A NEWSLETTER FROM DAVID CORN
By David Corn October 18, 2023
The aftermath of an Israeli airstrike in Gaza on October 15, 2023. Momen Faiz/AP
The horrific massacres waged by Hamas against Israeli civilians and the horrific Israeli counterstrikes that have caused a humanitarian crisis in Gaza have prompted extreme and callous responses. Fringe far-left outfits, campus groups, and some pro-Palestinian activists have justified Hamas’ vile attacks, while Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) endorsed wiping out Gaza, not just Hamas. As I noted in a previous newsletter, any dehumanization that allows for a blasé attitude toward the murder of civilians is condemnable. But when such a stance is adopted by persons with power and influence, it especially warrants opprobrium. On Fox News, when asked about the dire conditions, destruction, and deaths in Gaza caused by the Israeli assault, Cotton showed no compassion: "As far as I'm concerned, Israel can bounce the rubble in Gaza. Anything that happens in Gaza is the responsibility of Hamas…If we can back Ukraine for as long as it takes, surely we can back Israel for as long as it takes.”
Back Israel for as long as it takes. That has often been the sentiment within the United States—a bipartisan consensus in which supporting Israel means fully embracing its government and policies. For the diehard pro-Israel lobby, the goal has always been to cut off criticism of Israel, even when vigorous debate has waged within Israel about its actions. Once again, we have seen the emergence of the Israel-can-do-no-wrong crowd. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), for example, called for Israel to use “overwhelming force” in Gaza, as its airstrikes kill, injure, and displace thousands of Palestinian civilians. He rationalized this by insisting that all Palestinians in Gaza are antisemitic.
DeSantis and other Republican 2024 contenders slammed GOP frontrunner Donald Trump for daring to criticize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for being ill-prepared for the Hamas attack. (Trump was probably more ticked off that Netanyahu never supported his Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him.) In the face of this pounding from his rivals, Trump quickly backtracked and posted “#IStandWithIsrael” and “#IStandWithBibi” on social media.
Equating Netanyahu and Israel is a problem for those who profess support for Israel. He has been disastrous for Israel. Accused multiple times of corruption, he has elevated racist ultra-nationalists to the highest ranks of the Israeli government, and he has pursued measures to weaken Israeli democracy and consolidate power within his own office—prompting mass protest and bitterly dividing the nation. He has allowed the expansion of settlements and done nothing but exacerbate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Netanyahu miscalculated and ignored a fundamental challenge for Israel.
As Michael Hirsh put it in Foreign Policy:
Netanyahu suddenly faces a long, bloody war with the Palestinians after spending most of his political career sidelining, short-shrifting, and underestimating them, all the while relying on his country’s military superiority—including its Iron Dome anti-missile system—to protect Israel… Netanyahu’s policies helped create the conditions that led to the bloodiest few days in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Netanyahu not only disregarded Palestinian grievances while chasing after normalization accords with Arab states. He connived to solidify Hamas’ standing in Gaza as a means to undercut the Palestinian Authority—which allowed him to duck serious negotiations to reach a permanent resolution. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out, “Netanyahu pursued a divide-and-conquer strategy by propping up Hamas, while at the same time weakening the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, said Yohanan Plesner, a former lawmaker and head of the Jerusalem-based think tank the Israel Democracy Institute.” A 19-year-old Israeli summed it up rather simply: “Bibi chose to give us Iron Dome instead of a diplomatic solution.”
And Netanyahu’s most immediate screwup of all: He failed to foresee or prepare adequately for the heinous attacks from Gaza.
With this record, unqualified support for Netanyahu makes no sense. As many commentators have opined, this moment is reminiscent of the post-9/11 period in the United States. Here’s one sad similarity: There were plenty of reasons to oppose George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, and a key one was that Bush would be in charge of the war. It was evident that he did not have the experience, judgement, vision, values, or know-how to oversee such a difficult and consequential endeavor. Bush had no clue what to do after the US assault toppled Saddam Hussein. It was no surprise the war turned out to be a disaster that ended the lives of several thousand American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and that did little good for the region and world.
