Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land: excellent and well-presented documentary on the role of news media in abetting oppression

Sut Jhally and Bathsheba Ratzkoff, “Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land” (2003)

This is a highly informative documentary on the role that the US media plays in encouraging support for the Israeli government and its oppression of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories (West Bank and Gaza) and how this support influences US foreign policy in the Middle East. Through interviews with various academics, critics, journalists, religious leaders, peace activists and others, the program examines the methods that the Israeli government and its allies use to hide the truth about the harassment of Palestinians by the Israeli Defense Forces and to portray Israel’s occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land as necessary and urgent self-defence. In particular, the role of American journalists and the American media organisations that employ them in disguising the truth is examined.

The film’s style is simple and straightforward, built as it is around a wealth of newsreel reports punctuated by excerpts of interviews with guest commentators who include academics Noam Chomsky and Robert Jensen, British journalist Robert Fisk, peace activist Hanan Ashrawi and Tikkun Magazine founder Rabbi Michael Lerner among others. There’s a certain polish to the film’s presentation, especially in its use of animation and tables, though it is not at all sickly slick and the narration is very sparing, limited to relaying important information to viewers, and serves to introduce interviewees who expound at further length on the topics covered. The film reveals, among other things, that the US-Israeli relationship is of mutual benefit at the Palestinians’ expense: the US relies on Israel to use most of the aid it receives from the US into buying American weaponry and other military technology and to test these on unwilling Palestinian guinea pigs, and to play the local sheriff in the Middle East to protect US political and economic interests in that region.

The film’s structure centres around a list of strategies that the governments of Israel and the United States, their agencies and the US news media use to deceive the American public into supporting Israel. Particularly pernicious as a strategy is the US media’s deliberate ignorance of individuals, groups and organisations, often Israeli and/or Jewish as well as Palestinian and/or Muslim, working to relieve the Palestinian people’s suffering or calling attention to the abuses inflicted on them. This ignorance would suggest that the media in the United States (and also in many other countries including Australia) either willingly co-operates in constructing a pro-Israeli narrative about the intransigence and barbaric behaviour of Palestinian people especially if they are Muslim; or has been browbeaten, even threatened, into such co-operation by pro-Israeli lobby groups and institutions. In the US, the main lobby organisation is AIPAC (American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee) and in Australia its equivalent is AIJAC (Australia Israel Jewish Affaris Council) which is known to have intimidated the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Special Broadcasting Service into reporting news about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in ways favourable to Israeli interests.

The other strategies discussed include the reporting of Palestinian violence in a context-less vacuum (so it appears to happen spontaneously without cause and gives the impression that Palestinians by nature are savage and Israel must always be on the alert); defining what is newsworthy (so Israeli victims of violence get more attention; this drives home the notion of Jews as eternal victims of persecution); Israel’s colonisation of Palestinian territory being made invisible; the idea of the United States as an impartial and neutral referee; and the idea that any offers of peace to the Palestinians are always rejected by them (because the context in which such offers are made and the fine print within are never revealed in reports). Other ways in which Western audiences are co-opted into supporting Israel go unmentioned but deserve attention: in particular, Israel’s use of the Shoah (Nazi-Jewish Holocaust) to beat European governments into coughing up money, none of which actually goes towards Shoah survivors who might be living in penury in Israel.

“Peace, Propaganda …” is a well-presented documentary, quite detailed in parts, and easy to follow. I recommend the film as a primer for those not familiar with the methods and strategies the Israeli government and its supporters uses to intimidate and silence politicians and media organisations around the world who have misgivings about the way Israel treats Palestinians and about the fascist, racist path that country is following in order to pursue such a policy. Media students would do well to watch the film which calls into question the nature of the relationships between the news media and governments, and which also highlights the need for the news media to tell the truth over the pressure to appear “unbiased” or “balanced” in its reporting. Ah, “fair and balanced” reporting: that doubtless is another strategy the apologists for the Israel government like to use …


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