Has the U.S. discourse improved on Israel/Palestine? A pessimist says No

Our correspondent Felson is pessimistic. He argues that the debate on Israel/Palestine in this country isn't fundamentally changing:

I went back recently and looked at the media's coverage of the 1982 Lebanon War and
realized that, as much as we'd like to think the Gaza slaughter
represents some kind of turning point, the U.S. media's reaction to
Lebanon was far harsher and louder. For what it's worth, below are links to
some Time covers from '82 and early '83. Two things stand out to me:
They covered the hell out of this story — multiple covers over a
period of months; they were willing to be bluntly critical of Israel,
and to call a massacre a massacre. And this was back when it meant
something to be on the cover of Time.
Just check these out (I'm also
throwing in an interesting one from 1975 that I found):

8/16/82: http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19820816,00.html

9/27/82 (MUST SEE THIS ONE): http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19820927,00.html

9/20/82: http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19820920,00.html

10/4/82: http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19821004,00.html

2/21/83: http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19830221,00.html

3/10/75: http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19750310,00.html

 It actually ties in to a documentary I saw a while back. It's called "Peace, Propaganda, & the Promised Land," and it's floating around on the web somewhere. It makes the argument that Lebanon '82 was a turning point, and that Israel
got killed in the US media and that public/congressional support was
suddenly becoming an issue. In response, Israel and its US allies
launched a concerted and ridiculously-organized pressure/propaganda
campaign, to make sure U.S. support was never an issue again. It's pretty
compelling, and maybe it leaves room for us both to be right: Media
coverage isn't as good now as it was then, but it's also better now
than it was 10 years ago.

Weiss response: I have little frame of reference: I discovered the issue after the Iraq debacle in 2003, and I think, Apres moi, le deluge. I don't want to believe I'm banging my head against a wall. If so, I'm going to stop and work for Dershowitz now. 
But to points: Felson's a young guy who got dragged into this by Iraq. The Iraq war is bigger than Gaza or Lebanon and it has implicated the U.S. in this madness in a new way. Young people are different. Young Jews are different. The Holocaust consciousness of anti-Semitism that was vital to the post-82 consolidation of the lobby is fading. Yes, Time magazine was influential, but the internet is in people's water now, and it's given Walt and Mearsheimer, and Al-Jazeera, wide play. Some of the Time covers that Felson cites were months after the investigation. We haven't gotten that far from Gaza yet. Let's see what falls apart in weeks to come. Netanyahu/Lieberman is huge.

America doesn't stand still. It took decades to cancel slavery. And with every decade there was progress.

Posted in Beyondoweiss, Gaza, Iraq, Israel Lobby, Israel/Palestine, US Politics

{ 25 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. JES says:

    I remember distinctly the reactions to Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and I agree with Felson's appraisal: Media coverage in the US was quite negative. Anthony Lewis wrote scathing opinion pieces at the time. Even Thomas Friedman, who came to Brandeis University to speak at High Holiday services that year was highly critical. I even recall one of those Time Magazine articles in which the author made a snide remark about "Begin rhyming with Fagin".

    And then, as soon as Begin left office and there were new elections and Peres withdrew Israeli forces to the security zone, the criticism stopped.

    As far as the Internet being "in people's water" now is concerned, I think that you don't give the "people" enough credit for sorting out what they choose to believe and what they choose not to.

    I also don't know how "huge" Netanyahu/Lieberman is. (In fact, I don't really know what you mean by that.) From an insider's (i.e. Israeli) perspective, Netanyahu is increasingly seen here as ill-prepared for the job, and Lieberman's days as Foreign Minister may be numbered by a criminal indictment (we're talking weeks here, not months). In other words, this being Israel, the government we see today might not be the same government we see in another three to six months.

  2. LeaNder says:

    In other words, this being Israel, the government we see today might not be the same government we see in another three to six months.

    Apart from the fact that Lieberman will probably produce a strong counter-current. Besides, basically Israeli governments aren't often that stable due to the need for coalitions.

    But basically the criminal indictments often suggest politics by other means. There are just too many.

  3. LeaNder says:

    The first line was meant to be in italics.

