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The Insight: Unveiling media dynamics – How US coverage frames campus protests on Gaza

Azra Hoosen |
9 May 2024 | 11:00 CAT
3 min read

In a thought-provoking analysis, Rami G Khouri, a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Arab Center Washington, exposes the contentious intersection of US media coverage and campus protests concerning Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Khouri sheds light on how Mainstream media has joined US power elites in demonising pro-Palestinian encampments on campuses in an interview with Radio Islam.

Khouri suggests that the protests were spurred by a prevailing sentiment among many predominantly American students on university campuses, particularly at Columbia. They were exasperated by the United States’ role in funding, enabling, and diplomatically shielding the genocide perpetrated by Israel in Gaza.

He emphasised that students adopted peaceful and non-violent methods, simply erecting tents in the heart of Columbia’s campus. Additionally, they called for universities to divest from industries that support Israel’s military endeavours.

Khouri, who has been involved in the Western media for 55 years, stressed the ability of Israel and its allies to manipulate the media, ensuring favourable coverage while marginalizing or portraying Palestinians in a negative light, which was established a century ago and persists to this day.

“Ever since the 1920’s the state of Israel and its predecessors successfully used the Western media and even manipulated it to a certain extent, basically creating imagery in the Western world through the media of Israel that had many aspects that people admired, that it was a brave little country fighting against all these ‘big, terrible Arab countries’ around it, that it was ‘reviving the old biblical Jewish kingdoms’ and ‘making the desert bloom’. All of these and other topics were based on fantasy, lies or exaggerations,” he said.

Khouri suggests that Israeli lobbying efforts have been highly effective in shaping public perception and influencing political discourse in the US. He highlights instances where political figures who criticized Israel faced smear campaigns and lost elections. Public figures fear being labelled as anti-Israel or anti-Semitic, leading to a reluctance to question Israeli actions. Israeli groups have shifted their messaging, equating Hamas with ISIS or Nazis, despite factual inaccuracies. The media’s focus on sensationalism and profitability often prioritises audience engagement over factual accuracy.

He believes the campus coverage, particularly at Columbia, was quite impressive.

“They accurately portrayed/ conveyed what was going on in terms of the actions the students took and their motivations because the big accusation that came out quickly to discredit them was that they were violent anti-Semitic thugs who support Hamas, and that they give Jewish students or faculty members a hard time and make life uncomfortable for Jewish people, but the campus reporters didn’t play that game, they went in-depth into what the demonstrators were trying to do and showed clearly that most Jews are not having a hard time,” he said.

Khouri emphasised the misinformation in media coverage portraying the protests as violent, which is untrue. Documented evidence shows that the violence mostly originated from pro-Israeli individuals who sought to provoke the demonstrators. This escalation prompted university intervention, including the involvement of law enforcement. This distortion in media portrayal highlights a significant issue.

“There is a general tendency in the American political system and public sphere to be much more sympathetic to Israel than to the Palestinians. But this is changing rapidly. There is a huge demographic shift going on; people are much more even-handed between Israel and Palestinians because they are seeing the genocide that Israel is doing, which they can watch on TV,” he said.

According to Khouri, the pro-Israeli forces recognise the historical significance of protest movements that have originated on university campuses and subsequently led to significant policy changes over the past century. They are unwilling to allow a similar movement to develop regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“They want to make sure the US stays on the side of clearly supporting Israel, its genocide on Gaza and Apartheid policies, and that’s why there are such vehement criticisms and interventions against the protest movement. We don’t know where this will go,” he said.

Khouri anticipates that it’s only a matter of time before a majority of society recognizes Israel’s genocidal and apartheid policies as unacceptable. He argues that the US should not be complicit in these actions as it currently is. With a significant amount of protest activity ongoing, he suggests that growing awareness and condemnation of Israel’s policies are inevitable.

LISTEN to the full interview with Muallimah Annisa Essack and Rami G Khouri, Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Arab Center Washington, here.



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