Sut Jhally, a professor of Communications at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, cannot reconcile himself with one simple fact: A significant number of people in the United States do not share his understanding of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Jhally sympathizes with the Palestinians, but the American people sympathize with the Israelis – by about a two-to-one margin.
Jhally does take some comfort in the fact that young people are more likely to be supportive of the Palestinians than the rest of American society, but he nevertheless wants public opinion in the U.S. to be more supportive of their cause. Ostensibly, his goal is to lay the groundwork for a change in American policy in the Middle East by convincing the American people that Israel is not worthy of their sympathy.
To explain why Americans have accorded Israel such unwarranted sympathy, Jhally has concluded that Israel and its supporters in the U.S. have lied to the American people and have fooled them into supporting the Jewish state despite the evil things it has done over the years.
Dishonest and manipulative propaganda, Jhally asserts, has been spread by pro-Israel activists, who have used their money, marketing techniques, appeals to the Holocaust and concern over antisemitism to cajole and bully Americans into believing that Hamas seeks to destroy Israel and will not “change,” that Israel wants peace, and that Palestinian terrorism is a real obstacle to peace in the Holy Land.
For Jhally, these things aren’t true. By his lights, the continued existence of the Israel-Palestinian conflict is the result of Israel’s refusal to withdraw from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (which in Jhally’s mind is still “occupied” despite the 2005 withdrawal). In Jhally’s narrative, Israel is not merely “defending itself” when it attacks Hamas, but is instead oppressing the Palestinians who themselves are merely exercising their lawful right to resist an illegal occupation.
The failure of millions of American’s to accept Jhally’s interpretation of the conflict is the result of what he calls “Israel’s occupation of the American mind,” the goal of which, he says, is “to make sure that Americans think in very specific and narrow ways about the conflict.”
In sum, Jhally asserts that he has been — at least up until now — on the losing side of a controversial debate in American society because his opponents lie, cheat and silence competing narratives in a manner that undermines or circumvent the logical reasoning process of the American people.
Israel and its supporters in the U.S., “occupy the American mind” by promoting “a pro-Israel narrative that’s deflected attention away from what virtually everyone recognizes as the best way to resolve this conflict: end the occupation and the settlements so that Palestinians can finally have a state of their own.”
In an ostensible effort to correct this situation and bring American public opinion into line with where he thinks it should be, Jhally has produced a movie that depicts pro-Israel activists as regularly violating the norms of honest and open discourse in American society.
The name of the movie is “The Occupation of The American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the U.S.” The Media Education Foundation (MEF), a non-profit organization, headquartered in Northampton, Mass, released this movie in 2016.
Jhally, who serves as MEF’s executive director, is listed as the executive producer of the film, which ironically enough, itself violates the norms of honest and open discourse that the professor accuses his opponents of breaking.
Some of the violations are astoundingly transparent and others a bit more difficult to unpack, but when seen as a whole, they demonstrate that Jhally is not intent on educating his viewers, but misleading them.
In at least two instances, Jhally’s movie egregiously alters the footage of television news shows to significantly change the meaning of what was said in the original news segments. These deceptive edits are violations of basic academic and journalistic ethics that Jhally is called to uphold as a professor at UMass Amherst. Sadly, the school has indicated it will not hold Jhally accountable for these egregious breaches of trust.
In addition to outright deception, Jhally uses propagandistic techniques — which he claims to oppose — not just to encourage Americans to think in very specific and narrow terms about the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but to achieve something more sinister — to incite resentment against Israel and its supporters in the United States.
To further that end, he seeks to empower and legitimize Students for Justice in Palestine, an organization that has a well-documented history of fomenting hostility, contempt, and in some instances perpetrating acts of violence against Jews on college campuses in the United States.
At the heart of Jhally’s narrative about the Arab-Israeli conflict is a counter-factual depiction of events that downplays the threats it faces and exaggerates the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. In sum, Jhally’s propagandizing leaves its viewers worse off and by being misinformed, less able to behave responsibly in a self-governing democracy.
