Media Comment: A media descent
The media’s responsibility to defend the public’s right to know is not upheld.
Israeli police in front of Al Aqsa mosque [file]. Photo: REUTERS/Ammar Awad
This past Friday, March 8, violence erupted on the Temple Mount. The Muslim-
initiated riots resulted in nine police officers and dozens of Arab Muslims
Some of the police had been struck by firebombs tossed
from within some of the buildings, including the Aksa mosque. The police noted
that this was an “escalation.”
The Temple Mount is, as our Supreme Court
has decided in numerous of its judgments, a “sensitive” matter. This paper
reported on Thursday, March 7, that Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby
said “officers were ‘on high alert’ for disturbances on Friday but did not issue
age restrictions for Muslims wishing to enter.”
After the events on
Friday, March 8, our police claimed that Likud MK Moshe Feiglin’s visit the
previous Sunday, March 3, was one of the factors that contributed to the Muslim
behavior. A second cause was a rumor. A police officer supposedly had not only
knocked a Koran out of a female Muslim’s hands, but had kicked and stepped on
Both in this case and this past Friday, the Temple Mount had been
closed by police to non- Muslim visitors.
The media could have put
spokesman Ben-Ruby on the spot, asking him, “but what happened on February 22
this year?” On that day, just two weeks earlier, Arab protests also turned
violent at the Temple Mount when exiting Arab worshipers hurled stones at
security forces stationed near the Mughrabi Gate. The security forces entered
the compound and used stun grenades to disperse the protesters.
District police chief Yossi Pariente was quoted saying, “our forces were hit by
a hail of stones.”
There was no Feiglin visit to blame, nor had any
policeman disparaged a Koran. What was the reason for the disturbances at that
time? Feiglin’s March 3 visit ended with the closure of the Mount to
non-Muslims. He sought to enter the Dome of the Rock, invoking, unsuccessfully,
his parliamentary immunity. MK Feiglin was within his legal rights, he was not
breaking any law and still his entry was barred. Interestingly, the same
immunity served three female MKs well on Tuesday this week when they
successfully violated the law and a Supreme Court ruling by praying and wearing
prayer shawls at the Western Wall Plaza.
Three days after Feiglin’s
attempted visit, Muslim women, on Wednesday, March 6, created a provocation,
shouting at and trying to interfere with a group of Jewish visitors.
media did not raise the question of whether the police could have prevented some
of the unrest by limiting access also for the Muslims. The police were also not
pressed to clarify whether their current attitude was influenced by their
frustration that their request, made in July 2011, to criminally charge Feiglin
for previous actions at the Temple Mount, was rejected by the state
Not only was there no serious media discussion of whether the
correct element was being punished, but the very fact that after this past
Friday’s contretemps the police were spinning a narrative about themselves was
ignored. At the end of the day, excusing Islamic fanaticism – rather than
serving the public order and the oath of their office to protect democracy –
should be considered a fundamental flaw which is unacceptable.
exception to this media silence was Moran Sharir of Haaretz. Reviewing a Channel
2 interview with Feiglin, he wrote on March 5 that Feiglin’s presence on the
Temple Mount was legal but that Channel 2’s police reporter, Moshe Nussbaum,
seemed to be personally hurt by Feiglin’s actions.
Feiglin’s action,” Sharir fearlessly wrote, “and Nussbaum sounded as if the
police were speaking from his mouth... Feiglin gave clear and interesting
answers but [Oded] Ben-Ami and Nussbaum weren’t listening...
all they saw
was a kippa and a provocateur.”
The reason for the earlier violence
couldn’t have been American President Barack Obama. It was only on February 26
that the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups threatened, as Mushir al-Masri
announced, that a visit by US President Barack Obama to the Temple Mount during
his upcoming visit to Israel would be a declaration of war on the Arab and the
Islamic world that would require a third intifada and
Should not the media be paying more attention to Islamic
fundamentalism? Media people could also have pressed the police as to their
response to a February 21 statement issued by the Al- Aksa Heritage Foundation
which extended Islamic demands beyond the Temple Mount to the Western Wall,
claiming it is holy not to Jews, but to Muslims.
The group declared that
Israel is “defiling the holiness of the site” by conducting Jewish prayers
there. In fact, the exact same statement was made on January 4, 2010, and on
other occasions. For example, the main cause for the 1929 riots was the Mufti
el- Husseini’s claim, the same repeated today by Ra’ad Salah of Israel’s Islamic
Movement, that Jews were placing al-Aksa in danger.
If there is any real
desecration which should have been reported extensively by the media it was the
work done by Wakf tractors on February 16, three weeks ago, removing stones and
remains from the eastern side of the holy site.
That activity is illegal.
The Supreme Court had specifically prohibited it in a judgment granted the
Public Committee for the Prevention of Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple
Mount. The police did nothing, and the media did not deem that inaction is
worthy of mentioning or investigation.
The mainstream media also could
have given greater prominence to the remarks made by former Labor MK Daniel
Ben-Simon, who was forced to cut short a visit to the Temple Mount on March 3.
He had personally witnessed the discriminatory policies of police toward Jewish
visitors to the holy site. His observations, which could have better explained
what happened last Sunday, were limited to rightof- center
Ben-Simon, reacting to the Koran desecration incident, said,
“because of a fallen book they close the Temple Mount to hundreds of people who
are waiting to get in? The minister of internal security must be summoned and
asked about the reality in which the police are on high alert because of a
fallen book. Who’s in charge here? All this is done without
Ben-Simon admitted that despite having served as an MK, he
had previously been unaware that this reality was what Jews faced on the Temple
Mount. Most Israeli MKs, he added, do not visit the site and are unaware of this
absurd reality. Could it be that our parliamentarians are simply not interested,
or is our media are keeping them in the dark? His suggestion was that
delegations of MKs should be taken on a tour of the Temple Mount so they can see
the situation firsthand and then closely examine appropriate ways to solve it.
In other words, they should not be dependent on the media.
highlighted last October 10, (“Ups, downs of Temple Mount reporting”), media
“coverage should be appropriate to the importance of the event and, of course,
the possible ramifications of the story...
should be discussed.” It
appears that too many of our media personnel, both reporters as well as their
editors, are still locked in a mindset which permits official bodies, the police
in this case, to spin, through press releases and off-the-record briefings, a
The public is fed incorrect “facts” and
inconvenient truths are hidden. The media’s responsibility to defend the
public’s right to know is not upheld. An insidious relationship between the news
source and the media is created and the media is quiet. It is such
irresponsibility that creates deep distrust of the media, leads to legislation
which would limit the media’s powers and ultimately harms Israel’s democratic
The authors are vice chairman and chairman, respectively, of
Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il)