This is an episode of Reality Asserts Itself, produced on March 22, 2016. Paul Jay speaks to Roger Waters and Sut Jhally about the new film “The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States.”
JAY: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay, continuing our discussion with Sut Jhally and Roger Waters about the new film “The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States.” As I mentioned in the first section, Sut Jhally is the executive producer of this film, and has produced many such documentaries. And Roger Waters is the co-founder or founder of Pink Floyd, and one of their lead vocalists, and principle songwriters, and has become a real activist advocating for Palestinian human rights. So I’m going to show another clip from the film, and then we’re going to talk about just how this narrative Israel…of the victims, and all Palestinian resistance, is terrorism, how that becomes the predominant narrative. So we’re going to roll that clip now.
JAY: So Sut, the point you’re making here, is that this is no accident. This is a very calculated PR plan, the way Proctor and Gamble rolls out a new toothpaste, which I guess with even some of the same kind of methodology and technology. Talk about how this developed.
JHALLY: Well, the start of the modern campaign, we can trace back to 1982. And, in fact, American audiences will be stunned at the kind of coverage that the American networks gave to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It was incredibly critical. And showed the horror of both the invasion and then the slaughter at the camps of Shabra and Shatilla. And Israel was horrified at the kind of real journalism taking place. They essentially said “we can’t let this happen again.” And so, they set about with the very calculated, coordinated campaign, which they called the Hasbara project, that was going to be designed to control the discourse in the United States. And there was a conference that took place in 1984, in which they called together, or gather together many many people, experts in public relations, in advertising, in communications, to come up with a strategy.
JAY: Ok, lets roll a clip from the film, which is about exactly this conference.
JAY: So Roger, talk a bit about the clip we just saw, and why you think this campaign has been so successful.
WATERS: Well that’s a very interesting point. Why it’s been so successful. Because it’s so transparent. And any rational man would think “this cannot possibly work.” But unfortunately, there’s a lot of precedent for this, this particular technique. You know, if you tell the big lie often enough and loud enough, people will believe it. And, you know, as it’s explained in this thing, in that clip, this has been used to sell soap powder, or shampoo, or motorcars often in the past, and it’s used now to sell policy. Sut is exactly right, that everything changed in ’82, after the invasion of Lebanon. So, I think it’s about getting spokespeople, as well, particularly politicians, to repeat the mantra. And this is one of the problems. That the fact that Congress is for sale in this country, particularly after Citizens United. That the disasterous ratification of that bill by your Supreme Court, which means effectively that members of Congress, in both the Senate and the House, are for sale. You can buy them. And we all know that. Everybody knows it. But it’s kind of something that people prefer not to talk about. Because, if you had owned up to it, you would need to start looking at the whole way that your society works, and politics in the United States in a grown up and rational way, which would be very very difficult, based, as the whole thing is, on commerce. I know I’m rambling, but, you know, it’s a complex issue. So, if we get back to Hasbara, they have discovered that they can do it. They can operate policies that are murderous, and genocidal. And operate apartheids, which is a dirty word. Here, particularly, but all over the world it’s a dirty word. And recognized, that apartheid is unforgivable and indefensible. And yet, the Israelis operated in the territory that they occupied in 1967, and nobody says boo, here. And you’re asking the question, well why does nobody say boo? Why is there no response to any of this? And I think Sut can answer that question much better than I can, because, I confess, I’m flabbergasted and flummoxed whenever I come up against this question. Because, their answers are so clearly a tissue of untruth, that for us, we the people, that we the people cannot see through it. And there are still large numbers of us, support Israeli policy. It’s very hard to penetrate. Ask Sut. He’ll tell you.
JAY: Well, he’s here. I’ll ask him. And not only do you find this, you know, support for Israel, even in the midst of an attack on Gaza. And I should point out, even a Bernie Sanders, who took, you know, recently, a much more balanced and complex view of how America should approach the question. But even Sanders voted for the resolution, saying Israel had a right to defend itself at the time they’re bombing Gaza. So, even in the Democratic party, you have people with relatively progressive ideas, that opposed the war in Iraq and other things…and here, I’m not isolating Sanders, there’s others, certainly, far more in this way. But they see Israel as this sort of outpost of civilization or something. And surrounded by, you know, the forces of anarchy and chaos, and they kind of really internalize that.