The overall effect of Jhally’s activism is to promote a fracturing of American civil society. He does this by portraying supporters of Israel as outside the realm of legitimate civil discourse in the U.S. and promoting resentful suspicion of Jews in American society.
The following analysis of the film is prepared for the general public and for the students at UMass Amherst who are exposed to his anti-Zionist propaganda in Jhally’s classroom.
Roger Waters as Narrator
One hint that Jhally is intent on promoting hostility toward Israel and its supporters in the U.S. is his choice of narrator for the film — Roger Waters, the former bass player of Pink Floyd, a hugely successful rock band.
In 2013, Waters drew condemnation by displaying a balloon of a giant pig emblazoned with a Star of David at one of his concerts. Waters has also likened Israeli efforts to defend itself in the arena of Western public opinion to the lies told by Nazis during World War II, declaring in reference to the Jewish state, “The thing about propaganda – again, it’s not hard to go back to Goebbels or the 1930s. You understand the tactic is to tell the big lie as often as possible over and over and over and over again. And people believe it.”
And in an interview published by Counterpunch in 2013, Waters compared the actions of Jews fighting for their survival during the 1948 War for Independence with those of the Nazis in Europe during World War II, stating, “The parallels with what went on in the 30’s in Germany are so crushingly obvious.” In this same interview, Waters complained about an “extraordinarily powerful” “Jewish lobby” in the music industry.
In light of these and other comments, the Anti-Defamation League, which had previously defended Waters from the charge of antisemitism, sadly concluded that he did in fact harbor anti-Jewish attitudes documented in part, by a list of his statements.
In announcing its new opinion about Roger Waters, ADL’s then National Director, Abraham Foxman declared, “His comments about Jews and Israel have gotten progressively worse over time. It started with anti-Israel invective, and has now morphed into conspiratorial anti-Semitism.”
Jhally could have asked a lot of people to narrate this film, but he chose Waters, a man who has a well-documented history of promoting hostility toward Israel and Jews and who is mistrusted by Jews throughout the world. By choosing Waters as the narrator for the film, Jhally alienated a good number of people whose opinions he was ostensibly trying to convince. Furthermore, by picking Waters as his narrator, Jhally was appealing to a base of people who already think ill of Israel and to people who think about Jews in negative ways. These people already agree with Jhally’s assessment about the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Why incite them any further?
Deceptive Edits of News Coverage
Further proof that Jhally is intent on inciting — not educating — his audience is provided by the numerous factual misstatements, material omissions and in some instances, outright distortions of the historical record that he deploys during the course of the movie. All of these misstatements, omissions and distortions serve to circumvent rational, fact-based thinking and to justify hostility and contempt toward Israel.
In two instances, Jhally’s film deceptively edits the audio of network news programs to serve its ideological agenda.
At about 21 minutes and 30 seconds into the film, Jhally asserts that after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon “you start to see the basic hasbara strategy in action. Images of Palestinians fighting back against Israel’s occupation make their way onto American television screens – and the Israeli military crushes this resistance in brutal ways that undercut Israel’s image as underdog and victim.”
To lend credence to Jhally’s assertion of Israeli brutality against the Palestinians, the film then shows a group of Palestinians carrying a victim of an Israeli rocket attack into a hospital on a bloody stretcher. Narrating the harrowing scene is a reporter from NBC news who is quoted as saying the following:
Israeli helicopter gunships deliberately fired a missile into a crowd of civilians last night, killing seven Palestinians and wounding 70 more.
Here is what the reporter actually said in a segment of NBC Nightly News that aired on Oct. 21, 2003, during the Second Intifada:
Palestinians charged that Israeli helicopter gunships deliberately fired a missile into a crowd of civilians last night, killing seven Palestinians and wounding 70 more. (Emphasis added.)
What has happened here? By deleting three crucial words — “Palestinians charged that” — from the NBC story, Jhally took an unproven allegation made by the Palestinians and denied by the Israelis and presented it as a fact — as the expressed conclusion of the journalist — to the viewers of his movie. This is a basic violation of academic and journalistic ethics.