After all of Netanyahu’s failures and miscalculations, who wants to bet on him now? He deserves no blank check. While it is encouraging to see President Joe Biden issue a statement that suggested Israeli should not bounce the rubble—“We must not lose sight of the fact that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians had nothing to do with Hamas’s appalling attacks, and are suffering as a result of them”—it remains unclear whether Biden has directly pressured Netanyahu on this point. How far will he go to rein in Netanyahu? The appalling images coming out of Gaza before the expected ground assault are not reassuring on this front. As I write this, Biden is scheduled to visit Israel on Wednesday and huddle with Netanyahu. This strikes me as a mistake that could possibly be viewed as a vote of confidence in Netanyahu and that could tie the United States further to the devastation underway in Gaza.
Many Israelis have no faith in Netanyahu. There have been calls on him to resign—for both his actions (or inaction) prior to and following the Hamas attacks. Haaretz, the liberal newspaper, ran an op-ed headlined “Netanyahu: Resign Now!” Another column in the paper began, “Benjamin Netanyahu should be removed as prime minister immediately—not 'after the war,' not after a plea bargain in his corruption trial, not after an election.” A veteran Israeli television broadcaster tweeted, “don't wait. Put him on trial now. He is a war criminal.” Members of Netanyahu’s cabinet have been driven out of hospitals by hecklers enraged with the government. Another minister was denied entry into a southern Israeli community when the man on guard started shouting at him, "Shame on you and on your government! Get out of here.”
The Biden administration cannot defer to Netanyahu. As Israel’s number-one underwriter—to the tune of $3.9 billion a year—it has leverage, and it ought to use it to prevent further Netanyahu miscalculation and more brutality in Gaza. This man cannot be trusted—especially not to lead a military action with possible consequences for the entire planet.
Back to Cotton and his cavalier call for the razing of Gaza. It should not be difficult to empathize with Israelis murdered by Hamas’ vile attack and with Palestinian civilians being killed and terrorized by Israel’s assault on Gaza. I find it unbearable to watch videos from the rave where 260 young Israelis were slaughtered or the footage of injured children being carried into Gaza hospitals overflowing with bombing victims. (The explosion Tuesday at the al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City—whoever was responsible for it—yielded gruesome images and a heartbreaking death count of hundreds.) The goal is peace, security, and dignity for both sides. I don’t know how that will be achieved. But we can be sure that Netanyahu is not the man for this job.
Let’s end with a moving moment that occurred when Maoz Inon, an Israeli whose parents were killed during the Hamas attacks, was interviewed by the BBC. He began to cry, and he explained:
I’m not crying for my parents. I’m crying for those who are going to lose their life in this war. We must stop the war. The war is not the answer. I beg all the viewers and listeners to do everything in their power to put pressure on everyone that is relevant to stop the war immediately… In our family, we are not seeking revenge. Revenge will just lead to more suffering. And to more casualties. And even though it’s the most horrible day—it was the most horrible loss of life in Israel since the foundation of the country—I’m afraid that the numbers can be much bigger... I’m afraid for the soldiers, for the civilians from both sides in Gaza and in Israel that will pay [with] their life. This is why I am crying.
Standing with Netanyahu is not standing with Israel. It’s standing with more violence, death, and tears.
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The Watch, Read, and Listen List
Asteroid City. Filmmaking is often about creating alternative realities, and few do that better than director Wes Anderson, a purveyor of weird and quirky films about weird and quirky characters and circumstances. Each of his flicks is a trip into the bizarre. In The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), he cooked up something of a madcap action film set in Eastern Europe at the time of rising fascism. In The French Dispatch (2021), he placed a New Yorker–style magazine in a fictional French town in the 1970s to pay homage to a bygone era of literary journalism. With his latest feature, Asteroid City, I’m not sure what he was aiming it, but the journey is worth it.
Asteroid City is a movie within a play within a movie. It starts with a Rod Serling–like narrator (Bryan Cranston) telling us the story of noted playwright Conrad Earp (Ed Norton) creating a play called Asteroid City. This level of the narrative is in black and white and staged much as a play would be. Then once we see the story told in the play, everything switches to color, shades of The Wizard of Oz, and the plot is presented as a movie. Got that? And, oh, those colors. Anderson’s palette is that of a crisp cartoon. In fact, his depiction of the desert setting of Earp’s play resembles the cosmos of Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote. (To make sure you don’t miss this, a roadrunner makes an early appearance.) Anderson’s films delight our visual senses. They can be watched for that alone. Two hours in his kaleidoscope of colors is a reminder of how films can transport us viscerally.
The plot? You want to know about the plot? It’s the 1950s. A convention for high school science nerds is being held at Asteroid City, a one-horse (if that) town in the middle of the American desert where a meteor once crashed and that’s close enough to an A-bomb test site for its inhabitants to spot the mushroom cloud in the distance. The Junior Stargazer gathering draws an assortment of eccentric characters to A.C. War photojournalist Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman) has brought his son Woodrow and his three young daughters. (His wife and their mother recently died, and he has yet to inform the kids.) Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson), a Marilyn Monroe–like actress, has arrived with her daughter Dinah. And there are other oddball parent-kid duos. Also in town is a busload of elementary school children and a cowboy band. The teens are there to receive awards for their science projects, which includes a jet pack, a ray gun, and a device that projects images on the moon. Overseeing the shindig is five-star General Grif Gibson (Jeffrey Wright).
All’s going well—the nerds are bonding, Augie and Midge are bonding—until a UFO arrives and an alien pilfers the town’s famous piece of asteroid. Despite Gen. Gibson’s best efforts to lockdown Asteroid City, word gets out and the visitation becomes national news. As this action proceeds in vibrant colors and exquisitely composed scenes—imagine Mondrian as a film director—the movie intermittently switches back to the Serlingesque narrator and the drama of staging Earp’s drama. Adrien Brody plays the director, Schubert Green, who is bringing Earp’s work to the stage, and, at one point, the actor who plays Augie tells Green he “doesn’t understand the play.”
That’s not an unfair assessment of Asteroid City, the play and the movie. It’s gorgeous and intricate. It’s enjoyable to watch all the stars (Tom Hanks, Steve Carell, Margot Robbie, Tilda Swinton, Hope Davis, Rupert Friend, Jeff Goldblum, Matt Dillon, Willem Dafoe, and others) deliver the staccato-ish dialogue Anderson has concocted in a highly mannered style. But like the puzzled actor, I, too, wasn’t sure what to make of this one. There was no explanation for the alien’s drop-by or for the play within the movie. I relished the trip and the sharp and captivating scenery that passed by, yet the destination was hazy. As were the people of Asteroid City, I was left uplifted but bewildered.
Devon Gilfillian, “Love You Anyway.” I am convinced that some songwriters try to write songs that would work well at the end of a film as the credits play. You know the sort of tune: poignant, perhaps inspiring, one that reaffirms the emotional punch of the movie’s finale. I don’t know whether that was the aim of Devon Gilfillian when he composed “Love You Anyway,” but I’d commend it to all those movie music supervisors out there.
Gilfillian is a soul singer-songwriter from Morton, Pennsylvania. His first major label record, Black Hole Rainbow, was released in 2020 and nominated for the Grammy Award for best engineered album, non-classical. (I have no idea how they judge that.) The most popular track on that collection was “The Good Life,” which was infused with a pro-BLM sentiment. That year, he also released a set of songs that covered each tune on Marvin Gaye’s 1971 album What’s Going On. All the profits from that project went to support the Equity Alliance Fund, a nonprofit in Tennessee that encourages Black voters to support policies and candidates who will invest in overlooked and underserved communities of color. Given that his vocals suggest Gaye and Leon Bridges, it made sense for him to take a stab at this classic disc.
This year, Gilfillian, who has opened for Mavis Staples and Gladys Knight, put out an album titled Love You Anyway, and the title track is a rousing song that provides a positive jolt whether you’re walking out of a movie theater or have just turned off the latest news on cable television. Keep an eye on this fellow. Roll credits...
Read Recent Issues of Our Land
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October 11, 2023: The Hamas-Israel war—what can be discussed?; The Bear makes you care; Native Americans at the National Gallery of Art; and more.
October 7, 2023: How our George Santos scoop ended up in the criminal case; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Elon Musk); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
October 4, 2023: How media framing aids Trump’s assault on democracy; why do GOP and Trump donors like Robert F. Kennedy Jr.?; am I a redbaiter?; Crooked chronicles an actual weaponization of the Justice Department; a classic Willie Nelson tune; and more.
September 30, 2023: Trump loses a battle in his long war on reality; GOP donors look to Gov. Glenn Youngkin; comedians make a serious gun-safety video; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Marjorie Taylor Greene); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
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September 12, 2023: The right-wing authoritarian threat beyond Trump (Project 2025); American Psychosis and C-SPAN; Barbie and the corporate exploitation of exploitation; the Rolling Stones’ stereotypical “Angry”; and more.
Got suggestions, comments, complaints, tips related to any of the above, or anything else? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.