Jon Stewart’s Triple Threat

Israel/Palestine
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This Monday and Tuesday, Jon Stewart dedicated three segments of The Daily Show to Israeli belligerence and American intransigence in the Middle East.

The first was an interview of Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour that took jabs at the US government’s determination to veto Palestine’s application to the UN for statehood. The second made fun of the US, Iran, and Israel equally for their warmongering during an election season. And the third took on the Israel lobby, and the fact that no American politician dares criticize Israel while politicians in Israel itself are allowed a much broader spectrum of dissent.

I think it’s another blow to the silence and complicity surrounding all these issues in a major vehicle of American liberal culture.

Feel free to judge for yourself. Below are the clips and partial transcripts.

Who wants to be a member of the UN? Palestine

John Oliver [voiceover]: “For seventy years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been utterly intractable. President after president has tried and failed to propose a lasting solution. But recently the Palestinians attempted a new tactic.”

Candy Crowley on CNN: “Palestine wants full membership from the United Nation.”

Fox News: “Palestinians now want the UN to recognize them as the state of Palestine.”

John Oliver [sitting down to do an interview with Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour] : “I think first it’s important that we agree to some pre-conditions for this interview.”

Ambassador Riyad Mansour: “I will be willing to hear it, yes.”

John: “First, this entire interview must be conducted with a 1967 vocabulary. Is that groovy with you?”

Riyad: “Groovy? It is agreeable to me, yes.” [Is this poking fun at the Palestinians’ insistence on pre-conditions or Israel’s refusal to consider them?]

John: “Moving on… Actually, before we do, is it hot in here?”

Riyad: “It’s fine.”

John: “So you’re not hot? Because I’m definitely hot.”

Riyad: “I am not.”

John: “OK, look, Ambassador, I think before we do anything, we are gonna have to come to a provisional status agreement on the temperature in this room.”

Riyad: “If you want to lower the temperature, it’s fine with me.”

John: “But who’s going to control the thermostat?”

Riyad: “The thermostat… should be shared by all of us.”

John: “Don’t even think about dividing this thermostat.”

Riyad: “We will not divide the thermostat, but it should be accessed by all those who cherish it and think that it is a holy place that should be accessed by everyone.” [Is he implying the PA doesn’t want to divide Jerusalem, or that Palestinians don’t want to divide Palestine?]

John Oliver [voiceover]: “After three and a half hours of laborious negotiations, we finally came to an agreement.”

John: “We agree that at an unspecified time in the future, we will announce a summit to discuss the possibility of discussing a negotiation towards an agreement on temperature. Yes?”

Riyad: “Yes.”

John: “Shake hands for the camera. Thank you, Ambassador, this is a historic day.”

Riyad: “Yes indeed.”

John [Quietly]: “You’re not touching that thermostat.”

Riyad: “We’ll see.”

John Oliver [voiceover]: “So progress is possible. Unfortunately, the Palestinian UN application has one little star-spangled obstacle.”

Fox News: “The Obama Administration has pledged to veto any move toward statehood.”

John: “That’s right. We’re vetoing an application to an organization that even has Libya, Syria, and North Korea as members. But the Ambassador just doesn’t get it.”

Riyad: “We have 131 countries recognizing us as the state of Palestine.”

John: “But how many that matter?”

Riyad: “Well, all countries to us are important. We are not in the business [of] differentiating between small countries and big countries.”

[The whole time he’s talking, John is holding up one finger, implying that only one country matters.]

Riyad: “We know, one country, one country, yes. We understand. We understand. Even the one country, the United States of America, in principle they support the recognition of the state of Palestine. They’re just saying it’s only a question of timing.”

John Oliver [voiceover]: “And that time is emphatically not now. But perhaps there was one other way we could get them in.”

John: “So you definitely want to become a member of the UN.”

Riyad: “Yes. We don’t want to be the exception to the rule. We are like the rest of humanity.”

John: “OK. That brings us to the game show portion of this interview: Who wants to be a member of the UN?”

At this point there’s a bit with a trivia question and a bonus round, and the ‘prize’ is a US veto.

Riyad: “If we are vetoed once, we will come back again until we prevail… We are determined to be a member of the UN.”

The show ends with a disclaimer-type voiceover: “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is not responsible for the outcome of this contest. All ‘mystery box’ results have been pre-determined by the US Department of State.”

Words of Warcraft

Jon Stewart [after playing a clip of preposterous Netanyahu fearmongering about a ‘nuclear duck’ and Iran calling Israel a cancer]: “Israel and Iran are taunting each other with overheated war rhetoric. America, can we get a responsible party to break up this schoolyard fight before someone gets hurt?”

