Is Israel Losing the Media To Palestine? Sheikh Jarrah

Let me explain something about the psychology of Americans to any Hamas supporters or anti-anti-Hamas folks who may be out there. This could just be me, but I think it probably applies much more widely. In recent years I have been falling away from the knee-jerk, no questions asked, pro-Israel stance I was born with. For a week now I have been following events in Israel & Palestine with growing outrage. I am stewing about the injustice of what now seems to be a permanent state of apartheid. I spent the past two days putting together a video condemning the occupation and urging change. After the news that 20 Gazans had been murdered, including 9 children, I became even more outraged, and spent last night looking for ways to make the video more scathing and angry…

…and then I woke up this morning to find that Hamas had successfully murdered two Israelis.

I just spent the morning making my video more mild and milquetoast and “Both sides”. I briefly considered bagging the vid entirely and running a rant on that pipeline attack instead. You can already see the effects in this post. I say Hamas murdered Israelis. But I just said that the Gazans were murdered. By who? Who knows? I am an American and Israelis have been murdered, I don’t care anymore. Is this unfair? Of course! I am deeply conscious of this messed up psychological tic that still values Palestinian life about a tenth as much as Israeli life. I hate that about myself. But it’s still there. And I am somebody who is trying to do better. A lot of people who may have been paying attention to this conflict for the first time will now tune it out entirely. “Sad they can’t get along, not my business.” Today’s video, which I will still run, highlighted a shift that I was seeing in US media post-Trump, and post-War on Terror. This Palestinian uprising felt different. US media was paying attention and getting beyond the AIPAC talking points. This uprising no longer feels so different. Hamas rockets have sent this set of “clashes” straight back to the standard media playbook. We ARE in a new era. Palestine does have new opportunities. But none of them will be realized with this old playbook. Hamas is the Israeli occupation’s best friend.

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Video Transcript after the jump…

Hey there. It has been a very surprising week in the politics of Israel and Palestine. I am not going to do a deep dive on the details of the Sheikh Jarrah controversy. The issues surrounding the evictions from that Palestinian neighborhood are very complicated. No what I want to talk about is how surprising it is that we are talking about Sheikh Jarrah at all, and how the state of the conversation indicates just how badly certain members of Israeli leadership have misjudged their international position.

Three years ago, when Israeli snipers were killing literally dozens of mostly unarmed protesters at the Gaza border, I was bothered enough to make a video about it. But I am fundamentally pretty cowardly when it comes to this issue. So to talk about how angry the killings made me, I made a very careful analogy to my personal experience of mass protest in Turkey, and spoke in pretty mealy mouthed ways about the tragic of loss of life.

I don’t feel that fear so much anymore. And apparently nobody else does either. Over the past few days I have seen clips from MSNBC and CBS talking about these evictions from Sheikh Jarrah, largely without the AIPAC talking points which is pretty shocking. If I were a big supporter of Israeli occupation right now I would be suffering whiplash. Heck I have been predicting this shift for a while now and I am pretty shocked. It is genuinely surprising that the world is paying this much attention to a Jerusalem land dispute involving just 6 households. Even after those fucking Hamas morons threw some rockets into the mix US media remains focused on a real estate dispute. Usually Hamas rockets are a get out of US media jail free card for Israeli occupation. Not this time.

Of course the Israeli side has its own morons as well. No matter the justification, images of Israeli storm troopers throwing flash bangs at people praying in the third holiest mosque in Islam are not going to win Israel any friends. But even with all the escalation on the streets, the real estate dispute in Sheikh Jarrah has somehow remained central to the coverage. Which should be super disturbing to Israel super-fans.

You see what’s happening in this Jerusalem neighborhood is the sort of thing that’s central to the Israeli occupation in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Frankly it’s boring to learn about, which is key to it’s power. The Palestinians have a legal position, and the Israelis have a legal position. Because Israel writes all the relevant laws, and controls all the relevant courts, it’s usually easy for Israel to sound like the rational party. Sure, violence is important too, but settlement moves forward day by day and year by year through these slow, boring legalistic means. We have seen this process for years in US media. Some poor not particularly photogenic Palestinian claims ethnic cleansing is happening. Maybe an old woman in a head scarf crying in Arabic. Then some nice Israeli or AIPAC member in a suit, speaking flawless English, explains how what’s happening to this poor woman is a shame, but the law is the law. Nothing to be done.This has worked for decades. But now it’s not. Why? Three years ago a literal mountain of corpses was reported on fairly politely in US media, but today the nuts and bolts of settlement are an international scandal. What happened?

