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Bill Maher asks Michael Oren whether ‘being an Occupier has changed the Jewish people,’ but

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lets slide Israeli Ambassador Oren’s promise that “we want Palestinians to have their own state,” if they “recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.” In this segment last week, Maher, oblivious to the rights of Palestinian citizens, as well as to Palestinian refugees’ Right of Return under International Law, shows that a supposed free-thinker unfettered by facts can make a propagandist look good inventing them.

Maher doesn’t know enough to name the falsehoods, but plays the smart-aleck.  He cuddles Oren as chummily as any neo-con could.  Rather than challenge Oren to explain Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s support for tyranny over democracy in Arab countries, Maher allows Oren to enthuse that “We’ve been proud to be the only democracy and we’d be prouder still to be one of many.”  Even Maher’s terms are regressive: “two Semitic peoples”; “Arabs” not “Palestinians.”  Maher smears Palestinian peacemakers by likening Israel “freezing settlements” to “a Palestinian ceasefire, which is another way of ‘re-loading.'”

Maher jokes about what he and Oren have in common: New Jersey childhoods, Jewish mothers and the consequent possibility of a Jewish identity.  Meanwhile Maher tries to prove his neutrality with a crack about “a Jew betting his own money.”  But Maher refuses to ask what entitles an American like Oren to confiscate others’ land, merely because one  view of Judaism decrees it’s “his” homeland. Maher does cite the Palestine Papers, but lets Oren weasel out of whether Israel is the side “missing the opportunity.” Oren simply lies: Israel froze its “settlements,” but Palestinians wouldn’t “come to the negotiating table.”

Maher ignores Oren’s many contradictions,  that: “settlements aren’t the issue” but Israelis realize that there’s “no alternative but to share” the land; that Oren grew up “American,” but “I do come from Jerusalem”; that “first you’ve got to move there” [Israel], but it’s the country that pushes out Palestinians every day; that Israelis view Palestine as “sacred land, our tribal land,” but “Israel’s not a theocracy”–because  a “transsexual singer” represents Israel at Eurovision; that Israel believes that “there’s no alternative to direct negotiations,” but ignores the demands of International Law.

When Maher asks how “an American kid” wound up as Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Oren waxes nostalgic about being 15 and hearing Yitzhak Rabin speak. Maher never inquires into why a foreign country and its ambassador so moved young Oren. 

Maher betrays all who care about human rights by cheering on Oren’s mask as pursuer of peace. Maher donates applause lines to Oren, deceiving an audience that does in fact crave peace.  Lastly he panders, thanking Oren “for puttin’ up with me.”

Saddest was Maher describing how–while filming the last scene of “Religulous”–he and his crew ate at a Palestinian shop in Megiddo.  There, Maher (though he didn’t know it) experienced the famous hospitality of the Palestinian people to all comers.  But Maher expresses no gratitude for Palestinian generosity.  Instead he quips that “Our security people were very nervous,” “we were all very nervous…” [off camera, Oren exclaims, “Reeally?,” though Israeli propaganda continually seeks to scare Americans about a Palestinian menace]  “…[But] they were thrilled to have us as customers and we were thrilled to eat their food,” and “they didn’t seem to hate us.” 

Yet Bill Maher doesn’t leap out of prejudice to human feeling.  He’s so busy proving his skepticism that he overplays religion, advancing Oren’s agenda. Maher avers, “These are two Semitic peoples, who, if it wasn’t for these silly, ancient texts from ancient desert-dwellers, have a lot more in common and really wouldn’t hate each other.”  “Desert-dwellers”?  Trying to prove his iconoclasm, Maher shows his prejudice, projecting the Zionist hatred of Palestinian people onto its victims.  Palestinians aren’t the ones using old dogma to defend their rights.  The government of Israel, Michael Oren and PM Netanyahu–not the indigenous people–claim the turf of Palestine based on “the last 3000 years” of belief.  The Palestinians don’t need to.  Palestine is their actual home, their true land–not their mythical “homeland.”

Maher laughingly offers Oren his peaceful solution: “What about a ‘time share’: it works beautifully in Miami–you have it six months of the year, the Palestinians have it six months of the year?…No?”  Complete with inside-levity, Maher’s mockery shows him refusing to imagine beyond “separation”–“Apartheid”–to obvious justice: equal rights for all.

Susie Kneedler

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