Hostage Deal? No. It's Iran, Stupid (Hard Questions, Tough Answers- June 10, 2024)

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Yossi Alpher is an independent security analyst. He is the former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, a former senior official with the Mossad, and a former IDF intelligence officer. Views and positions expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent APN's views and policy positions.

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Legislative Round-Up- June 7, 2024

Produced by the Foundation for Middle East Peace. Views and positions expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent APN's views and policy positions.

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Recording- Looking to the Future: Maoz Inon and Aziz Abu Sarah on a Post-October-7th World

Aziz Abu Sarah and Maoz Inon feel the loss and pain of October 7th and the carnage in Gaza that has followed especially keenly: both have lost family to the conflict.

Since October 7th, the two have appeared on various international forums regarding their partnership in establishing peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Most recently, they traveled together to Verona, Italy to meet Pope Francis and share their vision for the future: one where Israelis and Palestinians can move forward and live side by side.

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Join Us in New York City on June 25th!

Statement on the Proposed Ceasefire Deal

June 3- Americans for Peace Now strongly supports the three-phase proposal announced by President Biden for the release of the hostages, a ceasefire, and humanitarian aid to Gaza as steps towards ending the ongoing and horrific war in Gaza. We urge Israeli elected officials across the political spectrum to provide the Prime Minister with the political support he needs to put this plan into practice. Additionally, we urge President Biden and world leaders to exert every ounce of leverage they have with the Israeli government and with Hamas, and bring this war to an end.

There is no “total victory” for Israel and certainly none for Hamas. There can only be respite for long-suffering innocent Palestinians and Israelis, who deserve the chance to begin to rebuild their shattered societies before it is too late.

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Legislative Round-Up- May 31, 2024

Produced by the Foundation for Middle East Peace. Views and positions expressed here are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent APN's views and policy positions.

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Through a Glass Darkly- APN Commentary by Naomi Paiss (June 3, 2024)

Naomi Paiss is serving as Interim Communications Director for APN.  She retired in 2022 after more than 40 years running  public affairs  and communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the New Israel Fund, the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence,  the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and other organizations.

Based in both DC and Jerusalem, Naomi rejoined the working world to help APN through a period of transition and to participate in the serious issues now confronting both Israel and the U.S.  

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Why do Israelis Continue to Back the War? - Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin (May 30, 2024)

Dr. Dahlia Scheindlin, a scholar and writer, is an international political and strategic consultant. She has advised and conducted research on nine national campaigns in Israel over the past twenty years, and has provided research and advising for elections, referendums, and civil society campaigns in fifteen different countries. She is the author of The Crooked Timber of Democracy in Israel

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Statement- End the War

May 24, 2024- Americans for Peace Now has long called for an end to t​his war and for Israel to prioritize negotiations to secure the release of hostages. The extensive and prolonged nature of Israel’s military response, coupled with the absence of a coherent “day after” strategy that aligns military actions with clear political objectives, has resulted in terrible losses for Israel and caused devastation and suffering for Gazan civilians, most of whom have been displaced from their demolished communities.

Today's announcement from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is yet another emphatic call from the global community for an end to the war. The ICJ’s order for Israel to immediately halt its military assault on Rafah underscores the dire nature of the current situation and the prolonged conflict that has necessitated international intervention.

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Transcript- Webinar with Anat Saragusti (May 22, 2024)

Naomi Paiss 0:10

Hello, everyone. I'm Naomi Paiss. I'm the interim communications director for Americans for Peace Now, and I welcome everyone who is online with us. If you're looking and saying, wait a minute, where's Hadar? The quick answer is poor Hadar has got a terrible cold and is croaking away, and I'm sitting in for him. As some of you know, Ori Nir, who was the longtime communications director for Americans for Peace Now, retired in March, to everyone's sorrow. He was an integral part of a really important organization and also my friend. Until Hadar and APN find a long term communications person, I'm just sitting in and helping out. Some of you may know me from 13 years running communications for the New Israel Fund, the first 11 years in DC, and then two years in Jerusalem. I live binationally and I'm actually coming to you from Jerusalem right now. I'm going to introduce Anat, who is also a friend and someone I've known in our leftie Zionist circles for years and years and years now, in just a few minutes, but I want to give folks a chance to come in. 