  4. Sarah says:

    I think there is an important difference between "discourse" and media coverage. The media coverage is still almost totally controlled and there is an almost complete media blackout of any coverage that doesn't conform to what the Israel lobby wants us to see or not see. But as noted in the above piece, the internet is a whole other thing, and is becoming a more important source of information for a large percentage of people in the US and around the world than the mainstream media, who are working very hard to make themselves completely irrelevant. And I find that discussions of this subject between people have changed dramatically since I first became aware of the situation several years ago. I think that this is another one of those situations in which the people are going to have to lead the leaders (kicking and screaming all the way) into a better situation for everyone. I definitely think we're making progress in that respect.

  5. Colin Murray says:

    Is it important that the MSM coverage has not changed, or that awareness amongst the public has? The difference between then and now is that now America is suffering far more serious damage from our support of colonial Zionism, and increasing numbers of Americans are seeing the truth in spite of our dysfunctional media. It's no longer a case of 'tut, tut, there go those Israelis stealing and killing again', it's a case of 'wow, Israelis are out of control, and American colonial Zionists who are dragging us into it are really screwing America over'.

  6. asiswhen says:

    thanks for your optomism Phil! We really need to work PR strategies for the US for Palestine/Anti-Zionism, but who can afford those big PR firms?

  7. Jim_Harris says:

    I think its different. Look at Jane Harman scandal… we may actually have a congressperson who will lose her seat due to her *support* of the Israel Lobby. Now that's a twist.

  8. David_F says:

    Good work, Felson. That kind of historical media analysis is very valuable and seldom done. I think the MSM is much worse now. The Times has been in decline since the 90's, and most other mainstream outlets have followed suit. On the other hand, the Internet is an entirely new factor. Another new factor is that Americans are going to be hurting economically much more than they have in many decades. The simple expense of supporting Israel is going to become an issue. The "Stop $30 Billion to Israel" billboards hit the two points that will resonate most strongly with most Americans, whether conservative or liberal: 1. Gaza is a humanitarian disaster 2. It's costing us a huge amount of money

  9. Richard01 says:

    Unlike Felson, or Phil, I'm an old guy who got dragged into this in Lebanon in 1974-5 I posted this about an Israeli terrorist attack just opposite my office in Beirut ” target=”_blank”>http://levantnotes.blogspot.com/2007/09/another-l… and this about the almost nightly Israeli terror attacks on the Palestinian refugee camps between Beirut proper and the airport, in 1975, on the anniversary of Sabra/Chatila (1982) ” target=”_blank”>http://levantnotes.blogspot.com/2007/09/terrible-… I've neglected my blog for a long time, because I'm not so much of an optimist as Phil. I've been totally demoralised by Israel's actions and it's blind support in the US. I know this in my guts: – Israel will conduct its salami-slicing of Palestinians until they are all dead, slaves, or moved to Jordan, Syria, or Egypt. – There is absolutely no hope of a 'two state solution. Obama will find this out soon enough (or he will forcefuly create a Palestinian Bantustan, and call it independence).and then proclaim triumph – just as Clinton did after Oslo – Both Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat were assassinated not long after

  10. Margaret says:

    Richard Parker: Your demoralization is understandable. Yet your experience is valuable. I hope you will continue to post and to comment. One voice is easily drowned out; it will take many.

  11. Richard Witty says:

    And I, like Rabbi Lerner, are more and more of an optimist that a two-state solution will emerge, primarily because of the Arab League offer to recognize Israel and Hamas' recent willingness to unilaterally curtail shelling of Israeli civilians. The arguments that Israel has for delaying are being removed one by one. The FAILING of the left to approach dissent through the positive, through the confident, and instead ONLY present to condemnatory, is its great incompetence, driven by the vanity of arm-chair and uncommitted "I told you so". I was intrigued by Dan Fleshler's comments on the Press TV clip that he and Phil were on, in which he said that the liberal left largely dropped the ball on dissent by NOT reserving time and money for mass movement assertively stated. I can say that for myself, the unnaturally condemnatory "anti" approach of the left turned and turn my stomach. My first pro-Palestinian statements were in 1968, not 2003. I was not attentive to Israel issues during the first Lebanon conflict (it was a conflict, not entirely an invasion/occupation though it certainly devolved to that). Phil will likely drop this too. Either that, or at some point is fixation will actually turn to reform (which probably won't keep his attention). If he pulls that transition off, he'll likely get something done, but get boring in the process. The individuals that continue to affect into their 50's and 60's and 70's are the individuals that are motivated by principles, in which the principles are clear, still live, and contrast with the reality. Its NOT self-evident. Its not just known. It takes constantly and boringly redundantly contrasting reality with principle, where the principle is the more important news. And, if you pick a principle that is temporary, rather than long-lived, then the contrast will become irrelevant. If the principle is self-governance, then flirting with the single-state ("on principle") is a distraction. If the principle is democracy, then flirting with Palestinian nationalist (ethnically screened) applications of that whether opportunistically "oriental" or Marxist in orientation, is worse than a distraction.

