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The occupier has no clothes!
by Amer Zahr
September 4th, 2014 (6 Comments)
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We all remember Hans Christian Andersen's short tale, "The Emperor's New Clothes," the story about two weavers who promise an emperor a new suit of clothes that is invisible on those who are "hopelessly stupid." At the end of the story, the vain emperor parades before his subjects in his new (invisible) clothes.  As the fearful, cheerful crowd keeps up the charade, a child, too innocent to lie, loudly announces, "But he isn't wearing anything at all!"  The rest of the crowd, inspired by the child's courage, begin to take on his cry as well.  The emperor, quivering at the notion that he is exposed, continues his procession nonetheless.

This past Sunday on CNN, Brian Stelter, the host of "Reliable Sources," interviewed Israeli analyst and former journalist Matti Friedman.  The topic was Friedman's latest article on Tablet, "An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth," where the writer, a former Jerusalem-based reporter for the Associated Press, attempted to explain how and why reporters are fixated on the happenings in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.  He laid out the reasons as to why, as CNN's tagline put it, there exists a "disproportionate focus" on Israel.

Friedman starts out by telling us that this summer's events in Gaza were not especially important or unique, as these things have happened before and will happen again.  I will eventually get to whether or not that characterization is accurate.  But it is important to note how he, a former journalist who uses that experience precisely to give himself legitimacy in this article, describes the Gaza war of the summer of 2014:

People were killed, most of them Palestinians, including many unarmed innocents.

This is what I would call "truthful deception."  Supporters of Israeli policies are usually quite adept at this particular skill. "Truthful deception" is saying or writing something technically accurate, even perhaps sounding like a concession, that is still actually misleading or incomplete.  One might expect a husband to engage in this sort of treachery, but one would hope for much more from a journalist, even a former one.

Again:

People were killed, most of them Palestinians, including many unarmed innocents.

People are supposed to read this and say, "Wow, a supporter of Israel is saying that?! He must be honest!"

According to the United Nations, 96.5% of the deaths in this summer's Gaza War (including Israeli soldiers) were those of Palestinians (2,104 out of 2,179).  "Most" means "majority."  "Majority" means "more than half the total."  96.5% is not “most.” 96.5% is “almost all.” Sure, in this statement, "most" might be technically accurate, but it's not precise, sincere, or complete.  When you hear "most," you don't think, "Oh, he must mean 96.5%."

Also, 70% of the Palestinian deaths were those of unarmed innocents, including 495 children. "Many" means "numerous."  "Many" doesn't necessarily suggest any sort of relative proportion to the total.  70% is not “many.” Actually, 70% is “most.”  Sure, "many" might be technically accurate, but, again, it's not precise, sincere, or complete. When you hear "many," you don't think, "Oh, he must mean 70%."

Friedman does not use any statistics in his assessment.  And why would he? It would have sounded quite different if he had written, "People were killed, almost all of them Palestinians, most of them unarmed innocents.”  But Friedman, who is attempting to make a point about journalistic integrity, is not interested in being specific here.  He is practicing "truthful deception."

He does it again later in the article when he speaks of the media's mischaracterization of Israel's settlement policy.  Before deriding the media for portraying settlements as a cause of the conflict rather than a symptom (a distinction without a difference in this case), he says he believes the policy is "a serious moral and strategic error on Israel’s part."  Sounds like a concession, right?  Settlements are, in fact, illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a party.  Saying they are an immoral blunder is "truthfully deceptive."  When you hear Friedman call settlements "a serious moral and strategic error," you don't think, "Oh, he must mean they constitute a violation of international law."

But let me try to find some of Friedman's substantive points to analyze.  As he laments the fact that Israel is getting way too much attention, he notes that the Associated Press, his former employer from 2006 to 2011, had over 40 correspondents in Israel during his time there.  This number, he notes, was "significantly more news staff than the AP had in China, Russia, or India, or in all of the 50 countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined. It was higher than the total number of news-gathering employees in all the countries where the uprisings of the 'Arab Spring' eventually erupted."  I'm not sure why "Arab Spring" was in quotes.  It's not a nickname.  In any case, Friedman goes to to argue that all these journalists ended up in Israel because Western discourse has "a hostile obsession with Jews."

