Society / October 16, 2023

Solidarity With Palestine Is Not a Crime

Governments, news outlets, and major corporations are making it clear: It is not acceptable to support Palestine right now.

Nima Shirazi
Riot police arrest a protester during a demonstration in solidarity with Palestine at the Place de la Republique in Paris, France, on October 14, 2023

Riot police arrest a protester during a banned demonstration in solidarity with Palestine at the Place de la Republique in Paris, France, on October 14, 2023

(Firas Abdullah / Abaca / Sipa USA via AP)

Nearly 40 years ago, in a London Review of Books essay titled “Permission to Narrate,” Palestinian-American author and intellectual Edward Said wrote, “A disciplinary communications apparatus exists in the West both for overlooking most of the basic things that might present Israel in a bad light, and for punishing those who try to tell the truth.”

Said identified a “deep media compliance” in which “effective, and especially narrative, renderings of the Palestine-Israel contest are either attacked with near-unanimous force or ignored.”

Not much has changed since. In fact, the narrative of Israeli innocence and victimhood, and its corresponding counterpoint of unbridled Palestinian barbarity and evil, still holds sway over our media and political discourse. All Israeli deaths must be swiftly avenged without mercy, while Palestinian civilian deaths can only be lamented, if not flatly justified and legitimized. Criticism of Israeli government policies is routinely and baselessly conflated with anti-Semitism.

Especially in this moment of mass murder and trauma in Israel, the notion that Palestinians are real-life human beings—with all the hopes, dreams, doubts and dignity of everyone else, and whose aspirations for freedom, self-determination, and safety are just as legitimate as anyone else’s—is treated by many of the world’s most powerful governments and corporations as nothing less than a thought crime. All across the globe right now, people are being shut down for daring to express solidarity with Palestine.

In the hours and days following the massacre carried out by Hamas in southern Israel, American and Israeli officials decried the brutal murder of civilians, which was indeed unacceptable, inexcusable, and horrific. But at the same time, they called for an unacceptable and horrific response: an unrelenting assault on another civilian population—for collective punishment of Gaza in retribution for the gruesome events of Saturday, October 7. And in the week since the Hamas attacks, Israeli and US media and politics have turned explicitly genocidal.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant declared, “I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything will be closed. We are fighting human animals and we will act accordingly.” As Israeli missiles turned entire neighborhoods in Gaza City to dust, an IDF spokesperson affirmed, “Our focus is on damage, not on precision.” The US State Department ordered its press officers not to include the phrases “de-escalation/ceasefire,” “end to violence/bloodshed,” and “restoring calm” in any statements.

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When asked at a press conference if Israel is differentiating between Hamas fighters and Palestinian civilians, Israeli President Isaac Herzog incredulously replied,

“It’s an entire nation out there that is responsible. It’s not true, this rhetoric about civilians [being] not aware, not involved, it’s absolutely not true. They could have risen up, they could have fought against that evil regime, which took over Gaza in a coup d’etat.”

Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz declared on Friday that Gazans will “not receive a drop of water or single battery until they leave the world.”

Writing in Jewish Currents, Raz Segal, an Israeli-born associate professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Stockton University, reported that the right-wing Israeli Channel 14 aired an interview calling for Israel to “turn Gaza to Dresden” and that “Channel 12, Israel’s most-watched news station, published a report about left-leaning Israelis calling to ‘dance on what used to be Gaza.’” (The attack on Gaza, Segal added, could be seen as “a textbook case of genocide unfolding in front of our eyes.”)

American television has also been awash in this rhetoric. Senator Lindsey Graham, speaking on Fox News on October 10, claimed, “We’re in a religious war here and I’m with Israel. Do whatever the hell you have to do to defend yourself, level the place!” Far from walking that statement back, Graham proudly posted it on his own Twitter account.

Senator Marco Rubio proclaimed that Israel was dealing with “savages” who needed to be “eradicated.” Senator Tom Cotton urged Israel to “bounce the rubble” in Gaza. Nikki Haley, the current presidential candidate who previously served as the Trump administration’s US ambassador to the United Nations, declared the murders and kidnappings of Israelis not just an attack on Israel but “an attack on America,” adding, “They should have hell to pay for what they have just done,” and calling on Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “finish them.”

