The world no longer absorbs information in a way that grants any vested party full control over narratives. This open access to a global audience wreaks havoc on the stories that mainstream Western media has been conveying to its consumers.
On 18 October, Bassem Youssef, a popular Egyptian comedian, appeared on 'Piers Morgan Uncensored' to discuss the Israel-Gaza conflict. During the show, Youssef used sarcasm to comment on the war, criticised Hamas, and raised questions about the justification for Israel's actions.
He also mentioned his wife's Palestinian heritage when Morgan inquired about his perspective on the Hamas attacks.
"We get all our news second-hand because my wife's family lives in Gaza. They have cousins and uncles there and their house also was bombed," he replied.
Youssef then switched gears, taking on a satirical stance as he attempted to highlight the struggles Palestinians have been facing under Israel.
He commented that Palestinians have this strong resilience and they "never die". He said, "they always come back. They're very difficult to kill, very difficult people to kill. I know, because I'm married to one. I tried many times. I try to get to her every time, but she uses our kids as human shields."
Youssef went on to comment how Israel played the victim card and tried to control the narrative.
Later on 25 October, British Iraqi Rapper Lowkey came on the show and accused Israel of having a policy of killing captives. He highlighted how Israel turned Gaza into an "open-air prison."
Pro-Palestinian activists, like Lowkey and Youssef, gained visibility on Morgan's show, presenting passionate advocacy for the Palestinian cause.
Despite the presence of pro-Israel guests like Ben Shapiro and Ehud Barak, Morgan featured several pro-Palestinian figures, including Mohammed Hijab, Hasan Piker, Cenk Uygur, Husam Zomlot, Rahma Zein, Nerdeen Kiswani, Mustafa Barghouti, James Schneider, and Glenn Greenwald.
All these guests mostly came separately and their clips and arguments are getting stronger and wider traction every day. They have been pushing back on the western narrative of the 7 October onslaught and not allowing the pro-Israelis to take control of the narrative.
These pro-Palestinian activists, articulate and well-prepared for debate, argue that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories violates international law, constituting discrimination and apartheid, tantamount to ethnic cleansing. They advocate for the Palestinians' right to self-determination and the establishment of an independent state. Additionally, they criticise the US government's support for Israel, alleging complicity in war crimes against the Palestinian population.
These influencers are not only vocal on social media; they have also been advocating their causes in mainstream media as well. The western audience is being exposed to the Palestinian side of the narrative for the first time and it is snowballing everyday.
History of story-feeding
For decades, Israel has been adept at shaping the narrative through mainstream media outlets. Traditional media has often been criticised for biased reporting, favouring Israel's perspective.
When it comes to Israel and Palestine, Western media are often accused of the 'sin of omission', meaning leaving out information essential for a comprehensive understanding of the conflict. This is well illustrated in George Orwell's 1984 where a party, in order to establish propaganda, selectively starts and stops the clock of record to manipulate, confuse, and control the narrative.
For many western outlets, the initiation of the clock corresponds to a Hamas strike, framing it as an "unprovoked attack" with no antecedent political context. Critics argue that this narrows the focus solely on Hamas, portraying it as the exclusive antagonist, while broader political context is ignored.
Analysts highlight a multitude of factors preceding the media's "start of the clock." Once a situation is resolved, such as Israel ceasing bombardment of Gaza, the clock stops, shifting attention elsewhere. This chronological framing creates a narrative starting with Palestinian provocation and concluding with Israeli retribution.
In different channels, the omissions by the presenters skews the picture, erasing the context of Israel as a nuclear-armed, US-supported regional power engaging in illegal occupation, besiegement, and documented crimes against Palestinians. Israel's 16-year siege on Gaza, taking 2 million people hostage, is a reality often overlooked.
Apart from the one-sided story, a powerful yet often overlooked dynamic is the use of language by the media outlets. The Guardian referred to "the murderous rampage carried out by Hamas," and The Economist described "the bloodthirsty attack by Hamas." Yet Western media rarely uses comparable terms to describe Israeli actions, even in cases of greater magnitude.
The skewed dynamic further manifests in the media's portrayal: Israel's actions in Gaza are often labelled as exercising its "right to defend itself," while any Palestinian act of violence is deemed "terrorism." The term "terrorist" is exclusively applied to Hamas for targeting civilians, but not to Israel, even when it deliberately targets Gaza civilians or enforces a 16-year siege, deemed by critics as acts of state terror and potential war crimes, as per United Nations' descriptions.
The media's pro-Israel biases are seen as a reflection of Israel's broader political alignment with western governments, being ingrained in the system. Critics argue that these biases contribute to Israel evading accountability for actions universally acknowledged as crimes.
However, this alliance of Western governments and media has recently failed to shape the narrative that Israel is the victim. Unprecedented support for Palestine emerged among the people in the US and Europe, with large-scale protests in various cities. London, in particular, saw over 100,000 protestors at a demonstration.
