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Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama

State Department.

On July 8th, The New Yorker published a short piece by Adam Entous, under the graphic above, titled “The Maps of Israeli Settlements That Shocked Barack Obama.” In the article, Entous purports to tell us the heretofore unknown inside story of how the Obama administration came to the surprising realization that Israeli settlements were taking over the West Bank. In the kind of irony The New Yorker might best appreciate, the magazine’s latest promotional tag line is: “Fighting Fake Stories With Real Ones,” and this Adam Entous article is the epitome of fake.

As Entous narrates it, in 2015, the third year of Obama’s second term, as his “Presidency was winding down,” a gentleman called Frank Lowenstein—who was, and still is,the Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations and Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State—stumbled upon a map of West Bank settlements “that he had never seen before.” Though Lowenstein—as, you know, Special Envoy for Palestinian Negotiations and all—had seen “hundreds of maps of the West Bank” and had one “adorning” his office, this “new map in the briefing book” was a revelation to him. It showed clearly that “not only were Palestinian population centers cut off from one another but there was virtually no way to squeeze a viable Palestinian state into the areas that remained.”

Shocked, shocked, Lowenstein scurried off to show the map to Secretary of State John Kerry, telling him: “Look what’s really going on here.” After studiously having the map’s information “verified by U.S. intelligence agencies,” Kerry then unfurled the map on a coffee table in the White House for President Obama to see. As Ben Rhodes, “one of Obama’s longest-serving advisers,” recounted, Obama, too, was “shocked” at Israel’s “systematic” use of settlements to “cut off Palestinian population centers from one another.”

All of this shock was then translated into action. Of the rhetorical sort. Kerry “incorporated [the key findings] into …speeches and other documents, and Lowenstein “walk[ed] [the Israelis] through” those findings—though he “didn’t show the maps to the Israelis.”(Because what? He didn’t want to “shock” them? Didn’t want to make the case to them toostrongly, lest it upset them? Didn’t want to have to apologize? [see below] Pause for a moment, or more, to consider that demurral, which remains unexplained by Entous or Lowenstein. It’s the kind of withholding of information one would do in the face of an innocent child one wants to protect, or in the face of a more powerful superior one does not want to annoy. What is the place for such reticence in the relation between the United States and Israel?)

Capping off this new wave of decisive rhetorical action, driven by the “alarm” over what he saw in the “maps” (now plural), President Obama “decided to abstain on a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the settlements.” In the true punchline of the article, Entous presents this abstention as “Obama’s final act of defiance against Benjamin Netanyahu…before Donald Trump took office and put in placepolicies that were far more acceptingof the settlers.”

All in all, this article presents a perfect exemplar of ideological production: it produces without recognizing the bizarre, nearly delusional aspects of liberal ideology in its current state; for the author and his likely readers, it shows the faults of that mindset but does not seethem, and in fact turns them into a story re-confirming the virtue of those—whether author, reader, or subject of the story—who hold that mindset. It’s not only fake; it’s a fake-out.

Let’s walk through all the possible meanings of this article.

Either:

1) The story is true. Entous, using his reliable, inside-the-room sources and direct quotes, has accurately reported something that actually happened. Harvard-educated Barack Obama and his team of oh-so-smart and-well-educated foreign-policy wonks—Yale-educated Secretary of State Kerry and Special Envoy for Palestinian Negotiations Frank Lowenstein, and Rice- and NYU-educated Ben Rhodes (whose brother, David, is President of CBS News)—were completely unaware of what the Israelis had been doing for the 48 years before they just happened to see that map. Neither Barack Obama nor John Kerry during their careers as senators and presidential candidates, nor Obama, during over six years as President, had ever imagined any such thing.

They must have missed this UN map, showing in red all the West Bank areas inaccessible to Palestinians, which has been around since 2009:

And they must have missed this one, also widely available since 2009, showing Israel’s relentless theft and pulverization of Palestinian land. This is the map that MSNBC apologized for showing to its viewers:

So, in this case, if this story is true, Obama and his team are as politically stupid as Trump and his, regarding Palestine at least. If this story is true, it means that years of studying in the highest academies of the empire and working in the highest levels of political power may only yield abysmal ignorance regarding one of the most important issues in the world.

Which is, in fact, quite possible.

In a meeting at the Left Forum last year, Andy Trimlett, who produced and directed the fine new documentary, 1948: Creation and Catastrophe (which I supported on Kickstarter), told of how he was able to get a Master’s degree in Middle East Studies from the University of Washington while learning virtually nothing about what the creation of Israel entailed. He’s not the only person I’ve heard that from.

So, in his acerbic tweet, the excellent British journalist Jonathan Cook may be (probably is) right in his skepticism regarding this New Yorkerstory, but he may also be underestimating the political vacuity of the “educated” American, especially regarding Palestine and Israel:

The New Yorker insults its readers’ intelligence with this article claiming that Obama officials only worked out – accidentally – in 2015 that Israeli settlements had taken over 60% of the West Bank. Who could have guessed what Israel was up to?! 

Or:

2) The story is not true. Obama and Co. knew very well, all along, what Israel was doing, and they are now putting out this story—a flat-out lie–because… Well, maybe because after the Gaza massacre, with the tide turning among the Democratic constituency, to exacerbate the image of Trump as the absolute villain, etc., the Obama team, as an exemplar of establishment Democratic liberalism, wants to pose as naive innocents rather than the conscious collaborators with ethnic cleansing they were and still are. They really want The New Yorker’s readership to have that image of Obama as the one who continually “defied” Netanyahu, versus Trump who is now capitulating to him.

That, too, is a flat-out lie, as anyone who isn’t mis-educated into political stupidity by the media, the politicians, and the highest academies of the empire knows. The whole “Obama’s final act of defiance” punchline, which is in Entous’s voice, makes the story fake, even if it’s true. There was no series of “acts of defiance” by Obama, of which the lame-duck abstention on the Security Council resolution was the “final” one.

It’s fair to say, and to his credit, that Obama acted against Netanyahu’s wishes in accepting the Iran deal, which Trump has abrogated. And Obama made good noises, from early in his administration, about the dangers of Israeli settlement construction—which, of course, indicates that he knew about all those “systematic” problems before he discovered The Map. But he, like his predecessors, did nothing about it. He, like they, enabled and supported the systematic, two-state-destroying settlement of the West Bank, and continually supported Israel in whatever violence it wanted to do to the Palestinians—including bombing the crap out of them in Gaza, twice. No slouch in that regard, Obama was first American President to give bunker-buster bombs to Israel—secretly, precisely because he had publicly said Israel had to curtail settlement construction in exchange for such gifts and didn’t want it to be known that he was capitulating. He was also the first American President to demand that “Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state”—a new, gratuitous, and excessive demand, insisted upon by Netanyahu. The lame-duck abstention on the Security Council resolution cost Israel nothing. Overall, Obama’s Palestine-Israel policy, consistent with American policy over decades, was one of continual capitulation to the will of Israel–including specifically on settlements. That is not some new policy “put in place” by Donald Trump.

And, if the story is not true, then

Either:

2A) Adam Entous and The New Yorker—that oh-so-intelligent, sophisticated, and “reliable” journal—fully and sincerely believe the fake story the Obama people are putting out, and are communicating that bullshit to you in good faith, as what they think is true, in-depth knowledge of an important aspect of American foreign policy that you should have. In which case, Entous and The New Yorker are as stupid and gullible as any Trump supporter.

Or,

2B) Entous and The New Yorker know very well this is a fake story that Obama and his people are putting out, and they are consciously collaborating with them to get you to believe something they know to be untrue. (And the lite, bad faith version of this—that they can deny that they “know,” even if they suspect, the story is not true, because they take these— i.e., their—people at their word, share their objectives, and don’t ask too many questions—is no less deceptive and pernicious.)

Why would they do this? Because it’s the tortured-humanitarian version of Obama’s and the liberal Democrats’ implication in the colonization of Palestine that they want you to have. And because it helps enforce the fairy tale of how the good, progressively-intentioned American presidency under Obama has been completely overturned by the bad, anti-American-values presidency of Trump.

So, in any possible reading of this article, it’s a damning indictment of the liberal ideology embodied by Obama Democrats and/or by an iconic media outlet of highbrow culture. In any possible reading, someone’s a political fool. In option 1, it’s a true story, and Obama and his team were terribly ignorant fools who should not have been allowed near the responsibilities of the Presidency; in option 2, it’s a fake story, and Entous and The New Yorker have themselves either been fooled by, or are complicit in trying to fool you with, the Obama team’s mendacious attempt to create a false image of themselves, and a phony nostalgia about American politics. There is no option 3.

In all options, of course, the target of the tomfoolery is the audience, the likely reader of The New Yorker. Indeed, in option 2B, which gets Jonathan Cook’s vote (and mine) and is at least as likely as any other, the reader is the onlyone being fooled.  The article, and the ideology, counts on the reader not noticing that these are its only possible—and all quite damning—meanings. Any reader who doesn’t notice this is totally captured within, and faked-out by, the ideology the article reproduces.

There’s no bigger problem in the United States today than the citizenry’s widespread mis-education into political gullibility, not to say stupidity, and it’s the height of foolishness to think this is only a problem of Republicans and rightists, of those who read Breitbart and not those who read The New Yorker, or of those who finish their education at high school and not those who get it finished off at one of the higher academies of the empire.

As I’ve said before, America is now a ship of fools, with a thousand captains barking fake orders. Reader, beware.

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Jim Kavanagh edits The Polemicist.

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