Biden’s Genocide on Gaza Is Now a War on Truth and the Right to Protest

MEDIA, 20 May 2024

Jonathan Cook – TRANSCEND Media Service

The media’s role is to draw attention away from what the students are protesting – complicity in genocide – and engineer a moral panic to leave the genocide undisturbed.

10 May 2024 – As mass student protests quickly spread to campuses across the United States last week, and others took hold in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, the western media gave centre stage to one man to arbitrate on whether the demonstrations should be allowed to continue: US President Joe Biden.

The establishment media reverentially relayed the president’s message that the protests were violent and dangerous, treating his assessment as if it had been handed down on a tablet of stone.

Biden declared the protesters had no “right to cause chaos”, giving the green light for police to go in with even greater force to clear the encampments.

This week, Biden raised the stakes further by suggesting the protests were evidence of a “ferocious surge” of antisemitism in the US.

According to reports, more than 2,000 protesters have been arrested after some university administrators – under growing pressure from the White House and their own wealthy donors – called in local police.

In approving the crushing of dissent, Biden contradicted himself: “We are not an authoritarian nation where we silence people or squash dissent. But order must prevail.”

One small problem went unmentioned: Biden was not a disinterested party. In fact, his conflict of interest was so gigantic it could, like the damage to Gaza, be seen from outer space.

The students were calling on their universities to pull all investments from companies that are assisting Israel in carrying out what the World Court has called a “plausible” genocidein Gaza. Those weapons are being supplied in huge quantities largely thanks to the decisions of one man.

Yes, Joe Biden.

Law-breaking Biden

The “order” the US president wants to prevail is one in which his decisions to block any ceasefire and arm the slaughter, maiming and orphaning of many tens of thousands of Palestinian children go unchallenged.

Biden has been so indulgent of Israel’s destruction of Gaza that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government crossed the president’s supposed “red line” this week. Israel launched the initial stages of its long-threatened final assault on Rafah in southern Gaza. Some 1.3 million Palestinians have been huddling in makeshift tents there.

Biden could easily have forced Israel to change course at any point over the past seven months, but chose not to, even as he feigned concern about the ever-rising death toll among Palestinian civilians. Only under growing popular pressure, fuelled by the protests, has he finally appeared to pause arms shipments as the attack on Rafah intensifies.

The White House has authorised vast shipments of arms to Israel, including 2,000lb bombs that have levelled whole neighbourhoods, killing men, women and children outright or leaving them trapped under rubble to slowly suffocate or starve to death.

Late last month Biden signed a further $26bn of US taxpayers’ money to Israel, the majority military aid – just as mass graves of Palestinians killed by Israel were coming to light. He has been able to do so only by flagrantly ignoring the requirement in US law that any weapons supplied not be used in ways likely to constitute war crimes.

Human rights groups have warned his administration repeatedly that Israel is routinely breaking international law.

At least 20 of Biden administration’s own lawyers are reported to have signed off on a letter that Israel’s actions violate a host of US statutes, including the Arms Export Control Act and Leahy Laws, as well as the Geneva Conventions.

Meanwhile, the State Department’s investigations show that, even before Israel’s destruction of Gaza began seven months ago, five Israeli military units were committing gross violations of the human rights of Palestinians in the separate enclave of the Occupied West Bank.

There, Israel doesn’t even have the one-size-fits-all excuse that the abuse and killing of Palestinian civilians are unfortunate “collateral damage” in an operation to “eradicate Hamas”. The West Bank is under the control of the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas, not Hamas.

Nonetheless, no action has been taken to stop the arms transfers. US laws, it seems, don’t apply to the Biden administration, any more than international law does to Israel.

Protest quicksand

In denying students the right to protest at the US arming of Israel’s plausible genocide, Biden is also denying them the right to protest the most consequential policy of his four-year term – and of at least the last two decades of US foreign policy, since the US invasion of Iraq.

And it is all happening in a presidential election year.

The students’ immediate aim is to stop their universities’ complicity in the slaughter of tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza. But there are two obvious wider goals.