[Clips of Santorum, Romney, and Gingrich threatening Iran.]

Jon: “So in other words, simmer d— Wait, what? Oh, right. It’s an election year. Candidates are obviously talking tough. I’m sure Iran knows not to take those guys literally. They would know that, right…?”

Jon turns to Camera 3 to speak with Iran: “Here’s the thing. You’ve probably been hearing a lot of talk about America and bombs… on you. Um. Let me explain to you why we’re saying this. Are you familiar with Florida? It’s a region in the South that we’ve filled with old Jews and young Christians. And whoever wins it wins the presidency. And in Florida, they would like to bomb you if they could. So the talk of war is not actually meant for you, it’s meant for Florida. It’s an election season. Our rhetoric gets somewhat distorted, hyperbolic. Probably a cultural thing.”

[Fox news reveals that Iran is having elections of its own soon.]

Jon to Iran: “This explains your rhetoric! You’re having an election, too! … Israel, meet me at Camera 2.”

To Israel: “I don’t think Iran’s really gearing up to nuke Tel Aviv. It’s just crazy overblown election rhetoric. … The United States and Iran are slaves to their electoral calendars… So it’s up to you guys not to get caught up, and perhaps muffle the drums of war a little bit, Israel.”

Then Jon realizes: “Netanyahu could be calling parliamentary elections as soon as this fall? So your over-heated rhetoric is all just pre-election schvantz-waving, too? Son of a… America! Camera one!”

Jon addresses the United States: “Dude. Iran and Israel are also in an election year. We’re all just overhearing each other’s stump speeches and freaking out! And if we’re not careful, these to dickheads are gonna drag us into another war.”

Jon turns to Israel: “Did I say dickhead? I meant respected ally!”

Jon turns to Iran: “I didn’t say dickhead, I said proud and ancient culture that has much to teach us!”

Back to America: “Look, we gotta stop this before it gets out of hand. Because if Israel starts a war, you know we’ll have no choice but to dive into it with them.”

To Israel: “Which doesn’t mean you should start a war!”

To America: “Did I just commit our troops to Israel? Because I think I f—ked that up. A war would only strengthen the Iranian dictatorship.”

To Iran: “Not that you should start one!”

Finally Jon gives up and starts singing to everyone, then appeals to God to sort it all out. God does not reply. Perhaps he’s in an election season, too.

Hebrew Nationalist

Jon: “Super Tuesday [is] a political event… with ten states up for grabs in the highly-contested Republican primary, the top three candidates paid special attention to apparently the most important state: Israel. That’s right. Each one took time out today, from the biggest primary yet, to address the American-Israeli Political Action Committee [AIPAC actually stands for American Israel Public Affairs Committee—a common mistake]. They love Israel. Not like that other guy they’re running to replace…”

[Clips of Fox News pundits talking about how hostile Obama is to Israel.]

Jon: “That’s why it was kind of surprising that Barack Obama also appeared at AIPAC. I guess he’s gonna tear them a new one, ugh… This could get ugly!”

Obama is shown at AIPAC spouting the usual tropes (albeit with a clenched and angry expression):

“Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable.”

“My administration’s commitment to Israel’s security has been unprecedented.”

“There will be no lasting peace until Israel’s security concerns are met. When the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.”

“I’m so in love with you.” [OK, this one was taken out of context a bit…]

“I’ve said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table… That includes all elements of American power. A political effort… a diplomatic effort… an economic effort…”

Jon: “Is he gonna say it?”

Obama: “And yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.”

Jon: “There you have it. That’s the guy who hates Israel. Basically the parameters for debate in the United States about Israel range all the way from ‘I unequivocally support them and might bomb Iran’ to ‘I unequivocally support them and will definitely bomb Iran.’

“Although to be fair, there are some prominent politicians willing to criticize the Israeli government. Even willing to say stuff like, ‘Israel is not about to be destroyed… with his crazy analogies, the Prime Minister is diverting attention from Iran to his fearmongering.’ Or, ‘(Netanyahu’s words on Iran) sound like a calculated preparation for a reckless adventure.’ Or, ‘Israel is making a mistake in its unwillingness to recognize a Palestinian state.’

“Oh man, I’d love to play sound bites of those quotes for you. But they’re in Hebrew. Because they were said by members of the Israeli Knesset. Because apparently in Israel, you are allowed to criticize Israel and still hold public office.”

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