An explosive debate took place between Palestinian-American human rights activist, writer, and Middle East analyst Moe Diab and StandWithUs pro-Israel advocate Philippe Assouline on the set of One America News (OAN) Network’s “On Point with Tomi Lahren”.
Diab had appeared twice previously on “On Point”. According to Tomi Lahren, viewer response to Diab flooded in; “it was phenomenal..they love him.” After those airings, I had contacted Diab and asked him to give me a heads up if he was going to be interviewed on the show again. And at the time, someone contacted the station’s headquarters and requested Philippe Assouline appear on the show for a debate with Diab. In past interviews Assouline, a Canadian-Israeli citizen and student of international relations and “political psychology” at UCLA, has demonstrated a willingness to use a confrontational approach (see video below) as well as unsupported accusations (“emotionally manipulative slander” ). Understandably Diab had reservations. But nothing prepared him for the explosive scene that happened on the set that day. I’d heard from Diab after the interview how Assouline had aggressively freaked out and become hostile during the commercial break, not something we planned on reporting in our coverage of the interview since we knew it wouldn’t be included in the station’s final production. That is, until we reached out to the producers and received a statement from Lahren that included her perceptions of the tensions on the set between Diab and Assouline: “the dialogue became so heated that both of my producers had to come out on the floor to help mediate. Philippe was upset… Philippe was intense. He was angry.”
OnPoint executive producer, Bri Youtsey told me that it got so heated during the commercial break that she walked onto the set and “threatened to cancel the second segment if the conversation didn’t stay respectful.”
Lahren had set down rules for the interview days in advance, one of which was “No name calling”, but Assouline played by his own rules. Youstey also told us she informed “both Moe and Philippe” before the debate began that she “made it clear any personal attacks would be unacceptable.”
After a brief introduction Lahren lobbed her first question at Assouline, about Israel’s largest land grab in 30 years, announced that day, the plan to seize 1000 acres outside of Bethlehem. (The land belongs to five Palestinian villages: Jab‘a, Surif, Wadi Fukin, Husan and Nahalin) He asserted the acreage was “an area of vacant land the state declared as state land” and that the government’s motive was to offset Palestinian engagement with the U.N. This is a well worn talking point accusing Palestinians of “unilaterally” going to the UN– a misnomer because the very act of seeking recognition before a world body (by vote), whether it’s the General Assembly or the Security Council or the courts is the opposite of unilateral. Unilateral is annexing Jerusalem on your lonesome, which is against international law. Israel acts unilaterally all the time, but anyone who follows hasbara for any length of time knows pro-Israel strategists apply an Orwellian tactic of flipping reality with their talking points while grabbing their opponents’ soundbite. Assouline is proficient in this arena but Diab threw in a few unexpected curve balls. After Diab referenced Israel as an ethnic nationalist state versus the US as a civic national state Assouline went ballistic. Plus he insisted Diab’s reference to the recent supreme court ruling, which denies Israeli nationality (the verdict “decried clearly and unambiguously that there is not and cannot be one nationality for all Israeli citizens.” ) was a lie. And Israel’s tiered citizenship status? Denial. He also accused Diab of calling him a racist (didn’t happen).
More on Assouline’s style later, read this revealing statement from OAN OnPoint host Tomi Lahren about the interview, obtained by Mondoweiss:
As the host of “On Point with Tomi Lahren,” it is my job and my duty to provide an even platform for discussion. The conflict in Gaza had to be addressed and quickly. Other talk shows were covering the situation but none of them seemed to be too concerned with presenting both sides of the debate. Fox News was decidedly pro-Israel. Other major networks would show the plight of Palestinians but were shying away from solutions. It seemed that emotional appeal and sensationalism was the “be all and end all” of news coverage.
I wanted to take a different approach. The “On Point” team of Bri Youtsey, Haley Press and myself took the road less traveled by. We had a vision: a new kind of debate that would bring Israel and Palestine together at the same table, at the same time to hash it out. The viewers would decide.
The first debate was on episode two of the show. It started out quite civil. The dynamic quickly changed in the second half. After the show, my producer Bri Youtsey and I sat down with Moe Diab to talk about the segment. Moe mentioned that at one point, Tibi Zohar pointed at him and [said] “ISIS.” I was shocked. We went back and watched the episode. Sure enough, it was there. The camera doesn’t lie.
[Editor’s Note: OnPoint Producer Haley Press contacted us and asked Mondoweiss to change “Tibi Zohar pointed at him and referred to him as ‘ISIS.'” to “Tibi Zohar pointed at him and said ‘ISIS.'” This change follows correspondence with Zohar where he claimed defamation and demanded retraction of the report that he called Diab “ISIS”. Press requested we make the change saying, “Upon review of the segment, We can see Tibi Zohar point at Moe Diab and say the word “ISIS”. The word was only said while he pointed, and we believe that it was not a direct accusation from Tibi Zohar to Moe Diab.”]
After the episode aired, the viewer comments came rolling in. We expected it. There was something peculiar, however. We figured all of the comments would be pro-Israeli. After all, the other shows catered to that side of the debate and we anticipated our viewers were predominantly pro-Israel. Thanks to Moe, our audience was broader than we knew. The emails in support of the balanced approach and specifically, Moe, came pouring in. The viewers liked what they saw. It was something different. Finally, both voices were represented on an even playing field.
We knew that one show wasn’t enough. We invited Moe back to sit down for a one-on-one with me. Our interview was also very well received. Moe was able to articulate his position and I pressed him with questions. Finally, a rare insight into the conflict was presented. The emotion, death and destruction were finally overshadowed with truth, solutions and goals.