The transcript of the NBC News show provides more detail that Jhally concealed from his viewers — that Israel provided a video taken by a drone of the attack in question. In the same segment that Jhally used to prove Israeli brutality NBC Reporter Martin Fletcher reported the following:
Here it shows an empty street. A rocket hits a car that Israel says is carrying two Hamas militants. Then a minute later, a second rocket. The street is still empty. Only after another minute did a crowd gather. And Israel says it didn’t fire again. A mystery. Who killed and wounded the civilians? “Not us,” says Israel.
Subsequent news reports indicate that the civilians were killed and injured in the attack because they were not seen by Israeli military officials prior to the launch of the second missile. In other words, the civilian deaths caused by the attack were unintentional and do not support Jhally’s narrative of Israeli brutality and intentional slaughter — a narrative he buttressed with the deceptive edit of NBC’s reporting.
With this shameful and obvious deception, Jhally attempted to circumvent the reasoning process of his viewers.
Second Deceptive Edit of News Report
Later in the movie, Jhally deceptively edited the script of another news segment, this time from the CBS show 60 Minutes, to further his ideological propaganda. The segment in question was aired in 2013 and dealt with Palestinian Christians. In the report, Bob Simon falsely declared that the security barrier Israel built to stop terror attacks “completely surrounds Bethlehem, turning the little town where Christ was born into what its residents call ‘an open-air prison.’”
In fact the security barrier, which Simon refers to as a “wall,” does not completely surround Bethlehem. This error seriously undermined the credibility of 60 Minutes’ coverage, which Jhally describes as an example of “exceptional reporting” on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
But Jhally’s documentary obscured the error in Simon’s reporting by taking words he said elsewhere in the 60 Minutes segment and deceptively placing them before the phrase about Bethlehem being an open-air prison. The results is that in Jhally’s movie, Simon is heard to say, “Israel has occupied the West Bank for 45 years, turning the little town where Christ was born into what its residents call ‘an open air prison.’” It is a sentence that does not actually appear in the 60 Minutes segment.
The edit removes any reference to the CBS network’s clearly false assertion that the security fence completely surrounds Bethlehem. With this deceptive edit, which removes any reference to the error broadcast by 60 Minutes, the film protects Jhally’s depiction of Simon as having done “exceptional reporting on the conflict.”
This is another act of concealment that circumvents the reasoning process of his viewers to achieve an emotional response on their part.
UMass Will Not Hold Accountable
After discovering the two deceptive edits described above, CAMERA filed complaints at UMASS Amherst, where, as stated previously, Jhally works as a communications professor. Sadly enough, the school has chosen to not hold Jhally accountable for manipulating the journalist record as he did. (For more information, go here.)
Jhally engages in yet another act of deception when he tries to portray former President Barack Obama as a victim of a smear campaign by pro-Israel activists.
After Stephen Walt, one of the authors of The Israel Lobby, appears on screen to declare that it has “been hard for government officials to have an honest discussion” about Israel, Jhally appears on screen to say “Just look what happened to President Obama when he made the mistake of simply saying out loud what the international consensus is.” Then President Obama is shown standing behind a podium as he says:
We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.
Jhally then declares that when Obama made this statement, “he was immediately accused by right-wing groups of setting up Israel for another Holocaust.” To prove this point, the film displays a portion of 30-second ad produced by the Freedom Center that asks, “Has President Obama abandoned Israel?” and ends by asking “[W]ith Obama’s waffling, can a second Holocaust be on the way?”
But Jhally’s chronology is wrong. The Freedom Center’s ad was released on July 27, 2010, nearly 10 months before President Obama made his declaration about Israel’s borders on May 19, 2011. Moreover, the ad in question makes no reference to the issue of Israel’s borders with a future Palestinian state.
This doesn’t stop Jhally from casting the ad as a response to President Obama’s statement about borders between Israel and the Palestinians.
The use of the Freedom Center’s video to substantiate his allegation that President Obama was accused of setting Israel up for a Holocaust because of his subsequent statement about borders is yet another act of subterfuge on Jhally’s part.
