The Daily Show ran a segment last week titled “We Need to Talk about Israel.” Apparently an attempt to illustrate the difficulties journalists face when covering the ethnic cleansing Israel’s military is carrying out in Gaza, the segment showed Jon Stewart getting alternately shouted down by Zionists and opponents of ethnic cleansing. The shouting was so aggressive that Stewart never actually got to talk about Israel which was, apparently, the punch line.
The sketch was notable because it was a rare instance where supporters of the Israeli military were portrayed by American media as aggressive and irrational. The obvious takeaway, however, was that journalists can’t get into Israel/Palestine because people on both sides of the slaughter won’t just keep calm and carry on. If only they’d stop shouting, we could actually start to understand what’s happening over there, and why.
The idea that American journalists are the beleaguered victims here is absurd. American journalists– Stewart included– have never had any problem ignoring supporters of the Palestinian cause before, no matter how loud their voices were. For decades, mainstream media in the U.S. have offered uncritical support of the violence waged by Israel against the Palestinians. They’ve had no problem demonizing the Palestinians and regurgitating the Israeli government’s justifications for its crimes against humanity. But that’s not the main problem here.
The problem here is the idea, which I’ve heard more and more as the slaughter has continued, that both sides are behaving equally irrationally– and that this inability to behave rationally is what keeps the conflict going. The truth is that calls for calm in the face of slaughter always serve the interests of those in power, those doing the slaughtering. As Tom Whyman argued in his recent essay on contemporary fascism:
“The injunction to behave properly, to smile and get on with it, is precisely a way of shutting down any form of social resistance…To be nice, to ‘behave properly,’ is simply to behave like an infantilized middle-class subject. Thus every marketing campaign or government public service announcement that passive-aggressively preaches niceness is really a violent enforcement of reactionary values that serves to preserve a crisis-stricken status quo.”
Right now, the Israeli government is pursuing its stated aim of eradicating the Palestinian population of Gaza to clear the area for Israeli settlement and America’s political leaders on both sides of the aisle are vocally defending the rightness of Israel’s cause. In the face of this insanity, calls for calm seem, well, insane.