In a recent interview with the Jewish Journal, unfunny comedian Bill Maher has once again praised Israel for its restraint in only committing rampant war crimes in Gaza rather than a full-scale nuclear genocide of a civilian population.
Two-and-a-half years ago, I wrote a lengthy post about Maher's appalling anti-Islam bigotry and staggering ignorance regarding the factual history of his favorite colonial-settler ethnocracy, Israel. While Maher's vitriolic attacks on Muslims, grotesque caricature of Palestinians in particular and unconditional fealty to Zionist propaganda has continued unabated in the intervening years, comments made in his Jewish Journal interview - conducted just days after the Israeli military concluded its latest criminal bombardment of besieged Gaza that succeeded in murdering over 160 people, including 42 children - concisely illustrate his warped understanding of reality.
Condemning religious people for ignorance of their own doctrinal scripture, Maher says, "I think if they read the bible, especially the Old Testament, I think they would be appalled," adding that if biblical stories were decontextualized and read only as a vengeful deity "wiping these people out and ethnically cleaning [sic] them for no apparent reason, how he does things on a whim and how he's jealous; They'd go, 'This is terrible.'"
While Maher may be correct on this point, he then claims that Judaism is "certainly not as dangerous as Islam and Christianity. Those are warlike religions." One is left to wonder if Maher knows what the Old Testament actually is.
Maher finds elements of Judaism "insane" and "funny" and, in his world, the religion seems to boil down to kooky inventions like the Shabbos Elevator which "doesn't really threaten anybody's life."
For Maher, who seems to be channeling the myopia of Jon Stewart here, every Muslim is a brainwashed terrorist, while every Jew is just a hapless nebbish - one part Catskills-era Jackie Mason, one part whining Yiddish Bubbe. Muslims are violent fanatics who blow things up, whereas Jews are more concerned with hikes in bus fares and guilt-tripping their children. Never in Maher's mind could Jewish people be seen as racists, occupiers, ethnic cleansers, and colonists. Never could they level neighborhoods, attack civilian populations with the most high-tech killing machines and chemical weapons, or discriminate against communities based solely on their religion or ethnicity. They are victims - always - never aggressors.
It is therefore unsurprising that Maher stated, "Y’know, maybe Arabs and Jews are both crazy, but Jews save a tiny piece of their mind for science, math, and writing sitcoms. Arabs, on the other severed hand, seem to spend all their time handing down grudges from one generation to the next."
Maher has apparently never stopped to wonder what the world would be like without coffee, carpets, windmills, parachutes, soap, fountain pens, romantic poetry, algorithms, trigonometry, rose windows, pointed arches, scalpels, forceps, dissolving stitches, anesthesia, cataract surgery, cameras and the science of optics - to name just a few - all products of Arab and Muslim minds. And where would we all be without Khalil Gibran, Steve Jobs, and 1980's pop sensation Tiffany, whose last name is Darwish?
Because he is generally seen as "liberal" in mainstream discourse, the inconsistencies and ignorance in Maher's conception of world religions and his passionate attachment to Israel are cause for concern.
To his credit, Maher is honest about his proclivities. "I've never hid the fact that I don't think it's a conflict where both sides are equally guilty," he told Danielle Berrin, who writes the "Hollywood Jew" column for the Jewish Journal. "I'm more on the side of the Israelis; that's why Benjamin Netanyahu did my show a few years ago, before he was Prime Minister."
Is Maher saying here that Netanyahu will only do interviews with Zionists? Maher also neglects to mention that his interview with Netanyahu was in 2006, soon after Israel had decimated southern Lebanon for a month, killing 1,180 people (about a third of whom were children), wounding over 4,050, and displacing about 970,000 others as direct result of the more than 7,000 air attacks by the Israeli Air Force and an additional 2,500 bombardments by the Israeli Navy that deliberately contravened international law and targeted civilian infrastructure.
Maher repeatedly praised the assault in which Lebanese men, women and children were being blown to pieces, claiming that condemning Israeli war crimes (which he benignly referred to as Israel being "forced to kill people in its own defense") was the same thing as anti-Semitism. Maher seemed blissfully oblivious to the facts, including evidence that Israel had actually instigated the conflict and willfully continued the "widespread destruction of apartments, houses, electricity and water services, roads, bridges, factories and ports...even when it became clear that the victims of the bombardment were predominantly civilians, which was the case from the first days of the conflict."
At the end of his fawning interview with the once-and-future Prime Minister, Maher quotes a Jerusalem Post article: "The Foreign Ministry would do well to watch Bill Maher to learn how to sell Israel's case to a TV audience...," then asks Netanyahu, "What do you think? I could roll that way!"
Netanyahu's response? "Hey Bill, watch it, if I'm Prime Minister, you'll get the job."
Clearly, they both got their wish.
