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Why Michelle Alexander’s ‘NY Times’ column is having such a huge impact

Media Analysis
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We are delighted here at the site that Michelle Alexander’s excellent long New York Times column is getting huge attention — and we are also a little puzzled. The Times has previously run occasional opinion articles critical of Israel and sympathetic to Palestinians, but none of them has had the reverberating impact of Professor Alexander’s January 20 piece. Her article is already clearly a watershed moment, with arguably even more impact on mainstream U.S. opinion than Israel’s onslaught last spring against Gaza’s Great March of Return, which left more than 150 Palestinians dead and another 5800 wounded by live ammunition.

Israel’s Hasbara Central has already recognized the danger. The Israel lobby’s usual suspects struck back immediately, calling Alexander’s measured article “a rant,” with “countless outrages,” that even amounts to “a strategic threat” to Israel. 

Why has Alexander prompted such a huge reaction? I have some tentative explanations.

  * First, Alexander reveals an open secret — that many mainstream American progressives have been afraid to speak out against Israel because they fear losing funding for their other important causes, or they fear being smeared by the pro-Israel forces. Alexander bravely includes herself in this category, hinting that she worried that her pathbreaking research and writing into systemic racial discrimination in America could be jeopardized if she came out decisively for Palestine. Her headline told the story: “Time to Break the Silence About Palestine.”

* The U.S. political climate is changing, to be steadily more sympathetic to Palestinians. Young people, Jews and others, no longer uncritically accept the Israel lobby’s propaganda. For the first time, two members of the U.S. Congress, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, outspokenly favor the nonviolent program of Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS).

* Michelle Alexander is a respected and experienced scholar, who won sufficient renown in her field to be offered a regular New York Times column. (Hasbara Central must be panicking that she will continue to speak out regularly, now that she has broken the ice.)

* We in the alternative press forget how successfully the Times and other mainstream media have protected themselves inside a pro-Israel propaganda fortress. You have to set the occasional pro-Palestine opinion article in the Times alongside the paper’s chronically biased news coverage, day after day, year after year. So when Michelle Alexander says straightforwardly that Israel has “adopted some practices reminiscent of apartheid in South Africa and Jim Crow segregation in the United States,” her view will come as no surprise to regular visitors to Mondoweiss, but those who read the Times on the 7:17 train down from Westchester into New York City may jump out of their seats. 

* That Michelle Alexander is a distinguished African-American academic may also be a factor. Many black Americans have for decades seen certain parallels between their situation and the oppression that Palestinians face, a comparison that is surely giving the Israel lobby nightmares. 

* Finally, Alexander’s article is extraordinarily eloquent and moving. You expect well-crafted pieces in the Times, but she has written a masterpiece. Here is how she ended: “In this new year, I aim to speak with greater courage and conviction about injustices beyond our borders, particularly those that are funded by our government, and stand in solidarity with struggles for democracy and freedom. My conscience leaves me with no other choice.”

Her article will surely appear in eventual histories about the liberation of Palestine, marking a turning point in history.  

James North

James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large, and has reported from Africa, Latin America, and Asia for four decades. He lives in New York City.

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24 Responses

  1. ckg on January 22, 2019, 1:59 pm

    Dershowitz in The Hill:

    The front page of the New York Times Sunday Review featured one of the most biased, poorly informed, and historically inaccurate columns about the conflict between Israel and Palestine ever published by a mainstream newspaper.

    There was a time when Dershowitz would make me angry. Now he just makes me laugh.

    • Jasonius Maximus on January 22, 2019, 5:44 pm

      Yeah, Dershowitz is done! Just another acolyte sacrificed at the alter of Trump. Threw away the last of his reputation, respect, and fame for nothing. Mainstream media are shunning him and only Fox will put him in the air. Once Trump is out of office not even they will let him on air.

      Couldn’t have happened to a nicer shill!

    • Citizen on January 22, 2019, 7:41 pm

      This will likely make you laugh too: New York Times Columnist Cheers for Boycotting Israel https://www.algemeiner.com/2019/01/20/new-york-times-columnist-cheers-for-boycotting-israel//

    • JWalters on January 22, 2019, 9:14 pm

      Laughter is so much healthier than anger. Let’s hope this is an expanding tide of laughter!

      • klm90046 on January 23, 2019, 9:33 pm

        @JWalters: Laughter never liberated a land from its occupiers. Anger did.

      • JWalters on January 24, 2019, 7:36 pm

        klm90046, good point. Anger definitely has a place as an energizer. Like using a deadly poison as a medicine, it should be used as a last resort. And it needs to be combined with healthier emotions to avoid destroying a person inside.

  2. JWalters on January 22, 2019, 9:11 pm

    Thanks for this thoughtful summary of the factors that make Michelle Alexander’s article so outstanding. It’s definitely an “Emperor’s News Clothes” moment, when a society-wide lie is stripped naked. Once done it can’t be undone. And the public was well-prepared for this moment, as you note, thanks to the determined efforts of many people over many years. The extreme shock to the Emperor’s court indeed created a huge reaction, contributing to the explosive effect. And the superb quality of Alexander’s analysis and presentation made it unassailable.

