Jon Stewart — so funny, so wrong on Israel-Gaza

It’s an asymmetrical war, all right. But America’s satirical news host has got it the wrong way around

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Jon Stewart: Tastes great. More killings (YouTube screenshot)
Jon Stewart: Tastes great. More killings (YouTube screenshot)

That Jon Stewart, he’s sooooo funny. Just watch his amusing take on the current Israel-Gaza conflict. Really, it’s a nonstop laugh fest.

Yeah, it misrepresents what’s going on here. But hey, it is funny, and all those millions of Americans who watched it on Monday know that it’s just satire, don’t they?

Except I fear that they do not. I think they take the very funny Mr. Stewart very seriously. Which, in this case, is a bit of a problem.

Why? Let’s take it joke by joke.

Our super-smart, engagingly frustrated host starts up despairing over a news report of the intensifying conflict which says Israeli troops are poised to invade Gaza, and which ends with the words “as the aerial bombardment from both sides continues.”

Stewart: “Tastes great. More killing.”

See, right off the bat, I’m unhappy. Because, first up, he’s begun with talk of Israel being set to invade Gaza, but without any cited reason — such as, say, Hamas being a terrorist organization with a notorious track record of suicide bombings, individual killings, kidnappings, and incessant rocket fire. And, second, because the implication here is that the combatants — Israel and Hamas — are both happy to be back killing again, and that’s just plain false. Hamas is avowedly committed to the destruction of Israel and holds to a perverted interpretation of Islam that claims killing Jews, Christians and non-believing Muslims is your guaranteed path to paradise if you also die in the process. Israelis, by contrast, would much rather live and let live. (We left Gaza unilaterally in 2005, under international pressure, hoping that the security risk would be worth it, and that we’d be rewarded with tranquility rather than rocket fire, but I wouldn’t expect Stewart to go back that far.)

Jon Stewart: Tastes great. More killing (YouTube screenshot)
Jon Stewart: Tastes great. More killing (YouTube screenshot)

Stewart: “Both sides are engaging in aerial bombardment, but one side appears to be bomb-better-at it. (Studio laughter at the wordplay.) Most Hamas rockets are neutralized by Israel’s Iron Dome technology, and Israeli citizens can even now download a warning app. (Cut to clip of Israel’s US ambassador Ron Dermer explaining how Israelis can know where and when they’re being attacked.) So Israelis seem to have a high-tech, smart-phone alert system.”

Let me see if I understand the point he’s making here: Having falsely implied that Israel is as keen on killing as Hamas is, Stewart now seems to be criticizing Israel for not being as vulnerable as Hamas would like it to be to those Hamas rockets that are sent to kill us. He seems to be bashing us for having those tech smarts. It’s a bad thing that we developed a unique, astonishing Iron Dome missile defense system, without which hundreds of us would be dead? It’s a bad thing that we developed an app to warn us that the rockets designed to kill our citizens are heading this way?

Stewart: “How are the Gazans notified? (Cut to a clip explaining that Israel carries out “a small mortar explosion” on the roof of a building that is to be bombed “which serves as an Israeli warning of an upcoming airstrike.” Back to Stewart.) “Hmmm. So the Israeli military warns Gaza residents of imminent bombing (pause for comedic effect), with a smaller warning bombing! (Laughter). An amuse-boom, if you will.” (Studio laughter, clapping, cheering.)

What’s my problem with that bit (once I’ve registered the witty play on amuse-bouche). Oh, where to start? Stewart fails to explain which buildings in Gaza are being targeted: This is not the mirror image of Hamas’s arbitrary rocket attacks on any and every Israeli target. These are Israeli airstrikes on Gaza homes where Israel says terror chiefs live, where weaponry is stored, from where rockets are fired.

Furthermore, whereas Hamas, out to kill, does not generally warn Israel of imminent rocket attacks (thus rendering every missile fired at Israel from Gaza “a crime against humanity,” according to the Palestinian Authority’s own UN representative), Israel, trying not to kill noncombatants, fires that warning mortar shell to alert civilians — even though it knows this is more than likely to lead to the terrorist fleeing. Would Stewart rather Israel not warn Gazans that, in its efforts to prevent rocket fire on its civilians, it is about to strike back?

Stewart: “And then, at that point what are Gazans supposed to do? (Cut to clip describing how one Gazan family was told by the Israeli military that it had three minutes to evacuate.) “Evacuate to where?!”

Well, how about anywhere but that house and immediate area.

Stewart: “Have you ****ing seen Gaza?! It’s this big.” (Map shows tiny Gaza, doesn’t mark out Israel, doesn’t show West Bank, and thus doesn’t give a sense of Israel’s tiny size relative to the wider Middle East.) “Israel blocked this border. Egypt blocked this border. What, are they supposed to swim for it?” (Gales of studio laughter.)

Jon Stewart: Gaza on the map (YouTube screenshot)
Jon Stewart: Gaza on the map (YouTube screenshot)

Sigh. Again, my trouble here is that while this part of the routine may be amusing, it’s deliberately skewing the point to get those laughs. Israel has maintained a security blockade on Gaza to try to prevent Hamas from smuggling in more of those rockets, and worse. That’s why it blocks the border. Egypt, which you might think would be more sympathetic to its fellow Muslims, has blocked its end of Gaza to prevent Hamas leaving the Strip to engage in terrorism inside its territory. Much less funny. But true.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s hell in Gaza right now, and pretty awful most of the time. But it’s largely a Hamas-created hell.

Stewart: “Perhaps nothing sums up the asymmetrical nature of this conflict more than a quick check-in with the correspondents assigned to the respective beats. (Picture of NBC correspondents side by side in their different locations — the relaxed man in Tel Aviv in orange polo shirt, and the embattled man in Gaza up to his neck in a heavy blue protective vest, marked PRESS; quite the hilarious contrast.) Look at this. The Gaza reporter looks like an extra from ‘The Hurt Locker,’ while the reporter in Israel looks like he’s going to bang out his stand-up and then head to a Jimmy Buffett concert. They’re a living political cartoon for the war in the Middle East.” (More huge laughs.)

Jon Stewart: The correspondents (YouTube screenshot)
Jon Stewart: The correspondents (YouTube screenshot)

Well, yes, NBC’s Tel Aviv correspondent can afford to look more relaxed because, despite Hamas’s best efforts, he’s fairly safe, protected by that Iron Dome system, and the sirens, and the apps, and the reinforced rooms, and the bomb shelters that Israel provides to try to keep its citizenry alive in the vicious Middle East. That doesn’t add up to a hermetic shield, but its doing wonders in keeping casualty figures down. And, yes, NBC’s man in Gaza is more at risk, because he’s reporting from an enclave that was seized seven years ago by a ruthless Islamist terrorist organization that, far from building bomb shelters and other defenses for Gazans (which would not be necessary anyway if Hamas wasn’t bent on fighting Israel), has diverted electricity, building materials and all other relevant resources to manufacture rockets. It has then placed those in, and fired them from, the heart of Gaza’s dense population centers, cynically and deliberately putting Gazans directly into harm’s way. An asymmetrical conflict indeed — just not asymmetrical in the way Stewart depicted it.

Stewart, wrapping up: “The world, the world has gone mad.”

Indeed it has. And my fervent hope for America is that it not find itself targeted by the marching forces of kill-and-be-killed Islamic extremism in this mad world in the way that Israel is, when concerns about satire and ill-informed ridicule would be the least of its problems.

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