On the Significance of Social Media Activism

Any honest observer of contemporary activist struggles would be remiss to ignore the substantial influence of social media in bringing together disparate groups struggling to achieve a common goal. Contributions of social media activism to political discourse are numerous from gruesome images filtering out of occupied territories to raw footage of militarized police brutalizing nonviolent protestors. Undoubtedly, political agitation cannot be confined to the physical realm. Mass movements crucially depend on the rapid circulation of information and images, which, more often than not, occurs in cyberspace.

The social media activism that accompanied Israel’s seven week assault on the Gaza Strip offers a paradigmatic illustration of the central role Internet users play in galvanizing mass support for marginalized populations. As journalist Yousef al-Helou stated in his assessment of the impact of social media websites like Facebook and Twitter in generating support for Palestinians fleeing in terror under Israeli bombs:

“Citizen journalism from Palestine is especially valuable for those who are looking for information which has not been filtered through a Western agenda. Social media has definitely weakened the Israeli narrative, as Palestinians are able to connect directly with overseas audiences and tell the stories that they feel are important. Hundreds of thousands of tweets exchanged reports, opinions, and challenges to mainstream news reports and to each other.”

This adversarial spirit—the willingness to present “challenges to mainstream news reports”—is a thread that unites several of the most prominent social media campaigns and is reflective of the public’s desire to move away from the highly corporatized and anti-septic discourse of the establishment press toward more non-mediated and participatory forms of information sharing.

Not unlike other trends toward democratization, this blossoming in social media activism has elicited a fair amount of criticism from centers of privilege and power. Perhaps the most recent iteration of this elite backlash can be found in an article published in New York Magazine by former New Republic journalist Jonathan Chait. Decrying the rise of political correctness, a “system of left-wing ideological repression”, Chait targets social media and its broad influence as culpable in spreading this virus:

“Political correctness is a style of politics in which the more radical members of the left attempt to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate. Two decades ago, the only communities where the left could exert such hegemonic control lay within academia, which gave it an influence on intellectual life far out of proportion to its numeric size. Today’s political correctness flourishes most consequentially on social media, where it enjoys a frisson of cool and vast new cultural reach. And since social media is also now the milieu that hosts most political debate, the new p.c. has attained an influence over mainstream journalism and commentary beyond that of the old.”

Echoing such establishment manifestos like the Powell Memo, which infamously denounced the failure of “institutions responsible for the indoctrination of the young” (schools), Chait’s criticism conveys a palpable sense of alarm, a fear that the hallowed corridors of “respectable” discourse are being intruded upon by less qualified and less enlightened commoners. Fundamentally, Chait’s article conveyed, as Glenn Greenwald put it in a stinging critique, “anger over being criticized in less than civil and respectful tones by people who lack any credentials (and thus entitlement) to do so.” This is a sentiment that is as pernicious as it is pervasive and the elite response to social media activism is just one of its more visceral manifestations.
Incidentally, similar objectives to stem the tide of social activism’s “vast cultural reach” likely lay behind the concerted efforts on the part of the telecommunications industry to eliminate net neutrality, a campaign that was recently dealt a devastating defeat thanks to a grassroots movement of “guerrilla activism”, much of it online, dedicated to preserving the “the principle that all Internet traffic must be treated equally.” Responding to the FCC’s decision to uphold these basic rules of net neutrality, the campaign director of Free Press stated “this is probably the most important ruling in the history of the FCC.” In these hard-won achievements we can discern the significance of social media, not only as a virtual public square where dialogue and reflection on some of the most important issues of our time can flourish, but as a space whose mere existence constitutes a grave threat to those whose power relies on the erasure of these sites of democratic expression (the National Security Agency’s regime of electronic surveillance, a legal monstrosity hauntingly portrayed in Laura Poitra’s award winning documentary CitizenFour, is one of the more obvious opponents of Internet freedom in this respect.)

hasbaraUnderstandably, this is why “companies such as Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and Time Warner Cable, had lobbied furiously against [net neutrality], spending tens of millions on lobbying and on so-called ‘astroturf’ efforts to pay third party groups to support their position.” Faced with the inability to manage the formation attitudes and opinion online, power systems have pursued the same tactic applied to the print media, namely exercising stricter control over the medium. Sometimes this control rises to the level of law enforcement, as the Obama DOJ made clear in a recent announcement that they would be “willing to indict people who assist ISIS with its use and production of social media”, a decision that “raises questions about where the government would draw the line between support for a terrorist group and legally protected free speech.” Indeed, if pro-ISIS propaganda is criminalized why not criminalize other forms of propaganda?

For example, why not criminalize the Facebook administrators who created a fan page for Chapel Hill murderer Craig Stephen Hicks? In fact, if we accept that issuing indictments in response to social media propaganda is the proper course of action (one would hope we don’t) then it probably would be more reasonable to indict these propagandists since gun related killings committed by non-Muslims vastly outnumber deaths associated with so-called Islamic terrorism. Or why not indict US citizens who regurgitated Israeli hasbara manufactured in IDC Herzliya “war rooms”? How was this not apologetics for terrorism? Naturally, certain forms of propaganda, namely those types which conform to elite US opinion, will pass under the DOJ’s radar more easily than other “anti-American” forms. Consequently, this decision risks converting policies with the ostensible purpose of combating “terrorism” into effective weapons against political opponents (terrorist or not).

Whether it’s a battle for Internet freedom, the publication of humanizing representations of Palestinians or the fight for social and governmental policies that affirm the urgent, inspirational demand that #BlackLivesMatter, it’s abundantly clear that the struggles currently underway cannot be reduced to petty ideological contests waged from the safety of our computers. To the contrary, these struggles raise profoundly consequential questions about the social, cultural, and political evolution of not only our society but, when one considers the unprecedented forms of solidarity that social media activism is able to foster, the fate of us all globally.












The “Rift” That Never Was: How Hyping Obama-Netanyahu Gossip Preserves the Status Quo Against Iran & Palestine

Disrespect IV
Among the myriad tactics employed by the establishment right in the US, a category which increasingly includes Democrats and Republicans, a favorite is what can be called the repositioning of the political center. Under this logic radical, militarist policies are normalized as legitimate responses to “imminent” threats by “liberals” while “conservatives” lambaste presidential decisions, no matter how egregious, as being too “soft on terror.” One of the more recent applications of this framework could be detected during the US bombing of Iraq and Syria. When President Obama decided to commence an air war against the Islamic State, a clear violation of international law, the dominant theme within elite media was that this was behavior emblematic of a “reluctant warrior.” “The Bible makes it clear that leadership is unpredictable: That the most powerful people often don’t get to choose what they themselves will do,” opined David Brooks in an embarrassingly effusive Op-Ed in the New York Times. “History is full of reluctant leaders, too. President Obama is the most recent.”

