A conversation between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the Republican senator offered an “incredible historical document” showing how the U.S. views its role in the Middle East.

( Commondreams.org ) – A discussion between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Sen. Mitt Romney over the weekend included what one critic called an “incredible mask-off moment,” with the two officials speaking openly about the U.S. government’s long-term attempts to provide public relations work for Israel in defense of its policies in the occupied Palestinian territories—and its push to ban TikTok in order to shut down Americans’ access to unfiltered news about the Israeli assault on Gaza.

At the Sedona Forum in Sedona, Arizona on Friday, the Utah Republican asked Blinken at the McCain Institute event’s keynote conversation why Israel’s “PR been so awful” as it’s bombarded Gaza since October in retaliation for a Hamas-led attack, killing at least 34,735 Palestinians—the majority women and children—and pushing parts of the enclave into a famine that is expected to spread due to Israel’s blockade.

“The world is screaming about Israel, why aren’t they screaming about Hamas?” asked Romney. “‘Accept a cease-fire, bring home the hostages.’ Instead it’s the other way around, I mean, typically the Israelis are good at PR. What’s happened here? How have they, and we, been so ineffective at communicating the realities there?”

Blinken replied that Americans, two-thirds of whom want the Biden administration to push for a permanent cease-fire and 57% of whom disapprove of President Joe Biden’s approach to the war, are “on an intravenous feed of information with new impulses, inputs every millisecond.”

“And of course the way this has played out on social media has dominated the narrative,” said the secretary of state. “We can’t discount that, but I think it also has a very, very challenging effect on the narrative.”

Romney suggested that banning TikTok would quiet the growing outrage over Israeli atrocities in the United States.

“Some wonder why there was such overwhelming support for us to shut down, potentially, TikTok or other entities of that nature,” said Romney. “If you look at the postings on TikTok and the number of mentions of Palestinians relative to other social media sites, it’s overwhelmingly so among TikTok broadcasts.”

The interview took place amid a growing anti-war movement on college campuses across the U.S. and around the world, with American police forces responding aggressively to protests at which students have demanded higher education institutions divest from companies that contract with Israel and that the U.S. stop funding the Israel Defense Forces.

Right-wing lawmakers and commentators have suggested students have been indoctrinated by content shared on social media platforms including TikTok and Instagram, and wouldn’t be protesting otherwise.

Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), who co-sponsored a recent bill to ban TikTok—included in a foreign aid package that Biden signed late last month—said last week that “there has been a coordinated effort off these college campuses, and that you have outside paid agitators and activists.”

“It also highlights exactly why we included the TikTok bill in the foreign supplemental aid package because you’re seeing how these kids are being manipulated by certain groups or entities or countries to foment hate on their behalf and really create a hostile environment here in the U.S.,” said Lawler.

Social media has provided the public with an unvarnished look at the scale of Israel’s attack, with users learning the stories of Gaza residents including six-year-old Hind Rajab, 10-year-old Yazan Kafarneh, and victims who have been found in mass graves and seeing the destruction of hospitals, universities, and other civilian infrastructure.

U.S. college students, however, are far from the only people who have expressed strong opposition to Israel’s slaughter of Palestinian civilians and large-scale destruction of Gaza as it claims to be targeting Hamas.

Human rights groups across the globe have demanded an end to the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s military and called on the U.S. president to use his leverage to end the war. Josep Borrell, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, in February lambasted Biden and other Western leaders for claiming concern about the safety of Palestinians while continuing to arm Israel, and leaders in Spain and Ireland have led calls for an arms embargo on the country. The United Nations’ top expert on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories said in March that there are “reasonable grounds” to conclude Israel has committed genocidal acts, two months after the International Court of Justice made a similar statement in an interim ruling.

US Department of State Video: “Secretary Blinken participates in a keynote conversation at the McCain Institute”

Romney and Blinken didn’t mention in their talk whether they believe social media and bad “PR” have pushed international leaders and experts to make similar demands to those of college students.

The conversation, said Intercept journalist Ryan Grim, was an “incredible historical document” showing how the U.S. government views its role in the Middle East—as a government that should “mediate” between Israel and the public to keep people from having “a direct look at what’s happening.”

“Romney’s comments betray a general bipartisan disinterest in engaging Israel’s conduct in Gaza on its own terms, preferring instead to complain about protesters, interrogate university presidents, and, apparently, muse about social media’s role in boosting pro-Palestinian activism,” wrote Ben Metzner at The New Republic. “As Israel moves closer to a catastrophic invasion of Rafah, having already banned Al Jazeera in the country, Romney and Blinken would be wise to consider whether TikTok is the real problem.”

Enterpreneur James Rosen-Birch added that “Mitt Romney flat-out asking Antony Blinken, in public, why the United States is not doing a better job manufacturing consent, is wild.”

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