Sunday, February 11, 2007

Peace, Propaganda & the Promised Land: Grade B


Peace, Propaganda & the Promised Land: U.S. Media & the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (2004)

Noam Chomsky, Seth Ackerman, Hanan Ashwari, others. Producer and co-director: Bathsheba Ratzkoff.

This documentary carefully exposes how U.S. media coverage (television mostly) of the Arab-Israeli conflict is, and has been, systematically biased to a pro-Israeli slant. This is an old story for anyone who is media-aware, but alas, most Americans are not. This documentary shows in detail how the bias works. It is startling to see clips of Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, and other reporters and news readers delivering Israeli propaganda word-for word. The documentary emphasizes that in the U.S., Israeli actions are always characterized as “defensive,” whereas in the rest of the world, it is a plain fact that Israel is illegally and aggressively occupying and settling Palestinian land. The film also shows where this bias comes from: money and corruption. The U.S. provides billions to Israel in military aid, but they must buy the weapons from U.S. companies, who in turn, donate big bucks to political campaigns. This cycle of money perpetuates the status quo and feeds the propaganda machine. Despite its strong point of view, the thesis is very well documented and seems fair.

This movie should be shown in high school and college classes, perhaps along with Al Jazeera, a documentary on the same theme from a few years ago. Try to wake up the young people before their minds are deadened by U.S. “news” media. I don’t think this DVD was ever theatrically released (who would go to it?), although it has received high praise at various film festivals. Individuals can buy the DVD for $30 from

I came away with two ideas. One is a criticism of the film. It arbitrarily starts in 1967 when Israel illegally (per U.N. resolution 242 and others), occupied the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza. The rest of the story proceeds from that occupation, which persists to this day. But an old strategy in this old argument is to pick a moment in history and tell your story from there. This movie suggests at several points that Israel invaded because it wants more land and water. The documentary overlooks the political and military context in 1967 in which Egypt, Syria and other countries attacked Israel with the expressed goal of wiping it completely off the map, a goal still held by many countries in the region today. So in this movie, Israel looks like the bad guy (which it is), but without the mitigating context of self-defense. A documentary has to start somewhere, but failing to introduce adequate context is a form of bias.

The second idea is that Chomsky is really smart to reveal and hopefully change the laziness and corruption of the U.S. news media. I thought, why do I knock myself out trying to teach critical thinking techniques to college students? That will never work. They are always going to respond to human interest pictures and emotions. Reason and evidence do not change anybody’s mind. The better approach is to change the tone and content of those human interest stories and emotions. That’s what people will respond to. Chomsky has already thought of this, but I hadn’t.

No comments:

Post a Comment