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On CNN, retired US Army Brig. Gen. Steve Anderson responded to a question about whether he thought Israel would have to let Palestinians starve in order to get them to drive Hamas out of Gaza by saying, “I know it sounds callous, but this is a war.” (He then added, “I’m not saying starve, we don’t want to see anyone suffer unduly. But they definitely need to apply pressure by utilizing this blockade to stop the people from getting the resources that they used to,” as if that were any different.)

Even routine reporting by a major cable news network on the Israeli airstrikes in Gaza was met with frustration and anger by Jonathan Greenblatt, president of the Anti-Defamation League. Appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Monday, October 9, Greenblatt railed against what he saw as not enough coverage of Israeli suffering.

“Guys, get this story right,” he said on air, “All these pictures of like, you know, missiles or the rubble in Gaza? Please talk to the Israeli mothers and fathers who lost their children.” He similarly lamented that not enough reporters were using the word “terrorists” to describe Hamas militants and that the ongoing Israeli bombardment of civilian targets in Gaza was called a “retaliation,” instead of his preferred description: “a defensive measure against an organization that is committed to one thing: killing Jews.” Exasperated, Greenblatt complained, “I’ve got to ask, who’s writing the scripts? Hamas?”

For days before and in the week following Greenblatt’s outburst, MSNBC spent hour after hour featuring condemnation of the Hamas attacks in Israel and a parade of pundits and guests, including many Israeli government and military spokespeople, who all spoke out in support of aggressive Israeli military action in Gaza. Still, the right-wing National Review accused MSNBC of “justifying Hamas violence as the inevitable result of Israeli aggression,” citing the station’s highly respected host and correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin’s analysis that the attacks were the “very deadly consequences of failed policies” of Netanyahu’s administration, a view articulated by the Israeli press and shared by a majority of Israelis themselves.

By the end of the week, Semafor’s Max Tani was reporting that the ostensibly liberal cable news channel “has quietly taken three of its Muslim broadcasters out of the anchor’s chair since Hamas’s attack on Israel last Saturday amid America’s wave of sympathy for Israeli terror victims.” (MSNBC “vehemently” denied that the hosts were being kept off the air for political reasons, telling Tani that they had been moved to make way for more prominent weekday anchors or to prioritize live breaking news.)

Palestinian voices remain few and far between in US media. On Wednesday, Rutgers professor and human rights lawyer Noura Erakat reported that, despite his being contacted by “three US media outlets” to discuss the unfolding catastrophe, all had “canceled my interviews today.” By Saturday, Erakat revealed that CBS News was refusing to post an interview she had given to the network, while both ABC News and CNN had similarly scrubbed their own interviews with The Nation’s Palestine correspondent Mohammad El-Kurd and Arab Center Senior Fellow Yousef Munayyer.

But it’s not only that news outlets and other organizations are preventing pro-Palestinian perspectives from getting a spotlight. It’s that they are also actively repressing anyone who does manage to make their voice heard.

For instance, Philadelphia-based sports writer Jackson Frank was fired from his post at PhillyVoice.com for expressing support for Palestinians, while, forgetting the prescribed hierarchy of life that puts all innocent Israeli lives above all innocent Palestinian lives, Harper’s Bazaar editor Samira Nasr was forced to apologize by parent company Hearst for posting a message to her Instagram a message saying, “Cutting off water and electricity to 2.2 million civilians… This is the most inhuman thing I’ve seen in my life.” (“People need to be held accountable,” a Hearst source told the New York Post. “Nasr always preached she hates cancel culture. Well, now she is about to experience it.”)

As more than 400,000 Palestinians fled their homes amid the Israeli assault and the death toll in Gaza neared 2,000, including 583 children, on Friday, October 13, a German literary association announced that it would no longer honor a novel by Palestinian author Adania Shibli this week at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The cancellation of the long-planned ceremony is “due to the war in Israel.” According to The New York Times, the book, Minor Detail, tells the true story of the 1949 rape and murder of a Palestinian Bedouin girl by Israeli soldiers. In a statement about the decision to sideline Shibli, Fair director Juergen Boos said that organizers had instead “spontaneously decided to create additional stage moments for Israeli voices.”