Maher's original admission that he is "more on the side of the Israelis" acknowledges that he finds Palestinians - an indigenous population that was dispossessed, displaced and all but destroyed by militarily superior Zionist forces and which has lived as refugees under perpetual occupation, deliberately denied sovereignty, self-determination and self-defense for over six decades; a people demonized, dehumanized and traumatized who are routinely condemned in their desperate resistance to subjugation, colonization and collective punishment for not taking enough care to protect the lives and collective identity of its oppressors and occupiers - far more culpable for the persistence of a century-old "conflict" than the Israelis - a nuclear-armed, superpower-backed, settler society that institutionally discriminates against the non-Jewish communities whose lives it controls.
And this guy is called "liberal"?
Maher's take on Israel/Palestine boils down to this: "It's not that complicated: Stop firing rockets into Israel and perhaps they won't annihilate you," he told Berrin. Perhaps. Annihilate. That Israel might cease its occupation, blockade, night raids, airstrikes and land theft is obviously not the problem here. No, it's the futile and frustrated reaction to such trifles that is beyond Maher's pale. Again, one hundred years of history is erased and replaced by an invented narrative of violent Arabs endlessly attacking innocent Israeli Jews. Maher is obviously unaware that, according to a 2009 study, "it is overwhelmingly Israel, not Palestine, that kills first" following a ceasefire, thus instigating retaliatory rocket fire from Gaza. "Indeed," the study concluded, "it is virtually always Israel that kills first after a lull lasting more than a week." The recent Israeli bombing campaign against Gaza is no exception.
Moreover, Maher seems to be unaware that four years have passed since Israel's massacre in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009, claiming that Palestinians "lost over 1,000 people" in the recent Israeli offensive. Keeping abreast of facts, of course, isn't Maher's concern when describing a week of devastation wrought upon a caged population of 1.7 million with nowhere to run and no viable means to protect itself as Gaza gets, in Maher's words, its "ass kicked." One can assume that, in his childhood, Maher spent many an hour kicking the asses of ants with a magnifying glass.
But all this is merely prologue to where both Maher and his interlocutor Berrin were about to go. Berrin posed a leading question to Maher about proportionality and the vast discrepancy between Israeli and Palestinian death tolls and got the answer she was hoping for:
Its obvious that Israelis, in all of their battles with the Palestinians, show restraint. Because they have nuclear weapons. And if the situation was reversed, I don't doubt for a second that Palestinians would fire them immediately. They'd use the maximum of what they have available and the Israelis don't.Ok, ignore the hypothetical nature of role-reversal (how would an indigenous population occupy and colonize parts of its own land?) and leave aside the sheer stupidity of assuming Palestinians in Gaza would launch nuclear weapons at a state in which 20% of the population are themselves Palestinian or that Tel Aviv is roughly 50 miles away from Gaza meaning that Palestinians would essentially be dropping a nuke on themselves. Or the weirdness of suggesting that the Palestinian goal of self-determination, statehood and equal rights in their historic homeland could be achieved by physically obliterating that very homeland and making it literally uninhabitable. And forget that the "restraint" Maher lauds in Israel's recent round of murder is a casualty ratio of 33-1.
Maher actually contends here that Israel shows "restraint" merely by not engaging in the complete nuclear holocaust of Palestinians, a desperate refugee population Israel itself created through ethnic cleansing and continued occupation. The fact that Israel's conventional military might and capacity for lethal destruction far surpasses that of most countries on the planet is obviously irrelevant to the HBO host, as is the tragedy that such "restraint" in late November included the murder of ten members of the al-Dalou family, including four children, crushed to death when Israel bombed their three-story home. Such is the Israeli conception of "restraint" in Gaza and Maher's explicit endorsement of excessive Israeli force against a captive civilian Palestinian population.
Maher has said similar things before. A few years ago he suggested that, if rockets were fired into the United States from Canada, "we would have nuked them a hundred times by now," despite the fact that the analogy literally makes no sense. In fact, Maher's penchant for recycling material is nothing new. On November 21, when a ceasefire was announced, Maher tweeted:
Glad Hillary was able to get a cease-fire in Gaza. Otherwise known as Stopping to Reload.Obviously, for Maher, those "reloading" are the Palestinians and not the Israelis, who are annually gifted with $3 billion in military aid from the United States, have their own booming arms industry, and have some of the planet's most sophisticated and deadly weaponry in its own perennially loaded arsenal. Maher used the same line on March 18, 2011 during an obsequious Real Time interview with Israeli ambassador Michael Oren because, hey, when it's disingenuous and not funny the first time, why not roll it out a year-and-a-half later?
— Bill Maher (@billmaher) November 21, 2012
Before wrapping up the Jewish Journal interview, Maher resorted to tossing out some hackneyed hasbara talking points. While it should be remembered that "the Palestinians do have gripes," he said (yes, gripes), the real threat to Israel is "becoming a minority Jewish state within their own country." Whose country? Oh, and, yeah, calling for demographic engineering isn't particularly progressive, Bill. It's just racist.
