2021: The year Palestinians entered America’s debate over Israel-Palestine

Peter Beinart speaking at Temple De Hirsch Sinai, Seattle, Washington, May 23, 2019 at an event sponsored by J Street (CC by Joe Mabel via Wikimedia)
Shifting media developments are giving Palestinian voices more access to shape the Israel-Palestine conversation.

By Peter Beinart | The Beinart Notebook |  Jan 3, 2022

In recent years, the gulf between traditional and social media has narrowed… And so for Palestinian commentators, social media has become a backdoor into the establishment media from which they were long barred.

For my entire adult lifetime, the mainstream American conversation about Israel-Palestine—the one you watch on cable television and read on the opinion pages—has been a conversation among political Zionists. Its participants have argued over how the Jewish state should behave, not whether it should exist. Last year that began to change. Palestinians entered America’s public discussion in an unprecedented way, and with their entrance, anti-Zionism entered too. In 2021, the terms of US discourse began to shift. The ramifications of that shift will likely be with us for decades to come.

In 1984, in an essay in The London Review of Books, Edward Said observed that while Palestinians were increasingly talked about, they still weren’t often listened to. “Never has so much been written and shown of the Palestinians, who were scarcely mentioned fifteen years ago,” he noted. “They are there all right, but the narrative of their present actuality – which stems directly from the story of their existence in and displacement from Palestine, later Israel – that narrative is not.” Said was the exception that proved his own rule. In the 1990s and early 2000s, he was a frequent guest on Charlie Rose. His columns graced The New York Times. But he was largely alone. A study by the University of Arizona’s Maha Nasser found that of the opinion columns in The New York Times that discussed Palestinians between 1970 and 2020, less than two percent were written by Palestinian authors. In The Washington Post, the figure was one percent.

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