Government efforts to control outcry over Gaza crisis fall short in face of digital media deluge

Gerry ChidiacWe are living in an unprecedented moment in human history. Never have we seen public opinion shift so quickly as world events unfold on our smartphones and computers.

Governments are taking extreme measures to control the momentum of the international outcry that is calling for an end to the slaughter of Palestinian children, but world leaders do not seem to recognize that their efforts are failing.

After the terrible attacks by Hamas on Israeli civilians, Western governments responded in horror and their citizens were on their side. Had there been a heroic rescue of the hostages taken by Hamas, this would have been celebrated in the media, and there would have been no shift in public opinion in favour of Palestinians.

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Photo by Craig Manners

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Instead, the Israeli government, cheered on by its political allies and the weapons industry, announced a siege of more than two million people. They began dropping thousands of bombs onto crowded communities, and many, many innocent people are dying. One Palestinian child is dying every 15 minutes, but this rate is likely to accelerate if the siege and bombardments do not end quickly.

In the past, when such crimes against humanity occurred, they were denied, and we would ignore the stories of the survivors. A few of us might say, “Oh, isn’t that horrible,” and then go on with our ordinary lives.

The siege of Gaza is very different. Despite efforts by the Israeli government to control access to the region by foreign journalists, much of the violence and suffering is being filmed by the Palestinians themselves. Al Jazeera has been quite effective in getting this information out, and it is also shared on broadcasts put together by diverse social media influencers. Despite their efforts, media corporations in countries sympathetic to Israel have been unable to stop this flow of information.

Due to this shift, it has been difficult, if not impossible, for the supporters of the violence to control the narrative. Exaggerations of the Hamas attack have been quickly refuted; we know that there were no beheaded babies, and those who disseminated the story now look foolish. It has also been much harder for the Israeli military to convince the world that they were not responsible for bombing a hospital and killing 500 innocents.

In addition, we have been teaching about crimes against humanity in our schools for decades. People understand how the United Nations defines genocide, and they can apply this knowledge to real-world events. Many, even in European countries like Ireland, recognize the intricacies of settler colonialism that their ancestors endured and refuse to tolerate what they see happening to the Palestinians.

At the same time, there are Christian Zionists who proclaim that this is part of the End Times prophecy, it is the will of God, and many more Arabs and even many Jews need to die. This branch of Christian Evangelicalism has been growing in political strength since the late 1970s and maintains a disproportionate control of the American government. They also hold a great deal of sway in Conservative Parties across Canada.

This may explain why no Conservative Member of Parliament signed a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau demanding a ceasefire in Gaza, while even members of Trudeau’s Liberal Party did so. It may explain why the Conservative-led Ontario government officially sanctioned (silenced) Sarah Jama, a member of their parliament who continues to speak up strongly for Palestinian rights.

Today, we rightly look in disbelief and derision at people who supported Jim Crow legislation in the United States, Apartheid in South Africa, or expanding a golf course onto Mohawk land near Oka, Quebec. This shift from acceptance to justifiable scorn will happen much more quickly to those who support the butchering of children in Gaza. In fact, the shift has already begun.

Gerry Chidiac specializes in languages, genocide studies and works with at-risk students. He is the recipient of an award from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre for excellence in teaching about the Holocaust.

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