Anti-Semitic Expressions as Legitimate Speech: the Steven Salaita Case
An article published by the journal Industrial-Organizational Psychologist,the official publication of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, deserves attention. "Regulating Rude: Tensions Between Free Speech and Civility in Academic Employment" was written by three authors, Lilia M. Cortina, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan; Attorney Michael G. Cortina, SmithAmundsen, LLC, Chicago, IL; and, José M. Cortina, School of Business, Virginia Commonwealth University.
The authors provide several examples of how free speech is curtailed in universities. One of their case-studies is Professor Steven Salaita. Like the general public, Cortina at al. assume that the Salaita story, as printed in the press, is a simple case of extramural freedom of speech by a professor. Think again. Cortina at al. rightly explain that in August 2014, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign blocked his academic appointment because of profane tweets about Israel. But they overlook Saliata’s long history of expressing irrational hate and contempt of Israel.
Already in April 2001, Salaita charged Israel with undertaking one of the "most vicious civilian slaughters of this century." In August 2001, as a doctoral student, Salaita visited the West Bank and wrote an opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle, stating that Israel is fundamentally an apartheid state, because "Christians and Muslims are required to carry identity cards stating their religion, on which movement and privilege are predicated. License plates are also color-coded based on the driver's religion. Only Jews are afforded the full benefits of citizenship.” Salaita’s facts are outright lies, all Israelis carry identity cards stating their religion and all Israelis receive equal privileges. There are no color-codes for car’s license plates. All Israelis are afforded full benefits and citizenship. But worse, with regards to Palestinian suicide bombing which Salaita morally approves of, he affirms that “specific historical and political realities lead to violent actions… Palestinians revolt, sometimes with violence."
In an article “Why Americans should oppose Zionism,” published by The Electronic Intifada in2010, Salaita claimed that “Zionists always intended to ethnically cleanse Palestinians, a strategy they carried out and continue to pursue with horrifying efficiency.”
He lists four reasons why Americans, and all people, should oppose Zionism (that is, the right of the Jews for a state of their own in Israel). To his mind, “Zionism is unethical and immoral”; “Zionism is racist”; “Zionism contravenes the geopolitical interests of the United States.”, and, “Zionism is fundamentally incompatible with democracy.”
In 2013, just a short time before the cancellation of his appointment at the University of Illinois, Salaita has published an article, “Academics should boycott Israel”. In his view, the boycott movement, aka Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) has "the potential to topple a colonial empire… I will teach my son the history of Palestine. He will teach it to his children. Our stories will outlast Zionism."
Salaita’s hate speech can be considered anti-Semitic because he negates Israel’s right to exist, as defined by the widely accepted Working Definition of Anti-Semitism that was adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) committee on anti-Semitism and Holocaust Denial, in 2016. Some of the expressions of the Working Definition include: “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”; and, “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor”.
The numerous Salaita’s tweets include the following:
The purpose of bringing these examples of Salaita’s outright anti-Semitic expressions is to demonstrate that Zionist students would have felt extreme unease and intimidation facing Salaita in the classroom.
Cortina et al. even suggested that if a university president felt that a professor had failed to act in an appropriate level of dignity, then the university could publicly dissociate and express their disapproval of such objectionable expressions, without having to cancel his appointment.
The authors are wrong in their suggestion that Salaita’s job could have been saved. It is quite clear that Salaita is anti-Semitic and would have upset Jewish students. But more to the point, abusive language should not be tolerated, no matter which segment of the society it targets.
In recent years, we have seen greater recognition in the United States that religious acrimony and ancient blood feuds are not the source of the Israel-Palestine conflict, whose progenitor in fact is Jewish colonization. As this recognition grows, along with corresponding support for Palestinian human rights, unprecedented pressure bears on Israel’s defenders to maintain the once-dominant narratives of Israeli victimhood and Palestinian terror.
These days, Israel is an extremely difficult state to defend.
The latest challenge to these violations comes from the Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions movement, which has attracted the attention of pro-Israel advocacy groups and the Israeli government itself, thus validating the efficacy of the tactic. A specific element of BDS, academic boycott, was recently ratified by the Association of Asian American Studies and enjoys overwhelming support among the membership of the American Studies Association, whose National Council today voted to affirm a resolution honoring the Palestinian call to boycott Israeli universities.
Although at first glance academic boycott seems vengeful and arbitrary, its mission is rigorous and ethical, perfectly concord
ant to comparable boycotts that earned widespread support in the United States (against apartheid South Africa, for instance, or Arizona when it refused to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day).
