CNN fails to challenge US politicians supporting ethnic cleansing of Gaza

Abby Phillip on the red carpet at the TIME100 Gala

CNN’s Abby Phillip does not take politicians to task when they voice approval for Israel’s war crimes. 

John Angelillo UPI

CNN journalist Abby Phillip was recently silent in the face of an Israeli soldier promoting war crimes and more recently she indirectly pushed ethnic cleansing against Palestinians on her evening program.

An Electronic Intifada video showing Israeli soldier Betzalel Taljah promoting war crimes to Phillip received over 3 million views before some number of Twitter/X users tried to undermine the video. They got reader feedback published under the post defending the Israeli soldier with his full quote as if that would excuse targeting civilians.

It does not.

It simply excuses human rights abuses against Palestinian civilians.

Furthermore, in the days since his CNN and MSNBC interviews, the soldier asked on Facebook, “Why does Gaza still exist?” That soldier’s South African father converted to Judaism, moved to stolen Palestinian property in the occupied West Bank, and has said that “apartheid is the best thing in the world.”

The interviewed son has clearly assimilated that racism into his life.

From killing civilians to ethnic cleansing

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the US Congress who is pushing for a ceasefire, was painfully ineffective in standing up to Phillip on Tuesday night.

Ocasio-Cortez spoke powerfully only when she addressed the dangers of the racism in the American context espoused by Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor.

PHILLIP: I want to go back to something you just mentioned there about Hamas, as all of this kind of kicked off, you and several others of your colleagues released a statement calling for a ceasefire in the region. But, I wonder, what is Israel supposed to do about Hamas after they’ve murdered, brutalized, abducted over a thousand of their citizens. Are they supposed to just do nothing?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think what is important to note about a ceasefire is that it’s not one-sided. Hamas has been sending thousands of rockets into Israel as well. And what is important for us to identify our goal in terms of what safety means, in terms of what defense means. And I think it –

PHILLIP: But, if I may, Congresswoman, I think the position from Israel’s perspective is that there is already an attack and Hamas already committed an attack. After that happened, do you really believe that they should not respond to that?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think what is important, in terms of response, is Israel does have a right to self-defense. I think what we need to take a look at in this situation is if collective punishment qualifies as defense, if the blockade on water, food, electricity, if the dropping of white phosphorus, which is an indiscriminate weapon, qualifies. So, I do believe that there is a discussion to be had here. I don’t believe that an either/or approach is what is necessary, but we should identify what our goal is, which is the cooling of tensions in the region.

Not until Phillip’s fourth question did Ocasio-Cortez note Palestinian children.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: But we need to center the fact as well that there are hostages in this region. There are Israeli hostages, American hostages, there are innocent Palestinians, about 1,000 children have died so far in these attacks.

Why she didn’t lead in her first answer with the overwhelming number of Palestinian casualties is a mystery.

Why not answer the “do nothing” charge with: Wait! Are you seriously telling me over 1,000 dead children is nothing? That’s depraved. And it speaks to the dehumanization of Palestinians in western media. One Palestinian child in 1,000 is dead. How much more carnage for Palestinians before you think it’s more than nothing? Just how much are we supposed to hate Palestinians?

Not once did Ocasio-Cortez mention the absence of freedom for Palestinians, 75 years of dispossession at the hands of Israel, or Israel’s apartheid policies. There is very little interest in Washington or mainstream media to address these fundamental issues.

Progressive politicians have to do better in explaining why Palestinians reject their treatment by Israel.

As many warned when nonviolence was violently suppressed, efforts at the International Criminal Court and United Nations went nowhere, and the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement was attacked and made illegal, this closing of nonviolent options would push the conflict in violent directions.

Maybe 7 October, and the serious human rights abuses of that day, would have happened anyway. But foreclosing on nonviolent options for movement forward certainly did not help.

And the Abraham Accords – those deals by a number of Arab countries normalizing relations with apartheid Israel – don’t constitute help. They were meant to undercut the Palestinian cause.

President Joe Biden’s policies, meanwhile, are advancing horrors in Gaza as whole families are wiped out and reports come in to me from friends of their extended family members and neighbors wiped out. He is advancing a slaughter in Gaza and enmeshing the Democratic Party in massacres reminiscent of those on the watch of Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson in Vietnam.

DeSantis promotes ethnic cleansing

The conversation then moved to Ron DeSantis.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don’t know what Biden is going to do, but we cannot accept people from Gaza into this country as refugees. I am not going to do that. If you look at how they behave, not all of them are Hamas, but they are all anti-Semitic, none of them believe in Israel’s right to exist.

PHILLIP: There is a lot in there, but I wonder, for you, is he touching on something that is perhaps real here? Should Arab countries be taking on the lion’s share of the burden to absorb what could be over a million if not more refugees from Gaza?

OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think there is something to be said about the region’s partners being able to support and step up Palestinians. However, that does not abdicate the United States from our historic role that we have played in the world of accepting refugees and allowing people to restart their lives here. And I also want to address something very specific about what Governor DeSantis said when he said, quote/unquote, all Gazans are anti- Semitic. How incredibly destructive and dangerous that rhetoric is. We just had a six-year-old boy stabbed 26 times this morning because of rhetoric like that. And it is dangerous, it is unacceptable, it is reckless and no leader in the United States of America should be amplifying a message like that.

The question and answer, however, normalize the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Gaza. It was sickening to watch play out in real time and the stronger answer on the danger of the DeSantis rhetoric and its effects in the US is the bare minimum that must be done in the face of such a question.

But Ocasio-Cortez should have hit very hard on normalizing ethnic cleansing and missed that completely.

CNN has ignored the DeSantis tweets calling for ethnic cleansing in the many daytime hours I have watched. Then, when it is brought up, it’s to normalize the idea.

More ethnic cleansing

While the progressive Ocasio-Cortez stood silent in the face of DeSantis directly, and Phillip indirectly, pushing ethnic cleansing to Arab states for Palestinians, the next guest, a conservative, actively promoted it.

Phillip started her interview with Chris Christie, a former New Jersey governor and current Republican presidential candidate, by noting: “You said recently that you supported Israel’s decision not to allow food, water, electricity into Gaza.”

This is a war crime.

But this was not raised as a concern by Christie who is good with whatever the Israeli government decides to do. Regarding a move to allow in humanitarian aid, Christie said: “Look, I think as long as the Israeli government is in concert with us on it, then that would be fine.”

They then moved to ethnic cleansing, which they spoke of euphemistically though the meaning is clear. They certainly did not specify this would be a temporary arrangement – not that any Palestinians would believe them.

PHILLIP: And Governor DeSantis said something similar, that the United States shouldn’t let Gazans in because in his view, they all hate Israel. What would you do?

CHRISTIE: I don’t think we should let Gazans in because I think we’re doing more than enough to try to deal with that situation in Israel. And I think we need to be supporting Israel.

“We are doing more than enough to try to deal with that situation in Israel.”

Let that sink in.

We shouldn’t help refugees – not because abetting ethnic cleansing by an apartheid ally is wrong – but because we’re doing plenty to help those refugees by bombing them.

Note, also, that his answer indicates he thinks Gaza is in Israel.

Christie then added, “And for the Gazan refugees, there are a lot of other places for Gazan refugees to go, starting with the border crossing in Egypt, which should be opened, in my view, given our level of support that we give to the Egyptian military year after year after year. The least they can do is open up and allow Gazans to come there.”

CHRISTIE: One of those potential problems is a refugee problem. It seems to me that the Middle Eastern countries surrounding the Gaza Strip can take in those refugees. I don’t think that should be an obligation in the United States. We’re there to help to make sure that Israel can appropriately defend its sovereignty, its borders, and its people. And that’s a huge contribution from the American people and the American taxpayers. And refugees, in my view, should not have to be one of the things we do.

Ron DeSantis and Chris Christie are both for ethnic cleansing yet the term didn’t come up once in Abby Phillip’s discussion with them. Phillip’s question to Ocasio-Cortez to my mind pushes ethnic cleansing as she says nothing about this being a temporary arrangement.

Meanwhile, a terrible slaughter of Palestinian civilians is underway in Gaza. People there are petrified and even CNN can’t ignore the inflammatory rhetoric of Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s national security minister.

CNN has, though, ignored calls by Tally Gotliv and Limor Son Har-Melech, members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, to eliminate or level Gaza.

The structural geographic bias in their coverage means there can be no on-the-ground breaking coverage because they have no international journalists on the ground in Gaza.

Watching CNN’s coverage these last few days – with notable exceptions that shock weary receptors – feels like watching the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa but told as though Black South Africans had no just story to tell. CNN is very much siding with Israel’s version of history and almost entirely ignoring Palestinians’ painful past.

There’s almost zero history, no explanation telling the Palestinian reality of forced dispossession, apartheid and occupation, and no international correspondents in Gaza to tell the story with the same passion they bring to Israel’s account.

It’s as if the history of the conflict started on 7 October. Indeed, on Tuesday night – perhaps an hour after I wrote those words – Phillip said, this is a “conflict that, we have to remind you, began with a devastating attack on Israelis.”

Perhaps the most immediate conflict started then, but not the overall conflict which includes the dispossession of some 800,000 Palestinians, many of whom ended up in the Gaza Strip.

That larger story is almost entirely off-limits at CNN.


Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune,, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.