Three days ago the Washington Post did a piece on Palestinians in the occupied territories who are girding for settler attacks on the olive harvest — “Last year, the United Nations reported that Israeli settlers damaged or destroyed nearly 11,000 olive trees and saplings owned by Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.”
Israel apologists leaped into action. The pro-Israel media group CAMERA issued a call to its members to email the Washington Post and say that it is missing the big story from the Middle East in pursuing a “trivial” story about the occupation:
why feature, by placement and illustration… a subject that, in context of a Middle East torn by bloody inter-Arab, inter-Muslim upheaval, is peripheral, even trivial? Perhaps because The Post foreign desk again has filtered Arab-Israeli news through the distorting “Palestinian narrative.”
The effort to trivialize the occupation by contrasting it to a much bigger conflict was seeded by Matti Friedman, formerly of the Associated Press, in an important piece of press criticism in Tablet at the very end of the Gaza massacres, with the ironic title, “An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth.” Friedman was later given the better part of a half hour on National Public Radio to lay out his claims: the media are fixated on a “master narrative” of an Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the occupation when it’s a side show to the fact that Israel is in a tough neighborhood. The real story is that Israel is “a tiny village on the slopes of the volcano” of violent Islamism in the Middle East. Sort of like the “old villa in the jungle” idea from Ehud Barak, with a new twist, Hamas’s global ambitions. Friedman:
Hamas is a group like many others in the Middle East, dedicated to the idea that radical Islam must extend its supremacy across the Mid East and confront the west… Radical Islam is very real. I live very close to it…
[The] conflict… started about a century ago before the state of Israel existed… So the idea that this is a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is incorrect. And the idea that if the Israeli Palestinian impasse is solved, there will be peace in the region, is incorrect.
The “basic fact” of Israeli existence is that it is surrounded by more than 300 million Arabs, Friedman says, not that it is occupying Palestine.
The idea that Hamas has global ambitions is a Netanyahu talking point; “Hamas & ISIS are branches of the same poisonous tree,” he says. And it’s a claim that Allison Deger has exploded, and even the Jerusalem Post has mocked; Hamas is a national resistance movement.
This idea continues to be propounded by lobbyists. And yesterday Israeli minister Yuval Steinitz picked up the Matti Friedman theme, saying that it would be “suicidal” for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank because jihad is popping up all over.
“After the extremely negative experiences following the complete withdrawal from Gaza nine years ago, it would be difficult to take similar risks with the West Bank – especially when taking into account jihadist groups popping up [throughout the Middle East], taking large areas under their control,” Steinitz said.
He repeated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claims that Hamas in Gaza was no different than the Islamic State, Nusra Front and similar-minded organizations throughout the Middle East.
The tough neighborhood idea has been around for a long time. The rise of ISIS is giving it new strength as propaganda — the latest way of trying to change the subject from the fact that the occupation is nearly 50 years old and millions of Palestinians have no rights under that regime. And the U.S. supports that occupation to the hilt.
P.S. In that dialogue at On the Media, Ethan Bronner of the New York Times said that the reason that the press focuses disproportionate attention on Israel and Palestine is because the US has a special interest in Israel. The US government gives 3 billion a year to Israel, typically 80 members of Congress visit Israel on summer recess — “some never had a passport before; to them foreign policy meant, what do you think about Israel?”
The US government is focused on Israel and Palestine issue with an extraordinary laserlike focus. And it is a bipartisan phenomenon. Now why, why is the US so interested? First of all it is the holy land… holy to the three great monotheistic religions…So that’s almost half the world. So what happens there matters. It’s also an amazing story, right? The near destruction of Jews in the Holocaust, their rise from the ashes. The US also has a very close relationship with Israel. There is a sense that this is a democratic outpost that needs to be preserved and yet needs to be pushed to do what the Americans consider right with regard to the Palestinians as well.
Bronner is right to speak of the historical power of the Jewish question in Europe, which was supposedly resolved by Israel’s formation. That is one reason Americans stand by Israel, as do so many European countries: We thought we figured this out, we don’t want to have to go back to the drawing board. But he leaves out the role of the Israel lobby, and the presence of Zionism inside the establishment. The political power of the lobby is why all those congressmen go out there. And the fact that this matter is discussed by three Jews on National Public Radio, two of them Zionists, one an Islamophobe; and you almost never hear from a Palestinian– that reflects the conservative Jewish presence in the media, a generation shaped by ’67 and ’73 that does not reflect the anti-Zionist impulses now flourishing among the young. I keep waiting for the reformation.