Soon after our one-on-one aired, I got a phone call at One America News headquarters. It was a request. A request for a debate with Moe Diab. A woman with an accent wanted her friend, Philippe Assouline, to appear on the show with Moe. She was determined to make in happen. I was taken aback by her intensity.
We were excited. It was another opportunity to bring both sides to the table. Both men are in the same age range. Both well-spoken. Both easy to listen to. It was game, set, match.
When my producer contacted Moe to set up the segment, Moe hesitated. He sent us both a long list of reasons why he was concerned about the interview. We told Moe to trust us.
We don’t have an agenda on “On Point.” We are fair. We are interested in healthy and even debate. We knew that once Moe thought about it, he would agree to do it. Moe is very passionate about his cause. We knew he wouldn’t back down from a good debate and the chance to have his voice heard.
We were all a little concerned on show day. Anytime opposing sides are in the same building, at the same table, it is a toss-up. We didn’t know what to expect.
There were rules. We told Moe and Philippe we were not going to tolerate name calling. We also reminded them that historical claims were to be left out of the debate. We already tackled that with Tibi. Rather, we wanted to talk solutions, talk peace.
It started off positive. In fact, I thought the two men might even find some common ground. Well, almost. The trouble was that historical claims reared their ugly head into the discussion. Soon the two were arguing over whether or not the Palestinian state was even a valid entity.
During the commercial break the dialogue became so heated that both of my producers had to come out on the floor to help mediate. Philippe was upset. The name calling started. It wasn’t until the director came over the intercom and forcefully interrupted the argument that we were able to continue with the second half of the segment. We almost had to scrap the whole thing. Philippe was intense. He was angry.
In fact, the exchange was so intense the audio technician recorded the behind the scenes perspective.
The second half of the debate was a rollercoaster. At one point it seemed like the two were going to find some common goals. Then it became personal again. The word “racist” was thrown out and we were back to the intensity seen during the commercial break. I had to forcefully put my hands on the table to stop Philippe. We were running out of time. I had to stop the segment for the sake of time.
When the cameras shut off, it became more intense. It is kind of a blur now but I do remember Philippe shouting at Moe and calling him a liar among other things. My producer, Haley Press walked Philippe out of the studio and attempted to calm him down. I told Moe to stick at the table with me for a few minutes. I was afraid it was going to get physical if the two men left at the same time.
There were several moments during the discussion when I could see both men getting visibly upset. From the corner of my eye I could see Moe doing his best to contain himself. He was physically biting his tongue. He was told to keep it positive and constructive, he did. Philippe was noticeably angry and it showed. I could feel the tension. I was in the middle. My hands became my tool when my voice wasn’t enough. I had to reach out and calm Philippe several times.
I knew I needed some backup. Haley came out, then Bri. It was a good cop, bad cop scenario. I just wanted to push forward. I was concerned we would have to scrap the whole thing. That would have been devastating. I knew America needed to see this for what it was. “
I was fortunate enough to view the entire interview, including the commercial break, on video and became excited about the possibility that On Point’s Lahren and team will keep up the serious coverage of Palestine and Israel in the future. America is more than ready for this conversation to go mainstream.
I inquired who had pushed the interview with Assouline, but the producers wouldn’t reveal the source. Is Assouline the new ‘it boy’ of Israeli advocacy; and are aggressive, unsupported accusations of lying a primary strategy?
Assouline’s Linkedin profile lists him professionally as “past” Advocacy Strategist at StandWithUs. He makes the rounds hyping pro Israel advocacy as ‘grassroots’ even though SWU has a fat budget and works hand in hand with the Israeli government. They even co-produced a videos with Danny Ayalon, Israel’s foreign minister that, according to the Forward, was “identical, image for image and in large part word for word, with one he [Ayalon] made in May for the YESHA Council, the organization that represents and lobbies for the settlers… rejecting the notion that the West Bank is occupied.”
In an interview and debate last spring with Omar Barghouti, Assouline described Adalah, the Legal Center for Minority Rights in Israel whose website provides a database of more than 50 Discriminatory Laws in Israel, as a Palestinian propaganda organization group that works “under the cover of defending rights”…backed by a “small group [of] intellectuals and their supports” who “manufactures these organizations”. He also attempted to attribute words to Barghouti he never said and accused him of being a liar.
Assouline, a lawyer, claims he left private practice to advocate for Israel. Working with StandWithUs on its anti-BDS campaign on campus, coincidentally or not, Assouline is now firmly planted on one of the most influential campuses at the heart of Palestinian led solidarity movement at UCLA.
Israel is a community that “just wants to apologize and hide as much as possible/not rock the boat” (video here) and claims it’s up against “an extremely well oiled machine of extremely effective and stylish propaganda that has set goals.” Palestinians are “artistic geniuses” when it comes to pr.
In a phone conversation with Tomi Lahren, she told me the reaction to Moe Diab from her conservative viewers was “an anomaly”. She believes “The truth is bulletproof, we give you a platform and the truth will prevail at the end.” Let’s keep the conversation going, because the time is ripe, there’s a thirst for it and it’s only just begun. Like Lahren, I believe the truth will prevail.
1. File No. 8573/08Civil Appeal, Ornan et al. v .Ministry of Interior (Oct. 2,2013 amended on 6.10.2013), Nevo Legal Database (by subscription) (Isr.)(hereinafter: Israeli Nationality case);File No.8140/13 High Court of Justice, Ornan v. State of Israel (Dec. 9.2013), Nevo Legal Database (by subscription) (Isr.) (hereinafter: HCJ Ornan). ￼ – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2014/06/discrimination-decisions-nationality#sthash.bpJvxuSv.dpuf