With hosts like Ayman Mohyeldin and Mehdi Hasan, opinions at MSNBC about Israel are strong, but facts are dispensable or, at best, malleable. Such is the level of fairness and accuracy that one could be forgiven for mistaking an MSNBC host monologue about Israel with another unhinged rant by Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations.
The latest example comes from Ali Velshi, who spent much of his Sunday morning weaving a narrative about an evil Jewish state, threading together outright lies and material omissions to spin his false tale of a brutal, undemocratic apartheid state. As is typical at MSNBC, the host’s guests on the subject included only those who largely align with him ideologically and on whom he could count to refrain from substantively challenging his blatant lies.
Consequently, the network’s audience was once again left not just uninformed, but misinformed.
Some of Velshi’s false claims were transparently malicious, like his description of the 2023 fatalities in Israel: “According to the U.N., nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed in Israel and the West Bank since the start of this year. That is the highest number since 2005. Apparently, some 30 Israelis have also been killed in these clashes.”
Almost none of the Israelis were killed in “clashes.” Rather, almost all of them were civilians going about their business who were murdered by Palestinian terrorists. For example, when Lucy Dee and her two daughters were gunned down on the road on a family trip to Tiberias, they were not engaged in “clashes.”
On the other hand, the vast majority of those “nearly 200 Palestinians” were killed either in clashes or while carrying out terror attacks. Despite lying about the circumstances of the Israeli deaths, Velshi refrains from mentioning this detail when it comes to the Palestinians. The host’s selective commentary also references only an increase in “brutal [Israeli] settler attacks,” omitting that the growth in the number of Palestinian attacks on Israelis preceded and has far outpaced the spike in settler attacks.
Then there were the false claims that expose the, at best, unwillingness to verify the accuracy of his statements. After mocking Israelis for living “under the illusion” of democracy, in his words, Velshi claimed:
“Netanyahu has undermined that with a judicial overhaul which essentially gives politicians, those extreme far-right politicians in his government, full control over Supreme Court appointments. It also allows parliament to override judicial decisions, subverting one of the sole checks on the government’s authority. The question is what Netanyahu and his ultra-national government plan to do with their newly unfettered power.”
None of this is true. The only judicial overhaul bill that has been adopted is the “reasonableness” amendment, which has nothing to do with Supreme Court appointments and doesn’t grant the Knesset the ability to override judicial decisions. While such proposals have been floated, they have not been adopted, yet Velshi tells his audience otherwise. Perhaps Velshi needs to consider whether he is the one operating under illusions.
In another example of a disinterest in accuracy, Velshi claimed that Israel has approved construction of “thousands of new settlements in the occupied territories.” Of course, no such thing happened. Israel approved the construction of new houses in already existing settlements.
There were also false claims that illustrate how the host likes to speak confidently about matters he knows very little about. On the topic of settlements, Velshi charged that: “Israeli settlements in the West Bank are deemed illegal under international law, a finding that is notably ignored by Israel and its greatest military and financial supporter, the United States.”
Whose finding? Who did the deeming? While some governments and political entities may make this argument, that does not make something “illegal under international law,” nor do their opinions count as “findings.” That’s simply not how international law works.
The long-winded monologue also contained erroneous and often contradictory statements about “apartheid” and “occupation.” Velshi began by declaring that Israel’s “occupation” is “illegal.” Assuming for the sake of argument that the West Bank is “occupied,” military occupations are not illegal. In fact, there are entire treaties regulating how a military occupation is to be carried out, such as the Fourth Geneva Convention. Suffice it to say that writing entire laws on how to carry out an illegal activity would represent a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of law.
The laws on occupation recognize that during armed conflict, territory will change hands, and thus a certain set of regulations is necessary to govern how belligerents are to treat the people of the occupied territory pending the resolution of the conflict. Israel captured the territory during the Six Day War when it defended itself against surrounding Arab armies. Though Israel subsequently made numerous offers for peace and statehood (e.g., 2000, 2008), the Palestinian leadership has rejected them all. Consequently, Judea & Samaria have remained in Israel’s hands absent a final status agreement (as called for, for example, in U.N. Security Council Resolution 242). Palestinian rejectionism does not magically render Israel’s occupation “illegal,” or else international law and decades of peace process consensus would be meaningless.
But herein lies Velshi’s ignorance or bad faith: he argues, in effect, that Israel cannot be a democracy because it does not give the Palestinians the right to vote in Israeli elections. It’s a claim that misses the entire point of the laws of occupation. It would be absurd to suggest that an occupied population must be granted the right to vote in the national elections of an occupying power. No one would seriously suggest that for the period in which the United States was an occupying power in Iraq that Iraqis had the right to vote in U.S. elections. Nor would one make the argument in relation to any of the other coalition members. Yet that is what Velshi’s argument implies.
To grant Palestinians the right to vote, Israel would have to annex the territory, an act which Velshi conveniently and inaccurately redefines as “totally controlling [territory] without offering its residents a vote.” Yet annexation is prohibited under the laws of occupation. Velshi’s fantasy version of “international law” simply puts Israel in a no-win situation.
Velshi is entitled to his opinions, even if they’re completely divorced from reality. But opinion show hosts need to base their views and rhetoric on factual reality should they desire to be considered anything more than just another angry demagogue. MSNBC viewers should ask themselves what value they’re being given if the talking heads at the network can’t be bothered with factual accuracy.
Originally published by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis.