The Brits are way hipper about Palestine than Yanks

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Brian Eno
Brian Eno

Have you noticed how much more advanced the British discourse is on the conflict than ours? Over here Erin Burnett can be justly regarded as a leader for giving the Israeli ambassador a gobsmacked look when he justifies firing a missile at a school; but she’s not going to come right out and condemn him. Dwight Howard has to remove his #FreePalestine tweet, then apologize. Our political culture is too enmeshed with Israel for that to pass: Wolf Blitzer is lauding Shimon Peres as a man of peace and assuring viewers that Israel is dealing with its extremism problem, when it’s not, and Anne Appelbaum of the Washington Post is making a distinction between Gaza and Palestine, when there isn’t one.

But across the pond, wow! Here are a few dispatches from Britain, showing how much ahead of us British cultural figures are. The last two items are getting the most attention: Brian Eno’s inspired letter to American friends wondering what’s wrong with us for supporting a “ragingly racist theocracy?” (good question!) and Russell Brand in a sleeveless t-shirt sneering about Sean Hannity’s view of Palestinians and saying that definitions of terrorism are more about power than morality.

First, here’s the Guardian’s front page from yesterday. Pretty straightforward. You might see this on an American website, but on newsprint, no way.

July 31 Guardian Front page
July 31 Guardian Front page

Then there’s Laurie Penny, a writer in her twenties for the New Statesman, saying that Jews have to repudiate the slaughter in Gaza and say, Not in my name.

Last weekend, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children around the world marched to express their disgust at Israel’s air and ground assault on the Gaza Strip, and among them were swathes of Jews and Israelis. This is one of the few situations in which it makes a difference to stand up and say: not in our name. Not now, not ever again. Being Jewish, or having Jewish roots, doesn’t make you responsible for what is happening in Gaza, but it does mean that your dissent carries that much more weight. Not more weight than the grieving relatives of the families butchered in Shejaiya, but the kind of weight that hangs heavy on the heart, and that comes with the small but palpable risk of upsetting your family.

So here it is. I think my ancestors who were persecuted, tormented and exiled down the centuries for being Jews would be horrified to see what is being done in their name today. Maybe it’s crass to put words in the mouths of your dead relatives, but right-wing hawks have been putting their opinions in the mouths of my dead relatives for weeks, so I think I’m entitled to a say, too.

Because in the end, it is about blood. Not blood as metonym or metaphor, but the actual stuff, wet on the faces of screaming children in Gaza. It’s about blood, and how much more of it will have to be shed before Israel finally feels “safe”, and how long the international community will stand by. The moral basis for Israel’s persecution of the Palestinian people is eroding fast. It is not anti-Semitic to say “not in my name”.

This has gotten a ton of attention. Brian Eno, the English musician and composer, sent out an anguished letter about How can America be supporting “this horrible one-sided colonialist war?” — can it really be the power of AIPAC? — and acknowledged that by raising these questions he was breaking a rule. Presumably the rule that it’s anti-Semitic for non-Jews to criticize Israel. David Byrne posted the letter at his website, under the title “Gaza and the loss of civilization.” Byrne also published a response to Eno from a friend named Peter Schwartz that is all but unreadable. (“Given the opportunity, the Arabs would drive the Jews into the sea and that was true from day one. There was no way back from war once a religious state was declared.”)

Here’s Eno’s letter, fabulous: 

Dear All of You:

I sense I’m breaking an unspoken rule with this letter, but I can’t keep quiet any more.

Today I saw a picture of a weeping Palestinian man holding a plastic carrier bag of meat. It was his son. He’d been shredded (the hospital’s word) by an Israeli missile attack – apparently using their fab new weapon, flechette bombs. You probably know what those are – hundreds of small steel darts packed around explosive which tear the flesh off humans. The boy was Mohammed Khalaf al-Nawasra. He was 4 years old.

I suddenly found myself thinking that it could have been one of my kids in that bag, and that thought upset me more than anything has for a long time.

Then I read that the UN had said that Israel might be guilty of war crimes in Gaza, and they wanted to launch a commission into that. America won’t sign up to it.

What is going on in America? I know from my own experience how slanted your news is, and how little you get to hear about the other side of this story. But – for Christ’s sake! – it’s not that hard to find out. Why does America continue its blind support of this one-sided exercise in ethnic cleansing? WHY? I just don’t get it. I really hate to think its just the power of AIPAC… for if that’s the case, then your government really is fundamentally corrupt. No, I don’t think that’s the reason… but I have no idea what it could be.

