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E-Pluribus | November 14, 2023
How performances become news; a political cartoon dies in darkness; and the campus free speech tango.
A round-up of the latest and best musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Richard Landes: Netzarim Junction and the Birth of Fake News
With many media outlets reporting statements from the “Gaza ministry of Health” with undo credulity, Richard Landes at Tablet Magazine provides good background about how “news” is reported in Gaza. Landes uses an incident from September 2000 to illustrate the techniques used to shape the narratives that end up in the Western media.
Charles Enderlin, chief correspondent of France2, aired the footage as news with his cameraman’s narrative: an innocent Palestinian boy, targeted by the IDF, gunned down while his father pleaded with the Israelis to stop shooting. It became an instant global sensation, enraging the Muslim world and provoking angry protests where Western progressives and militant Muslims joined to equate Israel to the Nazis. Ironically, for the first time since the Holocaust, “Death to Jews” was heard in the capitals of Europe. From that point on, for many, Israel was to blame for all violence, a pariah state.
Even had the child died in a crossfire, blaming his death on deliberate Israeli action made it a classic blood libel: A gentile boy dies; the Jews are accused of plotting the murder; violent mobs, invoking the dead martyr, attack the Jews. In Europe, the attacks the al Durah libel incited were mostly on Jewish property. In the Middle East, a new round of suicide bombers, “revenging the blood of Muhammad al Durah” targeted Israeli children to the approval of 80% of the Palestinian public. It was, in fact, the first postmodern blood libel. The first blood libel announced by a Jew (Enderlin), spread by the modern mainstream news media (MSNM), and carried in cyberspace to a global audience. It was the first wildly successful piece of “fake news” of the 21st century, and, as an icon of hatred, it did untold damage.
But it gets worse. Not only did the evidence show that the Israelis could not have fired the shots that hit the boy and his father, but everything about the footage suggests the scene was staged. There was no blood on the wall or ground and footage never shown to the public appeared to show the boy moving after being declared dead. I set out to explore this staged hypothesis, first raised by Nahum Shahaf, and exposed to the Anglophone public by James Fallows in 2003.
And that had brought me to see these rushes, the raw, unedited footage shot that day in September 2000 at Netzarim Junction. The film was in the possession of senior French-Israeli journalist and France2 chief correspondent Charles Enderlin, who was the employer of Abu Rahma, the cameraman who had shot the footage. He was known to only show the rushes to investigators “on his side” but coming on the recommendation of a friend, Enderlin assumed I was sympathetic. For the viewing, I had Enderlin on my left, and on my right, an Israeli cameraman working for France2, who had been with Enderlin in Ramallah the day of the filming.
What I saw astonished me. In scene after scene, Palestinians staged scenes of battle, injury, ambulance evacuation, and panicked flight, which the cameraman deliberately filmed, all the while standing around in front of the Israeli position, completely unafraid. To judge by Abu Rahma’s 21 minutes of film, and a Reuters cameraman’s two hours, Netzarim Junction that day of September, the “third day of the intifada,” was the site of multiple makeshift stages upon which cameramen, most Palestinian, some foreign, filmed “action sequences,” performed by everyone from military men with guns to teenagers and kids standing by.
Read it all here.
Zach Kessel: ‘Grow Up’: Cartoonist Speaks Out after Washington Post Censors Hamas Drawing
Democracy may die in darkness, but a recent political cartoon met a similar fate in broad daylight at the Washington Post. Last week, the paper’s opinion editor David Shipley announced that the Post had deleted a previously published cartoon by political cartoonist Michael Ramirez, claiming it was done in “the spirit of opinion journalism.” Needless to say, Ramirez disagrees, as Zach Kessel reports for National Review.
In an interview with National Review, [Michael] Ramirez — who has a unique agreement whereby he publishes drawings in both the Washington Post and the Las Vegas Review-Journal (which, for its part, did not pull his drawing) — said he will not bow to the spurious charges of racism he has faced since the cartoon ran.
