Israel has a broad human rights agenda serviced by a plethora of groups whose
work should be covered by the media. One problematic camp, however, is the
National/Religious/Settler section of Israel’s society.
While very active
in many civic frameworks and human rights efforts and with its own legitimate
human rights needs, media coverage of its activities is not commensurate and its
media presence is minimal.
Unlike the media’s relation to left-wing human
rights organizations, the frame of reference for the right-wing human rights
work is colored with exclusionist terminology, unreliable reporting and is
portrayed as either unimportant or worse, as part of the “problem.” The
right-wing human rights camp is not in the picture. Why ? In this age of new and
digital media tools, we are informed that the human rights issue is a major
player exploiting what is termed “quasi-journalism.” As explained by Carroll
Bogert, a director at Human Rights Watch, this is a conscious aping of the
communications style of the media “in order that what we produce looks more like
journalism... we’re moving into the media business.”
Does human rights
work justify the manipulation of journalists? Or do media people permit
themselves to be so manipulated due to personal preferences? Human rights is
very much a media topic, and interests not only the media but serves elements
within the media, from the reporter to the rewrite editor, the interviewer, the
presenter, the camera-person and so on, by allowing them to insert their
preferences into the news.
Does this lead to unfair framing, unethical
behavior and editorial subversion? Bogert was proud that her press releases are
meant “to look like a wire service story, so that when it arrives in the inbox
of a wire service reporter, it moves seamlessly into the mainstream
Here in Israel, in too many cases, that effort and that technique
is less than necessary when it comes to left-wing human rights groups and useless
when practiced by the right-wingers.
For example, the human rights of
Jews living across the so-called Green Line not only are not given a fair
hearing in the media but are consistently portrayed in a most biased fashion.
Their stories are not properly mediated as the media’s filters are political,
instead of social, cultural or economic. The difficulties they suffer are hardly
ever considered by the media as a matter of human rights.
organization, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied
Territories, is broadly recognized by the media. Yet this so-called human rights
organization does not really concern itself with Jewish human rights issues.
With B’tzelem, it is the Arabs who have have human rights issues.
are any of the anti-occupation groups ever pressed or challenged on their
concern, or lack thereof, for Jewish human rights, not to mention the unethical
use by the mainstream media of edited video clips supplied by
Another symptom of the skewed interests is the consistent ignoring
and minimalizing of human rights violations committed by Arabs in areas under
the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. These include honor killings,
jailing of journalists, torture of prisoners, as well as anti-Semitic
In the media, you will not find any left-wing “extremists,”
only right-wing “extremists.” Leftwingers are always “peace activists.” Is the
Honenu legal aid group for Jews whose human rights may have been violated
granted equal media access? Which is better known – B’tzelem or Orit Struck’s
Human Rights Organization of Judea and Samaria? A favorite of our media is
“price tag” violence. Time and again, the media message is that this is in fact
“settler violence,” a gross negative generalization of over half a million
people. The facts are not too important. On October 9 this year, even the
Alternative Information Center (not a right-wing NGO) reported: “Israel’s police
commander of the West Bank... [revealed]... most “price tag” attacks are
conducted by young people, even children, who don’t live in the West
So, not only was any rabbi arrested for allegedly inciting this
violence ever put on trial or found guilty, their release was shunted aside in
A DIFFERENT aspect is the human rights of children. In
Israel, the media is able to force-feed our children questionable content such
as unrestrained sexual permissiveness, nudity, swear words, drug scenes and
violence outside the regulated watershed hour. This is a purposeful sexualizing
and traumatizing of our children.
A third example of the media’s
subjective treatment of human rights issues is the usual characterization of the
haredi or ultra-Orthodox as a parasitical social element.
The fact that
for example the summer before last the great “cottage cheese revolution” was
initiated by a haredi does not change the mantra.
Haredi avoidance of
army service is very much a media theme, yet the avoidance of service among the
cultural icons of music, dance, literature, sports and fashion is relegated to
editors’ rejection lists. Why would a reporter seek to malign his comrades in
Israel’s second state, Tel Aviv? We need only recall the three Kol Yisrael
broadcasters and editors Chanan Naveh, Carmela Menasheh and then show host
Shelly Yacimovich in the late 1990s. As admitted by Naveh (and corroborated
elsewhere by Menasheh and Yacimovich), in a 2007 Haifa University media
conference, “[We]... pushed in every way possible the withdrawal from Lebanon...
we took it upon ourselves as a mission – possibly not stated – to get the IDF
out of Lebanon... I have no doubt that we promoted an agenda of withdrawal...
I’m not apologizing... I am very proud that we had a part in getting of
our sons out of Lebanon.”
The human rights of one side of the ideological
divide suffers not from an inability to tell the story, as may happen, but an
unwillingness predicated on the prejudicial approach of the media. This is the
heart of the political-ethical morass we face here in Israel and how the media
views, conceptualizes and produces for the media consumer.
The media is
not simply a conduit for stories of human rights matters but possess their own
power, which they actively use, together with the new-found force of human
rights activists who have created a new “platform,” to borrow New York
University’s NYU’s Meg McLagan’s terminology, for the production, circulation
and distribution of colored human rights news.
That platform, I suggest,
is the Three Cs; Cooperation, Collaboration and Collateralism (in its definition
as “uniting in tendency”). In Israel, there is no real media pluralism. The
media interlock in Israel prevents the public from evaluating their sources of
These thoughts were presented recently in a Bar-Ilan
University meeting entitled Broken Mirrors Conference on Human Rights
Organizations, the Media and Israel. The issue is not simply one of broken
mirrors, however. It is much more appropriate to think of it in terms shattered
glass in the newsrooms, reflecting itself in the form of uncontrolled and
Even the ombudsmen, the media regulators and the
ethical review boards or the press itself do not see a need to destroy the media
bias against the human rights of certain political and cultural groups in
The writer is vice-chairman of Israel’s Media Watch and the above was edited from remarks presented at to the
Bar-Ilan University, October 31, 2012.