Dystopian Israel turns Orwell’s ‘thoughtcrime’ into reality

Dystopian Israel turns Orwell’s ‘thoughtcrime’ into reality

In his novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” author George Orwell fictionalizes about a repressive state called Oceania, in which “Big Brother” punishes citizens for a variety of crimes, including those you do and those you only think about. Orwell calls the harshest of these “thoughtcrime” — the crime of thinking something that is disallowed by Big Brother, who constantly monitors you and your actions.

It is not really a coincidence that Orwell wrote this dystopian and very frightening novel less than one year after Israel was created, violating the terms of the UN’s Partition Plan by forcibly occupying West Jerusalem and half of the lands set aside for the proposed “Arab state.”

To justify its existence, Israel’s government has embraced Orwell’s disturbing propaganda language strategy, “Newspeak.” This includes terms and phrases that define Oceania’s authoritarian lifestyle, restricting freedom for the privileged while imposing an oppressive alternative lifestyle for the not-so-privileged. Israel also imposes laws through Orwell’s concept of “doublethink,” disguising policies that treat Jews favorably and non-Jews harshly.

Like Big Brother, Israel has a war machine that censors every printed word. Since 1948, Israel’s military and government has required that everything published inside Israel that may “challenge” the foundation of the nation — Orwellian Newspeak for “criticize” — must be approved by the censor.

I have seen this first-hand. As a reporter writing for one of America’s 10 largest daily newspapers (the Chicago Sun-Times), the editors were reluctant to publish my accounts of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation during the First Intifada in 1990. The newspaper relented, but only after removing one story that detailed how Israel’s government literally deletes paragraphs of reporting from Palestinian newspapers. The Palestinians would publish anyway, leaving a blank space where the Israeli censors removed text.

Today, they still delete paragraphs of content from the news media but, instead of leaving the “holes” in the reporting, the mainstream news media just plays along with Israel’s Orwellian rules. In 2017, Israel censored and redacted 2,358 news reports, including prohibiting news agencies from reporting on 271 specific stories it felt were damaging to Israel’s public perception. And the media just lamely goes along.

Israel scrutinizes all of the critical reporting by the news media to identify Orwellian “malquotes” and “misprints,” which are “flaws or inaccurate depictions” of its Big Brother-like practices.

Orwell could not have predicted the evolution of communications into the computer age, but his disquietingly oppressive fictional society has found a comforting home in Israel, which has expanded its Newspeak process to encompass the scrutiny and censorship of Facebook. Earlier this year, Ayelet Shaked, who heads up Israel’s Orwellian “Ministry of Truth” (the Israeli Justice Department), introduced a law to the Knesset that would force social media companies to remove any content that could “incite terrorism.” Shaked is described as one of the most vicious anti-Arab officials in Israel’s government, and has used the most inflammatory rhetoric to criticize Palestinian actions and provoke violence from Israelis.

Facebook and the internet are among the last few remaining alternative news sources for the harshly occupied Palestinians

Ray Hanania

Shaked’s law targets Facebook, the social media giant that a 2016 report by the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms contends 96 percent of Palestinians rely on not only to get their news but to share views critical of Israel’s regime. Working together, Israel and Facebook use other Orwellian practices branded as “community standards” to decide on who violates their “thoughtcrimes” laws — the act of thinking things Israel considers offensive to its propaganda narrative and public policies. The law was due to be passed by the Knesset on Wednesday, but it will have to be redrafted after the text was deemed to be “too broad."

According to Addameer, a group that works to defend the rights of Palestinian prisoners, more than 470 Palestinians have been jailed by Israel since 2015 for allegedly engaging in “social media incitement.”

Facebook has become important because of how the mainstream news media in Israel and the Western journalists assigned there have accepted the censorship. Facebook and the internet are among the last few remaining alternative news sources for the harshly occupied Palestinians. They and the world can’t rely on the news media, which long ago surrendered its principles to Israel’s whims and Newspeak.

No other nation has come closer to imposing legal restrictions on segments of its population than Israel, which has adopted 65 laws that target non-Jews for unequal treatment. In addition to these laws, Israel uses PR and strategic communications to disguise its actions and create an environment that discourages objections to its Orwellian practices from the rest of the world.

That’s what “Nineteen Eighty-Four” is really about: Manipulating public perceptions and instilling fear in the minds of the public. To even think of something that Israel finds objectionable, before it could happen, is a crime.

Of course, it didn’t take long for Israel to adapt Orwell’s novel into one of its own, reportedly commissioning Leon Uris in 1958, through PR professional Edward Gottlieb, to write “Exodus,” which is used by the West as the blueprint that covers the truth about how Israel was founded.

Orwell was able to succeed as a writer because he recognized that, fundamentally, human beings can easily be manipulated if you control the government, the news media and the people’s minds. Israel has taken the process of suspending human rights and controlling what people think to an extreme that goes far beyond what any other nation in this world has sought to achieve. Israel is literally the definition of the word “dystopia.”

  • Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian American columnist and the author of several books including “Yalla! Fight Back.” His personal website is www.Hanania.com. Twitter: @RayHanania
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