Academic boycott entails specific principles that are widely misunderstood or misrepresented. Boycott of Israel does not mean shunning everything or everybody Israeli, nor is it a radical commitment to national destruction. It is not an abrogation of academic freedom. It does not demand that we smash our laptops because they contain Israeli processors. One can boycott Israel and still care about oppression in other parts of the world.
Academic boycott, quite simply, is a rejection of complicity in the Israeli government’s brutalization of Palestinians, a form of nonviolent resistance at the nexus of the globe’s greatest confluence of geopolitical power. It asks individuals and institutions to refuse Israeli state funding, to decline invitations to visit Israeli institutions (either by avoiding those institutions or choosing to travel to the West Bank or Gaza instead), to cease hosting representatives of Israel directly or indirectly sponsored by the state, and to reject institutional partnerships with Israeli academe.
Since its inception in 2005, BDS has profoundly altered the discourses and debates around the Israel-Palestine conflict in the United States.
* * *
The greatest worry around boycott is the possibility of restricted academic freedom. Such worry is unfounded, however. Academic boycott targets institutions and does not preclude collaboration with individuals. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel is explicit that Israeli citizens are able to serve on editorial boards and as external referees, submit research to any forum of their choosing, and travel without restriction. Nor are editors or search committees to reject articles and applications based on citizenship. Disparate rules based on ethnicity are solely the domain of the Israeli state.
The boycott actually seeks to preserve academic freedom by challenging punitive campus cultures that punish critics of Israel. Boycott is likewise an expression of academic freedom because it enables individuals to decline participation in sites of injustice by inscribing this sort of dissent as a form of protected speech.
At a recent conference hosted by a large professional association, I attended a wonderful talk by a Palestinian citizen of Israel, whom I will call Kareem. Kareem was invited by the conference organizers to speak on a panel about academic boycott. Although fellow panelists explored the subject, Kareem merely discussed the various forms of entrenched discrimination against Israel’s Palestinian minority, which he had unearthed in state archives.
I have changed the scholar’s name for the same reason he declined to endorse boycott: because in Israel, where Kareem would return after the conference, any support of boycott is illegal, punishable by a fine and denial of benefits, and subjecting violators to civil lawsuits.
To recap: An Israeli citizen was invited to speak on a panel exploring boycott, but had to limit his speech because the fear of incrimination by Israel.
Who, then, is restricting academic freedom?
In terms of its ability to prevent recrimination, academic freedom is largely mythological. Dissentient speech can be contained by dominant standards of erudition and respectability. The economies of tenure and promotion coerce obeisance to those dominant standards. Academic reward systems are set up to punish deviation. Nothing is more deviant than criticizing Israel.
Dozens of scholars have suffered the wrath of orthodoxy due to their criticism of Israel, including Joseph Massad, Nadia Abu El-Haj, Terri Ginsburg, Tom Abowd, David Shorter, Ilan Pappe, Neve Gordon, Teddy Katz, William Robinson, David Klein, Mona Baker and Sami Al-Arian. Terrorists once torched the Columbia University office of eminent Palestinian scholar Edward Said.
In practice, there has never been academic freedom vis-à-vis the Israel-Palestine conflict, at least not for those who support Palestinian human rights, and not if we grant that an important element of academic freedom is the ability to carry on a career free of intimidation and harassment.
* * *
The other main objection to academic boycott (and to BDS generally) is that it “singles out” Israel. This objection not only lacks merit; it also performs the same singling out of Israel its adherents claim to abhor.
Of all the world’s settler colonial projects, Israel is uniquely protected from wholesale condemnation in the United States.
When Zionists respond to BDS by asking “why don’t you boycott [insert oppressive state]?” they merely affirm Israel’s bad behavior by eliding responsibility and asking other countries to answer for Israel’s violence. The elision is hypocritical, suggesting that it’s acceptable to criticize, say, China, while criticism of Israel is unfair simply because Zionists, on behalf of all Jews, have outfitted the state with a specific ethnic character.
The ultimate goal of academic boycott is to compel Israel to abide by the human rights conventions and international laws to which it is beholden, but one of its effects is to undermine Israel’s status as an exceptional democracy beyond the reproach of less enlightened nations.
The only people singling out Israel in this debate are those opposed to BDS.
* * *
Boycotts in themselves are not especially controversial among academic communities. In other words, BDS isn’t controversial. Criticism ofIsrael is controversial.
Even those who opposed boycott of South Africa or Arizona understood that white folks weren’t the victims of inequitable economies and legal systems. What sets Palestine apart is the persistent notion that the colonizers, those with nuclear weapons and land and resources and legislative power and the full support of the United States, are the oppressed party, that they largely suffer the pain and indignity of the conflict, that BDS is furtively anti-Semitic, that Israel is a special case in history. Remove this duplicitous reasoning and most rationalizations for rejecting boycott go away.
More facts: The people of Palestine have been subject to a project of settler colonization for nearly 150 years, as long as the French occupied Algeria. Over a million Palestinians live in refugee camps throughout the Arab World, many in severe poverty. Palestinian citizens of Israel inhabit the lower level of a two-tiered legal system that limits their rights to employment, land ownership, education, mobility, free expression, political participation and public services. The Gaza Strip is destitute and overcrowded, victim of an Israeli campaign to strangulate its economy with the express purpose of making its residents starve and suffer. The West Bank is carved into hundreds of inaccessible geographies separated by segregated highways, settlements, checkpoints, military installations and concrete walls.
Despite these horrible realities, this antediluvian system of biological determinism, we’re told repeatedly by those opposed to BDS that the desires of the colonizer supersede the rights of the colonized. They rarely say it outright, but it’s the primary assumption underlying the mistaken argument that boycott harms innocent Israelis. By this logic, the black boycott of Montgomery’s bus system would have been unjustified because it might have harmed the drivers.
The most innocuous-sounding but insidious of these colonial apologetics assails us about the need for dialogue, not rejectionism. Yet boycott hasn’t emerged from ahistorical circumstances. It has arisen from a need for action as a result of failures of dialogue over multiple decades, a dialogue monopolized by Zionist voices.
Anyway, boycott constitutes a form of dialogue, one in which the Palestinian people finally participate. Their contribution to this new dialogue is the announcement that they will never tolerate dispossession and will never accept their fate as expendable in the Zionist narrative.
* * *
My maternal grandmother lost her home in Ein Karem, outside of Jerusalem, in 1948. She has never been compensated. Her loss has never been acknowledged by Israel. She refuses to visit an artsy, upper-class, Jewish suburb of Jerusalem that was once a Palestinian village — her ancestral home. She has neither forgotten nor forgiven. I haven’t forgotten, either. I am perfectly willing to forgive, but only in the presence of justice. Oppressors aren’t allowed to ask for forgiveness if they refuse to relinquish any of their ill-gotten power. They will not, they have shown repeatedly, relinquish that power voluntarily.
I practice BDS because it’s the only power I have in the face of the tremendous military and economic might of Israel and its American sponsor. It is a largely symbolic power, a nonviolent act of simple defiance, void of guns and platforms and legislation, but if enough people participate, it has the potential to topple a colonial empire, one that yearns for the acceptance and affirmation of the same people it dismisses and displaces, and one that hasn’t yet learned that friendship is based not on force but on respect earned through introspection and compassion.
I will teach my son the history of Palestine. He will teach it to his children. Our stories will outlast Zionism.
Israel doesn’t want to be boycotted? Fine. Then Israel needs to practice true democracy. That is all BDS asks of it. It is by no standard an unreasonable demand
Steven Salaita currently holds the Edward W. Said Chair of American Studies at the American University of Beirut. His most recent book is Uncivil Rites: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom. @stevesalaita
Why Americans should oppose Zionism
Steven Salaita The Electronic Intifada 26 August 2010
Eden Abergil’s now infamous photos do not represent anomalous, excess behavior. (Facebook)
Israel has been subject to some bad publicity recently. In 2008-09, it launched a brutal military campaign in the Gaza Strip that killed more than 400 Palestinian children. In May 2010, bumbling Israeli commandos murdered nine nonviolence activists on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla’s Mavi Marmara. It only got worse for Israel when it was revealed that soldiers stole and sold personal items such as laptops from the ship. Last week, former Israeli soldier Eden Abergil posted photos onto Facebook showing her preening in front of blindfolded and despondent Palestinian prisoners, in some instances mocking those prisoners with sexual undertones. The photos were part of an album entitled “IDF [Israeli army] — the best time of my life.”
