‘NYT’ biased on alternative IDF service for Arabs

Universal national service for Israeli Arabs has become a major political issue.

July 30, 2012 22:00
4 minute read.
IDF soldiers at West Bank checkpoint

IDF soldiers at West Bank checkpoint 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)


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Universal national service for Israeli Arabs has become a major political issue. Unfortunately, widely circulated stories have been very one-sided, emphasizing fierce opposition from community leaders.

A Reuters story suggested that alternative-service requirements will be actively opposed by the vast majority of Israeli Arabs. An Associated Press story interviewed only a member of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens, an unelected body that rejects any integration into Israeli society. Most troubling was the biased way New York Times reporter Jodi Rudoren shaped her story: “Service to Israel Tugs at Identity of Arab Citizens.”

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To demonstrate this, I will compare her story to one published by David Rosenberg.

Rosenberg begins his article with a summary of recent polling done by Haifa University sociologist, Sammy Smooha.

The poll of Israeli Arabs released this week found that only 39.7 percent of the country’s 18-22-year-old Arabs – the target demographic for the program – are willing to sign up for the national service program, down 53% in 2009. Among all Israeli Arabs, support for national service has also become more tepid, with 62.2% backing the idea, down from as much as 78% in 2007.

Rosenberg added, “Based on his survey, Smooha said that most Israeli Arabs look positively on national service as a voluntary contribution to their communities and the state.”

Rudoren also reported these results, but never included Smooha’s overall assessment, instead quoting him on the attitude of the Israeli-Arab leaders: “You have to compare it with blacks in the US during World War II,” Smooha said.

“Why did they want to serve? Because they identified themselves with the state and they saw this as a vehicle to change their status. The Arab leaders do not see it this way. They see it as a means of repression of Arabs in Israel.”

RUDOREN USED this statement as a lead-in to Hanin Zoabi, who called the proposal to expand service “a trap.” Zoabi continued, “They are talking about dividing the burden.

All the country’s burdens are on my back. Six million Jews are living on my land. We ask Israel to withdraw the definition of a Jewish state, and maybe then it will turn into a democratic country.”

Rudoren chose not to mention Zoabi’s participation in the Gaza Flotilla, or her rejection of any form of national service, whereas she neglects to mention that the Council of Arab Mayors had just conditionally embraced alternative service.

Even more telling, Rosenberg reported, Smooha stressed the level of support is “still high,” especially given the controversy within the Israeli-Arab community on participating in the program. Organizations like the Haifa-based youth organization Baladna run campaigns in high schools and community centers discouraging national services.

“Anyone who volunteers for national service will be treated like a leper and will be vomited out of Arab society,” Jamal Zahalka, a lawmaker with Balad, an Israeli-Arab political party, told a rally as the program was getting underway in 2008.

Nevertheless, Smooha said the hostility many Israeli-Arab leaders express toward national service isn’t shared by ordinary people, which explains why the recruitment drive has been largely successful.

By contrast, Rudoren never mentioned this intimidation by the very political party that Zoabi belongs to. Instead, after presenting Zoabi’s views, Rudoren immediately gave voice to the Baladna groups that Rosenberg highlighted.

She wrote that in Wadi Nisnas, a Haifa neighborhood, four teenagers training a makeshift summer camp marching band on Wednesday pronounced themselves “against, against, against and against” national service for Arabs.

“It’s against our people,” said Rozeen Kanboura, 18, who works at a McDonald’s. “We are betraying our homeland, our origins, our history.”

Ayan Abunasra, articulate beyond her 13 years, said, “I don’t feel part of this country.”

“Put yourself in our place,” she continued. “You’re going to serve a country that occupied your land and your great-grandparents died because of it?” By not presenting Smooha’s overall evaluation, by highlighting the Balad leadership opposition without noting its intimidation efforts, and by presenting the Baladna student group as a representative youth voice, Rudoren incorrectly presented these extremist views as the dominant position in the Israeli-Arab community.

A more balanced story might have provided examples of the very significant economic gains Israeli Arabs have experienced in the last few years: employment gains from new industrial parks, entrance into the hi-tech sector, expanded teaching positions in Jewish schools, and increased government employment.

Rudoren might have interviewed the Arab mayors who together with leading Arab academicians and businessmen have formed a committee under the direction of Aiman Saif, housed in the Prime Minister’s Office. This committee will meet with representatives of all the government ministries so that Arab economic development initiatives will be fully coordinated among the many government agencies.

This information might have led Rudoren to conclude that there is now a critical mass of young Israeli-Arab professionals, academicians and business leaders who want to move away from oppositional politics to one of constructive engagement.

It seems, however, that an uncontrolled hostility to the Netanyahu government continues to shape New York Times’ reporting.

The writer is the Broeklundian Professor at Brooklyn College.

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