Racist reporting gets free hand in Israeli press

Examples of racism are abundant in the Israeli press. Both individual journalists and the media outlets that publish them must be taken to task for stereotyping Palestinians, and in some cases, inciting violence against them.

By I’lam: Media Center for Arab Palestinians in Israel

It is not altogether true that free expression is under threat in Israel. Sure, one may have been led into believing so, what with the passing in 2011 of the “Nakba Law,” penalizing commemoration of the Palestinian Nakba, and the “Anti-Boycott Law,” restricting anyone calling for a boycott of Israeli institutions, including in the occupied Palestinian territories. Yet, for decades, the Hebrew media has essentially been given free rein to incite to racism and violence against Palestinians, with seemingly little self-reflection and even less accountability.

I’lam: Media Center is a media rights NGO that regularly monitors the Israeli Hebrew media. We’ve reported racist patterns in media performance during wartime coverage, such as during the Lebanon War in 2006 and during the war on Gaza at the turn of 2008, and also recorded similar patterns in the recent offensive on Gaza, to be published soon. During wartime, we note that the Israeli media plays the role of cheerleader for war, downplaying civilian losses on the enemy side, while patriotically rallying the troops. But how do the media perform during times of “peace?”

Our latest compendium of weekly monitoring of the mainstream Hebrew media highlights how the space for free expression for racist reporting in the Israeli media encounters little restriction, even during times when things are “quiet on the war front.”

The Ethics Tribunal at the Israeli Press Council (IPC) is meant to monitor ethical performance of the media. However, its underfunding and lack of independence make its interventions ad-hoc and ineffective. In our opinion, the racism we have monitored in everyday media performance is considered acceptable in the political culture, which is why it is not flagged as problematic enough to justify intervention.

In our most recent monitoring, we were able to highlight five dominant patterns regarding racial incitement in the media: lack of objectivity and racist opinion pieces; generalizing in the service of legitimizing the occupation; portraying Arabs as primitive; incitement of religious tensions; and incitement of violence against Palestinians. The full report can be read here.

For example, on March 23, 2012, the religious newspaper Hamodi’a published an article by Yosef Lavi, where he generalizes by accusing all Muslims of being terrorists. He also claims that the religion teaches violence and that it “urges its followers to kill Jewish children and celebrate their death,” and that Arab Muslims are on “a modern day bloody crusade.” A major theme in Lavi’s article is his claim that Palestinians’ main goal is to murder Jewish children, and that the entire community is comprised of barbarians who want nothing more than to commit awful crimes against the Jewish people and do not care about decency or even the well-being of their own children. Articles like the one written by Lavi are both dangerous and unethical, as they present a very general and stereotypical view of the Palestinian people, and accuse them of unspeakable crimes. Unfounded accusations and generalizations such as these further fuel misunderstanding and mistrust of Palestinians.

During monitoring between October 25 and November 10, 2011, Ariel Kahana published two articles in the newspaper Makor Rishon that were racist and instigated against Palestinians. Both articles de-valued Palestinians as people and painted them as worthless barbarians. In one of the articles, he called for a strike against Gaza, and rationalized it by saying that “killing Palestinians is not worth attention. Israelis don’t care about those who get killed on the other side; the only thing that matters to them is stopping missiles that target them.” By saying this, Kahana dehumanized millions of Palestinians in the occupied territories. He goes on to say, “I wish that they would value life like we do. What we need to do now is clean Gaza.”

A prime example of inciting actual violence against Arabs can be seen during monitoring conducted between July 8 and 15, 2011. Alon Marom published an article on the NRG website, where he justified war and even ethnic cleansing against Palestinians. Marom claimed that the amount of settlements springing up in the West Bank will make it impossible to separate the Jews from the Arabs. He argued that separation is necessary, since without it, the well-being of the Jewish state is in danger. “This is impractical in Israel because the Arabs’ rights jeopardize Israel’s Jewish character,” he writes. He goes on to suggest that the only solution is to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from the West Bank through deportation on the grounds that they will help Arab armies that may invade Israel.

Such patterns in Israeli Hebrew media exacerbate conflict and incite to racism and violence. Such practice is absolutely unacceptable from a human rights and ethical journalistic standpoint. Aside from individual journalists and contributors being held to account to such writing, the media houses that carry such articles and editorials should also be taken to task – but who will do so given the limited effectiveness of the Ethics Tribunal at the IPC? Free expression is under threat in Israel, but not so much for racism and incitement to violence. In this zeitgeist, where spaces for free expression are closing in, the force of journalism that incites to racism and violence is only amplified.

I’lam Media Center for Arab Palestinians in Israel is a non-profit NGO based in Nazareth, founded in 2000 by a group of Arab Palestinian journalists and academics. It seeks to strengthen the media cadre, raise awareness and educate Palestinian society in Israel in media practices. Visit I’lam’s website here.