Front page headline, Washington Post, Sunday July 20, 2014
Dear American Media,
I’d like to say first that I understand this is difficult for you. You’ve been told one story about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict your entire lives; but unless you’ve tuned out entirely, you’ve probably begun to notice that the most recent developments don’t really line up with that story. You know that criticizing Israeli government policies can be damaging in American politics, and you are probably struggling with your own questions about Israel’s justification for its current bombing of Gaza. Still, with a few exceptions, you’ve chosen not to rock the boat, to put aside your challenging questions, and to continue reporting this conflict the way you always have.
“This is a foreign conflict,” you may say, “why bother stirring controversy when our coverage has no impact on what happens over there?” That’s true to some degree: the actions of Israelis and Palestinians have far greater impact on what happens on the ground. In this case, however, the United States plays the role of supposed intermediary, assuring the world that it need not (read: better not) get involved, because the US alone will help Israelis and Palestinians solve this problem.
The, truth, however, is that the US has facilitated an atmosphere in which the Israeli government does not see an incentive to find a just peace, but is content to keep building settlements and brutally beating back Hamas and whatever Palestinian civilians stand in the way. We have not only promoted the falsenarrative that Israel is a nation under existential threat, but also provided theunmatched resources with which to “defend” itself from this threat. The United States and Israel are so deeply intertwined politically and economically at this point that a climate has developed to stifle criticism of Israel within the US even morethan within Israel itself, and American politicians can’t hope to question the unconditional nature of US support to Israel without seriously risking their careers. US public opinion may just be the only hope for changing the status quo, and you inform the opinion of a huge sector of the American population. Your complicity in this conflict is clear.
You watched this play out. You watched a heinous murder of Israeli teens, and you saw no evidence presented that this was an action sanctioned by the Hamas organization. You watched as Israel demolished houses, arrested hundreds, andkilled civilians in clashes, all in a supposed attempt to find the killers and punish them, and with no attempt at due process. You watched as Palestinians were targeted by Israelis in racist attacks, and you watched as Israeli police abused an American teen, the visible representative of the invisible masses of Palestinian teens who undergo the same and worse. You watched as Hamas said it would not tolerate collective punishment of Palestinians, and you watched as violence between Israel and Gaza followed.
You watched, but you chose to tell Americans that Hamas simply began firing rockets at Israel with no clear rationale, and that Israel had no choice but to defend itself. You chose to give Americans a picture that portrayed an oppressed, impoverished, and desperate people as a violent, insane aggressor, and Israel, a nation with one of the world’s most advanced militaries, as a victim that must defend itself by bombing Gaza.
But this time, something happened when you told the same old tale you’ve been persuaded to tell by Israel’s sophisticated public relations campaigns. The narrative didn’t fit the facts, and this time people noticed. As you struggled to tell the story you’re accustomed to telling even though the facts didn’t match, you sometimes ended up inversing those facts, with Diane Sawyer telling her audience that pictures of Gaza devastation were from Israel, and CNN claiming the “death toll is rising in Israel” when there were still no Israeli casualties. Other times, like when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced at a press conference that he would never accept a fully sovereign Palestinian state, you simply did not report on it at all. The Washington Post front page declared on July 20 that two Israeli soldiers were killed in the fighting, without mentioning until the eleventh paragraph that dozens of Palestinian children died as well.
Shortly after Slate’s Will Saletan wrote an article criticizing Israel’s demolitions of the homes of Palestinian suspects, he followed with another claiming that the Israeli government’s efforts to avoid civilian casualties are “exemplary.” Shortly after NBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin reported in a humanizing manner the deaths of Palestinian children, and shared the State Department’s deflection of Israeli responsibility for the attack, NBC removed him from Gaza (they later reinstated him following public pressure). The New York Times, too, was apparentlyuncomfortable with a humanized framing of its story on the boys’ deaths, and changed its headline to a more sterilized version. And a CNN reporter tweeted thendeleted the threats she received from Israelis near Sderot who were seemingly demanding sympathetic coverage for the bombing of Gaza. The reasons these outlets seem to be backtracking from criticism of Israel are unclear, but the possibilities range from sheer cowardice to more insidious censorship.
As support for Israel’s occupation and systematic abuse of Palestinians becomes increasingly partisan, it would be naïve to expect Fox News to challenge the dominant narrative on the conflict. But those of you who consider yourselves liberal pride yourselves on being the partisans of fact over dogma and reason over prejudice. With this latest iteration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you have exposed yourselves as frauds. You were presented with facts, and you could not accept them. You committed exactly the same offense you accuse conservatives of repeating on climate change, women’s rights, civil rights, and immigration; namely, ignoring the facts that don’t fit their preconceived narratives.
Above all, those of you who call yourselves progressives take pride in being on the right side of history. While it’s true that the Israel-Palestine story is unlike any other and that despite resemblances, Israel does not constitute an exact replica of South African apartheid, this must not obfuscate the lessons of history. Oppressed peoples in South Africa, in Algeria, in the United States, and in countless other conflicts have at times resorted to violence, and history remains consistent – it places the blame for perpetuating conflict always on the strong oppressor, and never on the weak oppressed. Here, you are not on the right side of history. Here, you are providing cover for the side committing oppression.
Even the mainstream American media does not control the political and economic inner workings of the US-Israel relationship, but you do influence the education of your viewers. You do shape the still-mighty arena of public opinion, and you do play a role in affecting the electoral fate of a political candidate who stands up against unchecked US support of Israel’s military. When members of European parliaments are holding contentious debates on responses to Israel’s actions, while the US Senate unanimously passed a resolution giving its full support to the assault on Gaza, we must recognize that we’re still startlingly far from an open conversation on the US relationship with Israel.
You are very good at criticizing America’s many flaws, and yet we know that you love America. So, too, can you continue to love Israel while you give Palestinian suffering the same weight as Israeli suffering, and report all the facts and the entire story. I’m not asking you to “spin” anything, to tell anyone’s narrative, or minimize the wrongdoings of either side. I’m asking you to simply tell America what’s happening, all of it, without reducing Palestinians to dehumanized numbers and crude stereotypes, as have oppressors throughout history.
Perhaps you will decide it is still in your best interest to give a one-sided account of this conflict, but you cannot continue to look on Palestinian suffering as part of just one in a long list of foreign tragedies a world away from home. You hold true power here, and only you can decide to what end you’ll exercise that power.