And there we have it.  The media's anti-Israel slant, according to Friedman, is nothing more than institutional anti-Semitism.  He never uses the term "anti-Semitism," but he spends a considerable amount of the article saying it over and over. Jews are "the pool into which the world spits."  They are "the screen onto which it has become socially acceptable to project the things you hate about yourself and your own country." They are "a symbol of the evils that civilized people are taught from an early age to abhor."  The media, writes Friedman, is saying, whether it means to or not, that "Jews are the worst people on earth."  He concludes:

Many in the West clearly prefer the old comfort of parsing the moral failings of Jews, and the familiar feeling of superiority this brings them, to confronting an unhappy and confusing reality.

Friedman completely ignores, quite deliberately of course, the possibility that Israel's actions are receiving criticism in the mainstream media because they might actually be immoral, illegal, and indecent.  He also leaves out the fact that this phenomenon of media criticism is, in fact, quite new.  Finally, he neglects to mention why there is a such a disproportionate number of Western reporters in Israel.  They are there precisely because of a decades-long campaign by Israel and its lobbies to tailor the message.  They are there at Israel's invitation. They are there because they have been Israel's most effective tool. Until now. Of course, no supporter of Israel was complaining about the huge media presence there when just about every news outlet was towing the party line.  But things have changed.  And that is what irks Friedman.  He is bothered that "truthful deception" is no longer working.  Journalists are starting to ask real questions, and Friedman is not happy about it.

And the questions they are asking are not that crazy:

Why it is ever acceptable to bomb a hospital, school, or UN facility, under any circumstances?

Why does Israel control Gaza's sea, airspace, and entry points, yet continue to tell us there is no military occupation?

Why can a Jewish individual like Matti Friedman, who was born and raised in Canada, automatically receive full citizenship, while millions of Palestinians under Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip remain stateless?

I can answer the last question.  Israel is a foreign settler enterprise, and foreign settler enterprises need foreign settlers.

Questions like these make people like Matti Friedman very uncomfortable.  So, instead of answering them, they simply label those asking them as anti-Semitic.  This is the old strategy.  And it's not working anymore.

This piece by Friedman played with my emotions a bit, because while it starts out sounding like a possibly interesting take on media coverage of the Gaza War of 2014, it very quickly turns into something I have read a million times before.  Friedman's article, while purporting to be some sort of exposé on journalism in Israel, actually turns out to be just another regurgitation of Israel's tired talking points.

"Israel is a small country in a sea of hostile Arab nations."
"The problem is all these Muslims."
"The Palestinians have squandered every opportunity at peace."

Matti, these lines are archaic. You've been using them for 66 years.  It's time for them to retire and start collecting Social Security.

On top of calling media criticism of Israel anti-Semitic, Friedman even attempted to label the critics as hypocrites:

White people in London and Paris whose parents not long ago had themselves fanned by dark people in the sitting rooms of Rangoon or Algiers condemn Jewish “colonialism.” Americans who live in places called “Manhattan” or “Seattle” condemn Jews for displacing the native people of Palestine. Russian reporters condemn Israel’s brutal military tactics. Belgian reporters condemn Israel’s treatment of Africans. When Israel opened a transportation service for Palestinian workers in the occupied West Bank a few years ago, American news consumers could read about Israel “segregating buses.” And there are a lot of people in Europe, and not just in Germany, who enjoy hearing the Jews accused of genocide.

One should note that Friedman does not deny that Israel is doing any of these things.  He is simply saying the critics might be guilty of the same crimes.  Well, Mr. Friedman, may I, a lowly Palestinian, who is guilty of none of those terrible things, condemn Israel's colonialism of my native land, displacement of my people, brutal military tactics, ethnic supremacy, and racial segregation?  I humbly request your permission.

Ultimately, what scares Matti Friedman more than anything else is why this summer's events in Gaza were, in fact, unique. The discourse is changing.  And it is not changing because of anti-Semitism.  It is changing because the huge media contingent in Israel, which was for so long reliably echoing its host's case, is now following the lead of us Palestinians and emphatically proclaiming, "The occupier has no clothes!"

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* Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."