WATERS: That’s why the right to defend itself is part of the Frank Luntz mantra, because it covers a multitude of sins with one simple phrase, that sounds on the face of it defensible. But, defending a country like Israel by operating a collective, murderous, genocidal policy upon a neighboring people, who are entirely under your control, is not defense. It is aggressive beyond all imagination. This is the slaughter of people locked up in a concrete pen, and kept there with guns, tanks, planes, ships, navies, machine guns. They are contained in a prison. It is exactly as if they were all in prison. And then, if some of them resist, if some of them say…and I’m not defending the use of Kassim rockets to fire into farmland in Israel, which is where they go. They do not rain down on cities. There has never been any raining down of rockets. And certainly, they have caused almost no casualties. The fatalities caused by rockets, fired by Hamas or whoever else in Gaza, are tiny, certainly by comparison, with the loss of life Israel causes with its hugely sophisticated weaponry, when they attack the [inaud.] population. So it’s not defense. It has nothing to do with defense. That is the propaganda. That is Hasbara that is repeated. And Obama said it repeatedly. Hillary Clinton says it. Every politician, even Sanders as you say, he’s said it, because it’s something that you have to say. It’s obligatory. You say, Israel has the right. Of course Israel has the right to defend itself. All states have the right to defend themselves. People who don’t have a right to defend themselves is, of course, the Palestinian people, because they don’t have a state. They are a stateless people. They are an inconvenience on the land between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean. And that is what this is about. This is what Sut and I are working for. We believe that these people should have rights like everybody else does. None of us, for a second, live under a situation where we had no civil right, no rights to our own religion, to anything. No vote. Nothing. Where we were considered second class citizens. We would resist. Now they, to their eternal credit, have resisted, by and large, in peaceful ways. And they’ve done it as much as they can, but you can only push people so far. And they will respond. And they have a moral, and legal, right to respond.
JAY: Right. Sut, there’s been a particular war, in this PR war, on American University campuses. And, it’s interesting that as the BDS movement has grown, but it certainly predates the BDS movement, it’s been considered a very serious front of struggle for this PR campaign. Talk a bit about that.
JHALLY: I mean, the PR campaign is based around…I mean, the film was called “The Occupation of the American Mind,” and they’ve managed to occupy the American media, so this narrative is everywhere. And they’ve managed, also, to occupy the American Congress. So they’ve taken over the media and politics, and the culture in general. The one place they haven’t is the universities, where there actually is some diversity of thinking around this.
JAY: Okay. Just before you go further, who’s they?
JHALLY: Sorry, this is the Israeli PR campaign.
JAY: Which means the Israeli state. Some major funders in the United States. Himan Siban, Sheldon Adelson, and some others.
JHALLY: And also the American government itself. I mean, this is not Israel controlling a government that wants to do something else. The reason it’s worked so well is that the interests of the American government are very congruent with the interest of the Israeli state as well, which is why it’s worked so well.
JAY: Cause this is the narrative of the President, of the State Department.
JHALLY: Yeah, so this is not just an Israeli narrative. It becomes an American narrative as well.
JAY: Yeah. I want to talk about the campuses.
JHALLY: But the campuses, I mean, I think it’s very significant. It’s the one place where there is any diversity of thinking around these issues. And so, now of course, the Israeli PR campaign has turned its focus there. And it’s become, I mean, I think it’s almost the last stage where this battle will be fought. But I think it’s significant when Americans, American students actually have a choice. When American students actually have some…they have different perspectives. It’s not surprising then that their opinion changes. And that is what the PR campaign is scared of. PR always has two aspects. One is, control the narrative. And the other one is, maintain a monopoly. Make sure there’s no counter-narrative. And on the universities you’re starting to have a counter-narrative, and a very effective counter-narrative. And, you know, billionaires, like Sheldon Adelson are now starting to put lots of money into making sure that that alternative voice is wrapped up very quickly.
JHALLY: The way it’s being done is through…I mean, they’re scared stiff of BDS.
JAY: Boycott Divestment Sanctions.
JHALLY: Yeah, because it’s actually…it’s an effective story that’s being told. And so, what they’re trying to do on American campuses is call BDS, hate speech. And try to ban it on that basis. We’re in the middle of that. I mean, where we’ll end up on it will depend upon how we struggle against it.
JAY: And there’s places in Canada, and even in Europe, in certain places where this whole idea of BDS is so equated with hatespeech that they’re trying to make it illegal. Advocating for it. Roger, one of the things that seems to me helps drive this thing…this thing being that critiquing Israel is anti-semitic, it’s anti-Jewish, which is at the core of, you could say, this PR campaign. And one of the reasons why people can see images of children dying, and images of the war, and somehow get their head around “Oh yeah. It’s collateral damage. And it’s really these peoples fault, because they hate Jews.” One of the reasons that works is that there is a kernel of truth, in the sense that while not all critique of Israel is anti-semitic, some is. And there’s certainly a deep routed history of hating Jews. Of course, this is more European phenomena, than an Arab phenomena, but for a lot of people, they don’t get…because of the cultural history of Juden-haus, that what’s going on is not that. But isn’t that an important piece of this?