Maher of course can't let the interview end without interjecting the mother of all hasbara canards: that Israeli actions against the Palestinians in Gaza (aka war crimes) are motivated primarily by "self-defense." As always, the occupied indigenous refugees with homemade rockets and smuggled AK-47s are transformed into eliminationist aggressors while the colonizing occupiers armed with drones, Apache helicopters, F-16 jets, tanks, warships, white phosphorus and nuclear bombs are the innocent victims of senseless anti-Semitic violence. It goes without saying that, for Maher, Palestinians are never entitled to defend themselves.
But remember, as Maher told the Jewish Journal, Judaism simply isn't a "warlike religion" like the others - despite the fact that a self-proclaimed "Jewish State" was established atop Palestine, its native inhabitants massacred or driven from the land by Zionist militias, its towns, villages, groves and orchards razed and reduced to rubble by Israeli bombs, tank treads and bulldozers.
Never mind that, during the 2008-9 massacre of Gaza known in Israel as Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli military rabbinate actively called upon Jewish soldiers not to "show mercy" towards its "enemy," comparing Palestinians to ancient Philistines, ripe for righteous slaughter. It disseminated material declaring "a biblical ban on surrendering a single millimeter of it [the Land of Israel] to gentiles, through all sorts of impure distortions and foolishness of autonomy, enclaves and other national weaknesses," and insisting, "We will not abandon it to the hands of another nation, not a finger, not a nail of it."
Never mind that chief army rabbi, Brigadier General Avichai Rontzki, made it perfectly clear that the rabbinate's goal in relation to Israeli soldiers was "to fill them with yiddishkeit and a fighting spirit." In that campaign, the Israeli military killed over 1,400 Palestinians, the majority of whom were non-combatant men, women and children, and wounding thousands upon thousands more in just over three weeks. Despite the worldwide condemnation of Israeli war crimes in Gaza, Rontzki remained convinced that "[i]n Israel's wars, warriors are God-fearing people, righteous people, people who don't have sins on their hands."
Never mind that, in November 2009, rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, an Israeli settler who lives in the illegal West Bank colony of Yitzhar near Nablus, published The King's Torah, which "describes how it is possible to kill non-Jews according to halakha (Jewish religious law)." According to the Israeli press, "the book contains no fewer than 230 pages on the laws concerning the killing of non-Jews, a kind of guide for anyone who ponders the question of if and when it is permissible to take the life of a non-Jew" and states that, as non-Jews are "uncompassionate by nature," even children are legitimate targets for murder. "One must consider killing even babies," the book says, "because of the future danger that will be caused if they are allowed to grow up to be as wicked as their parents."
Never mind that during the most recent Israeli attacks, with the Biblical moniker Operation Pillar of Cloud, Gilad Sharon, son of former Prime Minister/comatose war criminal Ariel Sharon, declared in The Jerusalem Post that - because Hamas won a majority in Parliamentary elections in January 2006 - "the residents of Gaza are not innocent," urging the Israeli military to "flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza," just like the United States decimated the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. "There is no middle path here," Sharon concluded, "either the Gazans and their infrastructure are made to pay the price, or we reoccupy the entire Gaza Strip."
Never mind that Knesset minister Michael Ben-Ari echoed Sharon's sentiments, saying, "There are no innocents in Gaza," imploring the Israeli military to "mow them!" Referring to Gaza as the Biblical Sodom, Ben-Ari addressed soldiers directly, asserting that "there are no righteous men, turn it into rubble. Paint it red! We are worried about you and rely on you. We all do, all of the Nation of Israel," an unmistakable reference to all Jewish people worldwide, not merely citizens of the State of Israel.
Never mind that, on November 21, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon declared that "most of the people" in Gaza killed by Israel "deserved it," falsely claiming that those killed and wounded "were just armed terrorists," when in fact the vast majority were unarmed civilians, including dozens of women, children and babies.
Never mind that more than 90% of Jewish Israelis supported Israel's November 2012 bombardment of Gaza. Never mind that roughly 94% supported Cast Lead. Never mind that, according to a recent study, Israel remains the single most militarized nation in the world, a distinction it has held for nearly 20 straight years.
No, no, not "warlike." Not at all.
Back in September 2010, Maher told Larry King that, along with Saudi Salafis and the Afghan Taliban, he thought "Hamas is crazy." When King asked how "a civilized world" should "deal with crazies," Maher replied, "I would say, first thing is don't use the Army." Considering his obvious affinity for and justification of Israeli violence against Palestinians in Gaza, either Maher somehow exempts the Israeli military from such a prescription or, more appropriately, he doesn't find Israel to be part of the "civilized world." It is doubtful Maher would pick the latter option.
To make the point that Maher is uninformed on the topic of Israel and Palestine is obvious. That his enthusiastic promotion of Zionist propaganda and apologia seems not to affect his reputation as a mainstream liberal mouthpiece is considerably more alarming.