Perhaps most chilling of all are the actions that some governments have taken. In the UK, Home Secretary Suella Braverman wrote a letter to police suggesting that pro-Palestinian chants, or even the waving of the Palestinian flag, might be illegal in the current climate.

Last Thursday, the French government banned all pro-Palestinian rallies, citing threats to public order. When people protested anyway, they were tear-gassed and violently arrested by riot police. Vienna and Berlin have also banned Palestine solidarity rallies.

The same day, members of the US House of Representatives held a bipartisan candlelight vigil on the steps of the Capitol for Israel and the victims of the Hamas raid. No mention was made, of course, of the more than 1,000 Palestinians, including nearly 500 children, who had been killed in Israeli air strikes at that time. Earlier that day, the Israeli Air Force itself had boasted of dropping more than 6,000 bombs on Gaza, sharing photographs of some of the buildings and city blocks it had reduced to rubble.

The current state of social media is no help. Disinformation is rampant, unregulated, and unaddressed. Platforms like (Facebook and Instagram), Google, X (formerly known as Twitter), Zoom, and TikTok have all been shown to promote anti-Palestinian bias and have again been accused of suppressing and censoring pro-Palestinian content this past week.

This is nothing new, of course. Academics and media personalities have long been subject to professional reprisal for criticizing Israeli policy and professing solidarity with Palestine. In response to a 2018 speech in favor of Palestinian freedom and self-determination delivered at the UN, CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill was fired. In 2021, The Guardian fired columnist Nathan Robinson for a tweet about US aid to Israel, and Associated Press reporter Emily Wilder was let go for pro-Palestinian messages she had posted on social media when she was in college. Last year, Katie Halper was canned from The Hill’s Web TV program Rising for a segment documenting Israel’s policy of apartheid.

As Edward Said wrote, the suppression of Palestinian voices, or even those voices expressing solidarity or context or nuance, is part of a media and political war over narrative—what stories are allowed, or in fact encouraged, to be told and by whom, and which are omitted, maligned, or marginalized. These deep systems of stories that allow us to make sense of the world around us ultimately determine who we, as a society, see as deserving of our empathy, our solidarity, our support, and our collective trauma. These narratives, and the actions they justify, make it clear just whose lives actually matter.

In our Israel/Palestine narrative, at best, only the most perfect Palestinian victims are allowed to be mourned, their murders blamed on the faceless, sinister entity known as Hamas, not the actual Israeli pilot who followed orders to flatten their home with a missile or fire white phosphorus at their ambulance. Peaceful resistance to occupation, apartheid, and colonization is met with false accusations of anti-Semitism and outlawed. When Palestinians in Gaza mobilized en masse for a year and a half against the siege and occupation with the symbolic Great March of Return toward the fence that separates the blockaded territory from southern Israel, IDF snipers shot and killed over 200 protesters and wounded more than 33,000.

Systemically oppressed people are always expected to display quiet grace and dignity in the face of violence, terror, and intimidation. The onus is always on the oppressed to maintain decorum; never are the colonists expected to behave differently. Empathy and perseverance, nonviolence and dialogue—these are always demanded of the victims of violence, never of the perpetrators.

On December 3, 1860, pro-slavery activists violently attacked an abolitionist meeting at the Tremont Temple Baptist Church in Boston. In the words of Frederick Douglass, who was there to speak, the gathering was “invaded, insulted, captured by a mob” and eventually “broken up and dispersed by the order of the mayor, who refused to protect it.”

Six days later, Douglass took the stage at Moston Music Hall to denounce the actions of the mob and the mayor alike, declaring, “Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power.”

The right to speak one’s thoughts, values, and principles freely, Douglass affirmed, is “the great moral renovator of society and government.”

Our public discourse on Palestine and Israel is in dire need of renovation. It is always somehow too soon to speak of the full history of violence in Palestine. But for those who are committed to justice and accountability, ending the occupation, and dismantling apartheid, we can hope that it’s not too late.

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Nima Shirazi

Nima Shirazi is the cohost of Citations Needed, a podcast on the media, power, and politics.

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