 

One of the reasons that we asked Anat to join us at this time, is that the role of the media, since the war started, has been quite a bone of contention in Israel, in the United States, around the world. There are a lot of questions about what Israelis are indeed seeing and hearing on their media, and how it's influencing Israeli public opinion. There are questions about how the media, the mainstream media and social media in the United States is influencing opinion and the role that the media is playing in political decisions there. And Anat is the best expert we could think of to come and address some of these thorny questions, and I will give you her proper bio. Anat is in charge of freedom of the press at the Union of Journalists in Israel. She's a documentary filmmaker, a book editor, a freelance journalist and a commentator. She writes op-eds for major newspapers and websites in Israel and participates frequently in panels on issues of press freedom, state security, women participation in decision making processes, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and all of the other difficult issues. Anat is a laureate of the 2016 "Unsung Hero" Drum Major for Justice Award for "exceptional global leadership, commitment to the elevation of humankind through advocacy and awareness, and for personifying the spirit of Dr. King's core philosophies." She started her professional career as a photojournalist, and, by the way, a very talented one, and was the correspondent for Gaza for TV Channel 12 News, here in Israel. She served as the producer and editor of the evening news at Channel 12 and the weekend magazine. She also has a master's degree in law. And with that extremely respectable biography, we welcome you, Anat, it's so good to see you. The two of us are in the same timezone here between eight and nine o'clock at night. So keep that in mind, folks.

 

Anat Saragusti 3:59

Thank you for having me. Thank you for the nice introduction.

 

Naomi Paiss 4:04

Well, I'm going to jump right in, because we have a lot to cover. And the first question really addresses how I started out by talking about these issues, which is, how much is the Israeli audience actually seeing about what's going on just 40, 50, 100 miles away in Gaza? Is there a difference between how the major media outlets here in Israel, broadcast and print, are covering the conflict? And do many Israelis get their news from other places besides the Israeli media? Are they online? Are they watching CNN International, or, you know, the French press or the British press or the Russian press? And so let's start there, and tell us sort of the state of affairs here.

 

Anat Saragusti 4:57

So I'll start by saying that the consumption of institutional media and mainstream media in Israel is higher than in other democratic countries. Of course, it's related to generation. And like in other places, many youngsters turn to Tik Tok and Instagram to get their news. But having said that, the majority do consume their news through mainstream media, especially during times of high security alert, like a war, that we experience now. So starting October 7, at around 7am in the morning, the majority of Israelis were glued to the TV screens to consume their news. And if I can analyze, in retrospect, starting on October 7, I think that in the first few days, the Israeli media, the Hebrew speaking media, was playing a crucial role in terms of collecting and delivering very basic information and data on what was going on before the state agencies and the security agencies understood the magnitude of the events. The journalists who rushed into the southern part of Israel, into these communities that were under attack by Hamas militants, already were there and already started to post the information through the mainstream media and through the breaking news, open studios. And this was crucial, because nobody understood what was going on. And not only that they collected information, not only that they risked their lives by rushing into the, kind of, the fire - they also helped, you know, make the connection between people who were under attack in the kibbutzim and in other communities on the border and the rescuers, like police and army units. And this was extremely important. Then in the next few days, the media managed to express the very strong sentiment of the people, mainly people who were evacuated or displaced from these communities on the border, the kibbutzim and Sderot city, of the failure of the state agencies. You know, the ministries were not functioning, nobody knew how to address the needs of the people, nobody could assess the needs of the people that were displaced. Nobody could understand, you know, the scale of the needs that evolved on October 7. And so the media was really criticizing that and echoing the voice of the people themselves. This was also important in terms of, you know, waking up the state agencies that needed to wake up and start functioning. But since then, you know, what the media is doing is telling, time and again, the story of October 7. I mean, in a way that really connects to the very basic and core and understandable emotional sentiment of the majority of the people of Israel. Because you have to understand that this war, this attack, is touching each and every one of us. I mean, almost everyone, every citizen of the state of Israel, somehow is connected directly to someone who has been slaughtered, raped, kidnapped, or just displaced from their homes. I, for one, had a very good friend, you may have heard of her, Vivian Silver, a resident of Kibbutz Be'eri who was probably slaughtered on October 7th. It took a long time before we understood that she was not kidnapped but murdered. So everyone has some kind of connection, and some of us have children in the war. Some of us have, you know, other relatives, some of us have close relatives or or direct family members who are displaced, you know, everybody is under this devastation and in deep pain since October 7th, so it's very natural for the media in Israel to express this sentiment of the people. Now, having said that, the media refrains from showing, or executing its very basic role as to tell the story and to inform its audiences on the reality on the ground. And while saying that, I must say that I exclude Haaretz newspaper and other niche media outlets, internet niche media outlets, that do tell another story, the broader picture of the reality of the government. But the mainstream media, especially the television and the highly distributed news websites, they don't touch and they don't show the atrocities in Gaza. They don't show the human crisis in Gaza. They don't interview people in Gaza. So the Israelis, if they don't log into international media, and the majority of them don't, they don't understand and they don't see what the word is seeing. So basically, I can tell that there are three parallel dimensions of media coverage. There is the dimension of what the Israelis see. And they keep telling -  we're still stuck on October 7, showing the photos and the stories of you know, survivors, and heroines and heroes, etc, of October 7. There is a story that the Arab speaking media is showing, that starts the narrative or the framing, from October 8, and they hardly deal with the story of the hostages and the massacre of October 7th. And there is the story that the rest of the world is seeing, mainly, you know, the liberal democratic countries in the world. So by not informing the Israeli people of what's going on in Gaza, we as the Israeli society, we don't understand why the world is so angry at us and why the world criticizes us, and why leaders of the world and why all the demonstrations are calling for immediate ceasefire. Because they all see what we don't see. And we don't understand, you know, where it comes from, and all the time are frustrated that the world doesn't show, you know, the fact that we have more than 120 hostages still held in Gaza in very difficult conditions, and women are maybe subjected to rape and things like that, and how come the world doesn't see that and doesn't put it on the top of the of its agenda?