Arguments of this kind are extremely convenient in that they foreclose entirely peaceful alternatives while reducing the debate to how hard we should pummel the “enemy”, and not the much more consequential question of what legal or moral right we have to engage in such acts of aggression. Furthermore, this tactic obscures the consensus between both political factions that violence is justified, rendering critical analysis of this area of agreement more difficult. It therefore should come as no great surprise that this tactic has surfaced once again, this time in the context of the ongoing US-Israeli hostility to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Current debate has it that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is undermining President Obama’s Iran policy in his decision to deliver a speech before the US Congress promoting his more aggressive stance against Iran and its nuclear program. “White House officials remain furious with Netanyahu for failing to notify the administration about the address to Congress, a breach of diplomatic protocol,” reported John Hudson of Foreign Policy. New York Times columnist, and noted expert on everything Iranian, Roger Cohen echoed this sentiment, observing that the Israeli Prime Minister’s actions made Obama “furious, with cause,” adding, “He has been a firm supporter of Israel,” and “His patience with its leader is at an end” (my emphasis).

Exaggerations aside, Cohen’s assessment is worth further analysis in one crucial respect, namely his acknowledgement that Obama has been “a firm supporter of Israel”, an understatement when one takes a look at the diplomatic record. Numerous scholars, from Rashid Khalidi and Max Blumenthal to more mainstream commentators like Hillary Mann Leverett and Fawaz Gerges have been unambiguous in their acknowledgement that the Obama administration has been an uncritical advocate for Israeli militarism and diplomatic sabotage. Since November 2008, Israel has carried out three major military assaults against the Gaza Strip: Operation Cast Lead, Operation Pillar of Defense, and Operation Protective Edge. In all three cases Obama vigorously embraced the Israeli line that any display of Israeli terror, regardless of how many civilians it kills, falls under the rubric of “the right to self-defense.” During Operation Protective Edge the Obama administration went as far as blocking a UN inquiry into war crimes carried out in the Gaza Strip.

Writing on Obama’s policy with regard to Israel-Palestine, London School of Economics professor Fawaz Gerges stated “US politicians, including Obama, are trapped in a political culture that promotes conformity and groupthink on Israel and strongly discourages dissenting voices. After a promising start, the new president dared not to exert real pressure on Israel to stop the construction of settlements on the West Bank and to negotiate in good faith with the Palestinians.” While Gerges attributed this to a combination of Obama’s “timidity” and his being “trapped” by external forces beyond his control, other critics have been less generous. In his extensive review of US policy in Israel-Palestine Brokers of Deceit Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi was unequivocal in his description of Obama as an unprincipled cheerleader for Israeli brutality:

“Crucially, since Barack Obama first stated his view on this topic, he has always accepted a constant, central element of Israel’s self-presentation: its victim status, to which it has always clung fiercely and aggressively. In his public statements he has always accepted as well a related proposition, dear in particular to the heart of Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli right wing, and its followers in the United States, but widely believed farther afield: that the state of Israel and the Israeli people, indeed the entire Jewish people, are in a state of perpetual existential danger.”

Incidentally, it is precisely this argument—that Israel is facing an existential threat from Iran—that Benjamin Netanyahu aims to invoke in his speech to Congress, a point conceded by Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer in an interview with The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. Moreover, this is also the argument that various media organizations are laboring to portray as antagonistic (and not compatible) to Obama’s policies despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. So the Obama administration’s decision to sale 55 “bunker buster” bombs to Israel in 2011, a move widely interpreted as a preparation to attack Iran’s underground nuclear facilities, does little, if anything, to interfere with the perception that Obama is opposed to Netanyahu’s policies. In fact, in some vital respects Obama’s policy vis-à-vis Iran has gone considerably beyond his “neoconservative” predecessors. As Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett state in their authoritative study of US-Iran relations Going to Tehran “[the Obama administration] did nothing to rein in the anti-Iranian covert programs it inherited from its predecessor; indeed, leaked documents show that such programs (including ties to groups whose actions in Iran, had they been taken in Israel or many other countries, would be condemned as terrorism) intensified after Obama came in.”

More troubling, “the Obama administration used nuclear talks with Iran primarily as a way to set the stage for more coercive measures—tougher sanctions and, at some point, military strikes—and to bring international partners and the American public on board” (my emphasis). Another glaring illustration of just how supportive Obama is of the US-Israeli status quo in the region can be found in his decision to boycott a nuclear non-proliferation conference in Helsinki on the dubious pretext that the “political turmoil in the region and Iran’s defiant stance on non-proliferation,” made US participation impossible. When Israel’s attendance was requested the Obama administration denounced it as an act of “coercion.” Predictably, this blatant disregard for international law (as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty Iran has a legal right to enrich uranium) was misleadingly described in USA Today as indicative of “clashing visions of disarmament and non-proliferation efforts.” Perhaps this description is correct, if consciously escalating the threat of nuclear proliferation by shielding the one state with a nuclear monopoly in the Middle East (Israel) from any form of international scrutiny can be described as a “vision of disarmament and non-proliferation” (disarmament for “enemies” and proliferation for “allies”).
White House Statement
To the limited extent that there does exist any animosity between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama it has virtually no impact on the substance of US-Israeli policy. In tactical terms, Obama’s resort to military force may be more calculated than Netanyahu’s but to read this as representative of a split between Obama’s position and the Israeli Prime Minister’s is to ignore these much larger areas of strategic and ideological overlap which, if left unchecked, will only add to the horrors currently enveloping the region. Much more significant, and thus underreported, is the growing divide between the US public and centers of power. Latest public opinion polls reveal a noticeable shift in American attitudes towards Israeli aggression. After Operation Protective Edge Gallup reported that 51% of Americans under 30 said that “Israel’s aggression in Gaza [was] unjustified.” Meanwhile, Pew reported “among 18-29 year olds, 29% blamed Israel for the current wave of violence, while 21% blamed Hamas.” These are the political transformations that would dominate headlines in a genuinely democratic society, not the highly personalized, gossipy squabbles between two war criminals, which may deserve lengthy analysis in the National Enquirer or the Globe but not anywhere where the fate of humanity should be a high priority.




Leverett, Flynt Lawrence., and Hillary Mann. Leverett. Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Khalidi, Rashid. Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Gerges, Fawaz A. Obama and the Middle East: The End of America’s Moment? New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Print.











