whole and I long ago came to a conclusion about it.

  15. MM was quoting Eliot Weinberger. I thought it was obvious from his post that he didn’t write those lines. (from 1 to 7)

  16. Amaliada Says:
    January 25th, 2009 at 11:54 pm e
    How to change the dynamics stated in the last paragraph of your post? Without hearing the viewpoints of all, the viewpoints one hears is all that the rest of us hear and that allows our members of Congress to also pretend that nothing more is of importance”


    My book examines the obstacles to and possibilities for addressing your question. It is a daunting challenge, but it’s time to build a “lobby for the rest of us.” Can’t sum it up in a comment on a blog, even my own blog:)

  17. Buber Zionist,

    I asked you to stop and you kept going. I just marked your last comment as spam and hope that this and a few other steps will serve as a temporary ban. You have every right to be upset about whatever upsets you. But I promised to be more vigilant about comments. And when I made a judgement about a quote, you continued to post comments indicating my judgement was the wrong one, thereby hijacking the conversation. Others asked you to stop, politely, and you ignored them too. So I am forced to take this step. See ya.

  18. Succintly stated, my thesis in this area is that the “opposition voice” to the Israel right or wrong crowd has to learn to be perceived in the overall community as a LOYAL opposition. A loyal opposition has to distinguish itself from the hard left Israel is evil folks, and that’s no simple task in the midst of a campaign like Gaza. I think J Street is on the right track in this respect, although I think it still needs to hone its message, which became moot once Rabbi Yoffie challenged the so-called “moral equivalence” argument that he believed J Street was making. Yes, people should say what they beieve, but saying what one believes, without choosing words carefully, is not necessarily consistent with building an effective coalition.

  19. Bruce, you are summing up what I and others have tried to practice for more than 2 decades. Thus far, it hasn’t produced enough new volunteers and activists from outside the community. And it hasn’t prompted enough individuals within the community who agree with us to stop worshipping at the altar of communal unity and start taking advantage of the opportunities for political action provided by the “loyal opposition.” So, what to do? Maybe start talking openly about human rights violations, for example, and try to attract young people whose identities are still bound up with Israel in some fashion, but are disgusted by some of its policies. Maybe err on the side of passionate, rather than overly cautious, dissent.

  20. I wouldn’t recommend overly passionate presentation, as that is likely to alienate.

    My sense of the message to Jews that are predisposed to Zionism, is to present history in the time line that Zionists experienced, and that Jews are more familiar with (many aren’t even), and then describe the same period and events from the perspective of different Palestinian families.

    And, if it is possible in great timeline detail, that would be helpful.

    Such an exercise would educate in both directions. If accurate, when Palestinians and/or solidarity recognize a time or experience, and juxtapose the Israeli/Zionist experience of the same period, it would encourage respect for the others’ perspective, if not agreement or compromise.

    It starts with consciousness, with understanding of the past, present and hopes of the other.

  21. I do believe when actions need condemnations then they definitely should be abhorred and criticised. Ultimately, for myself, it all falls on a question, with all the historical purposes intact from both perspectives: What kind of Israel/Palestine do you want to live in? Both sides must know that all of this is untenable and rather miserable (one more than the other assured) and it’s not going to have a pretty future if things are left like they are today.

    Yes, applaud the bravery. Not being part of either community, I am not able to empathise by being an iconoclast in your “tribe”. But more talk and press about it, good or bad (hopefully more good than bad), the more it is kept in the spotlight. That’s better than being ignored (like other conflicts).

  22. Dan,
    Yeats wrote, “The best have lost all conviction, the worst are full of intense passion…” for a reason. And this was about the Easter Rising in Dublin 1916, which involved conventional tactics rather than terrorism. But some see this as the beginning of a romance with the gun that lasted on the island of Ireland for over ninety years. Many historians think that Ireland could have gotten home rule without any bloodshed.

    Much better reason without passion than the reverse. Hopefully, those with reason will have enough passion to remain involved.

  23. Actually, he wrote, “while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” That’s a bit different, isn’t it? In my experience, those with reason and not much passion give up very quickly, which is probably the most rational thing to do.

  24. Give up at what?

    Commit to what?

    In stating “been there, done that”, isn’t that a form of giving up as well?

  25. Richard, I meant many rational people “give up” on Middle East peace work.

    “Been there, done that” was an overly flippant way of stating that I and others have tried to introduce the Palestinian narrative into mainstream American Jewish consciousness, and while it is certainly necessary and possible, it is even more challenging than political mobilizing for policies that are clearly in Israel’s interests. So one has to pick and choose one’s voluntary labors.

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