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War on Gaza: The US establishment is detached from reality

As public anger grows over Israel's assault on the Palestinian people, government officials and mainstream media are desperately trying to control the narrative
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators participate in a National Day of Action protest ahead of Nakba Day outside Barclays Center on 11 May, 2024 in New York City (AFP)

Speaking about the student protests in New York, CNN anchor Kasie Hunt said late last month: “Some pretty stunning images coming to us overnight … We also are just learning at this hour that banners have been hung from the hall. They read ‘Hind’s Hall’ and ‘Intifada’. Hind is a reference to a woman who was killed in Gaza. Intifada, of course, a reference to uprising, violent struggles the Palestinians have had over the years against Israel.”

Where does one even begin? Someone purporting to be a journalist apparently won’t even pretend to make an effort to check on a story that went around the world, when a five-year-old Palestinian girl, Hind Rajab, called out from a besieged car where several family members had just been killed. 

As the young girl waited for help to arrive, the two Palestinian Red Crescent medics coming to her aid were also killed by Israeli fire. Hind’s last words to emergency service workers over the phone, before a volley of bullets was heard, were: “The tank is next to us. We are in the car and next to the tank.”

CNN later tweeted saying that Hunt "misspoke and corrected herself on the show immediately after".

As for intifada, the iconic images of the First Intifada - launched in December 1987 after an Israeli vehicle hit and killed four Palestinians in Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp - were those of boys and young men armed with rocks and slingshots, facing down Israeli tanks, snipers and bulldozers. 

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The Second Intifada, which began in September 2000, was accompanied by another iconic image: that of a father, Jamal al-Durrah, clutching his 12-year-old son in an attempt to shield him from Israeli gunfire. The boy was hit and died soon afterwards.

More than 10,000 children were wounded during the Second Intifada, and nearly 5,000 Palestinians of all ages were killed. Durrah has lost more family members since Israel declared war on Gaza last October. 

Relentless assault

But apparently “violence” is only something committed against Israel, while Palestinians mostly “die” rather than being “killed”, according to the vagaries of western mainstream media syntax. 

On that same CNN segment, New Yorker journalist Evan Osnos told Hunt: “There was an interesting moment last week. You were beginning to see university administrators come to an idea, a principle. You saw the president of Princeton say the goal should be the maximum expression without intimidation or obstruction … This is something else, because students, Jewish students on campus at Columbia, are going to wake up this morning and say this does not satisfy that standard.” 

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Even though many campus protesters are themselves Jewish, these comments suggest that “Jewish students” are only those to whom harm is caused by pro-Palestinian demonstrators - not those who are outraged by Zionist manipulation and the instrumentalisation of their very identity and history in order to carry out a genocide.

This is not even to mention the anger and disappointment that many people feel at seeing university presidents and government officials calling on fully armed police to protect the policies of a foreign government, rather than the rights of US citizens.

Much depends on whether Israel can be stopped. It is the US that holds almost all the leverage

Such grotesque twisting of reality does not take place in a vacuum, but rather infects every nook and cranny of US propaganda and mainstream rhetoric, imagery, culture and institutional norms, as more and more aspects of “public life” face a relentless assault by corporate and governmental power. 

The irony is that as this has taken place, and as the truly ignominious Antisemitism Awareness Act has been passed by the US House of Representatives to put another nail in the coffin of the First Amendment, more Americans than ever are aware of the atrocities being committed against Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied West Bank. 

Perhaps more importantly, they understand that these atrocities are paid for by US tax dollars, and fully supported by a political class that has given up any pretence of representing its constituents.

Last-ditch effort

The desperate attempt to expand the definition of “antisemitism” in the US and Europe, while imposing new legal codes to prevent scrutiny of Israel’s actions, is a last-ditch effort by western powers and their representatives to maintain control over the narrative. But as they have abandoned their constituencies, their constituencies are abandoning them.

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As the sitting US president mumbles a warning for Israel not to invade Haifa (instead of Rafah), or goes on about an uncle who was allegedly eaten by cannibals during the Second World War, an increasing portion of the US ruling class - from university presidents to mainstream journalists - find themselves in the position that Joe Biden was in as a candidate: hunkered down in their bunkers, as public contempt rises.

This disappearance of almost any stable reference point in the public sphere is truly a precarious moment in the life of the nation, and seems like a harbinger of some kind of dystopian totalitarianism - many aspects of which are already present. 

While all state and corporate power remains focused on further fragmenting and demonising the populace, keeping everyone at each other’s throats and inventing new classes of victims, we can only hope that some glimmer of human commonality will finally emerge, before this century is plunged into a catastrophic spiral of killing and destruction like that of the previous century. 

Much depends on whether Israel can be stopped. It is the US that holds almost all the leverage, and this is where more pressure must be placed. 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Ammiel Alcalay is a poet, novelist, translator, essayist, critic, and a scholar. He is author of more than 20 books including After Jews and Arabs, Memories of Our Future and the forthcoming CONTROLLED DEMOLITION: a work in four books. He is Distinguished Professor at Queens College, CUNY, and the CUNY Graduate Center in New York.
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