Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Agonies of the Potentates

Long ago and in better days, Christopher Hitchens wrote several very fine essays on Conor Cruise O'Brien.  While lodged at this time more comfortably on the Left than he would eventually be, Hitchens could nevertheless assess O'Brien coolly and recognise his stylishness, his intelligence, his personal courage, and his frequent insight.  But he was never less than sure of O'Brien's Burkean tendency to support the established powers in various sites of conflict, and to attend sympathetically to the travails of authority.  It was in this mood of courageous dissent in the service of domination that O'Brien could castigate leftist agitation and nationalist protest in Ulster, break the academic boycott of apartheid South Africa, and write an enormous pot-boiling history of Israel entitled The Siege.  The metaphor of the siege pervades O'Brien's understanding of late-colonial struggle - the forces of reaction to which he unwisely attached his colours were always under 'siege' - giving the Cruiser a morally inverted sensitivity to what Hitchens called 'the agonies of the potentates'.

It is this sense of the importance, seriousness and debate-worthiness of the overdogs, of the moral and political complexity of their quandaries, that subtends Denis Staunton's flabby article in Saturday's Irish Times, 'Israel and Palestine: the new battle for hearts and minds'.  Mr Staunton, this blog noted earlier this year, wrote on the occasion of the death of Ariel Sharon that 'the Bulldozer' 'might soon be missed' - a classic example of sneaking regard. Only someone so comfortably detached from the human and moral realities of Israel/Palestine, only someone who actually believes that the candyfloss discourse of diplomacy and much mainstream commentary have proper heft and meaning, could have written in that way about the criminal and treacherous Sharon, or could have produced such a po-faced article on Israel's struggles to manage its public relations.

This article exemplified much of what is wrong and skewed in Irish Times coverage of Israel/Palestine.  The brief window to more critical reporting wedged open by the Gaza slaughter has clearly closed once more.  It seems likely that Staunton's article was written from a desk in Dublin, with the help of telephones and email.  The essay is entirely concerned with the notions of commentators and lobbyists, not with the 'facts on the ground'.  Only Israeli or Israel-related figures and organisations are cited or discussed - Daniel Levy, and Alan Elsner of J Street, the slick and media-savvy/media-friendly version of the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).  The BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement is referred to briefly, but none of its spokespeople or policies are cited or discussed.  One wonders if Staunton really thinks that Palestinian political actors - whether the PA, or Hamas, or the Palestinian leaders of BDS active since 2005 - do not seek to win 'hearts and minds', in Palestine, in Israel, or in the rest of the world?   Or is such an idea thinkable in the Irish Times?   Perhaps Staunton and his confederates really think with Golda Meir that 'there are no Palestinians', or none worth doing some serious journalism about.

Staunton's article, therefore, exemplifies the view that the Palestinians are not really newsworthy unless they are blowing themselves up - unless they are confirming our stereotypes of them.  Better to report on the agonies of the potentates, than the political activity of the oppressed.

Staunton cites Elsner as arguing that the two-state solution is the 'only game in town'.  The fact is that the two state solution has long been an alibi for the Israeli government's rolling plans for settlement expansion, siege (the real 'siege') and domination, and it's one promoted by J Street and parroted by the likes of Denis Staunton.


No comments:

Post a Comment