The US Corporate Press Aids Israel’s Push To Curtail Free Speech

Israel is greatly concerned about the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) effort that seeks: 1) to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians; and 2) to pressure Israel to comply with international law. Israel claims that this campaign is a threat to its legitimacy. Unsurprisingly, Israel doesn’t want to acknowledge that it is its own repeated flouting of international law, including its numerous war crimes, that threaten its legitimacy.

Given Israel’s misperception, it is waging a campaign to limit any discussion about its illegal and immoral actions. Unfortunately, even without any Israeli campaign, the US corporate media already aids Israel through its lack of coverage or its downplaying the effects of Israeli violations.

For example, there is limited coverage of the desperate conditions in Gaza under a seldom mentioned illegal Israeli siege (abetted by Egypt and the US) since 2007. The major Israeli attacks on Gaza in 2008, 2012 and 2014 also greatly damaged hospitals, the sanitation system and other infrastructure, schools and apartment buildings. This siege has made it nearly impossible to bring in materials and supplies to repair the devastation. These Israeli war crimes and the siege have combined to make life a living hell for the approximately 2 million people surviving in the Gaza Strip.

In addition, the frequent criminal behavior of the illegal Israeli occupiers of Palestinian land in the West Bank is rarely reported. The Israeli military/police seldom arrests these illegal occupiers, sometimes allows the criminal behavior to continue and sometimes is complicit in the crimes. Moreover, Israel has destroyed and continues to destroy Palestinian homes in the West Bank including East Jerusalem. Israel uses very questionable excuses as a pretext to illegally remove more and more Palestinians from their homes. There is also little media coverage of the disgraceful arrest and imprisonment of Palestinian children. The corporate controlled media also downplayed the finding that Israel is an apartheid state by the respected Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem as well as by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The US corporate media’s coverage of Israeli acts against US interests leaves much to be desired. One of the most blatant and poorly covered actions was the Israeli attempt in 1967 to sink the USS Liberty, a lightly armed intelligence-gathering ship. This attack killed 34 and wounded 171 US sailors.

Spies for Israel, e.g., Jonathan Pollard, greatly damaged US interests. In 1987, Caspar Weinberger, then US Secretary of Defense, stated: “It is difficult for me … to conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by the defendant in view of the breadth, the critical importance to the U.S., and the high sensitivity of the information he sold to Israel.” Concerning Pollard, Seymour Hersh, a Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote that some in the US intelligence community believe that Israel shared much of the information with the Soviet Union.

On another front, in the early 1990s then CIA Director James Woolsey told a Senate Government Affairs Committee that Israel had been selling US secrets to China for about a decade. These sales have continued at least through 2013 when the US again confronted Israel over its sale of sensitive military equipment to China.

In addition to the media complicity, Israeli supporters have mounted campaigns in universities and at the state and national levels that attempt to suppress supporters of Palestinian anti-occupation activism and BDS. In 2015 the Palestine Legal Center and the Center for Constitutional Rights issued a report documenting widespread attempts to stifle the free speech of Palestinian supporters in the US. There are also international efforts to ban support for BDS or opposition to Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. Fortunately, the American Civil Liberties Union helped stop legislation in Congress that would have silenced criticism of Israel nationally. Unfortunately, too many politicians have been willing to stifle free speech. As of 2021, 35 states have passed bills or executive orders designed to discourage boycotts of Israel.

Given Israel’s damning record, it’s clear why it would want to limit free speech on its policies. In particular, if Americans understood the depth of Israel’s war crimes and gross human rights violations, it would be hard to continue to support US vetoes of UN Security Council resolutions against these crimes. Moreover, it would be difficult to rationalize the US providing almost $4 billion in military aid annually to Israel, a wealthy nation that has long had one of the world’s strongest militaries.

Ron Forthofer is retired professor of biostatistics, having taught at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston. Since retirement in 1991, he has been an activist for peace and social justice. He ran for Congress and for Governor of Colorado for the Green Party.