By Omar Mansour
“I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction.” This quote from current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to Israeli settlers in the West Bank in 2001 shows why Americans would do well to educate themselves as to how they can be so easily moved when it comes to the Palestine-Israeli conflict.
This is why Students for Justice in Palestine will be screening “The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in The United States.” The film sheds light on the mainstream media’s role in creating a pro-Israel narrative. Tune into most mainstream news outlets and you will find much more coverage in line with the Israeli narrative that ignores the Palestinian perspective. As a result, it leaves Israel’s human rights abuses largely unchallenged on the air. If they are challenged, they may be dismissed by the anchor and will usually go back to a core talking point.
Any American who follows the news will hear regular accounts of Palestinians committing acts of violence. Israeli government officials and spokespeople will be called on the air, and the message will reaffirm Israel’s right to defend itself. However, these news stories tell us almost nothing about why this violence exists in the first place. The media leads us to believe that Palestinians are inherently violent, anti-Semitic terrorists who cannot accept Israel as a Jewish state.
Yet the media ignores subjects that effect Palestinians every day: the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the continued expansion of illegal Jewish-only settlements in Palestinian territory, home evictions and demolitions by the Israel Defense Forces, the separation wall, military checkpoints, bombing campaigns and the utter denial of Palestinians’ most basic human rights.
This elision of context is the essence of what is called “Hasbara,” or “explanation” in Hebrew. As the magazine Haaretz explains, “Hasbara” is a form of propaganda on an international scale, sanctioned by the Israeli government and primarily aimed at western countries and is meant to influence conversation in a way that positively portrays Israeli policies. “Hasbara” targets political elites and the public simultaneously through the mass media, and is carried out by government agencies, nonprofits, lobbying groups, students, journalists and bloggers.
Popular discourse about Gaza provides one good example of the effectiveness of “Hasbara.” Many argue that Israel withdrew all its settlements from Gaza in a gesture of good will and peace, when all they got in return was Hamas firing rockets at them. Israeli officials have repeated this go-to talking point in the midst of Israel’s horrific bombing campaigns on the Gaza Strip in 2008 and 2014.
Given this set of facts, one would be inclined to side with Israel. However, reality paints a different picture. The fact is that Israel never left the Gaza Strip. They withdrew their settlements, but they retain complete control over Gaza through land, air and sea; the Israel Defense Forces use giant walls, watchtowers, gun boats and military aircraft overhead. No Palestinian is allowed in or out of Gaza without Israel’s permission – for this reason, Gaza is often compared to an open-air prison. With these important details left out, Americans are left with only the pro-Israel narrative to refer to when forming their opinions.
The arguments raised in this submission are explored in greater detail in “The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in The United States.” The film takes a close look at pro-Israel public relations efforts inside the U.S. and shows how the Israeli government, the U.S. government and pro-Israel advocacy groups work together to direct U.S. mainstream media coverage in favor of Israel and against Palestinians.
The film provides a complete analysis of Israel’s long fought battle for the minds of the American people, which has only intensified over the years due to widening international condemnation. As long as the United States continues to support Israel and its oppressive policies, Palestinians will see no change for the better. And the American government will support these policies as long as the American population tolerates them.
As a member of Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA, I would like to invite those who completely disagreed with this piece as well as those who know nothing about the conflict to come watch this film with us and join in on a discussion with the executive producer Sut Jhally and founding Pink Floyd member Roger Waters.
The screening will be held Wednesday in James Bridges Theatre at 7:00 p.m. You can visit our Facebook page for more information and to reserve a free ticket. The worst it will do is change your mind.
Black Lives Matter.
We, the undersigned chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)*, unequivocally support the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) and its newly released policy platform for “Black power, freedom, and justice.” We fully endorse M4BL’s demands and take this moment to renew our commitment to fighting anti-blackness as well as all systems of oppression that disenfranchise and oppress Black communities.
We hear M4BL’s call for societal transformation –– from self-determination and investment in Black education to universal healthcare and civil rights protections for queer, trans, and non-binary Black communities –– and for an end to the centuries of violence against Black peoples. We recognize and condemn the harm caused by colonialism, militarization, incarceration, surveillance, resource theft and destruction, and erasure to Black communities in the US and around the world. In affirming that Black lives and Black liberation matter, we aim not only to uphold those working alongside us in the US but also those pursuing Black freedom globally. Accordingly, we pledge to uplift Black voices, including those of Afro-Palestinians, and to root out anti-blackness as we continue to build our movements.
We are moved by the platform’s recognition of Israel’s apartheid laws, illegal settlements, segregated road systems and military checkpoints, punitive home demolitions, and prison system, through which Palestinians, including children, are routinely subject to harassment and torture. As campus organizers, we also welcome M4BL’s endorsement of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), particularly given the current climate of anti-boycott legislation that we face, and we echo its acknowledgment of the US’s culpability in the Israeli occupation of Palestine, notably through military aid, diplomatic support, and investment in private prison companies.
