Tag Archives: rashid khalidi

Madmen for Israel: Selling Zionism

Madmen don’t just pitch beer and toothpaste. Most progressives today agree their credits include the selling of America’s wars, but as Columbia Professor Rashid Khalidi explained the other evening at Brooklyn Law School, even the mythology that dominates most Americans’ thinking about Israel can be traced back to the clever fellows on Madison Avenue.

Below, I’ve transcribed an excerpt of Professor Khalidi’s remarks from September 22nd because the better we understand the true origins of Israel’s mythology about itself, the more effective we can be at stopping the humanitarian nightmare playing out inside the Gaza Strip. For length’s sake, I do not run the entire speech here, but anyone who asks is welcome to my recording file. Please feel free to repost, tweet or circulate this via courier pigeon.

And do not even think of missing the New York book launch of Midnight on the Mavi Marmara: The Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and How It Changed the Course of the Israel/Palestine Conflict, Tuesday, Sept. 28, click for details. The book contains dozens of essays 2-4 pages long—perfect for subway and bus commuters (or those with the attention span of a gnat).

Excerpt from Rashid Khalidi’s comments, B’klyn Law School, Sept. 22, 2010:

There have been significant changes in recent years in the way in which the whole question of Palestine is treated in the American public sphere. One way to appreciate this is to look back on changing ways Americans have comprehended the history of the conflict in Palestine since 1948.

…. It marks the period when half of the population of Palestine, more than 700,000 people were dispossessed and became refugees and all Palestinians were made stateless. Palestinians call these traumatic events a nakba in Arabic or the catastrophe.

In the American public sphere and in the U.S. political arena in particular, most of these past 63 years it has been possible to talk about only one side of this dual anniversary and that is the Israeli side. The sole event being marked every May 15th was therefore the seemingly miraculous birth of the state of Israel only three years after the revelation of the Holocaust. And those events were always linked in peoples’ minds.

Any reference, especially in the first 30 or 40 or 50 years after 1948, to the dispossession that these events entailed for the Palestinian people was seen as scandalous. Talking about it was seen as indecent if not as a sign of borderline anti-Semitism. How can you sully an event like this, by talking about  that?

It is important to stress that most Americans knew, and know, almost nothing about Palestine except the falsifications that have been foisted upon them from decades of propaganda which starts off by stressing the biblical roots of the modern Zionist enterprise and then goes on with other tropes. Thus, for most Americans, looking at one side of the coin seemed and still seems to be only right and natural way and that explains the background for some of the egregious things that Glenn [Greenwald] has just talked about.

You may or may not know that this stuff doesn’t develop on its own. This carefully crafted propaganda was the work of seasoned professionals. People like someone you probably never heard of, a man named Edward Gottleib, for example. He’s one of the founders of the modern public relations industry. there are books about him as a great advertiser.

In order to sell the great Israeli state to the American public many, many decades ago, Gottlieb commissioned a successful, young novelist. A man who was a committed Zionist, a fellow with the name of Leon Uris. He funded him and sent him off to Israel to write a book. This book was Exodus: A Novel of Israel. Gottlieb’s gambit succeeded brilliantly. Exodus sold as many copies as Gone With the Wind, which up to that point was the greatest best-seller in U.S. history. Exodus was as good a melodrama and sold just as many copies.

I could take a non-scientific poll in this room and prove what I’m trying to say. I would argue that a large proportion of the false ideas that Americans have held, and still hold about Palestine, are drawn from Uris’s images of that heroic modern David facing a backwards, brutal Arab Goliath, can be traced to this persuasive book and to the popular motion picture of the same name, which starred a then-young, then-handsome Paul Newman as Ari Ben Canaan.

Now this process of selling Israel didn’t stop with Gottlieb. Gottlieb was the father of the American iteration of Zionism. It has continued unabated since then. If you’re really enterprising you can go online and see that it’s still ongoing.

This is rooted in something that’s historic and important. In addition to being successful as an idea, in addition to being wildly successful as a national movement, in addition to being one of the few colonial settler movements ongoing, political Zionism has always been, since the days of Herzl and Weitzman, a resounding public relations success sold by professionals. This stuff does not create itself. These are people who are very good at doing it, top-drawer American professionals.

People like Frank Luntz, one of the foremost pollsters for the Republican Party, who does stuff for the Israel on Campus Coalition, which is quoted by Peter Beinart in the New York Review of Books article that I’ll talk about in a minute.

The systematic hoodwinking of the American public by precisely the same means whereby the Republicans sold us the Iraq War—rehashed myths combined with distorted or cherry-picked facts put together with a lot of skill—is thus still ongoing when it comes to selling the Israeli narrative to the American public.

Precisely the same people, Luntz for example, are actually doing the selling. This is where this matrix comes from. My point is that over the past decade or so the limits of this process of indoctrination are clear. I would argue that this is especially the case with the younger generation of Americans.

End of transcript excerpt

  • For those who would like to hear my own talk on the topic of the waning Zionism of Jewish Americans, please listen to my 15-minute speech given July 2, 2010, in Oakland, CA. It was part of a panel with Jess Ghannam, Wael Elasady and Paul Larudee on Breaking the Siege of Zionism. My speech is the final 16 minutes of the file here. Breaking the Siege of Gaza

Sherry Wolf  is a public speaker, writer and activist who is available to speak on Breaking the Siege of Gaza and other topics at your campus, community center or union hall for a moderate fee. Wolf is the associate editor of the International Socialist Review and author of Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics and Theory of LGBT Liberation (Haymarket Books, named one of theProgressive’s “Favorite Books of 2009”). Contact Sherry at: sherrywolf2000 at yahoo.com or find her on Facebook. Check out the video of Sherry speaking with Cleve Jones and the cast of Hair at the National Equality March.

