By: Michael May
An astounding event occurred Wednesday, one that proves how much has changed regarding American perception of Israel.
During a television interview focused on the ever-contentious Israeli-Palestinian issue, a member of the show’s audience was ejected from the studio after interrupting the session multiple times by screaming personal objections to comments given by the show’s guests.
The audience member shouted “Liar!” after featured guest and prominent Palestinian democracy activist Mustafa Barghouti’s explanation of why Palestinians and Jews make excellent partners in working for equal rights:
- “We (Palestinians) are struggling for justice. It is Palestinians who have been subjected to the longest occupation in modern history, and a system of segregation that is totally unjust…So I think it’s just natural to have such an alliance of people who believe in the same values.”
The interview and its outbursts were noteworthy not because such incidents haven’t happened before. Rather, the significance of these events stems from what the guests were saying, where they were saying it, and the reaction of the audience.
Barghouti appeared Wednesday along with Jewish-American human rights activist Anna Baltzer on The Daily Show with John Stewart, a popular American comedy news show. The pair appeared on the show to promote Baltzer’s book ‘Witness in Palestine,’ which documents her time living with Palestinians under Israeli occupation in the West Bank.
The Daily Show is a satirical news program that features commentary on current events and interviews with politicians, authors, and celebrities. Noted for its comedic exposure of political hypocrisy and stories often not covered by major news programs, The Daily Show is one of the most popular news shows on air. In fact, a large percentage of young Americans view the show as replacing traditional news outlets, and a recent nationwide poll found its host John Stewart as America’s most trusted newsman.
Bargouti and Baltzer, speaking to a nationwide audience of an influential news program, expressed viewpoints almost never heard on mainstream American news outlets. Both guests offered articulate commentary on the realities of the Israeli occupation. Remarkably, their discussion was extremely well received by the audience, who repeatedly applauded such logical commentary as Barghouti’s
- “Palestinians, like everybody else are entitled to the same freedoms that the Jewish people should have, and that’s what we’re calling for: equal rights.”
The overwhelming positive reaction from the audience can be credited to Barghouti as well as Baltzer, a grandchild of Holocaust survivors. The two framed their comments in a non-confrontational way, emphasizing the damage that the occupation is doing to Israeli and Palestinian long term security goals:
- “The Israelis will never be free unless the Palestinians are also free…” “So much of the institutions that I understood to be defensive cannot be justified by security anymore.”
Wednesday’s Daily Show appearance by Mustafa Barghouti and Anna Baltzer shows that by speaking to an educated and youthful audience in the correct way, the movement for Palestinian freedom and equal rights can be well-received. With the painstaking work of dedicated and articulate activists, the status quo regarding Israel’s occupation of Palestine is changing. As Middle East commentator Phillip Weiss notes, “If The Daily Show’s audience is any indication, the next generation will be leading this fight in a much different direction.”