News Brief: Debunking the 5 Most Common Anti-Palestinian Talking Points

Citations Needed | May 14, 2021 | Transcript

Citations Needed
28 min readMay 20, 2021
Benjamin Netanyahu and Joe Biden. (Michel Euler / AP)

Nima Shirazi: Welcome to a Citations Needed News Brief. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: We do these News Briefs in between our regularly scheduled episodes and cannot thank you enough for your ongoing support of Citations Needed. Of course, you can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, and if you have not yet become a supporter, maybe consider it, you can do that through with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson. We’re 100 percent listener-funded so all your help through Patreon is incredibly appreciated.

Gaza, an occupied open air prison surrounded by Israeli walls and gates and tanks and planes and boats and allies in Egypt keeping Palestinians, over a million Palestinians, imprisoned in Gaza, and again, have engaged in airstrikes and Adam, we thought that because this happens, I mean, this is an Israeli policy known unbelievably, genocidally as “mowing the lawn.”

Adam: Yeah, some of the Israeli national security community have referred to that unironically, although I don’t believe it’s the official state name. But yeah.

Nima: Well, no.

Adam: It is referred to colloquially as “mowing the lawn,” which is to say bombing Gaza to kind of put the Palestinians in their place every few years, the implication being that it’s a form of kind of maintenance. It’s inmate maintenance for what is, like you mentioned, is an open air prison, because again, people in Gaza are, for those who aren’t quite familiar with it, they don’t really have any rights. They can’t travel, they don’t control the sea, they don’t control mineral rights, oil rights, they don’t control their own passport system, they don’t control largely their economic system.

Nima: Yeah, they don’t have their own currency, they can’t control their own water, they can’t control their own trade, what comes in and out is controlled completely by Israel and Israel reserves the right to bomb Gaza anytime they want and to invade anytime they want, and so because that is happening again, now, we figured maybe a good time to talk about some of the most common talking points that you see from either government spokespeople defending Israel, or maybe that troll account on Twitter regurgitating the same old shit.

Adam: Yeah, so you know, we mentioned in our last News Brief on this topic a few days ago that we felt like it’s kind of, this topic is sort of beyond media criticism in the sense that most people sort of know the right thing to do, they’re just not doing it. I do think one of the interventions we can have that would be useful, because I think at this point in these moments of tragedy, where there’s a little you can do other than sort of angrily tweet, you sort of look around and say, okay, well, how can I be useful? How can we help? How can we sort of not just add to the commentary for the sake of adding to the commentary, and I thought, you know, because we’re media criticism show, one of the things we could do is in one of our primary functions that was supposed to be, upon the conception of the show, was to be a PR firm for people who can’t afford PR firms, is that maybe we could really talk about these five popular tropes, five popular talking points, why they’re bunk, debunk them, and then kind of dissect why they’re bunk and so if one ever needs to use this information, it can be useful, because I do think that the story of of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, like all major political issues is fundamentally a story of narratives, it’s a story of media, it’s a story of the stories we tell ourselves to rationalize this kind of mechanized violence on the part of a wildly asymmetrical power system. And so we want to deconstruct the five most popular talking points for our listeners so maybe to some extent they can be handy, either with themselves or with others. So without further ado, I guess we can start with number one, Nima.

Nima: Yeah, so number one — it will not be unfamiliar, I’m sure, to any of our listeners — but the common refrain is that “Israel has a right to defend itself.”

Adam: So we saw numerous Congress people in the United States, obviously, is really pro-Israel pundits, Joe Biden, the Joe Biden White House and Tony Blinken State Department themselves have used this phrase, ‘Israel has a right to defend itself’ or defend herself and we thought this was a good place to start because it is the definition of sophistry, and that it’s kind of superficially appealing, right? Say Israel has a right to defend itself. So it seems on its face plausible. But aside from being amazingly glib, and kind of macho, it presumes a kind of pristine defensive posture that’s just not the reality. So even by saying Israel has a right to defend itself, it assumes automatically that there’s an offensive party who is violating their national sovereignty.

Nima: And that is not Israel.