Well partially it’s this guy and his relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s perpetual Prime Minister. Netanyahu’s dismissiveness and blatant disrespect for the US’s first black president had already created problems, but his gross love affair with Donald Trump may have permanently turned Israel into a partisan issue in the United States. But this is an issue that’s going to take another decade or two to shake out. Also I think it’s exaggerated. The US is never going to abandon Israel. Nor will the Democratic party. The dispute isn’t between opponents and supporters of Israel but between blind unthinking supporters of Israel and those who think the US deserves a little more respect for all the money and support we give. Nobody’s going to stop the money. What I think is more immediately important is a basic strategic miscalculation Trump and Netanyahu made.

All wars are media wars. Until the US world system falls, Israel’s standing in the world will always be more about public relations than physical security, and under Netanyahu those public relations have gotten horrendously bad.

Israel is most attractive as the underdog. It wins sympathy internationally when it is seen as being under attack. For the first four decades of its existence Israel was in existential danger all the time. The Middle East was one of the Cold War’s biggest flash points, and Israel had multiple heavily armed neighbors, dedicated to it’s destruction, heavily backed by the Soviet Union. Sure, Israel did nasty things to Arabs back then, but these were folks who survived the Nazis and were standing up to the commies, and a few stolen properties were nothing compared to what the US was doing in Asia and Latin America back then.

And then in a few years as the 1980s turned into the 1990s this story changed dramatically. The Soviet Union disappeared, and the US crushed Iraq, which had been the most threatening of the Arab states. All of a sudden, Israel didn’t look like the little guy facing down an evil empire anymore. The little guys were in Palestine, and with the US turning on all its old monsters, Israel needed to clean up its act quick.

Which is why we got the Oslo accords. Israel and Palestine struck a historic peace deal in 1993 and 1995. A two state solution was proposed, and steps were taken to begin to begin to implement it. And who knows, if it wasn’t for Osama Bin Laden, maybe it would have worked.

The post 9-11 rage at Muslims in the United States meant that for 20 years Israel didn’t really have to do much other than say the magic word terrorism to make most of the world ignore Palestine. It certainly worked for me for most of the 2000s. But the forever wars are fading.

The war in Syria seems to be mostly over. Israeli bombings of the winners are the most prominent news coming out of that country now. Iran’s economy is being crushed , and Israel’s bombing and assassination campaigns there make the mad mullahs look weak not threatening. Israel doesn’t look like a plucky little underdog, fighting the good fight against Goliath. Israel looks like Goliath.

The last thing Israel has to make it look like the underdog is the undying enmity of the Arabs. The 400 million people directly neighboring Israel still care about the Palestinians, and they are still angry. So, because of that support for Palestinians, every protest no matter how many kids are slaughtered looks like a real threat to Israel. That’s forever, that’s permanent victory in the media wars, at least in the US I mean unless Israel were to somehow sign a bunch of peace deals with Arab countries, but that would never happen right?

Well that’s exactly what has happened over the past three years. I will be honest,I am actually warming up to the Abraham Accords a bit. I don’t like the Israeli or Arab governments involved but I think the principle of Arab Israeli self defense against Persians and Turks might make sense in a couple decades. But in the short term the accords are disastrous for Israel. Jordan and Egypt made peace decades ago. With four more signing up to abandon the Palestinians in 2020, the idea that Arab governments present any threat to Israel anymore is now just laughable. Saudi Arabia, the traditional paymaster of Palestinian nationalism, hasn’t signed up yet, but it seems likely that it will happen as soon as the ancient King Salman falls down a flight of stairs and MBS takes over.

All wars are media wars. And with the Abraham Accords Israel has lost the public relations battle with Palestine almost entirely. US media wants to help Israel, but there’s only so much it can do. Palestinians aren’t the sinister leading edge of commies or Antisemitic Petro states anymore. They are just a weak people getting beat up on by the regional hegemon. If Israel wants real deals with Arab peoples, instead of just Arab dictators, it needs to do something more for Palestine.

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