Bill Maher, Politically Correct

HBO’s Bill Maher is a real bad boy, a thorn in the side of traditional America, and if you don’t believe it, just ask him. “I’m out of the mainstream,” he congratulated himself during a 2003 TV special. “I’m the guy who thinks religion is bad and drugs are good … and Jesus wasn’t a Republican.” It’s good, though, for the kids at home to remember that television is all about manufactured image and that, just because a guy had a nineties TV show called Politically Incorrect, it doesn’t mean he ever really was.

He wrote in a Huffington Post piece, “I love it that a U.S. president doesn’t pretend [the] Arab-Israeli conflict is an even-steven proposition.” The celebrated lack of even-stevenness here refers to his president’s militantly pro-Israeli, anti-Palestinian bias. Thou shalt not badmouth Israel — and its corollary, that Palestinianterrorist must appear as one word, blinking in neon from deep in the mire of the American mind — are at the direct epicenter of American political orthodoxy, unchallenged by the president or the power brokers of the Democratic or Republican parties, and for Bill Maher to strut about the proscenium bragging that he’s out of the mainstream isn’t a lot different than Bill O’Reilly’s nightly pleasuring of himself on Fox News, where he rants against his enemies in the “elite” media. Fox News is the elite media, for God’s sake, and so is Bill O’Reilly.

“[W]ould you grant me this?” Maher asked terrorism expert Michael Scheuer on a recent Real Time HBO episode, “That as long as there is an Israel in the world — and I’m a big supporter of Israel — and as long as America backs it — the kind of Muslims that take their religion that seriously that they would strap on a suicide belt, are always going to be out for us and always going to be trying to kill us?” In Maher’s world, the Islamic capacity for violence rises in direct proportion to the seriousness with which a practitioner will take it, which (despite hipper-than-thou “rationalist” declamations against religion in politics) puts him foursquare aligned with snake handlers like Pat (“Islam is a violent religion”) Robertson and the late Jerry (“Muhammad was a terrorist”) Falwell.

In a land where Hillary Clinton says, “Israel is standing for American values,” (in its 2006 invasion of Lebanon), where George Bush pledges to defend Israel, no questions asked, where Nancy Pelosi swears that, “America’s commitment to … Israel is unwavering,” and Rudy Giuliani says, “America shouldn’t be even-handed in dealing with … an elected democracy … and a group of terrorists,” the question is begged: just what mainstream is it that Bill Maher finds himself out of? On a 2006 episode of Real Time, Maher and right-wing ex-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were commiserating on a wonted Maher lament that, in times of war, Israel is held to a higher standard of martial restraint than other countries, when the man the Huffington Post calls, “one of the most politically astute comedians in America,” felt compelled to say, “It seems to me the world just doesn’t like it when the Jews win.” The context here was a discussion of the State of Israel, and criticism thereof, which Maher quickly linked to anti-Semitism (“… the world just doesn’t like it when the Jews win,” is, after all, as good a working definition of anti-Semitism as one can conjure). Pope John Paul II said famously (inarguably, in light of the holocaust) that “anti-Semitism is a sin against God and humanity.” Soooo — if one agrees with Bill Maher that asking Israel to show restraint is anti-Semitic (though I suggest against it) then, using John Paul’s qualification of said anti-Semitism (which I’ve nothing against), the view, let’s say, that China uses slave labor is accepted as a rather quotidian political statement, while the charge that the State of Israel builds illegal settlements, at great injury to the peace process, gets bumped up to a sin against God and humanity, resulting, inevitably, in moral and political intimidation in the American discourse, and, what’s worse, sloppy thinking. A non-Jew (or a Jew, come to think of it) would be narrow and mean indeed if, after reading of Moshe Dayan’s infamous exhortation, “Israel must become like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother,” walked away thinking “them Jews are crazy bastards.” Grammar aside, he’d be guilty of conflating, as Bill Maher does, the actions of the State of Israel (in this case, the statement of one of its leaders) with the values of all Jews, everywhere.