    From the recent Mondoweiss report on the NYT’s new publisher, it seems to me Alexander’s and Michelle Goldberg’s recent NYT article
    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/07/opinion/rashida-tlaib-israel-antisemitism.html
    are two steps in a well thought-out process. Goldberg laid the ground with the fundamental point that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism, itself a breakthrough in the NYT and MSM. Alexander then built upon that platform an in-depth analysis of Zionism (expertly done within the constraints of an op-ed article). My thanks to new publisher A.G. Sulzberger for his serious committment to the whole truth. I see no reason why he would reverse that course.

    This breakthrough opens up further questions. Most notably, how was such a widespread blanket of silence imposed? It is not credible that a relatively small bunch of religious fanatic “settlers” would have such power. It’s also important that the mainstream Jewish community was itself subjected to this deception. As Israel-born, Jewish therapist Avigail Abarbanel has written “It’s time for American Jews to recognize they have been duped”
    http://mondoweiss.net/2015/07/american-recognize-duped
    Abarbanel further examines the cult-like methods used in “Why I left the cult”
    https://mondoweiss.net/2016/10/why-i-left-the-cult

    In a country that guarantees freedom of the press to print the whole truth, I look forward to the NYT fulfilling the role that makes a newspaper great.

    • echinococcus on January 23, 2019, 4:03 am

      Walters,
      §
      “It is not credible that a relatively small bunch of religious fanatic “settlers” would have such power.”
      §
      The Owners of the US are the same bunch who leads Zionists including in the Zionist entity. They own and operate the single party with its Democrat and Republican administrative machines. “Powerful” doesn’t even start to describe it. They are not, repeat not, the few lamentable mytho-nationalist, perhaps also religiously impaired riffraff who invade strange climes to risk their stupid *$$.
      §
      That’s why Alexander deserves all the more respect. She is taking on real power.

      • Misterioso on January 23, 2019, 9:06 am

        @echinococcus

        Well said!!

      • JWalters on January 23, 2019, 6:13 pm

        Completely agree.

  3. wdr on January 22, 2019, 11:04 pm

    This posting is part of Mondoweiss’s track record of wildly exaggerating every straw in the wind as a turning point in support for the Palestinians. The publication of this piece in the NY times has only minor significance, if that. The hard copy circulation of the NY Times has declined from 1.1 million in 2010 to only 500,000 today, in common with circulation declines across the board in the print newspaper media. Its online circulation has grown, but is chiefly read by commuters and has no real impact. Presumably the NY Times will publish many refutations of the nonsense
    in Alexander’s article. Everyone knows that the NY Times is a left-liberal paper (the last Republican it endorsed for President was in 1956), and is just as fair and balanced as Pravda under Stalin, and her article will be ignored for this reason.

    • RoHa on January 22, 2019, 11:53 pm

      “Presumably the NY Times will publish many refutations of the nonsense in Alexander’s article. Everyone knows that the NY Times is a left-liberal paper (the last Republican it endorsed for President was in 1956), and is just as fair and balanced as Pravda under Stalin, and her article will be ignored for this reason.”

      Presumably the refutations published in the NYT will be ignored for the same reason.

    • Misterioso on January 23, 2019, 9:01 am

      @wdr

      “…and her article will be ignored for this reason.” HA, HA, HA!!

      To state the obvious, au contraire. As your bafflegab response attests, Ms. Alexander’s article is the “talk of the town.” Get used to it. Ever increasing numbers of people around the world, including Americans, are now seeing “Israel” as the thoroughly documented racist, fascistic monster it is. Stay tuned.

    • Misterioso on January 23, 2019, 10:18 am

      https://www.juancole.com/2019/01/martin-support-alexandria.html

      “Why Martin Luther King, Jr., would Support Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez”

      By Juan Cole, Informed Comment, January 21/19

      EXCERPT:

      “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, at 29, has become a lightning rod. She was recruited to run against a corporate Democrat by activists of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which has become a significant caucus within the Democratic Party. Her advocacy of a higher marginal tax rate (no, she doesn’t want to raise taxes on you) and of a host of practical measures for addressing the exponentially increasing inequality and injustice in American society, has attracted the attention of the capos of the billionaires– the hatchet men working for the odious Rupert Murdoch and the mindless minions of the mountebank Trumps.

      “Ocasio-Cortez and other members of the DSA advocate Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions on Israel because of its extensive catalogue of war crimes and crimes against humanity in its treatment of the stateless, Israeli-Occupied Palestinian population. That position is seen by the Israeli government’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, headed by Gilad Erdan, as dangerous to that government’s propaganda effort. Virulent Jewish-nationalist groups like the Zionist Organization of America and others have also attempted to marginalize especially African-American and minority voices who take up BDS. Thus Marc Lamont Hill was fired from CNN for a speech upholding Palestinian rights within a one-state framework, and Angela Davis was denied a human rights award in Birmingham for her position on BDS. Other new members of Congress such as Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have also been attacked on these grounds.

