Cenk Uyger: Stop Talking About Gaza

On December 21, Piers Morgan hosted a debate on Palestine between British neoconservative and anti-immigrant activist  Douglas Murray and The Young Turks founder Cenk Uygur. Morgan has been hosting several debates and one on one discussions on Israel/Palestine. He’s had great guests such as Norman Finkelstein, Cornel West, and Dr Gabor Mate arguing against the current genocide in Gaza and for a ceasefire.

Murray would appear to have done well in this debate to anyone who does not know the issue. He was substantive, he is smart, but he was there as a “journalist”, the kind of journalist wearing a blue Israeli “press” vest while posing for pictures with Jerry Seinfeld and Debra Messing, also brought into the country. Murray preens in the debate for having his Bruno Maglis on the ground and reminds Cenk of where he is repeatedly, despite the fact that this excursion looks more like a vacation for him than an actual journalistic assignment. Murray also makes no indication about fearing for his safety in these dangerous conditions while reporting, as any actual reporter would be expected to do. Odd, considering that at least 65 journalists have been killed in Gaza since this conflict began. All of this is to say that Murray is hosted by the State of Israel and he is there to be its mouthpiece.

He brags that he likes to go to wars and report, but there is no way he would be able to do so, at least in this case, without the dominant government’s protection. And unless Murray knows how to speak Palestinian Arabic, Hebrew, or any of the many other languages spoken by Palestinians, Israel is possibly providing him with interpreters if no interviewees speak English. That is if he is even speaking to anyone over there at all and not just getting narration from the IDF and/or his government-appointed tour guide as the bullet-proof vehicle rolls along. Any other coverage is likely to be from his Tel Aviv hotel room. A laptop in the lounge. Did Murray eat the triple olives out of his empty martini glass? Was the tree from which those olives came uprooted by settlers?

Nothing written here about Murray’s stint is new or revealing. It’s how settler colonialism works and as we have seen in US wars, how imperialism works. “Journalists” are integral to Israel’s hasbara, especially during a mass slaughter. Detailing Murray’s stint just allows us to see where each side is in this debate.

Murray looked like a stellar debater because his opponent, Cenk Uygur was so, so horrible, and for the most part, was so lacking in substance that he had no business being there in the first place. This debate was like the Tyson/McNeeley fight of 1995: Mike Tyson, who was in his prime from 1985-1989 had gone downhill, but he still crushed Peter McNeeley because McNeeley, despite his youth and the admirable heart that he put into the fight, was even weaker.

Cenk rightfully brings up the 20,000 deaths and the 8,000 dead children; this is pretty much the crux of his argument, which is strong, but it’s not enough for a 30 minute debate to cut through the Israeli talking points that Murray is putting out. Cenk idiotically comes in and calls for a two state solution and says that he would never want Hamas in charge of Gaza: “I don’t trust them.” Read the arrogance in that statement. This isn’t his call, he is not Palestinian. This isn’t his home. He also calls for the Palestinian Authority from the West Bank to lead Gaza in the two state solution and that the PA “would drive out Hamas from Gaza”. This is typical Cenk Uygur arrogance for him to think that it is Israel’s right to displace Gaza’s democratically elected government (2006) and that the PA and others are lifeless pieces on a chessboard for him to move. Elbowing out Hamas over lack of trust also gives credence to the idea that we are supposed to trust Israel, the source of all of this and the most untrustworthy actor by far at every turn. (Cenk went into none of the history of the conflict, likely because he does not know it). While Hamas’s actions on October 7 were indeed war crimes, the ones that they and not the IDF committed and we’re still not completely clear on that, no one can expect anything pretty to bloom out of an open air prison that has rightfully been described as a concentration camp. Israel is the source of all of this and has been since 1948. As Tariq Ali has said “When an occupation is ugly, the resistance cannot be beautiful, except in a Hollywood movie or an Italian comedy.”

Murray is able to come in and bring up the fact that if Gaza were to have elections tomorrow, Hamas would win. He also says that no one thinks that a two state solution is viable (this is true and not just in Israel or Palestine, all over the world, Cenk should have also known this). He also states that the PA supported the Hamas attack on October 7. Cenk’s wanting Hamas deposed by the Palestinian Authority painted him into a corner when Douglas Murray brought up the PA’s stance on October 7 as well as Gaza’s continuing support for Hamas.