Goliath: Life & Loathing in Greater Israel

Blumenthal-GoliathIf there ever were a manual designed to instruct colonial administrators on how to best manage an oppressed population there’s little doubt that one of its leading principles would be to repeatedly, and emphatically, portray every resort to violence, no matter how egregious, as an heroic attempt to promote peace. Such is the case with Israel’s long, brutal, and US-backed (crucial detail) occupation of Palestine. After the Palestinian Authority’s decision to seek membership in the International Criminal Court, what Newsweek described as Abbas “[rolling] the statehood dice”, US and Israeli officials wasted little time in venting their rage. While Israel reacted “by saying it will withhold $120 million of tax and customs receipts it collects on behalf of Palestinians each month” (a reality that flatly contradicts the Israeli self-image as a fortress of “democracy” and not a military occupier), the US State Department, in typical paternalistic fashion, condemned Palestinians for making a move that “badly damaged the atmosphere for peace.” Conversely, US military support for Israeli atrocities, a policy that made 2014 the most devastating year for Palestinians in terms of casualties since 1967, did not “badly damage the atmosphere for peace.” These crimes, as our colonial instruction manual would surely contend, enhanced “peace.”

Anyone observing this state of affairs could learn a great deal by asking how a worldview of this kind is sustained, and more importantly, what we can do to undermine it. Max Blumenthal’s Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel offers a deeply unsettling look into what is often called “the only democracy in the Middle East” and in doing so challenges readers to defy these propagandistic constructs which exert such tremendous influence on American attitudes and US political discourse generally. Separated into ten parts, bearing titles like “Indoctrination Mills”, “This Belongs to the White Man”, and “Feeling the Hate”, Blumenthal is unsparing in his examination of a country drowning in toxic ideologies of racism, nationalism, aggressive militarism, and ethnic supremacy. Reading Blumenthal’s study it’s extremely difficult to ignore the fact that the anti-Arab (and in many cases anti-African) racism within Israel extends far beyond the confines of illegal settlements. The Israeli political establishment has not only legitimized these hateful ideologies but has been in the lead in ensuring that they are treated with the reverence of sacred truths.

One glaring example in the legal realm is the 2010 Acceptance to Communities Law. Proposed by Israeli Knesset member David Rotem, this law “officially [sanctioned] ethnic segregation in the small Jewish towns planted across the Galilee and the Negev Desert.” Policies of this kind conform neatly to Israeli public opinion, which views Arabs as a “demographic threat” to be contained, if not expelled entirely in accordance with exclusivist doctrines of ethnic purity. “A poll taken in August 2012 by Tel Aviv University statistician Camil Fuchs revealed that a majority of Israeli twelfth-graders supported the total deportation of non-Jewish African asylum seekers living in the country, and the expulsion of their Israeli-born children.” Meanwhile, “almost half of secular high schooler seniors declared their refusal to live next door to an Arab,” and “nearly 90 percent of their religious counterparts endorsed the segregationist view.” Openly racist viewpoints of this kind are the rational results of a society with a school system geared toward “the transmission of nationalist attitudes through Israel school textbooks, both through implicit and explicit messaging”, an educational model Blumenthal described as “systemic and comprehensive.”

Along with Israeli atrocities in the Palestinian territories, these racist attitudes are given scant, if any, attention in mainstream US discourse. Part of this silence can be attributed to the routine hypocrisy that ignores unpleasant realities about so-called allies while amplifying those of declared enemies, but another, much deeper reason may lie in the fact that the United States is not immune to this brand of systemic racism. Indeed, US political and media elites almost certainly identify with it. This congruence between race relations in the US and those within Israel came into sharp focus in the aftermath of the highly publicized murders of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. In addition to casting light on the close cooperation between Israeli security forces and US police departments, these events demonstrate how state violence relies heavily on obscuring the humanity of oppressed populations, whether it be through everyday forms of racial discrimination, which constitutes the core of apartheid regimes, or the dissemination of Founding myths designed to whitewash the historical grievances of others. Just as political elites in Arizona worked feverishly to purge public school curriculums of ethnic studies programs that provided an alternative to the Eurocentric narratives of establishment discourse, Israeli public figures have dedicated themselves to removing any trace of the Palestinian Nakba from the historical record. “Since the foundation of the State of Israel,” Blumenthal writes, “Palestinian students in the country’s segregated Arab schools have been forbidden from learning about the Nakba.” He continues, “though textbooks in Arab schools are replete with Holocaust history, references to the Nakba have been completely omitted.”

Given the savage assault on the Gaza Strip last summer, and the enthusiastic support for it within the US Congress (“progressives” included), it’s incredibly tempting to succumb to defeatism. But only if one ignores the enormous sacrifices of the Palestinian people. If this—the courageous and irrepressible spirit of Palestinians—is acknowledged one can easily adopt the opposite approach: a moral urgency to denounce the indignities of a social and political order that values degradation above human affirmation and the consolidation of power above the defense of the powerless. Very much in the tradition of classic texts like W.E.B. Dubois’ The Souls of Black Folk, Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, and Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism, Blumenthal’s Goliath takes what could have been a very dispassionate work of investigative journalism and brings it to life it with emotionally moving glimpses into the lives of those on the other side of the gun. Whether it’s his writings on the resilience of the Tamimi family after being subjected to a litany of tragedies at the hands of Israelis—wrongful arrests, imprisonment, exile and murder—or the families of the Abu Eid Refugee Camp whose homes were demolished under Benjamin Netanyahu’s “campaign of ‘Judaization’”, these stories serve as an inspiration to all who are sincere in their desire for justice in the region.

This brings us back to the second half of the opening question: what can we do to undermine the easy resort to dehumanizing clichés and violence? A recent editorial in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz acquires new meaning in the context of Blumenthal’s book and provides a possible answer. Summing up the general mood in Israel, the board observed, in disturbingly casual tone, “Few things are more popular in Israel than making life harder for Palestinians.” The horrors concealed in this throwaway line merits more than idle contemplation when the US contribution to this policy is fathomed. As journalist and activist Ali Abunimah eloquently stated in his latest appearance on Democracy Now! “I’ll tell you what didn’t help the atmosphere [for peace] … during the summer in Gaza when dozens of people were being killed every day by Israeli bombs, when entire neighborhoods were being destroyed and carpet-bombed by Israeli shelling, when, during that time, the Obama administration, President Obama, decided to resupply the Israeli military with bombs so it could continue to murder people in Gaza. To put it mildly, that didn’t help the atmosphere.” As much as this book puts Israel under the magnifying glass, we must not lose sight of the country that has consistently undersigned these policies of state terror, namely the United States. Meaningful change requires more than negotiations over Israeli and Palestinian borders, (central as they are to a just resolution). It also requires long-lasting social, cultural and political transformations within our own society. Goliath is essential reading in helping us embrace this grave responsibility.