      “Pooh-bahs of the corporate wing of the Democratic Party such as Harry Reid and Aaron Sorkin have attempted to shush the outspoken Puertorriqueña, to no avail. As for the Murdochist trolls, AOC lithely bats them away on Twitter, the way Kitana wields her Steel Fans in Mortal Kombat as she utters her battle cry, “You will learn respect!” So far it has been white supremacist Mean Men 0, AOC 110,000.

      “The American elite, people like Dick Cheney, had opposed the establishment of Martin Luther King Day, but once it was voted as a Federal holiday, they have attempted to defang it. King was a gentle radical, deploying nonviolent noncooperation to dismantle Jim Crow structures of systematic discrimination on the basis of race. We are permitted to hear the ‘I have a dream’ speech over and over again because its diction does no more than express a mild hope for racial equality, and racial equality is now given at least lip service outside white supremacist circles.”

    • Mooser on January 23, 2019, 12:22 pm

      “Everyone knows that the NY Times is a left-liberal paper”

      And Zionism is right-wing conservative Republican concern, so naturally the Times disparages it!

    • genesto on January 23, 2019, 12:48 pm

      You Zionists are soooo predictable!! Attack and diminish those who speak truth to Israel lobby power is one of your favorite techniques when, as is typical, you have nothing of substance to offer in opposition.

      Sorry, WDR, but Michelle’s powerful article is already having significant impact on Americans’ views re: I/P. The truths expressed by Michelle are starting to go mainstream. You and your Zionist friends better start re-thinking your positions and how you are going to continue trying to justify the unjustifiable.

      • annie on January 25, 2019, 11:44 am

        thank you genesto, i totally agree. i was listening to an intercept podcast this morning with Marc Lamont Hill and Lara Friedman. they discuss the alexander article amoung other things. theme “There are signs that U.S. opinion might be shifting on Israel”

        hill said “i think that the tide actually is turning”. lots of people sense it.

        https://theintercept.com/2019/01/24/what-you-cant-say-about-israel-with-marc-lamont-hill/

  4. gamal on January 23, 2019, 6:15 am

    “Her article will surely appear in eventual histories about the liberation of Palestine, marking a turning point in history”

    Yes if we drop our habit of writing women out of things once enough time has elapsed..

    “The Irish Revolution’s Overlooked History of Nonviolent Resistance”

    “The usual story’s framing of violent versus reformist methods in Irish nationalism is true as far as it goes, but also incomplete. What it misses is a powerful third tradition of radical, extralegal, but still nonviolent resistance. In the 19th century, many rural communities, often organized by women in the Ladies’ Land League, refused to pay rent to British absentee landlords or work for their local land agents at harvest time. Indeed, our word “boycott” is named for Captain Charles Boycott, a land agent in County Mayo ostracized by his local community in 1880 during a noncooperation campaign.”

    https://truthout.org/articles/the-irish-revolutions-overlooked-history-of-nonviolent-resistance/

    • amigo on January 23, 2019, 10:41 am

      gamal

      “While the British outlawed the Dáil as a “terrorist organization,” it continued to operate underground in accordance with its newly drafted constitution.”

      Now where have we heard that lately.

      Have you watched the “Resistance ” series.

      It may not be completely historically accurate but it does offer some scenes where Justice is served , some of it served on a 600 year old , very cold platter.

      Our zionist friends should watch and learn that even the most powerful empire could not kill a just cause so what chance does a pip squeak tin pot rogue regime have.

  5. Bumblebye on January 23, 2019, 8:39 am

    Well! Would you ever – the Guardian has come out in sympathy with this op-ed, with its own takedown of current israel:

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/22/the-guardian-view-on-israels-democracy-killing-with-impunity-lying-without-consequence

    • amigo on January 23, 2019, 10:15 am

      Bumblebye, thanks for that link to the Guardian article.

      Very blunt and to the point.It must be driving the Zionist lot nuts.Speaking of which,Melanie Phillips is probably in conference with her Therapist ,right now trying to prevent her head from exploding.having read that.

      First the NYT and now the Guardian . Keystones in the zionist arch are crumbling.

    • John O on January 23, 2019, 11:53 am

      The Guardian’s editor, Katherine Viner, co-wrote “My Name is Rachel Corrie”. She’s been playing a long, wily game game on I/P since becoming editor (including largely sidelining Jonathan Freedland).

  6. klm90046 on January 23, 2019, 9:21 pm

    “My thanks to new publisher A.G. Sulzberger for his serious committment to the whole truth. I see no reason why he would reverse that course.”

    Judge Richard Goldstone reversed his course. So don’t hold your breath.

  7. Ian Berman on January 24, 2019, 2:40 am

    On a related note, I responded to David Harris’ attack piece on Alexander’s editorial

    The Times of Israel’s Flawed Attack on the NY Times’ MLK and Palestinian Rights

    – Calling Michelle Alexander’s editorial in the New York Times a “new low” was a hyperbolic act of click-bait to appeal to the Times of Israel’s readers. One that lacked journalistic and editorial integrity.

    January 23, 2019

    https://www.mintpressnews.com/the-times-of-israels-flawed-attack-on-the-new-york-times-mlk-and-palestinian-rights/254120/

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