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Palestinian U.N. Statehood: Global Media and Diasporas

by on September 20, 2011

Right away my disclaimers are first that I am neutral  on the Palestinian-Israel conflict, I’m not emotionally invested in either side.  Second, I am not an expert in the history of the Middle East and the formation of the state of Israel, so for purposes of this blog I’m writing about Palestine/Israel purely in the context of the idea of and self-concept of nations, diasporas, and media.   I have nothing particular insightful to say, but I do think it’s a current world event from which to observe how media shapes opinion, and also how Diaspora’s view themselves.

In considering the media, one cannot escape the role that media has on perceptions vis-à-vis this conflict.  In Silvio Waisbords Media and the Reinvention of the nation it is said that the media nurtures national sentiment in several ways such as availing cultural forms identified with nations, providing shared experiences, and institutionalizing national culture.  I’d suggest this nurturing is not just for how one views their nation but also that media can play a role in nurturing perceptions of other nations (peoples).  As I argued previously, this can have a compounding effect due to the likelihood that people increasingly consume media in a way that reinforces existing viewpoints.*

For example, how would American attitudes towards Palestinians be affected by  the shared experience of terrorism (9/11 was a shared media event in a sense) or by the American media’s notorious tendency to sensationalize?  How often are Americans seeing coverage like the BBC clip below on prominent US media outlets?

Imagine someone in Europe is regularly exposed to many accounts such as the one in the above video, and lets assume they’re in a society that has underlying anti-semitic tensions (assume this is a hypothetical example if you’d like). Probably then, the  generic European here would have a different attitude towards Palestinians than the American would.  This is the backdrop through which Palestine’s current application to the UN for statehood is received by the global audience.

For Palestinians themselves, as a community in which half of the Palestinians in the world live outside of their ‘designated territories’ there is the issue of self-identity.  Waisboard touches on the idea of the imagined community. The ‘imagined community’ popularized by Benedict Arnorld, Professor of International Studies at Cornell and known “guru” on nationalism/nations, is different from real community as it isn’t and can’t be based on everyday interaction, but is just a mental image.  The notion of a nation existing in headspace is now not uncommon.  Karim Karim in a contribution to the International Communications Reader, says  “nations are willed into existence by belief and action. They’re imaginary”.   Specifically on the Palestine issue, Robert Fisk in The Independent  (warning: unlike myself, Fisk is clearly not neutral on this issue) applies this idea in saying, “States – not humans – give other states the right to exist. For individuals to do so, they have to see a map. For where exactly, geographically, is Israel?”

This raises issues such as the how satisfactory a “social-legal” framework is in sorting out the nation-state-community mess, for example what if many different parties claim ownership of a similar statehood? Also while a diaspora shares identification with a nation, they’re not homogenous in interests and characteristics amongst themselves or with those still resident in the ‘designated territory’.   Michael Weiss in The Telegraph  captures the of this complicated nature of this situation very well, and I’ll let quote him at length to conclude:

Yet the PLO, which effectively controls Palestine’s foreign policy, will become obsolete after September because how do you represent a nationless people who suddenly find themselves in possession of a nation?

Here’s the second hiccup: the PLO doesn’t just represent Gazans and West Bankers and East Jerusalemites but the entire Palestinian diaspora, from Algeria to Jordan. If it is abolished or rendered obsolete, then that diaspora stands to become disenfranchised. Have Arab League countries pushing the statehood bid and hosting on their soil scores of refugees – in some cases, the great-grandchildren of expelled or fugitive inhabitants of Israel from the 1948 and 1967 wars – properly understood that this deal may legally nullify the Right of Return?

*Last year, a HUGE animated debate in the US political blogosphere erupted on the issue of confirmation bias, dubbed, “epistemic closure”. It all started here, but I highly recommend you google the phrase as pretty much every prominent political blogger across the political spectrum had something to say on this.