While Abergil’s pictures may not seem as abhorrent as the Gaza and Mavi Marmara brutality — Abergil, for her part, described her behavior as nonviolent and free of contempt — all three actions are intimately connected. First of all, we must dispel the notion that Abergil’s photos are nonviolent. As with the Abu Ghraib debacle, a sexualized and coercive humiliation is being visited on the bodies of powerless, colonized and incarcerated subjects, which by any reasonable principle is a basal form of violence. There is also the obvious physical violence of Palestinians being bound and blindfolded, presumably in or on their way to prisons nobody will confuse with the Ritz Carlton.
More important, these recent episodes merely extend an age-old list of Israeli crimes and indignities that illuminate a depravity in the Zionist enterprise itself. What is noteworthy about Israel’s three recent escapades is that more and more people are starting to pay attention to its crimes and indignities. In so doing, more and more people are questioning the origin and meaning of Zionism — that is, the very idea of a legally ethnocentric Israel.
I would like to address this piece to those who have undertaken such questioning or to those who are prepared to initiate it. I would urge you not to limit your critique of Israel only to its errors of judgment or its perceived excesses; it is more productive to challenge the ideology and practice of Zionism itself. There is no noble origin or beautiful ideal to which the wayward Jewish state must return; such yearnings are often duplicitous mythmaking or romanticized nostalgia. Zionists always intended to ethnically cleanse Palestinians, a strategy they carried out and continue to pursue with horrifying efficiency.
Likewise, Zionism was always a colonialist movement, one that relied on the notions of divine entitlement and civilizational superiority that justified previous settlement projects in South Africa, Algeria and North America. Zionism, by virtue of its exclusionary outlook and ethnocentric model of citizenship, is on its own a purveyor of fundamental violence. The bad PR to which Israel sometimes is subject today is a reflection of changed media dynamics, not a worsening of Israel’s behavior.
The 2008-09 Gaza invasion, the attack on the Mavi Marmara and Abergil’s Facebook photos aren’t anomalous or extraordinary. They are the invariable result of a Zionist ideology that cannot help but view Palestinian Muslims and Christians as subhuman, no matter how ardently its liberal champions assert that Zionism is a liberation movement. Zionism has the unfortunate effect of proclaiming that one group of people should have access to certain rights from which another group of people is excluded. There is nothing defensible in this proposition.
Here, then, are four reasons why Americans (and all other humans regardless of race or religion) should oppose Zionism:
1. Zionism is unethical and immoral: Because Zionists claim access to land and legal rights that directly obviate the same access to an indigenous community, it operates from within an idea of belonging that is cruel and archaic. Israel bases its primary criterion for citizenship on religious identity. Imagine having your religion on your driver’s license. And imagine having limited access to freeways, farmland, family, education, employment and foreign travel because the religion by which the state has chosen to identify you is legally marginalized. Such is the daily reality of the Palestinian people.
2. Zionism is racist: This claim isn’t the same as saying that all Zionists are racist. I would make a distinction between the categories of “Zionist” and “Zionism.” However, inherent in the practice of Zionism is a reliance on racialist judgments about who can fully participate in the benefits and practices of a national community. Many Zionists view themselves merely as supporting freedom and safety for Jewish people. I would suggest that people who identify themselves as Zionist look more closely at the ideology they support. Such freedom and safety, both of which are in fact mythologies, come at the direct expense of people confined to Bantustans and refugee camps.
3. Zionism contravenes the geopolitical interests of the United States: Many Americans have heard former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert boast that he once pulled George W. Bush off the dais while Bush was giving a speech, or more recently current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announcing that “America is something that can be easily moved.” Israel costs the United States billions of dollars in direct aid and in bribe money to Jordan and Egypt for their docility. Israel also is the main reason for disgruntlement about American foreign policy in the Arab and Muslim Worlds. I raise this point with some hesitation because I believe all citizens of the United States should challenge and not celebrate American geopolitical interests. I would also point out that Zionism’s narrative of salvation and redemption resonates deeply among Americans because of the US’ origin and continued presence as a nation of settler colonists. In the end, America itself needs to be decolonized and the vast sums of money that support the imperial projects Israel so brazenly exemplifies need to be directed toward the well-being of those who pay the government its taxes.
4. Zionism is fundamentally incompatible with democracy: Israel, as a result, is undemocratic and will be as long as it uses religious identity as the operating criterion of citizenship. We hear much in the US about Islam being incompatible with democracy, a belief that is historically untrue and that elides the massive military and monetary support the US provides to the assortment of dictators and plutocrats that rule much of the Arab World. Neoconservative and mainstream commentators both evoke Israel in opposition to Islam as a symbol of democratic achievement. In reality Israel performs one of the most barbaric forms of oppression today in the West Bank and Gaza Strip while simultaneously discriminating against the Palestinian citizens of Israel who constitute approximately twenty percent of the citizenry.
The alternative media engendered by new technology have allowed more people to witness the unremitting violence that has been Israel’s stock in trade for decades. Many consumers of this information and these images believe that Israel is guilty of excess when a simpler explanation exists: Israel is acting out the requisites of an exclusionary and inherently violent ideology.
These days all it takes is a little braggadocio from an ex-soldier such as Eden Abergil to so perfectly symbolize the callousness of Zionist colonization. Ten years ago, the Israeli government’s lies about the killings aboard the Mavi Marmara would have been unchallenged by gruesome footage distributed through alternative news networks and social media. Nobody these days could have stopped the images of white phosphorous exploding and spreading over the Gaza Strip from being aired; Israelis themselves were foolish enough to capture Jewish children writing messages on soon-to-be-launched missiles.
Americans now have all the evidence they need for a reasonable and morally-sound conclusion, that Zionism produces a cruelty and truculence that they bankroll with their taxes and legitimize with either silence or consent. As a result, I am not arguing that Americans should reassess their level of support for Israel. I am arguing that Americans should oppose Zionism altogether. Perhaps in this way we might begin the long and difficult process of redeeming our own nation of its imperial sins.
Steven Salaita is author, most recently, of The Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims, and the Poverty of Liberal Thought. A version of this essay was originally published by Foreign Policy Journal and is republished with the author’s permission.
In the West Bank village of al-Khader last month, an elderly woman wearing a traditional embroidered dress approached the group of Americans touring the area. In front of her stood a young child, looking timidly at the ground. His left eye had been shot out, replaced at Johns Hopkins Hospital by a glass replica that didn't match his natural color. He is 4 years old.
Moments later, the boy was joined by a toddler with a pink scar above her left eye. Dressed in yellow pajamas with Teddy bear designs, she could have passed for an average American child, except most American babies haven't been shot in the head by soldiers.
These were only a few of the horrendous sights I witnessed in the Palestinian territories last month as a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation Peacebuilders Delegation. The trip, an excursion premised on promoting nonviolence, highlighted the need for international observers in the region, something every involved nation except Israel and the United States supports.
It was my second time in the territories in less than a year. Learning firsthand about the Palestinian people has been both an honor and a blessing, but something most Americans fail to appreciate because of the pervasive stereotypes that afflict Palestinians in the United States.
Since my return, I have been met by neighbors with comments such as, "Don't they hate Americans?" and, "Weren't you afraid of terrorists?" These sensibilities denote a great need to demystify the negative assumptions that underpin American perceptions of the Palestinian people.
Amid the two recent suicide bombings in Israel, it is rare to see the word "Palestinian" in print without being followed by "terrorists," "extremists" or some other dehumanizing variation. The basic realities of Palestinian life must be understood if Americans are to approach the conflict fairly and with a proper context. In other words, either we acknowledge that specific historical and political realities lead to violent actions, or we suggest tacitly that these actions are a peculiar aspect of Palestinian/Islamic culture, in which case we are engaged in the most primal form of racism.
Reporting simple facts would help to clarify why Palestinians revolt, sometimes with violence. To imply that they do without reason or as the result of innate anti-Semitism not only projects ignorance, but also impedes a true peace based on mutual justice and recognition.
The most important fact is Israel's continued occupation of Palestinian land, which violates applicable international law. Israel repeatedly has been ordered by the United Nations to withdraw from the territories. An endless stream of Security Council resolutions since 1976 has identified Israel's illegal occupation as the primary source of conflict, and yet the United States has stood alone with Israel each time in blocking the implementation of any solution based on international stipulations to which both Israel and the United States are a party.
This is compounded by economic hardship in the territories, a direct result of Israeli closures and Palestinian dependency on Israel for goods and services. More grave are the indiscriminate killings of unarmed protesters, extrajudicial assassinations and daily humiliation at checkpoints and military posts. These conditions help to fuel the anger of an oppressed people, and if we are to talk violence they cannot be ignored.
Fundamentally, Israel is an apartheid state, as acknowledged by both Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, two South African leaders well versed on the subject.
Little outrage is expressed in the United States
about Israel's divisive legal subs'tructure.
When Afghanistan recently required Buddhists to wear a special patch, the response in the United States was extraordinary, and yet nothing is ever said about Israel's more explicit religious lines. Christians and Muslims are required to carry identity cards stating their religion, on which movement and privilege are predicated. License plates are also color-coded based on the driver's religion. Only Jews are afforded the full benefits of citizenship.
