MSNBC Guests Deny 'Deep' Anti-Semitism in Middle East; Claim Only 'White Conservatives' Back Israel

On MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry program on Saturday, Dean Obeidallah injected race into the debate inside the U.S. over the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict: "You saw a poll last week, young people 18 to 29: only 25 percent think it's justified what Israel is doing; 50 percent said, no. People of color, same numbers...It's really the Obama coalition versus white conservatives. That's the only group saying – the majority saying what Israel is doing is justified."

During the same panel discussion, American University's Hillary Mann Leverett made a very peculiar assertion about anti-Jewish sentiment in the Middle East – that from a historical perspective, European anti-Semitism was supposedly much worse than Islamic anti-Semitism: [MP3 audio available here; video below the jump]

HILLARY MANN LEVERETT, SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL SERVICE, AMERICAN U.: Well, you know, if you look at Jewish communities in other places around the Middle East, there certainly was, after the creation of the State of Israel – and especially after the '67 war – an emigration of Jews from many of these Arab countries to Israel. But there still are Jewish communities. So, for example, there's a thriving Jewish community in Iran. And when I've talked about that, people say, oh, that's so terrible. How can you say that? Of course, they're suffering. Well no, I've actually been there. I've been to the kosher restaurants. I've been to the Jewish hospital in Iran.

There is not this deep-seated Arab/Jewish or – you know, Muslim/Jewish animosity. There's not an anti-Semitism in the Middle East the way that there was in Europe, which is based on race; which is based on color; which is based on genes and biology. That doesn't exist in the Middle East. There's no history of that in the Middle East.

Of course, Leverett brushes aside all the verses condemning the Jews in the Koran, and the various persecutions of the Jews throughout Islamic history (there were, of course, also periods of tolerance). She also omits the attacks on Jewish settlements in the British Mandate of Palestine prior to the founding of Israel during the early to mid 20th century.

Host Melissa Harris-Perry responded to her guest's contention by emphasizing that "as horrible as it is, I somehow feel somewhat more optimistic, if this is a problem rooted in 1967, and not in the beginning of time in some way."

Earlier, Leverett objected to Obeidallah's "white conservatives" spin, but only to take a shot at the Bush administration, a previous employer of hers:


DEAN OBEIDALLAH, THE DAILY BEAST: ...One thing to think about with photography: it's no longer mainstream media. Like, you showed images from the New York Times. It's not that. It's social media. 2009 was the last time there was a big conflict between Gaza and the Israel military. At that time, there were about 50 million people on Twitter. Now, there's 250 million people. On Facebook, about 150 million people then; now, 1.5 billion people. Same thing for – Instagram didn't exist; now, 150 million people.

I interviewed young kids in Gaza and Palestinians via e-mail. They've all become self-appointed war correspondents. They are taking pictures and posting it. We see it immediately, and it is moving people. Will it affect public – public policy is the question. You saw a poll last week, young people 18 to 29: only 25 percent think it's justified what Israel; 50 percent said, no. People of color, same numbers – 50  percent say it's no. It's really the Obama coalition versus white conservatives. That's the only group saying – the majority saying what Israel is doing is justified. And I think the imagery from social media has changed it. It's unfiltered. It's no longer mainstream media telling the story. We're seeing it, and we're making decisions on our own about what we see. And that's why it's moving celebrities, too.

HARRIS-PERRY: And yet-

HILLARY MANN LEVERETT, SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL SERVICE, AMERICAN U.: I would disagree, with all due respect to Dean-
                   
OBEIDALLAH: What? (laughs)

LEVERETT: That it's between a white conservative camp and an Obama camp-

OBEIDALLAH: I just look at poll numbers. I'm talking about the poll numbers-

LEVERETT: Yeah. But I think that – what Obama – President Obama is doing – you've seen this – and I saw this with President Bush and President Clinton in those White Houses in which I served – the critical thing is the narrative, and to get out a narrative quickly and decisively within which people can view these pictures. So when I was in the Bush White House after 9/11, the most important thing was not to galvanize the country in sorrow around the pictures here in New York, but was to make sure that the pictures we would see out of Afghanistan were sanitized. So that when we bombed the hospital in Kandahar, we said, without any evidence on the ground, that the Taliban were using those people in the hospital in Kandahar as human shields – something we could not have known, but it was critically important to get the narrative out.

[H/t for the Leverett remarks: The Right Scoop blog.]

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center