Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Asking the tough questions about Gaza

I was watching DemocracyNow! today as I usually do. I've been disturbed by some of the reporting on Gaza by DN!. There has been a heavy reliance on official statements by Israel spokespersons. After hearing a few sentences from one of these Israeli representatives spewing lies which are constantly contradicted by organizations like the United Nations and the Red Cross, I had to jump ahead in the video to keep from throwing things at my computer screen which might damage my laptop.

I'm also concerned by an over reliance on representatives from the Jewish community to interpret events in Gaza. It's fine here and there, but it's becoming a pattern and is distracting from the real suffering of the People of Gaza. I get the feeling that Amy Goodman as a Jew herself, was trying to make a statement that all Jewish people are not in favor of the Israeli assault on Gaza. OK, well Amy if that is your point, why don't you just say so in an editorial statement and move on?

So today it was with some trepidation that I began watching the day's broadcast. Especially after reading the summary of today's feature stories. Not surprisingly one of them was another clearcut example of this genre: " 'Catastrophically Misguided and Incomprehensible Policy' - Renowned Jewish Playwright Tony Kushner Speaks Out Against Israel's Assault on Gaza." Did it have to be a Jewish playwright Amy? If he wasn't Jewish then would his criticism of Israel carry less weight?

Well after watching that piece, I wasn't that impressed by the statement from Tony Kushner, but some of the Jewish women who were at the same protest did make some real heartfelt statements that touched me. Shalom. It is good to here some Jewish voices that sincerely and unapologetically criticize the actions of Israel when the "Jewish state" commits an atrocity of the level of horror which we are witnessing today in Gaza.

Contrast that with the statements from another featured story: "Pro-Israel Supporters Praise Gaza Assault as Justified Despite Mounting Civilian Death Toll". These people could barely restrain themselves from calling for an all out "obliteration" of Gaza and all its inhabitants. It was particularly disturbing to see the Governor of New York, David Paterson, addressing the crowd and supporting Israel's criminal actions. Paterson, as you may know, is blind and black. I had the feeling I was watching Stevie Wonder endorsing the apartheid policies of Israel. Very disturbing.

But the part of today's news show that I ended up most appreciating was one which I never expected would have much to do with Gaza at all. It was the interview with Helen Thomas, the "First Lady of the Press Corps". Helen has been covering the White House since Kennedy. She has traditionally been given the first question to ask at White House press conferences. And when it comes to the US relationship with Israel, she does not hold back.

Here's what she had to say to Amy Goodman on the subject of Israel at the beginning of the interview.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you expect to see a change of policy, for example, on Israel and the Occupied Territories?

HELEN THOMAS: No, I don’t.


HELEN THOMAS: Because I think that Obama, during the campaign, made many promises, as every president, potential president does to Israel, that they seem somehow bounded by their promises, promises to uphold all Israeli goals.

I don’t see how the US can provide F-16s, gunships, Apache gunships, phosphorus, possibly phosphorus, and cluster bombs and so forth to kill helpless people, children who are starving to death. They control the checkpoints. They control the arrivals and departures, supplies and people. And the Americans—President Bush has remained silent to that suffering. He has blocked by a veto at the UN any stoppage of the warfare, and he continues to supply Israel.
I was frustrated, because rather than following up on this particularly strong statement, Amy decided to change the subject. But Helen got right back on the subject the first chance she got.
AMY GOODMAN: Helen Thomas, what would you have asked President Bush if you got a chance yesterday? Did you expect that he would call on you?

HELEN THOMAS: No, but I wish that he had, because I would have—I mean, I would have asked a news question. I would not have gone into the nostalgia, though I’m not criticizing it, because I do think the reporters had to wrap up to find out what he really thought about himself and his legacy. But I would have asked why—why do you continue to support the killing in Gaza? And that’s what we’re doing.