Dismantling the Fiction of “Black Criminality”

Black criminalityAmong the many unavoidable facts that have bubbled to the surface since the murder of Mike Brown at the hands of St. Louis police is the deep racial character of the killing and the equally racial character of the police response to the popular protests that followed it. This uncontroversial fact can be perceived in the abundance of media reports exploring the dimensions of Black life in America. One of the more glaring additions to this national discussion occurred on the popular Sunday morning political program Meet the Press. Hosting a round-table on the topic of the “Racial Divide in America,” Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal remarked that we shouldn’t “pretend that our morgues and cemeteries are full of young Black men because cops are shooting them.” Rather, Riley argued, “the reality is that it’s because other Black people are shooting them and we need to talk about Black criminality.” The two white guests silently nodded in approval, granting Riley’s comment a level of legitimacy it did not deserve. Aside from the clearly degrading and dehumanizing nature of this statement, it has absolutely no basis in fact.

Anyone with a minimal level of intellectual curiosity and a mild tolerance for empirical data (admittedly, an intimidating task for America’s leading cultural managers) would have noticed this. Writing for the Daily Beast, journalist Jamelle Bouie observed that quite apart from some innate drive to kill (the “thug” mythology), internecine killings among Black people can be attributed to the geographic “proximity” of Black communities and the chronic lack of socioeconomic “opportunity.” Further, “racial exclusivity was also true for white victims of violent crime”: “86% of white victims were killed by white offenders.” Bouie also highlighted the crucial reality that “while it’s true that young Black men are a disproportionate share of the nation’s murder victims, it’s hard to disentangle this from the stew of hyper-segregation (often a result of deliberate policies), entrenched poverty, and non-existent economic opportunities that characterizes a substantial number of black communities.”

Given the transparent absurdity of this myth of “Black criminality”, one would think empirical analysis of this kind would suffice. Nonetheless, this myth and its many analogues cannot be meaningfully debunked unless that empirical critique is coupled with a critique of the ideological prejudices on which they are based. Moreover, these cultural stereotypes are not exclusive to domestic politics. They arise in international affairs as well. As Columbia University political scientist Mahmood Mamdani observed in his brilliant study Good Muslims, Bad Muslims “the history of the modern state can also be read as the history of race, bringing together the stories of two kinds of victims of European colonial modernity: the internal victims of state building and the external victims of imperial expansion.” Accordingly, within the dominant discourses about oppressed communities (Black “thugs”, Arab “terrorists”, Mexican “illegals”, etc.) there exists a sharp ideological continuity in the empire’s portrayal of the inhabitants of its internal and external colonies. That ideological continuity consists of three basic components:

1.) Excise the decisive role of the oppressors in stimulating retail violence through policies of wholesale state-violence.

The “Black criminality” myth and its analogues cannot be sustained unless the role of the oppressor is hidden from view. The violence and misery in oppressed communities is supposed to be the product of “bad culture” or “corrupted values”, not the rational outcome of social and economic policies consciously designed to dispossess and disenfranchise an entire group of people. A graphic illustration of this understanding can be found in the mainstream discussion about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. The typical line goes that Israel, the benevolent guardian, “granted” Palestinians territory in Gaza, but Palestinians, due to their backwardness and insolence, squandered this gift and transformed what could have been a shining example of prosperity into a “haven for terrorists.” As NYU Law Professor Thane Rosenbaum asked in a Haaretz article “Unoccupied for nearly a decade, why do Gaza’s people know little else aside from explosives and martyrdom?”

Systematically omitted from this highly deceitful narrative is the fact that Palestinians in Gaza, unlike populations in US-backed petromonarchies, were able to choose their leadership in a democratic election. Furthermore, and this is a crucial fact, the Bush administration punished Palestinians for this crime of democracy. Also excluded from this fairy tale is the suffocating state of siege that Israel refuses to lift, despite clear requirements to do so under international law. Israel is free to control Gaza’s airspace, borders, territorial waters, electromagnetic spectrum, and even the calories that Gazans are allowed to consume (what Israeli official Dov Weinglass chillingly calls “keeping Gaza on a diet”). Rarely is any of this mentioned as a precipitating factor behind Hamas “rocket” attacks. Like Jason Riley’s mythology of “Black criminality”, the Israeli government relies on the mythology of “Islamic terrorism” or Palestinian “child sacrifice”, as author Elie Wiesel described the Israeli murder of Palestinian children in one of his more appreciated hasbara soup recipes.

Other examples of this norm can be found in the US discourse on sectarianism in Iraq. When Islamic State factions moved into northern Iraq commentators were quick to reduce the internal bloodshed to “ancient hatreds”, which had been simmering just below the surface for over a thousand years. This orientalist narrative has been thoroughly debunked by journalist Murtaza Hussain, nonetheless it persists as a potent explanation of Arab “barbarism.” Any reference to the fact that the Bush administration’s criminal invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent destruction of the Baathist government elicited the sectarian violence is beneath serious consideration in mainstream circles as is the uncontroversial fact that the Obama administration, quite apart from leaving Iraq “to its own people”, was forced out of Iraq after the Maliki government refused to grant the US legal immunity (seriously undercutting claims of US “benevolence”).

2.) Concoct frightening fairy tales about a uniquely nefarious threat with an added racial/religious label or insinuation.

Here propagandists are given free rein to let their imagination run wild. Frightening stories about the evil deeds of a domestic or foreign enemy are concocted to mold the minds of the public into the required shape. As in the first component, Israel excels in this field as well. When Israel commenced its latest round of “mowing the grass” (a euphemism for killing innocent men, women and children) it was necessary to produce elaborate horror stories, all of which were baseless, about the “terror tunnels” that Hamas fighters use to inflict death and destruction on Israeli citizens. “Israelis exchange nightmare scenarios that are the stuff of action movies: armed enemies popping up under a day care center or a dining room, spraying a crowd with machine gun fire or maybe some chemical, exploding in a suicide belt or snatching captives and ducking back into the dirt.” These are the haunting words of New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren, a journalist who, in addition to producing vulgar propaganda of this kind, reserves little, if any, time for Palestinians, plausibly because she’s too busy hanging out with imperial cheerleaders like the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman.

