A Lesson in Slanting on Israel & the Palestinians

Matthew Yglesias posted the briefest of responses to the just released Pew poll on various international and Mideast matters, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a pearl of a primer in slanted language and presentation – all in two sentences. I commented on it at Yglesisas’s blog. I told him he packed as much slanting into two sentences as a Soviet-era joke. (The joke? In a two car race between a Soviet car and a U.S. car the Soviet car finished second. The U.S. car came in next to last.)

Along with an intervening graph, Yglesias posted these two sentences:

New Pew data confirms that the Israel lobby’s strength in Congress is built on the solid foundation of widespread American lack of sympathy for the Palestinian cause:

I note again that the actual trend here runs counter to the popular media narrative, which I think overweighs the opinion of very politically engaged progressive Jewish writers rather than the broad swathe of Americans.

The Pew summary language characterizes the results comparatively.

Nearly half of Americans (48%) say they sympathize more with Israel in its dispute with the Palestinians while just 11% sympathize more with the Palestinians; 15% volunteer that they sympathize with neither side.

Converting comparative results into absolute language entails the use of perspective, which is not to say that the perspective is merely relative or without truth value. In the joke above the phony Soviet reporting is not inaccurate. It is a matter of the perspective one both takes and offers to others. One has to be assertively biased or astonishingly blind to one’s own inclinations to rephrase Pew’s comparative language in an opening sentence that spins the findings negatively toward the Palestinians. Yglesias’s language: “lack of sympathy for the Palestinian cause.”

Why does this matter? Because like the next-to-last-place finish that was also, in fact, first, or the half-empty glass that is also half full, it avoids stating the positive: Americans sympathize with Israel.

Then, of course, the Pew summary says nothing at all about the Israel “lobby.” The polling attempted to measure respondents comparative sympathy for Israel against that of their sympathy for Palestinians. It does not reference the influence or success of an Israel “lobby” anymore than it does Palestinian “propaganda.” It does not “confirm” anything about the strength of the pro-Israel organizations. Why does it not, rather, much more simply suggest the responsiveness of American legislators to the attitudes of their constituents?

Imagine the applicable part of Yglesias’s sentence rewritten minus just the reference to “lobby.”

New Pew data confirms that Israel’s strength in Congress is built on the solid foundation of widespread American lack of sympathy for the Palestinian cause.

That is what one might most directly conclude from the poll, though further polling might probe the relation. From where did Yglesias get confirmation of lobbyist influence? Not from the poll.

Why, further, does the poll not suggest, rather than the implied undue influence of a lobby, the natural alignment between Americans and Israelis because of like political and moral cultures, and the lack of same between Americans and the Arab world in general? Imagine the sentence further adjusted for absolute and positive reference to Israel rather absolute negative reference to the Palestinians.

New Pew data confirms that Israel’s strength in Congress is built on the solid foundation of widespread American sympathy for Israel

Like the language of the joke, same facts, all accurate – very different perspective. Perspectives and their presentation can be honest, and they may not be. That is just one sentence.

Then there is the second sentence in which the phrase “popular media narrative” (measured in popularity by whom?) is introduced in reference to growing critical views of Israel. Note the use of “media” here, like “lobby” above, to suggest a professionalized force shaping reality (the “narrative”) rather than the presence of an actual aspect of reality. Yglesias here opines that the views of “very politically engaged progressive Jewish writers” are given excess weight compared to ordinary Americans in developing this narrative of increasingly anti-Israel (and, indeed, anti-Semitic) trends – a narrative we are now to understand from the poll, according to Yglesias, as false. However, these claims, shall we say (rather than “narrative”) of increasing anti-Israeli attitudes are, first, not made exclusively about Americans – in fact, mostly not. Second, about Americans, what does the poll also show?

At the other end of the ideological spectrum, just 32% of liberal Democrats sympathize more with Israel while 21% sympathize more with the Palestinians.

That is the lowest level of support, along with the religiously “unaffiliated.” So maybe the “narrative” is not a narrative, but a supportable claim?

Finally, with the attribution of the narrative to “very politically engaged progressive Jewish writers” – among whom we would have to number Yglesias (and me, I modestly add) – who gets the blame for creating this now supposedly (but based upon the poll, we now see, clearly not) false narrative? Not the U.N. Human Rights Council, not the BDS movement and the flotilla fools, not the purveyors of occupation, apartheid, Gaza concentration camp, colonial settler vs. indigenous peoples historical newspeak and liberation movement propaganda.

It’s the Jews!

That is an astonishing amount of slanted convolution for a mere two sentences. And quite a lot of intellectual damage.


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