Bill Maher and guests are so wrong on Gaza

Bill Maher and his guests should be ashamed of their horrible portrayal of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza on Realtime (19.07.14 – view the full episode here).
As a proviso – I’m intending to criticise the show’s particularly awful moments and not attempting a balanced assessment of all the guest’s points. There is, of course, truth in their criticism of Hamas; I’m pro Israel and pro Palestine, but this ‘debate’ was particularly one-sided and bizarre for something outside of Fox News.
Some of the misinformation and opinions presented were bordering on offensive – to my intelligence, not my sensibilities. I like Bill Maher, I like the show. Consider this a friendly reminder.
Absurdity No. 1: Israel ain’t that bad
Maher begins by suggesting that Israel is actually demonstrating restraint in its invasion by not simply destroying Palestine:
‘Israel has the opportunity to kill way more, and they do not. It seems like they are victims of the soft bigotry of high expectations.’
This is ridiculous. And delivered with that little look that Maher always has on his face when he’s done a nice sentence. Israel has the opportunity to kill way less, and they do not. If Israel was purely defensive in their military operations in Gaza, then over 800 civilians would not be dead.
Plus, the international community would undoubtedly not allow Israel to commit full-scale genocide or decisive ground invasions, so they are not as free to ‘kill way more’ as Maher suggests; they get away with what they can (which Hamas does too).
Absurdity No. 2: Jews are superior
After opening with this interesting angle on Israel’s ruthlessness, Maher asks why it is that ‘Israel wins every war’ and, hence, ends up killing many more Palestinians than it suffers Israeli casualties.
Shockingly, he puts it down to the amount of Nobel prizes Jews have: ‘A big advantage to team Hebrew’. This not only implies that Arabs are inferior, which is pretty dangerous ground, but also overlooks a pretty significant fact: the unwavering support and monumental financial backing of the world’s largest military superpower.
Does Maher really think Israel’s ‘atheist’ (!) scientific community gives it the edge over oppressed, destitute, isolated, barricaded, sanctioned and blockaded Palestine? Maybe it’s got something to do with the fuckload of weapons and money they get from the US.
Absurdity No. 3: Gaza isn’t occupied
Next, one of Bill’s guests, Jane Harman – a former Democrat member of Congress – points out that ‘Israel doesn’t want to be in Gaza’ and that Gaza hasn’t been occupied since 2005, implying that Palestine has no claim to being oppressed and, therefore, enacting ‘resistance’.
That’s a nice line for apologists to repeat as it suggests that Gaza is actually a free, independent state since Ariel Sharon ‘disengaged’ 9 years ago but it masks the truth. Occupation is a legal designation and, by many accounts, Gaza is far from unoccupied. The UN has noted Israel’s ‘effective’ control of Gaza by way of:
  1. substantial control of Gaza’s six land crossings
  2. control through military incursions, rocket attacks and sonic booms, and the declaration of areas inside the Strip as “no-go” zones where anyone who enters can be shot
  3. complete control of Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters
  4. control of the Palestinian Population Registry, which has the power and authority to define who is a “Palestinian” and who is a resident of Gaza.[1]

Palestine is definitely not a free, independent state with no legitimate gripes.
This is a particularly pernicious lie because Harman, as a high profile politician who is presumably aware of diplomatic history and international law, must know that calling Palestine an unoccupied territory is contentious at best and completely disgusting at worst.
Absurdity No. 4: Israel’s military action is wholly defensive
Harman goes on to say that ‘the purpose’ of this current incursion, the purpose, is to take out Hamas’ tunnels and missile launchers. The shelling of schools and hospitals, alongside the UN’s suggestion that war crimes may have been committed, completely undermine this argument.
This is disproportionate, psychological and inhumane warfare, whether you think some level of Israeli military action is justified or not.
Plus, just two days ago the US posted the only NO vote on a motion in the UN General Assembly to set up an independent inquiry into Israel’s potential human rights violations. This would suggest that the US is not entirely confident that the result will be in Israel’s favour or, as a Washington State Department spokesperson put it: ‘[the US] will stand up for Israel…even if it means standing alone’[2] – a more candid admission of blind support.
The Times of Israel suggests that the US didn’t back the motion because it was one-sided and doesn’t mention Israeli deaths or Palestinian attacks, but that’s not true; sections 3 and 4 explicitly include condemnations of Israeli civilian deaths.
Once again, Israel is disproportionate, ruthless and murderous in its ‘retaliation’ to Hamas attacks and American apologists claim the military action is purely defensive before vetoing any UN action. This happens all the time. I put ‘retaliation’ in scare quotes since the 3 Israeli deaths that apparently sparked this conflict were actually preceded by 2 Palestinian deaths at the hands of the IDF that went unnoticed.
If Israel’s behaviour isn’t completely inexcusable, then its justification is at least questionable, while Maher’s panel doesn’t even discuss the possibility that targeting civilians might be problematic or that Israel might not have carte blanche to eviscerate whole communities.
Absurdity after absurdity after absurdity
There are more hilarious/disgusting distortions in the programme and this is only a short 15 minute segment.
Palestinians are referred to as ‘professional refugees’ who are used ‘as a symbol of propaganda’ by Jamie Weinstein, senior editor of the Daily Caller, and trusty Jane Harman claims that the million and a half Arabs living in Israel are ‘treated as Israeli citizens and afforded democratic rights’. I don’t even need to rebuff this Ministry of Truth bollocks.
It is amazing (or perhaps, sadly, not) that this passes for acceptable debate on US television. You’d expect this shit from Jamie Weinstein, but Bill Maher is apparently a liberal/libertarian and Jane Harman is a Democrat; not that I expect Democrat politicians to express pro-Palestinian sentiment, but at least not to resort to Bill O’Reilly levels of bull.
Realtime is a show for the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert demographic and, while I don’t expect members of the American political elite to be wearing Keffiyeh’s, I was shocked by the way this level of extreme rhetoric went unchallenged (I suppose Maher’s audience are the most sycophantic and clap-happy morons around) and elementary falsehoods were fired around so rapidly.
I’m no scholar on Israel-Palestine and nor am I a hardened pro-Palestinian, but I recognised much of what was said by apparently educated and knowledgeable pundits as heinous.
We will not see peace between Israel and Palestine until the US allows it to happen, and the US won’t allow it to happen while this sort of self-censorship abides. At least Maher recognises the Israeli gag placed on the whole of America’s political class at the end of the segment, but he, unfortunately, seems to be wearing it too.