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3 Comments
  1. Dan G. permalink

    I think the situation you brought up with Palestinian statehood indicates how difficult it is to determine what a “nation” is these days, and shows that maybe it’s a term that should be thrown out all together. It seems like once you get enough people together and call yourself a nation you can become one. And why shouldn’t you be able to? Is recognition by the UN Security Council the litmus test of whether or not you get to be a nation? Palestine has diplomatic embassies in over 100 countries. So, despite it’s lack of a sovereign territory, many people consider it a nation.

    The Rainbow Family is made up of thousands of hippies, many of whom live in national parks. They sometimes calls themselves the “Rainbow Nation.” Who’s to say that they shouldn’t be able to call themselves a nation too?

    I think the term has lost any meaning it once had.

    One more thing. I’m interested in hearing how you can be neutral in the Palestine-Israel conflict. I find that there’s hardly anything I’m neutral on, even if it’s choosing between two kinds of sandwich bread. So I’m sure that in such an emotional conflict you must be throwing your lot behind one side or the other. In journalism “neutrality” gets put on a pedestal, but I would argue that you can be balanced and fair to your sources while still having an opinion one way or the other.

  2. William Nyikuli permalink

    Hey thanks for commenting.

    I left a comment on another blog about the national thing, and the term losing the meaning it once had so we’re in agreement there. For me I don’t get into flags, country pride, etc and all of that stuff. Perhaps its because country of birth/blood, upbringing and longest residence are all different. On the other hand I may certainly have an affinity for people or places. For example, I’m in love with Rome. I have a sense of belonging with Liverpool FC and it’s fans. etc. Don’t know if I’m making sense here.

    On the neutrality thing it’s just that while human suffering is bad, I’m not emotionally interested in the plight of one group over the other in this particular conflict. As surprised as you appear to be in my neutrality, is as surprised that I am that you’d find it hard for that to be possible. I can explain myself further here–feel free to prod more if this isn’t satisfactory. Anyway, AU is known as a very political school right? You’d just love to know the sort of stuff I’m neutral on, but that’d be veering way off-topic!! (and by “neutral” I don’t mean “moderate” like certain senators that arbitrarily take the middle position of each and everything as as being discussed which means their ‘moderate’ position is constantly shifting–that’d make a great rant). All this said, there’s certainly quite a few things that I’m decidedly NOT neutral on.

  3. Dan and William,

    I agree with the two of you that “nationalism” has lost it’s meaning in a certain sense, especially among the global public sphere. However, on a political level, nationalism is more than just belief and action to will the country into existence; it’s about how well the nation markets itself on the world stage.

    My blog entry is about just that in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, using Waisboard’s definition of a nation and how it is “willed into existence through belief and action” and following Karim, “maintained and transformed” through the media’s ability to mobilize masses to believe in it’s legitimacy. I talked about how both Palestine and Israel have similar “will forces” to believe in their state-hood, but that the determining factor of their global legitimacy status is actually their use of communication media to give authenticity to the symbols,history, religion and cultural practices that make up their institutions.

    For example, Israel has appealed greatly to it’s Diaspora population in the US by creating birth right trips to American Jews so they can visit, first-hand, these “historical reservoirs” (as Waisboard calls it) and actively participate in the religion, history and culture of the Jewish State. These trips were created with the intention of reinforcing Israel’s legitimacy in the eyes of the West and strengthening voices of their Diaspora population abroad, claiming authenticity on their behalf.

    Moreover, Israel’s communication media strategy in the battle for global legitimacy has even extended to mainstream American media outlets. Israel Lobby broadcasts it’s perspective in the US, to the extent that it heavily influences American politics. For example, the single biggest donor to American politicians is Israeli billionaire and media mogul Haim Saban. In January 2007 it was revealed that he had donated approximately $13 million to various US political candidates. With strategic communication networking to appeal for global legitimacy, free birth right trips for the Jewish Diaspora population to reinforce nationalism abroad and the financial incentive to reward American legislators and congressional candidates who support its agenda, I think it’s safe to say Israel’s nation building power has superseded that of Palestine’s.

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