From another HuffPo piece: “As I watch so much of the world ask Israel for restraint … it strikes me that the world IS Mel Gibson.” Gibson was contextualized here for his drunken, authentically anti-Semitic blatherings the night they ran him in for DUI. If we go along with Maher, then — clearly — Human Rights Watch has labeled Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes as illegal collective punishment out of a hatred at seeing Jews win, and — just as clearly — Amnesty International condemned an increase in “attacks against Palestinians and their property by Israeli settlers,” out of similar agenda, but it’s less clear what caused an outfit in the Occupied Territories called the Yesha Rabbinical Council to pronounce, during the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon that “according to Jewish law, during a time of battle and war, there is no such term as ‘innocents’ of the enemy.” In other words, Israel can kill all the civilians it damn well pleases. Restraint? These guys don’t know from restraint. Maher, to be sure, has advanced no such Yesha cuckoo talk (Yesha is Hebrew for occupied territories). Yet, might one who made his media bones with pearls like “I think religion is a neurological disorder,” better serve the causes of Truth, Justice and the American Way by taking on the primitive, theocratic ravings of the Yesha Rabbinical Council?

Does Maher think Nobel Peace Prize Winner Desmond Tutu IS Mel Gibson? In 2007, Archbishop Tutu was disinvited from a speaking engagement at a Minnesota university in order, according to the university, to avoid offense to the Jewish Community. The Archbishop had noted in a 2002 Boston speech that “In our struggle against apartheid, the most outstanding stalwarts were Jews.” He should have shut up then, but went on to skunk-at-the- American-lawn-party status with his talk of home demolitions and collective punishment of Palestinians. Not an inarticulate chap, Tutu had made it clear in the same speech that, “we don’t criticize the Jewish people, we criticize…the government of Israel,” a disclaimer to which the conflation (Israel = All Jews, everywhere) crowd (including Maher) tend to answer, “liar!” The academic lynching crowd, having seized the baton from the conflation crowd, sputtered, “He compared Israel to Hitler! Gag him!” Actually, he mentioned several repressive regimes in the same breath as Israel, before concluding with “an unjust [by Tutu’s estimation] Israeli government will fall…” Big deal – one could swap the word American for Israeli in the same sentence. Lots do, of late, though without fear of being banned from campus (“for now…,” taunt the wiseacres, “… for now …”). Archbishop Tutu never, by the way, called for the destruction of Israel.

And, to be fair, Bill Maher never suggested anyone be banned from campus. But equivalence reflexively drawn between legitimate political speech and sins against God and humanity goes such a long way in the greasing of the fascistic skids. If a speaker had shown up at the student union a few years back to share the judgment — let’s just say — that the Irish Republic Army had been the enemy of peace, would a fatwa have been issued against the free exchange of ideas? Even if, as held in some parochial circles, criticism of the IRA was an inferred slam on the Republican Movement, by extension the Republic of Ireland, it’s unlikely that banishment from the national academy would have been the suggested remedy, and besides, most American ICs would have hidden their daughters, locked the liquor cabinet, and extinguished every light in the house at news the IRA was coming down the street, raising funds with, “give a dollar to kill a Limey,” a ham-fisted slogan developed (as the United Way developed the more elegant, “A Little ‘You’ Goes a Long Way”) to meet the eleemosynary needs of the moment. Perhaps things could have gone smoother if they’d had Bill Maher, who despite a career-long show of afflicting the comfortable, was offered this bouquet by the right-wing Jerusalem Post: “The foreign minister would do well to watch ‘Bill Maher,’ to learn how to sell Israel’s case to a TV audience.”

New Rule, Bill: Americans have every moral and political right to criticize Israel and its sugar daddy, the USA. And it’s not because they hate to see Jews win. They hate to see America lose.

Michael Nolan is a writer living in Massachusetts. His work has appeared in, Common Dreams, Dissident Voice, Lew, and the Vermont Guardian. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Michael.

16 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Espresso said on February 6th, 2008 at 9:55am #

    Here’s the youtube clip you spoke of that shows Bill Maher’s bias towards Israel. Good job for Janeane Garofalo to call Bill out on it.

  2. Hatuxka said on February 6th, 2008 at 11:19am #

    Nice job of debunking this fake maverick. I stopped watching him when a couple of years ago he gave kudos to Bush for allowing elections to be held in Iraq, as if that made up for the criminal actions that had occurred up to that point.

