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Anna Baltzer and Dr. Mustafa Barghouti on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: An interesting look at US media and reactions to open discussion about Israel and Palestine

A few months ago I was privileged to meet Anna Baltzer, a Jewish-American woman working for peace among Israelis, Palestinians, and their supporters, and sharing information that is difficult to find in the US. Her presentation was completely in alignment with what I had personally observed during my travel in Israel and the West Bank. She is compassionate toward all who are suffering, and all who are confused about the issue, and her presentation was clear, detailed and disarming. I was deeply moved, and she inspired me to redouble my efforts at working for peace among those living in Palestine and Israel, and among those fighting about it here in the US and around the world.

I am on her email list, and I received an message from her about her experience last night as a guest on the extremely popular comedy/news program, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. For those of you who have not experienced the bizarre lack of balanced reporting in the US (particularly on anything relating to Israel and Palestine), you should know that we often find this "comedy" news program to be far more accurate and fair than the vast majority of our corporate-owned media broadcasts. This is an extremely serious problem in the US.

Anna's letter described the tension in the studio during the filming (in front of a live audience), writing that "The show was overwhelmed with angry emails and phone calls prior to the appearance, and up until the last minute it seemed like they might cancel. During the taping the show had it's only heckler in 11 years.The entire staff were very nervous and may come to regret the monumental decision (and not make it again) as they will surely be inundated now that the show has aired."

She went on to ask those of us who had seen and appreciated the segment to email the show to thank them. TV programing is heavily influenced by the numbers of positive and negative responses received, so an overwhelmingly negative response to this program is likely to cause the show's producers to avoid making a similar choice in the future. This would be another blow against open dialogue and free access to information in one of the most dangerously powerful countries in the world. If you saw the segment and liked having it on the show, your email would help counter the inevitable negative tidal wave from those who are unable to accept public discussion of opinions that differ from their own.

It is interesting to note that the segment version that was broadcast last night was heavily edited, leaving out the most important parts of Anna's message. In her words:

"Many of you who watched the show on TV noticed that everything of real substance that I said was edited out. The major issues cut out were (1) the US role in aiding Israel, (2) the lack of adequate coverage in mainstream US media, and (3) the Palestinian- led movement for Boycott / Divestment / Sanctions (BDS) to nonviolently pressure Israel to comply with international law.

The full, un-cut interview is available on the Daily Show homepage (http://www.thedailyshow.com) and will eventually be moved to:

Part I: http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-october- 28-2009/ exclusive--- anna-baltzer- -- mustafa-barghouti- extended- interview-pt- -1

Part I: http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-october- 28-2009/ exclusive--- anna-baltzer- -- mustafa-barghouti- extended- interview-pt- -2

It's worth watching and comparing with what they allowed said in the TV version."

Anna also wrote that regardless of the cuts to her part, Dr. Barghouti's part was excellent, and simply being on the show was a major breakthrough for the peace movement. She urges people to be positive in any correspondence with The Daily Show and its producers, and states, "I believe the interview wouldn't have happened 3 years ago. Times are changing. Keep on keepin' on..."

If you are interested in thanking the show, you can put "thank you" in the subject line, and maybe the names of Ms. Baltzer and Dr. Barghouti. You should also choose the correct TV program from the drop-down list (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart). Here is the link: http://www. comedycentral. com/help/ questionsCC. jhtml . You can also try calling +1 212 468-1700.

If you are interested in Anna Baltzer's website, you can find it here: http://www.AnnaInTheMiddleEast.com

I would be very interested in hearing your perspectives on Anna's and Dr. Barghouti's approaches and positions, as well as on the US habit of public suppression of open dialogue on issues that pertain to Israel and Palestine. How can a democracy thrive when the media is corporate-owned, and few large, publically-owned news outlets exist?

Another interesting and pertinent topic is the role of powerful lobby groups in Washington DC. What are your perspectives on the role of lobbyists, and what role do they play in countries other than the US? How do you think the new "J-Street" lobby group will impact US policy toward Israel?

I look forward to hearing from you.
Peace!

