CNN attacks advocates of equal rights

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Michael F. Brown

The Electronic Intifada  /  July 22, 2021

Somewhere, Kenneth Marcus, a career Israel lobbyist and ostensibly the vanquished Trump administration’s top civil rights enforcer at the US Department of Education, is probably apoplectic.

A new poll commissioned by the Jewish Electorate Institute and carried out online by GBAO Strategies from June 28 to July 1 shows that 25 percent of American Jewish voters believe that “Israel is an apartheid state.”

Presumably worse from Marcus’ perspective due to his work with young people on university campuses, 38 percent of American Jewish voters under age 40 hold this entirely reasonable, fact-based belief.

With a significant minority of the American Jewish community having reached an apartheid verdict, it will be that much harder for Israel lobbyists to claim that Students for Justice in Palestine – or Jewish Voice for Peace for that matter – harbors opinions that are unacceptable in noting that Israel is an apartheid state.

But the pushback from Israel lobby groups has certainly begun.

It could definitely be anticipated.

There’s also anger from some Israeli journalists. Herb Keinon expressed his dismay in The Jerusalem Post that some American Jewish voters have profound concerns about the racism of an ethnonationalist state.

Rather than address Israel’s anti-Palestinian policies, he focuses on Israel education among Jews in the US.

That approach seems likely to backfire. It’s not ignorance that led to these results, but awareness of the two-tier legal system Israel has implemented.

No discussion

While there is much to celebrate about the opinion poll, some of its findings are worrying. For example, 19 percent of respondents support “Israeli annexation of the West Bank that establishes one state as the national homeland of the Jewish people, and allows Palestinians to vote for their municipal leaders but not vote for Israel’s national government.”

Keinon simply ignores this disturbing result.

It’s an open expression of anti-Palestinian racism as it backs an apartheid outcome, apparently making permanent the current apartheid described by Human Rights Watch and the Israeli organization B’Tselem.

That 19 percent of respondents openly admit to anti-Palestinian racism and support for land theft in the West Bank is a terrifying figure. Yet it’s also notable that while most people in Israel have accepted the apartheid status quo (and advancing it) – voting for it time and again whether with Benjamin Netanyahu or Naftali Bennett at the helm – that’s not at all the case with American Jewish voters who largely reject this position.

Whether considering the positive or the negative results, it’s troubling that mainstream US media aren’t discussing the poll. As a corollary, what are the numbers among Christian Americans, many of whom favor bringing Israel’s version of Jim Crow to the West Bank?

My colleague Ali Abunimah analyzed the poll here.

The poll, as he notes, indicates that most American Jewish voters are far more concerned about right-wing anti-Jewish animus (61 percent) than left-wing anti-Jewish bigotry (22 percent).

CNN’s misrepresentations

That emphasis on right-wing anti-Jewish hatred is downplayed by Jewish activists in a recent CNN article and video segment about anti-Jewish bigotry.

CNN points a finger at Congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Cori Bush, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib for using the term “apartheid” in regard to Israel.

Omar, the article notes, used the terms “ethnic cleansing” and “terrorism” regarding Israeli actions.

CNN states that “for many Jews those words” – it’s unclear whether apartheid is being included – “have become loaded phrases that are offensive and cloaked anti-Semitism and that are tossed around without explanation of what is meant by the allegation.”

The news network adds that “supporters of Israel argue the attacks on the country can be seen as bad faith efforts meant to question the legitimacy of the only Jewish state in the world.”

But what is to be said when “the only Jewish state in the world” rejects equal rights for Palestinians?

CNN is silent there because it doesn’t bother to raise the issue of equal rights for Palestinians. The news organization is complicit in anti-Palestinian bias by failing to mention the discriminatory practices Palestinians face.

The suggestion is also made by CNN that Congresswoman Bush crossed the line when she said that “The Black and Palestinian struggles for liberation are interconnected, and we will not let up until all of us are free.”

Somehow Bush is guilty of anti-Jewish sentiment for saying: “Instead of funding a military that polices and kills Palestinians, I have some communities in St. Louis City and in St. Louis County where that money can go where we desperately need investment, where we are hurting.”

CNN journalist Nick Watt then says those congresswomen say they are “legitimately criticizing the Israeli government,” but some, he asserts, see their comments as an example of how “Israel and Jews are used as scapegoats.” He then immediately transitions to university student Blake Flayton arguing that “you make the Jews as a collective Israel, the face of all that you don’t like, of all that’s standing in the way between you and a brighter, more progressive future.”

Flayton adds that is how “atrocities against my people have always begun” before Watt says that synagogues across the country are now being defaced. But the congresswomen cited are clearly against hatred of this sort.

CNN is quite simply engaged in anti-Palestinian racism and slurring the most progressive people of color in the US Congress for speaking out for Palestinian freedom and rights.

