RORY MCGUIRE. Middle East: Comedy or Tragedy?

It is increasingly difficult to decide whether the ongoing drama in the Middle East is a comedy or a tragedy. The actors are performing roles written for comedians but the consequences of their actions are tragic too often.

Australia is not immune to the consequences of this doublethink (thank you George Orwell) when it comes to sticking our noses into this tragic farce. Our latest effort is to put our hand up offering to help the US in its staged conflict with Iran. In a sane world we would note that these conflicts have many unknowns, such as what really happened to the two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, or exactly where the US drone was shot down, and we would be offering diplomatic assistance to Iran in its attempt to deal with multiple US provocations. One thing we do know about these events, real or alleged, is that they are not happening in Florida airspace or just off its coast.

Next we have “the deal of the century”, yes, another one, in which the rich Gulf states are going to cough up $US50 billion, ostensibly to rescue the Palestinians from the injustices heaped on them by, mainly, the US, with Australia applauding noisily from the cheaper seats, over the past 70 years. Will the rich Gulfies ask why they are footing the bill for the international injustices inflicted by the West? We hope not. Is this just a piece of theatre to cement Israel’s hold on the West Bank? Please don’t ask. With the Arabs paying for it? Brilliant!

So why is this the longest-running production in showbiz? Largely because the people who write the reviews, otherwise known as the mainstream media (MSM), are reluctant to say what is really happening on stage. Some of the actors have a well demonstrated tendency to leap off the stage and rough up any reviewers unwise enough to describe what is actually happening.

Commentators on US Middle East policy should – and probably do – know that the script is not written in Washington but in Tel Aviv. The US invasion of Iraq was perhaps the most brilliantly conceived and executed script in history: on one side a nation was “bombed back into the Stone Age”, as some of the victors like to say, with something like a million casualties, while the other side suffered not one casualty, except for a few temporarily dented Neocon reputations. Nor did it have to pay a cent, even though the Bush administration woefully underestimated the war’s cost at $US50 billion and tens of thousands of American mercenaries’ lives were lost or ruined. The latest estimate of the cost to America of its interventions since 2003 has reached $US5.9 trillion, almost doubling Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz’s 2008 $US3 trillion estimate of the cost of invading Iraq.

Even now most of these mercenaries do not realise they were bit-players. They still believe they were fighting for their own country. Otherwise they might not be lining up to do it all again with Iran.

So why don’t the MSM point this out? Because they know they will be slammed with ad hominem attacks, their universities or employers pressured to discard them and an avalanche of correspondence launched against them.

I have been told by an ex letters editor at the Sydney Morning Herald that they were most reluctant to publish letters supporting the Palestinian position because they knew they would get a swarm of hostile letters, ostentatiously copied to the editor and Fairfax chairman and board members, claiming the most minute details in the letters were evidence of journalistic incompetence, anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias, and calling for the dismissal of the journalist involved. As an example, watch what happens when this comment is published. Or ask what happened to Mike Carlton.

Yet, the longer and worse the Israel/Palestine situation gets, and the more “collateral” damage is inflicted on neighbouring nations like Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Afghanistan, with Iran next on the list, the more certain it is that Israel will be the nation that will suffer most, at least to its international reputation. Friends of Israel, such as Australia, need to point this out, not behave like moral cowards.

But the show gets sillier. A timely reminder of the nonsense peddled on this topic comes from the New York Times which has announced it will no longer publish political cartoons. Why? Because a cartoon it published of “Netanyahu as a guide dog leading a blind US President Donald Trump” was “clearly anti-Semitic”, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. The NYT pleaded guilty to this, apologised and resolved to discontinue these potent ridiculers of pomposity and twisted logic. This comes from possibly the world’s most influential newspaper which has steadily supported The Zionist movement since 1946 when American advertisers sympathetic to Zionism threatened a ban on advertising in the NYT unless it supported the Zionist movement. The cartoon can be viewed on the Internet and is hardly a work of art. But anti-Semitic? It accurately portrays the real mechanism that has driven US Middle East policy for 70 years: Israel writes the script and America puts on the production. Today the main actor, having been told he is the master deal-maker, stumbles blindly where he is led.

Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, on 21 June quoted with approval a tweet that the cartoon was “a harsh but fair depiction of their [Netanyahu’s and Trump’s] relationship”, said not that the cartoon was anti-Semitic but was “widely criticized as anti-Semitic”, a careful distinction, and then launched into a criticism of political correctness. Haaretz said, “A recurring allegation is that The New York Times has capitulated to the tyranny of political correctness.”

Haaretz continued, “Spokespersons of Israeli public diplomacy, both domestic and external, are demanding that the liberal world lift the barrier of being gentle and accommodating to the Other and ‘say what everyone really thinks.’ That demand is vividly present in the local mainstream media. The racist and Islamophobic statements voiced in our TV studios would never be broadcast in Western countries, or perhaps only on explicitly right-wing channels. Israeli politicians also freely stereotype Arabs, Muslims and blacks.”

Free speech and robust debate flourish in Israel. We in Australia would be much better informed if we copied this leaf out of the Israeli playbook.

Rory McGuire is a Sydney journalist. He has visited Israel and the West Bank four times and is a member of the Gulf2000 network that operates out of Columbia University.

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1 Response to RORY MCGUIRE. Middle East: Comedy or Tragedy?

  1. Kien Choong says:

    We usually believe that free speech and free media are essential to a well-functioning democracy. But how free is the Western media in practice? What kinds of influences operate on the Western media that are not transparent to an external observer? Lastly, to what extent does the media reflect and amplify prejudice vs helping a democratic society critically examine conventional assumptions?

    This is not to say there is a role for censorship. Rather, we need more transparency, more critical reflection. Most importantly, we need to pay close attention to external perspectives, including (or especially) from societies that are different from ours, as well as groups within our society that are marginalised and poorly represented in public discussion. Just my view!

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