  12. Shafiq says:

    It's interesting to see that in 1989, Time Inc. merged with Warner Communications, which is around the time they shifted their stance on Israel

  13. American says:

    Exactly. The public has changed on israel…thanks mostly to the availability of news ad coverage on the net. The media hasn't. The politicans haven't.

  14. American says:


  15. Citizen says:

    Witty, what's the difference between Jewish self-governance and Palestinian self-governance? How does democracy fit in with either people's self-governance?

  16. stevieb says:

    The principle is putting an end to Israeli fascism. Because if you think the atrocities will end after Palestine is either completely ethnically cleansed or imprisoned permanently with the acceptance of the international community – you are deluding yourself. Israel was born through violent extremism and will continue if it isn't stopped…l

  17. Sarah says:

    "The arguments that Israel has for delaying are being removed one by one. " Every time an old argument is removed, the government of Israel creates a new one. There will never be an end to the arguments for delaying because the real agenda is the removal of all Palestinians from Israel/Palestine, and the government of Israel will not stop until this is accomplished.

  18. rykart says:

    The FAILING of the left to approach dissent through the positive, through the confident, and instead ONLY present to condemnatory, is its great incompetence, driven by the vanity of arm-chair and uncommitted "I told you so". I should continue by saying that IF I am told by a senate investigative committee that my LDL cholesterol is over and above that of the average Gazan, then Israel is STILL completely wonderful and I am STILL not going to louse up my kid's bar mitzvah by hob-nobbing with rapists and anarchists. This is a lovely spring day and it's time for us to WAKE UP!. Rabbi Lerner continues to drive a sensible family car even though he's made millions. I admire him. I admire anyone who has had a sex change and had to undergo descrimination and anti-Semitism. Even if Lerner has NOT undergone a sex change, my point still stands. I have accepted provolone into my life! Thank you for reading my post! –Richard Witty

  19. Tuyzentfloot says:

    A permanent change in attitude means that the dominant narratives no longer work. I doubt if Gaza can change the general discourse by itself but it can act as a trigger. It can temporarily open a window for critical voices in the media which may lead to permanent changes. It can cause people to look closer at what's happening and that can eventually cause irreversible changes in attitude. In a place like Israel the information is already available but the perceptions are pretty well locked in and immune for new input. it's hard to imagine how any new information will change that. So Israel can afford a free press. If you're a leftist zionist who believes in a small pure Israel , will Gaza change your mind? What if you're Likudnik? I don't see it. The idea of the symmetrical tit for tat conflict, a media favorite, may have suffered a bit but there is nothing to dislodge the idea that Israel is just overreacting to justified threats. The overreaction may be outrageously excessive but it is still overreacting to a justified threat. So all that has to change is curb the excesses. The policy of 'asymmetric retaliation' has been around for 60 years now without too much protest. Treating Gaza as a humanitarian disaster could be very counterreproductive in the long run. It doesn't change any perceptions and a refugee camp without any economy and living on humanitarian aid from elsewhere looks pretty much the ideal Gaza state for Israel. The most interesting candidates for challenging the dominant narratives are post/anti/a-zionists. Then Gaza becomes a symptom, not the central problem.

