Media Comment: The neglected minority

No, not the haredi community, but the Christian Arab community.

June 26, 2013 21:18
A CHURCH in the Arab village of Sakhnin.

A CHURCH in the Arab village of Sakhnin. 370. (photo credit: Seth J. Frantzman)


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There are youngsters in Israel who want to serve in the Israel Defense Forces, but are prevented from doing so by the state and the media, which do their utmost to keep this from happening. No, not the haredi community, but the Christian Arab community.

According to Yishai Friedman, a reporter for the Makor Rishon and Ma’ariv newspapers, Christian Arab Israeli youths who want to serve in the army not only experience lack of cooperation from official governmental bodies, but are also subjected to ridicule and public pressure in the Israeli Arab media.

Friedman has done his best to bring this issue to the attention of the Israeli public, but his colleagues in the Jewish Israeli media do not seem that interested.

Can we imagine the storm that would erupt if the haredim were to do the same? Actually, they do – and our media icons relish it. They demand justice and blame the whole haredi world for the actions of a few, while some politicians further use the issue to swamp us with negative news about the haredi community.

But when it comes to Israeli Arabs, the situation is very different. The youths Israel’s Media Watch has spoken to are frightened. They do not want their identities revealed in this connection, as in their experience no one will defend them against the negative onslaught that would result.

On Wednesday of last week, the Knesset Economics Committee held a first session concerning the Arab-language media. Israel has only one daily newspaper in Arabic, along with three weeklies and various local newspapers. The Israeli Arab community – which makes up 20 percent of Israel’s population – has only one legal radio station, Ashams, whereas the haredim have two. But even this one radio station is extremely problematic – Radio Ashams has “starred” more than once in our column.

The drafting of Christian youths to the IDF was dealt with recently by the station in a program hosted by Makbula Nassar titled “drafting Christians to the occupation army.” Moreover, anyone who tried to put in a good word for those who served in the IDF was stopped by Nassar.

Only recently, the same radio station was fined NIS 20,000 by the Second Authority for TV and Radio for broadcasting on inappropriate conduct last year during Memorial Day. As reported by News One, Dr. Dalia Zelikovitch, chairperson of the SATR committee that dealt with the matter, noted that “the committee viewed with severity the usage of public resources of the State of Israel in a manner which hurt the feeling of many citizens of Israel.... Opening their broadcasts [on Memorial Day] with ‘Our best wishes to our valiant prisoners who are imprisoned in the occupation jails’ ...hurts the feelings of large segments of the Israeli public.”

But the problem is even more serious for, as noted in the Knesset committee discussion, Israeli Arabs are discriminated against even with regard to such elementary issues as advertisement or ratings. For example, official Israeli advertising or public information campaigns dealing with topics such as drowning, employment opportunities for women or even the latest from the IDF’s Home Front Command were not broadcast in Arabic. It is no wonder that many in the Arab sector feel they are outsiders.

An Adalah 2006 report pointed to the fact that television news anchors are still almost exclusively secular Ashkenazi Jews, whereas America’s CNN and the British BBC expose their viewers to broadcasters reflecting minority groups. After all, Arabs are 20 percent of the general population. The situation has not changed dramatically since then.

It is well recognized that Jewish journalists tend not to be sufficiently conversant with the intricacies of the political, social and economic aspects of Israel’s Arabs, not to mention the internal dynamics, which are based on family ties, religion, ideology – as well as commitment to the State of Israel.

Can we honestly say the Arab sector is properly represented by such extremists as MKs Haneen Zoabi or Jamal Zahalka? Is the Islamist Movement-Northern Branch the norm? Even in this newspaper, the coverage of the Palestinian Authority would appear to be more thorough than that of events in the Galilee.

We can point to an initiative, jointly promoted through Channel 2’s Keshet, the Du-Et Fellowship Program, which facilitated appearances of Arabs in the mainstream television channels, even the inclusion of Arab participants in popular prime-time shows such as the Supernanny reality show and Kochav Nolad (A Star is Born), Israel’s American Idol.

But are the Israeli Arabs to be relegated solely to reality shows and sports? The fact that the Israeli Arab population is largely ignored by our media has two severe repercussions.

The first is that democracy is not served within the Arab community. The Israeli media knows how to hit hard at Jewish politicians who do not do their jobs, but the Arab population does not enjoy the same commitment to democratic governance.

The Israeli media does not pay serious attention to governance within Arab cities, towns and regional councils. Is the tax-paying Arab citizen receiving the same level of service as Jewish Israelis? The Israeli media also doesn’t look too hard at the educational system within the Arab community. Why is it that the scholastic level there is so much lower? Why is it that there are hardly any Arabs within the higher academic system? Even on issues such as traffic accidents, the media is not diligent. The percentage of fatalities within the Arab community is much higher than within the Israeli community. Does no one care? Why doesn’t our media highlight such facts and so force Arab leaders to do what is right, to take serious measures to assure positive driving habits? The everyday of Israeli Arabs could be much improved in many areas if our media would simply pay more attention.

But there is another side to this. The Jewish population, as a result of this under-reporting, is ignorant of what really goes on within Israeli Arab communities.

This leads to misunderstandings, discrimination and worse.

Israeli Jews are perhaps not sufficiently aware of the ideological struggle taking place within the Israeli Arab community. We do nothing to support those Arabs who are proud to be citizens of the State of Israel, who appreciate the fruits of Israeli democracy and know that of all the countries in the region, only in Israel can they live freely.

The media in a democracy has a special duty, and Israel’s media, unfortunately, is in dereliction of this duty when it comes to the Israeli Arab population.

The authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (

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