Techdud Chats With Glenn Greenwald

A couple of hundred newbies and seasoned politicos managed to breach the phalanx of trial lawyers in training at Brooklyn Law School last evening to attend a really fantastic event on the Mavi Marmara Flotilla massacre—the Turkish humanitarian aid ship attacked in international waters off Gaza on Memorial Day, leaving 9 dead.

Speaking were Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald, Columbia Professor Rashid Khalidi and Gaza Flotilla survivor Fatima Mohammadi. Greenwald will be posting a video of it on his blog, which I enthusiastically recommend.

Afterward I had an opportunity to chat with Greenwald, whose writings and TV appearances have provided a rare whiff of sane commentary to a mass audience in the United States. He lives part-time in Brazil with his partner, giving him bragging rights over all of us on commuting nightmares. Naturally, techdud—that would be me—managed to record every fart and burp in the room during two hours, but I’m tearing my hair out trying to find what appears to be a lost recording of the five minutes I snagged with Greenwald at the end.

I won’t attempt to recreate it all—since you’re likely to think I just pulled it out of my ass—but I do want to comment on the sense of what he said to me as well as those in the room. And at the end I do post Greenwald’s recorded response to a young fellow wondering—like more than a few of us—if it will take riots to win some change.

Since Greenwald posted the snarky commentary last week by President Obama about liberal criticisms of his administration at a $30,000-per-plate dinner, complete with chortles, I asked Greenwald about the posture of the Obama administration regarding the left. Previously that sort of snippiness was outsourced to Obama’s Uzi-toting, potty-mouthed chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel.

Greenwald responded that under siege by the right, Obama and co. really do feel they are unjustly attacked by the left. Rather than blame their own inept policies, the administration is pointing fingers at liberals and the left for their lack of enthusiasm and will blame us if they go down in flames during the midterms.

When I asked him about the inevitable liberal drum beat over the coming weeks leading into November—that the barbarians are at the gates and we must circle the wagons and support “our team” (the Dems)—I thought his response was spot on (and will forever kick myself if I don’t locate his actual words).

Greenwald said that every election year we are told is the most important of our lives and this one will be no different. But that because there are only two political parties—according to his Wikipedia page, Greenwald doesn’t vote for either of them, making us kindred spirits—we are trapped in this narrative of one or the other. Inevitably it means that the Dems take us for granted because where else would the left go and so there is no weaker position than buying into that because it guarantees that the left will never get anything  without a fight.

Amen brother.

One last thing that I did capture on tape. A young man of about 20 was the first to ask a question in the room. Keep in mind that this was in a law school, not an anarchist co-op. He said quite simply that the electoral process isn’t working, the world is a mess, so “should we just wait for the rioting to escalate around the world in order for there to be change?”

Greenwald responded: “A lot of sunshine and optimism in that question. I think it’s a hard question to answer and a complex topic, so I’ll just try to answer it as follows. I think if you look at the current administration there are clearly rhetorical changes and symbolic gestures that are different than the prior administration and would have been if John McCain had been president. The sentiment, the sort of flavor and atmosphere when you talk about the Middle East would have been different. But the substance is relatively, in ways that matter, unchanged.

“So you can ask yourself whether Obama doesn’t really believe in the claim that things ought to be different or he’s pretending that they should for political advantage. Or it could be the fact that he does authentically believe things ought to be different but there are impediments that he is incapable of overcoming even using the power of the presidency in order to consolodate those changes that he thinks ought to be brought about.

“You see that today with these leaks from Bob Woodward’s book where he says Obama was supposedly internally extremely opposed to escalating things in Afghanistan yet he did it anyway. I think one of the important things is that there really are permanent important power factions in Washington that exist separate from and beyond and at times have even more power than an elected president has. The reason that their allowed to exert that power is that it’s essentially unchallenged.

“I think some of the things that Professor Khalidi was just talking about as far as the changes that we’re seeing and the reasons for optimism is that is these orthodoxies are starting to erode further and the way in which this power is exerted  becomes more apparent, that’s when I think change can start to happen. You start to open up the debate and make Americans realize the extreme burdens that they’re undertaking not for their own interests, but the interests of a foreign country.

“And then when the population starts demanding real change—and you see this in a whole variety of areas in the United States over the last four decades—then I think it [change] becomes quite possible.”

Sherry Wolf  is a public speaker, writer and activist who is available to speak on The Struggle for LGBT Liberation, How Can We Unite to Fight the Right and on Breaking the Siege of Gaza at your campus, community center or union hall for a moderate fee. Wolf is the associate editor of the International Socialist Review and author of Sexuality and Socialism: History, Politics and Theory of LGBT Liberation (Haymarket Books, named one of the Progressive’s “Favorite Books of 2009”). Contact Sherry at: sherrywolf2000 at yahoo.com or find her on Facebook. Check out the video of Sherry speaking with Cleve Jones and the cast of Hair at the National Equality March.