Israel’s influence on US media and politics is very real, and it’s about time we are able to talk about it
In an interview with Bianna Golodryga from CNN on Thursday, 20 May, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s argument took a turn when Golodryga accused Qureshi of being anti-semitic. In the following minutes, instead of discussing Israel’s actions and the human rights violations in Gaza, Golodryga kept circling back to the foreign minister’s remark that Israel had influence over western media, an accusation which according to her was antisemitic in sentiment.
The question stands, is any criticism of Israel as a state an act of antisemitism?
Sure, Pakistan’s performance in the human rights arena is shameful in itself when it comes to minorities in the country and the foreign minister’s seemingly sinister laugh and ‘big pockets’ comment did make for a rocky start, but why is it that when it comes to Israel’s alleged right of defence, all other concerns cease to exist? Arguments on violations of basic human rights are quietened under the banner of one state’s right to defend and criticism is brushed aside, labelled as being antisemitic.
It is seemingly acceptable to talk about Saudi money and its influence on Middle Eastern and South Asian politics (especially Pakistan) and the media; let’s not forget that an episode on Khashoggi from Netflix’s Patriot Act was pulled from the streaming giant’s server in Saudi Arabia, a move which was heavily criticised. Western media has repeatedly called out Middle Eastern and South Asian nations, not to mention China, for controlling its media narrative. Is it so far fetched to consider that pro-Israel groups and lobbyists also exert influence?
Just a few days ago, Facebook refused to remove a very racist and hateful ad against Muslim senator Illhan Omar from American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the biggest pro Israel organisation in North America. The Minnesota Democrat’s office reached out to Facebook after viewing ads from AIPAC, in one of the ads, Omar’s face was superimposed onto Hamas rockets, with text that said: “When Israel targets Hamas, Rep. Omar calls it an act of terrorism.”
Following up on the story, the Washington Post wrote, “Facebook has refused to remove a widely viewed attack ad that links Rep. Ilhan Omar to Hamas, even after her aides told the tech giant the message is inaccurate, hateful and threatened to subject her to death threats.”
The ad also distorted Omar’s tweet from last week, in which she said that Israeli airstrikes killing civilians in Gaza, not Hamas, were an act of terrorism. Omar hasn’t been the only target. The ad ran as part of a series targeting other lawmakers including Sen. Bernie Sanders, which Facebook’s ad tracking tool estimated could be seen by between 500,000 and 1 million people.
Omar has also been vocal about Israel’s influence on US politics in the past, a statement that Alex Kotch, a senior investigative reporter at Sludge, has agreed with.
“I was raised Jewish, so while everyone should be deeply concerned about antisemitism, I know the issue affects me personally. If there’s anything I’ve learned about Judaism, it’s that standing up against hate and oppression is about the best thing I can do to honour Jewish history. That’s why I, along with many American Jews, support BDS and unapologetically condemn the current government of Israel for its heinous treatment of Palestinians,” wrote Alex Kotch.
Pro-Israel groups spent $22m in 2018 alone on lobbying and contribution, revealed The Guardian in an investigative report. “AIPAC spent the most of the lobbying groups, and is known for funding junket trips to Israel for freshman lawmakers and senators, as well as state legislators. AIPAC also lobbied against the Iran nuclear deal in 2015 and supported the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the agreement,” reads the report.
“Separately, pro-Israeli foreign agents registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which can include lobbyists working on behalf of the Israeli government, companies, political parties and other organizations spent about $46.3m in 2017 and 2018, behind only Japan and South Korea,” elaborates the report.
This in addition to pressure from advertisers who are pro-Israel or at least would refrain from associating with a platform that might come off even as slightly critical of Israel, is just the tip of the iceberg that leads to biased reporting when it comes to the Israel Palestine situation. If the media is creating an environment where speaking for Palestinian rights is equal to carrying anti-Semitic sentiment, that’s a very real problem.
According to CNN, this is how Biden convinced the PM of Israel to stop killing innocent civilians which includes children: “Biden felt if he “hugged Israel close,” while closely engaging with them behind the scenes, he would be able to “end the violence faster.”
The first thing Biden said after the ceasefire, which the Israeli government eventually broke, was not about the innocent 63 children, it was about Israel’s alleged right of defence against the indiscriminate “terror” of Hamas’s rockets. Biden’s concern for human life was voiced in the third minute or so of his address.
US media and late night hosts have repeatedly criticised Fox News and right wing media for being biased against the BLM during anti-racism protests in America. And they were right, the coverage definitely showed a bias, the same bias can be seen in coverage of the recent crisis in Gaza. In a majority of cases, western media has failed to even recognise the plight of Palestinian civilians, bundling them under the umbrella of Hamas.
How is it then that criticising Israel’s influence on US media and politics is still construed as antisemitic, when such a statement is based on facts and a tone that is now increasingly shared by US Democrats and many Jews alike.