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Comment by Eyal Raviv on November 6, 2009 at 10:03am
This is recommended through our weekly recommendations on mepeace.org.
Comment by Corey Gil-Shuster on November 2, 2009 at 6:01pm
Hi Johanna,
Thanks for your response and I am sorry for taking so long to respond myself- life gets in the way.
I had two issues with the interview: 1. the use of terms that promote only the Palestinian view the conflict and 2. the use of meaningless simplistic recycled statements that only serve to say “we are right, they are wrong” and because we are Jews and Palestinians saying it together, it must be true.
1. The discussion was framed around a set of values using terms like “system of segregation”, “struggling for peace and justice” “the key is to accept us as equal human beings” “equal rights” which do not match how Israelis view the conflict- I have never heard an Israeli say “I don’t want Palestinians to be equal” or “we have to set up a system of segregation” so that is not the issue from the Israeli side. The Israelis view this conflict in very different set of historical circumstances and motivations. The Israeli motivation is to protect itself at all costs- that what Zionism is- self-determination for the Jewish people in its homeland. Palestinians are viewed as another in a long line of “others” (who we have absolutely dehumanized) who want to kill the Jews simply because they are Jews. Every act of violence from Palestinians is not interpreted as retributive or part of the struggle but simply because they hate Jews. Every act of violence from an Israeli is seen as retribution for them hating Jews. For Palestinians, they view Zionism as just another form of colonialism in a long line of colonial periods. The Jews are not really indigenous so just like Algeria with the French or Palestine and the British, we can rid ourselves of the Zionists. And ridding a colonial power who oppresses you at all costs is just a part of the conflict. So neither side is understanding the reality of the other and we are fighting different conflicts. Palestinians are fighting for values (independence from colonialism on all of Palestine), Israelis for security (the be safe in a Jewish state).
2. They kept using terms that I hear many times but don’t really explain anything about the conflict: “Fear of change”, “Jews lived better within the Arab world than Europe”, “the only road that Israel has not tried fully was peace with Palestinians”. These are not the issues no matter how much there might be truths within them. Empty statements are good filler but don’t get to the core of the problem, understanding that the core for each side is completely different and then finding solutions that work for both peoples. The justice in Palestine argument does not deal with the Jewish issues and in fact are interpreted as manipulation to rid the region of Jews.
What neither side acknowledges and drives me nuts with both sides propaganda (and to me the interview was Palestinian non-violent propaganda) is that both sides have contributed to this conflict in an equal way even if the results, the damage done, is not equal. It is obvious that the Palestinians have paid a much higher price in terms of destruction to their lands, their culture, and their society than Israelis have. But I don’t think simply feeling sorry for the side that suffers more is the answer and it certainly won’t pressure Israelis into anything because Israelis are rightfully saying, you helped contribute to this situation yet you take absolutely no responsibility. I am not saying that anyone “deserves” to die, be hurt, be humiliated, be impoverished, be fearful and that is their fault. I am saying that every Israel action is based on a Palestinian action (or a perceived Palestinian action) and vice versa. I don’t agree with the actions at all but that doesn’t mean that I don’t see how each side is reacting to the other.
I don’t really think that most on either side are very interested in this sort of analysis so I don’t want to suggest that if they just understood the dynamics, they would see the light. I am just tired of the same old framings to this conflict because whether it is the pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian lobbies, each is perpetuating the conflict.
About the media: the Canadian media is a little broader than the American media. It strives to give more perspectives and the perspectives in the voice of the people (instead of interpreting and reporting that). But each culture has a specific lens on their media. In Canada it is “we should all be nice to each other” so stories tend to try to take that approach.
Comment by Johanna Silverthorne on October 30, 2009 at 11:29pm
Thanks for your comments, Corey! I completely agree with you that we need to shift the way we approach the problem, and that we spend so much time on a sub-level of the debate that we rarely seem to touch on the actual. Although, I wonder if views are what we should focus on (views being what one "sees" or perceives from one's own position - something that puts us right back to looking out toward the other side instead of our own). Maybe needs (not wants, but needs) would be a more effective place to start. Like, "I/we need to feel safe when going to school or work, or in my home" or "I/we need to have equitable access to water so that we can live."

I think, in some ways, that's what happened with the Israel/Egypt treaty. Instead of focusing on the idea that each country wanted that land (so only one could win, while the other lost), a focus on real needs was made. As I understand it, this resulted in Israel's need for security being addressed, while simultaneously recognizing Egypt's need for historic integrity of their land (among other things), and a suitable solution was born. I know I am over-simplifying this, and I recognize that the problem between Egypt and Israel at that time was significantly less complex than the ongoing crisis among those who live in Israel and Palestine. But I think it still offers an excellent example of negotiating based on needs rather than positions.

So, what exactly did Anna Baltzer or Mustafa Barghouti say that made you angry? I am interested in specifics on why your anger was triggered. If I understood correctly, you said that you were upset because they focused on their version of the story and on who was right and wrong. I can see that a positional approach is not helpful. The context may have been part of that, though. In the US we rarely hear anything but a carefully packaged, thoroughly pro-Israel, , pro-militant Israeli defense, pro-Zionist view, so any other (non-violent) view is astounding and much needed. How is it in Canada? Do you get to hear a broader range of perspectives in the media?

Thanks again for your comments.
Comment by Corey Gil-Shuster on October 30, 2009 at 8:33pm
I saw the broadcast was actually really happy to have something related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on his show- I am also a huge fan of the show and Jon Stewart. I hope he has a lot more guests from all sides of the conflict because there are many sides to this.

But I can relate to the heckler and his emotional reaction because I too was yelling at the screen when they spoke. The issue is not who is right and who is wrong or who is lying or even the suppression of information. The issue is that each side has a completely different story in their head related to the conflict. The two stories are so different that they could be speaking about different places. And the amazing thing is that each side completely believes their own side and sees the other side as manipulation, propaganda and lies.

What bothered me most about the interview is no one sees that there are these two conflicting views on the conflict itself and we are doing is having a sub-conflict on whose version of history is “truth”. What we should be doing is taking each of the aspects of our own and the others view, unpacking them, analyzing, comparing, reflecting and seeing if we can find some understanding that the other’s views are truth to them. Trying to win at this truth conflict is just as useless as the conflict on the ground.

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