 

Naomi Paiss 12:58

Do you think, given all that, and yes, from what I have seen in the Hebrew press - by the way, I'm not sure our friends at Haaretz would appreciate being called niche, but unfortunately, they're not read as widely as they should be. Do you think that the fact that the Israeli media is very much mirroring the shock and the trauma and the sorrow and the horror of October 7, almost on a 24/7 loop? If you're looking at it as an American watching the Hebrew news, you go - again and again and again. Is this playing a huge role in Israeli attitudes towards continuing the war and towards the government? And towards Palestinians, both in general and in Gaza specifically?

 

Anat Saragusti 13:56

It's a very good question. I think, in a way, it all combines. The fact that we don't see what's going on in Gaza, the fact that we are so traumatized that we cannot contain, you know, any kind of suffering, of seeing suffering of the other side or showing any kind of empathy towards the other side. And the fact that we still, or the majority of Israelis, still support the war. It's all linked together, so you cannot separate one from the other. On the other hand, the fact that the Israeli government, or the Israeli war cabinet, or the Israeli general cabinet, doesn't have a plan, a strategic plan for what we call the "day after," highlights questions and doubts among some of us in the Israeli setting - where are we going? Because today, I think an hour ago, it was published, again, I think, that three soldiers were killed in combat, in Gaza, in a place that we already kind of "cleaned," you know, we were there, we -

 

Naomi Paiss 15:22

- pacified, we used to say, during the Vietnam War, it was a problem.

 

Anat Saragusti 15:25

- this is the term that they use, "we cleaned" - I'm sorry for using that term, but this is the term that we use. And we came there again, and there were casualties. And this raises a lot of questions among Israelis who say, Okay, we were there, we "cleaned" the place. Now we're there again, and the toll on human lives is very high. So what's the story? Where are we reaching? Where are we going? What's the end game of this? And these questions are getting more and more vocal, I think, among the Israeli society, and even among media personalities, in the studios and in other places. And so what I'm saying is, this is part of telling the story of October 7. Tonight, just an hour ago, they published a short video depicting the women soldiers who were taken captive on October 7 by Hamas. And this is a short video that they held for many, many months. And now they decided, the families encouraged the army to expose this film, although it's very difficult to see those girls being taken into captivity. You know, they are wounded, they are bleeding, they are barefoot, some of them are in pajamas, and they are taken by full gear-out Hamas militants and taken into Gaza. And they released this video in order to maybe pressure the decision makers to reach the deal for releasing the hostages. So everything is very overwhelming for all of us. And it really is shaking to see this short video clip, I just saw it on television before I joined this webinar. So this is very engaging, you know, it's like coloring everything in emotions that we find it very hard to deal with.

 

Naomi Paiss 17:45

​​I understand, or I think most of us understand, and we know that the media here is often caught between a rock and a hard place, and it has to be sensitive to its audience. It also has to be sensitive in ways that American media does not to the government, and that's where I want to go next. American media - with the sole exception of the government channels that we beam out as propaganda to foreign audiences in other languages - American media is pretty free of government interference. I mean, every now and then, a call from the White House - that's going to compromise our national security, please don't say that, please don't print that. And sometimes they do, like with the Pentagon Papers, and sometimes they don't. But generally speaking, there's not a lot of government interference and control, although at the corporate level that changes a bit. Tell us how the government interacts with the media here in Israel. I mean, they've just managed to take Al Jazeera out of the country, off the airwaves, and I believe you can't even get it online here. They tried to confiscate Associated Press equipment. They seem to be playing a pretty heavy handed role in determining what people see, and also the foreign press access to Gaza and to what is actually going on in Gaza.