Downplays Hamas Hostility
The phrase “Auschwitz Borders,” has long been part of the discussion regarding Israel’s security needs. The phrase was coined by Israeli Ambassador Abba Eban in the aftermath of the Six Day War. Eban asserted that given the hostility exhibited by Arab and Muslim leaders in the Middle East toward Israel, it was unreasonable to expect the Jewish state to withdraw to the pre-war boundaries, which many Israeli officials regarded as indefensible.
The phrase is in sum, an expression of concern over Israel’s small size and lack of what security experts call “strategic depth.” Israel is a small, narrow country that can be easily overrun by a sizeable army and its cities are well within rocket and artillery range from installations just outside its borders. To make matters worse, the Jewish state is surrounded by hostile countries whose governments have used antisemitism as a distraction from intractable societal problems (such as poverty and illiteracy) they have been unable to solve.
As much as Jhally wants his viewers to ignore the issue, enmity toward Israel remains a huge problem in the Middle East, which is one reason why the phrase “Auschwitz Borders” has such resonance in the minds of Israel’s citizens and supporters in the U.S. Instead of coming to grip with this reality in an honest and factual way, Jhally engaged in acts of subterfuge to portray concern over this hostility as “hysterical.”
This is particularly evident in his discussion of Hamas, a terrorist group whose leaders time and again have expressed a desire to destroy Israel. In its charter, affirmed in 1988, Hamas declared that “Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious” and that “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” The charter also accuses groups such as the Freemasons and the Rotary Clubs of serving as Zionists lackeys and declares, “The day Islam is in control of guiding the affairs of life, these organizations, hostile to humanity and Islam, will be obliterated.”
To downplay Hamas’ hostility toward Israel, Jhally appears on screen to condemn Frank Luntz for encouraging pro-Israel activists to refer to the Hamas Charter (a text that calls for Israel’s destruction) in their presentations. Jhally acknowledges that the charter does in fact call for Israel’s destruction, but then describes the text as “an obscure political document written in 1988 by a small group of ideologues.” He continues: “Even though the Hamas leadership effectively disowned the charter a long time ago, it’s been PR gold for Israel.”
With this statement, Jhally is trying to portray Israel and its defenders — and not Hamas — as obstacles to peace with the Palestinians.
And he does this by claiming that Hamas has “disowned” its charter and apparently is willing to recognize Israel’s right to exist.
This would be a crucial and compelling fact to prove Jhally’s case that Israel is not worthy of American sympathy, but it is an assertion that a lot of people would have a tough time believing.
In 2017, the year after the release of Jhally’s film, Hamas reaffirmed its commitment to Israel’s destruction in a new political document which calls for the creation of a Palestinian state while at the same time rejecting the legitimacy of Israel. The new document declares that, “The Zionist project is a racist, aggressive, colonial and expansionist project based on seizing the properties of others; it is hostile to the Palestinian people and to their aspiration for freedom, liberation, return and self-determination. The Israeli entity is the plaything of the Zionist project and its base of aggression.” It also states, “Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.”
To prove that Hamas is a pragmatic organization that can be negotiated with, Jhally’s film invokes a document issued by a small group of officers in the U.S. military in 2010. It was a “Red Team” document written by officers at the Central Command of the U.S. military. According to film’s narration, the document “directly repudiated Israel’s publicly stated view that Hamas and Hezbollah are incapable of change and must be confronted with force, warning that failing to recognize their grievances and objectives would result in continued failure in moderating their behavior.”
The document, highlighted in a 2010 article in Foreign Policy, was not nearly as important as the film suggests it was. It was akin to a minority report intended to provoke discussion, not set policy, within the U.S. military. Nevertheless, Jhally characterizes the report as representing the opinion of the “U.S. military” as a whole. He declares “the U.S. military isn’t alone in this assessment.” It wasn’t the U.S. military that made this statement, but one group of analysts called on to provoke discussion. Writing about the “Red Team” process, Bilal Y. Saab reports that such teams
are designed for internal use only and are not intended in any way to represent the collective view of CENTCOM. Just as importantly, Red Team products are not “position papers.” … [T]hey do not make recommendations for changes in policy. These products, instead, reflect the personal views of analysts who may or may not have been involved in the actual Red Team review of whatever issue was at hand.Such a paper, one senior intelligence analyst mentioned to me, is just “trying on ideas for size.”
