Matt Katz: You're listening to the takeaway on Matt Katz in for Tanzina Vega. On Wednesday, President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he expected violence between Israeli forces and Hamas to de-escalate and move towards a ceasefire in the coming days. In response, Netanyahu said that Israel will continue their military operation until its aim is met.
This month, Israel's military has killed at least 227 Palestinians including more than 60 children. Meanwhile, 12 people have been killed in Israel, including two children. As is often the case when conflict flares in this tiny part of the Middle East, debates in the US have been raging about media coverage of the situation.
MSNBC: Let's make one thing clear, Israel has a right to exist and to defend itself. That is an indisputable fact, but so do Palestinians and that's a fact that's often ignored. Palestinians are at best third-class citizens in the nation of their birth.
CNN: Do you support the protests, the violent protests that have erupted in solidarity with you and other families in your position right now?
CNN: Do you support the violent dispossession of me and my family?
Fox: The terrorists of Hamas clearly intent on killing as many Israelis as possible, and critics point out also causing untold casualties among the citizens of Gaza, even as more Hamas rockets are raining down on the Jewish state.
Matt Katz: That was MSNBC, CNN, and Fox. Meanwhile, on social media, progressives criticize mainstream Western outlets for being biased in favor of Israel, while the other side calls out in media criticism of Israel's actions since human rights abuses by governments elsewhere in the world go virtually ignored in the American discourse.
With me now to discuss how media coverage and social media takes on this conflict are being perceived, particularly in American Jewish communities, is Batya Ungar Sargon, deputy opinion editor for Newsweek and co-host of Newsweek's podcast, The Debate. Nice to talk to you again Batya.
Batya Ungar Sargon: Oh, my gosh, Matt, thank you so much for having me.
Matt Katz: It's our pleasure. Also, with us is Peter Beinart, editor at large for Jewish Currents and author of The Beinart Notebook on Substack. Welcome back to the show Peter.
Matt Katz: Peter, have you noticed any differences in how the current violence in Israel and Palestine is being reported and analyzed by the media here, compared to previous instances of this violence?
Peter: Yes, I think there are more Palestinian voices that are present in the mainstream US media than I remember, let's say back in 2014, or in 2008/2009, before previous wars between Israel and Gaza. I think that's part of a growing recognition in general in the US media about issues of representation. I think people have become more self-conscious about the fact that Palestinians have historically not been very well represented in this mainstream media discussion. Then, of course, on social media, I think you have even more representation of Palestinian voices and so I think together that does mark a significant shift.
Matt Katz: It seems like this is the first major flare-up in hostilities since the advent of social media being so universal in our lives, right Peter? That must be factoring into all of this.
Peter Beinart: Yes. I suppose social media was around, but obviously, its prominence has grown and I don't think you can divorce the technological changes from the fact that we have been really in recent years in a moment of real surge of progressive activism across a whole range of issues, in a way that was really not the case, let's say during the Obama years.
Although most of that activism is not around Israel-Palestine, it does have implications I think for the way that people see Israel-Palestine because there's a general, I would say, worldview perspective, that this has implications for how people operate on this issue.
Matt Katz: Batya let's talk about this surge of this progressive worldview when it comes to this particular issue. You recently wrote a piece entitled, When Wokeness Comes for Israel, which criticizes several outlets for their coverage. What are your main issues with the way this has been handled?
Batya Ungar Sargon: It's funny, I'm not going to disagree yet with Peter. I actually agree that there was over the course of the Trump administration what a lot of sociologists have called a wokening. This didn't happen among communities of color, it happened among white liberals and so I do disagree with Peter that what we're seeing is more Palestinian voices. What we're seeing is actually the mainstreaming of a woke worldview among white liberals.
What I call wokeness is the insistence on a re-racialization of everything into a power binary that portrays one side as all-powerful and the other side as totally powerless. This is really what you've seen happen to the conversation about race in America. We see the whole conversation, divide people into their racial group affiliation. You have white people who are privileged and powerful and uphold white supremacy on the one hand and at the expense of people of color who have no agency as far as woke people are concerned.