The first is to bring attention back to the endless suffering of Palestinians in the tiny, besieged enclave. Until this week’s attack on Rafah, the plight of Gaza had increasingly dropped off front pages, even as Israeli-induced famine and disease tightened their grip over the past month.

When Gaza has made the news, it is invariably through a lens unrelated to the slaughter and starvation. It is details of the interminable negotiations, or political tensions over Israel’s Rafah “invasion”, or plans for the “day after” in Gaza, or the plight of the Israeli hostages, or their families’ agonies, or where to draw the line on free speech in criticising Israel.

The students’ second goal is to make it politically uncomfortable for Biden to continue providing the weapons and diplomatic cover that have permitted Israel’s actions – from slaughter to starvation, and now the imminent destruction of Rafah.

The students have been trying to change the national conversation in ways that will pressure Biden to stop his all-too-visible law-breaking.

But they have run up against the usual problem: the national conversation is largely dictated by the political and media class in their own interests. And they are all for the genocide continuing, it seems, whatever the law says.

Which means the media has carefully refocused attention, dealing exclusively with the nature of the protests – and a supposed threat they pose to “order” – not addressing what the protests are actually about.

Last Sunday, the head of the UN Food Aid Programme, Cindy McCain, warned that northern Gaza was in the grip of “full-blown famine” and that the south was not far behind. Dozens of children were reported to have died of dehydration and malnutrition. “It’s horror,” she said.

The head of Unicef pointed out last week, a few days before Israel ordered the evacuation of eastern Rafah: “Nearly all of the some 600,000 children now crammed into Rafah are either injured, sick, malnourished, traumatized, or living with disabilities.”

A separate UN report recently revealed it will take 80 years to rebuild Gaza, based on the historic levels of materials allowed in by Israel. On a highly unlikey, best-case scenario, it will take 16 years.

As ever, establishment journalists have been essential to distracting from these horrendous realities.

The students are caught in a protest equivalent of quicksand: the more they struggle to draw attention to the Gaza genocide, the more the Gaza genocide sinks from view. The media have seized on their struggle as a pretext to ignore Gaza and turn the spotlight on to their protests instead.

Feeling ‘unsafe’

The student protest movement has been remarkably peaceful – a fact that is all the more obvious when compared to the Black Lives Matter protests that swept the US in 2020, with Biden’s approval.

Four years ago there were many episodes of property damage, but that has been all but unheard of in the student protests, which are mostly confined to encampments on university campus lawns.

Initially, the idea that student protests were violent depended on a highly improbable claim: that chants calling for the liberation of Palestinians from occupation, or for equality between Israeli Jews and Palestinians, were inherently antisemitic.

The coverage had to studiously ignore the fact that a sizeable chunk of those protesting on campus were Jewish.

The media’s manufactured narrative was then put to further, mischievous purpose. Zionist Jews on campus – those who identify with Israel rather than the global movement to stop a genocide – were reported to be uncomfortable when faced by the protests. Or “unsafe”, as the media preferred to call it.

In all this hysteria, no one seemed to care how “unsafe” anti-Zionist Jewish students felt, or Palestinian and Muslim students, after being publicly labelled antisemitic and a threat to “order” by Congress and their own president.

But this would soon become about a lot more than a clash of feelings. Stoked on by Biden’s condemnations and by political and financial pressures on the universities, administrations took the unusual step of inviting local police forces on to their campuses. Soon police in riot gear were massed against the students.

With the political and media climate mounting against academic freedom and the right to protest on issues of Israel and genocide, university staff turned out in a show of support for their embattled students.

At Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, for example, a Jewish professor, Annelise Orleck, joined colleagues hoping to protect their students by placing themselves between the police and the encampments. It was a pattern repeated across the country.

The police, she told Democracy Now, were clearly determined to break up the encampments using force.

Orleck, a former Jewish studies department head, was one of many grey-haired professors filmed being assaulted by police. In her case, she was videoing the violent arrests of students when a police officer body-slammed her from behind. When she tried to get up, she was thrown to the ground, pinned with a knee in her back and zip-tied.

Jill Stein, another prominent Jew and the Green Party candidate in the presidential elections later this year, was also violently arrested at a demonstration.