Clearly, Jhally exaggerates and misleads his viewers about the “Red Team” document when he describes the report on Hamas as representing the opinion of the “U.S. military.”
In determining Hamas’s intentions when the movie was released, the best information comes from the organization itself. In 2014, The Washington Post reported that Taher al-Nunu, an advisor to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, had spoken of the possibility of Hamas recognizing Israel during an effort to reconcile with the Palestinian Authority (from which it has been estranged since a battle between the two groups in 2007) but was quickly forced to retract its statement, declaring that “Hamas would not in fact recognize Israel.”
This should not come as a surprise. In 2006, Haniyeh made it clear to a crowd in the Gaza Strip: “I tell you with all honesty, we will not recognize Israel, we will not recognize Israel, we will not recognize Israel.”
And in 2010, another Hamas leader, Mahmoud Al-Zahhar declared, “Our plan for this stage is to liberate any inch of Palestinian land, and to establish a state on it. Our ultimate plan is [to have] Palestine in its entirety. I say this loud and clear so that nobody will accuse me of employing political tactics. We will not recognize the Israeli enemy.”
It is simply astonishing that Jhally would appear on screen in an attempt to downplay Hamas’ hostility toward the Jewish state. By its own admission, the organization has used human shields to prevent Israeli attacks against its leaders and in one instance used a TV station in Gaza to recruit children to serve as human shields. Moreover, the organization has a well-documented history of training children for combat, and has murdered hundreds of Israeli civilians with rockets and suicide bomb attacks. As hard as Jhally tries to obscure the reality, Hamas targets civilians while hiding its fighters and weapons in civilian installations, thus guaranteeing human casualties. And it does these things as its leaders regularly call for Israel’s destruction.
Operation Cast Lead – 2008 Gaza War
In addition to downplaying the well-documented hostility of Hamas, the film distorts the events associated with the 2008 Gaza War between Israel and Hamas. Peter Hart, one of the experts Jhally relies on to provide context for the film, declares on screen that
… for the latter half of 2008 there was a very successful ceasefire that curtailed rocket rocket fire into Israel dramatically — almost to the point at which there was none. This was shattered in November of 2008 when Israel attacked what they said was a tunnel building project, killed six Hamas militants. At that point the ceasefire was off.
By describing the tunnels that Israel attacked as “what they said was a tunnel building project,” Hart is trying to cast doubt on — without outright denying — the existence of the tunnel that Israel attacked. If Hamas denied that such a tunnel existed, its denials didn’t get any traction in the international media, for good reason. It had already used a tunnel like the one that Israel attacked on November 4, 2008 to kidnap Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006. (Shalit, by the way, remained a prisoner of Hamas until 2011.)
By casting doubt on the existence of the tunnel in question, Jhally’s film attempts to obscure that Hamas’ digging of an attack tunnel is a clear violation of the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. Most people would understand that digging a tunnel in preparation for a future attack merits some sort of response. Interestingly enough, the film omits a crucial fact — that between the beginning of the cease-fire in June and Nov. 3, 2008, 38 rockets were fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip. If Israel’s attack on the tunnel was, as Jhally’s movie states, a violation of the cease-fire, then why weren’t these rockets?
The film’s narrative also obscures that after the exchange of fire that took place in the days after Israel’s attack on the tunnel, Hamas rocket fire dropped back near zero, up until mid-December 2008.
From November 6, 2008 to mid-December, there were very few rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. But on December 15, 2008, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal declared that the cease-fire would not be extended past December 19, 2008. This demonstrates that the cease-fire was still in effect and not “shattered,” as Hart asserts.
Meshaal’s declaration was reported in a number of media outlets at the time. For example, on December 15, 2008, The Australian Broadcasting Network reported “’The truce was limited to six months and ends on December 19,’ Mr Meshaal said in a television interview from Damascus with Hamas’s Al-Quds satellite television station.’”
And by December 17, 2008, Hamas began firing rockets into Israel in earnest. So, contrary to what Jhally’s movie reports to its viewers, the ceasefire did not end as a result of Israel’s attack on the tunnel, but was the result of a decision made by Hamas leadership.
