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Cornel West: US media is complicit in the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

American philosopher tells Middle East Eye that Israel acts with impunity because it still has support from the media, academia and US lawmakers
By in
New York City

US media should consider themselves complicit in the killing of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, Cornel West has said.

In a scathing rebuke of the distorted media coverage of Abu Akleh's murder, West told Middle East Eye that it was the complicity of the larger American establishment, including academia, media and elected officials which allowed Israel to behave with the belief that it could get away with just about anything.

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"The propaganda machine that comes out of Israel when it comes to the precious humanity of Palestinians is just sad. But it has so much to do with mass complicity. It has to do with The New York Times and The Washington Post, and CNN and MSNBC, and others, not wanting to be truthful about themselves," said West, who is considered one of America's foremost public intellectuals.

"The Israeli government has such an assumption of impunity. It can do anything and get away with it and have the complicity of the media in the United States and in the West. The complicity of American politicians, the complicity of too many American intellectuals, the complicity of American elected officials."

"It is as much the cowardly complicity that we axe at as well as the mendacity and the criminality of the Israeli occupation," West added.

Parroting Israeli PR

West's comments come as the call for justice and accountability for the murder of Abu Akleh appear to be headed into a cul-de-sac.

Though several US lawmakers have urged the FBI to conduct an investigation into the incident, authorities have shown little interest in doing so.

Israel has already indicated that it will not be pursuing the matter.

On Wednesday, two weeks after Abu Akleh was killed, CNN released a report in which it concluded that the journalist's death had come from a targeted attack by Israeli troops in Jenin.

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Whereas several Palestinian journalists said at the time of the shooting that the veteran Al Jazeera journalist had been shot by Israeli forces, outlets like the New York Times, the Associated Press, The Guardian and the BBC parroted disinformation released by the Israeli government that deflected responsibility away from the Israeli military.

According to a tally by Middle East Eye, 61 Palestinians, including four Palestinian citizens of Israel, have been killed in 2022 alone.

Since 2018, at least 144 Palestinian journalists have been wounded by Israeli forces in the occupied territories. Three journalists, including Abu Akleh, were killed within the same period

"When it comes to issues of Palestinian dignity [and] rights, we get layers of lies that hide crimes. We get layers of mendacity that hide criminality," West said.

West said the public still had certain expectations from mainstream outlets like MSNBC or CNN who claim to be progressive and objective.

"You can see how that is a myth. You can see how that shattered when it comes to dealing with Palestinian plight and their predicament in the Middle East."  

"And when there is a claim of concern, it is posing, it's posturing, it's acting as if it's concerned," the New York-based philosopher and academic said.

West also added to the chorus of condemnation of the double standards of the American establishment when it came to the negative portrayal of Palestinian resistance in comparison to its valorisation of Ukrainian defiance in the face of the ongoing Russian invasion.

Whereas several US states have criminalised Palestinian calls to exert boycotts and sanctions on Israel, the US is at the forefront of efforts to isolate Russia. And whereas tech giants continue to support efforts to sanction Russia, Palestinians are suspended or censored for speaking out on social media against Israeli atrocities.

"We have been sitting and watching, day after day, about the heroism of the Ukrainian in the face of a very ugly Russian imperial invasion and occupation. But yet when it comes to Palestinian heroic resistance to vicious Israeli occupation and domination, it is the exact opposite," West said.

The old guard in the US seems to be suffering from inertia in its approach to Israel-Palestine despite a significant shift in young Americans' attitudes," he added.

"So you can see the depth and the scope and the breath of the lies that hide the crimes and the mendacity that hides the criminality behind the Israeli occupation. Its a sign of desperation when you have to reach the point that you can actually murder and execute a highly prominent, highly respected, highly acclaimed Palestinian journalist and get away with it.

"The impunity has been on steroids for a long time in terms of the Israeli government feeling as if it can say anything, get away with it, and do anything and get away with it. But thats precisely how unnacountable elites behave." 

West said that the Israelis were demonstrating a level of callousness and indifference to the suffering of Palestinians, an act he described as "criminal in itself".

American media has been periodically criticised for their poor coverage of the Middle East, be it the Israeli occupation or the wars in Yemen or Syria.

In a key note address in 2018, American academic Marc Lamont Hill described coverage as fundamentally racist. "The Middle East continues to be constructed in ways that define it as the moral, ethical, intellectual opposite of the West," Hill, professor of media studies at Philadelphia's Temple University, said.

In 2021, West attributed Harvard's decision to deny him tenure at the university over his pro-Palestine activism, a charge the university has denied. 

"The problem is that [talking about the Israeli occupation of Palestine] is a taboo issue among certain circles in high places. It is hard to have a robust, respectful conversation about the Israeli occupation because you are immediately viewed as an anti-Jewish hater or [having] anti-Jewish prejudices," West said at the time.