LONDON — Leading Palestinian activist Mohammed El-Kurd has criticized the mainstream media for favoring pro-Israel “talking points” over the voices, experiences, and agency of Palestinian residents, and has called for reporting that prioritizes the voices, experiences, and agency of Palestinian citizens.
El-Kurd made the remarks on April 24 during a live discussion in London titled “Against Erasure: Why Palestinian Voices Must Finally Take Centre Stage,” which was attended by journalists and campaigners.
El-Kurd discussed the issues of what he views skewed and hostile coverage, the importance of art, literature, and other media in the battle for Palestinian independence, and finding ways to connect Palestinian reality with Western audiences during the talk, which Arab News attended.
The award-winning poet is most recognized for being a driving force behind the #SaveSheikhJarrah initiative. TIME Magazine named him and his sister Muna one of the 100 most influential persons in the world in 2021.
The event was organised by independent media platform Palestine Deep Dive and publisher Haymarket Books in the aftermath of his recent viral BBC interview in which he chastised a presenter for his coverage of Israeli police raids on Al-Aqsa Mosque. He went on to criticize fellow news analyst and former British ambassador Peter Ricketts for his “clear lack of expertise” on Palestine, saying, “I’m amazed by how far removed you are from the matter.”
“When you flip the question, when you correct the presenter, you change the power dynamic in the interview.” “You are having the observer, the viewer, question the integrity of that media platform, which gives you more authority on the subject,” El-Kurd remarked on stage in conversation with Malia Bouattia, opinion editor of The New Arab.
According to El-Kurd, Palestinian dehumanization has grown commonplace, particularly during the First Intifada, and they have been “depicted as terrorists.” As a result, he suggested, advocates navigating the world of mainstream media face additional challenges in getting their voices heard.
“We have the truth on our side, but it is insufficient. “Those of us who are advocates and go on TV must have a certain level of political education,” he explained.
“It’s not enough to be a victim of violence; it’s not enough to have bruises.” “You must also be able to persuade,” he continued.
In his BBC interview, El-Kurd explained his tough stance against pro-Israeli talking points, saying, “You should not care what the interviewer is asking.” You must deliver a talking point. You have a story to tell, so you tell it.”
El-Kurd also acknowledged that his celebrity makes him an outlier in terms of a Palestinian being given a mainstream platform, but that these news channels are mostly ignoring Palestinians in a discourse in which they are crucial.
He did feel, however, that huge grassroots movements were still capable of confronting skewed media narratives in order to effect change.
“I recall the 2021 campaign for Sheikh Jarrah, and the fact that it was mostly successful in stopping the expulsion orders against our families (and it) was entirely volunteer-led.” And it was hundreds of thousands of people all around the world who were taking time out of their days to protest, tweet, divest, and generate work in their communities.”
According to Palestine Deep Dive, only 46 of the 2,490 opinion pieces regarding Palestinians published by the New York Times between 1970 and 2019 were authored by Palestinians, accounting for less than 2% of the total.
El-Kurd, like many other pro-Palestine rights activists, said that associating criticism of Israel with antisemitism has been used to restrict discussion of Palestinian suffering.
He discovered that even progressive media sources in the UK and the US “often engage in this qualification policy, where they can only speak about Palestine if they spend 15 minutes denouncing all kinds of bigotry and racism, as if Palestine is inherently tied to a certain bigotry.”
Several people accused of antisemitism have been threatened and marginalized in recent years, from German courts ruling that Deutsche Welle’s firing of journalist Maram Salem was illegal to courts in the country overturning a ban on Roger Waters’ Frankfurt concert due to antisemitism concerns.
Despite this, El-Kurd stated that people must be willing to make sacrifices, noting that “any opposition to any injustice has not been met with applause at first.”