The New York Times’ linguistic blog, Schott’s Vocab, defined the “price tag” phenomenon on July 24, 2009, as “attacks on Palestinians by Israeli settlers in the West Bank protesting against the actions of the Israeli army.”

Wikipedia, based on a report by Efrat Weiss on Ynet, credits Itai Zar with coining the phrase back in 2008, after the dismantling of Adei Ad on July 25 of that year. The term began appearing on the Arutz 7 website, and by 2009 it was widespread in the media in Israel and abroad.

A recent and highly-reported incident involving the term was the torching of a mosque in the Israeli Beduin town of Tuba Zanghariya in the Galilee on October 3. The headlines were strident, intensive and prominent, and lasted for almost a week.

Follow-up interviews, columns and feature stories abounded.

Three days after the mosque arson, a suspect was arrested, identified as a West Bank yeshiva student from northern Israel. Three other suspects were also arrested, all connected to the settlements, one from Bat Ayin, one from Elon Moreh, and one from Yitzhar.

All this, one may safely assume, made the public well aware that “settlers” were responsible.

Does the public, though, know the end of this story? Since then, all the suspects in the case have been released due to lack of evidence.

But that is unlikely to deter Dan Ronen who accused the settlement movement of carrying out the attack regardless of who actually carried out the attack. On October 5, he wrote, “We don’t know who lit the fire. We can hope the perpetrator will be found. But the people who encouraged and poured oil on the flames are well known.”

In other words, according to Ronen, regardless of who actually carried out the attack, it’s still the settlers’ fault. Now that all the “settler” suspects have been released, can we expect Mr. Ronen to issue an apology? Furthermore, is it at all possible that the perpetrators had other goals in mind? Ami Dor-On suggested on the News 1 website that the act might have been a provocation by extreme Islamic elements interested in stoking the flames of hatred against the State of Israel. The vast majority of the residents of Tuba Zanghariya are intimately involved in Israeli life, and the community has a rich history of service in the IDF going back to the days of the Palmah.

Could this have led to an Islamic Movement provocation? A FEW days later, “price tag” graffiti was found in the non-Jewish cemetery in Jaffa.

The Israel Broadcasting Authority headline screamed “Suspicion of price tag in a Jaffa cemetery.” But to the chagrin of the settler bashers, however, the graffiti also included statements like “Death to the Russians,” and the suspects according to police were Maccabi Haifa sports fans.

By including the “price tag” grafitti, the anonymous vandals had the media pin the blame on settlers.

As reported by Ynet, a Jaffa family was arrested in May on suspicion of preparing to bomb the Hassan Beck mosque in Jaffa and assassinate a senior Muslim cleric, all under the guise of extreme right wing activities.

One may argue that the media was merely reporting the facts as they became known, for that is its job: to report while the police investigate. But the media does not only report. It comments, distorts and accuses.

On October 28, Channel 2 news ran a 15- minute documentary that “explained” why after three years of “Jewish terror,” not one case has ended with a prosecution in court (actually, this past Tuesday, Hillel Leibovitz was prosecuted for “price tag” activities).

The star of the documentary was Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran, whose home this week was once again smeared with “price tag” graffiti. Reporter Noam Amit did not hesitate to mention the Jaffa case, even though the central suspects were not “settlers.”

The clip was followed by the wise words of Amnon Abramowitz, who “knows” that thousands (!) are involved in price tag activities and that the security services simply do not want to find the perpetrators.

Roni Daniel prepared a long list of actions perpetrated against Palestinians and complained that these acts should be referred to as “terror” rather than “price tag,” especially since some were aimed against the IDF.

The third commentator, Udi Segal, claimed that these actions demonstrate the moral bankruptcy of the settlers, who are no better than their Tel Aviv counterparts.

The fact that virtually all settler leaders have rightly and repeatedly denounced “price tag” activities did not prevent nor mitigate the harsh criticism.

It is important to state clearly that neither the slanted reporting nor the biased commentary is the real problem. “Price tag” activities are taking place and it is the job of the security services to stop them. It is the media’s job to spotlight criminal activity and demand that the state put an end to it. But it is disconcerting, to say the least, when there is a lack of equal intensity and demand for punishment for similar acts when perpetrated against Jews.

Consider the following example, reported in the Basheva newspaper by Chani Luz, director of the Tadmit media review organization.

The IBA’s Nissim Keinan reported that a complaint had been lodged with the police for the destruction of 1600 trees adjacent to the Jewish town of Omer. Omer regional council head Pini Badash was interviewed by Esti Perez on Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet. Badash claimed that the perpetrators were Beduin. Perez retorted: “When you say Beduin, you too are generalizing and without proof.”

Later, however, Perez interviewed MK Taleb a-Sanaa, who explained that the incident in Omer could not be separated from the fact that on the same day five Beduin homes were destroyed by the Israeli authorities. Perez did not seem bothered by this “price tag” attack, apparently because the perpetrators weren’t “settlers.” Nor did she demand that the Israeli Arab leadership learn from the Jewish leaders’s example and roundly condemn such acts. Even worse, the same item was hardly mentioned by most media purveyors.

Following the Tuba Zanghariya events, graffiti was scribbled at what many believe to be the burial site of the talmudic High Priest Elazar in the Samarian town of Awarta. The gravestone was chiseled in two places. Yet hardly anyone knows of this, since the media apparently does not find such acts against Jewish holy places to be sufficiently reprehensible.

Even if Jews were responsible for the mosque torching, does this justify the rioting that followed? The media took pains to present the efforts of Israel’s leadership to placate the residents and denounce the acts. Yet the same did not take place when Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus was desecrated by Palestinian security forces two years ago.

We would want to think that fair and balanced media reportage on criminal activity, irrespective of who perpetrates it, would significantly contribute to its reduction.

Perhaps, on the other hand, Israel’s biased media encourages, in its own way, those people who are violent under the guise of a “price tag.” Shouldn’t the media at least demand of all sides, with equal intensity, to speak against violence of any kind? Fair and balanced media reporting on criminal activity would significantly contribute to its reduction.

The writers are, respectively, chairman and vice chairman of Israel’s Media Watch.

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