  20. Margaret599 says:

    Gaza seems to me to be a symptom of the same illness that resulted in the financial debacle – the idea that anything goes to realize potential profit. War is OK; predatory lending practices, enormous pay for individuals willing to strip companies for short term gain for some regardless of widespread loss for many, all disregard the human cost of such wealth. Likewise, anything is acceptable in order to achieve the ideal of the Jewish State. That an ancient religious tradition is used to provide an ostensible reason for a group of people to forcibly take control of land, with all it's resources, from neighboring areas seems an immense transgression of piety to me, as well as outright denial of most of our 'Western' concepts of common law. That is a very narrow view, and I know it goes right past people who have their own rational for Israel's behavior as a state, and who do not understand what I am saying. Yet, stripped down, that is the situation as I see it, because of the similarities with many other historical situations. Israel is not alone in acting as if to prove "Might makes right." The wealth and power of the British Empire was required to establish Israel; support from the US is necessary to sustain it. I see the invasion of Iran by the US as resulting from the same motive – gain for a relatively small number of people, the investors who profit from the commerce required to wage war, and those who end up with control over development of natural resources. As current foreign policy is executed, through warfare, that limited gain comes only with physical devastation of other countries, high rates of mortality and displacement of large populations. The concern about immigration in the US now reminds me very much of what I've read about pre-World War II Europe, even though the circumstances are different in many respects. The welcome is uncertain for those immigrating from lands in which we 'intervene', but always there is a need to provide haven for the natives of other countries who help US interests. So our nation does end up receiving immigrants from nations destroyed by our wars, and each time there is a backlash against the individuals who migrate, while even worse is the situation for those who are unable to do so. The needs of displaced Palestinians, Iranians and Africans are met with suspicion and rejection; one of the situations where "Never again" should apply, but instead is never considered. At the same time, the urgency of appeals from natives in other countries for intervention by the US is loud to me, and my response is to suspect the reason for such appeals. So often, when one examines the reason for the banning of individuals in other countries, thereby causing them to become identified as enemies of the state, one finds economy and commerce driving sanctions. To me, there seems a severe lack of political freedom in countries which can ban what basically are tribal connections, and by so doing criminalize them, which appears to be what is happening in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. We, as a nation, are not attempting through warfare to establish legitimacy for all the citizens of these countries, we are supplying support to one or more factions, hoping to further US interests through the power thereby achieved by those receiving US support. The point is often made that Israel is not acting in the interests of its people. Could the US be said to be acting in our interests, or have we allowed the 'interests' of the US to be limited to diverse groups which use foreign policy to profit? That people consider war by their own nation acceptable as long as it occurs elsewhere is a terrible thing. To believe that such actions can occur without consequence is willful blindness.

  21. Citizen says:

    no question "elites" in real power rule over the masses who are kept dumbed down; the more info available, the more avenues to propaganda. Education is viewed as a job tool, a way to get a bones for being cogs, not a way to become analytical for the good of the greatest number. It's called "being practical." Again, the reward is some bones off the table, or, at the top, some meaty bones. Nothing to dismiss when you have little. Ever know a millionaire who doesn't want more?

  22. Margaret599 says:

    Citizen, reading blogs by US military personnel stationed throughout the world brings home the difference between being a cog, and doing a job one has been raised to do, and to do well. (Which is where Arendt comes in.) We gain many rewards for purposeful activity; as human beings, we are 'driven' to engage in purposeful activity. Our problem seems to be that we are allowing a limited group to direct our lives simply because they have the intention to do so, and we don't. The "elites" have only as much power as we, who are participating citizens in their world, allow them to take.

  23. hasbarablaster says:

    "the unnaturally condemnatory "anti" approach of the left turned and turn my stomach…" Hearing the unvarnished truth about Israel may have turned your stomach, Richard but mor people find the often bombastic style of truth tellers like Finkelstein to be engaging and compelling. Politics may be the art of the possible but agitators serve the important purpose of educating and motivating (primarily young) people who would never get involved otherwise.

  24. hasbarablaster says:

    "…Lebanon '82 was a turning point, and that Israel got killed in the US media and that public/congressional support was suddenly becoming an issue. In response, Israel and its US allies launched a concerted and ridiculously-organized pressure/propaganda campaign, to make sure U.S. support was never an issue again." Spot on, Felson. Edward Tivnan makes the same point in his excellent book THE LOBBY (1987?). After Lebanon Menachem Begin saw liberals and the Democratic party becoming less supportive of Israel and made a real game changing move: an arranged marriage between the Likudniks (and their US supporters) and Evangelical Christians like Jerry Falwell. (Now that was a REAL axis-of-evil.) Tivnan also sees a battle that AIPAC lost over an arms sale of AWACS to Saudi Arabia (1982 also?) as a "never again" moment for the Israel Lobby.

  25. dalybean says:

    Is there more information on the arranged marriage between Likudniks and Evangelicals? Because I always wondered about that.