Israel-Palestine: education vs. propaganda
FIRST THINGS FIRST
There is no such thing as an unbiased source. I repeat: there is no such thing as an unbiased source. Sources are compiled by humans, and all humans have bias.
Here’s an example. As the granddaughter of a Jewish Holocaust survivor from Poland, I have a pretty serious bone to pick with Poland’s behavior before, during, and after the Holocaust. As such, I am more personally inclined to research Polish Holocaust revisionism than, say, Hungarian Holocaust revisionism. My personal bias does *not* mean that the information I am providing is inaccurate; it simply means that I will ascribe more importance to some stories over others.
Of course, some bias is much more sinister. In the context of Israel-Palestine, critical thought is paramount. Who wrote this source? Why? What is their purpose or goal? What do they have to win or to lose?
Government entities — Israel, Hamas, the Palestinian Authority — will always try to win in the court of public opinion to benefit their geopolitical interests. Politicians — regardless of political party — always have a purpose. But it’s not just Israel and Palestine that are players here: we’ve got Iran, Qatar, the rest of the Arab League, the United States, the United Nations, the former Soviet Union, and even the European Union that all have things at stake as well. Does this mean that we automatically have to rule out anything they say? No, not necessarily. But we should recognize that there is a bias, and as such we have to analyze their statements critically.
It’s always super important to seek out sources independent of government entities. That’s why I personally can’t stand Al Jazeera or AJ+. They are both Qatari state-sponsored media, meaning that the Qatari government has a say in what they do or do not publish. In 2010, a WikiLeaks article revealed that the Qatari government manipulates Al Jazeera’s coverage of events, to benefit Qatar’s geopolitical interests.
BE WARY OF CATCHPHRASES
There’s a lot of catchphrases floating around in the world of Israel-Palestine activism: apartheid, settler colonialism, even “the only democracy in the Middle East.” In my personal assessment — and you are of course entitled to disagree — catchphrases always amount to propaganda. They serve as an advertisement. Think of big brands. They, too, have catchphrases (e.g. “just do it” for Nike).
Catchphrases often exist to shut down critical thought or conversation. When you question the claim that, say, Israel is a “settler colonial state,” activists will accuse you of perpetuating white supremacy or enabling genocide (unfortunately, another word that is used as a catchphrase). I reject this wholeheartedly. As I will continue to repeat throughout this post, always, always, dig deeper.
What does apartheid mean? What are the origins of the word? When was this word first used in the context of Israel-Palestine? (The answer might surprise you: in the late 1960s, the United States and Brazil tried to include a clause to a United Nations resolution condemning antisemitism. The Soviet Union, which was severely oppressing its Jewish population, worried that such a clause would put international pressure on them. As such, they suggested a counter proposal, which was a clause that equated Zionism to Nazism. To gain the support of African nations, the Soviet Union disseminated a propaganda campaign in Africa comparing Zionism to apartheid).
Every single time you encounter a catchphrase, whatever it may be, make sure to investigate further.
CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT
Looking for context is always important. I unfortunately see tons of pro-Palestine activists that are hell-bent on demonizing those who search for context, which is truly mind-boggling to me. Context is never a bad thing. If someone is 100 percent in the wrong, context will demonstrate that. If an activist is shutting down those who look for more context, I’d be seriously wary of that. It’s almost like they have something to hide.
Nothing in geopolitics happens in a vacuum. Nothing in history happens in a vacuum. Situations have cause and effect. One event directly influences the next. That’s how history works.
Take Nazi Germany, for instance. Hitler did not just wake up one morning and decide to blame the Jews for all of Germany’s ills. Instead he stood on the shoulders of 2000 years’ worth of systemic European antisemitism and antisemitic persecution. There’s a reason the entire world stood on by while the Nazis nearly exterminated the entirety of Europe’s Jewish population. Whether they liked Hitler or not, they, too, believed the same antisemitic tropes that Hitler believed. Nazism did not occur in a vacuum.
Neither did anything that has happened in Israel-Palestine.
NOTICE ARBITRARY START DATES
Something I’ve noticed quite a bit among Israel-Palestine propagandists is that they’ll start telling the story of Israel-Palestine from an arbitrary start date. For example, on Jewish Voice for Peace’s “2012 Passover Haggadah,” they begin telling the story of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict from the “early 1800s” (which makes absolutely zero sense even if you erroneously were to consider the First Zionist Congress — which took place in 1897 — as the catalyst for the Conflict). A certain pro-Palestine page that shall not be named (sorry, but they’ve harassed me too much for me to get into this again) states the “root cause of the conflict” was 1948 (convenient, since Arabs had been massacring Jews in Palestine for centuries beforehand).