Comments (6)
  1. Halina Minadeo ... September 4th, 2014 - 03:16

    Excellent analogy with the old tale, made popular by Hans Christian Andersen who actually reworked a medieval fable found in El conde Lucanor, a collection of moral tales inspired by Aesop, Arab folktales and other sources. In the original, which is set in a Moorish court, anyone who cannot see that the king is naked is a bastard. I agree with the original version.

  2. We used to think a Two State solution where the indigenous population of Palestine lost about 80% of the country, but at least got a chance to build a viable state in the remaining 20%, was possible. The settler policy of taking land all over the West Bank has made sure that cannot happen and the focus turned to the One State solution where somehow the settler population would have to learn to live on equal terms with Palestinian fellow citizens. The worry now is that the bitterness being created by repeated pogroms of Palestinians by the occupiers may leave only a No State solution.

  3. Beautifully said! Thank you for your excellent analysis-I will definitely post it.

  4. Anyone who takes the causualty figures supplied by Hamas to the UN is swallowing a load of bull. This is the same organization that claimed Israel massacred Mohammed al-Dura (it didn’t), committed a massacre in Jenin (it didn’t), and who overinflated casualty figures from Cast Lead to the point of ridicule. This is the organization that fires rockets from the parking lot of a hotel housing foreign journalists, just begging Israel to retaliate and maybe touch off some secondary explosions that will level the hospital and kill journalists. This is the organization that fires from schools, cemeteries, and apartment buildings. This is the organization that signs a ceasefire and then blames violations on others. Hamas has even less credibility than Putin.

    Israel controls Gaza’s points of access because Gaza smuggles in missiles. Those borders from the pullout until the violent Hamas takeover. Then, the missiles started coming.

  5. Zachary Thomas ... September 5th, 2014 - 01:57

    @Anonymous: Please be advised that I am one who will not swallow any of your bull as I have read extensively on the matters mentioned in the above post. Firstly, since you are so familiar with the Mohammed al-Dura killing (not massacre, which involves a significant number of dead), then you should know that the investigation lasted for years with several lawsuits involved. You should of course be aware that Philippe Karsenty was convicted of defamation in 2013 and fined €7,000 by the Paris Court of Appeals for claiming that the killing was staged. Secondly, there were 52 killed in Jenin of whom 5 were civlians. It may not qualify as a massacre, but then does the Boston Massacre deserve the title? Thirdly, you do not provide the inflated figures of the Cast Lead (sickening, cynical name–using a dreidel to slaughter Gazan children at Hanukkah) published by Hamas. The IDF however released a thorough final report formally identifying 1,166 names of dead Palestinians, of whom 709 were Hamas operatives whilst 89 were under 16 and 49 were women. We do not have accurate figures on the number of the dead in this latest “war,” but it is known that about 500 Gazan children and one Israeli child have been killed. Even one child is unacceptable. Quibbling about the numbers when it is obvious that hundreds of innocents have been killed is pure deflection. Arguing that Hamas is “begging” Israel to kill civilians and destroy hospitals is disingenuous. Since Israel obviously knows that there are civilians in the heavily populated Gaza Strip, Israel should not use excessive force, especially air strikes, which are notoriously not for aiming at specific targets. And lastly, Gaza smuggles in missiles because Israel has been controlling Gaza since the disengagement. Israel sealed of air, sea and land access. People who have been trapped without any hope will not just lie down and die quietly. They will fight and fight dirty. Israel needs to stop the wholesale slaughter and blame game of yelling “Hamas killed them!” when we all know who has doing the striking. Israel must deal in good faith with the Palestinians and not keep them under occupation indefinitely. So far, with the announcement of the seizure of more land in the West Bank, the future seems bleak and bloody.

  6. My god what an amazing article.

    I hope you’re right about the assertion that ‘journalists are starting to wake up and ask the right questions.’ Sadly the cynic in me just doesn’t see it happening. Maybe Western media is slightly more vocal about Israel’s dastardly actions upon the Palestinians but I feel the Zionist grip is too tight upon the airwaves. People also seem to be more hateful towards Arabs/Muslims than ever before and they’ve really ramped up the propaganda something awful these days. Before 9/11 it was never okay to be openly bigoted towards Muslims – hell maybe it wasn’t even okay to do that in 2002 – but 2015 is a whole other story.

    Anyway keep up the great work and all the best. I really like your website and look forward to reading more articles from you.


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