January 07, 2009
On Gaza-3: The media reaction
The mainstream media in the US and UK follow the line of their respective governments, who in turn follow Israel's lead and place almost the entire blame on the Palestinians. The power of this conformity can be seen in the kinds of things that Martin Peretz, for over three decades the owner and publisher of the 'liberal' magazine The New Republic, says. Eric Alterman profiles the vicious racism against Arabs that characterizes his writings.
I have gotten this far and not even gotten to the topic that usually comes up in discussions of Peretz of late, which is his obsessive and unapologetic hatred of Arabs, the evidence of which is visible nearly every day on Peretz's "The Spine." Here are just a few of the choice descriptions Peretz has had occasion to employ in his magazine about assorted Arabs, whether Palestinian, Iraqi, or of the generic variety: They are "violent, fratricidal, unreliable, primitive and crazed … barbarian"; they have created a "wretched society" and are "cruel, belligerent, intolerant, fearing"; they are "murderous and grotesque" and "can't even run a post office"; their societies "have gone bonkers over jihad" and they are "feigning outrage when they protest what they call American (or Israeli) atrocities"; they "behave like lemmings," and "are not shocked at all by what in truth must seem to them not atrocious at all"; and to top it all off, their rugs are not as "subtle" and are more "glimmery" than those of the Berbers.
Trust me, I could go on. As the blogger Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, Peretz's blog is "basically a museum for every anti-Arab/Muslim stereotype and caricature that exists." Nevertheless, as the Prospect's Ezra Klein blogged, "Peretz is rarely held to account, largely because there's an odd, tacit understanding that he's a cartoonish character and everyone knows it."
When it comes to Palestinians, it seems like you can say almost anything and not be taken to task. Take for example, Michael Goldfarb, editor of the Weekly Standard. He wrote about the current Israeli assault thus:
The fight against Islamic radicals always seems to come around to whether or not they can, in fact, be deterred, because it's not clear that they are rational, at least not like us. But to wipe out a man's entire family, it's hard to imagine that doesn't give his colleagues at least a moment's pause.
Matthew Yglesias noted the significance of Goldfarb's comments:
To be clear, he’s not saying that it’s sometimes okay to kill a bad guy’s innocent children as part of a military operation directed against the guy. He’s saying it’s better to kill his children than it would be to avoid killing them. (emphasis in original)
Glenn Greenwald points out that the logic used by people like Goldfarb is exactly the same as that used by those whom we label terrorists:
To the Terrorist, by definition, that innocent civilians and even children are killed isn't a regrettable cost of taking military action. It's not a cost at all. It's a benefit. It has strategic value. Goldfarb explicitly says this: "to wipe out a man's entire family, it's hard to imagine that doesn't give his colleagues at least a moment's pause."
That, of course, is the very same logic that leads Hamas to send suicide bombers to slaughter Israeli teenagers in pizza parlors and on buses and to shoot rockets into their homes. It's the logic that leads Al Qaeda to fly civilian-filled airplanes into civilian-filled office buildings. And it's the logic that leads infinitely weak and deranged people like Goldfarb and Peretz to find value in the killing of innocent Palestinians, including -- one might say, at least in Goldfarb's case: especially -- children.
Can you imagine anyone saying anything like what Goldfarb and Peretz say about any other group and not be written off as a racist? And yet, they not taken to task and indeed continue to be media players. They get away with it because it seems like there is nothing you can say against the Palestinians that will lose you your mainstream media perch. But say something critical of Israel's policies without a harsher criticism of Palestinians and you are quickly gone. The limit of 'respectable' criticism of Israel consists of doing the 'both sides should show restraint and we should find a way to get the peace process back on track but Israel has the right to do anything in defend itself ' song-and-dance.
We are expected (rightly) to be horrified that Israeli people are subjected to rocket and suicide bomb attacks but to treat as unfortunate but not equally horrifying that the Palestinians have been under occupation for over four decades, with no autonomy, unable to enter or leave without Israeli approval, restricted in their movements internally by hundreds of checkpoints, subject to daily harassments and arrest and detention by security forces, their homes demolished by bulldozers, their land steadily encroached upon by settlers, their access to food, medicine, water, energy, and any and all other supplies restricted and controlled by a hostile power that does not hesitate to use that power as a weapon to impose collective punishment on them whenever it feels like it, and periodically subjected to massive military force that kills and injures huge numbers of people and destroys their basic infrastructure.
But Jane Hamsher suggests that there are encouraging signs that the situation is changing and a more honest, and thus more productive, debate over Israeli policies may be emerging in the US. Philip Weiss even goes to the extent of suggesting that this latest Gaza assault may result in the ending of the ability of the Israel lobby to control the terms of the discussion.
Greenwald elaborates how Peretz merely says more bluntly what others in both political parties say more delicately. He also points to this curious washing of hands that US political leaders indulge in, saying that the US should not intervene and that Israel's security decisions should not be challenged.
What could be more absurd than that? Apparently, not only should we continue to feed Israel billions of dollars a year of American taxpayer money and massive amounts of weapons -- thereby ensuring that the world, quite accurately, perceives their actions as American actions -- but we should then take the position that they are free to do anything they want with it, no matter how extreme or destructive to our interests, and our only view on all of it should be that we blindly support whatever they do.
Greenwald also accurately captures why David Gregory is perfect to replace the late Tim Russert as the host of Meet the Press. Both practice the art of toothless journalism, all grandstanding bark and no bite, where they see their role as mainly enablers of policies preferred by the establishment, though of course they themselves do not see it that way. Read the list of questions Gregory asked Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and marvel that he did not a challenge a single one of the dubious assumptions underlying this Israeli action and Israeli policies in general. The questions were all about procedure and tactics and even the urging of more harsh measures. Of course Gregory knows that this is the kind of ingratiating behavior that will gain him the favor of his bosses and enable him to be the media star that Russert was.
Justin Raimondo suggests that this latest assault on Gaza by Israel is to serve as a warning shot across the bow to the incoming Obama administration that they should not even think of veering away from unconditional support for any and all Israel's actions.
Speaking of Obama, the real focal point of the Israeli assault isn't Gaza – it's Washington, D.C. The whole point of this exercise in futility – which will not create a single iota of security for Israel, will not topple Hamas, and will not prove any more successful than the second Lebanese war – is to set the terms by which the Israelis will deal with the incoming U.S. president. Before he even gets a chance to appoint his Middle East team, his special envoys and advisers, the Israelis will have sabotaged the peace effort they can clearly see coming – and put the Americans on notice that whatever "change" is in the air will have to be to Israel's advantage. In short, the Gaza massacre is a preemptive strike against the prospect of American intervention on the Palestinians' behalf, or, at least, a more evenhanded policy framework.
Richard Silverstein also suggests that this Israeli offensive is meant to put the new Obama administration on the defensive even before it begins.
The reflexive support for it by the US mainstream media and the congressional leadership of both parties will add to that pressure.
POST SCRIPT: The Real News
Fed up with the news you get in the mainstream media? Check out The Real News, which gets its feeds from all over the world, from a much wider spectrum of sources than what you normally see. What it lacks in glitzy production values, it more than makes up in providing alternative voices.