Here’s the thing: Jewish history dates back some 3000+ years. We can trace our cultural, genetic, and linguistic ancestry to the ancient Canaanites (Hebrew is the only Canaanite language that has survived to this day), some 4000 or so years ago. Jewish national identity likewise dates back 3000 years (historians place the beginning of Palestinian national identity to the early 20th century or the 1834 Peasant’s Revolt). As one of the two key players in this conflict — the other being Palestinians — it’s disingenuous to ignore thousands of years’ worth of our history because the start of the story is not convenient to you.
It’s not unlike, say, white people claiming history in the Americas started in 1492, as if entire civilizations and cultures hadn’t existed for thousands of years prior.
TRUTH, TRUTH, AND A LIE
The most effective propaganda, in my assessment, is propaganda that peppers in truths with lies.
An example I can think of is the infamous series of maps showing “Palestinian land loss” over the decades. The maps will, for example, accurately depict the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine, or the blotches of Jewish-owned property prior to 1948. However, the maps will fail to mention that the 1947 UN Partition Plan was never actually enacted because: (1) the Arab leadership rejected it, and (2) five Arab nations invaded Israel upon Israel’s Declaration of Independence in May 1948, in accordance with the Partition Plan. Regarding Jewish-owned property, the maps compare privately-owned Jewish property to public British property, rather than to privately-owned Palestinian Arab property, which would be the (somewhat) fairer comparison. They also fail to mention that the Ottomans and British had previously passed antisemitic land property restrictions, as well as antisemitic immigration restrictions (while freely allowing for Arab immigration), so Jews and Arabs were not on an even standing ground to begin with.
This kind of propaganda tends to be super effective because unsuspecting people might choose to fact check one or two points and assume the rest is true or legitimate. For this reason, I really recommend looking into not just every single claim that posts make, but also searching for the greater context. It’s intensive work and it takes much longer, but it’s important if you want to avoid falling for propaganda.
NO TWO CONFLICTS ARE THE SAME
In my opinion, this is a dead giveaway that a source or post is filled with propaganda. No, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is not just like police brutality in the United States, the genocide of Native Americans, Nazi Germany, or anything else. While obviously many conflicts or wars have similar individual factors, the truth is that the circumstances for each and every conflict are different, depending on who is involved, what the conflict is actually about, the geopolitics of the region, inter-ethnic relations, historical precedent, religious factors, and more.
To claim that Israel-Palestine is “just like” X, Y, or Z is intellectually lazy at best. The circumstances around Israel-Palestine are actually astoundingly unique: consider, for example, that this conflict involves a tiny piece of land that is holy to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. That’s a completely unique circumstance, a factor that does not exist in any other conflict in the world today.
If anything, applying a Western or American lens to a conflict happening halfway across the world is a prime example of Americentrism and Western/white saviorism.
LOUDEST DOESN’T MEAN RIGHT
There is quite a bit of noise surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, and as such, it’s hard not to get distracted by the loudest voices. The loudest voices constantly trample the Jewish narrative, not just of our experience of the modern-day conflict, but also our narrative about our history, identity, and what is important to us.
To put it in perspective, there are about 15 million Jews in the world today, almost half of whom live in Israel. By contrast, there are some 436 million Arabs and 1.8 billion Muslims in the world today, as well as 2.38 billion Christians in the world today. While today Palestinian Arabs have their own identity independent of a greater pan-Arab identity, the fact of the matter is that the Arab League’s behavior directly impacted and dictated the state of Israel-Palestine today (e.g. by starting the 1948 war). Additionally, much of the pro-Palestine media coming out of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is Arab media, serving the interests of Arab countries in relation to the conflict (e.g. Al Jazeera and AJ+). Oftentimes, too, non-Palestinian Arab voices are louder than Palestinian voices. It’s really important to take this into account, because many Arab countries benefit when Israel takes all of the blame.
Many of the popular celebrities and politicians that post anti-Israel content have more followers than there are Jews in the entire planet. Bella Hadid, for instance, has 52 million Instagram followers, about 3.5x the amount of Jews in the world.
Just because everyone in your circle is saying X about Israel-Palestine doesn’t mean that it’s right, or that it’s not propaganda. It simply means that that’s likely the information that they are getting access to. Because Jews are so outnumbered, our voices are drowned out.
BLACK & WHITE NARRATIVES
I consider the following two things propaganda:
- rushing to immediately blame Israel for everything
- rushing to defend Israel for everything
The world is not black and white. There are very, very few instances in history where one party is completely in the right and another party is completely in the wrong. A conflict in a region like Southwest Asia, which has seen layers and layers of imperialism and colonization throughout the millennia, with so many outside interests at play, and with so much trauma, is inherently bound to be nuanced. If anyone tells you otherwise, they’re most likely spewing propaganda.
It’s probably easier and more comforting to believe that one party is the bad guy and another is the good guy, but the real world rarely works like that, if ever.
I personally think it’s really important to take a step back to analyze the news coming out of Israel-Palestine — particularly considering so much of what comes out of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is censored (see my post LET’S TALK JOURNALISTS IN THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT) — before rushing to blame either party. Oftentimes, there’s more than meets the eye.
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