On July 8, 2014, Israel launched a devastating military attack on the Gaza Strip. Over the course of 51 days, the Israeli military dropped nearly 20,000 tons of explosives on Gaza, a densely populated area the size of Philadelphia, killing over 2,000 Palestinians and wounding tens of thousands more. The overwhelming majority of these casualties were civilians.
This narration, which provides no information regarding what happened prior to the start of the 2014 war, is then followed by a video montage during which a television reporter states that “there’s one less hospital in Gaza now. Israel today flattened Wafa Hospital.”
This narration omits a huge amount of information that the average person would need before making a reasonable judgment about the rights and wrongs of the war in question. It omits any reference to the kidnapping and subsequent murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank by Hamas on June 12, 2014.
It also fails to report that as Israel arrested Hamas operatives in the West Bank after the kidnapping and began attacking tunnels being dug from the Gaza Strip into Israel (dug to perpetrate cross bordering kidnappings), the number of rockets fired into Israel increased substantially.
On the night Israel attacked the Gaza Strip, Israel was targeted with 117 rocket strikes. What made these attacks so worrisome for Israeli officials was that they reached further into Israel than they had in previous conflicts (which had driven huge numbers of Israelis into bomb shelters). (Soon after the 2014 Gaza War began, USA Today reported, “The dramatically improved range of Hamas’ rocket arsenal is allowing the militant group to reach deeper into Israel and expose a wider swath of the country to risk, Israeli officials and analysts say.”)
The Israeli decision to fire back and attack rocket teams in the Gaza Strip did cause the tragic deaths of Palestinians, but the assertion that the “overwhelming majority of these casualties were civilians” is doubtful. This article published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs reports the following:
On December 1, 2014, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center reported on its detailed, name-by-name analysis of 1,598 Palestinian fatalities in Operation Protective Edge that amounted to 75 percent of those who were killed. Of the fatalities who could be identified, about 45 percent were non-combatants, while 55 percent were combatants – nowhere near the levels of civilian losses that were discussed in the media.
This should not come as a surprise, given what had happened during the 2008 war. A name-by-name analysis of the casualties of the 2008 War conducted by the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at The Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya “indicates that at least 63% to 75% of the Palestinians killed in Operation Cast Lead appear to have been specifically-targeted, combat-aged males…”
By repeating the charge that the vast majority of the Palestinian casualties during the 2014 war were civilian, Jhally’s film cooperates with Palestinian leaders who have engaged in a notorious campaign to exaggerate civilian casualties to make Israel look bad. These same leaders have also openly intimidated journalists in the Gaza Strip into not covering the misdeeds of Hamas.
During the Gaza War of 2014, Hamas instructed journalists to refer to every casualty, whether civilian or not, as a civilian casualty, and also instructed journalists operating in the Gaza Strip to refrain from showing footage of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip. Hamas directives, translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, included the following instructions:
“Anyone killed or martyred is to be called a civilian from Gaza or Palestine, before we talk about his status in jihad or his military rank. Don’t forget to always add ‘innocent civilian’ or ‘innocent citizen’ in your description of those killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza.
“Begin [your reports of] news of resistance actions with the phrase ‘In response to the cruel Israeli attack,’ and conclude with the phrase ‘This many people have been martyred since Israel launched its aggression against Gaza.’ Be sure to always perpetuate the principle of ‘the role of the occupation is attack, and we in Palestine are fulfilling [the role of] the reaction.’“Beware of spreading rumors from Israeli spokesmen, particularly those that harm the home front. Be wary regarding accepting the occupation’s version [of events]. You must always cast doubts on this [version], disprove it, and treat it as false.“Avoid publishing pictures of rockets fired into Israel from [Gaza] city centers. This [would] provide a pretext for attacking residential areas in the Gaza Strip. Do not publish or share photos or video clips showing rocket launching sites or the movement of resistance [forces] in Gaza.
