Monday, June 21, 2010

Ethnocentric, Biased Media: "Strangle" those Palestinians

Mark LeVine is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers, and not just because he's faculty over at the University of California, Irvine (GO EATERS!). Levine's latest piece over on Al Jazeera, titled "The meaning of strangulation," demonstrates an extraordinarily biased and ethnocentric American media.

Many will recall the recent comments made by White House reporter Helen Thomas, who said Jews "should get the hell out of Palestine." Why will so many recall these comments? Not only because of their content (anti-Israel), but also because they made headlines all over the American media. Heaven forbid an elderly, retiring reporter with Middle Eastern roots express her opinions on a charged political issue, let alone an opinion that challenges Israeli occupation. In any case, the point here is, her comments made big news and threatened to taint her legacy as a reporter.

I hadn't realized, however, what LeVine points out:

Thomas was forced into retirement for declaring that Jews "should get the hell out of Palestine," but New York Senator Chuck Schumer, one of the most powerful politicians in the US, has avoided any criticism or even major press coverage for remarks he made only days later that supported the continued "economic strangulation" of Gaza; in part, because, he essentially argues, the inhabitants of the benighted Strip are not Jewish.

Schumer made his remarks during a brief talk to the Orthodox Union, a well-known politically conservative Jewish educational, outreach and social service organisation.

The talk covered several foreign policy issues, including Iran and Israel/Palestine. When the topic turned to the Israeli attack on the Gaza aid flotilla Schumer began by explaining that the "Palestinian people still don't believe in the Jewish state, in a two-state solution". But that is not all, he continued: "They don't believe in the Torah, in David."

Because of this, and because they chose to elect Hamas, Schumer went on to argue, Israel is right - and the US should support its desire - "to strangle them economically until they see that's not the way to go".

I, like most Americans, was made well aware of Thomas's statement, but not Senator Schumer's. LeVine then extrapolates on the social significance of Schumer:

...through his representation of New York, the state with the largest Jewish population in the US, he is a leading pro-Israel voice in congress who has the ability directly to impact the nature of US policy towards Israel and the Middle East more broadly.

In other words, what Senator Schumer says actually can cost people - Palestinians, Israelis, Americans - their livelihoods and even their lives, not to mention help prolong or alleviate one of the world's most intractable conflicts. And yet no one in official Washington even blinked.

To consider the implications of these comments, it is worth considering what would happen if any Arab or Muslim, never mind a US senator, explained that because Israelis do not support a two-state solution, and do not believe in the Quran - that is, have not converted to Islam - and have voted in one of the most right-wing governments in their country's history, the US, or the world more broadly, is justified in trying to "strangle Israel economically" until it moderates its policies.

Imagine the uproar. Consider what would happen to the person - a columnist or congressman - who made such a comment. Yet hardly anyone has even noticed, never mind considered the implications of Schumer's remarks, which on YouTube have garnered about 1,500 views.

I've re-presented a good portion of the essay, but there's a lot more. Excellent read. And here's a clip of Schumer's speech, along with a general summary of LeVine's points afterwards:

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