Unlike previous, relatively subdued demonstrations, the current protests are substantial enough to prompt politicians to issue balanced statements between Israel and Palestine. These protests convey a rare message to decision-makers that unconditional support for Israel may lead to a loss of ballots.
Artists, activists, and sports figures stand with Gaza
The presence of pro-Palestinian activists in mainstream media, such as on TV shows like Piers Morgan's, signifies a shift in the narrative landscape. These appearances provide a platform for activists to articulate their views to a wider audience, potentially challenging mainstream perceptions. Viral moments from such appearances can contribute to increased awareness and discussion.
The internet and social media platforms have democratised information dissemination, allowing individuals and organisations to share their perspectives without the traditional gatekeepers.
Pro-Palestinian activists have utilised these platforms to counter mainstream narratives and present their side of the story. Celebrities taking pro-Palestine stands seem to make a dent on Israeli narratives.
In an interview with Anadolu Agency, Austrian writer and activist Wilhelm Langthaler strongly criticised the government for its unwavering support for Israel, condemning its disregard for the civilian casualties resulting from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.
Renowned musician and co-founder of Pink Floyd, Roger Waters, took to social media to share a video calling for an immediate cease-fire. Likewise, British singer Yusuf Islam addressed the "Great Palestine Meeting," a pro-Palestine rally in Istanbul on 28 October, urging for an end to hostilities.
Over 2,000 artists have joined the call for an "immediate cease-fire" and the reopening of Gaza's crossings to allow residents to evacuate amid ongoing Israeli strikes.
Artists for Palestine UK published a letter endorsed by more than 2,000 prominent figures, including renowned novelists, singers, playwrights, filmmakers, and acclaimed actors such as Tilda Swinton, Charles Dance, Steve Coogan, Miriam Margolyes, and Peter Mullan.
Irish actor Liam Cunningham and Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg voiced their support for the Palestinian people through social media, with Thunberg stressing the need for the world to demand an immediate cease-fire, justice, and freedom for Palestinians and all affected civilians.
Football players, including Galatasaray's Moroccan winger Hakim Ziyech, Bayern Munich's Noussair Mazraoui, 2022 men's Ballon d'Or winner Karim Benzema, Arsenal's Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Elneny, and Real Betis' French player Nabil Fekir, utilised social media platforms to express solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Tennis star Ons Jabeur donated prize money to Palestinians. "It's very tough seeing children, babies dying every day," Jabeur said, holding back tears as she spoke about Israel's war on Gaza after her win at the WTA Finals in Mexico.
Expressing concern for the residents of Gaza, Benzema, the French forward for Al-Ittihad, stated on X, "All our prayers for the inhabitants of Gaza who are once again victims of these unjust bombings which spare no women or children." Additionally, Elneny, a former midfielder for Besiktas and Basel, changed his Instagram profile picture to a Palestinian flag.
The wave of change
The changing media landscape poses challenges for Israel's traditional narrative control. The immediacy and global reach of alternative media can quickly challenge and counter official Israeli statements. Additionally, the rise of citizen journalism and the ability of individuals to document events on the ground can lead to alternative narratives gaining prominence.
Undoubtedly, the widespread public backing for Palestine owes much to the prevalence of social media facilitated by the internet. Consequently, when major media corporations present Israel as the victim or disseminate misinformation, social media accounts swiftly counter with facts, dispelling any misleading propaganda.
The influence of personal accounts has grown to the extent that some surpass TV networks in audience reach, given their sheer numbers in the millions.
In this scenario, it becomes apparent that media outlets aligning with western governments face a significant and perhaps conclusive defeat in the battle against social media.
The unfolding events highlight a divergence in support between the public and governments in western countries concerning recent conflicts. While governmental alliances with Israel persist, the general populace, including prominent figures and officials, leans towards supporting the Palestinian cause. This growing disconnect between the government and the public could potentially exert long-term influence on domestic politics, compelling governments to adopt a more neutral stance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Brookings Institution, based in Washington, DC, reported a notable increase in American public support for Israel in the two weeks after the 7 October attack by Hamas on Israel. This trend spanned across political affiliations compared to June. However, their latest poll, conducted four weeks after the attack and during a period focusing on Israel's subsequent actions in the Gaza Strip, reveals a substantial decline in early support, especially among Democrats.
The shift is particularly pronounced among young Democrats, who are now twice as likely to perceive President Joe Biden as "too pro-Israeli" compared to October. The number of those expressing a decreased likelihood of voting for Biden due to his stance on the Israeli-Palestinian issue has more than doubled since October. Additionally, there is a measurable increase in those advocating for the United States to lean toward the Palestinians.
Suffice to say, the media narrative is changing — quite strongly and visibly.