Americans Oppose Investigating the Gaza Massacre

Most Americans would oppose any Trump Administration support for an International Criminal Court investigation into Israel’s use of lethal force against Palestinian protesters on May 14. This is because they either never heard about the massacre or received slanted coverage.

Thousands of Palestinian protesters in Gaza gathered in May near a "no-go" zone along an Israeli-built separation fence. They protested the 70th anniversary of the "Nakba" – or expulsion of more than 700,000 Palestinians in 1948 from what is now Israel. Throughout "March of Return" protests Israeli snipers shot, killed and severely wounded protesters from behind the safety of protective berms. Palestinian casualties peaked the day Trump administration and Israeli officials celebrated recent U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by opening a brand-new US embassy in the contested city on May 14.

Palestine, a non-member observer to the U.N. since 2012, submitted a referral to the ICC calling on prosecutors to open an investigation into Israeli crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories. The Trump administration opposes all such investigations, having returned to the "no daylight" stance preferred by Israel and its US lobby under which administration policies are indistinguishable from policies advanced by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley claimed Israel acted "with restraint" in Gaza. The US and Israeli governments, neither a signatory to the Rome Statute of the ICC, have repeatedly blocked such UN accountability measures. When polled, a majority of Americans also oppose any ICC investigation into the massacre.

Question: Should the US support an International Criminal Court investigation into the May 14 deaths of more than 60 Palestinian protesters and the wounding of another 2,771 in Gaza?

Source: IRmep poll of 1,504 US adults through Google Surveys May 23-25,
RMSE 5.5%. Raw data and demographic filters at Google.

What accounts for the lack of popular American support for an investigation into the shootings? The Israel lobby’s quest for unconditional US government support has been well-funded and ably pursued – through licit and illicit means – since long before Israel was established in 1948. Today the Israel lobby’s campaign finance network instantly imperils the career of any American politician who fails to parrot pro-Israel talking points and Israeli government positions. Clandestine cutouts conduct espionage and covert operations with utter impunity against US industries, associations and activists who meaningfully challenge harmful Israeli actions.

The Israel lobby’s long-term media manipulation has been particularly effective. A groundbreaking four-country poll revealed in 2016 that a plurality of US adults, unlike the citizens of the U.K., Canada and Mexico, believe Palestinians occupy Israeli land, rather than the reverse. Though methodologically flawed and overstated, mainstream polls accurately reveal higher American sympathy for Israelis relative to Palestinians. Many Americans are reflexively pro-Israel when asked about grisly occurrences such as the Gaza massacre because Israel media pressure groups and pro-Israel media outlets suppress coverage, or when that fails, blame the victims. Both impact reporting and public opinion during a crisis such as Gaza, and the most important single factor influencing lack of support for an investigation was that a stunning 81.5% of Americans say they never heard about the massacre through any channel.

Question: Have you received any mainstream, alternative or social media reports about the May 14 deaths of more than 60 Palestinian protesters and the wounding of another 2,771 in Gaza?

Source: IRmep poll of 1,506 US adults through Google Surveys May 25-27,
RMSE 4.1%. Raw data and demographic filters at Google

Another way to measure the saturation level and intensity of Gaza massacre media coverage is to compare the level of "follow up" search engine activity of internet users in the US seeking additional information after hearing about it. Interest in Gaza increased, but never garnered more than 9% of the volume search activity of the Santa Fe school shooting, despite having a much higher casualty rate and occurring just a few days earlier. (Numbers on the chart below represent Google search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the US over time. A value of 100 is the peak search popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term was only half as popular.)

Source: Google Trends keyword search for "santa fe" vs "gaza"
(Results downloaded May 27, 2018)

The "angle" or "slant" of the limited Gaza news coverage also matters. Leading news organizations such as the Washington Post, CNN and Fox News all freely headlined Santa Fe as a "massacre" in their saturation coverage, with abundant on-the-scene reporter interviews of victims and their families. What little reporting mainstream media performed about Gaza was so compromised and one-sided in support of Israel that some readers sarcastically responded to passive-tense headlines appearing in such outlets as the New York Times by inquiring precisely how "Palestinians died" in the reported "clashes" and whether it was perhaps the result of old age.

Source: Twitter

It may seem American popular opposition to an ICC investigation of Israel is yet another stunning defeat for those working against the deadly and damaging results of unconditional US support for Israel. However, what the poll numbers actually reveal is quite different. Despite being purposefully underinformed and misinformed about a major news story, 40.7% of Americans nevertheless still want Israel’s massacre of Palestinians in Gaza to be investigated by the International Criminal Court. If Americans continue to transcend the Israel lobby’s intense and well-funded new initiatives to undermine free speech, popular support for meaningful accountability – such as severing unconditional US aid to Israel – will continue to grow.

Note about the wording of the IRmep polls: The questions created by IRmep and fielded through Google Surveys have similar "lack of agency" and "passive tense" attributes that plagued US mainstream media reporting. That is because under rigorously enforced guidelines, Google will not field surveys about war or violence, most especially questions that clearly assign blame for violent actions, such as one group "killing and maiming" another group. According to Google Surveys feedback on drafts of IRmep survey questions, this is because "gruesome actions cited in the survey [drafts], some users and sites that run surveys might be offended by this kind of content. Regardless if it’s currently happening or a hypothetical event, the act itself is gruesome."

Grant F. Smith is the director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy in Washington and the author of the 2016 book, Big Israel: How Israel’s Lobby moves America.

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