WATERS: Well, I think it’s a great tragedy for the Jewish people, and for the Jewish religion, that it is conflated in peoples minds with the policies of the government of Israel, and it’s policies, colonization, and it’s annexation of land that does not belong to it. The illegal occupation, occupation, occupation, occupation. That is the most important word in all of these conversations. But I wanted to pick up on something that Sut said, which was that…the needs of the American government are in some way aligned with the goals and needs of the state of Israel. I don’t necessarily agree with that, Sut. And I certainly don’t think that the needs and goals of the American people are in line with the goals of the state of Israel. I think they conflict, hugely, because American support for the goals of the state of Israel goes a long way towards creating, not just an image, but a description of the United States of America, as an oppressor of the people of the Middle East. And in consequence, it creates a lot of [ ] towards this country, the United States of America, in that region as a whole. So, I think that the unthinking, and automatic support of the state of Israel, in its policies, vis-a-vis its surroundings, is actually bad for the people of the United States of America. It makes it harder for them to be respected, taken seriously…except it is a partner to conversations that may find more edifying ways of conflict resolution than dropping bombs on one another, which, routinely, the United States does as well, as we know, with the drone policies. So, I think it’s actually very very harmful to the potential that the Unites States might have, to regain some of its position politically.
JHALLY: And there’s certainly recognition of that among American elites. That this policy is resulting in blowback. I mean, the answer to the question, “Why do they hate us?” well, one of the reasons is because of the unconditional support of Israel. So even people like David Petraeus, you know, when he was in power, he was saying what the counter, you know, what the effects of this was, in terms of how America was being held. However, you know, on the one hand you have that, but until that outweighs the strategic value that the U.S has in supporting Israel in the Middle East…and the Nixon administration called it “a cop on the beat,” you know, and to protect its strategic interests. Until that outweighs those strategic interests, it’s not going to make a difference. But there are, I mean, Roger’s absolutely right…there are I think more and more, even American elites, who are starting to look at, you know, what are the costs of this type of support. The moment those costs have not outweighed what the benefits are…
JAY: Well, I think you’re kind of really agreeing, because it’s about whose national interests. The elites national interests and the American peoples national interests are more often than not, not the same national interests.
WATERS: What is super important is the issue of the campuses. There is now, because of the apartheid in the occupied territories, there is now a real ground swell of a genuine protest movement taking place, in the young people on the campuses. And a lot of these young people, one has to say, are young Jewish people, who care about their heritage. They care about their religion. They care about their own ethical standards. And they can see that they are being associated with a tyrannical regime…right-wing tyrannical regime that is running this small state in the Middle East…and they don’t like it. They do not want their name taken in vain like that. So this is so important what is going on. It’s on the campuses of the universities in North America, both in Canada and the United States, but it’s also in the churches, which slowly but surely there is a creeping resistance to the slaughter. And more and more churches are gathering together in their annual [inaud.] and divesting from companies that support the settlements and the occupation. Companies like Motorola, and Caterpillar, and the rest of them, and G4, and so on and so forth. So, this movement is gaining momentum. There are many many people. And this is an iceberg. Just the tip of it is showing above the surface, but the reason Sheldon Adelson, HIam Sabam are pouring money to try and make this protest movement illegal, is because they can see how fast it’s growing. And it’s growing because the protestors are right. They have right on their side. The treatment of the Palestinian people is deeply unjust, and appalling. And the fact that we’re not allowed to see Sut’s film, because it shows how we’re not allowed to see that part of the narrative…I’m just so glad that the Real News is taking the time and the trouble to expose this to people, because it’s fundamentally important to all of our humanity, all of our humanity. Not just the students, God bless them, who are protesting on the campuses, but all of them.
JAY: So Sut, tell us one more time. As we know you can’t see this on Netflix, at least not yet. Maybe if everybody writes Netflix and screams that we want it…that’s an idea. For now, where do people see the film?
JHALLY: They can see it at www.occupationmovie.com. And you can stream it there, and you can buy the DVD as well. And one of the strategies that we have, I mean, we want as many people to see it as possible, I mean, we wish we could give it away, and it would be available for free…
JAY: It cost a lot of money to make this.
JHALLY: Oh, it cost us over a half million dollars to make this film. And trying to get it out…we knew it was going to be a struggle. We didn’t actually realize it was going to be as much of a struggle as it has been. We thought we would be blanketed from the mainstream media, just because of what the movie is about.
JAY: But, you’re not getting in…I’ve seen the film, as people who watch the Real News, they know I’m a documentary filmmaker. That’s really my background. And this is a good film, but you’re not getting into film festivals.
JHALLY: No, no. We’re not getting into any American film festivals. We’re getting into some foreign film festivals.
JAY: Or Canadian.
JHALLY: No, we’re being blanketed in every single film festival that we’ve…we applied to North American film festivals.
JAY: Yeah, I mean I just found out. I mean, I started the hotdocs film festival, and I just found out. I’m not involved anymore in a day to day way…I just found out hotdocs didn’t accept it….which…..Anyway, if you’re in the Baltimore area, anywhere around, sometime in the next couple of months, we’re going to screen the film. And, actually, I hope Roger and Sut might even be able to come here for the screening. But, at any rate, we’re going to continue this discussion. And please join us for the next part of our interview with Roger Waters and Sut Jhally, on the Real News Network.
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“George Roger Waters is an English musician, singer-songwriter and composer. In 1965, he co-founded the progressive rock band Pink Floyd as its bassist.”