  3. Robert B. Livingston said on February 6th, 2008 at 1:59pm #

    More curious to me than some of Maher’s verbal contortions, is the strange dialog Amy Goodman had with Phillip Shenon who she interviewed recently. The NYT reporter recently authored a book about the 9/11 Commission Report which (hold on to your hat) reveals that Commission Chair Philip Zelikow had conflicts of interest because of his close ties to the Bush Administration.

    In a very telling part of the interview, Amy Goodman breaks with her reticence to talk about the 9/11 truth movement by asking Shenon his opinion about whether or not he thought that 9/11 “was an inside job”. She also mentioned that the fall of WTC 7 was not included in the Official Commission Report.

    Shenon pauses briefly looking upwards toward his left, then spouts the argument that has become popular among those (including Noam Chomsky) who wish to dismiss the possibility. He said that he found it very difficult to believe that the government had the competence to pull off such an operation. He fails to mention Building 7, or its absence from the Commission Report.

    Amazingly, and without, missing a beat– Goodman jumps to another question without probing his response at all. There is no follow-through, and the interview soon ends.

    Having listened to the interview, is one supposed to conform to the idea that we were attacked because “they hate our freedom?”

    Very curious, especially when government analysts are issuing renewed warnings of al- Qaeda attacks on the U.S. and elsewhere.

  4. Arch Stanton said on February 6th, 2008 at 2:13pm #

    Why is Bill Maher a “big supporter” of Israel? Because they both have the same boss: US corporate and imperial interests who use Israel to insure that arab peoples don’t interfere with US economic and strategic profiteering in that region by insisting on rights to their own resources.

    BTW, this bullshit about Israel’s “right to exist” is just that, bullshit. No state recognizes any other’s right to exist. Does the US recognize Iraq’s right to exist as it is turning that country into a balkanized slave/satellite state? Doubtful. People have rights to exist, states do not.

  5. DaveS said on February 6th, 2008 at 7:38pm #

    I agree and disagree with Nolan. I have observed Maher’s unflinching support, not just for Israel, but for virtually all of the tired old arguments on behalf of Israel that cannot withstand the slightest analysis. While he has always been like this, his Israel-worship reached a true nadir in the repulsive Netanyahu love-fest interview.

    But on almost every other topic, I find him refreshingly honest and skeptical. It makes his gullibility on Israel all the more disappointing and inexplicable.

    To me, it is the sharpest example of the dichotomy I have observed in many (mostly Jewish) progressives I know personally. A tiny minority of my circle voted for Bush, a healthy majority believe he is a lying mass-murderer, but many in the latter category, like Maher, seem to me to be so ignorant of the Arab-Israeli conflict. And, because I’m Jewish, it’s usually assumed that I’m on the same page. There seems to be this gigantic moral blindspot among these people regarding one issue only.

    For example, on the question of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State, it is virtual heresy to doubt our right as American Jews to move to another side of the world and exercise superior rights over people who were born there but have the “wrong” ethnic background. There may be reasonable arguments to be made in favor of a Jewish State, but even to ask such questions is considered lunatic fringe.

    Back to Maher. I think the guy is very impressive, but I do gag every time Israel comes up. What else can I say?

  6. Hans Bennett said on February 6th, 2008 at 7:39pm #

    Good article…. These comments from Maher are very dissapointing.
    I’ve always thought Bill Maher was over-rated. I remember a couple shows I saw where he had Noam Chomsky on and one where he had Jello Biafra… While it is sorta cool to have them on…. Maher and his other guests just ganged up against the radical like 5 to 1 and I remember that Biafra could barely get a word in.

    Many liberal types like Maher think they’re really radical—-but they are really posers.

  7. HR said on February 6th, 2008 at 8:32pm #

    Maher is a Zionist stooge, who is moderately funny at times. I watched his show on HBO maybe half a dozen times. Little on the show can be taken at face value, though I suspect many of his fans believe all he and his (generally) airhead celebrity guests say. On the next-to-last show of his I saw (or intend to see), he and his “distinguished” guests decided that the Constitutional requirement for the President to be native-born was NOT something put in by the founders, but rather the result of amendment. He failed to correct that error in his next show. That was the last straw for me. It’s appropriate for him to be one of Arianna’s pets.

  8. JMS said on February 7th, 2008 at 12:05pm #

    Give credit where credit is due.

