Home » Dehumanization and misinformation in service of genocide – breaking news

Dehumanization and misinformation in service of genocide – breaking news

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Dehumanization and misinformation in service of genocide – breaking news

Cutting off the funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) just at the moment when its services are more desperately needed than at any point in its history is cruel beyond measure, and is, itself, an act of genocide. It cannot be anything elseas the known consequence of that cutoff under current circumstances will lead to massive numbers of deaths and an unimaginable increase in illness, injury, and profound trauma among the 2.2 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, not to mention the damage it will also do to Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria who also rely on UNRWA’s services for daily needs.

This level of monstrous inhumanity would seem to be as horrific as it could get. But now consider that the United States — which has now led nearly twenty countries to suspend funding for UNRWA — has explicitly admitted that it took this murderous course based on nothing more than Israel’s word.

As I reported recently, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said they had not verified Israel’s claims. On Wednesday, the government of Canada, which has also suspended UNRWA’s funding, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that they still had not seen any evidence beyond Israel’s claims against UNRWA.

The only evidence that has been shared publicly — and, based on those public statements by U.S. and other officialsquite possibly all that has been presented even privately — has been a six-page dossier simply repeating the allegations, but offering no supporting evidence whatsoever.

Sky News reported on the dossier which has been leaked to news outlets. Their report stated that, “The Israeli intelligence documents make several claims that Sky News has not seen proof of and many of the claims, even if true, do not directly implicate UNRWA.”

You’d think that would be the lead, but that one paragraph, damning though it is, is all the article had to say on the veracity of Israel’s claims, and you needed to get close to the end of the piece to find it.

This is typical of how the entire war on Gaza has been covered by most of the press in Europe and, especially in the United States. As James North reported recently on this site, this has gone way beyond the usual pro-Israel bias that we see in American and European media. One staff member at CNN told Chris McGreal of The Guardian“Every action by Israel — dropping massive bombs that wipe out entire streets, its obliteration of whole families — the coverage ends up massaged to create a ‘they had it coming’ narrative.”

This isn’t a new phenomenon either. On November 9, 2023, just a month into Israel’s campaign of slaughter of Gaza’s civilian population, some 750 journalists signed on to an open letter decrying American media coverage of the war.

“Newsrooms have…undermined Palestinian, Arab and Muslim perspectives, dismissing them as unreliable and have invoked inflammatory language that reinforces Islamophobic and racist tropes,” the letter read. “They have printed misinformation spread by Israeli officials and failed to scrutinize indiscriminate killing of civilians in Gaza — committed with the support of the U.S. government.”

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The letter ended up gathering over 1,470 signatures, many of whom are reporters for leading news outlets like Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, and The Washington Post. Yet the problem only grew worse.

From the beginning, stories that relayed the constant torment of life in Gaza under relentless Israeli attack were rare, and drowned out by the constant drumbeat of in-depth stories of suffering on October 7, and quotes from President Biden, Secretary of States Antony Blinken, and other American officials blaming Palestinians for their own suffering and at most politely stating that Israel must comply with international law that they clearly were ignoring without consequence.

Deceiving the public into supporting a genocide

The campaign to convince people in the West to support a genocide needed to go much farther than biased and decontextualized presentations of events. It needed to go full bore into misinformation.

The United States is certainly no stranger to blatant lies used to create public support for some of the most horrible atrocities in recent memory. The Gulf of Tonkin scam and, of course, the lies about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, led to unimaginable atrocities in Vietnam and Iraq from which those countries still bear deep scars.

World history has demonstrated the key role media plays in genocide. From Der Sturmer in Nazi Germany to Pravda in the Soviet Union, powerfully authoritarian governments used major media to communicate to the masses and also to manipulate what they saw in the world around them, covering up or creating justifications for their worst abuses.

In modern, liberal republics such as those in the U.S., Europe, and, to a lesser extent due to its active military censorshipIsrael, misinformation in mainstream media remains a key tool but needs to be modified to suit a somewhat less authoritarian kind of government. It’s even trickier in the age of social media, where people can get both reality as well as some truly fantastical narratives through their phones.

This means the propaganda effort is less effective, as we can see by the overwhelming number of Democrats in the United States who disapprove of Biden’s policy. Yet, in so many ways, it still gets the job done.

Consider some of the things that have been repeated over and over, without substantiation, until they are accepted as truth, by at least some significant part of the populace. It becomes even more powerful when it’s more than the media, but the leadership.