The America I know and like is compassionate, broadminded, creative, eclectic, tolerant and generous. You, my close American friends, symbolise those things for me. But which America is backing this horrible one-sided colonialist war? I can’t work it out: I know you’re not the only people like you, so how come all those voices aren’t heard or registered? How come it isn’t your spirit that most of the world now thinks of when it hears the word ‘America’? How bad does it look when the one country which more than any other grounds its identity in notions of Liberty and Democracy then goes and puts its money exactly where its mouth isn’t and supports a ragingly racist theocracy?

I was in Israel last year with Mary. Her sister works for UNWRA in Jerusalem. Showing us round were a Palestinian – Shadi, who is her sister’s husband and a professional guide – and Oren Jacobovitch, an Israeli Jew, an ex-major from the IDF who left the service under a cloud for refusing to beat up Palestinians. Between the two of them we got to see some harrowing things – Palestinian houses hemmed in by wire mesh and boards to prevent settlers throwing shit and piss and used sanitary towels at the inhabitants; Palestinian kids on their way to school being beaten by Israeli kids with baseball bats to parental applause and laughter; a whole village evicted and living in caves while three settler families moved onto their land; an Israeli settlement on top of a hill diverting its sewage directly down onto Palestinian farmland below; The Wall; the checkpoints… and all the endless daily humiliations. I kept thinking, “Do Americans really condone this? Do they really think this is OK? Or do they just not know about it?”.

As for the Peace Process: Israel wants the Process but not the Peace. While ‘the process’ is going on the settlers continue grabbing land and building their settlements… and then when the Palestinians finally erupt with their pathetic fireworks they get hammered and shredded with state-of-the-art missiles and depleted uranium shells because Israel ‘has a right to defend itself’ ( whereas Palestine clearly doesn’t). And the settler militias are always happy to lend a fist or rip up someone’s olive grove while the army looks the other way. By the way, most of them are not ethnic Israelis – they’re ‘right of return’ Jews from Russia and Ukraine and Moravia and South Africa and Brooklyn who came to Israel recently with the notion that they had an inviolable (God-given!) right to the land, and that ‘Arab’ equates with ‘vermin’ – straightforward old-school racism delivered with the same arrogant, shameless swagger that the good ole boys of Louisiana used to affect. That is the culture our taxes are defending. It’s like sending money to the Klan.

But beyond this, what really troubles me is the bigger picture. Like it or not, in the eyes of most of the world, America represents ‘The West’. So it is The West that is seen as supporting this war, despite all our high-handed talk about morality and democracy. I fear that all the civilisational achievements of The Enlightenment and Western Culture are being discredited – to the great glee of the mad Mullahs – by this flagrant hypocrisy. The war has no moral justification that I can see – but it doesn’t even have any pragmatic value either. It doesn’t make Kissingerian ‘Realpolitik’ sense; it just makes us look bad.

I’m sorry to burden you all with this. I know you’re busy and in varying degrees allergic to politics, but this is beyond politics. It’s us squandering the civilisational capital that we’ve built over generations. None of the questions in this letter are rhetorical: I really don’t get it and I wish that I did.


Finally, a lot of folks were angered when Sean Hannity of Fox News berated Yousef Munayyer, demanding that he condemn Hamas as a terrorist organization, not letting him finish a sentence.

Well the English actor/comedian Russell Brand did a riff on Hannity, below, that’s getting tons of traffic. There’s a lot of wit here amid the satire. Brand says that defining terrorism usually comes down to who has more power in dispensing violence, and says that Hannity practiced terrorism on his show, intimidating Munayyer and bullying him.

And Brand has fully absorbed the Palestinian narrative, wants to talk history. Their land was taken away from them, that’s the context, they have no power. And as for Hannity’s assertion that Hamas uses children as human shields: “That’s dehumanization. These children are children of people like us.”

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Roger Waters…Brian Eno…Russell Brand…George Galloway

You’re right, Phil. But some Brits are not so hip– Blair (and heaps of other folks) being numero uno.

everyone should read this. and speaking of brits, did everyone see the photos of those protests in london? weekend after weekend. omg.

“The America I know and like is compassionate, broadminded, creative, eclectic, tolerant and generous. ” Perhaps it is hip to say that. In fact, there is a strong mean spirited streak in USA which is less visible if you talk with “compationate, broadminded” etc. friends, but very clear if you… Read more »

Let’s face it the Europeans including the Brits are way ahead of us, not only in the latest fashions. Perhaps the poison that had affected our Congress, think tanks, and even the WH, spread by Israeli lobbies, have not affected their entire nation yet. I hope they are able to… Read more »

Two pieces from Craig Murray yesterday castigate some of those Brits who rally to/support Israel’s cause: “But surely the British Ambassador to Israel has spoken out in public about the terrible carnage in Gaza? He most certainly has. Gould has reflected the massive indignation of the British people by… Read more »