One can document endless examples this culture of demonization from Thomas Jefferson’s condemnation of “merciless Indian savages” to 19th century hysteria surrounding the “Yellow Peril” of Chinese immigrants. In the case of the Yellow Peril, political officials received ample assistance from the intellectual community, foremost Jack London, who envisioned exterminating the entire population of China via bacteriological warfare—“the great task, the sanitation of China”—in his novel The Unparalleled Invasion. Nearly two decades prior to the publication of this genocidal fantasy the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed, effectively banning Chinese immigration. Rutgers University cultural historian H. Bruce Franklin examined this phenomenon of anti-Chinese hysteria in his penetrating study War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination, writing “the snarling racism of the Yellow Peril literature expresses cultural furies that have shaped the ugliest features of American history,” among them the “savage exploitation of ‘coolie’ labor.” At bottom, this language of fear is designed to neutralize any sympathy for the victims of state-corporate power, thus clearing the way for their oppressors to commence the required task of “taming” the unpeople within the empire’s domestic colonies.

3.) Display how much you are overflowing with compassion for the victims of the fratricide.

While the erasure of the oppressors role in the creation of crises and the construction of frightening narratives certainly probes the depths of moral depravity, the third component of this mythology is arguably the most insidious. In addition to maintaining a situation where the role of the oppressor is concealed from view, the feigning of compassion for the victims of fratricidal violence is consciously carried out in order to elevate the oppressor to a moral plane over and above the oppressed. The violence of the oppressor, under this mode of thought, attains a “moral character” (the IDF is the most “moral army in the world”, America is “exceptional”, etc).  As a result, the oppressor is not only blameless for the suffering of the oppressed but their standard of morality hovers so far above that of the victim that their compassion, unable to be contained, extends just as easily to those outside their group. Embedded in this construct is a racist assumption that people of color are so tribalistic and obsessively attached  to their racial identity that any act of murder within their group is irrefutable proof that they are savages. The most common illustration of this doctrine can be found in the regular refrain among the Washington elite about disobedient leaders in foreign countries who kill “their own people.” For instance, the violence of Saddam Hussein was perfectly understandable (if loathed) when it was portrayed as being directed at “westerners” but when he used poison gas against Iraq’s Kurdish population this marked the height of savagery. Unlike violence toward “western” leaders, here he was killing “his own people”, which in the racist mind resonates like watching a warthog kill another warthog or an ape killing another ape. Killing within the group, according to this logic, is the supreme transgression of the tribal norm.
fergusiibNotice how conspicuously absent this doctrine is when the fratricide is occurring within predominately white countries. Take for example the violence in the Ukraine. How many commentators described the violence between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian factions as Ukrainians or Russians killing “their own people”? Incidentally, that phrase would be more appropriate here since both Russians and Ukrainians are of the same race, namely white. This could not be said of Saddam Hussein (an Arab) gassing Kurds (not Arabs).

And political elites in Washington are by no means alone in using this “he-kills-his-own-people” tactic. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also indulged this doctrine in a recent speech. Responding to news that the United Nation’s launched an inquiry into Israeli war crimes carried out in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, he ridiculed the UN committee for “giving legitimacy to murderous terror organizations like Hamas and the Islamic State.” “Instead of checking Hamas’ attacks on Israeli civilians and the use it makes of Gaza’s residents as human shields, instead of checking the massacre carried out by (President) Assad in Syria, or the massacre of Kurds by Islamic State members, the UN has decided to come and check Israel.” He continued by saying the UN committee should “go see the Syrian army,” where “they will find war crimes.”

Much like Jason Riley, who abhors “Black-on-Black crime”, Netanyahu focuses, laser-like, only on those conflicts where the violence is Arab-on-Arab. Even in the case of Hamas he made sure to note that Hamas uses the people of Gaza as “human shields.” Incidentally, it’s Israel, not Hamas, that has a history of using Palestinians as human shields. Israel also uses Palestinians as guinea pigs for their hi-tech weaponry courtesy of US tax dollars. Through this discourse of Palestinian infamy the specter of the Arab “terrorist” looms large alongside that of the Black “thug.” Anyone who objects to their liquidation under the guardianship of their moral superiors can be written off as hopelessly ignorant or utterly oblivious to why the “morgue” is really full of “young Black men” and Palestinian “terrorists.”

Generally, it’s quite easy to erupt in hysterics when confronted with violence among the oppressed. Self-reflection has always been anathema to power systems. This refusal to look in the mirror isn’t entirely irrational as serious interrogation would inevitably render these myths obsolete and undermine the very power systems that they were formulated to defend. The fact that Jason Riley could utter these patent falsehoods despite the color of his skin is a dramatic testament to just how dangerously intoxicating these fictions remain. Still, they don’t have to be accepted. Other lies have been overcome. We no longer nod in approval to descriptions of America’s indigenous population as “merciless Indian savages” nor would we remain silent in the face of racist descriptions of Chinese immigration as an ominous “Yellow Peril.” The same standard should be applied to the mirage of “Black criminality”, “Islamic terrorism”, “Mexican illegals” and other contemporary iterations of this doctrine. Such a level of intellectual honesty is demanded of those who genuinely empathize with the people of Ferguson County and the countless others in America’s colonies (internal and external) who share their tragic fate.


Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror by Mahmood Mamdani

War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination by H. Bruce Franklin






A Myth Scratched Out of Rock: Friedman and Obama Whitewash the History of Palestine

friedmanandobamaA partial examination of the history of state formation and global conflict suggests that we can consider it an established truth that most, if not all, nation-states rely founding myths. The founding myth of the United States is that European “explorers” “discovered” a “vast wilderness” sparsely populated with “merciless Indian savages” who, over time, faded away under the march of “civilization.” Today we recognize this as a morally grotesque whitewash of the actual story, namely that the European “explorers” were really genocidal killers who plundered and pillaged their way across the continent under the doctrine of “manifest destiny.” As the late University of Texas professor William Newcomb Jr. observed in his 1974 study on the continent’s indigenous population North American Indians: An Anthropological Perspective, “low population estimates” of the indigenous civilization that preceded the European invasion “had the effect of making the European conquest of North America more palatable to white Americans.” Moreover, anthropologists were of the view that “displacing a million or so Indians North of the Rio Grande and ultimately reducing their population to half that number is far easier to rationalize or ignore than is the extirpation of ten or fifteen times that number.”

The official seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony captures this murderous ideology perfectly in the illustration of an indigenous man holding a downward pointed spear with a scroll flowing from his mouth bearing the inscription “come over and save us.” Rightly, this kind of imagery and brutality shocks the conscience of ordinary people, yet similar myths abound today about the founding of Israel in 1948. One illuminating example of this can be found in a recent Thomas Friedman interview with President Obama that appeared in the New York Times. Asked what he thinks about Israel, Obama responded “It is amazing to see what Israel has become over the last several decades … To have scratched out of rock this incredibly vibrant, incredibly successful, wealthy and powerful country is a testament to the ingenuity, energy and vision of the Jewish people.” As pleasant and unproblematic as this description sounds, it completely revises the actual events of Israel’s founding, which was not the emergence of a nation “scratched from rock” but the forceful imposition of a another nation atop the ruins of Palestinian villages evacuated in a campaign of ethnic cleansing known as the nakba.

Obama honors PeresThis traumatic confrontation with colonialism, an integral part of the Palestinian experience, is completely ignored in Obama’s response despite the fact that it’s accepted as uncontroversial among credible scholars. As Dr. Norman Finkelstein observes in his brilliant study on Israeli criminality Beyond Chutzpah “today there is a broad consensus among scholars that Palestinians suffered ethnic cleansing in 1948… ” Israeli journalist Amira Hass makes a similar observation. In her book Drinking the Sea at Gaza, she recognizes “the long history of dispossession that had begun in 1948, when more than 700,000 Palestinians (of a population of some 1.3 million) became refugees, forced to leave their land as the Jewish national home came into being.” It’s therefore extremely disturbing to hear Obama ask “How can you preserve a Jewish state that is also reflective of the best values of those who founded Israel.” If the actual historical record, and not the mythology concocted by propagandists, matters these “values” would certainly include massacres of civilians (re: Deir Yasin) and the mass expulsion of indigenous populations. A Times article that appeared in October of 1948 captured the horror of the ethnic cleansing in evocative terms:

“… in Beersheba itself, once a thriving center for camel trading, a few inhabitants remain, and at present members of the Israeli army are systematically looting the houses which survived the bombing. It is perhaps an ancient and tacitly accepted rule of war that troops should make themselves comfortable at the expense of the vanquished … “

How strikingly prescient these words were as Israel proceeded in its colonial project decades after this catastrophe, all “at the expense of the vanquished.” It is with this knowledge that Obama’s evasions of the historical record appear not only intellectually irresponsible but unambiguously immoral. And this immorality is reinforced when he showers the architects of this ongoing tragedy with praises and accolades. Take for example Ariel Sharon, a war criminal who participated in countless atrocities, for example the Qibya massacre and the killings at Sabra and Shatila. President Obama described him as someone who “dedicated his life to the State of Israel.” This is an awfully sanitized way to describe a man who in a 1953 attack on the El-Bureig refugee camp commanded a unit that threw bombs “through the windows of huts where refugees were sleeping.” Furthermore, as the refugees attempted to flee the terrorist assault “they were attacked by small arms and automatic weapons.” This massacre, which is credited for helping to “launch Sharon’s career”, left an estimated 50 refugees dead (Israeli figures). None of these inconvenient facts are highlighted in Obama’s glorification of a state struggling to maintain “its democratic and civic traditions.” Much like the character of Uncle Ruckus from Aaron McGruder’s critically acclaimed television series The Boondocks, President Obama continually goes out of his way to lavish racists and war criminals with praises, all the while perpetuating vulgar stereotypes about the Arab menace. In his interview with Friedman he recycles the racist cliche that Israel is a model of civilization marooned in an ocean of savagery, stating “others can cause Israel pain,” because Israel is in “a really bad neighborhood.”

Uncle Ruckus pays homage. Language of this kind dovetails perfectly with the ethnocentric and supremacist rhetoric of Israeli leaders repeatedly warning the Israeli public of the looming “demographic problem”, namely too many brown people in a Jewish state. Sentiments of this kind would delight Uncle Ruckus, who finds no shame in “thanking the white man for the sunrise, for the land [he] walks on, and the air [he] breathes.” Ruckus also maintains a shrine devoted to “special white people in his life” like John Wayne (“the great white man who didn’t take no shit from niggas, injuns nor Mexicans”), George Bush Sr., and Barry Manilow. Likewise, Obama maintains his “shrine” to the “special white people in his life.” This shrine is adorned with pictures of people like Shimon Peres, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom who has lived a life “nothing short of extraordinary.” For instance, it was “nothing short of extraordinary” when Peres followed in the footsteps of Israeli Prime Minister Manachem Begin and upheld the idea that Israel had a “biblically endorsed right of possession” to the West Bank. On the territorial status of the West Bank Peres proclaimed “There is no argument in Israel about our historic rights in the land of Israel. The past is immutable and the Bible is the decisive document in determining the fate of our land.” Perhaps if Peres was an extremist of the Islamic variety who insisted that the Holy Qur’an was the “decisive document in determining the fate our land,” he would have been exiled from President Obama’s hallowed pantheon of “special white people” but this isn’t the case, therefore Washington’s incarnation of Uncle Ruckus is free to hail him as a “true founding father,” to ample applause.

It’s therefore little wonder that Obama was able to boycott the Durban Conference Against Racism under the pretext that the UN was unfairly “singling out” Israel. Apparently, Benjamin Netanyahu, Tel Aviv’s “great white man”, also must be protected.  Apart from Israeli criminals, another luminary in Obama’s sacred shrine is George W. Bush, who exercised “incredible strength and resolve … as he stood amid the rubble and the ruins of Ground Zero, promising to deliver justice to those who had sought to destroy our way of life.” Incidentally, Bush’s position in the shrine may be more elevated than that of Peres since Obama has not only honored him in word, but, more significantly, in deed, primarily through his continuation of the crimes for which his predecessor should have been punished, facts easy to perceive in the President’s recent colloquialism about violating the Geneva Conventions (“We tortured some folks”).

Underlying this enthusiastic embrace of empire and colonialism is a deeply dehumanizing portrait of those on the other side of the gun, in this case Palestinians. Unless these simplistic and racist conceptions are abandoned, these foundational myths will persist as will the intense efforts to excise from historical memory narratives which give voice to the profound suffering and loss of those living under occupation. The indignity and cruelty of occupation make necessary an honest reckoning with these imperial revisions of history and those who stubbornly ignore reality in favor of fairy tales, whether they come in the form of humanitarian killers dedicated to principles of “peace” or an ultra-violent terrorist state “scratched” into existence from a singular rock.


The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East by Robert Fisk

North American Indians: An Anthropological Perspective by William W. Newcomb, Jr.

Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians by Noam Chomsky

Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse and Abuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History by Norman G. Finkelstein

Drinking the Sea at Gaza by Amira Hass





Why Won’t These “Terrorists” Renounce Violence?

