Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Propaganda Machines

Once a week, my colleagues and I go out for happy hour, which is a testament to our general collegiality. Last week's happy hour, however, was marred slightly by the eruption of the Israel/Palestine question into our otherwise comradely chatter. I mentioned something about the occupation and my colleague, from across the table said," Occupation?!" as is if I had just asserted the reality of something that was in doubt. I'm not sure whether it's the insistance that I treat total propaganda as an "alternative view" or distortions and lies as "facts" or whether it's the pure racism involved in saying things like "Palestinians?" and "Occupation?" as if these were facts in question, but I was shocked and dismayed. The same colleague asked me yesterday if I knew about the group "CAMERA" which he described as a general mid-east media watch group with no political affiliation, out to give the "truth" on American news reporting from the Middle-East. "No," I said, "is it associated with AIPAC?"
"Oh, no" he responded.
The gist of his conversation was that he wanted to have a civil dialogue with me about the issues and offered to exchange information resources. This is the man who refused to read Tom Segev, on the basis that he was a "revisionist!" in the previous conversation. Finally, I had to tell him that I just didn't see the arguments he was making as an even a bit legitimate and that I couldn't have such a conversation with him on that basis at all. I said, "If you had a friend who loved Rush Limbaugh and insisted that he was telling the truth, and kept coming to you with things Rush had said, and asking you to take them seriously, wouldn't it drive you crazy?"
I could see that this hurt his feelings, and I felt bad about it, but on the other hand, he's coming to me with offensive, racist propaganda and asking me to accept it as a rational argument. If we were acquaintances in Mississippi in the 1960s, and he was talking about how inaccurate the Northern media was to depict Mississippi as a racist backwater, I'd have had to say the same thing.
Most of the time, I live in a bit of an alternative news "bubble" and unless I encounter students with very conservative views (this almost never happens where I teach) I don't often encounter right wing views, some of which seem like they are coming from another planet. In case you have the same's my report from the land of ultra-Zionist propaganda...part one.

The Right Wing Spin Machine on Israel/Palestine

1. "There are no Palestinians." This is the first departure point, and it's the one that Golda Meier made in her infamous statement, "There is no such thing as a Palestinian." Here is a web-site that promotes this point of view and a column from Ha'aretz that argues against it on this simple basis: no one gets to decide whether someone else's identity is valid or not.
* This justification for seizing other people's land is as specious as the justification used by the Puritans who came over to North America and seized Native American land on the basis that they a) didn't have the same concept of private property and farming as the Europeans and therefore couldn't make a legitimate ownership claim and b) weren't a nation in the European sense of the term.
I don't know what else to call it but racism when the basis for denying the existance of a people and their rights to stay where they are is that they are different from and therefore inferior to you. It doesn't matter whether the Palestinians have always called themselves Palestinians or not. The fact is, Israel was built on land that was inhabited by people, and the leaders of Israel expelled those people from their homes (about which, more later).
But let's see....what IS the basis of the Palestinian national identity?...It began in the 19th century, and you can find out more about it in the most serious scholarly history of it by Rashid Khalidi. For those who would claim that the Palestinians are not a "real" nation, it might be useful to think about the history of nationalism more generally. The "French" and "German" identities were also "made up" for political reasons. European historians generally agree with Benedict Anderson's description of the nation as an "imagined community" , not a biological reality.

2. The American media is biased against Israel and the Palestinians are manipulating the world media to hate Israel.
Yes, you heard it right. My colleague insisted that the liberal media couldn't be trusted in its reports from Israel. He went on to talk about CAMERA, which is not a neutral organization, which is affiliated with AIPAC, and which spends its time denying the murders of Palestinian children by the Israeli Defense forces. It does focusing on such cases as the image of Mohammed Al Duraduring the Al Aqsa intifada. In that case, the media first decided the photo was accurate, then later decided it was not. And with this one image, groups like CAMERA convince otherwise rational people that the entire record of crimes by the IDF is an elaborate Palestinian hoax. However, if you knew the big picture, you'd know this:

According to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Israeli security forces killed 2,038 Palestinians between 29 September 2000 and 11 May 2003. Of these, 366 (18%) were minors under the age of 18. Indeed, by the end of the second day of the al-Aqsa Intifada, the day on which Mohammed al-Dura died, 15 Palestinians had already been killed. Of these, four (27%) were minors. Besides Mohammad al-Dura, whose death was so graphically captured on video, B’Tselem reports these otherwise-invisible child casualties:

· Khaled 'Adli al-Baziyan, age 15, from Nablus, killed by Israeli security forces live gunfire to the head in Nablus/The West Bank

· Nizar Mahmud 'Abd al-'Ayedeh, age 16, from Deir 'Ammar/Ramallah, killed by Israeli security forces gunfire to the chest in Ramallah/The West Bank

· 'Iyyad Ahmad al-Khashashi, age 16, from Nablus, killed by Israeli security forces live gunfire in Nablus/The West Bank

The day after Mohammad al-Dura died, four more minors—including another 12-year-old, Samer Samir Sudki Tabanjeh—were killed by Israeli security forces.