Moral panic

The media has worked hard to offer rationalisations for this assault on freedoms once taken for granted.

One moral panic – an entirely fake story about campus protest “violence” against a Jewish student at Yale – illustrates the depths being plumbed.

The Jewish student’s own video of the incident shows her pressing herself up against a campus protest march, presumably as part of her own counter-protest in favour of Israel continuing its genocide. At one point, a small Palestinian flag brushes her face.

Video artist Matt Orfea’s clips of the resulting hysterical coverage would be hilarious were the stakes not so grave. A stream of headlines and TV hosts scream in horrified tones: “Jewish student stabbed in the eye” and “Stabbed for being a Jew.”

The investment by the media in shocked outrage on behalf of one student – who, even in her own assessment, says the worst injury she suffered was a headache – over one unremarkable confrontation at one of the many dozens of campus protests in the US is the real story.

Had the media industry even a tiny conscience, the journalists lavishing concern on a Yale student with a headache might pause to wonder if some of that concern ought to be redirected elsewhere – as the campus protests demand.

Such as towards the tens of thousands of children being killed by US bombs and starved with the help of a US funding blockade on the UN’s main relief agency, Unrwa. Or towards Israel’s destruction of every one of Gaza’s 12 universities.

Similar mendacity was fully on display in the media’s coverage of the protests at UCLA when the police briefly backed down from their stand-off with students. A masked group of pro-Israel activists – seemingly not enrolled at the university – seized the opportunity to invade the campus, throw fireworks into the encampment, tear it down and beat the students.

Police took several hours to intervene. None of the “counter-protesters” seems to have been arrested.

Despite the clear, filmed evidence of the attack on the students, the media uniformly painted it as a “clash” between two rival groups of violent protesters. In many cases, the reporting, including by the BBC, insinuated that the students – the victims – had initiated the “clashes”.

It was off the back of this confected “fake news” that Biden was able to characterise the student protests as chaotic, dangerous and a threat to “order”.

Drawing on a well-worn trope used by racists to tar the civil rights movement back in the 1960s, New York’s black mayor joined other politicians in claiming that “outside agitators” were behind the campus protests.

Meanwhile, CNN host Dana Bash exploited the manufactured narrative to compare the students to “Nazis”.

When the police returned to the UCLA campus, it was to increase the crackdown, stepping up arrests and firing rubber bullets at the students.

Furious backlash 

The UK’s own version of this manufacturing of a moral panic is playing out too. Last weekend the Metropolitan Police arrested four people for displaying what police claimed was a banner “supporting a proscribed organisation”. The four, reportedly including a doctor and parents of students, were protesting outside University College London in solidarity with a protest camp there.

The banner showed a white dove – a symbol of peace – carrying a key flying through a breach in Israel’s apartheid wall around the West Bank.

According to reports, police claimed the four were Hamas supporters based on the fact that the sky behind the dove was “clear blue”, supposedly a reference to the clear skies on the day of Hamas’ attack on 7 October. Police seemed to be unaware that the sky is regularly clear blue in the Middle East.

According to witnesses, police officers had consulted with pro-Israel counter-demonstrators shortly before making the arrests.

The reality the political and media class are working to obscure is that some universities, rather than calling the police, have been allowing the protests on their campuses to play out peacefully.

And – in what seems to be the real fear among the political and media class – the protesters are also slowly having some impact in isolating Israel as well as moving public opinion. Extraordinarily, given the uniformly hostile coverage of the protests, suggesting they are antisemitic, four in ten American voters have still concluded that Israel is committing genocide, according to a survey published this week.

Largely unreported, several universities – in an attempt to end the protests without violence – have quietly made promises to limit their complicity in Israel’s genocide. In most cases, their good faith has yet to be tested.

Under countervaling pressure from 5,000 alumni who signed a letter threatening to withhold donations, the University of California Riverside appears to have agreed to divest from companies with ties to Israel, as well as stopping joint study programmes with Israel.

This week, Ireland’s Trinity College, in Dublin, reached a settlement with protesters that will see it quickly divest from Israeli companies involved with the illegal settlements in the West Bank.

A college statement read: “We are in solidarity with the students in our horror of what is happening in Gaza.”