I think this language is incredibly dehumanizing, but this is now how Israel is seen by the far left by woke activists and by a newly woke media, and now even members of Congress too. Israel is being cast as the colonial white oppressor upholding a form of supremacy and the Palestinians as their victims. To me, this view is not just false, it's not just immoral, but it's completely counterproductive. It dehumanizes both sides, it erases the history of the region and it uses maximalist claims to ensure that solutions will not occur.
Just like "abolish the police" replaced both calls and legislation for police reform, so to have this new language about genocide and ethnic cleansing on the part of Israel replaced calls and even attempts to end the occupation, which is an important and noble goal.
Matt Katz: Peter do you think it's fair even logical to graft messages, then you might have seen at Black Lives Matter protests in the US and put it onto the Palestinian cause.
Peter Beinart: On the one hand, of course, every world conflict is different. There are significant differences, of course, between these Israeli-Palestinian conflict between racial-- America's history of white supremacy, but it is also I think, valuable for people to make moral analogies between different forms of injustice. I'm old enough to remember that the moral analogy between the civil rights movement in the United States and the anti-apartheid movement, even though the situation in South Africa was in many ways, very different, was an important way of making people recognize certain very core truths.
I also remember that in the 1990s, the historical legacy of genocide and ethnic cleansing in Europe was an analogy that led many people, including many Jews, to be very active on the question of the ethnic cleansing of Bosnians in the mid-1990s didn't mean the situations were the same, of course, they were not saying but situations can be complicated and have nuance. Also, there could be certain simple fundamental moral truths among them are, that people deserve equality under the law, and should not be treated differently based on their race, religion, or ethnicity.
You do see fundamentally in Israel-Palestine the Palestinians are treated differently than Israeli Jews. They have fewer rights because of their religion and ethnicity. In that way, I think there is an important moral analogy to be drawn between a situation in the United States where we have our own history of people being treated differently because of inherited characteristics.
Matt Katz: Batya it seems to me that every critique of how the story about what's going on there is told, needs historical context, but then if you lead the story with "Israeli rockets" then it's well Gaza shot into Israel first, but then it's what happened at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem involving Israeli police arresting Palestinian worshipers? Then it's well, what about 1967 borders and 1948 refugees? Soon enough, it's a biblical argument about who God gave this land to. It seems exhausting and endless, right Batya?
Batya Ungar Sargon: I think, Matt, you just put your finger on why people would much prefer to graft an American racial story on to the Middle East, then learn the history, then engage in the moral and ethical and historical and civil rights questions that have plagued the two nations that live in the region. I do want to push back a little bit on what Peter said about comparing this to the American context in order to reach a moral truth. I think the opposite is actually the case.
What I mean by that is, of course, it's true that there's police brutality against Palestinians in Jerusalem in the West Bank, and there's police brutality against Black people in America. Those are both terrible and both really important that we talk about, but when the police or the US government discriminates against Black people, those people have no one else to protect them. They are American citizens, it is their own government that's failing to protect their civil rights and the history of white supremacy in America is one in which white people really viewed themselves as inherently superior for racial reasons and they use that to justify those abuses, okay?
That's a situation of pure moral evil and it's just not relevant to Israel at all. I think that's because when Peter says that Palestinians are being systematically deprived of civil rights, this is true of Palestinians in the West Bank. It's true to a much, much, much, much lesser degree of Palestinian citizens of Israel.
When we talk about the conflict when members of the squad talk about ethnic cleansing and genocide, they're not talking about Palestinian citizens of Israel, who are an inherent and integral part of the nation of Israel. They're talking about Palestinians living in the West Bank in Gaza, and East Jerusalem, who are not citizens of Israel. They see themselves as members of a different nation. In fact, many people in East Jerusalem have turned down citizenship offers, and there's no Jewish supremacy at stake. Israel's Jewish policies stem from our genocidal history that justified Israel in the first place.
We can criticize those, we can debate them, but casting that as a form of white supremacy or supremacy, is to me really morally perverse. It really borders on even Holocaust erasure.