Adam: And that is not the case, right? And the idea of having a right to defend yourself as some sort of unalienable or a sort of universalist principle ignores the fact that they are an occupying force over an occupied people, a settler colonial state that has a population that is fighting back, we can debate the sort of moral properties of the means of which they’re fighting back all you want, but they’re fighting back from an occupied force and then under international law, and not that we care too much about international law says, but occupied peoples, people under military occupation or colonial subjugation have every right to fight back. They have a right to defend themselves whereas the occupier does not have such a right and so it is kind of the definition of macho kind of non-statement, right? It sort of sounds appealing until you, because it assumes the listener doesn’t really know what the hell’s going on.

Nima: Right, exactly that Israel can be seen as the perennial victim in this narrative, that Israel is merely reacting, defending itself, protecting itself, as opposed to the aggressor, the occupier, the committer of violence, first and foremost, and the one that has one of the most modern killing machines, militaries on the planet, the most high tech weaponry, and deploys this upon the people of Palestine with horrifying regularity, and oftentimes will use Gaza and its inhabitants as almost like test cases for new weapons, for chemical weapons like white phosphorus or other egregious munitions that destroy human bodies, the Israeli military often will test these weapons on the population in Gaza before then selling them to the rest of the world.

Adam: Yeah and so the idea of Israel’s right to defend itself, then one is following up to ask does Apartheid South Africa have a right to defend itself? Which leads to our second talking point, which is very popular, and has been around for many, many years, which is a question they’ll ask an interviewee, whether it be Jeremy Corbyn or Black Lives Matter leaders or whoever they’re sort of trying to gotcha.

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: Just today, Hayes Brown, although he actually later apologized for saying this because he didn’t realize it was a propaganda release, he says he didn’t realize it, he’s a writer for MSNBC, who I got into a long tiff with, I think he’s kind of a hack, but I don’t know, he seems somewhat contrite about it so I’ll take his word for it. He said, ‘Does Israel have a right to exist?’

Nima: Right? Do you deny that Israel has a right to exist, Adam?

Adam: Now first off, Nima, no state or the very least, especially no sort of apartheid or ethno-nationalist or settler-colonial state, which is to say a state that has a racial or ethnic criteria for citizenship, which Israel very much explicitly does, especially the four and a half million Palestinians under its charge in the occupied territories. Of course, they don’t have a right to exist. You know, Rhodesia, or, frankly, the United States doesn’t have a right to exist.

Nima: Right doesn’t have a right to exist. Does Jim Crow South have a right to exist the way it was, right?

Adam: Well, even as writer Yousef Munayyer noted in a piece in Forward magazine with the headline, “‘Does Israel Have A Right To Exist’ Is A Trick Question,’ from 2019. I thought he put it well, he said, quote:

Can you imagine asking indigenous Americans and indigenous rights activists — fighting for the rights of a population whose languages, societies, culture and possessions were categorically decimated in the process of erecting the United States — whether the United States has a ‘right to exist’?

Nima: Yeah, exactly. I mean, does Mexico have to recognize the United States’ right to exist on land annexed and claimed as a result of the 1846 to ’48 Mexican American War where Mexico lost 70 percent of its territories? Does Mexico have to recognize the United States’ right to exist in that way? It doesn’t actually mean anything.

Adam: Well, it’s a way of, what I think the implication of it is, and this is I think, the real goal of it, and they’ll oftentimes say, ‘Does it have a right to exist as a Jewish state?’ Because Hamas on several occasions has acknowledged Israel’s right to exist, but not categorically as a Jewish state, which is a an ethno-supremacist state where those who are ethnically Jewish have a right to a specific neighborhood in Jerusalem, that those who lived there for 70 years, do not have that right because of who they are, and they said they did not because very few people are willing to cosign their own ethnic cleansing, right? You’re not going to say, ‘My grandmother who grew up in this house, I agree should not be able to live in this house by virtue of who she is.’ No one’s gonna agree to that.

Nima: Exactly. If you say that Israel has a right to exist on top of what was Palestine, you are effectively authorizing your own dispossession, disenfranchisement, your own destruction, you are making it so that your own existence as a person, with a family that grew up in that place, or is from that place, historically, your ancestors are from that place, if you then recognize Israel to exist on top of it, you are then basically saying, ‘I relinquish my own rights as a person,’ it doesn’t make any sense. And so the idea also, as you said, Adam, to recognize Israel as a Jewish state quote-unquote, “as a Jewish state,” is then assigning Palestinians to second-class citizenry at best, at best.

Adam: Well, another thing is the goal, obviously, is to sort of imply that because the talking point is that Jews deserve their own state like any other ethnicity, you have, you know, Swedes for Sweden, you have —

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: This is all by the way an EDL talking point for Brexit, talking about England for the English, and the problem with that is that there were people there.

Nima: Which was literally the colonial arguments made in the ’40s. Swedes are indigenous to Sweden.

Adam: Sort of, but yes, we’ll argue for that they are, but this is the big hiccup with Israel’s settler colony is that unlike, as we mentioned in Episode 28, unlike previous settler colonies, like the United States, Australia, Canada, et cetera, they don’t have the luxury of full-blown genocide, to put it crudely. The reason why the US is not worried about demographic problems is because they killed the vast majority of Native Americans. There are, of course, still Native Americans here, there’s of course, genocide against Native Americans still ongoing, right? But the demographic threat is not urgent, so we can sort of provide nominal equal rights to them whereas Israel because they engaged in a settler colony in the 20th century where I think people were thankfully a little bit more hesitant to do full-blown genocide, they’re restrained by certain laws, certain mores, and certain norms that prevent them from engaging in full-blown genocide. So what they’ve lobbied for instead is a very slow process of ethnic cleansing that is more politically correct, which, of course, is what the whole nebulous peace process is for and so in many ways, Israel’s form of settler-colonialism is far more humane than what the US and Canada and Australia have done, largely by virtue of when it happened, and I would argue probably just kind of shifting norms around racist apartheid states, who are far more PR-conscious than they were in the 19th century. I only say that so far that I think that, you know, Americans should never be quite so smug about this, at least, this is why all criticisms of Israel from the right are inherently antisemitic or bullshit, because if you believe in the American project or the sort of romance of the American Empire, Manifest Destiny, and you criticize Israel for ethnic cleansing, physician heal thyself. So this brings us to our third talking point. Just trust me, the US, no country really has any inherent right to exist, especially not one founded on the eradication of a people as all countries in North America were and to some extent, depending how you frame country, and same in South America as well. So then, number three is this talking point that we see a lot that Hamas is firing indiscriminately into Israel, and that they use human shields. This exists to explain away rather large discrepancies in death toll.

Nima: Right.

Adam: So, for example, the death toll in the last major quote-unquote “conflict” in 2014 was 1,500 to six, as we explained in the previous News Brief, 523 children died in Gaza. Right now there’s roughly 30 children who have died, this is probably bigger by the time you’re hearing this, 100 Palestinian civilians have died, three Israeli civilians have died. These numbers will probably be more or less the same. It’s usually between 100 to 300, to one, basically, and so this gets explained away, Nima, with this idea that Israel, they do these knock raids, they sort of, they throw a mortar at a building before blowing it up.

Nima: Right. It’s called roof-knocking, which is so incredibly sick.

Adam: Which is just a PR thing, it doesn’t mean anything.

Nima: Right.

Adam: Mortar kills people anyway, and also, it’s difficult to hear where it comes from.

Nima: Exactly, it’s when Israel is going to destroy an apartment building or a house or home, it will first drop what Israeli PR spokespeople refer to as a small bomb on the roof of the building to warn the people inside that a bigger bomb is coming, and so therefore, if they do not immediately evacuate their homes, they will be reduced to rubble. Now, so much of this is not only collective punishment, it is clearly a war crime, but the premise itself, I mean, and it even seems silly to get into this honestly, because it’s really just about propaganda, but the premise itself that you would warn the inhabitants of a building that you allege has “terrorists” in it, and you warn them but then you think all the civilians are gonna leave, but like the Hamas guys are gonna stay there. None of it makes sense. So all you’re doing is this PR gambit that the Western press laps up and says, ‘Well, you know, they warn the residents,’ before you see this, you know, 14-story building bombed to dust where people lived, hundreds of people lived.

Adam: Right because they can’t just level these buildings and not have a PR problem so they invent this idea of door knocking as a bullshit way of —

Nima: Right, which of course they were gonna do it anyway.

Adam: It’s a contradiction in terms anyway.

Nima: Yeah, it is so completely absurd. Why would the civilians leave after the door knocking but the Hamas guys stay so then when you bomb the building, it is just legit a war, crime, collective punishment. That is it.

Adam: And so New York Times refers to these buildings that were blown up as quote-unquote “Hamas offices,” and this gets into the human shield narrative. Despite this being a narrative that’s been debunked several times even including by Human Rights Watch, a group we criticize quite often on here, but they’ve criticized the human shields canard in 2014, because it sort of creates a catch all because if you say, ‘Oh, they’re putting military offices in a building therefore, everyone in that building is somehow a non civilian target.’ This would make the 9/11 attacks a legitimate military target, right? The NYPD’s command center was in the World Trade Center. So I guess we can blow that up? You know, there’s a police station across the street from a friend’s apartment, can then we just blow up the — ? I mean, this doesn’t make any sense, right? The idea that the Hamas militants, first off, Gaza is the most densely populated place, or one of the most densely populated places on Earth, number two, or three, depending how you define it.

Nima: Right.

Adam: So it’s not quite clear, these Hamas headquarters are supposed to put themselves in the middle of the desert, with a big blow me up sign, this is of course, the IDF is based out of Tel Aviv, is in the middle of Tel Aviv. Again, this is how you get into these warped scenarios where it’s like, oh, of course, they’re going to be in populated areas, these are highly populated areas, where else would they be? And just by virtue of the fact that they’re supposedly Hamas, but again, this is all just an assertion anyway, we don’t know this, and frankly, they don’t know this, they’re mostly just guessing anyway, the idea that if there’s a Hamas militant in your apartment, then therefore everyone becomes militarized, including children, including infants, including women and small children, well, then that’s obviously doesn’t make any sense or it’s bullshit.

Nima: Right.

Adam: And if again, if we applied that logic to our own cities, we don’t say the 9/11 hijackers blew up a NATO stronghold, because this idea of what is and what isn’t a legitimate target is heavily racialized.

Nima: The economic offices of empire.

Adam: And so they’d say, ‘Oh, well, Hamas has indiscriminate weapons.’

Nima: Right, because they have these crude rockets.

Adam: And that’s true, but of course, the reason why they have crude rockets is because they don’t have a functioning military because they’re not permitted to have one.

Nima: Exactly they don’t have planes or armored vehicles.

Adam: And then the pro-Israel guy would say, ‘Well, that’s because they just want to kill civilians.’ Well, you know, who knows? Maybe, you know, the more likely scenario is that both the Israelis and Hamas don’t really care much about civilian deaths either way, because again, it’s impossible to know, it’s counterfactual impossible to know but it’s also I think, largely based on a racist assumption about the Palestinians just don’t give a shit about —

Nima: Well, that’s really what it is. It is about dehumanizing Palestinians and justifying their murder.

Adam: Absolutely. Life is cheap. All that’s cliches, right?

Nima: Yeah. It reminds me of the potentially apocryphal quote by former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir when she said, quote, “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us,” which is a way to justify the murder of Palestinian children as simply the inevitable way for Israelis to survive. It also actually reminds me of this quote from March 31, 2008. In an interview with Sky News, then-Hamas leader Khaled Mashal said this, quote, “The rockets are an ordinary reaction toward the Israeli occupation and their Apache helicopters and F-16 jets.” He went on to say that Hamas has primitive weapons and that, quote, “I asked the international community and the Americans to give us more advanced weapons so we can shoot more accurately,” end quote, which granted is an incredibly glib thing to say, but gets to the heart of what we’re talking about.

Adam: Well, because remember when Saudi Arabia was destroying Yemen, in 2018, the CSIS think tank that we always dunk on released this really glossy video, including talking heads from Human Rights Watch, about civilian casualties in Yemen, you’re like, wow, this is bizarre that a weapons contractor-funded think tank would write this and then at the end of the video they say that one of the things they argue for is that the US should start selling more precise weapons to Saudi Arabia, because that would reduce civilian casualties. The Saudis’ war in Yemen is like a law of nature, like gravity or the tides and it’s just gonna happen regardless of what we do, so we may as well give him more precise weapons.

