The tweet above, by the distinguished writer Sarah Schulman, went viral recently. Anyone who follows Israel/Palestine even reasonably closely may be just as surprised as Schulman was that a college student was stunned at seeing Gaza called “an open-air prison.” You don’t have to even agree with the characterization to at least recognize that it is used all the time among people who pay attention, and should not have come as a shock. 

But let’s examine this more closely. Most people in America do not consult the alternative media for their news about Israel/Palestine. Even the more progressive among them rely on the New York Times and other mainstream newspapers; the major cable networks, including the purportedly liberal MSNBC; or centrist publications like the Atlantic

This tweet helps to illuminate an important truth: before October 7, the mainstream media mostly ignored Israel/Palestine. Every few years, there were reports during the regular Palestinian uprisings, but most of the time the mainstream was dark.


Let’s start with one big example: Rachel Maddow, the supposedly progressive icon who anchored MSNBC’s flagship 9 p.m. program for years. In May 2021, this site’s Michael Arria posted a thorough look at her coverage of Israel/Palestine. Here’s his headline:

“Rachel Maddow has mentioned Gaza on her show just 6 times over the past decade.”

Back in 2014, Arria had published an earlier analysis, also on this site, which explained how Rachel Maddow was “ignoring Operation Protective Edge, in which Israel pummeled Gaza for seven weeks and killed over 2,000 people.” 

Let’s go back to that student at Sarah Schulman’s college. They could have religiously watched Maddow’s program for years, and never heard anyone call Gaza “an open-air prison.” Can we entirely blame them for being surprised?

There is more. Pro-Israel students and others say they are stunned and offended at those who call Israel “an apartheid system.” Anyone who follows alternative news sources may assume they are just pretending to be shocked.

Not necessarily. In recent years, one human rights organization after another released detailed reports that said that Israel’s system of occupation and discrimination against Palestinians amounts to “apartheid.” The report from B’Tselem, the respected Israeli group, appeared in January 2021; Human Rights Watch was next, in April 2021; and Amnesty International released its finding in February 2022. This site repeatedly documented how the New York Times almost completely buried the news about these apartheid findings. (The paper’s whitewash was particularly telling in the case of Human Rights Watch, because it continues to cite the organization often about other countries; just 3 days ago the Times quotedan HRW official about Saudi Arabia.) 

So even a politically aware American might well be surprised to hear the word “apartheid” applied to Israel. Two New York Times reporters on November 9 apparently were disconcerted; they ridiculed the “apartheid” designation as “the hothouse jargon of academia” instead of telling the truth, which is that it was the conclusion of a 213-page Human Rights Watch report. 

Let’s take a quick look at that disputed slogan: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Anyone who follows alternative media will know that:

    1) Facts on the ground have almost certainly made a two-state solution impossible.

    2) Which means that a one-state solution, although nowhere near happening, is the only long-term answer. 

    3) The alternative is an endless system of apartheid, in which half the population “between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea” are deprived of political rights and remain second-class citizens forever.

This site’s readers understand all this. But if Rachel Maddow et al. were at the heart of your news consumption, you might be shocked and frightened by this slogan.

Let’s end on a mildly optimistic note. MSNBC, to its credit, has also relied on reports by two outstanding reporters, Ali Velshi and Ayman Mohyeldin. You sense that they are walking a tightrope, but they are able to at least partly present alternate and more accurate views. Another valuable journalist, Mehdi Hasan, even has his own show on the network, and Joy Reid uses part of her 7 p.m. nightly program to give balanced reports. 

AIPAC, the Israel lobby’s flagship, is already threatening to spend $100 million in Democratic primaries next year to to oust the progressive squad members in the House of Representatives. You can bet that AIPAC, and its allies, are also taking aim at Velshi, Mohyeldin and Hasan. 

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