The most viable solution was perhaps articulated by the 4-year-old's grandmother in al-Khader, who, pointing at the gray military watchtower from which the children were shot, exclaimed, "We just want them to leave."
Palestinians do not hate Americans. Americans, in fact, like all foreign visitors to the territories, are afforded tremendous warmth and hospitality. Palestinians do take offense, however, at an American government that continues to aid Israel unquestioningly in its oppression of the Palestinian people and its illegal occupation of Palestinian land. We Americans should be offended, too.
In the past months of violence, Israel has been condemned by human rights groups such as the UN (in eight separate instances). De- fense Children International, the Al Mezan Center, Human Rights Watch. Peace Now, the Red Cross/Red Crescent Society, the Palestin- ian Center for Human Rights, Gush Shalom, and Amnesty International. Israel, the final gar- rison colonial force in Asia, is bound by inter- national law to withdraw from all occupied territories in Palestine. Only the United States stands in solidarity with Israel as it undertakes what is on of the most vicious civilian slaugh- ters of this century. These facts should be reported in the mainstream American press. They aren't. What is reported, in contrast, is that Israel is an aggrieved nation under siege by wild-eyed Palestinian rioters. At best, the situation is pre- sented as one in which two parties have com- peting claims to the same land and holy sites. The New York Times and Chicago Tribune, in particular, have a history of running articles supporting these sorts of assumptions. All the press attention devoted to the presidential elec- tion and the newly-appointed cabinet gives the illusion that the violence in Palestine has re- lented. It hasn't. In fact. Israeli military force continues to increase daily. This includes the deployment of live ammunition (high-veloc- ity steel bullets), snipers, anti-tank missiles, armored personnel carriers, and assault heli- copters against unarmed civilians. As of early February, over 350 Palestinians have been killed and more than 1 1.000 injured. Over 70 of the deceased are children. The way information is presented in the American media, presumably under the guise of objectivity, is in reality disgraceful and ir- responsible. 60 Minutes, for example, is con- sidering running a story absolving Israeli sol- diers of the videotaped death of 12-year-old Mohammed al-Dura. who has become a sym- bol of the Palestinian struggle. This only con- tributes to the latest Israeli PR claiming that Palestinian parents readily send their children to the front lines to be murdered. Even a Klansman would be hard-pressed to produce a more flagrant example of racism. It should be mentioned that inserting excuse making into the bloody aftermath of murder is, as critic Edward Said notes, an archetypal mechanism of colonization. Palestine is an occupied land. Palestin- ians have suffered Israeli bullets and Israeli racism long enough. The rioters seek the same thing as black South Africans and East Timorese in the past, and Native Americans in the present: freedom from foreign occupation and the ability to control their own lives under their own discretion. This simple fact is rou- tinely overlooked in corporate media's cover- age of recent events. As Robert Fisk of The Independent observes, "but on we go, report- ing the Middle East tragedy with all our own little uncontroversial cliches and amnesia and avoidance of 'controversial' subjects. Such journalism is already leading — despite the extraordinary casualty figures — to a public \ iew that the Palestinians are solely respon- sible for the bloodbath, that they are generally \ iolent, untrustworthy murderers. I think this kind of reporting helps to condone the taking of human life." Let me contextual ize the conditions that have led to the recent Palestinian uprising and analyze the mainstream media's role in a two- fold framework: how they protect Israeli and American strategic interests by distorting or ignoring essential facts that are commonly re- ported across the world: and how this amne- siac approach shapes public perception of Pal- estinians by reinforcing stereotypes and, con- versely, relying on their existence. What Words Don't Say Hanan Ashrawi, Stephen Shalom, and Noam Chomsky argue that context is needed in interrogating Palestinian unrest. This sug- gestion becomes more valid each time a pur- portedly impartial column appears in a major newspaper. Commentators are apt to discuss the current clashes as if they arose in a vacuum. Better evaluations explain that they are part of a continuum: mass displacement by force in 1948 and 1967; 33 years of military occupa- tion; hundreds of thousands of imprisonments (usually resulting in torture, which remained legal in Israel until 1999). home demolitions, apartheid, live burials, illegal settlements, hu- miliation, and the permanent absence of hu- man rights. Most importantly, we should never forget the attachment of Palestinians to their ancestral homeland, which they cultivated and for which they are willing to die. The facts are striking. Approximately 700.000 Arabs were driven from Palestine in 1 948. and thousands more in 1 967. actions that can only be described as theft, brought to frui- tion through absentee landlord sales, calculated [media] murder ( Deir Yassin, Tantura), and the destruc- tion of over 400 Arab villages within pre- 1 967 Israeli lines. Since June 1967 Israel has ex- propriated at least 5,893.000 dunums of Pal- estinian land, which amounts to 73 percent of the West Bank Gaza territory. During the same time frame. Israeli authorities have demolished over 6000 houses within this territory, as well as 2500 homes in Arab East Jerusalem (in di- rect violation of Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits home destruction, and to which Israel is a party). Since Ehud Barak took office, settlement activity — the single most important reason that real peace cannot be achieved — has in- creased dramatically. Over 40,000 housing units have been built or are awaiting construc- tion. Ninety percent of West Bank water is used for the settlers, who comprise one-tenth of the population. The State of Israel controls over 90 percent of historic Palestine. Rather than scolding Palestinians for placing their children in danger, perhaps our jingoistic moralists might wonder why settlers would risk the lives of their children by occupying a land that isn't theirs. Palestinians inside Eretz Israel, who con- stitute 20 percent of the total population, have none of the rights supposedly afforded the sub- jects of a democracy. They are not allowed movement, receive substandard education, re- main segregated, and, during the recent clashes, have been displaced and murdered en masse. Israel is the only "democracy" that rou- tinely uses live ammunition on its own citi- zens. When Israeli Jews have held rallies, as they do often, soldiers have never opened fire, not even with rubber bullets. This isn't lost on the international com- munity, which continues to support the Pales- tinians in their independence struggle. On December 1. the UN General Assembly adopted five resolutions dealing with issues at conflict. They are as follows: 1 . The Assembly determined that the deci- sion of Israel to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the Holy City of Jerusa- lem was illegal, and, therefore, null and void. 2. The Assembly also deplored the transfer by some States of their diplomatic missions to Jerusalem in violation of Security Council resolution 478. a> 3. The Assembly authorized the Committee o to continue to exert all efforts to promote the ^ exercise of the inalienable rights of the Pales- *** tinian people and to give special emphasis to the need to mobilize support and assistance for them. 4. In its action on the Special Information Programme on Palestine of the UN Department of Public Information, the Assembly requested the Department to continue its special infor- mation programme for the biennium 2000-01 and to promote the Bethlehem 2000 Project. 5. The Assembly stressed the need for com- mitment to the principle of land for peace and the implementation of Security Council reso- lutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973), and the need for immediate and scrupulous implemen- tation of the agreements reached between the parties, including the redeployment of Israeli forces from the West Bank." The United States, on the other hand, which cither abstained or dissented from the above resolutions, continues to implement its own brand of imperial justice. On October 25, the House of Representatives passed resolution 426 (365-30), which exclusively places Pales- tinians at fault for the violence. More recently, in what The Council on American-Islamic Re- lations [CAIR] terms "Nuremberg-style legis- lation," Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ) has in- troduced a bill that would "require the Attor- ney General to establish an office in the De- partment of Justice to monitor acts of interna- tional terrorism alleged to have been commit- ted by Palestinian individuals or individuals acting on behalf of Palestinian organizations and to carry out certain other related activities." The United States ardently supports Israel in its defiance of applicable international law (to the tune of over $3 billion annually). As a result, it is gradually becoming more and more isolated from the currents of international policy. Government thuggery has often left the United States detached from both human rights ac- countability and the respectability it claims to hold. Because of America's latest intransigence, Palestinian civilians, who refuse to accept the miserable conditions under which they live, continue to starve and die. Media Discourse in the Public Realm The media remain a powerful mecha- nism for influencing public opinion and per- ception. This becomes remarkably clear when assessing the assumptions underlying Ameri- can coverage of the Middle East. It is diffi- cult to say whether the media arc conscious participants in American jingoism. At times, well-intentioned writers simply echo the dog- mas of an educational and political system geared toward inducing obedience to the so- called national interest. This is certainly the exception, however. Regarding Palestine, it | is ultimately la/incss and cowardice that ™ causes domestic reporters to overlook the ^ overwhelming evidence of Israeli war crimes - r> and human rights violations. Certain depictions arc sickening. Florida's 8 lh district Republican House candidate, Ric Keller, remarked, "I think Palestinians are lower than pond scum." George Will, always a reli- able autocrat, has likened Arabs to