The narrative of life vs. the narrative of blood: [When speaking] to an Arab friend, start with the number of martyrs. [But when speaking] to a Western friend, start with the number of wounded and dead. Be sure to humanize the Palestinian suffering. Try to paint a picture of the suffering of the civilians in Gaza and the West Bank during the occupation’s operations and its bombings of cities and villages.
As far as intimidating journalists, this Times of Israel story published in July 2014 declares:
The Times of Israel confirmed several incidents in which journalists were questioned and threatened. These included cases involving photographers who had taken pictures of Hamas operatives in compromising circumstances — gunmen preparing to shoot rockets from within civilian structures, and/or fighting in civilian clothing — and who were then approached by Hamas men, bullied and had their equipment taken away. Another case involving a French reporter was initially reported by the journalist involved, but the account was subsequently removed from the Internet.
There is evidence to suggest that these threats had a real impact on how journalists covered the 2014 Gaza War. Two reporters, one working for The Wall Street Journal, deleted Tweets highlighting the firing of rockets by Hamas. (For more information, go here and here.)
Jhally silence about Hamas’s intimidation of journalists in the Gaza Strip is interesting. He mentions the mistreatment and threats directed at journalists in “closed societies” in this lecture given to his students at UMASS, Amherst several years ago.
The film also ignores an important fact about the hospital that was, as the reporter declared in the text quoted above “flattened.” Hamas used the hospital to launch rockets into Israel. A Times of Israel article about the hospital reported the following:
Airstrikes against the compound went ahead “in light of several occasions in which fire was opened at IDF forces from within the hospital grounds, and despite repeated warnings against such activities, and notifications to civilians to vacate the premises.”The IDF noted that it had repeatedly brought the abuse of the hospital grounds to the attention of international organizations and also directly warned the hospital administration and Palestinian officials of the situation.
The use of a hospital for military purposes constitutes a war crime and helps explain why the hospital was destroyed. Hamas also used UN facilities to hide its rockets during the war, a clear violation of international law. The UN itself condemned this action.
There were numerous reports that Hamas used Shifa Hospital as headquarters for its leaders during the fighting. Actions like this, which are clearly violations of international law, contribute to civilian casualties. And yet for one reason or another, Jhally keeps filtering information like this out of his film, raising serious questions about his motives.
“Israel Perspectives Dominate Media”
One of Jhally’s major complaints is that, “Israeli perspectives dominate American media coverage” and that this plays itself out in how often commentators and even American politicians repeat the claim that Israel has a right to defend itself. For Jhally and the commentators in the film, the repeated affirmations that Israel has a right to defend itself is somehow proof that media coverage is slanted against the Palestinians.
To set the stage, the film shows footage of Israeli officials such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ron Prosser, former Israeli Ambassador to the UN and Tzipi Livni, former Israeli Foreign Minister, all declaring Israel’s right to defend itself.
Then, to prove just how much of an impact these wall-to-wall affirmations impact discourse in the U.S., the film shows both President Barack Obama and CNN Anchor Jake Tapper affirming the same statement, with Obama shown declaring, “As I’ve said many times, Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks from Hamas” and with Tapper declaring, “Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas, of course – a group that is firing rockets on Israel, coming out of tunnels to attack Israelis.”
The way it is presented in the film, it seems that Obama and Tapper are parroting the talking points of Israeli politicians. To drive the point home, Yousef Munayyer, Executive Director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (which is now called “The US Campaign for Palestinian Rights”) appears on screen to declare “That imbalance there was very significant in shaping the way the public understood this conflict.” Following this statement, the film then describes how journalists in Europe are much more aggressive in challenging Israeli officials.
There are two problems with Jhally’s narrative. The first is that neither Obama nor Tapper were saying anything that was not true. The fact is, Israel does have a right to defend itself under international law under Article 51 of the UN Charter. Jhally’s film takes Israel to task for how it exercises this right — and distorts the facts to drive its point home — but never refutes this point.
But more specifically, both Obama and Tapper express concern over the civilian casualties that took place during the 2014 War. They express this concern in the same presentations that Jhally quoted from. In the same set of remarks that Jhally used to prove that President Obama was parroting Israeli talking points, the President declared “we have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives.”
