The Israeli propaganda machine has called up its allies in the media and Congress to make sure that no one will condemn the invasion of Gaza, which has killed and wounded thousands of Palestinians, most of them civilians and many of them children. The pictures of small bodies lined up to be buried are convincing evidence that something is very wrong in Gaza, but leaders in Congress from both parties have nonetheless rallied to the cause of Israeli victimhood, putting all the blame for the conflict on the Palestinians.
Folks outside the United States who do not have the benefit of the Israel lobby to guide their thinking are seeing the carnage in a different way, noting the disproportionate nature of the Israeli attack and also the unlikelihood that Tel Aviv’s stated objectives are obtainable without utterly destroying Gaza’s infrastructure and turning the strip of land into a military-occupied moonscape. Many are also wondering what Israel’s actual goals might be, since the invasion will only empower Hamas politically, not destroy it. Is it to tie the incoming Obama administration irrevocably to Israel’s security agenda or to strengthen the Kadima Party in the lead-up to national elections next month? Only time will tell, but, as always, the Palestinians will bear the brunt of the suffering, and the United States will surely pay some price for green-lighting the Israeli offensive.
The Washington Post, as always, has not been shy in its support of Israel. It has featured editorials and a preponderance of letters to the editor strongly supporting the Israeli position. No less than 11 opinion pieces by Israeli politicians Tzipi Livni and Ephraim Sneh, American professor Robert Lieber, Israeli academic Yossi Klein Halevi, Jim Hoagland, John Bolton, Michael Gerson, and Charles Krauthammer (twice) have all exonerated Tel Aviv in the current crisis and accused Hamas of being solely responsible. Referring to the invasion, Richard Cohen wrote last week that "It takes real stupidity to blame it on Israel." That shared the page with a piece by Anne Applebaum that asserted, astonishingly, that Hamas believes "the continuing firing of rockets into southern Israel will, sooner or later, somehow bring about the dissolution of the Jewish state." It is clear that complete ignorance of what one is writing about has never deterred anyone on the Post‘s opinion pages.
The Post also did not ignore the visual message, making sure that Israeli suffering was seen to be at least equal to that of the Palestinians. On its front page on Dec. 30, it featured side-by-side photos of a weeping Palestinian woman whose five young daughters had been killed by an Israeli bomb next to an elderly Israeli women obviously distraught because a Palestinian rocket had "hit the town of Sderot," killing and injuring no one. That, apparently, is parity at the Washington Post.
The New York Times has been little better, with its letters to the editor, op-eds, and editorials supporting Israel’s right "to defend itself" countered only by a single splendid rebuttal piece by Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi. Two pieces by the paper’s resident "conservatives" were particularly revealing. Bill Kristol and David Brooks are a latter-day Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, though it is sometimes difficult to tell who is the straight man and who is the clown. Both invariably present their arguments dishonestly, setting up straw men and laying out questionable assumptions that inevitably lead to the answer they are seeking.
They also work in tandem. Kristol, a good deal less clever than Brooks, sets up the official line on Mondays in terms that are sure to be heavily criticized, and Brooks follows a day or two later with a much subtler presentation of the same bill of goods. The Times reader, impressed by the greater sophistication of Brooks, nods his head in agreement, unaware that he has also pretty much bought into Kristol. This syncretism should not surprise anyone, however, as Brooks once worked for Kristol at the Weekly Standard.
Kristol’s "Why Israel Fights" is dedicated to convincing the reader that Israel is fighting the Islamofascists in Gaza so that the United States will not have to do so. According to Kristol, "An Israeli success in Gaza would be a victory in the war on terror and in the broader struggle for the future of the Middle East." He describes Hamas as a "terror-friendly and almost death-cult-like form of Islamic extremism" allied "with a terror-sponsoring and nuclear-weapons-seeking Iranian state (aided by its sidekick Syria)." As the U.S. is also a target of "Islamic terror," Washington must "stand with Israel as it fights," because Israel is "doing the United States a favor by taking on Hamas now." If Israel had "refrained from using force to stop terror attacks, it would have been a victory for Iran." Finally, "Israel’s willingness to fight makes it more possible that the United States may not have to."
Kristol’s op-ed touches all the hot buttons nuclear weapons, terrorists, Iran, and even hapless Syria and he argues that only Israel is willing to stand up to the challenge. And he makes clear to Mr. American Reader that Israel’s savvy politicians are doing something that protects the United States and could make it less necessary for Washington to get involved in a new shooting war. Kristol’s surmises and linkages are, of course, largely hogwash, from his embrace of the "war on terror" concept to his demonization of Iran. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are primarily resistance movements that have grown into political parties, something that Kristol knows perfectly well. Neither threatens the United States. Israel was and is a colonial power intent on strangling the Palestinians so it can steal their land. If the Palestinians respond to violence with violence, it is not surprising, nor is it necessarily in America’s national interest to further Israel’s apartheid policies.
David Brooks’ "The Confidence War" takes off in a slightly different direction, arguing that Israel invaded Gaza to gain the psychological advantage over its opponents. Along the way, he observes that "extremist groups believe in the eventual extermination of Israel . The extremists’ goal is to kill as many Jews as possible and wait for God (or Iran) to kill the rest." Israel however, seeks to "restrain the brazenness of the extremists and to suppress terrorism week by week and month by month." Israel’s violence "doesn’t necessarily beget violence. It sometimes prevents it." Brooks also praises the deadly efficacy of the Israeli assault in which numerous targets were hit simultaneously from the air, a reversal of Lebanon 2006 and evidence of the "recuperative powers a democracy is capable of" (sic).
For Brooks, an Israeli victory is essential to gain the upper hand over extremists and terrorists and to "master events," his framing of the argument coming full circle and his message reinforcing that of Kristol. Arabs who oppose Israel are always terrorists and extremists. Brooks assumes that his readers will agree that all of Israel’s opponents in the Middle East seek the Jewish state’s extermination in spite of all the evidence that a solid majority among Palestinians and even Iranians are willing to accept Israel’s existence and do not want a war. Israel, by way of contrast, is portrayed as a democracy that acts with restraint and only reacts to evil. The horrors of its settlement policy, which has been the single greatest factor in creating the current reality, are not mentioned. Brooks’ observation that violence itself can have a salutary effect if it terrifies people enough to inhibit further violence would seem to be fallacious if one looks at the endless of cycle of conflict that Israel’s heavy-handedness has thus far provoked.
In short, to read America’s self-described newspapers of record is to receive the Israeli propaganda line in its purest form. There are signs that many Americans are not buying into the nonsense, that an increasing percentage sympathize with the Palestinians and even more do not want the U.S. involved in the conflict. The rise of the Internet as a source of information, which makes it as easy to read papers from London or Dubai as from New York, has been a dramatic development. It is now harder for the Israeli spinners to make believe that an attack on a school was actually a strike against terrorism when the evidence to the contrary can be found on YouTube. Hopefully some day, the information explosion will completely discredit pundits like Brooks and Kristol and put them out of business.