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For example, Joe Biden has repeatedly talked about the “beheaded babies” in the October 7 attack, despite the fact that his own staff has had to walk back the assertion that he kept making, claiming to have actually seen pictures of an atrocity that clearly never happened, as there was only one baby killed (and that is enough of a tragedy) on October 7. That’s not coming from human rights groups, that’s Israel’s official data.

Yet it was repeated often enough in media before it was disproven (which is mentioned far less often) that many still believe it to be true. And if one wants to argue that, at least as far as the U.S. government goes, we might write this off as Biden being “confused” as he so often is (just look at him being unable to remember who Hamas is in this video), how do we explain the fact Antony Blinken told equally unsubstantiated, lurid, and false tales in a Senate hearing?

No, this is a campaign of misinformation to justify the unjustifiable, and it’s worked.

American media amplified the horrifying stories of October 7 and decried anyone asking for evidence as a “denier.” This becomes easier because there can be no doubt that civilians were killed and wounded by Hamas on October 7. So, a reasonable person would ask, why would Israel bother exaggerating it?

The reason, of course, is that Hamas’s act would have been enough to justify an Israeli response in people’s minds. But Netanyahu never intended for this to be a proportional response, or even as disproportionate as Israeli attacks on Gaza have been in the past. This operation was always meant to drive Palestinians from Gaza by making it unlivable, causing as much death and destruction as possible. To that end, the goal of totally eradicating Hamas was set, which anyone with any knowledge of such matters knew was always going to be unattainable. Because even Israel isn’t quite brazen enough to explicitly state, “We intend to commit genocide.”

By establishing the complete elimination of Hamas as its goal, massive attacks on civilians were justified. And, indeed, for many weeks, there was absolute support from the U.S. and Europe, despite the legions of documented cases of Israel deliberately targeting civilians, shelters, schools, hospitals, journalists, rescue workers, mosques, and every other protected person or site. It took months before European leaders expressed any discomfort at all, and even longer for the United States to grudgingly admit that maybe Israel was going just a little too far.

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That level of acquiescence requires more than the usual attack on civilians. The attack needs to be so inhuman and monstrous that it stirs up a lust for vengeance that mixes with real horror. In this case, it feeds off of Islamophobic and anti-Arab tropes as well, particularly of a special kind of Muslim/Arab misogyny and sexual violence.

The story of systematic mass rapes, which remains unsubstantiatedthough there is enough evidence that some sexual assault did occur to warrant an investigation that Israel will not, of course, allow (that is a very low bar. Any credible allegation of even a single incident should be investigated). Few have asked what should be the obvious question of why suddenly, after all these years, we see such a dramatic level of sexual violence when that had not been a typical characteristic of Palestinian attacks on Israelis for all these long decades of conflict.

Outright racism

Even Joe Biden was forced to condemn the Wall Street Journal for its despicable article on February 2 headlined, “Welcome to Dearborn, America’s Jihad Capital,” which characterized the Michigan city, with one of the country’s largest Arab-American populations, as a hotbed of support for bloodshed and antisemitism. One racist trope after another is trotted out, to such a distressing and disgusting degree that the city was forced into a massive increase in its security for fear of racist attacks.

Not to be outdone, on the very same day as the WSJ article came out, the New York Times published a piece by Thomas Friedman, “Understanding the Middle East Through the Animal Kingdom,” where the notorious pro-Israel writer directly translated Middle Eastern countries into animals. Iran is a parasitic wasp, Hamas is a spider, and the U.S. is a lion. Israel is not so transformed — only Netanyahu, who is a lemur. It isn’t hard to see the racism at work here.

That sort of dehumanization, as I and Prof. Sahar Aziz demonstrated in our recent report, Presumptively Antisemitic: Islamophobic Tropes in the Palestine–Israel Discoursepermeates U.S. policy in “normal” times, and helps reinforce the intense bias toward Israel.

But now, it’s a much more dangerous phenomenon. This dehumanization, combined with outright misinformation, is the engine powering a genocide machine. It makes some support it. It makes other people unsure of how fervently they can oppose it.

Dehumanization and misinformation have combined to justify Israel’s genocide and now it’s being used to cut off what little help from the international community the people of Gaza have been getting. More than anything else, it is what the movements around the world to save Gaza have been fighting against.

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