Grotesque claims: Students revolt against Western media misinformation

May 8, 2024
pro-palestine protests-columbia-university-2024 Image: Alamy/sipa/alamylivenews

Heralded as the largest this century, the pro-Palestinian student demonstrations in the US and globally are putting into stark relief the systemic failure of Western media and Governments to accurately and responsibly report on the Gaza conflict. As they did during the Vietnam war years, it is students who have refused to accept the way in which the Gaza war is portrayed by mainstream media.

This distortion is no aberration: it’s testament to the global influence of the Jewish lobby unique in its reach throughout the Western world and unique in the way it has so effectively infiltrated the arteries of national politics and media of so many countries. No surprise then that the lobby has had so much success in inverting the debate away from the slaughter of 35,000 Palestinians to the issue of antisemitism by so branding any criticism of Israel.

Skilfully, the lobby has steered much of the reporting on the Ivy League pro-Palestinian student uprising to whether demonstrating students are being antisemitic in their actions and utterances and to the putting of Jewish students’ safety at risk. Equally so in Australia. Witness The Australian’s front page headline of May 4: “Moral leadership in absentia: chancellors refuse to condemn campus antisemitism”.

Of course this conflation of distractions is where the Jewish lobby plays best by creating an alternative narrative over the treatment and status of Palestinians and the creation of the state of Israel. The lobby’s diligence and success is most apparent from leaked memos to the New York Times journalists from the paper’s management telling them how to describe the Gaza war. Revealed by the online US blog ‘Intercept’, they advise them to greatly restrict the use of the terms “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing”. As one anonymous employee noted “ …these are unique standards applied to violence perpetrated by Israel. Readers have noticed and I understand their frustration.”

Incredibly journalists are told to “avoid” using the phrase “occupied territory” when describing Palestinian land and only use the word Palestine “except in very rare cases“. More prescriptively journalists are told not to use the world Palestine in datelines, routine text or headlines, except in very rare cases such as when the United Nations General Assembly elevated Palestine to a non-member observer state, or references to historic Palestine. Also to be avoided is the term “refugee camps” to describe the location of displaced Palestinians expelled from other parts of Palestine during previous Israeli–Arab wars. As such the guidelines on references to Palestine and refugee camps run counter to norms established by the United Nations and international humanitarian law (the UN recognises 8 refugee camps in Gaza).

An analysis by The Intercept found that by November 24 last year, the New York Times described Israeli deaths as a “massacre” 53 times but those of Palestinians just once at a time when their death toll had reached 15,000. The ratio for the use of “slaughter” was 22 to 1.

Students to their credit clearly do not rely on the distorted feed of the mainstream press and similar distortions of politicians fearful of an electoral backlash. They understand that Palestinians being refugees means they have been dispossessed of their land and that therefore October 7 is anything but an isolated event but one which flowed from previous massive injustices.

Such historical perspectives are few in the US media being displaced by whether the student demonstrations are breeding antisemitism and endangering the safety of Jewish students. With some 23% of students at Columbia University Jewish (compared to 2.4% of the US population) such issues are raising the ire of the Jewish business community – who have been in the habit of giving multi, multi-million dollar donations to Ivy League universities. That is being used as leverage on university administrations put an end to the demonstrations. Far too many column inches are therefore being devoted to debating whether freedom of speech is at risk as university administrations buckle under pressure and send in the troops to clear pro-Palestinian encampments.

Judith Butler the well know US philosopher and Berkeley professor takes some Umbridge at the sophistry of the Western media on these issues. In a recent interview she notes that where calling for an end of genocide against Palestinians is understood as making Jewish students feel unsafe, that means that the issue of the safety of the situation has been oddly co-opted by them. “It’s as if they are being threatened with harm when, in fact, the opposition to the genocide in Gaza is quite explicitly an opposition to doing harm and killing numerous people who are huddled in Rafah looking for safety.

So for an utterance that opposes the genocide in Gaza to suddenly make a Jewish student feel unsafe — because that Jewish student identifies with Zionism or with the state of Israel — is a grotesque claim in the sense that that student is safe.

That student is having to hear something that might be deeply disturbing and sometimes antisemitic . But …..what counts as antisemitic has so expanded beyond the limits of its established definitions that, unfortunately, the call for justice in Palestine is registered by some as nothing more than antisemitism.”

The US Congress has equally been part of the diversion away and inversion of the issues surrounding Palestine. In its eager examination of allegations of antisemitism at Ivy League universities it has demanded that Harvard University turn over documents regarding its response to what is seen as campus antisemitism. That is being regarded as an attempt by Republicans to clip the wings of ‘left leaning elitist universities’. In turn this has filled yet more distracted space on whether such actions pose a threat to freedom of speech.

Neither Democrats or Republicans have seen fit to refocus on the core issues raised by students and Congressionally investigate to what extent Israel is involved in war crimes, is deliberately starving millions of Palestinians and is deliberately taking steps to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state. In Australia the state of debate is no further advanced with no parliamentary move to so investigate. Perhaps the parallels of the dispossession of the frontier wars and the creation of the state of Israel are too close for comfort.

So starving Palestinian refugees in the living hell of Rafah might well wonder – as do demonstrating students – when this preoccupation over antisemitic slurs, the safety of Jewish students and threats to free speech will subside allowing their plight to finally take main stage in the Western mainstream media.

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