 

Anat Saragusti 19:09

Yeah, that is true. I mean, the last event that happened was yesterday, when the Ministry of Communication decided to confiscate the broadcasting equipment of one of the world's largest news agencies, the Associated Press, in their office in Sderot, the city of Sderot near the border with Gaza, because Al Jazeera used its live feed and broadcasted it into its own channel. We have to understand that thousands of media outlets all over the world, including in Israel, are using the feed of AP, this is the essence of being in a news agency -

- that's what a wire service is for, right.

 

Naomi Paiss 19:57

- that's what a wire service is for, right.

 

Anat Saragusti 20:00

Exactly. You have subscribers and you give them footage. And then it echoed all over the world. I mean, it made the headlines all over the world. I can say that we at the Union of Journalists in Israel immediately issued a statement that condemned this action. But it came to the desk of President Biden, and President Biden was saying something about the need to preserve the freedom of the press, and then Netanyahu gave an order to the Minister of Communication to reverse this decision, and it was reversed. But what most of the people don't know is that I think, two weeks ago, under the same legislation that I will explain in a minute, the Ministry of Communication, confiscated the equipment, and shut down a small production house in Nazareth, in the north, because they also provided production services to Al Jazeera. But they provided the production services to other media outlets, not only Al Jazeera. But this didn't echo and didn't reach President Biden's desk, you know, and so this was under the radar. The idea was that, for some months now, some players in the Israeli government are trying to control the way the media covers the war in Gaza, and they try to control or maybe even modify the narrative that is told. And the main player is the Minister of Communication, and you have to understand - you probably followed the judicial overhaul. And if you thought this ended on October 7th, it didn't. So the Minister of Communication, who from the beginning didn't like freedom of the press, decided to introduce legislation under the umbrella of state security, the need to preserve or to safeguard state security. So he managed to put a bill - it's like an executive order, for a short time - that allows him, enables him to shut down foreign media outlets that one of the security agencies issued in a report that they're endangering the security of the state. And it was meant to be enacted against Al Jazeera. And they did that. So they went to the offices - it was really, they did it in such a way that they bragged about what they did. I mean, they didn't do it quietly, they did it and they published it, and they kind of celebrated the fact that they had the ability to close their offices. And they didn't even summon them for hearing. Now they're doing it, you know, in retrospect, they are calling them for hearings. Anyway, so they did that. They also closed a small office of a Hezbollah-affiliated media outlet called Al Median. And this way, they think they can control what's going on. I have to tell the audience here, as a background, that there is no independent media in Gaza, in all of the Gaza Strip. So in the places that Israel occupied since October 7, Israel doesn't let anybody in unless it's embedded in IDF units, and the one who controls who gets in, for how long, and where to, and who he will be interviewing, is the IDF spokesperson, the Israel Defense Force spokesperson, and then everything is subject to military censorship. So in many, many ways, the spokesperson of the IDF, which is an agency with an interest to show the good side of the army, is controlling what the Israeli audience or the foreign media can see. There is no access to independent media - actually, the Foreign Press Association in Israel tried to appeal to the High Court of Justice, and we at the Union of Journalists joined them. It was, I think, two or three months ago, and the court rejected the appeals claiming that it's too dangerous to allow foreign media into Gaza now. And in the other parts of Gaza, where Hamas controls, we don't know how much freedom of the press there is under the regime of Hamas. So actually - 

 

Naomi Paiss 25:12

Probably not much. 

 

Anat Saragusti 25:14

Exactly. So we really, really, really don't have neutral and independent and verified and fact checked information on what's going on in Gaza. And I think this should disturb every one of us.

 

Naomi Paiss 25:13

Agreed. I want to ask another question about foreign media in a second, but I do want to just mention to everyone what I should have said at the outset. I do see your questions on the Q&A, and we will leave time at the end to ask Anat some of your questions. To get back to the foreign media, I'm curious about something. If there's one thing that Bibi Netanyahu likes to complain about - and actually many other people, including some leaders in the American Jewish community - it's the idea that the foreign press, the American press, the European press, is anti-Israel in its orientation. There's an entire organization called Camera that basically exists to yell at American media, or overseas media, for covering Israel critically. Now, you know, and you probably have known some of the New York Times folks here, I knew three New York Times Jerusalem bureau chiefs in a row who basically said, off the record, that is the hardest job I ever had. Nothing that The New York Times can send them to do or cover compares to being the Jerusalem correspondent and getting yelled at, in many, many ways, from both sides all of the time for media bias. What is your informed opinion about how Israel is covered? You lived in DC for a few years, I know you're familiar with the American media. What would you say to Israelis who say, Well, they're just a bunch of antisemites over there at The New York Times, and they don't cover us fairly?

