Tone Policing Opposition To Genocide

Caitlin Johnstone
6 min readNov 14, 2023


Listen to a reading of this article (reading by Tim Foley):

US senator Chris Coons sat across from journalist Aaron Maté on the train on Monday, which is about the worst place you could possibly choose to sit if you’re a powerful official in a government that’s in the middle of backing an active genocide.

As any journalist of sound conscience would, Maté seized the opportunity to begin questioning Coons on camera about his support for Israel’s ongoing massacre of civilians in Gaza and to ask him why he isn’t supporting a ceasefire.

Coons immediately became indignant that Maté was questioning him. He avoided addressing the questions he was being asked for a long time, responding only to repeatedly demand that Maté cease talking to him and to ask him who he is and how he got a seat on the train.

“This is a quiet car,” Coons admonished.

“I understand, but children are dying sir,” Maté replied. “They’re being killed with our weapons. US weapons are killing kids in Gaza.”

“Please stop,” Coons kept repeating, ignoring the irony that “please stop” is all anyone is asking of the US-backed human butchery that is taking place in Gaza.

As British rapper and activist Lowkey noted on Twitter, Coons has received over a quarter million dollars from pro-Israel lobbying groups over the years.

Over and over and over again Coons tried to make the exchange about how Maté is being inappropriate and unprofessional and speaking the wrong way in the wrong venue, instead of the fact that the US government is directly funding and supplying a genocidal massacre that has killed thousands of children and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

When all of this is over most of us will have regrets that we didn’t do more, but Aaron Maté won’t be among them.

I recommend watching the clip of the exchange if you haven’t seen it yet, because it’s such a perfect illustration of the way opposition to Israel’s Gaza massacre is being aggressively tone policed by those who support it. Ever since the mass slaughter of Gazans began last month there’s been a freakish trend of working to shut down opposition to this atrocity by attacking the way people are opposing it, rather than attempting to address their concerns.

One good example of this was British prime minister Rishi Sunak’s statement ahead of a peace march scheduled for Armistice Day, claiming to plan such a demonstration on that date was “provocative and disrespectful”. Sure Rishi, Armistice Day is a completely inappropriate time for demonstrators to be literally calling for an armistice.

A recent tweet by Rupa Marya, an Associate Professor of Medicine with the University of California in San Francisco reads, “I’m going to remember forever the day that Israel was shelling hospitals, killing fleeing refugees and shutting off the electricity for NICU babies in incubators, the president of UC system sent us an email expressing concern about anti-Semitism & telling us to behave ourselves.”

This is another good example of what I’m trying to point to here. People are trying to stop an active genocide and the leaders of western institutions keep trying to make the conversation about whether or not those efforts are “antisemitic”, which none of them seem to be able to define in a way that is distinct from criticism of the Israeli government for war crimes and well-documented atrocities.

A few days ago The New York Times ran a front-page article titled “After Antisemitic Attacks, Colleges Debate What Kind of Speech Is Out of Bounds,” which opens with a story about a Jewish college freshman having the horrible horrifying antisemitic experience of seeing a poster on campus which referred to Gaza as a “modern-day concentration camp”. The Times quotes the student who underwent this unspeakable trauma as saying the mood on campus “is not pro-Palestinian, it’s antisemitic.”

For the record many experts agree that Gaza can rightly be described as a giant concentration camp, not least among them the great Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein. But rather than discuss the abuses which gave rise to this crisis in the first place, outlets like The New York Times are working to make the conversation about antisemitism instead.

New reports from Mintpress News and The Intercept reveal that the massive 400 percent increase in antisemitic incidents across the United States that the mass media keep reporting is a statistic from the Anti Defamation League which includes pro-Palestine demonstrations as instances of antisemitism — even demonstrations by Jewish organizations. It turns out if you label all opposition to Israel “antisemitism” and then Israel murders thousands of children, you will inevitably see a large spike in “antisemitism” as you defined it.

Really this is all just garden variety manipulation by the western empire to shut down opposition to the political status quo. Any time a large movement emerges in opposition to the agendas of the ruling power structure you see the information ecosystem flooded with highly amplified concern trolls wagging their fingers at the tone and tactics of the movement to try and kill off the energy and drag the whole thing into inert pedantic quibbling.

That’s what you’re seeing with all the concern trolling about the popular chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” by the way. Palestinian rights activists will tell you the phrase means they want all Palestinians to be free from tyranny and abuse, and at most that they support the dismantling of the apartheid regime of Israel, but Israel supporters will look you dead in the eye and insist that the chant is a call for the genocide of Jewish people. In reality it’s no more a call for genocide than supporting the end of Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa was a call for genocide, but they re-interpret the slogan in the most negative way possible to mean something the people saying it have never intended, and then the powerful institutions of the western world start treating it like a hate crime.

All of this is just a large-scale version of the manipulation employed by Senator Coons on the train to get Aaron Maté to stop talking to him. It’s all designed to divert attention away from the actual crime that is happening and get people shaking their fists at the specific methods of the people who oppose that crime. The whole objective is to grind the conversation down into insignificant quibbling about manners and decorum so people stop drawing attention to the blood-spattered elephant in the room.

And of course another reason the powerful place so much emphasis on politeness and etiquette whenever they are confronted is because they are all acutely aware that there are a whole lot more of us than there are of them, and that people can decide at any time to stop playing by the rules and simply tear down the ruling power structures which commit mass atrocities in their name. As long as everyone’s worried about being perceived as sufficiently well-mannered, the people will never awaken to their true power.


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