Mandela ViolenceAnyone closely monitoring the latest developments regarding the Israeli massacres in Gaza will by now have noticed that Israeli officials and their apologists in the US press depend heavily on a restricted narrative to describe Palestinians. This narrative makes use of evocative imagery and buzzwords to steer public attitudes in desired directions. “Terror tunnels”, “human shields”, and “the Hamas Charter” are just a few of the phrases repeated ad nauseam to drill the right ideas into the public’s mind. Alongside these predictable attempts to de-legitimize Palestinian resistance is a more insidious doctrine that seeks to rob Palestinians of a right enshrined in international law, namely the right to resist foreign occupation by force. The typical form this doctrine takes is in the demand for Hamas to “renounce violence.” Underlying this demand is an understanding, unique to imperial societies, that those suffering under military occupation are the aggressors and not the victims. This notion can be discerned quite easily in mainstream commentary and the press generally.

In March of 2013 when President Obama visited Jerusalem, he made sure to reinforce this dogma. “Israel cannot accept rocket attacks from Gaza, and we have stood up for Israel’s right to defend itself,” remarked Obama. He continued “And that’s why Israel has a right to expect Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist.” Interestingly, there was no concomitant demand that Israel, the nuclear-armed and vastly more militarily advanced power, “renounce violence.” Unlike the rockets from Hamas, the F16s, tanks, and machine guns provided to Israel are interpreted to be for “defensive” operations.

Given the resilience of this ideology, it would be instructive to ask if there is any historical precedent that would help illuminate the thought pattern that might lay behind double standards of this kind. Fortunately, such a precedent does exist. In June of 1990 the New York Times, like the Obama administration, was also demanding that a certain “terrorist” renounce violence. This “terrorist” was, in President Obama’s words, “the last great liberator of the 20th century,” who was able to hold “his country together when it threatened to break apart.” The name of this violent “terrorist” was Nelson Mandela. Under the headline “Why Mandela Won’t Renounce Violence” David G. Sanders, a minority staff consultant at the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, perfectly anticipates the hasbara currently dominating the establishment press. “Who is the real Nelson Mandela?,” asks Sanders. “Before his supporters drape him in the garments of Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King Jr., they should take a close look.” This “close look”, Sanders continues, requires that Mandela answer “one simple question”, namely “Why won’t he and the A.N.C. renounce violence?”

The “simple question” was not directed at the South African apartheid regime and its use of far more devastating violence but at the ANC. Consequently, Sanders embraces the very same ideology of today’s apologists for Israeli terror. Take for example Nicholas Kristof, who wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times condemning “Palestinian militancy” for “[accomplishing] nothing but increasing the misery of the Palestinian people.” Kristof went on to say if Palestinians “turned more to huge Gandhi-style nonviolence resistance campaigns, the resulting videos would reverberate around the world and Palestine would achieve statehood and freedom.”

Perhaps Kristof was unaware, but he was basically regurgitating commentary that Sanders made in 1990 in reference to ANC resistance in apartheid South Africa. Back then, Sanders observed that Mandela’s “conflicting public statements on violence may be prolonging the suffering,” in South Africa, adding that “acts of A.N.C. violence and intimidation [called] into question the group’s commitment to political pluralism.” Furthermore, Sanders lectured that Mandela “would do far better to associate himself more closely with the words of Dr. King and Gandhi than those of [Vladimir] Lenin” (an ideological precursor to Kristof’s “huge Gandhi-style nonviolence resistance campaigns”).

Source: Chicago Tribune

And the New York Times wasn’t alone in these ludicrous demands. In the same month that Sander’s published his “peace” manifesto on Nelson Mandela and the ANC, the Chicago Tribune reported the following:

“President Bush and a chorus of voices as diverse as American Jewish leaders, Dr. King`s colleagues, Cuban Americans and members of Congress have called on Nelson Mandela to emulate Martin Luther King more closely. By this they mean he should renounce violence, embrace civil disobedience and distance himself from some of his old comrades-in-arms, such as Communists and the notorious human-rights violators Yasser Arafat, Moammar Gadhafi and Fidel Castro.”

Unmentioned in this passage was that Mandela’s “comrades-in-arms”, the Palestinians and Cubans, were victims of the same US subversion and complicity that landed him in prison. Similarly, unmentioned was that Fidel Castro played an integral role in deterring apartheid South Africa’s aggressive war in Angola, an aggressive war that the US supported. In this respect, Cuba assumed the role that Hezbollah and Iran play today, namely a country stigmatized by their decision to militarily assist a population of people resisting foreign domination, an unforgivable sin in imperial circles. This is to say nothing of the comical notion that George H.W. Bush cared at all about the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. Months before joining this diverse “chorus of voices” he was dropping bombs on Panama in a flagrant war of aggression after one of his clients, Manuel Noriega, committed the supreme crime of disobedience.

In all, there’s something grotesquely hypocritical about journalists, who are citizens of a imperial state that has generated more violence and militarism than any other country in the post-war period, lecturing significantly weaker “enemies” to “renounce violence” while refusing to make equal demands of their own government. Nonetheless, these glaring moral deficiencies have only worsened since the demise of South African apartheid, as has the historical amnesia necessary to ensure no one notices them. Therefore, it’s rarely, if ever, acknowledged that in 1987 the US and Israel rejected a UN Resolution, which endorsed as legitimate the use of armed force to secure “the right of self-determination, freedom, and independence … particularly [for] peoples under colonial and racist regimes and foreign occupation.” The final vote on this resolution was 153 to 2, hence “the US and Israel were alone in the world in denying that such actions can be legitimate resistance, and declaring them to be terrorism.”

At bottom, this record illustrates fundamental flaws in elite conceptions of “violence.” Instead of demanding that those under occupation “renounce violence”, those genuinely interested in peace would focus on the source of armed resistance, which in the case of Israel-Palestine is clearly the multi-decade military occupation, preceded by many years of Israeli terrorism and ethnic cleansing. Here resides the “one simple question” that President Obama, David Sanders, Nick Kristof and innumerable others have not asked. Until this question is asked we can only expect more armed resistance, more hypocritical demands from oppressors to “emulate” Gandhi and less historically grounded understandings of liberation struggles. Rather than passively absorb these distortions as uncontroversial truths, they should be aggressively challenged. As the IDF continues its ruthless assault on the people of Gaza, its difficult to conceive of any intellectual or moral struggle more urgent.


Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance by Noam Chomsky








Palestinians: The “Guilty Victims”



In his extensive review of the horrors American wars inflict on civilian populations The Death of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars MIT international relations scholar John Tirman articulates a concept of the “guilty victim” within the context of the European genocidal conquest of North America:

“An interesting question arises in how indifference rose with respect to the indigenous tribes in America …for the white indifference toward Native Americans could not be more apparent. [Native Americans] resisted but were defeated, and entire nations were victims. This however was the intention of frontier ideas–the Indians would be not merely defeated and subdued but annihilated: they were meant to be victims, guilty victims.”