The CNN video, inverting the language presumably used, also takes to task highly regarded model Bella Hadid, who is Palestinian American, for chanting “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea.” Watt then asks, “So where do the Jews go?”

Not a word is said explaining that for many people that chant simply means equal rights for all. Nor does Watt ask where all the ethnically cleansed Palestinians dating back to the 1948 Nakba have gone.

Palestinian dispossession is simply wiped away.

The CNN article castigates Hadid for using “charged language viewed by many Jews as anti-Semitic when she calls Israel’s actions ‘colonization,’ ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘apartheid.’” This is CNN pushing anti-Palestinian racism and censorship to prevent Palestinians from describing what is being done to them.

Worse, immediately under that inflammatory charge, CNN highlights a quote from Flayton asserting: “If Adolf Hitler had an Instagram account, the Holocaust would have happened a lot quicker.”

But Hadid isn’t promoting anti-Jewish hatred or the Holocaust. She’s promoting freedom for Palestinians while accurately detailing what’s being done to them.

For this, she’s being viciously attacked and misrepresented.

Notably, CNN ignores part of that same Instagram commentary from Hadid in which she states: “I have been told my entire life that who I am: a Palestinian woman – is not real. I’ve been told my father does not have a birth place if he is from Palestine.”

She adds, “And I am here to say: Palestine is very much real and the Palestinian people are here to stay and coexist. As they always have.”

Yet CNN takes her support for coexistence – rather than being subjected to colonization, ethnic cleansing and apartheid – as a demonstration of anti-Jewish hatred. This is profoundly wrong and indicates deep problems at CNN that require internal consideration.

Meanwhile, CNN completely ignores Flayton’s own sarcastic tweet – with its casual bigotry against a Palestinian voice – demeaning Hadid in May. Flayton seems to think that because Hadid is a model she should stay in a corner and express no opinion about Israeli military violence and human rights abuses.

He fears her informed voice because her power isn’t academic or political – as of now – but cultural and capable of reaching millions of people around the world.

I have raised my concerns for close to 20 years in communications with CNN and have little hope of change there, particularly with the US version of the network.

Such “journalism” continues to intimidate a range of concerned Americans from getting involved. People accustomed to a pat on the back for working against apartheid in South Africa or US foreign policy injustices in Central America quickly back away from advocacy for Palestinian rights when they’re unexpectedly called an anti-Jewish bigot for noting Israeli apartheid and the absence of equal rights.

A poll with results like those of the Jewish Electorate Institute serves as a reminder of the many false accusations leveled in recent years against activists in the Palestine freedom movement in an effort to silence dissent and intimidate newcomers from joining.

Poll respondents and CNN are right that anti-Jewish bigotry is a very real and concerning matter. But increasingly it is recognized that efforts to conflate advocacy for Palestinian rights with anti-Jewish animus are misleading and intended to silence people of good will concerned about the absence of rights for Palestinians.

At the same time, I believe progressives will continue to stand up against the far right racism and anti-Jewish hatred and violence of Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan of the sort we saw in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.

Finally, it must be asked, where is CNN’s discussion of anti-Palestinian bigotry in Israel and the US, including Congress? Such analysis is entirely missing.

CNN could learn a great deal by examining the new poll from the Jewish Electorate Institute.

That, however, appears unlikely.

CNN not alone

CNN is, of course, not alone in its shortcomings.

In the last few days, The New York Times has failed to say a word about the death of Suha Jarrar and the refusal of Israeli officials to allow her imprisoned mother, Khalida Jarrar – a high-profile elected representative – to attend her funeral.

The cruelty and injustice of life under foreign control cannot be fully understood when such stories go untold.

Additionally, the newspaper of record’s obituary of Holocaust survivor and Palestinian rights advocate Esther Bejarano falls short.

There was not even a brief mention of Bejarano’s support for Palestinian rights and the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. Anti-fascism, yes, but not a word about her thoughts on her time in Israel.

Yet, less than three years ago, she told The Electronic Intifada that she and her husband “could not stand Israeli politics. It was a catastrophe.” Both of them found life “difficult” because “we did not agree with the terrible things that were done to the Palestinians.”

Israel, she added, “fought against them, threw the Palestinians out. They didn’t leave on their own, they were forced to leave. We just could not stand that.”

These are powerful words from a remarkable individual. Readers deserve to learn more from The New York Times.

To omit this aspect of her life is a form of memory suppression, increasingly demanded in the US by right-wing critics of historical understanding of American racism and now being legislated.

Yet I see the integrity and consistency of Bejarano’s voice in the strong moral stance of a significant percentage of those polled by the Jewish Electorate Institute.

While The New York Times failed on the Jarrar and Bejarano stories, it should be noted that the newspaper recently did better with two important and compelling videos about the horrors inflicted upon Palestinians in Gaza in May by the Israeli military using powerful Boeing-manufactured American weaponry.

Those videos are worth watching in full and can be seen here and here.

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist