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Why the U.S. Media Barely Covered Brutal Right-Wing Race Riots in Tel Aviv

Middle East analyst MJ Rosenberg discusses the Israel lobby, Iran and the xenophobic riots that shook Israeli society.
 
 
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Several weeks back, Israel was rocked by a night of right-wing race-riots targeting African refugees in Tel Aviv. The thuggery was frightening – refugees were attacked, African-owned businesses and stores were vandalized and a community was forced to hunker down behind closed doors in fear for their lives.

Perhaps more disturbing still was that the riots, which began with an anti-immigrant demonstration, were incited by Israeli politicians representing the increasingly influential hard-right. They fired up the crowd, calling the refugees “infiltrators,” and a “cancer,” and accusing them of violence and rape. It was a classic example of “othering” – eliminationist rhetoric that led directly to action by the xenophobic crowd.

While a small number of people carried out the violence, they represented the views of many Israelis. A poll released this week found that 52 percent of respondents agreed with the characterization of African refugees as “a cancer,” and a third condoned violence against them.

The story received very little coverage in the United States. Worse, some outlets that did report on the riots advanced the rioters' narrative that African refugees were responsible for a massive wave of street violence, despite the fact that crime statistics don't bear out the claim.

Recently, Middle East analyst MJ Rosenberg appeared on the AlterNet Radio Hour to discuss the Tel Aviv riots, the stand-off over Iran's nuclear program and how the Israel lobby helps narrow the discourse around Israel in the United States. Below is a lightly edited transcript of the discussion (you can listen to the whole interview  here.)

Joshua Holland: MJ, I want to talk to you about some issues you’ve been writing about. But first I want to talk a little bit about the discourse here in the United States. I’m one of many people who believes there is an Israel lobby. I’m not sure why that’s even controversial. And among other things, it works to kind of narrow the range of acceptable discourse on Israel and Palestine. You are a former AIPAC staffer, right?

MJ Rosenberg: Right. To defend myself that was way back in the '80s. In fact I was a pretty happy AIPAC staffer. I even left there on good terms. I have to say in those days it’s not so much my politics were different, AIPAC was different then. The policies weren’t nearly as reactionary then as they are now.

JH: From your inside perspective on that organization, what did you see as far as their tendency to call out criticism that they think is illegitimate or beyond the pale?

MR: They consider all criticism of Israel illegitimate. It’s all beyond the pale. I suppose their definition would be if by some miracle someone like Joseph Lieberman made a statement critical of Israel it would be legitimate. When I worked there in the '80s, back before everyone had computers, they had a big war room where all they did was assemble every bit of data on members of Congress, on candidates, but also on writers, celebrities – anyone in the public eye.

In those days they would just put them in these folders. They always had at hand all this negative information -- what they considered negative information -- to tar people as being anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic. That stuff would be given to reporters if something came up. They were either initiated on their own to give to reporters or some reporter called them because they had a treasure trove of information.

They still operate that way. In those days they did it directly; now they have former staffers and people who are close to the organization in the blogging world and political world who do it for them. They do it so much. When you read that someone is anti-Israel they’re the ones putting it out there. They’ve got the data.

 
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