Goldsmith’s college in London has promised an ethical investment policy that may see it divest from Israel’s decades of occupation of the Palestinian territories. It has also agreed to set up scholarships for Palestinians living under an Israeli occupation that has all but destroyed higher education for them.

And Goldsmith’s is to review its adoption of the new, highly controversial IHRA definition of antisemitism that has been aggressively promoted by the Israel lobby and widely adopted by western public institutions.

Paradoxically, the definition intentionally blurs the distinction between Jews and Israel – a favoured tactic of antisemites – and has been key to helping Israel and its allies smear anti-genocide protests as Jew hatred.

Concessions that ended protests at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey, have included holding talks with student representatives about investments in arms firms assisting Israel’s slaughter in Gaza, the setting up of a Palestine studies course mirroring an existing Jewish studies programme, and establishing a long-term collaboration with a Palestinian university in the West Bank similar to Rutgers’ relationship with Tel Aviv university in Israel.

Those minimal concessions have already provoked a furious backlash from 700-plus members of the local Jewish community. They accused Rutgers of “capitulating to the extreme demands of the lawless mob”, one that is supposedly inciting “hatred and violence against Jews and the Jewish state”.

The group has threatened to bring the university to its knees by pulling “donations and financial support”. Meanwhile, the four largest Jewish federations in New Jersey are reported to be demanding a state investigation of Rutgers.

Gaza playbook

In reporting on the campus protests, the establishment media have simply rolled out the same well-thumbed playbook they used to cover up Israel’s genocide in Gaza: strip out context, distort chronology, reverse the roles of aggressor and victim, and push the messaging so hard it sticks.

Over the past seven months, the western media have erased the context of decades of Israeli structural violence: its belligerent occupation of the Palestinian territories and ethnic cleansing of Palestinian communities to establish in their place illegal settlements of armed Jewish militias.

Even more specifically, they have disappeared the imprisonment and slow-motion starvation of 2.3 million Palestinians through a 17-year medieval-style siege of Gaza.

Instead, Hamas’ one-day attack on 7 October is presented as coming out of the blue – that clear blue sky. It has served as a rationalisation for genocide by Israel that just keeps on giving.

The student protests are being exploited for a similar purpose. The media have been able to expand their self-serving narrative from foreign fields – where every Palestinian, even a child, can be painted as a potential terrorist – to domestic turf, where anyone clamouring against Israel’s genocide is considered a likely antisemite.

Leaks from the New York Times show that the company has effectively imposed a ban on staff using terms such as “genocide” and “apartheid” in relation to Israel, making it impossible to name the reality faced by Palestinians or the reasons for solidarity among western publics with them.

It is clear that the Times’ policy is shared across the establishment media.

Now, Congress is preparing to bring down the same free speech and free thought shutters on American citizens. Their First Amendment rights are in the process of being shredded to protect a foreign country, Israel, from criticism.

This month the House of Representatives passed by an overwhelming majority an “antisemitism awareness” bill that would once again expand the definition of Jew hatred to criminalise critical speech against Israel. The Republicans who introduced the legislation specifically referenced the bill’s use against the student protests, which call for universities to stop investing in genocide.

The goal is to chill speech in the last places – campuses and social media – where it still exists outside the imposed consensus of the political and media class.

The politicians and media are not disinterested. They are in thrall to Big Money interests, such as the arms, surveillance and oil industries, for whom Israel is a critical element, both in the projection of western power into the Middle East and in the construction of a western narrative of permanent victimhood, even as the West and its allies continue to wreck the region.

From their campuses, the students are calling out as loudly as they can that western institutions are complicit in arming a genocide, that the emperor is every bit as morally exposed as he appears. It is time to stop listening to those gaslighting us. Now is the time to believe our own eyes.


Jonathan Cook is an award-winning British journalist based in Nazareth, Israel, since 2001. He is the author of: Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish State (2006); Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (2008); and Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (2008). In 2011 he was awarded the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. The same year, Project Censored voted one of Jonathan’s reports, “Israel brings Gaza entry restrictions to West Bank”, the ninth most important story censored in 2009-10.

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