Israel’s allies lose control of narrative as death toll soars
At London’s Royal College of Arts last week, remarkable developments unfolded. Staff discovered that the Israeli ambassador was due to speak at an event at the RCA building that was being held to promote investment in Israel. Employees immediately walked out en masse and staged a large spontaneous protest, compelling the RCA management to dissociate themselves from the event and its objectives.
This outraged reaction from ordinary workers who would normally be serving food, sweeping floors and managing security serves as a vivid metaphor for the grassroots rebellions witnessed worldwide against international elites who tolerate and facilitate the Gaza genocide.
There has been a vociferous reaction from mid-level staff at the US State Department and other ministries at the manner in which President Joe Biden unthinkingly shackled the administration to a far-right regime that is killing tens of thousands of civilians and has displaced more than 2 million. This is mirrored by the reaction among sizable demographics within the Democratic Party; progressives, younger people, minorities and ordinary working-class voters — contributing to cratering support for a president shortly up for reelection.
A similar crisis erupted within Britain’s opposition Labour Party, which scrambled to soften its position following the universal outcry at leader Keir Starmer’s refusal to call for a ceasefire. Britain and Germany’s foreign ministers last week performed a dramatic U-turn and called for a “sustainable ceasefire” after facing mass outrage at their previous staunch support for Israel.
Elsewhere, Gaza has proved uniquely divisive, as millions of ordinary citizens react viscerally to mass killing witnessed in real-time via social media, with huge numbers participating in demonstrations and voicing their rejection of Israel’s actions. Right-wing Republicans accuse social media companies like TikTok of deliberately promoting pro-Palestinian content. But the simple fact is that most people creating and sharing content on social media are young, and young people have come out as disproportionately pro-Palestinian and pro-humanity. Nevertheless, there have been concerted campaigns to remove online content that does not support Israel’s narrative, including material as innocuous as actor Brian Cox reciting a deeply moving poem by Gaza poet Refaat Alareer, who was killed in an Israeli airstrike along with much of his family.
Throughout the Western world, artists and public figures — including several who are Jewish — have been canceled for relatively innocuous expressions of support for the plight of Palestinians. In New York, this extended to a campaign to ban a Santa Claus performer after he expressed pro-Arab views.
The most febrile ideological battleground has been universities, where a generation of students has been instantly politicized. This often deeply poisonous firestorm of debate and outrage has been hugely traumatic for Jewish and Muslim students in institutions like Harvard, who through no fault of their own have been caught in the brutal rhetorical crossfire.
However, calls for intifada and other pro-Palestinian slogans have been interpreted by rabble-rousing right-wingers as incitement to genocide — accompanied by demands for university authorities to resign, the disbanding of pro-Palestinian student groups and canceled events, in violation of academic freedom of speech traditions. In fact, recent calls for genocide have emerged primarily from partisans of one side; one of plentiful high-profile examples being former Knesset member Danny Neumann advocating the extermination Gaza’s people and rebuilding of the Strip for Israelis.
Efforts to demonize all pro-Palestinian sentiments as “antisemitism” have been counterproductive, because millions of young people encountering these controversies for the first time immediately perceive such denouncements for what they are: illegitimate efforts by vested interests to monopolize the narrative and shut down debates around crimes against humanity.
The killing of three Israeli hostages while they were waving a white flag and videos showing summary killings of unarmed Palestinians are ample demonstrations of how Israeli soldiers attack everything that moves. Al Jazeera journalist Samer Abu Daqa was killed in recent days. His colleague Wael Dahdouh, who was wounded alongside him, had also lost his family in an Israeli airstrike. So far, at least 64 journalists and media personnel have been killed in the conflict. This is in addition to 101 UN staff killed so far during the war — by far the largest loss during a conflict in the UN’s history, while the overall death toll creeps toward 20,000, 70 percent being women and children.
As Israeli journalist Gideon Levy eloquently put it: A large portion of Israeli society has cut itself off from world opinion by believing that they are God’s chosen people, systematically dehumanizing Palestinians as deserving of extermination — while portraying themselves as the victims. Levy is one of many progressive Jewish figures to have incisively argued that Israel’s actions are morally wrong and practically catastrophic — representing a ferocity of debate within the Jewish community itself, which hitherto we have never witnessed.
The scathing manner in which Israeli officials have dismissed all talk of a return to peace negotiations — as suggested by their closest allies — shows how dissociated they have become from global opinion. Israel’s notoriously radical ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, argued that Israel would “absolutely not” countenance a two-state solution. If these catastrophic events have not convinced educated Israelis of the chronic urgency for peacemaking, then God help us all.
The most febrile ideological battleground has been universities, where a generation of students has been instantly politicized.
Moreover, many pariah regimes are following the Gaza bloodletting with a view to what they can get away with in future bouts of repression and ethnic cleansing. When international law is violated so flagrantly by Israel, we should not be surprised when such crimes become the worldwide norm.
Millions of people around the world view developments in starkly simple terms: Nothing justifies embarking on collective punishment against an entire population, nor the catastrophic death toll, including so many young children. Nothing justifies the illegal displacement of an entire populace, nor the fueling of dangerously irreducible hatred on both sides.
Israel’s cheerleaders cannot credibly dispute these elementary facts. Their failure to control the narrative offers hope that this brutality has inadvertently stimulated a worldwide awakening of sufficient potency to irrevocably reconfigure the contours of this conflict.
Israel, wounded and lashing out, has inadvertently done more than anyone to ensure that Palestine is not an “Arab” or a “Muslim” issue — but rather a cause concerning global humanitarian justice, with the deepest reverberations for all humankind.
- Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.