While the struggles of Palestinians and Black people are not identical, we recognize that the same systems and structures contribute to global oppression. To envision and build a world rooted in liberation, we must and will carry forward the legacies of Black and Palestinian solidarity. “Our collective futures depend on it.”
We are steadfast in our support of Black liberation, and urge others in the Palestine solidarity movement to share and endorse the platform and take action.
In reaffirmed solidarity,
American University Students for Justice in Palestine
Athens for Justice in Palestine (University of Georgia)
Boston University Students for Justice in Palestine
Brandeis University Students for Justice in Palestine
Bryn Mawr College Voices for Palestine
California State University–Fullerton Students for Justice in Palestine
City University of New York–Hunter College Palestine Solidarity Alliance
Columbia University Students for Justice in Palestine
Cornell University Students for Justice in Palestine
DePaul University Students for Justice in Palestine
Drew University Students for Justice in Palestine
Earlham College Students for Justice in Palestine
Emory University Students for Justice in Palestine
The Evergreen State College Students for Justice in Palestine
Florida International University Students for Justice in Palestine
Florida State University Students for Justice in Palestine
Fordham University Students for Justice in Palestine
George Mason University Students Against Israeli Apartheid
The George Washington University Students for Justice in Palestine
Georgetown University Students for Justice in Palestine
Hampshire College Students for Justice in Palestine
Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee
Harvard Law School Justice for Palestine
Haverford College Students for Justice in Palestine
Indiana University–Purdue University of Indianapolis Students for Justice in Palestine
John Jay College of Criminal Justice Students for Justice in Palestine
Loyola University–Chicago Students for Justice in Palestine
Marquette University Students for Justice in Palestine
Michigan State University Students for Justice in Palestine
New York University Students for Justice in Palestine
Northeastern University Students for Justice in Palestine
Northwestern University Students for Justice in Palestine
Oberlin College Students for a Free Palestine
The Ohio State University Committee for Justice in Palestine
Rutgers University–New Brunswick Students for Justice in Palestine
Sacramento State University Students for Justice in Palestine
San Diego State University Students for Justice in Palestine
Santa Clara University Students for Justice in Palestine
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago Students for Justice in Palestine
St. Joseph's College Students for Justice in Palestine
Stanford University Students for Justice in Palestine
Swarthmore College Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine
Temple University Students for Justice in Palestine
Tufts University Students for Justice in Palestine
University of California–Berkeley Students for Justice in Palestine
University of California–Davis Students for Justice in Palestine
University of California–Irvine Students for Justice in Palestine
University of California–Los Angeles Students for Justice in Palestine
University of California–San Diego Students for Justice in Palestine
University of California–Santa Barbara Students for Justice in Palestine
University of California–Santa Cruz Students for Justice in Palestine
University of Chicago Students for Justice in Palestine
University of Cincinnati Students for Justice in Palestine
University of Dayton Students for Justice in Palestine
University of Illinois–Chicago Students for Justice in Palestine
University of Illinois–Urbana Champaign Students for Justice in Palestine
University of Louisville Students for Justice in Palestine
University of Maryland–College Park Students for Justice in Palestine
University of Michigan–Ann Arbor Students Allied for Freedom and Equality
University of Michigan–Dearborn Students for Justice in Palestine
University of Minnesota Students for Justice in Palestine
University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill Students for Justice in Palestine
University of North Florida Students for Justice in Palestine
University of Pennsylvania Penn Students for Justice in Palestine
University of South Carolina Students for Justice in Palestine
University of South Florida Students for Justice in Palestine
University of Texas–Austin Palestine Solidarity Committee
University of Wisconsin–Madison Students for Justice in Palestine
Vassar College Students for Justice in Palestine
Wayne State University Students for Justice in Palestine
Wellesley College Students for Justice in Palestine
Wesleyan University Students for Justice in Palestine
Williams College Students for Justice in Palestine
by Omar Zahzah with special thanks to Chakib Mouzaoui
On Tuesday, February 25th at 7pm, UCLA's Undergraduate Student Council voted on a divestment resolution authored by UCLA's Students for Justice in Palestine. The resolution, which called upon the Regents to halt the investment of student tuition funds into five U.S. companies that profit from Israel’s illegal occupation—Caterpillar, Cemex, CRH, GE, and Hewlett Packard—was ultimately voted down. The public comments portion of the evening, during which students were allowed to voice their opinions on the resolution, lasted nine hours. During this period, one technique utilized by anti-divestment students was the repetition of talking points. In particular, a statement from South African politician Reverend Kenneth Meshoe that categorically rejected the pro-Palestinian activists’ descriptions of Israel as an apartheid state was read several times. Reverend Meshoe’s statement featured the following observations:
As a black South African under apartheid, I, among other things, could not vote, nor could I freely travel the landscape of South Africa. No person of color could hold high government office. The races were strictly segregated at sports arenas, public restrooms, schools and on public transportation. People of color had inferior hospitals, medical care and education. If a white doctor was willing to take a black patient, he had to examine him or her in a back room or some other hidden place. In my numerous visits to Israel, I did not see any of the above.
