‘The media makes Israeli Jews ignorant of Arab society’

How much do this country’s Jews really know about Arab society, especially around election time? The head of the Mossawa Center, Jafar Farah, says Israelis have only their media to blame for their ignorance.

By Oren Persico

Palestinians protest at the entrance to the city of Umm al-Fahm, against the recent attack against a mosque in the city, April 21, 2014. On April 18, the door of a mosque in the city was set on fire and graffiti reading "Arabs out" was sprayed outside.
Palestinians protest at the entrance to the city of Umm al-Fahm, against the recent attack against a mosque in the city, April 21, 2014. On April 18, the door of a mosque in the city was set on fire and graffiti reading “Arabs out” was sprayed outside.

The last attempt by the Mossawa Center to ensure fair representation for the Arab population in Israel’s news coverage during the election season seems to have failed. Much like all its previous attempt.

Two months ago, the center, which works to protect the rights of Israel’s Arab citizens, sent a letter to the chairman of the Central Elections Committee, as well as dozens of media outlets, asking them to ensure fair representation of the Arab population. Most of those who received the letter did not bother responding.

Jafar Farah, who heads Mossawa, doesn’t sound like someone who pinned his hopes on any big change taking place in the way the media covers the Arab population and its political representatives. As someone who has been let down by the Israeli media, Farah describes how Mossawa sends this letter every election season, and how every election season the coverage of the Arab population is nearly zero — especially when considering the fact that the Arab population is 20 percent of the population.

“This time we sent them not only a request, but also a long list of analysts, experts, academics, women in city councils — including phone numbers. They cannot say “we don’t have anything.” But they do nothing. Aside from [Joint List leader] Ayman Odeh, Ahmad Tibi and Labor’s Zoher Bahalul, we do not know of any Arab politicians who have been invited by the media as guests.”

As proof of the poor coverage, Farah mentions a poll published earlier this week in Haaretz. The poll sought to find out how much coverage the media has given to every party head over the past few weeks. The result? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was number one At the tail end of the coverage, after Eli Yishai and Aryeh Deri, who were given 3 percent of the total coverage, came Rabbi Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism and Odeh.

Mossawa head Jafar Farah. (screenshot)

Odeh, we must remember, is slated to stand at the head of one of the biggest lists in the upcoming Knesset — perhaps even the third largest. Therefore, in the case of a unity government between Netanyahu and Herzog, Odeh could sit at the head of the largest party in the opposition. However, the coverage dedicated to him was deemed “especially low” by Haaretz.

“In 2005,” Farah remembers, “During the tender for Channel 2, we filed an appeal to increase the amount of broadcasts in Arabic. We were told ‘Look, there is a multi-cultural tender. Things will improve.’ But things aren’t improving. That is why we sent out these letters over the past few weeks, and in the coming days we will weigh whether to file an appeal to the Central Elections Committee. But despite what the committee’s legal adviser has said, we are not feeling optimistic nor do we see that the committee will take its job seriously and intervene. I’m not speaking only about the coverage of the Joint List, but of everything that is happening in Arab society during these elections.”

We could have expected that due to the unity between the Arab parties, there would be more coverage of Arab society, no? 

“There are enough interesting stories. The Joint List is certainly an interesting story, but its coverage is superficial. This is the first time that communist-secular Arabs, nationalist Arabs and Islamists have put together a united agenda and are working together. This is happening in a region where Arabs are going to war against one another. The Joint List shows the Middle East that something new is happening. The Israeli media ignores all of this, which only increases the ignorance among Israeli Jews regarding what is happening around us, both in the Arab society as well as in the greater Middle East.”

Many Jews will say that these claims are unnecessary, that Arabs don’t even watch the major Israeli television channels or listen to radio stations in Hebrew.

“The Arabs ditched the Israeli media since, at best, it doesn’t give them coverage, and incites against them at worst. Even the ratings are based on Jewish viewers. What, Tnuva doesn’t sell its products to Arabs? Tnuva doesn’t need to know its ratings across the country?

“But the biggest victim in this story is the Jews’ right to know what is happening among the Arabs in Israel as well as the Middle East. The Jewish person will see the results of the elections and won’t understand what happened. He will not understand how Shas won a mandate from the Arab public. What do you mean Arabs voted for Jewish Home? How did they vote for Liberman? No one understands these things, but the corruption is taking place under our noses. How could it be that Likud’s Miri Regev goes into Arab villages in order to get votes? No one asks themselves what kind of promises were made to the leaders in these Arab towns?

“No one notices when there is an increase in home demolitions in the Negev’s unrecognized villages. But when a political contractor from a party that has the chance to control the Interior Ministry comes to these villages and says “Vote Likud or Shas and I promise that they won’t destroy your homes,” it is goes far beyond politicians accepting money under the table. It is extortion through the various arms of the state. And this is what is happening in the Arab street today. Then we will see the results and we won’t understand what happened.

You think Arabs vote for these parties out of principle? This is democracy? No, it’s extortion. The Arab public is in a position where it is being partially blackmailed, and the Jewish public simply has no idea this is taking place. It is talking about Sara Netanyahu’s scandals while far more egregious things are happening.

Is there a Hebrew media outlet that does a good job in covering the Arab population?

“No. From what I see the coverage is superficial. Even in Haaretz. The Arab journalists do try harder. Haaretz made an effort by publishing the poll on the Arab public, but this is still not the effort that we should be seeing in an election season.

“I would love to see a story that explains why Arabs in Kafr Manda vote for Shas. Not a personal interest story, but one that truly exposes why they vote for Shas. I worked in journalism for eight years and exposed fraudulent votes for the Labor Party by Arabs in Kafr Kana. I know what it takes to do put together an investigatory piece. I know what it is like to receive threats from politicos who don’t want to expose what happened between Sharansky and the people of Kafr Maghar.

Avigdor Liberman speaks at the campaign launch for the upcoming elections. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills)
Avigdor Liberman speaks at the campaign launch for the upcoming elections. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills)

“This goes beyond the Joint List. This is much deeper. A quarter of the Arabs will probably vote for Zionist parties that are not Meretz or Labor. Someone must explain this phenomenon. It is time that a journalist does his job and expose what is really happening in the Jewish Home party, how it works in the Arab sector, what Liberman does in the Arab public.

“Usually when journalists encounter something strange, they will go an check them out. Any average journalist who gets a message saying that Liberman is holding a pre-election conference in the Arab village Rama must do a double-take. It is the Jewish public’s right to know what Liberman, who calls to expel Arabs, is doing in Rama. Bennett says that Arabs are car thieves and then goes and fishes for votes from the Arab public? The Jewish public needs to see this. This duplicitous game needs to be exposed.”

This article first appeared in Hebrew on The Seventh Eye.

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