Bill Maher, Politically Correct

By Michael Nolan

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 freelance writer. His work has appeared in, Common Dreams, Dissident Voice, Lew, and the Vermont Guardian. He can be reached at: He contributed this article to

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