 

Anat Saragusti 27:16

First of all, The New York Times is also accused of being too supportive of Israel, and too Jewish, you know, in terms of American media. Reflecting back on the time I was in DC, and I was in DC for two periods of time, the first time I came to live in DC or in the DC area, was just before 9/11. And I remember watching the American media, especially television after 9/11. And it really resembles to me what's going on with the Israeli media, because they all rallied around the flag. And all, you know, major television broadcasters had this flag, you know, on the corner of the screen, and "United with Stand," and all the presenters had a pin with the American flag, and there were billboards all over the country with the slogan "United We Stand" with the American flag. So this pretty much is what's happening in Israel now, that they say "Together We Win." This is the slogan that everybody uses, and many of the media outlets are doing that. Now, in reference to your question, it really is very, very, very challenging to cover Israel, no matter whether you are from The New York Times that just got you know, a few Pulitzer awards just two weeks ago, or the Washington Post, or any other media outlet, because there is a tendency among Israeli politicians and people in office to intentionally make a mix between a legitimate criticism of the policy of Israel and antisemitism. Sometimes it's very convenient for them to color everything as antisemitism, because this is something that no one can oppose. This is an argument that you don't have an answer to, you can't say, Well, I'm not an antisemite, you know. This is like an argument that wins all the arguments. 

 

Naomi Paiss 29:40

Have you stopped beating your wife? When did you stop being antisemite? Yeah.

 

Anat Saragusti 29:44

Exactly, exactly. So I must say, from a journalistic point of view, the American media, and I think mainly the New York Times, provided the most important investigative journalism on the war with Gaza in the last few months, really. They were the first, for example, to depict the story where the Israeli army executed a kind of procedure that eventually killed a few hostages that were being held in a house in Kibbutz Be'eri, because they wanted to kill the Hamas militants. And they were negotiating with the people, and they knew that there were Jewish people, there were Israelis, inside the house, and regardless, they killed them. And there's some kind of a procedure that is "better kill them than then allow them to be taken hostage." And, really, The New York Times did an amazing investigative journalism piece on that, I really encourage you to look for it. It's called "The Day Hamas Came." And it showed some, you know - they managed to collect all the text messages and the videos taken by the GoPros of Hamas, and everything that was on that event. This was the first. The second is that I think The New York Times was the first to collect all the testimonies of the rape and sexual assault towards women, mainly at the Nova music festival. And this was before the Israeli media managed to collect and put out a comprehensive report about that. And many, many times we, in Israel, hear about things that our government is doing, or not doing, or deciding, through a foreign media, not through our own media. So I think, again, from a professional journalist's point of view, the American media is generally doing an excellent job of telling the story. I know it's not easy, because they are being hammered by all kinds of Jewish organizations and by the government. And I must say that Israeli media is also being hammered by the government - Netanyahu and his supporters call the mainstream TV channels "Al Jazeera." You know, the Israeli broadcast channels, the public channel and the commercial channels, they call them "Al Jazeera" to indicate that they're, you know, traitors, or whatever, serving the army or something like that. But this is not new - 

 

Naomi Paiss 32:51

This is so that everyone will watch Channel 14, which for those who don't know is sort of the Fox News of Israel, I guess, might be a good comparison.

 

Anat Saragusti 32:59

Yeah, yes. They distribute, you know, lies and all kinds of conspiracy theories. And by the way, they encourage people to go out and harass foreign journalists, especially Arabic speaking journalists. This happened a lot. The Union of Journalists in Israel, we monitor assaults against journalists and physical attacks on journalists, we have this kind of interactive map, in which you can see what's going on. And we follow up on that. And we see more than double the incidents of attacking journalists than in the previous year, in the last report that we issued in 2023. So I don't know, I think - I mean, I'm maybe an old school journalist, and I think journalism is about criticism. Journalism is about putting a question mark on everything. Journalism is about asking questions and, you know, not getting anything as told, you know, to check and recheck and, you know, crosscheck and everything, and really be the watchdog of the society. And this is the role of journalism, not to rally around the government and to encourage the government to continue the war and put more pressure on Gaza, which some of the journalists did, or to echo, you know, what the IDF spokesperson tells them as if it's their own investigative journalism. This is not investigative journalism.