(By comparison, B’Tselem reports that between 29 September 2000 and 11 May 2003 Palestinians killed 483 Israeli civilians and 216 Israeli security personnel, or 699 total. Of these, 92 or 13% were minors. By the end of the second day of the intifada one Israeli soldier but no Israeli civilians, and therefore no Israeli minors, had been killed. Further information is available at

That's all I can manage for now, I'll do some more responses to ultra-right Zionist talking points later in the week.


Anonymous said...

One of the things that's always bothered me is that if I or anyone else questions the politics of Israel or any of the decisions that country makes regarding its relations with its neighbors, I am accused of anti-semitism, racism, or terrorism.
Just for the record, I'm not a "righty" or a "lefty"; I'm just a regular guy who wonders what the fuck is going on in the middle east.

The Pagan Science Monitor said...

Thanks, Reb. Cogent as always. Looking forward to the rest of the post. These (basic, reasonable, reality-based) arguments might finally get a little traction now that there's a book whose title poses the question very starkly & whose author can still get a lot of applause in a Leno appearance.

Anonymous said...

Nine days until Christmas…and Mommy just got dragged away in handcuffs

Anonymous said...

Christopher Hitchens must be face deep in the egg-nog right about now

Anonymous said...

History Lesson for Benjamin:

The Children's Crusade (as told by Ren to Stimpy in an episode that was never made)

Anonymous said...

"The first known concentration camp on American soil in the 21st Century... T. Don Hutto Residential Center...on the outskirts of Austin, Texas"

Latina Lista

Anonymous said...

...A Cinderella moment for the band of researchers who study the hidden history of American government

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Castillo:

Whoever told you the people imprisoned in Taylor, Texas entered the country illegally lied to you. I have seven clients now imprisoned since November 3 at the T. Don Hutto prison, and every one of them entered the U.S. legally with a visa issued by the United States government.

Furthermore, there is no reason for the imprisonment of these children except as victims of a Michael Chertoff publicity stunt. In midnight raids on November 3 the Department of Homeland Stupidity took these children, who were enrolled in school, from their homes, with their parents and imprisoned them.

The sole purpose of the raids, political propaganda, was apparent from a DHS press release which characterized the victims as "fugitives" and "criminals." In fact, none of the families I know of were either fugitives or criminals. The two families I represent had conscientiously kept the DHS informed of their current residential addresses.

The purpose of the publicity stunt was to make the ignorant Fox-News brainwashed masses believe that 1) the Muslims among us are our enemies but 2) the DHS is protecting us, and therefore 3) we should not mind shredding the Constitution.

In fact, there was no legitimate reason for the raids at all. The two families I represent had been ordered deported, but had never received the customary notice to report for deportation. If they had, they would have worked out through their attorneys arrangements with the government for the children to finish the school year and then to depart at their own expense.

Compare the treatment of the Colombian wife of Georgia State Senator Curt B. Thompson last week. She also was under a final order of deportation, but the DHS did not detain her, even though, unlike my clients, she had been hiding from them since November 28, according to the Brenda Goodman, writing in the New York Times, December 6.

One of the families I am representing has four children and their mother in the prison, while the 2-year-old daughter is in foster care because she was born in the U.S. Two months is a long time for a 2-year-old baby to be torn away from her mother--especially for no reason other than a cynical political publicity stunt.

The other family has a 17-year-old son who is a senior at James Bowie High School in Arlington, Texas and his mother imprisoned in Taylor. As part of its scheme to whip up xenophobic hysteria and fear in the U.S., the DHS has now ruined his high school graduation.

Is this the United States? Do we allow our government to rip children from their homes and schools and imprison them indefinitely for no legitimate reason whatsoever? Please encourage somebody at the Austin American Statesman to look into this horror.

Respectfully submitted,

John Wheat Gibson
John Wheat Gibson, P.C.
701 Commerce Street, Suite 110 Dallas, Texas 75202

Anonymous said...

as per your zionist-anti-zionist pieces and
the jousting with your collegue..

so what happens when we figure out which professor has the right lies and the wrong truths? if we do
what do we win, and what happens then?

these peoples have to work together for peace,
they are all entitled to live, not die for the delusions
of ethnicity, gods and the passions of ego.

reb said...

I'm not a relativist. It's not just about jousting or ego. In order to estbalish a dialogue that will establish peace we have to start from certain basic premises. Two peoples can't engage in a dialogue toward peace if one group doesn't acknowledge the other's existence (ie: "there are not palestinians" doesn't allow for much dialogue.)