How the media cracks down on critics of Israel

Israelaid
A 2015 chart of military aid. (photo: howmuch.net)
A newspaper columnist is fired after joking about U.S. military aid to Israel on social media.

By Nathan J. Robinson | Current Affairs | Feb 10, 2021

Personally, I had never thought about the question of whether I could suffer consequences for criticizing the government of Israel (and U.S. support for it).

It is widely recognized that critics of Israel, no matter how well-founded the criticism, are routinely punished by both public and private institutions for their speech. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has documented a pattern by which “those who seek to protest, boycott, or otherwise criticize the Israeli government are being silenced,” a trend that “manifests on college campuses, in state contracts, and even in bills to change federal criminal law” and “suppress[es] the speech of people on only one side of the Israel-Palestine debate.” The Center for Constitutional Rights has shown that “Israel advocacy organizations, universities, government actors, and other institutions” have targeted pro-Palestinian activists with a number of tactics “including event cancellations, baseless legal complaints, administrative disciplinary actions, firings, and false and inflammatory accusations of terrorism and antisemitism” and concludes that there is a “Palestine exception to free speech.”

he effort to keep critics of Israel quiet sometimes takes the form of explicit government action—there is an open campaign to criminalize speech critical of Israel and some states even require oaths from government employees promising not to boycott Israel. But as Israeli journalist Gideon Levy notes in the Middle East Eye, it often comes in the form of baseless (and offensive) accusations that criticisms of Israel are definitionally anti-Semitic. In the United States, academic critics of Israel have had job offers rescinded or been otherwise kept from teaching, and CNN fired academic Marc Lamont Hill over his call for a free Palestine. In Britain, there has been a years-long absurd campaign to tar former Labour leader (and critic of Israeli government policy) Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite. Human Rights Watch notes that the United States government has wielded unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism against it and against other human rights groups like Amnesty and Oxfam that have exposed Israel’s shoddy human rights record. Within Israel itself, the free speech rights of Palestinians are brutally suppressed, and even Jews supportive of Palestinian rights are regularly harassed by the state. Abeer Alnajjar of OpenDemocracy wrote last year about how “major, mainstream news media outlets are sensitized against any reference to Palestinian rights or international law, and any criticism of Israel or its policies.”

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