The New Observer Media Comment Biden speaks and softly beats the drums of war

Biden speaks and softly beats the drums of war

“We are the United States of America. We are the United States of America. And there is nothing beyond our capacity if we do it together”.

This is Biden’s speech trying to get Congress to pass a combined bill for $100 billion for Ukraine, Israel and measures to control the Southern border. I’m not a watcher of US politics but I guess the idea is to put pressure on House republicans who might otherwise block more money to Ukraine, by tying it up with Israel and the border.

I am, though, interested in propaganda. Of course this speech with its reference to core American values is in its entirety somewhat propagandistic, but there were two specific propaganda tilts which struck me. By “tilt” I mean major narrative lines designed to spin a narrative in a certain direction, away from areas which the authors do not want to be discussed and towards the preferred alternative reality.

Hamas’s stated reason for existing is the destruction of the state of Israel and the murder of Jewish people. [1.20]

It is absolutely critical for Biden to insert here “the murder of Jewish people”. Why? Because if what is at stake is “just” (I say that advisedly) the destruction of the state of Israel then we are inevitably involved in a political-historical discussion. Why does Hamas reject the State of Israel? Because they see Israel as a colonialist power which was parachuted onto their land by British colonialists. They reject the legitimacy of all international agreements which acknowledge the state of Israel’s right to exist as a state. They see the state of Israel as a colonialist occupier. There is a history which can be told which supports this view. People who present history in this way usually start with the Balfour Declaration [1] in which Britain declared its support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The declaration also stated that the rights of other peoples in the land should not be infringed. Nonetheless, critics ask what right Britain had to make such a determination. There are still several countries in the world which do not accept the state of Israel. It is essential for Biden to avoid this highly charged political discussion. Thus he has to insert “murder of Jews”.

Most propaganda has some kind of a basis in reality. This is necessary to make it believable. The basis here is the 1988 Hamas charter which was explicitly antisemitic and which reproduced all sorts of crude ideas about a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. However; in 2017 Hamas issued a new charter in which they corrected this mistake. In this charter they are at pains to say their battle is with Zionism and not with Jews. For example:

16. Hamas affirms that its conflict is with the Zionist project not with the Jews because of their religion. Hamas does not wage a struggle against the Jews because they are Jewish but wages a struggle against the Zionists who occupy Palestine. Yet, it is the Zionists who constantly identify Judaism and the Jews with their own colonial project and illegal entity.

17. Hamas rejects the persecution of any human being or the undermining of his or her rights on nationalist, religious or sectarian grounds. …


Naturally, there are many who say that Hamas has not reformed. But the above is what their current charter says. And so the assertion that Hamas “exists to murder Jews” is not in fact true. Or, if true then it becomes necessary to explain why that is so and why their charter document is false in this respect.

But what, in reality, we have here is a very standard tactic of the narrative building of the Exceptional Nation (and its Euro-Atlantic lackeys); it could be said to be a form of aggressive hybrid warfare operating at the narrative level. Their opponents are denied the basic ‘right’ to have political-historical and subjective (belonging to them) reasons for their position. They are simply said to be “purely evil”. And that’s that. Of course, you don’t negotiate with pure evil and so there is no need to even try. We can just bomb them. Precisely the same is happening in relation to the Ukraine crisis at the moment. The war which has complex political-historical reasons located simultaneously in Ukraine’s internal history and in the wider international failure to fully resolve the tensions left over from the ending of the Cold War, [3] is simply reduced to an “unprovoked war of aggression” by an inherently aggressive and expansionist Russia (who, the narrative goes on, commits war crimes and is inherently given to senseless violence).

(It is ironic that President Biden tries to link Putin and Hamas – the real link could be that they both occupy the same place in the structure of US myth-making).

The second propaganda tilt in this speech is this: “we cannot give up on peace and we cannot give up on a two state solution”. [3.40]

It is, of course, necessary to continue to propagate the myth that there is some kind of political process leading to a two-state solution. I am not an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but it does seem pretty clear that there is no active political process which might lead to a two state solution and this has been the case for some time. The current government of Israel includes people from the “far-right” settler movement. [4] There have been no meaningful peace talks since 2014. [5] The US cannot be said to have been involved actively in promoting the two state solution in recent years. But, again, it is necessary to insert this line to avoid the coming into view of the reality; Israel in recent years has largely given up on the two state solution and the US has, in the main, gone along with that. (As I say I am not an expert on the Israel-Palestine conflict; possibly the feeling in Israel is that the Palestinians blew their chance when they did not accept what was on offer in 2000? But, in either case; the US cannot claim to be actively working on the two state solution).

(A third line of note in this speech is that the military aid for Israel is to ensure they have an “edge”. This means, of course, against Iran and it is dangerous. In International Relations scholars talk about the “security dilemma”. One side’s arming themselves for defence can appear to the other side like preparation for war and they may feel they have to act accordingly).


  3. Sakwa, Richard. Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands (p. 256). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.