 

Naomi Paiss 34:44

So in terms of how difficult things are covered, this is probably more important to us in the United States than it is in Israel. But there has been tremendous media coverage in the United States of the campus protests. And everything has been debated: the tactics, the messaging, the language - is it anti semitic, is it not anti semitic? Are these people, you know, absolutely right, are they absolutely wrong? Were the university presidents wrong in calling in the cops? Every aspect of this is being analyzed, and it has really shaken both our higher education institutions, and the opinion of a lot of Americans of our higher education institutions. I know that the campus unrest has attracted some attention from the media in Israel, how do you think that's been covered here?

 

Anat Saragusti 35:42

It has attracted a lot of attention in Israel, and it's difficult for me to say that, but the coverage was really very binary. So they didn't get into the complexity of the situation, they tended to color everything as "for us" or "against us," they had the tendency to align with those who say that the majority of the students were antisemites. And they didn't show the fact that some of the protesters were Israelis and Jews, they didn't put it in context that, you know, the whole thing is put in a context of, I don't know, more than half a century of occupation. And you cannot, you know, disconnect that from the current realities. So they colored everything is if it was antisemitic, and they tend to say that, you know, political players got hold of the students and that the students that were shouting pro-Palestinian slogans were, like, supporting the Hamas militants and the massacre on October 7, etc, etc, and they don't speak about the hostages. And I wrote a piece about it, I even saw some, you know, Israeli journalists for Israeli media outlets trying to go into the protests into the encampment like they are going behind enemy lines, you know, like they were so "brave" to do that, and bring you the voices from behind enemy lines and saying, Look, what's happening here, they're waving the Palestinian flag. Okay, so they're waving the Palestinian flag, so what? I mean, you know, they didn't show the nuances, and they didn't let some of the students enjoy the benefit of the doubt that they understood what they're doing, and they were well educated about the situation, the story of the occupation, etcetera, and the Palestinians. And they ridiculed them in terms of, you know, coming and asking them, when you shout from the river to the sea, which is the river, what is the sea? As if, you know, all Israeli students are well informed of everything that they, you know, have opinions on, you know? And this was misleading of the Israeli public. And now everybody talks about antisemitism among the youngsters in American Ivy League universities, and nobody talks about, for example, what happened in UCLA, when Israeli and Jewish protestors got into the campus and generated violence, you know, against the demonstrators that were pro- Palestinian. And nobody talks about that. And you know, I tried to figure out what happened there, and a good friend of mine sent me a sermon by a Jewish rabbi who told the whole story of what happened there. And it was really, you know, enlightening to see that the story is not as it was told by the Israeli media. So there is a lot of confusion and I think the media is misleading the audience and falling into all the traps that somebody put there, mainly Israelis and Jewish right wingers, or Republicans in the US put traps for them.

 

Naomi Paiss 40:03

Yeah, that's the conclusion that many of us have come to. There were evenings of watching the news about this in which you wanted to pull your hair out from both sides. That's when you say "a plague on both your houses, I'm gonna go watch reality television." Let me ask you one more big question, because we have some good questions in the Q&A that I want to get to. Social media. You and I remember when there was a time when you either got the news from the media or your neighbor, and that was pretty much it. Everyone in Israel is connected to social media. It is an incredibly online digitalized society. I know you could probably do a full two hours just on the role of social media since October 7th. What do you think has been the most important positive and negative influence of social media? Again, in terms of what Israelis know, in terms of what they think, in terms of what they've been exposed to, as a source of information, not just argument.

 

Anat Saragusti 41:16

Let's start by saying, and this is really, really important to remember, that this is the first war that was documented online in a livestream by the militants of Hamas, who entered, you know, the army bases, and the kibbutzim and Sderot. And this all went online on Instagram with no filters and no censorship and nothing, from GoPros. I mean, the militants have come as we're holding cameras, small cameras, on them, whether on their chest, or on their helmets, or on their head. And it was livestreaming what they did, and this was the first time and it was horrible. It was horrible. In the first few days, people were hooked into these telecom channels. And it was really shaking. I didn't watch it - 

 

Naomi Paiss 42:23

I didn't either.