“This was designed with specificity. It’s focused on one individual and represents one organization and their claims of victimhood,” Ramirez told NR. He said those who considered the cartoon racist are engaged in conflation and “just can’t look beyond Hamas and distinguish the difference between a known terrorist group and Palestinians.”
He told NR he believes the accusations of racism on his part stem from an inability to reckon with the tactics Hamas uses, like employing children as human shields, as he depicted in his drawing.
“When the intellectually indolent cannot defend the indefensible, they pull the race card,” he said.
[ . . .]
Ramirez emphasized that he respects Shipley’s leadership of the opinion page, saying he has a commitment to ideological diversity but that the ability of what he called a “faction of juveniles” to dictate editorial decisions is a problem not just for the Post but for journalism as an industry and the country as a whole.
“The free exchange of ideas is the foundation of our democracy, and the purpose of an editorial cartoon is to be the catalyst for thought,” he said. “By promoting the thoughtful exchange of ideas, we forge a consensus through the fiery heat of debate. I think political correctness and the woke movement are bad for democracy.”
Ramirez said it is the responsibility of people in positions of power to protect those values.
“It is sad that people who oppose a political viewpoint have to invent diversions to quell the debate; we should be better than that,” he told NR. “America should be better than that. We need some adults in the room. If it scares you — a cartoon — maybe you need to grow up.”
Read it all.
Geoff Shullenberger: War and the Collapse of the Campus Speech Consensus
At the Chronicle of Higher Education, Geoff Shullenberger, managing editor of Compact Magazine, says that the Israel-Hamas war is writing yet another chapter in the saga of campus speech. Despite decades of experience, Shullenberger writes that these elite institutions seem perennially unprepared to appropriately handle the challenges that such crises present.
All of this amounts to a dramatic reversal in the free-speech battles that have roiled campuses for years. Many on the left who dismissed calls for free speech not long ago are now appealing to their First Amendment rights, while many who advocated for free and open debate are now calling for limits on speech, at least when it comes to justifying terrorism and questioning Israel’s right to exist. These shifts, in turn, have led predictably to accusations of hypocrisy and opportunism from both sides.
In reality, what current controversies make clear is that the campus free-speech wars have only ever been secondarily about speech. Instead, they were primarily about the paternalistic role universities have arrogated for themselves as protectors of vulnerable groups, often at the expense of any coherent pedagogical mission. For a while, the contradictions of this mission could be brushed aside. Today, competing demands for protection are making the entire enterprise unsustainable.
The cycle of campus speech conflicts that we now seem to be leaving behind began in 2017. That was the year a Middlebury College student group invited the conservative scholar Charles Murray to campus, occasioning a violent fracas that sent a faculty member to the hospital with a concussion. The same year, the alt-right stars Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos both prompted riots with their appearances at colleges, and the biology professor Bret Weinstein was chased off the Evergreen State College campus for criticizing a racial-awareness event. The pattern set then has continued to play out time and again, as when students shouted down the conservative judge Kyle Duncan in March at Stanford University. In each case, advocates of free speech have faced off against those alleging the speech in question would harm vulnerable groups.
[. . .]
What has been in evidence lately is the absurdity of a campus speech regime constructed around the idea that in any conflict, oppressor and oppressed can be easily distinguished and speech rights accorded or denied on that basis. This regime has fostered an academic culture in which enthusiasm for mass murder is commonplace when the victims belong to the wrong group, even as statements like “there are two sexes” or criticisms of affirmative action are reliably condemned as “harmful” and “dangerous.” Perhaps, as professors and students advocating for the Palestinian cause find themselves on the wrong end of higher ed’s social-engineering project, they might reconsider whether elite institutions are well-suited to act as champions of the vulnerable in the first place, or whether they might be better off pursuing more modest aims.
Read the whole thing.
Around Twitter (X)
Even though the judge’s ruling includes an obligatory "[Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] undoubtedly is important," the recommendation to grant a preliminary injunction against DEI requirements for California Community College personnel is welcome news:
New York Governor Kathy Hochul talked Monday about efforts in her state to monitor “hate speech” and intends to “reach out to people when we see hate speech spoken about on online platforms.” (click for video)