Nazis. Says Scott Shuger in Slate Magazine: "And then there are the pictures [of Palestinians killing two Israeli soldiers]. The most unforgettable, cred- ited to Agence France Presse, appears on everybody's front — in it, a piece of shit pos- ing as a human being is only too proud to show the other turds below that in the West Bank, 'having someone's blood on your hands' is not just a statement." Shuger is mysteriously silent about the murder of Palestinian children caught on tape. This is more than a double-standard. It is institutional hate finding an acceptable av- enue of statement. Stan K. Sujka of The Or- lando Sentinel makes his contribution to this trend by writing, "The hate germ, fed to chil- dren by their mothers and fathers, encourages kids to throw rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli soldiers. These children are fed hate by the same adults who chauffeur them to the riot areas." These overtly racist statements create space for tamer comments that nonetheless rely on their more egregious counterparts for valid- ity. For instance, Deborah Sontag of the New York Times claims that "[t]he Palestinians have turned the Jewish communities, always points of friction, into the targets of their rage. With considerable backing from the Palestinian popu- lation, Palestinian gunmen have declared open season on the settlers and soldiers in their midst." This echoes the sentiment of the Wall Street Journal, which explains, "But as little Israel again comes under siege — from Hamas terrorists, Tanzim militiamen, Hezbollah guer- rillas as well as sanctimonious Westerners it bears notice that this little country remains free, and brave and, it now seems, a little wiser." I will bypass commenting on the absurd nature of these passages and instead focus on the culture that grants them legitimacy. First of all, the notion that Israel is a democracy surviv- ing against great odds because of and under siege from its intractably aggressive neighbors is the most prominent assumption underpinning Israeli rhetoric. More importantly, the conceptualization of settlers as innocent victims crystallizes the groundwork of Israel's exist- ence. At base, then, it is always Israel which is to be pitied for its difficult conditions. Al! the facts, easily-obtainable from thousands of sources, suggest the very opposite; and yet thc> are distorted to the point where the aggrieved become the aggressors, which reveals the abil- ity of centralized discourse to shape public com- pliance. This makes sense onlv when contcxtuah/cd in perpetuit) Beyond the obvi- ous benefits for the I 'nited States in ha\ ing w h.u essentially amounts to ■ fifty-first state in the Middle I ast. a broader imperial nature marks [media] American involvement overseas. This is tied to corporate demands and strategic advantage. It also verifies the continuity of violence and its accompanying narration. At no point in the his- tory of the United States has it failed to be an aggressive colonial state. The nation was built on genocide, policies that continue into the present; the threadwork of American discourse was thus formed in the same manner that col- ors Israeli polemic today. Selective Memory American journalists who tout the glories of Israel would do well to look at the facts, as is the case in the rest of the world, where Israel is accurately portrayed as the aggressor. Instead, we are treated to Madeline Albright and a col- lection of flag-waving moralists who whine that enough isn't done to aid the suffering nation. Once again, reality is forfeited in order to pro- mote the interests of the military power. Nu- merous historical precedents exist for such ac- tivity. As Edward Said has observed, Israel's behavior parallels that of every classic colonial nation-state. Its discourse is certainly no excep- tion. The broad solutions for peace are avail- able to anybody who cares to break dogma and liberate memory from the throes of mainstream policy analysis. The most important concern is dismantling the settlements, which, at base, are the primary source of Palestinian suffering. That the Israeli government is willing to endure war- like conditions in order to indulge the desires of 200,000 "bigots," as Uri Avnery dubs them. is fantastical almost beyond comprehension. Beyond this, Israel must confront and acknow I- edge its brutal history. One way to do this is returning Palestinian refugees to their rightful homes. Reinstating Jerusalem under Palestin- ian sovereignty, which international law man- dates, is also compulsory. These suggestions, of course, are simplv the broadest points of extremely complicated circumstances. They are. however, accepted as elemental to the Palestinians and the interna- tional governing bodies monitoring the situa- tion. Although our domestic media tend to de- pict these realities as irrational Arab demands, one thing remains clear to all inv olv ed: that the Palestinians will continue fighting until their freedom — and. bv extension, land, housing, and dignity is restored. It is not only the Palestinians in the oc- cupied territories who take up this fight, though. Also involved arc the concerned Americans w ho ha> e staged a record number of protests and rallies of late, lor in the end. it is not only the Palestinians w ho suffei as .i result of Israeli occupation, but also the Americans who have murder so generously bankrolled m their name. *