 

Anat Saragusti 42:24

I couldn't absorb it, and I encouraged my son not to watch it, but you cannot control everybody, you know, and many, many people did watch it. And it was traumatizing. And, and that footage that we saw that I spoke about at the beginning of this webinar about these young women soldiers that were kidnapped by Hamas - this was part of these videos. It was shown online. I mean, we have to understand that suddenly, social media became a source of information, because it took time until, you know, the mainstream media or the institutional media or the more responsible media, were able to collect all the data and verify what was happening. But in the meantime, you know, Instagram was full of these images. So then to reverse the picture or to frame it in a different way, it was really, really challenging. So everybody now is glued to social media. We also have to know that WhatsApp is very, very powerful in Israel. Everybody's on WhatsApp, I know it's not the case in the US. Everybody's on WhatsApp. Each and every one of us is a member of many, many groups, and the groups share a lot of information. And some of this information is not verified and some of this information is  misinformation or fake news or whatever. And I always tell my friends when they, you know, forward something that they saw in another group, I say okay, what is this the source of this information? Don't forward anything that you don't know the source and you don't rely on the source. This is, you know, a tip or message that I would like to deliver to everybody. You know, before you forward information, just what the source is. The problem is that it takes time. The rhythm between the ability of the mainstream media to check and recheck and fact check everything, and the ability of, for example, the army to release information under censorship - for example, casualties among soldiers before they notify the families etc. - and the quick way that the social media works, there is a huge gap. So while they are checking the information, the social media is already heated with misinformation, conspiracy theories and fake news. So it really is very challenging to compete. And I must say that the competition of the mainstream media is not among themselves. The competition is between the mainstream media and social media. 

 

Naomi Paiss 45:31

A quick follow up on that, which is - people do tend to "ghettoize" themselves on social media. You end up following the people you agree with. And you try to follow people you disagree with, and then one day they annoy you and you stop following them. Given all that, and given the fact that people sort of self segregate their knowledge, is it possible, given all of the images and reports of the humanitarian disaster in Gaza - is it possible that most Israelis have never seen or don't know, or are ignorant of what is on the ground there, when there are so many firsthand reports coming out of Gaza that that are posted to X/Twitter, Instagram, et cetera, Facebook?

 

Anat Saragusti 46:23

Maybe they are? I think the majority of them, I mean, they don't want to see. Some of them, not only do they not want to see, they don't care what's happening there. Some of them, not only do they not see and not care, they think they deserve it, because they are Hamas supporters. So there are all these trends in the Israeli society. Not that I can blame them, again, I said it before, everybody's engaged in so much pain and despair. And it hit each and every one of us directly, you know, we are all involved in this, and it's a huge pain. And this is something so devastating that we've never experienced before, and I hope we'll never experience again in the future. So it's kind of, I wouldn't say, maybe acceptable, you know, the people don't want to see what's going on in Gaza. But they can, if they want, they can. They can log into, I don't know, CNN - even CNN, BBC, New York Times - maybe New York Times has a paywall. But others are open for everybody, and social media is full of it, if you want to see it, I follow some bloggers from Gaza on Instagram. So it's doable, if you're interested. And also, there is Haaretz, I'm reminding you, there is Haaretz that keeps telling everything in a very responsible way, there is +972 that keeps telling things in a very responsible way and does really important investigative journalism. And if you follow people who are responsible, and whom you find the things that they post on social media are verified, then you're covered, you know, you can do that. If you are, you know, a responsible person and not just following all these, you know, many, many irresponsible people, not to speak about trolls on social media, especially on Twitter and Instagram, I'm not talking about Tiktok, I'm not there. So yeah - 

 

Naomi Paiss 48:36

Me neither, we're not their demographic. Let me jump quickly, because there's two important questions that our audience had, and I'll give you both of them at once. And neither one of them is easy. How is the Israeli press covering Biden's public pressure on Israel to increase humanitarian aid, have a plan for protecting civilians in Rafah, and have a plan for what happens the day after? I know that Biden was very, very popular when he came here soon after October 7th. But now, he has been pushing the government more, according to some of us not enough, but according to some of us too much. Where do you think the Israeli media and opinion makers have been on what President Biden is doing? That's number one, and before I forget, here's number two, which is that those of us who have had our eyes on the occupation for, you know, two decades, know that this is not completely new, but the level of violence and intimidation in the West Bank has surged 100-fold since October 7th. Nobody knows, nobody cares, nobody's stopping it, the army is sometimes complicit. Those images are not nearly as widely circulated as those out of Gaza, but they're pretty awful nonetheless. Are those being shown on Israeli media? As well as, for example, the now infamous video of the folks who decided to destroy the aid trucks and danced happily when they kept the aid from getting to Gaza?