Ultimately, Revered Meshoe claims that defining Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as apartheid “trivializes the meaning of the word apartheid.” While, this might seem to be a powerful refutation, there are several important issues which need to be addressed.
In the first place, Reverend Meshoe and his party warrant a closer look. Reverend Meshoe is a member of the African Christian Democratic Party, a party which holds only three seats in the South African National Assembly, as opposed the African National Congress, which holds 264 seats and is currently the governing party of South Africa. This is especially important to remember in light of the fact that the ANC officially endorsed the BDS movement on December 21st, 2012. At the time, ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete claimed that the situation faced by Palestinians in Israel is “far worse than apartheid South Africa”. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has also referred to the treatment of Palestinians as apartheid , and while Nelson Mandela never made this comparison directly, Alon Liel, Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, claims that Mandela believed the freedom of black South Africans from apartheid “will not really be complete until our brothers the Palestinians, who fought with us and supported us, will achieve their freedom’”  (this also calls into question Netanyahu’s conspicuous absence from Mandela’s funeral). While it may not have been backed by every South African politician, endorsement of both the BDS movement and its central identification of Israeli treatment of Palestinians as apartheid (bdsmovement.net clearly defines BDS as “a movement against Israeli Apartheid”) constitutes mainstream political protocol within South Africa. What’s also interesting is that, while anti-divestment students are understandably eager to use the Reverend Meshoe’s statement, they never offer any details about the exact nature of his political work. Presumably this is because anti-divestment activists are primarily interested in Reverend Meshoe’s status as a black South African who lived under apartheid.
Nevertheless, Reverend Meshoe’s party website reveals that The Christian Democratic Party, despite what its name may suggest, is actually a conservative party which advocates for the reduction of condom distribution as a means of curbing the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases. As one of their press releases puts it, “The experience of other countries indicates that condom distribution alone actually encourages a culture of casual sex and risky sexual behavior”. Another of their press releases reflects endorsement for a statement which seemed to imply that government grants for struggling parents could actually encourage the sexual abuse of children because such grants lead to the devaluation of parenthood’s intrinsic worth. Now, of course the beliefs of Reverend Meshoe and his party are not a crime. But it’s worth considering: had anti-divestment students dug a little further, would they have really thought such an individual to be the best candidate to use in the defense of another nation’s progressivism?
Secondly, and most importantly, the Reverend’s remarks stand in stark contrast to the reality of life on the ground for Palestinians living in occupied Palestine. For instance, as the Seattle Mideast Awareness campaign describes:
Four million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories lack the right to vote for the government that controls their lives through a military occupation. In addition to controlling the borders, air space, water, tax revenues, and other vital matters pertaining to the Occupied Territories, Israel alone issues the identity cards that determine the ability of Palestinians to work and their freedom of movement .
A recent Amnesty International report states that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza strip “traps over 1.6 million Palestinian civilians. Many are cut off from jobs, medical care, and educational opportunities. 70% of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip now depend on humanitarian aid as a result .”
There are segregated buses  and roads  within the West Bank. Palestinian freedom of movement is greatly impeded by the existence of hundreds of checkpoints, which often make something as simple as going to work or school impossible and cause degradation and even death—according to ifamericansknew.org, in some cases “Palestinian men and boys are held in metal cages or required to strip to their underwear, in many cases, they are blindfolded and their hands are tied with plastic ties that cut deeply into their wrists;” furthermore, refusing Palestinians the right to pass through a checkpoint for medical purposes is all too frequent, a practice which has resulted in 46 women having to give birth at checkpoints and lead to at least 83 deaths . The infamous Separation Wall, which upon completion will measure around 403 miles and is around 25 feet high , was created with the purpose of restricting Palestinian movement into Israel  and, according to the International Court of Justice, “severely impedes the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self-determination and is therefore a breach of Israel’s obligation to respect that right .” The human rights center Adalah has compiled an exhaustive list of over fifty laws that discriminate against Palestinians “in all areas of life, including their rights to political participation, access to land, education, state budget resources, and criminal procedures .” However one chooses to label them, Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians clearly constitute systemic oppression, separation and the denial of basic human rights. The Reverend’s refutation of this, though unfortunate, is by no means damning—it is merely another instance of how he is in the minority among his coevals, many of whom also lived under the same state sanctioned segregation and view the plight of the Palestinians as all too familiar.