Palestinian equal rights joins the progressive agenda on ‘The Daily Show’

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The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive – Anna Baltzer & Mustafa Barghouti Extended Interview Pt. 1
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive – Anna Baltzer & Mustafa Barghouti Extended Interview Pt. 2
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

As I entered the television studio, Aerosmith was blaring over speakers and the familiar set of The Daily Show stood empty. As can be expected, it looked much smaller in person, but everyone was excited regardless. A mixture of tourists, students and others filed in around an hour before shooting was to start. I noticed there were a few keffiyeh’s wrapped around some shoulders, a couple "Shalom" pins, and one cowboy hat covered in a huge Code Pink anti-war sticker. This was because of tonight’s guests – Dr. Mustafa Barghouti and Anna Baltzer. We were there to watch the struggle for Palestinian equal rights go prime time.

Throughout the day I had been hearing through the grapevine that The Daily Show was having second thoughts about doing the show as they had been getting pressure to cancel it. I sat towards the front, all the way to the left of the stage. In front of me was a pretty glamourous trio of three young people. The man directly in front of me wore his hair slicked back and a tailored black suit, while the woman he came in with was wrapped in a faux fur jacket that they promised wouldn’t bite. The third guy in their party had a shaved head and I noticed his jeans had a patch with an Israeli flag on it. In the pre-show tension it stood out, but it was the kind of thing you see everyday.

Slowly the studio filled up, and a warm up comedian came out to get the crowd going. Soon thereafter, Jon Stewart came out himself to take some pre-show questions. He seems to be as naturally funny as he appears on the show, and he answered questions about whether he had ever done the show stoned (no answer), or if Comedy Central ever exerts editorial control over the show (answer: Have you seen the things they show on this network?). Then the last question: "Jon, what do you think about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?" He kind of rolled his eyes, as if to say here we go, and said that this show had been different than shows in the past because they usually have to wait until after the show to get calls complaining, but this time the calls started beforehand. He said whenever he gets calls about Israel/Palestine, from either side, he treats them like calls from his grandmother (and he mimicked holding the phone away from his ear as he went about his business). The crowd laughed. It was time to start the show.

The first two segments of the show were classic Daily Show. The first dealt with the health care debate and how the single payer option refuses to die. The crowd went wild as Stewart eviscerated Fox’s slanted coverage, and the Democrats mealy response to the progressive groundswell. The bit ended with an extended joke at Joe Lieberman’s expense where the crowd booed his name and the howled at Stewart’s droopy dog impersonation. The second segment featured contributor John Hodgeman (of mac/pc commercial fame) doing a parody of a corporate idea man who is looking to rehabilitate the country’s CEO’s as their popularity continues to plummet during the recession. Pitchforks were out as corporations continue to avoid accountability and get one over on taxpayers through government bailouts. All in all, both were a near perfect reflection of a progressive base in the US frustrated by Obama and raring for a fight.

Finally, it was time for the Barghouti/Baltzer interview. Until I saw them walking on stage I expected that it would be canceled and we’d get some last minute fill in instead, but there they were. The interview ran nearly 15 minutes and it was clear it would have to be edited down to air it. The full interview is posted above, and it is well worth watching the whole thing. Right off the bat it was clear this would be a historic moment:

Baltzer: "We’re part of a large movement of Palestinian and Jews working together. This is not new or novel."

Barghouti: "Jewish Americans have been in the avant garde struggling for justice, in this country at least, and for democracy and in this particular case it is just normal that people like Anna are with us because we are struggling for liberty, we’re struggling for freedom, we’re struggling for justice."

Then, as Dr. Barghouti said that Palestinians have been subjected to a system of segregation, the man with slicked back hair sitting directly in front of me pulled a Joe Wilson and yelled "Liar!" (it’s at 1:49 of the first part of the interview).

Dr. Barghouti was unfazed and explained his reason for working with Anna – "It’s just natural to have an alliance of people who believe in the same values." He returned to this theme of values several times and applause grew every time. He finally made it clear what the Palestinians are calling for – equal rights.

Over the next few minutes he mentioned the names of leaders in whose footsteps he’s following – Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. With each passing mention the trio in front of me squirmed in their seats, and most of the rest of the audience grew more excited.

I think Stewart did a reasonable job with the interview. Although the version that ran on air made it look like he dominated the conversation, in fact he gave the speakers plenty of time to make their points. When he gave them the obligatory question on Israel’s security, Baltzer hit it out of the park:

There is nothing defensive about denying Palestinians water. There is nothing defensive about preventing people from having materials to build their homes. So many of the institutions that I understood to be defensive cannot be justified by security anymore. Building a wall between Palestinians and Palestinians?

This was too much for "Slick" in front of me to take, and he burst out again. You can hear him in the background at 7:47 of the first clip. He was escorted from the studio at 8:11 where he was belittled by Stewart ("Bye sir, you can, uh, certainly visit our sedar"). The crowd laughed and cheered as he was led away, and his faux fur clad friend was truly perplexed both by what Baltzer was saying ("Why is she saying that? What is she saying?"), as well as the crowd’s overwhelming support for the speakers. 

I don’t want to recount the whole interview, you can watch it. I have to say, I was blown away. Although I was laughing out loud for the first two segments, I was on the verge of tears throughout the interview. Here was a Palestinian leader demanding equal rights and an anti-Zionist Jew calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions to pressure Israel towards peace on The Daily Show and they were being applauded, while the traditional pro-Israel hasbara was being shown the door.

Palestinian equal rights was placed directly next to health care and the economy on The Daily Show’s progressive agenda and the audience was totally along for the ride. I could hardly believe my eyes, and yet it made perfect sense at the same time. Who can argue that it is necessary to deny people water? Who can argue against equal rights? The answer is increasingly no one, and if The Daily Show’s audience is any indication, the next generation will be leading this fight in a much different direction.

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