Sut Jhally said propagandistic media has contributed to the public’s understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The University of Massachusetts Amherst professor hopes to occupy UCLA students’ minds with a different story from the media’s. His documentary, “The Occupation of the American Mind,” focuses on pro-Israeli public relation efforts in the United States.
Sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA, the film was screened on Wednesday at the James Bridges Theater with appearances by Jhally and Roger Waters from rock band Pink Floyd.
Executive producer Jhally hopes the screening shed light on the media’s role in America’s perception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while also showing support for pro-Palestinian students and faculty at UCLA.
The Daily Bruin’s Cameron Vernali spoke to Jhally about Waters’ view of the documentary, the importance of open discussions on campus and why UCLA was an ideal place to screen the documentary.
Daily Bruin: What was the motivation in creating a film that covered the media’s portrayal of the Israeli-Palestine conflict?
Sut Jhally: I think this is one of the most successful public relations campaigns in history, in which Israel and the US media have essentially turned reality on its head and got Americans to believe that the Palestinians are doing something wrong or that Palestinians are illegally occupying land in the Middle East. It’s a spectacular example of the success of public relations. The other reason is that Israel has the largest amount of foreign aid going through to the United States, and so people should know what that money is going towards.
DB: How did Roger Waters become involved in this documentary?
SJ: Roger Waters has been an outspoken proponent of Palestinian rights over the last 10 years or so … He wants to support films that draw attention to the injustice that’s happening in Israel and Palestine, and the injustices happening to the Palestinian people. He wants to use his own voice and his own fame for that …
UCLA is kind of ground zero for the attacks on pro-Palestinian students … (this screening) is very much a show of solidarity with those students, that they are not alone and we want to show support for them.
DB: Do you think showing this documentary on a college campus elicited a different response than it would elsewhere in a non-college environment?
SJ: This film deals directly with what is happening on campus. The public relations relies on making sure that (there are) no alternative voices. When there are alternative voices, they have to be shut up and that’s exactly what’s happening with the pro-Palestinian students on campus … Both from the perspective that this is controversial on the UCLA campus and that the film actually deals with the exact issues around trying to control the stories and discourse around people understand the conflict, it’s the perfect film and the perfect place to show it.
DB: How do you think this documentary affected people’s views on this topic?
SJ: I hope it will be something that allows (viewers) to think about the situation in a new way, and perhaps in a more informed way. The issue of the conflict between Israel and Palestine is one of the most propagandized stories in American media. What we are doing is presenting an alternative to that and saying, “Look, this is how this thing is being presented. If this is your understanding of it, this is why.”
DB: How do you think presenting the Israel-Palestine conflict in film can affect people’s political views?
SJ: There’s no doubt that documentaries have become very popular because you are telling people a story in another medium, which may be easier to understand. That’s the whole purpose of documentaries: to expand the ways in which you look at the world… If someone watches our film, and… the next time they look at a news story and they know that they are getting partial, one-sided views of the situation, then the film will have been a success.