I mean, you can’t remain neutral. I remember the rabbi who spoke at the Martin Luther King march on Washington. Heschel had a cameo appearance, and he said, “The greatest sin of all in the Nazi era was silence.” When you remain silent to the suffering and the incredible aggression against a people, then you are culpable.
Did you hear that Obama? What do you have to say about your silence now? By the time Obama reaches office, the bloodshed in Gaza will be over. It will be too late for the thousands that will have been slaughtered. It will be too late for the many more who will have suffered horrific injuries. It will be too late for all the people of Gaza whose homes have been destroyed, who have suffered the loss of loved ones, who's whole way of life has been destroyed.

Israel's goal is to create "facts on the ground". Israel's ally, the US, gives it time and protection to complete its massacre. Just like the Sharon's troops gave time and protection to the Phalangists to complete their bloody massacre of the innocent Palestinians living in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. Here is what Robert Fisk had to say about that massacre in Lebanon in 1982.
But in Beirut, the victims were Palestinians. The guilty were certainly Christian militiamen - from which particular unit we were still unsure - but the Israelis were also guilty. If the Israelis had not taken part in the killings, they had certainly sent militia into the camp. They had trained them, given them uniforms, handed them US army rations and Israeli medical equipment. Then they had watched the murderers in the camps, they had given them military assistance - the Israeli airforce had dropped all those flares to help the men who were murdering the inhabitants of Sabra and Chatila - and they had established military liason with the murderers in the camps.
Certainly the same judgment applies to the US with regards to the current massacre which Israel is committing in Gaza. Here it is, more than twenty years later. And again Israel is murdering innocent Palestinians. Yet the US insists that it is the Palestinians who are the terrorists.

But again, Amy changed the subject. Later, Goodman presented video of two different exchanges with White House spokespersons that relate to Israel. One with Dana Perino, and another with Tony Snow. But Amy didn't ask any follow up questions on the subject of Israel. Even though Helen asked some very tough questions in those segments and followed up with some pointed statements.
HELEN THOMAS: Why is the President letting more people be killed in this situation, instead of going for a ceasefire and calling for restraint, as they have in the past, on both sides?

DANA PERINO: We are calling for a durable ceasefire. That’s what we were trying to establish.

HELEN THOMAS: But why don’t you call it today and stop people from being killed?

DANA PERINO: Well, I think, Helen, strong views are held on this by all sides. We believe that Israel has a right to defend itself, and—

HELEN THOMAS: Do the Gazans have a right to defend themselves?

DANA PERINO: blah, blah, blah...

HELEN THOMAS: The President did not recognize their election, which was fair and square under international law, as observers—

DANA PERINO: blah, blah, blah...

HELEN THOMAS: So knowing that, why did the US cut off all relation—all aid to the people?

DANA PERINO: blah, blah, blah...
There is a similar exchange with Tony Snow in 2006 with regards to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. And here is Amy's follow up after showing a piece where Tony Snow thanked Helen for giving the "Hezbollah view" of events.
AMY GOODMAN: Helen Thomas, you were born in Kentucky, your parents, Lebanese Christians. Your Arab American background, do you think that informs—or how does it inform your reporting?

HELEN THOMAS: Of course. I have a background and an understanding of what’s happened in the Middle East that a lot of people don’t have, because there’s been no interest. But why shouldn’t I project some of my feelings and so forth? I mean, I have that right, as an opinion column. But also, I hope I seek justice. And I don’t think that I go off the highway.
Where the heck did that question come from Amy? Did you really think that it was important to inform your audience that her parents were Lebanese Christians? I'm surprised Helen didn't come back with, "Well Amy you're a Jewish American, the granddaughter of an Orthodox rabbi and the great-granddaughter of a chassidic rabbi. You have relatives who died in the Holocaust and spent part of your youth in Israel. How does that inform your reporting?"

And again Amy changed the subject from Israel and the Middle East. At the end of the interview Amy asks how Helen will respond to an Obama administration.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, do you have your first question planned for President Barack Obama?

HELEN THOMAS: Sure. I have a thousand of them. I say, you know, what are you going to do to fulfill your ideals that so expressed on the campaign trail? Or are you going to submit, like most presidents, just follow through, make—try to carry out your promises that don’t—that have no meaning except for how many people gave you money?