The poignancy of these observations are of particular interest when examining the US-Israeli military assault on the civilian population of Gaza. Gazans, like the “Indians” of North America, have been relegated to the role of “guilty victims.” This reality is not only apparent in the discourse which surrounds the current mass slaughter–for example, the recurring cliche of Hamas “human shields”–but in the imagery as well. Cartoons have been published in the New York Times, The Australian, and online publications like the Legal Insurrection reinforcing this pernicious narrative. In The Australian cartoon (pictured above) a young Palestinian child with a stuffed animal tucked under his arm–presumably to amplify the “propaganda value” of the suicide mission–is encouraged by a masked Hamas fighter to “win the PR war for Daddy.” This notion, that Palestinians sacrifice their children to be murdered by US weaponry to elicit the sympathy of “westerners”, is not only racist in the extreme but completely dismisses the factual record. As scholars like Noura Erakat have astutely noted, “International human rights organizations”–Amnesty International for example–“have investigated these claims have determined that they are not true.” Yet this mythology of Palestinian human shields endures. One of the more repugnant illustrations of this myth surfaced on CBS Face the Nation where host Bob Schieffer intoned “In the Middle East, the Palestinian people find themselves in the grip of a terrorist group that has embarked on a strategy to get its own children killed in order to build sympathy for its cause.”

Bt5ky4nCQAAXsHzElsewhere, Hamas is portrayed as a rabidly antisemitic terrorist group singularly focused on murdering all Jews. This trope was recently endorsed in the Legal Insurrection which featured a cartoon of a Hamas fighter at a table with John Kerry and Benjamin Netanyahu. Playing the role of the “honest broker”, Kerry asks Netanyahu “could you at least meet him half way?” Meanwhile, the Hamas fighter grimaces angrily with a dynamite strapped boy in his lap (reinforcing the human shield cliche) holding a sign that reads “Demands: Death to all Jews.” In addition to completely ignoring the demands that Hamas actually made of Israel in their ceasefire proposal–none of which included anything that would remotely suggest what this comic portrays, a ceasefire proposal Israeli journalist Gideon Levy deemed “just”–it completely inverts the situation on the ground. Far from incredibly weak arguments that Hamas is intent to eliminate Israel, Israel has actually been implementing these kinds of policies. In the words of Henry Siegman in a recent Democracy Now! interview, “Israel’s charter … is to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state. And they have built up their army and their armaments to implement that policy.” Siegman continues “the difference between Hamas and the state of Israel is that the state of Israel is actually doing it. They’re actually implementing it, and they’re actually preventing a Palestinian state, which doesn’t exist.” This is to say nothing of the numerous videos of Israelis in the streets chanting “Death to Arabs” which, for inexplicable reasons, failed to make it into the creative universe of accomplished cartoon artists like A.F. Branco as an Israeli “demand.”

New York Times reprising the hospital as "refuge for insurgents" myth for Hamas.
New York Times reprising the hospital as “refuge for insurgents” myth for Hamas.

So the overarching question is why do these racist and slanderous accusations persist despite the lack of empirical evidence to support them? Tirman is informative on this count as well. Citing a psychological study on American attitudes about civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tirman writes “participants showed a strong ethnocentric valuation of lives, and, in particular, more indifference to the number of lives lost or saved for the outgroup.” Translation: brown corpses were less likely to elicit the sympathies of the American public than white ones. One graphic example of this was in the Bush administration’s war against Al Jazeera. A 2005 Washington Post article reported that “Bush administration officials have contended that through [Al-Jazeera’s] type of broadcasting the network often serves as a conduit for terrorist propaganda.” In addition to bombing Al Jazeera offices in Baghdad and Kabul, Secretary of State Colin Powell condemned Al Jazeera for “inciting anti-Americanism.” Al-Jazeera engaged in such “incitement” by “scooping the world with its tape of the US bombardments and Bin Laden’s televised statements.” Similar rationalizations were prevalent when the US laid siege to Fallujah General Hospital in November 2004, which incidentally bears striking similarities to the current Israeli massacres in Gaza. Writing for the New York Times, Richard Oppel Jr. soberly described the war crime: “At 10 p.m., Iraqi troops clambered off seven-ton trucks, sprinting with American Special Forces soldiers around the side of the main building of the hospital, considered a refuge for insurgents and a center of propaganda against allied forces, entering the complex to bewildered looks from patients and employees.” The idea that the hospitals served as a “refuge for insurgents and a center of propaganda” went unquestioned. In accord with their identity as “guilty victims”, Iraqis also aspired to elicit our sympathies with their “telegenic” suffering. However, victims on the ground in Fallujah gave a radically different picture. On the US bombing of Iraq’s Nazzal Emergency Hospital, Dr. Asma Khamis al-Muhannadi recalled the terrifying scene:

“I will always remember this. I was taking care of a woman who was giving birth and the baby was still connected to its mother through the umbilical cord. The US soldier asked the National Guardsman to arrest me, and the guard ties my hands with ropes … The two doctors who were with us on the road–there were people from the Red Cross and the Association of Muslim Scholars–were completely stripped of their clothes … They even inspected their hair, anything they could think of.”

Perhaps this is why “western leaders” are so chillingly silent about the civilian corpses piling up in Gaza. It’s essentially a repeat, in different scale, of US war crimes in Iraq. The ruthless attack on ambulances, hospitals, and journalistic agencies are simply symptoms of a population that has been declared by their imperial overlords to be “guilty victims.” So transparent are the similarities that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman virtually repeated Colin Powell’s condemnation of Al Jazeera in his description of the network as the “central pillar of the propaganda apparatus of Hamas.” According to Haaretz’s diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid the Foreign Minister went on to say “just as Britain would not allow Der Sturmer (a notorious Nazi publication) in London or the United States would not permit al-Qaeda TV, Israel would seek to ban Al Jazeera.”

It is this deep sociocultural and historical record of state terrorism that helps to explain why Netanyahu can appear on television and ridicule Hamas’ use of “telegenically dead” Palestinians and no one in the media can bring themselves to describe him as a racist or someone who harbors genocidal ambitions. Quite apart from mere statements justifying mass killing, Netanyahu’s words and the establishment press in the United States that uncritically reproduces them are advancing the “frontier ideas” of their genocidal predecessors. So as Israel continues to “restore quiet” in the land of “guilty victims” we should remember that we are among the guilty victimizers.


The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars by John Tirman