How satire is helping expose Israeli propaganda and challenge media bias against Palestinians

Satire has been used in literature throughout the ages but the advent of social media has helped it become a tool of the masses to influence public opinion

Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef's interview with Piers Morgan created shockwaves on social media, garnering over 21 million views.
Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef's interview with Piers Morgan created shockwaves on social media, garnering over 21 million views.

How satire is helping expose Israeli propaganda and challenge media bias against Palestinians

Satire has long been an influential, expressive, and easily digested social and political commentary tool. In literature, satire has made its mark across genres, from poetry, novels, and short stories to essays, articles, and caricatures.

In the current Israeli war on the people of Gaza and Palestine, satire has become an effective weapon against systematic Israeli propaganda and racist supremacist narratives.

This is especially evident on social media platforms, which are significantly contributing to the shift in Western public opinion on the events unfolding in Gaza — freeing it from the shackles of traditional Western media.

In a recent parody video, French-Moroccan comedian Malik Bentalha slammed French journalist Pascal Praud's talk show “L'heure des pros” on far-right French television channel CNews. As of the moment of writing, the 16-minute clip had amassed a staggering 32 million views on X (formerly Twitter) and 3.3 million views on YouTube.

Praud's show has long served as a platform for attacking and demonising immigrants, Arabs, and Muslims and blaming them for all the issues plaguing the French and, more broadly, European society.

Albeit marginal, the sociocultural issues Praud's show raises are often contentious and cunningly twisted to fuel social discontentment with migrants.

In late September, Praud blamed migrants during his show for the bedbug epidemic that plagued metro stations, movie theatres, and other public places across French cities, citing “insufficient” hygiene practices compared to natives.

Praud's racist rhetoric sparked wide controversy in France and on social media, even outraging some French political parties and pushing several members of parliament to file a claim against him for “racist” discourse, including President Emmanuel Macron's Renaissance party.

A more recent video of Praud's furious outburst at a commentator on his show made the rounds on social media. At the end of his show on 7 November, Praud was seen angrily demanding that his guest stop defending Palestinians, claiming “they want to kill Israel”.

It was also on Praud's show that French artist Enrico Macias called for the destruction of the French leftist party “La France Insoumise” (LFI) for its stance on Israel's genocide in Gaza.

A wave of anger and resentment naturally ensued. Retorts to inflammatory discourses on Praud’s show emerged through articles, statements, tweets, and social media posts.

But comedian Malik Bentalha chose a different approach, slamming Praud with a scathing 16-minute parody video delivered with poignant simplicity and humour.

Satire has become an effective weapon against Israeli propaganda. Social media — free from the shackles of traditional Western media — has helped to shift Western public opinion on Gaza.

Satire in literature

Palestinian author Ghassan Kanafani once said that satire is not superficial jokes about how things look but rather a deep analysis of how things are.

Satire made its mark on Arabic literature as early as Al-Jahiz's masterpiece, The Book of Misers. Modern Arabic literature's most famous satirists include Syria's Mohamad Al-Maghout and Egypt's Mahmoud Al-Saadani and Omar Taher.

Though more common, satirical prose was not the only playground for the Arab literati. Arabic poetry has also accumulated its fair share of satirical works over time.

In Turkey, satirist Aziz Nesin produced several satirical works in which he ridiculed society's contradictions and exposed power-hungry opportunists. His works were translated into many languages, including Arabic, and his novel Zübük was adapted into the Syrian hit TV series Al-Dughri starring Duraid Lahham.

Global literature also abounds with satirical oeuvres.

Most of us are familiar with Homer's The Illiad and The Odyssey, but perhaps few have heard of Batrachomyomachia. The satirical epic, dating back to the 8th century BC, was also attributed to Homer, who uses this account of a fierce battle between rats and frogs to take a jab at religious ideology.

Several centuries later, Lucius Apuleius would pen the world's first satirical novel, The Golden Ass. In the 19th century, Lord Byron would contribute to the genre with his epic Don Juan — an icon of European satirical literature that ridicules social life at the British Royal Court. But perhaps the most famous satirical work remains Miguel de Cervantes' ridicule of foolish heroism with Don Quixote.

With technological advancement, satire was no longer confined to literature. In the 1990s, television networks in the United States started to broadcast satirical talk shows, whose popularity has only increased since, allowing viewers a humorous, critical perspective on political and social issues.

Nate Corddry (C) Rob Corddry (R) and host Jon Stewart (L) appear on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" #JonVoyage on August 6, 2015 in New York City.

So influential are these programmes that American politicians are known to watch them regularly to monitor their popularity, especially among the youth (18-30 years old).

In the Arab world, the emergence of satirical television shows was sparked by the "Arab Spring", the most famous and widely watched being Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef's Al Barnameg (The Programme).

Gradually, these shows abandoned television screens in favour of social media platforms to skirt political, cultural, social, and religious constraints. Today, they play a crucial role in shaping the audience's perception of social, cultural, and political issues.

So influential are these satirical programmes that American politicians are known to watch them regularly to monitor their popularity, especially among the youth.

Gaza and satire

As the Israeli war on Gaza rages on, social media users have turned into an unexpectedly influential pressure group, especially by excoriating the videos of Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari's blatant and frequent misinformation.

One particular video elicited an unprecedented wave of mockery that eventually drove the Israeli army's official accounts on social media to delete the video.

In that clip, Hagari points to a calendar hung on a wall in the Al-Shifa hospital, claiming: "This is a guardians' list, where every terrorist writes his name and every terrorist has his own shift, guarding the people that were here." He then goes on to show several other supposed "pieces of evidence", like diapers and pacifiers. Social media was awash with spoof videos mimicking Hagari.

But there's a darker side to this war of satire. Many Israelis, including soldiers, have ridiculed the Palestinian people using a racist supremacist language that nearly parallels the language of arms in monstrosity and brutality.

With unabashed derision, Israelis are filmed performing satirical skits on the ruins of destroyed schools and homes or imitating the pain of Palestinian victims. Rather than fostering a different narrative, these videos only confirmed Israel's long-standing condescending narrative that disdains Palestinians as inferior people and gloats at their suffering.

We cannot discuss the role of satire in shaping public opinion during this war without mentioning Bassem Youssef's historic television appearance with famous British journalist Piers Morgan.

Youssef's interview created shockwaves on social media and drew in Arab and international attention, garnering about 21 million views (the highest viewership rate in the history of Morgan's show) and prompting the British journalist to conduct a second face-to-face interview with Youssef.

The Egyptian satirist wittingly broke the barriers that Western media had long set on the Palestinian cause, masterfully showcasing the suffering of the people of Gaza in a critical and satirical way that left the seasoned British host at a loss for words.

In the second interview, which drew in 11 million views, Youssef managed to debunk Israeli propaganda and the staunch Western support for it.

He offered a fresh perspective on the Palestinian cause with a deep, smooth discourse that explored its roots and revisited the European origins of Jewish persecution and the blind accusations of antisemitism. 

Through symbolic gestures laden with significance, from donning traditional Palestinian clothing to gifting Morgan a bottle of olive oil from the West Bank and talking about olive trees and zaatar, Youssef managed to portray how Palestinians are rooted in their land and prove that Palestine was never "a land without a people", as the Israeli narrative claims.

If the West has mastered the art of using soft power to influence the collective mind of their societies, people like Bassem Youssef and Malik Bentalha have successfully made, through satire, a cultural imprint that no speeches, ideologies, or inflammatory socio-cultural terms can erase, even in this age of misinformation.

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