AMY GOODMAN: Today, Hillary Clinton goes before the Senate, before her colleagues, to be questioned before her confirmation hearing as Secretary of State. Your thoughts on the First Lady, who you covered for many years, now becoming the Secretary of State? And the question you would ask her?

HELEN THOMAS: Question I would ask here is, what’s she going to do about the Middle East? She’s been all on all sides of the question. She first proposed a Palestinian state when she ran in New York. Understandably, she pulled back on that. I don’t know where she stands, and I don’t think it matters where she stands. It’s probably where does Obama stand?
So Helen is right back on topic. Is Obama going to followup on his promises to end the Iraq War and negotiate with Iran? Or has he sold out to AIPAC? What's Secretary of State Clinton going to do about the situation in Palestine? Will she stand up to the pressure from Israel, or like the outgoing Secretary of State Rice be manhandled by the Israeli government?

So to Amy Goodman... I like your show. Otherwise I wouldn't listen to it everyday. But you would be better off treating Israel just like any other country in the world. Jews in America do not help their cause by being protective of Israel. I think this one unidentified women on another segment of the show got it right.
"I think it’s really important. I mean, in a way, this is a human issue for every person, not just the Jewish people. But I think it’s extremely important right now that Jewish people be out and visible and make it clear that, as Jews, as people who have experienced genocide against our people, that we understand that the Palestinians are today’s Jews. And if we learned the lesson of the Holocaust, the lesson is we need to be out and we need to speak for Gaza, as we had always wanted people to speak for us."
This is what I would expect from the Jewish People. Otherwise Jews are just using the Holocaust as a shield to protect themselves from criticism while lashing out with a sword against the Palestinians.


Frank Hope said...

Update: I made some minor edits to this post. I finished this post late last night and there were a few blatant grammatical mistakes.

If you're wondering about the choice of image, I chose it because Democracy Now! uses the Statue of Liberty as a symbol. It also has great significance for American Jews since it watches over Ellis Island which many Jews passed through when immigrating to America.

Finally the bolt of lightning hitting the statue seemed like an ominous sign, almost like a Judgement from God on America. Obama is America's last chance to change it's policies in the Middle East. Unfortunately, like Helen Thomas, I don't expect any "change". Obama is beholden to AIPAC. There are plans to appoint AIPAC operative Dennis Ross as some sort of special envoy to the Middle East. It is up to us to place enormous pressure on the incoming Obama Administration to treat the Palestinians on an equal footing with the Israelis. The first step must be to cut off all US aid to Israel as a punishment for its criminal behavior.

JK said...

Came across this blog entry when I googled amy goodman gaza - after my wife reminded me of my reaction to a couple of her DN! broadcasts recently, and wondering if I was the only person who almost threw things at the TV screen! Clearly I wasn't. I can't recall the guy's name but she had someone on from the 'Israel Project' and I watched in amazement at the lies he was presenting, without a single intervention or tough question from Amy. I vowed never to give her another penny (although I may relent) and it's cetainly opened my eyes to her position and prejudices...
Helen Thomas is a gem. I love her to death!

Frank Hope said...

@ JK

Thanks for your comment. I was beginning to think I had been too tough on Amy Goodman. I did notice that in the past few days, Amy stopped using direct videos of Israeli government spokespersons. Too often the "liberal" press falls into the trap of being "fair and objective" on controversial subjects. This is especially true with anything touching on Israel.

The resulting impression this leaves is that both sides are equally to blame. Unfortunately for the Palestinian people this leaves many US "liberals" thinking that Israel was justified in bombing Gazan civilians.

Given the amount of pro-Israel propaganda that passes for news in the US mainstream media, it is only fair for the "liberal" media to give more time to the Palestinian side. This is what is needed in my opinion to provide "balance".

The other issue that needs to be exposed is how Israel uses the "peace process" as a cover while continuing to expand its settlements. In fact I don't think that Israel has any intention of ever reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians that would result in a viable Palestinian State, but that is another issue...