 

Anat Saragusti 50:15

So in terms of Biden, I think the Israeli media in general is more responsible. And they do try to hold the government accountable, especially on the very generous deal that is drafted with Saudi Arabia. And for those of you who don't know, there is a deal that Biden really pushes hard to get before the elections, with Saudi Arabia, in which the US will give an umbrella of security coverage to Saudi Arabia, and the civil nuclear site, and Israel can be part of this deal if Israel agrees to announce - the Prime Minister of Israel, of course, Prime Minister Netanyahu - if he will agree to announce that sometime in the future, he doesn't even have to oblige to a certain date, Israel will lead towards a two-state solution. Something very, very general, like a normative announcement. And Netanyahu refuses to do that, although this was one of his goals when he stepped into office last time, and the journalists are really criticizing him for that and don't understand why he doesn't agree, because this means the end of the war, that Netanyahu doesn't want to end the war. And the fact that Biden tried to push him towards ending the war, releasing the hostages and having the deal with Saudi Arabia, I mean, this is the package. You cannot take one component of it, you have to have the whole package. So now this is on the table. So it's challenging, and they do ask him questions, but he doesn't give interviews to the Israeli media, so they cannot directly ask him about it. 

 

Naomi Paiss 52:19

I know, he sits down with Jake Tapper, but he won't sit down with Barak Ravid, it's very strange.

 

Anat Saragusti 52:24

For months and months, even before the war, he didn't give interviews to Israeli media. In terms of the occupation, this is, I think, the main, main, main neglect of the Israeli media. The Israeli media hasn't told the story of the occupation for years. I was a correspondent to Gaza for Channel 12 for several years. And I used to bring a story daily to the evening news edition, daily. This doesn't exist anymore, for many, many years. Israeli media doesn't cover what's going on in the occupied territories, unless there is something very exceptional, like, you know, when they burned, you know, tens of cars in Huwara and houses in Huwara some months ago, before October 7. Otherwise, nobody cares what's going on, and the police don't take care of them, the police don't arrest them, they're not held accountable. They're not put on trial, they're not arrested, nothing, nothing, nothing happens to them. And this leads directly, or is linked directly, to the arrest warrant that are threatening Netanyahu and Defense Minister Gallant in the International Criminal Court now. So this is part of the same story. Israel is not executing any legal measures against, or law enforcement measures, against these, you know, those youngsters from the settlements that are, you know, doing really violent things. And even in this - you talk about the convoys of food and aid to Gaza. What is amazing is not only that they stop trucks on the way, and convoys in the West Bank, and they, you know, pull the driver out of the car and, you know, hit him very hard. They enter a military zone, which is a closed military zone, where the all the convoys are coming into, and they take revenge on the food, you know, and the throw the food and destroy tons of rice and sugar and flour that was meant to go to Gaza as a humanitarian aid, and no one stopped them. I mean, the policemen were there, the soldiers were there, not only did they let them into this closed military zone, they don't arrest them, they don't stop them, they do nothing. I mean, this is insane. It really is so outrageous, and it is depicted in the mainstream media. Of course, it's highly circulated on social media. We saw these films, it's heartbreaking, you know, the waste of food, and the joyful and festive way that they jump and dance on the remains of flour that were supposed to go to, you know, hungry children in Gaza. I mean, it's horrible.

 

Naomi Paiss 55:56

We could keep you here, probably another hour, we didn't even get to Norway and Spain and Ireland, and, you know, probably ten more topics. Is there anything hopeful or optimistic you want to tell us before we sign off? We only have a minute or two left. You have been an incredibly perspicacious and interesting guest for us, and we're really grateful to you.

 

Anat Saragusti 56:22

Thank you, Naomi. Thank you for having me and first of all, don't lose hope. I think we really have a window of opportunity here, because the need to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is on the top of the agenda of the entire world, especially, you know, the liberal democratic countries. So don't lose hope and help us, you know, the peace camp, or whatever is left of the peace camp in Israel, with your solidarity and support, we have to solve it. I mean, this is really the time to solve it before the messianic will take over and control the state of Israel. This is the last moment that we can save, you know, liberal Israel, and so it's really a window of opportunity.

 

Naomi Paiss 57:21

That's a timely warning. Anat Saragusti, thank you so much for being with us. The recording of this interview, of this hour, is going to be available on our website in a couple of days. We urge people to send it to everyone you know, to post it to social media, we think it's really important that people hear Anat's voice. Thank you again Anat, lila tov, toda raba. 

 

Anat Saragusti 57:49

Thank you. 

 

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