Nima: They were trying to be careful, but it was the weapons fault that they couldn’t be careful enough. The will was there.

Adam: Right. So you’ll be surprised to learn that CSIS is not, however, in this instance, advocating for more precise weapons for Hamas.

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: Probably, because that, of course, is just a bullshit way of selling more shiny objects. You get caught in the cycle and one of the things we realized making this episode is that Nima has been writing about this since what? 2008?

Nima: Yes. A very long time ago.

Adam: And that there’s a depressing, there’s a very depressing element to this, as I know there is for people who of course live in Gaza, and people have been writing about this for decades is that these are the same, it’s the same script almost every time. These talking points could have just as easily applied ten years ago, which is why we’re framing it this way because we mentioned in the previous News Brief that it was a script, and unfortunately, though these talking points need to be debunked, because if we’re ever going to get into the cycle of reading the same scripts, we have to have some meaningful percentage of people who don’t believe the zombie bullshit, and that is moving a little bit.

Nima: The narrative does need to shift. Before we go on to our next tried and true talking point, I do want to point out that the day that we’re recording this, May 13, former New York Times writer Bari Weiss, staunch defender of Israeli apartheid, did her best Golda Meir impression on her Substack when she wrote this this, quote:

Casualty reports are hard to verify because Hamas controls the media (even the international press) inside the Gaza Strip, but it appears that more than 50 Palestinians have been killed. Some of these people are entirely innocent non-combatants, including children. This is an unspeakable tragedy. It is also one of the unavoidable burdens of political power, of Zionism’s dream turned into the reality of self-determination.

Adam: Right, which is a thing I appreciate about Bari Weiss is she’s a little bit more honest about the logical implication of defending a settler colony in 2021. She doesn’t do the peace process bullshit. She’s like, ‘No, we’re gonna have to kill some people, that’s a large part of what it is.’ It’s like, okay, well, yeah, because people, historically, people have not been willing to just sort of roll over and be occupied ad infinitum. The real bullshit element of this is that they, you know, for years, where’s the Palestinian Gandhi? Where’s the Palestinian Gandhi? This bullshit, which we’re going to get to in the next trope, and then, of course, BDS has been severely criminalized, both in Europe and the United States. It is a peaceful boycott.

Nima: We need a Palestinian Mandela who advocates boycott, but he can’t advocate boycott.

Adam: No, they don’t like Mandela, either, which we’re going to get into because Mandela did not renounce violence.

Nima: Explicitly, which actually brings us to our next trope, which is that Hamas, or alternatively, all Palestinians writ large, must renounce violence.

Adam: They’ll sometimes say “terror,” but usually they just mean any kind of violent resistance.

Nima: Right. To renounce violence. It doesn’t say stop resisting. It says renounce violence. Now, of course, this demand only goes one way, it doesn’t go to the occupier, it doesn’t go to the settler colonialist, Israel never has to renounce violence, that is never a demand.

Adam: So I did a survey of The New York Times over a ten year period. I did it in March of 2019 article in with the headline, “‘Renouncing Violence’ Is a Demand Made Almost Exclusively of Muslims.” I did a survey from 2009 to 2019, of New York Times articles, and I found that 95 percent of the time, demands of renouncing violence are made entirely to Muslim organizations, peoples or parties, primarily Hamas and the Taliban. There are zero instances in The Times between March 28, 2009 to March 28, 2019 of anyone, either in an opinion or non opinion context, suggesting US, Israel or any white majority country renounce violence. Almost 50 percent of those were directed towards either Palestinians or Hamas telling them to renounce violence, roughly a third went to insurgents in Afghanistan. So the thing is, is that there’s no, the renouncing violence canard is even extra silly in the context of Palestine because there’s nowhere else for which they can appeal. They have no electoral process because they have no enfranchisement. They can’t vote, there’s no alternative other than violence within Palestine, to show one’s displeasure.

Nima: Except say — I don’t know — BDS, that is also criminalized.