The third point I would make is that, the Palestinians are not agentless here, Israel does have more power in the situation, but to equate power, with morality or with justice, I think this is a mistake that the left makes often and I also don't see this as morally credible.
Matt Katz: Peter, this is very interesting that these discussions and the way we talk about this, has also been changing in Washington. Batya mentioned the squad-- Politico reported that a staunch democratic ally of Israel in Congress said, "We have lost the emotional side of the argument. You have luminaries like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, pushing back against US support for Israel's military actions. What is changing in Congress right now, when it comes to this issue?
Peter Beinart: I think a lot of it is that people are feeling comfortable saying things that Democrats, that they always believe. One does need to be careful about terms here, but let's be clear. More than 700,000 Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homes in 1948. Yes, a small number of them fled in terror, most of them were expelled by force. Many other, hundreds of thousands were expelled in Israel's war of 1967. Palestinian citizens of Israel are nowhere near close to having the same basic rights as Israeli Jews. If you just look at Israel's land policy, there's a reason that Palestinian citizens represent 19% of Israel's population, and live on 3% of Israel's land.
People are starting to understand this. When we talk about the problem with analogizing struggles for racial justice and equality in the United States with those in Israel-Palestine, what's striking to me is I've never heard a Palestinian complain about that. I've never heard a Palestinian complain about that because Palestinians who were the ones who are suffering fundamental denial of basic rights actually, in my experience, overwhelmingly welcome the solidarity of people around the world, whoever they are, who understand from their own experience, what that's like.
Matt Katz: Batya, is it possible that the shifts in this conversation isn't all necessarily because of wokeness, as you say, but Israelis may be acting more aggressively in this situation than in the past, and maybe has acted differently under Netanyahu than maybe in previous generations of Israeli leadership and that's what politicians in Washington are responding to?
Batya Ungar Sargon: I don't think that is [laughs] the case. I don't want to compare civilian casualties to prior times. Every civilian casualty is an enormous loss and just an infinite loss, but I can say that there's always a problem with police brutality in East Jerusalem. This current round of conflict was started by some inexplicable police brutality in East Jerusalem from my point of view.
In that sense, I think you're correct, but I think that what we're really seeing is that-- I don't see how anyone can go on social media and not see this new discourse as being the result of the bullying and dogpiling, that happens on Twitter, by far-left activists and now by members of Congress as well. It's just absolutely brutal. Just the one thing that I have to say is that, just as it's clear that Trump's anti-China rhetoric led to an increase in racist attacks against Asian Americans, the fever pitch of the accusations that Israel's an apartheid and committing ethnic cleansing and genocide, are coinciding with a huge spike in Jews being attacked on the streets of America and Europe.
There's just crickets in the mainstream media and I don't understand this. It's so clear to us how vile rhetoric can lead to attacks against vulnerable populations when it's coming from the right, but somehow, when members of pro-Palestinian rallies across the world, have been breaking off and attacking Jews on the streets, it's not even recognizable. I don't think the mainstream media is being silent because I think they can't even see it. I would urge your listeners to take that away from The Takeaway and to think about that a little bit.
Matt Katz: Thank you Batya. Peter, we have a few seconds left. Do you have something to leave, either listeners or journalists who are trying to cover this very fraught story?
Peter Beinart: Yes, I would say I totally agree with Batya about vile rhetoric leading to anti-Semitic attacks and how we can have no tolerance for that, but it's important to distinguish between vile anti-Semitic rhetoric and speaking hard but important truths. Calling Israel an apartheid state is something that Israel's own most prominent human rights organization, B'Tselem, did early this year along with Human Rights Watch. That in itself, you can debate it, but it's not anti-Semitic and it's not fair to accuse people who use those terms as being responsible for anti-Semitic violence in my opinion.
Matt Katz: Peter Beinart is author of The Beinart Notebook on Substack. Batya Ungar Sargon is the deputy opinion editor for Newsweek and co-host of Newsweek's podcast, The Debate. Thank you both for joining us and for having a cordial and critical conversation about this issue,
Batya Ungar Sargon: Matt, you're a man of integrity and I'm so happy to have been here.
Peter Beinart: Thanks very much.
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