    Turn on the television and he’s the only individual that dares to speak against the mainstream on MOST issues. You’re all going to call him names because you disagree with him on a few issues? C’mon. This is just as bad as someone that invalidates everything that Maher stands for because he’s a major supporter of animal rights and PETA.

    Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Gore Vidal, Amy Goodman, Naomi Klein, Ralph Nader, Cornel West.. Without Real Time w/ Bill Maher – would you get to see and hear these individuals on television? No. Maybe on PBS on occasion. Maher introduces these powerful voices to the rest of the country and that’s extremely important. You’re not going to find that anywhere else on the television.

    The guy was on Larry King Live the other night praising Ralph Nader, bashing the corporate two-party system, and spoke against the war. That reached thousands of viewers.

    So he’s wrong and dishonest on a few issues, absolutely – but, his positives outweigh the negatives in my opinion.

  9. John Wilkinson said on February 7th, 2008 at 1:17pm #

    this guy is part of the left elite. just as corrupt, fake, cliquish and money/power (/israel) driven as the right elite. politically incorrect — sure, just don’t criticize israel, just don’t tell inconvenient truths on a million other issues. and these are the ones who’ll lead us away from disaster, lol?

    i love it when someone says the emperor has no clothes.

  10. Don Hawkins said on February 7th, 2008 at 2:57pm #

    John Wilkinson you have the ability to go right to the heart of the matter. Keep writting.

  11. Steven Sherman said on February 7th, 2008 at 5:13pm #

    Is’nt Maher opposed to the minimum wage? I really hate libertarians. Truly a political philosophy to be outgrown by the age of eighteen.

  12. Steven Sherman said on February 7th, 2008 at 7:57pm #

    Ooops. Never mind that last comment. Completely inaccurate. Mea culpa.

  13. Espresso said on February 8th, 2008 at 9:59am #

    It all falls back to pure tribalism. Some are for peace, justice, truth, rule of law, etc.. until their own tribe is found in violation and then they “cover up” or try and spin from the facts.

    Tribalism is the true enemy of humanity. Bill Maher is for all those things mentioned above, as long as you don’t apply the same standards to his own tribe.

  14. hp said on February 8th, 2008 at 8:25pm #

    And Bill’s tribe wrote the book.

  15. Brian Koontz said on February 9th, 2008 at 9:05pm #

    “Amazingly, and without, missing a beat– Goodman jumps to another question without probing his response at all. There is no follow-through, and the interview soon ends.

    Having listened to the interview, is one supposed to conform to the idea that we were attacked because “they hate our freedom?”

    Very curious, especially when government analysts are issuing renewed warnings of al- Qaeda attacks on the U.S. and elsewhere.”

    Al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. because it wanted to provoke the U.S. government into massive military/security spending, bleeding the country dry financially, which would lead to the downfall of the American Empire and in Bin Laden’s final goal to enable a Muslim superstate in the Middle East.

    Both goals are proceeding quite well. The pathetic Americans and their hideous government are taking care of the former, and by attacking several Muslim countries and threatening several more it’s quite possible that a Muslim superstate could emerge in order to better defend Muslims from the Imperial West.

    Analysts commonly make the major error of saying that “Al Qaeda isn’t powerful”.

    A) Bankrupt the American Empire

    B) Muslim superstate

    Al Qaeda doesn’t have to be powerful – it just has to achieve it’s goals. Al Qaeda’s greatest ally is the Neoconservatives. They have all the power that Al Qaeda needs.

    Secrets can’t be kept when they involve large numbers of people and involve important events. Al Qaeda attacked Americans on 9/11.

  16. Jessy Gonzalez said on July 12th, 2008 at 8:39pm #

    What I find most interesting in nearly all the comments regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that there is almost zero substance or rational given to support one side or the other. And this seems typical of almost all arguments regarding this conflict. I suspect that very few actually know the history or the complexities of the situation. Plus, I see criticisms being made not of what was said, but of some extrapolation of what was said. Where is the discussion of the wisdom of creating a jewish state where they did, the palestinians unjust losses, if any, as a result, now that israel is there, their right to exist their, their responsability to the palinstinians within Israel(a tough situation for them), their right to defend themselves: how far does it go, the (mis)behavior of the palestians, etc, etc..