Recycling Israeli propaganda tactics to defend Saudi Arabia

Recycling Israeli propaganda tactics to defend Saudi Arabia
Comment: As principal allies of the West, Israel and Saudi Arabia should be held to the highest moral standards, writes Muhammad Shehada.
6 min read
12 Nov, 2018
It is increasingly clear that Saudi Arabia will face few repercussions for Khashoggi's murder [Getty]
In the weeks after Jamal Khashoggi's murder, retired British army officer Richard Kemp took to Twitter to conjure up a morally vague question in defence of Saudi Arabia: 

"What is the difference between the killing of Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi regime & the killing of Dr Farshid Hakki by the Iranian regime a few days later? Western media have gone crazy over Khashoggi but silent on Hakki. Could it be that Saudi is ally of US while Iran is enemy?"

This morally perplexing question was unsurprising, since Kemp, an infamous and vulgar propagandist, is used to being propped up by Israel to defend its systematic attacks against civilians in Palestine, and his favourite card to play is "what about Iran?".

More unexpected, however, was a statement by Erick Stakelbeck, director of the US pro-Israel lobbying group, Christians United for Israel.

Only a few days before Khashoggi's murder, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hosted a delegation of notorious pro-Israel evangelists, just as Stakelbeck raised the "whataboutism" argument - traditionally used to delegitimise criticism of Israel - stating that, "the same Germany halting arms sales to Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi turns a blind eye to Iran's egregious human rights violations".

Eventually, this textbook propaganda defence of Saudi Arabia's crime of the century found its way to Israel's very centre. Michelle Makori, anchor and editor-in-chief of Israel's i24NEWSconjured up the "what about hundreds of journalists jailed in Turkey", in order to minimise Saudi Arabia's actions.

Most notably, Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu has come out in defence of Saudi Arabia's indefensible crime, by shifting focus towards Iran's "more important threat". The same Netanyahu similarly said a few days later that "the [Israeli] occupation is nonsense, there are plenty of big countries that occupied and replaced populations and no one talks about them".
Saudi Arabia and Israel are consistently put above the law and shielded from criticism
The motivations for recycling such propaganda are clear, but some might still ask if Saudi Arabia and/or Israel are being singled out for harassment?

When Israel is misleadingly framed as the only country with democratic values in the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia's name is paired with the "pro-western" epithet, and given that both countries are publicised as beacons of enlightenment and leading forces in countering terrorism, then the answer might first appear to be "yes" - both countries are discriminated against.
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However, looking at the question in greater detail would yield an entirely different answer; that Saudi Arabia and Israel are consistently put above the law and shielded from criticism, in comparison with other states accused of human rights violations.

As put by Iran's ambassador to the UK, the only double standards here are those applied in protection and assistance of Saudi Arabia.

While Israel and Saudi Arabia have never been internationally sanctioned, the countries conjured up in Israel's "whataboutism"; Iran, Turkey, North Korea, to name but a few, already face international sanctions.  

And while criticism of Turkey and Iran has become almost routine in the US and Europe, western leaders are traditionally reluctant to ever criticise Israel or Saudi Arabia, and those who rarely dare to, such as Canada or Sweden, face an immediate backlash and harsh consequences that deter others from following their lead.

But the circumstances of Khashoggi's killing are exceptional, and the intensive media pressure led by Khashoggi's colleagues at The Washington Post has stained the western regimes who empowered Saudi Arabia's MBS in the first place. Having clothed the crown prince in a western suit as a "reformist", or as "our man" - as Trump put it - has put a huge responsibility on those western governments to clean up their own mess.

Similarly, in Israel's case, the West, and most notably the US, have been by far the main enablers of Israel's policies and systematic oppression of Palestinians. One example out of many is the largest number of US vetoes at the UN Security Council, cast to shield Israel from accountability.
Washington has a responsibility to stop empowering and enabling the Israel/Saudi oppression
Clearly, then, the answer to the question of whether the public's "obsession" with Israel or Saudi Arabia is hypocritical in light of other countries' human rights violations, is a resounding "no".

Firstly, the public in the US, for instance, has every right to fume over Israel and Saudi Arabia, if we take into account that Israel has received more American taxpayer aid than any other country on earth since the Second World War - a figure that now exceeds $100 billion. In Saudi Arabia's case, last year Trump signed off on $460 billion of arms sales to the tyrannical regime.

No Iranian, Turkish or Syrian politician was ever even close to being celebrated in Congress as an extraordinary leader and hero the way Netanyahu was. Nor have Iranian, Turkish or Syrian leaders ever seen anything like the conveyor-belt of celebrities, politicians, businessmen and CEOs that was rolled out for MBS' visit to the US.

As a result, the American public's attempt to clear themselves of the guilt over their country's blind support for its "closest allies" is profoundly moral, especially given that Israel's most violent and illegal settler communities are heavily supported by private American tax-deductible donations, including millions raised by the current US ambassador to Israel.

In addition, US-manufactured jet fighters, bombs and ammunition are those most heavily used by Israel and Saudi Arabia to bomb civilians and children in Palestine and Yemen.

The American solidarity groups fighting South Africa's apartheid set a historical precedent on how the public has in the past felt an obligation to fight a familiar paradigm of white racism and settler colonialism - even if their resistance was met with a historical record of successive US administrations' non-wavering support for the apartheid regime.

Secondly, there's constructive and effective criticism that contributes to the prevalence of protests against Israel and Saudi Arabia. As put by American columnist Peter Beinart: "We all intuitively understand the rationale for focusing on those offenses over which we have more control, even if they are not the most egregious."

While it goes without saying that the world should indeed pay attention to all human rights violations, to compel people to distract themselves from reckoning with the Saudi and Israeli crimes by focusing their energies on engaging in a politically meaningless battle of shaming a shameless regimes, is again redundant and counter-productive.

While the US has no arms deals with Iran, North Korea, Syria and other countries conjured up in Israel's "whataboutism", Washington does have great mutual interests, arms deals, investments and trade with Israel and Saudi Arabia. As a result, it has a greater responsibility to stop empowering and enabling the Israel/Saudi oppression, and greater leverage to use such cards to influence change.
Israel's most violent and illegal settler communities are heavily supported by private American tax-deductible donations

Thirdly, "closest ally", "western" and "pro-western" designations always come with a price. The only two countries in the region on the candidate list for joining the "Western nations club" have always been Israel and Saudi Arabia.

As such designations come with great privileges, including large trade deals and political influence over the global order, Saudi Arabia and Israel should of course be held to higher standards.

As the
Danish Ambassador to Israel illustrated "you're one of us… engaging our long-standing partner Israel with whom we have extensive cooperation… in a different fashion than we engage others is natural."

Finally, if Israel is concerned on its and Saudi Arabia's behalf about receiving criticism over their criminal actions, the most logical thing to do would be to stop such crimes, rather than waging a rampant war against people's freedom of speech and stand instead in solidarity with the oppressed.

Muhammad Shehada is a writer and civil society activist from the Gaza Strip and a student of Development Studies at Lund University, Sweden. He was the PR officer for the Gaza office of the Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab.