The most openly racist and ignorant American president the world has seen in recent years is leading some in the news media to look with fresh eyes at Israel’s actions against Palestinians.
Cognizant of how dangerous and mean-spirited President Donald Trump is on an array of domestic issues, journalists seem more inclined to question what is being done to Palestinians by the US and Israel.
They are dreadfully late. Some are reluctant. And many are still inclined to exclude Palestinian voices. Nevertheless, there is more discussion at the moment because Trump’s outrages receive more attention than Democratic “resistance” leaders supporting positions similar to his.
But even MSNBC too frequently falls back on old arguments and biased American diplomats of the past quarter century such as Dennis Ross.
Ross, a fixture of failed American “peace” efforts, has for decades been through a revolving door linking senior government posts with positions at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think-tank tied to the Israel lobby group AIPAC.
And MSNBC continues to show Syria’s occupied Golan Heights as part of Israel while CNN at least designates it with a separate color, though that is not ideal either.
No Palestinians Radio finding a voice?
One example of modestly more vigorous journalism came Thursday. Rachel Martin, a host of NPR’s Morning Edition, challenged Nir Barkat, Israel’s mayor of Jerusalem, on his practices toward the city’s Palestinian residents.
“There are many Palestinians who feel marginalized in your city … many have had their residency permits revoked so they don’t feel as you think they feel. Many of them do feel excluded,” she said.
“How do you address their concerns as their mayor?” Martin asked, seemingly oblivious to the reality that the vast majority of Palestinians in Jerusalem would never identify Barkat as their mayor.
Under international law, Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and its imposition of its laws on the city is “null and void.”
Barkat, whose views and policies violently discriminate against Palestinians, knows the facts on the ground. Nevertheless, he initially lied in response to Martin before backtracking to express uncertainty and ignorance.
“I am not aware of anybody that his residency was revoked,” claimed Barkat. He then added, “I think factually this is probably not true.”
But, as he surely knew, it is true.
Israel has revoked the residency cards of thousands of Palestinians on grounds including that they moved away to marry, work or study, as if they were temporary migrants in Jerusalem, rather than indigenous people.
As the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem notes: “Since 1967, Israel has revoked the permanent residency of some 14,500 Palestinians from East Jerusalem under such circumstances.”
The real impact is much greater than the numbers suggest: Israel may revoke the residency of only one person, but that often upends the life of an entire family which must face the choice of living apart or leaving the city altogether.
“Israeli policy in East Jerusalem is geared toward pressuring Palestinians to leave, thereby shaping a geographical and demographic reality that would thwart any future attempt to challenge Israeli sovereignty there,” B’Tselem states.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in August: “Israel claims to treat Jerusalem as a unified city, but the reality is effectively one set of rules for Jews and another for Palestinians.” She added, “Entrenched discrimination against Palestinians in Jerusalem, including residency policies that imperil their legal status, feeds the alienation of the city’s residents.”
None of this stopped Barkat. But this is no surprise. Earlier this year, he threatened the wholesale destruction of Palestinian homes if he didn’t get his way in protecting residents of the Israeli settlement of Amona which was founded on private Palestinian property and violates international law.
“Unless Amona is legalized,” Barkat declared, “we’ll have to destroy hundreds or thousands of houses in Jerusalem too.” Shameless, he added, “The Amona verdict leaves us no discretion to legalize building offenses.”
Palestinian “building offenses” are typically the result of Israeli authorities – who exercise illegitimate authority – systematically denying building permits to prevent Palestinian growth in the city.
Residents of Amona have since been removed to the new colony of Amichai, which is also illegal according to international law.
Barkat’s policies already include regular home demolitions, such as this one in September, that left eight Palestinians, including four children, homeless in Jerusalem’s Ras al-Amud neighborhood:
Israel’s violent dispossession of Palestinians from homes in East Jerusalem may now expand in light of Trump’s Jerusalem announcement.
NPR does sometimes push back on falsehoods or unconfirmed reports, especially now that mainstream media have found an easy way to pose as courageous defenders of the truth by challenging Trump.
While Martin is to be commended for asking a relatively tougher question, there was no pushback to Barkat’s false response. Martin and NPR did not respond to The Electronic Intifada when asked if an online and on-air correction would be issued.
Long criticized in activist circles as “No Palestinians Radio,” listeners will be paying careful attention to see whether NPR has turned a corner following the contentious battles over reporting biased against Palestinians during the second intifada.
Fear of equal rights?
Despite the modest progress MSNBC has shown courtesy of the work of Mohyeldin, who was briefly transferred out of Gaza in 2014 following his powerful reporting on the deaths of four children on a beach with whom he’d played soccer minutes earlier, there is still antiquated analysis that reflects a different era and insinuates Palestinians and Muslims are to be feared.
On 8 December, the 30th anniversary of the start of the first intifada, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell stated, “A one-state solution, according to a lot of more liberal Israelis, means the end of the state of Israel as we know it because the Palestinian population very quickly, if there’s one state, if there’s one person, one vote, would overwhelm the Israeli Jews. So clearly that’s not going to happen, but what it means is the end of any kind of diplomacy.”
This kind of casual racism – where Palestinians are viewed as a dangerous and undesirable population who would “overwhelm” Jews merely by demanding full and equal civil and political rights – is common in discussions of the region, though it would be rejected in other contexts.
Mitchell is not altogether clear whether she is attributing fear of the one-state solution to liberal Jews or expressing some of her own misgivings when she says the idea is clearly not “going to happen.”
Citing “liberal Israelis” – presumably excluding Palestinian citizens of Israel – is meant to signal to progressive viewers that the idea is out of bounds.
But in substance, it’s little different from the rejection, even by “liberal” white South Africans a generation ago, of the one person, one vote system that eventually replaced apartheid – despite white fears and opposition.
Though rejection of a one person, one vote system in the context of South Africa or the American South is widely and correctly viewed as racism, insisting that equal voting rights is a non-starter when it comes to Palestinians and Israelis is “pragmatic” conventional wisdom routinely repeated by Democratic Party politicians, European diplomats and TV pundits alike.
MSNBC should host a real discussion of what one state with equal rights would mean and how the actions of Trump, his presidential predecessors and Israel have closed off the two-state solution over the past 25 years.
This past week Trump has inadvertently moved forward one state. Further discussion hinges in part on whether journalists are equipped to dive into the idea or too fearful of it to give a fair hearing.
If they’re too fearful, Americans will continue to turn in droves to alternative sources of information to learn about the BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – movement and the anti-colonial struggle against Israeli occupation, dispossession and denial of rights.
That mainstream media shortcoming, after all, is why many of you are here.