If Cenk would have just joined the global call for a ceasefire, this would have been a much stronger argument. A ceasefire entails stopping the fighting and sitting down to negotiate. For anyone who said that Hamas should not be in negotiations, we remind them of the old adage that one of does negotiate with his friends, but with his enemies. Each side can call in the International Criminal Court to press charges. That’s it. The genocide ends and we Westerners are out of it. We are all Palestinians, but this is not our home and none of this is our call.

Despite Murray’s horrible politics, Cenk’s arrogance makes one not unhappy that Douglas Murray corrects him. It does seem odd that Douglas Murray, who said that he found out all of the above on his journalism assignment in the West Bank, did not know any of this beforehand. He didn’t have to fly to Israel and go to the West Bank to find out that the PA would support October 7, or that there was no will to work for a two state solution. Or that Hamas would easily win any elections that were held at the present time.

If Cenk was the type of political commentator that did this show for the right reasons, then one could forgive his lacklustre performance and look to the next debater on Morgan’s show advocating for Gaza. However, this is hard to do considering the horrible record that both Cenk and those on his show have analyzing foreign policy.

What can we expect from someone who supported both the US wars in Libya and Syria (“I don’t want ground troops” Cenk said)? Or someone who had a correspondent from his show who interviewed Madeline Albright, Secretary of State under Bill Clinton at a NATO Convention. The Young Turks interviewer fawned over Albright and asked her softball questions, knowing that years before, Albright was asked if the US sanctions in Iraq that killed over 500,000 children was worth it. Albright said that the killing of 500,000 Iraqi children by Clinton administration sanctions was “worth it”.

Murray was right when he faults Cenk for never having been to Palestine or Israel. It would not be reasonable to expect him to go now as it is dangerous and there is no way that he could get the thickly padded Israeli protection of Murray. However, Cenk is well off and he rubs shoulders with wealthy and powerful people. TYT is funded by billionaires. There is no reason why TYT reporters should not have been dispatched to Gaza months or even years before this latest conflict began. Independent journalist Aaron Mate went to Syria with a peace group. He doesn’t have the money or connections that Cenk possesses, but he still was able to go and do award-winning work with scant resources. Cenk and TYT viciously attacked Mate for this despite not sending anyone over themselves to challenge Aaron Mate’s findings.

And do Palestinians need someone to come into the public discussion who says this:

“Israelis and Palestinians kill each other over which Sky God they pretend to speak to and it’s politically incorrect to point out there is no human God, let alone that favours Jews or Muslims. All of this violence over the equivalent of which character they like better in the MCU [Marvel Character Universe]”.

 

Cenk needs to trade in one condescending Brit (Douglas Murray) for another (Simon Cowell) so that he could get out of politics and go to Hollywood and get a show biz career, but then again, The Young Turks is more like reality television than it is journalism or even serious political commentary. In fact, it’s barely political. As Aaron Mate has said, “Imagine being a TV host who never goes anywhere and never does any real journalism, constantly gets everything wrong, and espouses establishment propaganda.”

Cenk doesn’t analyze, he rants. There is no substance, only bluster, and his show was built on a foundation of union busting, pro-war hackery, and blatant misogyny.

Say what one will about Douglas Murray: to the best of anyone’s knowledge, he has never posted revenge porn.

Everything that Cenk does, including this debate, he centers himself and cannot get his ego out of the way to do an effective job. What is written here about Cenk Uygur or The Young Turks is not news, so why write it?

Because in this current crisis in Gaza, informed voices for justice are desperately needed. This is not the time for self-aggrandizers and narcissists.

Cenk needed to put his ego away for once and step aside and allow someone like Norman Finkelstein, Aaron Mate, Ilan Pappe, Glenn Greenwald, or Yves Engler to debate on the Gaza genocide.

The Palestinian people deserve better.

Brandy Johnson Owen is a 2023 Dramatist Guild Foundation National Fellowship semi-finalist. Read other articles by Brandy.