And in the segment that Jhally quoted from to illustrate how Jake Tapper and presumably other journalists are in the tank for Israel, Tapper himself made it clear that his reporting was not going to be a pro-Israel rant.
He did this by declaring — right after affirming Israel’s right to defend itself — that “many Israel supporters will not accept any questioning of Israel’s methods and whether the vast number of civilian casualties is in keeping with what Israel believes itself to stand for or whether such activities are even in Israel’s own long-term best interests…”
With a statement like this, Tapper revealed that he intended to challenge the Israeli narrative about its use of force and that he was going to highlight the impact of Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians. And that’s what he did.
After including powerful and emotional testimony from a victim of an Israeli attack, Tapper challenged Dore Gold, former Israeli Ambassador to the UN, about the deaths of more than 200 children as a result of the Gaza War. In reference to the deaths of three children from one family in an attack, Tapper asked:
Now, I guess the question is, even if that strike took out a Hamas militant, Israel seems to be saying that it is worth it to kill those three children for that one militant. Is that true? Is that a fair way to describe the calculation being made?
That’s a tough question that indicates just how aggressive Tapper was in his effort to challenge Israel about the civilian casualties during Operation Protective Edge.
At one point in the film, Jhally declares that rough questioning of Israeli officials is “unthinkable” in American media, but in reality, if he hadn’t cherry-picked a quote from the CNN segment, he could have just as easily used it the same way he used the 60 Minutes segment (described above) — as an example of exceptional journalism related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
At the end of his distorted film, Jhally says that as bad as things are for the Palestinians in American media, things are going better for them on college campuses, declaring:
Groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, who see what’s happening to Palestinians as a civil rights issue, have refused to be intimidated – they’re refusing to back down even though they’re being labeled as anti-Semitic and terrorist sympathizers – and their numbers are growing.
This is not good news for people interested in honest and open discourse on college campuses. The AMCHA Initiative reports that “SJP and other anti-Zionist student groups are a major source of antisemitic rhetoric and behavior at many schools. Reports analyzing antisemitic incidents in 2015 and 2016 indicate a significant increase in actions which directly harm or threaten Jewish students, including physical and verbal assaults, destruction of property, harassment discrimination and suppression of speech, at schools with an SJP or similar anti-Zionist chapter.”
For example, the Canary Mission reports that on the campus of UC Berkeley in 2010, the president of the local SJP chapter “rammed a female pro-Israel student with a shopping cart. She was holding a sign reading “Israel Wants Peace.”
Is this what Jhally wants to see on college campuses?
It simply does not make any sense for Jhally to accuse organizations like CAMERA to “silence” critics of Israel while at the same time expressing gratitude for the publicity they provide when they respond to his work.
At the end of his book, Churchill & Orwell: The Fight for Freedom, Thomas E. Ricks declares that the struggle to see things as they are is “perhaps the fundamental driver of Western civilization.” He also declares that both Churchill and Orwell, like others before them (such as Aristotle, Locke, Hume and Martin Luther King), operated on the “agreement that objective reality exists, that people of goodwill can perceive it, and that other people will change their view when presented with the facts of the matter.”
Jhally does not operate under this agreement. Jhally’s attention-seeking response to factual challenge, coupled with his deceptive manipulations of the historical record and his support for SJP — despite its well-documented history of harassing and intimidating Israel’s supporters on college campuses — indicate that his work is not motivated by a desire to educate and persuade his viewers, but by a desire to generate controversy and mobilize hostility and resentment against Israel and its supporters in the U.S.
This is a fundamental violation of the societal norms that Jhally depicts himself as protecting.
Note: September 5, 2018: This article has been corrected. It previously mischaracterized Sut Jhally’s description of Israeli efforts to influence American public opinion. The original version stated that Jhally asserted Israeli and its supporters were “practicing some kind of mass mind control.” In fact, the script of the movie states: “The reason they’ve been able to so effectively change the subject isn’t because they’re practicing some kind of mass mind control. The main reason is that the US government itself has had a vested interest in promoting this same narrative for almost 50 years now.” The author regrets the error.