Adam: But even that is, yeah, well doesn’t mean, in the context of Israel doesn’t really mean, it’s an international solidarity thing. So there’s a long history of this, people fighting British colonialism in Ireland were constantly told to renounce violence. There’s a 1990 op-ed in The New York Times by David G. Sanders, entitled, “Why won’t Mandela renounce violence?” In which he said Mandela needs to be more like Gandhi, because Mandela for years, for over 20 years, he was, he was in prison for 27 years, and then virtually the entire time, Amnesty International was created in 1991 and Mandela was refused prisoner of conscience designation because he refused to denounce violence, which I think we’ve talked about in the show before, because those in resistance struggles, even by these kind of bourgeois Western human rights groups, right? Which not only accepts the premise that colonial powers have a monopoly on violence, but they should use it well, I guess.

Nima: Right.

Op-ed in the June 21, 1990 edition of the New York Times.

Adam: But they also have the parallel liberal demand that those who are being oppressed denounce violence, even though again, the idea that we would go up to President Biden or President Trump or Obama or Netanyahu and say, ‘Will you denounce violence? Will you hand over all your weapons and hand over the $800 billion military?’ I mean, that would be absurd, right? So only one party’s ever told to denounce violence because it’s unilateral disarmament, it’s suicide, you would have to be and Mandela would say this, they’d say, ‘Mandela, why don’t you denounce violence?’ He’s like, ‘You have to be fucking mad to denounce violence in the face of a racist apartheid regime. Why would I foreclose on that pathway to resistance?’ It doesn’t make any sense.

Nima: Especially when violence is visited on the oppressed every single day. I mean, if the quote-unquote “violence” from Hamas in Gaza, so currently, the rocket fire, right? Before the rockets are fired, during when the rockets are being fired, and after the rockets stop being fired, Israel’s occupation and apartheid and blockade and siege and colonization of Palestine continues, right? That is the constant, that violence, that two-tiered legal system in the West Bank, the apartheid regime across the entirety of historic Palestine within the green line and outside, this idea that, you know, ‘Oh, well, Palestinian citizens of Israel have, you know, full rights,’ there are dozens of discriminatory rights, and so that violence, the violence of settler colonialism, the violence of occupation, continues. That never apparently needs to be denounced or renounced by those committing that violence or those funding and weaponizing that violence, ever. And so it is only those who have to resist being colonized that have to do it in a way that is totally inoffensive to their colonizers.

Adam: Yeah, and it’s absurd. Even, you know, the supposed moral benchmark of India’s independence against Britain, they say, ‘Oh, they hold it up as the gold standard,’ but that lots of violence, the civil rights movement had a parallel violent effort that involves plenty of quote-unquote “riots” and uprisings in urban areas, you know, as a tactic non violence is perfectly fine and oftentimes it works. We’ve talked about this before and I don’t have any problem with it in principle, but the idea that it’s a categorical imperative, that, that every oppressed person in the Global South or racialized person must submit to this, I mean, it’s ridiculous, because again, we know this because there’s entire think tanks funded by people who make war, who make weapons funding these think tanks to sit around with lanyards at conferences and think of new ways of exercising violence. I mean, that’s what they do.

Nima: And that nonviolent protest has been the singular reason why oppressed people win more rights, which is untrue, right? But that’s the assumption that the only time it actually works, we hear or we’re led to believe, is through nonviolent protest or resistance, and oftentimes, that is one tactic of many, and one that I wholeheartedly support, along with other tactics that oftentimes include violence against the violence that is consistently visited upon oppressed people.

Adam: No population on earth unilaterally disarms, especially in the face of apartheid and oppression. So on to number five, a very popular kind of truism that’s thrown out a lot, which we debated briefly in Episode 28, but we want to revisit a little bit, which is this idea that it’s very complex. Trevor Noah on The Daily Show started off a very, very, rather unfocused, I mean, I could see what he was trying to say, we’re not gonna play the whole thing, because it’s very rambling, its very long, he was trying to sort of gently point out the body count asymmetry, the power asymmetry, and this is kind of a good, this is a liberal line people use, I don’t necessarily mind it, because it is important that people understand that, but he prefaced this by saying, ‘I don’t quite know everything, everything’s very complex,’ and this, what it does is sort of shrouds it, you know, John Stewart himself, as we talked about in Episode 28, he said, they’ve been fighting for thousands of years, Obama said they’ve been fighting for thousands of years. Now, of course, the concept of Arab is fairly modern —

Nima: And Zionism is less than 150 years old. So.

Adam: And the Islamic religion is less than 1,400 years old. So how do you fight for thousands of years if it’s religious? So it doesn’t make any sense, right? It’s the way of reducing the occupation to some sort of sectarian conflict that has been around for thousands of years and it’s fundamentally a Zionist talking point to be honest, it’s a pro-Israel talking point because it mystifies it, it shrouds it in kind of antiquity and as if these tribes, this is the way a lot of the unrest was framed, not as a colonized or occupied people fighting back against colonizers and then being subject to ethnic or sectarian violence in return, it’s framed as purely sort of sectarian violence, that kind of boil, that tensions boil over, it kind of emerges out of nowhere, without any historical or political antecedents and the idea that it’s complex is just not true. It’s really not complex, it’s actually very simple, and, you know, a lot of things in life are complex, right? Brain surgery is complex. I assume sending a rocket to Mars is complex, I don’t know the details, but sounds complex to me, right? This is not a complex situation, this is actually extremely simple and if you don’t even believe that, then at the very least acknowledge that the side responsible for 95, 96 percent of civilian casualties is the side that your government, as an American, and if you’re European, almost certainly through diplomatic support, backs and supports, to the tune of $3.8 billion year, whereas the other side, you have no, you can’t impact. What you and I say on this podcast has zero influence on what Palestinians are ultimately going to do either way, right?

Nima: Right.

Adam: But we have some say and some control over the government that we fund and ostensibly who operates in our name, and at the very least, even if you don’t acknowledge the fact that this is not some mystical, ancient, sectarian conflict, but is in fact an ongoing settler colonial project and a form of, at the very least, we can all agree, is a military occupation of the vast majority of Palestinians, then that’s it. That’s all you really sort of need to understand. This is not brain surgery. This is not very complex at all. It’s very much quite simple and there’s a huge cottage industry of people, and this is true of a lot of things, right? Economists do this, a lot of industries do this where they’re selling you a bill of bullshit and the way they get you to stop asking questions, ‘It’s very complex, you don’t understand.’

Nima: It’s very complex. South African apartheid was very complex, Adam.

Adam: Well, that was a common talking point of South African apartheid as well and we drew parallels also in Episode 28, which I recommend you listen to now, for the tenth time I’ve mentioned it, because a lot of this has been covered, but yeah, it’s very complex, you don’t understand, very difficult, decades old cycle of violence, blah, blah, blah, it’s to sort of get you to shut your brain off.

Nima: Well, right and it’s to say that, you know, you don’t know the full story, and therefore there are authorized experts who are allowed to speak on this and the authorized experts that always follow are from fucking AEI and FDD and CSIS, you know, if not slightly more liberal ones. J Street is maybe authorized if you’re in certain circles, but anyone —

Adam: Poor J Street, I want to comment on J Street real quick.

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: J Street is just so irrelevant. I mean, I’m being somewhat facetious, I mean, they know what they’re doing but they’re operating in a totally different universe. They released some statement saying, there was recently an effort to condition US aid to Israel, US military to Israel, which is itself a half assed measure that doesn’t really mean much, but basically saying, like —

Nima: Write a report saying you didn’t mean to kill all those people.

Adam: Because J Street supports the $3.8 billion we send to Israel.

Nima: Because Israel has a right to defend itself, Adam.

Adam: But then they came out in favor along with the Carnegie Endowment Institute and some other liberal hand-wringing to condition aids to Israel so they don’t use American weapons to commit war crimes and what do you do? You read the report, it’s so goofy, the easiest solution of course, is just not to get made at all right, but it’s like we’re going to earmark this F-35 fighter jet and say, ‘Please don’t use this for war crimes, thanks,’ It’s absurd.

Nima: Right. It’s only for football match flyovers.

Adam: Yeah, for bombing Iranian, you know, what I mean, are bombing targets and Hezbollah. It’s just it’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen because I think people know that Israel’s losing legitimacy. They’ve gone full right. It’s become a partisan issue, which for the longest time it wasn’t, and now increasingly it’s more and more a Republican issue. Obviously, the President is a Democrat, and most Democrats still support Israel, but it’s becoming less and less bipartisan, and it needs to move much faster. I don’t think we should all sit around to congratulate ourselves how much the narrative has changed. But this is the PR, they’re sort of trying to get ahead of it and say, ‘Oh, we’re going to condition aid, and we’re going to make sure that this white phosphorus or this, you know, barrel of weapons doesn’t go to committing crimes, like where do you think the money goes? I mean, you know, it’s like people who want to earmark aid to Saudi Arabia, making sure they’re not used for war crimes in Yemen. It’s like what do you think they mark their war crimes weapons?

Nima: Israel is also not stupid, all they need to say is Hamas was firing rockets so we retaliated, right? That is the defense and it’s all a shell game of like, how you want to, when history starts, who you want to place blame on, and the United States obviously has no moral standing in this when American governments have been supporting Israeli colonization since 1948 if not actually long before.

Adam: Right. So here we are, again, it is a script, we run through it every three or four years. Hopefully, these counter talking points can be somewhat useful. I don’t know. But there’s not a ton we can do, we’re media critics, we sort of sit around and we say, ‘Well, how can we be helpful?’ Hopefully, this has been helpful. Probably not. But there it is. This is our contribution to the discourse.

Nima: That’s right.

Adam: Hopefully, you can find some use in it.

Nima: And just as one last reminder, while there are these — what do they call it in the media? — flare ups, escalations, tensions rising every few years, when they die down, when there is an inevitable Egypt-brokered ceasefire that is routinely then broken by Israel, but then you actually don’t hear that, when that happens, and like it will happen again, whenever Israel decides it’s killed enough Palestinian children this time, the violence on Palestinians, on Palestinian land, on Palestinian bodies doesn’t stop in between these quote-unquote “flare ups” or when the death toll is larger than it usually is, because there are just simply more Israeli warplanes dropping bombs, it doesn’t stop in between there, colonization is violence, apartheid is violence, military occupation and martial law is violence.

Adam: The status quo is extremely violent, and frankly, very, I mean, aside from the dispossession and the poverty and the starvation, which is all forms of violence caused by apartheid, it’s incredibly humiliating, it’s incredibly debasing, it’s incredibly undignified. I don’t know if you can put those in materialist terms necessarily, but it’s wrong in a multitude of ways that aren’t just about, you know, we throw around the word apartheid, I think we may be become desensitized to it, but it carries with it a whole ecosystem of deprivation and humiliation and it’s hard to get people to really internalize that because, you know, when people say, ‘Oh, violence erupts,’ and it’s like violence is not erupting, it’s been violent for decades. The default position is violence. It’s all forms of violence and know that. Know that this is an escalation of violence, it is not the beginning of violence and once one realizes that, they see the default status quo as something that’s kinetic and ongoing and not some sort of static peace situation, which of course is not.

Nima: Right. What are referred to in the media and I think in our politics as escalations are only called that because it is Palestinian resistance that is louder than the routine apartheid that Israel exacts on Palestine all the time and so that’s when we start paying attention to quote-unquote “violence.” It’s only when there is enough resistance that it reaches newspapers or TV screens or your phone. The routine violence is apparently not loud enough and therefore we are completely deaf to it.

So that will do it for this Citations Needed News Brief, we hope it’s been helpful. We could have talked about those five tropes for much longer, maybe there are more that we can explore some other time, but we hope this has been helpful. Thank you so much for listening. We will be back soon with another full length episode of Citations Needed. In the meantime, please do follow us on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, and if you are so inclined, support the show through with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson there’s a bunch of nice extra perk things for people who subscribe. We rely on listener contributions. Our full-length episodes will always be free for everyone to listen to at any point, but the reason that we’re able to do that is because of our amazing supporters like you. So please, if you are so inclined, do that. But that will do it. This has been a Citations Needed News Brief. I have Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Associate producer is Julianne Tveten. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Newsletter by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. Thanks again for listening, everyone. We’ll catch you next time.


This Citations Needed News Brief was released on Friday, May 14, 2021.

Transcription by Morgan McAslan.



Citations Needed

A podcast on media, power, PR, and the history of bullshit. Hosted by @WideAsleepNima and @adamjohnsonnyc.